In a romantic adventure across the globe, The Enlightenment of Bees beautifully explores what it means to find the sweet spot in life where our greatest passions meet the world’s greatest need.
“I combed through the pages with delight. This book is going to cause a real buzz.” —Debbie Macomber, #1 New York Times bestselling author
Sometimes a shattered dream leads to an amazing journey.
At twenty-six, apprentice baker Mia West has her entire life planned out: a Craftsman cottage in Seattle, a job baking at The Butter Emporium, and her first love—her boyfriend, Ethan—by her side. But when Ethan declares he “needs some space,” Mia’s carefully planned future crumbles.
Feeling adrift, Mia joins her vivacious housemate Rosie on a humanitarian trip around the world funded by a reclusive billionaire. Along with a famous grunge rock star, a Rwandan immigrant, and an unsettlingly attractive Hawaiian urban farmer named Kai, Mia and Rosie embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
From the slums of Mumbai to a Hungarian border camp during the refugee crisis, Mia’s heart is challenged and changed in astonishing ways—ways she never could have imagined. As she grapples with how to make a difference in a complicated world, Mia realizes she must choose between the life she thought she wanted and the life unfolding before her.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Rachel Linden is a novelist and international aid worker whose adventures in over fifty countries around the world provide excellent grist for her writing. She is the author of Ascension of Larks, Becoming the Talbot Sisters, and The Enlightenment of Bees. Currently Rachel lives with her family in Seattle, Washington, where she enjoys creating stories about hope, courage, and connection with a hint of romance and a touch of whimsy. Visit her online at rachellinden.com; Instagram: rachellinden_writer; Facebook: authorRachellinden.
Read an Excerpt
The day my world crumbles I am dreaming about pie crust. Cubes of chilled butter, ice bobbing in a Pyrex measuring cup of water, a mixing bowl straight from the refrigerator, a pastry cutter to slice the butter and flour and salt into baby-pea-sized gobbets. A light touch, light as a feather. And honeybees.
Their contented hum is a droning undercurrent to the ting ting of my pastry cutter against the bowl. The air is heavy with the scent of lavender, sharp and pungent from the fields of purple stretching beyond my family's farmhouse kitchen window. One by one bees buzz through the open window and land on the rim of my bowl. I shoo them away. They are fat and slow as they fly off, legs laden with orange saddlebags of pollen, buzzing across the fields and over the silver waters of Puget Sound. On the lip of the bowl where they rested, each leaves a dot of honey that trickles down the glass in a slow golden rivulet.
When my ringing cell phone wakes me, I burrow out from under my duvet with a muff led exclamation and a shiver, scrambling to silence the cheery tune. My room feels like an icebox. I'd fallen asleep reading with the window open, and the wet April air wafts under the curtain, sharp and salty from the sea.
"H'llo," I stage-whisper, not wanting to rouse my housemate, Rosie, who I'm guessing is still asleep across the hall after her late-night performance in a jazz club on Capitol Hill.
"Good morning, Mia. Kate here." The activities director at Sunny Days Retirement Community where my Nana Alice lives.
"Good morning, Kate." I try to match her chipper tone, covering my confusion and erasing the sleep from my voice. I open and close my eyes like an owl; the insides of my eyelids feel like sandpaper. Splayed on the floor near my feet is Mary Berry's Baking Bible.
"Just checking to see if you're bringing baked goods for the residents today as usual?" Kate says in a perky voice.
"Oh sure." I glance at the clock and startle. Ten forty! I was up at four a.m. for my four-hour baking shift at the Butter Emporium, an artisan bakery and coffee shop in historic Ballard where I'm an apprentice baker. On Sundays I deliver our day-old baked goods to Sunny Days.
"Be there in a jiffy." I hang up, already throwing on a plaid flannel shirt over my fitted tee. I rub a smudge of flour off the elbow and twist my hair up into a messy bun. Olga, the Ukrainian woman who cuts my hair, bluntly describes it as "crazy vitch hair" with a disapproving shake of her own militantly subdued blond bob. I think it's more accurate to label it unruly, a disheveled sort of curly, like I'm in a perpetually brisk breeze.
