It’s the late 1970s, and Hollywood starlet Natalie Hampton is in her prime, half of a Hollywood power couple along with her producer husband, Stanley. But Natalie’s world comes crashing down when she catches Stan in a compromising situation with a young actress. Like any pampered Hollywood starlet, Natalie flees to Rome (semi-abandoning her ten-year-old daughter), and gets expensive therapy in a remote villa.
The beauty of Italy sets Natalie on the road to recovery, which is helped along by Nico, a hunky widower whose family owns an olive oil farm and a seaside cottage in Positano. Even a Hollywood princess can get swept off her feet, and Natalie is head-over-heels at first sight. Her mental health getaway turns into a year-long Roman holiday, (complete with Audrey Hepburn references), as she and Nico tumble into a fairy tale romance. The only obstacles spoiling the fun are Nico’s resentful daughter, and Natalie’s past; in addition to an ugly divorce and custody battle, Natalie is also being sued by the film company she bailed on back in Hollywood. Natalie doesn’t want to leave her newfound romantic paradise, but she must return to Los Angeles and get her affairs order.
Here’s where LOST IN CARMEL sets itself apart of other romantic novels. Author Terri Lee eschews the expected trope of Nico flying to Hollywood at a climactic moment, and helping Natalie navigate her legal troubles. Instead their long-distance romance simply fizzles. Their phone calls grow awkward and their love letters infrequent. Harsh reality slowly smothers their storybook romance.
However, armed with newfound confidence (thanks, expensive therapy!), Natalie is able to survive her legal battles. She retreats to Carmel, California to lick her wounds and date a kind-but-bland man. In a nice touch of realism, Natalie’s adult daughter ends up a drug abuser with serious legal problems. Even pampered Hollywood starlets must answer for their bad parenting mistakes. Natalie and her ex-husband are forced to come together as parents for the good of their daughter.
But, of course, a romance novel needs a happy ending, and Lee gives readers the satisfying conclusion they’re looking for. Natalie’s amazing memoir and comeback film draw Nico to California, where their stunted love finally gets a chance to blossom and grow.
Terri Lee takes interesting turns in the rich love story at the heart of LOST IN CARMEL, making the journey almost as exhilarating as a carefree year on the Positano coast.
~Rob Errera for IndieReader