barbara bretton, book reviews, fantasy, fiction, knitting, knitting books, sugar maple

Book Review: The Sugar Maple Chronicles (1-3)

Today I have a quick series review for you.

Normally, I don’t like “knit lit” (novels that center around knitting). I know, weird, right? You would think that an avid knitter/designer/writer would love those. But most of the time I find them cliched and depressing. In one book I read, one member of a knitting group was ostracized because the father of another group member tricked her into thinking he was someone much younger, and started dating her while still married, even though the woman in question had no idea the two of them were connected (or that he was married). Other “knit lit” I’ve read (or tried to read) seems to believe that the only thing to make a happy ending is for every woman to find a man by the end of the book–regardless of the status of the rest of her life, or even if the man is worth it, and still others follow the “rocks fall and everybody dies” school of thought, picking off main characters through various forms of physical and emotional tragedy.

I’m sorry, but that’s not what knitting is about, and those are not the kinds of books I like to read.

Enter The Sugar Maple Chronicles.

This series combines yarn, romance, a wee bit of adventure, and fantasy to weave a tale that is both light and engaging, with a dash of humor and a pinch of danger (wow, talk about mixing metaphors…but I digress).

Sugar Maple is a tiny tourist town in northern Vermont. The cafe is run by witches, a family of vampires runs the funeral home, faeries take care of the Inn (where no one EVER stays overnight), and at the Sticks & String yarn shop, your yarn never tangles, your stitches never drop, and you always get gauge, well, things aren’t really normal there, either.

Here is the setup, as defined in Book 1, Casting Spells: Chloe Hobbs is the direct descendant of Aerynn, one of the founding members of Sugar Maple, a town intended to protect it’s magic-laced denizens. Sheltered from the outside world, Sugar Maple is protected so long as a Hobbs woman walks the earth. But there’s a problem: Not only is Chloe magic free (unless one cares to count her self-replenishing basket of roving, handed down from her mother), but she’s single. Already in her thirties, the magic protecting the town is starting to wan.

This becomes painfully clear when a tourist is murdered by the lake. Crime-free for centuries, Sugar Maple is ill prepared to deal with the death of a “muggle.”

Enter Luke MacKenzie, a cop sent by the state to investigate Suzanne Marsden’s murder. Chloe, the defacto mayor of the small town, goes to greet him and get him settled into his temporary position…and sparks fly from the start.

Torn between her duty to the town and True Love, most of Casting Spells is focused on the love story of Luke and Chloe, with some mystery thrown in. The yarn shop is mostly a backdrop, but the story is engaging and one that leaves warm fuzzies in it’s wake.

True to form, book 2, Laced with Magic, tests the couple’s relationship when Luke’s ex wife arrives on the scene, insisting that their dead daughter has been trying to communicate with her. Now not only do Luke and Chloe have the usual quirks of a relationship to work out, but they have to do it with Karen in their midst, dragging up bits of Luke’s past that Chloe knew nothing about. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, they have to keep the darker aspects of the town away from Karen–even as Chloe’s emotional state makes it nearly impossible for her to control her burgeoning powers. The fact that most of the town’s people are now questioning her ability to lead–since there are TWO humans staying in town now, when before they’d merely been visitors–is not helping. At. All.

While at first they think Karen has just gone mad from grief, never fully recovering from Seffie’s death two years earlier, it quickly becomes clear that someone IS trying to communicate with her–the question is, who?

Book 3, Spun by Sorcery, is not the final book in the series, but it is the last book I’ve managed to get my hands on (so far). The book opens as Luke and Chloe return from the final battle in Laced with Magic, coming back to town to find…nothing. Absolutely nothing.

As in, the entire town is gone.

The pair are saved from starvation and cold by the wild driving of Chloe’s best friend, Janice, from behind the wheel of Chloe’s Buick. Loaded down with yarn and one of Chloe’s several cats, the car has almost everything for the three of them to get buy for couple of days, and what it lacks is nothing McDonald’s can’t fix. With no idea where the town–or Janice’s family–has gone, the three begin a quest back to the origins of Sugar Maple, and that means going back to Salem, to the place Aerynn first stood up for her people, splitting off from the magical community as a whole to create the haven of Sugar Maple.

In my opinion, the third book moves the slowest of the three, but I still got through both of the later volumes in a week, and one of the inherent problems with quest stories is that there tends to be a lot of “and we’re traveling, and we’re traveling….still traveling….” going on. At least there’s knitting and attacks on the road to keep things interesting.

If you enjoy light fantasy or knit lit, then you’ll probably enjoy these books. They’re fluff–nothing too profound, but a good, enjoyable, before bed reading kind of series. You can also put it down and pick it back up again–each book does a really great job of reminding the reader of what came before (I actually went a year or two between reading book 1 and book 2).

Book 4, Spells and Stitches, is already out (has been for a while). I’d really prefer to have this series on my Nook, I think, since while it’s really good, it’s not a favorite and I’d like to save the space. However, since this is a slightly older series, it is actually cheaper to buy the paperbacks used than it is to download the electronic version ($10 for an ebook? Really, Barnes and Noble?).

Overall, I’d give the series 3.5-4 stars out of 5.