In college my English lit professor told me that my hair was the color of an Irish peat bog stream, which sounded a little insulting until I looked it up. He was right. A rich brown with glints of red and gold, the color leached from the peat bogs. It matches my eyes, hazel shot through with green. Ethan says they're so wide and innocent that I look like a Japanese anime character or a dewy forest creature, like Bambi.
I snatch my phone on the way out the door and dictate a text.
Happy 6 years, handsome! How's the meeting going? Love you!
Ethan's been in meetings all weekend. The Internet start-up he founded with a couple of friends right out of college is potentially being bought by a tech company from San Jose, and the decision makers flew to Seattle on Friday to hammer out the details. And later today, when it's all over, we are celebrating our six-year dating anniversary. At the thought my heart skips a beat. I have a premonition, a shiver of delight down my spine, that today could be a very special day indeed. I am over the moon at the thought of it at last.
With the box of baked goods securely fastened to my white Cannondale, I pedal fast across the north slope of Queen Anne, the genteel Seattle westside neighborhood where I live. Even the chilly gray spring weather doesn't stop me from relishing the speed and the freedom and the feeling of flying, like the gulls that circle high over Puget Sound.
Near the Trader Joe's grocery store on Queen Anne Avenue, a familiar figure is standing on the corner, sporting an afro and a purple T-shirt with a peace sign and the slogan Kindness is Karma.
"Angie!" I wave and she waves back. She's holding aloft copies of Real Change, the magazine pages fluttering in the breeze. Her German shepherd, Cargo, is lying on the pavement at her feet, his nose touching her shoes.
"How are sales this morning?" I ask, opening my pastry box and handing her a mascarpone and strawberry Danish, her favorite.
Angie shrugs. "Good enough. Me and Cargo can't complain."
I place a mini lemon bundt cake in front of Cargo, who wags his tail appreciatively.
Angie and I met a year ago when I started volunteering at Hope House, a women and children's shelter in downtown Seattle. Originally from Florida, she's been living in Seattle for five years, all of them on the street.
"Well, I've got to scoot. I'm late with my delivery today." I scratch Cargo behind the ears and turn to go. "See you around."
I mount my bike, then hesitate, wishing as always that I could give Angie more than a pastry every week. She's making good strides at Hope House, in her AA meetings, and with Real Change, but I wish I could wave a magic wand and untangle the complicated mess of her substance addiction, childhood abuse, family dysfunction, and mental illness. ' "Bye, girl." Angie waves. "Thanks for stopping. See you next week."
Now even more tardy, I pedal fast through picturesque neighborhoods of neatly kept historic Craftsman houses nestled up to million-dollar newly built townhomes, the product of the tech boom in Seattle and the seemingly insatiable demand for housing in the city. Zipping along the peaceful streets, I hum the Beatles' "Love Me Do" under my breath. One of Ethan's favorites. How many times has he sung it to me, strumming his guitar with that endearing smile, slow and sweet as maple syrup?
"Love, love me do," I belt out, flying down the hill toward Sunny Days. For a moment I let go of the handlebars and spread my arms wide, turning my smiling face to the sun as it just barely peeks through the gray clouds. I feel almost giddy with the promise of what is to come, as though gravity itself is lightening, as though any moment I might take off into the air and soar. I have a fabulous feeling about today.CHAPTER 2
Nana Alice?" After delivering the pastries to the kitchen, I rap lightly on my grandmother's studio apartment door. A moment later she opens it, wheeling into the doorway with her cherry red walker, which she's dubbed Greased Lightning.
"Mia," she says, beaming with delight. "I just got back from my hike."
Nana Alice is my father's mother, and is one of my favorite people on earth. At eighty-two, she's spry and pert, more sugar than spice with her white hair a pouf of cotton candy on her head and her bright hazel eyes fixed on me. Today she is wearing a hot pink Patagonia fleece and yoga pants after her morning hike in Discovery Park with a vanload of residents.
"We saw a seal pup along the shore," she tells me. "They're so cute, look just like puppies, but they carry leprosy. The nature guide told us that. He had very muscular calves."
Nana Alice has lived at Sunny Days for almost four years, ever since my Uncle Carl caught her perched on the roof of her house, cleaning her own gutters. At his insistence she relocated, settling somewhat unwillingly into this gracious and tasteful assisted living residence for seniors. Nestled on the north slope of Queen Anne hill, it's just a mile from her former home, the cottage that Rosie and I currently rent from her for a mercifully discounted price.
