Book Review: The Beekeeper’s Ball by Susan Wiggs


Men who hurt women
should not be allowed to get away with it.
– Susan Wiggs, The Beekeeper’s Ball

Midsummer’s Eve is the perfect time to celebrate the release tomorrow of books by two of my favorite brilliant authors:  Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things in paperback and Susan Wiggs‘ long-anticipated The Beekeeper’s Ball which is the sequel to her much-loved The Apple Orchard.  Happy, happy, happy!

Clara Louise Maas

Clara Louise Maas

Lou Klist

Lou Klist

I’m over the moon ecstatic that I received an advance copy of The Beekeeper’s Ball along with a goody bag from Susan Wiggs! The book is dedicated to her wonderful mother Clara Louise Klist and her adorable granddaughter Clara Louise Maas.  The Beekeeper’s Ball is all about liberation from trauma via love:

The Beekeeper’s Ball is an exquisite and richly imagined novel of the secrets that keep us from finding our way, the ties binding us to family and home, and the indelible imprint love can make on the human heart.

The theme of the book is on a needlepoint sampler in Isabel’s study:

Live. . .This. . .Day

Elizabeth Wiggs, David, and Clara Mass; Susan Wiggs; Lou and Nick Klist

Elizabeth Wiggs, David, and Clara Maas; Susan Wiggs; Lou and Nick Klist

I’ve been blessed.
Life does not always give us what we think we want.
Life tends to give us what we need.
– Susan Wiggs, The Beekeeper’s Ball

In The Apple Orchard, Tess Delaney falls in love with Dominic Rossi.  Tess and her sister Isabel Johansen sell their grandfather’s Fabregé egg to bring Bella Vista out of foreclosure.  In the sequel, Ms. Wiggs returns to Sonoma County, California and Bella Vista.  Tess opens Things Remembered which is an homage to shops owned by her grandmothers.  Isabel transforms the hacienda into a destination cooking school.  Tess and Dominic get married at the Beekeeper’s Ball.  And, Isabel gets her chance at romance with Cormac “Mac” O’Neill, who is a widower, hunky photo-journalist, and citizen of the world.  Mac has come to Bella Vista at Tess’ request to write a book about their grandfather, Magnus Johansen’s, experiences as a key player in the Danish Resistance during World War II.


People process trauma in their own way.
– Susan Wiggs, The Beekeeper’s Ball

Isabel wants to keep bees and produce honey. She’s waiting for her new beekeeper, Jamie Westfall, to help her with a swarm when her dog Charlie barks and Mac arrives in his Jeep:  “Mac.  Like the truck.”   The bees get spooked, and all hell breaks out.

Mac is allergic to bees.  Outside the clinic in Archangel, Tess spots Calvin Sharpe, a “douchebag” TV celebrity chef:  “a guy who thinks the sun rises every morning just to hear him crow.”  Isabel has a PTSD flashback to the night when she’d told Calvin that she was pregnant ~ the secret that has kept her from finding her way:

. . .she’d driven at breakneck speed all the way from Napa, where she’d been attending culinary school. . .nothing broken, only bruised, but she was bleeding.  A miscarriage. . .she’d buried the memory along with her dream of becoming a famous chef. . .

He treated me like his unpaid help and I was stupid enough to be grateful for the privilege. . .

It was hard to believe that there had ever been a time when she had gazed into that face, seeking approval and love. . .she would have done anything for him. . .

I was scared for so long.

When it came to putting up walls,
[Isabel] was the master bricklayer. . .
buried her shame and kept herself hidden. . .
wash the day away and hit the reset button.
– Susan Wiggs, The Beekeeper’s Ball

Isabel had been too traumatized and humiliated at the time to press charges, but she had a tape of the incident.  She became a hermit at Bella Vista.  As Mac interviews her family and friends for his book, Isabel starts to heal by recalling wisdom shared by her late grandmother Eva “Bubbie” Solomon Johansen, who had survived the Holocaust ~ the ties that bind us to family and home:

No creature should ever be trapped against its will. . .It will ruin itself, just trying to escape.

Magnus wonders whether he tried too hard to protect Isabel:

I gave her love, but did I teach her to live?


I have enjoyed much good fortune in my life.
–  Magnus Johansen in The Beekeeper’s Ball

Mac was astonished by the resilience of Magnus and Annelise Winther, who were orphaned during World War II and joined the Danish Resistance.  Annelise revealed she had been forced into Hitler’s Lebensborn (a “horrible attempt to breed a master race”), raped, and borne a child when she was just thirteen years old:

There was no decision.  It was an act of desperation.  And survival. . .

How did she figure out how to pick herself up. . .find the courage?

. . .so brave. . .ripped from the safety of childhood. . .survive on their own for years. . .powerless to change what happened to them. . .they didn’t allow the past to limit them.  It’s humbling to me. . .

You go on. . .You just go on. . .

There is no grand plan, just flawed human beings bumbling through life. . .

Papa says the truth can’t be hidden, not for long.  It always comes out.


Forgive yourself and move on.
– Susan Wiggs, The Beekeeper’s Ball

Several characters in the book are survivors of trauma.  Jamie, the beekeeper, is pregnant and running away from an abusive relationship.  Mac harbors survivor guilt for failing to protect his late wife, Yasmin Nejim, from terrorists.  Tess’ mother emotionally abandoned her.  Dominic’s ex-wife was fond of manipulating the legal system as an instrument of abuse.  They discover ties binding them to family and home:

Families are made in lots of ways. . .

Life gets better when you let people in.  Not if you let in the wrong people. . .

Everyone has a past. . .pain.  But not everyone stayed hidden behind it. . .

I’ve read studies of trauma survivors. . .key element. . .they take action for a cause bigger than themselves.  The work helps them pull through. . .

You [Isabel] came along in the middle of the worst of life’s turmoil [her father, Erik, had died in a car accident and her mother, Francesca, had died during childbirth]. . .helpless and utterly dependent. . .sweetest baby. . .Our love for you drove out the grief.


Let’s go play away the hurt.
– Susan Wiggs, The Beekeeper’s Ball

Yes, love always wins.  Bella Vista becomes home for people linked by blood and by spirit.  Isabel restored the hacienda.  Jamie nurtured the hives.  Mac drew out the family’s history.  Tess planned the Beekeeper’s Ball.  In the end, Isabel discovered the indelible imprint love had made on her heart:

. . .her spine felt like a column of steel. . .she felt liberated. . .

The human spirit could brave anything so long as there was some better future to believe in. . .

Bella Vista. . .had been her hiding place, walling her off from the rest of the world.  Now Isabel wanted it to be a place to grow.


The whole world was waiting for her to begin.
– Susan Wiggs, The Beekeeper’s Ball

I can’t think of a more emPOWERed and liberated way to celebrate Midsummer’s Eve:

Live. . .This. . .Day

Related links:

Book Review:  The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs, 5/13/13

The Beekeeper’s Ball:  The sweetness of love by Lois Dyer, 6/24/14 [delicious book review]

Midsummer’s Eve:  Night of EmPOWERment, 6/23/09

Book Review:  The Wedding Bees by Sarah-Kate Lynch, 6/22/14


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