Thursday, 13 June 2019

Emma's Review: The Lemon Tree Hotel by Rosanna Ley

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

A story about love, family secrets, and a little piece of heaven . . .

In the beautiful village of Vernazza, the Mazzone family have transformed an old convent overlooking the glamorous Italian Riviera into the elegant Lemon Tree Hotel. For Chiara, her daughter Elene and her granddaughter Isabella, the running of their hotel is the driving force in their lives.

One day, two unexpected guests check in. The first, Dante, is a face from Chiara's past, but what exactly happened between them all those years ago, Elene wonders. Meanwhile, Isabella is preoccupied with the second guest, a mysterious young man who seems to know a lot about the history of the old convent and the people who live there. Isabella is determined to find out his true intentions and discover the secret past of the Lemon Tree Hotel.

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Many thanks to Quercus via NetGalley for my copy of The Lemon Tree Hotel to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

The Lemon Tree Hotel by Rosanna Ley has a beautiful cover to match the stunning set for this new book. Set on the Italian Rivera in the Cinque Terre region, the author captures a period of time in one families life when great changes are afoot. Things have remained the same for many years but discord is stirring and long held feelings and opinions slowly begin to simmer to the surface. The past is now having a bracing impact on the present and also on which direction the future may take. It's a very character driven story, yes there are glorious and wonderful descriptions of the hotel and the surrounding areas which do really help to set the scene and aid us in getting to know the characters. But this is a slow read with the main events only really happening towards the end which just felt that little bit too late for me.

The story follows one family in which a trio of women each play very important and varied roles. They are bound by family relationships and the three generations have lots in common but they are also poles apart in many other ways each hiding secrets and viewpoints which when events take hold have nothing else to do but come to the surface. At times I found it challenging to keep track of the three main female characters. Chiara is the grandmother, her daughter Elene is a chef in the hotel kitchen and this is her domain. Her own daughter Isabella runs the front of house. Sometimes I was confusing who was who and what exactly was going on with their own story but I knew everything would ultimately combine to bring all the various strands together.

I found the book hard going at times as there was nothing really happening. I think an event or some earth shattering secret needed to be brought into the open around the halfway point to keep me engaged and reading on. I am glad I did persist with this read but it wouldn’t be my favourite of Rosanna Ley's. The love Chiara has for the hotel established by her parents is evident. She knows every nook and cranny and she welcomes the guests with open arms and sees no problems with the way it is being run. It has been the same for so many years and there is no reason to change things which have worked perfectly fine. The hotel has always been a retreat, a shelter and a spiritual haven right from the times the nuns once occupied the building as a convent. As more than one stranger arrives will the fa├žade of comfort and happiness be shattered forever?

Elene is unhappy and feels she is never listened to. She enjoys her role as chef but wants a bigger say in what is going on. Times are a changing on the outside and with the world in general and she feels the same should occur with the hotel. Moving with the more modern times is the way to go but will she ever be listened to? Her unhappiness also stems from childhood and that has carried on right through her marriage to Silvo and the subsequent birth of Isabella. It's not that she is unhappy with her husband and daughter, it's more the relationship she has with her own mother. I really couldn't warm to Elene at all, she just seemed so grumpy and selfish and although she was a grown adult in my mind at times she acted like a child.

In her own mind she seemed beholden to her mother when I'm not sure that was always the case. I felt she was looking for sympathy and truly if she wasn't that happy shouldn't she have just admitted how she was feeling and gotten everything out in the open? She was disgruntled and very unhappy with her life but she was the one with the power to change it. She feels a chasm between herself and her mother but is it one of her own creation? She believes that she is made to feel dispensable and that if she wasn't there then things would continue to run as smoothly as normal. There was a certain action undertaken by Elene that I thought was sneaky and underhand and I desperately wished she hadn't done it as I think it would have come to light in a more smoother way. Clearly she needed to air her grievances but she had she the courage to do so in a befitting manner.

As for Isabella she was young and independent with a good business brain on her shoulders. So when a German guest arrives and starts acting suspicious her interest is aroused. As she grows closer to Ferdinand, he still remains a closed book and his actions in and around the hotel only increase her worries. Just what is he up to and what has brought him to the hotel? This aspect of the overall story I would love to have seen developed more as it became clear the past was making itself known in the present. I really love historical fiction and Elene's story really brought this element into the book but it all just seemed to rushed. I could see where this aspect of the plot was going and how important it was was in seeking resolution, acceptance and forgiveness but I thought it needed fleshing out even more. As we neared the end of the story as events took a surprising turn I wondered would everything work out or would it just all fall to pieces?

There was never a lot of interaction between the three women all at once, it was more like three separate stories running alongside each other that would then converge at a time of disaster, worry and danger. Chiara out of the three was my favourite and from fairly on the reader could see that a decision she made or rather one that was really forced upon her had a deep impact on her life. She sacrificed a deep love for the sake of her family and the hotel and now her marriage to Alonzo although long lasting is not the passion she dreams of. He is always absent from the hotel away in a big city and he remained very much on the outskirts of the story until Chiara had to face up to her situation and some confrontations ensued. Dante was the man for her but circumstances and opinions did not allow this relationship to bear fruit. This had always remained at the back of her mind and haunted her to a great extent. But without her marriage to Alonzo would she have had Elene and therefore Isabella in her life? She is grateful for her daughter and granddaughter but when Dante reappears at the hotel after an absence of decades, will the love for him which has been kept dormant for so long come erupting to the surface and if this does happen how can she deal with it?

I could see how torn Chiara was as she battled with emotions and desires that she had long tried to suppress but I felt as we got to know the intricacies of her family situation that maybe she did deserve a chance at happiness after so many years of just going through the motions. I didn't judge her for any of her thoughts or actions at any point in the story. I just wanted her to follow her heart and reach the point of acceptance and happiness. She experiences an emotional whirlwind and goes back and forth over what she should do. It was interesting to see someone go through such a major life changing decision as it wasn't just herself she had to think about. But for too long her marriage had seemed like a business arrangement with little or no mutual respect. Should someone have to exist in their life like that when a different form of happiness could be out there for the taking?

The Lemon Tree Hotel was a good read if a little slow in places with some more action needed much further on than when it occurred. New readers to Rosanna Ley will enjoy it but I'm not sure it will deeply satisfy long-term fans. I am glad I persisted with it in order to see the eventual outcome for the three women involved and I look forward to what future stories Rosanna Ley will bring us.

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