Serafina and the Black Cloak

23507745by Robert Beatty
Children’s Fiction
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: July 14, 2015

I bought a bunch of MG books last year and this one has sat on my shelf the longest. I wasn’t sure what to expect (especially given my limited experience with the Disney imprint) but it was not the “safe” adventure I expected!

Serafina and her father secretly live in the basement of the Biltmore mansion. Her father is the estate’s head engineer, and Serafina does not exist, as far as the Biltmores are concerned. But when children start disappearing from the estate, Serafina reveals herself to the Biltmore’s nephew, Braeden, and they try to save the children before it’s too late.

What surprised me is just how dark this story got when it came to tracking down the Man in the Black Cloak! Not only is the Cloak super sinister, the things Serafina encounters as she hunts him down made me squirm with the creeps. (I read it on a plane and actually squirmed, several times). Encounters with various bloody remains and dark places in the Forest had me cringing in the best way! Serafina is a tougher girl than I am, and could grit her teeth and keep going.

It’s not the subtlest in terms of Serafina’s mysterious past and such, but it was fun and pretty satisfying. Gothic vibes made for middle-grade readers!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Serafina and the Black Cloak is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman – The other gruesome MG book I have read. Coraline’s family moves to a new house, and she has fun exploring it. Then she finds the Other Mother, who is determined to keep Coraline forever if Coraline can’t outsmart her trap.
  • Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi – A girl’s quest to locate her father in a neighboring magical realm goes horribly wrong. This is an interesting blend of total lighthearted whimsy and the darker depths of human nature. Enjoy this journey through two realms who use magic very differently! See my review here.
  • Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke – Definitely YA, but with that same creepy, country vibe. Three unreliable narrators tell you what they think happened one dark night at the haunted house. See my review here.
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Wink Poppy Midnight

23203106by April Genevieve Tucholke
YA Contemporary / Paranormal
4 of 5 stars

I fell in love with the cover of this little book and I love the writing inside just as much! I’m not used to books with multiple points of view giving each character their own unique voice. First person narratives tend to start sounding alike, but that isn’t the case here. Even more lovely is the fact that I couldn’t pick a favorite—Wink, Poppy, and Midnight all have their own narratives and arcs that drew me in and I was never left wishing that more time was given to just one of them.

Although this isn’t as spooky as I hoped, there are some creepy moments and the writing lends itself to sending a shiver down your spine at the right moments. Midnight has moved to a new house and just broke up with his old next-door neighbor, Poppy. Their toxic relationship has finally pushed him to say enough is enough. Wink is Midnight’s new neighbor, a farm girl from a large family who seems sweet and mature and everything Poppy isn’t. Nothing is simple in this story, and the manipulative nature of the girls has Midnight caught in a web of truth and lies so tangled it takes a horrible accident to sort everything out.

At least, it seems to be clear-cut, until stranger things start happening.

I guessed some of the outcome but there are enough twists to keep you surprised, and I was left wanting more of this strange world and the three main characters. Having three unreliable narrators was fun, and I wish more books experimented with this style!

This reads like a modern fairy tale, with whimsical elements and a plot that weaves in symbolic elements, astute observations, and events that knock everything you know about the characters askew. I really enjoyed it! Recommended for fairy tale lovers who enjoy some thrills and mystery.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Wink Poppy Midnight is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater – A weird blend of paranormal fantasy and YA contemporary, this series focuses on a group of teens searching for a buried Welsh king to claim one magical favor for awakening him. The usual Stiefvater elements of Atmosphere, fast cars, magic, and dynamic characters that drive the story. The writing is exquisite. See my review here.
  • The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes – Minnow escapes her cult the night the entire Community burns to the ground, only to go from one prison to another. The detectives want to know what really happened that night, but Minnow isn’t talking about what caused the loss of her hands, or anything else. See my review here.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – Siblings Hazel and Ben have loved the faerie boy in the forest for as long as they can remember. Fairfold’s residents are used to faerie mischief and know how to keep their magical forest content to fool with tourists only. But when the forest begins breaking the truce with the residents, Hazel knows it’s up to her to save her town. See my review here.
  • Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis – Maren decides to find her biological father on her 16th birthday—largely because she wakes up that morning to discover her mother has abandoned her. Maren doesn’t blame her mother—it was for her own safety after all. Maren has a tendency to consume the people who care about her, bones and all. She hopes finding her father will explain why she can’t stop herself from eating human flesh. See my review here.

