Book review: The Beekeeper’s Secret by Josephine Moon

Wednesday, April 6, 2016 Permalink

I’m a newcomer to the work of Josephine Moon. I googled her after reading her latest book, The Beekeeper’s Secret and found her website. And I loved (LOVED) that her site byline is ‘Living the dream’.

I was smitten with that positivity and her acknowledgement she’s doing what she loves. (As I am far from that kind of person and envy those who are!)

Book review: The Beekeeper’s Secret by Josephine MoonThe Beekeeper's Secret
by Josephine Moon
Published by Allen & Unwin
on April 1st 2016
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Literary Fiction
ISBN: 9781925266139
Pages: 368

Maria Lindsey is content. She spends her solitary days tending her bees and creating delicious honey products to fund orphaned children. A former nun, her life at Honeybee Haven has long been shaped by her self-imposed penance for terrible past events. But the arrival of two letters heralds the shattering of Maria's peaceful existence.

Pushing aside the misgivings of her family and friends, Tansy Butterfield, on the eve of her marriage, made a serious deal with her adored husband, Dougal. A deal she'd intended to honour. But, seven years on, Tansy is finding her current feelings difficult to ignore. And on top of those not-really-there feelings, Dougal wants to move to Canada!

On her site Moon describes her work as ‘foodie fiction’. Her books are nourishment for the soul, she suggests, but (more literally) they all also seem to revolve (in some way) around food.

Based on her covers (and the titles) alone I’d probably usually bypass Moon’s work. Her previous novels – The Tea Chest; and The Chocolate Promise – are the sorts of books I’d avoid… given my lack of interest in tea, chocolate, food and things I perceive to be ‘folksy’ reads. The covers (including that of The Beekeeper’s Secret) actually remind me of the ‘cozy reads’ which are popular with a lot of US bloggers I follow.

However, despite my usual antipathy for cute illustrated covers I was sufficiently interested in Maria and her secret to request this book.

And I’m very glad I did.

After not reading Australian fiction for much of my life, I now appreciate reading about places I know. Moon’s based on the Sunshine Coast so her references to Brisbane (my State’s capital), the Coast and the hinterland (its beauty and its markets) were delightfully familiar. (Although the trip from Wilston to Riverbend Books at Bulimba for post-church coffee, seemed like a long trek!) 😉

Moon does a great job with her characters. Maria’s a tough and complicated old bird and I appreciated that her story unfolded without the overstated drama we find in some ‘reveals’. Indeed, Maria was eager to share her secrets with Tansy – the estranged niece who won’t take no for an answer.

And Tansy is extremely likeable, in a slightly flaky kinda way. Married to an older man whose University-aged son lives with the couple, it was nice to meet a blended family without the usual angst. Tansy and 22yr old step-son Leo get on well and there’s no animosity with Dougal’s ex. Tansy’s about to turn 30 however and starting to regret the ‘no-babies’ promise she made to her husband when they married.

We also meet Tansy and Maria’s extended family to uncover very old unaired grievances.

Although religion features strongly in the novel (via Maria’s former life as a nun and Tansy’s Catholic family) Moon also delves into the murky waters of the Catholic Church and its response to child abuse allegations, referencing the ongoing Royal Commission.

Lovers of nature and animals and stuff will appreciate the detail in which Moon goes into when talking about Honeybee Haven and its environs as well as Maria’s beekeeping and her passion for her ‘girls’. (As an aside, I was also reminded of a very different book – Coffin Road by Peter May – which also touched on the threat to the world’s bee population from disease and the potential impact of their disappearance.)

Given its subject matter this novel by Moon could be maudlin and depressing, but she balances it with a positivity which emanates from her lead characters and a lightness that keeps the plot moving at a good pace.

The Beekeeper’s Secret by Josephine Moon was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin in late March 2016.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.


I should also mention that Josephine Moon recently wrote a wonderful post about her editor. As an avid reader (and will-possibly-try-to-write-something-someday writer) I very much enjoyed learning more about the role of an editor.

Do you judge a book by it’s cover? Literally… not metaphorically, that is!

  • Bec
    April 6, 2016

    Sounds like a book I would enjoy, plus in a setting I’m familiar with.
    Judging a book by its cover? I suppose I do a bit, I appreciate a lovely cover though not sure I quite understand the trend for headless people!
    When I was a kid I’d read so many books in our library it became difficult to find one, I would impose silly little conditions such as “I’ll read the next book with a pink cover”. Helpful in one way as it did widen my reading

    • Debbish
      April 6, 2016

      Yes, I loved the setting!

      And you’re far braver than I Bec… choosing a book based on the colour of the cover!

      A good way to increase the diversity in your reading though!

      • Bec
        April 6, 2016

        In my defence, I was just a kid!

        • Debbish
          April 6, 2016

          Ha! I’d missed the ‘when I was a kid’ bit… Was at work so reading & commenting on my phone at lunch – not ideal! 😉

  • Makeesha Byl
    April 6, 2016

    Sounds like a great book. Like you I would haven’t even bothered to pick this up off the shelf in a bookstore because of that cover! Hate the ‘fluffy’ type reads, so great to know this book has depth. Thanks Debbish for your honest review, I will go add this to my want to read list over at goodreads 🙂

    • Debbish
      April 6, 2016

      Yes, it makes me wonder how many books I judge unfairly. #eek

  • Kathryn
    April 6, 2016

    Hmm okay, I’d like to read it I do believe, so will give it a go one day, later in the year maybe when I clear those review books. Like to see a book with a great cover, hate dumb covers, breaks my heart to see them on a good book!

    • Debbish
      April 6, 2016

      I think you’d enjoy this Kathryn.

  • Ruth Hillman-Booth
    April 6, 2016

    I am suitably intrigued…

    I too may have passed the cover as being given too cutsey, but your description is definitely appealing.

    • Debbish
      April 7, 2016

      It made me want to do a piece about book covers. I actually contacted the Australian Book Designer’s Association last year asking for someone to interview but might re-contact them!

I'd love to hear your thoughts