Winterspell by Claire Legrand

WinterspellPublisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Expected publication date: September 30th, 2014
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pages: 464 (Kindle)

Thank you to Edelweiss for the review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Winterspell is a retelling of The Nutcracker, but with a much darker tone. I’ve seen The Nutcracker a couple times, but it’s not a story that stuck with me. If you’re in the same boat, don’t worry: you don’t need to know the story in order to follow this book.

Our protagonist, Clara Stole, is the daughter of 1920s New York mayor John Stole. There’s a vague governing body known as Concordia, “led” by a drunken John Stole. But, really, it’s the manipulative Patricia Plum and skeevy-beyond-all-reason Dr. Victor who call the shots.

Since her mother’s murder, Clara has had to step up as the leader of her household, as her father is too sick with grief to be of much help. She looks after her sister Felicity, wards off advances from Dr. Victor, and chastises herself for not being stronger, bolder, braver–like her late-mother, Hope.

Her only solace is the time spent with her godfather, Drosselmeyer, who is often disheveled and scattered, working in his shop filled with curious trinkets and toys. He’s told her stories of magic since she was a young girl. The odd items in his shop have always fascinated her, especially a life-like metal statue she’s been drawn to all her life.

But, most notably, Drosselmeyer teaches Clara how to fight. They spar, with fists and with words–though the latter always comes from a place of love and mutual respect. She learns how to pick locks, and to sneak around like a shadow. She keeps daggers hidden in the heels of her boots.

On Christmas Eve there’s a grand celebration, as there is every year, at the Stole household. Wealthy families and Concordia members are in attendance. There’s a huge, beautifully decorated Christmas tree, the children are playing and waiting as they always do, for Drosselmeyer to arrive with a sack of gifts.

Clara just wants to get the evening over with, worried she won’t be able to keep Dr. Victor’s hands off her for much longer, caught in Concordia’s web of corruption to the point of complacency for the sake of her father and his reputation, and her younger sister’s well being.

The festivities are interrupted by an attack at the mansion. When Drosselmeyer turns some of the toys from his shop into skittering metal creatures that obey his whims, other toys grow to life-side proportions, a rat-like beasts come pouring in through the windows, and her familiar statue-friend turns into a man, Clara suspects the stories her godfather told her of magic were more than just stories after all.

John Stole is kidnapped and is pulled through a Door to another world, and, with her statue Nicolas in tow, the two jump into the portal and into the world of Cane to save her father.

This is where Legrand’s vivid imagination takes over, and fills in the “holes” in the mostly-familiar The Nutcracker story. Cane is a dark world ruled by the evil faery queen, Anise. Faeries rule here, and humans have been banished to the slums, or are treated as slaves. Magic in this world is tied to metal (think of the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa). Faeries and steampunk. Fey-punk?

Intriguing set up, no? I loved the concept, I loved the dark feel of it, and I was impressed with the dynamic Legrand crafted between Anise and Clara.

Despite having so much working in this book’s favor, I had a hard time connecting with both the story and the characters. A couple reviews have mentioned the uneven pace, which might have been a factor, too, but I mainly had an issue with too much telling when it came to the character’s emotional state. I always knew how Clara was feeling, but it was because I was told, rather than feeling it for myself, so I was removed from her and the urgency of her quest.

Which is a shame, really, because just as often, I would come across passages and turns of phrase that were absolutely gorgeous and vivid. I think a little more depth into the characters would have made this a much fuller experience.

I have yet to read Legrand’s MG books, but I will definitely check them out.

I would recommend Winterspell to fans of fairytale retellings, fantasy and steampunk. It’s quite an enjoyable read.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Add it to your Goodreads HERE.


Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

PerfectChemistryPublisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Published: December 23rd, 2008
Genre: YA Contemporary
Pages: 357 (Paperback)

When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created ‘perfect’ life is about to unravel before her eyes. She’s forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she’s worked so hard for: her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and the secret that her home life is anything but perfect.

Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But soon Alex realizes Brittany is a real person with real problems, and suddenly the bet he made in arrogance turns into something much more.

I will admit that I went into this assuming I’d hate it. Doesn’t that summary sound exactly like every other star-crossed lover book/movie you’ve ever heard of? It kind of sounded like Crazy/Beautiful, but reversed.

I dove in anyway.

I ended up loving how Elkeles toyed with the concept of stereotypes in this, pitting the blonde cheerleader against the Mexican bad-boy. Some of the characters in Perfect Chemistry embodied their stereotypes, while simultaneously struggling against them.

From the title of the book, the blurb on the back, and the picture on the cover, you can pretty much guess where the book is going before you even start reading it. But it’s all in the details, my friends.

By the end, I was so invested in these two, I was in tears. In tears! And this from someone who was sure she wouldn’t be able to get through it. It sounds like such a stereotypical (ha!) YA romance on the surface (ha!), but when you give it a chance, it surprises you.

Well played, Elkeles, well played.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Add it to your Goodreads HERE.

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

Hello! I was tagged for the Next Big Thing by my writer buddy/crit partner, Bob Gmelin.

Here be the rules of the Next Big Thing:

  1. Use this format for your post
  2. Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
  3. Tag five two other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

I’m going to answer the questions for my completed novel that I’m querying at the moment. I don’t think I should even attempt to answer these questions for my nano novel. That thing is a clusterfu a hot mess.

1. What is your working title of your book?


2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

I had a (very minor) prophetic dream. When it came true, it got me thinking about what it would mean to see something big. What if you couldn’t stop it? Is it even possible to stop it? Is the future fixed, or is it fluid? And then I wondered how all of these questions would weigh on the mind of a fifteen-year-old girl. And I ran with it from there.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Oh dear. So I was originally calling it a fantasy. But then people told me it was more paranormal than fantasy (though there’s an element–ha ha–of magic later). In my latest revision, it took on a mystery bent. Several CPs told me they think it’s more mystery now than anything. *Sigh* So I’m going with “mystery with elements of fantasy.” ‘Cause, yanno, that’s not obnoxious or anything.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I think Amandla Stenberg (She played Rue in The Hunger Games) would be great as Pandora. How cute is she?!

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Because I’m too lazy to whittle this down to a less wordy, less punctuation-laden sentence, I’m copy & pasting something from one 0f my early query-drafts: “Blamed for the death of a schoolmate and ostracized by her hometown, fifteen-year-old Pandora Sims is eager to begin anew at The Rese School for the Gifted, a school exclusively for Seers–but on the morning of her departure, a Vision of magic and fire blurs the line between fantasy and reality, and Pandora fears the life of a stranger is threatened by forces beyond her control.”

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

An agency!

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I usually draft in about six months. (Unless I’m doing nano, of course.) How long have I been editing the thing, though? Egads. Years.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Eesh. This one is hard. People automatically go to Harry Potter due to whole kids-with-powers who go to a school-for kids-with-powers thing. My CPs made sure to rid it of anything they thought was even remotely HP-like, already knowing it would draw the comparison even before anyone read it. I haven’t read any YA books where all the MCs (and side characters!) can “see” the future in one way or another. I’ve had people compare the light-heartedness and humor of the story to the Percy Jackson series.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Nothing aside from that initial dream, really. I’m a panster at heart, so once I knew who Pandora was, I let the story unfold on its own. Many, many times. Like I said, I’ve spent years revising the sucker.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It was important to me for Pandora to have a core group of really loyal friends. One CP told me she doesn’t feel like there is enough of that strong girl-friend vibe in YA. It’s usually girls pitted against each other. She said it was refreshing to see how their relationship plays out in mine. I hope I did the friendship justice. Nothing compares to a clan of close gal pals!

