A Kirkus Reviews Best Indie Book of 2018
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.
|Publisher:||Entangled Publishing, LLC|
|File size:||2 MB|
|Age Range:||14 Years|
About the Author
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Apologies to the people who love it here, but Claremore, Oklahoma, might actually be a circle of hell. Not one of the horrible ones, for the people who do unspeakable things to cats, but definitely one of the places where people who cheat on their taxes go to live out their monotonous afterlives. The thing that sucks is Claremore is exactly where my mom has ditched my brothers and me for a year, leaving us to live with our dad while she's off in Guatemala, investigating this teeny tiny isolated village for a grant.
The only good thing about our abandonment is that Mom dropped us off just as Le Grand's Carnival Fantastic was ending its engagement on the outskirts of the city.
"Have you ever experienced the life-altering joygasm of the deep-fried Snickers bar?" Juliet bounds along beside me, same as she did when we were younger, her golden curls springing in time to her steps as we cross the dusty parking lot toward the carnival entrance.
It's a struggle to keep up, her long legs and general giddiness propelling her forward far better than any jet fuel could. The carnival sits in the middle of a field next to an abandoned mall. Graffiti cartoon animals run laps around the dilapidated building. Someone had written eat me in four-foot-tall letters near one of the entrances, only to have someone add an M at the beginning later. In another color, someone else had scrawled meat is murder, to which another artiste contributed, and it's delicious u dirty hippy. Charming.
"Jules, I can say with some certainty that never have I ever experienced a candy-induced joygasm."
"Then I can say with some certainty that you aren't living your best life."
Shame that once Le Grande's Carnival Fantastic blows town, there will pretty much be absolutely zero to do here that doesn't involve late-night visits to Walmart or football.
We follow the gathering crowds toward the ticket booth, funneling into the entrance beneath pennants made of sun-bleached calico, the patterns mere ghosts of their old selves. We're not even through the ticket gate and already I can smell sawdust and burned sugar. Shrieks of terror and joy stutter through the wind, mixing with the excited chatter of those waiting in line. Hand-painted boards taller than I am lead up to the ticket booth, each one featuring a different performer. A knife thrower done in stark black, white, and orange. Two golden girls standing atop a spotted horse, no saddle or reins to hold them. A boy and girl, near mirror reflections of the other, hovering over a crystal ball, dark shadows creeping in around them. The biggest belongs to a trio of tumblers who tangle their limbs together until they're one muscled mass of human impossibility. The sign is a boast, a dare, a promise — come and see these men and be amazed.
And I want to be amazed.
"Look!" I grab Jules by the wrist and tug her out of line to get a better look at the murals. I haven't painted since the move, and, more than that, nothing here has made me want to paint. "These are fantastic."
"They're all right, I guess," Jules says, taking her fingers from mine, her eyes already tracking toward the carnival entrance. "Do you think they'll have those giant turkey legs? I had one at the state fair and thought I was going to die. On. The. Spot."
Somewhere in the middle of her litany of praising poultry, I'm distracted by a flash of glitter and the soft clopping of hooves on concrete. A girl — slim and slight and decked out in what looks like a sequined bathing suit and fluffy bustle — pulls with all her might on the reins of the obstinate palomino before her. The thing is so huge and she is so tiny, it's like watching Tinkerbell trying to tow the Jolly Roger.
She lets out a holler somewhere between a yelp and a grunt of unending frustration. "Benjamin!"
A blond boy — Benjamin, I assume — sets the battered red tool kit he had been carrying down on the ground and wipes his palms on his jeans. His glasses slip down his nose when he straightens, the lights of the carnival reflecting across the lenses. He gently takes the reins from the girl, and it's impossible to ignore the way the tendons in his arms flex as he takes the giant horse under his control. He slowly strokes the animal's cheeks and I wonder if the words he says to the horse are as soft. But just then the horse's ears prick forward, and its feet dance in the dust.
"Hey, Whiskey," says an olive-skinned boy, approaching from the row of tents nearby. "You need help?" As he looks at Benjamin, his mouth twists into a mockery of a smile. "Looks like the gaucho can't handle a horse."
"Benjamin was handling this horse just fine until you showed up," the girl says with a snarl. I half expect to see fangs glinting in the fading light. As if to prove her point, the horse tries to rear, but Benjamin's grip is firm, and the horse doesn't break free. "Why don't you go find some old lady to charm out of her pension?"
The boy scowls, but as the horse snorts and tries to rear up once more, he walks away. As he leaves, he knocks into Benjamin's shoulder, muttering that word again, the one reeking of disdain even though it seems harmless enough to me. "Gaucho."
Benjamin doesn't respond, his fist still firmly wrapped around the horse's reins, but the girl is slowly turning a violent shade of pink. But before she can say a word, King Jerkwad turns, gifting a million-watt smile to the line of soon-to-be patrons as he approaches. He runs the last few feet, and as he's about to crash into a family with two chubby-cheeked toddlers, he launches into a backflip and lands kneeling before Jules and me. His chest puffs out and his arms spread wide. "The Fabulous Moretti Brothers are here to astound you! Come and find us inside!"
What an ass.
Juliet cocks her hip and rolls her lip between her teeth. Some predators roar to intimidate their prey. Juliet does this. "So, uh, if we were to want to find you later ..."
