The Beekeeper's Ball
Dr. Mack Roark said, “Our past informs our present and our future reaches back into our present to define who we are.” In terms of our heroine this is very much the case; she has dreams for her future but until she can forget and forgo what happened in her past she will never fulfill those dreams. Her journey to do this makes for a very nice “beach read”.
Isabel Johansen once fantasized about being a famous chef, head of a fabulous restaurant where people would come to delight in her delicious cooking and warm hospitality. Those dreams went by the wayside when a debacle at culinary school had her racing home to Bella Vista, the family farm in Sonoma. Recent events have had her dusting them off and recreating those dreams with a slightly new angle – she has transformed her childhood home into a destination cooking school. Bella Vista’s large mission-style hacienda will be the equivalent of a B&B. The farm, with its delicious and bountiful apple orchards, lush gardens and humming beehives will provide the food for the school. Her home with its surplus of fresh grown products is the ideal location to teach people how to cook with local supplies.
As part of her plan to use only local ingredients Isabel is tackling the beehives. Her morning is made a bit more complex by finding a hive swarming, ready to expand to a new location. Texting the local bee expert, she suits up and heads to the tree where the swarm has gathered. When someone pulls up behind her just as she is boxing up the buzzing bees, she calls to them for help assuming her local expert has arrived. Proving the old adage that assumptions only make asses of people, Isabel soon finds herself administering an epi-pen and racing to the local doctor. Turns out the person was not only not a bee expert but they were highly allergic to bee stings!
Cormac O’Neill had thought this would be an easy – and safe – job, a welcome break from his usually treacherous assignments in war-torn nations. But when he arrives at Bella Vista and sees a young woman struggling with a box full of bees racing to her aid seems the only thing to do, even if the bees present as great a danger to him as a hail of bullets. Even when he receives excellent medical care, Isabel continues to be a danger to him. Not only do her lovely looks and simmering sensuality present a very real threat to his peace of mind, her hostility towards his idea of helping her grandfather pen his memoirs may very well have him booted off the farm. Convincing her that her grandfather’s story is both worth telling and will provide her beloved elderly grandparent with some healing takes all his considerable charm. Finding out that working in this beautiful location and that Isabel’s wholesome cooking and winsome beauty bring healing to his own heart as well comes as a pleasant surprise. But how can anything lasting be created between them when she is so very grounded in her location and he is at nature a rolling stone?
One of the many things I enjoyed about this novel is that Isabel and Cormac have a genuine, commonplace problem keeping them apart. Sometimes opposites attract and sometimes it is really hard to see how anyone in the relationship can be made happy, even with compromise. Watching them wrestle through this issue was intriguing and the question of how it would all work out kept my interest throughout the book. It helped that I genuinely liked both characters and was rooting for them to succeed.
I think I liked them so much because they were both so – well, ordinary. Yes, Cormac had a dangerous job but he was pretty much a regular guy. Isabella was the same; she excelled at cooking and the work of turning Bella Vista into a luxury destination but she had a sweet but reserved demeanor that I have encountered in numerous women in my real life. Both of them felt like people I might know which made it very easy for me to spend time with them.
Another big positive is the location. In my review of The Apple Orchard, book one in this series, I said:
Another strong aspect of the novel is the summer time ambiance. From the rich food cooked by Isabella to the sweet, bubbly wines made at Dominic’s vineyards the novel had the feel of an extended vacation in wine country. I could almost hear the bees buzzing and smell the apples getting ripe for picking in the orchard. The author does a delightful job with the location, making you feel as though you are walking through the Sonoma countryside with the characters. It is a good feeling and one you are almost sad to let go of.
That is every bit as true of this novel as the last.
Fans of that last book will be delighted to learn that we do see a good amount of Tess and Dominic in this novel. Isabel is helping plan the wedding, which will serve as the kick-off to the new banquet hall feature of Bella Vista Farms. Also carried over – and expanded upon – is the resistance work of their grandfather during WWII and the continuing mystery of the last year of their father’s life. These stories mix naturally with the romance and add a certain richness and dark depth which help ground the tale.
But while those subjects might mix some shadow in with our sunshine, this story has such an incredible summer vacation feel to it that it comes across as extremely light. This makes it an excellent choice for finding a spot of sunlight, a cool drink and a comfy chair so you can take a few hours of “me time” with a tale that will serve as a perfect summer escape.