Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs

The Apple Orchard (Bella Vista Chronicles, #1)*** 1/2
#1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs brings readers into the lush abundance of Sonoma County, in a story of sisters, friendship and the invisible bonds of history that are woven like a spell around us. 

Tess Delaney makes a living returning stolen treasures to their rightful owners. She loves illuminating history, filling the spaces in people's hearts with stories of their family legacies. 

But Tess's own history is filled with gaps: a father she never met, and a mother who spent more time traveling than with her daughter. 

Then Dominic Rossi arrives on the doorstep of the San Francisco shop Tess hopes to buy, and he tells her that the grandfather she never knew is in a coma. Tess 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 hadn't heard of. 

Isabel is everything Tess isn't: all softness to Tess's hard angles, warm and nurturing where Tess is tightly wound. But against the rich landscape of Bella Vista, with Isabel and Dominic by her side, 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. 

I used to read Susan Wiggs books religiously so when Netgalley was offering a re-read of The Apple Orchard (one I hadn’t read yet) I jumped on it.  Of course, then it took me forever to read it because I love to overload my TBR pile.  But I finally opened it up in December and found an interesting mix of mystery, history and romance.

Tess has been on her own since she was a teenager.  With a mother that travelled constantly for work she didn’t have much choice.  She was always envious of the families around her.  As an adult she has learned to not yearn for the familial connections she always craved when she was younger.  But it doesn’t mean she’s immune.  When Dominic Rossi appears at her office to inform her that the grandfather, Magnus Johansen, she never knew existed is in a coma and that his apple orchard will go to both her and her half-sister if he dies, all those old desires are brought to the surface. 

Tess travels to Archangel to meet her new found family and finds that she is inheriting half of an estate that is in major debt and is on the fast-track to foreclosure.  But the immediate acceptance by her sister Isabel and Dominic makes the future of the orchard much more important to Tess than she would have ever guessed.  After learning of her grandfather’s efforts during the WWII Danish Resistance and finding some photos that hint at a possible treasure Tess does what she does best.  As a Provenance Specialist, her job is to reunite people with lost or stolen treasure and she might be able to reunite her new found family with a treasure worth so much it will not only save the estate but also help run it.

This was an interesting mix of genre.  There was some historical fiction with the many flashbacks of Magnus’ time spent in Denmark during WWII.  There was the mystery of the treasure and where it disappeared to.   Then, of course there was the romance between Tess and Dominic. 

I really enjoyed Tess’ character.  She was tough and driven.  Her career as a provenance specialist was absolutely fascinating and, of course, was a perfect device for telling Magnus’ story and solving some of the mystery of his life during WWII.   The other characters, although likable, didn’t seem as fleshed out as Tess.  Isabel was a little too perfect in the kitchen but didn’t seem to have any thoughts or ideas outside of that which was unfortunately.  I wish I had had more of a connection with her since the next book in the series, The Beekeeper’s Ball, is focused around her.  And I don’t often say this about heroes but Dominic Rossi was almost too perfect.  Fortunately that didn’t stop me from believing and becoming emotionally invested in the love story between him and Tess. 

Although not my favorite of Susan Wigg’s (Dockside will always be my favorite) this was a lovely story that I would recommend to anyone looking for a little bit of mystery, history and romance.


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