by Courtney Milan
Series: Worth Saga #2.75
Also in this series: After the Wedding, The Pursuit Of...
Publisher: Courtney Milan
Publication Date: March 26, 2019
I received an advance review copy of this book from Publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Mrs. Bertrice Martin—a widow, some seventy-three years young—has kept her youthful-ish appearance with the most powerful of home remedies: daily doses of spite, regular baths in man-tears, and refusing to give so much as a single damn about her Terrible Nephew.
Then proper, correct Miss Violetta Beauchamps, a sprightly young thing of five and sixty, crashes into her life. The Terrible Nephew is living in her rooming house, and Violetta wants him gone.
Mrs. Martin isn’t about to start giving damns, not even for someone as intriguing as Miss Violetta. But she hatches another plan—to make her nephew sorry, to make Miss Violetta smile, and to have the finest adventure of all time.
If she makes Terrible Men angry and wins the hand of a lovely lady in the process? Those are just added bonuses.
Author’s Note: Sometimes I write villains who are subtle and nuanced. This is not one of those times. The Terrible Nephew is terrible, and terrible things happen to him. Sometime villains really are bad and wrong, and sometimes, we want them to suffer a lot of consequences.
Courtney Milan is one of my insta-buy authors, so when I heard she was writing a new novella that featured two elderly women who take on the patriarchy and fall in love… well, you can imagine my reaction! Though this is part of a series, reading the other books isn’t necessary to enjoy this.
“Two wrongs didn’t make a right, but occasionally they did make an escape.”
Violetta has spent forty-seven years managing a series of boarding houses, only to be let go a year short of her promised pension due to issues caused by a tenant, Bertrice (Mrs. Martin’s) Terrible Nephew, who hasn’t paid rent for two years. The obvious course of action, of course, is to misrepresent herself as the actual owner of the boarding house and attempt to scheme Bertrice out of 68 pounds – the supposed amount of back-due rent – an amount which would allow Violetta to retire in comfort. This doesn’t go exactly as planned, of course, and they end up on an adventure involving an off-key Hallelujah choir, farm animals, paying prostitutes not to sleep with people, cheese toast, and an emotional picnic beneath an oak tree.
“I’m used to doing whatever I wish,” Bertrice said, “but I’m also used to people telling me to go to the devil if they don’t want me about. By contrast, you’re one of those.”
“One of which?”
“One of those nice people. You do things you don’t want to do all the time, don’t you? You’re used to it.”
First off – both of the ladies are elderly women (sixties and seventies), with all the life experience and ailments you’d expect. While Bertrice is a well-off widow, Violetta is instead a poor spinster, one of many “excess women” who never married. Their disparate financial backgrounds cause some friction at first, especially when Bertrice impulsively insists on staying with Violetta, not realizing she only has a single room. Not even Bertrice’s firebrand attitude, however, can protect her from the loneliness she feels now that her close friends and lover have passed away. While Bertrice is firmly in the “honey badger don’t care” stage, Violetta has spent her life letting herself be pushed to the background. Unlike Bertrice, Violetta’s experiences haven’t hardened her to life, and it’s her warmth that slowly thaws Bertrice. It was especially lovely to have both women firmly expressing that they’re people with desires, and that they haven’t stopped living life or craving someone else’s touch just because they’re reaching the antique stage.
“Discussions never helped anything; they inevitably ended in people begging Bertrice not to do whatever it was she wanted to do. She would then have to waste good effort ignoring them.”
Bertrice views men as invasive pests, to be tolerated or bull-dozered as needed, and none more so than her Terrible Nephew. As Ms. Milan says in her note, he’s not a terribly deep villain. He bullies anyone weaker than him, is financially irresponsible, and generally the caricature of a dissolute, impoverished noble. All of Ms. Milan’s novels have a deeper criticism of society, and in this one it’s just more blatant. Yes, it’s a bit direct, but c’mon, who in this day and age doesn’t want to see two women of a certain vintage rage and destroy the patriarchy? There’s places in the book where both women comment that they feel like they’ve been screaming silently for all of their lives, and this book is the literary equivalent of a primal scream of rage, with a side of justice – and it was a like a release valve for me. Like Ms. Milan’s other books, though, it’s tempered with a lot of humor. Yes, they’re going to get revenge on the Terrible Nephew – but it’s going to be on their own absolutely ridiculous terms.
Overall, this was both an absolute delight and a very cathartic read for me. Highly recommended!