A couple months ago I read The Beekeeper's Ball by Susan Wiggs and before I'd even finished it I knew I would need to read The Apple Orchard. As if by magic, it appeared on NetGalley and I wasted no time requesting it. Love when that happens.
Here's the summary of The Apple Orchard:
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.
Okey dokey. So remember how in The Beekeeper's Ball I felt like the history of Isabel's grandparents kind of overshadowed the romance? This one also has a lot of history, but in the case of this one it really was more about figuring out Tess and Isabel's past, and not so much the previous generation's past. I much preferred the way time unfolded in this one, with most of the stories making sense and being relevant to the story in the book. That said, again the book veers away from a traditional romance a bit, and becomes more about Tess herself than about Tess and Dominic. I honestly didn't get a great feel for Dominic, and while I could see them falling in love, he didn't stand out to me as memorable. Tess and Isabel are really the stars of this one, and it's very lovely.
As The Apple Orchard opens, Tess is all hard angles and cigarettes. She's too skinny, full of anxiety, and determined to get the next prestigious promotion. She's all business and has no problem separating a person from their heirlooms. After discovering a family she never knew existed, she's forced into a unique situation of helping them recover the family estate by using her background. She is finally able to get some answers about her father and learns why her mother kept secrets from her. She learns to relax and let's go of some of her single-minded focus on career. By the end, she's likable and really seems to be happy with her life.
Overall, The Apple Orchard is a really pleasant read. It moves along quickly and I was eager to get back to it at each opportunity. I would really hesitate to call it a romance, and would classify it as woman's fiction (which I didn't realize I enjoyed). This family history blends well with what we learn in The Beekeeper's Ball without duplicating every single detail, which can be tricky to do in a series.
I am anxious to read the next book in the Bella Vista Chronicles, even though it's not clear who it will focus on.
The Apple Orchard came out in paperback on May 1, 2014.