A young widow restores a dilapidated mansion with the assistance of a charming, eccentric genius, only to find the house is full of dangerous secrets in this effervescent Gilded Age debut novel 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.
The moment I was asked if I'd be interested in being on the blog tour for The Widow of Rose House and read the synopsis, I knew my answer was a resounding yes. A haunted Victorian romance set during the Gilded Age in the New York City? There was no question.
I grew up reading the gothic romances that my mom picked up at yard sales and other book resellers, and that's where I first fell in love with romance as a genre. They were usually relatively tame--maybe a mention of a kiss (or a nipple for the more risque ones)--but they were filled with ghosts and of people struggling to find their place. It had been ages since I'd read one, and something about The Widow of Rose House struck me the same way.
This is such a good take on the genre. I can't tell you how much I loved it, but I'll try. The setting; the characterization of New York, of Liefdehuis, of every main and minor character; and the development of the relationship between Alva and Sam all sucked me in immediately.
The first half of this story really centers on the hauntings and other strange goings-on of Liefdehuis, as well as the blooming attraction between Sam and Alva in the face of their separate-but-linked careers. Sam wants to research the hauntings for Science, while Alva just wants the damn thing taken care of so that she can write her book on interior design, using Liefdehuis as the backdrop. Alva has her own ghosts she's running from, and she needs this book to get published so she can start living her own life. The second half becomes more of a journey in research, as Alva and Sam race to find out the real story behind the hauntings--but don't get confused, there is some spooky shit happening here.
The romance is sweet and fun, with Sam being this Distracted Scientist with Experience with the Ladies--but he isn't a playboy, and he never toys with Alva's feelings. He just shows her what she's been missing her entire life.
It may have been a little slow at the beginning, with a lot of backstory and world building, but it more than made it up by the end with a Hero to die for and a determined woman to root for.
Should you read it? If mysterious slow burn ghost romance with Sherlockian dialogue sounds up your alley, then you should definitely pick up this debut from Diana Biller.
4 1/2 Stars
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Published October 8, 2019 by St. Martin's Griffin