Bookworm: ‘Music of Bees’ sweet, with no big sting

‘Second Thoughts’ eliminates many arguments, but financial issues are not one of them

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“The Music of Bees: A Novel”

  • By Eileen Garvin
  • c. 2021, Dutton
  • $26, $35 Canada; 336 pages

Help! Quick, you need an extra set of hands, a couple of strong arms, strong backs, shoulders you can lean on, another brain to pick. You wouldn't normally ask, but you need assistance; a leg-up for a minute and you'll be fine. As in the new novel, “The Music of Bees” by Eileen Garvin, a bit of support can benefit both giver and recipient.

An Oregon spring always put Alice Holtzman in a good mood.

Not only was the weather better but this year, there was so much to look forward to: her beehives from last year were healthy enough to split, and another dozen new hives were planned. By this time next year, Alice thought she might have a hundred-fifty hives and the extra money would be nice.

“The Music of Bees: A Novel” by Eileen Garvin.

Life was good for forty-four-year-old Alice – at least most of the time, but she couldn't bear to think about the past.

And then she almost ran over the kid in the wheelchair.

There were many times when Jake Stevenson thought about what might've been.

What if he'd been a better student? Or if he'd fought harder for the scholarship his father cruelly denied him? What if he hadn't been horsing around at that party and fell, broke his back, ended up a paraplegic, lost his dog, had better parents? And then, what if Alice Holtzman hadn't almost run him over? Eighteen-year-old Jake would never have left home then, never would have met Alice's bees, never would have discovered beekeeping.

When Harry Stokes read the ad in the Help-Wanted website for a beekeeper's handyman, it seemed like a job he could do. He was good with tools and knew how to fix things so he applied, hoping that the employer wouldn't ask about his past. He'd surely never volunteer that he'd spent time in prison.

Yes, with two new employees, a pending promotion at her day-job, and a beekeeping business that was humming, the future looked bright for Alice Holtzman.

And then a killer moved into the area and the bees started to die...

Reading “The Music of Bees” is like coming home from work, putting on your slippers, and claiming your favorite chair: it's comfortable. It doesn't make waves or raise your heart rate; it won't make you emotional. Author Eileen Garvin makes a bit of social commentary here, but it fits with the story in a non-rabble-rousing way. Sweet, that's this book, with no big sting to make you want to run.

No, in fact, this is a book you won't mind sharing. There's a minor bit of profanity here, nothing you haven't heard before; the plot is believable, and Garvin's writing is smooth, like a refreshing green glade with cool, soft grass.

Bonus: if you knew nothing about bees before, you will when you're done here.

Recommend “The Music of Bees” to your book group and watch the buzz about it. Pass it to the next reader who enjoys a novel with soft drama. Start this book. You can't help but like it.

“Second Thoughts: On Having and Being a Second Child” author Lynn Berger.

“Second Thoughts: On Having and Being a Second Child”

  • By Lynn Berger
  • c. 2021, Henry Holt
  • $25.99, $34.99 Canada; 208 pages

Good things come in pairs. Salt and pepper. Ketchup and mustard. Bread and butter. Two peas in a pod. You can't imagine one without the other, side by side, yin and yang, maybe brother and sister? Or maybe not; is it better to have one child, to be an only, or does a kid need a sibling? In the new book “Second Thoughts” by Lynn Berger, science steps in.

“Second Thoughts: On Having and Being a Second Child” by Lynn Berger.

When she looks at the photo taken moments after she learned she was pregnant again, Lynn Berger wonders if her toddler daughter was precognizant. The girl's face had an “ominous” look – coincidence, perhaps, or a sign of “what was about to happen.”

As with all parents, her first child was a “miracle” for Berger and her partner, but would that describe their second pregnancy? In giving her daughter a sibling, Berger was taking things away from the girl, attention being one. In being second-born, her son would automatically be denied what his sister had had as an only child, however temporary.

Berger realized that there are “surprisingly few words for this particular new experience.”

Many people counsel parents to have a second child “for” the first, forgetting that siblings can make one another “miserable.” As an eldest child herself, Berger remembers big battles with her younger sister; her sister also recalls memories that aren't fun, though the two are closer now. To further complicate things, Berger found research suggesting that fewer siblings means fewer playmates, which may actually increase sibling rivalry. Other research says that intense rivalry is rare, in the long run.

As for parents, of course, a second child in the house has its effects. There's the worry about time and having enough of it to go around. Mothers usually take the larger share of caretaking, but the balance is more equal each generation – although income disparities have widened.

The bottom line, says Berger, is that kids are more resilient than we think they are.

And so are we.

As you're reading “Second Thoughts” many things may go through your mind, the first being that it seems so few people have, well, thoughts of the kind that author Lynn Berger has on the impact of a second offspring. Odd that that's so, considering the widespread, oft-shared social mythology that exists about only children, which Berger generally blows apart.

Indeed, there are a lot of mistruths laid to rest inside this book, starting with what may be the biggest consideration: on time, parents will take comfort in knowing that it isn't really as much of an issue as they may think. Sibling rivalry is likewise not a big worry, nor is any so-called “birth order.” In short, this book eliminates many arguments but be aware that financial issues are not one of them, other than in income differences.

Interestingly enough, this is also a good book for parents who are thinking about a third, or fourth child ... or even a first. For any parent-to-be, “Second Thoughts” could be a good thing to read.

If you're thinking baby?

Maybe, then look for “Hunt, Gather, Parent” by Michaeleen Doucleff, PhD, a book about parenting throughout history and what today's parents can learn from our ancestors. If it's a boy, then find “To Raise a Boy” by Emma Brown, a book that will help parents help their sons with the ups and downs of boyhood. And if you're concerned about the welfare of all children, then look for “Children Under Fire: An American Crisis,” a particularly urgent and relevant book by John Woodrow Cox.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.