Review: Black Rose (In the Garden trilogy)

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Black Rose is the second part of Nora Roberts' In the Garden trilogy.

At 45, Rosalind Harper, or Roz, the difficult and hard-headed owner of Harper House has come a long way. As a young widow, she raised 3 sons alone, suffered a traumatic second marriage and successfully started the In the Garden nursery which established her as a serious businesswoman in western Tennessee.

Black Rose starts about half a year after the events of Blue Dahlia. Stella and Logan are gearing up to get married and the summer and fall season have seen the ladies busy and with no time to think about the Harper Bride. Anyway, after the last confrontation where the Bride tells them her name is Amelia she seems to have settled down.

Enter Dr. Mitchell Carnegie who has finally wrapped up all his other work and starts to work full time on the Bride mystery. Mitch starts looking through the considerable history of the Harper family, but that doesnt rock the boat as much as his growing fascination with Roz the gardener, Roz the southern belle, Roz the businesswoman, Roz the maternal caregiver ..... Her family's attempts to pair her up with Mitch, who in Hayley's words is "Hello!! Hot!" doesn't pose much of a hardship for Roz either. And Amelia, of course, knows it. Roz and Mitch feel the brunt of Amelia's rage, now tinged with madness, since Amelia knows that they are trying to solve the mystery just that the answers don't seem to be coming fast enough.

After being so overly enthusiastic about Blue Dahlia, I was quite disappointed to find Black Rose to be a much tamer read. There's entirely too much gardening, and I have to admit I skimmed. But there were a couple of things I liked. First, I haven't read many romances with an older couple and this plot element was handled quite well here. Secondly, Mitch is a great character, very believable, flawed but smart and likable. Also, Roberts trademark, the H/H's interactions with their respective children were fun to read about.

My thoughts, it was a decent story, not great and lacking the romance aspect slightly. And some of the dialogue got a bit heavy handed and repetitive.

But, Amelia the ghost has started to anticipate some sort of closure for herself. Now, let's hope Book 3 delivers ....

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Series Order
1. Blue Dahlia
2. Black Rose
3. Red Lily

I love this song!

The poem is taken from Gitanjali by Tagore ...

Fling out the old, bring in the new - just not yet!

You know how some people love old books, the mustiness, the fact that other hands have lovingly thumbed through the same pages, the excitement if another reader has left notes in the margins. Yeah, I'm not one of those. For me, crisp white pages, unbroken spines, new book smell and being assured that I will treat them right according to my exacting standards, that's what I love. You can imagine how reluctantly I let people borrow my books. Or how I hate people who never return them.

The sad part is that I own a huge lot of used books. This comes from the time when B and I were students and buying used was the only way both of us could feed our habit.

Now, the good news is that we are moving into a much smaller apartment (yay btw, I cant tell you how sick I am of maintaining the current house) and we realized that we had absolutely no place to cart all the books we currently owned. Which meant that we had to donate quite a few. I'm not sad, this gave me the perfect excuse to remove a lot of deadweight from our library - we have books by Isaac Newton, Neitzsche, even Teach yourself Esperanto for heaven's sake and we havnt even cracked those covers, not to mention the countless books for our courses, work and so on and so forth.

So, I got a big box and was busily sprucing the bookshelves, additionally adding in all of my favorite used fiction, some whose spines had been lovingly taped together after they fell apart in my hands with repeated handling. Until B stopped by to see what I was doing. As I happily explained to him my rationale, getting rid of the old stock so I could buy them again new (see, for fiction, I only buy books I will reread endlessly, so if I was getting rid of something it would have to be replaced) his eyes started bugging at my (supposed) impracticality.

And the argument ended with all my stinky, musty, old books being loaded into the keeper boxes ....

I'm not convinced it was all that impractical anyway. If you start thinking about replacement books at $11 and more, then maybe. But the proportion of pleasure I would have got with shiny, new books would be infinite. Grouse.

What would you do, gentle reader? And do you prefer old books to new?

