The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill (Tales from Ivy Hill #1) by Julie Klassen

I’m so glad that author Julie Klassen mentions the series Cranford in her author’s note, because that’s exactly the feel I was getting out of her new novel. The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, set in a quaint little English village, is the first in a series!

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill front cover

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill front cover (Bethany House)

THE PLOT: Jane Bell is a young widow who inherited the Bell Inn after her husband’s death a year ago. Between mourning John’s accident and her pre-marriage existence as a gentlewoman, Jane hasn’t really given the Bell the attention it deserves, and now she’s in trouble.

The bank informs her that her husband had taken a 15,000-pound loan for improvements to the inn, and nothing has been repaid. Jane had never heard of the loan, has no idea where the money went, and now has three months to convince the bank that the inn, which has been losing business, can become profitable again.

Jane’s mother-in-law, Thora, isn’t sure that Jane is up to the task. As the previous owner of the inn, Thora is not exactly open to change, and she has serious doubts about Jane’s usefulness. Jane’s sly brother-in-law, Patrick, has returned to the inn and offers to take it off her hands; the bank will be more tolerant with a man at the helm. But is Patrick really trying to help? Or does he have his own agenda?

With an attractive new competitor down the road, Jane is going to need help from many village residents, both old friends and new, to keep the inn. Her friends and family will also make discoveries about themselves.

MY TWO CENTS: I realized as I was writing the plot summary that, for brevity’s sake, I was focusing mostly on Jane. This is truly an ensemble cast. Thora gets almost as much time and attention as Jane, and her character is very developed. It would have been easy to make her the crabby, disapproving mother-in-law, but there’s much more to Thora than that. Also, it’s lovely to see a book where a woman in her 50s can change, grow, AND have multiple suitors!

Jane’s friends are also introduced: Mercy, who runs a school with her aunt, and Rachel, who fell out with Jane over a man. The man in question, Sir Timothy, has never married and may still be a suitor for Rachel or Jane. In the meantime, he’s a good friend to both women. Walter Talbot used to work at the inn, but left after his brother died to take care of the family farm. Gabriel Locke, the farrier, does everything he can to help Jane, yet seems to have a mysterious connection to her late husband. Colin McFarland has taken a job at the inn to help his family, despite bad blood between his father and Thora.

Minor characters, including inn employees and various other townspeople, may have smaller roles but don’t seem less developed. Just a few lines of dialogue or a few descriptors paints a picture of these secondary characters and you feel like you know them. Ms. Klassen really makes the little village come to life, and you enjoy the time you’re spending there. I’m excited to see the roles they’ll continue to play as the series goes on.

COVER NOTES: This cover is a little different from Ms. Klassen’s usual covers, but it’s completely appropriate and beautiful. More than the individual, you get a little piece of the village itself. Very nice.

BOTTOM LINE: I loved this book and the setup of the cast of characters. Enjoyed it immensely, will re-read, and will look forward eagerly to the rest of the series.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available December 6, 2016, in paperback, hardcover, and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: The Ladies of Ivy Cottage. If you want a spoiler-free description, check out the author’s series page at talesfromivyhill.com. The description is under the Books tab.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Painter’s Daughter by Julie Klassen

This is the third book I’ve read by inspirational author Julie Klassen, following The Dancing Master (reviewed here) and The Secret of Pembrooke Park (reviewed here). I found this novel to be a little different in that it starts with the fallout of an affair between two characters…which seemed unusually risqué for the Christian writer. (Note that it is still very clean, though.)

The Painter's Daughter Front Cover (Bethany House)

The Painter’s Daughter Front Cover (Bethany House)

THE PLOT: Sophie Dupont helps her father with his painting but sells her own talent short. She is seduced by visiting artist Wesley Overtree, who one day leaves her a note saying “It was fun, but I’m off to Italy!” (I’m paraphrasing.) Unfortunately, Sophie had been working up the courage to tell Wesley she’s pregnant. Now she’s all alone, abandoned and ruined.

Along comes Wesley’s younger brother, Stephen, a captain in the army. He’s looking for his brother and isn’t surprised to find out that flighty Wesley has skipped off to Italy, leaving his estate duties to someone else. Stephen isn’t stupid and easily puts two and two together, realizing his brother has left Sophie in the lurch. Stephen believes he’s fated to die in battle, so he nobly offers to marry his brother’s lover to give their child a name. A desperate Sophie agrees, marries Stephen in name only, and heads off to the Overtree estate to be introduced to the family. The couple agrees to keep Sophie’s past and the baby’s true parentage from Stephen’s parents.

