front cover of the book The Hotel Nantucket by Erin Hildebrand

See how the perfect summertime novel, The Hotel Nantucket, hits the 15 Save the Cat! story beats.

Author: Elin Hilderbrand
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (copyright 2022)
Pages: 416 in hardcover (my ebook edition had 2770 locations)

Genre: Buddy Love wrapped around a ghostly Whydunnit

Sun, sand, and a sensational story… isn’t that what we all want on a long summer day? Elin Hilderbrand is known as “the queen of beach reads” (New York Magazine) for good reason. With multiple #1 New York Times bestselling novels to her name and a legion of fans clamoring for more of this author’s island-set dramas, it’s not surprising that The Hotel Nantucket was an Amazon Best Book for June 2022 with over 30K ratings there over the past year, plus an additional 157K on Goodreads.

From the publisher:
Fresh off a bad breakup with a longtime boyfriend, Nantucket sweetheart Lizbet Keaton is desperately seeking a second act. When she’s named the new general manager of the Hotel Nantucket, a once Gilded Age gem turned abandoned eyesore, she hopes that her local expertise and charismatic staff can win the favor of their new London billionaire owner, Xavier Darling, as well as that of Shelly Carpenter, the wildly popular Instagram tastemaker who can help put them back on the map. And while the Hotel Nantucket appears to be a blissful paradise, complete with a celebrity chef-run restaurant and an idyllic wellness center, there’s a lot of drama behind closed doors. The staff (and guests) have complicated pasts, and the hotel can’t seem to overcome the bad reputation it earned in 1922 when a tragic fire killed nineteen-year-old chambermaid Grace Hadley. With Grace gleefully haunting the halls, a staff harboring all kinds of secrets, and Lizbet’s own romantic uncertainty, is the Hotel Nantucket destined for success or doom?  

Filled with the emotional depth and multiple points of view that characterize Hilderbrand’s novels (The Blue Bistro, Golden Girl) as well as an added dash of Roaring Twenties history, The Hotel Nantucket offers something for everyone in this compelling summer drama. 

Slather on some sunscreen, kick off your sandals, and pour yourself a cool beverage. Here’s my take on Blake Snyder’s beat sheet for this fun-filled, genre-blending beach read:

Front Matter (location 1-19) & End Matter (location 2485-2770)

Opening Image (location 20-40): Readers are given a quick description of Nantucket Island and we’re told in a slightly snarky omniscient voice—as if overhearing the latest gossip at a coffee shop—that British billionaire Xavier Darling is (inadvisably!) investing $30 million in the Hotel Nantucket and that local Lizbet Keaton (can you blame her for breaking up with JJ O’Malley after what he did?) has been hired as the general manager. The editor of the Nantucket Standard sends a young and enthusiastic lady reporter to cover the renovation story.

Theme Stated (location 72-73): Lizbet has a framed Socrates quote by her bed which reads, “The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” This is her chosen mantra, and it reappears throughout the novel.

Set-Up (location 41-278): We get the background on how Lizbet is hired and further details of her big breakup with JJ, which is justifiably scandalous. We also learn why Xavier bought the hotel, and he reveals that there are two women he intends to impress—one of them is a mega reviewer by the name of Shelly Carpenter. Xavier wants their hotel to be the first to get awarded the coveted “5-Key” review. But Shelly is known to be tricky. She stays at luxury resorts under an alias and can be extremely picky about her accommodations. The hotel staff must be prepared for anything!

On the subject of the hotel staff, there are many of them. And a resident ghost. While Lizbet might be the primary protagonist, this is truly an ensemble story, and the other characters join her in forming a closely knit team. The ghost, however, is a special entity. She’s the spirit of Grace Hadley, a 19-year-old maid who perished 100 years ago in a fire that ravaged the hotel back in 1922. Grace is pleased to see that a woman (Lizbet) is finally in charge, as the hotel’s condition has spiraled downward in the century following her demise. She wants to finally prove that the fire had been set intentionally and that she didn’t merely die as a result of it—she was murdered.

Grace observes Lizbet hiring the various staff members from the valets to the cleaning crew to the front desk workers, and the ghost has opinions on all of them. Meanwhile, the young lady reporter is tasked to find out more about the hotel’s history. She looks into the story of 94-year-old Mint Benedict, son of the couple (Dahlia and Jackson Benedict) who’d owned the hotel in the decade prior to the fire, and into the claims that the hotel is haunted.

