Serafina and the Black Cloak

My latest read, Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty, was recommended by several of my students (and one teacher). It takes place at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Now, given that I live roughly 80 miles from the historic home, you’d think that I would have visited it more than twice in my life. You would be wrong. (Tickets are kind of expensive, and I hate driving.) If my memory serves me, the last time I toured the Biltmore Estate was on a field trip when I was in the third grade. (Yeah…it’s been a while.) Now that I’ve read Serafina and the Black Cloak, though, I may have to remedy that situation. It would be nice to rely on fresh memories when envisioning the events of this book.

The year is 1899. Serafina lives at the famous Biltmore Estate. The only person who knows of her existence is her pa, one of the home’s maintenance men, and no one realizes that the two of them secretly live in the basement of the Biltmore. Serafina’s pa cautions her to remain out of sight. Should her presence be discovered, it could mean the loss of her father’s job and their home.

When children begin disappearing from the estate, however, Serafina may need to make herself known. She witnesses a strange figure in a black cloak take a child, and she knows she must tell someone what she saw. But who would believe her? And can she confide in someone without losing the only home she’s ever known?

Serafina finds an unlikely ally in the form of Braeden Vanderbilt, the nephew of the Biltmore’s owner. He vows to keep her secret and somehow help her discover who–or what–is taking children from the house and grounds. The two look all over the estate for clues as to the identity of the mysterious figure in the black cloak, but children continue to disappear without a trace.

Serafina’s search for answers leads her to the forest surrounding the Biltmore. Her pa always taught her to fear the darkness of the forest, but Serafina feels oddly at home here. Yes, there are strange things happening in the forest, but it may just hold the key to the mystery of the black cloak…and Serafina’s past.

What will Serafina discover about herself during the course of her investigation? And can she and Braeden uncover the terrifying truth…before they are the next victims of the Man in the Black Cloak?


It’s easy for me to see why Serafina and the Black Cloak is so popular with my students. It’s an enthralling, multi-layered mystery–with some spooky supernatural elements–set in a fairly familiar place. Many of the kids requesting this book do so after they’ve visited the Biltmore Estate. This book might also make a good class read-aloud or novel study before a field trip to the estate.

Local connection aside, this book is a great fit for those who devour the works of Mary Downing Hahn. If you have upper elementary or middle grade readers looking for a good scare, point them to Serafina.

There is at least one more Serafina book to look forward to. Serafina and the Twisted Staff, which also takes place in and around the Biltmore Estate, will be released on August 6th. I’ll definitely need this sequel on hand when we start back to school in the fall.

To learn more about Serafina and the Black Cloak, visit author Robert Beatty’s website or connect with him on Facebook and Twitter. You may also want to take a look at the book trailer below. While the video totally captures the mood of the book, I think it gives a little too much away. Proceed with caution.

If you’re intrigued by Serafina and the Black Cloak and would like to visit the home that inspired the book, click here. I have a feeling I’ll be paying the Biltmore Estate a visit myself in the not-too-distant future.

 

The Iron Trial

If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you probably know that I will read anything that Cassandra Clare cares to write. So it should come as no surprise that I was eager to read the first book in her new middle grade series co-authored with Holly Black. Well, I finally got around to reading The Iron Trial, book one in the pair’s five-part Magisterium series, over this holiday weekend, and I’m pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it…and it’s something I can add to my school library and promote to my students. (I think it’s a great read for upper elementary on up.)

There are elements that many readers will find familiar in The Iron Trial. A boy learns he has magical abilities, goes to a hidden school for those of his kind, becomes close to two other kids (a boy and a girl) at this school, gets into a bit of trouble, and works to solve a mystery that could endanger his life and the lives of those around him. Sound familiar? Yeah, the similarities to Harry Potter can’t be ignored…but they can be used to urge Potterheads to pick up this book. Readers will undoubtedly notice the parallels, but I also believe they’ll be pleasantly surprised by how things are different. Clare and Black take the story we expect to read and turn it around on us, and I think most readers will be both shocked and intrigued with how this plays out. I know I was.

