Book Review: Winterspell by Claire Legrand

I was obsessed with the Nutcracker ballet when I was a little girl…like listened to the music year-round and danced with my Nutcracker doll every night obsessed! I actually started ballet lessons because of my love for it, and eventually was able to perform in my dance school’s yearly production. To this day, the Nutcracker ballet holds a very special place in my heart and will always bring back amazing childhood memories. I can’t really remember when I first heard of Claire Legrand’s adaptation of this classic, but I can tell you I was immediately intrigued. The Nutcracker always had a mysterious and darker quality to me, and I was so pleased to hear that someone was writing a book that drew on that inspiration and played on its themes.

Winterspell

Images from Claire Legrand’s Winterspell Pinterest board. Click for more.

After reading Winterspell, I can say it is unlike any book I have ever read before and it not only met, but far exceeded my expectations.

Winterspell is dark, sinister, mysterious…even creepy at times. It was such an interesting comparison to see how Legrand’s New York City so closely mirrors her fae world of Cane. The worlds that Legrand built-in this story are corrupt, dangerous and ultimately, shells of their former selves.  On the other hand, both worlds are ruled in very different ways; one by a power-hungry faery Queen willing to do whatever it takes to completely beat down her people, and the other by a weary mayor who can’t control the corruption in his town. The world-building as a whole is on a completely other level. I felt transported into the lands of this book and applaud Legrand for crafting worlds that are so detailed and filled with history and legend. The alternate world of Cane is mystical and filled with beauty, but also frightening and dangerous.

The characters of Winterspell are as fully formed and compelling as the worlds in which they travel. To watch Clara’s transformation and character arc is so satisfying, and I found myself cheering out (and crying out) for her several times during my reading. She has spent her life wondering how her life ended up the way it has and the spectre of her mother’s death always hangs over her. When she begins uncovering the truth about her mother’s death and is faced with the abduction of her father, she does whatever it takes to find the answers. Even if it means forcing herself to break out of the prison of self-doubt that holds her back.

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There are SO many amazing characters in Winterspell and I could easily devote a paragraph talking about each, but that would make this review crazy long! I will say that each and every one of her relationships is complicated, intense and riveting. From her godfather Drosselmeyer who knows so much more than he lets on, Nicholas who bursts into Clara’s life to help her unlock the clues to the fate of her parents, and the faery Queen Anise, one of the creepiest and most confusing villains I have ever encountered. Throughout the novel Clara never quite knows who to trust and Legrand does a fantastic job of portraying that confusion and distrust to the reader. I constantly found myself changing my mind as to who was really there to help Clara. Which I absolutely loved as a reader because it kept me on my toes for all 454 pages.

Like I said, I could seriously go on and on about Winterspell. I mean, I could stop right here and then start all over with a second review. But I’ll leave it up to you discover all of the magic and intricacies of Clara’s life-changing journey. If you like complicated and dark tales that weave the stories of heroes and villains together into one, then you’ll truly enjoy Winterspell.

TMYK

winterspellWinterspell by Claire Legrand
Published: 9/30/14 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Pages: 454 | Format: Hardcover | Source: Purchased
Purchase this book

The clock chimes midnight, a curse breaks, and a girl meets a prince . . . but what follows is not all sweetness and sugarplums.

New York City, 1899. Clara Stole, the mayor’s ever-proper daughter, leads a double life. Since her mother’s murder, she has secretly trained in self-defense with the mysterious Drosselmeyer.

Then, on Christmas Eve, disaster strikes.

Her home is destroyed, her father abducted–by beings distinctly not human. To find him, Clara journeys to the war-ravaged land of Cane. Her only companion is the dethroned prince Nicholas, bound by a wicked curse. If they’re to survive, Clara has no choice but to trust him, but his haunted eyes burn with secrets–and a need she can’t define. With the dangerous, seductive faery queen Anise hunting them, Clara soon realizes she won’t leave Cane unscathed–if she leaves at all.

Inspired by The Nutcracker, Winterspell is a dark, timeless fairy tale about love and war, longing and loneliness, and a girl who must learn to live without fear.

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Top Ten…Character-Driven YA Contemporaries

Not gonna lie, I had to Google the term “character-driven novels” before I started in on this post! I mean, I had an idea of what character-driven means, but I just wanted to make sure I was on-track with my choices. I found that character-driven novels tend to focus on the internal development of a character or characters such as changing of attitudes or some sort of personal discovery. Turns out my choices this week are PERFECT and that I should never have doubted myself. See…that experience right there would make a perfect character-driven novel…orrrrr short story…maybe? Maybe not?

