Review: The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill
The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ When I need a little Regency indulgence to feed my Anglophilic yearnings, I can count on complete satisfaction with a Julie Klassen book. Atmospheric in its descriptions of English village life and the goings-on of its people, The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill captures the very essence of Regency era living. And now about the book…

Jane Bell’s husband John died and left her The Bell, a coaching Inn that she has no interest in running. Complicating matters, Jane learns that The Bell is saddled with debt which leaves her more eager to dispense with it. Her mother-in-law, Thora Bell, an austere woman who has never cared much for Jane in her estimation, was originally landlady of The Bell (or The Angel as it was then called), it being her family’s establishment. However, due to marital entitlement laws and such during that time, which ultimately curtailed a woman’s financial freedom, it eventually became the property of her husband, then her son, and now her daughter-in-law, Jane. Thora Bell has returned to the Inn to assess matters and to stay on and help out, she hopes. When the book opens it’s been about a year since John’s death and The Bell has fallen into neglect, an exorbitant loan is due, and because of the subpar service, mediocre accommodations, and its neglected state, The Bell is no longer profitable. Jane can sell at a loss, allow her brother-in-law Patrick, who also resides at The Bell, to assume the place along with the debt, or she can proceed at trying to salvage the Inn herself. Feeling defeated, she’s leaning towards options 1 and 2. But when one of her employs makes a dramatic statement causing her to reconsider her original inclinations, Jane realizes that more is at stake than her ability to pursue and secure her own livelihood. The Bell must be salvaged, and what’s clear is that for the most benefit to be achieved she should be the one to take charge of it.

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill’s pace is like a walk through pristine English gardens on a balmy Spring day, parasol in hands and a companion by your side. At times an unexpected gust of wind sends you hastening for shelter from the impending storm. So many enthralling elements within this book. The entrepreneurial spirit that existed during a time when women weren’t highly considered, relative to matters of business, was inspiring. I loved Jane’s gumption as she sought advice from experienced businessmen, merchants and friends. Her commitment to transform The Bell into an establishment reminiscent of its former glory and reputation showed her strength when faced with what appeared to be insurmountable odds. I loved the growth of her character. I appreciated how Jane refused to adopt the old ways of doing things; ways that her mother-in-law approved of, but instead opted to pursue more innovative techniques to improve the Inn’s appeal. The transformation of the relationship between Thora and Jane was endearing. In fact, so many of the characters were three-dimensional that I felt particularly interested in the thoughts, motivations and actions of most of them. I cared about them – from the potboy to the magistrate. There was mention of stately as well as stubborn old horses, lovely manor homes, thriving hotel establishments, the Royal Mail service, female businesswomen, love interests and much more. A plot fully fleshed out and an absolute joy to savor.

In conclusion, I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed this book. I anxiously await book 2 in the series which I believe will be out in December, 2017. The characters are not easily forgotten, and I’m eager to learn of their eventualities. The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill is outstanding! Most highly recommended.

If you’d like to know about the setting for The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, as well as the characters and other research relating to the book, Julie Klassen has a website exclusively for that purpose. It’s Talesfromivyhill.com, and it’s definitely worth viewing. Beautiful photos, videos, a map of Ivy Hill and lots more.

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Review: Sam’s Letters to Jennifer

Sam's Letters to Jennifer
Sam’s Letters to Jennifer by James Patterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

⭐⭐⭐⭐ Sometimes things are not always what they appear to be….

Samantha, “Sam”, is Jennifer’s beloved grandmother. The two are very close since Jennifer’s mother died when she was 12. Now an adult and in the process of trying to cope from a more recent loss, Jennifer learns that her grandmother has taken a fall and is in critical condition. It doesn’t look good. Jennifer leaves her apartment in Chicago and moves into her grandmother’s house on Lake Geneva so she can visit her daily at the hospital. Upon moving in she finds well over a hundred letters detailing her grandmother’s life that she left for Jennifer to read a few at a time. She begins to do so and learns that her grandmother’s 50 year marriage to her grandfather wasn’t what it appeared to be. Meanwhile, Jennifer reconnects with an old friend she grew up with. Brendan, a doctor, has taken a leave from his practice and is staying with his uncle near her grandmother’s lakefront house. Things begin to get cozy between the two of them when Jennifer is shocked to learn of a devastating secret that Brendan has just revealed to her. Can Jennifer find happiness amid all the heartbreak?
Before I saw the movie version of Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas, I had no idea that James Patterson wrote the book. It was such a beautiful romance story that when I came across Sam’s Letters to Jennifer, also written by James Patterson, I knew I had to read it. I was not disappointed. I can confidently say that James Patterson knows how to write tender and effecting love stories. Sam’s Letter’s to Jennifer is a poignant story about finding love, losing it, and then holding on to the prospect of loving again when it doesn’t seem possible. There’s more than one love story playing out in this book, and the ways in which several lives converge and hope is renewed is beautifully told. This one’s a tearjerker. You’ve been warned. Recommended.

