Wednesday, 7 February 2018

REVIEW & INTERVIEW - BY A CHARM AND A CURSE BY JAIME QUESTRELL

Title: By A Charm And A Curse
Author: Jaime Questell
Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Teens & YA
Publisher: Entangled Teen, Entangled Publishing LLC.
Release Date: 6th February 2018

BLURB 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.


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REVIEW
I have read a few Circus/Carnival themed books this year so when I saw this one I felt I had to read it!

I think the cover will definitely stand out on a book store shelf with the bright pink title and author name. I love the darkness of the background of the cover, suggesting darkness possibly to represent when the Carnival is at it's busiest as well as the darkness symbolising the curse the Carnival carries around with it. There is also a Ferris wheel on the cover which plays a very big part within the book. I love the byline of "A kiss is never just a kiss" and that certainly fits the book well. Would the cover make me want to pick this one up from a bookstore shelf? Yes I know it really would!

The genres I have seen listed for this book are Sci-fi, Fantasy and Teens & YA. I suppose the curse could be classed as the Sci-Fi part but I would call that more of a Magic genre. I totally agree with the fantasy label both because of charm and curse and the fact most people at sometime in their life have dreamt about joining the circus/carnival. Though I am most certainly not a "teen" I loved reading this book but can imagine this book being very popular with the Teen and YA group of readers. I would also say the book is kind of contemporary as its set in the modern day too. 

I found the book enchanting from the very beginning and immediately fell in love with the characters of Benjamin and Emmaline, the two main characters of the book. I became a little obsessed and was really looking forward to my "reading time" with this book and became quite irritated if I was interrupted during my reading! 
This review is going to be so very hard to write without giving away too much, so apologies in advance if it seems a little vague in places.
The book centres on the travelling Carnival and it's history, everything is not as it seems as there is as the title says "A Charm and A Curse". Obviously the charm is the good part. It means that no one working within the carnival ever gets ill or has an accident, they also don't age. So I guess much like the Carnival performers and roustabouts most people would think this is a great gift. But there's always a catch. The catch or rather the curse of the carnival is that someone must work in the fortune teller booth, and they have no feelings of warmth, their body doesn't feel like their own anymore, it is broken and twitchy and jerky. This person cannot leave the carnival as they literally seize up and cannot move or function without being in the close vicinity of the Carnival. There is a way to pass on the curse to another and that is what happens to the main female character of Emmaline.
When the book begins Emma or Em as her close friends call her has returned with her brothers to her live with her father whilst her mum goes away to do a research project. Em is naturally quite resentful of being uprooted from everything familiar and having to go back to living with her dad. However when she meets back up with former friend Jules they decide to take a look at the Carnival that is in town for only two more days. The girls get separated and that's when Em makes the mistake of flirting with the boy in the fortune teller booth. I won't say how Em ends up dying, to be brought back to carry the curse but this section of the book is the part where the Ferris wheel is very relevant. 

I won't reveal exactly how but Em ends up being the new person in the fortune teller booth. 
The other performers and Carnival workers attempt to rally round Em to make her feel welcome and part of their travelling community but of course having been tricked by Sidney she is reluctant to trust anyone. Then her new reality sinks in, she simply has to go through it and she makes friends with some of the performers. I think it's so sweet that a first real "friend" after becoming the girl in the box is one of Mrs Potters dogs. It is Duncan and Gin help Em choose a costume to wear in her box. Naturally Em initially resists even thinking about passing on the curse and thinks she could never do what has happened to her to another human being. As time goes on though and the days and Carnival destinations slide past she comes to the conclusion if she wants to have any true feeling back in her body and to reclaim her own heartbeat she will have to pass the curse on. Then she also wonders what life would be like, if she could ever return to a normal life, could she ever return to her family that she misses so much and continue her life as it should have been. 

There's one particular scene I loved and found really amusing, and it's when Sidney and Em are on the Ferris wheel. They exchange names with each other and Em comments that she thinks Sidney is a name for an old person. When Sidney replies to Em he reference her name being for an older person like Auntie Em from the Wizard of Oz! 

Sadly things start to go wrong in the Carnival whilst Em is the girl in the box. Accidents begin to occur, small ones at first such as a cut hand, then there's a fall, a broken car. The Carnival performers and roustabouts are very superstitious and try to blame Em as they say she isn't carrying the duties of the curse out for enough time, or she isn't putting in enough effort. Ben sticks up for Em, as do Lars and Leslie but soon it becomes very apparent things are not as they should be.

There are so many great characters in this book from Leslie the Ringmaster, Mrs Potter who has a dog act, the Connelly family who are performers on horseback. There's also Pia and Duncan who have a fortune teller tent, and Marcel with his knife throwing act. All the Carnival performers and workers get along well together except for the Moretti's and their acrobatic act. It is the youngest Moretti brother Lorenzo that tries to coerce a new roustabout to place his hand into a fire to prove that the charm of the carnival with save him from burning himself, luckily Ben hears them and stops Mikey, the new worker from trying out the charm. 

