Jun 20 2014 8:30am

First Look: Susan Wiggs’s The Beekeeper’s Ball (June 24, 2014)

The Beekeeper's Ball by Susan WiggsSusan Wiggs
The Beekeeper's Ball
Harlequin MIRA / June 24, 2014 / $21.99, print / $11.oo, digital

Isabel Johansen, a celebrated chef who grew up in the sleepy Sonoma town of Archangel, is transforming her childhood home into a destination cooking school—a unique place for other dreamers to come and learn the culinary arts. Bella Vista's rambling mission-style hacienda, with its working apple orchards, bountiful gardens and beehives, is the idyllic venue for Isabel's project…and the perfect place for her to forget the past.

But Isabel's carefully ordered plans begin to go awry when swaggering, war-torn journalist Cormac O'Neill arrives to dig up old history. He's always been better at exposing the lives of others than showing his own closely guarded heart, but the pleasures of small-town life and the searing sensuality of Isabel's kitchen coax him into revealing a few truths of his own.

The dreamy sweetness of summer is the perfect time of year for a grand family wedding and the enchanting Beekeeper's Ball, bringing emotions to a head in a story where the past and present collide to create an unexpected new future.

I love books that show characters evolving and putting the past behind them, and that is the theme of The Beekeeper’s Ball by Susan Wiggs

Moving forward and forgetting about the past can be extremely difficult to do; some people wear their disappointments on their sleeves for all to see, while others are like the buoyed inflatable punching bags that you hit that immediately bounce back. They hide any sign of hurt but then seem to be running in place.

But no matter what the reaction, sometimes the right person can help us put the past in perspective. Sometimes it only takes someone believing in us, to help us regain our own belief in ourselves.

For all intents and purposes, it doesn’t seem like either Isabel Johnson or Cormac O'Neill are running in place. Isabel is busy transforming her family home into a destination cooking school, and also planning Tess Delaney’s, her newly discovered half-sister, wedding. Cormac, a well-renown author of award winning non-fiction, has a full life, traveling from one exotic locale to another. But neither have been able to move forward in forming relationships.

When Isabel was young, she left home for culinary school, and quickly fell for  one of the school’s instructors, Calvin Sharpe. In addition to being her lover, he was her mentor, so she didn’t notice the subtle put-downs or his controlling nature, as he eventually isolated her from others. When she told him of her accidental pregnancy, he responded physically. His assault ultimately caused her miscarriage. She returned home heartbroken. Now at thirty, she is more or less satisfied with the status quo, even if at times she envies what Tess has.

Cormac was in the wrong place at the wrong time—Turkmenistan, also known as the Gates of Hell. Cormac traveled there to meet with Ari Nejem, a petroleum engineer, and the subject of his new article. During his stay there, Cormac got to know Ari’s daughter Yasmin, who was also there, working for a non-government organization or NGO. Trapped by a radical uprising, Cormac naively thought that by marrying Yasmin, he could get both Ari and Yasmin out of the country. But Cormac was deported and Yasmin and Ari were detained. Yasmin died in prison after her throat was cut.

Cormac and Isabel’s lives intersect when Cormac comes to Bella Vista, Isabel’s home, to write about Isabel's grandfather, Magnus Johansen, who was in the Denmark Resistance. That group helped save over seventy five hundred men, women and children out of the eight thousand Jewish individuals living in Denmark.

Magnus’s story of his time during World War II is enthralling and heartbreaking. It is during this time that Isabel and Tess learn more about their father’s birth mother Annelise, and her relationship with Magnus.

As the dramatic story unfolds under the gentle atmosphere of Bella Vista, Cormac and Isabel find it harder to find the irresistible lure pulling them toward each other.

“Do I have to ask for everything? Don’t you ever simply offer something without being asked?”

“You mean like this?” He took hold of her bare arms, slid his hands up to her shoulders and gave her a firm, sexy kiss that nearly made her knees melt. This connection, this soft exploration, was something she had been wanting ever since she’d met him but until this moment, she hadn’t realized it. Her fists curled into the fabric of his shirt as she savored every little bit of him—his smell and the way he tasted, the brush of his hair against her cheek, the strength of his arms as he held her.

Luckily for Isabel it is not one-sided, even if Cormac still has problems believing he is worthy of love:

He’d never felt so drawn to a woman-her scent, her soft curves, the curls of hair framing her face, the fullness of her lips. It was something more than attraction. She moved him—the way she cared so much about her grandfather and Bella Vista, her earnest dedication to her family and friends. Her unbelievable cooking. The tiny pulse beneath the delicate skin of her throat. She bothered the hell out of him, too, because his attraction to her wasn’t something he could rationalize or control. He loved talking to her, even when she was griping at him. He liked the softness that came over her face when she was in the garden or with her grandfather. He just wanted her.

This development was totally unexpected, not to mention inconvenient as he had come here on a job, and once that was done, he’d be leaving. Getting into some kind of emotional entanglement was the last thing he needed. He wasn’t good at relationships. He’d proven that again and again.

Maybe it was hearing how two resilient seniors survived the un-survivable and moved forward or maybe it was just the power of love. But not matter what the reason, you will rejoice as Cormac and Isabel finally forgive themselves and reach for the brass ring.

Learn more about or order a copy of The Beekeeper's Ball by Susan Wiggs, available June 24, 2014:

Buy at Amazon

Buy at B&N

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Leigh Davis, blogger

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