Review: Blue Dahlia (In the Garden trilogy)

Rating: 5 / 5


If there's a word that gives me the heebie-jeebies it's 'gardening'. So, it's not that much of a surprise, knowing Ms. Roberts' penchant for research and delving into her subject matter that I stayed well away from her In the Garden trilogy. This weekend a whole lotta I-have-nothing-to-read saw me putting my hands on Book 1 in the trilogy, Blue Dahlia, and all I can think of right now is being at the library the first thing tomorrow so I can grab the next two books in the series.

Tragedy strikes Stella Rothchild when her husband's plane crashes leaving her a young widow with two little boys and depriving her of her best friend and ally. Wanting to get over the past and move closer to her father, she decides to move back to western Tennessee, to a new job as manager of the In the Garden nursery. Roz Harper, the demanding owner, loves her on the spot and has only one requirement - that Stella and her two kids move into her ancestral home, Harper House, so that Stella can be constantly available to deal with the day-to-day problems of the nursery.

Roz's open-hearted kindness towards Stella and her sons paves the way for the start of a promising friendship between the three women who live at Harper House, Stella, Roz and Roz's young relative, Hayley who is soon expecting a new baby. Stella loves being close to her family and soon her efficiency, planning and organisational skills start showing results in the nursery's day-to-day revenue. The only fly in the ointment is Logan Kittridge, Roz's brilliant and expensive landscape designer. And her sons' friendly acceptance of a golden-haired, sad-eyed woman who comes into their bedroom and sings lullabies to them as they sleep. Apparently, Harper House's resident ghost, the Harper Bride has decided to make friends with the boys too.

After Logan and Stella get their initial differences out of the way, realise they are intensely attracted to each other and start to think about actually having a relationship together, they seem to antagonise the ghost. Once friendly, they are now treated to blasts of her disapproval and when Logan almost gets knocked head-over-heels over a balustrade the friends decide that they have to find out who the Bride is and what makes her tick. And perform an exorcism of sorts. With Roz's son Harper helping, they rope in genealogist Dr. Mitchell Carnegie when it appears the Bride will do anything to keep Stella and Logan apart, to the extent of keeping her away from her kids, raising the hackles on Stella's maternal instincts .....

I cant get over how amazing this book is. A perfectly easy read, the relationships are what makes it click. Everyone here works and sounds exactly right. From Stella's father and step mother, to the 6 and 8 year old boys, to the live-in housekeeper, to the primary protagonists.

When Stella is first introduced, the author has her putting a plastic protector over the pages of her recipe book. As my own poor, splattered, recipe books will bear witness, I was thinking that Stella had to be this amazingly organised, super efficient, perfectly planned, crazy (in my book) woman. But, Roberts develops her character without making her irritating to the reader.

Stella has had a very stable, loving relationship with her first marriage. It takes her a couple of years to find her feet and I can imagine that she deals with having two absolutely mischievous little boys and holding a job by being as regimented as possible. Having a ditz for her mother is what probably gave her the start though. Stella's planned efficiency suffers a serious roadblock when she encounters chaotic, messy Logan and the sparks fly when they come together. I loved that Stella's first marriage was a very happy one and she was the one hesitant into going forward, of course she has to put the boys first, while Logan is sure of what he wants immediately. Such a pleasant divergence from my current reading list.

And, the men are all delicious as always. I have a crush on the name Logan (yes people do!) after Hugh Jackman made it his own, and what can I say, Roberts references it. With 2 little boys can comic books be far behind and once again I found myself marveling over Roberts' innate instinct for what works in her books.

For those still on the fence, yes, there's enough growing and planting and mulching to make this Papaya turn yellow, but the detail never takes away from the story and the story is where the heart is. Go read it. Right now.

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Series Order
1. Blue Dahlia
2. Black Rose
3. Red Lily

Review: The Black Dagger Brotherhood Series

So much for the anti-vampire rant. After the last post I had vampires on the brain, was browsing for something new to read, laid my hand on Lover Revealed, a novel in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by author J.R. Ward and proved myself a liar.

