Don’t Ever Change: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“So now when they look at me, they don’t see an old friend who’s trying hard to improve and grow; they see someone who started to leave them a long time ago, has pretty much already left, and maybe didn’t care about being there in the first place.”

Don't Ever Change by M. Beth BloomEva is seventeen and in her last week of high school when a conversation with her English teacher leaves Eva wondering if she might have missed something with her sharp focus on producing literary stories and delivering hard-hitting critiques of her classmates’ work throughout high school.

After years of thinking she knew everything, Eva realizes she is running out of time to learn all of the basic high school things she previously scorned. Eva is determined to live this summer. And to write it all down.

With unlikely friendships, painful realizations, and a few rare moments of clarity, Eva will learn that she has to get to know herself before she can write what she knows in Don’t Ever Change (2015) by M. Beth Bloom.

Don’t Ever Change is Bloom’s second novel.

Eva thinks she has everything figured out at the start of this novel. She has avoided typical high school cliches and eschewed most everything else that can’t lend her an air of profundity. It is only upon finishing high school that she realizes the veneer of intellectuality that she has created is painfully thin.

Hoping to make up for years of missed opportunities, Eva dates a musician she never would have talked to before. She becomes a camp counselor despite a decided lack of experience and zero interest in interacting with children. She even begins to wonder if her rival in high school might have actually been a friend all along.

Although Eva is not always the nicest narrator, or the easiest character to read about, she is always real and she is always learning–even if it might take her longer than it should. Eva is self-aware enough to know that she isn’t always likeable. She knows she doesn’t make great choices and that she might have even made some really bad ones in trying to convey that she is a Serious Writer. Over the course of a seemingly mundane summer she also realizes that she may not know as much as she thought.

Opportunities surround Eva for new experiences and friendships, but for the most part, those realizations come too late to mean anything. No matter how much she missed in high school, no matter how many friends she pushed away, at the end of the summer Eva will be across the country starting college in Boston.

Instead of being a book about seizing missed opportunities, Don’t Ever Change is a thoughtful and often witty admission that important moments can be lost or squandered. But there are always new ones to find.

Don’t Ever Change is as self-aware as the main character and often as mystifying. The story is strange, messy and not always neat but sometimes perfect. Just like real life. Recommended for readers who like their contemporary novels to have a little bite and fans of Alice, I Think who still wish they could see Ms. MacLeod heading off to college.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, How to Steal a Car by Pete Hautman, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

*A copy this book was acquired from the author/publisher for review consideration*

Review Copies Up for Grabs

I’ve been going through my to be read books and know, realistically, that there are a lot I’m not going to get to. So I’m giving them away to people who can cover shipping.

Before you go to see what titles are available or request anything, please read my rules:

  • You have to be a blogger. I got these books to review on my blog. I want to give them to people who will review them on their blogs. (I’d prefer to know you at least in passing but that’s negotiable and it can’t hurt to ask.)
  • You must review the title on or near release date. These books had the potential to rot on my TBR shelf. I don’t want that to happen twice. If you request a book you are making a promise to me that you will review the book on or near its release by which I mean within one month of publication (before or after).
  • If you don’t like a book, consider passing it on. This isn’t really a rule, just an idea.
  • I’m asking that you cover shipping. I don’t have the funds to cover mailing right now and I don’t want to trade for new books. So I’m asking anyone requesting to cover shipping via paypal. Generally shipping will be $3 or $4 via media mail depending on weight of the book. I’ll let you know for each title.
  • US Only. I can’t do international shipping. Sorry!

If, after going through the rules you are cool with my terms and want to request you have a few options: you can leave a comment here with your email address for me to reach out to you, you can tweet me @miss_print, or you can email me at miss_print AT yahoo DOT com.

Here are the books (all of these are ARCs):

  • Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid (Aug. 4, 2015)
  • A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher (Aug. 25, 2015) to Carlisa
  • Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman (Aug. 25, 2015) to Nicole’s Novel Reads
  • A Whole New World by Liz Braswell (Sept. 1, 2015)
    to Sheridan
  • Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman (Sept. 1, 2015) *priority to Posse members!* to Rosie
  • What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler (Sept. 22, 2015)
    to Cyra
  • Signs Point to Yes by Sandy Hall (Oct. 20, 2015)
  • The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau (October 27, 2015)
  • Soundless by Richelle Mead (Nov. 20, 2015) (to Erin Romance Bookie)
  • VIP: I’m With the Band by Jen Calonita (Dec. 1, 2015)
  • This Raging Light by Estelle Laure (Jan. 2016)

I might be adding more to this, but for now this is what I have.

