The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs ( web | tweet )
Part of the Bella Vista series.
Publication Date: April 30, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Target audience: adult
Keywords: family secrets, World War II, romance
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)
Other books by Susan Wiggs featured on RBR: Return to Willow Lake
Summary: In San Francisco, Tess finds success and as much happiness as possible uncovering hidden treasures for people. But mystery finds her, when single dad and winemaker Dominic seeks her out to share some news: Magnus, the grandfather she never knew she had, has suffered a fall and is in a coma. Oh right, she also has a half-sister. Tess travels to wine country, and the family’s apple orchard (Bella Vista) — a beautiful and peaceful spread of land that she will inherit when the time comes. She soon finds herself smack dab in the middle of one of her biggest projects yet.
If Bella Vista were a true destination, I would be writing this review from a plane.
(Did I mention it is next door to a vineyard and there is absolutely no cell phone service?)
Tess is a major workaholic who thinks a martini olive is a sufficient dinner. She lives alone in San Francisco but has some great friends and an awesome job uncovering antiques for their owners. (I found this career so intriguing!) When the gorgeous Dominic shows up unexpectedly at her office , he comes with unbelievable news: the grandfather she never knew existed is in serious condition at a hospital because of a fall. She also has a half-sister and stands to inherit half of an apple orchard she has never seen before.
It’s no surprise she has a panic attack right then and there.
With orders from the doctor to exercise, relax, and refrain from caffeine or alcohol, Tess begrudgingly travels to Bella Vista to find out just what’s going on with this mysterious “family.” At Bella Vista, she finds utter paradise: a place rich with her own family history, at peace with nature, and brimming with secrets. (As you can imagine, all this “quiet” makes our city girl very nervous.) Tess can’t help but grow attached to the place, despite her own belief that she doesn’t belong there. She finds a quiet camaraderie with her sister, Isabel (an impressive chef who chose to stay close to home), and a growing connection to Dominic. (Banker by day, winemaker by night, divorcee and executor of Magnus’ will.)
Unfortunately, a pretty terrible secret threatens the livelihood of many who work at Bella Vista and also the family’s legacy. Without Magnus to give them any answers, Tess taps into her day job to find a happy ending for everyone.
This is where The Apple Orchard starts to depend on shifts between past and present to catch readers up on the histories of many of these characters, including Magnus’ childhood during World War II and the tragedy he experienced, as well as Tess’s mom and the real story of her pregnancy. (One that she has managed to keep buried for 29 years.) The historical fiction portions of the story were really great to read and Wiggs develops the family lineage really well (even if there are a few too many coincidences); her inclusion of these mysteries and journeys into the past make The Apple Orchard more than just your typical fluffy read.
So what about the romance? Tess is your typical “afraid of commitment and opening herself up to someone” female heroine while Dominic is divorced (crazy ex!) with two small kids. He’s known around town as a total caregiver (he loves to save dogs) and Tess, well, she needs a little caring in her life. I really liked their teasing and how supportive he was when Tess was thrown into a crazy situation. Plus all their sweet moments revolved around wine, which is just instantaneously sexy to me.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed my time with The Apple Orchard. Despite a few issues (not enough POV changes and some predictability), there’s certainly a little bit of everything for any reader — mystery, love, historical elements, and family — and the addition of delicious sounding recipes doesn’t hurt either.