Title: The Apothecary’s Garden
Author: Julie Bozza
Cover artist: Anne Burgess
Publisher: Manifold press
Publisher Buy Link
Genre: contemporary m/m romance, May/December romance
Length: 70000 words/278 pages
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
A guest review by Sirius
Summary: Achingly beautiful love story, but unfortunately when I finished it I felt that the age difference between the protagonists was too extreme for me to completely buy it.
Hilary Kent, a Londoner all his working life, retires to Wiltshire after an estranged cousin unexpectedly leaves him an inhabitable tower surrounded by an overgrown physic garden – and that’s when graduate student Tom Laurence suddenly erupts into his life, convincing him that together they can restore the ancient garden to its former glory. Tom’s cheerful friendship is the best thing that’s ever happened to Hilary and he’s perfectly content with that until, to his astonishment and confusion, it seems that Tom’s affection for him is beginning to grow into something more … something he feels he probably shouldn’t allow …
Julie Bozza is a writer whose writing I love and whose work I also respect very much if for nothing else than for the fact that she tries to write about so many different things in her stories. You will not find the same characters or same settings in her books and in this book she explores the love story between characters whose age difference is 42 years. Tom is 23 and Hilary is 65 when they meet. Now, as much as I love her writing, I actually had to sit down and think for like five minutes whether I should be requesting this book for review. I want to be as fair to the book as I possibly can and if I know beforehand that the book contains trope I do not like, I usually try not to request it.
However, while I am not a fan of huge age differences between the characters in theory, in practice I had been persuaded that it could work in quite a few books. One of my top five favorite mm romances has the guys whose age difference is over thirty years, so I figured that I do not have a bias towards this trope and grabbed the book (good thing I was fast ;)).
I really loved both guys in this book. Hilary was such a sweetheart and it was really a sweet and gentle read overall. Almost nothing happens in this book besides them meeting, restoring a garden together and slowly, so very slowly, moving towards each other. The conflict is about Hilary worrying over him being so much older than Tom. You really have to like slow moving books if you want to enjoy this one, where the two characters are figuring out their relationship and whether they would have one.
Tom was an old soul, who was also smart, resilient and so very determined to get what he wants, or should I say whom he wants :). But he was also a bit naïve and sometimes too persistent.
“One of the most delightful things about Tom was his resilient cheerfulness. No matter what the day brought, he was like spring sunshine – occasionally obscured by a light shower or two, but ready to shine in beneficence again just as soon as the rain passed. Hilary couldn’t even imagine him holding a grudge.”
I thought that the guys had chemistry together and while I was reading the book, I even managed to almost forget about their age difference – I suspect because Julie Bozza is such a talented writer. It was very enjoyable to watch how Hilary was coming to enjoy life and realizing that he was in love. I thought that the restoration of the garden mirrored Hillary’s journey to life and love. I really liked it.
But unfortunately when I was done with the book, my doubts about their future based on their age difference came to life. It is not that I did not like the characters together or separately – I did and I liked them a lot. It is that I would wonder for how long Tom would want to shut himself out from the world even with such a sweet man like Hilary.
Yes, he loved the quiet company and work in the garden a lot, yes, when he and Hilary were together it felt like the world stopped to exist around them. I could literary feel it on the pages – something fragile, but so very precious and beautiful between them. But sadly as I said when I was mulling the book over in my head, the doubts resurfaced.
I still highly recommend the book though if you are okay with a huge age difference between the protagonists.