Little Sleepyhead: A Picture Book Review

Little Sleepyhead by Elizabeth McPike and Patrice BartonSpare text and large, fluid illustrations come together in Little Sleepyhead by Elizabeth McPike and Patrice Barton (illustrator) to create a delightful bedtime story.

McPike’s rhyming tale flows as smoothly as any lullaby, describing a child’s body parts, from “tired little toes” to “tired little everything” as a variety of “precious little sleepyheads” are prepared for bed. The text is presented in couplets printed in a different color on each spread.

Barton’s illustrations show a variety of babies, siblings, and caregivers in large format on a white background that will translate well for those viewing the book up-close or from a distance in a read-aloud setting.

An excellent choice for bedtime-themed programs or one-on-one nighttime routines.

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online*

Week in Review: July 26

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

I’m really, really excited that it was finally time to share my review of Winterspell and my interview with Claire about it here on the blog. This is easily a favorite read of 2015 for me and I had such a blast talking to Claire about her inspiration and process and how Clara is such a badass.

This week was pretty good! The teen volunteers have started at work and I’m really enjoying working with them! I’ve never supervised volunteers before so I wasn’t sure what to expect but they’re great so far. I also got to see many librarian pals I don’t usually see because they are at other branches. Yay.

I continue to think about being brave and about how it is so much easier to be brave and unapologetically honest in letters or emails. Partly it’s because I am pragmatic (pessimistic) enough to assume no one will reply. And then, of course, I am shocked when someone DOES reply (and maybe stare at said reply more than I should). But also it’s just so much easier to put yourself out there when you can do it behind closed doors and from a safe distance.

Tidying has been on hold because I’ve been so busy the past couple weeks. I’m hoping to do some major damage to my books in early August and I need to see what other categories I have left from the KonMari outline. But I am definitely getting there!

Reading this week was a mixed bag but I started Tonight the Streets Are Ours on Friday and I’m enjoying it a lot so far.

If you want to see how my month in reading is shaking out be sure to check out my July Reading Tracker.

How was your week?

Author Interview: Claire Legrand on Winterspell

Back in February I read Claire Legrand’s YA debut Winterspell. I was completely drawn in by her dark, complex retelling of The Nutcracker. Since then, Winterspell has definitely been a book I keep thinking about–so much so that I knew I had to reach out to Claire about an interview. Today she’s here for a special Christmas in July interview all about Winterspell!

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Claire Legrand (CL): First of all, thanks so much for interviewing me, Emma! Excited to talk to you today.

I wrote a lot as a kid, but I didn’t seriously start thinking about trying to get published until I was quite a bit older. Just after I graduated high school, I got this idea for a story and couldn’t stop thinking about it for two years. In 2006, while in college, I decided to change my major—and my life path. I had to write this story and try to get it published. I spent a couple of years fiddling with it and then started writing in earnest in 2008. I began querying in 2009 and met my current agent, Diana Fox, in 2010. She had seen my query and requested the manuscript, and though that particular project wasn’t ready yet, she liked my writing and wanted to see more from me. A few months after we met, I wrote The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls and sent that manuscript to her. I also sent it to a few other agents, and I received a couple of offers of representation, including from Diana. I knew I got along well with Diana and that her vision for my career aligned with my own, so I signed with her, we sold Cavendish shortly thereafter, and now here we are, a few books later!

MP: What was the inspiration for Winterspell? What drew you to The Nutcracker as source material? Did you always know that Winterspell would be YA and/or skew older?

CL: The inspiration for Winterspell was the ballet itself. I’d grown up watching it every holiday season with my family, and it was one of those stories that stuck with me from a young age. I didn’t actually read the original fairy tale by E. T. A. Hoffmann until much later in life, so I’d say Winterspell draws more directly upon the ballet than the fairy tale.

