Title: By a Charm and a Curse
Author: Jaime Questell
Genre: YA contemporary Fantasy with magical realism
Release Date: February 6th, 2018
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Source: Egalley from publisher
My rating: 4.5 stars
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.
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.
1. What does your writing process look like? Do you know the whole story when you start? Or do you just start writing and go with it (seat of the pants writing)? If you plan it out, how do you do that? Outline, notecards, post-it-notes, etc.?
I love outlining. Outlining helps me feel like I’m writing with purpose. Early in the process, I’ll do a super vague outline of plot points that I know need to happen. And later in the process, when I’m stuck, I’ll do a micro outline, something meatier than an outline but without the emotion, metaphors, and dialogue that make it a real scene. That said, while I don’t always know exactly how thing will end when I start a draft, I do know the feeling I want to leave the reader with, which I think helps. So I usually know my beginning (though sometimes it takes fine-tuning to find the actual beginning), I know the ending note, and my billion outlines help me figure out the steps between.
2. How do you come up with your ideas for your stories?
Music, as hokey as it might sound, is incredibly inspiring for me. CHARM was inspired by a song (Coin-Operated Boy by the Dresden Dolls), and I always make up a playlist for whatever I’m working on. Though I will say, I listened to my playlist for CHARM so much that now I skip those songs when they randomly pop up on my phone.
3. How long have you been writing?
Not quite ten years. I wrote a YA (that is SO bad I cannot even begin to explain it depths of its clichéd cheesiness) for fun and my best friend convinced me to join her critique group. After that, it became something I needed to do.
4. What tips do you have for aspiring writers?
I think that persistence and resilience is so important. My writing group critiqued that terrible YA within an inch of its life until I made it something better. And then I queried it and received over two hundred rejections. Then I wrote CHARM and got my fabulous agent, and after we polished that manuscript we sent it out and receved even more rejections. But it’s so important to not take those rejections personally or to let them discourage you. There’s almost always something to learn from a rejection, but you can’t let them drag you down.
5. What are your favorite:
Books/authors/genres Too many! I love speculative fiction, fantasy, and thrillers. Right now my favorite authors are Leigh Bardugo (everything, just put it all in my grabby hands), Lisa Maxwell (The Last Magician is stunning), Nic Stone (Dear Martin wrecked me!), M.R. Carey (The Girl with All the Gifts, obviously, but Fellside was fab, too), Kelley Armstrong (her Casey Duncan series is awesome!), and Julie C. Dao (I will follow her to the ends of the earth after Forest of a Thousand Lanterns).
Movies/TV Shows How to Get Away with Murder is like a wacky, murdery rollercoaster that I never want to end and I have to watch Fresh Off the Boat, Black-ish, and Bob’s Burgers every week. I basically love almost all the Marvel films, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier is amazeballs. And I am a sucker for cooking competition shows like Top Chef, Chopped, and Cutthroat Kitchen.
Music I’m a little all over the place with my music, but one thing that it all has in common is that it has to be upbeat. My BFF jokes that I listen to all the upbeat stuff and she listens to all the quieter, sad stuff, and our tastes in music are each other’s kryptonite. My current faves are DNCE, Bruno Mars, Beth Ditto, Andra Day, and New Politics.
Food/Writing snack Sushi if I can get it, or if I’m limited to stuff that’s in the house, something that’s salty and sweet. I think I drive my family nuts with that combo, because I’m the only one who likes it and they’ll pick up some candy I bought and wind up disgusted with it. But hey, it’s a great way to keep my snacks safe!
About the Author: