Great Start to a Series
As I was reading The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, I was reminded of The Gresham Chronicles by Lawana Blackwell. Then I got to the note from the author at the end, where Julie Klassen mentions The Gresham Chronicles, and says:
If you’re anything like me, you probably love village series set in England, whether in books or in film or television. Series like Lark Rise to Candleford, Cranford … close-knit communities with quirky characters, which create an idyllic place to retreat from the hectic modern world.Well, if that quote resonates with you (as it did with me), then you’re the right person to be reading The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill.
Here’s the book description from Amazon:
The lifeblood of the Wiltshire village of Ivy Hill is its coaching inn, The Bell. But when the innkeeper dies suddenly, his genteel wife, Jane Bell, becomes the reluctant owner. Jane has no notion of how to run a business. However, with the town's livelihood at stake and a large loan due, she must find a way to bring new life to 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 find her place in the world. As she and Jane work together, they form a measure of trust, and Thora's wounded heart begins to heal. When she encounters two men from her past, she sees them--and her future--in a different light.
With pressure mounting from the bank, Jane employs innovative methods to turn the inn around, and puzzles over the intentions of several men who seem to have a vested interest in the place. Will her efforts be enough to save The Bell? And will Thora embrace the possibility of a second chance at love?
Those who have read The Gresham Chronicles will see parallels with some of those stories—the widow left in charge of the inn, the overbearing older woman, the class system, showing that ‘gentlemen’ aren’t always gentlemen. But the plot and writing are all Klassen’s own take on some of these traditional tropes, and it’s excellent.
I will admit that I haven’t especially enjoyed the last couple of Julie Klassen novels I’ve read (I may have unfavourably compared one to the movie Footloose, and that one ‘impressed’ me so much I’ve yet to read the next, even though I bought the paperback close to two years ago).
The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill is, in my view, a return to the kind of form Klassen showed in her earlier novels such as The Apothecary’s Daughter and The Lady of Milkweed Manor—she’s back to addressing social issues in a genteel almost English way. She also points out how everyone in the village is dependent on everyone else:
Village life is like an ivy vine climbing a great oak. You cut off the vine at the root, and all the way up the tree, the leaves wither. We’re all connected.Yes, it is still obvious from some of the vocabulary that she’s an American writing about a foreign country (although a foreign country she’s familiar with, having visited beautiful Wiltshire several times). But that’s something most readers wouldn’t pick up on unless they too had a very correct English Army officer for a grandfather (back in his day, cute meant sharp. Not pretty).
So if you’re looking for a gentle wander through the pretty villages of 1820’s England, you’ll enjoy a visit to Ivy Hill. For myself, I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series.
Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Julie Klassen at her website, and you can read the opening to The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill below: