Review: Spellcaster by Cara Lynn Shultz

Book: Spellcaster
Author: Cara Lynn Shultz
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release date: March 27, 2012
Source: eARC from NetGalley
Series: Spellbound #2

Summary from Goodreads: Finding your eternal soulmate – easy.

Stopping a true-love-hungry evil – not so much…

After breaking a centuries-old romantic curse, Emma Connor is (almost) glad to get back to normal problems. Although…it’s not easy dealing with the jealous cliques and gossip that rule her exclusive Upper East Side prep, even for a sixteen-year-old newbie witch. Having the most-wanted boy in school as her eternal soul mate sure helps ease the pain-especially since wealthy, rocker-hot Brendan Salinger is very good at staying irresistibly close….

But something dark and hungry is using Emma and Brendan’s deepest fears to reveal damaging secrets and destroy their trust in each other. And Emma’s crash course in über-spells may not be enough to keep them safe…or to stop an inhuman force bent on making their unsuspected power its own.

First impressions: I was really happy to get back into the lives of Emma and Brendan and Angelique. Starting this book felt like slipping under a favorite blanket – warm and comforting. I appreciated the quick recap that Shultz was able to work in so I remembered where everything left off last time, and it didn’t feel out of place or like an interruption of the narrative.

Lasting impressions: With a lightning-quick pace and lots of action, I tore through this one. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next. A pure joy to read.

Conflicting impressions: There were two big things that kept me from loving this one as much as last year’s Spellbound. The first was the too-obvious villain, and the second was the narrative jump at the climax.

Overall impressions: Cara Lynn Shultz has a definite knack for engaging the reader. She doesn’t just make you want to read the book. She makes you want to devour it. The last few months have not been good reading months for me, and very few books made me excited to pick them up again – until this one. As soon as I started it, I settled easily into the story and the pages flew by.

Emma and Brendan are such a likable pair, it’s hard to not enjoy reading about their lives. Private school wealth with down-to-earth personalities, these two are further kept in check by Angelique’s snarky barbs and the good humor of bright and bubbly side characters. Everyone in this series feels like a real person, and someone I would want to spend time with.

The witchcraft gets an expanded role in this book, with Emma starting to explore her own powers with help from Angelique. She’s under attack again, and the suspense of this plot keeps things chugging along. Lots of obstacles and fights, as well as the usual teen angst about relationships and intimacy. It reminded me a bit of one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies – The Craft.

Perhaps because of this familiarity with that movie’s plot of witch-gets-power-and-turns-evil, I found the antagonist in this book very easy to spot. Since it takes Emma and crew a while to wise up to this, I got a bit impatient in the middle sections of the book. When it started to snowball toward the ultimate showdown at the climax, I was excited to see it all play out nevertheless.

But.

***POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD! (Highlight text to read)***

In a frustrating move, Shultz interrupts a pivotal decision-making moment for Emma during this climactic battle to transfer the narrative reins to Angelique. We wind up backtracking and following Angelique’s experience of the events, leading up to her reuniting with Emma after the battle. Only then do we find out what happened and what Emma decided – we get it told to us instead of experiencing it.

***END SPOILERS***

The narrative switch happens one other time at an earlier point in the novel, so it wasn’t completely out of left field, but the placement of this one really bothered me. If the story needed the benefit of multiple viewpoints, perhaps a move to a close 3rd person narrative would have been better. I felt like the voices between Emma and Angelique weren’t distinct enough, and would have enjoyed the story just as much if we’d been freed from Emma’s limited perspective. Since Shultz chose to stick with 1st person, however, I really wanted to see the ending play out in full. I felt cheated by the decision to take us out of Emma’s head at such a crucial point in her story.

If you liked Spellbound, this is a great follow-up story. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and hope this isn’t the last I see of Emma and Brendan.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

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Review: The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

Book: The Near Witch
Author: Victoria Schwab
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Release date: August 2, 2011
Source: ARC from NetGalley

Summary: (from Goodreads) The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.

If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.

And there are no strangers in the town of Near.

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.

But when an actual stranger â?? a boy who seems to fade like smoke â?? appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.

The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him.

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexiâ??s need to know â?? about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.

Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwabâ??s debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you wonâ??t soon forget.

First impressions: The immediacy of the present tense used in this narrative really drew me in. Victoria Schwab has an elegant way of writing that I found beautiful and hypnotic.

Lasting impressions: I couldn’t connect with this one beyond the likable prose, however. I never fell in love with Cole, or even believed that Lexi truly had, and the story moved a bit slow for my tastes.

Conflicting impressions: I thought missing children would be enough to keep me interested, but the stakes never felt high enough for me to care about the outcome.

Overall impressions: This is one book where I am absolutely certain that the only reason I disliked it was because I just wasn’t feeling it. I can tell it’s a well-crafted, unique, and beautiful tale. I can see where some people would get really into this one and love it. For me, it fell a bit flat.

The setting, a secluded small town named Near located next to a spooky moor, is perfect. I loved the opening, when Lexi introduces us to local folklore about the old Near Witch who died long ago and is inextricably linked to the town’s history. The first chapter is Lexi telling a bedtime story to her young sister, Wren, about the Near Witch. It’s a quiet, intimate moment that made me want to curl up in front of a fire and keep reading.

The beginning was so good, in fact, that I think it set up my ultimate disappointment by the time I got to the end. Schwab’s writing is dripping with detail, painting clear images in your mind, but without getting bogged down. It’s the kind of writing you want to sip, and languish in, not hurry through to find out what happens next. Yet I still needed something to keep me turning the pages. Instead, I felt like I was fighting reading inertia, and that the more I read, the less I could actually continue to consume. Then I’d put it down and struggle to pick it back up. It was frustrating.

As the story continues, a stranger arrives in Near, and the children of the village start turning up missing from their beds late at night. The town quickly turns on this mysterious visitor, as strangers are not welcome in Near. Lexi, however, refuses to blindly join this lynch mob, and starts her own investigation into the strange events happening in Near. Lexi is headstrong and stubborn, refusing to listen to her somewhat controlling uncle, who just wants her to stay in the house where he feels she’ll be safe. She disobeys him consistently, sneaking off to meet Cole (the stranger) or visit the homes where the children have gone missing. She wants to stop what’s happening, not only because she knows these kids, but because she witnessed her own sister nearly escape through the window late at night.

Lexi’s protective instinct didn’t ring quite as true for me. I thought she was just nosy and curious. She seemed more determined to prove Cole’s innocence than to protect her sister, and it bothered me that she got so swept up in the new boy in town. I felt they had no chemistry, and the romance that blossoms between them just didn’t do it for me. He was an interesting character in his own right and I didn’t get why he needed to also be a love interest.

The middle dragged on far too long for me. I had to struggle to get through this one, because neither the mystery itself, nor the beautiful prose, was enough to keep me hooked. The mystery is not much of a mystery as it turns out, and the story is much more effective as a lesson in how folklore and mass hysteria can influence human behavior, particularly in exclusive communities. Yet even this facet of the story seemed underdeveloped. While the overall tale is an interesting one, the details couldn’t hold my attention long enough to get through more than a few pages at a time.

I recommend this one to fans of witch and folk tales, but this one just wasn’t for me.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system