That being said, the Nutcracker production that I prefer above all others and have watched all my life—the Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker, premiered by the Pacific Northwest Ballet in 1983—is truer to the dark, weird spirit of the original fairy tale than any other production I’ve seen. So even before I read the original story, I was unknowingly drawn to the bizarreness of Hoffmann’s tale through this particular production.

I always knew Winterspell would skew older, yes. The above production, and the original fairy tale, both fall a bit on the disturbing side, featuring erotic undertones and grotesqueries that are common for a lot of the classic fairy tales. As I explored these underlying themes, I decided I wanted my take on the story to explore Clara’s sexual awakening—coming to terms with her body and herself as a powerful young woman, with the curse and journey of the Nutcracker prince himself being essential, sure, but ultimately secondary to Clara’s own story.

MP: This book is set in 1899 New York (with a somewhat altered history to accommodate the Concordia syndicate) and the fictional world of Cane. How did you choose this historical era? How did you find historical details and choose which ones to include in your story?

CL: As I said above, I wanted this story to ultimately be about Clara’s sexual awakening. So I thought an interesting way to frame that would be to begin the story in the Victorian era, a time of repressed sexuality, a time when women were kept powerless. Clara starts out feeling like a victim of her corrupt, male-dominated society. But then she goes on this wild journey through the kingdom of Cane, ruled by a force of a woman, and grows stronger through adversity and through the power of her own choices. Eventually she’s able to throw off the shackles of the oppressive environment in which she’s grown up.

I did a little bit of research into Victorian-era clothing and society, and into Tammany Hall, the political organization upon which Concordia is very loosely based, but I didn’t want to linger in New York, since I knew the bulk of the story would take place in Cane. The most important thing to me was establishing the atmosphere of Clara’s New York City—downtrodden and dreary, infected with corruption, and run by men who controlled Clara and kept her feeling powerless.

MP: Cane is a fascinating world that is equal parts bleak and wondrous. Did any real locations help you envision Cane? Did any pieces from The Nutcracker particularly help inform Cane?

CL: Thank you! I loved building Cane. This was one of my favorite parts of writing     Winterspell, because I let my imagination run wild.

Music was my main inspiration when crafting the world of Cane. I listened to the Underworld, Sucker Punch, Red Riding Hood, and The Book of Eli soundtracks constantly, as well as music by Björk and Lamb. I was also inspired by the look and feel of the Underworld movies themselves, and also, strangely enough, the Borg from Star         Trek. Early on in the brainstorming process, I wrote down a note that said, “Faeries = If    the Borg were hot and wore Alexander McQueen.” So that idea of these technologically-    enhanced beings ruled by a powerful queen very much informed my interpretation of     faeries. I enjoyed turning the typical lore inside out and making these faeries dependent on iron and machinery rather than repelled by it. Lucy Ruth Cummins, the brilliant art       director at Simon & Schuster who designed Winterspell’s cover and overall look, said        that when reading, she was reminded of Gotham from Tim Burton’s Batman movies (Clara’s NYC), Narnia (Cane’s wilderness), and The City of Lost Children (Cane’s urban     centers). That’s spot-on.

And, of course, the Nutcracker itself was a huge inspiration. I can’t begin to count how    many times I listened to the ballet score while working on Winterspell. I liked inserting   nods to the ballet in Winterspell, like the moment in the ballet when Clara kills the Mouse King by throwing her shoe at him. A moment in Winterspell echoes that…but with a          darker twist.

MP: Clara is a great heroine. One of my favorite things about her is that she is incredibly capable but also often very afraid (a binary that is often not acknowledged). How did you go about balancing those two very different aspects of Clara’s personality?

CL: I’m so glad to hear you say this! It was important to me that Clara be afraid and show fear, and even be ruled by fear—at the beginning of the book and even as the story      progressed. So often in YA novels, the protagonist barely acknowledges her fear or, if     she does acknowledge it, she manages to grit her teeth and go about her business without too much fuss. And that’s all well and good—people often rise to the occasion when faced with danger. But when I see characters do that, I can’t help but think I—and probably many others—wouldn’t be able to dismiss our fear so easily. I wanted to write a heroine that realistically struggled with fear. After all, she’s only 17! Do you remember being 17? I do. I was brave in some ways and really afraid in other ways. If I’d had to go on a             harrowing journey like Clara, I would have been scared out of my mind.

