Thursday, August 31, 2017

Vacation Book Reviews - "Serafina & the Black Cloak"

Vacation Book Review #2 - Serafina & the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

I was most interested to read this book for two reasons - #1 - It is Young Adult Fiction. I love YA is one of my favorite genres. #2 - The book is not only set in NC (I love most books set in my state) but it is set at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. The book did not disappoint.

Serafina is a 12 year old who has lived most of her life hidden in the basement of the Biltmore mansion. Her father is one of the original builders and stayed on to take care of the electrical system serving the mansion in the late 1800's. Serafina befriends Braeden, the orphaned nephew of the Vanderbilts who has come to live at Biltmore Estate. Together they try to discover who is kidnapping the children of the guests at Biltmore and who is ultimately trying to kidnap Braeden.

The book is written for middle grades and follows a great story line. Even while Serafina & Braeden are trying to solve the mystery of the Man in the Black Cloak, Serafina is learning about who she really is. I believe the book also pays proper homage to the grandeur of Biltmore Estate and also to the Vanderbilts, who by all accounts were kind & generous people. Various aspects of the Biltmore house are mentioned in the book, including many of the popular rooms and areas that can be seen on the present-day public tours. It is apparent that the writer has researched the history of the house, mentioning things such as Cornelius Vanderbilt's desire to build a self-sustaining estate with modern amenities including indoor plumbing & electricity, things that weren't available in many the homes of even the most wealthy at the time Biltmore was constructed.

The book almost has a Harry Potter feel, not exactly like HP but the same general feel of a bit of magic, a bit of mystery, and a young adult trying to learn exactly who they are in the world. I believe that this story may have originated much in the same way as HP, as bedtime stories for the author's children; Robert Beatty lives in Asheville. I am surprised that these are the first stories that have been imagined about life at Biltmore. That may be a narrow viewpoint, since I do live in NC & have been to Biltmore several times.

Serafina has been published by Disney * Hyperion, the publishing arm of Disney. I expect this book to be made into movie format in the next few years. I think it would translate excellently to film. I was hoping that filming had already begun - I did find this book trailer on Youtube...which I was pleased to find out features the author's daughter portraying Serafina:

All in all, an excellent read. There is no "language" or "suggestive themes" in this book and has the right amount of mystery without being terrifying. I think that younger children would enjoy the story, even if they aren't old enough to actually read the book on their own. It would be a great read aloud book!

Next book on my vacation reading list is The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge. This is another that I saw in one of my discount e-book e-mails & requested from the library.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Vacation Book Reviews - "Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour"

I read a lot. Not as much as I would like to, but a lot. I'm hoping to read 45 books this year; next year I'll up it to 50. My favorite genres are fiction...non-fiction is a struggle for me but sometimes I'll find a good biography that will suck me in. I posted a couple of books that I had read & was planning to read on vacation & someone mentioned doing a review. I have never done a book review before, not even on Goodreads...mainly because I read the reviews, pick them apart, roll my eyes at the shallow views that these people sometimes can probably see why I wouldn't write a review.

But since I have a little more you go...

Vacation Book #1 - Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour by Marti Rulli with Dennis Davern

First of all, a confession - I didn't really know who Natalie Wood was. I had heard the name & perhaps a bit about her suspicious death, but didn't really know WHO she was. I was shocked to find out she was little Susan Walker in Miracle on 34th Street, a movie I've seen at least 100 times. This book showed up in my Bookbub or Early Bird Books as a discount e-book. The description intrigued me & I requested it from the library. I actually renewed this book 4 times before I actually dove in...mostly because I had other things come in that had to be read before I could move on and also because I had read another "true crime" biography that was horribly boring. So, I wasn't sure what to expect here.

This book definitely exceeded my expectations. It was an interesting look at the suspicious death of Natalie Wood Thanksgiving weekend 1981 (BTW...I was only 5 when she yet another reason I didn't know who she was). I thought the writing was done well and the book definitely followed a very logical telling of the events that transpired that weekend. One critique I saw in Goodreads reviews was that the book was too long. It is fairly lengthy, but the book explores how Woods' death affected one of her friends, one who knew more than he originally told. It took years (almost 30) for Davern (former Splendour captain) to be able to reveal everything and to be in a place where he felt comfortable divulging the facts of that night.

If you enjoy "true crime", I would definitely recommend this book. I think you will find, just as many others have, that there were key things overlooked in the very brief investigation of Natalie Woods' death, things that should've given investigators pause & reason to investigate further than they did.

My next vacation book is Serafina & the Black Cloak. Another friend read this over the summer...and when I looked at the description I realized it is a Young Adult Fiction set at Biltmore House...two things I love! Stay tuned! :)