Desert Isle Keeper Review

Black Rose

Nora Roberts
June 2005, Contemporary Romance
Jove, $7.99, 355 pages, Amazon ASIN 0515138657
Part of a series

Grade: A-
Sensuality: Warm

For years I considered reading one of Nora Roberts books but never knew where to start. Her large backlist overwhelmed me and I put off taking that first step. When Black Rose came up for review, I decided it was time to learn just what was so fascinating about this best-selling author. And I was delighted to discover one classy story with multifaceted characters I could really care about. Now that I have read my first Roberts book, I am also proudly posting my first DIK review.

Roz Harper is a candid, no-nonsense, and intensely private lady. Considered aloof by many, she spends most of her time working at her retail nursery, In the Garden. Roz is a smart, sassy 45-year-old woman who descends from a wealthy Tennessee family and lives in the ancestral home, Harper House. Although she appears prosperous, the large estate requires considerable funding and she supplements the old family money with income from In the Garden, which is located on the old estate. She is accustomed to this huge load of responsibility and loves her business, often burying herself for an entire day in one of her greenhouses.

Black Rose is a tale of the extended family Roz has formed through kindness and caring, although she prefers to think of it in solely practical terms. She lives in her home with her store manager, Stella and her two sons; a distant family relation, Hayley, and her baby daughter; David, her housekeeper; and her oldest son, Harper, who lives in the carriage house. All are involved in the successful operation of In the Garden and Roberts is successful in transporting us to this place of beauty Roz has created through her skill, good taste, and love of plants.

Dr. Mitchell Carnagie is a genealogist and successful author Roz hired to research her family and discover the identity and background of the Harper Bride ghost which haunts Harper House. Mitch is a thoughtful yet assertive 48-year-old man who understands life and lives it calmly without much fuss. Hayley refers to him as Dr. Hottie and I have to agree with her assessment. Working in the library of Harper House, he finds himself deeply attracted to the extremely strong and independent Roz.

The growth of Mitch and Roz’s relationship is only one of the entrancing elements of this story. The daily running of the business, the developments in the lives of all the characters, Roz’s run-ins with society and her ex-husband, as well as the increasingly aggressive visits of the Harper Bride ghost all build layers of significance to this in-depth, captivating story. It rolls along slowly, like the days of a Tennessee summer, but retains the needed pacing. It was one of the more realistic views of life I have read in recent romance (minus the ghost of course) and I was engrossed in the experiences of each and every one of these appealing characters. Even a minor villain was fully developed and quite an interesting piece of work. Only Roz’s ex-husband’s character stretched reality – his nasty vengeance seemed contrived and too risky for the life he sought to live.

There is a strong supernatural element in Black Rose. One to usually skim through such pages, I found myself really involved with this aspect of the story and was concerned for this ghost’s pain as well as frightened of its actions. The prologue provides the reader with enough information about the Harper Bride ghost to allow real empathy for this character throughout. Although the entire mystery is not resolved within these pages, satisfactory progression is made and the next book in the series, Red Lily, should provide the remaining answers. Red Lily will be the third of this trilogy - Harper and Haley’s story - and I will eagerly watch for its publication. While Black Rose is the second of this trilogy after Blue Dahlia (Stella’s story), I easily immersed myself in this story without reading the first book.

Two items held particular interest for me within the pages of Black Rose. First, I am an avid gardener and the pages contributed to gardening read easily for me as I found combining my loves of romance and gardening a delightful experience indeed. Secondly, the heroine’s age is closer to my own than most romance heroines and it was refreshing to read about a middle-aged heroine determined to live a quality life filled with deliberate, good choices. Mitch and Roz’s maturity only increases the fire between them and their relationship speaks commitment more thoroughly than any book I have read this year.

Roberts' newest is a well-told, unfolding drama centering on the reemergence of a self-sufficient, yet vulnerable, woman as she reclaims life with all of its possibilities and rediscovers love. Mitch is effective as the strong silent hero but this remains primarily Roz’s story. What a treat it was. Now…I want to tackle that huge Nora Roberts backlist – what fun I will have!

-- Lea Hensley

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