The Beekeeper’s Ball by Susan Wiggs
The family saga first introduced in The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs continues in The Beekeeper's Ball, the second installment of the Bella Vista Chronicles. Former celebrated chef Isabel Johansen is opening a destination cooking school focusing on local produce and products at Bella Vista, her family estate in the sleepy Sonoma town of Archangel. Isabel is a reserved, organized woman and seems so together, but when renowned journalist Cormac "Mac" O'Neill arrives on the scene he certainly shakes things up.
The Beekeeper's Ball is written with a dual storyline format, alternating between present day California, and Copenhagen in the early 1940's. The present day story is a lot about Isabel and her struggle to forget the past and her acceptance of possible romance in her life, while the past is about her grandfather, Magnus Johnson, and his tragic and triumphant story about his time in the Danish resistance before coming to America and becoming the owner of the Bella Vista estate. Magnus hired Mac to come to Bella Vista so that he could tell him his story of how he survived the loss of his parents in the Holocaust, and the chilling account of the Lebensborn program where women were used as breeding mares to promote the Aryan philosophy of the Nazis. I had never heard of the Lebensborn program before and it prompted me to research it further. What I discovered makes for quite chilling reading.
I really liked Isabel's character in this book. Although she seems so together, she is harboring a secret from her past that is preventing her from living her life fully. Besides opening the destination cooking school, she is immersed in planning her half-sister's wedding and establishing bee hives for honey production. She really has no time for romance but cannot resist her instant attraction to Mac. The opening scenes with Isabel and Mac were hilarious and I liked the way their relationship progressed slowly throughout the book. Will they end up together? Mac is a man whose work as a journalist takes him all over the world, while Isabel is a woman who is deeply rooted in the rich soil of Bella Vista's acres. There seems to be no pathway that will allow the two to have a future together.
In my opinion, Susan Wiggs has once again outdone herself with The Beekeeper's Ball. It is a story that weaves past and present day events into an incredibly heartwarming story of love, family, friendship and surviving against the odds. It's the kind of book you can't wait to see what happens but at the same time you don't want it to end. Since many of the story lines and characters are introduced in The Apple Orchard, I would recommend reading that one first as this sequel expands on many of the themes. I am sure that a third book will be coming because a clever twist to the story was thrown out at the end, but I will keep that a secret.