*A HUGE thanks to Entangled Teen for allowing me the opportunity to be on this blog tour and read this unique and magical book in advance!
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.By a Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questell
Published by Entangled Teen on February 6th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 300 •Format: E-ARC •Source: Publisher
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.
February is off to a great start as my first read, By a Charm and a Curse, was a perfectly charming, quick read that brought to life a vibrant carnival setting amidst the dusty roads and desolate fates of the south. I’m always a little wary of circus/carnival reads because it’s so easy for them to blend together (especially for someone like me, a gal who’s never actually been to a circus), however the approach Jaime Questell takes in By a Charm and a Curse feels surprisingly fresh will still holding true to the eerie yet romantic carnival tropes that readers are familiar with.
As per the synopsis, our protagonist attends a carnival that shows up one evening in her desolate hometown and not only becomes immersed in the culture, she becomes a part of the carnival itself, swindled into unknowingly allowing a curse to be transferred to her that makes her the “Girl in the Box,” a fortune teller gimmick who’s tiny box holds together the very foundation of the curse -and the charm- that keeps the carnival running. The curse turns her into a living mannequin of sorts- she’s Emma without all of the wearing down of time that makes humans unique, such as the wrinkles in your skin, the aches and pains of existence, the variety in the color tone in your eyes. It was a really unique take that I hadn’t seen done before.
I obviously can’t speak too much about the plot because ~spoilers~, however I can focus on the setting which was REALLY well done. Often times in standalone novels, especially short ones, it’s hard to build up a believable world, especially one that resides in the realm of contemporary AND fantasy (since it’s set in the modern world but the magic exists within the realm of the carnival). I loved getting to see through Ben’s eyes the behind the scenes aspects of the carnival, such as what he’s repaired and how the mechanics of setting up the carnival in each new town works, but also seeing the fresh, enchanted perspective of Emma as an outsider who is more focused on the glitz and dark glamour of the carnival such as the impressive acts and indulgent foods. There’s also a lot of fleshed out secondary characters and I felt like I was given enough time to care about them, especially Whiskey, Gin, the fortune teller twins, and Ben’s mom (and her unexpected plot twist and how it tied into the history of the carnival).
While the book never lost my interest, there were a few things that could have been improved upon, such as the motive building for the antagonists (who were just too conveniently evil and I feel like I was given a flimsy context for it) and the dual POVs sometimes were so similar in tone that I forgot who was narrating. However, for a debut these are relatively minor pain points and the overarching tale, aesthetic, and writing style of the novel definitely worked!
Overall: By a Charm and a Curse breathes life into a genre that can sometimes get worn down, and does so in a charming, enchanting way that is perfect for the YA genre. I really felt like I was immersed in the carnival’s world, and not just the “showboating” elements, but the behind the scenes aspects too (I never really gave much thought to what the employees lives were like outside of their performing hours!). It was a quick & fun debut and I can’t wait to see what the author writes next!
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.
Author Website: jaimequestell.com
Author Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jaimequestell/
Author Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jaimequestell
Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15396319.Jaime_Questell
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