Rating: 5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Rose Nash was Millicent “Millie” Watts-Cohen’s nonagenarian best friend, former roommate, and overall life inspiration. Even though Mrs. Nash has now died, she continues to be an inspiration for Millie. Specifically, the story of Mrs. Nash falling in love with Elsie Brown during their service in WWII has prompted Millie to make an epic journey in the name of true love. Mrs. Nash might be gone, but Millie knows Elsie is still alive and she is determined to reunite these erstwhile lovers, even if it’s just symbolically. Armed with three tablespoons of Mrs. Nash’s ashes in her backpack, Millie books a flight from DC to Miami on a holiday weekend, only to be hampered by a computer glitch that grounds nearly all flights. Ever hopeful, Millie manages to find a good samaritan willing to drive her at least partway there. Just as she and her ride are bonding over Blues Brothers references, however, a distant acquaintance she knows through her horrible ex offers to take Millie all the way to Miami.

Hollis Hollenbeck is a grump and a writer with a “minor clog.” All he wants to do is get to Miami so he can “unclog” himself…with a weekend full of sex. As far as Hollis is concerned, helping Millie is helping himself. Offering to let Mille join him on the drive from DC to Miami means he can avoid the potential guilt he’d feel if she were killed and dismembered by a random fan of the Blues Brothers. Hollis’ past brief encounters with her failed to prepare him for the unstoppable force that is Millie. She finds the good in everyone—even insisting Hollis is good, despite his clearly selfish motives—and is trusting to a fault. She knows her mind, she knows what she wants, and she will move heaven and earth to get it. Like booking a last minute trip on a holiday weekend in the hopes that she can reunite Mrs. Nash’s remains with her (severely ailing) former lover one last time on this mortal plane.

What starts off as arguably a random act of kindness develops into a cautious friendship. As the miles roll away, Millie discovers that she finds Hollis a contradiction of good deeds and negative attitude. She starts to wonder how to reconcile what she heard about Hollis from her ex with the person Hollis proves to be. Far beyond merely traveling hundreds of miles in a car together, these two bond over shared experiences like their first trip to a Mexican-Italian fusion restaurant, navigating an olive oil spill, surviving a surprise deer attack, a broccoli festival, and more. Despite their diametrically opposed views on life, love, and seemingly everything in between, something real begins to unfold between them…until Millie discovers what Hollis has done to unblock his creative side in lieu of the intended sex-fest.

Mrs. Nash’s Ashes is a contemporary road trip story starring what is, as far as I can tell, a cis-het pair of main characters. Cut into their story is a glossy overview of Rose Nash and Elsie Brown’s love story. By word count alone, the Millie/Hollis part of the story forms the bulk of the book, but there is an interesting sense of balance. First of all, it was Mrs. Nash’s reveal to Millie that she never stopped loving Elsie that both inspired Millie’s road trip and affirmed Millie’s belief in true love everlasting—something that Hollis is adamant does not exist. Second of all, while we only get to see Millie and Hollis bond over the period of several days, we get intimate snapshots of Rose’s life from the time she met Elsie, first fell in love with her, made love with her, and had to navigate life without her as the war ended and forced the two women to embark on non-war-effort careers. All of which is to say that the main characters are not identifiably queer, but there is a queer love story that forms and shapes significant elements of the book.

I loved Millie and Hollis. They are such delightful embodiments of sunshine and grumpy. I loved reading about them as individuals and, when they interact, they just mesh together so superbly well. I won’t accuse Millie of being a manic pixie character, rather she has unbridled joie de vivre and doesn’t tend to let nerves or embarrassment stop her going after what she wants. Maybe it’s to be the grand marshall of a broccoli parade or to discover what the inside of a taxidermied bear feels like. Hollis takes this energy in stride and, in his own way, matches it. He rolls with the punches, like actively helping Millie discover more about that taxidermied bear, while supplying his own surprises, like having Millie’s best interests at heart. Honestly, I couldn’t put the book down because I enjoyed their dynamic so much; this ended up being a one-day read for me. Adler captured such wonderful energy in Millie, I found myself literally laughing out loud from her witticisms, jokes, and charmingly dated references.

Peppered throughout Millie and Hollis’ road trip are stories that center on Rose Nash. Rose was a pigeoneer during WWII stationed in Key West, where she met and fell in love with Elise Brown, a war nurse. Rose already had a sweetheart back home, a man called Dickie, and it was so sweet reading how Rose comes to discover that she loved Dickie in a way, but that Elsie was the love of her life. Rose’s conflict over having a man back home, but having true love in Florida, formed a major conflict for her and Elsie. I thought this was a bittersweet way to explore bisexuality in an era where such things seemed to have been verboten. This rings especially true, because Rose seems so torn over having genuinely affectionate feelings for both Dickie and Elsie, and over Elsie’s encouragement to Rose to return to Dickie after the war. 

I thought this was a great story that made terrific use of the sunshine/grumpy trope for Millie and Hollis. These two may view the world through drastically different lenses, but the way they play off one another makes them complements to each other. If you like road trip stories, there are a lot of fun antics these two get into. If you like historical stories, Rose and Elsie’s story will probably appeal to you. Mostly, if you’re looking for a good romance with interesting characters going in a literal and figurative journey and finding romance along the way, I think you’ll enjoy this book.