I love Regency-set (and slightly later) movies, television series, and books that take place in villages and focus on a variety of characters. Lawana Blackwell's Gresham Chronicles, the Cranford miniseries, and the TV show Lark Rise to Candleford are some of my favorites, and now Julie Klassen's new Tales from Ivy Hill series is joining the ranks of these village-set tales. Book one, The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, recently released, and if it's any indication, this series is destined to become one of my favorites!
Welcome to the English village of Ivy Hill, where friendships thrive, romance blossoms, and mysteries await. . . .
The lifeblood of the village of Ivy Hill is its coaching inn, The Bell. When the innkeeper dies suddenly, his genteel wife, Jane Bell, becomes the reluctant landlady. Jane has no idea how to manage a business, but with the town's livelihood at stake and a large loan due, she must quickly find a way to save the inn.
Despite their strained relationship, Jane turns to her resentful mother-in-law, Thora, for help. Formerly mistress of The Bell, Thora is struggling to overcome her losses and find purpose for the future. As she works with Jane, two men from her past vie for her attention, but Thora has promised herself never to marry again. Will one of them convince her to embrace a second chance at love?
As pressure mounts from the bank, Jane employs new methods, and puzzles over the intentions of several men who seem to have a vested interest in the place, including a mysterious newcomer with secret plans of his own. With the help of friends old and new, can Jane restore life to the inn, and to her empty heart as well?
The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill reads almost like a season of a BBC or ITV period piece as it jumps around the village, telling multiple stories (some of which are merely teased in this first novel). While the novel is told only from the perspectives of three people—Jane Bell, her mother-in-law Thora, and her estranged friend Rachel Ashford—many other villagers piqued my interest and hopefully will be featured more prominently in the future. Much of the action takes place at The Bell as Jane fights to save it, even though she has no idea how to run an inn. Multiple people step up to help—Jane's brother-in-law Patrick, horse trainer Gabriel Locke, even Jane's future competitor James Drake—but Jane (and the reader) is often unsure of whom to trust. At the end of the novel, I'm still not entirely sure whose motives are pure! Jane also has relationships with three men who could potentially become suitors, and I look forward to seeing how that develops in future novels.
Jane's estranged friend Rachel's story is one that is set up but not fully explored in The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill. I'm especially curious about what exactly happened between Jane and Rachel (the nature of their falling out is hinted at but not fully explained) and whether Rachel will end up accepting her current suitor or go on pining for someone else.
While the fate of the inn is decided by the novel's end and one of the many teased romances reaches a "happily ever after," much is left up in the air. I can't wait to see where Klassen takes the story next!
Readers who are familiar with Julie Klassen's work should know that The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill contains much less romance than her novels usually do. Instead of being about one woman finding the love of her life, it's about Ivy Hill's residents and their relationships with one another. While I generally want the novels I read to contain lots of sigh-inducing romance, I find that I don't mind the scaled-back romance in The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill one bit, as the relationships among the townspeople are fascinating and enjoyable.
My only complaint is that we have to wait until December to see what's next for Jane and the residents of Ivy Hill! It's a story I can't wait to continue. 5 stars.
Read an excerpt.
Visit the Ivy Hill website.
Buy the book.
Read my reviews of Klassen's The Painter's Daughter (5 stars), The Apothecary's Daughter (3-1/2 stars), The Maid of Fairbourne Hall (4-1/2 stars), The Tutor's Daughter (5 stars), The Dancing Master (4-1/2 stars), and The Secret of Pembrooke Park (4 stars).
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from the author and Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."