Every spring Sugar Wallace coaxes her sleepy honeybee queen—presently the sixth in a long line of Queen Elizabeths—out of the hive and lets her crawl around a treasured old map. Wherever the queen stops is their next destination, and this year it's New York City.
Sugar sets up her honeybees on the balcony of an East Village walk-up and then––as she's done everywhere since leaving South Carolina––she gets to know her neighbors. She is, after all, a former debutante who believes that manners make the world a better place even if they seem currently lacking in the big city.
Plus, she has a knack for helping people. There's Ruby with her scrapbook of wedding announcements; single mom Lola; reclusive chef Nate; and George, a courtly ex-doorman. They may not know what to make of her bees and her politeness, but they can't deny the magic in her honey.
And then there's Theo, a delightfully kind Scotsman who crosses Sugar's path as soon as she gets into town and is quickly besotted. But love is not on the menu for Sugar. She likes the strong independent woman she's become since leaving the South and there's nothing a charmer like Theo can do to change her mind . . . only her bees can do that.
Comment: I no longer remember why I got interested in this book but I'd guess it had something to do with the fact this is labeled magical realism and I've read books by Sarah Addison Allen, whose style in this sub-genre? I really like, therefore, since some of this author's work also was marketed as magical realism, I decided to try one of her books.
In this story we meet Sugar Wallace, a woman who is a sort of beekeeper and travels all over the USA when her bees tell her to, especially after she left home in disgrace with those same bees. Now she's arrived in New York and she finds an apartment in the highest floor so her bees can have more space to settle and she can start selling her honey in markets.
However, Sugar is a true southern lady and after her most obvious display of rudeness, she decided to always be considerate so she quickly makes friends among the other inhabitants of her building. She also can't seem to hide from the attraction towards Theo, a man she met on her first day in the city and who she thought was careless with an older man before they got to talk and set things right.
But with attraction comes fear she might do the same mistakes of her past. Will she trust what her bees tell her to finally settle in happiness?
Saying this, I don't mean Sugar really speaks to her bees: they don't communicate verbally, they just are in tune with each other so the magical realism of the novel comes from the insights people get and the relationships created. It's as if some things have to happen and the bees feel what needs to be done so Sugar (being their keeper) can find the right path and now it feels like the new guy, Theo, is the final answer to Sugar's nomad existence.
This book didn't start as very exciting as I imagined. Sugar's arrival in New York showed her as being so positive and bubbly while her friend Jay (who drove her there to help her move) was so negative and this surely made the start to be unbalanced. At least, it was for me and the first time she and the hero Theo meet didn't feel very romantic or inkling to how their relationship would develop. What I mean to say it that the style of the novel was immediately visible to me: it would not be a perfect bland of romance and subtlety, where the personalities of the characters would be slowly peeled until the end.
This would portray, instead, a story about obvious emotions, about obvious things that we had to see happen and no surprise to the reader to see how the main character's would slowly but surely fall in love, because their relationship would be inevitable anyway; we just would have so much fun and emotion seeing the characters realize that.
I was a little disappointed with the whole thing, yes. I felt it lacked subtlety, it lacked a bit of "eye for detail" in how the author showcased what she wanted the reader to know. Even the back story of Sugar's leaving home and why her roaming lifestyle begun was not as strongly presented or emotionally obvious why she acted the way she did.
All the secondary characters are as quirky as Sugar and Theo and the idea - I'd assume - is to create such a chaos of personalities and paths chosen and decisions made to lead to a certain point. I get why there are so many and some little details about one or two of them were interesting to know and to see why would matter in the big scheme of the novel but, in fact, some were not that vital to be on the page. I would say that the author need to create the right mood for Sugar's activities with the bees and her attitude towards life and making others feel better somehow better combined with everything around her.
The romance between Sugar and Theo is not very romantically developed, in my opinion. They are a good match, the planets align with them together and all that but the fact they share their past stories and they laugh and accept each other's cute personality traits (she is a beekeeper and he's allergic, he botches some of the things he wants to say but she sees through it all) doesn't mean everything is always perfectly balanced between them. I felt they could have been anyone and not just Theo and Sugar. I think their characterization lacks more depth, a bit more polishing to make them intriguing and "destined" (in a good way).
The end is, obviously, very predictable. Everything ends well and that's it but all things considered, it's a wonder why some characters were there if not for good excuses to put the main couple in specific situations or to add pages. It seems I'm being mean but this did caught my eye: more dimension to tidy every detail together.
I liked having the experience of reading this but I don't think I'll run to read more by this author so soon, if at all.