Bretton launches her new series of magic and murder with an enchanting, lyrical masterpiece that
should make its way to the bestseller list in no time. Brilliantly weaving the town of Sugar Maple
with that of its inhabitants into one living, breathing entity, this novel captivates readers from
the first page. With vibrant, multidimensional characters, including the town itself, Bretton
pens a memorable romance that combines knitting, love, magic, and self-discovery.
Tongue-in-cheek humor lifts this weird but fun hybrid, part knitting cozy, part paranormal
romance, from romance veteran Bretton (Just Desserts). After a classy female tourist drowns
mysteriously in an icy lake in remote Sugar Maple, Vt., the Montpelier authorities ask Boston
homicide cop Luke MacKenzie to investigate. As Sugar Maple's temporary police chief, Luke soon
notices the village's odd ambience. Originally a haven for witches who fled the Salem witchcraft
trials three centuries earlier, Sugar Maple is now home to witches, vampires, fairies and trolls.
Luke is also attracted to Chloe Hobbs, the half-human owner of the knitting shop Sticks &
Strings, who must find Mr. Right if she's to preserve the spell that sustains the town's
unusual residents. As sparks literally fly between the two, Chloe's "magickal" side stirs
into life. Bretton charmingly depicts how love empowers Chloe and awakens Luke to some major
An imaginative and charming tale.
--Shelley Mosley, Booklist (STARRED REVIEW)
A sweet setting with the sparkle of magic and a bite of suspense makes CASTING SPELLS a standout.
--Christie Ridgway, BookPage
Enchanting is the perfect word to sum up this book. I really enjoyed the town, the people. This was a story primarily about Chloe coming into her own and it was really nice to see her find happiness. What fascinated me was the knitting. Chloe owns a knitting shop and there were lots of details that make it apparent that Ms. Bretton is an avid knitter. It made me want to go out and learn how immediately. Ms. Bretton also has a knack for description without beating you over the head with it. It was quite easy to picture the picturesque town and its inhabitants. So if you are looking for a cozy contemporary with a touch of magic and mystery go out and get this book.
--Night Owl Romance
Barbara Bretton knits a story using the magic of vampires, witches, and fairies. For a town like Sugar Maple that is made up of magical creatures, all things are possible under extra ordinary circumstances, including love between a human and a sorcerer. The question is whether the love of a human and the love of sorcerer can sustain the magick of the town.
Side note: Although I am not a knitter myself, the 10 things you need to know about knitting in general are quite funny as well as the 10 things you need to know about knitting lace and knitting socks in the back of the book are a keeper.
Armchair Interviews says: Excellent read—a mix of paranormal and romance.
--Susan Palmer, Armchair Interviews
Whimsical and satirical, CASTING SPELLS lives up to its title as Barbara Bretton casts a spell on readers with a charming urban fantasy romantic police procedural.
--Genre Go-Round Reviews
The play on words in the title gives the reader a hint about this interesting, humorous, "magical" book.
The action takes place in the picture perfect New England town of Sugar Maple, Vermont. All that perfection hides a very interesting secret. The towns inhabitants are all magical creatures - warlocks, sprites, vampires, witches, etc.- except for one half human named Chloe Hobbs.
Chloe's magical mother and human father were killed when she was a child. She has spent her whole life in Sugar Maple and knows all of the town's secrets. Even though Chloe is half magical, she has no powers and that's a problem. Her ancestor cast a protective spell on the town that has kept the town's inhabitants safe for hundreds of years, but when the murder of a mysterious outsider happens within the town's city limits, everyone knows the end of the protection is near unless Chloe can do something!
The murder brings a handsome, very human police detective,, Luke MacKenzie and sparks literally begin to fly. Chloe falls in love and into danger. She finds herself way in over her head as the "plot thickens!"
I really enjoyed the novel. It's a great escape as well just fun to read.
--Cheryl Nason, Dallas Book Diva
Sugar Maple, Vermont
Do you ever wonder why things happen the way they do? All of those seemingly random decisions we make throughout our lives that turn out to be not so random after all. Maybe if I had closed the shop twenty minutes earlier that night or gone for a quick walk around Snow Lake she might still be alive today.
But I didn't and that choice changed our lives forever.
At the moment when it all began I was down on my knees, muttering ancient curses under my breath as I tugged, pulled, and tried to convince five feet of knitted lace that it would be much happier stretched out to six plus.
If there were any magic spells out there to help a girl block a shawl, I hadn't found them and believe me, I'd looked. Blocking, like life, was equal parts intuition, brute strength, and dumb luck.
(Just in case you were wondering, I usually don't mention the dumb luck part when I give a workshop.)
That Monday night I was two hours into Blocking 101, teaching my favorite techniques to three yarn-crawling sisters from Pennsylvania, a teacher from New Jersey, and a retired rocket scientist from Florida. We had been expecting a busload of fiber fanatics from northern Maine but a wicked early winter blizzard had stopped them somewhere west of Bangor. Two of my best friends from town, admitted knit shop groupies and world class gossips, rounded out the class.
By the way, I'm Chloe Hobbs, owner of Sticks & Strings, voted #1 Knit Shop in New England two years running. I don't know exactly who did the voting but I owe each of those wonderful knitters some quiviut and a margarita. Blog posts about the magical store in northern Vermont where your yarn never tangles, your sleeves always come out the same length, and you always, always get gauge were popping up on a daily basis, raising both my profile and my bottom line.
Sometimes I worried that this sudden, unexpected burst of fame and fortune had extended the tourist season beyond the town's comfort zone. Hiding in plain sight was harder than it sounded but for now our secret was still safe.
A blocking board was spread open on the floor. A dark blue Spatterware bowl of T-pins rested next to it. My trusty spray bottle of warm water had been refilled twice. I probably looked like a train wreck as I crawled my way around the perimeter, pinning each scallop and point into position but those were the breaks.
Since blocking lace was pretty much my only cardio these days when the wolf whistle sailed overhead I didn't bother to look up.
"Wow!" Janice Meany, owner of Cut & Curl across the street, murmured. "Those can't be real."
If I'd had any doubt about the wolf whistles, Janice's statement erased it. Last I heard not too many women were ordering 34As from their neighborhood cosmetic surgeon.
"Implants," Lynette Pendragon declared in a voice that could be heard in the upper balcony of her family's Sugar Maple Arts Playhouse. "Or a really good wizard."
It was times like this when I wished I had inherited a tiny bit of magick from my mother. Just enough to render my indiscreet friend speechless for a second or two. Everyone in Sugar Maple knows we don't talk about wizards in front of civilians unless the conversation includes Munchkins and Oz.
Fortunately our guests had other things on their minds.
"I'm glad my Howie isn't here," one of the Pennsylvania sisters breathed. "She looks like Sharon Stone. Howie has a thing for Sharon Stone."
"Sharon Stone fifteen years ago on a good day," the New Jersey schoolteacher added. "A very good day."
What can I say? I'm only human. (And a nosy one at that.) I dumped the lace and glanced toward the front window.
Winter comes early to our part of Vermont. By the time the last of the leaf-peepers headed down to the lesser glories of New York and Connecticut, we're digging out our snowshoes and making sure our woodpiles are well-stocked. In mid-December it's dark and seriously cold by four-thirty, and only the most intrepid window shopping tourist would even consider strolling down Main Street without at least five layers of clothing.
The woman peering in at us was blonde, tall, and around my age, but that was where the resemblance ended. I'm the kind of woman who could disappear into a crowd even if her hair was on fire. Our window shopper couldn't disappear if she tried. Her movie-star perfect face was pressed up against the frosty glass and we had a full-frontal glimpse of bare arms, bare shoulders, and cleavage that would send Pamela Anderson running back to her surgeon.
"Am I nuts or is she naked?" I asked no one in particular.
"I think she's strapless," Janice said but she didn't sound convinced.
"It can't be more than ten degrees out there," one of the Pennsylvanians said, exchanging looks with her sisters. "She must be crazy."
"Or drunk," Lynette offered.
"I'll bet she was mugged," the rocket scientist volunteered. "I saw a weird-looking guy lurking down the block when I parked my car."
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.
The possibly naked woman at the window tapped twice, mimed a shiver, then pointed toward the locked door where the CLOSED sign was prominently displayed.
