The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill
By Julie Klassen
Baker Publishing Group, 2016
Since her husband preferred for her to stay home and be a lady of leisure, Jane Bell has no experience running the inn he left to her upon his untimely death. She continues that life as best she can until she is thrust into the role of innkeeper almost a year after his passing, when she learns of a past due loan that needs to be paid quickly. The inn is in shambles, needing multiple repairs with profits down, bills overdue, and patrons threatening to leave. Both a blessing and a curse, it seems, is the return of her sharp-tongued but hardworking and experienced mother-in-law, Thora Bell. Despite new competition, underhanded dealings, and a few startling revelations, Jane hopes that with the help of Thora and her brother-in-law Patrick, she will be able to turn things around and save The Bell before it’s too late.
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Newly released in December of 2016, this is the first time Julie Klassen has written a novel for a series and I think she has done a brilliant job with it. I can’t wait to read the next one and continue the story. Of course, I was already a Julie Klassen fan anyway (see this post and this one), but I really did enjoy this story. I liked the wealth of characters and the realistic way they interacted with each other. I liked that Thora Bell, the middle aged mother-in-law, actually has a few love interests to choose from. Normally only beautiful young ladies are portrayed in love stories, but Thora got her shot and was appreciated by more than one man. And there are a few other potential matches hinted at for Jane Bell, as well as two side characters, Mercy and Rachel, whom I think we will see again in the next book.
Though there are many interesting characters, this story focuses on Jane and the decisions she must make regarding the inn. First, she has to decide if she even wants to keep it. Then she must figure out how to make it profitable and make smart business decisions. This is a departure from her upbringing as a lady of leisure who was discouraged from participating in business (and who many thought married down by choosing an innkeeper to begin with).
Much of the conflict in this story revolves around the rights (or lack thereof) of women who want to take care of themselves. Many women were forced to work under their father or husband’s name and control, even when these women were the superior craftsmen, or shouldered the bulk of the business’s responsibility. Jane has a small advantage in being a widow, as that allows her to speak for herself, but she still encounters prejudice and disapproval as a woman in business. Very different from how things are today.
The other prevalent conflict centered around change. The characters are split into two groups, those who recognize that sometimes change is necessary and those who think the way things have always been done should remain the same, regardless of shifts in societal expectations. That is a theme that is still relevant in modern terms.
The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill gets two thumbs up from me, and I will be eagerly anticipating the sequel to be released December 2017.