I love the four different relationships within the book, such as the roller-coaster ride that is Audrey and Sidney. Though it would be so easy to cast Sidney as the bad guy you have to take account for how long he has been the "Boy in the Box" before he tricks Em and makes her the "Girl in the Box". I think both Sidney and Audrey are quite misunderstood characters, they don't easily show their good sides preferring to appear brusque and in charge in Audrey's case.
Then there's the cute relationship between the brave horseback performer Gin and the knife thrower Marcel. It seems Marcel has been watching Gin from afar, and its the thought of leaving her behind if he goes off with Benjamin to try life outside the Carnival that gives him the final push to reveal his feelings for her. I loved Gin and her younger sister Whiskey, they both instantly accept Em and try their best to welcome her and help her get ready to begin her time as the "Girl in the Box". 
I also think, though it isn't really firmly confirmed within the book that there is a kind of a little more than just friends thing going on between Lars, the Ferris wheel worker and Leslie the Ringmaster of the Carnival.
Of course there is an instant attraction between Em and Ben, though Ben's mum Audrey is really set against her son spending anytime or even looking at the new Girl in the Box. Audrey had what you could call history with the box and doesn't want to imagine something that in her opinion was a betrayal happening to her son. The fact his mum isn't impressed with Em doesn't stop Ben becoming more and more attracted to her. 

I totally loved reading this book and was fascinated by the charm and the curse. I always loved the Circus (as we would call it in the UK) as a child and I honestly think everyone imagines themselves performing in the circus! The performers make everything look so glamorous and magical. As a visitor you don't see the hours of practice they have to put in. You also don't think of the work it takes to take down, transport and put back up a travelling Carnival such as the one featured in this book. If you love mysterious, magical stories set in the modern day then I highly recommend reading this book. It really does pull you in slowly then hold on to you tightly to the very last word!

My immediate thoughts upon finishing this book were, Wow, what a brilliant read. I totally fell in love with the Carnival, it's performers and roustabouts. The left me wanting more! I want to know what happened after this book to the characters and the carnival too. Also I would love a prequel that goes into more detail about the curse and the family that set it all in motion. This book reminded me a little of Daughter Of The Burning City by Amanda Foody.


INTERVIEW
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.

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AUTHOR INTERVIEW

Is By a Charm and a Curse the beginning of a series? (If yes how many books do you plan the series to have?) 
CHARM is a standalone novel, though I've had several people tell me they'd like to read more about some of the side characters. I haven't ruled that out, though I don't have anything planned at the moment. 
(I'd love more! I loved the characters and the world setting.. After reading I definitely had questions as to what was going to happen next.)

How long did it take you to write By a Charm and a Curse? 
CHARM was my NaNoWriMo project for 2012. It started out as a short story, and my critique partners insisted that I expand on it. I wrote the first draft in about two months. It went crazy fast. 

What genre would you personally put By a Charm and a Curse in? Is this a genre you will be writing more of? 
I like to think of CHARM as a contemporary fantasy, where the story is grounded in the real world but magic has slipped in through the cracks. I love this sort of world, because it's the closest to ours. My current project is definitely set in this kind of universe. 

Who/What/How did you get your ideas for By a Charm and a Curse? Who/What is your inspiration? 
CHARM was inspired by the Dresden Dolls song Coin-Operated Boy, which is about loving a fake boy who wouldn't complicate things. The plinky piano and the sharp drumming immediately made me think of circus music, and Amanda Palmer's hiccup-y interlude where she repeats the lyrics as though she's a broken record made me think of a toy stuck in a loop, kind of like the person in the box in my novel. I was listening and just couldn't stop writing. I put the song on repeat and wrote about five thousand words in a few hours, which is a record for me. 

Did you have to any sort of specific research for By a Charm and a Curse? If so what/how did you do it? 
The research for CHARM was super fun. I looked up circus terminology and old photos from circuses and carnivals at the turn of the century. Even though CHARM is set in present day, I wanted the carnival to have that timeless feel. I have a Pinterest board (https://www.pinterest.com/jaime_q/by-a-charm-and-a-curse/) where I collected everything. Basically, it had to meet two requirements to make the board: be creepy, be pretty. 

If you had to choose to be a character from By a Charm and a Curse, which would you be and why? 
This is such a hard one! Part of me wants to say Gin, because who doesn't want to be the person who has a witty remark for everything, never mind the fact that she can perform stunts on a horse. But in the end, I think I'd have to go with Leslie, because she's so fierce and competent and caring. 

How did you come up with the Title and Cover Designs for By a Charm and a Curse? Who designed the Cover of your book? Do you have a lot of input into the process?
The title took a while, but I was lucky enough that my agent and editor AND publisher all loved it. That doesn't always happen. As for the cover, it was designed by Anna Croswell, and I think she nailed it. I didn't have any input, but if I had, I would have said the Ferris wheel would need to be front and center, which she did. I absolutely LOVE my cover. 


Is there anything in By a Charm and a Curse you would change now if you could and what would it be? 
I really like CHARM as it is, but if I had the time, I'd love to write a little backstory on the family of fortune tellers. I think they have a really rich history that I was only able to hint at in the novel.
(There could be a prequel to CHARM which tells the story of the family of fortune tellers? I'd love it! ~Jeanz) 

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