In the Garden
by Nora Roberts
Book #1: Blue Dahlia | Rating: 4.0 Stars
Book #2: Black Rose | Rating: 4.0 Stars
Book #3: Red Lily | Rating: 3.5 Stars
Average Series Rating: 3.83 Stars
If I had to choose a favorite Nora Roberts book, based on all the books I've read of hers so far, I think I would choose the second book in this trilogy. Truly, Rosalind Harper stands out as an amazing heroine, both wise, strong, and flawed in her own ways.
In comparison to the very first Nora Roberts book I read for Halloween Bingo of last year (2016), this is definitely a step up; though I know these were written before The Dark Witch trilogy. They've both got the same kind of set up for the romance, and a lovely, supernatural premise, but I feel this In the Garden trilogy is superior to the latter series, with an interesting mystery to boot. The writing is wonderful, and the characters are real, even in spite of the sometimes awkward dialogue, and the "made to be perfect" personalities they seem to present.
I especially love the friendships and the bonds that form throughout this series, especially between the women--you don't get to see those too often in any kind of media, literature or not, so I'm extra appreciative of it.
And yeah... this review took me way too long to get posted. It's actually been written for a week now, but my motivation had been zero in the blogging front... Hopefully that changes in the coming weeks.
Trying to escape the ghosts of the past, young widow Stella Rothchild, along with her two energetic little boys, has moved back to her roots in southern Tennessee—and into her new life at Harper House and the In the Garden nursery. She isn’t intimidated by the house—nor by its mistress, local legend Roz Harper. Despite a reputation for being difficult, Roz has been nothing but kind to Stella, offering her a comfortable new place to live and a challenging new job as manager of the flourishing nursery.
As Stella settles comfortably into her new life, she finds a nurturing friendship with Roz and with expectant mother Hayley. And she discovers a fierce attraction to ruggedly handsome landscaper Logan Kitridge. He’s difficult but honest, brash but considerate—and undeniably sexy. And for a sensible woman like Stella, he may be just what she needs…
I'm sure if I'd read Blue Dahlia during a specific time of day, like maybe late at night in a quite house, I might have felt a chill from the ghostly happenings. But I didn't really feel a chill, and the main focus of this book isn't even really on the mentioned "Harper Bride" who haunts Harper House.
Still, this book was extremely enjoyable, if only because I loved all the character interactions. Nora Roberts undoubtedly has a way with her writing, with her characters, and with the atmosphere of her books, that makes it feel so down-to-earth, even when her characters are too pitch perfect to be true, and we're settled in a supernatural ghost story.
There's no argument from me that the characters are all readily likable and good, and whom all have their unique personalities, even when they don't stray far from the standard romance novel characterizations. But I won't deny that I DID enjoy all the interaction between each and every character present. I loved the sisterly affection between Roz, Stella, and Hayley. I loved the mother-son bonding between Stella and her two boys, Gavin and Luke. I loved the strange hero worship between the boys and Roz's housekeeper/cook David, as well as between the boys and our main hero, Logan.
The romance felt a little awkward, to be honest, and Logan was the usual pushy alpha hero who makes a point to prove that he knows exactly what his heroine wants with her life. I'm not fond of the pushiness, and could have done without, but since Stella was rolling with it, I suppose there was little I could complain about--after all, she tried to put up her fights and her resistance, but apparently Logan is too irresistible for that... *cue melodramatic eye roll and sigh*
At least we can give him props for bonding with the kids.
I love the southern setting, and all the descriptions of the garden nursery, the landscaping projects, the plants that are being grown and sold through In the Garden nursery.
Really, there wasn't a whole lot to complain about with this book. I might have wanted more about the ghostly hauntings and happenings. I might have liked a little less pushy alpha male.
But otherwise, I liked the book overall; and I especially loved the scenes where our main characters are all crowded in the mansion's library doing historical research on the house's resident Harper Bride ghost, whilst nibbling on cheeses, crackers, various other snack foods, and enjoying glasses of bubbly wine! It makes me want to curl up with the next book and join them in that setting, with my own cheeses and crackers and various snack foods and bubbly wine.
At forty-seven, Rosalind Harper is a woman whose experiences have made her strong enough to bend without breaking--and weather any storm. A widow with three grown sons, she survived a disastrous second marriage and built her In The Garden nursery from the ground up. Through the years, In The Garden has become more than just a thriving business--it is a symbol of hope and independence to Roz, and to the two women she shares it with. Newlywed Stella and new mother Hayley are the sisters of her heart, and together the three of them are the future of In The Garden.
But now the future is under attack, and Roz knows they can't fight this battle alone. Hired to investigate Roz's Harper ancestors, Dr. Mitchell Carnegie finds himself just as intrigued with Roz herself. And as they begin to unravel the puzzle of the Harper Bride's identity, Roz is shocked to find herself falling for the fascinating genealogist. Now it is a desperate race to discover the truth before the unpredictable apparition lashes out at the one woman who can help her rest in peace...
I think that I liked this second In the Garden book more than the first... except I couldn't quite pinpoint why. It could be that Rosalind Harper is such an intriguing, kick-butt main heroine. It could be that Dr. Mitchell Carnegie is such a perfect, yet perfectly flawed beta hero. It could just be that I had already fallen for the setting and the characters of this series and am simply basking in the continuation of light, docile ghostly mystery.
It could be the setting, it could be the writing... It could be a whole number of things, really! It could just be that Nora Roberts just has a way with her characters, her writing, and her story.
I don't really know.