What kid wouldn’t want magical powers? What kid wouldn’t want to attend the Magisterium, a super-secret school to learn how to use those abilities? Callum Hunt, that’s who.

For as long as Call can remember, his dad has told him that the Magisterium is evil and that he must do whatever it takes to fail the Iron Trial, a series of tests used to determine who earns a place at this magical school. And Call does his best to fail…and it looks like he’s succeeded. He fails spectacularly and gets the lowest possible marks at the Iron Trial…but he’s selected for the Magisterium anyway. Not only is he accepted; he’s with one of the best mages, in the group with the most gifted apprentices. What’s going on here? Why would anyone want him as an apprentice? What is so special about Callum Hunt, a kid with a bum leg who wants to be anywhere but here?

As Call begins his Iron year at the Magisterium and learns more about magic, he begins to wonder just what his dad had against the school and magic. Call is learning so much…and he’s actually getting pretty good at his studies, despite his rather horrible start. His fellow apprentices, Aaron and Tamara, soon become his closest friends, and that’s kind of a big deal to a kid who really didn’t have friends before now.

Call is becoming more and more comfortable with himself and his abilities, so he’s eager to learn just why his dad didn’t want him here. Since Call is a curious sort with a certain disregard for rules, Call begins to investigate. He stumbles upon a few things that might answer some questions…or they might create even more.

It seems that Call’s past is tied to the most feared being in the magical world, the Enemy of Death. This figure, cloaked in mystery, is responsible for the deaths of many, many mages–including Call’s mother–and he’s still out there, biding his time until he can use the forces of chaos to rise to power. The Magisterium has recently discovered its own weapon in the coming war with the Enemy…but will that be enough? What if the Enemy has already infiltrated the Magisterium? What will that mean for the Magisterium then? And what does all of this have to do with Call?

Soon, Call will come face-to-face with his past, his place at the Magisterium, and what it could mean for his future. He learns just why his father wanted to keep him from magic. What will Call do with this new and disturbing information? Time will tell…

_______________

I hope I haven’t given too much away in this post. I want readers to be just as floored by the ending–and what it could mean for future books–as I was.

The second book, The Copper Gauntlet, is expected to be released sometime in the fall of 2015. I, for one, can hardly wait to read more about the adventures of Call, Aaron, and Tamara, and what they do with everything they learned in The Iron Trial. Should be interesting to say the least.

If you’d like to learn more about The Iron Trial, I encourage you to visit the official website. It has loads of information on the book, the authors, and the world of the Magisterium. There are also some games and other extras that look like fun. You may also want to take a quick peek at the video below. Enjoy!

Halflings

In less than two weeks, I’ll be attending the annual conference of the South Carolina Association of School Librarians.  At this gathering of librarians, I’ll be leading a couple of sessions.  One is on blogging in the elementary school library, and the other is a question and answer session with a few YA authors:  Sophie Jordan (Firelight, Vanish, and Hidden), Julie Halpern (Into the Wild Nerd Yonder), and Heather Burch, author of the Halflings series.

I’ll be perfectly honest with you.  Heather Burch wasn’t even on my radar until I heard that she would be attending this year’s SCASL Conference.  When I was asked to facilitate this author panel, I knew, however, that I would need to read at least one of her books to be really effective.  I finally did that this week.  In fact, I finished the first book in her Halflings series about an hour ago.  It was good, but, in a lot of ways, it left more questions unanswered than not.  I guess this is a sure way to get readers to check out the next book.

Nikki Youngblood is in danger, but even she is unsure of just what is after her.  When she’s nearly killed by what can only be described as hellhounds–and she’s rescued by beings she believes to be angels–she comes to realize that the dangers she’s facing are more horrible–and unearthly–than she could have ever imagined.

