Gardening, Genealogy and a Ghost That Sings
If gardening, ghosts, or genealogy doesn't excite you, then you won't like Nora Roberts' In The Garden trilogy. But if you do like puttering in your garden or digging up the dirt in a family tree (or both), then this is a 3-part story you won't be able to put down until the singing ghost of Harper House is finally put to rest.
Of course, you could read one and not the other two...or two but not the third. But why deprive yourself of any part of one of Nora's best tales?
I didn't. I read all three books twice in one week. Big whoop, you say. It is a big whoop because I don't read books more than once. Ever. Until now.
But first a confession...
Once upon a time...
Oops. Let's try that again.
Years ago, I was an avid Nora Roberts fan. For about a year. Then I stopped reading her books. Avoided them actually. Partly from frustration that I couldn't always find all three of the books for whichever trilogy I was currently hooked on. But mostly because the trilogies had become predictable.
The formula went like this:
- Start with a picturesque locale, say a small village in Ireland.
- Add three strong women of various ages, lifestyles and backgrounds.
- Make one a blonde, one a brunette, and one a redhead.
- Be sure one has never been in love but wants to be. Or not.
- Make sure the other two have loved or been loved, but for one reason or another swear to never repeat the experience.
- Throw in three pieces of eye candy of the male variety who aren't looking for romance either. Or think they aren't.
- Stir vigorously.
Ho hum. Zzzzzzzz.
Rosalind "Roz" Harper, 46. Current lineal owner of Harper House, a mansion near Memphis that was the pride of her great-grandfather Reginald Harper, Sr. Married 1) John Ashby, her soulmate who died young, leaving her with three young sons, now grown. Briefly married 2) Bryce Clerk, professional jerk. Took back her maiden name after divorcing Jerk...uh, Clerk. Has no desire to ever marry again. Owns a thriving garden center and nursery located on the other side of the estate.
Stella Rothchild, 33, widow of Kevin who died in a plane crash two years earlier, leaving her in their "pretty house" in Michigan with two small sons, Gavin and Luke, a dog named Parker, and no idea what to do with the rest of her life. Has a degree in nursery management; moved back to Memphis so the boys can be near her father and stepmother. Has no desire to marry again until the boys are grown. Neat freak and organizer extrordinaire. Exactly the sort of person Roz is looking for to manage the day-to-day operations of "In The Garden".
Hayley Phillips, 24, a distant cousin of John Ashby's from Little Rock. Single. Arrives at Harper House six months pregnant to ask Roz for a job, which she gets, and much, much more. The baby, Lily, will be her #1 priority.
The Eye Candy
David Wentworth, Roz's sons' childhood playmate who spent so much time at Harper House that he was called "the fourth son". Now the HH butler and resident gourmet cook. Has no desire to marry - ever.
Logan Kitridge, brilliant landscape designer Roz hired away from a competitor. Briefly married to a local debutante who dragged him off to New York City. Friendly divorce, no children. His pickup truck is his office. Keeps track of the plants and trees he uses on landscaping jobs on slips of paper he tucks in the visor.
Harper Ashby, Roz's eldest. Lives in the carriage house behind the main house. Shares his mother's love of gardening and preserving Harper House for future generations. Spends his days in the propagation shed developing new hybrids while listening to rock music on headphones. Single. Hasn't found the right girl yet.
Dr. Mitchell "Mitch" Carnegie, former professor who now pens biographies. Divorced. Only son is a college basketball star recently signed by the Boston Celtics. Highly respected genealogist whom Roz hires to identify the "Harper Bride", the ghost who's been singing to children at Harper House as long as anyone can remember.
A couple of months ago I was in the 5-for-$1 corner of the public library's used book shop. I'd already chosen four titles that looked interesting, but to get the sale price, I had to pick a fifth. Blue Dahlia's bright blue cover caught my eye before I noticed it was a Nora Roberts...and Book One of a trilogy.
"Oh, whatever," I muttered as I tossed it into the basket...and promptly forgot about it until the other day when there was nothing else to read.
"Oh, whatever," I muttered as I turned to the first page.
Remember, I knew The Formula and was only reading Blue Dahlia for lack of anything else.
No way would I be dragged back into NR Land. Nosirree.... Not a chance.... The minute the library opened in the morning, I'd be at the used book shop to get books I really wanted to read.
I might even use my nifty library card to check out new books. Either way, none by Ms. Roberts.
Or so I vowed...
Back to Page One.
August, 1892: A 20-year-old Memphis beauty has just found out that the unthinkable has happened. She's pregnant by the rich married lover who installed her in a pretty little house, one of his empty rentals. Instead of demanding she "take measures", he showers her with jewels, new gowns, and more servants. Life is good.
On to Chapter 2...
January, 2004: Widow Stella Rothchild arrives at Harper House, hoping Roz Harper will hire her to manage "In The Garden", the Harper family's nursery and landscaping business. Not only does she get the job, Roz installs her, her sons and their dog in one wing of the house. Says it'll be nice having children in the house again. Life is verrry good.
That is, until Stella finds the ghost of the Harper Bride between the boys' beds, singing a lullaby. "Oh, she never hurts anyone," she's told. "Only sings the one song to babies and small children."
Chapter 6 already!
How did that happen??
February, 2004: Hayley Phillips, John Ashby's distant cousin, arrives, scared, single and pregnant.
All three major female characters have been introduced and it's only chapter six. What's going on??
Forget "the Formula". Roz has black hair, Stella red (usually frizzy), and Hayley "oak dark brown". Not a blonde in the bunch. I think Stella is the heroine du jour, but Roz and Hayley are getting a good chunk of the story line too.
Boy, am I confused.
If shaking things up was meant to keep jaded readers like myself turning those pages, it's working.
That and the gardening tips tucked between the names of the hundreds of flowers, plants, and trees in ITG's inventory. Only the Bard of Ely weaves botanical names into a story better than NR does here. (An index would be nice.)
Clues to the Harper Bride's identity and how she came to be "stuck" at Harper House are sprinkled through the three volumes of In The Garden.
- Blue Dahlia: Stella's book
- Black Rose: Roz's book
- Red Lily: Hayley's book
Plus I have friends who are a lot like the classy, foxy Roz. Very much so.
Roz never forgets she's from one of Memphis's oldest families. But thatfact doesn't define (or limit) who she is. Despite a closet full ofdesigner clothes and at least one pair of Jimmy Choos, her preferredoutfit is a pair of raggedy khaki pants, ancient sweatshirt, and sturdyboots. She loves having dirt under her nails. Gardening is her passion, and In The Garden allows her to share that passion with its customers.
As for the Eye Candy, bon apetit! They're all delicious in their own way, but David Wentworth is my favorite.
So what finally sent me running to the library to get books 2 and 3?
Well, the Harper Bride had become mean and spiteful. Roz had hired Mitch Carnegie several chapters before the end, but her identity was not discovered in Blue Dahlia.
Plus my passion being genealogy, I was curious to see how a fictitious but "highly respected" family historian would trace her. I have to tip my hat to Ms. Roberts on that one. I only spotted one misstep in Dr. Carnegie's research.
Worse, much as I hated to admit it, I was absolutely and totally enchanted by Harper House, In The Garden, and everyone connected with them, even the Harper Bride.
If you aren't already, I hope you'll be enchanted too.