by Michaela August, historical (2000)
Awe-Struck, $4.75, ISBN 1-58749-434-5
I don't know a thing about wine, since I don't drink alcohol, and I have no idea what the difference between red and white wine is. But there's something romantic about vineyards and wine to me. And after watching that movie A Walk In The Clouds, I decide it's not Keanu Reeves' idea of a romantic hero and his best impersonation of a tree stump.
For the perfect romance amidst grapevines and wine barrels, let me toss A Walk In The Clouds over and read Sweeter Than Wine instead. It's not a perfect book as it bears the rough, unpolished marks of a debut work, but it has a delightful romance. And the hero can actually express his emotions with more than more expression. Delightful.
Siegfried Rodernwiller returns from World War I to find his father dead (suicide) and the family holdings bankrupt and foreclosed. When he accidentally burned down the house in his grief (uh oh), he decides to seek new life in America instead. Bye Germany, hello Uncle Sam.
Siegfried's grandmother invites him over to work in the vineyards of his sister-in-law. Alice Roye, a widow, is unable to handle the business on her own, since she has no inkling on how the whole wine enterprise is run. She is thus grateful for Siegfried's arrival. But external conflicts come in - the pesky Prohibition and their spoilsport No alcohol philosophy and some villains lusting after the vineyard. These two find themselves married, and now it's readjustment time.
Sweeter Than Wine is a nice tale of healing as well as romance. Both Alice and Siegfried has to deal with personal demons - prejudice, loneliness, guilt, et cetera - and the way they deal with these as well as each other is beautifully handled. Set amidst the rich atmosphere of wine-making and the aftermath of WWI, this story's setting is intriguing in itself. The great romance is an added and much welcome bonus.
There are some rough areas, of course. The one-dimensional villains, the predictable denouement (every other new author's favorite storytelling method - the miscommunication dilemma), and sometimes the pace can drag.
But all in all, life's fair and love's beautiful in Vineyard County in California. Sweeter Than Wine and absolutely intoxicating too.
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