REVIEW: Black Wings Beating by Alex London

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Title: Black Wings Beating
Author: Alex London
Format: ARC, 421 pages
Publication: September 25th 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Source: Gifted by a friend (thank you so much, Hazel!)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy
Other classifications: LGBTQIAYoung Adult

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The people of Uztar have long looked to the sky with hope and wonder. Nothing in their world is more revered than birds of prey, and no one is more honored than the falconers who call them to their fists.

Brysen strives to be a great falconer, while his twin sister, Kylee, possesses ancient gifts for it, but wants to be free of falconry altogether. She’s nearly made it out, too, but a war is rolling toward the Six Villages, with a rebel army leaving nothing in its wake but blood and empty sky. No bird or falconer will be safe from this invasion.

Together, the twins must embark on a journey into the treacherous mountains to trap the near-mythic ghost eagle, a solitary killer and the most feared of the Uztari birds of prey. They each go for their own reasons: Brysen for the boy he loves and the glory he’s long craved, and Kylee to atone for her past and to protect her brother’s future. But both are hunted by those who seek one thing: power.


Alex London explores queer heroism and complex sibling relationship in Black Wings Beating—an epic, gripping, and exceedingly original opener to a new fantasy series.

In the Six Villages, nothing is more revered than birds of prey, and no one is more honored than the falconers who call them to their fists. Kylee possesses ancient gifts for falconry, but wants nothing to do with it. Brysen longs for the glory his sister refuses. But rumors of war approaching threaten the twin’s home and the freedom they have worked hard for. And things get more tangled when Brysen gets swept up in Dymian’s, his boyfriend and trainer, debts and agrees to capture the elusive ghost eagle, a solitary killer and the most feared of the Uztari birds of prey. And that is at the core of Black Wings Beating. It is a story of power and bravery. Of longing and heroism. Of hurt. Of betrayal. Of forgiveness. It is a story of political intrigues and the fierce, complicated bond between siblings. All grounded in love.

“But he knew this was what he was meant to do. This was what his father never could. He’d gone into the mountain filled with rage, and it had been his death. Brysen would go as an act of love, and he’d survive.”

I am always drawn to stories about families, especially the beautifully complex ones. And the author certainly delivers. Brysen is this loyal and unrelentingly romantic sibling. He yearns for glory and will do anything for the boy he loves. He is reckless like that. And if it isn’t obvious, he is gay. So I won’t lie; I came to the party for Brysen. What I didn’t expect, however, was to end up being more invested in Kylee. Who is fierce, sensible, and equally loyal. Who thinks about her brother more than anything else and is ready to protect him no matter the cost. Kylee, who evidently harbors a secret of her own. And that is what’s so compelling about the book, to me at least. That in the quieter moments, you see Brysen and the lasting effects of abuse. You see him struggle, “fighting against the weight of a world that dragged down boys who wanted to fly.” You see Kylee deal with the guilt she carries. You witness how the twins hurt each other, often unknowingly, at times purposefully. But you also feel the undeniable love between the two.

“He wanted to be the hero of this story, and a part of her wanted him to be, too. She herself was no hero.”

In a Mashable article that was released in June, London said that for the Skybound series, he “wanted to try not only to write queer heroes, but to write queer heroism.” Adding, “there is a challenge in fantasy—especially epic fantasy—that even with queer heroes and romances, it can still operate in the same hetero and patriarchal modes: a hero has to stab stuff with pointy things to dominate the bad guys and win.” And this translates really well into his work because Black Wings Beating is queer in the most beautiful of ways. The author not only uses love and gentleness as sources of power, he centers both in a brutal world. And I am so ready for more conversations about this that don’t necessarily revolve around toxic masculinity.

“All things were bound to their opposites. The hawk didn’t always win against the mouse, and brutality didn’t always conquer gentleness. It was rarely celebrated, but sometimes gentleness won.”

There are also the unique world-building and thrilling battle sequences. As well as matriarchal owl cults and a giant killer bird. But more than anything, it is the diverse cast of well-written characters that makes London’s return to YA a must-read. Like Brysen’s goshawk, I needed no tethering. I was drawn to the story—a raptor trained to return to its master.

Do not let this fly under your radars!

5.0 out of 5


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Alex London has written books for adults, children, and teens. His young adult debut, Proxy, was an ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers, a 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults, a Rainbow List Selection, and a 2016 ALA Popular Paperback, and appeared on state reading lists across the country, from New York to Texas and California to Arkansas. At one time a journalist reporting from conflict zones and refugee camps, Alex lives with his husband in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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Hey y’all! Yes, I’m still alive! How have you been? Have you read the Proxy duology? Are you going to pick up Black Wings Beating anytime soon? Have I convinced you to? No? What are some of your favorite YA fantasy series? Sound off in the comments below!

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REVIEW: The Gwythienian by Savannah J. Goins

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Title: The Gwythienian
Author: Savannah J. Goins
Format: Paperback, 351 pages
Publication: November 3rd 2017 by Mason Mill Publishing House
Source: Author (thank you so much, Savannah!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Fantasy
Other classifications: Young Adult

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Seventeen-year-old Enzi Montgomery had worn the stone around her neck for years. It was set in a cheap metal fitting, nothing fancy. But it made her wonder if she was crazy. Sometimes, when she had it on, she could disappear. She couldn’t make it happen. It just worked on its own. But always at convenient times, like when she’d needed to hide again from Caleb. Maybe she’d only been imagining it; insomnia could do that to you. The nightmares had never left since that day seven years ago and she’d never really learned to cope with them.