I glance back toward Benjamin and Whiskey, stifling a laugh when I see the glare the tiny redhead is shooting at the tumbler. Benjamin is still, somber. He catches me looking and gives me the tiniest shake of his head. A warning.
I don't question it. This Moretti brother might be fabulous, but I think we'll pass. I hook my arm around Juliet's and tug, leading her in the general direction of the ticket booth.
"Ugh, Emmaline!" Juliet says, her feet finally getting with the program. "That boy had serious make-out potential."
"Correction, that was a walking, talking douchebag wrapped up in a pretty package, and friends don't let friends make out with douchebags."
Juliet stretches to graze the tip of the bunting swaying above us with her fingers. "It's not like I wanted to bring him home to my dads and have a nondenominational commitment ceremony, I just wanted to kiss his brains out."
God, this girl. Laughter bubbles out of my chest, and it feels good, I feel good for the first time in weeks. I nudge Juliet toward the ticket booth.
When we reach the front of the line, a woman with coppery red hair in a messy topknot sells us our tickets. "Be sure to check out the equestrian stunt show," she says, her smile broad and bright. "The riders are my daughters."
We take our tickets and almost immediately give them up again, to an older man who tips his tattered newsboy as we enter the carnival. The moment we cross the perimeter, we're awash in golden light and popcorn-scented air. Shrieks of delight fill the night, mingling with Juliet's mile-a-minute chatter about where she might find a deep-fried anything.
Red flashes before me, and it takes my eyes a second to realize it's a rose. A boy holds the flower so close its petals tickle my chin. His face is painted white, with rosy circles dotting his pale cheeks and dark powder shaping his eyebrows into wry arches. His glossy black hair has been styled into a plastic-y, slick wave that makes me think of a twenties soda jerk. When he grins, his teeth are all perfect and white. "Pretty flower for a pretty lady."
A flush colors my cheeks. "Oh! I couldn't." The rose is lush and perfect, so big it looks artificial, but there's no way to fake the heavenly scent coming off it.
But the boy's grin widens, and then he's pressing the stem into my hand. "I insist. You can pay me back by bringing your family to visit my booth later."
"Oh," I say, "it's just us."
The boy's grin turns wolfish. "Us?"
I whirl, my brain finally realizing that if Juliet had been behind me, there's no way she'd have let the boy's words from before go without comment. The crowd swirls around me — families and some people I vaguely recognize from school — but no Jules. "My friend is here ... somewhere."
The boy's bright white teeth flash in the rapidly diminishing light. "Of course she is. When you find her"— he presses something small and cold into my palm —"come and see me."
I glance at my hand. It's just a quarter, shiny enough to reflect the dancing lights from a nearby booth off its surface. Why on earth would he give me a quarter? I shove the coin into my jeans pocket and am about to ask him that very question, but he's already gone.
The roll of cash in my pocket thumps against my leg as I jog across the yard. I counted it three times to be sure, and if I'm right, then Marcel and I finally have enough money to leave this carnival for good.
The evening is crisp and cool and the kind of bleak that makes the world seem like everything is washed over with gray. But the backyard crackles with life. Trailers creak as other roustabouts — those like me who work in the background, making it easier for the performers to seamlessly weave their magic — wearily climb into them, eager to catch a quick meal and a little rest before going back out to help clean up the grounds after the patrons are gone. Happy shouts of greeting echo up and down the rows of trailers as the performers make their way toward the grounds, ready for the first shows of the night, and the yips and grunts of Mrs. Potter's dogs make a strange layer of sound hanging in the air.
It's home for all of them, but not the kind of home I ever wanted for myself.
Even though we've only been here two weeks, the pathways on the grounds have been made flat by dozens and dozens of feet. As I wind my way through the yard, I tick a few items off my to-do list — checking the wiring on the neon ice cream sign affixed to one of the outermost booths, fixing the awning on Lars's trailer. I'm about to call it quits when I see Lorenzo, the youngest Moretti tumbler, horsing around a trash can fire with a new carnival recruit whose name is Mikey, I think. If I run into the last Moretti brother, Antonio, after this, then I'll have concrete proof that bad things come in threes.
"Do you trust me or not?" Lorenzo asks. The new guy's cheeks are flushed pink from the fire, and the bright flames flicker in his wide, wet eyes as he holds one hand over the trash can. "Come on. We've all done it. It's like a rite of passage!"
I dart toward them and yank the new guy's hand back. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" The heat from the fire wafts over me, making my skin feel as though it's being stretched too tight.
"But the charm would have protected me." The new guy points a wavering finger toward Lorenzo. "He said so."
Anger threatens to sharpen the edges of all my words, so when I speak, I try my damnedest to be calm. "That is not how it works. The charm keeps you safe as you work, makes sure you don't trip when you perform, and keeps us healthy, keeps us young. It does not miraculously keep your skin from burning to a crisp when you purposefully shove your hand into a fire."
"Maybe," Lorenzo says, the word drawn out all long and lazy, "the charm worked by having you come along." The grin he gives me makes it perfectly clear he doesn't believe a word he's saying.
My teeth grind. Did this really just happen? Did I just stop a guy from putting his hand into a fire? I have no idea why Leslie welcomed some stupid kid naive enough to be fooled into almost burning off his own hand into the fold, but she must have seen something special in him. "That isn't how it works. Don't purposefully try to hurt yourself." The trash can lid lays on the ground at our feet, and I slam it down, smothering the flames. "And don't listen to anyone with the last name Moretti. Now go."