"Are you going to make her stand out there all night?" Janice asked. "Maybe she needs help."
She definitely isn't here for a new set of double-points, I thought as I flipped the lock. Not that I profile my customers or anything but I'd bet my favorite rosewoods that she had never cast on a stitch in her life and intended to keep it that way.
My second thought as she swirled past me into the shop was wow, she really is naked. It took a full second to realize that was an illusion created by a truly gifted dressmaker with access to spectacular yard goods.
My third thought—well, I didn't actually have a third thought. I was still working on the second one when she smiled at me and somewhere out there a dentist counted his T-bills.
"I'm Chloe," I said as I looked into her sea green eyes. Eyes like that usually came with magical powers (and more than a little bit of family history) but she had the vibe of the pure human about her. "I own the shop."
"Suzanne Marsden." She extended a perfectly manicured hand and I thought I caught a shiver of Scotch on her breath. "I think you might have saved my life."
"Literally or figuratively?" I asked.
I've dealt with lots of life-or-death emergencies at Sticks & Strings but most of them included dropped stitches and too many margaritas at our Wednesday Night Knit-Ins.
She laughed as Janice and Lynette exchanged meaningful looks I tried very hard to ignore.
"I can't believe they wouldn't seat me early at the Inn. I thought I could flirt with the bartender until my boyfriend arrived but no such luck."
It was probably the first time any one had ever refused her anything and she looked puzzled and annoyed in an amused kind of way.
"The Weavers can be a tad rigid," I said, studiously avoiding eye contact with my townie friends who knew exactly why the Weavers acted the way they did. "I promise you the food's worth the aggravation."
"I left my coat in the car so I could make a big sweeping Hollywood entrance and now I not only can't get into the damn restaurant, I locked myself out of my car and would probably have frozen to death out there if you hadn't taken pity on me and opened your door."
"Honey, you're in Vermont," Janice said. "You can't go around like that up here. You'll freeze your nipples off."
"She said she has a coat," I reminded Janice a tad sharply. As a general rule I find it best not to discuss politics, religion, or my customer's nipples in the shop. "It's locked in her car."
"With my cell and my skis and my ice skates," Suzanne said with a theatrical eye roll. "All I need is to use your phone so I can call Triple A."
"Oh, don't bother with them," Lynette said with a wave of her hand. "They'll take all night to get up here. My daughter Vonnie can have it open in a heartbeat."
Suzanne's perfectly groomed right eyebrow lifted slightly. "If it's not too much trouble that would be great."
Clearly she thought Vonnie was majoring in grand theft auto at Sugar Maple High but that was a whole lot better than telling her that the teenager could make garage doors roll open three towns away just by thinking about them.
There were some things tourists were better off not knowing.
I shot Lynette a look. "So you're going to go call Vonnie now, right?"
We both knew she had already put out the call to her daughter but we're all about keeping up appearances here in Sugar Maple.
"I'm on it," Lynette said and went off in search of her cell phone.
I turned back to our visitor who was up to her elbows in a basket of angora roving waiting to be spun into yarn while Penelope, the ancient store cat who shared the basket, ignored her.
"This is glorious. I've thought about learning to knit but--" She shrugged. "You know how it is."
Well, not really. I've been knitting since I was old enough to hold a pair of needles.
"I'll be spinning that next week," I told her while we waited for Lynette to return, "then knitting it up into a shawl."
She wandered to the stack of shawls on the shelf and fingered a kid silk Orenburg I had on display. "Don't tell me you made this?"
"Chloe knitted everything in the shop," Janice volunteered.
"Impossible!" Suzanne Marsden looked over at me. "Did you really? I love handmade garments and this is heirloom quality."
She might have been lying through her porcelain veneers but it was all the encouragement I needed. I whipped out the Orenburg and was treated to the kind of adulation usually reserved for rock stars.
"Amazing," Suzanne breathed as I laid the shawl across her slender shoulders. "You couldn't possibly have made this without divine intervention."
I started to spout my usual it's-all-just-knit-and-purl shopowner spiel when to my surprise the truth popped out instead. "It almost put me into intensive care," I admitted to the background laughter of my friends, "but I made it to the other side."
