Guest Review: Red Lily by Nora Roberts

Guest Review: Red Lily by Nora RobertsRed Lily (In the Garden, #3) by Nora Roberts
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: In the Garden #3
Pages: 351
Published by Jove on November 29th 2005
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Three women learn that the heart of their historic home holds a mystery of years gone by, as number-one bestselling author Nora Roberts brings her In the Garden trilogy to a captivating conclusion, following Blue Dahlia and Black Rose. A Harper has always lived at Harper House, the centuries-old mansion just outside of Memphis. And for as long as anyone alive remembers, the ghostly Harper Bride has walked the halls, singing lullabies at night...
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.

Guest Review by Amy:

In this book, the climax of the In the Garden series, we spend time peering out at the Memphis mansion of Roz Harper through the eyes of her distant cousin Hayley, who came to the mansion while pregnant with her first child, looking for a new start. Roz took her in, of course, and Hayley joined the busy household, and started working at Roz’s very-successful business. She’s started to fall for Roz’s son Harper, and is a little bit freaked out by that; she’s worried about what Roz will think, but the older woman makes it quite clear that her son is a grown man and can make his own decisions.

The ghost story started in the prior two books continues, and the Harper Bride is turning it up a notch! Clearly insane, the ghostly woman confuses the current Harper son with the one who had done her wrong years ago, and begins sneaking into Hayley’s mind, and taking control of her body. When she does this during an intimate moment, Harper is horrified, and both he and Hayley are quite terrified.

This possession aspect, a new trick for the Bride, really ramps up the suspense and terror of this story for me; it’s suddenly very important that our three couples find out who the Bride was, and how to free her, and the remaining space in the story is dedicated to that. There’s a bit of back-and-forth between Harper and Hayley, as he wants very much to keep her safe, and wants to send her off the property to protect her. She’s having none of it, of course, and the friction between them just adds to the tension as we hurtle toward the finale. The ending, while somewhat predictable, is satisfying to everyone.

blue dahlia by nora robertsEscape Rating: A+. I’m giving this one all-aces. By now, all of our cast of characters are well-developed, and no new major players are introduced. Everyone’s purposes and motivations are clear and straightforward, and the plot is driven hard by the increasingly-unhinged actions of the Bride. The development of the relationship between Hayley and Harper is, given the circumstances, quite easy to buy into. Typically for these supernatural-romance trilogies that Roberts does, the third volume ramps up the suspense/terror aspects pretty sharply, and that makes it a real page-turner, for me. Overall, I’d give the In the Garden series an A-, with two outstanding stories starting with Blue Dahlia (reviewed here)  bookending a merely good one (Black Rose) in the middle.

 

Guest Review: Black Rose by Nora Roberts

Guest Review: Black Rose by Nora RobertsBlack Rose (In the Garden trilogy #2) by Nora Roberts
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, paranormal
Series: In the Garden #2
Pages: 355
Published by Jove on May 31st 2005
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A Harper has always lived at Harper House, the centuries-old mansion just outside of Memphis. And for as long as anyone alive remembers, the ghostly Harper Bride has walked the halls, singing lullabies at night...

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 being 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...

Guest Review by Amy:

red lily by nora robertsBlack Rose picks up right where Blue Dahlia left off (see my review). Stella and Logan are preparing for a wedding, and the Harper Bride is as much a mystery as before. In the prior entry in this trilogy, we were introduced to a professorish fellow named Mitch Carnegie, whom Roz originally hired to do some of the research to figure out who the Harper Bride is. He was such a bit role in Blue Dahlia that I just didn’t see it coming, at first, but he ends up on Roz’s radar pretty quickly. We start to figure out more about the Bride, and we also start to see a blossoming relationship between Roz’s son David, and her distant relation Hayley, our third-woman and presumably the subject of Red Lily.

