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: A Haven on Orchard Lane

A Haven on Orchard Lane
A Haven on Orchard Lane by Lawana Blackwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ This is my first book by Lawana Blackwell and she’s been added to my list of favorite authors. I was beaming with pleasure while reading A Haven on Orchard Lane. What a delightful historic tale it was, filled with characters of substance that I could envision so clearly; and beautiful, refreshing dialogue that made this book the epitome of comfort and warmth. To be honest, I had taken a break from historic novels because I was growing weary of the same plot lines and scenarios. This book has caused me to regain faith in the genre. The story was unique and unlike any other book I’ve read in this category, with writing that spoke to my heart and nourished my soul. I was always ready to pick up where I’d left off. Now a little of what it was about….
Mrs. Charlotte Fosberry was a highly respected actress in her former days. Now at 50, she’s no longer on stage, but married to Lord Fosberry who did not marry her for love. Presuming she possessed more wealth than was the case, he confessed his true motives for marrying her and has grown critical and mentally abusive to Charlotte; making off-color comments about her weight and such. She desperately needs a way out and it comes by way of a theater part that she is called upon to play. Knowing that Lord Fosberry won’t allow her to just walk away from their marriage, Charlotte must devise a scheme to make her exit. Things don’t turn out the way she expects regarding her big break on stage, and she finds herself at the mercy of her estranged daughter, Rosalind, who Charlotte did not raise. Forgiveness is the order of the day, and Rosalind will learn almost immediately that her mother isn’t the person she’s made her out to be. In fact, Charlotte has much to contribute to many secondary characters by way of wisdom, and even theatrical experience. There’s a little mystery and intrigue in the story, a love triangle and ultimately the most wonderfully fulfilling ending.
Ms. Blackwell does Christian Fiction right. There are a few brief scriptural references to bible passages and characters, and a mention here and there of the folks making their way to worship services. But happily it wasn’t a lesson in Christianity or didactic in any way (I attend my own worship services for that). Oftentimes when reading a Christian Fiction novel I find that the author’s views don’t align with my personal beliefs and ultimately upset my delicate sensibilities related to religion. Because of this I find it difficult to review these preachy books objectively. This was not so with A Haven on Orchard Lane. What little I didn’t agree with wasn’t enough to affect my enjoyment of the book. It was mainly just solid story-telling without profanity, violence or graphic sexual scenes. What I personally expect from a Christian Fiction novel. I loved it!! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Thank you Bethany House for a free copy of this book. I have not received any payment for my honest opinions about it.

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Review: Dangerous Tidings

Dangerous Tidings
Dangerous Tidings by Dana Mentink
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Dangerous Tidings is a solid suspense novel with pulse-racing action from start to finish.
Veterinarian Donna Gallagher is convinced that her father’s fatal car crash was no accident, and she’s determined to prove it. Meanwhile a young woman, Pauline Mitchell, has gone missing and Donna’s investigating efforts have led her to believe that the two incidents are somehow related since her father, a private eye, had an active case file in his office with Pauline’s name on it. Donna’s suspicions are shared by Pauline’s brother Brent who is looking for Pauline but who may just be the prime suspect in her disappearance. Can Brent be trusted, and will Donna put aside her growing attraction for the man so the two can find out what happened to their loved ones before they wind up the next victims?

I can always count on a riveting edge-of-my-seat suspense when I read Dana Mentink’s books. Suspense writing is her forté and Dangerous Tidings was another thoroughly enjoyable read. I love how Dana ends her chapters, often with a surprise or a hint of something that makes it difficult to put the book down. This book is marketed as Love Inspired Suspense (Christian Fiction), so there is no foul language, sex or gratuitous violence, just a great story, which is why I choose to read this particular genre. There are some occasional references to God and the alluding to biblical scriptures (which I have to admit differ in some respects from my interpretation of the Bible), however, since this is a minor portion of the book’s contents I was able to tolerate it without much perturbation.  Overall, Dangerous Tidings is yet another gratifying read from Dana Mentink and I highly recommend it to lovers of alacritous, action-packed suspense.
Thank you Dana Mentink for a copy of this book. In exchange I have provided an honest review.

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Review: Together with You

Together with You
Together with You by Victoria Bylin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Carly Mason made a promise to herself that she would never again form close personal bonds to children under her tutelage after she’d failed Allison, a teenage girl to whom she was counselor while employed at Sparrow House for troubled teens, who was now missing thanks to a bad judgment call on Carly’s part. Although Carly’s faith reminds her that God forgives her, she just can’t forgive herself. Meanwhile, her resolve to never again form attachments is shaken when she finds little 5-year old Penny Tremaine in a shopping mall where she’s wandered away from her family.  Penny suffers from a form of FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder), and needs someone with Carly’s expertise to come look after her. Ryan Tremaine has had 4 nannies in the past 6 months and Carly seems to be the perfect candidate for the job. When Carly finally acquiesces to Dr. Ryan Tremaine’s prodding, she not only defies herself, but she takes on far more than she bargained for. Nobody’s perfect, and Ryan committed an indiscretion that tore his family apart and resulted in the birth of his special needs daughter, Penny. Although he may need to loosen up a bit and learn to enjoy life more with his 3 kids, Carly eventually sees that Ryan is in fact a decent man who’s made a mistake he sorely regrets, and who deserves a chance at a new life. As more and more of his good qualities come to the fore, Carly reluctantly begins to fall for the handsome, caring and sensitive doctor. There’s only one very BIG problem. Ryan Tremaine does not share her faith, and faith is central to Carly’s life. This presents challenges, the biggest of which is Ryan’s struggle to embrace the concept of an Almighty God, and Carly’s own doubts that arise about her beliefs when Ryan forces her to confront the reasons why she can’t learn to forgive herself, even though her religion dictates that her faith in God and his grace should allow her to do so.  What will she do?
Together With You is an inspirational story about two people struggling with their flaws and imperfections, but who eventually gain the ability to forgive themselves and accept the love they both need and deserve. I like to see characters develop and grow to the point where they can resolve their inner conflicts and go on to lead more fulfilling, productive and happy lives. That was the case with just about every character in this book and that was a plus for me. The only minus was that some of the scriptural explanations in the book differ from my interpretation and understanding of Bible texts, but I tried to overlook those bothersome portions since I know that Bible interpretations vary among Christians.  Overall, Together With You was an enjoyable read and I believe that people who relish Christian Fiction will find it uplifting and satisfying.
I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House publishers in exchange for an honest review which I have given.

