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on August 21, 2012
What I Loved
In this world chocolate isn't created from cocoa beans, but with magic and that magic has disappeared from the world. Gasp, a world without chocolate isn't some place I could live happily. Our wonderful character Emmeline the dirt-scratcher people of the kingdom has been given the gift to make precious chocolate and now every greedy hand wants her. From beginning to end I didn't want to put this book down, I was completely entranced with every bitter and sweet moment that happens to Emmeline on her journey.
Emmeline Thistle: Not the common perfect character we usually read, but a girl reject by everyone in her village because of her misshapen foot and odd affinity with cows. Even with everyone treating her like trash she still has remained sweet and kinda, in a way a little of a Cinderella story. She won't let anyone or anything break her spirit and I love that about her, she is a wonderful character.
Owen Oak: What a wonderful guy and I love that he doesn't judge people. His passion and protect instincts are admirable.
There isn't romance in the since of kissing and actually showing attraction towards each other, but internal feelings that have yet to be expressed towards the other.
Stand Alone
I believe this is a stand alone book. I love reading single novels without series, with how many books I have that are series I enjoy reading individual books.

Didn't Like
Nothing, I just hope Suzanne writes more fairy-tale stories like this.

Great read for all those who love to read fairytales and love those sweet stories.
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on January 17, 2013
This was the book I picked for my Random Read in December. Honestly, it was just another fluffy fairy-tale reads to me. Maybe I've read a few too many lately and they're just mushing in my brain. Maybe I'm losing my appetite for them. I don't know what it was but this book just didn't hit the bar for me.

For one thing, it cracked me up to no end that the premise and all the problems that ensue were over chocolate. That they were SO SERIOUS about it. Okay, maybe I kinda take chocolate a little too much for granted. Maybe I could never ever even being to imagine what it would be like not to have chocolate. So maybe I'm biased, but what can I say? It was a good laugh.

But in all seriousness, beyond the chocolate, but plot wasn't that interesting. It was just your typical adventure book, oh no she's captured! Oh yay the hot prince has to go rescue her! Oh they keep just missing each other! OOOOH! Yeah lots of O's. I mean I dunno, it was cute, but it felt like a drag most of the time. By 150 pages I was skimming to finish the last 250. I just didn't care anymore. It's not like I hated Nothing held my interest. The only reason I finished was because I've DNFed WAY to many books lately, and this was my Random Read.

Emma was okay. She was a nice narrator but nothing extraordinaire. And I'm all about the extraordinaire. I didn't feel like I could connect to her. She was just telling the story and yes going through things and falling in love but just No. Sorry Emma. Give me backbone. Give me yourself. Maybe a little insight into who you are? Oh you don't want to? Okay then, thanks for your time.

How do I even being to talk about the romance...? It was like this: So, this girl who's like the lowest of the low moves into town. The guy notices her and starts to get attracted, so does she. Then BOOM something bad happens and they are separated OH NO! However, as soon as that happens the next time they think about each other is all like OH MY GOSH I LOVE HIM/HER. No, That doesn't work! They hardly HAD a relationship. And then at the end it's all like wishy-washy-cheese business. No chocolate at all in the romance. Sure Owen was cute I guess, but this one just didn't work for me.

So, what have we learned? This book fell short in pretty much nearly aspect. I didn't hate the book I just didn't care or didn't connect or feel like it was exceptionally unique. It was the same with the other book of Suzanne's that I read. I'm just not feeling you girl. I'm glad other people can enjoy your stuff, but I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be reading one again. Ah well, at least I can go dig into some chocolate to make up for the loss.

Content: Mild
(a few instances of mild language. kissing)
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on August 31, 2012
"The Sweetest Spell" is a fantasy meets dystopian novel that reminded me a lot of the 1980s classic movie "The Princess Bride". It tells the story of club footed Emmeline, who is an outcast in her town until it is discovered that she can churn cream into chocolate. In Emmeline's world, beautiful is more beautiful, evil is more evil, and chocolate is more delicious than ever.

