Friday, May 28, 2010

Like Bees to Honey by Caroline Smailes

A book review and a competition. Two for the price of one, eh?

Nina, her son Christopher in tow, flies to Malta for one last visit with her aging parents.

Her previous attempt to see them ended in tears. Disowned for falling pregnant while at university in England, she was not allowed into the house.

This will be her final chance to make her peace with them.

But Malta holds more secrets and surprises than Nina could possibly imagine. What she finds is not the land of her youth, a place full of memories and happiness. Instead she meets dead people. Lots of them.

Malta, it transpires, is a transit lounge for recently deceased spirits and somehow Christopher enables her to see them, speak with them and help them.

And, in return, they help Nina come to terms with her own loss. One so great that she has yet to admit it to herself.
I've followed Caroline Smailes' blog for several years now, and I am a big fan of her quirky style and imaginative way of marrying her words with briliant typography. Unique is a word that gets bandied around far too much, but Caroline's style, is just that - unique. I can't imagine anyone else writing the way she does, because I don't think anyone else could.
I was lucky enough to attend Caroline's launch party at the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green on Tuesday (fans of indy bookshops, please go if you are ever in the Wood Green area, it is fantastic. You can find out all about it here) I had already decided I was going to enjoy Bees, when I read the blurb, but the minute Caroline read out an extract based in Liverpool (like me, she's an English grad from Liverpool), I knew I was hooked.
Actually, the Liverpool connection is a fairly minor one, but that doesn't matter, because Caroline takes us on a journey to Malta (an island I've never visited, but would love to now) that is so vividly haunting, the memory of this book will linger with me for a long time.
I loved the idea of Malta as a transit lounge for the recently departed - when Nina, the heroine visits her mother, she also gets to meet a variety of ghosts, who are there to help her come to terms with the secrets of her past, and to help her find redemption.
This is in many ways a very spiritual book - there is a lot of religion in here -but it's a kind of spirituality that's really earthbound. I loved the depiction of a hippyish Jesus, who paints his toenails because his feet are ugly, and drinks cans and cans of Cisk (Maltese beer -which Caroline kindly provided at her launch party and I can confirm tastes very lovely indeed) to see if he can get drunk (he can't). I loved the character of Tilly - a resentful house ghost, who is very very angry (touchingly we get to learn the source of that anger & see it healed) - but most of all I loved Nina, a woman who has cut ties with her past, and whose grief at what she subsequently believes is a punishment, is blinding her to the possibility of happiness in the future. As Jesus tells her she is caught in a hell of her own making - a hell on earth, which only she can escape.
This isn't always an easy read - there were moments when I was wide eyed with shock at things Caroline's characters revealed, and I wasn't always sure how she'd tie everything up. But as she deftly draws the strands together at the end of the book, I was completely transported, greedily devouring each page, unable to bear coming to the end. Mostly nowadays, when I read a book, lack of time means I rarely get to reread it, and often I'm not drawn back to it gain. Like Bees to Honey is such a thoroughly absorbing, and alluring read, that I am sure it is a book I will return to time and time again, because it's the kind of book that grows and ripens with each rereading.
I loved it. I'm sure you will too.
To celebrate the fact that Caroline and I shared our publication day yesterday, I am today giving away a signed copy of Like Bees to Honey to the person who comes up with the wittiest idea for a holding station for dead people. Particularly if you can tell me why.
Competition runs till midnight on 31 May. Please leave comments on my blog below.
Caroline is doing the same with The Bridesmaid Pact, so if you want to win a copy of that, hop over here now!


missielizzie said...

Sounds like a great read. Would love to give it a go. Not sure if this is the right place to enter the competition?


Lo-Lo said...

Looks brilliant - thanks for offering up a copy!

Is this the right place to comment?

Simon said...

Sounds good to me :) thanks!

Wendy said...

wittiest holding place for dead people has already been taken by Ashes to Ashes who wouldnt want to be on 'hold' with Gene Hunt

Please enter me as like a good read


Beverley said...

Looks like a fabulous read - may I enter please (if this is how you enter?)

bev_metallica on Twitter (which is how I found you and stalked you here!)

Ian H said...

I was so miffed to miss your Liverpool book launch and to win a copy would just make up for it, thanks. Ian

Elliott said...