But what if she wasn’t crazy?

When she finds out that someone else has been searching for the stone—someone from another world—she must decide what to do with it. Should she get rid of it? Or find out what other secrets it holds?


I received a review copy from the author which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

The first title in a planned trilogy, The Gwythienian is an enjoyable if a bit unpolished debut.

It is about a girl named Mackenzi “Enzi” Montgomery who, in the week she turns seventeen, learns not only that her mother has been hiding a huge secret from her but also that another realm exists and is subsequently abducted and taken to it. All for the stone in her necklace. There, she meets a dragon-like creature named Gaedyen who asks her to join him in a quest. Head reeling from her mother’s betrayal and the discovery that someone she thought dead is very much alive and maybe thrilled by the idea of escaping her boring world—along with a haunting childhood trauma—for a while, she agrees. But is she ready to take on such a task? The thing about books and reading is that each encounter is very subjective. And while I think The Gwythienian leaves much to be desired, I quite liked certain parts of it and I’d be remiss not to point out that it has potential and that it might be more fitting for other readers.

“None of the things that I tried to do worked out like they were supposed to. All I wanted was to do something right for a change. Was it so much to ask for it to just once work out like it was supposed to?”

Possibly my favorite aspect of the book is the dynamics between the MCs, Enzi and Gaedyen, which is delightful. There are banters and the gap between the two—the gap born out of innate differences between two different creatures—is often amusing. I also appreciate the fact that the heroine is fat and has to go on this very physical journey. That on top of her insecurities on top of her traumatic past. Really, Enzi has every reason not to agree to this, and I’m not even talking about her companion being a sentient dragon whom she just met. She has very real and very immediate concerns: the trip is physically demanding and her body isn’t used to running and long hikes. And yet, she takes up the challenge and not once is the subject brushed off. And then, there’s—and this is not a spoiler; it’s hinted at in the synopsis and the first chapter of the book—implied sexual abuse. I thought it’s handled well. It’s this constant sort of presence and, even though the ordeal happened years before the story begins, it’s evident that Enzi is still processing it.

“Wasn’t I entitled to a little privacy where my body was concerned?”

I must say, however, that I’m not well versed in fantasy novels but the world building seems pretty solid to me. The mythology of it is accessible and easy to follow and, despite its own set of vocabulary, I had no trouble with information overload. Although, I did find the pacing odd; the book almost opens in a conflict then nothing much happens until you’re suddenly moving from one significant scene to another, all crammed towards the last half. I believe there is a compelling way to introduce the plot line and establish your characters even if there are just pages after pages of dialogue between them. Instead, there are moments in the last third of the novel that felt strained.

“”That’s a lot to take on, Gaedyen.”
His eyes bored into mine, and they were full of such sadness that I felt a tear emerge from my own for his pain.
“Has your future never depended on proving your worth?””

If you’re looking for a quick, enjoyable read, check out Savannah J. Goin’s The Gwythienian.

3.0 out of 5


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YA fantasy novelist and professional dragon wrangler, Savannah J. Goins, fell in love with the genre through C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia many years ago. Since then, it’s been nothing but dragons, sword fights and talking animals. She spends her days in a veterinary hospital working with real animals, and her nights giving voices to the ones in her stories. She also enjoys sketching, drinking tea and coffee, and discovering new bookshops.

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Have you heard about this title prior to reading my review? Will you be checking it out anytime soon? What is your stand on books having their own sets of vocabulary? And what are your favorite YA fantasy novels? Let’s talk!

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REVIEW: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

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Title: A Wrinkle in Time
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Format: Paperback, 247 pages
Publication: May 1st 2007 by Square Fish (first published January 1st 1962 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Source: Borrowed from the library (Kumon Angeles City)
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Other classifications: Young Adult

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It was a dark and stormy night.

Out of this wild night, a strange visitor comes to the Murry house and beckons Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe on a most dangerous and extraordinary adventure—one that will threaten their lives and our universe.


NOTE: The fifth paragraph is slightly spoilery. Thread with caution.

Human fallibility and the capacity for deep connection are at the center of A Wrinkle in Time, a Newbery Medal-winning, universe-hopping sci-fi fantasy novel.

The first title in a quintet, it chronicles Meg Murry’s quest to save her father. From who or what she has no idea. But she has her brother Charles Wallace, a boy named Calvin O’Keefe, and three mysterious ladies—Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which—to accompany her. I’ve read somewhere that there are two types of children: those who read Madeleine L’Engle and those who don’t. I’d like to believe I would’ve been the former had I stumbled upon A Wrinkle in Time in my younger years. Or, that is, had I had the love of reading I now have. I could just picture myself freaking out over a girl I can identify with who goes to this thrilling and dangerous and awe-inspiring journey through the cosmos. Who embraced her flaws to battle the bad guys. That being said, I was still able to appreciate and take pleasure in the story, even if the final act felt rushed.

“I’ve never even seen your house, and I have the funniest feeling that for the first time in my life I’m going home!”