The new guy shoots a nervous glance at both of us but walks away quickly. Smartest decision he's made all day. "Leave the new people alone," I say.
"What do you care? You're not really one of us."
Anger flares, hot and bright in my gut. Just because I haven't been with the carnival all my life and just because my family doesn't have a mile-long list of carnivals or circuses we've worked for, I don't belong. "Been here a lot longer than you have."
Lorenzo smiles, and he has to know he's hit a nerve. "Still doesn't mean you belong here. You or your bitch of a mother."
My fingers twitch into fists, but before I do anything stupid, he's gone. As he makes his way down the aisle, chatting easily with passersby, the anger inside me continues to simmer. It's not my fault the Morettis couldn't get their father a job with the carnival because my mom already holds the master carpenter position. And it's not my fault they're arrogant pricks who think the world should be handed to them on a platter because they bring in tons of paying customers. But soon, very soon, I won't have to put up with shit like this.
A shriek of laughter pierces through my anger. I peer between two trailers and catch a glimpse of a pair of girls — a blonde doubled over in laughter and her dark-haired friend, who looks on with some mix of pride at having made someone else laugh so hard and disbelief that anyone actually could laugh that hard. As she tugs on the other girl's arm, trying to get her to move along, I realize this is the girl I'd seen earlier, the one whose blush lit up her pale skin like sunlight through a flower petal. The blond girl straightens, and as she does, she gives her friend a swift smack on the ass, which sets the both of them giggling. The anger I'd held in my chest doesn't completely dissolve, but it does loosen its hold as I watch the girls walk away.
Well. I guess the carnival isn't all bad.
Gin Connelly perches delicately on a crate next to the rusting Gran Torino Marcel and I bought, already in the glittering costume she'll wear for her shows this evening. Beside her is an origami configuration of jutting elbows and long torso as my best friend, Marcel, strains to reach a hidden part of the engine block of our piece-of-junk clunker.
I kick at a raggedy length of rubber on the ground, and as it tumbles to a stop at her bare feet, Gin snaps to attention. "Oh hell," she says, grabbing Marcel's wrist to look at his watch. At her touch, he startles, nearly knocking his head into the propped-open hood of the car. "I'm late for my first show. I'll get up with you early in the morning to practice our new routine, okay?"
She's up and off in a flurry of sparkles, jogging down the pathway between trailers, the crowd parting to let her through. Marcel absently rubs at the smears of grease marring his dark skin with an equally greasy rag, oblivious to the fact that all he's doing is spreading the gunk around.
"Hey, man," he says, only managing to draw his gaze to me once she's out of sight. He's got it so bad for Gin that I can't even be mad at him for ignoring me till now. "Hop in and turn her on. Let's see if I got rid of that squealing sound."
The ever-present smell of gasoline hits me as I slide into the driver's seat. At first, starting the car was a gentle and precise dance of pumping the gas, turning the key, listening, knowing when to back off and when to push harder to get the damned thing to turn over without flooding, but now all it takes is a simple turn of my wrist.
Our parents had questioned the need to buy the thing in the first place. What traveling did we do, outside of the carnival? The car was a gas-guzzler, couldn't we see that? But neither Marcel's parents nor my mother thought to ask the real reason behind our purchase — are you planning to leave us?
Excerpted from "By A Charm & A Curse"
Copyright © 2018 Jaime Questell.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The unfortunate truth is that The Night Circus has basically ruined me for all other circus books and By a Charm and a Curse fell on the disappointing side of things. Though it's been compared to TNC and Caraval, I didn't see much of a resemblance beyond the setting (in a way, but still not a great comparison). I should have DNFed it. I did, temporarily, several times between the 0% and 30% mark. The characters didn't hook me. In fact, I just flat-out didn't like Emmaline. She immediately struck me as falling into the "not like other girls" trap and I wasn't here for it. As soon as a new boy was introduced in the story, she's all over him and suddenly we have an insta-love cringe-fest. By a quarter of the way through, I lost all hope of liking this book. The story came together too easily, and I never worried about the characters. In part because I just didn't care about them but also I didn't feel like anything bad would really happen (or if it did, it wouldn't last). But I will say that Questell has a decent writing style. While the execution of the story wasn't working for me, the writing is clean and easy to read. Plus, the whole carnival setting is my jam and I loved the way the author set up the world. By a Charm and a Curse isn't truly a terrible book. For me, it had one too many elements that bored me so I struggled to get through it, but thankfully it's a standalone so you aren't committing yourself to a long book. I can't say I personally recommend it but if it sounds like your kind of book from the synopsis, give it a go!
I received this free from #netgalley for free in exchange for an honest review. OMG! I loved this story. I love a great Carnival book. I can not pass one up when I see it. This book has a dual perspective of 2 characters. Ben and Emma. You will hear the story from them but we do have some side characters that I really enjoyed. There are not disappointments on my end about this book. You have all the thrills and dangerous acts of a great circus but the secret that is being hide is the story that captivated me. What is this secret, you ask? Well its a curse but if you wish to find out what is happening, I would highly recommend reading this book. I do not want to spoil the story. It will keep you on edge like it did me. I truly loved it.
