In the Garden with Parnormal Nora

I got an email from Amazon letting me know that, as “someone who purchased a similar book in the past,” I might be interested in Black Rose, book two of the In the Garden trilogy by Nora Roberts.

There are a lot of mixed feelings about Nora. Some people hate her, some are completely indifferent, and some people really love her. I used to love everything she wrote, and relied on her for unequivocably entertaining reading. If there is a new Nora Roberts within a few months of a time when I know I’ll have a lot of reading time (car trip, plane trip, vacation), I buy it, hoarde it, and read it start to finish.

However, I’m of mixed feelings regarding the Garden trilogy. I’m a little tired of paranormal-Noras. I liked the witch family in the Donovan series (there were four books in that series, which was originally a Silhouette release) and I was ok with the Keys saga, though I got tired of the magic fireworks shazaam-pow-woosh effects without an explanation as to how the characters knew they had it or how to use that magic.

But the ghosts, spirits, and otherworldly characters, particularly the malevolent ones? They don’t thrill me. Particularly Roberts’, as she usually gives them such a backstory and character development.

I’m willing to bet that either Nora or her agent/editors sat down, examined the trends, and said, “We need to access the paranormal market! There have been witches in two series and we’ve been there, done that. We’ve had a few psychics here and there, but we need ghosts! Ghosts, I tell you!”

Enter the Garden trilogy, with a crazy, whackass antagonist ghost who is either marvelously benevolent or trying to kill the characters, and it really isn’t doing it for me. I like Roberts’ books for the depth and the emotional struggles of the protagonists, particularly the men, as I think she writes some fantastic heroes. But ghosts? I don’t give a crap about ghosts. I know the ghost isn’t going to be a permanent part of the entire story, and it’s not like one of the characters will fall head-over-feet for a phantom.  The paranormal-Noras are too obvious: ghost has unsettled business, therefore happily ever after for each pair and for the over-arcing storyline in the trilogy cannot be reached until ghost’s business has been dealt with, minutes respectfully submitted, and ghost-to-do list crossed off in the characters’ Day Planners.

Roberts used to write some clever conflicts between the protagonists, too, and inserting paranormal external conflicts puts a burden on her ability to create, knot together, and unwind those conflicts. I like Roberts for her internal struggles, an the heroes and heroines who have to overcome personal stuff as well as interpersonal mess, and while there is always some tracable change, including in the Garden trilogy, the external influence of said ghost takes up way too much time for my taste. Other writers have introduced paranormal elements as antagonists, or even protagonists in one young adult series I encountered, and it didn’t detract from the characters’ development. With Paranormal Noras, the main characters definitely get the shaft as the paranormal elements evolve. In the Garden trilogy specifically, the ghost is almost part of a menage a trios.  (Now that would be interesting).

This might be the first time a Roberts trilogy will stop for me after the first book. 


Ranty McRant

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  1. 1
    sybil says:

    I still haven’t read her but I don’t care much for ghosts.

    Although I did enjoy A Date With the Other Side by Erin McCarthy.

  2. 2
    E.D'Trix says:

    Hmmm, I don’t mind paranormal, per se, but I agree, the ghosts don’t thrill me either. It is not Nora’s fault, I just have never been a fan of the ghost paranormal (or time-travel, or

    the manly angels sent from heaven to take care of a single mother and her beeeeyoootiful, pwecious toddler).

    However, I actually read and enjoyed Blue Dahlia—for the characters rather than the paranormal plot. IMO, Roberts strengths have always been her characters over her (sometimes fantastically cheez-whiz) plots.

    So yes, I am going to be purchasing Black Rose. (Oooh, my capcha’s hell47—is this in retaliation to my dig at angel romance?)

  3. 3
    Sarah says:

    Angel men are better when there’s a secret baby, too. Heh.

    You are totally right, E, in that Roberts’ characters have been the draw over her plots – the same is true for me. But the ghost is both a plot device and a character and I can’t get into the idea from either perspective. The ghost as a device is going to be solved/vanquished, and thus that character will disappear.

    Do let me know how you like Black Rose though.