For whatever reason, I somehow thought this beloved L’Engle classic is going to be a family drama. This is prior to seeing the trailer for the DuVernay/Disney adaptation of course. And in a lot of ways it is a family drama. But it also is so much more than that; it has beautiful, past-the-Greek-centaur creatures for one. It’s about good vs. evil. It’s about friendship. It’s scientific and it’s fantastical. It braids together quantum physics, Einstein’s theory on relativity and Christianity. It has a strong opinion on communism. One might even argue that the book is too on the nose in those front. In fact, I’m curious to know if the author wouldn’t have a hard time securing a publisher now as much as she had in 1960s. But ultimately, it’s about a girl trying to get to her father.

“Don’t be afraid to be afraid.”

Let’s talk about the characters. Meg, the protagonist and whom the novel follows, is outrageously plain. She has your basic government issued descriptors: she wears glasses and has teeth covered with braces and mouse-brown hair that stood wildly on end. She doesn’t understand the concept of emotional inhibition quite yet and thinks school is all wrong. She’s practically an oddball and she hates it. And these are what makes Meg so relatable. Because what 12-year-old doesn’t feel ordinary? What 12-year-old isn’t governed strongly by emotion? Meg may not have the language for what she feels all the time but she knows this: she just wants to be like the other kids. And didn’t we all want that at one point? Next up is her younger brother Charles Wallace. He is five years old, speaks complete sentences—with a set of vocabulary that includes “inadvertently” and “compulsion”—and prepares sandwiches for his family—not just PBJ mind you. But possibly the most remarkable thing about Charles Wallace is that he is not a parody. For all his precociousness, he is still liable to err. Plus, his exchanges with Mrs Whatsit are endlessly entertaining. There’s also Calvin O’Keefe. Can I hug this fella? I want to hug this fella. His experience, both at home and in school, is so disparate from Meg’s but his friendship offers nothing but comfort and support. Then there are the three Mrs, these very strange old ladies. They reminded me of the Greek gods who always ask mortals to do their bidding, except one of the Mrs casually tosses phrases in French and German and quotes Dante and Cervantes.

“”I like to understand things,” Meg said.
“We all do. But it isn’t always possible.””

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t read A Wrinkle in Time yet and wish to proceed unspoiled, you can skip to the next paragraph. Otherwise, carry on. There is a part in the book where Meg realizes her father isn’t omnipotent and that he may well be as lost as her, and I think the author did a fine job there. I’m infinitely fascinated by narratives where the young character becomes aware that her parents are also people, existing outside the realm of parenthood, capable of misjudgments and not without their own faults. Because I think it is as much a part of growing up, no matter how baffling. By the time Meg comes to this realization, it is a powerful scene. And Meg you know to be operating in extreme ends of the emotional spectrum.

“”But I wanted to do it for you,” Mr. Murry said. “That’s what every parent wants.””

At once imaginative and touching, A Wrinkle in Time teaches us courage and the importance of familial ties. Definitely recommended for fans of Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

4.0 out of 5


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Madeleine L’Engle was an American writer best known for her Young Adult fiction, particularly the Newbery Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters. Her works reflect her strong interest in modern science: tesseracts, for example, are featured prominently in A Wrinkle in Time, mitochondrial DNA in A Wind in the Door, organ regeneration in The Arm of the Starfish, and so forth.

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Have you read this beloved classic? Do you agree that the final act felt rushed? What do you think of the three Mrs? How do you feel about the DuVernay/Disney adaptation? Also, are you a child who read Madeleine L’Engle? Sound off in the comments below!

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REVIEW: Serafina and the Splintered Heart by Robert Beatty (+ Giveaway)


Title: Serafina and the Splintered Heart
Author: Robert Beatty
Format: ARC, 355 pages
Publication: July 4th 2017 by Disney Hyperion
Source: Publisher (thank you Sharon Keefauver and Disney Hyperion!)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy, Gothic, Historical, Mystery
Other classifications: Middle Grade

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The storms are coming. . . .

Something has happened to Serafina. She has awoken into a darkness she does not understand, scarred from a terrible battle, only to find that life at Biltmore Estate has changed in unimaginable ways. Old friends do unthinkable things and enemies seem all around.

A mysterious threat moves towards Biltmore, a force without a name, bringing with it violent storms and flooding that stands to uproot everything in its path. Serafina must uncover the truth about what has happened to her and find a way to harness her strange new powers before it’s too late.

With only days to achieve the impossible, Serafina fights to reclaim herself as the guardian of Biltmore, friend of Braeden, daughter of her pa, and heroine of the Blue Ridge Mountains and all the folk and creatures that call them home.


I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

Serafina and the Splintered Heart is the third and seemingly final installmentat least for nowin Robert Beatty’s middle-grade mystery series and it delivers.

The book opens with Serafina waking up in a darkness so complete even her eyes, which normally can see just fine at night, cannot pierce. She returns to Biltmore Estate, trying to piece together her memory of the night she was attacked, but everything she witnesses along the way doesn’t add up. The moon is on the wrong phase. Storms are brewing. She stumbles upon a grotesque-looking creature in the forest. And then there’s the sorcerer. But all these are nothing to what she discovers upon arriving at the great house. With a plot like that of The Splintered Heart, writing a reviewwhich is tricky enough by virtue of it being a series finaleis no easy fit. But let me tell you: Beatty once again hits all the marks. His latest is enchanting, atmospheric, and deeply satisfying.

