2 Feb 2017

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill- Julie Klassen

Tales From Ivy Hill #1 
Bethany House, December 6th 2016, 445 Pages
Print, ebook and audio 

On a rise overlooking the Wiltshire countryside stands the village of Ivy Hill. Its coaching inn, The Bell, is its lifeblood--along with the coach lines that stop there daily, bringing news, mail, travelers, and much-needed trade.

Jane Bell lives on the edge of the inn property. She had been a genteel lady until she married the charming innkeeper who promised she would never have to work in his family's inn. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Jane finds herself The Bell's owner, and worse, she has three months to pay a large loan or lose the place.

Feeling reluctant and ill-equipped, Jane is tempted to abandon her husband's legacy and return to her former life of ease. However, she soon realizes there is more at stake than her comfort. But who can she trust to help her? Her resentful mother-in-law? Her husband's brother, who wanted the inn for himself? Or the handsome newcomer with secret plans of his own . . . ?

With pressure mounting from the bank, Jane struggles to win over naysayers and turn the place around. Can Jane bring new life to the inn, and to her heart as well?

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill was a little different from some of Julie Klassen’s previous novels (at least the ones I have read), officially, that was because it’s the first novel in what is going to be her first series, set in a fictional Berkshire village. The author states that she was inspired by Historical village and family sagas like Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford and Lark Rise to Candleford as well as other, more recent, literary equivalents.

I’m an established Klassen fan anyway, so I always make a grab for her latest novel (although I have also been catching up on her older titles recently). Some are better that others. Some focus on some central mystery or threat to the characters. Others are more focused on Romance. The Innkeeper has Romance, but it’s based more on the lives of three unattached women in a small village in the 1820s. Another reviewer said that it has a strong emphasis on women in business, and I tend to agree.
There is a strong element of social criticism, with one of the ladies, Rachel, the unmarried daughter of the Lord of the Manor about to lose her home because of an entail. Rachel though is a relatively minor character, the friend of the protagonist, Jane Bell, who struggles to keep the Coaching Inn that had been in her late husband’s family for generations open.

Both she and her mother in law Thora are strong characters with the odds against them (mostly because of their sex). Thora thinks she can do a better job, and does not want to let go of her independence as a widow by accepting the advances of a lifelong friend. Jane learns that he Inn risks closure because of a loan her husband had taken out, and mismanagement. The cast of minor characters proved to be an interesting bunch, including the Scottish coachman (rumoured to have been a former boxer), a gentlemanly hotel magnate who may have a romantic interest in Jane, and a tempestuous, straight talking cook. Oh, and an eccentric Church sexton who claims to talk to the resident mice. All that was lacking was a village gossip of some description, or interfering melodramatic relative who could have added a lot to the story. As a whole though, all the characters created an entertaining sample of everyday Regency life and adding touches of human drama and human interest to the story.

Readers may wish to note that, compared to other novels by this author, this one was rather slow paced. It’s not that nothing happens, it’s just that its more character driven than plot driven, which is true of a lot of the stories which inspired it. I didn’t mind that at all, as I like Elizabeth Gaskell’s stories, among others, but others might find it frustrating. Personally, I really enjoyed it, and look forward to the next two stories, in which I believe some of the neglected characters get more attention.

I requested a copy of this book from the publisher (and their UK distributor). I was not required to review it, and all opinions expressed are my own.

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