Book Review: THE LEMON ORCHARD by Luanne Rice

Lemon Orchard
Publisher: Penguin Books
Paperback Release: May 27, 2014
Source: Review copy provided by Rock Star PR
Rating: ★★★★¼

Year after year, Luanne Rice’s fans eagerly await her next book. Their enthusiasm is soon to be rewarded with The Lemon Orchard, Rice’s romantic new love story between two people from seemingly different worlds.

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.

THE LEMON ORCHARD is a bittersweet love story set in a beautiful Malibu lemon orchard by the Pacific Ocean. It’s in this orchard that Julia, an anthropologist, and Roberto, an undocumented immigrant worker, meet and fall in love. Julia’s teenage daughter was killed in a tragic accident five years earlier, and she’s been living in a fog of grief ever since. A job as house sitter for her aunt and uncle at their lemon orchard seems like the perfect escape. Roberto has been living with his own grief too. He lost his daughter Rosa in the Arizona desert after crossing the border from Mexico, and she was never found. Living in the United States illegally makes it almost impossible to find Rosa again, but he won’t give up hope.

This book was so much bigger than the unlikely romance between two different individuals. It gave an eye-opening account of the lengths desperate people will go through to support their families. Illegal immigration from Mexico is a hot-button issue in the US, and I think this book brings to light the horror and suffering that individuals and families go through to cross the border. Throughout the book, the author compares the poor treatment of Irish immigrants in the 19th century with what is happening with Mexican immigrants today, which is compelling food for thought.

THE LEMON ORCHARD was an emotional and suspenseful read for me, and I enjoyed it. Luanne Rice has a beautiful, fluid writing-style that completely pulls me in. Her vivid descriptions of the lush orchard and the Santa Monica Mountains were so gorgeous. I so wanted to be there. This book left me with a couple of niggling questions, particularly about Julia’s daughter, but that’s okay. THE LEMON ORCHARD was heartbreaking and thought-provoking, and well worth a read.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the book tour company in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: LITTLE NIGHT by Luanne Rice

Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Released: June 5, 2012
Source: Review copy from NetGalley

Clare Burke’s life took a devastating turn when she tried to protect her sister, Anne, from an abusive and controlling husband and ended up serving prison time for assault. The verdict largely hinged on Anne’s defense of her spouse – all lies – and the sisters have been estranged ever since. Nearly twenty years later, Clare is living a quiet life in Manhattan as an urban birder and nature blogger, when her niece, Grit, turns up on her doorstep.

The two long for a relationship with each other, but they’ll have to dig deep into their family’s difficult past in order to build one. Together they face the wounds inflicted by Anne and find in their new connection a place of healing. When Clare begins to suspect her sister might be in New York, she and her niece hold out hope for a long-awaited reunion with her.


I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I was glued to the pages, eagerly anticipating what would happen next. On the other hand, I wanted to reach inside this book and shake all of the characters! Grrr. What a frustrating group of people.

Anne, once a vibrant and strong woman, marries an abusive, controlling man and quickly becomes a shell of her former self. Even though her husband Frederick has cut her off from her family, her sister Clare cannot stay away. Clare comes for a visit which enrages Frederick, and he attacks Anne, in front of their two small children, no less. Trying to protect Anne, Clare attacks Frederick, but unfortunately does not kill him. Anne lies for her husband, and Clare goes to prison for two years for assault. Meanwhile, Frederick moves his family to his home in Denmark, and Clare has no contact with them until 18 years later when Anne’s daughter Grit shows up unexpectedly at her door.

This book was about Clare and Grit’s new bond, and also about forgiving Anne or at least understanding her behavior. The first part worked very well for me. Grit (short for Margarita) was my favorite character. She was brave and smart, and it’s hard to believe how level-headed she was considering her childhood with a psychotic monster of a father. Grit and Clare found in each other what had been missing in their lives for nearly two decades.

I liked Clare, but I think her character could have been more developed. Her two-year prison term supposedly had a detrimental effect on her life even years later, but I never felt it. She’s also had an on again, off again relationship with a man named Paul since they were teenagers, and, again, being in prison ruined that too, even though Paul supported her 100%. That didn’t make sense to me. They still loved each other, so what’s the problem?

The other part of the book – empathizing with Anne – was where I had great difficulty. I didn’t like her. Did she even have a heart? We know Frederick didn’t. Maybe the problem was that Frederick was simply too evil. He had no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and Anne had the opportunity to escape him early on. Why would she choose an abuser over her sister, over her children’s welfare, over herself? We never learn why she fell under his spell so easily in the first place.

This was a sad and depressing story, and it certainly stirred up a lot of emotion in me, unfortunately it was mostly anger. I’m glad I read the book, even though I had trouble with a lot of the story. I do like it when books make me emotional, even if that emotion is negative. This is the first book by Luanne Rice I’ve read, so I don’t know if this is her typical style or not. She has a short story called “Paul and Clare” which is about how they met, and I’d actually like to read it, so I guess all is not lost. ;)

Rating: 3 Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.