Oh dear, not quite what I was expecting after having read Tell it to the Skies which was a real page turner. The characters in this book are non-descript. I can't believe this won Romantic Novel of the Year award. The storyline is so weak, a real disappointment I wouldn't bother with this book if I were you. The plot is so uninteresting and there was no humour in this book at all, a real shame.
A good book should be relaxing, escapist, maybe instruct the reader in some way, or inspire them. The characters should be well-drawn and believable, there should be a strong sense of place, it should move along well, with dialogue that doesn't jar. Well, all this and more can be found in the pages of the latest by Erica James, 'Gardens of Delight'. 'Gardens of Delight' is a holiday, a tour of some of Italy's finest gardens in the Lake Como area, and the descriptions of the gardens, the views across the Lake, brought it to life in mind pictures for me, thanks to Ms James descriptive powers and use of language. And who goes on this holiday? Well, it's a group of characters, members of a village Gardening Club, a mix of both sexes and a wide age range. There is the poor little rich girl Savannah, typical moody teenager that she is, loud-mouthed and often foul of temper, but equally capable of getting her own way by being soft and gentle, just like her Daddy thinks she is all the time. And at the other end of the age scale is Mac, a genial old gent with a secret he's kept most of his adult life, who can also be a bit of a grouch, but lovable too. Genuinely lovable that is, not play acting. In between there's Helen, the poor woman who is Savannah's step-mother, for whom the trip brings home a few home truths; Lucy who has an ulterior motive for going on the trip to Italy but isn't sure she's ready to face this particular demon; and there's Conrad and Orlando, one in love with Lucy and one in love with Helen. Interwoven throughout the story are relationships that are tested to the limit on this trip, as well as past grievances faced up to and aired, doubts also. Some of the relationships founder, while new ones are forged. There is a strong romantic thread running through this story, a big novel filled with strong and totally believable characters, and whilst the storylines may not be original, they move along well, and for me, this was a page turner. Erica James never fails to please me with her books, which are like old friends... good company; a bowl of Heinz tomato soup on a cold day ... comforting. They relax me, inspire me to try harder with my own writing, and in this case, reinforced my intention to learn Italian!
I'm afraid I felt I had to write a review of this book to provide some more balance to the gushing opinions already expressed. Two of the characters introduced in the early part of the book are called Marcus Gray and Charles Carrington... I think that says a great deal. Everyone in this story is impossibly good looking and simmering with unrequited love for someone equally gorgeous and wholesome. The baddie is a multi-millionaire businessman called Hunter. They all love gardens.... Arggghhhh!!!! and we haven't even met the Italian stallion Alessio who's a concert pianist who nearly died yet.... Having said that this really is the literary equivalent of comfort food and I gorged myself on it on holiday. The descriptions of the gardens and of Lake Como are wonderful and it's difficult to seriously knock something so pleasant.