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Telling the Bees Hardcover – March 7, 2013


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Octogenarian Albert Honig, a quiet, unassuming bachelor, has always lived a quiet, unassuming life. He’s incredibly attuned to the workings of the beehives he keeps in his sunny Southern California backyard, and their buzzing inhabitants are his closest companions. Although he doesn’t care for most of his neighbors, he has remained on good terms with his next-door neighbors, sisters Claire and Hilda Straussman. Then Albert discovers that the Straussman sisters have been murdered. As the investigation swirls around him, Albert pieces together his memories of Claire and Hilda and finds that he may not have known his neighbors as well as he thought. A story of shared history, secrets of omission, and revisited memories, Telling the Bees is nostalgic and hauntingly poetic. Richly detailed and sparsely populated, Hesketh’s debut novel relies on Albert’s depth of narration and an enlightening amount of apiology. Reminiscent of the work of Karen Joy Fowler and Peter Orner, Telling the Bees reminds readers that even quiet hives are deceptively active, as Albert’s foggy memories may unravel the mysterious life and untimely death of the Straussman sisters. --Stephanie Turza

Review

Praise for Telling the Bees
 
“[A] stately and beautiful novel . . . Only a superhuman reader will be able to resist foraging through the house looking for that half-eaten jar of honey.”—Carolyn See, Washington Post
 
“Elegantly crafted . . . While readers are likely to find themselves longing for a plate of buttered toast and honey, there’s nothing ‘cozy’ about Telling the Bees—it’s downright gorgeous.”—The Christian Science Monitor
 
Elegiac in its tone, Telling the Bees is a quiet, meditative novel, dressed up as a murder mystery, but more geared towards examining the intricacies of the human condition and the power of secrets when voiced than in identifying who killed Claire. As Albert slowly sifts through his fragile memories of the past, patient readers will be rewarded with a rich story that softly stings and is utterly unforgettable.”—BookPage
 
Reminiscent of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, Hesketh’s debut explores family secrets and end-of-life reflections. The author’s exceptional storytelling skills allow us not only to understand Albert’s feelings, but to experience those emotions right along with him. Readers in search of a heartfelt, thought-provoking novel will find what they are looking for in this journey through the life of an unassuming apiarist who knows more about his reclusive neighbors than anyone could guess.”—Library Journal (starred review)
 
“Elegiac in its tone, Telling the Bees is a quiet, meditative novel, dressed up as a murder mystery, but more geared towards examining the intricacies of the human condition and the power of secrets when voiced than in identifying who killed Claire. As Albert slowly sifts through his fragile memories of the past, patient readers will be rewarded with a rich story that softly stings and is utterly unforgettable.”—BookPage
 
“In her invention of the singular Mr. Honig (and his life, from an early age) Hesketh has created a stubborn and enigmatic and duplicitously withholding character whose life story is nonetheless told richly, in turns melancholy, exhilarating, sociological, with a murder mystery and a deep appreciation for the stories we all construct for ourselves and for others.”—OC Weekly

"A story of shared history, secrets of omission, and revisited memories, Telling the Bees is nostalgic and hauntingly poetic.  Richly detailed and sparsely populated, Hesketh's debut novel relies on Albert's depth of narration and an enlightening amount of apiology.  Reminiscent of the work of Karen Joy Fowler and Peter Orner, Telling the Bees reminds readers that even quiet hives are deceptively active."—Booklist

"Telling the Bees is a marvel. With infinite compassion and perfect pitch, Peggy Hesketh has written an American classic: the inadvertent examination of a life unlived, told by the 80-year-old beekeeper who didn't live it. It's a wonderful read for anyone who loves a great and unforgettable story told well."—Elizabeth George, New York Times-bestselling author of the Inspector Lynley series
 
"What a wonderful novel!  The voice is so masterfully done, the mysteries of life and death so compellingly evoked.  But best of all is the way Telling the Bees reminds us that even the quietest life will still hold its full measure of drama and passion." —Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times-bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club

"In Peggy Hesketh's poignant debut novel, Telling the Bees, the lasting effects of long held secrets is at the core of beekeeper Albert Honig's otherwise quiet world.  In the twilight of his life, Honig is haunted by the past memories of his long-time neighbors. Rich in detail, Hesketh has crafted a thoughtful, compelling story of loss and regret and the unforeseeable consequences that come when the truth is finally revealed.  A wonderful read." —Gail Tsukiyama, author of A Hundred Flowers

"Telling the Bees is a charming tale of a bygone era evoking the power of the past to influence the future. Hesketh's ability to create an evocative narrative will leave readers eager to read more by this talented writer."—Jo-Ann Mapson, author of Solomon's Oak and Finding Casey
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult; First Edition edition (March 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399159053
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399159053
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #382,378 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By MommaMia VINE VOICE on February 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When I first began Telling the Bees, I got wondering if the descriptions of bee behavior and their swarming habits had anything to do with the story. I wondered if I would like this book and all the details about bees, an insect I can't say I've had all that much interest in. I can now say, after finishing this lovely story that it all came together so gently, so effortlessly. I not only found myself slowing down a bit myself (taking time to smell the flowers, so to speak) but also have to say that listening to Albert speak of his bees really helped me to get to know this lonely man better than I could have otherwise. By the end of the book Albert felt like an old friend, and I believe it was his descriptions of his beloved friends the bees that helped me to feel a strong connection to this man. At first I wondered if I would be able to read this book, and once it was done, I was sorry to see it end.

