Book Reviews

Book Review: SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK

serafinaTitle: SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK
Author: Robert Beatty
Series: Serafina, #1
Publication Information: Disney*Hyperion, 2015
Pages: 293
Genre: Middle Grade – Historical Fantasy, Mystery
Warnings: Some scary images, mild violence
Rating: 3.5 stars
Recommended For: Readers who love atmospheric settings and don’t mind being scared a little.

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the 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; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

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 the 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.

Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.

(Summary from Goodreads)

SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK was a nice fusion of historical fantasy and mystery elements, all revolving around the mysterious forest surrounding the Biltmore estate and twelve-year-old Serafina, who ventures into the forest to save the children kidnapped from the estate by an evil man wearing a black cloak.

My favorite part of this book was the setting. It’s set in North Carolina in the late 1800s, and the Biltmore estate – and the surrounding forest – really came to life in an atmospheric way that was deliciously creepy.

Another thing that kept me reading were the dual mysteries at the heart of the plot. The main mystery is the identity of the man in the black cloak – Serafina is sure it’s someone from the estate, but she has to figure out who it is. There’s also the mystery of who her mother is; Serafina was raised in the basement of the main house by her father, and she’s always wondered about her mother. I think both mysteries were woven together really well and the pacing was just right.

I also loved how much of this book was a story about friendship. In the course of unraveling the mystery of the man in the black cloak, Serafina befriends Braeden, the nephew of the estate’s owner. Neither of them has had a real friend before and it was lovely to watch them figure out what it means to be a true friend in a way that wasn’t overly sappy.

TL;DR: An atmospheric + deliciously creepy story about saving kidnapped children and what it means to be a friend.

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Book Reviews

Review: MORTAL HEART by Robin LaFevers

20522640Title: Mortal Heart
Author: Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin, #3
Publication Information: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2014
Genre: Young Adult – Historical Fantasy
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Recommended For: Do you like assassin nuns? The correct answer is yes, you do.

Annith has watched her gifted sisters at the convent come and go, carrying out their dark dealings in the name of St. Mortain, patiently awaiting her own turn to serve Death. But her worst fears are realized when she discovers she is being groomed by the abbess as a Seeress, to be forever sequestered in the rock and stone womb of the convent. Feeling sorely betrayed, Annith decides to strike out on her own.

She has spent her whole life training to be an assassin. Just because the convent has changed its mind doesn’t mean she has…

(Summary from Goodreads)

This wasn’t my favorite book of the three, but that’s not really saying much since I still really loved it. It started off a little slow, but once it got going it didn’t let up. On the one hand, the first 100 pages take place at the abbey, which would be a much quieter setting, and Annith in the past has been a more quiet character. But on the other hand, it took 100 pages to leave the abbey and get to the meat of the story, which was Annith striking out on her own and figuring out what she wants with her life. So, there’s that.

One common thread I like with this series is how each of the three girls – Ismae, Sybella, and Annith – has her own struggle to overcome in her book. For Ismae it was to realize that not all men are as horrible as her father and ex-husband; for Sybella it was to realize that she can do things because she wants to and not because it’s expected of her; for Annith, it was to figure out what she wants in life since she’s spent her entire life so far trying to please everyone else except herself. There were also some twists regarding Annith’s past about halfway through the book, so it was interesting to watch her reactions to those revelations play out.

I also really liked Balthazaar, the love interest. Annith and Balthazaar complemented each other really well: for Balthazaar, Annith represented light and good, things that he was missing out on in his life. And Annith was attracted to Balthazaar because of his darkness and how he didn’t judge her for being as good as everyone thought she was – he accepted that she was selfish, and impulsive, and sharp-tongued. (Also, he was tall, dark, and dangerous, which certainly helped.)

I felt like this book tied together the end of the larger story arcs – the war with France, the Duchess’s search for love on her own terms, the abbess’s true motives – really nicely. That’s one thing I admire about the series as a whole: how smoothly these arcs flow with each book feeling like it adds something essential to the story.

TL;DR: Starts off slow, but picks up with Annith’s quest to define herself.

Book Reviews

Review: Dark Triumph

Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin, #2)Dark Triumph by R.L. LaFevers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I found out Dark Triumph was from Sybella’s point of view, I was worried I wouldn’t like it as much as Grave Mercy because of the lack of Gavriel, and because I’d loved Ismae so much. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded, because I actually loved Dark Triumph just a little bit more.

Sybella is similar to Ismae in that she’s another character who starts off the book as someone struggling with her inner demons but learns to overcome that over the course of the story. That being said, she’s a completely different character with her own struggle to overcome, and her voice is very much distinct from Ismae’s (something I noticed, because I’d read Grave Mercy not long before this). I loved watching Sybella become empowered as the book progressed, watching her realize she could live life on her own terms instead of being trapped in the shadow of her father or her inner demons.

I also loved Beast, who does a great job bringing out the best in Sybella without being just a love interest. We only got to see him for a little while in Grave Mercy, so I was happy he got more page time here. It would’ve been so easy for him to hate Sybella because of what her family did to his, but the fact that he didn’t showed a lot about him as a character and made me love him that much more (but not as much as Gavriel, because Gavriel).

Dark Triumph didn’t face the challenges many middle books in trilogies face – in fact, this was one case where the second book is better than the first. If you loved Grave Mercy, you’ll love this one as well.

