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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Julie Klassen: The Secret of Pembrooke Park

By Kelly Bridgewater

Back Cover Copy:

From Amazon
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?

My Thoughts: 

I picked up The Secret of Pembrooke Park because of the back cover synopsis of the story. I wanted to learn, as much as Abigail Foster, about the mysterious house that had been entombed for the past eighteen years. As an avid reader of mystery and suspense, the plotline tugged at the mystery lover in me. Plus, the house behind Abigail on the cover looked like a neat house to read about. After reading the story, I was impressed with Klassen’s ability to write a wonderful mystery filled with suspicious characters, hidden treasure, and weird occurrences.

 Klassen’s writing was direct and the working of a great storyteller. There was a nice balance between prose and dialogue. Sometimes I had to steal my eyes from the page and remind myself that I was in the twenty-first century, not in the early nineteenth century in England. Klassen is a master at using dialogue that enhances the characters, not detract from the characters’ personalities. The story structure and pace was nicely handled. Klassen started with showing how the Foster family had to leave their home and ended up at Pembrooke Park, then the story took off a nice pace. I did not lose where Klassen took her readers. The plot moved along nicely, dragging the reader along.

The two main characters of Will and Abigail bring depth to the story. As for Abigail, she is an older woman, who has been passed over for marriage during her season because she still held a candle for Gilbert Scott, her childhood friend. As the story progresses, Abigail’s selfless and unbelievably good-natured in the face of hardship shines, creating a character who the readers hope find the hidden treasure and solve the mystery. Klassen wrote from Abigail’s perspective and did a good job at allowing the readers to understand her internal conflicts. Almost as a complete foil, Klassen created William Chapman, the local curator or priest, who serves the community for little to no money. Once in a while, Klassen would jump into William’s perspective, so the readers could understand William’s feeling toward Abigail.

While the mystery of what actually occurred in Pembrooke Park took center stage for the story, the romantic tension filters through nicely. From looking in the library and studying architectural drawings of the house to tapping on walls and studying the outside of the building, Abigail focused most of her attention on finding the hidden treasure. As for the romantic tension, Abigail falls hard for William Chapman, but still wanders about her first love, Gilbert Scott. But then, to create more tension, Klassen throws in Miles Pembrooke, a fellow descendent to the Pembrooke manor, who tries to woo Abigail. I rooted for Abigail and William’s happily-ever-after and the slow, but steady build-up of their relationship was enjoyable. Totally normal for a historical romance.

One of my favorite parts was Klassen’s ability to describe the setting. I enjoy reading her description of the interior and exterior of the house. I felt like I was there, roaming through the halls of Pembrooke Park. Klassen even described tea sludge left in a cup to show the abandoness of Pembrooke Park. She did a great job at inviting her readers into the estate.

Since William was a curator or pastor at the nearby church, the story featured couple of Sundays and other sermons. Klassen had William teach the lesson of storing up your treasures up in heaven, not on Earth. Abigail comes across Genesis 4 and Numbers 14 in a tiny book in the replica of the Pembrooke Park, otherwise known as a child’s dollhouse. Using these verses and sermons, Klassen wove in the theme of the story without being preachy to her audience.

The Secret of Pembrooke Park fit nicely as a historical fiction, one that will be enjoyed by woman readers of any age. Klassen has spent a lot of time studying the regency time period because of the setting, dialogue, and manners evident in the characters. There was nothing questionable about the entire plot, but might start a good discussion on the living a good life and not storing up treasures on earth, but focusing on our eternal rewards. The idea of a mysterious item found in a home, either a journal, a wedding dress, or picture has been done before, but Klassen wove in different elements to strengthen her plot and made it a truly unique story. One I truly enjoyed reading even though it was 456 pages long. The story was worth every page.

Overall, The Secret of Pembrooke Park features realistic historical settings, strong characters, page-turning mystery, and a developing swoon-worthy romance. As the hunt for treasure on earth works its way through the characters, so too will the readers be coaxed into remembering that our real treasure resides in what we accomplish in this life for heaven.  

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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