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Mrs Foster and her younger daughter remain in town with a relative while Mr Foster and Abigail travel to Pembrooke Park to see the house, with a view to moving in and starting work straight away, if it’s habitable. When they arrive at the house they are met with a less than warm welcome, instead a man brandishes a gun at them! Once inside the house, things are even more intriguing. Rather than look like a house that’s been closed up, with furniture covered and so on, instead things look like the inhabitants simply vanished. Many personal effects are there, including something that even I as a reader coveted, a dolls house which is an exact replica of the house. The house seems to have been left so suddenly that there is even a tea set still out on the table, with tea residue in the cups.
‘It appeared as though the occupants had just been called away. A tea set sat on the round table, cups encrusted with dry tea. A book lay open over the arm of the sofa. A needlework project, nearly finished, lay trapped under an overturned chair.
What had happened here? Why had the family left so abruptly, and why had the rooms been entombed for almost two decades?’As Abigail works to bring the house back into order she begins to know people in the local community. The man who brandished the gun at her, Mac Chapman, is the former steward of the estate and very loyal to his former employer. He won’t tell Abigail anything about the Pembrooke family. Others in the area are similarly oddly reticent about the Pembrookes. Abigail befriends Mac’s family, particularly his grown up children, William, the curate of the area, and beautiful, shy Leah. Abigail goes on to meet other people in the area, from landed gentry, through villagers and down to servants. It seems though, that nearly everybody she meets is keeping a secret of one sort or another. There is rumoured to be treasure hidden at Pembrooke Park. If it’s real, possibly Abigail could find it. Can Abigail find out the secrets of Pembrooke Park, or are some secrets better off being forgotten?
This story is inspired by the gothic romances of the time, with a nod to Jane Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey’ which I read last month in preparation for reading this. It’s quite a contrast to Northanger Abbey though. Catherine sees things which aren’t there and Abigail keeps telling herself that there is nothing there even though she is afraid there might be. This quote in particular reminded me of the Northanger connection and how an older and more sensible heroine than Catherine Morland might deal with a potential Gothic mystery.
‘Heart pounding, she gingerly leaned forward and peered over the stair rail, her candle’s light barely penetrating the darkness below. A hooded figure floated down the last few stairs. Stunned, she blinked. But when she looked again, the stairs were empty. She had probably only imagined the dark apparition.
With a shiver, she decided that was the last time she would read gothic fiction.’Since this has the word ‘secret’ in the title I was expecting a level of mystery and I wasn’t disappointed; quite a few of the characters have secrets or at least know some of what happened to the previous tenants of Pembrooke Park and Abigail is just trying to piece it together. I will tell you now that I managed to work out the secrets before they were revealed, so it’s not too difficult, but things are revealed gradually so it’s also not too easy. I don’t think you’d be able to put all the pieces together very early on, as there is so little to go on. Along with mystery we also have some peril, which made for an exciting read at points.
Even with all this mystery going on I still want some romance and I felt that ‘The Secret of Pembrooke Park’ delivered on this score. Abigail has had her time amongst London society and has had no offers, but then, she didn’t want any – for many years she has held a special place in her heart and her dreams for family friend Gilbert. However, he has gone to Italy to pursue his dreams of a career in architecture and before he left Abigail got the impression that he showed signs of admiring her beautiful younger sister. Unsure how Gilbert will feel when he returns, Abigail moves to the countryside free of ties. She meets with a fair amount of admiration in the new neighbourhood, which is especially gratifying as she is somebody who views herself as plain. I knew this would be a romance with no sex scenes, as this author writes for a Christian publisher, but this doesn’t mean that there is no passion, there is certainly that, and a fair bit of romance too.
As I said, this book is from Bethany House Publishing so I was expecting a Christian message. However the message doesn’t feel forced. One of the characters is a curate who delivers sermons so the Christianity is present in that, as you’d expect and there were also some biblical references but they seemed quite natural in historical books as religion was a part of life that was more apparent in everyday society in the past. One theme that I enjoyed contemplating in the book was whether the sins of the father should be borne by the children. To an extent, our parents’ decisions shape us, no matter we choose to do our position in life up to a certain age is affected by our parents’ decisions, so that was an interesting theme, and not overdone.