“They watched the stars and the planets sliding slowly over their heads, marking time so precisely that it was barely perceptible, like a great, celestial clock, keeping the time of their inner lives, showing them that out there in the world everything was always changing, but here in the center of the world, where they were lying side by side, everything would always remain the same.”

It’s always bittersweet to come to the conclusion of a story, especially one that spans through three books. But the beauty of the Serafina series lies ultimately on the journey: character development after character development. In The Splintered Heart, the main characters are further thrown into hard situations, both physically and emotionally, and the author gets to show the complexity of each of them. Serafina has come a long way from the lonely, friendless girl who is constantly suspicious of people in the first book. She’s been struggling to belong, searching for herself, and trying to make sense of the world around her for a while now that it’s heartening to see where she ends up as the final act draws to a resolution. There is Braeden, genteel, affectionate, and quick to trust. Witnessing how he grapples with loss and betrayal is absolutely interesting. He and the progress of his arc bag all the waffles! There is Waysa, too, who was introduced in the previous installment. Here, he gets a solid characterization and story line, with Beatty weaving in Cherokee culture in what I think is a carefully researched representation. And there is one more whom I wish I could talk about but, alas, I would rather not spoil you. So I will leave it at this: unlikely alliance, if written well, is one of my favorite tropes, and the author did just that.

“What do you do when you realize you are the monster in your own story?”

The Splintered Heart continues to reinforce positive messages on family, friendship, and bravery. It also gives each of its characters a good amount of agency which clearly affirms that actions have consequences and we are responsible for them, that we are not our past mistakes and we have the capacity for recovery and growth. But I like that Beatty didn’t go for formulaic, an easy trap for series such as this. There are no rehashing of scenes even as the novel revisits themes and reintroduces characters. Instead, it goes full circle. It concludes in a manner that is emotionally rewarding but just loose enough to allow for future sequel(s).

“She’d spent her whole life hiding, but now she just wanted one person, any person, to know she was there.”

Of course, I’d be remiss not to comment on the setting, which plays a huge part in the narrative. I am no expert in history but the author does a wonderful job in crafting a distinct atmosphere set in the backdrop of the opulence of Gilded-Age Biltmore Estate and the rugged beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And this is true for all the Serafina books. Albeit, The Splintered Heart is less eerie, but no less rich in details.

With a mystery that will have you racing along with the MC, Serafina and the Splintered Heart is vastly imaginative and utterly enjoyable. This series will certainly be a staple in MG lists.

4.0 out of 5


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Robert Beatty lives in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife and three daughters. He writes full-time now, but in his past lives he was one of the pioneers of cloud computing, the founder/CEO of Plex Systems, the co-founder of Beatty Robotics, and the CTO and chairman of Narrative magazine.

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The giveaway, which ends July 31st, is very simple. You just head over to Twitter, follow me @mielsnickey and retweet this:

The prize pack includes one (1) signed finished copy of Serafina and the Splintered Heart, one (1) poster, one (1) journal, and one (1) enamel pin.

Blogger’s note: You can read my reviews of Serafina and the Black Cloak (Book 1) and Serafina and the Twisted Staff (Book 2) here and here, respectively.

Have you read this one yet? Have I convinced you to check out the series? What are some of your favorite MG titles? Or, you know, your recent read. Sound off in the comments below!

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REVIEW: Serafina and the Twisted Staff by Robert Beatty

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Title: Serafina and the Twisted Staff
Author: Robert Beatty
Format: ARC, 370 pages
Publication: July 12th 2016 by Disney Hyperion
Source: Publisher (thank you Sharon Keefauver and Disney Hyperion!)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy, Gothic, Historical, Mystery
Other classifications: Middle Grade

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Serafina’s defeat of the Man in the Black Cloak has brought her out of the shadows and into the daylight realm of her home, Biltmore Estate. Every night she visits her mother in the forest, eager to learn the ways of the catamount. But Serafina finds herself caught between her two worlds: she’s too wild for Biltmore’s beautifully dressed ladies and formal customs, and too human to fully join her kin.

Late one night, Serafina encounters a strange and terrifying figure in the forest, and is attacked by the vicious wolfhounds that seem to be under his control. Even worse, she’s convinced that the stranger was not alone, that he has sent his accomplice into Biltmore in disguise.

Someone is wreaking havoc at the estate. A mysterious series of attacks test Serafina’s role as Biltmore’s protector, culminating in a tragedy that tears Serafina’s best friend and only ally, Braeden Vanderbilt, from her side. Heartbroken, she flees.

Deep in the forest, Serafina comes face-to-face with the evil infecting Biltmore—and discovers its reach is far greater than she’d ever imagined. All the humans and creatures of the Blue Ridge Mountains are in terrible danger. For Serafina to defeat this new evil before it engulfs her beloved home, she must search deep inside herself and embrace the destiny that has always awaited her.


I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

NOTE: This review contains spoilers for Serafina and the Black Cloak.

Compellingly readable and exceedingly satisfying, Serafina and the Twisted Staff is a delightful sequel to its predecessor.