Stephen and Sophie begin to get to know each other and grow closer. Just when it seems like they make attempt a real marriage, Stephen must return to his troop, and Wesley returns.

MY TWO CENTS: In past reviews, I’ve remarked that while Klassen is a Christian writer, the references to God and praying were appropriately placed. In this book I felt like they were a little heavy-handed; much more plentiful and central to the plot than I’ve found in her other books. Maybe this is because of the nature of the content—an unwed mother, a soldier who believes he will die, a man who wants back the woman he abandoned. The prayers are sincere and not requests for wish fulfillment. Stephen and Sophie ask for guidance on making good decisions, not for everything to be magically fixed. While this may appeal more to Klassen’s core audience, it has less crossover appeal to non-religious readers.

I was a little uncomfortable with the plot because to me, Klassen’s books seem much more realistic than fun Regency romances. The reader knows that, unlike most romance novels, everything is not going to resolve perfectly. Stephen’s family have a hard time accepting his sudden marriage to a woman of lower social standing. You know it’s only going to get worse if they find out she switched brothers. And how will they treat their grandchild?

The relationship between Sophie and Stephen has a rocky road, and the story’s resolution isn’t a foregone conclusion. Will Sophie and Stephen end up together and happy? Will Wesley somehow redeem himself and claim his child? If so, where does that leave Stephen?

The secondary characters all add interest to the story, especially a former soldier who usually serves as Wesley’s companion and knows the truth; a mysterious neighbor; and Stephen’s innocent young sister. I think this one would benefit from a sequel as I’d like to see if one character attempt to make amends for his actions.

BOTTOM LINE: More religion-centered than the other Julie Klassen books I’ve read, and very thought-provoking. I would read a sequel.

TEACUP RATING: Three-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book is on sale in now hardcover, paperback, audio, and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen

The first Julie Klassen novel I read was The Dancing Master, reviewed here. I liked it well enough to want to read more Klassen, and The Secret of Pembrooke Park was a great follow-up.

Secret of Pembrooke Park Front Cover (Baker Publishing Group)

Secret of Pembrooke Park Front Cover (Baker Publishing Group)

THE PLOT: When the Foster family loses almost all their money, Mr. Foster blames his oldest daughter, Abigail. Abigail had recommended that her father invest in her uncle’s banking firm, which has failed. To make up for it, Abigail has her family use her dowry to fund a season for her younger sister, Louisa…even though Louisa seems to have stolen the affections of Abigail’s childhood friend and crush, Gilbert. In the meantime, the Fosters are offered a temporary home at abandoned Pembrooke Park on the condition that they fix the place up. While Louisa and her mother stay in London, Abigail and her father travel to Pembrooke.

Abigail finds that intrigue abounds at Pembrooke. Why was it so hastily abandoned? What happened to the former owners? Who is leasing it to the Fosters? Is there really a secret treasure room? Who is sending Abigail anonymous diary passages? What does the local parson William Chapman and his family know about the secrets? Why does William’s sister choose to be almost a recluse? And does Abigail really want Gilbert back once he grows disenchanted with her sister, or has she developed real love for William?

MY TWO CENTS: First, let me say that this author gets the very best covers. Love the appropriate clothes, and the colors are striking. LOVE IT.

Second, even though Julie Klassen is a Christian writer, I feel like the reader isn’t overwhelmed with Christian messages; there is an appropriate amount of religion for the time period. While there is more religion in this book than there was in The Dancing Master, that’s kind of a given since William is a parson. Non-Christians who are looking for a clean regency mystery/romance will still enjoy it. Klassen books might even appeal to a broader audience than traditional romances do. I think a lot of people still enjoy a simple romance that doesn’t border on erotica, and this fits the bill.

Finally, there is definitely a gothic element to this book, between the midnight creakings that disturb Abigail, the mysterious cloaked figure, and more than one fire. I would say this is more of a mystery than a romance, as evidenced by the book’s title.

BOTTOM LINE: A bit of gothic mystery, a bit of romance, and not too preachy for a Christian writer. If you’re a fan of Jane Austen, you’ll probably like this book regardless of your religious beliefs.

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book will be on sale in eformats on November 25, 2014, and in paperback on December 2, 2014.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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