books

Olivia Waite

Books

Feminine Pursuits: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics (2019), The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows (2020)


Feminine Pursuits


The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics (2019)

Set in England in 1816

Lucy Muchelney spent years helping her father, and writing many of his astronomical maths. Catherine St Day finds widowhood a relief, after years of dealing with her husband’s wants and tempers, and financing his expeditions.

When Catherine asks if her father had any students who might be capable of assisting in a translation of a French work on astronomy, Lucy decides to travel to London to take on the job herself as a way to escape after her former lover’s wedding.

The Polite Science Society was full of wives and sisters and daughters offering support to male scholars: transcribing notes and manuscripts, compiling tables, answering letters. But as far as Catherine knew, there wasn’t another woman making her own work the center of her efforts.

I love books about female scientists–ESPECIALLY female scientists in history, doing science despite the difficulty. And I don’t remember reading an historical about a female astronomer, so that was an even bigger bonus.

And yet.

I did not love this book.

I should have loved this book.

Yet I didn’t, because I felt that it had problems.

First, it was slow, which is fine. That’s often a matter of taste so perhaps it wasn’t dragging, it just wasn’t my kind of pacing. But then there were other issues.

First was Mr. Hawley. In word and deed his is described as looking out for himself.

Lucy said not a word as she pulled her handwritten pages out of her pocket and set them on the table in front of the Society president.

Mr. Hawley kept his eyes on Catherine, swept out his hand, and brushed the pages, unread, to the floor.

Aunt Kelmarsh gasped, hand over her mouth, and Mr. Frampton’s eyebrows shot up. Mr. Hawley sighed. His tone was all sweet disappointment.

“My dear countess: you must know you are being unreasonable.” While Catherine choked on shock and outrage, he turned to Miss Muchelney, putting a hand on her wrist and gripping it with earnest entreaty. “Please do not think I disparage your eagerness to help, my dear girl— it is only that as men of science, we must uphold certain standards if our work is to be accorded its proper value in the community. You understand, of course.”

“(N)ow he stays very involved with the state of all scientific topics, keeping his fingers in as many pies as possible. Some people do benefit from his guidance— George wouldn’t have worked half so hard without Mr. Hawley there to needle him, I’m sure— but I have also seen him act to suppress those whose work doesn’t strike him as sufficiently noble.”

Lucy spotted Mr. Hawley, Sir Eldon, and Mr. and Mrs. Chattenden seated at the front of the room, talking and peering around with great interest. Mr. Hawley caught Lucy’s eye and sent them a chilly smile that could not have said Stay away more clearly if he’d shouted it.

“Independent!” Mr. Hawley cried, finding his voice at last. “You are entirely dependent upon the constancy of your patroness.” He rose, his brow thunderous. “Be wary of Lady Moth, my dear. She has survived fever, foreign exploration, and her astronomer husband— she will not scruple to cast you aside if you disappoint her.”

He’s a self-serving git who is interesting in using people when they can give him benefit and otherwise doesn’t care of he offends.

This is a problem because at the end of the book he has an amazing change-of-heart. I mean a complete 180 turnabout. It’s not that I have issues with people changing, but there was NOTHING in the story to show that he was the type of person to change, to see the error of his ways. So this was essentially a giant deus ex machina of “Oh! I was wrong!.”

That really REALLY bothers me.

The other thing that bothers me is that neither woman seemed capable of using their words when it came to their relationship. So many ridiculously misunderstandings. And some of them didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Catherine opens Lucy’s mail to protect her from some of the more vile hate mail she was getting. She opens and reads a personal letter from Lucy’s ex-lover. Yes, that’s bad, however, having her letter’s read was Catherine’s bugaboo, not Lucy’s. And then Lucy tells her what the letter actually means, and is surprised that this upsets Catherine? Really?

It felt like a ridiculous and made-up disagreement to further the plot, or else a sign that the two had major trust issues and perhaps don’t belong together.

And the reconciliation scene irked me as well. You’re a guest in someone’s house. So what do you do? Stand on a ladder and throw books on the floor in the middle of the night. Because that surely wouldn’t wake other people in the house. Unless of course, she just thought it wouldn’t wake Catherine, but didn’t care if she woke up the sleeping servants, which… that is even WORSE.

So, it was an interesting book that had so much potential, but fell short for me in so very many ways.

But, on the plus side, I’m going to give you the meanings for some of the flowers mentioned in the book.

Forget Me Not – true love, memories do not forget me
Rose (leaf) – you may hope
Rose (thornless) – love at first sight, early attachment
Willow – protection and blessings
Myrtle – love, joy, Hebrew emblem of marriage
Lilac (white) – youthful innocence
Lily (calla) – beauty
Lily (day) – coquetry, Chinese emblem for mother
Lily (eucharis) – maiden charms
Lily (general) – majesty & honor, purity of heart
Lily (orange) – hatred, dislike
Lily (tiger) – wealth, pride, prosperity
Lily (white) – virginity, purity, majesty, it’s heavenly to be with you, youth
Lily (yellow) – I’m walking on air, false, gay, gratitude
Publisher: Avon Impulse
Apple blossom – preference, better things to come, good fortune
Mistletoe – kiss me, affection, difficulties

Publisher: Avon Impulse

Rating: 5.5/10

The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows (2020)

The Care and Feeding of Waspish WidowsSet in England in 1820

Let’s start with what I loved about this story:

The history. The politics.

George had at the same time enjoyed a cheery reunion with his mistress, Lady Coyningham, whose husband had recently been elevated to the Privy Council in return for the man’s great kindness in overlooking adultery.

The details about printing.

Eliza skimmed the congealed skin off the top of the ink, and used a knife to spread a thin liquid layer on the glass-topped table next to the press. A single sheet of paper went into the tympan, atop layers of cloth padding to soften the blow of the plate; the frisket came down to protect the edges from ink, its cut-out center square framing and presenting the blank page.

The details about bee keeping.

(T)o get the bees to fill the jars properly. The sides need to be rubbed with wax first on the inside, for instance. Otherwise the bees will just slip off and never leave anything there for you to harvest.

What didn’t work for me (as expected) was the boinking. I skimmed all of it.

The other thing that I had problems with were the letters towards the end.

Specifically.

Imagine what we could get up to in seven entire nights

And then followed a page of such dazzling and specific lechery that Penelope flushed head to heel.

Because it followed this:

The ( ) Auxiliary Branch of the Society for the Suppression of Seditious Libel and Mendacity offers a bounty of
FIVE SHILLINGS
for information on activities or persons threatening to undertake activities of a seditious, blasphemous, or obscene nature.

They’d pissed off people in power, so it feels crazy that they’d actually have a written record of what they’d been (and would be) doing.

So that bothered me a lot, because I kept waiting for one of those letters to be intercepted or picked up in a search and then they’d truly and deeply be in trouble.

So, I liked the relationship and the romance and all the fascinating details about the time and their specific fields. But other bits threw me out of the story enough that I lost a fair amount of enjoyment.

Publisher: Avon Impulse
Rating: 6.5/10