The novel picks up three weeks after the events in The Black Cloak. Serafina’s existence is now known to the folks of Biltmore Estate. Her pa is teaching her table etiquette and her momma the ways of the catamount. But the arrival of a mysterious evil force threatens Serafina’s newly found peace in her home. A near-fatal encounter in the forest. A series of puzzling attacks in Biltmore. Two strangers. One returning character. She can’t join her momma and half-siblings because she’s too human to survive in the wilds and she can’t possibly stay in the estate after a tragic accident that separates her from her only ally and friend, Braeden Vanderbilt. But she’s Serafina, Chief Rat Catcher of Biltmore Estate and Guardian of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and she’s ready to fight for her home and the humans and creatures in it. There’s quite a lot to unpack from Serafina and the Twisted Staff. For one, there’s a distinct growth in characters, themes and storytelling as the author further examines friendship, family, self-discovery, bravery and what these all mean to twelve-year-old Serafina. For another, it’s a 370 pages of running and plotting and fighting for and against animals.

“The wolves of the pack stuck together. They fought together. That’s what a family was. That’s what it meant to be kin. You didn’t give up on that.”

I command Beatty for managing to write a fast-paced, action-packed narrative while at the same time have his heroine’s different relationships with other characters be a central and overt part of the book. The mother and daughter bond is fleshed out more in the little airtime they get together. Serafina’s friendship with Braeden flourishes but also hits a roadblock. The author introduces a cast of new characters, three of whom Serafina befriends. There’s Lady Rowena Fox-Pemberton, visiting and staying in the estate indefinitely, and Essie Walker, a servant to the Vanderbilts. The former is obviously a foil to Serafina, with her snooty English conduct, and the latter is a nice, uncomplicated friendship that balances things out. And I like how the novel presents the reader with various faces of girl power through them: Serafina is fierce, loyal and will fight tooth and claw for those she loves; Lady Rowena is cunning, subverting conventional expectations time and again; and Essie is the quiet, modest kind. The third new friendship is with a feral boy, whom Serafina meets the night she is attacked by the strange bearded man and his wolfhounds in the forest, and whom I only wish we got to see more of.

“She wanted to belong. She wanted to belong more than anything.”

Another overarching themes in Serafina and the Twisted Staff are identity and sense of belongingness. Serafina’s constant struggle to bridge the gap between her two worlds and find who she is and who she can become is something readers will surely identify with, irrespective of age and gender. Although, it sometimes felt dangerously leaning towards YA territory in certain scenes (then again, I have an uncorrected copy). And you don’t need to know your history to appreciate Biltmore Estate and its lavish rooms. The author does incredibly well in setting up the scenery with expansive brush strokes, grounding it in historical accuracy but also taking artistic license here and there. Just as capable he is in pulling off the turn of events leading up to the reveal. I was utterly fooled.

“As she tried to envision her future, she realized there were many paths, many different ways to go, and part of growing up, part of living, was choosing which paths to follow.”

Immensely entertaining and positively imaginative, Serafina and the Twisted Staff is a win for middle grade fiction.

4.0 out of 5


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Robert Beatty lives in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife and three daughters. He writes full-time now, but in his past lives he was one of the pioneers of cloud computing, the founder/CEO of Plex Systems, the co-founder of Beatty Robotics, and the CTO and chairman of Narrative magazine.

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Have you read this one? Have I convinced you to check it out? Are you into MG? What are some of your recent MG reads? Or your favorite ones? Throw ’em recommendations to me!

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REVIEW: Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

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Title: Serafina and the Black Cloak
Author: Robert Beatty
Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Publication: June 14th 2016 by Disney Hyperion (first published July 14th 2015)
Source: Publisher (thank you Sharon Keefauver and Disney Hyperion!)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy, Gothic, Historical, Mystery
Other classifications: Middle Grade

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | Fully Booked


“Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.”

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity . . . before all of the children vanish one by one.


I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

In Serafina and the Black Cloak, Beatty blends together eerie imagery, an intriguing premise, and a spunky heroine.

Set in 1899 Asheville, North Carolina, the book centers on Serafina, Chief Rat Catcher (C.R.C.) of the Vanderbilts’ estate. Her pa worked on the construction of the great house and they have lived illicitly in its basement for as long as she can remember. She naps during the day and hunts at night—and that is not the only thing unusual about her—all the while avoiding any contact with the people upstairs. Then, one night, she witnesses a frightening man as his cloak appears to consume a girl. Suddenly, children in Biltmore Estate are vanishing and Serafina races to unveil the Man in the Black Cloak before it’s too late; she is the only one who has seen him in action, after all. But first, she needs to risk exposure and team up with the landowners’ orphan nephew, Braeden Vanderbilt. As the reader follows the two uncover the mystery of the disappearances and the man responsible for them, he also follows Serafina in her self-discovery.

“She didn’t want to go another step, but friends had to help friends. She didn’t know much about life, but she did know that, knew that for sure, and she wasn’t going to run away like a scared-out-of-her-wits squirrel just when somebody needed her most.”

It is not uncommon for middle grade novels to operate in good versus evil, in which the former always prevails. The first books of the Harry Potter series easily come to mind. But every now and then, we get stories like Serafina and the Black Cloak, where the line isn’t as clear-cut, where there is a vague sense of uncertainty even as the heroine thwarts the villain. This along with Serafina’s inner journey and coupled with strong messages on family, friendship, and bravery make for a satisfying, emotionally resonant read. It is also atmospheric with its descriptive prose and Gothic setting. The author utilizes the opulent backdrop of Biltmore Estate and its surrounding landscape very well.

“She was beginning to see how difficult it was to determine who was good and who was bad, who she could trust and who she had to watch out for. Every person was a hero in his own mind, fighting for what he thought was right, or just fighting to survive another day, but no one thought they were evil.”

