Nocturne by Alyssa Wees – Review

In this haunting, lyrical fantasy set in 1930s Chicago, a talented ballerina finds herself torn between her dreams and her desires when she’s pursued by a secretive patron who may be more than he seems.

Growing up in Chicago’s Little Sicily in the years following the Great War, Grace Dragotta has always wanted to be a ballerina, ever since she first peered through the windows of the Near North Ballet Company. So when Grace is orphaned, she chooses the ballet as her home, imagining herself forever ensconced in a transcendent world of light and beauty so different from her poor, immigrant upbringing.

Years later, with the Great Depression in full swing, Grace has become the company’s new prima ballerina—though achieving her long-held dream is not the triumph she once envisioned. Time and familiarity have tarnished that shining vision, and her new position means the loss of her best friend in the world. Then she attracts the attention of the enigmatic Master La Rosa as her personal patron, and realizes the world is not as small or constricted as she had come to fear.

Who is her mysterious patron, and what does he want from her? As Grace begins to unlock the Master’s secrets, she discovers that there is beauty in darkness as well as light, finds that true friendship cannot be broken by time or distance, and realizes there may be another way entirely to achieve the transcendence she has always sought.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Random House for this eARC of what can only be described as an aria in book form. The blurb promises a lyrical fantasy– and it fantastically delivers with prose that will take your breath away and send you into Chicago in the midst of the Great Depression. It is a retelling of stories like Beauty and the Beast and Phantom of the Opera, but it holds so much historical significance– especially in the first chunk of the novel– that it feels like something that could have actually occurred instead of being firmly rooted in an imaginary world.

We meet Grace Dragotta, one dancer in a sea of other pointed toes, as she receives news that those days will be far behind her. She has been chosen as the company’s prima ballerina, which has been her lifelong dream. Grace was orphaned when a plague took her family, and she had been living at the Near North Ballet Company ever since. Her life is turned upside down when she attracts the attention of a patron named Master LaRosa, who invites her to live with him at his mansion. In return for being housed and clothed and otherwise cared for– she is expected only to waltz with him every Sunday at midnight. Grace longs for freedom, but the magic her benefactor provides gives her pause. Should she give up on who she is for what someone wants her to be?

I feel like there is so much in Grace that will speak to readers and inspire them. I know I personally found a light within her tenacity. She acknowledged that she was scared all throughout her life– but that she made the decisions that got her to where she is anyway. Her family died, and she found her way to the ballet. She was given up as a gift to a wealthy man, and she made the most of it. Grace’s journey of finding herself is interlaced with an escape from the cold and deadly Chicago streets into a gateway into the land of the dead where loved ones can be reconnected with and the boon of life brought into focus. This is a beautiful story that will leave you breathless– and I recommend it to all of those with the beat of their own drum inside of their heart.

5/5 stars

The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees – Review

The waking forest has secrets. To Rhea, it appears like a mirage, dark and dense, at the very edge of her backyard. But when she reaches out to touch it, the forest vanishes. She’s desperate to know more—until she finds a peculiar boy who offers to reveal its secrets. If she plays a game.

To the Witch, the forest is her home, where she sits on her throne of carved bone, waiting for dreaming children to beg her to grant their wishes. One night, a mysterious visitor arrives and asks her what she wishes for, but the Witch sends him away. And then the uninvited guest returns.

The strangers are just the beginning. Something is stirring in the forest, and when Rhea’s and the Witch’s paths collide, a truth more treacherous and deadly than either could ever imagine surfaces. But how much are they willing to risk to survive?

Click cover to buy

First, I want to thank NetGalley for this ARC! I saw the cover and read the synopsis and was 100% ready to lose myself in the fantasy. This book exceeded all of my hopes, and was like three stories in one.

We are thrust into this narrative spun with golden threads of description. I swear, this author weaves perfect pictures of places you could have never been and things you could have never seen with the most vibrant and sometimes grotesque verbiage. Things like ‘the color of a picked scab’ or talk of a ‘spider’s sky’ that is laced with silk— it was so beautiful and unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

We start out with the Witch of the Woods, then are brought to Rhea and her family, then lastly to a princess. The way these three are woven together are like a priceless, centuries old tapestry, and you are kept guessing until the last act of the story when everything is laid bare.

There is magic, fear, love, and mystical beings, but also some stand-out nuggets of wisdom. Some of my favorites dealt with the focus on family; not just blood relation, but how important your chosen family is as well, and the message of the imperativeness of being yourself; each small facet, each mask that you wear. You can be small, yet powerful. You can be frightened, but stand tall. You don’t ever have to be one thing in life. You should taste everything that it has to offer, and scream. Make your voice heard no matter how much it may scare those around you.

I can’t wait to see what this author does next, and I will gladly follow her into the Woods.

5/5 stars