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Nina is off to Malta, with her son Christopher in tow, so she can visit her aging parents one last time. Her last visit to Malta didn't end well, after Nina was disowned for falling pregnant whilst at University in England. Malta is nothing like Nina expects though because it transpires that Nina is able to see recently deceased spirits. It turns out Malta is some sort of transit lounge for the dead and as well as Nina being able to help the spirits by listening and learning all about them, they can help her just as much. But what exactly is it that Nina is running scared from?
The first time I came across Caroline Smailes, it was when I reading Chat magazine a few years ago. She was featured on the first page and it told of how she began to write her debut novel In Search of Adam. I then remember reading on Caroline's blog that the article was in fact false. I didn't think Caroline's books were to my taste, so I never managed to pick up either of her first two books but after seeing the beautiful cover for her latest book Like Bees To Honey, as well as reading Caroline's personal story and how close it is in relation to the book, I decided it was time to give one of Caroline's books a try as I figured my earlier worry over it being not my kind of thing was probably completely wrong.
I have to say I've been sitting here since I finished the book wondering how on Earth I was going to review it sufficiently without spoiling certain parts of the book. This will be, hands down, the hardest book review I've ever written because the book is rather complex. The first thing I'd like to mention is the book cover. It is so beautiful. It features lots of things relating to Malta - a postcard, an airline ticket and a bottle of Cisk, the local beer. I admit that it is what drew me to the book in the first place. It looks beautiful in pictures but when you actually see it in reality, it's so much better.
Another thing I will say about Like Bees To Honey is that I've never read anything like it in my life. I wouldn't even begin to catergorise the book bar the fact it's fiction. It's uncategorisable, in a good way. Nina, the central character of Likes Bee To Honey, is like no character I've encountered before. She's confused; about life, about her life, about her history and where she came from and about Malta, her birthplace. Nina is also trying to come to terms with a huge loss she's suffered. In a bid to overcome that loss, and after seeing Jesus (more on that later), Nina heads off to Malta with her son in tow in a bid to find out answers to all of the questions she has. Once Nina gets to Malta though, it transpires that - to paraphrase a well-known movie - Nina can see dead people.
Like Bees To Honey encompasses many issues: death, religion, loss, love, guilt, yet it doesn't seem as heavy a book as you might expect. Yes, it can be a difficult read at times; some of the things Nina admits to doing are quite cringe-worthy but what Nina's confessions do is enable us to see why she feels such enormous loss and guilt. The book deals heavily with religion. If I'd known that I may not have picked up the book because I'm not at all religious; I'm ambivalent on the fact of whether I believe in God, I don't go to Church at all, so when Nina says she saw/heard Jesus I thought "Oh no, this isn't going to be to my liking" but actually, I couldn't have been more wrong. Yes some of the religious aspects confused me, but on the whole it didn't cloud my judgement of the book because it wasn't gratuitous religion, it was necessary to Nina's beliefs. Jesus is depicted in quite a way throughout Like Bees To Honey, it may well offend overly religious people, however I thought it was really interesting and it gave him a bit of a quirky spin.
The book is ridiculously well written. I constantly hear books being referred to as lyrically written and I've never understood what they mean by that, until I read Bees. Like Bees To Honey is lyrically written and Caroline Smailes is a hugely talented writer and I ploughed through Bees at quite a pace. The book is mostly about Nina, however there are a few short stories throughout from some of the spirits Nina sees. They add an interesting dimension to the book and make it a more rounded read for sure. I must also mention the type-setting of Caroline's books. Bees isn't just a regular run-of-the-mill typeset book, no, it has some interesting ways of laying out the text. For example:
"He looks at me but does not speak. We both know that the plane is ready to lift us off the ground.
the engines are whirring.
and as my head falls back to the head-rest, the engines whir some more.
then the plane darts forwards, upwards, it tickles into the back of my throat. I swallow, forced gulps." (Page 16.)
Which I have to say is such a unique way to write your book and to then type-set it so it looks fantastic, too. There is also a spattering of Maltese phrases throughout the book as well as their translations, so the readers don't get confused. It certainly helps to get the feel of Malta, which is beautifully described by Caroline, I must say! Caroline has made Malta sound like such a beautiful country, and she has definitely made me interested in visiting the country one day.
Overall I hugely enjoyed Like Bees To Honey. It certainly wasn't what I expected but what I got was stunning. I even found myself tearing up towards the end of the book. There were certainly some sad scenes towards the close of the book and it was rather unexpected to find I almost had tears in my eyes due to those scenes. I certainly recommend Like Bees To Honey and I can't wax lyrical enough about it. The writing, the plot, the style, everything will blow you away, but mostly the writing which is incredible. I will definitely be checking out Caroline's previous books, not to mention keeping an eye on any future reads she produces.