Review: The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite

Review: The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia WaiteThe Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows (Feminine Pursuits, #2) by Olivia Waite
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: F/F romance, historical romance
Series: Feminine Pursuits #2
Pages: 416
Published by Avon Impulse on July 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When Agatha Griffin finds a colony of bees in her warehouse, it’s the not-so-perfect ending to a not-so-perfect week. Busy trying to keep her printing business afloat amidst rising taxes and the suppression of radical printers like her son, the last thing the widow wants is to be the victim of a thousand bees. But when a beautiful beekeeper arrives to take care of the pests, Agatha may be in danger of being stung by something far more dangerous…
Penelope Flood exists between two worlds in her small seaside town, the society of rich landowners and the tradesfolk. Soon, tensions boil over when the formerly exiled Queen arrives on England’s shores—and when Penelope’s long-absent husband returns to Melliton, she once again finds herself torn, between her burgeoning love for Agatha and her loyalty to the man who once gave her refuge.
As Penelope finally discovers her true place, Agatha must learn to accept the changing world in front of her. But will these longing hearts settle for a safe but stale existence or will they learn to fight for the future they most desire?

My Review:

I picked this up because I really enjoyed the first book in this series, The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, and was hoping for not just more but even better from this second book – and that’s exactly what I got – both the more and the better!

As this story opens, Mrs. Agatha Griffin and Mrs. Penelope Flood are just about to meet over a hive of bees who have decided to make their honey amongst the stored printing plates of previously published works by Griffin’s print shop, the business that Agatha inherited from her late – and much missed – husband.

Penelope is the local expert on rehoming swarms of bees that are swarming in places where they are not wanted. Or in Agatha’s case, a swarm that has formed a quite industrious hive in a place where they are not wanted – her auxiliary printing house in Melliton.

They are opposites in every way. Agatha is a city woman, at home in London and still feeling a stranger in Melliton. Penelope may enjoy a visit to the metropolis but her home is in Melliton with her bees. Agatha is tall, Penelope is short. While both are what we would consider middle class, Penelope is comfortably off while Agatha works for her living, albeit in a business which she owns. Agatha has a grown son, Penelope has no children. Because Agatha’s marriage was mostly happy, while Penelope’s is entirely a marriage of convenience. Penelope married John Flood because he is her brother’s best friend and lifetime companion. Their marriage makes it easier for her brother Harry and John to hide their relationship in plain sight, while Penelope believed that she’d never marry. Just as her brother prefers the company of his own sex, so does Penelope prefer the company of hers.

It’s an arrangement that Penelope begins to call into question as the sudden attraction she feels for Agatha turns into something both mutual and more. Into a love that Agatha feels is forbidden, not so much because they are both women as because Penelope is married and subject to all the expectations that society has for married women – no matter what mischief their husbands happen to be up to.

They are both under threat from those expectations of society, although not in the same ways. When Penelope sets herself against the wishes of the local squire, or more accurately the expectations of the local squire’s wife, all of the ways in which she flouts convention come screaming down on her head, and on the heads of her brother, her husband, and all of the many beekeepers in the area who are her friends, her colleagues and in many ways her family of choice.

Meanwhile in London, it is 1820, and King George IV, the Prince Regent now king, is in dispute with his wife and his parliament. The revolutions in both France and those stubborn former colonies – the United States – are still very much on the minds of the aristocrats who want to remain on top of the heap, while Radicals who want more power for the people are fomenting, not exactly rebellion, but certainly disrespectful questioning of the established order.

Agatha is a practical and pragmatic woman who knows that she must steer a course for her publishing house that keeps them both solvent and out of the sights of government agents who will shut them down at the slightest provocation – which they very nearly do.

But her son is 19 and more than willing to tilt at all the windmills of that established order – no matter the cost.

The tightropes walked by Agatha and Penelope are dangerous, and if not deadly, certainly threatening to all that they hold dear. Including, especially, each other.

Escape Rating A: It felt like there were three threads being pulled in this story, and they braided together marvelously.

The first, the foremost, the loveliest thread is, of course, the romance between Agatha and Penelope. This is a romance that, unlike the one in the first book, takes an appropriate amount of time to develop. It begins with an unexpected friendship with an unquestioned amount of good old-fashioned lust, but it moves slowly and methodically as these two, separately and eventually together, work their way through all of the things that lie between them, their possible happiness as well as the potential for scandal.

At the same time, there’s that second, and very important thread that runs directly through the political turmoil of the time. Which leads directly into the part of the story that centers around Agatha’s printing house, her son who wants to throw in their lot with the Radicals, and her female apprentice who is more than educated enough to know that marriage is all too often a trap and a cage for women. This part of the story, including apprentice Eliza’s sensible but possibly slightly anachronistic attitude, reads similarly to A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian, which takes place no more than a couple of years before this story and also centers around a printing shop with Radical sympathies.

The final thread winds its way through the town of Melliton, where Penelope lives and Agatha has her auxiliary printing press. Just as the government is cracking down on Radicals in London, so in the countryside are there factions determined to stamp out all threats to morality, decency and the status quo that keeps them in power. Penelope, already considered outre, sets herself against those forces by setting herself against the local squire’s wife on pretty much every front. And is reminded at every turn that the established order is not only against her but has the power to make her life, and the lives of those she loves, a misery. Simply because she is a woman.