I’m glad this generation of young readers has Serafina to look up to. She’s fierce and loyal as well as a stockpile of curiosity and conflicting temperaments. She longs to be a part of the world of the lavishly dressed masters and guests of Biltmore, though she knows she is too strange-looking to them. She is drawn to the forest, though she is aware of the dangers lurking in the trees. And it’s this inner struggle to belong, while at the same time searching for one’s identity, while trying to make sense of the world around you that is sure to connect with readers of all ages. And her friendship with Braeden—another loner like our MC—is just heartwarming.

“Our character isn’t defined by the battles we win or lose, but by the battles we dare to fight.”

Notwithstanding a bit of rough patches here and there, Serafina and the Black Cloak is a fast-paced, suspenseful debut. Definitely recommended for its target market (8 – 12 years old) but also for everyone who’s into this type of stories.

3.5 out of 5


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Robert Beatty lives in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife and three daughters. He writes full-time now, but in his past lives he was one of the pioneers of cloud computing, the founder/CEO of Plex Systems, the co-founder of Beatty Robotics, and the CTO and chairman of Narrative magazine.

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REVIEW: Hollywood Witch Hunter by Valerie Tejeda

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Title: Hollywood Witch Hunter
Author: Valerie Tejeda
Format: E-ARC
Publication: July 20th 2015 by Bloomsbury Spark
Source: Publisher via Netgalley (thank you Lynn Stevens, Bloomsbury Spark and Netgalley!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Other classifications: Witchcraft and Wizardry, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon


From the moment she first learned the truth about witches…she knew she was born to fight them.

Now, at sixteen, Iris is the lone girl on the Witch Hunters Special Ops Team.

But when Iris meets a boy named Arlo, he might just be the key to preventing an evil uprising in Southern California.

Together they’re ready to protect the human race at all costs. Because that’s what witch hunters do.

Welcome to Hollywood.


I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

Hollywood Witch Hunter could’ve taken either of two roads: a clever satire on celebrity culture masked as a gory witch hunt or a fast-paced, kick-ass witch hunt that embraces its ridiculousness. Sadly, however, it took neither.

Across the globe, Witch Hunters have kept witches at bay. Witches who pry on unsuspecting humans. But in Los Angeles, it is quite different; witches go after shallow, spoiled brats. But with the Bentlys in command, the City of Angel is safe. Until it no longer is. Things are getting weirder and a powerful witch is gaining more powers. At the center of it is Iris Maria Bently, the only female Hunter ever. And with her brother and a new recruit named Arlo by her side, she’s determined to take matters into her hands. After all, she knows she’s born to be a Hunter. As someone who grew up in a household that watches dubbed Latino soap operas, I was thrilled to find a female Colombian MC. Tejeda’s representation and feminist references are this debut’s strongest suits. Unfortunately, that’s all there is for me. A couple of chapters in and everything went downhill.

“People aren’t born monsters, Iris. Something always happens that makes them that way.”

This one’s a light read, but my biggest concern is Iris. I didn’t connect with her. She’s irresolute at best, whiny at worst, and the third person point-of-view didn’t help. There are too many plot holes and most confrontations felt at times half-baked and at times downright flat. I mean, why would you discuss the group’s strategies in front of a freaking witch? I’m all for witchcraft and wizardry and there is an unlikely friendship and an amusing villain involved, which are always a treat, but Hollywood Witch Hunter just didn’t slay me. And I’d say another run of edits wouldn’t hurt, but I’m being subjective more than anything right now—as is invariably the case with my reviews. I did enjoy Arlo though. His lines are often grin-or-snort-inducing—but even he can only carry so much dialogues—and I’m totally into his story arc. In fact, I wonder if I would’ve appreciated the book more if he were the point-of-view character.

“I’m just saying, sometimes we don’t understand why people do what they do.”

Reminiscent of the Vampire Academy movie, Hollywood Witch Hunter had good potentials but somehow lost them in translation.

1.5 out of 5


Valerie Tejeda

Entertainment journalist and author Valerie Tejeda spends her days reporting on books, television, and all things pertaining to pop culture, and spends her nights writing novels for teens. Her stories have appeared on a variety of different publications, including Vanity FairMTV, The Huffington Post, Teen Vogue, Latina, Yahoo! Shine, Cosmopolitan, and more. Valerie holds a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology and is currently based in Northern California with her husband, where she reads loads of books, binge-watches Netflix, and drinks tons of Peets coffee. Hollywood Witch Hunter is her debut.

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Whoa. This is my shortest review to date. So is this book on your TBR? Can you put up with a novel with a character(s) you can’t connect with? Moreover, do you DNF often? Do you DNF at all? Let’s talk!

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REVIEW: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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Title: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik
Format: E-ARC
Publication: May 21st 2015 by Macmillan (first published May 19th 2015)
Source: Publisher via Netgalley (thank you Pan Macmillan and Netgalley!)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy
Other classifications: Adult, Witchcraft and Wizardry

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked


Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia—all the things Agnieszka isn’t—and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.


I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

What’s with me and these witch books? As I mentioned in my review of The Witch Hunter, I’ve been in a streak. Uprooted is my third novel on the sub-genre in the last two months and I seem to keep wanting more. But of the three, how magic works in Novik’s world is probably the most fascinating, in that it’s unexpectedly unique and completely immersive. Of course, medieval stories set in a perfunctorily veiled European country is not uncommon. But the author shifts the landscape with Polnya, a seemingly fantastical version of Poland, away from the go-to England. And the way she built the Wood is just enthralling and palpable; you can almost feel it breathing.