Nikki wasn’t exactly rescued by angels, however.  The three “boys” she came into contact with are known as Halflings.  They are half-human, half-angel and are considered outcasts in Heaven and on Earth.  These Lost Boys do have a purpose, though.  Mace, Raven, and Vine are on a heavenly journey to protect Nikki–or someone close to her.  But why?  What is so special about this teenage girl?  Why is she now a target of the enemy?  And how can these supernatural beings protect someone who clouds their feelings and has the power to impact their futures?  Mace and Raven, especially, are drawn to Nikki (and Nikki to them), but divine mandate prevents any of them from being together…without truly hellacious results.

As Nikki, Mace, and Raven battle their desires, an unknown evil is penetrating everything around them.  No one is really sure who is behind the terror that is brewing, but Nikki, her Lost Boys, and several other heavenly beings will do everything they can to uncover the truth and fight in the war that’s coming.  What will be lost in the battles ahead?  What will be sacrificed?  And will Nikki and company be able to handle the choices that must be made…and their inevitable consequences?  Begin to unravel the mystery when you read Halflings, the first book in an exciting series by Heather Burch.

If I had to classify this book, it would be young adult Christian fantasy with a bit of mystery and romance thrown in for good measure.  It’s a decent read for those in middle school and beyond who like “angelic” fiction.  As for me, the book was a little frustrating because it left me with so many questions.  I didn’t really have a sense of closure at the end of the book, so I’m hoping that the question and answer session at the SCASL Conference will tie things up a little better for me.

The second book in the Halflings series, Guardian, is already out, and I hope to get around to it soon.  (This probably won’t happen before my conference, though.  I’m being realistic here.)  The third book, Avenger, is due out this April.  For more information about the author and this series, click here.

That’s all for now.  I may edit this post a bit after my conference in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned.  Until then, do you have any burning questions you’d like to ask the YA authors attending this conference?  Let me know in the comments, and I’ll try to get a few answers for you!

Finale

Spoilers! If you haven’t read the first three books in Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush series (Hush, Hush, Crescendo, and Silence), stop whatever you’re doing, and get on with it! These books are super-duper, and the fourth and final book, Finale, is equally wonderful. If you have read the first three books, proceed with caution. This post might be a little spoilery. If you haven’t experienced this fabulous saga, stop reading this RIGHT NOW! This post will be extremely spoilery.

Before I get into talking about the awesomeness that is Becca Fitzpatrick’s Finale, let me vent a little bit. I had every intention of finishing this book days ago (instead of yesterday evening). Sadly, though, I had to return to school on January 2nd (which kind of stunk), so that ate into my reading time. (I really need a job that allows me to read all day…and stay in my pajamas. If you know of a job like this, please let me know.) Anyway, I was too exhausted when I came home from work to do anything more strenuous than vegging in front of the TV. Thursday night, I got violently ill, so I had to deal with that. I read a little Friday evening and Saturday morning, but I spent Saturday evening and Sunday morning with family, so not much reading was done. I finally caught a break on Sunday afternoon. I was able to become absorbed in a book with no interruptions. I tell you all of this to explain why I’m not doing so well with my resolution to read 400 books this year. The year has barely begun, and I’m already way behind. *dramatic sigh*

But I’m guessing most of you don’t give a flying fart in space why I’m not reading as much as I should, so let’s move on to the reason we’re all here. Yesterday, I finished reading Finale, the fourth and final book in Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush saga. This book was released on October 23rd, 2012, and I’m pretty sure I bought it the day it came out, so it had been sitting on my shelf for a couple of months before I decided to dive in. (I don’t have to remind you that I’m a busy girl, so it’s no secret why I didn’t get to it right away.) I had to reread my posts on the first three books in the series to remind me what happened previously, but, after that, I entered into the world of Nora and Patch rather seamlessly.

