Reviewed by Cressida McLaughlin
Lillie is grieving after the death of her beloved husband Sam. Trying to carry on with her normal life in Australia, the last thing she expects is to discover she has a half-brother she never knew about. She was adopted as a baby and taken from Ireland to Australia, but had long ago given up the search for her birth relatives. It is her sons who do the research and get in touch with Seth. Her family and friends convince Lillie that a trip to the other side of the world, to stay with her newly discovered brother, is just what she needs.
Just as Lillie arrives in the small town of Redstone, so does Peggy. Though only young, Peggy has been moving from place to place so long that she thinks she will never find somewhere to call home. The charm of Redstone threatens to change her outlook, but she knows settling down and starting a family is out of the question – her past will never allow her. Frankie, Seth’s wife, is trying to cope with her status as sole bread-winner following her husband’s redundancy, but the cracks are starting to appear in their marriage. Opal and Ned Byrne are a close-knit family. They have three grown sons and now fifteen year-old niece Freya to look after, but Opal can’t help but be worried about her daughter Meredith, who has moved away and has little communication with them. Arriving in a strange place, grieving and uncertain, Lillie has no idea how many friends she will make, and how important her stay in Redstone is going to be.
The Honey Queen is an ensemble novel, with so many characters, points of view and plotlines that I was worried I would get confused. But Cathy Kelly is a masterful storyteller, introducing new characters only as you begin to feel comfortable with those already known. I loved Opal Byrne and her warm heart, I admired Freya’s self-confidence and wisdom immensely - I wished I’d been like her at that age - and I was drawn into Frankie’s difficulties, her determination to be strong and try and save her marriage. All the characters were well defined and realistic, and I could easily picture the small but buzzing centre of Redstone, Frankie and Seth’s beautiful but dilapidated house, the hairdressers, the knitting shop and the Byrne’s home, full of happiness and bustle. The storylines are compelling and, as the story progresses, become intertwined, connected by Lillie and her unfailing determination to help people.
With such a large cast, it was inevitable that I would find my favourites, and I did. Peggy’s story stuck with me more than any of the others (weeks after finishing she still pops into my head occasionally). It is full of hope, love, mystery and potential for disaster. I was dying to know the reason behind her fear, and I was willing her to find happiness, gritting my teeth, smiling with relief or despairing every step of the way. I would have loved to have spent more time with her and those she comes into contact with, but only because she’s the character I fell for. With so many stories and central figures, every reader will find their own favourite.
I really enjoyed The Honey Queen. It took a while to get going for me – again I think because there were so many characters to introduce – but after the first few chapters I was hooked, drawn into the charming, but by no means perfect, world of Redstone. It is funny and warm, full of knots and tensions that have to be resolved, and towards the end I found it almost impossible to put down, reading late into the night. I’ve not read any Cathy Kelly before now, and I’m definitely going to look for more of her books. For an engaging, heart-warming read – a huge, enveloping hug of a book - you couldn’t go far wrong with this.
8/10MORE ON THIS BOOK