I admit myself not to be much of a Nora Roberts fan. The first book series I tried to tackle by her ended badly for me - in plot, character, and writing style. But I had Blue Dahlia, the first book in the In the Garden trilogy, sitting on my shelf from a batch purchase of novels on sale at Books-A-Million. I decided to give Nora another "go" - I'm glad I did.
The review for each book in the series is below.
Blue Dahlia by Nora Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When Stella's life suddenly changes due to the loss of her husband, she must start over again by going home. She's lived in the North for years, but home is close to Memphis, TN - deep in the South - where treks up North to leave your roots are rarely forgotten. But, luckily for Stella her Yankee years aren't held against her by Roz, owner/developer of "In the Garden." Roz's business is connected to her home on sprawling southern acreage complete with a pool house, a beautiful garden, and a historical ghost. But, then again, an old house in the deep South just wouldn't scream tradition if something didn't haunt its halls.
Stella moves herself and her boys where the temperature rise and snow never falls after landing the managerial job at "In The Garden" and as luck would have it (or standard plot) a new man enters her life. He's difficult and opinionated and of course, ruggedly handsome as all the best problematic men are. Much to Stella's inner conflict of moving on with her life after losing the only man she ever loved, she finds herself drawn to Logan. With Roz's "go-get-em" attitude about life as her new guide, Stella transforms herself into a woman anew and allows herself to become part of a family in her new job and home, bringing light and love to her boys as well.
Roberts weaves a cute southernly charmed story about starting over again. Women connecting after hardships creates a witty background for this tale and characters have an excellent relatable value to them that made me want to start a career in gardening...I'd like to work for Roz. She's charming, she's no nonsense, and she's caring - three qualities of all well-breed southern women. Stella was interesting and my heart hurt for her in the beginning and rejoiced with her in the end. Hayley, whom I've yet to mention, was not my favorite character and I hope by book two in this trilogy I might like her a bit more.
There's still the pesky ghost to contend with...on to book two, Black Rose
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Black Rose by Nora Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Black Rose is the second book in the "In the Garden" trilogy by Nora Roberts, The premise of the novel set is three women coming together after dealing with life's most challenging losses - loss of husbands, parents, jobs, friends - and how the rebuilding of friendship can make those tragedies of the past feel like building blocks of the future.
In book one we met Stella, Roz, and Hayley (and the men in their lives) and the plot focused mostly on Stella coming home. Not just in the literal sense of moving back down south, but in the sense of finding herself again, and a man that loves her and her boys, so that she can start to really live. In the end of book one, Stella and Logan find themselves happily married and I was happy for her; as was Roz the woman running most of the show.
Black Rose shifts its focus to Roz, but keeps Stella as part of the story. Roz is a strong willed and feisty woman that has lost two husbands: one to death and this was the love of her life and father of her children, and one she tossed out on his sorry ass for being a no good dirty lying cheating son-of-a-bitch. Roz is still missing her first husband, and ashamed of her second. The loneliness she felt allowed her to be pulled into a truly terrible relationship with a charismatic con-artist. Of course, her guard is now up. She had no intentions of being pulled into another romance as her life is full of her business, her children, her now surrogate grandchildren in Stella's boys, and Hayley's new baby, too. But suddenly, the Harper Bride ghost from book one is starting to cause harm to those she loves and this is new - in the past she was a docile ghost. Roz decides it's time to get some answers about who she is and where she came from. Enter Mitchell Carnegie, a renowned genealogist that studies families' histories and then writes about them for a living.
Roz hires him to do a full study of the Harper history and as he spends more time at Harper House, Mitchell finds himself drawn to Roz. He finds her passion, beauty, and sensitivity to be a triple threat hard to ignore. When Mitch and Roz decide to explore their special connection, again the ghost adamantly protests.
The Harper Bride does tell them her name in this book - Amelia - and Mitch immerses himself in learning more about her through old books and photographs. The more they all learn, the more disturbing the story becomes. The Harper Bride is not going away - that is made certain. And she's angry.
Now onto Red Lily , which I assume will be about Hayley - she is my least favorite character, but maybe Roberts can turn my opinion.
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Red Lily by Nora Roberts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Well - Roberts did not turn me...I still don't like Hayley. Book three of trilogies always lets me down. But, I still gave it three stars because the other characters were still interesting enough to me to keep me reading until the end even though I knew how things would work out with Haley and Harper.
Red Lily should have been a final ending to what was a compelling and moving trilogy. But what the reader got instead was a very over-drawn and labored ending to a story that didn't really exist in the character of focus: Hayley. In Blue Dahlia we met the intriguing cast of characters in the series to include the infamous "Harper Bride" ghost lurking in the halls of Roz Harper's home. Black Rose showed us more of the secrets of the ghost and how the choices the women were making in their lives impacted the behavior of the ghost - particularly with regards to men. And Red Lily basically rehashed it all through Hayley - a character I could simply not care about. And to honest, I found myself struggling to understand how Stella or Roz were friends with her - and Harper, Roz's son loving her? It just didn't add up - Hayley is a snot.
She originally arrived on Roz's door step alone and pregnant in book one. Because of a very distant cousin relationship, Roz Harper, the owner of Harper House takes her in. And even though she's six months along, her son Harper has eyes for Hayley. WAIT - WHAT????? That in and of itself was weird to me. Hayley's daughter Lily arrives in book two, and she latches onto Harper like he's her daddy putting Hayley in an awkward position - should she act on her feelings with Harper or snap his head off again - which is how she treats him for pretty much the entire trilogy. (Hence why I couldn't buy their romance at all). When she finally acts on her feelings and Harper is in agreement, well - that's that. Their relationship doesn't grow for the reader, and when there are moments of interaction they seem to just be mad at each other: All. The. Time. And then Hayley babbles about her feelings with Roz, while persistently reminding us that it's awkward because she's his mother. It's creepy. It's weird. And it's unrealistic - I get that this is fiction but it should somewhat mirror real life.
The Harper Bride is terribly upset at Harper and Hayley's newfound love (you could see why in this case). Amelia, the ghost, starts to possess Hayley reliving her life with men as a lady of the night. And again - this is creepy. Amelia is Harper's great great grandmother (as the genealogy done by Mitch shows) and there are scenes where Amelia possesses Hayley while she's having sex with Harper - yep...incest. I don't care if she's a ghost - that line of thinking was just too much for me. The final showdown with the ghost was obvious and anticlimactic.
Trilogies should be read in full and I'd normally say not to give up on them - but Nora, on this one I'd tell the reader to just skim it, because there just isn't much story here. I liked all the characters in this series, except Hayley, and she didn't merit her own novel.
This won't stop me from picking up a Nora Robert's book again, but sadly this ending just didn't do it for me.
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