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Review: The Secrets She Kept

The Secrets She Kept
The Secrets She Kept by Brenda Novak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Josephine Lazarow had a lot of secrets….

The Secrets She Kept, book 2 in the Fairham Island series, picks up 5 years after The Secret Sister. Josephine Lazarow is dead. Her death has been ruled a suicide, but her son, Keith Lazarow, is not convinced. His mother would never take her own life, he insists. Once a down and out addict, Keith has turned over a new leaf. Turns out he has a knack for real estate and operates a multimillion dollar company in California. His newfound wealth gives him the means to delve deeper into his mother’s death. After consulting with his sister Maisey regarding the mysterious circumstances surrounding their mother’s death, she supports Keith’s decision to pursue a more thorough investigation. If only he could persuade the beautiful, highly intelligent and efficient Chief of Police, Harper Underwood, to get on board. Keith realizes that his negative reputation precedes him, and that it will take great effort on his part to reverse others’ preconceived notions of him, including the police chief’s. Meanwhile, Keith is trying to contain his feelings for the woman whose heart he broke 5 years earlier before he got clean, Nancy Dellinger. Realizing he made a tremendous mistake in taking her for granted, he desperately wants to start over with her. But Nancy has continually resisted his attempts and Keith is having a difficult time accepting her rejections. Will these distressing circumstances in his life push Keith over the edge and back to the drugs he’s worked so hard to put behind him? Did Josephine take her own life or did someone murder her?

The Secrets She Kept was every bit as good as The Secret Sister, which was a 5-star read for me. In it we find a great mystery alongside a solid, second-chance romance story. Brenda Novak is very adept at conveying human emotion. Her characters’ feelings and expressions are authentic and relatable. I also appreciate how there’s a purpose for every one of her characters. At the conclusion of the book the reader is not left wondering “whatever happened to so and so?”. Everything comes together at the end, neat and tidy, with each person accounted for. Some of the characters that we were introduced to in The Secret Sister have evolved and matured in The Secrets She kept, and for that reason I recommend reading the books in order. If I had to list any cons for this book there would only be one. I wish it was free of the heavy petting and sensual scenes since I prefer wholesome romance. Just my own personal preference. Brenda Novak’s writing is so good it doesn’t even seem necessary. Being that the romance aspect shared space with the mystery, these scenes were few and I did my best to skip over them. Had everything remained the same, and the romance been strictly sweet, it would be a 5++ read for me.

Overall, The Secrets She Kept was an excellent read with a thoroughly satisfying mystery and a HEA that will melt your heart.

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Review: Little Beach Street Bakery

Little Beach Street Bakery
Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Polly Waterford is starting anew. Her boyfriend’s graphic design consultancy business, of which she was business manager, has foundered and they’ve been forced to file bankruptcy. With the business dissolved, along with most of her material possessions and her relationship with Chris, Polly will have to leave their expensive flat and find a more affordable dwelling. Mount Polbearne, a tidal island 50 miles away from their home in Plymouth, and only accessible by a causeway that washes over twice a day, has an available flat that’s in her price range. The place is a dump. Polly’s posh friend Kerensa is appalled that she would choose such an abhorrent place to settle, but Polly’s determined to make a go of it, assuring Kerensa that it’s only temporary until she can reestablish. With few job prospects on the island and employment on the mainland impossible due to the causeway’s preventing convenient access, Polly does the only thing that she knows how; she bakes. This undertaking infuriates her landlord, Mrs. Gillian Manse, a brusque and menacing older woman whose lone bakery on the island serves stale sandwiches derived from inferior products. Mrs. Manse resents Polly’s baking expertise because the whole town is gravitating to her delectable breads. The two women eventually reach a compromise and soon Polly is coming into her own in the little forsaken town of Mount Polbearne. At times lonesome, she befriends a fisherman and his crew and they quickly become a regular part of her daily life. Polly even begins to have feelings for the fisherman, Tarnie, but will come to learn of a secret he’s harboring. There’s an adorable little puffling (a baby puffin) that slams into the window pane of the abandoned shop beneath Polly’s flat and breaks his wing. Polly cares for the bird and is warned by the vet not to name him or she’ll get too attached and won’t want to release him when he’s convalesced. Ignoring his suggestion she names the little bird Neil and the two become inseparable. When it’s time to take Neil to the puffin sanctuary Polly is crushed, but her beekeeper friend who makes delicious honey, Huckle, lends his support and accompanies her to the sanctuary. Huckle is sweet and handsome, with his own story to tell, and Polly is soon smitten by his affections. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Chris re-enters her life, wanting to pick up where they left off and Polly has a decision to make. Which life will she choose? Never expecting to stay long in Mount Polbearne, she’s made the shabby place with the gorgeous views her home. Even her friend Kerensa has come to see the beauty and potential of the place, visiting often and catching the eye of a very wealthy resident there. Polly has become content with her thriving bakery business, her love interests and pet puffin. But will she take the easy way out, abandon her newfound friends and business and return to the executive lifestyle with Chris?