  4. 4
    Rosario says:

    I’m a sucker for romances which have the main characters investigating something paranormal (ghosts, visions from the past, whatever magic stuff you can think of), especially when they are part of a group of people who are doing the investigating. I think it might be related to my adoration of Barbara Michaels’ paranormals.

    That’s why I loved the last book in the 3 Sisters Island trilogy and the Key trilogy. And I really, really enjoyed Midnight Bayou, which is another Nora with a ghost. In that one, though,  I didn’t like the ghost part so much. The draw was the very beta hero with the tough heroine.

  5. 5
    Keishon says:

    I just got the new Karen Robard’s romantic suspense from the library. After reading the first ten pages it was clear that she was throwing in some paranormal elements into the mix and I just don’t care for it these days.

    I have read maybe one paranormal Nora and didn’t care it either. Just don’t care to read those types of books.

    Let’s see: You have murder, mayhem, romance and ghosts. No thank you. You all can have at it.

  6. 6
    Becca says:

    I have mixed opinions about Nora’s semi-paranormals. I liked the 3 Sisters trilogy, was pretty bored by the Keys trilogy. Midnight Bayou left me feeling let-down: all that build up was just so one protagonist could say “I forgive you” and make it all better? In the Dream trilogy, I mostly ignore the Serafina stuff – the stories are much better without it.

    I did enjoy Blue Dahlia, and look forward to Black Rose when it comes out, but I’ll most likely get it from the library first before buying it.

  7. 7
    HelenKay says:

    While I save my rabid dislike for vampire stories, paranormals do run a close second.  I’m still trying to get over Erin McCarthy’s trip to the paranormal side.  I love her so I have to read the damn thing but, man, when will this craze end.

  8. 8
    Sarah says:

    I’m glad I’m not alone in my suspicions that this is Roberts’ answering the trend. Or perhaps, since her Silouhette series with the Donovan family of witches, she could be blamed for the upsurge?

    Either way, if she starts writing a werewolf character, that’s it. I’m done.

  9. 9
    Meljean says:

    Didn’t she write a werewolf in a novella recently? :D

    I’m holding off on the Garden trilogy for right now—I think the Key trilogy was too much, too close together for me. I don’t mind the paranormal elements and I like her characters, but I think I might be Nora-ed out for a little while. I’ll probably catch up in a year or two, and see if the feeling holds.

  10. 10
    Sarah says:

    Meljean, color me shocked. I never even saw that collection in stores, and Amazon sure didn’t pimp it for me, either. I am stunned. She wrote a werewolf. Wow.

    I have officially been stunned by the paraNora.

  11. 11
    Maili says:

    Craze? We deserve it, dammit! We spent almost *20 years* suffering a few number of bad and/campy vampire and werewolf romances [I’d list those that could make your toenails cringe in embarrassment]. It’s getting interesting. And about time, too. The craze will die soon, though, as I’m already seeing the signs that it’s ending.

    I’ll say this, though: I’ll die a happy woman if there are more steampunk romances and horror romances.

    re: Nora’s paranormals. I’ve never managed to finish any of those books. Not even her TIME trilogy. I don’t know why, to be honest.

  12. 12
    HelenKay says:

    Let’s just say, I’m ready for a new craze or whatever you want to call it.

  13. 13
    Amy E says:

    I cut my romance-reading teeth on the old Silhouette Shadows books.  Vampires, werewolves (and others), witches, warlocks, ghosts, and various other things that go bump (and occasionally hump) in the night.  I love ‘em.  Maybe I’m alone, but I think the return of the paranormal was long overdue, and I don’t want to see them go bye-bye just yet.

    That’s not to say that they’re all terrific.  Some suck so bad, you could wave ‘em over your carpet instead of vacuuming.  Still, gimme a hot vamp or a uber-powerful warlock over a Greek Tycoon any day.  Or any other kind of Tycoon.  (I think it’s a category-law that Tycoon must be capitalized.)  Same goes for Sheikhs, Princes (with the very rare exception, mostly in historicals), Outback-anythings and, ugh of all ughs, cowboys.  Shudder.

  14. 14
    CindyS says:

    Yep, I am one of the few who has enjoyed the paranormal surge.  I also love Silhouette Shadows but, like you said, some of them were just plain bad.  The really good ones made up for the messy ones.