For those that don’t remember what happened at the end of Silence, here’s a short reminder:  Hank (Nora’s biological father and leader of the Nephilim) is dead, and Nora swore on the lives of her and her mother that she would lead his army. Nora became a member of the Nephilim (so she’s no longer totally human). It’s up to her to lead her new army against the fallen angels, but she doesn’t want to do that because the love of her life, Patch, just happens to be one of them. It’s quite the sticky wicket.

In Finale, Nora Grey is the new leader of the Nephilim. She doesn’t want to be the leader of this army, and the Nephilim don’t really want her as their leader, but a blood oath ensures that nobody gets what they want. Nora is now the Black Hand, and she is faced with a decision that will force her to choose between continued slavery for the Nephilim or the complete annihilation of the fallen angels…including Patch, her beloved.

At first, Nora thinks her job is fairly simple.  She’ll just lead the Nephilim into a peaceful alliance with the fallen angels. Alas, this is not to be. Neither the Nephilim or the fallen angels will go for it, and, once the archangels of Heaven get involved, it becomes even more of a no-go. Even Nora, after seeing what it really means to be Nephil, has doubts about peace even being a consideration.

And that’s not all that’s giving Nora reason to doubt her situation. Her best friend, Vee, is keeping secrets. Her boyfriend, Patch, can’t be seen with her. (When there’s a war brewing between Nephilim and fallen angels, it’s not the best idea to be seen cavorting with the “enemy.”) Also, his heinous ex-girlfriend has been sniffing around. Nora’s nemesis (and half-sister) has decided that living with Nora would be a good idea. To top it all off, it seems that someone–someone who Nora thinks can be trusted–is working to undo everything Nora is trying to achieve…and he or she is using devilcraft (think witchcraft…but way, way, way worse) to do it.

Will Nora be able to lead the Nephilim? Will she lead them to war or peace? And what will either situation mean for Nephilim, fallen angels, and, most importantly to this story, Nora and Patch? Is the future of their relationship doomed to fall before it really has a chance to fly? If Nora can find a way to bring a peaceful end to the war that is brewing, what–or who–will she have to sacrifice? What is the cost of freedom, and is Nora willing to pay it? Find these answers and more when you read Finale, the thrilling conclusion to Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush saga.

I don’t know if you can tell from this post, but I kind of adore this entire series. Until yesterday, I would have told you that Silence was my favorite book in the series, but I think Finale may have, at the very least, forced a tie. There was just so much drama! Yes, there were times when I had to close the book because I wanted to punch Nora in the face, but that’s how I know this story really gripped me. Also, even though there were tons of clues pointing to the true bad guy(s), I honestly didn’t see it coming. Maybe that makes me as gullible as Nora was, but that’s okay. If being gullible comes with having a fallen angel like Patch think you’re awesome-sauce, I’ll take it.

One complaint: I did feel like the epilogue was a little too neat. I would have liked to know more about what happened between the last chapter and the events in the epilogue. Some things, in my opinion, were just glossed over too much.

All in all, I think Finale was a great conclusion to what was an amazing series. I look forward to reading even more from Becca Fitzpatrick!

To learn more about Becca Fitzpatrick, you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter. You may also want to visit the official Hush, Hush fansite, Fallen Archangel, for the latest on this series, including movie news!

Still not enough? Well then…check out this super-cool book trailer for Finale from Simon & Schuster Videos. Knight Reader out!

Silence

Before proceeding, please read the first two books in Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush series (Hush, Hush and Crescendo).  If you have read these, you may still want to skim over them to refresh your memory (especially if you waited way too long between reading Crescendo and Silence…like someone I won’t mention).

As you have no doubt gathered by now, I just finished reading Silence, the third book in Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush series. I’m still trying to figure out why I took so long to read this one, but I will say it was well worth the wait. In my most humble opinion, Silence is the best book in the series (so far). I loved Hush, Hush. I liked Crescendo. I was totally blown away by Silence. The emotion, angst, fear, and danger leapt off each page, and I was completely invested in everything the characters, particularly Nora, were going through. I cannot say enough good things about this book…but I’ll try.