Mitch is an interesting man; he has a son from a prior relationship, and is a strong enough man to own up (not only to himself, but to Roz and her extended ‘family’) to what he had done to end it, and what he was doing to prevent it happening again. He’s a bit of an anachronism; the forgetful scholar, who is surrounded by books and so engrossed that he forgets to water his plant. He’s not part of the richer social circles that Roz begrudgingly attends to, and he finds seeing the actions of the upper-crust set an interesting study. It’s quickly clear that he dotes on Roz, supportive without asking her to not be the strong woman she is…which is, of course, exactly the kind of man she needs. Roz waffles a bit at first; she’s used to going it alone, and knows she doesn’t *need* a man in her life for it to be fulfilled and successful. But after a while, she decides that she *wants* one–that one. Her ex is in town causing shenanigans, which complicates matters as she deals with him, but she does it capably and in style, which puts Mitch in awe of her (as well it should). Stella and Hayley are amused by the older couple’s relationship, teasing Roz in a private moment: “…we know you had sex. You’ve got that recently waxed and lubed look,” Hayley quips on the morning after. Roz’s son takes note, and goes on his own to make sure that Mitch’s intentions are good.

The Bride begins pushing back harder against Roz as she lets her relationship with Mitch develop. A non-Harper woman in the house getting involved annoyed her, but Roz is a Harper, and the Bride is clearly enraged by the independent Roz’s actions. On several instances, she directly attacks Roz, raising the urgency for dealing with her. Roz is only briefly frightened by her antics; she mostly feels sorry for the poor woman, and promises her that she will find a way to free her.

blue dahlia by nora robertsEscape Rating B+: I enjoyed this book, because we continue to see the lives of three interesting women unfolding, and the ongoing ghost story, but to me, Black Rose was not as strong a book as Blue Dahlia. The book had some more fantastically fun Southernisms in it (leading me into giggling fits more than once, as my daughter can attest). The strong spot for me was the way that Roz and Mitch let their relationship happen–two older adults, who figure out what they want, and go there, without a lot of misdirection or beating around the bush about it. As an older woman myself, this approach appeals–I do not have time or energy for the sort of games that happen to the younger set, or the chasing around less-than-savory locations to find Mr. Right.

My problem with the tale, mostly, lies in a weakness of this triple-novel format that Roberts is using here. Since we have three women, we must have three novels. We moved the ghost story plot forward a bit, but some of this story seemed like filler, to set us up for the climax of the trilogy in the next book. I know in my review of Stephanie Bond’s I Think I Love You, I complained that the author was trying to do too much putting all three tales in one book, but it seems to me *almost* the case that Roz’s story could be rolled up into the books on either side of it. It’s an enjoyable read, but it’s a quicker read than Blue Dahlia, and left me feeling like there needed to be more said, more tension, more…something.

Joint Review: The Obsession by Nora Roberts

Joint Review: The Obsession by Nora RobertsThe Obsession by Nora Roberts
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Pages: 464
Published by Berkley on April 12th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The riveting new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Liar.
Naomi Bowes lost her innocence the night she followed her father into the woods. In freeing the girl trapped in the root cellar, Naomi revealed the horrible extent of her father’s crimes and made him infamous.
Now a successful photographer living under the name Naomi Carson, she has found a place that calls to her, thousands of miles away from everything she’s ever known. Naomi wants to embrace the solitude, but the residents of Sunrise Cove keep forcing her to open up—especially the determined Xander Keaton.
Naomi can feel her defenses failing, and knows that the connection her new life offers is something she’s always secretly craved. But as she’s learned time and again, her past is never more than a nightmare away.

Our Review:

Marlene: While I absolutely adore the In Death series that Roberts writes as J.D. Robb (even when the current entry is not so great) her Roberts books are a bit hit or miss for me. Sometimes they absolutely draw me in, and sometimes they are just okay. Without the continuing “family” of In Death, they don’t always work, or at least not for me. While you can probably guess where I’m leading, it’s time to let my co-reviewer get a few words in.

Amy: I take a slightly different view of Roberts’ work from Marlene’s; for me, she’s a go-to girl, with utterly reliable reads (well, almost all the time.) Most any of her books will at least get a good look, if not a full read. I tend to find myself falling into her trilogies (as my recent review of Blue Dahlia, and my forthcoming review of Black Rose point out), but this standalone piece gave Roberts plenty of time to tell us a thoroughly involved story. I have a sneaking suspicion that Marlene and I may run in completely different directions on this review!

Marlene: I found the opening sections of this story completely absorbing. The tale of what Naomi did when she was a girl, grabbed me and shook me, hard. The background of Naomi’s fear of her emotionally abusive father, her restlessness, her shattering loss of innocence, was very atmospheric and completely riveting. We’re with her on that dark journey, and we shake, cower and soldier on when she does. As the story in the past continues, we feel for her as she and her family try to find a way to get past the evil that flourished in their midst. While I wouldn’t have wanted to have read through all the intervening years, when the story shifted from the past to Naomi’s present, it lost its urgency for me.

