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?
Much in the old style of gothic historical romances that came before, this enchanting new tale of a sensible, young lady surrounded by mysteries, secrets and romance made for a lovely first time encounter with a new to me author. I have been meaning to read her books for ages and now I am dreadfully sorry that I put it off. I rarely pay attention when books are compared to certain other books mostly so my expectations don’t get too high to enjoy a story, but in this case, the comparison didn’t exaggerate. I was captivated from cover to cover. Move over Catherine Moreland from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Abigail Foster will defy the night-time noises, long-buried family secrets, and shadowy villains to find the truth of Pembrooke Park.
The story opens with Abigail Foster taking one hard blow after another. First, she discovers that the young man she hopes to marry only sees her as a good friend and is interested in her younger more beautiful sister. Then she learns that because of advice and encouragement she gave her father to invest heavily in her uncle’s financial schemes that the money is lost and now the family must retrench. They give up their lovely home and sell as much as they can. Abigail even gives up her own dowry so her mother and sister can continue to enjoy her sister’s first London Season in the style to which they are accustomed. Meanwhile, she and her father accept an unusual anonymous offer to take over the residence of a manor home in the country.
Abigail suspects that the Pembrooke Park, the manor house they will lease at a very low rate for a 12-month has seen a less than peaceful past. It had been shut-up for twenty years and rumors are rife as to why. The former property steward and now caretaker is gruff and almost hostile with suspicion at first and then he tells them not to inquire into the past. Abigail’s father must return to town to continue to deal with their financial difficulties so she stays behind to continue to ready the disused house for the rest of her family’s arrival at the end of the Season. All is fine during the day, but in the night sounds frighten her and she is pretty sure someone is moving about. Do they seek the rumored treasure hidden in a secret room? Then the unsigned letters and journal entries start arriving showing her glimpses of past horrors.
Abigail grows close to Mac Chapman and his family especially the handsome curate, William and the shy reclusive, Leah. William and Leah encourage her in her faith and welcome her as a friend. She meets the family of the other big house and sees a potential romance blooming even if the lady of the family wants something better for her son than a lowly steward’s daughter. Slowly, Abigail becomes part of the new community and slowly the secrets of the Pembrookes come out- dangerous secrets.
This story was just amazing. There was so much going on to grab my notice. The settings, the plot threads, the characters, and even the writing style. It was a large volume of pages and yet it read so fast for me. I fairly flew through some parts just to see what would happen next. The twists and turns left me enthralled with this author’s devious way of veiling the truth and then exposing it in a dramatic fashion.
Abigail is a first person point of view narrator. She was an excellent heroine and very easy as the story teller. There are a few occasions when William takes over, but these scenes are shorter. The various plot threads were all equally captivating to me. I loved the mystery surrounding Pembrooke Park and its past which included the treasure hunt, I loved meeting all the members of the household and surrounding community with their little or even larger stories. The romance was so sweet and, for a rare thing, I enjoyed that there were more than one potential suitor although I did think the choice wasn’t in doubt from my perspective. It was the more a question of how it could come about. I was really rooting for my favorite even though it seemed impossible. William Chapman was humorous, whimsical, a loving brother and son, good to his parishioners, and so sweetly in love with Abigail. He stands beside her when she is left alone and he is there as confidante and friend when she really needs one. He knows he’s too poor and comes from a lower class and he sees the other men interested in her so he tries to bow out gracefully. There was a secondary romance that was almost as gripping and equally impossible as William and Abigail.
As to the heroine’s character, Abigail is the plain, sensible daughter, but she is not perfect. She made mistakes and she was well aware- or so she felt- that she lost whenever there was a comparison to her younger, beautiful and more vivacious sister. Abby is used to guiding her father and having his respect so she felt it keenly when she erred in encouraging him to invest in his brother in law’s financial scheme and her father was cold to her. This makes her spend much of the book sacrificing in an attempt to make up for it and to regain her father’s respect. Now personally, I felt that her need to help make sacrifices was worthy and I’m all for owning one’s mistakes, but I felt badly that she felt almost unworthy as a member of her own family because seriously, she advised, but her father was equally to blame for taking the advice and her mother and sister ran around oblivious to the need to economize.
There is a lot going on around Abigail. She is quietly searching for the truth to the past and eager to find the secret room, but she is also vested in the goings on of the people around her. And those people are all intriguing and under suspicion at some point. There is talk of a few murders, treasure, old family troubles and Abigail isn’t sure who to trust and who to suspect of lying. Many times she suspects people of knowing more than they will say and then there is the anonymous letter writer and the shadowy person who wanted her family at the house for reasons of their own. All sorts of good stuff going on.
I will also say that flowing through this story are strong inspirational themes of salvation, redemption and forgiveness. The curate, William, his sister and the rest of his family are people of faith, speaking it and living it. The flow of the story is not disrupted and it all blends well. Abby embraces their teachings so she learns to let go of her guilt over getting her family into financial trouble and her conflicted feelings about her sister attracting the man Abigail planned to marry.
On a side note, I was thrilled to see the Jane Austen references to her books, the shades of Northanger scenes, and even down to the bank failure that cameoed Mr. Henry Austen in the story.
In summary, I loved this story with its strong plot, enchanting heroine, engaging sweet romance and delightful atmosphere of gothic mystery. I would recommend it to those who enjoy sweet historical romance and inspirational fiction. I definitely plan on reading more of this author’s work.
My thanks to Laurel Ann from Austenprose for providing my copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Discussion Starter: This book is very atmospheric and in the old school style of gothic. I haven’t read this type of book for years. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier was a favorite. Do you enjoy books with a gothic setting? Any favorite books or authors in the genre?
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!