I sometimes find historical stories frustrating because of the behaviour and language used, as all too often they are too modern. I wasn’t sure about how proper Abigail’s behaviour was (I don’t mean the bits that were clearly improper!), such as going to events alone with a young man. She is also left alone at Pembrooke Park by her father for quite a few days, when I would have expected that she would have needed a companion or a family member. I don’t know how proper this was but it certainly left me feeling quite angry with her father for taking advantage of her! There were some instances of words that jumped out at me as being too modern or American and there were some small things like food being eaten out of season but I am more picky than most people in this respect and a lot of readers might not notice these things as much. One thing that surprised me, when I looked back at things I’d highlighted in the book, was just how long the book is because it didn’t feel long to me at all, it doesn’t drag or feel stretched out.
In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I enjoyed pondering the mystery, I enjoyed the friendships, the romance, the danger and the action. I liked how Abigail grew to value herself as a woman, rather than just as a housekeeper for her family. I’d certainly recommend this book to fellow historical romance lovers and I’d rate it at 4½ stars.
In the spring of 1818, twenty-four-year-old Abigail Foster fears she is destined to become a spinster. Her family’s finances are in ruins and the one young man she truly esteems has fallen for another woman — her younger, prettier sister Louisa.
Forced to retrench after the bank failure of Austen, Gray & Vincent, the Foster family optimistically pool their resources for another London Season for her sister in hopes of an advantageous alliance. While searching for more affordable lodgings, a surprising offer is presented: the use of a country manor house in Berkshire abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to the imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left, the tight-lipped locals offering only rumors of a secret room, hidden treasure and a murder in its mysterious past.
Eager to restore her family fortune, Abigail, with the help of the handsome local curate William Chapman and his sister Leah, begins her search into the heavily veiled past aided by unsigned journal pages from a previous resident and her own spirited determination. As old friends and new foes come calling at Pembrooke Park, secrets come to light. Will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks...or very real danger?
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Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her books have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. She has also been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in St. Paul, Minnesota. Learn more about Julie and her books at her website, follower her on Twitter, and visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.
Grand Giveaway Contest
Win One of Four Fabulous Prizes
In celebration of the release of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, four chances to win copies of Julie’s books and other Jane Austen-inspired items are being offered.
Three lucky winners will receive one trade paperback or eBook copy of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and one grand prize winner will receive one copy of all eight of Julie’s novels: Lady of Milkweed Manor, The Apothecary's Daughter, The Silent Governess, The Girl in the Gatehouse, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, The Tutor’s Daughter, The Dancing Master, and The Secret of Pembrooke Park, one DVD of Northanger Abbey (2007) and a Jane Austen Action Figure.
To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on The Secret of Pembrooke Park Blog Tour starting February 16, 2015 through 11:59 pm PT, March 9, 2015. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Julie Klassen’s website on March 16, 2015. Winners have until March 22, 2015 to claim their prize. The giveaway contest is open to residents of the US, UK, and Canada. Digital books will be sent through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Good luck to all!
THE SECRET OF PEMBROOKE PARK BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE:
February 16 My Jane Austen Book Club (Guest Blog)
February 16 vvb32 Reads (Excerpt)
February 17 Psychotic State Book Reviews (Review)
February 17 My Kids Led Me Back to Pride and Prejudice (Spotlight)
February 18 Addicted to Jane Austen (Review)
February 18 Peeking Between the Pages (Review)
February 19 Jane Austen in Vermont (Interview)
February 19 Living Read Girl (Review)
February 20 My Love for Jane Austen (Excerpt)
February 20 Truth, Beauty, Freedom & Books (Review)
February 20 Laura's Reviews (Guest Blog)
February 21 A Bookish Way of Life (Review)
February 21 Romantic Historical Reviews (Excerpt)
February 22 Reflections of a Book Addict (Review)
February 23 Austenesque Reviews (Guest Blog)
February 23 Peace, Love, Books (Review)
February 24 vvb32 Reads (Review)
February 24 Poof Books (Excerpt)
February 25 Babblings of a Bookworm (Review)
February 25 Austenesque Reviews (Review)
February 25 Luxury Reading (Review)
February 26 So Little Time…So Much to Read (Review)
February 26 More Agreeably Engaged (Excerpt)
February 27 Psychotic State Book Reviews (Interview)
February 27 Booktalk & More (Review)
February 28 Laughing with Lizzie (Spotlight)
February 28 The Calico Critic (Review)
March 01 Leatherbound Reviews (Excerpt)
March 01 Delighted Reader (Review)
March 02 CozyNookBks (Review)March 02 Laura's Reviews (Review)