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

The Secret at Pembrooke Park, by Julie Klassen 2014 x 200From the desk of Katie Patchell:

A manor filled with secrets, frozen in time. Rumors of hidden treasure. Whispers of murder. Stubbornly silent local residents. One newly arrived and extremely curious heroine, a young woman who will stop at nothing to discover the secrets of Pembrooke Park. Whether or not the heroine prevails can be discovered in Julie Klassen’s latest Regency novel, The Secret of Pembrooke Park, a novel which delves into the darkness that resides in all human souls.

At the age of twenty-two, Abigail Foster believes that her future is secure: after building the house that she and her childhood friend, Gilbert Scott, designed, he will propose, Abigail will say yes, and they will happily spend the rest of their lives together. But when Abigail witnesses a loving interaction between her younger sister, Louisa, and Gilbert, she realizes that her dreams may never become a reality. With her father’s shocking news of a failed investment and significant loss of wealth, Abigail begins her search for a small place in the country for her family to reside, and is stunned by the generous offer given by a mysterious solicitor on behalf of an unknown distant relation: to live in Pembrooke Park, a manor that has been uninhabited for eighteen years. When Abigail arrives at the large country manor house, she opens the front door to an eerie sight—everything inside had been left in a state of disarray, preserved as if the last residents had suddenly fled. Continue reading

Lizzy and Jane: A Novel, by Katherine Reay – A Review

Lizzy and Jane Katherine Reay 2014 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

Anyone with siblings can tell you how tumultuous of a relationship you can have with them. There are times where you love them to death for being a shoulder to cry on or a voice of reason. Then there are the times where they think they know everything and refuse to see you as your own individual. Katherine Reay explores the complex relationship of two sisters undergoing some intense situations in both their personal and professional lives in Lizzy and Jane.

After losing her mom to cancer, Lizzy cannot deal with the emotional burden and leaves home. She turns her anguish into a relentless energy to create in the kitchen, and works endlessly to become a respected chef. Eventually Lizzy becomes the owner of a swanky New York City restaurant, Feast. After a good amount of success, she begins to lose some of her earlier skills and the restaurant begins to falter. Paul, the restaurant’s financial backer, brings another chef in to fix this, and Lizzy does what she does best—runs away. Unfortunately she runs into another cancer diagnosis, and this time it’s her sister, Jane. Lizzy decides to finally stand her ground and deal with this new blow, and as she tends to her family she finds her abilities to create amazing foods return to her. Now, Paul attempts to woo her back to New York, but how will she react to this now that old hurts with Jane are healed? Continue reading

Lizzy & Jane: A Novel, by Katherine Reay – A Preview and Exclusive Excerpt

Lizzy and Jane Katherine Reay 2014 x 200We don’t run across new authors that we can rave about very often. We are very particular about our reading material, so when the planets and stars align, we like to gloat and boast “I told you so.” Such was the case with Katherine Reay’s debut novel Dear Mr. Knightley. We had the honor of reading it before publication and meeting the author in person. To say that the novel was as refreshing and elegant as its author is an understatement. When it won the ACFW’s Carol award for best Contemporary Novel and best Debut Novel, our head was as big as a pumpkin.

Now I am very happy to introduce you to her sophomore effort, Lizzy & Jane, just published by Thomas Nelson. Like Katherine’s first novel it is lightly inspired by Jane Austen and not a sequel or retelling per se. The two sisters are as different in personality as Austen’s Marianne & Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, but they also exhibit similarities to siblings Elizabeth & Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Interestingly, one character loves reading Austen and the other not so much. Like many of Austen’s heroines, Lizzy & Jane face big conflicts and challenges in their lives. Here is an exclusive excerpt chosen by the author which illustrates her endearing style and charm.

PREVIEW (from the publisher’s description) 

Sometimes the courage to face your greatest fears comes only when you’ve run out of ways to escape.

At the end of a long night, Elizabeth leans against the industrial oven and takes in her kingdom. Once vibrant and flawless, evenings in the kitchen now feel chaotic and exhausting. She’s lost her culinary magic, and business is slowing down.

When worried investors enlist the talents of a tech-savvy celebrity chef to salvage the restaurant, Elizabeth feels the ground shift beneath her feet. Not only has she lost her touch; she’s losing her dream.

And her means of escape.

When her mother died, Elizabeth fled home and the overwhelming sense of pain and loss. But fifteen years later, with no other escapes available, she now returns. Brimming with desperation and dread, Elizabeth finds herself in the unlikeliest of places, by her sister’s side in Seattle as Jane undergoes chemotherapy.

As her new life takes the form of care, cookery, and classic literature, Elizabeth is forced to reimagine her future and reevaluate her past. But can a New York City chef with a painful history settle down with the family she once abandoned . . . and make peace with the sister who once abandoned her?

Continue reading

Prelude for a Lord: A Novel, by Camille Elliot – A Review

Prelude for a Lord Camille Elliot (2014)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

In the Regency era, the only acceptable musical instruments a woman was allowed to play were the harp and piano, and if she played any other, particularly a violin, she would be looked-down upon in society and considered unfeminine. But in Camille Elliot’s recent debut novel, Prelude for a Lord, the heroine defies conventions and plays this beautiful but forbidden instrument, which stirs her heart, makes her forget her past and society’s censure, and ultimately, entangles her in a web of romance, mystery, and danger.

At the age of twenty-eight, Lady Alethea Sutherton has accepted her fate: that she will never marry, and will always be looked down upon by society as an eccentric. With her height, striking (rather than classical) features, and her unconventional country ways, she is whispered about by the Bath gossips, but it is Alethea’s consuming passion for music and her skill at the extremely unfeminine instrument—the violin—that has her scorned by polite society.

When she meets Lord Bayard Dommick, the man who eleven years ago convinced her to pursue her violin playing with his offensive statement that it was “unfeminine for a woman to play the instrument” (53), Alethea plans to ignore him at all costs. But when Bayard offers to help her discover why her old violin has suddenly become the obsession of two shady individuals, Alethea has no choice but to accept this potential ally. As she spends more time with him and his two best friends, the remaining members of the famous string Quartet, Alethea discovers that Bayard is far from insufferable, and instead, one of the only people to understand her love of music and the violin. Continue reading

The Girl in the Gatehouse, by Julie Klassen – A Review

The Girl in the Gatehouse, by Julie Klassen (2011)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

Women writers in the 21st century are accepted and praised for their ability to write great literature. Their books are proudly published alongside the books written by men, and literature today is not judged by the gender of the author but by the quality of the content. But it wasn’t always like this. Female authors in the Regency underwent many struggles that are not experienced or understood today. Society in the 1800’s rarely accepted female authors, and it was the exception, not the norm, that guaranteed a woman protection from society after publishing under her own name. So if society frowned upon female authors, then how would an authoress even go about finding and meeting with a publisher? How could she recover from public knowledge of her authorship? What was the consequence of daring to become an author? And what were the pros and cons of remaining anonymous? Julie Klassen answers these questions and more in The Girl in the Gatehouse, a Regency novel filled with romance, intrigue, and a mysterious authoress.

After a terrible indiscretion ruins her in the eyes of polite society, Mariah Aubrey is sent by her father to live in an abandoned gatehouse on the edges of her aunt’s estate, accompanied only by her loyal servant, Miss Dixon.  Ignored by her aunt and scorned by all of her loved ones and past acquaintances, Mariah plans to spend the rest of her days living quietly and going unnoticed by all, supporting herself anonymously by writing novels. But when Captain Matthew Bryant moves in to Windrush Court after the death of her aunt, Mariah discovers that her heart isn’t as closed up as she thought. But could Captain Bryant ever love her if he knew what had happened in her past? When a house party hosted by Captain Bryant includes many guests who are from Mariah’s previous life, can she protect herself from them and keep them from revealing her secrets, past and present? Continue reading

The Tutor’s Daughter, by Julie Klassen – A Review

Image of the book cover of The Tutors Daughter, by Julie Klassen © 2013 Bethany House PublishersFrom the desk of Katie Patchell:

In keeping with her much loved style of traditional Regency romances, Julie Klassen has recently published her sixth novel, The Tutor’s Daughter, a romantic mystery set in Regency England. This novel blends the satisfying romance of Jane Austen with the Gothic surprises of Charlotte Bronte, coming together in a delightful style that is all the author’s own.

Ever since her mother died, Emma Smallwood has helped her father run his all-male boarding school. At twenty-one, she has found her time consumed by the many school related burdens that her father, in his grief, has ignored; teaching history, geography, and math, as well as trying to make ends meet for the quickly failing academy, with only a few moments to spare to dream about travel and adventures of her own. But just when the last pupil graduates and Emma runs out of all options to restore Smallwood Academy to its glory days, a letter arrives offering a new position to both Emma and her father, as tutor and tutor’s daughter for one year at Ebbington Manor along the stormy coast of Cornwall. While her father is overjoyed to leave the place that reminds him of his departed wife, Emma unearths long buried memories, ones that remind her of two particular pupils from her father’s academy. Phillip Weston, of the kind blue eyes, warm friendship, and stolen kiss, and Henry Weston, of the flashing green eyes, malicious pranks, and partner in one hard-to-be-forgotten dance. For Emma has discovered that the letter and advantageous job opening is from none other than Lord Weston, the father of both her friend, and her nemesis. Continue reading

Ransome’s Honor, by Kaye Dacus – A Review

Ransome's Honor, by Kaye Dacus (2009)Men in blue. Need I say more? 

