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When Emma Connor’s sodden stepfather almost causes her death in a car accident, she leaves the small town in New Jersey where she grew up, and where she stayed even after her mother died, for a comfortable co-op on Manhattan’s Upper East Side to live with her great-aunt. Emma is a high school junior and will join her younger cousin, Ashley, at exclusive, co-ed, Vincent Academy. She will trade jeans and a hoodie for a white Oxford shirt and a black, blue, and green plaid tartan skirt but the necklace her twin brother gave her before he died—a round charm etched with an unusual medieval crest—stays. Emma is smart, beautiful, athletic, and, as she learns in the wake of a sequence of strange occurrences, cursed. Her necklace is the key and with the help of her lab partner, Angelique, who happens to know a few things about witchcraft, Emma begins to understand that the most exciting part of her new life, her burgeoning relationship with the stunning Brendan, may also end her life.

Cara Shultz knows her way around a fight scene and her depictions of high school anxieties and jealousies are pitch-perfect. A medieval legend may steer the plot of Spellbound but it is firmly grounded in present-day New York City, where some of Central Park’s landmarks provide an elegant backdrop for much of the book’s action. Typical of most (all) teenagers, Emma and Brendan spend a lot of time listening to music; some of their favorite bands and songs are mentioned conversationally in the text but there is an additional playlist included at the end of the book—a sort of DIY soundtrack. The song titles and artists are listed with a description of where they would appear in the novel. At first, because I reflexively associate soundtracks with movies, this seemed a little strange but then my dinosaur brain remembered why I listen to Dave Matthews when I drive or Ludovico Einaudi when I have a problem to sort. In the acknowledgments for Twilight, Stephenie Meyer gave special praise to the bands who inspired her as she wrote. Shultz provides her readers with a list of specific songs (downloadable on iTunes, even) that echo Emma and Brendan’s feelings as the action progresses— a way to remember the spirit of the story after the reading is done—with the characters as imagined by the reader rather than as they were played on the screen. A book with an optional musical fingerprint—kind of cool, really.

The sequel, Spellcaster, will be out in the spring and I’m looking forward to its release. I expect it will include more of Emma’s developing affinity for magic (secondary, in this novel) and more about Angelique, as well. To discover more about Cara Lynn Shultz and her current projects, along with a picture of the mysterious medallion, visit her website here.

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