Hello Bella. I hear you’re about to move to Italy?
You heard correctly! I’m moving to the beautiful coastal town of Portofino to open a very special hotel. Not just me, of course. My family will be accompanying me: my husband, Cecil, and our grown-up children Lucian and Alice.
Why are you opening a hotel?
It’s always been a dream of mine. And our lives in London had begun to feel rather stale and unprofitable. I’ve loved Italy ever since I was a girl and… to tell you the truth, we all need a change. Lucian was badly wounded in the Great War. Alice’s husband lost his life. I’m hoping this new venture will restore us and bring us closer together.
You and your husband included?
[Blushes] That’s a difficult subject. It’s true, we don’t always see eye to eye. And Cecil can be quite unpleasant when he’s had too much to drink. But he’s been very supportive of my hotel idea… I don’t know. People are complicated, aren’t they?
Tell me about your guests.
We’re fully booked all through the summer, which is quite an achievement. We have Cecil’s old flame Julia Drummond-Ward coming with her daughter, Rose. She’s supposed to be very beautiful and we’re hoping she might prove a suitable match for Lucian. Then there’s Lady Latchmere, a grand old dowager who I must admit is rather demanding. (I say ‘old’ – she can’t be much older than me.) We have a couple of Americans arriving next week: an art collector called Jack Turner and his wife, Claudine. At least, I *think* she’s his wife… She’s a singer in Paris. I hoped we might attract some Italian guests and I’m pleased to say we’ve had a booking from one Count Albani and his son, Roberto. The Count is something of an Anglophile and studied at Oxford, I believe.
With so many guests, there can’t be much room for friends.
That’s true, though we do have Lucian’s close friend Anish staying. He’s a charming Indian gentleman. Very clever and kind – it’s no exaggeration to say he saved Lucian’s life. In a funny sort of way I count our cook, Betty, as a friend. I know one shouldn’t say such a thing, but she’s been with the family for such a long time. Sometimes I feel I know her better than my own children.
How are you finding Italy so far?
It’s exquisite – the climate, the view, the people. The political situation troubles me, of course. Mussolini is a thoroughly unpleasant character. But I’m an optimist by nature. As far as I’m concerned, Italy has always stood for truth and beauty and I can’t see that changing any time soon.
JP O’Connell is a writer and editor. He lives in south London with his wife and two children.
JP O’Connell has worked as an editor and writer for a variety of newspapers and magazines including Time Out, The Guardian, The Times, and the Daily Telegraph. JP has also written several books including a novel, a celebration of letter-writing, a spice encyclopedia, and, most recently, an analysis of David Bowie’s favorite books and the ways they influenced his music.
Publication Information Title: HOTEL PORTOFINO Author: J.P. O’Connell Format: Trade Paperback Original ISBN: 9798200875047 Pub Date: January 18, 2022 Price: $17.99 Genre: Fiction/Historical
Welcome, Jennie. I’m so glad you could join us today for an interview.
Jennie: The pleasure’s all mine. Granny sakes alive, I’m glad to be taking a break from a hot day of weeding in the garden, snapping beans, and watering my azaleas and buttercups. There’s always a slew of chores awaiting, but I love it. The kids and I dug up dandelion roots for coffee. We wash and peel them, then roast and grind them. We’re fixing to scrub sassafras bark, then peel and boil it for tea. And add a right heap of sugar, of course.
Sounds like you keep quite busy.
Jennie: As busy as a one-armed wallpaper hanger with the seven-year itch. If not the garden, it’s the cooking and cleaning and other chores around the farm. Today I’ve a hankering for pork stew, beans with bacon, and hushpuppies—my husband Drew’s favorite meal. And I reckon I should practice our clogging routine for the town’s Fourth of July Festival.
I’ve heard that you favor doing things the traditional way.
Jennie: Perhaps to my detriment. I’ll blame my mother for that. She says I do her proud because I still cling to the old ways, the home remedies, and spring tonic that cures whatever ails you. I take it over to the neighbors, too, every week. The kids and I string beans for leather breeches, and I fancy an old fashioned potato hole for winter storage. I still plant by the signs, too. And in 1968, that’s saying something.
Seems like Nick and Tina help out a lot, too.
