Sunday, November 30, 2014

Review of "The Secret of Pembrooke Park"

Rating: 5 Stars

Review: Julie Klassen once again immersed me in early 1800's England.  I always welcome a chance to delve vicariously into historic England, and "The Secret of Pembrooke Park" proved to be a delightful adventure.  Fans of Jane Austen will find similarities in the plot to "Northanger Abbey" and "Persuasion," but "The Secret of Pembrooke Park" is its own story with plenty of mystery. The questions begin right from the start when Abigail's family is presented with the prospect of living in Pembrooke Park.  Their unidentified benefactor is soon the least of mounting mysteries when Abigail moves into the abandoned manor house.  Klassen weaves the secrets into a richly detailed plot in which the characters and the manor house play equally important roles.  As the cast of characters grows, Klassen leaves readers questioning their motives and true identities.  This is definitely a story that veils the truth of its secrets until the end, and its numerous layers kept my interest.  Even as answers are revealed, Klassen adds some twists and suspense.  

I loved the characterization of the manor house and the many tales held within the walls.  It is an integral part of the plot, which Klassen describes with exquisite details.  The first glimpse of Pembrooke Park is one that plays out as vividly as the scene of a movie. That first eerie impression of a suddenly abandoned house sets the tone of mystery which builds as more questions are introduced, such as sneaking cloaked figures and notes from an unknown sender.  

"The Secret of Pembrooke Park" is not without its share of love and romance, but it is more understated than in some novels.  I appreciate Klassen's approach to focus on the emotional connection between the characters rather than relying on physical attraction.  Although Abigail initially feels destined for spinsterhood, she soon finds herself with two potential suitors - one new and one old.  Add an attractive and outgoing younger sister to the mix, and romance becomes a bit more complicated. Like the rest of the plot, Abigail's journey to love is defined by some suspense, and the characters involved come to life on the pages, once again reminding me of some of my favorite British period movies. 

Julie Klassen once again succeeds in creating an engaging story set against the charming backdrop of England's countryside.  The journey through the pages is one that I enjoyed, and I'm sure other fans of history and all things British will find similar pleasure within the pages of "The Secret of Pembrooke Park." 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. 

Summary from Bethany House:  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?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Review of "The Wishing Season"

Rating: 4 Stars

Review:  Denise Hunter has kept readers ingrained in the lives of the McKinley family in her "Chapel Hill Romance" series.  "The Wishing Season" puts the spotlight on PJ, the youngest McKinley. True to the tone set by the previous novels, Hunter again delivers a story balanced with emotional complexity, love, and romance.  Although this can be read as a stand alone novel, the connection to the tight-knit McKinley family is definitely stronger after reading the preceding novels. 

PJ and Cole are thrown together in a sequence of events that leaves them sharing a house while competing for ownership of the property.  They each believe that the house is the answer to their aspirations -PJ hopes to open a restaurant and inn, while Cole wants to open a home for teens aging out of foster care.  Competition, attraction, and romantic tension weave their way throughout the plot. Some scenes will leave readers breathless; but while clean, the physical element of Cole and PJ's attraction is strong at times for my personal reading preferences.    

Romance aside, the relationship between PJ and Cole reveals a deeper message about the growth and realization of dreams.  Both of their stories, though very different, have touching and relatable elements.  Once again, the McKinley family dynamic shines with lovable realism.  As the youngest child, PJ feels overprotected and doubted by her family.  I enjoyed the journey of the McKinley family and the strengthening of their already strong bond.  Cole's past as a foster child is a stark contrast to PJ's secure upbringing.  He brings depth to the plot with memories of his childhood and the lives of the teens he fosters.  Heartbreak is very much a part of Cole's story, but healing leaves readers with a sense of hope and satisfaction. 

PJ and Cole join the ranks of happy McKinley couples, who I hope will reappear in a cameo role in another novel.  Denise Hunter leaves the door open for another "Chapel Hill Romance" with references to Ryan McKinley.  I definitely feel that Ryan's story deserves to be told and I finish "The Wishing Season" wishing to read more about him. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers through Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Summary from Thomas Nelson: Living side-by-side, a fledgling chef and a big-hearted contractor find a delicious attraction.  Trouble is, their chemistry could spoil their dreams.

Spirited PJ McKinley has the touch when it comes to food. Her dream of opening her own restaurant is just one building short of reality. So when a Chapel Springs resident offers her beloved ancestral home to the applicant with the best plan for the house, PJ believes it’s a contest she was meant to win.
Contractor Cole Evans is confident, professional, and swoon-worthy—but this former foster kid knows his life could have turned out very differently. When Cole discovers the contest, he believes his home for foster kids in transition has found its saving grace. All he has to do is convince the owner that an out-of-towner with a not-for-profit enterprise is good for the community.
But when the eccentric philanthropist sees PJ and Cole’s proposals, she makes an unexpected decision: the pair will share the house for a year to show what their ideas are made of. Now, with Cole and the foster kids upstairs and PJ and the restaurant below, day-to-day life has turned into out-and-out competition—with some seriously flirtatious hallway encounters on the side. Turns out in this competition, it’s not just the house on the line, it’s their hearts.


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