The three most important parts of a book are: a well constructed plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

THE APPLE ORCHARD (Bella Vista Chronicles #1) By Susan Wiggs

The Apple Orchard by Susan WiggsPublisher:  Harlequin MIRA
Release Date:  April 29, 2014
Pages:  448
Genre: Contemporary/Historical Fiction

Book Description:  #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. 

Wanda's Thoughts:  There is so much to love about this book. The storyline with its WWII backdrop pulled me in, and the characters were richly drawn with their complex issues. The author uses many layers to build the story as the past mingles with the present. The storyline includes a mystery, romance, secrets, and redemption. And the relationship between Tess and Dominic was beautifully rendered – not forced at all.

CHARACTERS –

Tess Delaney, a strong character with a vivid personality, was a professional treasure hunter. She returned stolen treasures to their rightful owners. Most times it involved a lot of hard work, but it was a very rewarding job. There were many intriguing stories connected to the restored treasures, many of them bittersweet. Sometimes mysteries were uncovered, and discoveries better left buried. Tess cherished her independence and freedom, but sometimes felt lonely. She believed that memories could make a person vulnerable. 

I felt connected immediately to Dominic Rossi. Dominic had several roles to fill. He was a single father going through a divorce, worked at a bank, and was the executor of Magnus Johansen’s will. Dominic reveals to Tess that she has a grandfather, Magnus, and a sister, Isabel, whom she’d never seen. 

Isabel, a very warm character, never knew her mother, who had died in childbirth, and was raised by Magnus and Bubbie. She was dealing with her grandfather’s accident and has just learned she has a half sister, with whom she’d be sharing her legacy. She had no resentment toward Tess – she welcomed her. Isabel believed happiness was found in the simplist things in life. 

Magnus Johansen had an accident picking apples at Bella Vista, and is lying in a coma, and will probably not recover. Magnus is in his 80’s and had already survived the best and worst life had to offer. Magnus’s money problems had finally come to a head. Unless a miracle happened, all of Bella Vista would be lost. The bank was about to take it away. Magnus and his war bride, Eva, had built the apple orchard together. His life had been taken from him as a boy because of the war, but Magnus had an inner fire of determination and became a survivor. 

Annelise Winthur, still spry at 80, was a woman of modest means. Tess had found a valuable necklace for Annelise that had been lost since 1941. It had been her mother’s necklace, given to her by Annelise’s father. Her mother had been wearing the necklace the day she was seized by a corrupt officer during the war, and put to death by the Nazis. 

The Apple Orchard is a book that just makes you feel good – a real joy to read. My rating is 5 stars.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Harlequin in exchange for an honest review. 

Susan WiggsAbout the Author:  Susan Wiggs's life is all about family, friends...and fiction. She lives at the water's edge on an island in Puget Sound, and she commutes to her writers' group in a 17-foot motorboat. She serves as author liaison for Field's End, a literary community on Bainbridge Island, Washington, bringing inspiration and instruction from the world's top authors to her seaside community. (See www.fieldsend.org) She's been featured in the national media, including NPR's "Talk of the Nation," and is a popular speaker locally and nationally. 

According to Publishers Weekly, Wiggs writes with "refreshingly honest emotion," and the Salem Statesman Journal adds that she is "one of our best observers of stories of the heart [who] knows how to capture emotion on virtually every page of every book." Booklist characterizes her books as "real and true and unforgettable." She is the recipient of three RITA (sm) awards and four starred reviews from Publishers Weekly for her books. The Winter Lodge and Passing Through Paradise have appeared on PW’s annual "Best Of" lists. Several of her books have been listed as top Booksense picks and optioned as feature films. Her novels have been translated into more than two dozen languages and have made national bestseller lists, including the USA Today, Washington Post and New York Times lists. 

The author is a former teacher, a Harvard graduate, an avid hiker, an amateur photographer, a good skier and terrible golfer, yet her favorite form of exercise is curling up with a good book. Readers can learn more on the web at www.susanwiggs.com and on her lively blog at www.susanwiggs.wordpress.com.