The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen

The first Julie Klassen novel I read was The Dancing Master, reviewed here. I liked it well enough to want to read more Klassen, and The Secret of Pembrooke Park was a great follow-up.

Secret of Pembrooke Park Front Cover (Baker Publishing Group)

Secret of Pembrooke Park Front Cover (Baker Publishing Group)

THE PLOT: When the Foster family loses almost all their money, Mr. Foster blames his oldest daughter, Abigail. Abigail had recommended that her father invest in her uncle’s banking firm, which has failed. To make up for it, Abigail has her family use her dowry to fund a season for her younger sister, Louisa…even though Louisa seems to have stolen the affections of Abigail’s childhood friend and crush, Gilbert. In the meantime, the Fosters are offered a temporary home at abandoned Pembrooke Park on the condition that they fix the place up. While Louisa and her mother stay in London, Abigail and her father travel to Pembrooke.

Abigail finds that intrigue abounds at Pembrooke. Why was it so hastily abandoned? What happened to the former owners? Who is leasing it to the Fosters? Is there really a secret treasure room? Who is sending Abigail anonymous diary passages? What does the local parson William Chapman and his family know about the secrets? Why does William’s sister choose to be almost a recluse? And does Abigail really want Gilbert back once he grows disenchanted with her sister, or has she developed real love for William?

MY TWO CENTS: First, let me say that this author gets the very best covers. Love the appropriate clothes, and the colors are striking. LOVE IT.

Second, even though Julie Klassen is a Christian writer, I feel like the reader isn’t overwhelmed with Christian messages; there is an appropriate amount of religion for the time period. While there is more religion in this book than there was in The Dancing Master, that’s kind of a given since William is a parson. Non-Christians who are looking for a clean regency mystery/romance will still enjoy it. Klassen books might even appeal to a broader audience than traditional romances do. I think a lot of people still enjoy a simple romance that doesn’t border on erotica, and this fits the bill.

Finally, there is definitely a gothic element to this book, between the midnight creakings that disturb Abigail, the mysterious cloaked figure, and more than one fire. I would say this is more of a mystery than a romance, as evidenced by the book’s title.

BOTTOM LINE: A bit of gothic mystery, a bit of romance, and not too preachy for a Christian writer. If you’re a fan of Jane Austen, you’ll probably like this book regardless of your religious beliefs.

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book will be on sale in eformats on November 25, 2014, and in paperback on December 2, 2014.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Firebird’s Feather by Marjorie Eccles


The Firebird's Feather Front Cover (Severn House Publishers)

The Firebird’s Feather Front Cover (Severn House Publishers)

What drew me to request The Firebird’s Feather: A Late-Edwardian Mystery? To start with, the cover, this awesome cover. LOVE the hat, the jewelry, that hint of the dress. Having the hat pulled down over her eyes adds to the “mystery” theme. WHAT is going on in this woman’s mind? What was she up to? Second, “Late-Edwardian” basically means the period right before George V’s coronation, so 1911. A wee little bit before the beginning of Downton Abbey, for those interested; think Mary Poppins. The question is, did the book live up to its cover?

THE PLOT: Lydia Challoner was born in Russia, emigrated to England with her father, and married into London society. Her daughter, Kitty, is about to debut in society, but Lydia is shockingly murdered while riding in Hyde Park. Who could have killed her, and why? Her husband Louis, Kitty’s father, is acting suspiciously, and his gun is missing. Kitty’s aunt Ursula is a society matron, and her two children (Kitty’s cousins) are both rebels: son Jonathan runs a socialist newspaper, while daughter Bridget is a burgeoning suffragette. Could the socialists or suffragettes have had anything to do with the murder? Are the socialists tied into Lydia’s Russian ancestry? What about Bridget’s friendship with Kitty’s maid? Louis’s business partner, Paul Estrabon, is a slimy character, and his wife, Fanny, was Lydia’s best friend and gambling partner. Do gambling debts factor into the murder? Finally, Lydia had a boy toy named Marcus. What’s his deal? What is he really after? Is the upcoming coronation of George V involved? Detective Chief Inspector Gaines and Detective Sergeant Inskip investigate the various suspects and their motives.

