Monday, January 17, 2011

Review: Secondhand Charm by Julie Berry

Secondhand Charm
Author: Julie Berry
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: October 12, 2010
How Received: Publisher

SummaryDeep in the forest, in a secluded village, a young girl has become known for her unique powers as a healer. Even gypsy charms—mere trinkets when worn by others—seem enchanted when Evie ties them around her neck. The love charm may be especially potent, since Aidan, the handsome stonemason’s apprentice, has been unusually attentive lately. But Evie wants more than a quiet village and the boy next door. She longs to travel to the city, to study at University.

When His Majesty the king pays an unexpected visit for the town’s annual feast day, Evie gets her chance. He awards her a scholarship, and suddenly—accompanied by both Aidan and her best friend, Prissy—Evie is on her way. But this story is no simple fairy tale. Her journey takes unexpected twists, from the high seas to the royal palace. And Evie will discover not just intrigue, adventure, and romance, but a most incredible legacy... a magic within herself she is only beginning to understand.

My Thoughts:
Secondhand Charm is a cute story that appealed to my love of fantasy and fairy tales. Not only was this novel cute, but it was wildly creative. I found myself unable to guess where Julie was taking us with their tale, so I had opened myself up to expect anything. The magical elements in the book were so intriguing – I found myself wondering more about the magical side of the book than of Evie’s story. For a standalone, Secondhand Charm presented its world very simply, and when you’re working in the fantasy genre, it’s always best to remain simple when presenting an entirely new world to someone.

Evie, the main character, was every bit as charming as her story. While she was a bit clueless at times and didn’t think with her head, she was a very driven and passionate character. I loved that she was so goal-oriented that she knew what she wanted from the very beginning, and even as she grew unsure of her future, she remained steadfast on wanting to help and heal people. This was also a bit frustrating, as well, because as soon as the magical element came into play, another huge door opened for Evie and she rarely thought about deviating from “the plan”. I would have jumped on the new opportunities. To add to my frustration, Evie didn’t even ask or ponder about her newfound life-mate. It was days before she even thought about inquiring about Clair. I would have been asking questions nonstop at the very moment I could have.

Clair, Evie’s leviathan (I won’t expand on that, so that’ll give you incentive to read it and see what that’s all about!), was my favorite character. He reminded me of a puppy sometimes. The way he was so happy to have found Evie was adorably sweet, and all he did was want to make her happy. I wanted to know more about him and his brethren – he grew on me that much!

The romance in the book was very sweet and cute, much like the rest of the story. In fact, the romance sort of took a back-seat to the plot, but it still reminded us it was there every few chapters or so. Evie had bought a gypsy love charm that attracted men to her, but her real interest was with Aidan, her neighbor in Maundley. Like any good romance, it had its ups and downs. Evie was never sure about Aidan’s feelings, and Aidan was never sure about Evie’s feelings. The pair had to overcome obstacle over obstacle, it seemed. But nevertheless, it was very cute watching the Evie’s relationship develop right before our eyes.

Secondhand Charm’s predictability was a bit all over the place. For the first 3/4th’s of the book, everything about the plot was so fantastical that it was hard to be sure what to expect, so I took all the “plot twists” in stride. Highwaymen, a shipwreck, a sea serpent? Sure, why not. But then the end pulls up and plot twist after shocking plot twist was thrown at us. Everything we assumed to be true before was suddenly up in the air to guess at. I loved that while this book is a fantasy tale and I was in a mindset to pretty much accept everything that was thrown at me, Julie still was able to shock me.

The only thing that bothered me about Secondhand Charm was the spaced out scenes of the villains. At the beginning we get glimpses of a potential evil plot arousing. But then too much happens between the first glimpses of the evil plot to its actual execution. By the time that the betrayal and bad guys came out to do their thing, I almost forgot all about them. I understand why it might have been written that way – to lull us, as readers, into a false sense of security, just as Evie was – but it almost seemed like the bad guys’ story was tacked on there at the end.

Cover Musings: My very first thought was that it was a cute cover. But then I looked closer and got a bit critical. If you look closely at the cover, the snack-like trinket looks so out of place on the string. It looks like a photo that was pasted onto an entirely fairy-tale like cover – in fact, the snake isn’t even resting on the string, it looks like it’s hovering in mid-air. And the string looks fake next to the snake. But the colors, especially on the blues on the jacket flaps and the binding, were absolutely gorgeous. The pastel like feel from them was lovely. 

Memorable Quotes:
For shame, scaring me like that in the woods!
“Aren’t you going to say something?” I said. “Or are you waiting for other young ladies to pass by so you can terrify them too?”
“Not a bad idea,” he said. “I could easily make a sport of this. But seeing as you’re unprotected, I may as well walk you home. I can always come back and lurk more later.” (pg. 13-14)
He sighed and shook his head. “With my luck, if I parade you around as my wife I’ll meet a beautiful girl somewhere, one that I would have liked to court. But she’ll never have me, no matter how many times I go back and explain, because she’ll be convinced I’m a bigamist.”
I averted my face to hide my bafflement. Was he teasing me?
“I’ll take you, Wife,” he said, “as far as Chalcedon, but then I’m seeking an annulment.” (pg. 73)
So soft, so sweet, so surprising, as if all the stars in the night sky were bursting out from inside me. How could I have known?
Aidan. And me.
What are you doing, Evelyn Pomeroy? said a small, bookish schoolgirl voice in my head.
Dying, I told it. Go away. (pg. 103)
Did this creature wish to hurt me? It had seemed pleased to find me. Was that only because I was its favorite meal? (pg. 107)
I have waited so long for you, the leviathan whispered, yet you don’t know me at all.
Without looking back, it slithered into the waves and disappeared under the water. (pg. 119)
There’s no one more important than you, Mistress. Especially no man. I told you. They’re just food.
What kind of bloodthirsty brute was I stuck with? (pg. 145)
I had endured an agonizing hour of having my hair set in place by Dorothy, who took our her frustrations with life upon my scalp. (pg. 179)
“Knowledge is your initiation,” she cried. “Knowledge of what you can do, and showing the courage and faith to do it. Throw yourself into the water.”
“But I can’t swim!”
“Yes, you can.” (pg. 208)
The bench, the ground, the castle gardens fell away from under me as his warm lips drew mine in and held me. Nothing, not even riding the ocean waves, felt this thrilling, or this free.
Clair awoke in my purse. Fish? he said. Nice fish? (pg. 341)
Before we entered, though, he paused to finger the charms around my neck. “Your love charm is gone,” he said. “You never needed it, you know.”
I thought of King Leopold, and Alfonso and Rudolpho, and the lads back in Maundley. “You can’t deny that it worked.”
“Not on me.” (pg. 342)
Overall Thoughts/Final Comments: Secondhand Charm is a cute, light fantasy novel that was able to absorb me into the world and intrigue me with the magic. The concept of serpentina’s was so interesting – I almost wished there was a side novel dedicated to them solely. Evie was as charming as the novel was, and I found myself thoroughly enjoying reading her perspective. I always seem to mention this in my reviews of fantasy, but I’m a stickler for world building. While Julie’s world in Secondhand Charm isn’t as defined as other fantasy novels, it’s presented simply in a way that is easy to understand and remember.

Rating: 4/5

**This book was provided for review by the publisher, Bloomsbury, in exchange of an honest review.