Catalyst (location 278-309): Lizbet’s ex-boyfriend JJ O’Malley unexpectedly shows up just before the hotel opens on that first day. He proposes marriage to her, which she turns down flat. (Seriously? After sharing 187 pornographic texts with their former wine vendor, he thinks Lizbet will just forget about that….) However, JJ is determined to make her pay attention to him. He grabs her arm, but someone she’s never met steps into the parking lot: Mario Subiaco, the cocky celebrity chef that Lizbet didn’t know Xavier had hired for the Blue Bar—the restaurant/bar inside the hotel. Mario tells JJ to let Lizbet get to work “if that’s what she wants,” and he waits to see if she’ll follow him.

Debate (location 309-317): Lizbet is able to get away from JJ and she does follow Mario into the building. But Mario now asks if she’ll give him her opinion on something, and he waves her into the kitchen of the Blue Bar. Should she follow him there, too? Will she focus her energy on the new, not the old?

Break into Two (location 318-325): She steps into the kitchen and quickly learns what Mario has been working on. It’s the creation of a new cocktail for the bar on the first day. It’s delicious, and he tells Lizbet he’s naming it “The Heartbreaker” in honor of her. And with that, the opening day at the hotel begins.

B Story (location 423): This beat revolves around the resident ghost and her mystery. Grace is only visible to people who are “supernaturally sensitive,” but there are quite a number of staff and guests she’s willing to haunt in her own way. It is frequently through Grace that the reader is able to get insights into the variety of characters, given that the ghost has existed for over a century and has accrued a certain amount of wisdom about people and their behaviors.

What doomed Grace in her earthly life was the affair she’d been led to have with the owner at the time, Jackson Benedict. His wife Dahlia had been an angry and resentful type, and Grace believes it was Jack’s wife who not only set the fire but made sure Grace had been locked in her fourth-floor attic room, unable to escape. It’s Grace’s mission to prove the fire wasn’t an accident.

Fun and Games (location 326-1423): With so much going on at the Hotel Nantucket and such a large collection of characters, these scenes sometimes have the feel of an English farce—one group of people enter, interact, and exit, and then another group of people have their moment in the limelight, and then attention focuses on yet another group… before going back to an earlier set of cast members.

Complicating matters further is that virtually all of them have secrets. Magda, the head of housekeeping, has a hidden source of income. Chadwick, one of the cleaning crew, feels he needs redemption for something that happened to one of his friends. Edie and Alessandra, both of whom work at the front desk, are dealing with interpersonal issues. Edie has a blackmailing ex-boyfriend, and Alessandra has a series of actions that are catching up with her.

Richie the night auditor is hiding something, too, as is his love interest, a guest named Kimber, who’s staying at the hotel for the entire summer with her two children and a pit bull. Then there’s Magda’s nephew Zeke, married couple Adam and Raoul, yoga instructor Yolanda, and about a dozen additional people we’re meant to keep track of during the course of the story. It should have been more difficult to do this and, yet, Hilderbrand is able to keep most of these threads distinct enough for us to follow with relative ease.

Midpoint (location 1423-1429): Lest we forget, Lizbet has got her own storyline, too, including a burgeoning romance with Mario that she’s juggling alongside the trials of work. She’s always striving to avert disaster and do a stellar job in her role as general manager. After all, Xavier the rich investor desperately wants that 5-Key review for his luxury hotel. But, ultimately, Lizbet’s revenge against her ex is truly complete here (false victory) when the woman who’d been the cause of her painful breakup with JJ—the wine vendor with whom he was sexting so many messages—leaves the island for good. JJ still loves Lizbet, but he’s forced to admit that, when it came to their relationship, he really blew it.

Grace gets a win as well in her quest to set the historical record straight. Kimber’s 8-year-old daughter is both supernaturally sensitive and a young Nancy Drew. She’s searching for a mystery to solve and finds herself obsessed with the resident ghost. The little girl puts together some important clues and pens a story that finds its way into the hands of the lady reporter at the Nantucket Standard. This boosts publicity for the hotel, and business is booming.

