Author:  Jeffrey Stepakoff 

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press 

ISBN: 978-0-312-58159-6 

This book came into my life at the perfect moment, during a heat wave in July when sitting in a comfortable chair with a cold drink and a romantic novel was just what I needed. In The Orchard, author Jeffrey Stepakoff transported me to Georgia in the fall, as the apple harvest approaches and the leading female character, Grace Lyndon, is changed forever after tasting an amazing apple. Working in the field of fragrances and flavours, she is compelled to track down the apple’s origins and capture its essence. In the process, she meets widowed apple farmer Dylan Jackson and his daughter, Carter, and a captivating love story unfolds. 

In Grace, Stepakoff has created a character who is strong and yet vulnerable. She is driven and ambitious when it comes to her career and yet in the opening chapters it is revealed that her personal life is less than stellar. She is running from a past in which she felt weak and unappreciated and is determined to never revisit that time in her life. She is gearing up to land the biggest account of her career, thinking this is exactly what she needs. “This was precisely what Grace loved about work. It had given her the chance to not only reinvent herself through success, but also make the past so irrelevant it disappeared.” However, Stepakoff makes it clear that escaping the past is not something easily accomplished. Even in her career choice, Grace draws on the childhood experience of caring for an ailing mother who lost many of her senses, but was comforted by the various evocative smells of foods and flowers. 

In the character of Dylan, the past is a preoccupation. He has lost his beloved wife and is left to raise their daughter alone. He cannot let go of the woman he sees and smells around every corner of their apple orchard. His work in the orchard is more than a job; it is a way of life and a family legacy. Using organic practices, Dylan grows tremendous fruit with passion and respect for the natural flow of life and growth. “Blossoms in the spring, fruiting in summer, harvest in fall, pruning in winter – there was a cycle in the orchard that was an integral part of Dylan’s life.” 

At one point in the novel Grace’s character muses on the thought “that the vast majority of what the entire human race smells in its day-to-day existence and nearly all of what its food tastes like are created by a small elite group of quiet individuals working for fewer than a dozen companies worldwide.” I have to admit that I had never thought about the flavours and fragrances I encounter on a daily basis. Increasingly, these are synthetic representations of the natural reality. While still beautiful in their own right, they only reinforce the staggering beauty of the original. Stepakoff merges the synthetic world with the natural world by bringing together Grace and Dylan. Their journey together will leave you spellbound.

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