|We recently had a discussion on one of my lists about authors’ consistency. The question was, which authors could one depend on, book after book, to sustain the same (and hopefully high) level of performance. The final list was relatively small; it’s not easy to maintain good quality writing and storytelling when you are putting out a new book every six to eight months. And it was interesting that many of the writers who got high grades were those who do not publish as often as most romance novelists. So then what are we to make of the fact that Nora Roberts was put forward as one of the most consistently good authors in the genre?
Roberts productivity is absolutely astounding. The front of her latest book, Bed of Roses, lists the 85 novels she has produced with her current publisher in one of her two personas. Uncounted are the dozens of category romances she wrote for Harlequin/Silhouette or all the novellas she has published over the years. (A confession here: I do believe I have read all but three of her works.) A reader always knows what she is getting when she picks up a Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb book: interesting and intelligent characters, a good story, witty dialogue, and a satisfying ending. This is not to suggest that some of her books are not better than others. But her consistency is, in my opinion, unparalleled among romance authors.
One of Roberts’ favorite devices is to offer three or four linked stories. Bed of Roses is the second in her new series, “The Bride Quartet,” the chronicle of four long-time friends who together own Vows, an up and coming bridal service in tony Greenwich, Connecticut. Parker Brown, Emma Grant, Mackenzie Elliot and Laurel McBane are, indeed, “best friends forever.” When they were elementary school students, they played make-believe wedding all the time. As adults, they have been fortunate to have the opportunity to use their talents to turn their obsession into a thriving business.
Parker is the organizer and the owner of the lovely estate which provides a perfect setting for perfect weddings. Mac is the photographer, whose gorgeous pictures make memories for a lifetime. Emma is a florist, who can create beauty out of a leaf of kale. Laurel is a pastry chef par excellence, whose wedding cakes and desserts are as beautiful as they are delicious.
Visions in White was Mac’s romance and the brash photographer fell under the spell of a charming academic, Carter, whose kindness and wit overcame her fears of commitment. Bed of Roses is Emma’s story.
Emma is a black-haired beauty who believes wholeheartedly in romance and happily-ever-after. Her parents’ charming love story and wonderful marriage are the models for what she wants from life. So far, though she is never without a date, she has not found her prince charming. Imagine her surprise when she discovers that he was right there in her life all along.
Jack Cooke, a successful architect, is Parker’s brother, Delaney’s (called Del) best friend. He has known the quartet for a decade or more and has treated them all like kid sisters. If he had less than sisterly feelings for Emma, he tamped them down. Anything else would have seemed improper. But an unexpected embrace turns a hidden spark into a roaring flame and the fun begins.
The plot’s conflict has two sources. First, there is Jack’s reputation as a commitment phobic man about town. His experience of his parents’ divorce has left him with a sour view of marriage, quite the opposite of Emma’s. He is a pro at not getting too close to any woman. Second, there is the danger that a sexual relationship between Jack and Emma would pose to the group’s solidarity, should it come to an unhappy ending.
Bed of Roses, like its predecessor, is a contemporary fairy tale. Central to both books (and assume three and four) is the close, loving relationship between the four women. Their friendship is central to the series and, in its intimacy, may be as unlikely as any other aspect of a fairy tale. But it sure is attractive and entertaining. Also entertaining are the problems the women face in making sure that their brides have the perfect weddings of their dreams. I have to admit that the descriptions of the over-the-top expectations that contemporary weddings now entail left me glad that I only have a son to marry off. But Roberts does capture both the happiness and the trials of putting together and pulling off a successful wedding most effectively.
Finally, in portraying the romances in these first two novels, Roberts provides an interesting view of the difficulties that young people face in the current courtship system where there are no clear rules and no clear expectations. As one who has watched several twenty-somethings try to navigate this system, I appreciate her insights. She gets it.
Bed of Roses is beautifully packaged. The cover is lovely; the production values are first-rate. The reader is going to have to decide whether it is worth it to pay $16.00 for what ten years ago would have been a series romance. But Bed of Roses is a very, very good romance of its kind and I enjoyed it very much.