"I was just about to make a cup of coffee." She pulls her walker aside and waves me in. "You want a cup before we watch our show? I think we're judging pastry week today, isn't that right?"
Nana Alice and I have a standing weekly date to watch reruns of The Great British Bake Off and act as amateur judges.
"Nana Alice, I can't stay today," I say apologetically. "Remember, Ethan and I are celebrating our anniversary?"
"Oh, that's right." Her eyes brighten with anticipation. "A big day ahead, we hope! Well then, you'd best get home and put on a nice dress." She casts a pointed look at what she refers to as my lumberjack attire. She is a liberated modern woman but was still raised in a time when ladies never went out without a pressed skirt and combed hair.
"Here, I brought you some treats." I offer her a small white Butter Emporium bag, and she peeks inside.
"Ooh, those buttermilk lemon bars are my favorite."
"I made that batch, so taste them and tell me what you think. I think I got the filling right. It's zesty, but the shortbread layer is a little tough."
As I was growing up, Nana Alice was the domestic paragon by which I measured all else. For years she owned a bakery on the top of Queen Anne hill. It was called Alice's Wonderland Bakery and featured a vaguely Carrollian theme with marzipan mushrooms and a stuffed white rabbit with red glass eyes — which was, in retrospect, rather unsettling. As a girl I loved to visit the bakery, where I was assured a free butterscotch oatmeal cookie and a hug from Nana Alice, her apron always floury and stained with vanilla extract. Sometimes she would even let me operate the big stainless steel mixer.
"Tomorrow I've got medical tests all morning," Nana Alice says, folding over the top of the bag. "These will be a perfect treat while I wait."
"Tests for what? Is everything okay?"
She waves away my worry. "I'm sure it's nothing. Just a mammogram and an ultrasound. When you get old, going to the doctor is a full-time job." She sets the bag in the little basket on the front of Greased Lightning, then peers at me searchingly for a moment. "Are you ready if Ethan pops the question?"
I take a deep breath and nod. "Yes, I think so." How could I not be ready? Any qualms I've had about our differing visions of the future I've laid aside long ago. After six years we've learned how to compromise. We're good together. I love him. He loves me. It's that simple.
"Good." Nana Alice nods. She adores Ethan, who charmed her the first time they met by telling her she looks like Debbie Reynolds and bringing her dahlias he'd hand-picked from a flower farm. Still, after six years, even she is chafing at the delay. "If we're not judging pastry I think I'll head to the dining room for tea. There's a piano concert starting right now. The pianist isn't very good but he tries, dear man." Nana Alice zips her fleece and maneuvers Greased Lightning into the hall. "I'll walk with you."
As we amble slowly down the hallway, she sighs. "You know, I envy you a little, Mia. All of your life still before you. You can do anything, go anywhere. That's a great gift. Time and youth and opportunity."
I wince. "Yeah, if I could just figure out what I want to do."
It's a sore subject for me. In the four years since college graduation, I've cycled through a variety of volunteering positions and a few short stints in different careers, but nothing was the right fit. I finally started the apprenticeship at the bakery, but while I adore baking, it just doesn't feel big enough. I want to make a difference, change the world for the better.
"Your parents still hope you'll take over the farm one day," Nana Alice says.
"I just can't," I sigh, feeling the weight of their hopes and bridling just a bit under the gentle pressure.
My parents run an organic lavender farm on the Olympic Peninsula a few hours from Seattle. The setting for an idyllic childhood, but not where I want to settle down as an adult. I don't want to spend my days growing lavender and making honey. I envision a very different life, a life like that of my mother's younger sister, my Aunt Frances.
Aunt Frannie has spent the last twenty-five years crisscrossing sub-Saharan Africa with a small team and a portable dental clinic in a Land Cruiser, reaching remote areas of Africa. Fiercely smart, witty, and independent, she is my hero, living a life so different from my parents' peaceful, ordered existence on the lavender farm.
I want to make the type of impact Aunt Frannie has made on people. I just have to figure out how exactly I can do that in a way that doesn't involve crowns and molars and Novocain.
"I'll figure it out someday, right?" I ask plaintively.
Nana Alice stops and takes my hand, her skin papery thin but her grip surprisingly strong. "My dear girl," she says, looking me in the eye. "Don't be disheartened. You are a smart, gifted young lady with a tender heart. You were made to do good in this world. To love and be loved. Don't you forget it."