Emma finds herself at Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic and embroiled in much more than she could have ever imagined. The Carnival is both charmed and cursed. A fated soul is forced to bear the curse so that the Carnival and its performers may be charmed, never to fall to harm or disaster so long as the curse holds. This book is entirely different from the Night Circus or Caraval, which it will likely be compared to due to its setting. The feel and plot of the book is completely unlike the two mentioned. I found the Carnival to be vibrantly brought to life in my mind, although it was much more bloody and violent than I expected it to be. The number of gruesome deaths and injuries that occurred during this book were incredibly surprising. I expected this to be a more light-hearted fluffy, romantic fantasy set at the Carnival from the first few pages and that is not what it ended up being at all. Despite that, I still really enjoyed the premise and the mystery surrounding the curse. I didn't strongly connect with any of the main characters, although I found them interesting enough. They didn't feel as developed as they should have been and I never felt that they were growing. My biggest issue was the predictability of the trope in the story. It took the fun out of the discovery and made the plot feel a little underwhelming. The romance felt like insta-love to me and that's one of the most frustrating tropes, as I enjoy character development more than anything. Overall, I really enjoyed the premise even if the characters weren't particularly engaging for me. This was a short, easy (although deadly) fantasy read.
A Charm and a Curse holds an interesting premise. The reader is introduced to a traveling carnival, one whose performers are blessed with an eerie skill and luck. They can complete death-defying tricks without the slightest hesitation or worry. The drawback to this magical skill? The charm that protects the performers (and keeps them from aging or getting sick) is sustained by the sacrifice of the Girl or Boy in the Box. This individual loses the ability to taste, to feel, to truly experience life in exchange for others to experience life in an extraordinary way. Fortunately for the Girl/Boy in the Box, their fate isn’t eternal; all they have to do is steal the life of another and provide a substitute. Enter Emmaline, a teenager who’s visiting the carnival with a long-time friend. Naturally, she finds much more than she bargained for at the carnival and becomes the new lifeblood of its charm. Emmaline is likable enough for most readers to sympathize with. She’s an average teen, nothing unusual about her until she is moved into the path of the curse. Benjamin, our other protagonist and narrator, has grown up with the carnival. However, that doesn’t mean he wants to stay. He’s pretty firmly decided he’ll be taking off soon; that is, until he meets Emma. A sweet romance and friendship start to blossom between the two. The pacing is slow, and the content is definitely appropriate for middle school readers. Their tentative romance is perfect entertainment for the middle school group. I liked that the book experimented with a dual perspective. I think it’s beneficial for readers to view Emma’s curse through her own experience as well as Benjamin’s, especially considering her affliction fills her own senses. The book takes a bit of a predictable turn when it comes to breaking the curse, but I think fans will enjoy the HEA.
By A Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questal is a contemporary YA novel with a fantasy theme around a magical carnival. When Emmaline King visits the Le Grand Carnival Fantastic she is awed and excited. A spur of the moment kiss leads her to a much less awesome fate as the curse the boy had is transferred to her and she becomes stone cold and cursed to be The Girl in the Box with the circus, and that is just the beginning of her troubles. Benjamin Singer is trying to save up enough money to get out of the circus and settle down somewhere to call home, but the circus has a mind all it's own and a fate for him that he could never anticipate. Jaime Questal creates not only a setting that is fascinating and mysterious but characters who's struggles pull you in and as you find out more of the mystery it just reels you in deeper. There were many twists and turns and unexpected depths as you progress through By A Charm and a Curse, and nothing is as expected. Overall I recommend By A Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questal if you are looking for a carnival story with themes of magic, mystery, family, friendship and romance. The settings, storytelling and characters brought the whole thing together. (I voluntarily reviewed an ARC of this book I received for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my open and honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.)
