Review: The Ladies of Ivy Cottage – Julie Klassen

Julie Klassen. The Ladies of Ivy Cottage. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

It’s hard to believe that this is the final review of the year!  I hope that all of you are enjoying the Christmas season with family, friends, and lots of wonderful books to read throughout the new year!

In The Ladies of Ivy Cottage, Ms. Klassen continues her Tales from Ivy Hill series.  Rachel Ashford and Mercy Grove originally made their appearance in The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, but find themselves as the primary characters of the series’ second novel.  Mercy and her aunt have lived in Ivy Cottage for years, where they house a school for girls.  When Rachel finds herself without a family or home, Mercy invites her to live at the school and help out as best as she can.  However, she soon discovers that she has few skills to earn her keep around the school.  To help make ends meet, Rachel turns her father’s collection of books into the town’s first circulating library, which soon becomes an exciting venture and a prime location for the town’s women and other folks to congregate.  Mercy and Rachel both find themselves in the midst of their community’s most eligible men, but must decide for themselves where their futures lie.

Ms. Klassen returns to the town of Ivy Hill to further develop some of the series’ most interesting characters, while continuing to build on those first introduced in The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill.  Set in Regency-era England, the series features the trials and tribulations of one small village and the many characters who live within it.

Overall, I rather enjoyed reading The Ladies of Ivy Cottage.  Personally, I found that the first novel in the series was quite weighed down by the sheer number of characters and introductions of those individuals that had to be made within the story.  In comparison, The Ladies of Ivy Cottage seems to jump immediately into the main plot, while offering a better-paced storyline.  At 440 pages long, the novel does feel quite long at times.  However, it fits well within Ms. Klassen’s typical writing style and plotting that can be found in her previous works.  She manages to provide satisfactory conclusions to some aspects of the novel, while still leaving quite a few open for the next book in the series.  As I predicted in my review of the series’ first novel, I found that Mercy and Rachel were much stronger and more interesting primary characters in this novel than Jane and Thora in the first.  I am curious where Ms. Klassen will take the series next, as she still has quite a few storylines to conclude within her remaining book.

Fans of Ms. Klassen will enjoy reading The Ladies of Ivy Cottage of Ivy Hill.  Readers who appreciate Regency era stories, Christian historical fiction, and even general historical romance will find the novel to be a worthwhile read.

Special thanks to Bethany House for the advanced copy of The Ladies of Ivy Cottage!

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Review: The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill – Julie Klassen

Julie Klassen. The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2016.

Esteemed Christian historical fiction author, Julie Klassen, kicks off her first-ever series with The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill.  As someone who has long read Ms. Klassen’s books, this marks a slight departure to her style and approach, even while offering an in-depth look at her character and story development.

In The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, Ms. Klassen introduces a large cast of characters from the town of Ivy Hill in Wiltshire, England.  Set in the Regency Era, the novel focuses on the staff of The Bell, a roadside inn that caters to out-of-town visitors and furthers the town’s economic and social role in the region.  Jane Bell unexpectedly inherits The Bell from her deceased husband, with no warning or training to take on such a responsibility.  After Jane’s year of mourning ends, she finds that the inn has fallen into disrepair, while key members of the staff have retired or moved to other positions.  In spite of a tense relationship with Jane, her mother-in-law, Thora, soon returns to town to discover The Bell’s dilapidated state, something that would have never been allowed to happen under her management.  When external forces threaten the survival of The Bell, Jane and Thora must work together to save their inn and ensure the well-being of their town and staff.

The Tales from Ivy Hill series builds upon Ms. Klassen’s previous experience writing Christian fiction set in Regency-era England.  In The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, Ms. Klassen kicks off an elaborate storyline that is heavily dependent on a large cast of characters from throughout the town of Ivy Hill.

Overall, I thought that The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill presented a thoughtful beginning to the Tales of Ivy Hill series.  The novel offers an interesting combination of features from Ms. Klassen’s previous novels, even as she uses it to instigate her first-ever multi-book series.  In comparison to her other novels, The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill has a somewhat slower pace, in part due to Ms. Klassen introducing an extensive set of characters from in and around the town of Ivy Hill.  While these characters will likely play more significant roles in other books within the series, these introductions and explanations significantly slowed the pacing of this particular novel.  Additionally, the main characters of this novel were somewhat overshadowed by the sheer number of events and characters within the storyline.  While these characters are generally unique, I never became emotionally attached to either Jane or Thora, finding some of the secondary characters to be far more interesting.  I am very curious to read the future novels in this series, as I would not be surprised to see these secondary characters more successfully carry those upcoming storylines more successfully.  Altogether, some additional editing and a more succinct storyline would have helped make this novel even stronger, while helping to better capture readers’ hearts and imaginations.