The Raven King

Raven Kingby Maggie Stiefvater
YA Fantasy / Paranormal
4 of 5 stars
Book 4 in The Raven Cycle

This was my most-anticipated book of the year! I even pre-ordered it (which I never do). Then I found a copy in the wild a week early (hence why I never pre-order!) and of course bought it immediately and read it before my pre-ordered copy showed up! Of course, the downside of reading a book before everyone else is that you must handle your book hangover alone (gah!). Maybe I’m getting more emotional in my old age, but this book made me tear up at least twice, and ordinarily that’s a 5-star story for me since I am half-robot and books don’t make me cry. Especially not since I moved to Denver and am now perpetually dehydrated. Anyway, not a perfect score in this case because, (for reasons I won’t discuss here but which I’m positive are all over Tumblr at this point), it wasn’t quite what I expected.

That doesn’t mean this book wasn’t insanely awesome! It just means the roller-coaster looked like it was going one way but that was just an optical illusion.

All my reviews have highlighted the amazing friendships in these books. Now that we are in the fourth installment, we get the best dynamic between Blue and the boys. In book one, we’re told they’ve been friends for a while (the boys at least), and we get the sense that there is history we weren’t around for. But in book four, we’ve been a part of the last year of history, and you get the solidity of intimacy that you’ve witnessed and shared, not just moments that were implied or technically must exist in the non-canon past. The closest thing I can think of are books 6 and 7 of Harry Potter, where now you have years of experiences and knowledge of these characters and you don’t have the getting-to-know-you moments, you have the finishing-each-other’s-thoughts moments. This is my favorite book-feeling out there—when the characters feel real enough that you could bump into them on the street. All that to say, welcome to the best versions of these characters: best dialogue, best inside jokes, best fights, best everything. SAVOR IT.

This series is hard to review without spoilers because it’s so weird, so in summary: yes, the creepy Cabeswater magic gets creepier; yes, the opponents hunting the ley line get stronger; yes, Gansey’s time is running out; yes, the sense of running toward a very uncertain ending haunts you for 400 pages. Yes, the relationships that came to the foreground in book 3 get more screen time here (because sometimes Stiefvater is merciful!). Yes, the entire book is spent teetering between wanting to know what happens and never wanting it to end.

My favorite moments were the in-between scenes though. The scenes revolving around families giving advice, romantic tension in the most unlikely ways, character arcs approaching resolution as loose ends are tied up to make way for them to find the Raven King. This wasn’t the ending I was expecting but it’s a good one, and I’m sure once I read the series again I’ll love it even more. Go forth and read this!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Raven King is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke – This story told from three points of view is dark and different. Midnight broke up with Poppy for the summer after years of an on-again off-again relationship where Poppy held all the power. His new next-door neighbor is Wink, a girl from a strange family who isn’t like anyone he’s ever met. But when something terrible happens, it’s unclear who is telling the truth and how intertwined these three characters really are. A short, spooky read with gorgeous prose! See my review here.
  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma – Chloe moves in with her sister Ruby after a terrible accident befalls a classmate. It soon becomes clear that Ruby’s manipulative nature is growing, and stranger things are happening in their small town. Chloe has to decide what’s real and what’s true, and her perfect older sister might not be the best person to ask. See my review here.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – Hazel and Ben are used to Fairfold’s mischievous fairies and magical forest. Their town depends on tourists coming through to see the strange and unexplainable. But when Hazel senses that forest’s magic might be turning on the townfolk too, she knows it’s time to pick up her sword and save her beloved home. See my review here.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue

BLLBby Maggie Stiefvater
YA Fantasy / Paranormal
4 of 5 stars
Book 3 in The Raven Cycle

I’ve read this twice now and both times I think it took me only 24 hours. The previous book is centered around dreams, but this one feels more like a dream when you read it, possibly because it’s far weirder.

Much of the first two books, despite containing weird supernatural events, take place in and are grounded in the real world of small-town Virginia. This book returns us to a different Henrietta—one that is reeling from a revived ley line. Power outages, strange creatures, Noah’s changing presence and personality, and a growing sense of urgency envelope the women of 300 Fox Way and the raven boys.

Adam’s connection to Cabeswater is becoming less alarming as the scope of the ley line becomes broader. Ronan is still working out how to control his dreams, hoping to save Gansey with something he creates. Blue is worried sick (and pissed) that her mother Maura has been missing for a month after leaving nothing but a cryptic note saying, “Glendower is underground. So am I.” Gansey feels like they’re running out of time and road for their quest. (Persephone and Calla agree).

