Miss Annabel Ashton is a teacher at the Rogers School for Young Ladies in Winchester when she takes a brief visit to her family home, Highcliffe Hall at Milford-on-Sea. She believes her stay will be short but soon learns that she will not be returning to the safety of the school. Instead, she remains at Highcliffe, at the mercy of her cousin, Edward Everedge.
Annabel protests, but as the illegitimate daughter of a woman who died in an insane asylum, she has little say. Edward is running out of money and puts the house up for sale to avoid financial ruin. He insists that Annabel marry, promising her to a sinister, frightening man. But as the house gets packed for sale, it begins to reveal disquieting secrets. Jewelry, artifacts, and portraits mysteriously appear, suggesting that Annabel may be the true heir of Highcliffe.
She has only a few months to prove her legitimacy, perhaps with assistance from the handsome but troubled Maltese Captain Dell’Acqua. But does he have Annabel’s best interests at heart?
And then, a final, most ominous barrier to both her inheritance and her existence appears: a situation neither she nor anyone else could have expected. Will Annabel regain her life and property—and trust her heart—before it’s too late?
I always enjoy books by Sandra Byrd, but her "Daughters of Hampshire" series has taken my love of them to a whole new level. The first book in this series, Mist of Midnight, was one of my favorite reads of 2015(though I forgot to put it on the official list...that's what I get for not keeping up with my reading like I should). It's on my reread list, and I'm greatly looking forward to the revisit for many reasons. I have no doubt that Bride of a Distant Ilse will also be on my favorites list this year, and any year, for that matter. I loved every single minute of reading it!
In Bride of a Distant Ilse, we get somewhat of a Cinderella tale. Annabel Ashton is considered the illegitimate daughter of a woman who died within an insane asylum. She depends completely on her cousin, Edward, and his wife, Clementine. When their money starts running out, Annabel's situation gets more and more desperate. When strange objects start appearing, things get more and more mysterious.
I have to mention the romance. It was done to perfection! It wasn't overdone, but was incredibly sweet and melted my heart. I've had zero tolerance for romance within books lately, but I didn't roll my eyes one single time while reading this story. THAT is a huge compliment coming from me! ;) Sandra proves that one doesn't need all that extra "stuff" that most all Christian authors insist on these days to keep things "real". Seriously, it was perfect, and I'm grateful that I was once again able to enjoy a sweet romance without my sarcastic side coming out.
Despite the fact that the romance portion was beautifully done, there's a great deal more to the story than that. That's really such a small portion of the book. There's also so much historically to learn from the book, and it's all done in an interesting way. That is another thing I love so much about Sandra's books. They're like "living books" for me! (Charlotte Mason/homeschooling term)
While this book is considered Christian Fiction, I really do think that it will be enjoyed by a wide audience. Annabel is Catholic, and that plays a huge part of the story. I have to admit that my knowledge of Catholic things is hugely lacking, but this story gave me a small glimpse into that world, and I can't help but appreciate that.
In the end, I have to say that Bride of a Distant Ilse is an amazing story, and one I can easily recommend, especially if you enjoy Gothic Victorian romances. I loved it, and I can't wait for more from this series!
*I was provided a review copy, in exchange for my honest opinion.