Hotel Portofino by J.P. O’Connell

Book Blurb:

Hotel Portofino has been open for only a few weeks, but already the problems are mounting for its owner Bella Ainsworth. Her high-class guests are demanding and hard to please. And she’s being targeted by a scheming and corrupt local politician, who threatens to drag her into the red-hot cauldron of Mussolini’s Italy. 

To make matters worse, her marriage is in trouble, and her children are still struggling to recover from the repercussions of the Great War. All eyes are on the arrival of a potential love match for her son Lucian, but events don’t go to plan, which will have far reaching consequences for the whole family. 

Set in the breathtakingly beautiful Italian Riviera, Hotel Portofino is a story of personal awakening at a time of global upheaval and of the liberating influence of Italy’s enchanting culture, climate, and cuisine on British “innocents abroad,” perfect for fans of Downton Abbey and The Crown. 

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own, and I am writing a voluntary review.

AnnaScott’s Review:

This book is often described as Downton Abbey set in a seaside Italian hotel in the 1920s, and really that is the best way to describe it. The story is told from the perspective of several members of the family who owns the hotel, as well as several of their guests and servants. It really captured the upstairs/downstairs feel of Downton, plus the vibrant culture of the 20s, and the writing style felt perfectly on point.

I really enjoyed getting to read about what Italian culture looked like in the 1920s. So far, all of the books that I’ve read set in this era have taken place either in England or America, and so it was really eye opening to see what Italy looked like under Mussolini, and all of the divisive impacts that his leadership had.

This book lost me in two ways. First, none of the characters were truly happy. I’ve noticed that all of the books set in this era seem to contain at least one extra-marital affair, one friends-with-benefits/secret relationship, and one suppressed homosexual couple. It really speaks to how empty this decade was, since everyone was chasing something they thought would make them happy, and yet they never actually arrive at happiness. I left this book with the same feeling I had after reading Voltaire’s Candide – that life is misery, and we can only try to make the best of it.

The second way it lost me was that it read like season one of a television show. There was no clear overarching plot, there were a lot of main characters (almost too many to really get to know them at all), and the ending of the book felt like it was just setting up for season two. This is being made into a miniseries, and since they are both being released around the same time it makes more sense that it feels like this, but it did feel odd.

Overall, it was beautifully written, but wasn’t quite satisfying to read.

Content Warning:
While we do get quite close to the affair, friends-with-benefits relationship, and homosexual couple, a lot is implied instead of directly shown. Other than that, there are just a few uses of language scattered throughout.


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