***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog*** By a Charm & a Curse by Jaime Questell Publisher: Entangled Teen Publication Date: February 6, 2018 Rating: 4 stars Source: eARC from NetGalley Summary (from Goodreads): 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. What I Liked: Someone needs to help me out here. Before I began reading this book, I went on Goodreads to pull link information to set up my review post, and I saw a slew of two- and three-star reviews, as well as DNF reviews. I respect the reviewers and their opinions, but a lot of the things they were complaining about were... wrong? Several reviewers were mad about "love" being thrown around too quickly; that's hilarious because that word is "thrown around" at the 3/4 mark of the book - nearly two months into the story. Anyway, I'm confused as to why reviews are so negative because I did not have the same experience. The first 5% or so was a little tough to get through, but I was hooked once Emmaline's entrapment began. This debut novel deserves a little more credit because it really was not a bad story at all. The story begins with Emmaline and her friend Juliet attending the carnival in Claremore, Oklahoma. Emmaline has just moved there with her brothers, to live with their dad, since their mom is doing research in Guatemala. The carnival is magical and enticing, and it's not long before Emmaline gets swept up into the atmosphere. She agrees to hang out with a boy in a jack-in-the-box tent, during his break, and everything falls apart. Suddenly she is now in possession of the carnival's curse, which forces her to stay there and take the boy's place. She is cursed with no sense of touch, and she can only get rid of the curse by transferring it to someone else, just as the boy did to her. Emmaline is forced to travel with the carnival and leave her family behind. It's not just the curse she holds, but the carnival's charm as well. But what if she could break the curse? Will she risk it and doom the carnival - including the carpenter boy she has fallen for? The first 5% or so was a little slow, and my interest kept fluctuating. It wasn't until Sidney transferring the curse to Emmaline that I really started to get interested in the story. Emmaline is trapped and completely helpless, and no matter how badly she wants to go home, she can't. The rest of the story shows her adjustment (or lack thereof), and how the charm starts to deteriorate for some strange reason... you'll have to read the book to find out why and how. Read the rest of my review on my blog, The Eater of Books! - eaterofbooks DOT blogspot DOT com :)
I love a solid story in a carnival setting. Having finished Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Caraval by Stephanie Garber, I was lucky enough to be given a free copy of this book in return for a fair review. Even better? The book was an absolute delight. I loved the relationship between Emma and Ben, how it began and how it grew. I liked how the author crafted the charm and curse, how it turned from its original purpose into what Emma was experiencing. The dark magic revolving around it and the things it did in case anyone got too far from the circus. Of course, the book wasn't all sunshine and roses, with a few surprising dark turns. Extra bonus - the book is a standalone! If there is going to be any series, it would be interesting to see how given that this story is so self-contained. With so many other books out there requiring a wait between whatever current cliffhangers they have and their next installment, it really was nice to be able to read a book that didn't rely on anything extra. Don't get me wrong - I love a good series, but sometimes I just want to read ONE book and be happy, you know? Well-written and full of descriptive scents, sights, and sensations, you'll be with Emma night after night in the carnival, wondering how she'll break the curse and maybe hoping for a bit of funnel cake once you've finished the book.
I absolutely love magical circuses as a setting so I was instantly sold on By a Charm and a Curse. Plus the curse aspect seemed unique and intriguing. I had expected a story similar in feel to The Night Circus, an atmospheric read centered around the magic of the carnival. While this book is certainly magical, it also explored what goes on behind the scenes. By a Charm and a Curse had good characters, an enchanting story, and some wonderfully dark magic. Plus it's a standalone novel! This one is a bit of a slow burn. There was a lot of information introduced at the beginning, although Questall does an excellent job of integrating it into the story. I absolutely loved the curse. It was dark, twisted, and absolutely perfect. It also meant that many of the carnival members were wonderfully morally gray. Some of my favorite parts of the book involved the internal tug-of-war between their need for the charm and their distaste for the curse. I thought that Emma was an excellent protagonist, she was entirely relatable. The dual narration worked well, the combination of a newcomer and long-time carnival resident allowed for a deeper understanding of the circus . Also, both Emma and Ben were very down to earth, which grounded the novel. The secondary characters were so well developed and multi-dimensional in general. Most of them were incredibly distinct. I absolutely adored Sidney, Gin, and Whisky. I did struggle to connect with them but I still enjoyed the story. However, the villains were extremely under-developed and one-dimensional. I just never understood the reasoning or motivations behind their actions. It was a pity because everything else about this novel sparkled. The history of the curse was intricate, the plot was engaging, and the other characters shone. While it wasn't the book I was expecting, I'm glad that I read By a Charm and a Curse. It was a darker read with some wonderful twists and turns. If you enjoy stories about magical circuses, definitely check this one out. *Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
TL;DR: Overall, this book was a lot of fun. It was creative, it had good pacing, and it had such a unique premise. I think that if you’re still on a high from The Greatest Showman (which I hear was really good) or want something to hold you over until Legendary comes out, I think you’ll really enjoy this one! Full Review: In 2017, we definitely saw a lot of authors take us readers to many fantastical worlds. One fantastical world we visited several times this last year was the circus. Between Caraval, Daughter of the Burning City, and (at least for me) the Night Circus, there were several trips to fantastical circuses and carnivals that we wished we could take a trip to. For those who still want to go to one more show, By A Curse and A Charm is a fun take on the circus story with a different spin. zoltar.jpgI love how this one followed the other acts in the circus, but had an interesting way to bring our main character into the story. If you’re like me, you hear a couple of things to sell you on a book and stop reading the synopsis so you can go in kind of blind and not form any opinions. What I missed was one of the parts I really liked, our main character Emma actually gets tricked into joining by becoming the new “Girl in the Box.” This is like those fortune-teller things you can see at Arcades or circuses or Renaissance Festivals or wherever (reference picture is on the side). At this circus, there is actually a real person trapped in the box and due to a curse and they take on a puppet-like form. This person has smooth skin; doesn’t need to eat, sleep, or even breath; and is responsible for holding the charm over the circus in place and can only be freed if they pass the curse along. This plot is pretty simple, but it was a lot of fun, so I don’t mind. It’s Emma getting trapped and looking for a way to get free. But this simple plot really worked to the book’s advantage. By keeping everything pretty linear, we got to know more about the circus, the curse, and the characters, without having to take too many reading tangents. This book also added more depth by giving us a second point of view from one of the circus’ carpenter’s Benjamin. I like this dual perspective since Emma and Ben have incredibly different points of view during the story. Having Emma’s confused outsider perspective aside Ben’s insider knowledge was able to strengthen the story. Praise for this book aside, I did have some issues keeping this story from being a 5 star read. My biggest issue was how predictable the conclusion was. I liked the set up a lot, but there weren’t many possible resolutions. I’m just annoyed that I saw the resolution coming as soon as I did. Despite that being a bit of a letdown, the journey the plot went on was still a lot of fun. Another complaint I had was that there were times where the charm wasn’t working and I thought it was because Emma was passed the curse correctly. I guess that wasn’t the case, but yeah it was really confusing. I’m happy we did eventually get an explanation and clarification, but for a good chunk of the book, I was pretty confused. **More reviews like this one can be found on my blog: www.coffeecocktailsandbooks [dot] com**
This book surprised me. I didn't think that I would like it as much as I did. There were many elements to it, romance, magic, family dynamics, friendship, carnival to name a few. Now that I have let it soak in I find that days later I am still thinking about the story. I still keep thinking about the unique setting of the carnival and the vibe that the book had. Now, in saying that there are definitely problems with the story. The main issue that I had was that you did not get much back story on the characters or what their motivations were. That's not to say that this was the same for every character, some were fleshed out better than others. I don't know if that was a technique of the author to be able to build more books, as to add additional characters stories in the future, but it worked against the book a bit as you didn't know why certain decisions were made. I also thought the ending needed more explanation and description. If you can overlook those things and just let yourself fall into the setting and the stories of these characters, you'll find an enjoyable read with a very unique background. I will look forward to seeing what this author does in future books.
