Bugs Bunny!! Candy, comedy, and an ugly witch, those were the elements that came to mind before I read Sweetly by Jackson Pearce. Mystery, romance, witches, chocolate, and.....werewolves are elements in this modern day retelling of Hansel and Gretel.
Instead of cutesy looking kids, we have brooding teenagers Ansel and Gretchen. They are running from their past in Washington. Gretchen's twin sister went missing 12 years ago. The three precocious youngsters went walking in the woods, looking for a witch. Ansel didn't believe the stories, but he was there to protect his sisters. Twin sisters who are so alike they are almost the same person. Something or someone with yellow eyes begins chasing the youngsters, and only Ansel and Gretchen make it out alive.
Their parents can't move on. Their mother dies of grief. Their father moves on, remarries, but he also dies. No one can get over the memory of their sister. A sister who remains nameless until the middle of the book. Right from the beginning, I'm wondering what is her name. Why can't they say it? Is it too painful to say her name? Wouldn't talking about her make it better? Leaving her name unspoken just makes it worse.
After the death of their father, Gretchen and Ansel are kicked out by their stepmother. While searching for a better life for themselves, they get stuck in Live Oak, South Carolina. They end up staying and working for the town outcast -- Sophia Kelly. Sophia is a chocolatier by profession, but some in town, like the mysterious Samuel, think she is a witch. Did Gretchen and Ansel truly get stuck in Live Oak or were they pulled there by Sophia? Several teen girls have gone missing. All went missing after Sophia's chocolate festival. Is it her or is it just coincidence?
Sophia doesn't seem like a witch, more like a lonely woman longing for a connection. Gretchen becomes like a sister. Ansel becomes more than just a friend. Is it all genuine? Sometimes Sophia just seems too good to be true. Ansel can't see it because he is smitten with Sophia. But Gretchen can sense something is wrong. Having lost a piece of herself, Gretchen can tell when someone is in mourning or just lost in life. Sophia has an air of sadness about her. Gretchen tries to get at the heart of the matter, but Sophia has so many secrets. She doesn't want to push too much. While being suspicious of Sophia, Gretchen also feels like she finally found a place she belongs.
"I am part of something, however small, however far out in the country. I am not an obligation to my stepmother; I am not the girl without the sister or father or mother; I am not the girl who is missing half of herself. I'm not even "Ansel's little sister." I am wanted. I am almost new."
Which Sophia is the real one? The sweet, eager, and lovable woman that Gretchen and Ansel can see? Or the witch that the town sees?
"I want to believe her. I mostly believe her. But there are two versions of Sophia Kelly, two versions I've been trying to figure out since the day I got here. Now I understand that they were explained to me in the diner before I'd even met her. One is the patron saint of candy, and the other is the first sign of Live Oak's end days. And I'm not sure which version is stronger."
Gretchen turns to Samuel for help -- the only person who seems to know what is really going on. He has also lost someone. They develop a strong connection. They both let their guards down. Gretchen and Samuel band together to protect the town and each other. The final battle for Live Oak is bloody and graphic. But until the end, it was hard to figure out who the true bad guys were and why. There is a great mystery surrounding Sophia and why she is the way she is. But I thought the problems in the town can't all be her fault. Who else is the bad guy here? I felt there weren't enough clues as to who the villains were. You don't find out who the villains are until the end. Overall, there were moments of sweetness and romance. For lovers of the paranormal, this one is right up your alley.
Rating: Give it a try
Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Little, Brown and Company) in exchange for an honest review.