On a random note, I'm starting to wonder if author Suzanne Selfors has some serious mommy-issues she needs to deal with. In her book "Saving Juliet" Mimi's mother channels Joan Crawford and Lady Capulet is evil enough to rival any Disney stepmother. In "Coffeehouse Angel" the main character's mom is killed off before the story even begins. "The Sweetest Spell" has the worst mother of all, a wicked queen who is ashamed of her son's love interests, and intent on enslaving her entire country. Oh yeah, and Emmeline's mother was also killed off before the story even got going.

Since I'm a mom myself, I'm really glad that Suzanne Selfors isn't writing about me! But if I was a teenager, I would eat any of those storylines up.
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on October 2, 2012
I bought The Sweetest Spell because the sample was promising (I'm a sucker for down and out but plucky heroines), and ended up tossing it aside in disgust when I hit the 75% mark. The book started strongly, but had several issues that pushed me out of the story or made me actively dislike the characters, including:

- The central premise is that the heroine is able to create chocolate. Which she does by churning cream, but instead of transforming into butter it transforms into chocolate. Presumably milk chocolate. This bugs the heck out of me; chocolate has a long and interesting history, and most of it has nothing to do with milk. Milk chocolate came around in the late 1800's in Europe, making it a very recent addition to chocolate products. To have an imaginary European-style medieval kingdom where chocolate is produced solely from milk strains credibility past the breaking point for me, and soured the entire book from the first time the heroine picked up a butter churn through until I stopped reading in disgust.

- Despite being sixteen or older, the characters are without exception entirely juvenile. The level of complexity of thought for everyone, from main characters to secondary characters to villains (including adults), feels like it belongs in middle school. Probably the best example of this (without offering any spoilers) is that the main character comes across someone who claims she has studied negotiation, and their advice is "if you have something other people want, make include something you are willing to give up when you make your demands so that they feel in control." Oookay, well that's not bad advice, but it's also a pretty simplistic way to understand negotiation and isn't going to get you very far in life. Then the main character runs into the main villain, puts forth her demands, and says, "oh, but I'll give up this one demand (which incidentally is the only one that involves me maintaining my self-respect, cause who needs that?)". The villain immediately accedes and comments, "my, but you're good at negotiation." I would suspect irony, except the villain proves themselves incapable of complex thought through their other actions, leaving me to take them at their word.

- The story is told from two different first-person perspectives (heroine and love interest), and although the author usually signals who is who within the first few sentences of a chapter, there is no explicit marking. Their tone is practically identical, there are no visual indications at the chapter's start (at least in the Kindle version; I haven't seen the physical book), and it can be a bit confusing at first just who it is we're reading about. Since, as I mentioned, neither character really does much thinking beyond "Oh, I should respond to this latest thing that happened with the first thing that crosses my mind!", there doesn't seem to be much reason not to have written the thing in close third person and saved readers the trouble.

- Aside from the chocolate thing, there were several other places where I had to pause my reading and say, "Really? How does that make sense?" For instance, the heroine is at one point chained to a rock for an extended length of time. But there's no explanation of how the person who chains her there (an itinerant who calls no place home) is able to attach a chain to a random rock by the seashore. Perhaps he's packing around a bunch of blacksmithing tools except, OH WAIT, he abandoned his wagon of goods mere pages earlier. Perhaps he's just really good at thinking ahead? I might be able to ignore this sort of oversight if the book was able to suspend my disbelief initially, but since I was already pretty skeptical thanks to the whole "chocolate comes from cows" premise, these types of details only served to push me further out of the story.

I will admit, however, that things aren't all bad. The author does a nice job of keeping things moving, and the characters do occasionally suffer from their idiocy. I also liked that the main character had a physical impediment, but that she a) suffered/worked through it as best she could, and b) didn't get a magical workaround to turn her into a Real Person (at least not in the first 75%; who knows what the ending might have held?). If you are able to suspend your disbelief over chocolate's origins, and don't mind characters who mindlessly pinball through the story, this might be a decent light read.

I just wish I had wasted three or four dollars on it instead of eight.
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on July 3, 2013
If you are anything like me, you grew up listening to your parents read you fairytales. Fairytales, next to Dr. Seuss, was what created your desire to read, they were the first stories you ever heard, thus the most important type of stories that will forever be a part of you later in life. Their sheer creativity, imagination, and hidden morals prove to be unforgettable and take up permanent residence in the back of your mind. Thus, I believe that one of the toughest challenges an author can take on is the task of writing a fairytale retelling. Such stories are so close to our heart that the story can either be a major success or a major disappointment because they don't live up to the original tale. However, Selfors met all of my expectations and then some with her re-telling of a fairytale favorite: The Ugly Duckling.