Jennie: Nick’s eleven, and he’s a right smart helper when he’s not wearing out his arm trying to master the fastball with his friend Todd. And Tina, well, she’s ten and not given to much hard work yet. She preferslollygagging. But kids need a lavish of play time. As her Uncle Ross says, he does more work by accident than Tina ever does on purpose. Sometimes she claims she doesn’t hear us at chore time. Things rose to such a pitch last week, her daddy took her to the doctor to have her ears checked. That cured her.
No doubt it did.
Jennie: Truth be told, I kinda hope she’s deaf to all the goings-on around here. I mean all the talk about the proposed theme park. Folks are buzzing like bees in a tar tub about Phil Kepler and his new-fangled ideas.
Who’s Phil Kepler?
Jennie: He’s a northerner, from New York City, the getting-aroundest man I know. He’s been living down here for a spell but has all those connections up north. The trouble is, Phil Kepler could talk a fellow into buying a heater for the desert. Why, last year he convinced me to ignore the signs and plant my beans on the new of the moon. The few beans that did grow plumb rotted and specked. Did you ever hear tell of that? That’s the last time I’ll abide such an addlepated notion.
Why, there’s Tina now, traipsing in the back door. Two hours late for chores like usual, and probably wants a molasses cookie to boot. Tina, come on over and talk to the nice lady while I check on those squawking chickens. I’ll be right back.
Hello, Tina. You seem out of breath. Where are you coming from in such a hurry?
Tina: I just rode my bike home from the sandlot, down the road apiece. I’m the only girl on the team ’cause they were one short. The boys tease me, especially that bully Stan Randall.
Sounds rough, all that teasing. What do like about being on the team?
Tina: I love baseball, and I’m a good hitter. And not everybody’s mean. Todd’s gonna owe Nick an ice cream sundae at Simpson’s Ice Cream Parlor come autumn if Denny McLean gets thirty wins this season. He’s a Detroit Tiger, in case you don’t know. Oh, man, I gotta sit down. I’m all tuckered out.
Baseball and bicycling will do that to a body.
Tina: It’s not just the bicycling . . . it’s . . . well, since Mom left the room, I’ll tell you. Don’t go telling nobody, but Nick and I, we’re all wore out from visiting Ole Joe yonder on the mountain. We got up in the middle of the night to swipe the neighbor’s vegetables and deliver them to Ole Joe in a wheelbarrow. It’s our secret, and we’ll be in big trouble if anyone finds out. We didn’t get home till six in the morning.
Why do you do that?
Tina: We don’t rightly have a choice. No telling what Ole Joe will do if we refuse. He’s good to us, though. He tells us stories and he’s gonna—never mind. I can’t tell you that part. Nick and I swore not to tell anybody. But we have mighty fine visits with him.
So long as Mom and Dad don’t find out, we’ll be okay. It beats getting caught after that egg pitching contest in the chicken coop last summer. That was Nick’s idea, not mine. Oh—never mind. Mom’s back. I’m going outside now.
Jennie: I’m back! And off she goes. That girl . . . she’s always flitting about, like she knows I’m gonna get after her for missing chores.
Glad you could return, Jennie. Are you worried about the proposed theme park?
Jennie: Just a smidgeon. Drew’s on town council, and he’s given out to be the best one for talking sense into folks. Some say Phil doesn’t have a chance, like a bug arguing with a chicken.
How would this park affect the small town of Currie Hill?
Jennie: The park would swallow us up, like a fox after chickens. Phil says the experts studied on the situation and found this area to be best suited for such a park. Plus, good for the economy and all. Providing much-needed jobs. But that would be the end of Currie Hill as we know it. And most folks don’t want such drastic change. Fortunately, Drew’s been serving this town for twelve years now. Folks listen to him.
Twelve years? That’s about as long as he’s been back from New York, right? What do folks think about his time up north?
Jennie: Nowadays, nary a soul makes mention of it anymore. But back then, folks didn’t know what in the Sam Hill to make of him. It took a powerful long time to win back their trust. Nobody here confidences someone who’s spent time in the big city, and he was gone a coon’s age. Fifteen years, to be exact. Four years serving in the Army, then eleven more attending school and working as an architect.
What did people say when he got back home?
Jennie: Everything you can think of. Speculations and assumptions flung all over the place, most of it slack talk for certain. Some say Drew was surely living high on the hog, or living a life of crime. Y’all know how the city corrupts.
