Book Review: Lucy Checks In by Dee Ernst

Title: Lucy Checks In
Author: Dee Ernst
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: August 16, 2022
Print length: 288 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dee Ernst’s Lucy Checks In is a delightful work of romantic comedy about a disgraced hotel manager who travels to Rennes to rebuild a hotel and her own life in the process…

Lucia Giannetti needs a fresh start. Once the hotel manager of a glamorous NYC hotel and intimately involved with the hotel’s owner, Lucy had her entire future planned out. But when the owner disappears, taking millions of dollars with him, Lucy’s life as she knows it falls apart.

Two years later, forty-nine years old and unemployed, Lucy takes a job in Rennes, France to manage the Hotel Paradis. She pictures fur quilts and extravagant chandeliers, but what she finds is wildly different. Lucy is now in charge of turning the run-down, but charming hotel into a bustling tourist attraction. Between painting rooms, building a website, and getting to know Bing, the irritatingly attractive artist, Lucy finds an unexpected home. But can she succeed in bringing the Hotel Paradis to its former glory?

Witty and heartfelt, Lucy Checks In is an inspiring and feel-good novel about reclaiming your life, finding love, and creating a home in places you never thought possible.

In Lucy Checks In, the title character is an almost 50-year-old woman who hit rock-bottom two year previously, when the man she loved embezzled money, left his hotel chain in ruins, destroyed her professional reputation, and left her the subject of an FBI investigation. Even after being cleared of any involvement in his schemes, Lucy’s life was still shattered, and she found herself with no prospects, and not even a roof over her head other than her parents’ — definitely not where she envisioned she’d be at this age.

So when an offer come through to spruce up and manage a charming family-owned, historic hotel in the French town of Rennes, there’s no way Lucy can pass up the opportunity for a fresh start. When she arrives, however, she discovers that the “hotel” hasn’t actually operated as one since before World War II, the building itself is in terrible shape, and it’s currently inhabited by a motley crew of assorted oddballs who, improbably, are all investors (one way or another) in the project to rehab and reopen the hotel.

Lucy wants to turn and run, but where could she go? She has a contract for six months of employment, and decides to make the best of it — although even this decision is quickly called into question when she discovers that rather than hiring people to do things like painting and building a website, she’ll have to do it herself.

Eventually, though, Lucy warms to the task, and as she digs in to the work and at the same time gets to know the hotel’s owner and the other residents, she begins to feel hopeful and even cautiously optimistic that (a) they can really pull this off and (b) she may have found a place for herself, where she might even have a future.

Lucy Checks In is charming in many ways, from the description of Rennes and the hotel itself, with its vivid history, to its quirky cast of characters and the different talents and obstacles they each bring with them.

I really appreciated having a more mature woman as the lead, particularly once Lucy gets a chance to explore romance as well as professional redemption. Her love interest, a sexy American painter and children’s book author, is supportive, kind, and encouraging, and seeing them together really reinforces that love stories, romance, and a healthy sex life are not just for people in their 20s and 30s.

I did feel as though the book could have used a bit more meat on its bones (not sure why I’m going with a meat metaphor, but that’s what keeps coming up in my mind). I’m not usually one to complain when a book is on the shorter side, but here, I wished the characters and plots had been given more room to expand.

A great deal of the plot has to do with hotel renovations, and while I’m happy for Lucy and the rest of the hotel folks that their grand project worked so well, I’m not sure we readers need quite that much space devoted to plastering, painting, decorating the lobby, and selecting colors and fabrics.

On the other hand, I would have welcomed fuller development of the supporting cast. The various residents of the hotel are introduced, often with thumbnail backstories, but we don’t get to know most of them very well beyond the basics. That’s a shame, because many are funny or eccentric, and I would have liked to know more about how they ended up at the Hotel Paradis and how they live their lives.

Overall, Lucy Checks In is a sweet, non-demanding read, with a bit of an armchair travel element to it (yes, I do want to go hang out at the hotel, explore Rennes, and eat all that amazing food). I was moved by Lucy’s story arc, including some unexpected twists concerning her family back home in the US, and was very happy to see her finding her way toward happiness and new beginnings.

Last year, I read and really enjoyed Maggie Finds Her Muse by the same author. Lucy Checks In, while engaging and sweet, feels a bit slighter than the previous novel, but I’m still glad to have read it. And as I mentioned, I truly appreciate seeing an older woman in the lead romantic role! Here’s hoping the author brings us many more delicious European adventures with women of a certain age front and center!

Book Review: The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser

Title: The Bookshop of Second Chances
Author: Jackie Fraser
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: May 4, 2021
Length: 431 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A woman desperate to turn a new page heads to the Scottish coast and finds herself locked in a battle of wills with an infuriatingly handsome bookseller in this utterly heartwarming debut, perfect for readers of Evvie Drake Starts Over.

Thea Mottram is having a bad month. Her husband of nearly twenty years has just left her for one of her friends, and she is let go from her office job–on Valentine’s Day, of all days. Bewildered and completely lost, Thea doesn’t know what to do. But when she learns that a distant great uncle in Scotland has passed away, leaving her his home and a hefty antique book collection, she decides to leave Sussex for a few weeks. Escaping to a small coastal town where no one knows her seems to be exactly what she needs.

Almost instantly, Thea becomes enamored with the quaint cottage, comforted by its cozy rooms and shaggy, tulip-covered lawn. The locals in nearby Baldochrie are just as warm, quirky, and inviting. The only person she can’t seem to win over is bookshop owner Edward Maltravers, to whom she hopes to sell her uncle’s antique novel collection. His gruff attitude–fueled by an infamous, long-standing feud with his brother, a local lord–tests Thea’s patience. But bickering with Edward proves oddly refreshing and exciting, leading Thea to develop feelings she hasn’t felt in a long time. As she follows a thrilling yet terrifying impulse to stay in Scotland indefinitely, Thea realizes that her new life may quickly become just as complicated as the one she was running from.

When Thea discovers that her husband has been cheating on her with her close friend, her carefully ordered life falls apart. And when said husband and said friend declare their intention to start a life together, Thea moves out of her house, packs her belongings, and has to figure out what’s next.

Answers are provided by the news that a distant relative, a great-uncle she barely knew, has left his Scottish home to her, along with a nice sum of money to go with it. At loose ends, Thea heads to Scotland to see the property and decide what to do with it, intending to spend at most a few weeks assessing the place and making plans to sell it.

She doesn’t count on how lovely the place is, or how charming the small village nearby. Uncle Andrew left behind an impressive book collection, including many rare and valuable editions, so Thea contacts the local bookseller, a grumpy man named Edward, to arrange to sell some of the books. Edward is indeed grumpy, but he’s also quite engaging and very attractive, not to mention being the estranged brother of the lord whose estate borders Thea’s new home. All in all, Thea finds him fascinating, and they develop an easy rapport, only enhanced once she takes on a job working in Edward’s bookstore.

As the months pass, Thea finds herself falling into a comfortable rhythm in her new home, but she’s still not over the betrayal of her marriage and the sense of self-doubt it’s left her with. Still, as she gets to know Edward, she eventually realizes that life may have a few surprises left for her… even the possibility of a new romance.

It’s refreshing to read a book about love between mature adults, and also a nice change to have a lead character be a woman in her mid-40s. Thea is lovely, but she’s experienced and not naive, and feels that the romantic part of her life is over with, now that her husband has left her. She doesn’t expect to find new opportunities or to have a dashing local find her attractive, and she certainly doesn’t expect that this little town in Scotland may turn out to be a place where she’ll find happiness.

The Bookshop of Second Chances is a lovely, engaging read. The dialogue is often quite funny, and Thea herself is a delightfully practical, blunt-speaking, and intelligent character to spend time with. The dynamics between Edward and his brother Charles are fraught, silly, and often humorous, but there are also some real issues there to navigate, and it was interesting to see those play out.

The main romantic storyline between Thea and Edward is well-paced, as she spends a great deal of the book not looking for more than friendship while she heals from the pain of her marriage and learns to trust and be optimistic again.

All in all, this is a sweet, entertaining, and thoughtful take on finding new purpose and new love in middle age. I really enjoyed it, and recommend it heartily!

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