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The year is 1943. The Nazis have invaded Italy; American troops have landed. At Aldo's restaurant on the Adriatic coast, Lucia Fantini entertained customers for years with her marvelous opera singing. But normal operations are over. The restaurant has been seized by nazifascisti, and a Resistance squad of waiters and local tradesmen has been formed, led by Lucia's son, Beppino. When Beppino disappears, Lucia must journey across war-devastated Italy to find him. Aided by a richly drawn cast of characters, the story of her adventures is told with the vigor, drama, and lyrical grace of an Italian opera, in a brilliantly arranged narrative that places tragic events side-by-side with high comedy, domestic intrigues, and gripping details. In this captivating story of a mother and son, Cooney enters a world of peril and chance, and brings to life the extraordinary Resistance movement of the Italian people.
It is 1900 in a small, prosperous Massachusetts town. Charlotte Heath, a lively, independent redhead of humble beginnings, is married to the scion of the powerful Heath family. When, on her first outing after a long illness, she spies her husband, Hays, bending to kiss another woman in the village square, impulsive Charlotte heads her horses straight out of town. Unsure where to go but certain that she wants to leave both Hays and the stifling, if luxurious, life of the Heath household behind, Charlotte makes her way to Boston and checks in at "The Beechmont: A Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies," where she makes another startling discovery: the classy Beechmont is a rather unique institution, where handsome porters make discreet, late-night visits to its all-female clientele. Charlotte finds herself surrounded by a cast of characters that will delight the reader as she settles into life at this reverse brothel: Harry Alcorn, the hotel's dashing and prescient proprietor; Miss Berenice Singleton, the bohemian painter who holds a kind of salon in her rooms; the scowling cook, Mrs. Petty, who once worked for the Heaths and is determined that Charlotte not stay on at the Beechmont; the charming and handsome "porter" Arthur, who both gives pleasure and makes trouble; and the venerable lady doctor Lily Heath, her husband's aunt, whom Charlotte is amazed to find among the hotel's regulars. In the midst of a dizzying sexual enlightenment, Charlotte must puzzle out why she really left Hays and why he seems to have left her first. Her task is to determine whether she can forgive him and to discover where, if anywhere, she truly belongs-an adventure that takes her farther afield than she could ever have imagined. Ellen Cooney has given us a remarkable portrait of a historical moment and an irresistible protagonist. Fresh, high-spirited, and wonderfully seductive in the telling, A Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies carries the reader along on a woman's unforgettable journey to self-enlightenment. From the Hardcover edition.
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