And then I showed her the trick that either sent prospective knitters running back to their crochet hooks or won them over forever. I slipped my mother's wedding band off my right forefinger and passed the shawl through the small circle of Welsh gold.
"How much?" Suzanne asked.
"It's not for sale," Lynette answered before I had the chance to open my mouth. "Chloe never sells her Orenburgs."
"In my experience there are exceptions to every absolute." Suzanne favored me with a smile that was a half-degree away from flirtatious. "Name your price."
"Dangerous words to use in front of a shop owner," I said lightly, "but Lynette is right. The shawls on that shelf are for display only."
Suzanne met my eyes and I saw something behind the smile that took me by surprise.
Pretty people aren't supposed to be sad. Isn't that the story you were told when you were a little girl? Pretty people are supposed to get a free ride through this life and possibly the next one too.
That was the thing about running a shop. Every now and then a customer managed to push the right buttons and my business sense, shaky at the best of times, went up in smoke.
I swiped her platinum AmEx through the machine and slid the receipt across the counter for her signature.
"Would you like me to wrap it for you?" I asked while Lynette and Janice kept the other customers amused.
"No, thanks," she said, pirouetting in front of the cheval mirror in the corner. "I'll wear it."
Lynette popped back in. "Vonnie texted me," she said to Suzanne. "Your car's unlocked and the Inn is open for business."
Suzanne flashed us a conspiratorial grin. "My boyfriend always keeps me waiting. It wouldn't hurt him to do a little waiting himself."
But she didn't keep him waiting long. She signed her receipt, made a few polite noises, then hurried back out into the darkness.
"I'd give anything to see the boyfriend," one of the Pennsylvania sisters said after the door clicked shut behind Suzanne Marsden. "I'll bet we're talking major hottie."
"Johnny Depp hot or George Clooney hot?" the schoolteacher from New Jersey asked and everyone laughed.
The rocket scientist gave out a cross between a snicker and a snort. "That woman has future trophy wife written all over her. Odds are he's old, wrinkled, and rich."
"Maybe she loves him," I said then immediately wished I'd kept my big mouth shut.
Janice and Lynette exchanged glances and I didn't need extrasensory powers to know exactly what they were thinking. I shot them my best "don't you dare" warning look. One thing I didn't need was another lecture on love from Sugar Maple's two most dangerous matchmakers.
Blocking lace seemed a little anti-climactic to me after Suzanne's mini-drama. I was seriously tempted to excuse myself for a minute then race up the street so I could peek through the front window of the Inn and eyeball the guy she was meeting but that wasn't how Sticks & Strings maintained its ranking as the number one yarn shop in New England three years running.
So I stayed put, but that didn't mean I was happy about it.
It was a little before ten by the time everyone exchanged names and phone numbers and email addresses. I handed out goodie bags of knitting gadgets and yarn samples and smiled at the oohs and ahhs of appreciation. Welcome to the dark side, ladies. Before long they would need an extra room to house their stash.
I let out a loud sigh of relief as I sank into one of the overstuffed chairs near the Ashford wheels. "I actually broke into a sweat blocking that shawl." I flapped the hem of my tee shirt for emphasis.
Janice rolled her eyes. "You're not going to get any sympathy from me. Try giving a full body wax to an overweight eighty-five year old man with more wrinkles than a Shar-Pei. Now that's a workout."
Too much information. What went on behind the closed doors of Cut & Curl was none of my business.
"Seriously. I thought that shawl was going to get the better of me."
"Our visitor is the one who got the better of you," Lynette said. "You barely recouped the cost of the yarn."
Lynette was always trying to give me business advice and I was always doing my best to ignore her. "I thought we had a great group tonight. Definitely better than the carload of mystery writers who drove in for the finishing workshop last month. Now that was a big mistake."
Leave it to mystery writers to wonder why the Inn flashed a No Occupancy sign but didn't have any visitors.
"I'm talking about the shawl. She practically stole it from you." Lynette could be like a dog with a stack of short ribs.
"You must have spent twice that on yarn."
