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October 8, 2019

The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller ~ a Review

by MK French

New York City, February 1, 1875
Alva Penrose Rensselaer Webster had been inside Delmonico's for nine seconds before Mrs. Henry Biddington asked the maitre d'hotel to throw her out. Alva knew because she'd counted them out: one, no one had noticed her yet; two, casual glances to see who had just come in sharpened; three, people began to nudge their neighbors; four, the whispers started; five, they turned anger; six, Mrs. Biddington, gray-haired battle-axe and leader of society, flagged her waiter down; eight, the maitre d'hotel crossed to her table; nine, Mrs. Biddington made an outraged gestured towards Alva and began to complain in a voice piercing enough to be heard clear across the room. (pg. 1)

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

October 2019; St. Martin's Griffin; 978-1250297853
audio, ebook, print (352 pages); gothic romance
Alva Webster left her abusive husband in 1872 and spent the next three years being pilloried by the press. When he died, this allowed her to return to New York and try to restore the Hyde Park mansion Liefdehuis as well as her reputation. Stories told of it being haunted, which she didn't believe, and Professor Samuel Moore offered to get to the bottom of the stories. He was wild and eccentric, just what she didn't need, but he was part of the nationally known Moore family of scientists. He was the only one to delve into the secrets locked away in Liefdehuis, as well as try to know Alva.

The Widow of Rose House is set in the Gilded Age of New York, with a Gothic Victorian aura reminiscent of the movie "Crimson Peak." There is the glitter and gold of the upper class, and it hides the darkness that can reside deep in their hearts. Alva had distinguished but distant parents more concerned with reputation and appearance, then a husband and his twin brother who thought themselves entitled to her wealth and soul. Spousal abuse is alluded to in the helpless demeanor of Mrs. Webster, bruises hidden by clothing, and Alva having to remind herself constantly that her memories are just that. There's a very poignant quote almost halfway through the book that really struck me: "She was afraid of the whole jagged-edged world, with its trapdoors and sticky webs and predators whose claws never released their prey." It perfectly encapsulates Alva and her idea of the world after her history, as well as this: "He was light, and she was bruises and sharp edges and shadows, and people like her didn't get to have people like him." It's utterly heartbreaking.

Sam is a delight. He's very much the absent-minded professor, checking out of Polite Conversation and financial discussion to think about inventing things. His mind is analytical, but with the intention to help others. He counts how long it takes to unlace boots, for example, and ponders building a machine to help others use the time for other things. He is perceptive, knowing that Alva had been hurt enough to have difficulty trusting people, and kind enough to still want to help, as well as giving her the space to make it her own choice. Never once does he discount her opinion, even if he doesn't agree, which is wonderful to see in a novel of any time period.

The mystery of the ghost as well as the past that Alva was trying to avoid makes for very compelling reading. It was a journey that I absolutely loved taking with them.

Buy The Widow of Rose House at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband and three young children. 

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  1. I love the sound of this one, and I love that gorgeous cover.

    Here's mine: ”THE LYING ROOM”

    1. It's a great blend of ghost story and romance novel.

      Happy reading!

  2. This is a genre I very seldom read, but I do like what you shared.

    1. It was an interesting mix of ghost story and romance, so you can share the review with others that like those genres.

  3. I don't read a lot of historical fiction but, this sounds good; enjoy.

    1. I enjoyed it more as a romance and ghost story than as historical fiction, though that definitely did play a role in the social mores they worked with.