Feminine Pursuits, Book 2
Review of Feminine Pursuits, Book 1
Heat Factor: Slow, steady, burn.
Character Chemistry: So much pining! But also, believable BFFs. And they do that thing where they call each other by last name and I swoon every time.
Plot: A year in the life of Flood and Griffin.
Overall: The plot meanders but sometimes a book (even a romance) is more than a tight plot. I recommend reading this one.
How many romance novels have I read that take place in 1820? The answer is: a lot. Follow up question. How did I not know that Queen Caroline was put on trial by the House of Lords for adultery in 1820? Look, I can understand why Regency romances might not want to cover bread riots or the Peterloo Massacre – the aristocrats of the time probably did their best to live in a bubble that did not include the poor or the industrial north – but the trial of the Queen was a Big Fucking Deal.
The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows, unlike most Regencies, is explicitly political. We not only get extensive discussion of the Queen’s trial, but also of the public demonstrations surrounding it and the concurrent government crackdown on the press and public meetings. Our heroines are intimately caught up in the events of the day, both personally and professionally. As a result, the story felt very historically grounded and managed to cover a broad range of topics without being sanctimonious.
So that’s the framework. Within that framework, we have a wonderful, slow-burn, epistolary romance between two women in their 40s as they each begin a new phase in their respective lives.
Agatha Griffin is an engraver, a widow, and the owner of Griffin’s Printing Press. She carries so much weight on her shoulders, as she worries about her livelihood, her employees, and her son (who would rather attend political meetings than take care of things at the press). She’s one of those women who just does everything herself so she knows that it gets done; I might have strongly identified with her.
Our story begins when Agatha discovers a beehive in the storage room of the country office. Ack! Enter one Penelope Flood, quirky beekeeper. Of course, Agatha and Penelope are both immediately smitten and embarrassed about it. While they pine away, however, they also strike up a friendship, first by writing letters, and later, as they tramp around the countryside taking care of various beehives and drink beer at the local tavern and participate in demonstrations in London.
As you might imagine based on what I’ve said so far, there are a lot of sideplots. There’s the central romance arc, where the conflict is predicated on both women assuming that the other woman is only interested in men and neither woman wanting to ruin a wonderful new friendship. (Penelope is married. Her husband serves on a whaling ship and is gone for years at a time. He is also her brother’s lover. It takes a while for Agatha to learn all of the pertinent information.) While most of the secondary conflicts are related to the political situation, there isn’t one central arc. Rather, there are several smaller arcs all related to themes of censorship (or self and others), justice, and government control. Penelope and the local magistrate have a series of increasingly escalating interactions as he clamps down on vice in the village. Agatha and her son butt heads over how far to push the envelope on printing political treatises in the face of government censorship.
As I said before, the burn is slow here, but while this might not be the steamiest smut, it more than makes up for it in the beautiful portrayal of friendship as a basis for romantic love. Both Agatha and Penelope have people who care about them – but no one who takes care of them. As their friendship develops, they don’t just spend time together and pine for each other, but actively care for each other. As Penelope puts it:
A helpmeet, that was it. She’d always thought love was about feelings, and feelings were very fine things – but a helpmeet was all about doing something for someone. Putting in work, and effort, and support.
Love isn’t just something you feel, it’s something you do, every day.
The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows is multi-faceted and thought-provoking and I enjoyed it immensely, but if you prefer your smut tightly plotted and streamlined, this is probably not the book for you.
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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