Source: The Broke and The Bookish

Source: The Broke and The Bookish

The books and authors listed below basically read as a master class of YA contemporary novels. They are why I fell in love with YA and, wouldn’t ya know, they all fall into the category of character-driven novels! Pretty great how that worked out huh?

cover source: goodreads

cover source: goodreads

Eleanor & Park and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour and Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson
My Life Next Door and What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick

The two authors I’ve featured below released their debut novels in 2014 and, thankfully for us, they have novels releasing in 2o15! I’ve been fortunate enough to read both of their 2015 releases (THANK YOU ANDI!!) and I can say with 100% confidence that they are even better than the debut novels that came before them. I honestly didn’t think that was possible!

cover source: goodreads

cover source: goodreads

Something Real and I’ll Meet You There (releases February 2015) by Heather Demetrios
cover source: goodreads

cover source: goodreads

Open Road Summer and The Start of Me and You (releases March 2105) by Emery Lord

Have you read any of the books listed above? Would you agree that they are character-driven novels? Let me know what you think in the comments section below!

Top Ten Tuesday: Deserted Island Roll Call

toptentuesday Top Ten Tuesday is a meme created at The Broke and the Bookish as a way to share our book-related lists with other bookish folks! This weeks topic is the ten characters I would want with me on a deserted island. I thought long and hard about this one, but so many of the people who kept popping into my head really come as part of a duo or team. I decided to cheat just a little bit and make my list a solid twelve people. Thankfully, my deserted island is pretty big (and has running water and electricity of course) so we’d all be happy and comfortable together on our tropical home away from home.

AriaPerryFINAL

banner created by me | cover image source: goodreads

Do I really need to explain? I mean, these two are hard-core outdoor survivalists! Between the two of them we’d have all the basic necessities covered! Fire, food and shelter…check, check, check!
Under the Never Sky series by Veronica Rossi

AmyRogerFINAL

banner created by me | cover image source: goodreads

Amy and Roger know how to make the best of a bad situation, so I’d rely on them to be in charge of island development. Before long they’d be arranging expeditions and we’d all be exploring hidden corners of the island.
Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

CelaenaChaolFINAL

banner created by me | cover image source: goodreads

I’d have the island on LOCK DOWN with Celaena and Chaol on security duty. Restless natives or dangerous animals wouldn’t stand a chance against these two bad-asses!
Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas

banner created by me | original photo source: goodreads

banner created by me | cover image source: goodreads

Emily and Sloane would make sure everyone is having a great time and if people started getting bored they’d just whip out their deserted island to-do list! Oh…and I wouldn’t be mad if they decided to bring along Frank!
Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

AlinaMalSturmhondFINAL

banner created by me | cover image source: goodreads

The trio of Alina, Mal and Sturmhond would be the team I’d rely on to get us OFF the island. Between the three of them you’ve got the brains, the brawn and the charm you’d need to find an escape.
The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

PicMonkey Collage

banner created by me | cover image source: goodreads

What? You really thought I’d get through a top 10 list without mentioning Fangirl! You KNOW I’d be bringing along my book boyfriend Levi. I’d need a snuggle buddy to keep me warm at night and someone to tell my how pretty I am even after two solid weeks without a shower.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Honorable mentions*:

  • Dee and Reagan from Open Road Summer: they’d keep the music coming all day and night. Again…wouldn’t be mad if Matt Finch tagged along.
  • Scarlet from the Scarlet Series: you can never have too many deadly ladies on hand to keep things under control.

* Because my first boat got too crowded and they had to wait for the next one

I have to say, I think my deserted island is shaping up pretty nicely and I’m not sure I’d want to leave! How about you? Who would your top choices be for island neighbors? Do you think I made the right choices or would you make some substitutions? I’m open to suggestions…except Levi, he’s not going anywhere!

Book Review: Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

First thoughts: In case you didn’t already know, Morgan Matson is a literary goddess. Don’t you agree? I mean…the woman just GETS it! This is the second book of hers I’ve had the pleasure of reading (did anyone love Amy & Roger as much as I did?) and everything I loved about her writing my first time around, is all over this book! Relatable and genuine friendships that will have you jonesing for some quality time with your BFF soon!

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Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson
Published May 6th 2014 by Simon & Schuster
Pages: 449 pages
Format: Hardcover
Source: Flirting with Fiction Armchair BEA Giveaway
Purchase this book

Publisher Summary

The Pre-Sloane Emily didn’t go to parties, she barely talked to guys, she didn’t do anything crazy. Enter Sloane, social tornado and the best kind of best friend—the one who yanks you out of your shell.But right before what should have been an epic summer, Sloane just… disappears. No note. No calls. No texts. No Sloane. There’s just a random to-do list. On it, thirteen Sloane-selected-definitely-bizarre-tasks that Emily would never try… unless they could lead back to her best friend. Apple Picking at Night? Ok, easy enough.Dance until Dawn? Sure. Why not? Kiss a Stranger? Wait… what?