If Lydia Bennet was condemned as the most determined flirt to make her family ridiculous in Pride and Prejudice for her fixation on any officer in a red coat, then I am as guilty as changed for a Royal Navy man in blue. Besides pictures of my father in his uniform, my earliest memories of a naval hero was of watching Gregory Peck in the 1951 movie Captain Horatio Hornblower on TV as a teenager. *swoon* Extend that memory into a new story of a dashing naval officer set in post Napoleonic war Portsmouth inspired by the author’s love of Jane Austen and Hornblower, and, I fall in, salute attention, take orders, and read Ransome’s Honor

Seventeen year old Julia Witherington will never forgive Lieutenant William Ransome for not proposing to her in 1802 when she and all of Portsmouth society expected it. She is the daughter of a Royal Navy captain who made a fortune in prize-money during the war with France and ready to bestow a thirty-thousand pound dowry on the lucky man to win his trust and her affections. He is a promising young naval officer from humble beginnings who has earned his advancement but little money. Fearing being tagged a fortune-hunter with no title or money, at the last moment his pride and honor will not allow him to propose. Heartbroken and humiliated, Julia leaves England believing he didn’t really love her, having only courted her to cozy up to her father and his Navy connections. 

Twelve years pass and the war with France has ended with Napoleon’s final surrender. Julia returns to Portsmouth still single and the belle of the social season. A beautiful, confident, and accomplished businesswoman, she has spent the last several years running her family sugar plantation in Jamaica. An only child since the loss of her brother at sea, she joins her widowed father Admiral Sir Edward Witherington and her Aunt Lady Pembroke, now acting as her chaperone since her mother’s death the following year. Among those officers and seamen returning to Portsmouth after the war is also one Captain William Ransome, eager for a new assignment for his ship Alexandra and anxious to be land locked for six weeks while she is refitted. Their inventible reunion after so many years is wrought with tension – she still holding on to her resentment – he regretting his decision. When Julia is pressured into an engagement with her ne’er-do-well cousin Sir Drake Pembroke desperate for her fortune to pay off his debts, she enters into a bargain with Captain Ransome for a one year marriage in exchange for her dowry. He is not interested in her money, but is honor bound by his promise to her father his commanding officer, and his own heart to assist her. Will Ransome’s honor prevail and soften Julia’s resolve and rekindle her affections? 

Kaye Dacus has delivered a moving Regency era romance infused with naval lore and engaging characters. Her heroine Julia, intelligent and proud must move beyond her resentment and depend on the one man she vowed never to forgive. Her hero Captain Ransome, well, he had me at the first salute. From Julia’s chatty and energetic friend Susan Yates, to her husband Colin, William’s best friend and fellow officer, we form important impressions of our hero and heroine, discovering their character strengths and flaws. The villains, Sir Drake Pembroke and his mother Lady Augusta slither and scheme dubiously supplying the request evil to thwart the happiness of our protagonists. I smirked and grinned at their wicked doings and rooted for honor and good to prevail in all the right places. Above all, it was refreshing and rewarding to spend a delightful engagement with Captain William Ransome, an honorable and distinguished navy man reminiscent of Jane Austen’s Captain Wentworth, and evoking fond memories of actor Ioan Grufudd’s interpretation of Horatio Hornblower. 

An overall enjoyable read, Dacus’ writing style is very spare and could have benefited from a bit more clarity in the dialogue and more detail in her description of settings and action. The begining of the book moved rather slowly but picked up considerably by the second half. In addition, I was puzzled by the character inconsistency in spirited Julia succumbing to the demands and constrictions of her aunt after her father’s departure to London. The Julia that she had set up to that point would not let others run her over so easily. A sweet romance, this novel is actually classified as Christian fiction, but I did not find the religious vein overly preachy or imposing. A most delightful voyage with the distinguished and dishy Captain Ransome, I am all anticipation for his further adventures in romance, and the sea, when the next installment of the Ransome Trilogy, Ransome’s Crossing makes port next July. Until then I shall feel like a Navy sweetheart patiently waiting for her man to return from the sea! 

4 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Ransome’s Honor, by Kaye Dacus
Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR (2009)
Trade paperback (342) pages
ISBN: 978-0736927536