At Fairfield Orchard
I’ll admit it. I picked this book up almost entirely because of its setting. I grew up in the rolling hills outside Charlottesville, Virginia, and it’s still one of my favorite places. Thankfully, it’s obvious in this book that the author did her research and she does get a lot of the details of the area right. Better still, At Fairfield Orchard gives readers a sweet, sexy romance with truly enjoyable characters
Amy Fairfield grew up on land her family has worked since buying it from Thomas Jefferson almost 200 years ago. Even though she later moved to Charlottesville, the nearest city, when her parents retire from running their orchard, she answers the call to come home and help take over the reins. In a way, the timing is perfect. Amy has recently gone through a devastating breakup with her long-term boyfriend and her life could use something of a re-set. Though she helped out around the business over the years, she’s never been in charge and after years as a realtor, she finds the task of bringing Fairfield Orchard into the 21st century a bit overwhelming.
Into this situation steps history professor Jonathan Gebhart. Not surprisingly, the University of Virginia has a professor who specializes in studying Thomas Jefferson and in this book’s world, Jonathan is it. And his research has hinted to him that not only did Jefferson sell the land to the Fairfield ancestors, but he believes that when Jefferson fled Monticello to escape the British during the Revolutionary War, he came to what is now Fairfield Orchard rather than going to Poplar Forest, as history books have told us for years. The history geek in me was intrigued by this theory and the romance lover in me loved seeing how Jonathan and Amy reacted to one another. The chemistry is more slow burn than instant combustion, but their attraction is obvious from their first meeting.
Jonathan and Amy are less a case of “opposites attract” and more one of complementary personalities – even if they don’t see it at first. Their backgrounds are certainly different. Jonathan is an only child, and was a child prodigy turned professor. Amy, on the other hand, dropped out of college and grew up in a huge family. However, watching them live their lives and interact through the pages of the book, it’s hard not to notice that each of them is a passionate, deeply earnest and sincere person. Amy’s primary focus is her business and Jonathan’s is his research, but there’s a similarity in how they approach their goals with almost single minded focus. And I loved seeing them encourage one another and bounce ideas off each other.
I really liked how the author handles the setting and the backstories as well. The real Fairfield, Virginia (which does have an orchard or several) is a few counties southwest of where this book is set, but otherwise Cane has obviously done her homework on Albemarle County and Charlottesville. She threw in touches about the area and the University that locals would know, but others not necessarily, and she even had her professor hero living in a neighborhood that is in fact home to more than a few of the faculty from the University of Virginia. Best of all, she threw in touches of the area’s history in ways that were important to the story but without sounding like a reading from a textbook.
The characters’ personal history is handled gracefully for the most part as well. Amy and Jonathan both have past hurts from which they are healing, and we see how that impacts their relationship. Amy in particular also has a web of complicated family and friend relationships that have shaped who she is and which also influence some of her choices throughout the story. Cane weaves these family members and friends in and out of the narrative without that “Let’s pile on all the cutesy meddlesome townspeople” trope that weighs down more than a few small town romances.
However, even though most of the book is really quite entertaining, I do have one significant quibble. Early on we learn that Amy went through a nasty breakup about six months or so before the time of the story. There are also frequent references made to her keeping secrets and something terrible that obviously still affects her. However, the Big Reveal on this part of the plot happens way too late and ends up being something of a big, “Who cares?” It all gets dealt with so quickly that one cannot help wondering why Amy, Jonathan and the whole Fairfield family spent hundreds of pages angsting over it all. Stiil, even with the rather abrupt wrap-up on the way to the promised HEA, At Fairfield Orchard is still a fun read. It’s very sweet – but not lacking in a delightfully spicy scene or two.