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  • Kathryn Lee Martin

Book Review: Lyrics & Curses

As many of you can guess, this year I haven’t done much posting on the blog, let alone reviewed any books in this fashion, due to a fairly chaotic schedule and 2020 being 2020. Recently, I had the wonderful privilege of being given an eARC of Candace Robinson’s latest book: Lyrics & Curses (The first book in the Cursed Hearts Duology) in exchange for an honest review and decided to make this the first book of the year I actually fully review.

Full disclosure, I was a beta reader for one of the early versions of this story. This in no way influences my review on the current version I read.

I really enjoyed reading this. This time of year is especially great for quirky paranormal stories and I wanted something that wasn’t hardcore horror, but still fit the season appropriately. I’m not a huge fan of the paranormal genre but Lyrics & Curses is one of those hidden gems that lured me in and won me over with the mystery elements and its cast of diverse characters.

The story follows Lark and Auden, two teenagers with difficult family relationships who share a bond over 80s music and a cursed future when they cross paths with a mysterious individual known as the Mirror Keeper and another equally mysterious woman known only as “Butterfly” who has a penchant for playing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” on a flute. Through this encounter, both Lark and Auden become embroiled in a race to break a time-sensitive curse placed on them when they accidentally find themselves trapped on the wrong side of a mirror. It’s a lot cooler than I can realistically convey in a review so I won’t spoil what happens along the way and how it ends. Go check the story out for yourselves on that.

The characters were interesting and diverse. While Lark and Auden were the main protagonists, I actually found myself wanting to know more about the Mirror Keeper and Butterfly instead of them. Given my history for adoring background characters over the main heroes and finding more interest in the behind-the-scenes stories you don’t fully see, that isn’t much of a surprise. Your mileage is going to vary a bit on that one. Fortunately, this is book one in this duology and the sequel may offer more on the Mirror Keeper and Butterfly. I’m curious to see what that second book holds for them.

I did feel, however, that some of the potential for the secondary characters wasn’t utilized in the fullest. Lyrics & Curses grounds itself more in the reality side over its supernatural one and because of that aspect, I would have personally liked to have seen more development invested in them. Some of the secondary, but important, characters felt a little wooden at times and, in some cases, sort of used and abruptly cast aside for convenience to make a scene work. The development was slightly unbalanced among them. I enjoyed characters like Imani who felt naturally fitted for her assigned role and I wanted to see more interactions with her and Lark’s friendship. Whereas on the other side of that, characters like Beth felt one-dimensional. They had a fantastic purpose, but I didn’t feel that emotional connection to them like I hoped would develop.

Lark and Auden, while good protagonists that I enjoyed spending the journey with, felt a little lacking as well. They capture being teenagers and the complexities of navigating difficult family relationships well enough, but I never really felt they were in any real danger from the paranormal aspect of their situation because they seemed a little too chill with their reactions. I would have liked to have seen them interact with the mirror world a little more and have a bit more emotion.

The main reason I didn’t give Lyrics & Curses the full five stars despite really enjoying it though is because the pacing held the story back. It was a slow build, especially at the start, and leaned a little too much into the 80s references to carry it to the more interesting bits. Some of the scenes felt wasted and filler, which dampened some of the potential opportunities for not only the character and plot development but for opportunities to raise the urgency factor of what is at stake for Lark and Auden. The story carries a treasure trove of mysterious moments that invest you in what is going to happen next and asking how this is going to resolve but the real action doesn’t gain much steam until you reach the final third of the story. In the final sprint, despite the excitement, it feels rushed with too simple of a resolution. Whether that is expanded upon and has consequences though in the next book remains to be seen so I’m reserving some judgment on the ending.

My other big issue was the overtly heavy-handed nostalgia of the 80s references. I was born in the later tail end of the 80s which puts me in my early 30s age-wise. And while I grew up with the “oldies” and got some of the 80s references, it may fall slightly flat for a much younger and more current teenage audience without some extra outside research done by them on their own time.

I am ashamed to admit that I had to look up some of the songs that were listed at the chapter headings as it’s been so long since I’ve heard them and some I was unfamiliar with altogether. (Please hold all pitchforks until the end of the review, I will collect them at that point.) I had to refresh my memory a bit on what the actual tune of “Space Oddity” was and then try to picture which part of it was actually being played on the flute by Butterfly during those scenes. “Space Oddity” is a fantastic song and once I heard it the nostalgia of hearing it on the radio during my childhood came flooding back. Now-a-days I don’t hear it played as often. I’m not proud of having forgotten the tune.

The nostalgia factor is a double-edged blade here. The music and references are highly immersive and an experience for readers in what is a beautiful time capsule. I loved this aspect of things. The other side of that is that it sacrifices some of the plot to fit it all in. I’m not 100 percent certain who the intended audience for Lyrics & Curses actually is. It’s the kind of story young adults can definitely enjoy for a great read, but at the same time, it feels geared more toward adults yearning for the golden days of 1985, a time that as of 2020 was 35 years ago. It almost feels like in addition to its paranormal genre category, that an addition of a “historical fiction” tag may benefit it.

That said, this is definitely a book I recommend giving a chance and I know my review is a little on the critical side. I did enjoy this story and will reread it in the future. It has something for everyone.

Also, the interior formatting of the eARC was beautiful and I really enjoyed the themed layout which featured song themes with the titles, and the throwback to the old cassette tapes with the A side and B side. The cover is also visually stunning and this is a book I will be purchasing a physical edition of for my bookshelf.

Overall, I would put this at a solid 4.25 stars. A beautiful gem of a story but be prepared to do some work as a reader to get the full experience out of it. There is a sequel in the works which I am looking forward to as I am hoping for more from the Mirror Keeper and Butterfly’s story. But while I wait, let’s do the time warp again, and step back into the 80s. It’s worth it.

You can get your own copy of Lyrics & Curses on Amazon.


Bestselling Author of Steampunk Fantasy
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