“It didn’t make much sense to me. We were all afraid of the Wood. But our valley was home. How could you leave your home?”

Agnieszka’s people live in constant fear of the Wood and the creatures that populate it, lurking in the shadows of trees, taking stray men unawares or children playing in the fields. But even so, for these people, home is home and it’s protected by the Dragon, a powerful wizard living in a tower at the crest of the valley. He holds the Wood at bay for the whole kingdom of Polnya and he only asks that one girl be taken under his service for ten years. What the girl does or why the Dragon demands this, no one can be certain. All that’s clear is when the girl returns, she wants to leave the valley for good. While the story has a slow start and loses its momentum halfway through, there is one particular white knuckles battle sequence that more than compensates for it. This is bolstered by strong characterization, a quiet love story and a well written friendship, laying down the foundations of an epic read. Novik, however, like her characters, has one or two flaws. Uprooted has rough-around-the-edges prose and it reads as a trilogy packed into a stand-alone.

“”I don’t want more sense!” I said loudly, beating against the silence of the room. “Not if sense means I’ll stop loving anyone. What is there besides people that’s worth holding on to?””

In a variety of levels, Uprooted is reminiscent of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo and Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest, but chiefly of the former. The way witches are treated in the capital reminded me of the grishas in Ravka, the I-don’t-fit-in-a-box protagonist with abilities unlike her peers, but mostly the striking resemblance between the Dragon and the Darkling—and not only with the first letters of their names. It’s in the fog of mystery around them, the magnitude of power and self-command, the reluctance, their effect on people. I’m not saying these are disappointments; these are mere observations. Plus, the Dragon is way snarkier and I highly enjoyed that about him, especially the chemistry he and Agnieszka clearly have. Even when they weren’t rooting for each other*, the two make a good duo. Their banters are just pure fun.

“The pain got worse instead of better. I pulled away from them and tried to press myself into the wall, the cool hard stone, as if I could make myself a part of it and be unfeeling.”

At the heart of the book is Agnieszka and Kasia’s friendship. It is one of the main driving forces of the story and I really admire how Novik delivers. And, while the pacing is quite less than outstanding and a three-part series would’ve left more room for deeper character exploration, Uprooted still is worth checking out, more so if magic and witches/wizards are your thing.

Lastly, many have called this YA, and it must be said that when I requested this title, for reasons hazy, I thought it was too. Except it isn’t. The protagonist is seventeen but the tone and style of the narrative is undoubtedly adult.

3.5 out of 5


Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik is an avid reader of fantasy literature since age six, when she first made her way through The Lord of the Rings. She is also a history buff with a particular interest in the Napoleonic era and a fondness for the work of Patrick O’Brian and Jane Austen. She studied English literature at Brown University, and did graduate work in computer science at Columbia University before leaving to participate in the design and development of the computer game Neverwinter Nights: Shadow of Undrentide. Over the course of a brief winter sojourn spent working on the game in Edmonton, Canada (accompanied by a truly alarming coat that now lives brooding in the depths of her closet), she realized she preferred writing to programming, and on returning to New York, decided to try her hand at novels.

Naomi lives in New York City with her husband and six computers.

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*See what I did there?

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REVIEW: The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

Title: The Witch Hunter
Author: Virginia Boecker
Format: E-ARC
Publication: June 2nd 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher via Netgalley (thank you Hatchette Children’s Books and Netgalley!)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy, Historical, Paranormal
Other classifications: Fae, Witchcraft and Wizardry, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked


Sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Grey doesn’t look dangerous. A tiny, blonde, wisp of a girl shouldn’t know how to poison a wizard and make it look like an accident. Or take out ten necromancers with a single sword and a bag of salt. Or kill a man using only her thumb. But things are not always as they appear. Elizabeth is one of the best witch hunters in Anglia and a member of the King’s elite guard, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and bringing those who practice it to justice. And in Anglia, the price of justice is high: death by burning.

When Elizabeth is accused of being a witch herself, she’s arrested and thrown in prison. The king declares her a traitor and her life is all but forfeit. With just hours before she’s to die at the stake, Elizabeth gets a visitor—Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful wizard in Anglia. He offers her a deal: he will free her from prison and save her from execution if she will track down the wizard who laid a deadly curse on him.

As Elizabeth uncovers the horrifying facts about Nicholas’s curse and the unwitting role she played in its creation, she is forced to redefine the differences between right and wrong, friends and enemies, love and hate… and life and death.


I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

I expected to enjoy The Witch Hunter, what I did not expect is how refreshing it’ll turn out to be. It’s atmospheric, engrossing, and the romance is just so good. I’m admittedly not big on this element but Boecker hits all my marks and I cannot complain, really. The MC has a clear voice and there are serious badass supporting cast. I like Elizabeth’s internal monologue; she’s very introspective. She doesn’t cower from the fact that she’s afraid to be alone, she acts based on principles, and it’s interesting to witness how she processes what she learns along the journey.

“I’m weak. I’m tired. I’m injured. I’m confused. I’m ashamed of what I’ve done, afraid of what I’ve got to do. I am what I always feared I’d be: alone.”

