by Dana Mentink
Series: Love By Design, Book 1
Final Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Her design scheme didn’t include him!
Struggling interior designer Rosa Franco and her twin brother, Cy, are bent on transforming the timeworn Pelican Inn into the jewel of the California coast, even if it kills them. And it will kill Rosa if they fail. Their business, and her future, depend on winning the Great Escapes Magazine design contest that lured them back to the town where some of her best–and worst–memories were forged. Memories like those of Pike Matthews, the innkeeper’s nephew, her high school heartthrob turned humiliator, now infiltrating himself into every aspect of the project. Is he purposely frustrating her efforts? Behind that killer smile is he carrying a grudge…or a torch?
Rosa Franco closed her eyes and lost herself in the design plan: walls bathed in rich ivory, the subdued elegance of the marble that would edge the fireplace, matching sofas adorned in buttery, cream-colored fabric set off by jewel-toned pillows.
After reading Book 2 of the Love by Design series, Sailing in Style (and giving it a five star review), I felt compelled to give Book 1 a try. It isn’t too often I start a series out of order, but because Sailing in Style read so well as a standalone, I took the chance that Return to Pelican Inn would work just as well, not to mention I wanted to read more about the characters that I had come to love so much in Book 2.
Return to Pelican Inn tells the story of Rosa Franco, Cy’s twin sister (Book 2 focuses on Cy), and her rocky relationship with fellow high school alumni, Pike Matthews. I was eager to read more about Rosa, as she only appeared briefly in the first chapter or two of Book 2. Unlike Book 2, which went back and forth between two perspectives, this book focuses only on Rosa’s perspective. I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t see what was going on in Pike’s head as well, but it didn’t take away from the story.
The small coastal town of Tumbledown has the feel of a cozy, charming, laid-back paradise— hidden away from the constant hustle and bustle of the rest of the world. It also holds a lot of history, dating back to the days of the gold rush in California. It is here that we are introduced to The Pelican Inn, a century-plus-old inn that sits on top of an ocean view overlook.
Rosa Franco and her brother Cy already have a history with the current owner of the inn, Bitsy. Bitsy took them in as teenagers after their alcoholic mother died and their father walked out of their lives in grief. Rosa and Cy are trying to make their struggling interior decorating business a success, and are thrilled to learn that they have won a spot for the Great Escapes magazine design contest. Even more of a surprise, the place they are to decorate is none other than the Pelican Inn. The problem lies in the fact that Pike Matthews is Bitsy’s nephew, who just happens to be hell-bent on selling the Pelican Inn.
Rosa and Pike have got bad blood between them from high school, so there is plenty of tension and conflict between them throughout the book. While it’s never discussed in detail, Rosa at one time had a huge crush on Pike in high school and they even went sailing together on his sailboat, but after Pike’s sailboat sinks and Rosa’s father investigates Pike’s father for insurance fraud, things go downhill. Rosa and Pike become bitter enemies.
It was a little off for me to see these two develop deep feelings for each other after all the bad blood when it was the bad times from their past that were focused on more than the good. Was Pike attracted to Rosa as well in high school? Did they have a blossoming romance in the works right before everything went wrong? Those are questions that I feel were only answered with vague insinuations.
Rosa is a good character to follow. She’s emotionally scarred but stubborn and feisty. The inner conflicts she experiences are not only deep and believable but also relatable. Pike is first presented as being the stereotypical high-class, arrogant lawyer, but the more we get to know him, the more we can see past the stereotype. Both of them are complex and well developed through and through.
There is a particular scene with Rosa and Cy’s dog, Baggy that I really liked. Baggy is a dog that Cy found abandoned in a bag outside the pet store. He isn’t a pretty dog by any means, which make people question if he’s actually a dog at all. I enjoyed this tidbit: He did not seem to hold it against the world that he had been thrown away in a paper sack. He took love when it was offered, without filtering it through the lens of past disappointment. This is an observation that Rosa needs to take a lesson from.
Rosa and Pike being able to put their past behind them makes for a cute and interesting story, but in all honesty, I feel that it was the supporting characters that really made this book so awesome! All of these characters are well fleshed out with their own stories and personalities. Cy is a character I fell in love with when I read Book 2. He’s just as appealing in Book 1! Of course, he doesn’t play anywhere near as big of a part, but all the same, his happy-go-lucky nature makes me smile every time.
Manny ( Rosa and Cy’s father) shows up a few chapters into the book and forces Rosa to revisit her animosity towards him for abandoning her and Cy as teens. It turns out that he is in the early stages of Pick Disease, which causes dementia. In both book 1 and 2, Manny’s past, as well as his present predicament, play a big part in how the other characters develop along the way. He’s an interesting character, and I wouldn’t mind seeing a book in this series that focuses on his younger days.
Slight (only slight) Spoiler. Bitsy and Manny’s story was a little more appealing to me than Rosa and Pike’s story. We find out that they have been in love since their younger days, though they were both married to other people— Bitsy to a kleptomaniac and Manny to an alcoholic. Out of love and respect for their spouses, they decide to never act on their love for each other. But once they are both widows— and with Betsy facing losing her inn and Manny losing his mind— what will become of their love? Will they pursue each other?
Spoiler. Despite the fact that Pike and Rosa end up together in the end, what surprised me was how quick he was to propose to her. Though it’s true that they had known each other since high school, the proposal seemed a bit rushed to me. In three weeks time, they go from being enemies to engaged? It was just weird. Perhaps if the author would have given a little more insight into their good days together before becoming enemies— other than just the ride on the sailboat— then perhaps it wouldn’t seem so odd.
Overall, it’s a great story and a great series! The plot stays interesting from chapter to chapter and there are plenty of a-ha moments, that tie things together masterfully. I hate that there are only two books to the Love By Design series, because I am left wanting more!
“The history of a place is what changes a house to a home.”
Cy had no doubt used his life strategy of avoidance. Don’t acknowledge the ugliness around you, and it’s not real.
“I’ve recently learned a few things about love. It doesn’t always go the way you script it in your mind.”