Lina Simoni’s novel “The House of Serenades” tells of a young Italian socialite at the turn of the twentieth century. Caterina, the young and beautiful daughter of one of the most affluent and important families in Genoa, falls deeply in love with the young son of a baker living in the lower-class part of town, and begins secretly seeing him. When Caterina’s father discovers that the young man wants to marry his daughter, he immediately assumes the worst and comes up with a plan to save the family from disgrace. Caterina’s life slowly begins falling apart after her father’s discovery, and the consequences of her father’s actions take a dramatic toll on Caterina, her family, the man she loves, and the entire town of Genoa as secrets and lies are folded into her tragic love story.
Before I go into my review of this book, I feel like there are a few admissions I need to lay out for readers.
Trying to review a book from an objective standpoint which doesn’t involve a reviewer’s personal preferences is a tricky thing, but it’s always the goal of the Unbound Underground. We’ve said from the beginning that personal preferences aren’t always terribly useful to readers because it always tacks the “if you like what the reviewer likes” caveat onto everything said in a review. And we’re definitely not in agreement with people who say it’s impossible to quantify art because everything is a matter of taste. We at the Underground believe that writing does involve a level of technical skill, that there are conventions that all stories operate within, and that a discussion of the technical execution of story elements is a valid way of assessing the quality of a book.
But, reviewing a book is entirely different than liking it. A good reviewer should be able to pick out the well-executed elements of any book, even if as a reader, it isn’t something that has any special appeal for them. That’s just how reviewing works. Theoretically, a reviewer worth their salt should be able to give a favorable review to any well written novel, even and especially when he or she winds up personally hating it. And for the most part, it isn’t that difficult to be objective and fair to books I’m not wild about.
What IS difficult is being objective and fairly criticizing a book I love. And I mean love. Not appreciate or understand the appeal. Love. Loving a book happens to different readers for different reasons, but it’s always based on something personal and emotional. People can love really dumb and bizarre things for reasons that have nothing to do with quality, and in that kind of conversation, a technical discussion of elements is normally not terribly welcome. This is why Underground book reviews aren’t very focused on a reviewer’s personal experience of the story or identification with the characters. But the Unbound
Underground does believe in owning our biases.
So it seems only fair that I admit a few things right up front. I loved this book. I honestly don’t believe there are a lot of technical problems with it, but I’m also not entirely objective in this case, because this story has a lot of personal significance to me. But readers should know a) I have never met or talked to the author of this book prior to the review request, b) neither I nor the Unbound Underground are receiving any money to review this book, and c) that the free copy we received has not influenced our opinion of this book.
Aside from a handful of typos in the book, I really can’t think of anything I disliked in the novel. The characters were well drawn and intense without melodrama. Each character has a well-conceived and well-executed motivation that animates their actions, and even the most outrageous events in the story are well grounded in the evolution of each person’s perspective. The backdrop of the book is an interesting one, being a European city in a historical time period.
Both settings are well used without becoming tedious or over emphasized. And even though technically one might think of the plot of “House of Serenades” as a society novel, it has much more in common with the borderline psychotic societies of Dostoevsky novels, than the more sedate and subtle society of Jane Austen novels. Accordingly, there are some nice allusions to the political underpinnings of the social structure, though not so much so that the story becomes a political novel. The heart of the conflicts all center around the Romeo-Juliet kind of love story, but it is a novel so well characterized, that themes of forbidden love feel fresh and carry their own emotional resonance.
In addition to the central love story, the books takes on the feel of a police procedural with characters out to solve various mysteries, and these instances give the novel a well-rounded plot which is fast-paced and interesting while totally driven by vibrant and sympathetic characters. There is also some music history woven through the book, which gives the story a particularly Italian flavor in conjunction with descriptions of the setting.
“House of Serenades” is a beautiful book with an emotionally engaging story and a solid writing style. Though it may not have any appeal for fans of Clive Cussler, it is a well-paced and well-plotted book that maintains a very believable romance between very real characters without appealing to any obvious clichés.
4.5 stars out of 5: This is an excellent book for readers looking for a satisfying love-story with old-world charm and historical detail. Characters are the driving focus of the novel, but the story never loses its sense of plot. Ms. Simoni maintains a dramatic sense of tension through the whole novel with well constructed scenes and dialogue. It’s an emotional and intelligent story told with a wonderful sense of timing and plot. Readers looking for murderous mayhem may be disappointed, but for audiences looking for a well-grounded love-story with historical and political implications “House of Serenades” is definitely worth the time and money.