Evangelical fiction author Tina Ann Forkner offers readers a visual feast for the soul and the spirit in this tender story that journeys with Lillian Diamon, the grief-stricken widow of Robert, and their two young children, Sheyenne and Lee.
Less than two weeks after a tragic car accident took the lives of Lillian's nearest and dearest, she travels back to La Rosaleda and allows herself some precious moments outside the Rose House to wander, reflect and weep. Warned by detectives not to venture out alone until they can determine if the accident was malicious or not, Lillian feels drawn to the place. Surrendering to the beauty of the lush landscape, she notices other figures around and realizes she's being watched and photographed.
Feeling a sudden rush of fear, Lillian runs into the Frances-DiCamillo Vineyards wine tasting room, where the elderly proprietor, Kitty Birkirt, seems God-sent to calm her and offer some kindly words of support and understanding. As the two women sit chatting, Lillian feels a sudden irrepressible urge to get back to Sacramento to tend to her young family's resting place. As she begins to leave, a captivating painting of the Rose House stops Lillian short. Commenting on its stunning "aliveness," Kitty explains that the painting seems to evoke whatever emotions a person is feeling inside. Interesting and more intriguing is the town's claim-to-fame artist, Truman Clark.
On the way back to Sacramento, Lillian ponders the beauty of the Rose House and how much her estranged sister, Geena, would have loved it. Geena was with Robert and the children in the car when it crashed, and fled the scene shortly after. Lillian again brings all the doubts and accusations to the forefront of memory as she wonders, again, how involved Geena and Robert were before his death. There are too many unanswered questions, and the grief is still so raw.
Enter Geena, rebellious, hard to love, and similarly grief-stricken. Recounting their childhood and the traumatic loss of their parents and brothers to a house fire, Geena rakes herself through the mental paces, too. Having grown up with Pastor and Aunt Bren, their beloved uncle and aunt, Geena turns to Aunt Bren for some support. The message is always the same: make things right with your sister.
Fast forward four years later. Lillian revisits La Rosaleda and is stunned to find a painting of the Rose House and herself in it. With questions running through her mind, Lillian feels outrage at being watched so carefully during one of the most difficult times of her life. How did this artist so accurately capture her grief on canvas? Even the title, Beauty and the Beast Within, was telling. She is frustrated in her attempts to unmask the anonymous painter and leaves with more questions than answers.
Lillian tries to forget about the painting and her painful past, and decides a week at the local B&B would be a good retreat and resting spot. Very swiftly, she runs into Truman Clark again, and immediately romance is sparked between them. What gets in between their growing love for one another is Lillian's memories of an unfaithful husband and deceitful sister, now complicated by the fact that she's being followed. Growing apprehension and very real dangers begin to surround Lillian as she fights for a peaceful future amidst much uncertainty. But fight she must, and the battle takes place at the Rose House.
Readers will appreciate Tina Ann Forkner’s finely tuned ability to bring to life both her characters' strong realistic emotions and the physical beauty that surrounds them. ROSE HOUSE is a lovely rendering of working through grief and learning to live fully again, despite the abiding wounds of loss.
Reviewed by Michele Howe on May 5, 2009