I consider the BDB to be a guilty pleasure. I cannot tell you how many times I groaned at the stuff coming out of the character's mouths (You feel me, my brother?) or how I laughed myself silly at the characters' names when they were introduced (Wrath, Tohrment, Rhage, Vishous) ... you see the cringe-factor here??

But, I still kept reading, because the vampires were intriguing, the romance was hot and Ward's fictional world in Caldwell, NY entirely too much fun!! After LR, I immediately got the first book in the series and I havnt stopped yet. Apparently the initial idea was to have a 10 book series, book 7 will release in 2009, however the genre of the novels have changed. Book 7 has been acknowledged by the author to be urban fantasy (??) rather than paranormal romance. Here's the synopsis:

In Caldwell, NY, vampires exist along with humans who are unaware of their existence. Vampires are a species created by their goddess the Scribe Virgin (oy this obsession with virgins as deities), they are born and cannot be made from humans. The Scribe Virgin's opposite is the Omega, created to bring a balance to the world and he leads vampire slayers called the lessers, human undead who have given up their souls devoted to killing the vampires.

For survival, the vampires started selectively breeding until a sub-species of the strongest vampires was formed, called the Black Dagger Brotherhood, who have the responsibility of protecting the civilian vampires from the Lessening Society. The vampires and lessers have only one point they agree upon, their existence MUST be kept a secret from the humans around them.

Vampires cannot survive on human blood which is too weak, they need the blood of another vampire to sustain them. Here's where it gets murky for me, apparently the blood has to be from a member of the opposite sex? Something like that. The vampires, civilian or brother, in the pretrans state (until the age of 25) are lesser bait - short, scrawny, weak, asexual. When the transition hits them their bones break at the joints and elongate, they become huge, muscled, self-healing monsters capable of annihilating lesser butt. This is for the males, I have no idea with the female transitions.

The BDB currently contains 6 brothers, all of them leather wearing, substance-abusing, gangster talking, rap-listening, tattoed and scarred - emotionally and physically, highly trained, fast healing killing machines. I know, I know, but stick with me here, I promise you'll have fun. The first 6 books are their stories.

The Bad: Ward is heavily obsessed with namedropping (Grey Goose, McD's, BMWs), designer wear (Hermes, Gucci) and every single character spouts slang. I have to say the slang irritates me (shitkickers, thank fuck????) as does the author's pretension that adding an 'h' in italics creates a completely different language (sehclusion, cohntest). Ms. Ward, I love your books, I really do but the verbal distractions are killing me!!

The lessers as the source of conflict are dull dull dull. I dont think there's a way to make clumsy undead who smell of baby powder interesting and Ward doesn't try since she gives us an interchangeable cast of lessers over the course of the first 5 books. Additionally, Ward's complex characterisations end with the brothers, most of her heroines are ill-developed and unidimensional. Including the Scribe Virgin who has to be the most inconsistent, demanding, anti-feministic, unlikeable deity ever! And the world building isnt consistent, plot holes abound. I realise that the number of factors I have against these books are huge, but I AM addicted. Now that that's off my chest, let's just move on, shall we ....

Dark Lover Rating: 5 / 5
Wrath, the last of the purebred vampires, vampire king and hater of humans is approached by one of his Brothers, Darius to help his half-breed daughter Beth Randall make her transition. Darius dies soon after making the request, and Wrath after initially refusing, is forced into making contact. Beth a journalist, is good friends with most of Caldwell's PD esp. homicide detective Butch O'Neal.

When the cops start to investigate the bomb that killed her father they eye with suspicion the overloaded-with-weapons-gangster-type hanging around Beth and the plethora of murders which seem to follow him around. With the cops looking for him, a new fore-lesser recouping his forces to go on another offensive against the Brotherhood, his jilted ex-wife Marissa's brother Havers who is determined to avenge his sister and the Scribe Virgin who wishes Wrath to assume the role of the King, Wrath must find a way to protect Beth, help her be born again as a vampire, acknowledge the intense attraction that lies between them and wrap his mind around the ascension to the throne and possibly a new Queen.

Until I tried to condense the story, I didnt realise how many plot elements there actually are here. It's also the main reasons why I like these books, because Ward develops all her characters so well, the plot is involving and there's so many POVs. We're never stuck with just the romance bit of the story, which moves at a fast pace btw.

Wrath has an adequate amount of trauma for being a centuries old vampire, he has problems with trust and emotional attachment which he has to work around to finally acknowledge his love for Beth while Beth has her own dealing to do with the sudden appearance of a father she never knew existed, the knowledge that she is half vampire and the fact that she could die with her transition. The rest of the brothers, Marissa and Butch are also given some time here as setups for the rest of the books. All in all, a fast-paced enjoyable read.

Lover Eternal Rating: 3.5 / 5
Rhage, the strongest and most dangerous of all the warriors, is drop dead gorgeous but underneath the superficiality which attracts scores of women to him and has made him vampire legend, lies a lonely man looking for love and bearing a burden only the rest of the Brothers know about. For Rhage is part man and part beast. Cursed by the Scribe Virgin he is doomed to turn into a monster whenever his emotions become unstable, a beast capable of harming both friend and foe.

Mary Luce is a survivor, she tended her mother through a debilitating illness, works with autistic children and has recently been informed that the cancer she spent battling has returned. Mary's work at a suicide prevention hotline brings her in contact with an angelic young man, John Matthew, a mute, traumatised orphan who seems too fragile to be alone in the world. John Matthew visits Mary at home where he is seen by her vampire neighbor Bella who immediately realises what the young man is. When Mary's services are needed as translator for John she finds herself in the BDB's mansion and suddenly being the target of attention of the most attractive man she has ever laid eyes on, for plain and outspoken Mary is the only one able to tame Rhage's monster.

DL I inhaled in one go, LE for me was a lukewarm book which moved along a tad sluggishly. Mary and Rhage didnt feel like fully developed individuals, both being defined by their respective curses. Rhage was sweet in the beginning, roaming around with a silly grin on his face just because Mary lets him in her house and their love story has a particular poignancy with Mary having a very limited time left to her. But, ultimately all the wallowing in self-pity from both parties lost any empathy I had developed. And I hate couples who cannot communicate.

But I wasnt bored and I wasnt indignant. Alongwith the main romance, the lessers ran around being ineptly murderous and the John Matthew track was interesting, John gets adopted by the Brother Tohr and his wife Wellsie. And, the book had a fabulous buildup for the next one in the series with Bella and Zsadist - I'm SUCH a sucker for Beauty and the Beast stories.

Lover Awakened Rating 4 / 5
Zsadist, the most terrifying of the brothers has an awful reputation. He massacres lessers, kills humans for feeding and can only be with a woman if she is terrified of him. All his emotions and his feelings have been ripped out of him in the century he spent being a blood slave, from which he was ultimately rescued by his twin Phury. Phury, who lives only for Zsadist, had spent his entire life looking for his lost brother, took a vow of celibacy and shot his leg off for Z.

Bella encounters Zsadist in the Brotherhood's mansion and is instantly mesmerised. After she approaches him, Zsadist rejects her even extracting a promise that she wont approach him anymore. But, Bella is then captured by the lessers and Zsadist finds himself almost driven mad by the compulsion he has to find her and punish the lessers who dared lay their hands on her.

LA is a good story of Z's awakening to first trust then intimacy to the two people he loves but hasn't been able to express his love to - Phury and Bella. The lessers have a new strategy for finding out about the Brotherhood, they capture civilians and torture them for information. With the capture of Bella though, a lesser becomes obsessed with her and wants her for his wife. Once she is rescued the war takes a new turn as he tries every means possible to get her back.

So, LA was a great read since having the lesser with some solid motivation introduced a good source of conflict. Also, Phury, John Matthew, Rehvenge Bella's half-breed vampire and sympath brother now have their own stories building up here. While Z's story arc leading to intimacy was believable, I didnt feel the romance so much. Which is the reason for the missing point.

Lover Revealed Rating: 3 / 5
Butch O'Neal, homicide detective for Caldwell PD has been living an empty life until he hooks up with the Brotherhood. Estranged from family and friends, the hard-drinking and hard-living have taken a toll on him. As has the unrequited love he feels for a female vampire.

Marissa is everything he has ever dreamed of, she's vampire aristocracy, rich, beautiful and delicate, completely out of his league. When Butch while trying to rescue a civilian from the lessers is captured, tortured and left for dead, Marissa and his roomate Vishous are the only people who can save him. Marissa with her love and V who is the yin to his yang, the light to his dark.

I didnt enjoy LR as much as the other books, the sole problem being the lead pair. Butch is a stereotypical cop but that didnt bother me until he took up with Vanilla Marissa. Ever since her intro in Dark Lover and the whole virginal act she put up there she seemed one of the TSTL heroines. Plus, the pages with Butch and V fairly sizzle their chemistry is so hot, Marissa seems like an audience-appeasing third wheel here. Whine. But we get to know V better which ups the rating in my book.

Lover Unbound Rating: 2.5 / 5
Vishous, resident clairvoyant and computer genius, is having a meltdown after Butch hooks up with Marissa. Consumed by jealousy and abandonment and a nagging worry that his visions of the future have dried up V takes his aggressions out with a lot of hard sex and hard fighting. He gets shot and lands in Dr. Jane Whitcomb's operating theatre. V instantly feels a connection with Jane while she is fascinated by her new patient - with the 6-chambered heart, fanged mouth and healing powers beyond the ordinary.

But, V has to be able to lay his murky past with a violent, abusive father at rest as well as the demands of the Scribe Virgin that he be the Primale (wed ~40 of the SV's followers, or Chosen) before he and Jane have a shot at being together.

I have to say I didnt like this book. V was my favorite among the brothers (probably because I came in with LR) and I was so angry that he never got a chance at a HEA. He and Jane had a great story arc going, Jane is aggressive from being a trauma surgeon and capable of handling the intensity that is V and both prepared to deal with the fact that Jane would grow old and die and I thought it was realistic and very well portrayed.

Instead, as with all the other books with human love interests, Ward introduces a twist, which I hated .... I'm a traditional kind of gal, this is why I stick to the historicals!!!! I think I would have been much happier if V and Butch ended up together. Much. And I havnt even started on the doormats-as-Chosen track or the angsty, boring John Matthew and friends track.

Lover Enshrined Rating: 3 / 5
Phury who sacrificed himself in LU to become the Primale of the species has brought the Chosen Cormia over to the other side so he can get to know her better. But, with Phury's spiraling descent into addiction and the new turn that the war against the lessers takes with the birth of the vampire son of the Omega it looks as if there will never be a chance to be together. And there's also the problem of the 40 additional mates. With the Lessening Society engaging in an all-out offensive against the vampires and as widespread destruction and horror ensues, Phury comes to realise that it is only Cormia who can silence the demons in his head.

So, poor, noble Phury gets cheated out of a romance even worse than V but honestly both Phury and Cormia are so boring together and apart that I couldnt care. What did sustain my interest is all the other action that is here - Rehvenge is being blackmailed by a sympath Princess, the teenage vampires John Matthew, Blaylock and Quinn surprisingly become strong allies in the war, John Matthew and Xhex (another sympath) have an attraction going on, the Omega's son and a dreary little fore-lesser are running around mucking things up on a much larger scale than before, the Scribe Virgin and her daughter and her Chosen are more fully dealt with, Tohr comes back with a fallen angel ... Ward's paranormal world just gets more crowhded. Heh.

As a transition book from the romance to the UF realm this worked for me, though Ward has now created such a huge cast of characters it remains to be seen if she can do justice to all in the following books. I certainly missed all my old favorites Wrath, Beth, V etc in this one. And I did miss the romance a teeny, tiny bit...

So, while I didnt care for Phury's addiction theme (author's please note - A Drug Addict Does Not A Romance Hero Make), the further development of Ward's world is what made this a good read for me. I know I'll definitely read the next one in the series to see where the author is going to take this series.

Lover Avenged - Rehvenge's story - reviewed here.

Lover Mine - John Matthew and Xhex's story - reviewed here.

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