Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, holiday fiction, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Published by Canary Street Press on September 19, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
This Christmas, USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan returns with another heartfelt exploration of change, the power of books to heal, and the enduring strength of female friendship. Perfect for fans of Emily Henry and Jennifer Weiner.
With its historic charm and picture-perfect library, the Maple Sugar Inn is considered the winter destination. As the holidays approach, the inn is fully booked with guests looking for their dream vacation. But widowed far too young, and exhausted from juggling the hotel with being a dedicated single mom, Hattie Coleman dreams only of making it through the festive season.
But when Erica, Claudia and Anna—lifelong friends who seem to have it all—check in for a girlfriends’ book club holiday, it changes everything. Their close friendship and shared love of books have carried them through life's ups and downs. But Hattie can see they're also packing some major emotional baggage, and nothing prepares her for how deeply her own story is about to become entwined in theirs. In the span of a week over the most enchanting time of the year, can these four women come together to improve each other’s lives and make this the start of a whole new chapter?
This is the story of how the Hotel Book Club transformed the Maple Sugar Inn into The Book Club Hotel – with a little bit of help from the spirit of Christmas. It’s also the story of four women living the old saying that goes, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
The members of the Hotel Book Club, former college roommates Ericka, Anna and Claudia, have met up every year since those college days at some hotel or another to catch up with each other, sightsee a bit, drink wine and talk about books. Not necessarily in that order.
As the story begins they are all just one side or the other of 40. Which is turning out to be one hell of a milestone birthday for each of them – even if they are having a difficult time admitting that to themselves – let alone each other.
There’s that saying about the grass being greener on the other side of the fence? They’re all feeling a bit of that because they went very different directions after college, which was not exactly a surprise as they were not exactly peas in a pod when they met.
Anna and Claudia both envy Ericka for her high-powered and highly-successful career and the lifestyle it affords her. Ericka and Claudia both see Anna’s happy marriage and picture-perfect family as a touchstone, proof that some relationships do work and some marriages are successful and some families are perfect – even if that hasn’t been the experience for either of them in their birth families or their own history. While Ericka and Anna both have a touch of that same envy over Claudia’s passion for and expertise in being a chef.
And all of those things are true, but, under the surface each situation is nowhere near as perfect as it seems from the outside. Anna is beset by empty-nest syndrome as her ‘job’ as the ever-supportive mother to twins Meg and Daniel is moving to a new and dreaded phase as those twins get ready to leave for college.
Claudia’s 10-year relationship with John has just ended, and she’s just lost a job that burned her out so badly she’s thinking seriously about re-inventing herself as something, anything, to get out of soulless kitchens run by abusive dictators that do not respect her skills AND leave her no time for a personal life.
While Ericka is waffling on the first steps of the road not taken. Or rather, the road her father took minutes after she was born, leaving her and her mother behind to fend for themselves while he ran about as far away as he could get. An event that sent her life into an utter inability to depend on anyone else for anything ever – with Anna and Claudia seeming to be the only exceptions.
When the friends gather at the Maple Sugar Inn that early December, they enter what seems like a picture perfect place to spend a week putting each other back together – even if none of them can admit that’s a big portion of what they are there for.
Just as they arrive, that picture-perfect picture melts down. The innkeeper Hattie is having a crisis of her own. Multiple crises, in fact, as both her head housekeeper and her five-star chef have quit in the midst of tantrums worthy of a two-year old while the inn is full to the rafters and there seems to be no help in sight.
But there is. And in the course of helping Hattie set the inn on the course she finally has the spoons to create for herself, Anna, Claudia and Ericka each find the fork in their own roads – and reach out to take it.
Escape Rating B+: I picked this up for two reasons, and I’m not sure which is first or second. The whole concept of a vacation just to read and spend time with lifelong friends and read, (did I mention read?) and relax and oh, yes, read – sounds a bit like heaven. And the setting of The Book Club Hotel seemed particularly idyllic, including a brief trip to a ‘Winter Wonderland’ without having to stick around for the next several months of freezing temperatures, gray snow and mud. (Been there, done that, the t-shirts are all long-sleeved and insulated.)
The Stacking the Shelves stack that included this book garnered a whole lot of comments about just how wonderful this particular vacation sounded, so I’m clearly not alone in thinking it would be lovely.
That other reason for picking up The Book Club Hotel is that I really enjoyed this author’s The Summer Seekers a couple of years ago, and was hoping for something similar.
In spite of the wildly different settings, that particular wish was just a bit too on the nose. The characters read a bit too similarly particularly Ericka and Anna standing in for emotionally distant Kathleen and helicopter worrywart mother Liza.
The story follows a familiar outline. Four women, each at their own personal crossroads, come together accidentally and on purpose and forge or re-forge the bonds between them while figuring out which way to turn at that crossroad with a little help from their old and new friends.
It’s a familiar formula because it works – and it certainly does in The Book Club Hotel. And that’s down to the four protagonists, Ericka, Anna, Claudia and Hattie. It helps a lot that not only are they all individually charming, each in their own ways, but they also represent different but very real dilemmas. Readers may not identify with all of them, but it would be difficult not to resonate with one or two. (Personally, I was on Team Ericka and Team Claudia but your reading mileage may take you down the other fork in the road.)
What really makes it all work is that each of these women does find a happily ever after, but it’s not the SAME happy ever after – and it shouldn’t be. I particularly liked that not all of those HEAs were wrapped around relationships and children. They each needed to work on themselves, and happiness followed from that work.
I have to confess that, in spite of my deep, abiding love for the concept of an actual Book Club Hotel, the story in said hotel didn’t pull at my heartstrings quite as hard as The Summer Seekers but a good reading time was absolutely still had by this reader.
If you like women’s fiction/relationship fiction, I’m confident that you will, too.