Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bonus Review: The Apple Orchard

The Apple Orchard
By Susan Wiggs
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Release Date: April 30, 2013

Tess Delaney, a provenance specialist for a prestigious auction house, finds her career rewarding and often exciting, but her personal life is less satisfying. Raised by her beloved Irish grandmother and her mother whose own career required constant travel, Tess satisfies her need for connection by collecting objects that have a history, often objects with a family story. With her grandmother dead and her mother as distant as ever, Tess depends upon a small core of friends in lieu of family, but her best friend’s recent engagement signals that those relationships are changing. 

Just at the moment when she is feeling most alone, Tess learns that the grandfather she never knew is in critical condition in a hospital in Sonoma County, California, and that he has named Tess as heir to half of Bella Vista, a hundred-acre working orchard with a house and outbuildings in a town called Archangel. Her co-heir is Isabel Johansen, a half-sister Tess never dreamed she had.

Dominic Rossi, banker, vintner, devoted father of two with his ex-wife, and executor of the estate of his friend and neighbor Magnus Johansen, is the one who finds Tess and gives her the news for which she is totally unprepared. When the stress of Dominic’s news precipitates a medical emergency that leaves Tess with a diagnosis (generalized anxiety disorder) and treatment (a radical change in lifestyle), she allows herself to be persuaded to fly to Archangel with Dominic. Bella Vista is a world far removed from anything Tess has ever known. Feeling an unexpected tie to her vulnerable sister and to the complicated and label-defying Dominic, Tess also finds the Archangel community endlessly fascinating and appealing. Soon she is using the skills that have ensured her professional success to uncover generations of secrets and the missing treasure that may save this world she has come to love.   

I started reading the books of Susan Wiggs when she was writing historical romance, and she remained an autobuy author for me when she moved to novels that are a hybrid of women’s fiction and contemporary romance. One of the things I have always loved about Wiggs’s books is her ability to weave together story strands, each forming its own pattern and yet integrated into a rich and complex whole. The Apple Orchard is a splendid example of this gift, taking the reader back to Magnus Johansen’s past in occupied Denmark during World War II, weaving in the story of one of Tess’s clients, encompassing a forbidden love story in the next generation, and adding the complications of Tess and Dominic. The story is compelling, the characters are vibrant and appealing, and the world of the novel is one in which I wanted to linger. My favorite books engage both my brain and my heart, and this one qualifies. I highly recommend it.

Food always figures prominently in the contemporary novels of Susan Wiggs. I confess Wiggs persuades me I can smell and taste the food her characters prepare. I’m not much of a cook, but I have tried some of the recipes she includes. Do you like to see recipes included in novels? Have you ever tested any in your own kitchen?

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