Heather Toulson never thought she would have to return to England after fleeing to America years ago. But after the death of her father, she must return to the English cottage of her youth that sits on the property of Ladenbrooke Manor. Heather is thankful that at least her newly-married daughter is able to join her on the trip.
When it is discovered that the sorting of the things in the cottage will take longer than anticipated, Heather finds herself staying in England indefinitely. Along the way she has a run-in with her first love that leaves her more confused than ever about her life currently and her plans for the future.
But an even bigger shock awaits Heather in the little cottage in which she grew up. As she continues to sort through her parents’ belongings, long-held secrets about her family come to the surface. As Heather explores her past, she discovers what really happened at Ladenbrooke all those years ago and how her family is connected to this mysterious Manor.
The setting of this story was very interesting and gave a little bit of new life to the usual English countryside novels.
I am a sucker for “past and present” stories these days. The book club I am in has read many of these types of books over the years, and we seem to continue to pick them every year. I think it’s difficult to tell stories like this well without getting the reader all mixed up, but Ms. Dobson was able to do so, at least as far as the time period goes.
First off, the setting of this story was very interesting and gave a little bit of new life to the usual English countryside novels. I’ve read several novels that tell about someone who must return to their childhood home to sort through their parents’ things, but for some reason this one didn’t seem completely run-of-the-mill.
While there were secrets that the characters kept that were revealed throughout the novel, I never quite got an overall feeling of mystery or suspense.
This novel was definitely portrayed as one that would explore the secrets and mysteries of Ladenbrooke Manor and of Heather’s past. (I mean, it’s in the title, right?!) While there were secrets that the characters kept that were revealed throughout the novel, I never quite got an overall feeling of mystery or suspense. I think the back of the book summary gave way too much away, which is why I chose to write my own summary for this review. I guessed every single secret way before it was exposed, which is really odd to me considering that I haven’t been able to do that in Ms. Dobson’s other novels.
I also have to point out that one of the main secrets/plot points of the book was based on the main characters having a Big Misunderstanding, which is definitely not my favorite way to keep characters apart. Plus, it seemed as if each generation of women in this novel kept making the same mistakes over and over. It got a bit tiring towards the end.
The inclusion of a character with autism in this novel was very interesting. It was fascinating to see how each parent dealt with the child and to see how far we have come in relation to those on the autism spectrum.
The inclusion of a character with autism in this novel was very interesting. It was fascinating to see how each parent dealt with the child and to see how far we have come in relation to those on the autism spectrum. That being said, I thought the romantic storyline for the autistic character was quite traumatic. It felt more like a story of a stalker and lack of consent than it did a beautiful love story, and I’m still not sure which way the author was trying to go with it.
Even though this story had several hiccups along the way, the overall effect is still interesting. The struggles the characters face are very real and very emotional. While the spiritual aspect didn’t focus as much on Christ as I prefer in Christian fiction, there is an overall feeling of forgiveness and redemption in this novel that is expressed quite well.
Libby, a free-spirited, whimsical girl finds a friend in her neighbor, Oliver, the son of Lord Croft of Ladenbrooke Manor. Years later, Libby is pregnant and alone when her father kicks her out, and Oliver has drowned in a nearby river. Though there were many theories about his death, no one is ever held responsible. Sixty years later, upon returning to her parent’s cottage in the English countryside, Heather Toulson uncovers secrets of her family’s history. Filled with mixed emotions, Heather mourns her father’s passing, but can’t forgive the strained nature of their relationship. As she goes through her parent’s belongings, she finds a mysterious journal that belongs to a woman she never knew, and it contains clues that lead her to the truth of the mysterious drowning all those years ago. What she discovers will change everything she thought about her family and unearth secrets and old heartaches that divided her family for years.
The story spans generations and has a few different perspectives; I never found myself lost or unable to follow each character’s voice.
After reading and loving Chateau of Secrets at the beginning of this year, I knew without a doubt that I would be picking up Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor. Though often a heartbreaking story, it was also compelling and redemptive. Melanie blends historical, mysterious, and spiritual elements together seamlessly. The story spans generations and has a few different perspectives; I never found myself lost or unable to follow each character’s voice. The beginning of the story drew me in immediately. Maggie has made a mistake that could affect her entire life, and she is desperate. Marriage to Walter Doyle, a respectable man in her town, saves her from complete disgrace and gives her daughter Libby a family and father as well.
I enjoyed the unraveling of the mystery as it related to each character; the revelations are both poignant and heartbreaking.
In the present day, Heather is understandably not sure how to feel upon returning to her parent’s cottage. Her last interaction with her father before he died was strained, and she finds a book in her parent’s things that belonged to her mysterious sister, Libby, whom her parents rarely discussed. Libby’s character is very child-like, and perhaps in present day, she would be diagnosed with some sort of social anxiety disorder, or even autism. As it was, during her life, she was ostracized as being odd because of her whimsical tendencies. As a character, she is fascinating – her love of butterflies really made sense to me, because she is beautiful in her unique way and couldn’t truly feel free without being able to fly between her home at the cottage and Ladenbrooke Manor, where Oliver Croft balks against the life for which his parents are grooming him.
The most compelling thing about this story is its characters; though at times they are not entirely likeable, they are very realistic. Even when their choices seemed selfish or wrong, I could empathize with their reasoning. It’s always refreshing when characters make true-to-life mistakes and have realistic conflict with one another. Though some actions might have been for the sake of the story’s mystery, for the most part, the plot flowed realistically around their choices. I enjoyed the unraveling of the mystery as it related to each character; the revelations are both poignant and heartbreaking. Walter allows being deceived to produce bitterness in his life; he both loves and resents Libby, and though she may be innocent in many ways, somehow she senses this about him. Despite his flaws, Walter does sacrifice a lot for Libby, and I think portrays best what is both wonderful and terrible about being human. We often cause pain for those we love, but we can also seek forgiveness and reconciliation and come out stronger than before.
This story represents so well the restoration human spirit through faith and hope that God can make something beautiful out of life’s shadows.
This story represents so well the restoration human spirit through faith and hope that God can make something beautiful out of life’s shadows. I recommend The Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor for readers looking for a realistic story of flawed people, with layers of mystery and an ethereal feel. I eagerly await Melanie’s next release and hope I get the time to read her previously published books soon!