The House at Royal Oak: Starting Over & Rebuilding a Life One Room at a Time by Carol Eron Rizzoli
Published: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers (2010), eBook, 272pg
Genres: History, Memoir, Non-Fiction
In the spring of 2001, Carol Eron Rizzoli and her husband Hugo bought a dilapidated farmhouse in the tiny village of Royal Oak, Maryland, on the edge of the Chesapeake Bay. They spent two years transforming it into a bed and breakfast, which took them twice as long and cost three times as much as they had originally estimated (on the back of a napkin). As they struggled to restore the house and open the B&B, Carol and Hugo were also slowly acquainting themselves with the rural community of Royal Oak, rich in custom and culinary traditions, and populated by neighbors with particular views on politics, hunting, wildlife, and of course, newcomers from the big city.
Written with honesty and humor, The House at Royal Oak is a journey to the heart of what it means to start over and chase a dream. Part inspirational account of reinventing yourself at mid-life, part love story about learning what matters most in a relationship, it is above all a book about home—what it means, and the unexpected places we find it.
I have only once ever stayed at a bed-and-breakfast, about 15 years ago, so I don’t actually remember much. I do remember each room had a different theme, and it was in a HUGE house so there were lots of rooms to explore. Also they had no television, which was tragic for a 10-year-old (even one who liked to read).
Nevertheless, I came away from that weekend with a love of the idea of B&Bs. I’ll read any book with a B&B in it: mysteries, romances, memoirs, whatever. This one turned out to be a memoir!
The House at Royal Oak is the story of a middle-aged couple who bought a run-down house in the country and turned it into a tiny B&B. There’s the typical “wacky guests” element, as well as a lot about home repair, moving to a small town away from everyone you know, being middle-aged and unsure of how to maintain a tiny hotel, plus all relationship struggles that go with. It’s also a kind of local history; there’s a lot of interesting things about the town they build their B&B in, as well as Maryland/Virginia itself.
The author is really good at describing country towns, so much so that it makes me want to visit one. She also makes rebuilding a broken-down old house sound like fun, but in a way which makes me very tired just thinking about it. It’s a good balance between realism and idealization.
She’s a charming writer! She’s fluffy about nature and art and local history, but she’s realistic about the struggles one goes through while building up a new business. I never ever want to start my own B&B, but she made it fun to think about that possibility.
I really enjoyed this book! It’s a nice little memoir about moving into the second phase of your life, of taking chances and trying something new.
Read: January 7, 2015