Genre: Fiction/Romance/Light mystery
Note: It’s entirely possible I received this book for free through the Kindle Scout program, but since it is now closed I have no way of checking for sure.
The Enchanted Garden Cafe is the story of Fiona and her mother Claire as they run the cafe and try to fight back against a corporation seeking to purchase the entire block to build a parking garage for the South Side of Pittsburgh. The Cafe plays host to a number of interesting events, including yoga, tarot readings, refined Sunday teas, and acoustic nights featuring a guitarist (who is out of town, but who sends hot guy, I mean guitarist Matthew, to take his place). Obviously, Fiona is struck by Matthew, but has a boyfriend, Scott, who is the complete opposite of everyone on the South Side. But, as the story goes along, she gets in touch with herself, what she wants, and who she really is.
I wanted to like this book. It sounded charming and was full of eccentric characters in an eclectic locale. It has hints of magical realism that has enchanted me ever since I read Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen over ten years ago.
Sadly, this book fell completely flat.
It’s listed as a romance under literature and fiction, but I would argue it aligns more with just plain romance. It has all the makings of one and the second half really went heavy on the romance, complete with sex scenes I really did not need. It’s a basic girl meets hot guy, girl and guy butt heads, girl falls for guy and sleeps with him, girl jumps to conclusions and breaks both their hearts, girl and guy clear the air, and they live happily ever after. Much to the delight of a bubbling fountain.
The characters (ALL of them) are little more than cardboard cutouts of the stereotypical people you might find in an artist haven: the flighty mom running the cafe, the Madame who reads tarot cards, the transgender football player who is a total queen, the tired diner waitress with a brood of kids. Tell me you haven’t heard of any of them before and I’ll take my words back. None of them are complex and none of them really change. They also rely on these stereotypes and never fully achieve an interesting stage where they can step away from the stereotype and truly embrace who they are. I’m most saddened by the treatment of Sally (the queen). I love the gay, flamboyant character, but Sally only seemed to wear flamboyant clothing and was rather ordinary in every other way. It was easy for my mind to just toss her in with the rest of the eccentric group and pay her no more mind, but she really could have been fabulous.
But what bothered me the most was how plot driven it was. The characters were crafted in such a way, and the foreshadowing done in such a way, that it made sense for something to happen and someone to behave a certain way. Which did nothing to develop the characters and everything to make them more cardboard. Fiona thinks she’s doing things that are out of character because her aunt messed with her chakras, but, seriously, I doubt this could make someone who has been responsible since the day she was born to suddenly do a 180 and jump in bed with the hot guy. I smell an author who needed some way of reaching the next plot point.
Taken on the surface, the way the characters, plot points, and foreshadowing work together is seamless and delightful. But when examined, it lacks depth and true understanding of human behavior. The author does a good job of using foreshadowing and the art of writing to disguise the otherwise lack of depth, but it leaves me feeling empty, like watching characters in a play who would rather do something else.
And let’s not forget the magical realism that was never fully realized. Okay, the teas and coffees have magical effects because the water is special. Fiona is a master baker and her baking has a somewhat magical effect on her and those around her. Then there’s Auntie Mags playing with chakras and Madame Lucinda who reads tarot cards and Matthew whose guitar playing mesmerizes. There’s a nice layer of magical realism, but it’s thin and this book fails to drip with the delight of magic I found in Garden Spells. It’s a thin imitation at best.
The only thing I found truly interesting was the fountain. The fountain that loved Matthew and hated Scott. The fountain that always seemed to merrily tease Fiona with what it knew and she didn’t. I actually grew quite fond of it.
A lackluster story camouflaged by pretty wrapping, this book is the first in a series, but I can’t see myself reading another book.
How many cups of tea will you need?
Two cups should do the trick.