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COMING TO PBS! "Hotel Portofino" by J. P. O'Connell - Book Release Day and Featured Spotlight

Author Bio:

J. P. O’Connell has worked as an editor and writer for a variety of newspapers and magazines including Time Out, The Guardian, The Times, and the Daily Telegraph. J. P. has also written several books, including a novel, a celebration of letter-writing, a spice encyclopedia, and, most recently, an analysis of David Bowie’s favorite books and the ways they influenced his music. J. P. lives in London.

TITLE: Hotel Portofino

AUTHOR: J. P. O'Connell

GENRE: Historical Fiction

PUBLICATION DATE: January 18, 2022

PUBLISHER: Blackstone

FORMATS: Hardcover, Ebook, and Audio

Book Blurb:

For fans of Downton Abbey and The Crown, get ready for Hotel Portofino.

Coming to PBS in 2022!

A heady historical drama about a British family who open an upper-class hotel on the magical Italian Riviera during the ‘Roaring 20s’.

Hotel Portofino has been open for only a few weeks, but already the problems are mounting for its owner Bella Ainsworth. Her high-class guests are demanding and hard to please. And she's being targeted by a scheming and corrupt local politician, who threatens to drag her into the red-hot cauldron of Mussolini's Italy.

To make matters worse, her marriage is in trouble, and her children are still struggling to recover from the repercussions of the Great War. All eyes are on the arrival of a potential love match for her son Lucian, but events don't go to plan, which will have far reaching consequences for the whole family.

Set in the breathtakingly beautiful Italian Riviera, Hotel Portofino is a story of personal awakening at a time of global upheaval and of the liberating influence of Italy's enchanting culture, climate, and cuisine on British "innocents abroad," perfect for fans of Downton Abbey and The Crown.


“In the genre of Agatha Christie, Henry James, Edith Wharton, this story delights. The author’s descriptions of Portofino are lovely, the characters fully formed. And the story whispers a warning—beware the subtle ways in which freedom can be lost.” —Pamela Binnings Ewen, bestselling author of The Queen of Paris

“Set in the stunning Italian Riviera and reminiscent of Downtown Abbey, and soon to be a PBS original, Hotel Portofino will capture your heart and have you flipping through the pages faster than you’ll ever be able to make hot cocoa.”

“If you love period dramas like Downton Abbey and The Crown, then you need to read Hotel Portofino by J.P. O’Connell immediately.” —PopSugar

“O’Connell’s historical novel, brimming with drama, romance, and intrigue set on the beautiful Italian Riviera during the 1920s, is perfect for fans of Downton Abbey. It also includes a diverse cast of characters and deftly addresses the prejudices of the era.” —Library Journal

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Exclusive Book Excerpt:

From a young age, Bella had been obsessed with Italy. At boarding school, she had hung beside her bed reproductions of famous Italian paintings and been quietly furious when the nuns who ran the place asked her to take down Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ on the grounds of obscenity. For Bella, Italy stood for truth, beauty and goodness. It was a beacon high on a promontory, radiating shafts of pure Mediterranean light which cut like razors through the gloom of damp, smoggy London.

Cecil liked Italy, too. He said so, anyway. But it had been Bella’s idea to honeymoon in Portofino.

She sighed now at the memory of those carefree days. Strange to think the daughter conceived on that holiday was now a widow, their son a wounded veteran of the worst war anyone could remember. Stranger still that it was now 1926 and she was forty-eight years of age.

The years had passed like a shadow.

There was another loss too, of course. But she pushed it down, as far as it would go. If she allowed it to get a purchase, she would never think of anything else.

What she really struggled with was the fact – and it was a fact – that she and Cecil had once been young and in love; had spent soft, persuasive nights staring out at the glittering water before swimming naked in the bay at Paraggi as the sun rose over the mountains.

On that first trip to Portofino, there had been deep kisses in the moonlit silence of back streets and a welter of new tastes and sensations – salty, chewy prosciutto and figs so fresh they burst on her tongue.

While Cecil played tennis at the hotel, Bella had taken herself off, following ancient mule tracks up to hill farms and olive groves. She’d glanced through locked gates into gardens radiant with flowers and wondered who might live there – and if it would ever be her? She had watched the lace-makers in the town square, then lain on warm rocks, drinking in the sunshine as lizards scampered over her bare legs.

Of course, it had been a more formal age, when a woman on her own drew tuts and raised eyebrows. But Bella hadn’t let this stop her. Why on earth should it? She was a New Woman like the ones she read about in novels, and she was glimpsing a new reality.

One day, attracted by its striped façade, she had climbed up to the church of San Martino, high above the harbour. Apart from an old woman in black with a crocheted shawl over her head, she had been the only person there. As she inhaled the incense, dipped her fingers in the holy water and crossed herself – she wasn’t Catholic, but it seemed the right thing to do – she had felt as if she were acting as well as participating, and this had struck her as revelatory, something she could file away and use later.

So much of life depended on ritual and performance, especially now that she was running a hotel, filling the roles of both manager and concierge. It felt foolish to call what she did a vocation. But there was a religious dimension to it. She was good at it, too – she knew that. Which made the memory of Cecil’s initial scepticism all the more hurtful.

‘Open a hotel? In Portofino?’ They had been in the drawing room of their tall, thin house in Kensington, Cecil topping up his glass of single malt. ‘Why on earth would we want to do that?’

He knew exactly how to crush her. But on this occasion she had refused to submit.

‘It would be an adventure,’ she said, brightly. ‘A new start. A way to forget the war and all the awful things it’s done to our family.’

‘Running a hotel is donkey work. Imagine the nonsense you’d have to concern yourself with. Buying the right sort of chairs for the terrace. Organising day trips to museums. It’s all so ...’

‘Middle-class? Suburban?’

‘Well, yes. Not to mention,’ Cecil’s mouth curled as he searched for the mot juste, ‘. . . prosaic. Which would be fine except that you, Bellakins, are never prosaic. It’s the reason I married you. One of them, anyway.’ He sank into his favourite armchair with a sigh. ‘Besides, there’s so much competition nowadays. If, that is, you’re hoping to attract a better class of tourist.’

There was no denying the truth of this. Every November saw the annual migration of the British upper classes to sunnier climes where they remained until winter passed. Some swore by Cannes, others preferred the Venice Lido or the health benefits of Baden-Baden. Biarritz came into its own as a sanctuary when the heat on the French Riviera grew unbearable.

The Italian Riviera, by contrast, was relatively undiscovered. There was a British colony here, of course – where in the world wasn’t there one? – and the larger hotels even had tennis courts and swimming pools.

But this wasn’t the market Bella hoped to attract.

‘I see this as a summer hotel,’ she said. ‘Not a refuge for Society flotsam.’

Cecil pretended to gasp. ‘Now, now! Inverted snobbery is never becoming.’

‘I’m not being a snob, inverted or otherwise.’ Bella tried to keep the anger she felt out of her voice. ‘I just want it to appeal to interesting people. People I might actually want to talk to.’

‘Like artists.’


‘And writers.’

‘I’d hope so.’

‘People with radical opinions.’ Cecil’s sneering tone was unmistakable.

‘Not necessarily.’

‘People who aren’t posh like me.’

At this Bella’s patience snapped. ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’

‘Or poor like me. I assume your father will be funding this venture?’

‘He’ll be happy to help us out, I’m sure.’

Cecil raised his glass, mockingly. ‘A toast, then – to his bountiful majesty!’


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