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: A Noble Masquerade

A Noble Masquerade
A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Lady Miranda Hawthorne, sister of Griffith Hawthorne, Duke of Riverton, fears that she will never secure a suitable marriage mate and as a consequence will be relegated to a life of spinsterhood. Her younger and decidedly prettier sister, Georgina, is about to embark on her first Season, while Miranda is heading to her fourth. Miranda has survived her mother’s harrowing “lady lessons” over the years by writing letters which she never intends to mail to her brother’s friend the Duke of Marshington, who Griffith always spoke of when corresponding with Miranda while he was away at school. Affectionately known as Marsh, the Duke was more than a friend, he was Griffith’s protector, and his character appealed to Miranda. The letters she wrote and kept hidden away provided an escape. She could pour out her heart and release the anguish, discouragement and discontent she endured to a man who she had come to know and respect through Griffith’s missives; ever careful not to mail the letters, which would be committing the ultimate breach in the rules of etiquette, that of writing to a man of whom she has no family relation. Her brother Griffith is home now and he has brought a most interesting new valet, Marlow, to replace old Herbert. While Miranda has practically accepted her fate as a future doting aunt, and not wife and mother, she begins to admit to herself that Marlow is quite captivating indeed. But there’s a niggling feeling that something is amiss, and when she finds out the truth about this mysterious man all of the lady lessons involving rules of gentility, propriety and decorum will be tossed to the wind.

Smart, witty, suspenseful, intriguing, illustrative, endearing and inspiring are all words that readily come to mind when describing A Noble Masquerade, a delightfully charming read. There was sufficient historical knowledge and verbiage to keep me stimulated and informed about the time period, but not to the point where a dictionary was constantly needed. And although this book is labeled inspirational fiction, it is not at all preachy or oversaturated with scriptural texts. I prefer this sort of mild christian fiction because I don’t have to be concerned about gratuitous violence, sex or foul language. I can safely enjoy the story without those distasteful elements. Also, I become highly perturbed when scriptures are misapplied or spiritual anecdotes seem to be thrown in for good measure, without any real basis for them. This was not the case with A Noble Masquerade. In fact I was only subtly reminded of its Christian aspects throughout reading, which was a plus for me.

In conclusion, Kristi Ann Hunter’s prose was a welcoming diversion to the pressures of everyday life and consumed me until forced to abandon it until the next opportune reading time. A great book that’s highly recommended. In fact, I was so pleased by it I immediately visited her website and then downloaded a novella that she’s written based on a couple who were secondary characters in A Noble Masquerade.

Thank you Bethany House Publishers for a copy of this lovely book in exchange for an honest review which I have given.

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Review: Bluebells in the Mourning