    Vampires, were-animals and pychics – yeah!  Ghosts, witches and faeries (I always imagine bug like people) – boo!

    I think romantica may have taken paranormal to an all new level – one I’m not sure I can follow.  I mean, you find out the guy/gal is a vampire and you have hot sweaty sex hours later?  Nah, I’d like to get to know a vamp first.

    Also, color me stupid but what is steampunk?  Sounds like skankified sperm.  I know.  I’ll stop.


  15. 15
    Amy E says:

    Cindy, I didn’t recognize steampunk either, but I was picturing something more along the lines of the Sex Pistols.  Hmm… punk-rockers in luuurve?

  16. 16
    Maili says:

    *laughing* Steampunk is a sub-genre of Science Fiction, and it’s a realistic historical setting and fantastical elements, e.g. advanced technology that couldn’t have existed in the past. As in what if 18th century inventors managed to invent a racing car? And that it becomes part of the every day life during Jane Austen’s lifetime? It’s purposely anachronistic.

    ‘Steam’ as in a ‘steam train’ and ‘punk’ as in ‘the future’. Mostly because the Victorian setting is most popular. But it’s rapidly branching out to different time periods, such as Medieval, American Western, Anicent Greece, etc.

    Book-wise, H. G. Wells’s THE TIME MACHINE, Tim Powers’s THE ANUBIS GATES, Jules Verne’s AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, etc. 


    Here is a link that fully explains what steampunk is:

    Hope this helps. :)

  17. 17
    Sarah says:

    I have to admit, the term “steampunk” absolutely makes me giggle like a 12 year old boy. Makes me think of “steamy funk,” i.e. the fresh steamies my dog leaves in the yard.

    However, I do love the genre. It’s a buttload of fun.

    And I will chime in (ding!) that I also love the surge of well-written paranormals. “Bitten” by Kelley Armstrong remains one of my favorite paranormals, both for the werewolfyness and the romantic end of the storyline, and I love a good monster story with romantic elements.

    But when writers of contemporary romance start jumping into paranormals, sometimes they can do it, but in Nora’s case, I wish she’d go back to straight contemporary. No ghosts, no wolves. She’s written devil worshipping virgin sacrificing people, but they were just evil (often crazy) people, and that was way creepier than her attempts at paranormal monsters and ghosts.

    I mean, what’s next, Danielle Steel writing shapeshifters?

  18. 18
    Ankah says:

    “I mean, what’s next, Danielle Steel writing shapeshifters?”

    Saraaaaaah! Don’t say that…now it will probably happen! You better knock on wood, turn around three times, and do a ritual healing dance with grass skirts and chicken bones to make it not so!

  19. 19
    Candy says:

    “I mean, what’s next, Danielle Steel writing shapeshifters?”

    That made me throw up a little in my mouth.

  20. 20
    Sarah says:

    Her face…shifted slowly like a shadow across the wall…her gaze unwavering as her gently sloping nose and arched wing brows softly swam into their graceful…almost liquid dance… leaving her not human, but a giant arachnid with a copper-colored face…and many, many beaded eyes.

    To quote a New York Times Book Review: “no, no, Danielle, we do not use six ellipses in one sentence.”

  21. 21
    E.D'Trix says:

    My friends and I quite often bring out Danielle’s epic work of poetry, Love: Poems, at parties and convince people to do dramatic readings. A few rules are needed to spice up the poems sufficently:

    1. Said poem must be read with a completely straight face and in some sort of dialect/accent.

    2. Poem reader must have a friend standing nearby to perform an interpretive dance/sign language retelling of said poem. (If they are tipsy, so much the better.)

    3. Whenever an ellipses occurs in the course of a poem (and boy, do they occur) one says out loud “ellipses, exclamation point, fuck-ahhh!”. Long story behind why we actually add the “fuck-ahhh” to it, but trust me, it goes over well in a liquored-up crowd.

    Oh, forgot to add, the method for picking the poem is random flipping until the spirit moves you to stop.

  22. 22
    CindyS says:

    In the name of all that is holy!!

    Are you saying that Danielle Steele writes poetry? 

    ::dead faint::


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