For me it’s much more fascinating to read about a character who struggles deeply with      her fear and insecurities and ends up overcoming them, rather than a character who can get past those hurdles with ease and flair. That’s fun, yeah, but not particularly          interesting. So when crafting Clara it was just about being real. This is a 17-year-old girl whose mother was killed, whose father is a drunk, who’s being manipulated by corrupt politicians and sexual predators, who’s been taught by society that she should stay silent   and submit to the will of men. Who wouldn’t be afraid and seriously messed up after all of that? Yeah, she’s angry. Yeah, she’s sick of being afraid. But acknowledging anger and overcoming fear isn’t an easy thing to do in real life, and it shouldn’t be easy in books, either.

MP: It’s impossible to discuss Winterspell without also discussing Nicholas (Clara’s ally for most of the story) and Anise (essentially the biggest villain in the story). Did you always know that Nicholas and Anise would play such large (and equally important) roles in the story?

CL: I always knew Nicholas would be important to Clara’s story. He’s the Nutcracker prince, after all! And I always knew that the primary antagonist would be the ballet’s Sugar Plum Fairy gone wrong. But it wasn’t until actually writing the book that I realized how these characters would be so ambiguous, full of both light and darkness. Nicholas isn’t the good, virtuous prince; and Anise is more than a power-hungry dictator. And as Clara discovers these nuances and deals with the consequences, she’s forced to make difficult choices that impact her own story and inform her tremendous growth from powerless to powerful.

MP: All of the characters here operate in grey areas with “good” and “bad” becoming extremely fluid. For that reason the idea of consent is incredibly important throughout the story as Clara chooses again and again who to align with. How did you go about writing a story where your main character is never entirely certain who she can trust?

CL: I addressed this a little in my answer above, so I’ll continue that train of thought by saying that this was one of the most challenging and most rewarding parts of writing     Winterspell. Clara is never quite sure who to trust—and frankly, neither was I. I had an    outline, but the story grew into something different as I actually wrote the book. Characters developed in interesting directions I hadn’t predicted. As the story evolved, I kept this one very important thing in mind: This is Clara’s story, and each choice she makes, each relationship she nurtures, each alliance she forges, every betrayal she engineers, should inform the development of her character—and I knew exactly the kind of powerful woman I wanted Clara to be by the book’s end. So keeping that in mind helped me navigate those ambiguous waters.

One of my favorite moments in the book comes in Part IV—when Clara makes this huge choice that could endanger her life and puts her at the mercy of someone else. At first you might think, “Wait, why is she doing this? She’s giving up control! She’s subjugating        herself to this person?!” But in fact I think this is a hugely empowering moment for Clara, because all the choices she’s made so far in the book have led her here, and she is the only one who can make this last, crucial choice. There’s an incredible power in that.

MP: While we’re talking about characters, did you have a favorite character to write in Winterspell? Is there any character you were particularly excited for readers to meet?

CL: Hands down, Anise was my favorite character to write. She’s a wild card. She’s    glamorous and unpredictable, sensual and sadistic. When writing one of her scenes, I always felt a little giddy, like, “Oh god what is this glorious monster going to do next?!” She’s the character I’m always most eager for readers to meet.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? Will we be seeing more YA titles from you?

CL: I just announced a new book releasing from Simon & Schuster in May 2016. It’s a middle grade novel called Some Kind of Happiness, about a girl named Finley who      creates an imaginary world to cope with her anxiety and depression. Writing that was a very personal experience, so I’m excited for readers to meet Finley and her complicated     family. I also have another upcoming project that I haven’t announced yet, so I can’t         share anything about it—which is such a tease, I know! But it’s maddening to keep things quiet for so long, so I can’t help myself with the teasing. Otherwise I might burst.

I definitely have more YA projects in mind—it’s just a matter of time!

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

CL: The #1 piece of advice I always give writers is to read, read, read—read a lot, and read widely. More than anything else, reading thoughtfully and analyzing what I read has   helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses, what I do well and what I could do better.

Thanks again to Claire for this fantastic interview.

You can see more about Claire and her books on her website.

You can also read my review of Winterspell here on the blog.

Winterspell: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Winterspell by Claire LegrandNew York City, 1899. Clara Stole’s mother has been dead for a year. Without the guiding goodness of her mother, Clara lives in fear of the greed and corruption that grip New York City and the Concordia syndicate that rules it with a firm and corrupt hand with her father as their mayor and figurehead.