Amy: I concur; the backstory at the beginning was incredibly rich, and attention-getting. Roberts had a *lot* of pages to tell us that story, so we had a better sense of the personae than usual. Like you, the “jump-take” to the present time struck me as a little bit jarring. There were loose ends that hadn’t been tied up for me, like what happened in the years after her mother’s passing, and how she came to be the wanderer we meet in the present day.

Suddenly involving Naomi in that huge house, and the precise spot where we joined the present day, just struck me as a little out-of-character, like there were useful bits of the story that got skipped. Roberts quickly recovers from that stumble, in my mind, though, and starts getting us involved with the locals.

Marlene: I liked the locals and the whole atmosphere of the town that Naomi finds herself settling in. The way that she was introduced to them gradually also worked very well for introducing them to us. I will confess that the dog she finally named Tag drove me crazy. Not because I didn’t love him, but because he reminded me so very much of a situation in another book. (After much searching, I finally figured out that it was in Jaci Burton’s Make Me Stay, where the hero gets adopted by a dog who is eventually named “Not My Dog” because the human always responds to any comments or questions about “his dog” by asserting that “he’s not my dog.”)

But the situation with the dog was somewhat symbolic of the story for me. While I liked the locals, and obviously loved the dog, so much of this part of the story felt a bit too familiar. They were all nice people but it didn’t feel like there was much different going on from too many small-town romances and romantic suspense titles that I’ve read before. So while I enjoyed watching Naomi put together her dream house, for this reader it went on a bit too long.

Amy: Anyone who expects a formulaic romance author as prolific as Nora Roberts to *not* have a formulaic section–well. This was, to me, kind of expected, and I’d spend the first big section of the book wondering when the extras would start showing up. When we got here, I kind of knew, and it was a comfortable spot…okay, here’s where we meet The Man, and The Helpful Other Man, and The Man’s Best Pal, and so on. Roberts did a good job of making what could be a whole stage full of cardboard cutout people at least *somewhat* interesting; our hero Xander–what a name!–jumps off the page fairly quickly. But once we got those folks identified, I started to wonder what on earth she was gonna do with all those pages–where’s the conflict gonna come from? Turned out, when it came time for that, she threw me a curve that totally blew me away.

Marlene: Yes, there is always a formula, and I expected one here. I think what threw me with this particular formula was that I believe that if I looked hard enough, I’d find a very close approximation to this exact story in one of the In Death books. (I looked, I think it’s New York to Dallas) It felt like I’d read a bit too much of this too close together before.

I did like Xander a lot. I wish we saw a bit more of what makes him tick, because he’s really interesting. He owns/is the local car mechanic, is in a very good cover band, half-owns the local bar and owns a couple of buildings. His journey must be pretty interesting all by itself. I also liked Kevin and Janey. Both that she found an adopted brother and best friend, but that the romantic tension in the story was about Naomi and someone other than the guy fixing her house.

However when the suspense element seriously kicks in, at 55% of the book on my kindle, the suspense factor went out the window for me. I knew instantly exactly who the villain was. To me, it was a grand case of “Chekhov’s gun” and there was simply no second choice. It had to be who it was, and it was. My only questions from that point were how was he going to get caught and how much damage would he do along the way.

Amy: I agree with you about Xander–he seemed like a really neat guy, and not–like some bodice-rippers–too good to be true, but a guy who’d worked hard and had some talent and lucky breaks. I’d have loved to hear more about that. But when it comes to the suspense, that’s where we start to differ. Now, to be fair, I’ve not read but one of the J. D. Robb books, and that was long, long ago. I totally did not have any sense of our villain, and kept wondering if anyone had thought to call up the prison in New York to see if that monster of a father of hers had escaped! Finally, someone said, “he’s in prison, and will be forever,” or something similar, and that’s when I started to get an inkling. It took me quite a while to sort out the villain.

