A whimsical, moving novel about a retirement home for literary legends who spar, conjure up new stories, and almost magically change the lives of the people around them.
Alfonse Carducci was a literary giant who lived his life to excess—lovers, alcohol, parties, and literary rivalries. But now he’s come to the Bar Harbor Home for the Elderly to spend the remainder of his days among kindred spirits: the publishing industry’s nearly gone but never forgotten greats. Only now, at the end of his life, does he comprehend the price of appeasing every desire, and the consequences of forsaking love to pursue greatness. For Alfonse has an unshakeable case of writer’s block that distresses him much more than his precarious health.
Set on the water in one of New England’s most beautiful locales, the Bar Harbor Home was established specifically for elderly writers needing a place to live out their golden years—or final days—in understated luxury and surrounded by congenial literary company. A faithful staff of nurses and orderlies surround the writers, and are drawn into their orbit, as they are forced to reckon with their own life stories.
Among them are Cecibel Bringer, a young woman who knows first-hand the cost of chasing excess. A terrible accident destroyed her face and her sister in a split-second decision that Cecibel can never forgive, though she has tried to forget. Living quietly as an orderly, refusing to risk again the cost of love, Cecibel never anticipated the impact of meeting her favorite writer, Alfonse Carducci—or the effect he would have on her existence. In Cecibel, Alfonse finds a muse who returns him to the passion he thought he lost. As the words flow from him, weaving a tale taken up by the other residents of the Pen, Cecibel is reawakened to the idea of love and forgiveness.
As the edges between story and reality blur, a world within a world is created. It’s a place where the old are made young, the damaged are made whole, and anything is possible….
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (June 12, 2018)
I have a few blogger friends who refuse to read or preemptively dislike books with long titles and subtitles so they would not even pick up The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses), which would be a shame because it is an engaging and enjoyable book. It also has a story or book inside the book so maybe it gets a pass on the long title since it's two stories in one. ;-)
The retirement home, called the "Pen" by its staff in residents was set up by Alfonse Carducci's mentor and lover, Cornelius Traeger, as a place elderly and ailing writers could find respite in their last days. In edition to its quirky collection of authors, editors, publicists and others--some very famous, some less so, there are is a staff--a doctor/director, nurses, orderlies and a groundskeeper. Cecibel Bringer is an orderly, who hides out at the Pen--from her past and from the accident that has left half of her face and her life destroyed. Cecibel is one of Alfonse Carducci's biggest fans and her admiration for him and the hurt she carries around with her, calls to Alfonse and she becomes his muse, inspiring him to pick up his pen to write again in the limited time he has left. A few close friends and more of Alfonse are living out their days at the home and soon they are adding their own passions and skills to the story the Alfonse starts. There are secrets and revelations, a possible romance for Cecibel and of course the passed around treasure of a notebook where the authors take turns writing from different points of view.
With the story-within-a-story and the various characters--residents, staff, characters they are writing, etc., things could get confusing but DeFino manages to make it flow smoothly and wind the various bits together while secrets are unwinding. I can't decide whether I liked the chapters devoted to the present or 1999 at the Pen in Maine, or the mid-to-late 1950s where the book--a tale of star-crossed lovers take place, mostly in New Jersey. When I was reading one part I was enjoying it but found myself looking forward to getting back to the chapters in the other era. I was immediately drawn into the book and it kept me involved until the end. The characters are almost all likable and I found myself wishing the best for them and I was sorry to turn the last page although the ending satisfied. Quirky, unique, touching and engaging, The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Authors (And Their Muses) (OK, the title really is too darn long!) ;-) is a great summer read for book lovers and fans of writers and a book that's easy to escape with.
Author Notes: Terri-Lynne DeFino was born and raised in New Jersey, but escaped to the wilds of Connecticut, where she still lives with her husband and her cats. She spends most days in her loft, in her woodland cabin along the river, writing about people she’s never met. Other days, she can be found slaying monsters with her grandchildren. If you knock on her door, she’ll most likely be wearing a tiara. She’ll also invite you in and feed you, because you can take the Italian girl out of Jersey, but you can’t take the Jersey Italian out of the girl.
Find out more about Terri at her website.
There is some food in the book, not a lot, but certainly enough to provide inspiration. Some of the mentions included burgers and fries, coffee, tea (chamomile, peppermint and Earl Gray specifically), a lobster bake with butter, rolls and ice cream accompanying it, hotdogs, tapioca, puddings, light cakes and sorbets, whiskey, turkey sandwiches, ice tea and chips, pancakes, Long Island Iced Teas, hors d'oeuvres, Manhattans, steak, port, pies, fried chicken, potato salad, turkey with gravy and stuffing, s'mores, malteds and egg creams, chocolate cake, cannoli, salmon properly cooked, gimlets, hot cocoa, New England clam chowder, popcorn, cookies,carrot, potatoes and beef, Russian tea cakes, champagne, chicken Parmesan and sausage and pepper sandwiches.
With a hot day and a busy week, my thoughts went to ice cream and a sentence about the retirement home, "The Pen" and having a pattissier--"creating decadent but harmless tapiocas and puddings, light cakes and sorbets" for the elderly residents. What could be more harmless than ice cream, or "nice" cream made with frozen fruit? I had pinned a recipe for Pineapple Nice Cream from Eating Well Magazine and it sounded like a good match for the book and a perfect match for the weather.
Eating Well says, "All-fruit, dairy-free and with no added sugar—these are the hallmarks of nice cream, a healthy alternative to ice cream. This pineapple nice cream has tropical flavors, thanks to a hit of mango and lime. It takes just minutes to make this naturally sweet frozen dessert in the food processor or a blender. Enjoy it alone, or top with fresh fruit and toasted coconut."
Pineapple Nice Cream
Carolyn Casner, Eating Well Magazine, November 2017
(6 Servings) (Let's be real--more like 3 or 4!)
1 16-ozpackage frozen pineapple chunks
1 cup frozen mango chunks or 1 large ripe mango peeled, seeded and chopped
1 Tbsp lime juice or lemon juice
Process pineapple, mango and lemon (or lime) juice in a food processor until smooth and creamy. (If using frozen mango, you may have to add up to 1/4 cup water.)
For the best texture, serve immediately.
Nutritional Info: Serving size: ½ cup Per serving: 55 calories; 0 g fat(0 g sat); 2 g fiber; 14 g carbohydrates; 1 g protein; 26 mcg folate; 0 cholesterol; 11 g sugars; 0 g added sugars; 342 IU vitamin A; 47 mg vitamin C; 13 mg calcium; 0 mg iron; 1 mg sodium; 131 mg potassium
Notes/Results: I have made banana nice cream and homemade Dole Whip before and this is right up there. Although the pineapple is a bit more prominent, the mango comes through and sweetens and mellows the pineapple a bit--rounding out the flavor. Refreshing and a good combination of sweet and tangy, it's a tropical taste treat that goes together easily and tastes great. (Although our humidity did make it melt pretty quick while taking pictures--lucky my spoon is also a straw!) I will happily make it again.
I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
Note: A review copy of "The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses)" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, Harper Collins, via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.