Looking for a new-to-you historical fiction series to read? Consider the three novels in the “Tales from Ivy Hill” series by Julie Klassen. I just finished book 3 and want to share with you some of the highlights of these novels. I wrote on Goodreads early on that I was surprised how well multiple points of view actually worked. Often authors will have a case of too much “head-jumping,” but Klassen made smooth transitions. I became invested in the stories of her characters. Having read all three, I can see now that each book focuses more attention on one or two characters, while introducing a supporting character who will become the focus in the next book in the series.
The first book, “The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, introduced the reader to Jane Bell who was grieving the recent death of her husband, John who was the innkeeper/owner of The Bell Inn. Jane had lived in a stately home with her father, Winston Fairmont who sold Jane’s horse and the home to move to India not long after she wed John. She has already felt her share of grief. When John died, Jane was left this inn. I became invested in watching Jane become stronger over time as she worked through grief and heartache over this and other losses she suffered. Klassen also presented a mystery surrounding Jane’s husband’s death.
At the beginning, Jane’s critics are her brother-in-law, Patrick, and mother-in-law, Thora. They started out expecting – even hoping it seemed – Jane would fall on her face, give up, and lose the inn or hand it over to them. Jane’s friends, Mercy and Matilda Grove, helped her by inviting her to meet with a group of business women who met under the guise of the Ladies’ Tea and Knitting Society. That’s not to say tea and knitting weren’t a part of the meeting, but they reminded me of a chamber of commerce. Jane gained new friends and allies. Her awakening began as she dug into her new role, learning all she could about being an innkeeper. Newcomer James Drake became her competition and yet was also pretty helpful. These people who challenged Jane, regardless of motives, reminded me of Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
As the novel neared the end, I realized, “This has GOT to be a series.” Yes! Loose ends indicated that. A love triangle was apparent– or maybe a love square? Jane ended up with at least three possible suitors. She had wanted to reach out to Rachel Ashford, another character introduced, who was an estranged friend. Rachel’s story started in this first novel. Her father was dying and she was looking at a bleak future.
“The Ladies of Ivy Cottage” opened with Rachel Ashford leaving her home at Thornvale, but unlike Jane, she was not leaving to marry. Her father died and Rachel’s cousin, Nicholas, inherited and came to stay at Thornvale with his mother. From the start, Nicholas wanted to marry Rachel, but she still had eyes for Sir Timothy Brockwell, someone both she and Jane loved. Mercy and Matilda invited Rachel to live at Ivy Cottage with them, a place that was also home to a girls’ school.
Rachel had inherited her father’s book collection so she took that with her, and she began her circulating library in order to make money. Books were precious commodities in the early 19th century. If you had an expansive library of books, you were considered wealthy. Rachel’s library did well. She received help from one of the builders, Joseph Kingsley, who also worked for James Drake’s inn, the Fairmont. Joseph made shelving for Rachel and met Mercy Grove. Mercy’s story began in this novel just as Rachel’s story began in the first book. Love was in the air once again. By the novel’s end, Mercy’s brother, George, married and was to move into Ivy Cottage. Her parents wanted Mercy to marry Mr. Hollander, so they came to visit and have him to dinner. The scene reminded me of Mr. Collins coming to dinner in “Pride and Prejudice” down to the wording. The novel tied up loose ends for Rachel while leaving some questions about Mercy’s future as well as Jane’s.
I finished book 3, “The Bride of Ivy Green,” this week. Klassen took up the threads of stories from the first two books with a focus on Mercy Grove’s story as well as those of James Drake and Joseph Kingsley. Once again Klassen reminded me just how limited women’s roles were in the early 19th century whether married or unmarried. Mercy’s brother brought his bride, Helena, to live in Ivy Cottage, and she turned out to be quite a pill! Mercy had to make a decision about whether to stay in an unwelcome environment or to leave and take her chances as a governess. Jane as well had tough decisions to make about possible marriage to Gabriel Locke. I don’t want my words to give away too much plot, so I will say Mercy had her own love triangle to worry her sweet heart. She did have the chance to speak encouragement into the lives of others once more. I loved all the times Mercy shared how much God loved and cared for James Drake. James had projected onto God the ways he saw his own disapproving father. Mercy helped James strengthen and restore relationships in his life. I ended up changing my opinion about him as a result.
I liked the continuing camaraderie between the women of business who were part of the Ladies’ Tea and Knitting Society. A new dressmaker came to Ivy Hill and everyone assumed she was a French modiste from her name – Victorine – but the holes in her story start to show. A sense of distrust builds in some of the women as a few try to solve the mystery surrounding their newcomer. A menagerie, or traveling zoo/circus, came to town after a lioness escaped, which turned into a harrowing experience for some of the characters. Finally, a wonderful project brought everyone together and made me cry my eyes out near the end. I did think some threads could be taken up again with Victorine’s story so maybe the next novel I saw advertised for 2020 will add to her tale.
Klassen gave her characters satisfying conclusions – well, satisfying for them anyway. I did think after getting to know one character more that a certain bride should have married him. But the bride was smiling so much her face hurt at her wedding, so how could I not be happy for her?
For more information about this series, go to https://www.talesfromivyhill.com. I hope you will check out these novels as well as some of Klassen’s other greatest hits: https://julieklassen.com. She is an author who entertains as she teaches. When I finish her novels, I leave with knowledge about another era of history.