Now, I shall tag…

Beth Hull

Danica Paige

GUTGAA Meet and Greet


I’m Melissa, and I’m new to this whole GUTGAA thing, but I’m excited! I have been writing “seriously” since 2002, and have two books in the proverbial drawer (which will never see the light of day). The third one (YA fantasy/mystery), which has consumed the last eight or so years of my life, is the one I’m going to be pitching (hopefully!). When I’m not writing, I’m reading or walking dogs (that’s my job), or both! Amazing how often you’ll get stopped on the street by strangers when you’re simultaneously walking three dogs and reading a book.

I live in Sacramento, CA with three cats, a dog, and whole lotta books.

Where do you write?
Usually in Panera. I have a hard time focusing at home. I usually end up looking at something online (Vlogbrothers, why must you entertain me so?!) or doing the dishes (Okay, that’s a lie) or taking the dog for her 500th walk. If I go somewhere, it forces me to work. I used to go to a place in the mall (yes, the mall). I found this perfect little corner where it was just secluded enough that I wouldn’t get distracted, and just noisy enough that I wouldn’t go bonkers in the silence. But then they erected a Subway across from my favorite table and ruined the ambiance of the whole place. How dare they! (I was there so often, all the security guards knew me :\)

Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?
Wait! What! I can’t go to Panera now. It’s almost 2am! I don’t want to get arrested.

Favorite time to write?
Middle of the afternoon and early evening. Mornings and I do not get along. It’s amazing if I can get myself out the door in time to wherever I need to be with a matching pair of shoes on my feet.

Drink of choice while writing?
Lemonade! Frozen lemonade from Panera in summer is a little slice of heaven.

When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?
On the rare occasions I write at home, it’s usually quiet. If music is on, it has to be instrumental. Anything with words distracts me. I like writing to ambient noises… something about the hum of background chatter gets the creative juices a-flowin’.

What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?
My MC is a Seer (she can see the future). I had one very minor prophetic dream once, and that got me thinking: what if I had a vision about something big? What if I had a vision about something big and I couldn’t stop it? It took on a mind of its own after that!

What’s your most valuable writing tip?
Enjoy it.

Looking forward to meeting other writers! 🙂

Reducing Word Count

There are plotters and there are pantsers.

There are putter-inners and taker-outers.

I’m the latter in both cases. My drafts are always too long. Woe!

After another round of feedback from my beta readers, I decided to go with the persistence wisdom of the lovely Beth Hull, and pulled out one of my characters (to save her for another book). My character was not at all happy about this, by the way. Even when I assured her that her new home will be even better. I haven’t heard from her since. I hope she comes back.

At any rate, I was sure this most recent set of revisions would result in a shorter manuscript. Since, you know, my goal was to strictly take things out. Well, somehow, when I was done, the manuscript was even longer than when I started! Which was endlessly amusing to my writer buddies (read: the poor saps who were often with me while I bashed my head against the table. “How is this possible?!”). It just made me want to cry. Especially since I was so happy with all the new additions.

Danica was forced, once again, to talk me off the ledge, and pointed me to a handful of posts by writers (aspiring authors as well published ones) who were in the same boat as me: stuck with a too-long manuscript. They had all gone through their manuscripts to check for repetition, and the necessity of every chapter and character and plot line, and still had a too-high WC. So then they went through their manuscripts in search of commonly overused and/or unnecessary words to axe. Some claimed they loped off 5-15k with this method alone—never touching a single scene!

Madness, I said.

But I tried it anyway because I was out of ideas.

It took me almost two weeks to get through the list (we compiled it from the several smaller lists), but, by jove, I cut out fourteen thousand words! Fourteen! Amazing.

I’m posting the list below for anyone who’d like it. It was helpful to print it out, and then cross the words off as I went.

about, actually, almost, appear, around

B – D
basically, behind, close to, down

even, eventually, exactly, extremely

F – J
finally, fairly, gaze/gazed, had, headed/heading, in order, just, just then

K – N
kind of, like, look/looked, mostly, nearly

O – R
only, out, over, possibly, practically, probably, rather, really

said, sat, seems/seemed, seriously, simply, sort of, somehow, somewhat, suddenly, supposedly

terribly, that, together, totally, truly

U – W
up, usually, utterly, very, was, were

I tackled each word individually. Typed it into find (click “find whole words only”), assessed the usefulness of the word in the sentence (sometimes the usefulness of the sentence itself–or the paragraph!), and then moved on to the next one. Reading sentences out of context made it easier to cut things, too. There were a few times where I deleted half a page! It’s like losing ten twenty thirty pounds!

