May 13, 2013

The Apple Orchard

The Apple Orchard   (Bella Vista #1)
Susan Wiggs
Hardback book
Published April 30th 2013
Harlequin: Mira

Summary from front flap cover.
Tess Delaney makes a living restoring stolen treasures to their rightful owners. People like Annelise Winther, who refuses to sell her long-gone mother's beloved necklace—despite Tess's advice. To Annelise, the jewel's value is in its memories.

But Tess's own history is filled with gaps: a father she never met, a mother who spent more time traveling than with her daughter. So Tess is shocked when she discovers the grandfather she never knew is in a coma. And that she has been named in his will to inherit half of Bella Vista, a hundred-acre apple orchard in the magical Sonoma town called Archangel.

The rest is willed to Isabel Johansen. A half sister she's never heard of.
Against the rich landscape of Bella Vista, Tess begins to discover a world filled with the simple pleasures of food and family, of the warm earth beneath her bare feet. A world where family comes first and the roots of history run deep. A place where falling in love is not only possible, but inevitable.

The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs - the hardback edition, is beautifully turned out.  The dust jacket when peeled back reveals a cover that is exactly the same. It invites you in as a reader, and tempts a sample. I rarely buy hardback books these days, however Susan Wiggs is an author I can’t resist.  I found it a little cumbersome to read as it’s quite large and heavy, not something easily read while in the bath for instance!  Although there is something about a hardback like this that inspires reverence in me when I pick it up to read.

There are ten sections to The Apple Orchard, each part starts with a recipe.  Now I am no cook, but each one as I glanced over it, inspired me and I thought - oh I want to try this out sometime. The very last one for Baked Hot Chocolate sounds decadent and yummy.  Isabel the half sister of Tess, is a wonderful cook and when she is stressed she bakes up a whirlwind of goodies.  Her kitchen would be warm and welcoming.

The story opens with Marcus in the orchard - he is the grandfather of Isabel and Tess.  I immediately took a liking to this gracious old man.  On one level we rarely meet him throughout the book, yet his life is woven in and out as the story unfolds.  Fittingly the end of the book also has Marcus as a focus.

In the beginning of The Apple Orchard Tess is a highly successful professional with an anxiety disorder, her main focus is her job in the city.  She is aiming to be a high flyer.  However Tess is lonely, she has a tenuous relationship with her mother and has never known her father.  When she is suddenly faced with a family she never knew about, her world turns upside down.  Dominic the man who brings her the news of this family, is very linked to her lost family, and as she visits this new family, Dominic becomes an important person in her life.  His two children also play their part in opening up Tess’ heart. They are adorable.

As the story of Magnus is traced back to his roots in World War 11 the story turns somewhat dark, and we learn so much more about him and how he finally came to America.  What an indomitable spirit.   Tess finds as they search through Magnus’ belongings looking for a lost treasure, that they are piecing together the story of Magnus and their family.  

As Tess spends time in Sonoma, in the country, her values change.  She learns to slow down and to savour family, friends and a life that is lived more in the moment.  From being a person who has avoided such festivities as Christmas and Thanksgiving - Tess gradually finds she loves the very things she has so long avoided.

As I finished the last few pages I felt somewhat touched and tearful.  No, it wasn’t a sad ending, rather a perfectly satisfying and happy ending.

I would recommend this book to readers who like a story that is based on family, friendship,  good food and a little mystery.  There is a romance in the book, but this story is not just a romance - it leans more towards what might be women’s fiction as it explores relationships between mother and daughter, sisters and friends.  Readers who like authors such as Kristan Hannah, Emilie Richards, and Robyn Carr to name but a few, should enjoy this book.

This book is the first, I can’t wait to read Isabel’s story.

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