*Side note: If’ it’s been a while since you read Crescendo, reread the last chapter before picking up Silence. It will make things so much easier for you. Trust me!*

The past five months are gone…at least that’s the way it seems when Nora Grey wakes up in a cemetery with no memory of how she got there.  She can’t remember anything beyond April…and it’s September.  She’s been missing since June, so why does her memory loss stretch back two more months?  What happened that was bad enough to erase her memory of it? 

Things have changed since Nora’s been gone–her mom is dating her mortal enemy’s dad, her best friend apparently thinks it’s now okay to lie to protect her, super strong bad guys are on the prowl, and Nora is having strange flashes of black that make her feel safe and loved.  What could these flashes mean, and who are they connected to?  Nora must piece together her fractured past in order to really figure out what’s going on in the present…before her future is destroyed.

When Nora crosses paths with a guy named Jev, she feels an instant connection…almost like she’s known and loved him before.  And she has.  Could Jev (also known as Patch) be the key to unlocking her memories?  When the fog finally clears, will Nora be prepared for what is in front of her–angels at war, an evil mastermind (who has a very strong connection with Nora), jealousy, and a love that is as boundless as the heavens?  What is her role in all this, and what is at stake? 

It’s a lot to take in, but Nora will do what she must.  Her memories were taken from her once before.  She won’t let anyone–or anything–rob her of her mother, her future, or the love of her life.  What will Nora have to sacrifice to save all she holds dear?  What will be sacrificed for her?  Embrace the Silence to find out!

I feel like this is one of the worst posts I’ve ever written.  That’s a shame because this book deserves more.  (I’m still three days from Spring Break, so give me a little leeway here.)  I almost felt Nora’s emotions the entire way through the book.  I even dreamed about this book last night.  (Sadly, there were no appearances by gorgeous guardian angels, but there’s always tonight!)  Silence is an awesome read that will keep fans of this saga captivated from the first page to the last.

We’ll get to see more of Nora and Patch in the fourth and final book in this series, Finale, due out on October 23rd this year.  No book cover yet, but I’ll post it here as soon as it’s released.

Still can’t get enough of this series?  Visit http://beccafitzpatrick.com/ and http://www.fallenarchangel.com/.  And check out the Silence book trailer below!

Always a Witch

Spoilers ahead!  If you haven’t read Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, stop right there.  Read that book before you continue with this post.  Always a Witch will make absolutely no sense if you read it without the background provided in the first book.  Seriously.  No sense at all.

Well, I’ve finally finished the sequel to Once a Witch (which I read way back in March).  Always a Witch continues the story of Tamsin and her newly discovered Talent.  (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you obviously didn’t heed my warning above.  Shame on you.)  Tamsin and her family are getting ready for a very special celebration when things get weird…and that’s really saying something in a family full of witches.

Just days before Tamsin’s sister, Rowena is to be married, an enemy returns to wreak havoc on the Greene family.  The evil Alistair Knight warns that he will stop at nothing to restore his family’s power…and he means it.  When Tamsin learns that Alistair has Traveled back to 1887 New York, she knows she must follow him.  She must warn her family (ancestors, really) of what is to come so that they can prevent the dismal future that could await them.  But things aren’t really that easy.  Then again, they never are when it comes to Tamsin.

When Tamsin Travels back in time, she almost immediately finds herself employed…by the Knight family.  She is to be lady’s maid to young Jessica Knight.  But Tamsin may just be able to use this unexpected circumstance to her advantage.  She uses her position to learn more about her enemy, and she’s truly horrified by what she discovers.  The Knight family is the epitome of evil, and they must be stopped.  But can Tamsin convince her family to stop them when it could mean the loss of their powers and even their lives?

With or without help, Tamsin is determined to do what she must to ensure that the Knights lose their power.  But is she really willing to make the hard choices?  Choices that could impact the past as well as the future?  What will she do when she realizes that the future of her entire family rests on her shoulders?  What would you do?  Read Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough to discover how far one will go in the name of family.