Yesh please then I can keep a signed one in plastic and neat forever and ever and ever and read the signed one I got at the Big Green Bookshop.


Aliya Whiteley said...

A holding place for dead people... that would need lots of comfy seating, some light shopping opportunities and maybe somebody playing the piano badly, just so everybody has something to moan about other than how they karked it... I'd go for a cross-channel ferry. Hull-Rotterdam, maybe. I seem to remember that has a seafood buffet - that should cover up the stench of death. I think I'm taking this too seriously. But I really would like a copy of the

Aliya Whiteley

Catherine Miller said...

Looks fab and hearing good things on twitter! Pls enter me into draw!


Gemma Burgess said...

I am reading LBTH it right now and it's totally enthralling. Fantastic, totally compelling story, and I LOVE the characters and their voices. Strong and tender and true.


Juxtabook said...

I like Aliya's ferry idea but I'd go for Wimbledon tennis courts with rain, obviously and Cliff Richard leading some kind of post-death singalong. There'd be strawberries too of course by way of comepensation. This really would would be "a hell on earth, which only she can escape" maybe by realising there's more to life than strawberries.

Tammy P. said...

No ideas as I've had no coffee! Please enter anyway.

Becky Wilson aka Valkyrie1008 said...

Well I coincidently write about dead people and how their souls are sent to different places and how by Valkyries (Viking Angels) but in my writing the Valkyries go to them etc.

But if it had to be a place to hold lots of lost souls I can only imagine an airport where the check ins are posts for each major religion calling out names and it would be one massive room with chairs and benches. And on the left would be the 'Heaven' religion sides and on the right would be the 'Hell' religion side. So we'd have demons, devils, ghouls and skeletons shout out against God and Gods etc. Everyone would be hoping and praying their preferred choice calls out their name.

Please enter me for the comp. I'm eager to read Caroline's book.

Jane Henry said...

Hello and welcome to all of you who've come by. Oh dear, at this rate I'd better have two competitions. One for people who have entered to be drawn out of a hat and one for those who've come up with holding stations. How about I say, those who entered stand a chance of winning a copy of Caroline Smailes' Black Boxes and those who've come up with a holding station can win Like Bees to Honey? Is that fair enoughski?

Anyway welcome to you all:
missielizzie, Lo-Lo, Simon, Wendy, Beverley, Ian H, Elliott, Aliya Whiteley, Catherine Miller, Gemma Burgess, Juxtabook, Tammy P, Becky Wilson nice to see you hear.

Stick around as I am going to belatedly be doing an Ashes to Ashes review... Wendy you are so right, but still we can all have fun coming up with our own holding stations. My idea of hell would be to be trapped forever in the foyer of the Fame school where my children used to do ballet, surrounded by screaming children, with a scary looking ballet teacher waving her finger in my face... As a waiting station, I'd quite like to be endlessly walking on the Shropshire hills...

Sandy Calico said...


I thank you.


Steve Hills said...

Holding Place: Semi-Station
(like a halfway house or a semi by the sea in Eastbourne)


Lisa Guidarini said...

The holding area is the Dearly Departure Depot for the Post-Mortem Portal. Each person has a toe tag with a number, but no indication of destination until the conveyance with that number appears with either harp music playing or flames shooting out. Only then will they know their eternal destination...

And I took my entire getting ready for work time for that!

Angi Holden said...

I was tempted to suggest Liverpool Airport (let's face it, it hasn't got that far to go before it matches the description perfectly!) but since airports have already been suggested, I'll have to go for a bookshop. Preferably a large national chain, with lots of alcoves to accommodate those reluctant to move on. A particular one springs to mind, so lost souls could get "Like Bees" on their 3 for 2 offer......

TBones said...

a HUGE cafeteria with everything you could EVER want to eat, all free of course. you can eat tray after tray and chit chat with the other dead people about how good/bad your life, or the food is. who the hell cares about calories when you are dead anyhow? then after a real good feast, feeling satiated, you'll hopefully feel a little better about being, you know, dead and all... if not, keep eating until you feel sick and like you are going to explode and death will seem a welcome relief.


BabsMcG said...

I'd love a signed copy:-)

My suggestion is Old Trafford....The Theatre of Dreams :-)

Anonymous said...

very good read by the sound of it

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