Book Review: The Ladies of Ivy Cottage

The Ladies of Ivy Cottage
Tales from Ivy Hill #2
by Julie Klassen

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian fiction

In this return to the village of Ivy Hill, we shift focus a bit to Rachel Ashford, who has recently been removed from her family home and is now living in Ivy Cottage with the two Miss Groves, who run a girls’ school in the cottage. Rachel isn’t much of a teacher, but she also has no income and wants to contribute to the household. Thanks to some advice and a lot of help, she opens a subscription library. Unfortunately, neither the library nor the girls’ school may last when Mercy, the younger Miss Grove, is given an ultimatum that will likely result in the loss of her way of life, not to mention her plans for the future, no matter which choice she makes.

It’s a little difficult to boil this book down to a succinct summary, because there’s so much going on. I believe Rachel Ashford’s POV is shown the most, with Mercy Groves second, but Jane Bell, the main character from the previous book, might have as much “screen time” as Mercy. While we do see a continuation of Jane’s story, the fate of the two younger women of Ivy Cottage is definitely the focus of the book. The downside to all of this is that it can get a little difficult to keep everyone and their situations (and their suitors) straight. When perspectives changed, it was always made clear soon enough which character’s head we were in, but sometimes I had to take a moment to remember what the story was with the current character. Not to mention which man/men was/were possibly interested in her.

That aside, however, I really enjoyed my time spent in Ivy Hill. So much so that when the book was finished, I felt a little bit of loss, which is not a common thing for me after finishing a book. Though some storylines were tied up in this book, there is clearly more to come, and I particularly want to see where Mercy’s story goes. I anticipate another difficult decision ahead for her. I continue to appreciate that, while there certainly is some romance in this book, it’s not a focal point. One thing that could be a detractor, though, is that there are an awful lot of illegitimate relationships uncovered in this book. If you’re a fan of historical Christian fiction, keep that in mind when considering this book. I do recommend it, and am looking forward to finishing the series.

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Book Review: The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill

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

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian fiction

It’s been a year since Jane Bell’s husband died and left her his coaching inn, but Jane isn’t any more prepared to end her mourning period than she was a year ago. The inn has gone on without her direct involvement during that year, but she’s finding out that it hasn’t necessarily gone on well. A large loan from the bank is about to come due, but the inn isn’t nearly as prosperous as it used to be, and now it’s in danger of being taken away. Jane’s mother-in-law, Thora, will do anything she can to help save her family’s inn, even while feeling displaced by the new mistress of The Bell. There are others who might be able to help as well, but Jane isn’t completely sure how to proceed…or who to trust.

This is the type of book where the story may focus on one main character for now, but this first book also introduces several other characters who will have more of a spotlight in future books, and gives us a decent set-up to those future stories. So a good amount of characters overall were introduced, but it didn’t take me long to get invested in their lives. I thought the set-up was giving us more of a mystery than there turned out to be, and I seriously anticipated the revelation of a conspiracy that never happened. But that was my own fault, not necessarily the book’s. I think I read more into certain people’s behavior than was intended (or maybe the author did want us to suspect that person).

Jane was a very dynamic character, in that she changed fairly drastically from the beginning of the book, where she spent her days languishing in her small home and ignoring the inn, to the end of the book, by which point she’d at least attempted to take the reigns of the inn firmly in hand. I liked the way the story and characters come together by the end, and that there is no sudden, miraculous save. Hard work and diligence are required, and a perfect ending is not guaranteed.

In some places this book is billed as a romance, and there is some romance involved. However, it is nowhere near a focal point, and (spoiler alert) the main character doesn’t end up with a beau by the end of the book. I believe that is another storyline that will continue on throughout the trilogy, and I’m quite okay with that. If you’re a fan of historical Christian fiction, keep that in mind when considering this book. I do recommend it, and am looking forward to continuing the series.

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Book Review: An Ivy Hill Christmas

An Ivy Hill Christmas
by Julie Klassen

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance, Christmas fiction

Coerced home from London during the Christmas season by his mother, Richard Brockwell is focused on staying away from any marriageable young ladies and returning to London as soon as he can. But his time at home brings up a lot of regrets and bad memories from his past, places a needy orphan in his path, and taunts him with a young woman who wants to be paired with him even less than he wants to be paired with her. That woman is Arabella Awdry, who is determined to forgo romance for a life of helping the less fortunate. Besides that, she knows all too well what sort of man Richard Brockwell is, and it isn’t the sort of man she wants anything to do with.

I saw this book here and there over the last month or so, passing it by for various reasons. Then I read another book by Julie Klassen recently and loved it, so as soon as I realized this was by the same author, I immediately added it to my Christmas-season reading list. I’m so glad I did! Though I haven’t read any of the other Ivy Hill books, and I could see that some characters were part of a larger story, I didn’t have any issues reading this. And it hit so many sweet spots for me. I loved the characters, that the romance was just one part of the story, that some common tropes of the genre were avoided.

I really liked Arabella early in the story; she endeared herself to me as soon as she put Richard in his place for his rudeness regarding her family. Richard was flawed in such a real way, and I think the author did a great job with his backstory. I’ll admit that Arabella’s stubbornness wore on me a bit by the end, but not as a flaw in the book, because it didn’t feel forced or unrealistic.

A Christmas romance is even more likely to feel contrived than any other romance story, at least in my experience, but I loved the fact that it wasn’t the only purpose of the story at all. There was a lot going on, especially for Richard, and the ending didn’t feel too easy or frivolous. Everything had to really be worked for. Though when I reached the end of the book with only the epilogue left, my heart almost stopped. I am not sure that was the best pacing idea. But it’s a minor complaint, really (not saying more to avoid spoilers).

Overall, I found this short novel to be refreshing and liked how, though some of the same types of silly parlor games were played as I’ve started to get used to in other novels of the same genre, they weren’t so groan-inducing in this story as I’ve come to expect. I loved it, and if you’ve seen many of my reviews, you might know that I don’t give 5 stars very often, so let that tell you something. I definitely recommend this book for any fans of Christian historical romance, especially if you’re looking for a warm Christmas read. I’m definitely adding the Tales from Ivy Hill books to my reading list now!

Thank you to Netgalley and Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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