Book review of “The Lost Vintage” by Ann Mah
Kate knows that if she’s ever going to pass the Masters of Wine test, she’ll have to learn much more about French wines, particularly the ones from Burgundy. To do that, she’ll decides it’s time to go back to France, where her family’s ancient vineyards are nestled in that part of the country. While helping with the harvest, her cousin’s wife asks Kate to help her clean out the old “cave” in the hopes of maybe using the space for a part of a future B&B. That’s when they discover, behind an old armoire, a part of the cave that’s been hidden since WWII, and what it holds will surprise everyone.
I first became familiar Mah’s writing four years ago, when I read her non-fiction work “Mastering the Art of French Eating.” So, when I saw this novel available on Edelweiss, I decided to give her fiction a try. Since I already knew of her love of France, I was certain that a novel set there would be interesting, and I wasn’t wrong. What Mah brings us is a story that brings the past and the present together with a big mystery and a touch of romance. But don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a romance novel, although the connection between Kate and Jean-Luc does play into the story.
However, the thing that is more central to the plot is that mysterious “cave,” its contents and how these two things connect to a family member from the past – Helene – who no one seems to know anything about. Mah decided to give the readers more insight into Helene than the modern-day characters by inserting passages from Helene’s journal as breaks from the contemporary sections of the story. I liked the idea of knowing more than what these people knew, which added to the suspense, turning it into a motivating factor for my wanting to read on so I could learn how it all works out.
The other compelling aspect of this novel was Kate herself, and how Mah pitted her desire to become a Wine Master and further her career against the draw of Burgundy France and her own heritage, even if her family might have had some skeletons hidden in the closet (or as this case may be, behind an armoire). Mah’s inclusion the neighboring vineyard’s Jean-Luc into this mix, puts yet another angle on Kate’s struggles. On the one hand, Kate recalls some of his less than stellar qualities from his youth, while on the other hand, she is reminded of what she might have missed out on, when she left him behind to return to California.
Mah also does an excellent job of developing highly sympathetic characters. We immediately like Kate, and that makes us invested in wanting to see her succeed. At first, we are more concerned about her passing that Test, but later that becomes almost secondary to hoping she’ll find the answers to the many questions that the cave presents. The same goes for Helene and her story, where we can only feel for a young woman who is struggling with trying to survive the war and the Nazi occupation of her home country. Mah’s minor characters also fit carefully around these two protagonists, while they also help further the plot. I particularly liked how Mah brought two people into the contemporary story who both seem like suspicious people, which also mirrored one less than savory person in Helene’s world.
That said, I’m afraid I can’t give this book a full five stars, simply because I found the ending to be somewhat trite, for lack of a better word. Mind you, Mah had me hooked through most of the book and I was very pleased with how Mah handled the outcome of the romantic aspect of Kates dilemma, but the conclusion regarding the titular wines fell just short of being satisfactory. I also felt that how Mah handled the ending of Helene’s story felt a bit awkward, and just a touch too convenient for my taste. As usual, I am always aware that the level of satisfaction regarding how an author handles the endings to their stories can be a very personal thing. I will still warmly recommend this book for lovers of both historical and contemporary fiction, and especially to those who like a bit of romance with a touch of mystery and give it a healthy four out of five stars.
William Morrow – Harper Collins released “The Lost Vintage” by Ann Mah on June 18, 2018. This book is available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, WHSmith, Waterstones, Wordery, Kobo eBooks, Kobo audio books, eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books, Bookshop.org, UK.Bookshop, as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss in exchange for a fair review.