August 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
As a child, Gretchen's twin sister was taken by a witch in the woods. Ever since, Gretchen and her brother, Ansel, have felt the long branches of the witch's forest threatening to make them disappear, too.
Years later, when their stepmother casts Gretchen and Ansel out, they find themselves in sleepy Live Oak, South Carolina. They're invited to stay with Sophia Kelly, a beautiful candy maker who molds sugary magic: coveted treats that create confidence, bravery, and passion.
Life seems idyllic and Gretchen and Ansel gradually forget their haunted past -- until Gretchen meets handsome local outcast Samuel. He tells her the witch isn't gone -- it's lurking in the forest, preying on girls every year after Live Oak's infamous chocolate festival, and looking to make Gretchen its next victim. Gretchen is determined to stop running and start fighting back. Yet the further she investigates the mystery of what the witch is and how it chooses its victims, the more she wonders who the real monster is.
Gretchen is certain of only one thing: a monster is coming, and it will never go away hungry.
Sweetly is a slow paced novel, but it drew me in and wouldn't let me go, so I finished it in two days. It's a compelling read. Each of the characters has depth, but I particularly like Gretchen's development. The angle Pearce takes on the villain is also interesting. Not something I expected, but something I'm still thinking about. I like Pearce's writing. She keeps that slowly growing unease feeling going the whole time and some parts just sent chills up my spine, particularly the prologue. And so many different kinds of chocolate described in such detail I could practically taste them.
Sweetly is by no means flawless. The Samuel romance thing felt a bit unnecessary, and how did Gretchen become such a marksman over the course of a week? But I'm willing to forgive those things for the rest of the book. And the cover is so wonderfully creepy. I will definitely have to read Sisters Red and Fathomless (which happens to be on sale this month for Kindles).