I’m pretty excited for my first blog tour today, hosting By a Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questell! Her book came out yesterday (6th Feb 2018) and I feel very lucky to have been one of the few with an opportunity to read an advance copy. I feel even luckier to get in on the fun of this blog tour.
In addition to an excerpt and my review, I’ve got a link to the giveaway Entangled TEEN has organised! It is only open to US readers (I know, I know, my international heart is broken too), and you can find the link riiight at the end.
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.
Get your copy here: https://entangledpublishing.com/by-a-charm-and-a-curse.html
My rating: 3(.5) of 5 stars
I was so excited for this book. I think that needs to be said immediately, because my expectations were quiiiite high. I think that’s always a dangerous thing for any book, but I have a particular love of circus/carnival books that will not listen to rhyme nor reason. It’s also very very hard to live up to, and I knooow I’m picky. So, you know, several grains of salt.
Luckily, it absolutely had the circus vibes that I’ve been craving. I mean, it felt a little more Mr Galliano’s Circus than Caraval or The Night Circus, but that wasn’t necessarily a downfall (just unexpected). This circus focused more on the travelling aspect than other books I’ve seen (which is why I think Mr Galliano), and I think that combined with the daily life and maintenance the carnival city made for a very grounded setting for this story. It was easy to imagine this as one of the many circuses that come to Melbourne, which made the magical twist even more appealing.
And what a twist! I mean, the premise of a curse passed with a kiss, and the charm that keeps the circus together is one that I’m far too weak for. I was ecstatic when I realised I’d been approved for this book, because I honestly didn’t know how I was going to wait till Feb 2018 to get my hands on it.
The characters were actually very solid. I enjoyed both Emma and Ben’s POV of chapters, and they were easy enough to differentiate even when I started reading faster and ignoring the chapter headings, which is always a good sign of distinct voices. I really like that you can see their characters not just in the way they react to the world, but what they focus on/describe too.
I especially liked Emma’s dilemma, as the new recipient of the curse. I liked that she was immediately aware of the consequences of what had happened, and kinda shouldered that burden (without endless moping or resistance). At the same time, you could also see that it wasn’t an easy transition (I mean, duh, that’s not a fun time) and I liked that you saw her struggles, especially with her new shape. I did think there’d be more protest about leaving her family, and the reality of the charm which she accepts very easily. But we’ll forgive her because she didn’t drive me up the wall.
I also have to say that I’m a big fan of the way the curse actually acted. I was expecting tied to the circus, but I missed the Pinocchio retelling in the blurb?? That was a very nice surprise, for me. Apparently that was one of the pitches for the book , and its execution was absolutely wicked. I loved the whole creepy puppet sort of vibes it gave everything, and it gave a really genuine twist that added to Emma’s motivations to get rid of the curse.
Ben was a sweetheart. I was quite fond of this carpenter’s son. The Jack of all trades sort of role fit him really well, and it allowed us to see a side of the circus outside of performers, as well as the conflict between them. (Esp when it came to who belonged there, and who was more invested). I liked that he wanted to make a place for himself outside of the circus, and also that he had interests outside of his role (painting). I only wish that side of him had been developed a little more.
My favourite of his quotes was probably about wanting to find a place of his own.
I also liked that he had a really solid relationships with both guys and girls his own age, which is somewhat rare for male MCs? Like if they do have a female friend, she’s usually a rival or a love interest… It was nice to see just genuine friendship?? It reinforced that sort of family vibe that I love to see in circuses, but also gave him a very realistic sort of dynamic to fall back on when things got tough.
My biggest problem was probably with the pacing of the relationship between Ben and Emma. It was frustrating, though, because they actually worked well together? I enjoyed the way they both were around each other quite a bit. That’s vague, but often relationships make the characters sort of diluted versions of the characters they were before, but if anything I think their characterisation was stronger when they were together.
It just happened so quickly. It’s hard to call this insta love because the story does take place over a long period of time (like several weeks pass at a time, and multiple places are visited). But… I dunno, I think it’s just because I like my burns so slow that they’d put Jane Austen to shame, but it felt like it was all at once. One minute he sees a girl he thinks will pass through the circus, the next she’s stuck and he’s almost immediately dedicated to her. One moment she is cursed and trapped and feeling alone and scared, the next she’s all lovey dovey with the first boy who is kind to her
(right after being cursed by a kiss!!) and she believes she can trust him because he seems honest. If there’d just been a beat of scepticism, and a chance for Ben to earn this, I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more.
When some of the plot points came back to this love, it was hard for me to really feel them. I mean I want to feel the real ache of the love and the decisions characters have to make, but it just wasn’t there. Also decisions that relied on the characters trusting each other didn’t work, because I wasn’t sure why they would yet. It just didn’t work for me.
The thing that did make up for this, though, was the side characters. I really enjoyed them, and the various side plots that linked them all together. My favourite character was Sidney, and I’m dying to know more about him. I mean, we were given bits of pieces and a rather large twist that absolutely kept me reading, but I could read a book just about him. His particular combination of heartbreak and jerk was a very well done one? And his guilt was one of the most human and convincing reactions in the whole book.
I think if other characters had been given the Sidney treatment – more emotions and more glimpses of a very good?? backstory?? – I would have absolutely fallen for this book. It just needed more time to develop the story and really immerse us in the circus life. I’m a pretty greedy reader, and though it’s nice to be able to finish a book in a sitting, I would have had the patience with such a cool premise to get to things a little slower.
All this said, it was a good read. I did finish in an afternoon, and I wasn’t even procrastinating anything. I would recommend it for someone looking for a quick romance with some circus vibes, with the caveat that the romance is pretty set from the get go. Also for people who are excited by the idea of Pinocchio x the circus x curses and magic meets the real world, but with not super super high expectations, like I had.
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.