They say never judge a book by its cover, but the cover is why I picked out The Cottage on Pumpkin and Vine. I love all things autumnal, and I can’t recall seeing another romance that focuses around Halloween. This collection of three novellas centers around Rose Cottage Bed and Breakfast and its somewhat mystical owner Amelia Rose. It is rumored that guests at the cottage will fall in love at Halloween – which seems like an odd holiday for that, but okay.
The three stories in this anthology are uneven in their approach to the theme, and in quality. My favorite is Mesmerized by You, but Enchanted by You is also really good. I think you can just skip Charmed by You, though.
Charmed by You by Kate Angell – Grade: D
Grace Alden has hired a moving company to help her decorate her aunt’s Bed and Breakfast for a Halloween party. The owner of the moving company, and apparently the only one who does any work, is Cade Maxwell. Both characters start off prickly towards each other, and neither comes off as particularly likeable. Grace is being uptight and anally retentive about the decorations and Cade is whiny and hates Halloween. I like a story where the characters go from chafing each other to being hot for each other, but I need a really convincing incident to show me that they have made that transition. Cade and Grace have no such moment.
Rather than let the characters get to know one another and allow their attraction to grow, Grace and Cade are told by her aunt Amelia that they’re perfect for one another because apparently they are both paragons of the community that selflessly give up a lot of their time to do volunteer work. Never mind that all we’ve seen of these characters so far is grumping and an unpleasant tension. Once they’re told they’re perfect for each other, suddenly Grace and Cade are constantly turned on while decorating a yard for Halloween. We all know how sexy dragging out dusty Halloween decorations is.
Besides the total lack of chemistry between Grace and Cade, the story consists of basically one random over-the-top moment after another. A cat pulls a thread on Cade’s jeans which apparently causes them to unravel in such a way that Grace sees his penis. After that, all she can think about is his junk. ‘Cause, you know, there’s nothing hotter than a flaccid penis crammed in some jeans inches away from a cat’s claw.
Other eye-roll-inducing moments include Cade finding Grace trying to squeeze into a too small leather cat-suit, watching her give away free costume rentals at her business to kids – the author’s obvious attempt to beg the reader to like Grace – and a completely off the wall and uninteresting prank with some Halloween zombie hands. Throw in an actually magical crystal ball – in spite of the total lack of magic otherwise – and you have a story I could not bring myself to care about.
If you’re going to have magic, that’s great. I love a magical atmosphere, but it needs to permeate the setting. You can’t just have a random magic object in an environment that is closer to a slapstick comedy. The out of place magical element, zany antics, and overall clunky and unappealing writing style made Charmed by You a total flop.
Mesmerized by You by Jennifer Dawson – Grade: A
This story, thankfully, manages to take elements from the previous story and put them together well. There is magic, romance, and some over-the-top parts, but it all comes together in a charming friends-to-lovers story that I adored.
Jake Swanson and Chloe Armstrong are two best friends heading to visit her aunt for a relaxing weekend. Along the road, Chloe’s aunt calls to say her house has a bee infestation and they will need to relocate to the local Bed and Breakfast. As it turns out, Chloe’s aunt orchestrated this event to make sure that Chloe and Jake would be in close quarters, so of course there is only one bed available. After a tarot reading and some suspicious cookies, the pair finds themselves suddenly awakened to the attraction they share. Neither Chloe or Jake can deny that there may be more than just friendship on their minds.
This story has the hints of magic throughout that were missing from Charmed by You. Jake and Chloe eat cookies that have been baked with magic “intention” to make them go after their desires with the result that they want to jump each other’s bones constantly. There are some moments that were overly silly, like that the only available costumes were a Tarzan and skimpy Jane ensemble, or that this small-town B&B hosts a party that attracts hordes of attractive singles, but I was willing to forgive those because there is so much chemistry between Jake and Chloe. I love the friends-to-lovers trope so watching them struggle with the sexual attraction, as well as previously existing feelings they had, was perfect.
There’s something about the very end – the last line – of the story that threw me off but it didn’t spoil the rest. Mesmerized by You is romantic, funny, and sexy all at once. It didn’t give me the hit of Halloween that I was hoping for from this anthology, but I enjoyed it so much I’m planning to see what else Jennifer Dawson has out.
Enchanted by You by Sharla Lovelace – Grade: B+
I think this is actually the strongest of the three stories in terms of the writing, although there were a few issues that prevented me from rating it more highly. It’s missing most of the zaniness and is focused more on the small town aspect of the setting. It features Sidney Jensen, an attorney who is not doing well at her current firm. In order to score points with her tough boss, she offers to handle a legal issue for her boss’s uncle in Moonbright, Maine. She is, of course, forced to stay at Rose Cottage with Amelia Rose, who is in everyone’s business, even that of the out-of-towners it would seem. Once there, she runs into a man working for Amelia Rose who is named Sawyer Finn. With the boss being named Orchid Blossom, I was about to call stupid name alert on this story, but Lovelace stopped me by explaining that both characters had changed their names.
So, as it turns out, Sawyer Finn is actually Caleb James, Sidney’s high school crush. They planned to run away together after graduation, but he left her high and dry. Seeing him again brings up that old hurt.
This was probably the most heart wrenching of the three stories, because Sawyer/Caleb and Sidney have to get past the feelings from their youth in order to learn to love again. I enjoyed seeing that progression, and am a big fan of second chance romances. Where this story lost some points with me is that it didn’t fit the theme as much as the others. I wanted Halloween stories, and this one starts the day after. The magic of Rose Cottage was absent and it ended up just being a normal small town contemporary romance, albeit a good one. In fact, much of the story is about the legal situation Sidney is helping with and takes place away from the Bed and Breakfast. I wanted a little more magic, not a story that could have been plucked out and put into any contemporary anthology.
While the collection didn’t scratch the Halloween itch I wanted it to, I do think it is worth reading for the Dawson and Lovelace stories. Both are strong enough that they made me want to seek out more writing from those authors, and I think that two quality stories out of three is enough for me to feel comfortable recommending The Cottage on Pumpkin and Vine.
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