Thursday, May 9, 2024

Review: The House on Biscayne Bay by Chanel Cleeton

by Chanel Cleeton
Release Date: April 2, 2024
2024 Berkley
Ebook ARC; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593440513
Audiobook: B0CBQR39L7
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Gothic / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.75 / 5 Stars

With the Great War finally behind them, thousands of civilians and business moguls alike flock to South Florida with their sights set on making a fortune. When wealthy industrialist Robert Barnes and his wife, Anna, build Marbrisa, a glamorous estate on Biscayne Bay, they become the toast of the newly burgeoning society. Anna and Robert appear to have it all, but in a town like Miami, appearances can be deceiving, and one scandal can change everything.

Years later following the tragic death of her parents in Havana, Carmen Acosta journeys to Marbrisa, the grand home of her estranged older sister, Carolina, and her husband, Asher Wyatt. On the surface, the gilded estate looks like paradise, but Carmen quickly learns that nothing at Marbrisa is as it seems. The house has a treacherous legacy, and Carmen’s own life is soon in jeopardy . . . unless she can unravel the secrets buried beneath the mansion’s facade and stop history from repeating itself.

My Thoughts
The House on Biscayne Bay has many of the elements that I love in a gothic historical mystery: an old eerie house with a secret, mysterious past; a housekeeper who knows more than she lets on; characters who don't get along, but seem to harbour these big secrets; a dual timeline; and an atmosphere that lends itself well to gothic literature. Yet, despite all of these elements, the story struggles from pacing issues and poor character development, and while I enjoyed the overall story, I just couldn't empathize with the characters and their plights.

The story is told in a dual timeline format, Anna from 1919 and Carmen from 1941. I actually preferred Carmen's storyline more as I found Anna to be a bit annoying. I understand that a lot of women from that time period do not have a lot of knowledge of their husband's business affairs, but she seemed especially oblivious to everything that was happening around her. Carmen had a bit more sass to her, and I liked that she went searching for answers when she started to suspect something was wrong. However, there was little depth to any of the characters and it was difficult to track their motivations or their feelings or to even care why they did what they did.  Carmen and her sister did not get along at all, and other than there being an age difference and Carmen wanting to tag along after her big sister all the time, there was little explanation given for the gulf between them other than petty jealousies so it was hard to muster any empathy for either of them, especially Carolina. 

Probably the strongest part of this book was the cohesiveness between the dual timelines and the merging of the stories. I tend to have ambivalent feelings about dual timelines, but these ones were so close together that there didn't seem to be much difference between them.  The sense of atmosphere and mystery were definitely there and there is nothing like a big house and a lush estate by the water to add eeriness to a story.  However, the timing and pacing were off and it took a long time to get to the crux of the story. I could see the twist coming a mile away and I was hoping it wouldn't go there, but it did. And while everything wrapped up nicely, I thought it was a bit forced. It's hard to say more without giving anything away, but let's just say, I didn't feel it. 

The House on Biscayne Bay had a lot going for it, but suffered from pacing issues and was really slow to get off the ground. Because of the lack of depth in the characters, I couldn't empathize with anyone as I didn't connect with their feelings or motivations. However, if you like historical fiction with a bit of a mystery and like slower mysteries, this one may be for you.



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