Book Review: The Secret of Pembrooke Park

Welcome to the next installment of Sarah’s book reviews! Today we have a Gothic/Regency/Inspirational book to review for you… Julie Klassen’s The Secret of Pembrooke Park. And it is fabulous. 🙂

The Secret of Pembrooke Park, by Julie Klassen – A Review on

Here is a description of the book from the publisher:

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?

As usual, my five point review:

  • This plot. It. is. AWESOME. Think intriguing mystery plus action plus a bit of romance. Mmm, my faveee! My biggest complaint with many Christian novels [and I’d say this one is more “clean” than “Christian”] is that the plots aren’t complex. I know some of these authors are good, but sometimes their fiction can just be la-di-da happy bunnies and kitties. Yup, I said that. 🙂 Well, if you’re looking for a good plot and a complex mystery, look no further. This is it.
  • These characters. I instantly liked Abigail. She’s smart, and mature, and organized. Her role had been taking care of her family. But truthfully, I never liked her family. They didn’t appreciate her, even her father [who blamed her for losing the family money]. I get her sister’s actions, but her parents? Ugh. Abigail makes some great friends in the community, and of course has two great options for love interests. I’m on team William, the local curate [basically pastor], not team Gabriel [aka neighbor]. Read and see who she chooses! 🙂
  • Though I know I said I liked the complex nature of the mystery, one area that I found confusing was tracing family relationships. Having a family tree included would have been useful, but ultimately would have spoiled the unraveling of the story. So I’ve got it… but you just have to be pay attention to make sense of it all.
  • I loved all the Jane Austen and other classic English literatures references in this novel. So smart, especially since this book was set in the 1800s. How fun would that have been to live in those times, reading new Jane Austen novels!
  • Though this novel is on the long side [460 pages], it goes by in a flash. I read most of it over this past Valentine’s weekend, and it’s definitely a stay-up-all-night read! Five stars for sure!

What are you reading lately?

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to Bethany House for the chance to read this great book!


Book Review: The Dancing Master

Happy Monday! Need a book to read during this March snowy/icy week? How about Julie Klassen’s The Dancing Master? It is a fun read that I’m excited to share with you today. I was sent a free copy of this novel as part of  Bethany House Publishers‘ book review program.

The Dancing Master #bookreview on

Here is a description of the book from the publisher:

Finding himself the man of the family, London dancing master Alec Valcourt moves his mother and sister to remote Devonshire, hoping to start over. But he is stunned to learn the village matriarch has prohibited all dancing, for reasons buried deep in her past.

Alec finds an unlikely ally in the matriarch’s daughter. Though he’s initially wary of Julia Midwinter’s reckless flirtation, he comes to realize her bold exterior disguises a vulnerable soul–and hidden sorrows of her own.

Julia is quickly attracted to the handsome dancing master–a man her mother would never approve of–but she cannot imagine why Mr. Valcourt would leave London, or why he evades questions about his past. With Alec’s help, can Julia uncover old secrets and restore life to her somber village. . .and to her mother’s tattered heart?

Filled with mystery and romance, The Dancing Master brings to life the intriguing profession of those who taught essential social graces for ladies and gentlemen hoping to make a “good match” in Regency England.

And as usual, my five point review:

  • I use Goodreads to help me find new books. [Follow me!] Sometimes before beginning a new book, I’ll peruse the reviews before I begin reading [non-spoiler ones, that is] and one of the first ones I saw was that this book is “Footloose in Regency England!” How fun, I thought–and it was. An all around fun read.
  • My biggest gripe about The Dancing Master was that everything was soooooo drawwwwwn outttttt. Writing like that reminds me of my sister, circa 2007. But seriously, it takes forever to learn WHY dancing has been all but outlawed in this tiny town, and even then, it’s a pretty outlandish reason. Maybe it wouldn’t have been outlandish back in Regency times but it seemed sort of silly today.
  • There were lots of secrets in this book, and I liked that the reader didn’t learn secrets before the characters do. Many good books are set up that way, but sometimes it is fun to try to figure out the mysterious events as the characters do.
  • Speaking of characters, many times I like the main female leads in these cheesy romances. This time? Not so much. I think Julia learns a lot throughout the events in the novel, but something about her rubbed me the wrong way. It wasn’t that she was super spoiled or selfish; she’s just annoying at times. She has a few good friends though [including Alec’s sister] that I would really like to know better. A spinoff perhaps? Alec was very likeable. I enjoyed hearing a lot of the story from his point of view–a bit unusual, the male perspective, but very good.
  • All in all, this was a good book. Fun. Exciting. Unpredictable [well, as much as romances are]. I enjoyed the setting and the history lesson about the upperclass social graces of the time. Dancing masters also taught fencing, so it was fun to read about Alec fencing too. Hope you enjoy this book like I did!

What are you reading lately?

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to Bethany House for the chance to read this great book!


Book Review: The Tutor’s Daughter

I have another book review to share with you today, courtesy of the blogging review program offered by Bethany House Publishers. This time I read The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen.

The Tutor's Daughter | reviewed on The Pajama Chef

Here is a description of the book from the publisher:

Determined to help her father when his boarding school fails, Emma Smallwood accompanies him to the cliff-top manor of a baronet and his four sons. But soon after they arrive and begin teaching the two younger boys, mysterious things begin to happen. Who does Emma hear playing the pianoforte at night, only to find the music room empty? And who begins sneaking into her bedchamber, leaving behind strange mementoes? When suspicious acts escalate, can Emma figure out which brother to blame and which to trust with her heart?

As usual, here’s my 5 point review:

  • I’m not normally into Regency-era novels, but Julie Klassen is my exception. She makes settings and characters come so alive that just because this time period isn’t my thing, I just don’t mind. Love that!
  • Though I am not a Regency-era fan, I did enjoy Emma’s character immensely. Her love of learning and literature, as well as devotion to her father and respect for her aunt is so admirable.
  • Speaking of Julie Klassen, one thing that I appreciate about her as a writer is that she gives the reader what they need to know, without revealing too much. Many Christian fiction books are incredibly predictable–even the ones with intrigue [read: almost every review posted on my blog]–so this is just refreshing. In this story, just when I thought I had figured out what was happening, there was an unexpected twist, and bam! back to square one in detective school for me. This happened several times, and in my opinion, that always makes for a better story.
  • Though this wasn’t a story told from two time periods, Emma’s history with the two older sons of the baronet definitely is important. I can’t tell you more than that–remember, unexpected twists?!? But seriously, Emma’s relationships with each of the four brothers is very different and has consequences as the story progresses.
  • All in all, this is a book that does not disappoint. It has a little of everything–romance, drama, mystery, intrigue–but not too much of anything so as to be overwhelming. It’s clean and wholesome, but not too ridiculous or overflowing with Christian fiction craziness. The book was obviously well written and researched to be true to 19th century England. I would certainly read it again and again, and hope you will too.

P.S. Here’s a link to the book trailer… check it out! 🙂

What are you reading lately?

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to Bethany House for the chance to read this great book!