The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs
Have you ever looked at a book cover and wanted to crawl right in and be part of the setting? That was my first thought when I spotted The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs. The cover pictures the perfect summer scene of a white, casually laid table with mismatched white chairs set among apple trees loaded with succulent looking apples. I could almost hear the bees buzzing around the beautiful pitchers filled with colorful wild flowers gracing the center of the table. Appealing cover aside, I think Susan Wiggs has outdone herself with this well-written family saga that spans multiple generations.
The first installment in her new Bella Vista series, I loved how The Apple Orchard cleverly weaves together the present with the past. The present primarily consists of the story of Tess Delaney, who at twenty-nine years old, lives in San Francisco and works for the Sheffield Auction House. She travels the world, tracking down stolen art and heirlooms and restoring them to their rightful owners. She loves her job, thrives on her fast-paced life, and seems to have it all. What she doesn't have is family - just an absentee mother. Her life turns upside down the day Dominic Rossi walks into her life and informs her that she not only has a grandfather, Magnus Johansen, but also has a half-sister, Isabella. Dominic has come to tell her that her grandfather is in the hospital in a coma and she needs to accompany him to Archangel, California to help make decisions. As executor of Tess's grandfather's will, Dominic shocks Tess when he tells her Magnus is willing to her one half of his estate, the Bella Vista Orchard, and the other half to Isabella. Tess's curiosity leads her to the orchard estate to investigate her new found family. As the story progresses, Dominic becomes an important part of her life and her connection to Bella Vista deepens.
While the book takes place mostly in the present, the story flashes to the past every few chapters. The author combines Tess's mother and father and their forbidden relationship, with the role the older generation played in the Danish Resistance during World War II. I was intrigued with the descriptions of Magnus Johansen's childhood spent in occupied Denmark during World War II. The details of how the Nazis pounded on their doors and blatantly took whatever they wanted from families is heartbreaking. There is another twist in the book I did not see coming that weaves in the story of one of Tess's clients, and encompasses a forbidden love story in the next generation. Add in the complications of Tess and Dominic's developing relationship, and the storyline kept me hooked until the last page. There is an element of romance, family secrets, and hidden history all woven together in one delightful story. Great summer read!
Added bonus – scattered throughout the book are fabulous recipes for everything from Lavender Scones to Baked Hot Chocolate.