Mrs. Nash’s Ashes by Sarah Adler
May 23, 2023 by Berkley
Review by Melanie
I’ve been leaning hard into historical romance this year as my primary source of escape. However, Sarah Adler and I follow each other on Twitter, and having seen her discuss her contemporary romance on several occasions piqued my interest. I thought the setup was fascinating and it involved tropes that I normally love – road trip romance, only one bed, and forced proximity. Cut to me reading this delight of a book that made me, as I posted on Twitter, convulse with laughter as well as weep with heartbreak. This book contained multitudes, all of them very good and emotional and utterly engrossing.
Let’s begin with the introduction of the MCs. This is a book that actually contains two separate love stories. The main romance is between Millicent, a child star turned historical accuracy TV consultant and Hollis, a MFA candidate, and non-fiction novelist. There is a side love story unfolding that goes back to 1944 and shows the burgeoning sapphic romance between a U.S. Navy pigeoneer and a Navy nurse in the midst of World War II.
Millie, self-tasked with reuniting the ashes, or rather three tablespoons of her late neighbor and best friend, Rose Nash’s ashes with her long lost love, Elsie, is supposed to fly from D.C. to the Florida Keys to fulfill her mission. When all flights are grounded, Millie finds herself on a road trip with Hollis, a man she only knows vaguely through her ex-boyfriend (they were both part of the same MFA cohort).
The two couldn’t be more different, Millie is hopeful and optimistic, desperate to find closure for her late friend Rose and her beloved Elsie. Millie, reeling from a very ugly breakup with a toxic ex-boyfriend, wants so badly to believe that real true love exists and is worth all the heartache one may encounter in their journey to a HEA.
Hollis on the other hand, is the cynic. