Monday, August 21, 2006

Black Rose by Nora Roberts

The second book in the In the Garden trilogy. The first book in the trilogy was Blue Dahlia. Please beware...there are spoilers for Blue Dahlia in this review.

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.

Roz is a woman of independent means who thought love was behind her, but when romance takes her by surprise; she won't allow anything to keep her from her second chance at happiness.

Black Rose takes up a couple of months after the events of Blue Dahlia. Stella and the kids are still living at Harper House with Roz, although with the wedding between Stella and Logan is coming up shortly so they will be moving out. Hayley is also still living at Harper House, getting used to life as a single mum to little Lily and so is the resident ghost, known only as the Harper Bride. In Blue Dahlia, Roz started the process of trying to find out who the Harper Bride was, and what happened to her, by contacting Dr Mitch Carnagie, a genealogist.

At the beginning of this book, Mitch is available to start his investigation, and so we have our two main characters for this novel. The main difference between this and most other romances is that our two central characters are both, shall we say mature adults. Both are in their forties, with grown children, and with marriages behind them. Mitch has been divorced once, and Roz both widowed and divorced in her previous two marriages. What having a hero and heroine of this age does mean is that there is no possibility of a sappy epilogue where there are three lovely little children running around and another one on the way. I guess that that doesn't happen as regularly in contemporaries as it does in historicals, but it wasn't an option at all here which makes a nice change.

The other thing is that Mitch and Roz are both well established and successful in their chosen careers, and have a strong sense of their own identities. Whilst they are both immediately attracted to each other, and are both interested in a relationship, you also get the feeling that it is the icing on the cake for them...not their entire focus in life. There is also no need for any conflict between the two of them...something that seems to be standard romance fodder. Instead the conflict finds the two of them and it is something that they work through together. The first source of this conflict is from the Harper Bride, the second is from Roz's slimy ex-husband Bryce.

As Mitch and Roz get closer and closer to each other, the Harper Bride makes her opposition known, including in a couple of really dangerous incidents. I loved that Roz, who was willing to let anyone know what she thought about things, was strong enough to even stand up to the Harper Bride. This whole section of the trilogy is building nicely to a climax in the final book in the trilogy.

I loved that from the very first scene in the book, the sense of Roz's strength and personality shown through very consistently, including her strong sense of family, which now includes both her boys, and her friends. A perfect example of her strength are the scenes involving her ex husband. As he tries to destroy Roz's reputation in the community, she is prepared to let things go, until he takes things a step too far, at which point she stands up for herself in a very funny scene where she humiliates him in front of his friends and colleagues at the country club. I also loved Mitch's ability to recognise his own weaknesses and strengths, and thought the relationship he had with his son was lovely. I did wonder where the author was going with the storyline when she started to introduce some of the details about Mitch's own demons. Where it would have been easy to take things a step too far and have Mitch wallowing in his past, instead it was presented, dealt with, and it was clear that Mitch was a man who was now comfortable in his own skin, whilst still being aware of his limitations.

One thing I did wonder about was the character of Jane that was introduced in this book. It will be interesting to see what role she has to play in the culmination of this story. Jane is a relative who was working for Roz's cranky old aunt. As Roz assists Jane to escape from the crotchety old lady, it would seem that there is more to come for this character.

As usual, this is a well written romance, featuring well drawn and likeable characters. I can't wait to get Red Lily and read the culmination of both the mystery surrounding the Harper Bride as well as what appears to be a budding relationship between Hayley and Roz's son Harper.

Rating 4/5

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