Selfors weaved a beautiful tale about looking at what is within a person instead of what is on the outside. Filled with beautiful morals about how you should never judge a book by its cover, this book re-writes an adored fairytale while combining it with serious themes such as racism, poverty, greed, forgiveness, honesty, and the desire to good in the face of evil. In all honesty, it was very hard to not fall in love with every and all aspects of this novel. And while I already knew how it would end based on my love of the original tale as a child, Selfors skillfully wrote plot twist after plot twist to keep me guessing as I continued my journey alongside Emmeline.

Emmeline is now one of my favorite characters of all-time. She was judged by all due to her disfigured foot. She did not have enough room when in the womb, so her right foot was curled. When she walks, she has to painfully put weight on the edge of her foot instead of the bottom and hobble along clearly with a limp. Believed to be a bad omen, she accepted her fate as an unwanted and did her best to block out the taunting and superstition surrounding her and focus on her life and her beloved cows that always watched over her. When she met Owen and allowed herself to realize that she is allowed to be desired just as she is able to desire others, I felt nothing but immense joy for such a kindhearted soul. And when it came time to realize that her gift was rare and unique, she wasted no time in deciding that it was time for her to risk her own freedom for the release and freedom of her fellow dirt-scratchers, despite the fact that her fellow dirt-scratchers did nothing but look down on her throughout her entire life. In other words, the world would be a better place if we had more Emmeline's in it.

The romantic entanglements in this book were amazing as well. Owen risked his life and went on a journey of discovery to save the girl that he loved, despite her lower status. The fact that many wished to marry Emmeline for her gift was interesting as well. And to make it even more interesting, the mere fact that others claimed to have a right to her because she would be the richest woman in the land was even more surprising. People's true colors come out in times of greed, but Emmeline was able to see through it all and know true love when she saw it. With the help of the rebellious Prince, she was able to realize that despite her mangled foot, she was capable of being loved and deserved to be loved just like everyone else.

This book is a must read for anyone of any age. Beautifully written with amazing detail, this book will take you back to your childhood while telling you a sweet tale of first love and the discovery of self-worth. This gem among young adult literary re-tellings will easily captivate you under the world's most sweetest spell.
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on September 24, 2014
Oh My Gosh! I Absolutely Loved And Adored This Wonderful Story! This Is A Story About Love And Loss And Chocolate! The Author Takes Us To A Faraway Place Where We Can Experience A Life Of Not Just Rags To Riches, But Pride In Those That Would Be Humbled And Humility In Those That Would Be Proud. It Is The Story Of Experiencing For The First Time, The Taste Of Truly Sweet Things. It Is A Sweet And Gentle Story Of A Harsh And Brutal Existence. It Is The Story Of A Sweet Flagrant Rose Among A Sharp Bed Of Thorns, It Is The Story Of Chocolate, Sweet, Warm And Buttery...It Is Absolute Delight....It Is The Sweetest Spell...
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on July 4, 2014
Interesting. I loved the start of this book where Emmeline the outcast loses her home to a flood and is washed down river to a dairy farm where she discovers she can make chocolate. Making chocolate is an ancient magic, long absent from the kingdom.

With a budding romance between Emmeline and Owen, the dairyman's son, the story seemed to be headed in an adorable direction but took a dark turn. Emmeline is kidnapped, Owen nearly murdered and the reader has to spend the rest of the book, reading about Emmeline being abused by one sociopath after another. A small percentage of people in Aungland are nice, everyone else is a lying, greedy, monster eager to commit atrocities against their fellow human beings.

