Book review: The Honey Queen by Cathy Kelly

Lillie Maguire is always buzzing ... she’s queen bee at her sunny Melbourne home but full of the native charm, wry humour and wisdom derived from her Irish heritage.

Friday, 15th February 2013, 9:00 am

Undoubtedly the death of Sam, her husband of 40 years, has hit her for six. She has two married sons, two much-loved daughters-in-law and two adorable grandchildren, but the world now has a ‘Sam-shaped hole’ in it.

Fortunately, Lillie has found some comfort in the discovery that she has a half brother she never knew existed – a link to the mother who gave her up for adoption 64 years ago – and she is flying to Cork to meet her long-lost family and learn more about the place they call home.

Yes, Irish eyes are smiling again as Cathy Kelly from Wicklow, one of Ireland’s best-loved writers and an ambassador for Unicef, serves us up another dainty dish, a rich, tasty but sweetly subtle slice of life in all its heart-warming, heart-breaking and quixotic unpredictability.

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The Honey Queen, a tale of dreams lost and realised, features Kelly’s trademark top-class storytelling and her funny, piquant take on the relationships that define our destinies.

Star of the show is Lillie Maguire, one of life’s eternal optimists and a good friend to all. Her daughters-in-law love her because she never interferes but knows how to help when it’s needed.

And now she’s off a an adventure to the other side of the world where half brother Seth Green and his wife Frankie might just be in need of a little Maguire magic.

They live in Redstone, a friendly, picturesque town near Cork where the locals wave and chat to each other and the shops and cafes are full of cheerful hustle and bustle.

Frankie appears to take everything in her stride, including empty nest syndrome, a husband who has lost both his job and his zest for life, a new home that is proving to be a millstone round their necks... and the unwelcome arrival of the ‘change,’ which has kicked in full throttle.

The reality is that 49-year-old Frankie is middle aged, menopausal and miserable. ‘Calcium, collagen, oestrogen – everything was leaching out of her,’ leaving just a dried-out husk. But the worst thing is that her marriage feels dried out and empty too.

And there’s another Redstone woman who also appears to be getting on just fine. Peggy Barry has always been a restless spirit but now, focused and approaching thirty, she has opened her own knitting and craft shop on the town’s high street.

It’s a dream come true, particularly as handsome, down-to-earth David Byrne has walked into her lonely life and stolen her heart. But Peggy has a secret and it means she can’t let David get too close.

And when Lillie finally makes it back home to Ireland, she is drawn right into the heart of Redstone’s close-knit community and discovers all is not what it seems in this busy little town.

Her hard-earned wisdom is soon needed to help family and friends navigate what is uncharted territory for them all…

Kelly’s delicious book is ideal comfort reading for those long winter months – she gets to the heart of what matters to women whilst spinning a terrific yarn full of compelling home truths and brimming with that traditional, sparkling Irish style.

A treat for all Cathy Kelly fans...

(HarperCollins, hardback, £14.99)