The Apothecary’s Garden

aopthecarys-garden-final-version-smallTitle: The Apothecary’s Garden
Author: Julie Bozza
Cover artist: Anne Burgess
Publisher: Manifold press
Publisher Buy Link
Amazon: N/A
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.

Blurb:

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 …

Review:

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.

16 comments

  • I was waiting eagerly to see your review. I really enjoy Julie’s books as well – they’re all quite different, aren’t they?

    Whilst I enjoyed her writing style here, I did struggle with the age difference, mainly because Hilary is portrayed as being such a frail 65 year old. I’m not quite there yet, but I do have acquaintances about that age, and they’re all pretty hearty fellows. I wondered why Hilary wasn’t out there helping Tom clear the garden from the get go.

    What did you think when Hilary almost fainted after the verbal altercation with the squire? Maybe if he had a health condition, I could’ve accepted his frailty a little better.

    • Hi Gaycrow, thank you for saying that you were waiting for my review :). Yep, her books are different and they are not carbon copies of each other, which I always appreciate 🙂

      Hmmm, you mean did I think that Hilary had a health condition when he fainted? No, I did not. That’s a good point – I think he was not helping because he was such a private person probably?

      • No, I didn’t express that very well, I just wondered what you thought of Hilary’s response to the verbal stoush. I was surprised at his reaction, that’s all.

        I believe my trouble is that I’m thinking of the Aussie knock-about blokes of that age that I know, rather than understanding that Hilary is a quietly brought up, rather old-fashioned, Englishman. I need to take off my Aussie spectacles!

        • Oh, no, sorry I misunderstood – yes, I just thought it was in line with his characterization as a very sensitive person.

  • I have to agree. I love this author’s work, but the age difference put me off. I love novels with mature characters, 30’s, 40’s and on up. I can’t really relate to to many novels with young protagonists (young to me being teen to 21). Age brings so much more to the story, the characters and how they relate to each other. And I don’t mind at all a 10 or even 20 year difference (30 vs 50), but 23 and 65 put me off my enjoyment of the novel.

  • Hi Sirius—

    good thing you only thought about requesting this for five minutes–by the sixth it would’ve been mine! 😉 Beautiful review, by the way.

    Seriously, I loved this book to pieces. It can’t hold a candle to my all-time favourite Julie Bozza book, Butterly Hunter, but it comes close. Everything, just everything about it was just so up my alley– the garden, the slow pace, the sheer British-ness of both Hilary and Tom… and please allow me to politely disagree with you about the age difference. Yes, 40+ years is huge, but considering who these two are, it’s almost negligible.
    Hilary is from a different generation; being with someone was so novel to him he went about it with almost child-like joy, while at the same time, his maturity and life experience kept him from seizing the opportunity–read: Tom, and sex with Tom– by the collar first chance he got. Sweet, selfless, mature, thoughtful, that is Hilary, and his self-doubts and misgivings–and how he deals with them–are a big part of this book’s charm for me.

    Now Tom? A breath of fresh air, youth, beauty and strength and a supplement of muscle to Hilary’s frailty; you’d think it’s Hilary who gets the most out of them being together. But Tom is a nurturer at heart, he loves to care for things and people, he’s just as selfless and sweet as Hilary but of a youthful exuberance that he loves to channel into doing something useful, not waste in mindless pastimes. I don’t think he feels shut away with Hilary, especially given his ability to live in the now and seize the moment, however long it may last. In his own way Tom is as much a man of Hilary’s generation as Hilary is himself. They just fit, their personalities match, why should the age difference be an insurmontable obstacle between them?

    The writing, the way the story was told convinced me it wasn’t.
    (reminded me a little of “Harold and Maude, by the way, have you seen the movie?)

    **spoiler ahead**

    My only niggle with the story was Hilary’s relative sexual prowess, but then again, people are differnt and Charlie Chaplin fathered a child at over eighty, so why shouldn’t Hilary be more steadfast in bed than other sexagenarians?
    What it comes down to it is, it’s a lovely, beautiful love story; I enjoyed it, and I hope many others will too, whether they can get over the age difference or not.

    • Yours and couple other people Feliz ;). Seriously, I love your review and as I said, such as a power of Julie Bozza’s writing that she seduced me and made me follow along while I was reading. It is afterwards I was still not sure, so I guess not a complete sell. Have you read “Magic mansion” by JCP? If you do, there the writer sold me on the age differences of over 30 years without any lingering doubts. But she just made the age difference so very unimportant for very many reasons there. Recently I read a book where I wanted to slap the character who was obsessing over the age differences of 20 years after that many times he said it, but in this book I get why Hilary was obsessing over the age differences and when I am coming back from magical world of the book to the reality, all his doubts made complete sense to me, you know?

  • Thanks for the review, Sirius. Bozza is an auto-buy for me, so I picked this up without even looking at the blurb. I began it; the prose is beautiful and what I expect from this author. Then I saw that Hilary is 65. Don’t get me wrong, I am no ageist, but 65?!?! I did a double take, then thought maybe the story of a younger couple was seen through his eyes…but I had a niggling suspicion. Read on for another two pages, then went back, read the blurb and a few reviews on GR. DNF for me. No age differences over 10 — maybe 15 — years for me, period, no exceptions. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I am in a relationship with someone 15 years my senior. There are issues already and I simply can’t imagine the gap being wider. I’m happy for those where it does work, but this is one of those personal biases that I can’t get past.

  • I can see I might have a problem too.

    Slow Bloom has a thirty year age difference but Jack is vibrant, incredibly open and has lived such a thorough life he easily carries the book. Here Hilary sounds almost frail and Tom is left in a caring role.
    Like you I am not sure about that as a romance. I had difficulties with Sarah Blacks’s Flamingo which had a large age difference too.

    However the general atmosphere of the book sounds gorgeous……..

    Lovely review Sirius – I am going to get exersize walking around this one for a while. 😕

    • Exercise is good for you 😉

      Seriously, it is not that Tom is in the caring position per se IMO, but I did feel that he had more extroverted personality and was in the position of coaxing Hilary out of his shell, constantly. I did not doubt that Hilary was in love, but I do not believe that had Tom not been so insistent that he would ever made a move.

      Oh. Flamingo is an excellent point of reference. Yes, if you had a problem with dynamics there, I do believe you may have a problem here as well. Older guy there may somewhat remind you of Hilary to a certain degree.

  • I have been following the reviews on this book on GR. I think people’s reservations with the age difference comes with what HEA means to this couple. In most books an HEA probably means 30 years or so of living happily as an active couple. Now think of Hilary and Tom. I am thinking maybe 10-15 or so? before Hilary really starts to deteriorate? and then Tom who might be mid 30s or early 40s do when Hilary is no longer around? Starts over? He gets a chance a possibly two HEAs?
    I think the reservation comes from that abbreviated HEA. This is in my list of books to read very soon. I think my approach to the end of the story will be more of a mix of HFN/HEA to reconcile the age difference.

    • Hi Mercedes, the end of the book kind of addresses the length of HEA, actually. I agree with you that the length of it is one of the reasons, sure.

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