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!

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

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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.

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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

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

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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

Synopsis

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.

Review

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

Author

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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Have you heard about this book? Are you interested to pick it up after reading my review? And, while I’m in a streak, do you have suggestions on witchcraft-and-wizardry titles up on your sleeve? Sound off in the comments below!

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