Fans of Ms. Klassen will enjoy reading The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill.  Readers who appreciate Regency era stories, Christian historical fiction, and even general historical romance will find the novel to be a worthwhile read.  Ms. Klassen utilizes a general approachable writing style, with moderate to slow pacing, and a relatively long story totaling approximately 435 pages.

Ms. Klassen will continue the Tales from Ivy Hill series with The Ladies of Ivy Cottage in December 2017.

Special thanks to Bethany House for the promotional copy of The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill!

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Review: The Painter’s Daughter – Julie Klassen

Julie Klassen. The Painter’s Daughter. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2015.

Sometimes, the storylines in novels appear too convenient. Somehow, everything seems aimed at a particular theme or moral, almost a thesis in disguise. However, the concept of actions having consequences served as the central idea behind this week’s book, as well as many other aspects of my life during the past week.

In Julie Klassen’s latest novel, The Painter’s Daughter, Sophie Dupont hides her own artistic talents behind the scenes of her father’s portrait studio. A wealthy gentleman and visiting artist, Wesley Overtree, compliments Sophie’s beauty and abilities, gaining her affections and virtue. When the consequences of their time together becomes apparent, Wesley has already left for an opportunity in Italy and Sophie faces an uncertain life with the prospect of a forthcoming child. Captain Stephen Overtree comes searching for his elder brother and recognizes the mess that Wesley left behind. In an effort to save Sophie from the scandal of her situation, Stephen marries her and brings her to his family’s home. When Stephen returns to the battlefield and Wesley travels to Overtree Hall, Sophie must decide who holds her future and her heart.

Ms. Klassen returns with her classic style and British Regency-era setting in The Painter’s Daughter. Filled with fascinating descriptions of early-nineteenth-century portraiture and landscapes, the novel offers a riveting perspective on the production and collection of art among the affluent households of England.

Overall, I rather enjoyed reading The Painter’s Daughter. After several of Ms. Klassen’s previous story concepts felt somewhat forced, this novel appears to be a much-appreciated return to her writing style and characters. The Painter’s Daughter offers a fascinating look at the real consequences of out-of-wedlock relations during the Regency era, including its short and long-term impact on entire families. Additionally, I though Ms. Klassen presented a unique approach to her military characters, as they reflect the real scars of war on the rest of their lives. While several moments within the story felt convenient, the novel offered an overall enjoyable offering among Ms. Klassen’s works. The characters and setting greatly resembled elements of The Maid of Fairbourne Hall and The Silent Governess (some of my favorite books by Ms. Klassen), while further investigating themes presented in Lady of Milkweed Manor.

Fans of Ms. Klassen will definitely enjoy reading The Painter’s Daughter. Readers who appreciate Regency era stories, Christian historical fiction, and even general historical romance will find the novel to be a worthwhile addition to their collections. Ms. Klassen continues to utilize an approachable writing style, with moderate pacing, and a relatively long and complex story totaling approximately 464 pages.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House for the advanced copy of The Painter’s Daughter!

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Review: Lady Maybe – Julie Klassen

Julie Klassen. Lady Maybe. New York, NY: Berkley Books, 2015.

Do you ever find yourself picking up a book simply because you recognize the author? It’s one of the ways that I look for upcoming books in the library, online, or while searching publishers’ websites. Earlier this year, Julie Klassen announced a new partnership with a non-Christian publisher, in addition to her works through Bethany House. This month’s new release, Lady Maybe, is her first book released with Berkley Books (Penguin Random House).

Lady Maybe takes place in Regency-era England, where a knighted gentleman, his wife, and her companion set off on a journey together. When tragedy strikes and they become separated, one of the ladies loses her memory of the entire event. After being rescued by a neighboring doctor and his son, the travelers attempt to piece together the truth behind their accident, in order to figure out the truth about their location and circumstances. In a case of mistaken identity, one of the travelers must choose between accepting their new circumstances or facing the truth that could damage her reputation forever, while the others must face the consequences of long-held secrets.