Getting through Sloane’s list would mean a lot of firsts. But Emily has this whole unexpected summer ahead of her, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected) to check things off. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go Skinny Dipping? Um…

Emily is starting her summer vacation with no clue where her best friend has disappeared to. The only thing she’s left for Emily is a list of 13 tasks that she must accomplish. Unfortunately, the note comes with no explanation, so Emily is left to wonder if it’s some ridiculous coded message or if it’s just a crazy list her BFF came up with to torture her. Never in a million years would she normally #1: kiss a stranger or #6: ride a horse and who the heck is….#7: Mona? Acting against every instinct she has, Emily decides to embark upon completing the tasks given to her and in the process she manages to have some fun while discovering who she really is…with some additional help from some new besties.

What I love about this list, is that each and every item was chosen for Emily by her now missing best friend Sloane as a way to get her to live a more authentic life. Even though we haven’t met Sloane by the time the list arrives, it’s a perfect example of how well Sloane knows her best friend and also how capable she is of great things. Let’s be honest though, under normal circumstances Emily would NEVER do what is on that list! She, along with everyone else, see’s herself as “Sloane’s best friend” and not her own person, simply living in the shadow of her larger than life personality. The list reads as a “been there, done that” for Sloane but for Emily it’s a summer bucket list of epic proportions. As you read along your taken along on the journey with Emily as she becomes more and more self-aware and confident. But, will she finish the list?I won’t say, but I can tell you that her adventures are hilarious, inspiring and heart-warming.

“Real friends are the ones you can count on no matter what.
The ones who go into the forest to find you and bring you home.
And real friends never have to tell you that they’re your friends.”
Morgan MatsonSince You’ve Been Gone

source: ficsandfaces.tumblr.com

source: ficsandfaces.tumblr.com

The common theme throughout this novel is friendship. The power true friends have to lift you up, support you, challenge you, comfort you and love you. Even though she isn’t there, Sloane acts as the catalyst and Emily draws on the experiences they shared to inspire her to be a better version of herself; happier, more alive and infinitely more brave.  Even though Sloane isn’t by her side to cheer her on, Emily finds new friends along the way who quickly become her biggest cheerleaders! It’s amazing what great friends will do for your confidence…they always want to see you succeed and support you every step of the way.

Now…it wouldn’t be a Morgan Matson book without a crush-worthy guy involved, so you can just go right ahead and add Frank Porter to your running list of book boyfriends. Morgan knew exactly what she was doing when she created Frank; smart and put together on the outside but so much more complex and layered when you get beyond the initial shine. He and Emily meet under some pretty random circumstances but somehow manage to develop a friendship that gives them both exactly what they need.

Of course the book is filled with fantastic writing that hits you right in the feels. This quote in particular spoke to me in the sense that it so perfectly captures that feeling you have right before something amazing happens…

“This felt like the way you get nervous right before something exciting
happens-the moment when you’re balanced on the top of the roller
coaster, the hush before the surprise party, the second after the diving
board but before the water, when you can close your eyes and imagine,
for just a second, that you’re flying. The feeling that good things were
coming, almost here, any moment now.”
Morgan MatsonSince You’ve Been Gone

Final Thoughts: Needless to say I loved this book! It reminded me what true friendship is all about and made me love my bestie more than I already do. 

Mm bestie & I looking fly at my wedding back in 2010

the bestie & I looking fly at my wedding

Waiting on…Winterspell by Claire Legrand

When I was a little girl I took ballet and every year we would put on a huge production of the The Nutcracker. The entire ballet school took part and our German-born ballet instructor made sure that each and every part was cast perfectly and that we all danced to the best of our ability. She was intense and demanding but it showed in our performances…every year was a huge sell out.

Because I was so young I was always cast as a toy soldier, a flower or even one of the evil mice. Every year between rehearsals I would sit at the side and watch in awe as the girl cast as Clara or The Sugar Plum Fairy danced across the floor. From a very early age the story of the Nutcracker was a favorite of mine and to this day I still watch the television production starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland when it airs around Christmas. If you have five or so minutes to spare I suggest you watch this clip from the ballet…it’s epic! Skip ahead to 1:45 for the gorgeousness of their Pas De Deux (dance duet) from one of the final scenes of the ballet where Uncle Drosselmeyer comes to take Clara back home . The emotion these two legendary ballet dancers emote through dance is so beautiful and I’m always so captivated by it.

 

Needless to say, when I heard that Winterspell was inspired by one of my favorite childhood stories I was immediately intrigued. It has all the elements I love in a good fantasy YA…princes, faeries, curses, women leading double lives! I cannot wait to see how Legrand used the inspiration from the original story of the Nutcracker and re-imagined it in a new and exciting way. Plus…can we talk about how gorgeous that cover is! The dagger, that hair, the DRESS! Everything is perfection.