About: By a Charm and a Curse is a young adult fantasy written by Jaime Questell. It was recently published on 2/6/18 by Entangled Teen, an imprint of Entangled Publishing and distributed by Macmillan, hardcover, 291 pages. The genres are fantasy, young adult, romance, magic, and fiction. This book is intended for readers ages 14 and up. This book is the author’s debut. My Experience: I started reading By a Charm and a Curse on 2/7/18 and finished it on 2/11/18. This book is an excellent read! Another circus book yes, but much different than The Night Circus and Caraval. For one, it’s modern. They travel from Oklahoma to Texas to Louisiana by trucks and trailers and make stops for gas. Dogs doing circus tricks and performers balancing on horsebacks. I like all of the characters’ personalities and their humor. I like their individual backgrounds that lead them to Le Grand’s. This book mostly reads like a YA contemporary and the only fantasy part is the curse. This book is told in the first person point of view following Emmaline (Emma, Em) King and Benjamin (Ben) Singer. Emmaline and her friend Juliet (Jules) are browsing around Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic exploring the sights and the foods. Benjamin works behind the scenes on the carnival grounds and has been trying to save up enough cash to leave the carnival’s life for good. He wanted somewhere to call home and when he found it, it was where he least expected to be. Emma has a love at first sight for Sidney, the Boy in the Box when she first set eyes on him. She throw herself at him and ended the night with a kiss. The kiss is no ordinary and the curse is then passed onto Emma. She is now the charm and the curse that act as the center point to hold the carnival together, keeping everyone in it young and safe. This curse left her as the new Girl in a Box, without taste, feel, or smell and cold to the touch, among others. Being condemned to this curse is worse, but when accidents started to occur where it had never occurred before and everyone at the carnival started to blame her, Emma has to find a way to fix it before her life ends in far worse than a curse. This book is well written and developed. It’s a great love story and the meanest form of punishment for cheating. I enjoy the plot and the characters. I like Ben being projected as attractive even with his glasses on. I don’t remember reading about any heroine wearing glasses so this detail is a plus! I like the curse and the charm concept and how it was originally created. I like Whiskey and Gin’s nicknames. I feel such an adrenaline rush when I know something will happen and just waiting for it to happen is nerve racking. Even though knowing what will happen, the ending still gives me a happy feeling and I highly recommend everyone to read it! Pro: fast paced, page turner, easy to read, humor, dual POV, adrenaline rush, cover Con: none I rate it 5 stars! ***Disclaimer: Many thanks to Entangled Publishing for the opportunity to read, review, and host a blog tour! Please be assured that my opinions are honest. xoxo, Jasmine at www.howusefulitis.wordpress.com for more details
Before I get started, this is my first circus book, yes I have Caraval and The Night Circus on my TBR pile, but I haven’t read them yet so this will have no tie-ins, no references to those, just my view of this and this alone. By A Charm is told from dual POV’s which I felt helped tell the story, and to also get a feel for what the characters are thinking and going through during the story. I enjoyed the actual story, getting to see the goings on of actual circus life and what it’s like for the people that live and travel with the circus. I don’t know if I could ever do it myself, the always packing up and moving, but at the same time you get to travel and see the country. The story itself was enjoyable, finding out about the curse and the charm, how they are tied together, how the effect everyone that’s part of the circus, what can happen if the charm is weakened and the curse is strengthened. Finding out about the history was really interesting also, granted you don’t find out the back story until almost the end of the book. I found a number of the side character amazing, and I’d love to have them as my friends. It never felt like a dull moment when they were around. It was nice to see almost everyone come together as a large extended family. I did have a couple of issues with the book. The trio of brothers, they were bullies. They seem to think that they owned the circus and could throw their weight around and face no consequences what so ever. The way they treated Emma, I didn’t care for either. Emma was thinking that she could pass the curse over in a day or two, when she was told that it can take years to find that right person before passing it on. I mean I get that she wants to get rid of it, but there seems to be a set of unwritten rules that need to be met just to find the right person. The ending and finding out how break the curse. It just felt too rushed to me. Even if there was an additional chapter or two added to pace it a bit better, I think it would have gone better. I’m glad I was able to get the opportunity to read this. It looks to be a stand alone, so there is a plus that it’s not another series to get pulled into. I look forward to seeing what Jamie has for us in future books
By a Charm and a Curse is a fantasy story with a romantic plot. What really separated this story from other fantasy young adult novels was the moral dilemma that Emma, the main character, faces throughout the book. Essentially, the story follows a teenage girl, Emma, who gets drawn in by Le Grand Carnival Fantastic's allure and becomes part of an age-old curse that mysteriously protects the people in the carnival from injuries and illnesses. Emma must decide if she's willing to find another unwilling person to take her place or find a way to break the curse completely, but both options aren't so great. In addition to seeing the story from Emma's perspective, we also follow a young boy named Benjamin. He's a carpenter in the carnival and wants nothing more than to leave and start a life of his own. I really enjoyed the characters in this story because they bring the carnival to life, and I especially liked Emma's strong and stubborn personality. While the main plot does focus on romance, I found the relationships in this story to feel natural and very pleasing to read. There were some flaws in the plot and poorly written dialogue that sometimes took me out of the story, but overall it was an enjoyable book.
