The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill
Though set in 1820, this is not a Regency romance, rather what the author calls first in a ‘village series set in England.’ Inspired by series such as Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, it is concerned with the problems of villagers in the 19th century as they cope with the complexities of personal relationships amidst the social and economic pressures wrought by change. The perspective is that of the women, mainly daughters of minor gentry forced by impoverishment to earn a living, despite their own insecurities. Confronted by prejudice and restrictions in a patriarchal society with no social safety net, they respond with courage and reliance on their friendships and religious faith.
The innkeeper is the newly widowed Jane Bell, who inherits not just the inn but its debts. Although she lacks experience, once made aware of how much the village depends upon its coaching inn for employment and business, she decides to meet the challenge of improving its competitiveness rather than sell up.
Though the many narrative strands do slow the pace, this is an involving story of the hardships of rural life back then. Recommended, if that appeals.