The lifeblood of the Wiltshire village of Ivy Hill is its coaching inn, The Bell. But when the innkeeper dies suddenly, his genteel wife, Jane Bell, becomes the reluctant owner. Jane has no notion of how to run a business. However, with the town's livelihood at stake and a large loan due, she must find a way to bring new life to 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 find her place in the world. As she and Jane work together, they form a measure of trust, and Thora's wounded heart begins to heal. When she encounters two men from her past, she sees them--and her future--in a different light.
With pressure mounting from the bank, Jane employs innovative methods to turn the inn around, and puzzles over the intentions of several men who seem to have a vested interest in the place. Will her efforts be enough to save The Bell? And will Thora embrace the possibility of a second chance at love?
I really enjoyed reading this book with its unusual and complex story and its interesting and authentic characters.
From the moment Jane "wakes up" and starts to realise that the inn is in danger and what its loss would mean for the whole village till the last page I feared and felt with her. I was upset when some people showed their true colors and I cried a little bit with her, when things got too rough. On the other hand there were those who did their best to help her and the inn and I love how Jane and Thora slowly found a way to trust each other and to care. Seeing Jane grow into someone who cares and who takes over responsibility, who is accepted and respected by her neighbors was great.
But it wasn't just Jane and Thora but also the many minor characters that made the book remarkable. All of them are complex and authentic and you just have to like them - and then there are those that make you feel wary and you want to protect Jane and all those around her from them and what they could do to the inn and its people.
Apart from the story itself I also liked how it showed the interaction between the people of a village and its businesses and how it makes you understand why all of them rely on each other and that this is how a community is built. The success of your own business is related to the success of the other businesses around you. And it is also a book about family, about friendship and loyalty and about love and caring for someone.