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The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen

IMG_3823-0 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ My synopsis:  When a reversal in financial circumstances causes Abigail Foster’s family to sell their cherished family home in London’s trendy Grosvenor Square, and remove to the dilapidated and foreboding Pembrooke Park in Berkshire, a manor house that has stood uninhabited for 18 years, Abigail wonders what the future holds for herself and her family. But as mysterious and sinister occurances associated with the old house come to light, her once somewhat optimistic view of residing at Pembrooke Park begins to change.

REVIEW:  When the book unfolds we find Abigail Foster and her family getting ready to attend a going-away party that their long-time neighbors and friends are hosting for their son Gilbert, who’s leaving for a year to study abroad. Abigail has formed an attachment beyond friendship to Gilbert, and expects a proposal upon his return; but as the night progresses Abigail witnesses Gilbert with her younger sister Louisa engrossed in a tête-à-tête. Gilbert appears interested in Louisa and Abigail is crushed. To make matters worse, during dinner Gilbert’s father addresses Mr. Foster, alluding to financial woes involving one of the Fosters’ recent investments.  This painful development further saddens poor Abby, especially since she feels principally responsible for her family’s financial predicament.

When the worst is realized and the Fosters are forced to retrench, they are concerned about where they will take up residence. Fortunately their situation is remedied when a distant but undisclosed relative conditionally offers them the use of their vast, uninhabited, decrepit manor house, Pembrooke Park.  When they agree to the stipulations, Abigail and her father head to Pembrooke Park to assist the servants with readying it for habitation. Things seem to be looking up for the Fosters until Abigail begins receiving cryptic torn-out journal entries and letters from an anonymous source, warnings from neighbors of treasure hunters, mysterious visitors around the estate, footsteps in the house at night, and other unexplained phenomena. Although these are unexpected challenges, Abby is determined to stay at Pembrooke Park, and the local curate, William Chapman, is quickly becoming an incentive to remain. Is he the man she thinks he is or is he possibly seeking the hidden treasure rumored to be in her new home?  Can the servants be trusted?  The neighbors? Are the journal entries and missives she receives, seemingly chronicling her goings on inside the house, proof that someone is watching her?

MY FEELINGS: Extraordinary!! I found this book to be a cleverly crafted story, somewhat of an amalgam of several of Jane Austen’s brilliant novels, and at times reminiscent of Charlotte Bronté’s Jane Eyre. For me this was by far a good thing as I am an admirer of both authors.  Reading The Secret of Pembrooke Park was like consuming the most decadent dessert, each layer richer and more succulent than the one before it. This regency period, semi-gothic, historical romance and inspirational fiction novel (whew), involving an old manor house, family secrets, obscure identities, hidden rooms and lost treasure engrossed me from beginning to end. And although this book is considered Christian Fiction which I appreciate for the lack of profanity, explicit sexual content, vulgar language and wanton violence, I don’t necessarily appreciate an influx of scriptural references, heavy doses of doctrine or preachiness. Klassen did a superb job at balancing scriptural content. Whereas there was mention made regarding things of a theological nature, it fit in with the plot and did not supersede the storyline. I will admit I was apprehensive when I saw the size of the book, 456 pages, which is normally a bit lengthy for my taste.  However, I found it was surprisingly well sequenced and fluently paced to the degree that it kept me fully absorbed and in eager expectation of the next reading opportunity.  In fact, it was actually hard to put down, and I read it in about the same time it ordinarily takes for me to read a book about half its size.

If you relish the masterful storytelling of authors like Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronté, then I expect you will find The Secret of Pembrooke Park a thoroughly enriching experience. I absolutely LOVED it!!

Thank you Laurel Ann Natress of Austenprose for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review which I have given. Thank you Bethany House and Julie Klassen for providing this publication for my enjoyment.

QUICK FACTS:

• Title: The Secret of Pembrooke Park
• Author: Julie Klassen
• Tour Dates: February 16 – March 02, 2015
• Genre: Regency Romance/Gothic Romance/ Historical Fiction/Austenesque/Inspirational Fiction
• Publisher: Bethany House Publishers (December 02, 2014)
• Trade paperback ISBN: 978-0764210716
• eBook ISBN: 9781441264824
• Audio: B00QXKRDZ6
• Video Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-X4nLZlzBSQ&feature=youtu.be

IMG_3819AUTHOR BIO:

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her books have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. She has also been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in St. Paul, Minnesota. Learn more about Julie and her books at her website, follow her on Twitter, and visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.