Notice: Sweetly is a companion novel to Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce. It is not absolutely essential to read Sisters Red first…but it would help. And since Sisters Red is awesome, you should really read it anyway. The cover alone is reason enough to pick this one up.
Now, moving on to Sweetly…like Sisters Red, it is a retelling of a familiar fairy tale. Where Sisters Red gave us a new way to look at Little Red Riding Hood, Sweetly gives us a new view of Hansel and Gretel. (In my review of Sisters Red, I mentioned that I was not a big fan of Little Red Riding Hood. Well, the same is true of Hansel and Gretel. Sweetly may have changed that.) And again, readers are blessed with a cover that does its part in drawing us into the story before we even get to the first page.
Sweetly begins twelve years ago with a brother and two sisters in a forest. They are looking for the witch that a book said lives in the woods. Unfortunately, they find more than they bargained for. The book may have been right, and a witch–or something even more sinister– comes upon the children in the forest, and this mysterious yellow-eyed thing begins to chase the young children. They try to stay together–holding hands as tightly as possible–but they have to let go to run faster. When they reach their home, it immediately becomes clear that every child did not make it. Ansel made it, Gretchen made it, but Gretchen’s twin sister never returned home. Ansel and Gretchen know the witch took her, but no one truly believes them…and the two siblings have to live with the knowledge that the witch is still out there, waiting, watching, while a family is slowly torn apart.
Fast forward twelve years…Ansel and Gretchen are on their own after their stepmother throws them out. They are all alone and trying to start a new life away from the pain of the past. The brother and sister make a long journey from the only home they’ve ever known in Washington to a small town near the coast in South Carolina, a town where outsiders are viewed with contempt. Only a few people treat the siblings with kindness. One of those people is Sophia Kelly, the local candy maker, who is dealing with her own problems with the people of Live Oak, South Carolina. Sophia takes the two young outcasts in and makes them feel welcome in her home. They had only intended to stay a night, but a night quickly turns into a week, a week into a month. Before they really know how it happened, Ansel and Gretchen have found a home, one that is far removed from the past they are running from.
But is it really? As everyone knows, small towns tend to have secrets, and Live Oak is no exception. It seems, though, that the secrets in Live Oak revolve around one Sophia Kelly, the girl who has befriended Gretchen and bewitched Ansel. The townspeople blame her for their daughters leaving and never returning. They don’t visit, they don’t call, they don’t write. In fact, no one ever hears from them after they attend Sophia’s annual chocolate festival. Could Sophia have something to do with their disappearance, or is she as innocent as she seems? Gretchen knows that Sophia is keeping secrets, but she just can’t believe that the girl who has become her only friend could have anything to do with girls vanishing from the face of the earth.
Gretchen reevaluates her views, however, when she encounters the very thing that has haunted her for twelve years. She discovers it wasn’t a witch that captured her twin sister. It was a werewolf…more specifically, a Fenris. When Gretchen narrowly escapes one of these monsters, with the help of the mysterious Samuel Reynolds, she is determined to learn more about these horrible beings and what they have to do with the missing girls of Live Oak. What do they want with the girls, and how is Sophia involved? The truth may be more than Gretchen is prepared to handle, but handle it she must. Gretchen must face her own fears if she has any hope of preventing other girls from vanishing like her sister did. Is she strong enough to face an evil that has ruined nearly everything she holds dear? And can she face her dearest (and only) friend’s role in the horror surrounding her? Join Gretchen as she learns that living in a candy shop isn’t as sweet as it seems.
If your interest has been piqued at all by this post, I strongly urge you to make both Sisters Red and Sweetly part of your holiday reading. They’re awesome books with strong, yet flawed, female characters, and they turn the “fairy tale” idea of a helpless girl who has to be rescued by the handsome prince on its ear. (Don’t get me wrong. There are handsome guys in these books, but these strong ladies could get along just fine without them…most of the time.)
According to Jackson Pearce’s website (http://jackson-pearce.com/), there is going to be another companion book to Sisters Red and Sweetly (and given the way that Sweetly ended, I expected this and even predicted which fairy tale would be retold next). The book is Fathomless, a retelling of The Little Mermaid, and will be released in August of 2012. I’m very interested in the connections between these three stories, and I hope Fathomless answers some of the questions that popped up at the end of Sweetly. At any rate, I know I’m in store for another great story from Jackson Pearce and, I hope, another fantastic cover to grace my bookshelf.