I’m not going to lie… the experience was god awful. I spent hours and hours in Panera, often begging my writing buddy to “please just stab me in the face!” I said it so often she started to ignore me altogether. Sometimes I’d bounce up and down in the booth, or laugh hysterically, or declare I needed a cookie. Sometimes all three happened at once.

Every other type of editing I’ve done has required some level of creativity. This was tedious. I hate tedious!

It was worth it in the end, though. If you attempt this, know it will take hours (and the general breakdown of whatever sanity you might still have). I expected “that” to be one of the words to take me the longest, but the one that nearly killed me was “out.” It took two days. Two days.

What are your trouble words?

Oh, and if anyone has others to add to the list, let me know!

Happy cutting 🙂

Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Expected release date: June 19th, 2012
Genre: Chick Lit
Pages: 288 (Paperback)

I received a copy of Monarch Beach from Goodreads.

I realized while reading this one that unless there is a zany main character, or a unique situation, chick lit isn’t really for me. (I really enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada and The Nanny Diaries, for example.) If it’s mainly just about real-life struggles women go through, I start to get antsy. Maybe because these types of books are too realistic and not enough of an escape for me.

So take this review with a grain of salt.

When Amanda Blick, a young mother and kindhearted San Francisco heiress, finds her gorgeous French chef husband wrapped around his sous-chef, she knows she must flee her life in order to rebuild it. The opportunity falls into her lap when her (very lovable) mother suggests Amanda and her young son, Max, spend the summer with her at the St. Regis Resort in Laguna Beach. With the waves right outside her windows and nothing more to worry about than finding the next relaxing thing to do, Amanda should be having the time of her life—and escaping the drama. But instead, she finds herself faced with a kind, older divorcee who showers her with attention… and she discovers that the road to healing is never simple. This is the sometimes funny, sometimes bitter, but always moving story about the mistakes and discoveries a woman makes when her perfect world is turned upside down.

This is one of those lazy Sunday afternoon books. It has the expected drama (I gasped during the first page), the hot new guy, and a few sexy scenes. It’s enjoyable the way romantic comedies are enjoyable: you go in pretty much knowing what you’re going to get. So, in that sense, I would say this book for the most part fulfills all those desired elements.

My three-star rating is mainly due to Amanda herself. She didn’t really have any flaws. When bad things happened, they happened to her. Too much of a victim, maybe. The first chapter (the chapters are long in this book–sometimes as long as 40 pages) is essentially the backstory of her relationship with sexy but lecherous Andre, her husband of ten years. The chapter is bookended by Amanda catching Andre in the act. She had my sympathy in the beginning. What woman wouldn’t side with another woman who just caught her husband cheating on her? But all the backstory actually hurt her case for me. Red flags popped up all over the place, and I found myself thinking she was an idiot for falling for someone who even admitted that the concept of monogamy was “foreign” to Frenchmen. Hello, Amanda! Run away now!

The fact that he had been cheating on her for years and that she had no idea was a little unbelievable, too. She didn’t even have her suspicions. I found it hard to feel for her the more I knew about her past. And, again, maybe this is how things really are. Maybe lots of women marry the “wrong” men and want to believe so badly that they’re happy that they’re blind to even their own suspicions. But in fiction? In fiction, I want the woman to have some inkling, to have some plan of action when the shit hits the fan, to be stronger than the rest of us out here in the real world. To give those of us in this type of situation a role model for how to stand up for ourselves and get out.

