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The Secret of Pembrooke Park Paperback – December 2, 2014
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From the Back Cover
Abigail Foster is the practical daughter. She fears she will end up a spinster, especially as she has little dowry, and the one man she thought might marry her seems to have fallen for her younger, prettier sister.
Facing financial ruin, Abigail and her father search for more affordable lodgings, until a strange solicitor arrives with an astounding offer: the use of a distant manor house abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left: tea cups encrusted with dry tea, moth-eaten clothes in wardrobes, a doll's house left mid-play...
The handsome local curate welcomes them, but though he and his family seem acquainted with the manor's past, the only information they offer is a stern warning: Beware trespassers drawn by rumors that Pembrooke Park contains a secret room filled with treasure.
This catches Abigail's attention. Hoping to restore her family's finances--and her dowry--Abigail looks for this supposed treasure. But eerie sounds at night and footprints in the dust reveal she isn't the only one secretly searching the house.
Then Abigail begins receiving anonymous letters, containing clues about the hidden room and startling discoveries about the past.
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?
"Regency romance with awesome castles, secrets, hidden rooms and, of course, romance . . . . Julie Klassen has hit this one out of the ballpark."--RT Book Reviews Top Pick
"Klassen has combined all kinds of reader-favorite elements in this mystery romance, including a grand estate, inscrutable villagers, a family tragedy and the first sweet buds of a love story....The Secret of Pembrooke Park is a gem for Regency and inspirational readers alike."--Bookpage
"Jane Austen meets Victoria Holt in Christy Award-winning Klassen's latest deliciously spooky and sweetly romantic historical."--Booklist
About the Author
Three-time Christy Award winner 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. She and her husband have two sons and live in St. Paul, Minnesota. Learn more at www.julieklassen.com.
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My Review: 5/10
I had mixed feelings about this book. I really liked the setting, the nods to Jane Austen, and the mystery in general. The plot was very well done; I was very invested in unraveling it, and had no suspicions or theories as to true motives of any of the characters.
However, a lot of William's and Abigail's actions didn't sit well with me. I'm not an authority on 19th century propriety by any means, unless a solid love of Jane Austen's work and a tendency to immerse myself in regency period novels makes me an expert. But I just couldn't see a devoted man of the cloth or a well-bred lady doing the things that they did. I mean, Lydia Bennet would, but she brought shame down on anyone with a teaspoon's worth of sense. Frequently inviting a man into your bedchamber, being alone with said man in said bedchamber, coming upon a half naked man and then staying to chat, the super forward flirtatious remarks, the sensuous lingering touches- these are all commonplace and accepted today, but 200 years ago? Not so much. Definitely not without consequences. I was frequently disappointed in both of them. How often William risked her reputation. If he really cared for her and/or if he had integrity, he wouldn't have trifled with her, but would have taken the utmost care to treat her like a lady and preserve her good name.
I did appreciate how clean the romance was, as well as the Christian doctrine appropriately sprinkled throughout.
Ms. Klassen is one of my favorite authors - I have been disappointed by her last two books (this one and Dancing Master), but she is a great talent, and I hope her next effort will more resemble her earlier books. Having had these two recent, mediocre experiences, I think for her next book I will wait to get it at the library instead of buying.
Miss Abigail Foster is the practical elder daughter of a London family during the Regency era. At the start of the story, her family suffers financial reverses and must retrench. A timely offer comes from the solicitor for a distant relative: they can live for a year rent-free at an old manor house, Pembrooke Park. A few mysterious restrictions are attached to the offer, warning us that all is not as it seems. The man Abigail believes she loves, a childhood friend, is off to Italy for a time, so she has no strong motive to stay in London. Abigail and her father jump at the chance to inhabit Pembrooke Park; the younger sister and her mother want to remain in London for the season.
Upon arriving at the manor, Abigail finds a series of interlocking mysteries and mysterious characters. Does the house hide a treasure? Who is the heavily veiled lady in the cemetery? Why is her neighbor Leah so reserved? Abigail also attracts a certain amount of admiration, especially from the young curate. The story unfolds with revelations doled out bit by bit, relationships growing out of shared experience. Most of the characters are fleshed out, though a few (notably Abigail’s younger sister) seem to be around for convenience’s sake. I did figure out the main components of the mystery before they were revealed, but that never bothers me in a story such as this; I enjoy taking the journey.
The two elements I did not enjoy so much were the modern language and the modern manners. This story could have been set in the present, or at least the twentieth century, and I would have admired it more. For me, use of American contemporary slang in a Regency novel is very jarring: “It will look fine with the gown you always wear” on the first page gave me due warning that there was going to be little attempt to sound “period.” The modern manners bothered me more—men and women meeting alone at night and touching each other; mingling of people from different classes, to a degree that would have been impossible in the period; excessive familiarity on short acquaintance; etc. I would have liked the novel better had it not been dressed up in Regency garb; the characters and their actions would have been more believable even as far back as the 1920s. These elements in this setting required a suspension of disbelief that is hard for me to achieve.
Still, this book is much better written than many novels set in the Regency period, and I had a good time reading it.
Some scenes, however, felt somewhat improper for this period. A woman generally isn't left alone with a man, and certain wouldn't allow him in her bedroom or in private parts of the house.
All in all, I did not feel that this book was one of Ms. Klassen's strongest works, but she did do a fair job tying up the loose ends. Would I read this book again? It's hard to say. I don't love it, but I don't hate it either.