Filled with twists and turns until the very end, Lady Maybe introduces acclaimed Christian author Julie Klassen to a new, broader audience, who will fall in love with her exceptional storytelling and intriguing characters. The novel brings together a fascinating cast, who discover the power of forgiveness and the dangerous consequences of their secrets.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed reading Lady Maybe. Typically, I solely read fiction released by Christian publishers. However, I was willing to take a chance on a book by Julie Klassen, a well-established author known for her Christian Regency-era romances. The novel contains some themes that would normally not be found in most Christian fiction, particularly adultery and some physically-romantic scenes (although nothing that would be considered graphic). It actually reminded me of several themes utilized in Ms. Klassen’s debut novel, Lady of Milkweed Manor, particularly an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Personally, these themes made that novel my least favorite out of her works. Within the format of a non-Christian publisher, I was rather impressed at the novel’s relative cleanliness in terms of content. I also appreciated the inclusion of some Christian references, which made for a much stronger story and character development that resulted in a satisfying, if not unexpected, conclusion.

Readers who enjoy Ms. Klassen’s other works may find it worthwhile to try Lady Maybe. Fans who appreciate historical fiction that integrates eras and themes from the works of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters may also enjoy this novel. As a cross-over attempt between Christian and non-Christian publishers, I think it will generate interest from both groups of readers. In general, Ms. Klassen’s strong writing and intriguing characters carried the novel, even though it felt denser than her other books and had some themes that may not appeal to her typical Christian audience.

Julie Klassen’s next novel, The Painter’s Daughter, will be released by Bethany House Publishers in December 2015.

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Review: The Secret of Pembrooke Park – Julie Klassen

Julie Klassen. The Secret of Pembrooke Park. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2014.

With the premiere of Downton Abbey recently, it seems as if all things British seem to be at the forefront of my recent conversations with my sister. She just discovered that one of her good friends and colleagues enjoys Jane Austen as much as she does and they are already planning viewing parties for their favorite versions of Emma and Pride and Prejudice. This is the same sister for which I initially purchased Julie Klassen’s premiere novel, Lady of Milkweed Manor, back in 2008. Following the stories of young ladies throughout Regency-era England, Julie Klassen’s books have become a category unto themselves within the Christian romance genre.

Ms. Klassen’s most recent novel, The Secret of Pembrooke Park, joins her previous Recency-era works to follow the story of Abigail Foster. As the practical daughter of a financially-ruined father, Abigail organizes the family’s move from the ever-expensive London to Pembrooke Park, the dilapidated manor house of a distant relation. While her sister enjoys the Season and seeks the attention of a wealthy husband, Abigail leads a group of quirky servants in cleaning and organizing Pembrooke after eighteen years of neglect. The local curate, his family, and a mysterious correspondent warn Abigail of the rumors of Pembrooke Park’s secret treasure and the failed attempts of many to search the house. When Abigail’s family finally arrives, they encounter a cast of characters who each bring their own secrets and suspicions as to the real treasure hiding at Pembrooke Park.

By the time I finished reading The Secret of Pembrooke Park, I was left with mixed feelings about the characters and storyline. I have found that Julie Klassen’s books are always relatively good, but not necessarily always of interest to me personally. My personal favorites have been The Maid of Fairbourne Hall and The Silent Governess, while last year’s The Dancing Master was relatively uninteresting in comparison. The Secret of Pembrooke Park fell somewhat in the middle of the pack, as I thought Ms. Klassen presented some interesting, but relatively immature characters. Likewise, I found the overall story of the Pembrooke Park treasure and its fate to be somewhat unique, but it was relatively easy to predict and felt lost in Abigail Foster’s angst. I particularly struggled with Abigail’s immaturity as a character considering that she is lauded throughout the book by many characters as being so very practical and mature at running a household.

In general, I felt that The Secret of Pembrook Park would have benefited from some editing, particularly a few key cuts of middle sections of the book. The back-and-forth dialogue between characters and the “mysterious” appearance of a potential heir felt particularly painful after reading the debate for the twelfth or so time. Granted, if my sister were to read the book (or my review), I’m sure that she would counter that argument with the fact that the details and social encounters are what makes for great Regency-era historical fiction in the first place.

Julie Klassen’s next novel, Lady Maybe, will arrive in July 2015.

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