Saturday, June 4, 2016

Book Review: Dawn at Emberwilde by Sarah E. Ladd

Isabel Creston never dared to dream that love could be hers. Now, at the edge of a forest filled with dark secrets, she faces a fateful choice between love and duty.

For as long as she can remember, beautiful and free-spirited Isabel has strained against the rules and rigidity of the Fellsworth School in the rolling English countryside. No longer a student, Isabel set her sights on a steady role as a teacher at the school, a safe yet stifling establishment that would enable her to care for her younger sister Lizzie, who was left in her care after her father’s death.

The unexpected arrival of a stranger with news of unknown relatives turns Isabel’s small, predictable world upside down, sweeping her and her young charge into a labyrinth of intrigue and hidden motives.

At her new family’s invitation, Isabel and Lizzie relocate to Emberwilde, a sprawling estate adjacent to a vast, mysterious wood rife with rumors and ominous folklore—along with whispers of something far more sinister. Perhaps even more startling, two handsome men begin pursuing Isabel, forcing her to learn the delicate dance between attraction, the intricate rules of courtship, and the hopes of her heart.

At Emberwilde Isabel will discover that the key to unlocking the mystery of her past may also open the door to her future and security. But first she must find it—in the depths of Emberwilde Forest.

Dawn at Emberwilde is second in the Treasures of Surrey series by Sarah E. Ladd.  In preparation for this review, I quickly read the first title, The Curiosity Keeper (at right).  I will not do a full review here of that novel, but suffice it to say that I enjoyed it very much.  I expected a similar experience with Dawn at Emberwilde.  Unfortunately, this was not to be. Yes, it’s a sweet tale of a young girl who finds love in a way she never expected.  Based on the family-friendliness of the content, I have no trouble recommending this clean romance to general audiences, but for some reason the story didn’t draw me in as the first one did.

I’m not sure why I didn’t find Dawn at Emberwilde as compelling as its sister novel.  Set in 19th century England, it certainly falls into the genre of reading to which I’m usually drawn. As mentioned, the content is clean, with even a few moments of faith sprinkled here and there. Lead character Isabel Creston is an admirable young woman, as she manages to weather several types of trials, all while remaining the loving caretaker of her young half sister. The male leads of the story provide interesting focal points for her, as she begins to consider the possibility of romance after starting a new life with her long-lost relatives.   There is a mysterious wooded area near her new home, and shady goings-on affect her life in various ways.

All of the elements of an enjoyable novel seem to be in place for Dawn at Emberwilde, but I just wasn’t overly fascinated throughout the story.  It was a quick read, but I kept waiting for something to engage me in a way that would interest me more.  In The Curiosity Keeper, there was a jewel that was worked into the story line in a very interesting way, and it makes sense that this previous title is a part of the Treasures of Surrey series.  With Dawn at Emberwilde, I kept waiting for a similar plot device to show up in the narrative—perhaps a mysterious diamond or emerald with ties to the story that would be exciting or puzzling.  To my disappointment, nothing like this really occurred.

While second in the series, Dawn at Emberwilde can very much stand on its own. There are a few crossover characters, but prior knowledge of them and their history is not essential to participation in the reading. Although my enthusiasm for this title isn’t overly exuberant, I wouldn’t say this review is a non-recommendation.  Perhaps the novel just caught me on the wrong week to read it—who knows? Despite my tepid response, I do hope that Sarah Ladd continues the series, and I would definitely like to read another volume. In that sense, the jury is not out on my overall opinion of the collection.

About the Author 

Sarah E. Ladd received the 2011 Genesis Award in historical romance for The Heiress of Winterwood. She is a graduate of Ball State University and has more than ten years of marketing experience. Sarah lives in Indiana with her amazing family and spunky Golden Retriever. Find out more about Sarah at

Paperback copy of the novel provided by Litfuse Publicity for review purposes only.

Paperback Kindle Audio Book 1

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