Amanda constantly asked her best friend what she should do, but she never had any plans of her own. Then her mom swoops in and offers her an all-expense paid summer vacation in Laguna Beach so Amanda and her son Max can spend some time away from Andre.

Amanda’s family is incredibly rich, so money is not even a thought for them. Amanda often tells us about the luxuries of the St. Regis, from the chauffeured Bentley that drove them all over town, to ordering exorbitant amounts of room service. Beyond having a cad of a husband, she doesn’t suffer from or struggle with… anything, really. Aside from raising Max, she doesn’t work and has never had to. And she very well could now, at this point in her life, since Max is in school all day. Her life is pretty uncomplicated and a bit decadent. A completely different world from mine.

If the first chapter had been reduced to a few key things (Andre is a pig; Amanda’s friend from prep school, Stephanie, is Andre’s silent partner in his restaurant; Amanda has an eight-year-old son), and the details of their marriage left out (to be sprinkled in periodically later), I probably could have gotten past the brand-name-dropping. With my sympathy for her already waning, her lack-of-life-struggles only made it worse.

But this might just be another example of why I’m not the target audience for this book. Shows like Sex in the City never appealed to me. But for others, the rich life style might be something they can relate to, or something they want to live vicariously through. I’m not a brand name kind of girl, so mentioning her Manolo’s or her Theory sundresses didn’t impress me.

See what I mean about the grain of salt?

All that said, I was able to read the book with relative ease. The ending was actually a bit unexpected, which I appreciated.

If you’re looking for a beach-book, with a bit of a vicarious-woman’s-fantasy vibe, you’ll probably really enjoy Monarch Beach.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Timepiece by Myra McEntire

Publisher: EgmontUSA
Expected release date: June 12, 2012
Genre: YA Paranormal/Sci-fi
Pages: 336 (Paperback)

I was so excited to win this as a raffle door prize at a SCBWI conference. I really enjoyed Hourglass.

A threat from the past could destroy the future. And the clock is ticking…

Kaleb Ballard’s relentless flirting is interrupted when Jack Landers, the man who tried to murder his father, timeslips in and attacks before disappearing just as quickly. But Kaleb has never before been able to see time travelers, unlike many of his friends associated with the mysterious Hourglass organization. Are Kaleb’s powers expanding, or is something very wrong?

Then the Hourglass is issued an ultimatum. Either they find Jack and the research he’s stolen on the time gene, or time will be altered with devastating results.

Now Kaleb, Emerson, Michael, and the other Hourglass recruits have no choice but to use their unusual powers to find Jack. But where do they even start? And when? And even if they succeed, it may not be enough…

I was a little worried when I realized Timepiece is told from Kaleb’s POV. Not because it’s Kaleb, but because lately I’ve read sequels where the the story is not only told by someone else, but often by the MC’s child, or years later. I want the same storyline and time(ha)line I fell in love with in book 1! Thankfully, Kaleb’s story pretty much starts up where Emerson’s left off in Hourglass.

And, dare I say, I actually preferred Kaleb’s voice to Em’s! So that was a nice surprise.

Since I read Hourglass in February, I felt pretty confident that I’d be able to follow the plot without needing to check out Myra’s Hourglass recap. I probably should have read it. Time travel, no matter how well it’s told, will make a girl’s head spin. So do yourself a favor and brush up on everything before you dive into Timepiece, just to save your brain cells for the new stuff.

I feel like I can’t give a full review of this because somuch happens and I don’t to give anything away. (Though, I will say, anyone who was on the fence about Kaleb will be a fan now!) It’s really good! I read it in about 24 hours, unable to put the thing down.

In Hourglass, the action didn’t really kick into high-gear for me until the last 100 or so pages, but with Timepiece, it’s pretty action-packed all the way along. There are more rips, they’re constantly changing, and now the time-travelers aren’t the only ones who can see them. Plus, Jack’s creepy self keeps showing up everywhere.

It’s a fun ride!

Rating: 4 out of 5

Add it to your Goodreads HERE.