"I didn't spend anything. That was hand-spun from my mother's stash." When my mother died one of the things she left me was a basket of roving that remained full-to-overflowing no matter how many hours I spent at my wheel and a love of all things fiber.
"Good gods," Lynette shrieked. "It's worse than I thought."
"I'm not crazy," I said, slightly annoyed. "Lilith checks the roving twice a year to make sure it's free from any traveling spells."
Lynette was mollified, but just barely.
"You really should drive down to Brattleboro and take a class in small business management," she went on. "Cyrus said it's the best money we ever spent."
Lynette and Cyrus were owners/operators of The Sugar Maple Arts Playhouse at the corner of Carrier Court and Willard Grove. Cyrus was one of the SMAP's favorite performers which, considering the fact that he was a shapeshifter, made casting a snap. Lynette and their daughters Vonnie and Iphigenia were also shapeshifters and had been known to round out Cyrus's repertory company on more than one occasion. Their sons, the unfortunately named Gilbert and Sullivan, were occasionally pressed into service too, but Gil and Sully were quickly reaching the age where it would take cash to turn them into orphaned pirates.
"So you'll think about it?" Lynette pressed. "If you sign up before the end of the year, Cyrus gets a fifty dollar rebate."
"I'll think about it," I said, "but it's pretty hard to get away these days."
"You don't want to get away," Janice said as she rinsed out the tea pot.
"That's right," Lynette observed as she swept crumbs off the work table and tossed them into the trash. "You're all about the work these days."
"It would do you good to take a little trip." Janice reached for the coffee pot. "I can't remember the last time you went away for a night or two."
"I can." Lynette said as she fluffed up the pillows on the leather sofa near the fireplace. "It was when she was seeing that lawyer from New Hampshire."
Janice frowned. "That has to be--what? Four, five years ago?"
"Almost six," I said, "and I don't want to talk about it."
"You can't possibly still blame us for that."
"Putting a spell on our car wasn't very funny. We could have frozen to death up there in the woods."
"We moved the relationship along," Lynette broke in. "You should be grateful."
"Lynnie's right," Janice said. "We saved you from making a terrible mistake."
"Howard was handsome, smart, and independently wealthy. Where's the mistake in that?"
"He was human," Janice said. "It wouldn't have worked."
"I'm human," I reminded her.
"Only half," Lynette said. "Your mother was a sorceress."
"Yes, she was but we all know I take after my father." I had his height, his hair, and his humanness. There wasn't the slightest bit of magick about me and there never had been. I couldn't see into the future or shapeshift or bend spoons with the power of my mind. I was as solid and earthbound as one of the maple trees in Willard Grove.
"Nothing good happens when magick meets human," Janice went on. "Don't tempt fate, honey. Stick with your own kind."
What they meant was, "Your mother fell in love with a human and see what happened to her."
I was six years old when my parents died in a car crash not far from the Toothaker Bridge. The car skidded on black ice and slammed into a towering maple tree. My human father had been killed instantly. My sorceress mother lingered for two days while Sorcha and Lilith and all the people who loved her did everything in their power to convince her to stay but in the end Guinevere chose to leave this world to be with the only man she would ever love.
My memories of that time were all in soft-focus. Mostly I remember Sorcha who had opened up her life and her home to me and made me her own.
Sometimes I hated my mother for making that choice. What kind of woman would choose to leave her daughter alone in the world? Depending on the time of day and how much wine I'd consumed, I either found her decision achingly romantic or the act of a supremely selfish woman.
"You're not listening," I said to my friends. "I don't have magick and I probably never will."
"You never know what might happen," Janice said. "You always were a late bloomer. You were the last in your class to start wearing a bra."
I was also the last in my class to score a date to the senior prom, something that still stings even now, thirteen years later. If it hadn't been for my pal Gunnar, I wouldn't have gone at all. "And your point is?"
Lynette leaned forward, all dark-eyed intensity. "My mother told me that your mother didn't come into her full powers until she fell in love. Maybe--"
"But she had some powers before she met my father," I reminded my friends. "I remember the stories. Why can't you both accept the fact that I'm never going to be more than I am right now."
They exchanged another one of those knowing glances that reminded me of the housewives of Wisteria Lane.
