Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor
By Melanie Dobson
Howard Books, 2015
When Heather Toulson returns to her parents’ cottage in the English countryside, she uncovers long-hidden secrets about her family history and stumbles onto the truth about a sixty-year-old murder.
Libby, a free spirit who can’t be tamed by her parents, finds solace with her neighbor Oliver, the son of Lord Croft of Ladenbrooke Manor. Libby finds herself pregnant and alone when her father kicks her out and Oliver mysteriously drowns in a nearby river. Though theories spread across the English countryside, no one is ever held responsible for Oliver’s death.
Sixty years later, Heather Toulson, returning to her family’s cottage in the shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor, is filled with mixed emotions. She’s mourning her father’s passing but can’t let go of the anger and resentment over their strained relationship. Adding to her confusion, Heather has an uneasy reunion with her first love, all while sorting through her family’s belongings left behind in the cottage. What she uncovers will change everything she thought she knew about her family’s history.
When I come across such a deeply moving book as Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor, I struggle with how to adequately convey my thoughts. This is a highly entertaining novel - poignant, bittersweet, compelling - and gives cause for reflection after the last page is turned. The writing is exquisite, with an atmospheric, otherworldly feel. It is of "read again" quality so as to pick up all that I might have missed the first time.
Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor reflects the human condition with all its flaws and failings, the "shadows" of family secrets spanning generations. Characters are three-dimensional and completely believable, for we know and identify with their background, struggles and emotions. I have long been a fan of British fiction, so I loved the English countryside setting of Bibury in the Cotswolds which Melanie conveyed so vividly - thatched-roof cottages, colorful English gardens, rolling pastureland dotted with sheep, elegant country manors, and cycling down winding lanes.
Libby is one of the most unique characters I've ever seen in novels. In real life, she would probably be diagnosed with "autism spectrum," but this was unknown in the 1950s of her childhood, causing much misunderstanding and frustration. Yet I found her exceptional qualities fascinating . . . "Ethereal. Magical. Like a fairy or butterfly," Libby craved beauty and freedom. "She saw a rainbow of colors where other people saw only black and white." Melanie handles complex issues well, and I think this story will especially resonate with anyone who has been a caregiver for a special-needs child.
Results of past actions are constant companions of Walter and Maggie Doyle, Libby's parents. Walter just might be my favorite character because of his humanness. He tries to do the right thing, to be honorable, yet he keeps struggling and making mistakes with all that life hands him. But oh, how he learns! Walter is a man of character and depth, whose influence is felt on every page, and he is eventually able to reflect what real love is - and that is something we can take heart from.
Heather brings home the modern-day story as she returns to Bibury to sell the family cottage after her father's death. While events of the past caused her to prefer a safe friendship with someone who would never break her heart, family revelations, understanding and joy await her.
Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor is a story every one of us can relate to, for surely we've all made regrettable choices and spent countless hours in life's shadows, leaving us nowhere to turn but to the Lord. This is a memorable story about God's faithfulness and transforming power, how He is so very capable of restoring that which is broken, in a "crown of beauty instead of ashes" style. Very highly recommended.
Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of thirteen historical romance, suspense, and contemporary novels. Two of her novels won Carol Awards in 2011, and Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana won Best Novel of Indiana in 2010. Melanie lives with her husband Jon and two daughters near Portland, Oregon.
Connect with Melanie online at melaniedobson.com, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Thank you to Melanie Dobson and Litfuse Publicity for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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