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Book Reviews

Review: Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, #1)Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Grave Mercy was a slow starter, but once it got going, I couldn’t put it down.

The thing is, all of the things in the beginning that made the book feel slow are important to understanding the main character, Ismae. We have to understand what led her to the convent and why she feels the way she does about men in order to truly appreciate her mindset and her transformation over the course of the book. The best characters are the ones who go on some sort of emotional journey, and Ismae definitely did, going from being a vengeful handmaiden of Mortain to realizing there was good and bad in everyone, and she couldn’t assume everyone was the same just because of some less than positive experiences in her childhood.

Speaking of characters, I have the hugest crush on Gavriel. I loved how different he was from Ismae’s father and not-quite-husband, but I also loved how LaFevers didn’t beat us over the head with this fact – he was a character in his own right, not just “the one that changes everything” (which is one of my pet peeves, so I was on the lookout for this!). Also, I loved watching his and Ismae’s relationship develop throughout the book without either of them even realizing it. Their banter was one of my favorite parts of the book!

Finally, I loved the political aspect of Grave Mercy. I’m really into any and all court intrigue, so watching everyone at the Breton court maneuvering around each other – as well as around France – was super interesting to me. Also, Brittany is a region I’ve more or less ignored in my medieval history obsession, so it was cool to read something that wasn’t set in England or Italy!

If none of this has sold you on Grave Mercy, I’m going to whip out the trump card: assassin nuns. While this description sounded so awesome it made me give the book a try, everything else is so much more awesome than that.

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Book Reviews

Review: The Diviners

The Diviners (The Diviners, #1)The Diviners by Libba Bray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My reaction when I found out Libba Bray was writing a book set in the Roaring Twenties was this:

And I was not disappointed.

This book moves very slowly toward the beginning, but that’s only because Bray is setting things up for the bigger conflict this series will revolve around. There is an epic conflict with a lot at stake, and the apocalyptic scenario this book revolves around is only the beginning.

One of my favorite things about The Diviners was how fully drawn into the time period we are, whether it’s the frequent use of slang or references to various things going on during this time – the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, the eugenics movement, and countless other things I can’t remember off the top of my head. A lot of books I’ve read set during this time gloss over the less attractive things (such as the eugenics movement) in favor of the glitz and glamor of the Jazz Age, but Bray meets everything head on, making the book that much more realistic.

I easily fell in love with all of the characters, but Jericho most especially. His complete and utter awkwardness was so endearing, and my heart broke when we finally find out Certain Things about him. Outside of my poor baby, though, all of the characters were realistic, each with their own set of flaws and insecurities, and it was easy to get into all of their heads despite the third person narrative.

I’d heard a lot of people say The Diveners is a very creepy book, and they were correct; a lot of people had also said I might night want to read it before bed, which was another very astute observation that didn’t stop me from doing the exact opposite. Normally I’m not into creepy books, but for all of the reasons mentioned in previous paragraphs, I overcame this aversion quickly.

I can’t get the next book in this series in my hands soon enough.

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Book Reviews

Review: Circle of Fire

Circle of Fire (Prophecy of the Sisters, #3)Circle of Fire by Michelle Zink

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After the disappointment that the second book was, I was worried that this one would be, too. Fortunately, I was wrong.

I feel like the stakes were definitely raised in this one, probably because of the final battle looming in Lia’s immediate future. This means that both sides were scrambling into position, tensions were rising, and choices were made, all of which made for a gripping read. Also, the stakes here were very, very clear: fail, and the whole world is over.

I like the romance between Lia and Dimitri more than I liked the romance between Lia and James. Lia and Dimitri’s relationship felt a lot more mature, which I thought fit a lot better, given how much Lia has had to mature over the course of the series. That being said, I do wish the romance had been toned down a little bit – there were other things going on, and I wanted to see more of those!

There were a couple of things that bothered me, mostly having to do with discoveries related to Important Plot Points that felt a little too neat to me. (Obviously, they didn’t bother me that much, since I still gave the book 4 stars.)

While this wasn’t a perfect ending to the Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy, it was a satisfying one, and especially worth a read if you were disappointed by Guardian of the Gate.

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Book Reviews

Review: The Poison Diaries

The Poison Diaries
The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I…did not like this book. There were parts of it I absolutely adored, but overall, The Poison Diaries just didn’t do it for me.

I thought the voice of Jessamine, the main character, was great. I got from page one just how lonely she is. And based on that, I really wanted to root for her – especially because she’s stuck with no one but her completely twisted father for company. But…I just couldn’t connect with her. She just seemed too good. She did have flaws – naivety chief among them – but they only added to this whole good girl image, and if you are familiar with my love of ambiguous characters, you’ll understand my problem with this. Others may not have this problem.

I was completely in love with the setting. The way it was described throughout the book made it my favorite part – to me, the setting was really the star, to the point where, for me, it overpowered any of the characters. As much as I love setting, I find this problematic, because as a reader, I feel like a book should tell the characters’ story, not the setting’s. The setting can play an integral part in a story – like it does here – but it shouldn’t be the story.

Despite the reservations I’ve already expressed, I was still ready to give this book a 3/5…and then we hit the ending. To me, the ending came out of nowhere, and was just so completely unbelievable, I almost put the book down (which I never, ever do).

To be honest, I can’t really think of anyone I would recommend this book to. A lot of people have given this book high ratings, so obviously they found something I didn’t. I, however, was unimpressed.

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