"No matchmaking," I said, barely stifling a yawn. "Absolutely, positively not. I am way too old for matchmaking." Okay, so I was only thirty but blind dates aged a girl in dog years.
"But he's perfect for you."
"That's what you said about the last one."
Janice had the decency to look a tiny bit sheepish. "I'll admit Jacob was a mistake."
"Jacob was a troll."
"Midge Stallworth forgot to mention that. We thought he was vampire like the rest of the family."
"If the Universe wants me to find someone, they'll send me a hot alpaca farmer who likes to spin."
"Honey, you know we're only thinking about your happiness." Lynette patted my hand.
Maybe they were thinking about my happiness but they were also thinking about the accident just before Christmas last year. A bus carrying a high school hockey team en route to Brattleboro blew a tire and careened down an embankment near the Sugar Maple town limits killing the goalie and the coach.
Things like that weren't supposed to happen here. Accidents, crime, illness, all the things that plagued every other town in America didn't happen here. Or at least they hadn't up until recently.
Over three hundred years ago one of my sorcerer ancestors cast a protective charm over the town designed to shield Sugar Maple from harm for as long as one of her line walked the earth and--well, you guessed it. I'm the last descendant of Aerynn and if you thought your family was on your case to marry and produce offspring, try having an entire town mixing potions, casting runes, and weaving spells designed to hook you up with Mr. Right.
"The accident was random chance," I said, trying to ignore the chill racing up my spine as I remembered the crowd of reporters who had flooded the area. "The weather was terrible. It could have happened anywhere."
"But it didn't happen anywhere," Janice said, "it happened here and it shouldn't have."
"Jan's right," Lynette said. "The spell is growing weaker with every year that passes. I can feel the difference."
Janice nodded. "We all do."
I didn't but that was no surprise. I could only take them at their word on this, same as I did on everything else I couldn't see or hear or understand.
"Cyrus met a charming selkie named Glenn at the Scottish Faire last week," Lynette went on.
"She already dated a selkie," Janice reminded her. "It wasn't a good match."
"I dated a selkie?" The parade of recent losers had mercifully blurred in my memory.
"You said his breath smelled like smoked salmon."
I shuddered. "I'll skip the selkies, thanks."
"You'd skip them all if we let you," Janice said.
She was right about that.
"Just keep Saturday nights open," Lynette said. "That's all I'm asking."
As far as I could tell, my Saturday nights were open from now until the next millennium. I nodded and stifled another yawn. "No trolls, no selkies," I said. "And he has to be at least six feet tall before the magic kicks in."
"Not a problem," Janice said. "Tall is good."
"Human might be nice for a change."
They looked at me, then at each other, and burst into raucous laughter.
"Honey," Lynette said as she patted my arm, "around here human might not be your best choice."
I wasn't usually prickly about their wariness about humans but that night it got under my skin. It wasn't like I actually thought Mr. Right was going to show up at Sticks & Strings one snowy winter day searching for the perfect ski sweater to wear on the slopes. But I did think love was possible. It had happened for my parents, hadn't it? Maybe they hadn't managed the happy ending part of the equation but for a little while I saw what real magic was all about and I didn't want to settle for anything less.
Now you know why I had five cats, one TiVo and a stash of yarn I couldn't knit my way through in six lifetimes.
I mean, what were the odds that the perfect man would not only show up in Sugar Maple, but would be okay with the fact that the town wasn't the picture postcard New England town our Chamber of Commerce would have you believe, but a village of vampires, werewolves, elves, faeries, and everything else your parents told you didn't really exist.
Or that he would be okay with the fact that the woman he wanted to spend his life with had a few surprises lurking in her own gene pool.
Ten million to one sounded about right to me.
Besides, Sugar Maple was doing fine without my help. We had a thriving tourist trade and zero crime. What other town could make that claim? It seemed to me that Aerynn's protective blessing was still getting the job done even if we had had a few close calls over the last year or two. The blessing's strength might be weakening but we still had time to figure this out before it vanished altogether. All we needed was a frothy little protective charm to cover us until either I found the man of my dreams or came up with a Plan B.
And maybe things would have worked out that way if, just a few hours after she left my shop, Suzanne Marsden hadn't been murdered.