Such merriment comes from Julie Klassen's The Secret of Pembrooke Park, in which it's heroine has many of the key ingredients for an Austen leading lady. Abigail Foster is the older sister who, at the age of twenty four, is seen to be dangerously close to spinsterhood.
Her keen mind is respected yet some of the family's financial troubles of late come from a recommendation of hers' that she fears her father may never forgive her for. Faced not only with the need to retrench but to be able to provide her younger and more flirtatious sister Louisa with a proper season for husband hunting, Abigail and her father wind up accepting an unusual offer.
According to the representative of an anonymous distant relation, the Fosters have a chance at relocating to the estate of Pembrooke Park, which has not been occupied for many years, on very good terms. The house has been shut down and guarded against intruders, due to rumors about a possible murder as well as a hidden room of treasures awaiting to be claimed. Despite this strange arrangement, Abigail and her father feel they have no other better choice than to reopen the house and see what lies ahead for their future:
Upon their arrival, the house is indeed in shambles both inside and out. For some time, Abigail is left alone to sort out the mess and not before long, is able to arrange a very suitable household.
In addition to setting up home and heath, she makes friends with the Chapman family, whose gruff father Mac is the local land agent and his son William the new curate of the parish. While bonding with the Chapmans, who also have an elder daughter Leah who is sweet and loving yet fearful of letting certain secrets slip out, Abigail begins to find herself able to appreciate life again.
She had been somewhat heartbroken when Gilbert, a childhood companion learning to be an architect, appeared to have eyes more for her sister than her. However, in spending time with William Chapman, Abigail wonders if there is a chance of something more than friendship between them:
Some of that curiosity is stirred up by the arrival of an unexpected guest, Miles Pembrooke. A surviving son of the prior tenants, Miles claims not to want to dismiss the Fosters from the house, rather simply stopped by to renew his former memories of the place. His stay becomes extended, as his ingratiating manners and supposedly eagerness to connect with his relations sounds acceptable.
However, the Chapmans suspect his true motives and not before long, Abigail notices his keen interest in searching about the house for that special room of wonders:
As Abigail and William team up to solve the numerous mysteries about them, can they discover the true mystery of their real feelings towards each other? Will finding that hidden room make their lives better or worse than they imagine?
There are plenty of questions but the pace of Klassen's writing allows you to reach the answers in good enough time. She develops her characters and situations with a solid amount of depth and flair that keeps you turning the pages in a thoughtful yet thrilling manner.
Abigail, in particular, is an engaging heroine as her intelligence is well prized by at least two of her suitors(yes, Gilbert comes back into the picture) and her perceptions of who she meets along the way are not set in stone. In addition, certain characters who may seem to be easily set templates turn out to be more complex than one would imagine. All in all, this book is a marvelous adventure to behold.
This is the first time that I've read any of Julie Klassen, thanks to being part of the blog tour for this delightful book, and you can check here to find out how to win one of the lovely prizes being given away by the end of this tour. My thanks to Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose for inviting me to this party and to Julie Klassen, whose other works I will be reading in the near future.
The Secret of Pembrooke Park offers a lively heroine as charming as Lizzie Bennet and as clever and honorable as Anne Eliot or Elinor Dashwood. Yet, Abigail Foster is her own woman in her own right and one well worth the knowing, by readers and literary admirers alike. I hope that many of both will endeavor to make her acquaintance soon: