REVIEW: Jek/Hyde by Amy Ross

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Title: Jek/Hyde
Author: Amy Ross
Format: ARC, 329 pages
Publication: October 3rd 2017 by Harlequin Teen
Source: Author (thank you Amy Ross!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Gothic, Mystery, Science Fiction
Other classifications: Retelling, Young Adult

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Synopsis

Lulu and Jek are science nerds, and have been best friends since they were young . . . or at least they used to be. Lately Jek has been pulling away from Lulu, just as she’s coming to terms with how she really feels about him. Just as she’s ready to see if there could be something more between them.

But Lulu’s thoughts are derailed by a mysterious new guy who’s showing up at local parties. Hyde is the definition of a bad boy, and everybody knows it . . . but no one can seem to resist his charms. Girls can’t stay away from him, and guys all want to be him. And even though Lulu’s heart belongs to Jek, she can’t deny Hyde’s attraction either.

She also knows that there’s something not quite right about Hyde. That the rumors of his backwood parties make them sound a little more dangerous than what any of her friends are accustomed to. And she doesn’t like the fact that Hyde seems to be cozying up to Jek, and that they seem to be intertwined in ways that have Lulu worrying for Jek’s safety.

If Hyde has a dark secret, Lulu is determined to find out what it is, and to help Jek . . . before it’s too late for both of them.

Review

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

Jek/Hyde is more a rehashing and less a retelling.

The book—Ross’ debut in young adult literature—centers on Lupita “Lulu” Gutierrez and Jayesh Emerson “Jek” Kapoor, two science nerds who have been best friends for as long as long as they can remember. But just as Lulu is coming to terms with her more-than-platonic feelings for her best friend, Jek starts distancing himself and spending all his time holed up in his room/lab with his experiments. It doesn’t help that there’s a mysterious—and unmistakably alluring—new guy in town, who is the very definition of a bad boy, and who may or may not have connections with Jek. Confession time: I have not read the Stevenson classic. Nor have I seen any of the bajillion movie adaptations. But I feel like The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been so embedded into our collective cultural consciousness that it’s almost as if I have read the book without actually having read it. And Jek/Hyde totally validates my judgment; whatever hope I had of mystery, I went to the wrong party.

“”But sweetheart. . .” He leans in close and takes a deep, slow breath, his eyes slipping half-closed. “No one is good all the time.””

To be fair, the novel kept me relatively entertained ’til the very last page. It took a couple of chapters for the story to find its footing, but find it it did and it maintained a good pacing all through out the book. I also like how the tone and setting effectively conjure a sense of helplessness and perpetual confinement. The book is set in a small town in the Midwestern, and that was executed well. But then we get to the actual narrative and it gets less than stellar. There is little character development, cases of present-but-not-present adults, and underdeveloped subplots, all culminating in a heavily expository conclusion and one that is out of touch with the rest of the main character’s journey.

“I know how it is. You think if you worry enough, if you take care of him and rescue him, that will make him yours. But you’ll never keep a boy like that.”

There’s also a huge disconnect between what the reader is being told versus what he is being shown. Lulu has a tendency to pine for Jek, which is fine, that’s her thing. But not once was I convinced of the friendship—or any sort of connection—between her and Jek she often talks about. He was a jerk to her and when the story reaches the part where certain things happen, it felt forced. And I’m not buying her science nerdiness either. Meanwhile, Jek’s arc had an interesting start. He is biracial; his mother is Indian, his father is black. And there’s a scene where he goes about being the only black person in town, even in his own house. About having “this whole part of [himself] that’s completely cut off from anyone like [him],” and I think that’s a fascinating conversation the author could’ve explored. Just as much as the minor plot line of LondonChem, an agrichemical/pharmaceutical company who may be causing its workers’ unidentified illness. Instead, they became background noises.

“I don’t know whether I’m angrier at the assumption that these two can read everyone’s race and ethnicity perfectly just from looking, or at their surprise that a black person could kick their ass at a science competition, but I can’t point out either one, since they didn’t actually say any of that.”

I’ve read in a conversation the author had with Cat Hellisen that the point is to keep the story as close to the original as possible, and I get that. Ross accomplished what she set out to do. But even so, I can’t help feeling cheated on because of how the book is marketed (“an inventive modern retelling”) which couldn’t have been more misleading. Sure, the story is set in modern-day suburban America and it has a racially diverse cast—albeit, the latter struck me as contrived in places. But that’s as modern as it gets. The other half of the equation, forgotten.

“This crazy town. Some guy nearly gets killed right in front of us, and all anyone can think about is where they can go to get fucked-up next.”

Jek/Hyde had potentials. It really did. But with plot holes and character-development inconsistencies that feel quite unresolved even towards the end, it leaves a lot to be desired.

3.0 out of 5

Author

Amy Ross 01

Amy Ross has an MFA from the University of Idaho and a bachelor’s from Brown University. She has lived in upstate New York, Providence, Paris, Chicago, Copenhagen, Kyoto, Idaho and Taiwan, and is currently in Indiana. She likes bad horror flicks, dense critical-theory texts, fomenting revolution, wild bears, cooking and the sublime. She hates everything else.

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What is your favorite adaptation or retelling of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

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

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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

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | Fully Booked

Synopsis

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.

Review

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

Author

Robert Beatty 01
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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Giveaway:

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

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | Fully Booked

Synopsis

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.

Review

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

Author

Robert Beatty 01

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.

Twitter | Website

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

Serafina and the Black Cloak 01

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

Synopsis

“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.

Review

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

Author

Robert Beatty 01
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.

Twitter | Website

Have you read this one? Are you into MG? What are some of your favorite MG titles? Or, you know, your recent 5-star read? Come on, let’s talk!

You can also stalk follow me elsewhere! On Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Bloglovin.

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