Reviewed: October 9, 2010
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: In the Garden Trilogy, Book 3
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 384 Pages
Formats: Hardcover, Mass Market 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.
Hayley Phillips knows all about difficult choices and personal strength. It takes a special sort of strength to be a single mother, and even more to pack up the only life she'd ever known while pregnant and move all the way across the country in the hopes that distant relative Roz Harper would help her get a job. She was rewarded for that temerity, and now she's got a daughter, Lily, a home at the Harper house, and friends and family in Roz and Stella. Hayley even has a lust interest in Harper, Roz's son...when she's not willfully pushing all thoughts of lust aside out of respect, however misplaced, for her friendship with Roz.
Harper Ashby is his mother's son, and the gorgeous Hayley is living in his mother's house, both a friend and distant relative. Because of this, and out of respect for his mother and Hayley both, not to mention the strength of will that he got directly from Roz, he's spent more than a year forcing his thoughts into the brotherly range when he looks at Hayley - not always successfully. The young mother tugs on more than one of his heartstrings and her daughter Lily has him firmly wrapped around every one of her tiny fingers. Then one evening, the delectable Hayley knocks on his door, steps into his kitchen, and changes everything...in the best possible ways.
That night, the Harper Bride does the same...in not so nice ways.
Harper and Hayley struggle with the insidious influences of a malignant entity as the corps of family and friends race to find out the whole story of Amelia, with the desperate hope that knowledge is more than power - it's the key to ending what has gone far beyond a haunting and straight into ghostly possession.
As we come full circle in Roberts' In the Garden trilogy, there are few surprises left for the romantic pairing of Hayley and Harper, but that lack of surprise doesn't mean the development of their relationship doesn't have merit. Sweet and a little zany, single mother Hayley has a slew of obligation and not a whole lot of room for a complicated romance, and there's nothing at all about being intimate with one of her best friend's sons that isn't complicated. Many of Hayley's deepest concerns may be unwarranted, but they're real to her, and her story is thick with that understandable angst. Harper has been a solid, reliable presence since the start of the trilogy, and Amelia's ghostly impingement has triggered his most protective instincts - also a legacy from his mother. His stubborn bullheadedness, however, and his attempts to male-muscle his way into pushing Hayley around for her own good actually add character to his personality...not always good character - but interesting, at least. That's actually an aspect that I felt missing from the previous book, characters with a flash of their flaws now and then.
The plot of Red Lily, though, lacked much of the depth and layers of the first and second book in the trilogy. There were no real external issues to supplement the romance and the battle with an annoyed specter, and in this case, that turns out to be slightly unfortunate, because while the issues with Amelia do come to conclusion in this final book, Hayley and Harper's relationship - which really started germinating back in Blue Dahlia (In the Garden, Book 1) - didn't offer enough in the way of complications or complexity to hold my interest throughout the book. And even though the Harper Bride issues were expanded and intensified, I didn't find Amelia to be enough to support the book on its own, either. There was a lot of planting and growing information included, as there has been all along in the trilogy, but in this book I found it difficult to slog through at times without other plot thread distractions.
Still, the undisputed strength of this series lays in the bonds between the primary and secondary characters - those family by blood and those by choice. That is always the core of Roberts' trilogies - the relationships between the characters. How they start, how they grow and develop, and how that growth blooms into something that feels true and abiding. In that respect, this series (and all the others) is far greater than the sum of each individual book, and one of the most significant drawing points for me when I'm reading Roberts. I may not have been quite as fond of Red Lily as I was of Blue Dahlia and Black Rose, but together, the trilogy was a pleasure and a treat and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys a ghost, a mystery, and strong, independent women coming together with the men who love them.
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