Susan Wiggs’ The Beekeeper’s Ball was my October book club read and (surprise, surprise) another non-winner. I still appreciate that the book club encourages me to branch out from my usual preferences, but even they couldn’t save this choice. Our discussion was cut significantly short because no one has anything to say about such an insipid read.
Isabel Johansen is stressed: she’s opening her culinary school, planning her sister’s wedding, and trying to avoid her abusive ex, a celebrity chef who has shown up in her hometown after years to open up his new restaurant. So she’s not thrilled when handsome journalist Cormac O’Neill destroys her bee-keeping efforts, then starts digging into her family’s past. Mac came to write about Isabel’s grandfather’s past in Danish resistance against the Nazis, but the lush atmosphere of Bella Villa and Isabel’s cooking skills and curves entice him to give up his vagabond existence and stay.
Unlike Mac, I had no inclination to stay. In fact, I might not have stuck with this story if I hadn’t had the obligation to. Sonoma Valley sounds like an ideal location for a steamy love story, but it really just didn’t work. Maybe because I wasn’t attracted to Mac, or maybe because Isabel was so constantly vacillating in denial of her feelings. I didn’t really care if they got together or not.
I will admit that, despite her faults, Isabel could be a good cook. The food descriptions made my mouth water. The titular “Beekeeper’s Ball” was the honey-themed wedding of Tess, Isabel’s half-sister . Though the title is a stretch because there was little focus on the wedding despite it’s billing as a major plot-point, it served as a useful vehicle for Isabel’s testing, and thus the book’s listing, of recipes for various culinary creations. I adore honey and learning more about the beekeeping process as well as getting the recipes were the highlight of the book for me.
The other good part was Magnus, Isabel’s grandfather, who recollected his life’s story to Mac. I guess in theory you could bill this as “historical fiction”, which I considered doing because of these asides, but ultimately the flashbacks to World War II are few and fairly disconnected from the main plot. Although I and most of my fellow book-clubbers would have preferred the focus to be on that storyline, it’s really vaguely sketched out, with gaping plot holes. It’s basic purposes are (1) to bring the two leads together though a flimsy plot device and (2) to set up for future books in this series. This was a disappointment because I earnestly wanted to know more about how Magnus survived in the resistance and his growing relationships with Eva and Annaliese.
Unfortunately, I think I am just not a huge fan of this genre. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good romance every now and then, but usually with a dash of intrigue or adventure instead of by itself in a dull setting with duller characters. I would add that this is the second in the series, and I think maybe some of the scenes that felt missing may have been clarified by reading the first book. Not that I will – I just don’t love it enough.