I was first introduced to Julie Klassen by my Aunt Wendy. Like my mother and me, she is a sucker for a good romance novel and often will send a few of her favorites home with us when we visit. I think the first novel I read by her was The Apothecary's Daughter and I've also read The Girl in the Gatehouse, both of which were really good. So I knew The Secret of Pembrooke Park was at least going to be a good read, but it far surpassed my expectations!
The Secret of Pembroke Park follows the journey of Abigail Foster, a practical woman pushing her "old spinster" years. She and her family are faced with a grim future after the bank Abigail's father invested money into fails. Abigail blames herself since she was the one who encouraged her father to invest in the first place. Determined to redeem her wrongdoing and her position in her father's eyes she sets out to find a new home for her family before they are kicked out of their old one. Before she can ever begin her search a mysterious letter arrives. The anonymous writer offers Abigail's family a temporary dwelling for a year at Pembrooke Park, a manor locked up and abandoned for eighteen years, under the condition that they work to restore the house. Seeing this as the best option Abigail and her family agree. They arrive and find the manor just as it was left. It was as if the previous owners left unexpecently and abruptly for some mysterious unknown reason. The only thing anyone will tell the Fosters about the manor is to beware trespassers in search of the rumored treasure hidden somewhere in the house. Hoping to fix her mistake and replace her dowery, Abigail goes on a journey to discover the manor's secrets.
Unlike my last book review from Bethany House, I immediately fell in love with the main character Abigail. She was smart, kind, and all around likable. She was one of those heroines who carried herself with dignity and grace but wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty and work, which is a characteristic I admire in women, fiction and real. You really get to go deep into her mind and thoughts and at the end of the book you'll feel like you know her even better than she herself does. All of the characters (even the shady ones) I loved and felt like I really got to know both sides of each of them. This is why I love Julie Klassen's work. Even though I absolutely adored Abigail, my favorite character has to be Mac the groundskeeper. Despite his hard demeanor and brashness you can't help but love the man the more you find out about him and his part in the whole story. Did I mention that he's of Irish blood as well? :)
Besides the way the author clearly shows each of the characters from each and every angle so you feel like you know them in every way possible, my favorite part about The Secret of Pembroke Park is the fact that while there is a romantic story line to it, the main story is not about Abigail's love life. As I have gotten older I have discovered I don't enjoy romance novels as much as I use to. Don't get me wrong, as mentioned at the beginning of this review, I do love a good love story. But they're not all I read as I use to during my early teen years. I enjoy books nowadays that have a great plot line with a little romance tossed into the mix. Considering the time period I expected this to be one of those "we-have-to-get-a-man-in-order-to-survive" story about women trapping men into their doom. But the story was more so about the manor and its story with Abigail as the side tale that creatively intertwined (and in some cases mirrored) that of the manor. You felt like you were viewing the manor's story alongside Abigail and discovering the secrets with her. The book also touched on many spiritual issues such as forgiveness, children paying for the sins of their fathers, and ultimately the worth we ourselves have as children of The One True KING.
Of course, this book is not perfect. There are a few parts that I believe could have been handled differently.
For one, a man named William goes swimming in the creek outside the manor at night. That same night our heroin can't seem to fall asleep and decides to talk a walk (do you see where this is going?). As fate would have it the two meet up and have a share of dialogue. During this part it is mentioned that since she grew up without any brothers Abigail has never seen a "half naked man" before (aka, a man without a shirt on). When he asks her if she's uncomfortable with the situation the nervous Abigail lies and says that she's okay (even though she's not). Because this part is told from Abigail's viewpoint during the whole conversation she is noticing things about this man's body and the book goes to describe how muscular he is and other parts of his body. I felt uncomfortable during this part as it seems that the only mental picture being painted during this section is of a man's abdomen and calves. (You can see another book I reviewed that had a "swimming issue" in it HERE).
Secondly, the same two characters share another spill of dialogue in William's parsonage (oh yeah, this guy's a preacher by the way) at night while the two are in their night clothes. Nothing happens but even though the dialogue is a necessary part of the story I believe this scene very well could have taken place before the two had obviously prepared for bed. Just so it wasn't so awkward and suggestive, if you know what I mean.
And thirdly, during a climaxing scene, Abigail and the preacher are seen sitting by the creek (at night again) discussing their future (don't worry, the guy is fully dressed this time). William tells Abigail that he is in no position to take a wife knowing that he would not be able to provide for her. No sooner has he said this then the two share their first kiss. I mean, the dude just agreed not to pursue something he could not follow through with but then turns right around and kisses her making the situation harder than it already is! Very low if you ask me. Especially for a preacher. You should have known better man. You should have known.
Abigail's spiritual stance in the book is also very questioning. In the beginning it is mentioned that Abigail has gone to church a few times but not on a regular basis. So you are led to believe that she is probably not a Christian. However, towards the middle/end of the book she starts sharing Jesus with others and begins praying on a regular basis as if she is and not merely a newly "converted" Christian. It is never discussed if she quote "has a relationship with The Lord" or if she simply prays because it seems to work for her or that religion is her "security blanket" of sorts.
Despite these flaws, I'm still giving The Secret of Pembroke Park by: Julie Klassen a 5 out of 5 rating (see side for book review rating scale). The story line is great, the characters are amazing and I was very pleased with the end of all the characters journeys ***SPOILER ALERT* even if some of them were sad**
If you are looking for a historical mystery filled with life lessons, page turners, likable characters, and love look no further than Julie Klassen's The Secret of Pembroke Park.
P.S. I was given Julie Klassen's The Secret of Pembroke Park by Bethany House Publishers in exchanged for my honest opinion.
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