Bad Guys Close In (location 1430-2193): Although Grace is attempting to live up to her reputation for haunting the hotel by being even more of a presence—helping one younger guest come out to her parents, assisting a couple who’s trying to reignite passion in their marriage, etc.—trouble starts to target the hotel staff at every turn.

Lizbet has doubts about Mario’s commitment to her, fearing he may have a romantic interest in the yoga instructor and might cheat on her, like JJ did. Alessandra’s bad habit of sleeping with male guests to garner good personal reviews (which has scored her several monetary bonuses from Xavier), turns dangerous when one of those men assaults her. Thankfully, Grace, with a dash of paranormal trickery, assists Alessandra in getting away.

But that’s not the end of the drama. A woman checks into the hotel who has the air of that mystery reviewer Xavier wants so much to impress. Unfortunately, it’s soon revealed that she’s a con artist, not the illustrious Shelly Carpenter. Also, Edie’s ex-boyfriend is blackmailing her again for an even higher sum this time. JJ tries one more time to get Lizbet to come back to him, and she nearly relents… until she catches sight of something that changes her mind. And Xavier himself finally comes to stay at his beautifully refurbished hotel, only to find himself pained by deep romantic disappointment. It turns out that he’s been in love with Magda for 30 years, but she won’t agree to marry him.

All Is Lost (location 2193-2245): The team is falling apart. Xavier abruptly leaves the hotel and tells Lizbet that it’s unlikely he’ll ever come back. And on top of this, Alessandra is now missing. No one knows where to find her.

Dark Night of the Soul (location 2245-2253): Alessandra has left a note—not for Lizbet, but for Edie, Alessandra’s partner at the front desk. Inside, Edie finds the several thousand dollars in bonus money that Alessandra had received for her ill-gotten reviews, and an apology to Edie.

Break into Three (location 2253-2257): Edie, acting on behalf of the entire team and trying to keep their hotel family together, figures out where Alessandra is and sets out to confront her.

Finale (location 2257-2478): Alessandra confesses her misdeeds to Edie, but the two have become friends despite their many differences. Edie urges her not to run away. The summer is quickly coming to an end, and to the surprise of the entire staff, the elusive secret reviewer is, in fact, Kimber, the mother with the two children and the dog. The long-expected hotel review comes out, and they get the only 5-Key rating ever received. What a triumph!

Despite this incredible review from the famed “Shelly Carpenter” and all her praise about the quality of the staff (“Hotels aren’t about rooms. They aren’t about amenities. They’re about peopleโ€ฆ”) and even her mention of the loving presence of a friendly ghost, Xavier decides to sell his hotel anyway. What he really wanted was Magda, and he’s not going to get her. To make matters worse, Kimber/Shelly’s new boyfriend—the night auditor Richie—is arrested by the FBI for wire fraud. (Long story!) Once again, it feels as though the hotel family is on the verge of disbanding.

Lizbet and Mario, who are now committed and together again, struggle with what they’ll do if the hotel is sold to someone who plans to turn it into an office space. Mario assures her that they’ll figure out their next steps as a couple. And Grace is frustrated that if the hotel is sold, the truth about her death will never be uncovered.

But fate has something better in store for everyone at the Hotel Nantucket. Despite Magda’s modest lifestyle and her choice to work as a housekeeper at the hotel, she’s a multimillionaire. Partnering with Chadwick’s wealthy father, Magda and Chad’s dad buy the luxury hotel, so everyone on the staff can stay on, if they want to, and the many eager guests can return next summer, as planned.

Furthermore, Mint Benedict passes away, but before he dies, he wants his nurse to read his father’s journals and letters. These items find their way to Lizbet and the hotel staff (and will soon be given to the Nantucket Standard, too), and they reveal the real reason for Grace Hadley’s death in that fire. Grace is vindicated by Jackson’s confessions in his journal—both that he’d always loved her and that he felt guilt and responsibility for her murder. The fire had indeed been set by his wife Dahlia, who’d also locked Grace in the attic. Grace needed to know this for sure to finally be at peace. And Lizbet, in thinking about the happenings at the Hotel Nantucket all summer, realizes that Grace has indeed been looking out for them all.

Final Image (location 2479-2484): Grace the ghost can’t leave yet, however tempting and despite the fact that the truth of her murder is now known. She loves this place—and these people—and finds that she wants to stay… at least one more year.