Marlene: I’ll admit that I don’t know quite how I was so certain it wasn’t daddy. If it had been, I believe that someone would have called Naomi the minute the scum got out of prison, if it hadn’t been all over the news. This is someone who is, after all, never getting parole in this or his next several lifetimes. No prison break equaled “not daddy dearest”. I did have a momentary flitting thought that Naomi’s brother might have gone “dark side” but that didn’t feel right either. Not to mention that little brother became an FBI profiler. That left Mr. Chekhov’s Gun sitting on the mantelpiece of the past, just waiting to be taken down and set off.

Amy: “Every memorable element must be necessary and irreplaceable,” sure. Chekhov’s Gun. True enough, but for me, the first meeting with our villain just *wasn’t* that memorable, other than the odd circumstance they found themselves in just then. I was rather tied up in what was going on there, and he was–in my mind–a schoolmate, nothing more. I started to “get it” when Naomi’s brother and the local cops started to connect the dots, showing what a prolific monster our villain really was–as bad, perhaps, as daddy dearest.

…and that’s when, like you, I started to wonder how they’d catch him, what sort of trap they’d have to set, or if he’d catch Naomi and force Xander and a Cast Of Friends to do something Amazingly Heroic.

Marlene: You’re absolutely right. When originally introduced, our villain was not terribly memorable. However he did set off Naomi’s creep-o-meter just enough to get her to write her own version of her story for the New York Times. But to quote both Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Spock, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

It couldn’t be daddy dearest, it couldn’t be little brother, which left Mr. Chekhov’s Gun as the last man standing. And once I was sure it was him, at, as I said, 55% of the book, it was a long wait and a few too many dips into his very nasty mind before he was finally given his just desserts. While I know that logically it would take the FBI and local law enforcement a bit more effort to gather evidence than my semi-logical leap, that process wasn’t entertaining enough for me.

Amy: I enjoy police procedurals on television, even when I *know* that our heroes will all go home at the end of the forty-five minutes with the bad guy behind bars. So for me, watching the dots get connected was kind of entertaining; it did fill in the holes for me about why it *wasn’t* her father or some other previously-unmet person. One thing I’ll agree with you fully on here–that dude was *creepy*. His headspace was a truly messy place, and I always felt a little…dirty, I guess…after peeking into his thoughts. Not someone I’d want to be around, at all.

But for me, maybe I’m a little one-dimensional, but the only way I’d have picked up on our villain as quickly as you did would have been if we’d seen something like him leaving her a nastygram that says, “You’ve not heard the last of me, Naomi!” or something similar. I’m *good* at suspending disbelief like that.

Marlene: Clearly, one result of this review for me is that I probably will stay away from Roberts’ non-In Death books for a while. I love the police procedural aspects of that series, because I’m invested in all of the characters that make up the “family of choice” that readers follow in the series. In this particular book, the dot connecting, while very necessary for the resolution of the story, went on just a bit too long for me. Your mileage, as they say, may vary, and in this case obviously does. That’s what makes joint reviewing a book so much fun.

In summary, there were parts of The Obsession that I liked, particularly the stage-setting in Naomi’s past. But once the story moved to the present day, it felt a bit dragged out to me. I liked the characters, especially the “not my dog” named Tag, but the suspense plot lacked suspense. I figured out “whodunnit” much, much too early.

Marlene’s Escape Rating for The Obsession: B-

Amy: There were a lot of likable bits in The Obsession for me. As someone who *doesn’t* read a lot of suspense stories, there was more of it than I’m used to, so I was able to let go and enjoy that part of the process. Our characters were interesting and engaging, and I would have loved to learn more about them. The backstory was one of the strongest parts of this story for me as well. I was a little jarred by the switch to present-day, and the following few chapters hit me as just a little bit *too* formulaic–I expected it, but it just seemed a little out of place for an otherwise-engaging story.

Amy’s Escape Rating for The Obsession: A-

Guest Review: Blue Dahlia by Nora Roberts

Guest Review: Blue Dahlia by Nora RobertsBlue Dahlia by Nora Roberts
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: In the Garden #1
Pages: 353
Published by Berkley on October 26th 2004
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Three women meet at a crossroads in their lives, each searching for new ways to grow--and find in each other the courage to take chances and embrace the future.

Stella has a passion for planning that keeps her from taking too many risks. But when she opens her heart to a new love, she discovers she will fight to the death to protect what's hers.

