(I received a free copy of By a Charm and a Curse from the publisher, Entangled TEEN, to write an honest review on The Silver Petticoat Review. I was not financially compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.)
About By a Charm and a Curse:
A kiss is never just a kiss. Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic isn’t like other traveling circuses. It’s bound by a charm, held together by a centuries-old curse, that protects its members from ever growing older or getting hurt. Emmaline King is drawn to the circus like a moth to a flame…and unwittingly recruited into its folds by a mysterious teen boy whose kiss is as cold as ice.
Forced to travel through Texas as the new Girl in the Box, Emmaline is completely trapped. Breaking the curse seems like her only chance at freedom, but with no curse, there’s no charm, either―dooming everyone who calls the Carnival Fantastic home. Including the boy she’s afraid she’s falling for.
Everything―including his life―could end with just one kiss.
By a Charm and a Curse Review
There is absolutely nothing typical about Le Grand Carnival. Sure, there are rides and fun houses, fortune-tellers, and games. The “Carnies” are a mix of entertainers, both generous and selfish. Throw in the typical rabble-rousers, and you have a cast of characters that are both endearing and maddening. On the surface, it is exactly what it appears to be – a carnival. Yet, it is something deeper, something more fantastical. And that is what takes this carnival to the next level.
Author Jaime Questell takes readers on a marvelous ride in her debut Young Adult novel, By a Charm and a Curse. With a skillful hand, Questell builds a magical world among the dusty, back roads of small-town America. She sets the stage with Emma, unhappy at living in “Nowhere,” Oklahoma and Ben, a young man yearning to be free of the carnival. Well-developed secondary characters round out a richly built fantasy world.
The “Talkers” of By a Charm and a Curse
So, now I’m using carnival lingo. Sorry, I couldn’t resist! A “talker” is a person who builds up a crowd outside an attraction. To be sure, Emma and Ben are the “talkers” of By a Charm and a Curse. The story alternates between Emma and Ben’s perspective. This builds the readers’ anticipation with every page. More importantly, it gives readers varying insights into the events as they unfold.
From Ben’s point of view, readers get to know what motivates him. What he wants from his life. Readers get a full grasp of the importance of the charm to the Carnies. Additionally, we see Emma and the curse from the perspective of those who benefit – those who live under the charm. Furthermore, readers get to experience Ben’s emotions with him rather than through someone else’s eyes.
From Emma’s viewpoint, we experience her fear and anger at discovering the deception. We feel her shock as the realization sinks in, that perhaps home was not as bad as she thought. Furthermore, we “feel” the change her body is going through as the curse takes hold. Above all, what makes Emma so compelling is her determination. She clings to who she truly is to survive the curse. She does not do anything without weighing all the consequences. The curse thrusts Emma into a role of great responsibility and despite her anger and misery, she rises to the occasion.
By switching between Emma and Ben’s points of view, Questell completely immerses readers into the world of By a Charm and a Curse. Even better? We get to experience every swoon-worthy romantic moment between Emma and Ben. And let me tell you, there are plenty!
A Gentle and Lovely Swoon-worthy Romance
The pace of Emma and Ben’s romance is beyond perfection. It develops slowly, but not so slowly as to feel like it’s dragging out. Instead, Emma and Ben’s feelings building upon each interaction they have. That made their romance very natural and organic to the story. As a result, it was easy to understand the sacrifices each was willing to make for the other. It explained why their emotions drove much of their decisions.
Questell doesn’t only create a swoon-worthy romance between Emma and Ben. A sweet romance between a knife-throwing entertainer and a trick horseback rider develops. It’s a bright note amidst the darkness of the charm and the curse. Then, there is the angsty story of Audrey and Sidney. Whew….a mix of despair, lost love and utter heartbreak! The addition of these romances added depth to secondary characters. It made them more relevant to the story rather than plot devices.
Final Thoughts on By a Charm and a Curse
I really wanted a scene with Emma and her family. Something, anything, to show how strained things were as a result of Emma’s unhappiness. I also wanted more about her relationship with her mother. While Emma’s perspective provided some clue, I wanted more to underscore Emma’s misery of living in Oklahoma. I do think By a Charm and a Curse romanticized carnival-life by avoiding some of the realities. Of course, this is a fantasy and absolutely not the point of the story. Overall, these are minor gripes in an otherwise satisfying read.
By a Charm and a Curse beautifully captures the volatile emotions of teenage angst. The story moves swiftly, keeping readers engaged until the very end. The blend of fantasy and romance was perfect. Emma and Ben’s journey is rich and fulfilling. Readers (including adults!) will enjoy the magic and wonder of By a Charm and a Curse!
(Warning: You may want a fried snickers afterwards…or funnel cake!)
Content Note: Other than a few curse words, a clean read.
Go HERE to buy the book from Entangled Publishing!
By a Charm and a Curse Teasers
Excerpt from By a Charm and a Curse:
Leslie smiles at the girl with a mixture of pride and tentative hope. “It took us a few days to get Sidney set up somewhere else, and I’m sorry about that. But this wagon belongs to the occupant of the box.” Leslie strokes the side of the ladder that leads to the door. “What you’re going through is terrible, we know it is, though we can never truly understand. It’s a small comfort, but we want you to have a place that’s just your own, a place that you can use to escape.”
A weak, wobbly smile lifts the corners of the girl’s mouth as her gaze roves over the outside of the wagon, a shadow of the smile I saw the other night, when she was with her friend. I wonder what it would take to get her to smile for real.
“What about Sidney?”
“Sidney can make do.” Leslie’s smile broadens into a grin. “Have you seen the way he’s been eating? I wouldn’t be surprised to see him waddle out of the cook shack one of these mornings like Templeton the Rat.” She dangles a small copper key from the end of a length of faded red ribbon. “It’s like I said—the carnival owes the person in the box. This is the least we can do for you in return.”
The girl’s hand shakes as she reaches for the key, and she wraps her slender fingers around it tightly, as though she’s afraid of dropping it. I lose sight of her as she steps inside, and all I can do now is hope she likes the wagon.
I turn to head home and feel the sickening lurch as my foot lands in a slick patch of mud and whips out from beneath me. I throw out my arm. A flash of white-hot pain flares through my hand, but I manage to keep my footing. I step out of the mud that had nearly sent me sprawling on my ass, unsure as to how I even missed it in the first place. Then my hand begins to throb.
A gash runs diagonally across my palm. Blood wells from the wound, filling my cupped hand. The pain sets in, a deep pulsing starting in my palm and radiating up my arm. I glance over at the trailer and see a splash of red smeared along a sharp flap of metal. I must have sliced my hand on that as I tried to grab onto something to keep from slipping.
Falling on carnival grounds doesn’t happen; the charm sees to that. But my bloodied hand begs to differ.
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About the Author
JAIME QUESTELL grew up in Houston, Texas, where she escaped the heat and humidity by diving into stacks of Baby Sitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High books. She has been a book seller (fair warning: book lovers who become book sellers will give half their paychecks right back to their employers), a professional knitter, a semi-professional baker, and now works as a graphic designer in addition to writing.
Do you plan to read By a Charm and a Curse? Let me know in the comments!
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My
feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me
to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
(Scroll down for the Full Old-Fashioned Romance Breakdown!)