I glance away, blinking back the prickle of tears, and nod. She's been giving me this pep talk practically since I was in diapers. I believe her, I just wish I could see the end result of all her faith and expectation.
"I think your concert is starting." I gently place her hand back on Greased Lightning.
The opening strains of "I've Got You Under My Skin" drift across the lobby as we head toward the dining room. Outside the glass front doors, rain drizzles steadily down. It's going to be a wet ride home. An older gentleman in a trench coat and a trilby is just coming in. He opens the door with a gust of cool air, fumbling to maneuver an open red tartan umbrella through the doorway in front of him. Nana Alice stops to let the man cross our path, but he doesn't seem to see us. He gives the umbrella a thorough shake and then furls it smartly, spraying both of us with a shower of raindrops.
"Gracious, watch where you're going," Nana Alice protests.
"Why ladies, my apologies." He peers over the umbrella at us. Under the trilby his face is lined but good-humored, his pale blue eyes sharp. He looks about Nana Alice's age. His figure is lean and he walks nimbly but with a slight stoop. "I didn't see you there." He tips his hat to us. "Albert Prentice. I just moved into 4B."
Nana Alice gives him a startled look. "Albert Prentice?" she says. "I went to school with an Albert Prentice. Eleventh grade at Holy Cross. Sister Mary Teresa's English class. I was Alice Freeman then."
Albert takes a step back and removes his hat, holding it to his chest. "Alice Freeman," he says slowly, almost reverently. "Of course I remember you. We performed a scene from Much Ado About Nothing. You were radiant as Beatrice."
Nana Alice grips Greased Lightning and stands up a little straighter. "Well, your Benedick wasn't half bad either, if I recall correctly." She beams at Albert. "What a coincidence." She pauses. "Are you here alone?"
His eyes cloud. "My wife, Jeanne, died three months ago. Heart failure. And my kids think I can't manage on my own. Sixty years in our home in Laurelhurst, and now here I am." He shakes his head and puts his hat back on. "It's tough to start over at my age."
Nana Alice reaches forward and grips his hand, her gaze sympathetic. "Albert, you are among friends here. You come by my table for dinner tonight. I'll introduce you to everyone."
Albert looks pleased. "It would be my pleasure. Thank you, Alice. That's kind of you." He releases her hand, tips his hat to us, and heads toward the East Wing, his stride jaunty.
When he's out of earshot, Nana Alice shakes her head in amazement. "Albert Prentice. Imagine that. And newly widowed, poor man."
"He's very handsome," I observe. "The ladies are going to swoon when they see him."
Nana nods. "Yes, and he still has his hair." She purses her lips. "He'll be the toast of the town around here."
"What about you," I tease gently. "He seemed awfully fond of your Beatrice."
"Pshaw," she says lightly. "That was ages ago. The girls all liked him, though, even then. They thought he looked like Paul Newman."
"He still does," I say, giving her a sideways glance.
Nana Alice tilts her head with an uncharacteristically coy smile. "I guess you're right," she says. "He does."CHAPTER 3
You look pretty." Ethan gives me a quick kiss as I slide into his vintage silver BMW idling against the curb.
"And you're very dapper." He's wearing his gray cashmere cardigan over a button-down shirt in sky blue that makes his eyes pop. Is this the outfit of a man about to propose? I can't decide, but he looks endearingly handsome in it.
"I thought we could go down to Pike Place," he says, darting a glance sideways at me.
"Sounds perfect." My heart is beating fast against my rib cage as we head toward downtown Seattle and the waterfront. Pike Place Market is one of Seattle's most iconic spots. After today it may be my favorite location in the world.
I clasp my hands between my knees and try to calm my nerves. I didn't take Nana Alice's admonition to put on a nice dress, but I'm glad I thought to put on waterproof mascara and my new spiffy red pair of Toms canvas shoes.
"How'd the meetings go today?" I ask as we drive down Queen Anne hill.
"Great. They really like the concept and want to move forward on a contract." As he talks enthusiastically about the start-up, I try to focus on his explanation, but I can't stop thinking about what I hope is about to happen.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Enlightenment of Bees"
Copyright © 2019 Rachel Linden Rempt.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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