Reviewed: October 8, 2010
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: In the Garden Trilogy, Book 2
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 384 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle, Nook
Over one hundred years ago, a young woman on the brink of insanity...or just beyond it...disappeared without a trace. Her ghost haunts the house and grounds of the Harper household and has for as long as anyone alive can remember. Most who have seen or heard her speak of the care she shows to the children of the house, singing lullabies to the young and offering a comforting presence to young mothers. But there is a darkness, too, and when lullabies become edged in madness and comfort turns to terror, a group of family and friends must ban together to find out who their ghost is, where she is, if they have any hope of surviving her wrath.
Rosalind Harper is a strong, independent, mature woman. She lost a husband young, made a mistake with a second marriage, but has lived a life of class and poise, correcting mistakes and building her life from tragedy. She may be the mistress of Harper House, but her focus is her family and her business, the In the Garden nursery. Since the events of Blue Dahlia (In the Garden, Book 1), Roz, along with friends Stella and Hayley and their respective loves and children, have had to put the search for the identity of the Harper Bride on hold. Genealogy expert Dr. Mitchell Carnagie was unavailable until a previous engagement was concluded.
When Roz's path crosses Mitch's again during a wild spurt of Christmas shopping, more than talk of ghosts gets stirred up. Mitch's project is finished and he's ready to start the search for Amelia full time, and Roz realizes that the sexy doctor might just be the balm to that niggling bit of loneliness that tugs at her heart. What she doesn't realize is that her resident ghost has no love of men, and as the relationship between her and Mitch heats up, Amelia turns her viscous will into keeping them apart.
Some of my favorite romance reading of all time has been various Roberts' trilogies. I love how she weaves interesting and sympathetic characters who are easy to fall for into an overall arc that spans three books, while maintaining a level of storytelling that supports each book individually. She truly is a master at that impressive feat.
I'm particularly fond of lead character Roz Harper, a woman of advancing age, within spitting distance of fifty, with concerns and attentions suited to her age and her milieu. She's got an ex-husband who's a rake and a snake, and she's forced to deal with him, though it goes against her grain to do so in the manner in which it is forced. She doesn't break under pressure of ghost or male ego, and holds close to her heart those she considers friends and family. As a character, she's the epitome of grace and cool southern charm...with just enough fiery temper to keep her from being too Stepford.
While I am known for having a fondness for damaged characters who rise above their personal demons to wage battle against the forces of darkness, I admit I found Roz's well-balanced, independent nature both an admirable and welcome change. She's got a steel spine with pleasant touches of softness for contrast and depth, and she approaches problems with a keen mind and determination. I couldn't help but like her. And respect her. Mitch was a charming counterpoint. A man who is aware of his demons and admits to his past mistakes as he takes responsibility for them. He's a good man, honest and hard working, with the confidence to appreciate a woman of strength without the games and machinations so often seen in younger couples.
Their relationship sparks and simmers, developing slowly but sweetly along with the plot threads of the Harper Bride, who shows her nasty side in all its freaky glory more than once, and the ex-husband, who's a sleaze of the first order. There are ancillary plot threads of extended family that also add to the mix. Together, the plot develops with solid pacing and depth, each aspect complementing the other and building off each other nicely.
Knowing that this was the second book in the trilogy helped assuage the impatience to get the answers to Amelia's past, and Roberts takes time to provide glimpses of her history and add some truly atmospheric creepiness to her haunting ways. As a result, Amelia is just as well rounded...if definitely unbalanced...a character as the living members of the book.
My only complaint...well...not really a complaint, more as a dissatisfied observation, with this book in particular and the series as a whole is that the characters all seem a little too perfect, a little lacking in flaws and insecurities and peccadilloes. They all make noises about their hang ups - Roz's temper and stubbornness, Mitch's tendency to be messy and forgetful, etc., but in the end, they're all just a little too perfect, always doing the right thing at the right time in the right way. It's a little disconcerting. And not always the easiest thing to relate to. I think that's why, despite the fact that I liked the book quite a lot, I never actually connected to it on a personal level, and why, though I admired Roz and had quite a lot of affection for Mitch, I was never completely invested in their relationship or the continuing saga of the Harper Bride. Not enough to be rabidly enthusiastic of it, anyway.
I liked it, though. Quite a bit. And anyone who enjoys romance mixed with haunted houses and a centuries-old mystery and a lot of horticulture will probably enjoy it, too.
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