Even though this book was heavy on the time travel (which I believe I have mentioned seriously messes with my head), I think Always a Witch was even better than its predecessor.  I was (figuratively) on the edge of my seat throughout the entire book.  Tamsin grew up and began to really think about how her choices would impact not only herself but also everyone around her.  I also kind of like that the villains of the book were the Knights.  That’s just awesome.  I’ve kind of always wanted to be a villain (but a good, misunderstood one like Darth Vader).  Even though the Knights in this book were pure evil, I still think it’s pretty cool that we share the same last name.  I know that’s incredibly juvenile of me, but, let’s face it, sometimes I am incredibly juvenile.

If you’d like more information on Once a Witch, Always a Witch, or other books by author Carolyn MacCullough, visit her website at http://www.carolynmaccullough.com/index.html.  As for me, I must get ready for the first day of school tomorrow.  Wish me luck!

A Need So Beautiful

In previous posts on this blog, I have mentioned my many fears–clowns, zombies, evil children, thunderstorms, rodents, reptiles, arachnids, bugs, and the dark, just to name a few.  I haven’t however, mentioned my greatest fear, the one that really keeps me up at night and leaves me depressed during my waking hours.  It’s deeply personal, and I’m pretty sure only my mom knows that I have this fear.  It’s the fear of being forgotten.  The thought of no one remembering my existence is shattering.  (I’m pretty sure this all started in the eighth grade.  My science teacher was handing out papers or something, and he came to one with my name on it.  He had no idea who I was…and school was about to get out for the summer.)  Anyway, this fear took center stage when I read my latest book, A Need So Beautiful, by Suzanne Young.  The protagonist, Charlotte, is forced to face her own destiny, one where she loses everyone she loves and is completely erased from their memories.  She will be forgotten…

Ever since she can remember, Charlotte has felt the Need, an uncontrollable urge to help people in need.  She cannot control when or where the Need will hit, but she feels intense pain until she helps those who call to her.  At first, the Need would hit her every month or so.  Then, it became every week.  Now, though, the Need plagues her one or more times per day. 

Charlotte doesn’t know what’s happening to her, or even what she really is, but the Need is quickly destroying her.  It’s wrecking her relationships–with her boyfriend, her best friend, and her adoptive family.  She wishes she could ignore the Need, but the pain is just too much to handle.  She must help those who need her, even if it means losing parts of herself.  But when things begin to get even worse–like her body emitting a golden glow and people around her forgetting who she is–Charlotte seeks answers.  First of all, who and what is she?  Why does the Need compel her to help people she doesn’t even know?  And can she change her destiny before everyone in the world forgets she ever existed?

Charlotte’s search for the truth leads her to something she never expected.  She is one of the Forgotten, sort of an angel sent to earth to help those in need.  When she helps people, she is instantly forgotten.  And every time she helps someone, she draws closer and closer to the end of her own life.  She will wear out until she is nothing but light, and her entire being will be erased from the memories of those she encountered.  But there might be a way out.  There may be a way to keep her life, her plans, her boyfriend, and her family.  Is Charlotte willing to do anything to be remembered?  And what is the price she will have to pay to make it happen?  Will she be able to pay it?  Read A Need So Beautiful by Suzanne Young to find out.

A Need So Beautiful is a breathtaking book, and, if you’re anything like me, it will leave you thinking long after you’ve finished reading.  It made me think about what it would really be like if no one remembered me.  (It would suck, by the way.)  But it also made me consider that there might be worse things than being forgotten.  Would I be willing to sacrifice my own desire to be remembered for the greater good?  Would you?

FYI, this book has a couple of adult situations, mostly involving sex, so I would recommend it for ages 16 and up.

If you’d like more information about this book or others by Suzanne Young, visit http://suzanne-young.blogspot.com/.