My parents cautioned me about courting him. “As fickle as the wind,” they said. “Taking up city ways and coming back here. Those who succeed in the city don’t belong to the mountains anymore. Those who fail don’t belong to either them or us.”
But I latched onto Drew like a cocklebur in sheep’s wool. With no regrets. Loving him is as easy as falling off a log.
Folks aren’t bothered anymore by his previous absence?
Jennie: He’s proven he’s one of us. But—well, I have to admit . . . I fear there are folks on both sides of the fence. And sometimes his mother shakes her finger at him about those mysterious years of his as if he were still a little boy, as if it were as simple a matter as returning stolen cookies from the cookie jar.
The thing is, he won’t talk about his time away, never did. It’s behind him now. That’s how it is. . . . We can only look forward. One day at a time.
It’ll be a relief for certain after the town council votes in a few weeks. Then I reckon Phil Kepler and that park will hightail it out of town. For good.
Laura DeNooyer thrives on creativity and encouraging it in others. She spotlights creatives of all kinds on her blog, Journey To Imagination, and highlights authors and their novels in her Standout Stories blog. A Calvin College graduate, Laura taught middle school and high school for nine years in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and currently teaches writing to home schooled students. Between those two jobs, she and her husband raised four children as she penned her first novel, All That Is Hidden. An award-winning author of heart-warming historical and contemporary fiction, she is president of her American Christian Fiction Writers chapter. When not writing, you’ll find her reading, walking, drinking tea with friends, or taking a road trip. Visit Laura at https://lauradenooyer-author.com or on Facebook, BookBub, and GoodReads.
Are secrets worth the price they cost to keep?
Ten-year-old Tina Hamilton finds out the hard way.
She always knew her father had a secret. But all of God’s earth to Tina are the streams for fishing, the fields for romping, a world snugly enclosed by the blue-misted Smokies. Nothing ever changed.
Until the summer of 1968. Trouble erupts when northern exploitation threatens her tiny southern Appalachian town. Some folks blame the trouble on progress, some blame the space race and men meddling with the moon’s cycles, and some blame Tina’s father.
A past he has hidden catches up to him as his secret settles in like an unwelcome guest. The clash of progressive ideas and small town values escalates the collision of a father’s past and present.
Standout Stories blog with author interviews and book reviews:
A stunning cover to go with a stunning story. I love learning history I wasn’t familiar with before. I love time slips when a lesson is learned from the past. I love it when an author dares to write something a bit different from typical wartime fiction. Just when I thought I’d read all the WWII fiction I cared to, this book comes along, not about Nazis, not about soldiers, not about the Holocaust, although all those things are mentioned because all those things affect the characters greatly. This is a story about how the people who were affected, the innocents, dealt with what they experienced for the rest of their lives.
Grace Tonquin is an American Quaker working to rescue Jewish children in France during the war. Decades later Addie Hoult is looking for the Tonquin family because her mentor is dying from a genetic disease. But these women from the different storylines and time periods also need rescuing in ways they don’t truly grasp until the end of the story. All the characters are deeply wounded from both what they did and what was done to them. Restoration doesn’t come easily, but there is hope.
I think it’s fair to say no one does time slip novels better than Melanie Dobson. Many times I prefer the historical timeline to the contemporary one but this one had me totally engaged with both. I highly recommend you read this one!
*I was given a copy by the publisher for the purpose of review without compensation or expectation. I have given my honest opinion.
Published October 2017 by William Morrow Paperbacks
This story, told mostly as an epistolary novel, was so well done and so touching that I was completely engrossed by the characters of Evie and Thomas as they corresponded throughout the war. The letters are filled with humor and fun banter between childhood friends and as the war progresses they turn more serious at times and deep with soul-searching thoughts and ideas and finally with desperation. Sprinkled throughout we see the elderly Thomas in 1968, obviously without Evie but it isn’t until the end we understand why he’s come back to Paris to read all the letters they had exchanged plus a new one he doesn’t open until he finishes the wartime letters. The description of the agonies the characters endured plus their hopes and dreams feels so real as I imagine they were, although not usually spoken, for those who lived through those times.
I can imagine these two authors, quite successful as solo novelists, took on particular characters as the voices are as distinct as they would be with real people, and that is the strength of this novel, in my opinion. It’s a love story, but not just a love story. It’s filled with history, as we who love to read historical fiction look forward to when we open a book.