Little Beach Street Bakery was a delightful read. I became immersed in Polly’s life, wanting to know who she’d wind up with, what would happen to the sweet little puffling, whether or not her bakery business would take off and sustain her, and if she would choose to make Mount Polbearne her permanent home. The story satisfies all of these questions and takes us on an adventure and into the lives of some of the other residents, showing us how with a little determination and the willingness to follow your dreams, happiness can be achieved, even in an unfashionable little place like Mount Polbearne, Cornwall. Enjoyable read.

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Review: A Dark and Stormy Murder

A Dark and Stormy Murder
A Dark and Stormy Murder by Julia Buckley
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

⭐⭐⭐💫 Lena London’s life is about to change….in more ways than one.
When Lena brings her car to a halt in front of the large, ominous-looking mansion and home of her idol, novelist Camilla Graham, she still can’t believe her good fortune. Lena has devoured every one of Camilla Graham’s books since she was a young girl, and now she will have the privilege of living in her house as her personal assistant and ghost writer, thanks to her friend Allison who got her the interview that landed her the job. This apprenticeship is a dream come true for Lena, but as she gets started in her new role she finds that all is not well in the sleepy, blissful town of Blue Lake, IN. Nothing notable ever really happens in Blue Lake she’s been told, but in less than a day since Lena’s arrival a dead body is discovered on Camilla’s property, and she learns that their neighbor next door, Sam West, is suspected of killing his missing wife. And while walking Camilla’s feisty German Shepherds, Heathcliff and Rochester, in an attempt to acquaint herself with her new surroundings and neighbors, she meets several surly male residents and a few pleasant women in town who seem cordial and welcoming enough. But Lena’s on high alert. Can any of these townsfolk be responsible for the murder of Martin Jonas, waiter at the Wheat Grass restaurant? Did Sam West kill his wife who vanished a year ago without a trace?

This cozy started out well, and I liked the idea of an aspiring writer living with and working for her favorite novelist. Their interactions throughout the book were endearing, and it was nice to see how their relationship evolved from the time they met to the book’s end. Camilla’s dogs, Rochester and Heathcliff; and Lena’s cat, Lestrade, were a welcome addition to the story. Their antics were amusing and I never tired of reading about what they were up to. While the characters were interesting, I would like to have seen some of them more fully developed. There was so much more potential for fleshing them out. Perhaps we’ll learn more about them in book 2. What put me off a little with this book was the insta-love between Lena and one of the other characters, the double murder plot which at times made me wonder which one was taking center stage, the easy way I determined who the killer was, and the To Be Continued ending. All in all, I liked this cozy but I didn’t love it. I wanted to love it so much. It began on a high note but gradually started to lose steam for me when I was about 3/4 of the way in. Nevertheless it was a pretty good read. But hey, judging from the 4 and 5 star reviews it’s receiving you might think differently so I’d say give it a try. You may very well think it deserves more merit.

