Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Diana Biller - The Widow of Rose House

It’s 1875, and Alva Webster has perfected her stiff upper lip after three years of being pilloried in the presses of two continents over fleeing her abusive husband. Now his sudden death allows her to return to New York to make a fresh start, restoring Liefdehuis, a dilapidated Hyde Park mansion, and hopefully her reputation at the same time. However, fresh starts aren’t as easy as they seem, as Alva discovers when stories of a haunting at Liefdehuis begin to reach her. But Alva doesn’t believe in ghosts. So when the eccentric and brilliant professor Samuel Moore appears and informs her that he can get to the bottom of the mystery that surrounds Liefdehuis, she turns him down flat. She doesn’t need any more complications in her life—especially not a handsome, convention-flouting, scandal-raising one like Sam.
Unfortunately, though Alva is loath to admit it, Sam, a pioneer in electric lighting and a member of the nationally-adored Moore family of scientists, is the only one who can help. Together, the two delve into the tragic secrets wreathing Alva’s new home while Sam attempts to unlock Alva’s history—and her heart.
Set during the Gilded Age in New York City, The Widow of Rose House is a gorgeous debut by Diana Biller, with a darkly Victorian Gothic flair and an intrepid and resilient American heroine guaranteed to delight readers.

Comment: Close to the end of last year, this story was reviewed and praised by several readers in some of the blogs/sites I tend to visit and I felt interested in reading too, because I liked the blurb but I especially liked the little comments those readers mostly did about the hero and his family.

In this novel we meet Alva Webster, an apparently famous widow who people believe lived quite the debauched life in Paris after the death of husband and now not even her parents welcome her back.
Alva knows the rumors about her tainted her reputation but she counts on it to convince a publisher of books about renovations and decorations to accept publishing the book she plans on writing on that theme.
The day she is pitching her idea she meets professor Samuel Moore in the restaurant both are at but, confusing him with just another man trying to seduce her, she rejects him even though his charming personality does seem adorable.
Sam doesn't know who see is because his head is always in his inventions and interests, such as ghost. He knows the house Alva Webster has purchased to renovate has a ghost and he wants to investigate. as long as she lets him. What neither knows is that simple curiosity will make their lives change completely the more time they spend together...

Reading this blurb and knowing Alva in particular has secrets and a past she doesn't others to know about, I was ready to be amazed and engaged with all the little things that surely would be slowly revealed and, of course, with a romantic relationship developing between Alva and Sam.

I had somewhat high expectations because it seemed this would feature a little sub-type (if I can call it that) of romance I like: when one character is adorable and somewhat unaware until love comes along while the other is cautious for both but still gives in. I admit I'm a little fan of these types of stories, when characters don't seem to be in the same place, romantically, but they adorably get there. Bonus point if it's the hero who seems to be in the moon until he proves he definitely isn't when the heroine needs him the most.
Since this setting is quite clear from the first time they meet, I settled for a sweet journey with them.

Unfortunately, I didn't get the romantic feel I expected. I mean, their romance has great moments, Sam is as adorable as I imagined and serious in the right scenes, Alva is wary as her past would make her be and they fall in love as expected. However, the pace felt wrong - they get intimate rather soon for an historical and - more important for me - for a heroine who obviously comes from a past of abuse - and they appear to fall in love a little too quickly for this to look romantic.
I'd have preferred their relationship to take longer and for it to be a bit more traditional (it's an historical, after all, some rules should have applied). I can accept they see in each other their better half and there are scenes where we see that but I don't think things really did go beyond the superficial. 

I think a possible reason for why this didn't work as well for me was that, along with the romance developing, we had the ghost issue, the problems in Alva's life, the renovation of the house, the quirkiness of Sam's family... there are too many things needing attention and I think the author divided her focus on too many elements. Perhaps it could have happened better, were she to have more experience but this is her debut. Thinking of that, this is very good indeed, but looking at it through the eyes of a reader, for me the narrative could have been better. 

The ghost part was intriguing, the renovation had its moments, the end was cute but I also expected more of Sam's family, since people commented they were great. Yes, they are indeed but they also feel like props, handy characters to counterbalance the ones who act like villains.
Added to the lack of a believable romance development and an irregular pace, I'd say this debut was good but not as marvelous as I imagined.

All in all, this was a book with positive elements, the execution was not as great as it could, the main couple had its moments but their romance focused on something that could have been used better, considering Alva had a bad marriage. Why not create more sexual tension scenes so that when they were together and Alva was having a good experience, her mind was at the same level because she had evolved? I didn't get this feeling.
I thought this would be a more romantic book, yes...and that the interactions between characters would be more realistic.
Grade: 6/10

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