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Showing 1-10 of 33 reviews(5 star). Show all reviews
on 12 June 2010
Today, I got Like Bees to Honey in the mail.

Tonight, I finished reading Like Bees to Honey.

I only got it because a publisher friend of mine recommended it on Facebook - and because it was written by an English author, despite being set in Malta. I was not prepared for the story that followed, or for the emotions it evoked in me.

I originally thought this would be a cheap ghost story (for which Malta has the perfect setting, what with the spooky churches and deserted roads), but this is not the case. Nina, the main character, is desperately sad, consumed by a certain loss, that she is seemingly driving herself mad. She feels like she has no reason to live.
And this enables her to see spirits; to speak to them. And whilst Nina is travelling (via rickety yellow bus!) to some of her favourite childhood places in Malta from her parents' home in Valletta, we get to see her explore her grief, explore herself, and explore her roots.

What's most interesting about the book, however, is the way it presents Malta as a dusty haven, filled with lovely smells, traditional values, and strong family ties. For example- anyone who has visited Malta knows that upon landing, you get to see the arrivals lounge, filled with waving families. This scene makes up one of the book's key introductory moments.

The author lets Maltese characters use Maltese words like 'qalbi', 'pupa', and even full sentences throughout the novel. Nina, having lived in England for many years, translates these words and phrases mentally every time they occur, which leads to a very neat way of combining two languages for the reader. This play of tongues is woven into the theme of identity - how far away do you have to be from your family, in order to stop being who you were?

This novel has hit home for me.
For the past five years, I have struggled with having left Malta. I have struggled with keeping my identity, with staying Maltese, with a changing landscape, and with changed personal values. These are all things that are addressed very precisely in the first few chapters of this book. And the way these are presented.. I can only praise the author for her deep understanding of Maltese culture.

I don't normally recommend books - but here's one you should add to your collection.. without hesitation!
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on 27 May 2010
Nina is out of balance, has lost her sense of perspective, doesn't know what to hold on to and when to let go. She's grieving hard for multiple losses: of her home, culture, birth family and adult family. On a trip back to her homeland of Malta, she seeks answers, solutions, her self.

Caroline Smailes' two previous books were bravely, beautifully written, but unrelentingly grim. In Like Bees To Honey, she chooses again to deal with losses so great they threaten the main character's very identity, but with a lighter hand and some delightful touches of humour. I love the idea of a cool, skater-style-clad, toenail-varnish-wearing, beer-swigging Jesus, and I hope the author will let her sense of humour out to play more often in her future work.

In Smailes' previous books there was no forgiveness, no opportunity for redemption. This is important territory to explore, but so is the territory she covers in Like Bees To Honey: both the physical territory - an evocation of Malta so strong that, after reading the book, I feel as if I've been there myself - and the thematic territory of forgiving yourself, forgiving others, and the relationship between forgiving and letting go.

The structure of the book is interesting, as Like Bees To Honey is a frame or envelope story, with Nina's story enclosing other, shorter stories: of Elena, Tilly, Flavia and Christopher. Of these, for me, Tilly shines out: an engaging, angry, loving character with whom, again, Caroline Smailes uses humour to add a new colour to her writer's palette.

