Monday, January 16, 2017

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen

Book One in the Series: Tales from Ivy Hill

I’ve enjoyed Julie’s books in the past, so I was excited to see this first book of a new series release. 

Let’s begin with the summary:

Welcome to the English village of Ivy Hill, where friendships thrive, romance blossoms, and mysteries await. . .

The lifeblood of the village of Ivy Hill is its coaching inn, The Bell. When the innkeeper dies suddenly, his genteel wife, Jane Bell, becomes the reluctant landlady. Jane has no idea how to manage a business, but with the town's livelihood at stake and a large loan due, she must quickly find a way to save the inn.

Despite their strained relationship, Jane turns to her resentful mother-in-law, Thora, for help. Formerly mistress of The Bell, Thora is struggling to overcome her losses and find purpose for the future. As she works with Jane, two men from her past vie for her attention, but Thora has promised herself never to marry again. Will one of them convince her to embrace a second chance at love?

As pressure mounts from the bank, Jane employs new methods, and puzzles over the intentions of several men who seem to have a vested interest in the place, including a mysterious newcomer with secret plans of his own. With the help of friends old and new, can Jane restore life to the inn, and to her empty heart as well?

And now, my review:

I really wanted to love this book.

As I mentioned, I’ve enjoyed Julie’s earlier books. Unfortunately, this one seemed to drag. There were multiple characters, though the author wisely introduced them slowly over many pages. The story lacked a romantic thread (to the point where I read), which would have helped keep me engaged. (This lack was especially disappointing since the book’s summary included a mention of romance.)

One of the themes in the story was that sometimes we can limit other people by labeling them and then never expecting change. People grow and change. We can’t assume: 1) they won’t change or 2) they haven’t changed since we last interacted with them. I liked this theme. We also got to watch the characters begin to evolve (by the point I read), which was the perfect way to prove this theme.

There were a lot of historical facts and terms that were interesting as I read.

But overall, this book has very slow pacing. The MC (main character) (not really a heroine, as she didn’t act heroic from the opening pages) was passive and self-absorbed and so deep in grief she wasn’t an active character. She doesn’t receive the call to action (part of the “hero’s journey”) until about a third of the way into the story and then, when she finally accepts, I’d lost interest. I found I couldn’t sympathize with her or care to keep reading to see how things turned out for her. It was also difficult to picture her. There were a lot of unanswered questions (the “mystery” aspect mentioned in the summary), but since I didn’t care about the characters I didn't keep reading.

It was obvious the author had developed a layered make-believe world and peopled it with varied characters, but while reading the novel I felt I’d missed an earlier book in this first of the new series because of all the characters and unknowns. I felt the book could've begun with the final days of the late husband's life so we cared about the main characters, and then skipped a lot of the preamble to the Call, shaving off about one-quarter of the words for length. Then, we would have sympathized with the MC and understood her plight, especially if she had her own goals in life, her own dreams she was already chasing. This would have meant conflict/tension between what she'd rather do (some other noble cause) and what she was called to do after his death. As it is, we don't have deep enough emotional motivations for her choices, so we don't feel their impact, or relate with the MC.

I made it to about 29 - 30 percent (location 2148 out of an unusually lengthy 7342 for length) before I gave up in favor of the next book on my TBR pile. (I read the e-book version. The book has 448 pages.)

I wish the author the best, and I’m sure I’ll pick up another of her books in the future, hoping for the same strength of writing/pacing/characterization I’ve found in her previous books.

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