Friday, December 5, 2008

Review – “Casting Spells” by Barbara Bretton

Sugar Maple looks like any bucolic Vermont town, but when the tourists go home, it's a different story—inhabited as it is with warlocks, sprites, vampires, witches, and an ancient secret. And I know all about secrets. I'm Chloe Hobbs, owner of Sticks & Strings, a popular knitting shop where your yarn never tangles, you always get gauge... and the knitter sitting next to you comes out only after dark.

I'm also a sorcerer's daughter—a single sorcerer's daughter with Sugar Maple's future in her hands, which means the whole town is casting spells meant to help me find Mr. Right. Who'd have guessed I'd find him in Luke MacKenzie, a cop investigating Sugar Maple's very first murder? Bad news is he's 100 percent human, which could spell disaster for a normal future with a paranormal woman like me—in love, in danger, and in way over my head.
Well a good book often begins with a great cover, which Casting Spells has. And the story is a charming contemporary fantasy that I daresay I could describe as wholesome. That word doesn’t get used much these days and you might get flashbacks to the days of Doris Day, but I use it in a very positive way. Although there is no cursing, no overt sex, and the violence is pretty much restricted to fisticuffs, this romance story with a dash of mystery is a delightful read.

Chloe the central character operates a knitting shop in the town of Sugar Maple in Vermont. The town is special because it is almost entirely populated by supernatural characters and is protected by a spell cast by one of the town’s founding members, a sorceress grateful for being given a safe haven during the days of the Salem witch trials. The spell persists as long as a female descendent with powers inhabits the town. There is no illness or crime and the spell glamours the town from tourists and visitors hiding their true nature.

The problem is that that descendant is Chloe, unmarried at thirty, with no current marriage prospects and she is completely human and powerless. As a result the spell is slowly failing and then the town’s first death – perhaps murder happens. Chloe is under pressure because if she falls in true love her powers may manifest themselves and the spell can be restored. Chloe is also mayor of the town, well loved by all despite being human, but she also has a nemesis in the form of Isadora, a Faerie that wants the founders spell book and the power it bequeaths. Isadora wants to take the town out of our reality and into the faerie mist.

A Boston detective is assigned to the town as it’s very first and only police chief to investigate the suspicious death because the victim had ties that could have political ramifications. The handsome Luke MacKenzie comes to town and is given temporary facilities for his investigation in an empty shop next to Chloe’s. As mayor, Chloe is Luke’s liaison plus she must manage to keep the town’s secrets. When they first meet sparks fly – literally.

POV’s alternate between Luke and Chloe and we get to see the town and its residents through their own unique perspectives. Bretton portrays her characters in a fun matter of fact way as if the shapeshifter living next door was just another normal Mr. Smith. Chloe thoughts for example when conversing with an out of towner in her shop –
I was tempted to tell her that the weird-looking guy was a half-asleep vampire named Buster on an ice cream run for his pregnant wife but I figured that might not be good for business.
Luke’s conclusions about the victim at first seems like a straight forward case of misadventure, but then oddities resulting from the behaviour of the residents and the failing spell lead Luke in new directions. Everything is further complicated as Chloe realizes she may be falling in love and her powers begin to kick in with erratic and spectacular results.

Observing Luke as he follows the mystery, Chloe as she learns her abilities, and the two of them together as their attraction builds, in this extraordinary town makes this a page-turner. Bretton spins a bewitching yarn (sorry I couldn’t resist) and I recommend it for everyone looking to try something outside the typical paranormal and urban fantasy mode.

For those that partake of the fine art of knitting, I am sure you will find the many references to all things knitting, well done. There are even several “Top 10 Lists of Things You Need to Know About Knitting” in an appendix at the back of the book. As for me, it might as well be Greek (a guy thing I suspect) but it in no way effected my enjoyment of the book.

Read an excerpt of Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.

Penguin Group (USA)
Published: November 2008
ISBN #: 9780425223642
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 320

View the Book Trailer . . .


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