Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Review: The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen

The Secret of Pembrooke Park
by Julie Klassen
Release Date: December 2, 2014
2014 Bethany House Publishers
Ebook Edition; 465 Pages
ISBN: 978-0764210716
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Romance
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

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 . . .

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?

My Thoughts
The Secret of Pembrooke Park was an enjoyable historical inspirational regency romance.  It is exactly what I would expect from a Julie Klassen novel: enjoyable characters, some romance, secrets from the past, and definitely some twists and turns intriguing enough to develop a mystery.  But for me, the true charm of a Klassen novel is always the relationships between the characters.

Abigail Foster, eldest Foster daughter, got herself into a bit of financial trouble after one of her investment suggestions to her father got the whole family into financial difficulties.  Forced to sell their family London home, the family is startled when a strange man offers them a manor house for their use for one year, at a low fee.  This is exactly the kind of thing I adore reading about as the house had been abandoned for eighteen years, and no one knew what happened to the family who abandoned it.  Intrigue.  Mystery.  Love it!!  Abigail walked in on this situation, and with so many secrets around her, her curiosity grew and she wanted to find out what happened in her home.  And as she came out of her shell to discover what had happened, she definitely developed and grew as a personality and I really grew to like her very much, where at first I thought she was kind of mousy.  I liked her spunk and her vivaciousness, and I liked her nosiness, particularly as I wanted to know the answers to her questions myself.  And suddenly, she had lots of friends and activities, and being courted by two men didn't hurt either.  Being always outdone by her beautiful younger sister though, she was constantly worried by her sister's return from her London Season, feeling that once these men see her sister again, they would no longer pay attention to her, especially as one of them had already tried to court her sister.  

And this is where I find Ms. Klassen's writing to be intriguing as I found Abigail's viewpoint often clouded by her feelings for her sister and thinking of herself as a wallflower.  And her perceptions of events and people's reactions were clouded because of how she thought about herself, often reading others' reactions incorrectly because of her own beliefs or insecurities.  It made me think how often we, as humans, tend to do this, and how much grief we could avoid if we didn't put our own judgements and insecurities into what we see, if we could always look at things objectively.  To give you an example from the novel, when William, the curator, sees Abigail's sister for the first time, his mouth drops open and Abigail's heart drops knowing that she has lost him forever for she thinks he is astounded by her beauty.  However, what we discover is that he had actually met her previously and this meeting was not a productive one.  It definitely makes you think and re-evaluate your own reactions and that of others, does it not?

The only thing I had a problem with, and it wasn't a really big problem, just a bit of an annoying one, was Abigail's behaviour.  The Fosters were apparently gentry and Abigail's dad acted as if he was lord of this or lord of that and their house in London was in a very respectable area, yet Abigail definitely did some things that were quite out of character for a young lady who has definitely experienced a Season or two.  While Abigail's behaviours make sense to us modern women, they don't make sense to a woman of the wealthy class two hundred years ago so I was a bit confused. 

I definitely love the whole setting of the manor house and how it was presented to the readers.  There are many secrets within its walls and these are revealed bit by bit without overwhelming the reader or taking over the development of the characters or the romance that is found here.  I thought it all balanced rather nicely, while keeping that element of mystery and suspense that was necessary.  

The Secret of Pembrooke Park was a fun and intriguing story that I enjoyed.  I liked the characters and enjoyed watching them develop and grow, and develop meaningful relationships.  Having read every singly one of Julie Klassen's novels, it is easy to sense a bit of a pattern and to discover the 'mystery', but that didn't take away from the enjoyment of reading this one.  I am always attracted to the words 'secret' and 'manor' in the same sentence.  I developed a bit of a liking for one of the characters I don't think I was supposed to and was a bit sad at the end as I hoped to read more about him in the future, but that will not happen now.  I am looking forward to reading Lady Maybe when it is released in July.