Red Lily, by Nora Roberts (In The Garden #3)

>> Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Red Lily closes Nora Roberts's latest trilogy, titled In The Garden. It's been a solidly good one so far, starting with After Blue Dahlia and continuing with Black Rose, each of which had a really good romance, plus significant development in the ghost story that is the thread which spans the entire trilogy.

So far, the only thing I haven't liked about this trilogy is the cover look it has been given. Is it just me or aren't they a bit meh? I think I saw the UK covers somewhere and they were an improvement, but not by much!

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...
I've been anticipating this book for a year now. Ever since I read Blue Dahlia, I've been intrigued by Hayley and Harper. I liked the mildly "forbidden" aspect of their relationship... each believing the other just saw them as a friend: Hayley thinking she shouldn't come on to Roz's son, while Harper felt making an overture to his mother's guest, a pregnant woman (and then a new mother), no less, who showed no sign of being attracted to him, was beyond the pale. So, did it live up to my expectations? Oh, yes! While it didn't have that special wonderfulness that is the mark of an A read, it was extremely enjoyable. A B+.

The romance was actually what kept this one from making the small leap between a really, really good B+ book and an A- or A. Don't get me wrong, I loved Hayley and Harper together. Harper's pretty much a dream guy, kind, nice, charming and oh-so-sexy, and Hayley was just flawed enough that I found her cute and not irritating. I just loved her conversations with Roz about Harper, how she'd go right ahead and tell her what was going on between her and Harper, instead of torturing herself with misplaced guilt for months. The things that just came out of Hayley's mouth during those conversations were hilarious!

However, on the... well, not negative side... I really should call it "not-so-wonderful side", I did think Nora jumped the gun a bit with the beginning of the actual romance. I wanted a bit more of the unrequited wanting, especially on Harper's side. This was what had hooked me about these two in the first place, and I'd just settled myself in to enjoy it, when POOF! Hayley makes her move and they begin a relationship in earnest.

As in the other books, I just adored all the interactions between characters, not just the romance. Hayley's friendship with Stella, her slightly more maternal relationship with Roz, with Mitch, with David... everyone criss-crossed and you really got the feeling of a real family between them, which is what keeps me coming back to Nora Roberts' books, when seemingly everyone who has been reading her for a while is so over her already.

As for the supernatural element, the Harper Bride plot, it was just great in this one, and a perfect close to the trilogy. The investigation into who this mysterious Amelia is and what she wants continues, and I'll just say the conclusion was shocking and spine-chilling. I was pretty convinced there just wasn't much mystery about what had happened, so the actual conclusion surprised me. And it was a good surprise, because it made perfect sense and felt right.

The best part about the Harper Bride plot, though, was the way Amelia slowly started getting into Hayley's head and sometimes "possessing" her. That was just wonderfully done. It worked so well because there was a certain rough parallelism between Hayley's and Amelia's circumstances, and seeing Amelia's thoughts in Hayley's head was especially chilling, because they fit the circumstances perfectly, being what many people would feel in Hayley's place, they just didn't fit the person we knew Hayley was.

I recently discussed this book with jmc and we agreed that a priori, neither of us was a fan of single parents as protagonists, because too often authors don't bother making them distinct characters and just make them parents, as if that is all they are. We were both also doubtful that Hayley was doing the right thing in not telling Lily's father about her. In the first area mentioned, I thought Nora did a great job in making Hayley Hayley, not just "a mom". She also didn't make motherhood seem too easy, but by providing her with built-in support and child-care, through her friends and family, this aspect didn't overwhelm the story. In the second are, I wasn't as happy. I still think it's a mistake, no matter the justifications, but it didn't really bother me all that much, surprisingly enough.

Having finished the last book in the trilogy, I really can't wait until the next one starts, and I've began to scour the web looking for information. From several sources (sorry I can't provide links, but I'm afraid I haven't saved that information), it appears the title of the trilogy is The Circle Trilogy, and that the first book, Morrigan's Cross will be out in September. Books 2 and 3 (Dance of the Gods and Valley of Silence) will be out in October and November. Really cool, that. I loved when they did that with the Key Trilogy, because I managed to restrain myself and read them all together.

Anyway, something else I found (and which also reminds me of the Key Trilogy) is this description of the trilogy, supposedly posted by Nora herself (supposedly, I said! Don't blame me if it ends up being wrong):

[Morrigan's Cross] starts a trilogy that's more romantic fantasy--sorcerer, witch, shape-shifter, vampires, goddesses, alternate worlds. In the first we gather together the six who make the first circle charged to stop a two-thousand year old vampire queen and her army from destroying worlds and enslaving humankind.

Vampires from Nora? Wow! I don't think she's done a vampire before, but she's definitely gone in this direction already... Key Trilogy, as I mentioned, Donovan Trilogy, etc. We'll see, I guess.


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