Personally, I loved this story. I'm always a sucker for a good story that takes place in a carnival or circus. This one hit all the points that I love about stories like this. The characters were really great, I felt so much for Emma, and couldn't help but like Ben so much. When I picked this one up, I hated whenever I had to put it down. I mostly read during lunch breaks at school, so it made going back to work really hard. I got swept into the mythology behind the curse and the charm. I liked how there were people you would assume would be a problem with trying to break the curse, but they surprised you. I loved how Sidney even became someone you empathized with, and wanted to see him get his true love finally. And then there was all the horrible things those with the curse had to endure. The initial breaking to start the curse, followed by the coldness and twitching. Not being able to feel anything. Then the guilt of having to either do the same terrible thing to another innocent person in order to save yourself, or else having to be stuck with the curse yourself, not being able to go back to your own family. Also the curse was related to the rest of the carnies "charm" and how much they were able to do as part of their amazing acts. I loved the connection to New Orleans. And the story behind the curse was so good. Solving the curse was a very heart-breaking solution, and it was easy to understand why Emma didn't want to do it the way it had to be done. A great story, a book I will definitely be purchasing for my school library! Now, my only issues. First, the aerial family members that were the "bad guys" in the story. I almost feel like I needed a little more reason for what they did. For how evil they got at the end. I didn't quite understand what their solution was with Ben and Emma. My other thought is one I had about teens today. I wonder, do teens today really know or get what a carnival or traveling circus show is? I mean, Barnum and Baileys are going out of business, right? So what circuses are there anymore? And even as I was growing up, there weren't really the carnivals like this story is about. The reason I began thinking about this, is that another of my favorite stories, Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond, is about a circus, and I can barely get students to even look at it. I guess I just wonder if carnivals or circuses mean the same to teens today as they did when I was growing up.
by a charm and a curse starts off on the fairgrounds, in claremont, oklahoma and takes us on a journey to new orleans a place where magic has always been a possiblity. the charm of invincibility inherent to the le grand's carnival fantastic is anchored by a terrible curse, something emmaline king learns when she's conned into taking it on after a visit to the fair with an old friend. alone and terrified by the fact that her body is no longer her own. she's like a mannequin but alive. she doesn't have a pulse, can't cry, can't breathe but she still feels cold. she still feels. and the only way she can get rid of the curse is to pass it on to someone else. but she hasn't lost her humanity quite yet. she can't imagine condemning anyone else to this existence. and then there's ben. he's grown up as part of the carnival. his mother is the master carpenter and he is her apprentice. from the moment he meets emma, though, he can't stay away. even as it infuriates his mother. she's worried he'll be emma's next victim. but emma cares too deeply about ben to let him suffer the way she has. but as accidents begin to pile up on the carnival campgrounds, tensions begin to run high. suddenly the girl in the box and the carpenter's apprentice are under watch. because the closer they get the more it seems like the charm that's protected the carnival is wearing off. the question is, can they break the curse? and how they figure this out, is so worth the read. i loved the setting, the relationship that evolves between ben and emma. the fact that she's trapped in this shell of a body and the moments they touch, when his heat infuses her and she can feel him close. it's super romantic. in some ways the setting imbues the story with some old-time sensibilities. so like in victorian novels where any explicit sexual touching is frowned upon, and they relied on small touches, like hand-holding, to show those moments of connection, the same is true for ben and emma. and as the story moves forward, their connection gets stronger and the more contact they need between them. and i love how this heightens the feelings and emotions of their relationship. this was a wonderful read, and i can't wait to see what the author has in store for us next. **by a charm and a curse published on february 6, 2018. i received an advance digital copy courtesy of netgalley/entangled publishing (entangled teen) in exchange for my honest review.