It took me a while to settle in the rhythm of this world, but after a few chapters, I was sucked right in. The Witch Hunter is not about the epic battle sequences, although it has a few; it enchants with its quiet scenes. The way Elizabeth questions and makes sense of what she believes in, the stolen glances, the gradual shift of reality for each character. Elizabeth gets three companions: John, George and Fifer. And I feel like every single one of them received the right amount of airtime. And that’s one of the strongest features of this debut, because the dynamics among the four is pure fun. Well, there may or may not be unanticipated punches involve. And Caleb Pace, Elizabeth’s childhood friend, warrants a mention. In the minimal appearances he has, I saw a glimpse of a well-realized, if positively flawed, character. Here’s me throwing a coin in the hopes that one of the planned two novellas centers on him. Basically, I’m saying Boecker gets it right. She gets it right especially with one particular scene which, up until now, still gives me the feels.

“The wizard who rescued me, the boy who healed me, the girl who bathed me, the fool who befriended me. I’m indebted to each of them in some way, yet they are my enemies. They’ve shown me kindness, yet I’m prepared to kill them.”

I have issues with the language, it’s contemporary when I would much prefer otherwise. But this is a pet peeve more than anything. Plus I somehow guessed the twist, but that didn’t stop me from racing through to find out what happens in between. If you’re a fan of works like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters or Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, this one’s your cup of tea.

“I’m quiet for a moment, enchanted by the idea of something stealing over you, settling into you, and telling you, with absolute certainty, who you are and what you’re meant to do.”

Boecker delivers a forcible debut—and a duology starter at that—with The Witch Hunter, which places her among the set of authors whose future books I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for.

4.0 out of 5


Virginia Boecker

Virginia Boecker recently spent four years in London obsessing over English medieval history, which formed the basis of The Witch Hunter. She now lives in the Bay Area, California with her husband and spends her days writing, reading, running and chasing around her two children and a dog named George.

In addition to English kings, nine-day queens, and Protestant princesses, her other obsessions include The Smiths, art museums, champagne, and Chapstick.

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REVIEW: Inked by Eric Smith


Title: Inked
Author: Eric Smith
Format: Ebook
Publication: January 20th 2015 by Bloomsbury Spark
Source: Gifted by the author (thank you Eric!)
Genre: Fiction—Dystopia, Fantasy
Other classifications: Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon


Tattoos once were an act of rebellion.

Now they decide your destiny the moment the magical Ink settles under your skin.

And in a world where Ink controls your fate, Caenum can’t escape soon enough. He is ready to run from his family, and his best friend Dreya, and the home he has known, just to have a chance at a choice.

But when he upsets the very Scribe scheduled to give him his Ink on his eighteenth birthday, he unwittingly sets in motion a series of events that sends the corrupt, magic-fearing government, The Citadel, after him and those he loves.

Now Caenum, Dreya, and their reluctant companion Kenzi must find their way to the Sanctuary, a secret town where those with the gift of magic are safe. Along the way, they learn the truth behind Ink, its dark origins, and why they are the only ones who can stop the Citadel.


As a child, I’ve been—and still am—fascinated by the moving photographs of the wizardly world of Harry Potter. As a young man, I’m crazy about gifs. Now, you sell me a book that has tattoos moving in people’s arms? Heck yeah! Inked, like its predecessors and other dystopian cousins, plays at pigeonholing humans. You are this so you do just this. But I find the concept Smith used to carry out the material to be positively appealing and intriguing. My problem, however, lies in the character voice and pacing.

“How he wanted to live freely, how he had wanted, like all of us, to have a choice. How he made his own way, and how it was the right one.”

It took me a while to get into the story. And even then, the plot unraveled rather slowly. For all the attempts in running away, Caenum never seemed to leave Frosthaven. It felt more like ambling when I would have preferred galloping. But then there’s the plot twist. I will not spoil it; suffice it to say I was understandably shocked.

I don’t even know me!”

As for the characters, I had little connection to anyone. I mean, Caenum is fine. I’m impressed that he wasn’t a pawn (a la Panem tributes) and that there were moments where he was torn between duty and what he felt was right. Bonus points, he can be well wry. But he sounded younger than he was supposed to be. And fretful. Kenzi, on the other hand, I enjoyed reading about. His friendship with Caenum is something I wish was fleshed out more, for in the minimum airtime they had, I was already sold. And not to give away too much, there’s a parent story that’s not a banality in today’s myriad of YA dystopias. Otherwise, the secondary characters don’t have much going on for them.

“We both smiled at each other. Gross.”

I also think the revelation about the origin of the Ink is weird and creepy, in a compelling way. This is my favorite part; I wanted to read on and on. So if you’re into dystopia with a strange, interesting element, do read Inked. Plus there’s no love triangle. Man, is that refreshing.

3.0 out of 5


Eric Smith

Eric Smith is an author and blogger living in Philadelphia. He’s written for BuzzFeed, BoingBoing, Geekosystem (now The Mary Sue), The Huffington Post, and is a regular contributor to BookRiot. He co-founded the hyperlocal blog Geekadelphia, as well as the Philadelphia Geek Awards with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. His essays have appeared in The Apiary and Bygone Bureau, and his other books include The Geek’s Guide to Dating, which has sold into six languages. When he isn’t writing, he can be found spending time with his fiancée and their bunny (Rory) and chinchilla (Mittens).

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