A bit too dark for a charming opening about a girl gifted magic from a group of friendly cows.
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on April 19, 2013
This was a cute read. It wasn't as romantic as I was expecting, but it was still very entertaining, with a long journey, many colorful characters, and girl who finds the courage to use her gift to save the people who once shunned her. One of my favorite things about the story was Emmiline's connection to the cows and how they protected her and she loved them. I thought that set the story apart as something different and added a very fairy tale charm to the tale.
Overall, I wasn't blown away, but I was entertained.
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on June 2, 2014
This is a book about resilience, commitment to family, aloneness, and keeping a pure heart. The main character, Emmeline, is destined to a hard and lonely life at birth, when it is discovered that she has a deformed right foot. Through chance and a little magic, the child is saved and lives with her father, a bitter man. Emmeline's only friends are the local cows, who search her out wherever she is and provide her not only with the love and warmth she craves, but the magic spell that transforms her life from unknown and unwanted to being the highest prize in the land. Along the way, Emmeline learns that sharing her magic with the other members of her clan gives her the feeling of inclusion that she has desired for so long.

Suzanne Selfors provides the reader with the perfect mix of magic, fairy tale, and life lessons. Moral of the story? Don't judge a book by it's cover - in more ways than one.
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on September 18, 2012
When I first heard that there was a YA fairy tale retelling of The Ugly Ducking, I immediately got excited. When I read the blurb for The Sweetest Spell, I knew I had to read it. A fairy tale retelling of an oft-neglected story centering around the power of chocolate? Why, I haven't had that sort of fun since reading The Chocolate Touch back in 3rd grade (Patrick Skene Catling's middle grade retelling of King Midas about a kid whose touch turns everything not to gold, but to chocolate! Totally fun and recommended).

The Sweetest Spell is a fairy tale story to its core, vacillating between the utter hopelessness of depression and the bright eyed wonder of youth and happiness. It begins with Emmeline's recounting of how she is an unwanted. Left to die of exposure after being born with a curled foot, Emmeline survived only because she was guarded by some local cows. Thereafter, cows show affection for the girl who none of her people want around. When events turn and it is discovered that Emmeline possesses the power to make chocolate, an ability that has not existed for generations, Emmeline finds herself the most sought after woman in the country.

Emmeline is a charming and likable character with the sense of humor that develops in those who are largely scorned by society but remain good at heart. Her willingness to love and resilient hope counteract the downfall of events that becomes more and more depressing until you question whether there is any power that can lift this story out of it. Emmeline shares her story with a young man, Owen Oaks, son of a dairy farmer and champion bare fist fighter who finds himself an unlikely protector.

Both our hero and heroine were easy to like and root for, and though half the story is narrated through Owen's perspective, this is unarguably Emmeline's tale. Through Emmeline we see the transformation of one who is cast aside as nothing into that which is most desired. I loved that while The Sweetest Spell was a rags to riches story, Emmeline did not fall victim to the sort of character changes we often see in such tales. Emmeline retains her heart, knows when to say no, and what the best riches in life truly are.

That said, there were things about The Sweetest Spell that didn't work for me. For example, some of the story elements seemed poorly constructed. When Emmeline has at one point not eaten anything for three days after a full lifetime of eating very little, she downs a huge glass of milk and eats a bigger meal than she's ever had all without getting sick. These sorts of impossibilities always take me out of a story. The romance is quite insta-lovey, and there are some plays at a love triangle which I never felt really bloomed into the full on thing, but were certainly neared. Also, there was that cutesy tactic where our main characters just keep missing each other and we're supposedly left incredibly frustrated at how near they come over and over until things finally come together in their proper time. I suppose it worked on me, I was frustrated, but I was annoyed more than anything. I think as a younger reader I would have enjoyed this element, but it was just too coy for me in my jaded old age. My final complaint was that I'm just not a huge fan of the dual perspective his and hers narration that flips back and forth between the male and female leads. I feel it was necessary for this story because of how it unfolds, but initially I found it quite jarring, and actually set the book aside for several weeks as a result before coming back to finish.

Still, I was quite satisfied with how The Sweetest Spell came together in the end, and I am happy to say it was worth coming back to. It was a story with unexpected depths, charm, and managed to take the skeletal message and story of The Ugly Duckling and transform it into something wholly original. There was chocolate, romance, an evil queen, hot air balloons, lots of red heads, and a husband market (yes, I had the bachelor auction scene of Groundhog Day running through my head throughout). Quirky, and at times ridiculous, not everyone will fall under The Sweetest Spell, but those readers who do will find it very sweet indeed.
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