Thanks to her godfather, Drosselmeyer, Clara is well trained in self-defense. But blending into shadows, picking locks and throwing a punch are little help when the mere thought of confronting the dangerous leaders of Concordia fills Clara with crippling dread. Despite her perceived weakness, Clara is determined to find out the truth behind her mother’s murder. But in uncovering that truth, Clara also finds shocking secrets about her own life.

On Christmas Eve Clara’s house is attacked and her father abducted by mysterious creatures not of this world. To rescue her father and keep her family safe, Clara will have to follow the creatures to Cane–a distant land ravaged by magic and strife–with only Nicholas, cursed prince of Cane, for help.

Clara needs Nicholas and therefore must work him but the prince has secrets and an agenda of his own–one that may do Clara more harm than good. With time running out as she moves through Cane’s ruthless landscape, Clara realizes she can trust no one but herself if she hopes to leave Cane alive in Winterspell (2014) by Claire Legrand.

Winterspell is Legrand’s first young adult novel. Readers can also pick up a companion prequel novella called Summerfall. An extended epilogue called Homecoming can be found on Legrand’s website.

Legrand delivers a sumptuous, rich fantasy in this dark retelling of The NutcrackerWinterspell stays true to the source material (even including epigraphs from the original story at the start of each section) while also pushing the plot in unexpected directions in this story about magic gone wrong, war and the strength that comes from realizing your own power.

While Clara knows she is strong and capable she is also hampered by her own fears and doubts as much as by the trappings of being a young woman of privilege in 1890s New York. Clara is terrified of her own strength (and her inability to use it at crucial moments), her own body, and especially her own sexuality. As much as this story is about magic and action, it is equally about Clara’s sexual awakening as she learns to embrace all aspects of her self even those society tells her she should hide away.

Winterspell is a sexy, gritty story that brings the world of Cane monstrously to life. Endpapers provide a detailed map of Cane (illustrated by Catherine Scully) while Legrand’s prose evokes the fearful cold and danger lurking around every corner.

The interplay between Clara and Nicholas adds another dimension to this story. Both characters rightfully have a healthy suspicion of each other but also an undeniable physical attraction. There is a delicious slow burn as these characters circle each other. This distrust and attraction coalesces into a thoughtful treatment of consent that works on many levels throughout the story.

Winterspell is a sexy, gritty story that operates in the grey areas between good and evil. With brutal heroes and sympathetic villains this is a multifaceted story sure to appeal to fantasy readers and fans of unconventional retellings.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, The Luxe by Anna Godbersen, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, Jackaby by William Ritter, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls: A Review

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn WeingartenJune and Delia used to be friends. Best friends. Even when it felt like their home lives were falling apart, June knew she could count on Delia. She knew their secrets tied them together.

That was a while ago. Over a year. Before June started dating Ryan. Before Delia met Ryan and things got . . . weird.

June hasn’t spoken to Delia since.

Now Delia is dead. Burned to death in her step-father’s shed, they say. Suicide, they say.

June doesn’t believe it.

Certain that Delia was murdered, June sets out to uncover the truth. Instead of easy answers, she finds a complicated  tangle of secrets and lies that will change everything she thought she knew about her best friend in Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls (2015) by Lynn Weingarten.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is Weingarten’s fourth novel. It is a stand-alone title.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is a complicated novel. Weingarten employs varied narrative techniques and format choices throughout to create prose with as many twists as the plot.

Like June herself, readers never know exactly what to expect in this book. The plot is uneasy and often difficult as June unearths raw moments from her past with Delia. This story is partly the postmortem of a friendship with flashbacks and June’s memories detailing how the girls’ friendship began and, later, how it unraveled.

The rest of the novel focuses more closely on June’s investigation of Delia’s death and her increasing questions about what really happened. June is never certain who to trust, lending a sense of uncertainty and unease to a novel where allegiances–and even facts–are constantly shifting.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is a solid thriller with moments of genuine suspense, numerous shocks, and a powerful ending that demands to be discussed at length. A must-read for fans of thrillers in general and readers who like a novel that keeps them guessing.

Possible Pairings: Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

*A copy this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*