I received an eARC of this book via Netgalley from the publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of this review. I COULD NOT sit By a Charm & a Curse by Jaime Questell down! I loved the setting and the mystery surround the curse. I ached for Emma and fell in love with Ben. If you enjoy YA urban fantasy, carnivals, and curses, I highly recommend it! When the book opens, Emma is struggling. She’s been sent away by her mother to live with her father and brothers in rural Oklahoma. That in itself isn’t so bad. It’s the being away from her mother for over a year that Emma struggles with. Emma comes full circle in this book, seeing the error in her thinking almost immediately. She misses her family, and yet she’s can’t return. It’s heartbreaking! Ben is ready to run at the open. He’s spent most of his life with the carnival, and he’s ready to leave and find a place to call home. He’s tired of the traveling, nomadic life. BUT his mom is there, and they are there because she wants to keep him safe. The charm tied to the carnival protects them from accidents, makes their shows magical, and even stops their aging. Despite all of this, Ben wants a normal life until the new Girl in the Box arrives. So the premise of the book is in the title. There is a curse on the person in the box and that curse is directly related to the charm protecting everyone in the carnival. The story opens with Sidney, the Boy in the Box. I picture something like those old fortune teller boxes that you drop a coin in and the mannequin gives them a card of their future. This is exactly what it is except Sidney is alive. Then he tricks Emma into the Box and she takes his place, forced to travel with the carnival, unable to go home and unable to apologize to the family she is leaving behind. I think this is where the book lost me a bit. I loved Emma and Ben. I even liked their budding relationship. But the curse and charm, those confused me, which is why the book gets four instead of five stars. It’s well thought-out and is explained some, but I still had a hard time understanding how the curse is passed on and why no one has thought to break it before now. Granted that is also explained. Overall I really enjoyed By a Charm & a Curse, even if some of it was predictable. I found myself engrossed in Emma and Ben’s story, their relationship and how they overcome the odds. I loved Duncan and Whiskey and the other side characters, and I hurt for Sidney and Audrey. I highly recommend this book for anyone that enjoys the whimsy of carnival life, the charms of first love, and a seemingly unbreakable curse. Note: This book contains strong language, underage drinking, and some violence. While it is written for YA, I would recommend it for 16+ or the mature teen.
Down you go little Emma into the rabbit hole. Que Cheshire Cat grin. Roll up, roll up, come and visit the Le Grand's carnival. Daredevil stunts, performing dog, Ferris wheel, fortune tellers and all the cotton candy you can eat. The carnival is full of mystery and magical experiences, but the Le Grand carnival has more to offer than most. Emma's time has just begun. She has just returned to town and is struggling to fit back in where she left off. Emma visits the carnival with a friend. She is drawn into the magic that surrounds kit and gets more than she bargains. The Le Grand carnival has a secret. It has a charm that protects the carnival. No one has had an accident in years and the people perform risky stunts. They know the charm will save them from injury. It promotes good healthy lives and takes care of everything. With every good luck charm, there has to be a balance. A price to pay for their good fortune. Emma is about to find out the cost. She opens pandora box and becomes the new girl. Benjamin and his mother have been with the carnival most of their lives. They work on the maintenance and up keeping. Ben dreams of leaving the circus and finding something he can call his own. He is trying to put a plan together to set in motion until he meets the girl in the box. I loved this book. It's Pinocchio meets Alice in Wonderland only darker. By a Charm and a curse has mystery, suspense and romance. The story is fast paced and kept me begging for more right until the end. I couldn't put it down. I loved the magic and darkness. It is exciting and shocking. There are some really good characters in this book and they really bring the story to life. Whiskey and Gin had me laughing. Emma and Ben had me swooning. Don't even get me started on Sidney! I could totally read this book again and that is something I almost never do. 5 stars out of 5. *I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. *
Emmaline gets tricked into a curse by a kiss. This just adds insult to injury because she is forced to stay with her father for a year while her mom is doing research. She feels like an outcast even though she’s with family and friends. So a night of fun at the local carnival turns into anything but fun…… Benjamin, I can see why he gravitated towards Emmaline. His mother, Audrey was so overbearing at times. I don’t know how he dealt with her all these years. The cover caught my attention and I’m happy to report the story was just as good as the cover. I’m very picky when it comes to paranormal reads and YA as well. So, I’m happy this book was a winner. I loved the whole curse aspect, how to break the curse and the ramifications if the curse was broken. This was my first time reading anything by this author and I enjoyed the story. The writing was solid, the pacing was good and the story held my attention. This was a very refreshing read and I enjoyed the whole premise. I hope we get a novella to see how the characters are doing. I will be sure to check out more books by this author especially for this genre. It had the right blend of fantasy, paranormal and romance.
Thanks to NetGalley and Entangled Teen for the opportunity to read and review By a Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questell! Emmaline and her siblings are spending a year with their father in a small, uneventful town while their mom works in Guatemala, since she received a grant. Emma attends the carnival with her friend Juliet before it leaves town and takes the last bit of entertainment with it. Benjamin works for the traveling carnival but he wants to leave it to finally stay in one place and start a life there. Emma meets and takes a Ferris wheel ride with Sidney; a young man that runs the fortune teller box attraction. Emma unknowingly submits herself to the curse and charm that runs the carnival. Her friends and family believe that she’s run away and she is nothing but trapped until she can trick someone else into taking the curse. Emma and Benjamin form a bond and they’re determined to figure out a way to break the curse once and for all. A supernatural fantasy written for young adults, 4 stars! *I received a complimentary copy of this book for voluntary review consideration.