Guest review by Amy:

In the contemporary romance genre, there just isn’t anyone quite like Nora Roberts. As a critic, it is easy, on the surface, to say, “ho hum, another Nora Roberts contemporary/supernatural romance trilogy,” but that would do this brightest of stars in the pantheon a grave disservice. Every time I pick up a new one of her trilogies, I find new reasons to love Roberts’ writing–in the formulaic framework of “three women, three love stories, supernatural puzzle to solve,” she always finds new ways to entertain and challenge me.

Blue Dahlia is no exception.  In the first two chapters, we are given crucial backstory–an insane woman, who dies lonely after her only child is stillborn, and a young mother who loses her husband, the centerpiece of her life, in a tragic accident. Then, we cut to Memphis in modern times, and our story is off and running.  Stella Rothschild is a planner, a horticulturist, and a mom of two rambunctious young boys. She set her career aside when her first son was born, but when husband Kevin dies in a plane crash, she picks it right back up. A year or so after the accident, she moves from Michigan back to Memphis, where her father and stepmother live, and where she was born, to start anew.

The Harper family has been among the scions of Memphis society for generations, but Roz Harper is not content to attend fancy balls and teas; she has started a nursery business near the great old mansion, and it’s a growing concern; she needs a manager. It’s a match made in heaven, as she turns over a wing of the huge old house to Stella and her children for a time, and they set to work. On the day they move in, Roz tells Stella about the Harper Bride:

“I meant to ask who else lives here, or what other staff you have.”

“It’s just David.”

“Oh? He said something about being outnumbered by women before we got here.”

“That’s right. It would be David, and me, and the Harper Bride.”

Roz carried the luggage inside and started up the steps with it. “She’s our ghost.”

“Your…”

“A house this old isn’t haunted, it would be a damn shame, I’d think.”

The Bride seems to be a pleasant enough being; she sings a lullabye to Stella’s sons at night, and doesn’t appear threatening, merely sad.

Stella gets to work organizing and improving the business at the nursery, but she finds the landscape designer to be the most frustrating man! Logan just won’t do his paperwork, he comes and grabs stock for his projects without telling her, and he’s just plain abrasive! For his part, he’s not fond of the Yankee-come-lately who’s wanting him to actually sit in an office and do paperwork!

Once we’ve got our setting and personae in place, the progress is almost as predictable as the sunrise; I sha’n’t elaborate for you, but it goes where you’d expect with a few not-unpleasant twists along the way, including meeting our third-woman for this trilogy, a young, very pregnant distant relative of Roz who turns up on her doorstep late one night. We also find that the Harper Bride is a bit insane–she gets anxious and more-threatening when Stella starts seeing more to Logan than the irritation he started out being.

black rose by nora robertsEscape Rating: A+. Too many “supernatural romances” these days just do not appeal to me–werewolves and sparkly vampires are just not my thing. But a ghost story, a mystery, an ancient curse…now those, even my deeply-agnostic soul can sink her teeth into. Nora Roberts has given us a conventional ghost story. No one knows who the Bride is, nor why she came to haunt Harper House, and this first entry in the series does little to resolve that–I expect as I read Black Rose and Red Lily, all of that will be resolved. As usual, I can make guesses about who the other two women get attached to in subsequent books, but it’s not completely transparent yet. The book is jammed with Southern charm, and the odd sayings that Southerners often have make plenty of appearances.

The big prize of Blue Dahlia, for me, though, was our heroine Stella. By nature, like Stella, I am a very detail-oriented, planning-centered person. I like my lists, my catalog of details, and my orderly progression of plans. In Stella, I found a woman who could be…me. The keystone of romance authorship, for so many great authors, is to make the heroine someone the reader can identify with, some who is Just Like Them. The frustrations of raising children alone are things I understand, having single-parented my own children, and her irritations with the too-handsome, but too-cavalier Logan are things that I can find totally believable. At one point in the book, Logan looked up Stella’s father and stepmother, and went to their home without telling Stella what he was doing, in order to ask her father’s permission to marry her. I thought to myself, “Stella is going to kick the gong when she finds out about this,” and sure enough, she did.  I thought that not because it was predictable writing–but because that’s what I would do in her shoes.

Blue Dahlia is top-shelf Nora Roberts, definitely worth a read. I rushed out the next afternoon after finishing it to crawl over my usual used-bookstore haunts to find Black Rose, and can’t wait to read it!