This series features repetition as a theme (and a style), but it’s never been more pronounced than here, probably because the magic in this story is confusing at times and repetition gives you something hold on to as you puzzle it out. Mirrors, using time more than once, secrets—all of these are brought to the forefront as the gang begins exploring a cursed cave that houses a mysterious sleeper—of some kind.

Although the overall tone is heavier thanks to the clear indications that both light and dark magic are at work, Stiefvater expertly includes hysterical moments and jokes, as well as some of the calm, in-between moments of one-on-one conversations between the characters (not just Blue and the boys) to balance it out. But along with this are Blue’s (and the boys’) constant realizations that everyone has different faces they wear and hidden sides you don’t know about—that you can be close and yet strangers. Sometimes because of secrets, sometimes because every day changes you a little until you have to relearn yourself.

I’ve said before that the true strength of this series are the character relationships. I dare you to read it and not want to be friends with them.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Blue Lily, Lily Blue is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma – A strange story about ballerina rivalries and time slipping around them. When a girl is murdered, another girl goes to jail. But is it the right girl? See my review here.
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman – A young girl moves to a new house with her parents and finds all its secret nooks and crannies. And the dark spirit waiting to steal her and her parents’ souls if she doesn’t win a game of riddles.
  • Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke – Three points of view, a hero, a liar, a villain–in a small mountain town. This short book is unique and creepy and hard to describe, rather like The Raven Cycle. See my review here.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – A small town with an unusual forest knows how to keep the faeries happy. When Hazel notices that the agreements aren’t working anymore, she takes up a sword to save her home. See my review here.

The Dream Thieves

dream thievesby Maggie Stiefvater
YA Fantasy / Paranormal
4 of 5 stars
Book 2 in The Raven Cycle

I remember when I first read this I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the first book, mainly because Ronan is so prickly. This time around, I loved this story! I think I just didn’t grasp Ronan’s arc and some of the events in this book the first time around. It’s very symbolic and metaphorical at times, and quite honestly Stiefvater’s summaries on Recaptains helped immensely. Dreams are rarely straightforward in real life, and that bleeds through everything in this book.

*spoilers for The Raven Boys*

At this point in the story, Blue is inextricably intertwined with the four raven boys: Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah. They found out Noah’s been dead for seven years. Adam is working out what his agreement with Cabeswater entails. Ronan tells the group he can take things from his dreams (such as Chainsaw), just like his father. Blue experiments with her own power over energy. Gansey remains wistful as ever, about everything.

They’re all beginning to realize they’re part of something bigger.
They’re also learning far more people are after the ley line’s power than they first thought.

This book opens up the world even as it focuses largely on Ronan and his strange power. Through his complicated relationship with Kavinsky, we learn how the dreams work and that Ronan’s family isn’t the only one able to do it.

The same wealth of atmosphere, snappy dialogue, and amazing descriptions are present here and Gansey’s quest for Glendower is even stranger and more compelling. The true strength of this series is the friendship these characters share. I finished this and went directly to the next book!

This series is for anyone wanting to explore the fine line between magic and reality. It’s paranormal without the monsters or heavy romance. It’s very much its own (weird) thing.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Dream Thieves is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll – When you think of a book about dreams, this is at the top of the list. Alice’s strange dreamland and her guide the White Rabbit are symbols of exactly how weird your mind can be when you aren’t awake and in charge. Although it’s older, it reads easily and the imagery is addictively strange.
  • Made You Up by Francesca Zappia – An adorable, emotional (if a bit inaccurate) story about Alex, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and is never sure what is real and what isn’t. Beautiful language and enjoyably wry. See my review here.
  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma – A story about two sisters, and the powerful dynamic between them. Ruby runs their small town, and Chloe adores her. But when a classmate is murdered and she goes to live with her sister, strange things start happening. See my review here.
  • Tides by Betsy Cornwell – Noah and Lo spend the summer with their grandmother on a small island and find out that selkies are known to roam the waters around it. See my review here.

Silver in the Blood

22929540by Jessica Day George
YA Fantasy / YA Urban Fantasy
3 of 5 stars

To be honest, this is probably my biggest book disappointment of 2015. That sounds bad, but I actually plan to read the sequel! So let me explain myself…

All the right elements are there: it’s set in Romania, we follow cousins Lou and Dacia as they discover their family secrets, magic comes into play when they least expect it, and of course the cover art is gorgeous! From the blurb I expected….something completely different from what I read.

