Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Food & Drink Month Review: The Beekeeper's Secret by Josephine Moon

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Maria knew about guilt. It was a stubborn, pervasive and toxic emotion, and incredibly difficult to shake. Especially if really, deep down, you didn't think you deserved to let it go.

Maria spends her days tending to the bees of Honeybee Haven and creating wonderful honey products to fund children in need. A former nun, Maria's life has long been shaped by a shadowy secret and her own self-imposed penance for events in her past. The arrival of two letters, one pink, from nearby Noosa Heads, and one marked with a government crest, herald the shattering of Maria's peaceful existence.

Before they were married, Tansy made a very serious deal with her husband, Dougall. With their elegant apartment and beachside lifestyle in Noosa, they have everything they agreed they wanted in life, so Tansy is going to ignore the feelings that might suggest she has changed her mind. On top of those not-really-there feelings, Dougall wants to move to Canada!

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The Beekeeper's Secret is the first book I have read by Australian author Josephine Moon but it certainly won't be the last as I enjoyed this book from the first page until the very last word. This book seemed like the ideal choice for Food and Drink Month considering bees featured in the title and we all know they create such sweet, beautiful honey which is such a versatile product. The author obviously likes to write books featuring some sort of food as looking at her previous two stories food features in the titles -The Tea Chest and The Chocolate Apothecary - both of which I am now very keen to go back and read having fallen in love with the brilliant storytelling of Josephine Moon. 

I came to this story having forced myself to keep reading a previous book and was apprehensive would I enjoy this one? Thankfully all my fears were quickly allayed within the first chapter and this wonderful family saga mixed with topical issues reminded me why I love reading so much. I had that special feeling of discovering a new author whom you know you'll want to read everything she has written in the past and all the books to come in the future. That feeling for me can be quite rare but all the ingredients for a fantastic read were here and I found myself rapidly turning the pages and finished the book within a few hours and I haven't done that in quite some time. Bees, nuns and the Catholic church mixed with family troubles may sound like an odd combination but boy does it work here to perfection and that's testament to the skillful writing of the author. She has a way of drawing you into the story right from the beginning setting things up nicely, giving some background information and then just allowing the story to flow as secrets start to reveal themselves and the characters find themselves confronting issues that had been kept hidden for various reasons. In the author's acknowledgements at the end she mentioned she didn't want technicalities to bog down the spirit of the story and they didn't in the slightest. The information on bee-keeping was very informative and interesting and the issues surrounding the Catholic church weren't rammed down our throats. Instead we were given free rein to form our own opinions as nothing was one sided and I am delighted that the author choose to write about these problems in an unbiased way.

There are two main female characters which this book focuses on, Maria and her niece Tansy, although Maria has been estranged from her family for many years and Tansy has never met her but that is all about to change. Maria works at Honeybee Haven tending the bees and using the honey to make various products which she then sells at a weekly market. Honeybee Haven is also a place where people or groups can come and stay and relax and soak up the calming atmosphere. Maria is a former nun and this place has been her sanctuary for many years. All the profits raised go to an orphanage in Cambodia where her friend Michaela works. This is an ideal set up and one Maria is very clearly happy with and she feels she is still doing good work despite having left her former life behind. But are things about to change and will everything Maria has worked for and grown to love be taken from her? 

The descriptions of Honeybee Haven were just breathtaking and so easy to visualise in my head from the vegetable garden with all its yummy veg to the cabins where people stayed and not to mention the area where the bees were kept and the process of making the throat lozenge lollipops or the honey mead and also the surrounding eucalyptus trees and rainforest. If you didn't like honey before reading this book you definitely will be the end and be craving some sweet honey to satisfy your taste buds. I did think I would find it strange to have a former nun as a main character and normally I don't engage that well with characters who are in their mid sixties or later but in this case with Maria the writing and storyline made me forget all that and I was keen to discover her secret which seemed to be knocking on her door after so many years buried. I guessed fairly early on what it could be but that didn't detract in any way from the overall storyline and there were a few surprises regarding the finer details that I hadn't seen coming.