MY TWO CENTS: The introduction quickly pulled me in, but I was somewhat jarred with the way the murder was handled. Chapter Two ends with Lydia being late to lunch and her family wondering where she is. Chapter Three begins with Kitty already trying to accept that her mother has been murdered. So readers do not see the murder, nor do they see the family receiving the news of the murder. That just seemed very odd to me. It definitely pulled me out of the reading experience, and I felt like I had to adjust my mindset significantly to continue from that point.

Another thing you may notice from my summary is that there are a lot of characters. Family members, friends, friends of friends, people who aren’t friends. The strange thing is, there isn’t a lot of interaction among these various characters. For example, Aunt Ursula seems to act as a link between Kitty and her cousins because Kitty interacts more with Ursula than she does with either Jon or Bridget. Louis interacts more with the detectives than he does with his daughter. I felt that Kitty was fairly isolated as a character, and her main interaction ended up being with Marcus. And then, although Kitty is the main character, she really wasn’t even part of the climax.

BOTTOM LINE: An interesting, readable, and different story, but it doesn’t exactly gel together completely for me. I would have preferred more character development and interaction to add depth to a good story framework.

TEACUP RATING: I give it around three-and-a-half out of five teacups. If you enjoy mysteries or are interested in the time period, give this one a try.

ON SALE DATE: The Firebird’s Feather will be available in hardcover on December 1, 2014.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Dark Angel by Sally Beauman


Dark Angel E-book Cover (Open Road Media)

Every once in a while, you run across a book that makes you want to skip work, stay up all night, and just…keep…reading. You can’t stop thinking about the characters and wondering what secrets are coming next. For me, Dark Angel by Sally Beauman was one of those books.

THE PLOT: The book follows three generatrions of an upper-class English family and the very disturbed little girl they adopt, and her effect on the entire family. The story is framed by the narrator, Victoria Cavendish, who relates the story of her family…including her godmother, Constance Shawcross. Ten-year-old Constance is adopted by the Cavendish family in 1910, and spends the next 60 years manipulating, twisting, and blackmailing; essentially wrecking the lives of her four adopted brothers and pretty much everyone else in the family. She torments each brother in a different way, chooses a husband that fractures the family, and ultimately becomes guardian to orphaned Victoria. She raises Victoria with love and ferocious jealousy, keeping Victoria from the man she loves and from forming a family that would take her from Constance.

The book also centers around an accident or murder that occurs in 1910. Is it a murder? And if so, who is the murderer? Everyone had motive; some had opportunity. But how did it happen?

MY TWO CENTS: It took me the first few chapters of Victoria’s searching for Constance in New York to really get into the book, but by the time it turned back to 1910, I was enthralled. Constance is a HIGHLY damaged child who becomes an unbalanced and sometimes dangerous adult. However, she’s also intelligent and sometimes likeable, and you pity her. You can’t help rooting for her and hoping she’s punished at the same time. Make no mistake: this book is VERY disturbing. There are descriptions of child rape, horrific death, kinky sex, pornography, suicide, pet trauma…basically anything you’d find in an original V.C. Andrews series (NOT the ghostwritten messes of recent years).

The relationship between Constance and her eventual husband also reminds me of Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler. Constance marries a man who understands her, the only one who really gets what a malicious, scheming lunatic she is, and yet loves her all the same. But Constance’s love for someone else, plus all her issues, just keep the couple from ever really connecting and being happy. The reader sees the marriage breaking down and thinks, “If only they’d communicated at this moment…if only she’d said…if only he…” The reader becomes very emotionally involved in the narrative.  You feel for every character.

A great portion of the action takes place in 1910, and then between 1914 and 1919, so the time period should be very attractive to Downton Abbey fans. You also see some of the “Upstairs, Downstairs” interaction between the family and their servants.

BOTTOM LINE: An absolutely enthralling book, well worth the read. Just be warned: this is a LONG book (800 pages in hard copy format), but you will not want to stop. Also, I’m glad I already have another Sally Beauman book to read, because I’m interested in checking out all her work.

TEACUP RATING: Definitely 5+ teacups. Even though I have the digital copy, I may also invest in a hard copy to have on hand. It’s just that good.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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