Monday, March 2, 2015

The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen (Review and Giveaway Details)



I have found a new favorite author, Julie Klassen.  I read that Klassen’s novels are a combination of Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Victoria Holt, and Daphne Du Maurier.  That is a pretty high standard to achieve, but Klassen has achieved it. I reviewed The Secret of Pembrooke Park as part of a blog tour and I am so happy I did.  It is a wonderful novel and very enjoyable.

Abigail Foster is the older, plainer, practical daughter.  She has loved her friend Gilbert since childhood, but she discovers that he is taken more with her younger, beautiful sister, Louisa.  Putting disappointment aside, Abigail helps her father when they lose their fortune due to a banking collapse.  When a distant relative sends them an offer to live in the Pembrooke Park estate for very little outlay, it seems too good to be true.  When Abigail and her father arrive to get the estate ready, they make quite a few discoveries.  Pembrooke Park has not been lived in for almost twenty years and the locals have rumors of murder, tragedy, and secret treasure associated with the place.  Abigail meets and befriends the handsome local curate William Chapman and his sister Leah, but she can’t help feeling that there is a mystery involving these too as well.  Will Abigail discover the mystery of Pembrooke Park?

I loved so much about this novel.  The hints of Austen that were throughout were wonderful for an Austen fan to discover and enjoy.  For instance, Abigail’s father lost his fortune through investing in Henry Austen’s bank.  Henry was Jane Austen’s brother and his bank collapse caused much Austen family turmoil.  I loved that this book was a chaste romance.  It was about the true romantic feelings between people written like a classic novel would be written without ten pages of intimate details of their liaison.  I appreciated and loved this.

I also love how the mystery unfolded.  I liked that there were so many layers to it as it slowly unfolded.  I was not disappointed and was intrigued right up until the end of the novel.  The historical detail, romance, and mystery were all intertwined and perfectly written.  I loved this novel.

Overall, if you are looking for a new author that writes a charming tale reminiscent of Jane Austen, but with the gothic undertones of a Bronte novel, I highly recommend Julie Klassen.  I know I am going to be seeking out her other novels and reading them. The Secret of Pembrooke Park was a perfect novel and a very enjoyable read.

For a  great guest blog post by Julie Klassen, check out this link:  The English Manor Behind Pembrooke Park.

For details of The Pembrooke Park Blog Tour, please check out this link on Austenprose.


In celebration of the release of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, four chances to win copies of Julie’s books and other Jane Austen-inspired items are being offered.

Three lucky winners will receive one trade paperback or eBook copy of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and one grand prize winner will receive one copy of all eight of Julie’s novels: Lady of Milkweed Manor, The Apothecary's Daughter, The Silent Governess, The Girl in the Gatehouse, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, The Tutor’s Daughter, The Dancing Master, and The Secret of Pembrooke Park, one DVD of Northanger Abbey (2007) and a Jane Austen Action Figure.

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on The Secret of Pembrooke Park Blog Tour starting February 16, 2015 through 11:59 pm PT, March 9, 2015.

 Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Julie Klassen’s website on March 16, 2015. Winners have until March 22, 2015 to claim their prize. The giveaway contest is open to residents of the US, UK, and Canada. Digital books will be sent through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Good luck to all!

Emma by Jane Austen



Title: Emma
Author: Jane Austen
Read by: Nadia May
Publisher:
Blackstone Audio
Length: 15.3 hours
Source: MP3 Audio through Wisconsin Public Library Consortium – Overdrive on my Droid

It has been two-hundred years this year since Miss Emma Woodhouse walked into our hearts through the immortal classic, Emma by Jane Austen.  With her fortune secure and a loving father at home, Emma doesn’t want for anything in life, except for something to keep her active mind busy.  She keeps it busy by trying to find the perfect match for her new friend Harriet Smith, and much hilarity ensues.  Will Emma learn the error of her ways and find happiness for herself?

I love all of Austen’s novels.  I love reading the physical novels, but I’ve also found it is wonderful to listen to the novels as well.  As Austen wrote them and read them out loud to her family, they work very well in the audible format.  They are actually quite perfect to listen too.  Nadia May is a wonderful narrator with a great British accent.  I could listen to her all day!

