The Apple Orchard - Bella Vista series, Book 1

Author: Susan Wiggs

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Release Date: April 30, 2013

Blue Ribbon Rating: 4


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Magnus Johansen is about to lose his family's legacy and have nothing to pass on to his grandchildren.  Bella Vista, the orchard and home he built with his late wife's help, is close to foreclosure.  His family's secrets have been kept over the years, things better left unsaid, but now he realizes that he must tell his granddaughter, Isabel, everything.  However, he doesn't get the chance to forewarn her when an accident puts him into a coma, leaving Isabel to tend to the fallout of his secrets without his guidance or explanation.

Tess Delaney loves acquiring old things for the auction house she works for, always feeling as if she's on a treasure hunt all over the world.  She has traveled her whole life, first with her mother's job and now for her own, her only memories of a true home being the time spent with her grandmother, Nana, in Ireland.  Nana owned an antique shop and Tess inherited her taste for things from the past during the many hours spent in that quaint place.

Dominic Rossi, Magnus Johansen's friend and banker, takes it upon himself to deliver the news to Tess Delaney.  Isabel had read her grandfather's will and wants to meet the sister she never knew existed.  Tess, on the other hand, is shocked by the news about a grandfather she never knew who is now in a coma, and that her mother never told her that she had a sister.  Let alone the fact that they were both born on the exact same day and the same year.  How could that happen and why has it been such a secret?  Plus, if her grandfather doesn't recover, she'll be half owner of Bella Vista, a responsibility that she doesn't feel she's earned as much as Isabel.

Can Isabel and Tess forge a relationship as sisters amongst the stress of the threat of foreclosure?  Why weren't they told about each other?  How did their grandfather get himself into such a financial mess, and can they save Bella Vista before it's too late?  As a friend of the family, will Dominic help them, or will he foreclose because that's what's expected of him in his current position at the bank?

This sounds like such a simple story of a family reunited during a crisis, but it is far from simple.  Author Susan Wiggs reveals bits of family secrets that span generations, all the way back to Denmark when the fear of being sent to a concentration camp was real and constant.  Little by little we're given clues as those from this family's past tell what they know, while Tess and Isabel search for evidence within their grandfather's records.  Each character is very intriguing but their combined history is captivating as layer upon layer is revealed.

I enjoyed how this book progressed; never quite sure what would be discovered next as these two women learn more about each other and their family's past.  It's hard to fathom what it would be like to find out that you have a family that you never knew existed.  It would be good and bad at the same time, as you realized what you missed from your childhood, but also so exciting to get to know the family you didn't grow up with.

There is romance within these pages but it was the overall plot that kept me engaged in the story.  I found the history, intermingled within the contemporary setting of THE APPLE ORCHARD, fascinating, especially how it affected the present.  Anyone who loves genealogy will feel especially touched by this novel as it unravels the truth of survival during a time when hope wasn't always envisioned.  The strife of the Danes, both the Jews and those who hid them, is well depicted.  There are also several recipes shared throughout the novel that I cannot wait to try.  Isabel is a chef so the recipes are a perfect complement to the book.  There's definitely a satisfaction in an ending well-earned, along with the hope of what will happen next in the BELLA VISTA series.

If you love the aura of Sonoma County, California and the art of wine-making, cooking, baking and breathtaking vistas, then THE APPLE ORCHARD will set a pace of peaceful enjoyment combined with a mystery that will make you rush to the end.  Susan Wiggs writes books that are synonymous to ultimate beach reading.  And that's exactly what I did, lounged on the beach, shaded by my floppy beach hat and umbrella, listening to the waves crash in front of me, wishing I had a glass of wine while enjoying a great book.  You have to love a book that will bring back memories of the time and place that you read it.

By Romance Junkies Reviewer: Dorine Linnen

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