In 2009, Julia Conley learns that she’s inherited a house in England from a great-aunt she’s never met. She hasn’t even been to England since her mother died when she was little. When Julia reluctantly goes to London to get the house ready to sell, she teams up with her cousin Natalie and an attractive antiques dealer named Nick to sort through her great-aunt’s belongings. Julia is especially intrigued by a stunning painting that she finds in a wardrobe, which looks like it was painted by a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Her quest to learn more about the painting leads her to the story of Imogen, who lived in the house with her husband Arthur in the 1840s. Imogen thought her marriage would be like a fairy tale, but in reality her husband is selfish and distant. She finally finds the love she’s been longing for when she meets a struggling painter named Gavin Thorne, who has been hired to paint her portrait. But will their romance last, or is it destined to end in tragedy?
I’m a longtime fan of Willig’s Pink Carnation series, so I was excited to read this book, her second stand-alone novel. As an added bonus, I really like Pre-Raphaelite art and was interested to learn a bit more about the movement. But while this was a fairly good read, I didn’t love it quite as much as I was hoping to. Both Julia’s and Imogen’s stories had the potential to be really interesting, but because the book divides its focus between them, neither plot is as rich as it could be. I had a hard time connecting to Imogen’s story in particular; the romance seemed to happen very abruptly. Also, I personally have a very hard time with love stories that expect me to condone adultery, so while I sympathized with Imogen’s plight, I wasn’t exactly rooting for her and Gavin to get together. Finally, I missed the lighthearted tone and occasionally silly humor of the Pink Carnation books. This novel is much more somber, and I didn’t find it as enjoyable. Overall, I’d say the book is worth a read if you’re a Willig completist (like me) or if you are particularly interested in the premise.