Delightful Downton Abbey-Era Mystery for Tweens
Beth’s Story, 1914
by Adele Whitby
Series: Secrets of the Manor (Book 1)
Publication Date: June 24, 2014
Publisher: Simon Spotlight
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Find out what secrets lurk within the walls of Chatswood Manor in this first book of a historical fiction mystery series that explores a family’s secrets throughout generations.
The Chatswood family tree has many branches—and even more secrets. It’s the summer of 1914 in England, and Beth Etheridge, great-granddaughter of the original Elizabeth Chatswood, can’t wait for her twelfth birthday to arrive. That’s when she’ll receive her family’s heirloom “Elizabeth” necklace: one half of a heart encrusted with beautiful sapphires. But when family from France visits Chatswood Manor for the occasion and another family heirloom goes missing, Beth finds herself on a quest to clear the name of her lady’s maid and friend, Shannon. Her search for answers leads her to a hidden diary with clues to a much larger family mystery that dates back generations. What secrets are hidden away in Chatswood Manor?
It’s June 1914, and fast approaching is Beth’s twelfth birthday when, according to family custom, a treasured heirloom will pass to her called the “Elizabeth necklace”. Her cousin Kate also sits in great expectation for her own banner day later in the summer when the “Katherine necklace”, the other half of the joint legacy jewels, will be bestowed upon her. The two necklaces together form a heart. And though Kate and Beth have never met, the two bosom cousins are avid pen pals. (We get to see one of Beth’s letters to Kate, though we aren’t privy to the reply.)
Beth is flustered in anticipation as she sits in her chamber within the family’s English manor house awaiting relatives who are coming to help celebrate her special day. Only there’s a small snag: her lady’s maid isn’t answering her rings for help because, as it turns out, she’s left her post. Beth will be devastated if she’s not ready in time to greet her cousins from France!
So begins this first book in a new historical series that follows branches of the Chatswood family, both in England and in America, through several generations. When mysterious things start happening in the household, Beth investigates and finds that more awaits her than she imagined. There are family secrets!
Beth’s tale begins just months before The Great War breaks out and makes English Manor Houses a thing of the past. This volume is a nice start to a series that promises to be a charming addition to the historical fiction genre for the tween crowd. Though there are other similar avenues for girls to explore, like the American Girl® books or Scholastic’s Dear America titles, Secrets of the Manor links American girls to their extended English family to show what life was like on both sides of the Atlantic. In this case, we are regaled with a lovely Downton Abbey mystery drama for younger eyes.
Lovely cover illustrations by Jaime Zollars will surely grab the attention of young girls. And it won’t hurt that the pretty necklace might remind them of their own special friendship tokens (of less value). For all her status and privilege, Beth is not haughty, but is kind and likeable. Although the mystery is straight-forward and easily solved, author Whitby’s pen produces enough narrative tension and suspense to keep young readers motivated to follow the clues to novel’s end. Fear not, dreaders of cliff-hangers! Despite being the first of two companion novels set in 1914, and though it dovetails nicely into book two, Beth’s Story takes its tale to a satisfying conclusion. However, I’d recommend having book two on hand when your little princess finishes!
— Dawn Teresa
4 of 5 Hearts. Delightful Downton Abbey-Era Mystery for Tweens.
Family secrets come to light in this charming period piece filled with historical detail. As they roam the halls of Chatswood Manor with Beth, girls of today will discover how very different their world is from the daily life of this girl from 1914.