As for our other main character Tansy, she is a children's bedroom decorator - one thing I loved about the book was the author choose unusual job occupations for the characters and really different names that I hadn't seen used in books before and it was a refreshing change. In fact most things about this book were refreshing and different there was no run of the mill usual storyline of a woman trying to find a man instead this book felt liked it had moved totally away from this and moved up a gear presenting the reader with a solid storyline different from the norm and enthralling throughout. Tansy is married to Dougal and though there is quite a significant age gap between the pair they are happy in their marriage and enjoy the fabulous lifestyle the Sunshine Coast has to offer. The author did a great job of selling Australia to her readers and if I had the money I would certainly want to take a trip there. 

Leo, Dougal's son from a previous relationship, lives with Tansy and Dougal and attends university although he is beginning to have doubts about his career path. Normally a storyline like this would have resentment between Leo and his step mum considering the age difference but thankfully this didn't feature at all as it has been done to death in my opinion. Instead they had a good relationship and advice could be offered when needed. The only stumbling block in Tansy's relationship is the issue of children, she had agreed when marrying Dougal she didn't want any but now her biological clock is ticking and she is having second thoughts. I couldn't blame Tansy for feeling this way and I felt she had staunch opposition from Dougal and now they are moving to Canada for work will raising her thoughts just cause more problems? Tansy was a truly wonderful, well rounded character who had many balls to keep in the air throughout the book but did so with grace and subtlety. Tansy was energetic and enthusiastic and put everyone else before herself but at the back of her mind was always the one question why was Aunt Maria seen as a pariah and estranged from the family and how can she go about reuniting her mother and aunts and having happiness flood throughout the family once more after such a long separation?

Some would view Tansy's mission as pure interference and sticking her nose where clearly not wanted but her inquisitive nature came at just the right time when Maria needed help the most. Where do you turn to in times of trouble? But our families and although Tansy herself has to tell many lies I felt they were all justified as she only had a positive goal at the centre of her thought process. She put her own issues aside for a time for the greater good of her entire family and she inspired pride in me as a reader and only endeared her to me more. Maria on the outside seemed a closed book, yes the reader has glimpses into her thoughts and how she is feeling about her secret being brought out into the open but it takes time for Tansy to crack her shell and once she does my heart broke for Maria. Yet strangely I totally understood all of her actions and wouldn't in any way hold her accountable for what had happened. There were greater forces at work of which she had no control over and Josephine Moon handled them well considering the issue in question is something prevalent all over the world in that particular section of society. The author didn't ram facts down our throats or made us feel like we had to come down one clear side instead we were allowed to make our minds up for ourselves and it was an easy decision for me as the writing was just fantastic and I knew who I wanted the right ending to come for. 

There were numerous storylines here apart from that of Maria and Tansy's and normally I would find such a range of storylines and characters just too much to keep track of but in this case that didn't happen at all as everything just gelled together so well and minor characters made an appearance at just the appropriate time. Belle, Tansy's best friend, married to Ray and trying to raise Hamish. Jordan and Katerina dealing with such uncertainty. Enid and Finlay, Tansy's parents, going through a rough patch although they did provide some humorous moments and not to mention Leo and the decision he was struggling with. Each storyline had its place and I enjoyed them all.

I am just so delighted to have discovered the amazing writing of Josephine Moon. She is one talented lady who brings her characters to life on the page and has you fully invested in the outcome for each and every one of them. I can't find a single thing wrong with this family saga cleverly mixed with a controversial issue only that it had to end. I urge you to take your time and savour every moment as I read it too fast so eager was I to discover the truth and to find out could the irrepressible Tansy work her magic and reunite her family without upset and disappointment? Would Maria find the comfort she so desperately needed or would her secret once unburdened be her down fall? You'll need to grab a copy to find out. This book had such depth honesty and emotion that made for a very compelling read which transports you to the heart of the story and the lives of its characters and doesn't relinquish its grip until the last moment possible. Do yourself a favour and buy a copy of this wonderful book today you'll be glad you did. I'm glad I can now go back and read Josephine's previous two books as I read she is taking a break and it will two years before her fourth book will be published. If The Beekeeper's Secret is anything to go by it will be worth the wait.

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