Bluebells in the Mourning Bluebells in the Mourning by KaraLynne Mackrory
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ A Pride and Prejudice continuation, this book was astounding!!  Seriously, I was blown away by the lyrical prose that captured the very essence of a Jane Austen inspired fiction novel.  What a pleasant surprise from this new to me author, KaraLynne Mackrory.  I requested this book on the back cover summary alone and cannot believe how utterly engaging and phenomenal it was. The story opens shortly after Elizabeth becomes privy to Mr. Darcy’s foiling of Mr. Bingley’s attempts to form an attachment to her sister Jane. Elizabeth is furious that Darcy would be the cause of her sister’s distress at losing Bingley and thus she despises Darcy. Mr. Darcy is unaware that Lizzy knows what he has done, forbidding his friend Bingley to form an attachment to Jane.  All the while Darcy has since fallen in love with Elizabeth, unbeknownst to her, and is on his way to her to profess his undying love. Meanwhile, the Bennett family suffers a tragic loss when their youngest daughter, Lydia, dies from an accident. This new development thwarts Darcy’s plan to propose to Elizabeth. Instead he offers to convey Elizabeth and her best friend Charlotte’s sister, Maria, back to Longbourn to grieve with Lizzy’s family. Darcy offers accommodations at his home, Darcy House, to Elizabeth and Maria rather than the Inn that they are prepared to stay in on their way back home, and Elizabeth reluctantly acquiesces.  While determined to remain wrathful towards Darcy her attitude begins to change when she observes his manners while at Darcy House. His care and concern for his guests, his tender affection for his sister Giorgiana, and the warm familiarity that exists even amongst his servants towards him causes Lizzy to re-think his character.  And oh is he handsome!! Mr. and Mrs. Bennett’s backstory is revealed and we’re enlightened as to how the flame in their marriage died down to a mere flicker. I love how the author orchestrated this. A tired and distressed Fanny Bennet opens up to her daughter Elizabeth about her past with Mr. Bennet, and the poignancy of that revelation was both moving and deeply affecting. I could feel Mrs. Bennet’s sorrow and pain over the sustained tragedies she’d endured and I developed a profound respect for her.  Of course I won’t give away the details, but I believe you will come away with the same impression yourself if you read this delightful book.  The chase is on for the dastardly and elusive Wickham, and this lends an air of intrigue and suspense that enhances the story.  Mr. Darcy is determined once and for all to know if Wickham was in any way involved in the death of Lydia Bennet. Oh how I admire Mr. Darcy. His charm and gallantry shines throughout Bluebells, and he is portrayed as the perfect gentleman—swoon worthy and without blemish.  Anyone who loves Jane Austen’s works or Pride and Prejudice inspired books should read Bluebells in the Mourning. I recommend it highly. I will be looking for more books by KaraLynne Mackrory.  Thank you, Meryton Press for a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review which I have given.

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Gwendolen by Diana Souhami

Gwendolen by Diana Souhami – 4 of 5 stars

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Gwendolen is written in the form of an undelivered letter to her love Daniel Deronda.  The letter recounts her life beginning from roughly the time just before she makes eye contact with Deronda while gambling feverishly at a roulette table in Homburg, Germany, to when Gwendolen is probably in her late twenties to early thirties.  Gwendolen Harleth is witty, bright, full of verve, beautiful and desirable to nearly every man she comes into contact with. Nevertheless, she’s aloof to the idea of marriage, but her family’s recent financial downturn resultant from their land agent’s negligence necessitates that she accept the proposal of Henleigh Mallinger Grandcourt, a man she neither loves or feels affection for, but whose riches can save her family from certain destitution. Repulsed and dejected by the idea of marriage to this man she runs away to Homburg with vacationing relatives and tries her hand at roulette where a man, Daniel Deronda, watches her scornfully and repulsively from a distance. Gwendolen is disturbed by this man’s judgment of her but is somehow equally charmed by him. She becomes so entranced by his gaze that her winning streak is lost along with her money. In a desperate attempt to acquire the much needed funds to help her family, she pawns a necklace given to her by her long deceased father, only to have it returned to her with a note from Daniel Deronda. Although she can’t seem to dismiss her thoughts related to this man, she is beckoned to return home immediately and face the inevitability of her circumstances, betrothal to Grandcourt. Gwendolen’s instincts are correct.  Grandcourt expects subservience, is abusive and taciturn, and harbors a ghastly secret. As she goes about life with her brutish husband she retains hope by reflecting on her one true but unrequited love interest, Daniel Deronda.

Overall Gwendolen was an enjoyable read.  I wasn’t initially pulled into the story, but as it progressed I found my interest piqued and was held almost to the end. The reason I say this is because there were characters introduced closer to the end of the book that I neither connected with nor particularly cared about. Perhaps this was because I wasn’t acquainted long enough with them, or they weren’t developed enough for me to become interested in them or see their relevance to the overall story. This is where the book began to drag a bit to me; to become disjointed. I would have appreciated it more had the last 40 pages or so of the book been condensed or perhaps omitted. However, I still think the book was well written and altogether noteworthy. The chronicling of Gwendolen’s adventurous life, along with the many initial friends and acquaintances that were a part of it certainly made for entertaining reading. Although she struggled much with decisions she’d made, I liked that by the end of the book she seemed to have matured to the point where she was finally at peace with herself and was able to put her internal demons to rest and get on with her life. If you enjoy historical novels you will probably like Gwendolen.
Thank you LibraryThing and Henry Holt and Company for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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.