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Review: The Secret Sister

The Secret Sister
The Secret Sister by Brenda Novak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Brenda Novak tricked me!! Just when I thought I had it all figured out she blindsided me with a twist I didn’t see coming, and it was clever. As the title suggests, there could very well have been a secret sister that protagonist, Maisey Lazarow, didn’t know about. When a metal box that was keenly hidden emerges, the photographs inside incite vague memories of a girl she may have once been acquainted with. But how could that be? Keith and Maisey are the only two children of Malcolm and Josephine Lazarow. Or are they? Maisey doesn’t dare broach that subject with her mother. Josephine is an odious, overbearing and austere woman who exerts her power and influence on Fairham Island, the place where Maisey grew up and has now returned to help her brother, a weak and broken soul who can’t get his life together. Maisey’s relationship with her mother is so shallow that she refuses to stay in the family home, Coldiron House, preferring to take up residence on the far side of the island where her family owns a number of bungalows that are in desperate need of repair. Even a crumbling cottage is better than living in the same house with her mother. But when Maisey finds out that the contractor who’s been hired to do the renovations on the bungalows is none other that Rafael “Rafe” Romano, a guy she had a fling with in her younger days, and who now owns and lives in one of the bungalows nearby with his adorable young daughter, Laney, Maisey wonders how she’ll be able to divert her attention away from the alluringly attractive man that her mother would never approve of for her daughter. Bad enough she’s recently divorced from Jack, a man who her mother had advised her not to marry; a fact that Josephine will not let her forget. And now, finding the pictures of the young girl in that box raises many questions. Who is she, and why hadn’t her parents told her and Keith about her? Why aren’t there any police records about her, or small-town rumors circulating that she’s heard about? Could her mother have anything to do with the child’s disappearance? The implications of that thought alone are unnerving. Aside from trying to find answers to these lingering questions, she’ll have to make a decision about who she wants to have in her life romantically, Jack or Rafe; straighten out her careless, irresponsible brother, revitalize her writing career, heal from a personal tragedy, and put forth her best effort to mend the rift with her mother that’s been intensified by her reluctance to break things off with Rafe.
The mystery/romance combination of this story really worked for me. I love mysteries, and I love romance, so when they work in tandem I’m contented. This method of storytelling also gives more space to the plot rather than the bedroom scenes. That’s a plus for me because I prefer wholesome romance where heavy sexual content is non-existent. As was the case with The Secret Sister, my attention was drawn more to the mystery of the unidentified girl than it was to Rafe and Maisey’s relationship drama, although I was interested in knowing if their feelings for each other would overcome any obstacles that threatened to keep them apart. In the end, I had to suspend disbelief just a bit to come to terms with the rapid progression of their love, but isn’t that what enjoying fiction is all about sometimes? In conclusion, The Secret Sister was a tantalizing mystery that pulled a fast one on me, along with a romance made up of two unlikely, but very likeable adults, and secondary characters that consisted of all the traits that make for an interesting and absorbing read. I look forward to finding out more about the Lazarow family in Fairham Island book 2, The Secrets She Kept. Highly recommended.

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Review: Threads of Evidence

Threads of Evidence
Threads of Evidence by Lea Wait
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Residents of Haven Harbor, Maine, are relieved to learn that “Aurora”, an old, neglected Victorian mansion and eyesore of the community, that has sat desolate for the past 25 years has been bought. Aurora has a macabre past. Jasmine Gardener, age 17, died on the property back in 1970. Jasmine’s parents were hosting a party at Aurora, their summer home, the day she died. The death was ruled an accidental drowning by police, but Jasmine’s mother, Millie Gardener, believed her daughter was murdered. Now, 45 years after the murder, famous actress, Skye West, who’s bought Aurora has commissioned Angie Curtis, Director of Mainely Needlepoint, to appraise the needlepoint pictures that were left inside the property. As Angie makes her way through the mansion and realizes that its condition inside is even worse than she imagined, she wonders why Skye West would be interested in restoring and living in a place that seems more suited for demolition than renovation. As the story moves forward we learn of Skye’s connection to Jasmine, which inadvertently answers Angie’s question. And as Angie investigates a 45 year old murder involving the then 17 year old, we see how many partygoers that night had a reason to want her dead.

Threads of Evidence is, in my opinion, a more intricately composed Murder mystery than book 1, Twisted Threads. There are more suspects, clues and variables to consider. Although Threads of Evidence can be read on its own, I benefited from reading the first book in the series because it introduced me to the many characters that made an appearance in book 2, enabling me to keep them all straight in my head. The actress, old Victorian mansion, colorful cast of characters, along with the protagonist’s sleuthing strategies, made Threads of Evidence enjoyable. And since I like to learn new things, it’s great that the author shares embroidery tidbits. I also learned about some poisonous plants which was interesting. Overall, another well constructed cozy mystery that I’d recommend.

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