I love the story of Emma.  I love how she is very sure of herself and a bit of a snob.  But she has good in her and loves to help people.  By the end of the tale, she has learned more about herself and about how to be more sensitive to everyone’s feelings.

I also love how Austen’s characters are so well developed that I can recognize them in my own family and friends.  Who does not know a Miss Bates, a well-meaning middle aged woman that can’t stop talking?  Or who doesn't know a Mrs. Elton who seems to think a little too highly of herself.  Listening to the audiobook brought all of these characters to life.

Overall, Emma is a classic tale that is one of my favorite novels.  Listening to it on audiobook format is just about perfect.  I highly recommend it. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Unexpected Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell



Jill Mansell is one of my favorite contemporary authors.  She writes wonderful well developed stories that involve an entire cast of well rounded, realistic characters. Love may not be running smoothly for them, but by the end of the novel, hopefully things are back in order again.

Sophie Wells is a photographer in the beachside town of St. Cary’s in Cornwall.  Her first turn at love had a tragic ending and she is not interested in involving herself in another relationship.  Josh Strachan has had a very successful few years at a manager of the top new American band.  He has decided to leave the limelight and help his Grandmother run the family hotel.  He meets Sophie and can’t understand why she keeps rejecting him.  Sophie’s friend Tula moves to St. Cary’s, gets a job at the hotel and has an unrequited love for Josh.  Josh’s friend, beach bum Riley, has his own unrequited love for Tula.  Josh’s Grandmother, Dot had a horrible end to her loving marriage to her own true love Lawrence.  When she has a second chance at love, she has to decide whether to take that chance.

Love is complicated, but all of these storylines are worked out to really flesh out the characters and to give a very satisfying conclusion.  I found myself also really wanting to visit St. Cary’s.  It sounds like a lovely town.  I love Jill Mansell’s characters and settings.  She is a wonderful writer.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable book with great characters and a great plot.  I highly recommend it!

Book Source:  Review Copy from Sourcebooks – Thanks!

Friday, February 20, 2015

The English Manor Behind The Secret of Pembooke Park, by Julie Klassen (Guest Blog and Giveaway Details!)

Note from Laura:  I am honored today to have a guest blog from author Julie Klassen on Laura's Reviews.  I'm currently reading The Secret of Pembrooke Park and am enjoying it vastly.  I know that readers of my blog that enjoy historical fiction, regency, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and/or suspense will love this book as well.  Look for my review which will be posted on March 2nd.  Thank-you Julie Klassen and Laurel Ann Nattress for allowing me to be a part of this Blog Tour and to Julie Klassen for writing this great guest post and wonderful novel! 

Pembrooke Park is a fictional estate inspired by Great Chalfield Manor in Wiltshire, England, a 15th-century country house surrounded by extensive gardens and a moat. For many months, I kept photos of the manor and the adjacent church on my bulletin board and grew quite attached to the place as I wrote The Secret of Pembrooke Park. While the book was being edited, I had the privilege of traveling to England for my 3rd time. (I’ve gotten 10+ books from those 3 trips, so I think that’s a pretty good return on investment.)

One of the top to-dos on our packed itinerary was visiting Great Chalfield manor in person. I had exchanged a few emails with the owner (the estate is managed by the national trust, but the family still lives in one wing). She was kind and polite in her replies, but informed us that they didn’t allow visitors to reserve places on their tours in advance. So,


when we picked up our rental car at Heathrow, we drove faster than might have been wise for someone driving on the other side of the road for the first time in her life. But, thankfully, we arrived at the rural estate with more than an hour to spare before the last tour of the day.

When we reached the gate, however, we were told by the man and woman working at the entrance that all the tours were sold out for the day. Imagine my disappointment! The man resolutely explained that some of the rooms were quite small and they had to limit numbers for safety reasons. I tried to remain stoic, and asked if they could direct me to the owner, as I would at least like to meet her while we were there. The woman at the table said officiously, “Follow me.” I assumed she was going to find the owner as I’d requested. We reached one of the outbuildings where the woman told us to wait. A few minutes later, she came back out, and with a wary look around, quickly pressed something into my hand—two tickets for the 4:00 tour. “I’ve been very naughty,” she said with a secret smile. How my heart soared. We truly did not badger her or bribe her to give us tickets. How grateful we were that day for the kindness of strangers! I thanked her and hugged her, telling her why touring the house was so important to me, and asked if I might give her a book in return. She replied quite adamantly, “By all means. Go and get it!” I happily did so.

