by Luanne Rice
Published by: Penguin
Genres: Women's fiction
In the five years since Julia last visited her aunt and uncle’s home in Malibu, her life has been turned upside down by her daughter’s death. She expects to find nothing more than peace and solitude as she house-sits with only her dog, Bonnie, for company. But she finds herself drawn to the handsome man who oversees the lemon orchard. Roberto expertly tends the trees, using the money to support his extended Mexican family. What connection could these two people share? The answer comes as Roberto reveals the heartbreaking story of his own loss—a pain Julia knows all too well, but for one striking difference: Roberto’s daughter was lost but never found. And despite the odds he cannot bear to give up hope. Set in the sea and citrus-scented air of the breathtaking Santa Monica Mountains, The Lemon Orchard is an affirming story about the redemptive power of compassion and the kind of love that seems to find us when we need it most.
I was delighted when the opportunity presented itself for me to review The Lemon Orchard and I moved my schedule around to accommodate it. I am so glad that I did because Luanne Rice delivered a beautifully poignant tale about loss, love, and hope. From the very first page, I was enthralled by the author’s voice and her characters. Three-word review: heart-breaking, captivating and beautiful.
The tale begins with a first-person prologue that immediately draws the reader in, and then we fast forward five years later as Julia agrees to house sit her aunt and uncle’s home located in the coastal foothills of Malibu. The tale is then told in the third person and broken up into different perspectives by chapter. Julia and Roberto share the bulk, but we also get a few others. Together with her dog, Bonnie, they enjoy the solace of the beautiful home surrounded by lemon orchards. She is drawn to Roberto the handsome overseer and she recognizes a similar pain in his eyes. As the two become friends she shares her grief and he shares the story of his missing daughter. Julia decides to help find her and the tale that unfolds is breathtakingly beautiful, suspenseful, romantic and completely captivating.
Rice created characters that are well rounded and completely realistic. I immediately connect with them and felt their emotions. Julia keeps everything bottled up just below the surface and you can see them clearly in her eyes and brow. Rice portrayed her struggles and grief in a way that felt real and I could almost imagine myself in her shoes. Roberto’s story captured my heart and made me look at illegals from their perspective. Lion is a friend of the family and famous movie star whose love story we become privy to and was one that I enjoyed. He helped give us some outside perspective regarding Julia and Roberto. Jack Leary is a retired Border Patrol Officer and a true man of honor who filled in clues and helped further the suspenseful plot. I admired the man. We meet other characters who help further the plot and give us insight.
The Lemon Orchard flows beautifully as Rice paints both the beautiful coastal community and the characters. All of the characters from the smallest to the main characters were fleshed-out and felt realistic. I love when I can immediately identify with them and understand what drives them. Julia’s loss and the road to healing were remarkable in itself and then Rice weaved in Roberto’s tale and I came undone. Her perception of loss and parenthood was profound. The romance that developed was sweet, believable and heartbreaking. I was glad to have been a part of and experience the change it brought about. I enjoyed the first half of the book as I watched things unfold but the second half held me captive and would not let me go. As a result, I sat up very late reading to find out what happened. I closed this book with tears in my eyes as I experienced both sadness and joy.
The Lemon Orchard is a powerful tale of love and compassion. Rice shows us that you can move forward and make peace. This was my first Rice book but it won’t be my last.
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