Blossom Valley, West Virginia, is home to Smythe Orchards, Winnie and her Granny’s beloved twenty-five-acre farm and family business. But any way you slice it, it’s struggling. That’s why they’re trying to drum up business with the “First Annual Christmas at the Orchard,” a good old-fashioned holiday festival with enough delicious draw to satisfy apple-picking locals and cider-loving tourists alike–until the whole endeavor takes a sour turn when the body of Nadine Cooper, Granny’s long-time, grudge-holding nemesis, is found lodged in the apple press. Now, with Granny the number one suspect, Winnie is hard-pressed to prove her innocence before the real killer delivers another murder . . .
Winnie Montgomery has nothing but fond memories from her childhood. Though her flaky mother and father abandoned her, Winnie was loved and cared for unconditionally by her grandparents. Growing up on the family apple orchard has taught Winnie the value of love, loyalty, dedication, and hard work, but all that may be threatened if she can’t find a way to pull the orchard out of debt.
In the three years since her grandfather died, Winnie’s grandmother has been doing her best to keep the orchard afloat, but little by little she has fallen behind. Though Winnie has been there to help, she didn’t know the extent of the financial difficulties until recently. With a plan and a prayer, Winnie is determined to get things back on track and alleviate some of her beloved grandmother’s worry. The last thing Winnie and her granny need is any more troubles or difficulties.
Then the surly neighbor shows up dead in there press . . . . this would be precisely the type of troubles or difficulties Winnie and her grandmother don’t need. To make matters far, far worse, the body was found just as Winnie was making her pitch to the bank to loan her money to launch her cider shop on the orchard’s property. To make matters far, far, far, far worse, the police think granny is the most likely suspect to have killed the old broad.
Feeling the police aren’t doing all they can, Winnie begins to poke around and ask questions. What Winnie discovers is that her surly neighbor wasn’t just surly with granny, but most people she had contact with. As the suspect list grows, Winnie knows she is on to something big and far more dangerous than she ever could have imagined. The deeper she gets in, the crankier the local (hot!) sheriff gets and the more concerned he becomes for Winnie’s safety. By the time Winnie puts all the pieces together, she, her granny, and their orchard are in more danger than ever before and if they aren’t careful it’s all going to come crashing down around them.
The Bottom Line: This first-in-a-series read has clearly been written by an experienced author who knows how to start a series, capture an audience, and not fall into the first book pitfalls. This was a single sitting read for me and I enjoyed every word. The pacing is perfect, the characters a well-rounded but with room for growth, the setting is beautiful, the food is wonderfully described, and the plot has just enough twists and turns to be exciting and engaging. In all, I found this to be a fine start to a new series and one that has so much potential for growth and enjoyment.
Thanks to Winnie’s new cider shop, Smythe Orchards is out of the red and folks can get their fix of the produce and other delectable products they love all year round. The locals are even booking the shop for events, including a June wedding! Winnie couldn’t be happier to see the barn filled to the rafters for the big bash—until her doting ex, Hank, is caught in a heated argument with the groom. Winnie plans to scold Hank after the party, but spots him running off instead. And when the groom turns up dead, apparently hit by the honeymoon getaway car, Hank is the main suspect. Now Hank is on the lam, and it’s up to Winnie to get to the core of the truth—before the real killer puts the squeeze on her . . .
Life at Smythe Orchards has always been about family, hard work, and community. Unfortunately, in the last few months, it’s also been about trying to overcome obstacles, build a bright and successful future, and forget the tragedies of the past. To that end, Winnie has finally been able to open her cider shop and the orchard is back in the black. With life looking up, Winnie is ready to ride the tide of good feelings and see how her plans play out. As always, the last thing Winnie and her granny need is any sort of trouble or difficulty.
Trouble and difficulty are exactly what the two women get, in spades.
In the midst of Winnie’s first wedding hosting gig, the bride lets out a terrifying scream and is found crouched over the body of her new husband. Just as Winnie gets to the bride and groom, she sees her ex-boyfriend fleeing the scene and in the days that follow he is completely MIA. Though Winnie isn’t crazy about her ex, she is certain he isn’t a killer and if anyone can do anything to clear his name, it’s Winnie and her “insatiable curiosity.” Unfortunately, until she can find her ex, Winnie won’t be able to get any answers to her questions.
As luck – or not! – would have it, Winnie’s ex has a nasty habit of breaking into her house and scaring the boojeebies out of her. Every time Hank shows up, Winnie has a million and one questions for him, and Hank only seems to have one or two answers, or less. Hank isn’t certain exactly who is involved or why, but he knows there’s a conspiracy and he got caught up as a patsy. What’s more, Hank’s new squeeze is caught up as well and she’s even less knowledgeable about the whole mess than Hank.
As Winnie continues to investigate, she inadvertently uncovers a huge and vastly profitable conspiracy that gets she and her best friend shot at, her livelihood threatened (again!), and her budding relationship with the sheriff placed on shaky ground. The sheriff is not at all happy about Winnie’s involvement, especially when she winds up hurt and he comes face to face with her ex. Once all the conspiracy business comes to light, even the sheriff must admit, Hank isn’t the guy. Trouble is, no one can up with any solid evidence for who ‘the guy’ actually is.
The Bottom Line: As much as I enjoyed the first book in this series, I think this one has even more heft to it, which left me enjoying it just a bit more than book one. Both Winnie and her granny are a bit more evolved in this story – I always like to see character evolution – and the plot is a bit more complicated which makes it a bit more interesting. The cherry on top of all of this is the presence of one tiny little FAINTING GOAT!! Are you kidding me? Believe it or not, the cute little FAINTING GOAT fits right into the plot, right into orchard life, and right into the fabric of Winnie and granny’s lives. I sincerely hope this series continues to grow as I am finding it to be one of my current favorites.