My rating: 5 stars / It was amazing
Abigail Foster fears she will end up a spinster, especially as she has little dowry to improve her charms and the one man she thought might marry her--a longtime friend--has fallen for her younger, prettier sister.
When financial problems force her family to sell their London home, 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 to know something about the manor's past, the only information they offer Abigail is a warning: Beware trespassers who may be drawn by rumors that Pembrooke contains a secret room filled with treasure.
Hoping to improve her family's financial situation, Abigail surreptitiously searches for the hidden room, but the arrival of anonymous letters addressed to her, with clues about the room and the past, bring discoveries even more startling. As secrets come to light, will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks...or very real danger?
LOVED IT! I envisioned Abigail as a slightly younger Anne Elliot from Austen's Persuasion, an intelligent daughter dealing with diminished finances, just old enough to be on the brink of spinsterhood yet lovely in her own right, and less impressed with society than her family members.
The adventure of moving into the long uninhabited and mysterious manor kept the pace of the book moving quickly, with bits and pieces of the history of Pembrooke Park are revealed throughout the novel. I enjoyed the friendship that developed between Abigail and the caretaker's warm-hearted family, especially with the youngest daughter who always loved to visit to play with the manor's replica dollhouse.
Even though there is attraction from the start, Abigail and William's strong friendship creates a foundation of trust and loyalty that is tested by the interest of Abigail's beautiful younger sister, her childhood crush, and a distant cousin. I loved how William would often catch Abigail off-guard with a flirtatious comment or adventurous twinkle in his eye. The chemistry between them grows steadily and their special moments are oh-so-romantic!
The author weaves in themes of guilt, forgiveness, family bonds, children dealing with the sins of a father, and choosing earthly treasure or treasures in heaven. This is definitely going to be a book I re-read several times in the future :)
(Thank you to Bethany House Publishing for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review)
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