Summary from Goodreads:
In this historical f/f romance you’ll find:
•a grumpy widowed engraver working far too hard to keep her print-shop going until her son is old enough to take over
•a middle-aged lady beekeeper who goes striding about in trousers and loves bucolic poetry
•a Queen on trial in Parliament and the press
•luxuriant English gardens with extremely naughty statues
•satirical ballads about tight pants
•… and more than you probably ever wanted to know about early 19th century beekeeping!
Could Olivia Waite outdo herself after The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics? Yes, yes she could.
The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows is a lovely f/f historical. We met Agatha Griffin at the Royal Academy exhibition in The Lady’s Guide and her print shop handles the printing of Lucy’s Guide. Four years later, Agatha is now a widow, running the shop with her son Sydney and her apprentice Eliza, the gifted young artist who was briefly Lucy’s maid. Griffin’s has their printworks in the nearby village of Melliton, where one odd, beekeeping lady named Penelope Flood resides. When Agatha discovers a swarm of bees who have started making a hive among the plates for a local poet’s book, Mrs. Flood is recommended to her as the person who would know exactly what to do with the bees.
Penelope is rather intrigued by the no-nonsense printer from London. Mrs. Griffin is a world away from Penelope’s rural, beekeeping life in Melliton. The two women start corresponding through letters – because of the bees – but soon strike up a friendship, then perhaps something more. Olivia Waite lets the relationship between Agatha and Penelope develop gradually through these letters, with beekeeping knowledge interspersed between exchanges about their families or friends, weaving a bond between the two women. After a while, Agatha begins to visit Melliton more often, eventually staying with Penelope for Christmas. This is a relationship that develops between two women in their forties – neither are looking for their life’s One Great Passion, they each have established lives – so the realization that they have an emotional bond that goes deeper than friendship is especially poignant.
Being poignant or a lesbian romance does not mean this book soft-pedals the plot. The book is set largely in the year between King George IV’s attempt to divorce his wife Queen Caroline and his coronation. That bit of British Royal history is largely integral to the development of Penelope and Agatha’s relationship. The printing and sale of political broadsides and raucous ballads in Agatha’s print shop runs afoul of sedition and censorship laws in England at the time, particularly that from the Radical end of politics (you know, the ones that think you should treat people as equals or not trash or actual humans or whatever, and that’s clearly bad for the Establishment). Penelope’s neighbors in Melliton – both the good ones and the rotten ones – are affected by these larger events through the enforcement “morality” in the village and squabbling over an inheritance (just a CW that there is implied homophobia, although that jerk gets his comeuppance). There’s also a lot of between-the-lines commentary on Nice White Ladies (and other people) Doing Virtue Signalling. All this impacts how Penelope and Agatha slowly slide from friendship into love.
This is a Big Plot novel, so it moves a bit more slowly than I expected, but it wraps up so, so wonderfully. Plus there’s all the stuff about bees. And Penelope’s circle of wonderful friends in Melliton. And Sydney and Eliza and their relationship. Just go read it.
The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows is out today!
Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.