Almost all the characters in this book live with the supernatural as an accepted part of their daily lives. As an atheist myself, Like Bees To Honey might seem an odd book for me to recommend. Yet the key to a successful book with supernatural elements - whether it be a ghost story, science fiction, fantasy, whatever - is that its internal rules must be consistent for the reader to feel secure. Caroline Smailes achieves this with apparent effortlessness, such that the reality of the characters' lived experiences - particularly those of Nina - are utterly congruent, believable and compelling.
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on 11 June 2010
I agree with some of the other reviewers that this is Caroline Smailes' best book yet.
From the first page, knowing what we know from the rear cover blurb, I sensed that Nina was searching for something, and this sense permeates throughout the book as you learn more about her plight. I read this in two sittings and could not get enough of it. The sense of place is so rich that it made me want to hop on a plane to Malta straight away (the Maltese tourist board should think about getting Ms. Smailes on a retainer).
Nina is the focal character and we travel with her and her son Christopher to Malta, and slowly the layers are peeled back to reveal Nina's central core. When things kick off, and we get more of a sense of what Malta as an island IS, and the myriad characters that appear, the book becomes so tight, so neat and tidy and just downright perfect. Not a word misused, nor a sentiment diluted. This is pure on the money fiction, folks, and so accomplished considering that this is only Ms Smailes 3rd book. She rightfully deserves a place up there with the best of them on the strength of Black Boxes and In Search of Adam alone, but with Bees, she had pulled off a masterpiece.
One last thing: this book is not just words on paper. There is something else going on that triggers all sorts of things, feelings and thoughts in your brain.
I want to take a beer with Jesus at Larry's bar.
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on 1 June 2010
Nina, a woman who is lost and grieving intensely, is heading back to Malta with her son. But this is no ordinary trip - her son died years ago and Nina is trying to find her way back home to the island where she was born. When she gets there she finds an island full of ghosts.

The story is deeply tragic in many ways, about a woman who is coming to terms with multiple losses - not only her son, but her family, her culture and now she is putting her relationship with her husband and daughter in jeopardy with every day that she stays away from them.

It's not all down though - the story is punctuated by quirky humour and Caroline Smailes has a lovely way of putting words down on the page to create a rhythm and add to the atmosphere. She also adds in Maltese words and phrases to great effect. As the ghosts on the island try to help Nina find peace and the courage to return to her family in Liverpool, you find yourself lifted by the story...and also strangely craving a Cisk beer.

A fantastic read.
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on 4 June 2012
This is a wonderful meditation on grief, guilt and exile. Despite its sad storyline I was compelled to follow the heroine on her difficult journey. I found myself egging her on, challenging her to find understanding. I loved the insertion of Maltese words, their translations so poignant they made me remember long ago family affection. It is a fascinating, thought provoking tale.
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on 17 December 2012
What an unusual story! I happened to select this one for reading when I was on a cruise which was re-routed to Malta, not knowing this story is set in Malta! So it had the duel interest of being my 'guide' to the part of Malta I was actually going to visit and introducing me to something of the Maltese culture as well as entertaining me with a very good story and satisfying me with the ending that I hoped for.
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on 10 February 2012
I can understand the few bad reviews as Caroline Smailes writing won't be to everyone's taste - it doesn't conform to any rules.

However, if you want to read something different, quirky and highly original I urge you to try this outstanding vision of Malta as an island where spirits are drawn -like bees to honey - and ghosts are laid to rest.

A beautiful, happy, sad and uplifting evocation of loss.
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on 24 May 2010
Caroline Smailes again manages to create a character that I instantly warmed to; a character whose motivations, guilt and fear are recognisable and heartbreaking. Nina is believable and true, even in the vividly imagined 'transit lounge for the dead' that finds its home in Malta.

The themes of loss, guilt and redemption are powerful. I also find the book a unique exploration of religion and of the perception of religion. You will never think of Jesus in the same light once you have read it! Through Nina's physical and spiritual journey some of the more damaging and guilt inducing elements of religious belief are challenged.

The other impact the book has had on me is that I am mad keen to visit Malta now! Malta is so acutely observed throughout the novel, almost becoming a character all of its own. It is somewhere I knew little of before picking up this book...

A really beautiful novel. Very different to Caroline Smailes previous books (which I also loved). The book still explores some deep themes that make it just as emotionally charged as 'Black Boxes' and 'In Search of Adam' (my favourite).But, where they take you by the throat, by the chin (to great effect), 'Like Bees to Honey' leads you by the hand...

I think this is the kind of novel that readers of all sorts of genres could enjoy.
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on 25 April 2012
Loved it. Great Story, it was so good I finished it within a week. A very easy read and passed it on to my friends. If you like to read a book with an unusual story line then this is the book for you. Overall a great book and deserves five stars.
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on 4 February 2013
Beautiful. Haunting.

I've only been to Malta once, but through this book I could see every sharply inclined street and dusty, flaking painted doorway.

It took me a lot of time to work up to reading the end but it was worth it.
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