It doesn’t really matter that it’s set in Romania. Aside from (unending) descriptions of Parisian vs Romanian dresses, there are no details bringing Romania to life. It’s any typical urban fantasy setting of small towns and forests. The family secrets and magic take 204 pages to reveal. The book is not much longer than that….so for the majority of it I was sitting around waiting for something to happen as the cousins discuss how clueless they are, too. By the time things start happening, there’s been enough foreshadowing to remove the tension from most of the climax. This story shouldn’t have felt so dull, but it was.

Finally, the end of the book bothered me simply because I couldn’t figure out the tone of this story. It’s extremely light-hearted most of the time, with a few disturbing paragraphs thrown in that unbalance it all. I liked Lou and Dacia, but I couldn’t figure out what kind of story they were in, and unfortunately they couldn’t either.

Despite all this, I’m going to stick around for the next book! This one seemed to be a lot of setup, but now that the framework is in place, I’m hoping the sequels have a bit more zip to them.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Silver in the Blood is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare – One of the chief comparisons to this novel, it has more magic, romance, and excitement. This is a really fun trilogy set in Victorian London. Tessa is a shape-shifter trying to discover her origins with the help of the London Institute’s Shadowhunters.
  • A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray – The other chief comparison to this novel-this follows Gemma Doyle at a Victorian England finishing school where she accidentally unearths the secrets to an ancient power with the help of her three friends. This is a typical boarding school environment where the events between classes have you turning the pages.
  • Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede – An epistolary novel between two girlfriends as they handle English high society and a series of strange, magical events.
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo – I hoped Silver in the Blood would be more like this…a Russian-inspired setting with dark magic and court intrigue. See my review here.
  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor – Set largely in Prague, this has more of the flavor and fast pacing that I hoped to find in Silver in the Blood. See my review here.
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer – When it’s a normal girl discovering some alarming shape-shifters within her community, look no further than miss Bella Swan, the hapless protagonist in this paranormal quartet. Before the wing, claw and smoke there were just some vampires and werewolves. I found the first book to be the most enjoyable but if the characters grab you, settle in for a thousand pages. See my review here.
  • Written in Red by Anne Bishop – Meg can see the future when her skin is cut. She escapes her captors and takes shelter among the most unlikely group possible-the shape-shifters known as the Others. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: The Raven Boys

17675462by Maggie Stiefvater
YA Paranormal Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

This was the first Stiefvater book I read, and since then I’ve come to adore her style and attention to detail. The mood of this series is dreamy, haunting, and also comical, and the balance is perfect. Blue Sargent lives in a small, sleepy Virginia town whose prep school mascot, a raven, has her referring to the four preppy boys she encounters as Raven Boys. They are a chaotic mess of ambition and angst, and Blue’s initial revulsion turns to intrigue as she discovers their leader of sorts, Gansey, is on a quest to find a dead Welsh king buried under a mountain, said to grant a wish to whoever discovers him. She’s skeptical by nature, but she also lives with her mother and aunts, all very accurate psychics, so she gets caught up in an ever-weirder chain of events.

It’s refreshing to me that Stiefvater specializes in this sort of strange, paranormal, magical-realism that doesn’t require pages of intense stares and romance. It’s eerie and gripping and hard to write about without including spoilers.

You never quite know what to expect in this series (the fourth and final book comes out in 2016) but the writing is top-notch and the characters are fantastic. I would follow them to the ends of the earth–which is a more realistic option in this case than it usually is.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Raven Boys is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – Possibly my favorite novel of hers, mostly because it’s a standalone so you don’t have to agonize over which part of the saga is the best. It feels like a lyrical film (it’s slated to become one soon-ish), and if you love her writing for The Raven Cycle there’s more of it here. See my review here.
  • Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater – You probably noticed these covers all over bookstores a couple years back. This paranormal romance trilogy features a girl falling for a boy that might also be the wolf she sees every winter in her back yard. I haven’t read it myself yet but I’ve only heard good things.
  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma – This has the same creepy feeling and characters that slowly reveal the darker sides of themselves. See my review here.
  • Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis – Another creepy read that adds gradual layers hinting that not everything is what it seems (and what you thought it was is already weird). See my review here.
  • Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke – Three unreliable narrators tell you about creepy events in a small mountain town. Who is telling the truth? See my review here.

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