Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Title: Serafina and the Black Cloak
Author: Robert Beatty
Series: N/A

Serafina knows she’s different, not many children are born with only four toes on their feet and a knack for sneaking around in the dark. No one on Biltmore Estate knows that Serafina and her father have spent years secretly living in the basement. When Serafina, on one of her night expeditions, witnesses a cloaked figure kidnap a girl, she inadvertently stumbles upon a mystery. With more children going missing, Serafina must come out of hiding if she hopes to stop the Man in the Black Cloak from taking any more children.

“She’d seen the girl in the yellow dress consumed by the shadow-filled folds and knew the man in the black cloak was coming for her next. Her only hope was that he couldn’t hear the deafening pound of her heartbeat.”

Robert Beatty’s Serafina and the Black Cloak is a delightful middle grade read full of mystery and heart. Serafina has lived a clandestine life, her existence hidden from the Vanderbilts, her father’s employer and the owners of the Biltmore Estate. Like any other twelve-year-old, Serafina is full of questions, her curiosity is insatiable, and sometimes she feels ignored by adults, in this case her father. Throughout the novel, Serafina struggles with how different she is from other children. Her isolation has made her lonely; despite this, her bravery makes her shine in this novel. Serafina encounters a kindred spirit in the nephew of the Vanderbilts, Braeden, who also struggles with being different. Having lost his parents, Braeden finds refuge in his relationship with his dog and his fondness for working with horses. Braeden becomes the first person beside her father to know Serafina exists. His kindness and open-mindedness are just as important as Serafina’s bravery when it comes to her story.

I especially liked the mysterious forest Serafina’s father forbids her from entering. After all, there is no story if the heroine doesn’t get a chance to face the creepy woods that she is strangely drawn to. Full of gravestones, wild birds, and ferocious animals, Serafina faces her greatest challenge within this dark forest. There is a question of the nature of good and evil, whether Serafina, drawn to darkness, is inherently bad because of her nature. She is faced with a decision and learns that being good or evil is a matter of choice. Family also plays an important role in this novel as well, exploring what it means to be a family, finding it in unlikely places, and still being able to appreciate where you come from.

Seraphina and the Black Cloak is a winner, with a brave heroine, a creepy mystery, and a wonderful lesson on family and acceptance.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

Title: The Mysterious Howling
Author: Maryrose Wood
Series: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, #1

When Miss Penelope Lumley, recent graduate of Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, answers an ad for a governess, she has no idea what’s in store for her. After all, the vague advertisement gave little details about the job, referring to the charges only as “Three Lively Children.” When Penelope arrives, she discovers these are no ordinary children, they are wild, prone to chase squirrels, and have spent their earliest years being raised by wolves. Now Penelope must use all the skills she learned at school, including those lesson taught to her by the Swanburne veterinarian, to train these children to be proper members of society.

“Of especially naughty children, it is sometimes said, ‘They must have been raised by wolves’…and, by Jove, these rascals actually were!”

Maryrose Wood’s The Mysterious Howling is a charming children’s books about three primitive children and the governess that sees their potential in a world that only looks at them as a bizarre misfortune. Young and inexperienced, Penelope is a girl of fifteen without parents of her own, lucky enough to have been taken in and educated at the strict Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females. She has internalized a myriad of mantras written by her school’s founder and is convinced these words of wisdom are all she needs to succeed. However, it is not her education that draws the children to her, but her kind heart, not to mention her experience with animals.

Lord Frederick, who discovers the children on a hunting expedition and is now the guardian of these unusual wards, is more interested in showing them off than caring for them. His wife, Lady Constance, would like nothing more than to be rid of the feral creatures. Their behavior, along with other high society members, is much more savage than anything the children exhibit. The only advocate the children truly have is Penelope and it is her they look to for instruction. Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia (so unfortunately named) grow from howling pups to poetry composing pupils (though the poetry tends to praise the moon and end with a howl) under Penelope’s tutelage.

The Mysterious Howling is witty series opener with charismatic characters that will have you yelping in delight.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand

Title: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls
Author: Claire Legrand
Series: N/A

Twelve-year-old Victoria Wright believes in perfection. Being top of her class isn’t just an achievement, it’s her right. Her best friend Lawrence Prewitt is nothing like her. Easily distracted by his piano and unable to remember to tuck in his shirt, Lawrence would be a lost cause without her. Then one day without warning Lawrence disappears. Victoria is baffled, especially when the people of Belleville don’t seem as concerned by his disappearance as she is. When Victoria’s investigation leads her to the mysterious Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, she’ll discover just what goes on behind its closed doors and that being perfect comes at a price.

“The air thrilled between night and day, between bad things and good things. Victoria hated that feeling, and any between feelings, for that matter. Things should be one or the other, not somewhere in the middle, and lately, everything was very in the middle.”

Claire Legrand’s The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is full of mystery and fright. Told from the view point of the ambitious Victoria, Legrand’s book is a lesson in individuality, that being different is more valuable than being perfect. Belleville is a pristine town, where following the rules is imperative, and anyone who deviates from the norm is labeled strange. But Victoria discovers stranger things still when she begins to notices several children missing and something off about the perfect smiles of the adults around her. Victoria receives several perplexing warnings to be careful, but instead of being the perfect example of good behavior, something she’s extremely good at, Victoria is determined to find her friend even if it means breaking the rules.

Victoria is at first awe-struck by Mrs. Cavendish, who runs the Home for Boys and Girls. She is lovely, kind, and for some reason thoughts get a little fuzzy in Victoria’s head when she’s around her. Mrs. Cavendish is also a perfectionist and though it terrifies Victoria to think so, for there is something evil hiding behind that pretty smile, she is a lot like her. One thing I missed from this book was the presence of adults, aside from the villains. Victoria’s parents have little to do than to present perfect personas that convince me they are the reason for Victoria’s unrealistic expectations of herself and others. And when the mystery of the missing children is finally resolved, little seems to have changed for the adults in the story.

I also couldn’t quite grasp why Lawrence’s musical gift would be looked down upon, but perhaps this is my own biases speaking. I would have liked the book to have set up his and Victoria’s friendship more before his disappearance. We are told that part of Victoria’s disapproval of Lawrence lies not only in her desire for everyone to care about school and rules like she does, but also because she is a little jealous. I would have liked to have seen this rather than being told. The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is a fun quick read that has a lot of elements similar to Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, but lacked enough distinction to really pull me in entirely.

Rating: 3/5

★★★

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Wish Had Been a Part of My Childhood

Top Ten TuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is an original blog meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic asks us to list books from our childhood we’d love to revisit, but because I don’t have the best memory, I don’t think I could come up with ten books. Instead I’ve elected to list ten children’s books that I wish had been a part of my childhood. Some of these titles I missed out on when I was younger, others I started late, and some weren’t written until I was older. Regardless of your age, if you haven’t read these books, I encourage you to do so.

Ten Books I Wish Had Been a Part of My Childhood:

Have you read any of these? Which books do you wish were a part of your childhood? Be sure to leave a link to your TTT post in the comments!