Like the previous book in the series, The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, the story never loses sight of the fact that the deck was stacked against women in this time and place every single step of the way. Not even the Queen is exempt from that universal truism. At the same time, the story doesn’t beat the reader over the head with it in quite the same way the setup of that first story does. Agatha and Penelope, being older and more experienced when this story begins than Lucy was in Celestial Mechanics, are better able to beat against the tide at least some of the time. They just never lose their awareness that they are being beaten by that tide.

That being said, while this is the second book in the series, it feels like it’s only tangentially related to the first book. In other words, Waspish Widows can be read very enjoyably without having read Celestial Mechanics, although if you like one you’ll certainly like the other.

To sum up, while I merely liked Celestial Mechanics, I loved Waspish Widows. We get to root for the underdogs, we get to see the forces of conformity routed – just a bit – and we get to fall in love with two women who are determined to find the happy ever after that they want for themselves no matter what society says they are supposed to want.

Feminine Pursuits will continue next year with The Hellion’s Waltz. I’m looking forward to the dance!

Review: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite + Giveaway

Review: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite + GiveawayThe Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: F/F romance, historical romance
Series: Feminine Pursuits #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon Impulse on June 25, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.

Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.

While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?

My Review:

In late 19th century New England, they’d have called the relationship between Lucy Muchelney and Catherine St. Day a “Boston Marriage”. In early 19th century “old” England, it becomes a life and business partnership, because a traditional marriage is not a possibility for two women who want to spend their lives together in their own happily ever after.

Along the way it’s a beautiful story about falling in love, creating a partnership of equals, and dealing with all of the crap that society doles out to those of us “living while female” – no matter who we love.

It begins with Lucy. Lucy thinks of herself as an astronomer. She knows that she has spent the last ten years as her father’s unpaid and unacknowledged apprentice and assistant, performing the complex mathematical calculations that made it possible for others to follow his erratic but brilliant paths across the stars.

But her father is dead, and no one except her brother knows that she provided the backbone of his work for the previous decade. Stephen, a mostly unsuccessful painter, is now the head of her family and household. He tells her that it’s time for her to give up her “hobby” and get married. He plans to sell her precious telescope to keep himself in paints and parties.

In the wake of witnessing her lover’s wedding, Lucy takes a desperate leap. One of her father’s patrons needs him to translate an important work of astronomy, currently available only in French. There are plenty of people who can translate the language, even a few who have the necessary background in astronomy, but none who have the language, the astronomy and the crucial ability to follow the mathematical calculations that are integral to the text.

Except Lucy.

Having nothing left except the work that her brother has threatened to take away, Lucy takes herself to London, to the (not-so) Polite Science Society of which her father was a member, and to the potential patron who made the request, Catherine St. Day, Countess of Moth, widow of the naturalist George St. Day, world traveler and funder of her husband’s many, many expeditions.

Catherine has no desire to yoke herself to another genius. She’s been there and done that, and has the emotional scars to prove it. Her late husband has been dead for two years but she still flinches upon entering the rooms that he marked out as “his”.

But Lucy needs succor. And a patron – or perhaps a patroness. Catherine needs a purpose.

Together they set the scientific world on fire. And each other.

Escape Rating B+: In the end, I enjoyed this a LOT, but there were points in the middle where I kind of wanted to turn my eyes away. Not in a bad way, but I FELT for both characters so much, and I kept expecting more bad things to happen to them than actually did. Or for the story to descend into misogynistic cliches – which it never does.

The romance here, while it does happen just a bit fast, is a beautiful exploration of consent at every turn. No one ever overpowers the other. There is no sweeping away of one by the other. But there is still plenty of love and heat and fire, as these two women carefully – and sometimes not so carefully – explore what they can be to each other. It is every bit as romantic as any romance I’ve ever read.

Unfortunately that includes the misunderstandammit that nearly breaks them apart. It does, however, lead to a beautiful and epic reconciliation scene. As it should.

Once upon a time, an author of m/m romance told me that she had fallen for the genre because both protagonists in a romance were equals. The power imbalances that used to be a traditional feature of traditional romance simply aren’t present. Which made it easy to identify with either or both characters.

That observation came to mind somewhat ironically in the case of The Lady’s Guide, because in this f/f romance the protagonists are also equal. What gives this story its heart and soul is that both protagonists are equally in the “one down” position in society. In spite of Catherine’s wealth and relatively high social position, her opinions, her contributions, her very presence is always discounted by the men she deals with. That is true even when it is her money making their work possible.

The way that the so-called “important” men in this story attempt and frequently succeed in cutting both Lucy and Catherine down at every turn is heartbreaking – and easily identifiable with for any woman. We’ve all been talked over, talked down and discounted at every turn.

That Lucy and Catherine discover a way to not just knit their own lives together but to also bring many of the forgotten women of science and art out of the shadows into which they have been cast by male scientists and artist felt like a phenomenal way to bring this historical romance to a wonderful conclusion.

As well as set up hopefully many future stories in the Feminine Pursuits series!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

 

To celebrate the release of THE LADY’S GUIDE TO CELESTIAL MECHANICS by Olivia Waite, we’re giving away a bound manuscript copy of the book to one lucky winner!

LINK: http://bit.ly/2HIlsH1 

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a bound manuscript copy of The Lady Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books.  Giveaway ends 7/9/2019 @ 11:59pm EST.