The story of Albert and his neighbors the Straussman's will touch your heart. Telling the Bees will open you up to a whole new world, a place where even the most seemingly insignificant of us, even the bees, have a purpose, a place, and a destiny. It tells of unlikely friendships, distant families and the lies we tell out of desperation. This is one of the best books I have read this year. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By TrishNYC VINE VOICE on February 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
On a call to remove an offending bee swarm from his neighbor's house, Albert gets to formally meet the daughters of the house, Hilda and Claire. While Hilda is large and less delicate, her sister Claire seems to be the opposite both in build and disposition. From the start, it is clear that the girls have a troubled home life, a mother who is as bossy as she is mean, an absent father and the looming spectre of a dead brother. Through his mother's insistent invitations, Claire begins visting Albert's family and it is in these interactions with him and his parents that Claire seems to be her best self. In the quiet contemplation of tending the hives, a sweet and special friendship forms betweeen the two children, one that will span almost their whole lives even as it is dimnished by the passage of time and the infusion of adulthood and its complications.

The author skillfully molds and manipulates language, luring you into the tale and creating such vivid descriptions that I felt like I was on the sleepy little bee farm with Albert. Though the story starts off with the death of Claire and Hilda at the hands of home invaders, it is through Albert's narration, inner thoughts, remembered joys and regrets that the reader gets to know the sisters, mostly Claire. That Claire grows into a beautiful and vibrant young woman is almost expected from the moment we meet her. But it is the estrangement that develops between her and Albert in their later adulthood that remains an ongoing mystery until much later in the book. But the seeds of their discord was sown in the roots of their childhood as Albert grew up cherished by two very different but very loving parents while Claire grew up in a household that always harbored a thin veil of menace and secrets.
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Format: Hardcover
First Line: The bees travel along the high-tension wires, just as surely as one true sentence follows the next.

Albert Honig hasn't seen his next-door neighbors, Claire and Hilda Straussman, and that's unusual. Walking over to see if everything's all right, he goes into the house and finds both of the "Bee Ladies" dead, victims of a senseless accident during a burglary gone horribly wrong.

Once the best of friends, Albert is haunted by Claire's death, regretting the estrangement between them that occurred twenty years ago. As the years pass after the sisters' deaths, Albert continues to linger over each memory he has of them, and as he pieces these memories together, he learns not only some painful truths about Claire's life but also the healing power that laying the past to rest can bring.

At the beginning, I wasn't too sure if this book was going to be my cup of tea. Each chapter begins with a snippet of bee lore or behavior. Albert is an old man, and it swiftly becomes evident that he relates to the world around him through his beehives. When he finds the bodies of the dead women and Detective Grayson tries to question Albert about the sisters and about what he saw when he walked into the house, Albert refuses to answer anything directly. Everything has to be tied into beekeeping in as much detail as possible. I didn't know whether to take Grayson to the nearest bar and pay for the first two rounds, or if I should find the poor man some tranquilizers. In these first few chapters, Albert Honig is without doubt one of the most maddening characters I've ever had the misfortune to meet. But somehow, some way, author Peggy Hesketh works some magic because I became hooked on the story.

Albert's world is miniscule through his own choice.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By thewanderingjew on September 30, 2013
Format: Audible Audio Edition
In his 8th decade, beekeeper Albert Honig, makes a gruesome discovery when he finds the bodies of his murdered neighbors, Clarinda and Hilda Straussman. As he participates in the investigation of the murder, he is forced to face his own demons as he explores his memories of the past and his relationship with Claire (Clarinda), when answering Detective Grayson's questions.
I felt almost hypnotized by the narrative; as I listened, the rhythm reached out to me. A beautiful, but simple story, on the surface, it follows the lives of the Honigs and the Straussmans, as Claire and Albert were growing up and coming of age. Claire, more rambunctious than Albert, tried to encourage him to come out of his shell, but he was a solitary individual, socially inept, who preferred his father's doctrine of keeping orderly and honest, to hers, which encouraged risk taking, and also preferred his bees to people. She, on the other hand, overplayed her hand a bit and suffered from her escapades. Tragedy forced her into a life she never intended.
Claire was lovely, but her sister Hilda was far less so, and together, they were the bee ladies who shared a life of spinsters. Albert and Claire were once great friends, but something happened to change that course of events. Albert was a bit of a martyr and in his need to do "what was right" he betrayed his dear friend. Perhaps she had no right to impose upon his loyalty as she did, but nevertheless, it caused an irreparable rift between them.
The book will make the reader ask the questions, is it all right to keep silent to protect someone? When is it necessary to speak out? Does righteous behavior justify itself even when it causes pain and enormous conflict?
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