Just as Mother Nature’s blossoming beauties surrender to sleep beneath their blanket of snow, so we should take shelter this wintery time of year. Nestled hearthside with a good book, it’s time to celebrate the art of slowing down.
And if you’re feeling particularly cold, cuddle beneath a cozy comforter, a fat glass of red in hand, and open up this honey of a novel. It will surely warm you.
THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES
by Sue Monk Kidd
Spoiler Alert! This is a feel-good book.
And isn’t that exactly what the dark days of winter demand? A heart-happy read, full of humor and whimsy, Monk Kidd’s debut novel, with its light touch and satisfying ending, made me smile. That’s why I was astounded. I guess some critics disliked the book for the very reason I loved it: they found it too darn sweet.
The Secret Life of Bees is not new. In fact, I first read the book in 2003, just a year after it was published. Adapted for the big screen, the movie premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2008, where it won the Peoples’ Choice Award and the NAACP Image Award.
In this time of partisan politics and climate change, the LOL felt it might be fun to lighten things up a little, and I was happy to revisit this one. If you need a break from the heavy literature that so often takes top spot in contests, store shelves, and book reviews, grab this beautiful book.
Fourteen-year-old Lily is a feisty white girl, living with her bigoted, violent, abusive father in South Carolina. Always in search of information about her mother, who was killed when Lily was just four-years-old, the teen struggles to find her place and a sense of family. She connects most deeply with Rosaleen, the black housekeeper who has lovingly raised her. When Rosaleen registers to vote and is badly beaten by a group of angry white men, Lily has had enough.
Set against the racial tensions cloaking the South in the 1960’s, Rosaleen is jailed, but Lily finds a way to free her. Together they travel to a town Lily believes holds the clue to her mother’s death.
Three black women who live in a bright pink house welcome the unlikely duo. The calendar sisters—August, May, and June—keep bees and sell their honey, all whilst worshipping at the feet of a black Madonna. The sisters adopt Rosaleen as one of their own, while teaching Lily about beekeeping and the power of the female divine.
With strong feminist undertones, the sisters’ role model strength and courage, creativity and spirituality, love and acceptance—all virtues Lily eagerly embraces. Things get complicated when Lily falls in love with a black boy and her father tries to track her down.
Each chapter opens with a quote about bees, alluding to the coming content. Not only will you learn a little something about honey making, you’ll surely laugh a little at this touching story, and maybe even cry. Beautifully told, it unfolds in delicious language; full of warm, golden imagery, sticky and sweet, like honey.
I loved it and so did the LOL.
by Laura Hillenbrand
Maybe, like me, you were astounded by the movie, directed by Angelina Jolie, which premiered on Christmas Day in 2014.
But those who have read the book, say it is one of the best non-fiction titles they’ve encountered. Laura Hillenbrand, acclaimed author of Seabiscuit (another true story that got turned into a movie), writes with “a rich and vivid narrative voice.”
The book opens with feisty Louie Zamperini, the son of Italian immigrants in California, getting himself into trouble in high school. At his brother’s urging, Louie channels his rebellion into running. In fact, he becomes a track star and goes on to compete in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He comes eighth, setting a record in his final lap, shaking hands with Adolf Hitler.
Perhaps a sign of things to come, Louie is poised to excel at the 1940 Olympics, when WW II blows up his dreams. The course of the talented athlete’s life is irrevocably changed when he enlists, becoming a bombardier in the American air corps.
Louie not only survives a plane crash into the Pacific, he miraculously makes it through forty-seven days adrift at sea in a tiny life raft with two other men. Dehydrated and delusional, one man perishes, but Louie and his colleague survive by catching and eating albatross, all the while fighting off sharks, starvation, and bullets beamed at them by Japanese warplanes. When the Japanese Navy picks up the men, their nightmare is just beginning.
For two unthinkable years, Louie survives exposure, starvation, isolation, and near daily beatings. Despite being tortured by a sadistic commander nicknamed, The Bird, the American serviceman refuses to be broken.
Hillenbrand receives plenty of praise for fastidious research that brought this hero’s story to life, not to mention shed light on the less-told story of the atrocities suffered by POW’s in the Pacific.
Following Louie through captivity to freedom, Hillenbrand doesn’t hold back as she details his torture, both as a POW and a traumatized free man. Suffering from PTSD, Louie declines into alcohol abuse and becomes obsessed with returning to Japan to face (and ultimately kill) his former tormentor, The Bird.
While it sounds like a lot of darkness and despair, this is actually a page-turning story of hope. Louie’s ordeal is a testament to the unshakable power of the human spirit, as he eventually finds forgiveness through his faith.