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Abigail Foster fears she will end up a spinster, especially as she has little dowry to improve her charms and the one man she thought might marry her–a longtime friend–has fallen for her younger, prettier sister.
When financial problems force her family to sell their London home, 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 to know something about the manor’s past, the only information they offer Abigail is a warning: Beware trespassers who may be drawn by rumors that Pembrooke contains a secret room filled with treasure.
Hoping to improve her family’s financial situation, Abigail surreptitiously searches for the hidden room, but the arrival of anonymous letters addressed to her, with clues about the room and the past, bring discoveries even more startling. As secrets come to light, will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks…or very real danger?
Publisher and Release Date: Bethany House Publishers, October 2014
Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Inspirational Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars
Review by Susan:
Julie Klassen has received a number of accolades from book reviewers, attributing such characteristics as “thrilling,“ “engrossing,“ and “fantastic” to her historical romance The Secret of Pembrooke Park. I must be in the minority because I never felt moved to attribute such traits to the story. “Delicate” and “pensive” are the adjectives I would use to describe the characters, and “slow” and “intellectually driven” is how I would evaluate the pace and content of the read, which has been said to be suspenseful and intriguing by reviewers.
The romance that blossoms between Abigail Foster and William Chapman is a gentle one that blooms gradually. Readers are drawn to their kindly manner and strong sense of family responsibility, and by extension would like to see them come together; however, other external factors cause doubt and make us question their suitability for each other. Both are shy about revealing their thoughts and feelings to one another.
The characters conservative manners and use of proper language reflect the Regency Era, although the surroundings and layout of the landscape could be reflective of either Colonial America or the English countryside. The author does not spend much time in describing the atmosphere, which according to book reviews is gothic in nature (how can they tell by the narration?). The author devotes much of the story to the style of the characters’ garments and the finery of their furnishings.
Little action takes place; instead the focus is on mundane dialogue, common topics addressed in the conversations, and passages about the daily activities of the characters. In this regard, readers may relate the story to novels like Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey.
A secret about Pembroke Park is alluded to from the start about Pembrooke Park, and readers are told that the Fosters are related to the Pembrookes, though their direct lineage is not revealed. Though their bloodlines are connected, the Fosters are not in line to inherit the estate. It’s a shaky foundation that seems more contrived than plausible.
The premise about a secret at the manor grabbed my interest and kept me turning the pages; however, the secret wasn’t as interesting to me as seeing Abigail and William come together. The book is less effective as a mystery novel than as a sweet romance, which the story passes without reservation. Strong human emotions are not engaged but the ending is satisfying with Abigail and William closing the deal to be together.