But the story line in this second book is not entirely different from the first, with similar elements pertaining to the Harper Bride's hauntings, as well as her tantrums, and our characters' need to investigate her identity as well as what might have happened to her. Obviously, the readers already know who the Harper Bride is, since each book gives a prologue that takes place in a time three generations previous to the series' time frame. But we still never really find out what happened to cause the Harper Bride to become so furious, so sad, so vengeful, and make her linger for over a century in Harper House.
Black Rose is simply a continuation of this ghostly mystery--very light-hearted, with a few phantasmic happenings that don't really amount to much of scary or eerie. I admit, while this book is about a ghostly haunting, it doesn't in the least give me goosebumps.
What makes these books so enjoyable, I believe, really has to do with the characters and how readily likable they are, despite being a set of perfect, good people. Still, I enjoy the interactions, and the little nuances in each and every individual character that DOES make them differ from one another. I enjoy the descriptions of the gardens, of Rosalind's business, of the Harper House mansion...
What else is there to say about Black Rose, except that it's a very enjoyable read, probably one of my more favorite Nora Roberts reads so far, even despite not really being able to give much else in terms of thoughts on this book.
While I have a few quibbles about the first book, Blue Dahlia, and while I'm sure I had a few regarding Black Rose while I was reading it... the truth is, I can't seem to readily conjure up anything I disliked, or would have liked to change. I can't really think of a whole lot at all to complain about.
This was an excellent reading experience!
Hayley Phillips came to Memphis hoping for a new start, for herself and her unborn child. She wasn't looking for a handout from her distant cousin Roz, just a job at her thriving In the Garden nursery. What she found was a home surrounded by beauty and the best friends she's ever had--including Roz's son Harper. To Hayley's delight, her new daughter Lily has really taken to him. To Hayley's chagrin, she has begun to dream about Harper--as much more than a friend...
If Hayley gives in to her desire, she's afraid the foundation she's built with Harper will come tumbling down. Especially since she's begun to suspect that her feelings are no longer completely her own. Flashes of the past and erratic behavior make Hayley believe that the Harper Bride has found a way inside of her mind and body. It's time to put the Bride to rest once and for all, so Hayley can know her own heart again--and whether she's willing to risk it...
No doubt, this is probably the weaker of the three In the Garden books, if only because, as main characters, Harper and Hayley both fade in comparison to Roz and Mitch, or even Stella and Logan. Upfront, I'm going to be honest and say that it will be hard for me NOT to compare and contrast each couple, as well as each book, within this trilogy. After all, the three books are connected, and I'm going to make references.
Mainly, Harper and Hayley were great characters in the previous two books. I liked Harper's science-geek behavior when it came to his grafting house, and the business with In the Garden. He's also a great son to Roz, protective; although, he DID start getting on my nerves in the second book when he went behind his mother's back to interrogate and make assumptions about her new love life--that was uncalled for.
Hayley was always the fun, free-spirited, random trivia geek; I loved her drive and determination to prove herself, and her weird way of spouting little known facts at all the strangest times. I loved how she was the driving force behind both Stella's and Roz's rekindled love lives, supporting them and pushing them to take that leap.
What I DIDN'T like was the personality I got when Hayley ended up front and center, if only because I never expected her to be the cynical, naive romance heroine I love to hate. She knows she pretty, but she keeps doubting her own allure towards Harper. She's always encouraged Roz and Stella to have fun, have sex, be free... but she turns around and slut-shames herself, which got super annoying. She spends a lot of this book trying to convince everyone, mainly herself, that just because she had sex and got pregnant doesn't mean that she's "that kind of girl"--the kind who would just jump into bed with anyone.
The thing is: NO ONE had made any of that kind of comment or critique about her. It was all Hayley, being self-conscious about being the "wrong sort of girl" or whatever she called herself. In turn, twice over, both Stella and Roz had to berate her for even thinking that of herself, and I appreciate that the two of them were so straight and blunt with Hayley.
Harper... he was never really present in the first book, and he came off annoyingly caveman-ish in the second book. I hate to admit that he doesn't change all that much in this third book, and his "You'll do as I say because you're my woman" behavior started rankling... a lot. I'm not even sure Logan's broody, irrational, rude, alpha male attitude was this bad in the first book.
But outside of all of this, to be honest, Hayley and Harper have a pretty sweet romance. I certainly DO love the relationship interactions between Hayley and Lily, Harper and Lily, and the three of them together, in general.
In fact, all the kids were great, and I'm actually quite surprised that Stella's boys took to Lily so well, especially at their age, when playing with girls was usually not cool. But hey, Lily held onto her toy truck and toddled her way out to play with the boys and hold her own, so that's kind of cool.
The concluding story in the Harper Bride haunting, I will admit, was the creepier of the three books. The scene in which our ghost shows up on Hayley's terrace doorway holding a rope and a scythe in her hands, with an insane smile and crazy eyes, while outside is all lightning and wind and rain... is quite vivid in my mind. It wasn't scary, per se, but I had a hard time sleeping without seeing that image in my mind after reading the scene.
The ending was sad, that's for sure; but the truth is, you kind of saw it coming. I DID like this new twist where the Harper Bride begins to possess Hayley in her attempts to tell her side of the story. And again, while it's an ugly, disturbing story, with a depressing end for the Amelia Conner, pre-haunting... well, we all kind of had an idea what had happened to her that turned her into the lingering, vengeful Harper Bride, right?
All-in-all, Red Lily made for a well-rounded wrap up for In the Garden. I wish the main characters weren't as frustrating, but I'm also wondering if that hadn't been deliberate on the author's part. I wouldn't put it past her, since, despite my annoyance with Hayley and Harper, I can't help but see how real the characters are portrayed, and how some of Hayley's thoughts and doubts about herself might have had something to do with the ghostly possession.
Of course, that doesn't excuse Harper's neanderthal-like behavior.