So, not only did we get to tour the grounds and lovely gardens, but we were also able to join the tour of the house. A husband and wife team of local volunteer guides took us around, entertaining us with historical anecdotes and pointing out fascinating architectural details that will no doubt make their way into future novels. We also learned Great Chalfield is often used as a film location (e.g. BBC’s Wolf Hall) and how lovely it is with its great hall, oriel windows, and topiary houses.
After the tour, we attended Evensong in the small church on the manor grounds. I had hoped and planned to do this for weeks leading up to our trip, because the church (and my fictional clergyman) play an important role in The Secret of Pembooke Park. What a pleasure to meet the rector in person, as well as his small but friendly congregation. I don’t remember when I have enjoyed a church service more.

One of the other places I wanted to visit while I was in England was Chastleton House in Oxfordshire, to see its historic secret room. Secret rooms, passages, and hiding places are not all that uncommon in ancient manor houses. They came in handy over the centuries when you found yourself on the wrong side of a monarch and wished to keep your head. Or if you, say, needed to hide a priest during the reign of Elizabeth I. It was a delight to see a real secret room in person, and to better imagine the one in The Secret of Pembrooke Park.

If you’d like to see a few more photos of Chastleton’s secret room or Great Chalfield Manor, you may want to visit my web site (julieklassen.com), the National Trust site, or watch this video of my visit: http://buff.ly/16AvHHF

Either way, I hope you will enjoy reading the book as much as I enjoyed researching it.
What about you? Have you been to England? If not, is it on your wish list?

BOOK DESCRIPTION:
In the spring of 1818, twenty-four-year-old Abigail Foster fears she is destined to become a spinster. Her family’s finances are in ruins and the one young man she truly esteems has fallen for another woman — her younger, prettier sister Louisa.

Forced to retrench after the bank failure of Austen, Gray & Vincent, the Foster family optimistically pool their resources for another London Season for her sister in hopes of an advantageous alliance. While searching for more affordable lodgings, a surprising offer is presented: the use of a country manor house in Berkshire abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to the imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left, the tight-lipped locals offering only rumors of a secret room, hidden treasure and a murder in its mysterious past.
Eager to restore her family fortune, Abigail, with the help of the handsome local curate William Chapman and his sister Leah, begins her search into the heavily veiled past aided by unsigned journal pages from a previous resident and her own spirited determination. 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?

EARLY PRAISE:
“Jane Austen meets Victoria Holt in Christy Award–winning Klassen’s latest deliciously spooky and sweetly romantic historical.” — Booklist

“Regency romance with awesome castles, secrets, hidden rooms and, of course, romance . . . . Julie Klassen has hit this one out of the ballpark.” — Romantic Times Book Reviews Top Pick

“If you are looking for a book which combines the enticing elements of a Gothic with the mannerly charm of a Regency, look no further, because this lovely Inspirational is just your cup of tea.” — Heroes and Heartbreakers

“While there are plenty of Regency authors out there, the lovely Julie Klassen is by far one of the top and a must read for fans of Austen/Brontë style and prose. Klassen’s latest, The Secret of Pembrooke Park has a touch of both – the mystery of Brontë and the fun of Austen.”— Books and Beverages

“The Secret of Pembrooke Park is perfectly packaged with several threads of the gothic suspense, Regency romance and inspirational themes while presenting a well plotted story with intriguing characters in an amazing setting.” — Burton Book Review

AUTHOR BIO:
Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her books have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. She has also been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in St. Paul, Minnesota. Learn more about Julie and her books at her website, follower her on Twitter, and visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.

THE SECRET OF PEMBROOKE PARK BLOG TOUR BLURB:
Award winning historical romance author Julie Klassen tours the blogosphere February 16 through March 2 to share her latest release, The Secret of Pembrooke Park. Twenty five popular book bloggers specializing in historical and Austenesque fiction will feature guest blogs, interviews, book reviews and excerpts of this acclaimed gothic Regency romance novel. A fabulous giveaway contest, including copies of all of Ms. Klassen’s eight books and other Jane Austen-themed items, is open to those who join the festivities.

