Author: Olivia Waite
Publisher: Avon Impulse
Publication Date: July 23, 2020
Shelves: Female-fronted, Female-authored
The worst thing about a slow-burn romance is not the frustrated longing for that first kiss, but the melancholy certainty that such a lovely, delightful, heartwarming story must come to an end. I adored Agatha and Penelope so much, I would have resented Olivia Waite for forcing us to bid them adieu if I didn’t love her so much for introducing us in the first place.
Like The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics before it, this second Feminine Pursuits novel is the very definition of a slow-burn romance, full of friendship and flirting, questioning and queerness, and as much social tension as sexual. Admittedly, I cracked the spine on The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows with more than a little trepidation, fearful that there was no way I would enjoy beekeeping as much as astronomy, but the truth is that Penelope’s passion had me absolutely fascinated. It helps that the social element, involving women’s suffrage, divorce laws, and the clash between press freedom and religious libel had me as intellectually stimulated as it did emotionally invested.
Even though Agatha and Penelope don’t confess to their mutual attraction until the 70% mark, their friendship – with its undercurrent of romantic tension – more than carries the novel. I’m usually not a fan of the epistolary format, but their exchange of letters is one of my favorite parts of the narrative, especially the ways in which Agatha so carefully considers her every word, slowly opening up through their connection. You might think such a slow-burn romance would be frustrating, but I never once begrudged them their time getting to know one another. Waite crafts a friendship first, a relationship second, and a romance third, ensuring we know and love the women before they can do the same for one another.
This whole book is a story about rebellious women before their time, outsiders and outcasts chafing against a patriarchal system. It’s a story of women trapped in loveless marriages, women who must hide their love for one another, and women who have no legal voice. It’s a story of satirical poets, sexy sculptors, bawdy ballad singers, and seditious printers. When it comes to who’s right and who’s wrong, morality has nothing to do with legality, and that clash is as sad as it is irksome. Agatha is the first to stand up and do what’s right, and that leads to a clash that nearly sees soldiers tear her press to pieces. In light of that, it’s understandable that Penelope takes so long to make a stand, but that quiet act from a quiet woman speaks volumes.
The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows works equally well as a women-loving-women romance, a work of historical fiction, and a character study. I learned far more than I expected to about the science of beekeeping, the history of the printing press, and the marital issues of Kings and Queens, but none of that bogged the story down. I was fascinated by every aspect of it, eager to see where it would go next, and having to wait for the spark of passion to take flame just made the fire between Agatha and Penelope burn that much hotter. There’s no cover or blurb for The Hellion’s Waltz yet, but it’s already a must-read for me.
Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