Story Rating: 3.5 stars
Audio Rating: 3.75 stars
Narrators: Kevin Earlywine, Curtis Michael Holland, Amanda Meuwissen
Length: 7 hours, 6 minutes
When Peter Thorne was 12, his mother passed him a gift before she died—the touch of life, the ability to bring life back to the dead. However, with no guidance on how to use this gift, even a simple touch on bare skin can transfer his life energy to the individual and drain him. Peter decided the best way for him to use his gift without ending up as a government lab rat or exploited is to only use it on plants. Thus, he’s built a reputation as a traveling gardener with the uncanny ability to restore vibrancy and vigor to even the most decrepit gardens. It makes for a lonely life, but a safe one. Peter’s gift also makes him aware of and able to communicate slightly with ghosts. So when he discovers that his current employers’ daughter has been missing for months, he assumes the presence he feels is hers.
However, Peter soon discovers that the ghost is Arthur, one of the former owners of the home. Arthur can somehow channel some of Peter’s ability without weakening him, nor does Arthur attempt to drain him dry as some other ghosts have. When Arthur shares that he may know something about the little girl’s disappearance but can’t remember, Peter decides to use his gift to help Arthur regain his memory and investigate in hopes of offering the family some closure. As the pair work together, Peter realizes that something about their bond is special and, as they are able to communicate more freely and touch each other, they quickly slip into friendship and more. However, as Peter’s queries begin to stir up secrets, his sleuthing may see him joining Arthur on the ghostly plane.
Gardening with a Ghost is part of the multi-author Haunted Love paranormal collaboration and it was a mixed bag for me. As a fan of mysteries, I feel the mystery element isn’t that strong. With this being a cozy mystery, some ineptitude is expected of the amateur sleuth, but Peter’s wild swings of (il)logic and disinclination to use Arthur’s freedom to go places unseen are more distracting than fun. He’s very quick to dismiss grief for malice (when he even considers it at all), and his suspicions make him careless of others’ emotions. Moreover, the fact thatfeels purposeful. Maybe Meuwissen was trying to spotlight the killer for the reader and illustrate just how bad at investigating Peter is, but I found it off-putting.
Despite this, when Peter does bungle into distressing someone, he does his best to make amends, and he and Arthur are very likable characters. Peter is kind and compassionate, but lonely because of his gift, and Arthur is an easygoing charmer despite being dead. Their instant connection and enjoyment of being able to interact freely with another person is palpable. Their love of Indiana Jones, sweet flirtation, and care of each other is adorable and delightful. There’s no explanation of the world/Peter’s gift and, despite some darker moments, this is a rather light, cozy romance and will probably be suited for those more interested in a sweet ghostly romance rather than the mystery.
The audiobook is done in a radio play style with Kevin Earlywine reading the narrative and voicing Peter, Curtis Michael Holland voicing Arthur and the other male characters, and the author voicing the female characters. The format works well, as the story is told in third-person limited. This is my second outing with Earlywine and my general impression of him being a good narrator in time still stands, though there has been some improvement. His reading voice is pleasant and works well for Peter, as it fits Peter’s quiet nature. Earlywine has also gotten somewhat better at infusing more nuance and emotion into his voice during dialogue, but it’s still mostly missing when reading the prose. The style of the audiobook works to his advantage as the heavy lifting of doing multiple voices has been removed, and Holland and Meuwissen give solid character performances. I think this format works well for narrators with limited voice acting range, but who are good general narrators. However, this style has the drawback of making some production issues more noticeable to me, such as a distinct tinny quality and lack of leveling in some of the incorporated dialogue and misappropriated character voices or background noises, but I am prone to pick up proofing errors.
Overall, this is a sweet supernatural romance and an entertaining listen, and may be suited for those who enjoy light paranormal and radio play style audiobooks.