THE SECRET OF PEMBROOK PARK BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE: I am having troubles posting the entire list, so check out the entire blog tour schedule on Austenprose at:  http://austenprose.com/2015/02/15/the-secret-of-pembrooke-park-blog-tour/

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:





In celebration of the release of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, four chances to win copies of Julie’s books and other Jane Austen-inspired items are being offered.

Three lucky winners will receive one trade paperback or eBook copy of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and one grand prize winner will receive one copy of all eight of Julie’s novels: Lady of Milkweed Manor, The Apothecary's Daughter, The Silent Governess, The Girl in the Gatehouse, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, The Tutor’s Daughter, The Dancing Master, and The Secret of Pembrooke Park, one DVD of Northanger Abbey (2007) and a Jane Austen Action Figure.

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on The Secret of Pembrooke Park Blog Tour starting February 16, 2015 through 11:59 pm PT, March 9, 2015.

 Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Julie Klassen’s website on March 16, 2015. Winners have until March 22, 2015 to claim their prize. The giveaway contest is open to residents of the US, UK, and Canada. Digital books will be sent through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Good luck to all!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Laura’s Top Ten Books of 2014



I read a lot of wonderful books every year.  When I first started this blog, I used to do a top ten books list each year.  I have such lists for 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 but then I started my new job as an instructor at NWTC and I fell off the list making wagon.  I decided this year, no matter how late in 2015 it became I would have my top ten list again!

When I make my top ten list, it is not of books published in 2014, but of books I read in 2014.  It also only includes books (or audiobooks) that I have read for the first time.  For example, I read A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich for maybe the sixth or so time this past year.  It’s one of my all-time favorite novels, but I’ve read it before so it won’t be on this list.   I had a hard time narrowing down my favorites this year – but here goes in no particular order.

1.       The Husband’s Secret Liane Moriarty – We read this for my book club, but sadly I had to miss the book club and discussion that month.  Moriarty wrote a fabulous multi-faceted novel that keep you intrigued and involved in the lives of all of the characters.

2.      The Innovators by Walter Isaacson – The Best Non-fiction book of the year for me.  I was fascinated by the lives of all of the individuals who through sacrifice, hard work, and a bit of luck were able to make the technology we take for granted today possibly.  This is a must read.

3.      You by Caroline Kepnes – I am still a little frightened thinking about this book.  The main narrator makes his love and the psychopathic choices he makes for this love seem like they make sense.  This is how a good love story can go very, very wrong.

4.      Divergent & Insurgent by Veronica Roth – Stay up all night to read kind of books.  Divergent and Insurgent were exciting adventures.  I just read the third book Allegiant in 2015. . . it was not nearly so good.

5.      Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon – Gabaldon is a master story teller and her books defy genres.  I loved getting to read more of Jamie and Claire’s tale, but yearn for more.  If you haven’t read this series, start with book one, Outlander.  You will not be sorry!

6.      Silent Spring by Rachel Carson – Even though I am an environmental engineer, I have never read this classic.  The disturbing part about reading it was discovering that although a lot has changed for the good since the 1960’s, a lot still hasn’t changed.  It was eye opening and still very relevant to today’s world.

7.      The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd – A great historical fiction novel about a real historical abolitionist that I had never heard of and the relationship with her slave.  Riveting and a great book club selection.

8.      The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert – Another great historical fiction novel, I loved the depths, the botany, and the struggle for a woman to find herself in middle age.  This was a great adventure and absorbing read.

9.      Me Before You by JoJo Moyes – Another book club favorite from 2014.  We still talk about this book and I still think about the ethical and emotional discussions it led to.  It was a wonderful love story, but so much more.  It really brought about a great discussion on what makes life worth living.  I really need to read more books by this author.  I read a lot of books last year, but I’ll admit that this was my favorite.

10.  The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness – I loved Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy.  This final book in the trilogy was very satisfying.  The trilogy has historical fiction, time travel, witches, vampires, demons, and how to accept that we are all different but from the same fabric of life.  A great fantasy romance.

Some other fantastic books I read this year that wanted to be in my top ten, but didn’t quite make it were A Good Marriage by Stephen King, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, Netherwood and Ravenscliffe by Jane Sanderson, After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman, and Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield.

What were your favorite books of 2014?  Did you enjoy any of the selections above?