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Winterspell by Claire Legrand
Expected publication: September 30th 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Pages: 464
Pre-order this book

Publisher Summary

New York City, 1899. Clara Stole, the mayor’s ever-proper daughter, leads a double life. Since her mother’s murder, she has secretly trained in self-defense with the mysterious Drosselmeyer.

Then, on Christmas Eve, disaster strikes.

Her home is destroyed, her father abducted–by beings distinctly nothuman. To find him, Clara journeys to the war-ravaged land of Cane. Her only companion is the dethroned prince Nicholas, bound by a wicked curse. If they’re to survive, Clara has no choice but to trust him, but his haunted eyes burn with secrets–and a need she can’t define. With the dangerous, seductive faery queen Anise hunting them, Clara soon realizes she won’t leave Cane unscathed–if she leaves at all.

Inspired by The Nutcracker, Winterspell is a dark, timeless fairy tale about love and war, longing and loneliness, and a girl who must learn to live without fear.

Book Review: Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

First thoughts: You know that feeling you get when your driving in your car with the windows down, it’s a gorgeous sunny day and your favorite song is playing on the radio? You know the feeling…for some reason you can’t wipe that silly grin off your face. That’s how this book made me feel. I finished the last page, closed the book and couldn’t stop smiling. Everything about it was perfect and if you’re looking for a summer road trip romance then look no further. No seriously, I mean it, you MUST read this book!

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Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Published May 4th 2010 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Pages: 344
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Purchase this book

Publisher Summary

Amy Curry is not looking forward to her summer. Her mother decided to move across the country and now it’s Amy’s responsibility to get their car from California to Connecticut. But since her father died in a car accident, she isn’t ready to get behind the wheel. Enter Roger. An old family friend, he also has to make the cross-country trip. . .and has plenty of baggage of his own. But as they drive, Amy finds that the people you least expected may turn out to be the ones you need the most—and that sometimes you have to get lost in order to find your way home.

When we first meet Amy she is a shell of the person she used to be. Tragedy has sucked every ounce happiness and her carefree life is now filled with angst , anger and pain. I immediately related to Amy and the pain she was going through, having lost my own father. I felt a certain familiarity in what she was going through. Morgan Matson crafted such an honest and raw portrait of grief in Amy and the way in which she worked through that pain. Slowly, painfully and awkwardly…by way of latching on to moments that feel familiar to your past but in a completely different way. It’s these moments in which Amy was able to share her grief (sometimes with complete strangers) that was so authentic. For that reason alone, this book holds a special place in my heart.

Amy’s healing is due in no small part to Roger. A person she barely knew and was not prepared to share her grief with. His character was so integral to this story and if he was written in any other way, the story never would have worked. Matson was able to create a male main character that blended kindness, humility, and humor into a perfect mix that is rarely seen in books these days. Roger was also wounded, flawed and hurting – which is why he was able to connect so intimately with Amy. I loved that these two forged a deep and lasting friendship without even a thought to a romantic connection. Now, that’s not to say there isn’t romance or swoon-worthy moments in this book, but I did appreciate the fact that Matson didn’t take the easy way out and have them jumping each other’s bones after a few chapters. It was refreshing and felt true to how this kind of friendship would naturally unfold. I absolutely loved their relationship and how they each brought out the best in each other.

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The road was just as much a character in this story as Amy & Roger. You could really tell that these were roads that Matson travelled and she drew on her on experiences, I love that her research for this book involved a solo cross-country road trip. Get it girl! Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour was an example of how small decisions can lead to great things, like camping overnight at Yosemite, somehow finding yourself on “The Loneliest Road” and a fulfilling a promise of visiting Graceland.

Moments and happy accidents are what make memories and in this book they are what pushed Amy forward in her journey towards healing. I don’t know why it took me so long but halfway through the book I realized that the road was the perfect analogy of Amy’s journey. She needed to push forward, sometimes not knowing where she was going, but keeping her eye on the final destination. All the pit stops and side trips along the way served as lessons that would help heal her wounds. What started out as a dreaded cross-country drive to a new home with a total stranger, ended up being exactly what Amy (and Roger) needed.

Final Thoughts: This book gave me, say it with me, ALL THE FEELS! It easily earns five stars from me and is placed on my favorites shelf along with other amazing YA romances such as Open Road Summer, Just One Day/Year, Fangirl, Anna & The French Kiss and Where The Stars Still Shine. I love a book that’s filled with moments that make you swoon AND moments that break your heart. This book had all of that and more. PLUS…the soundtrack is EPIC!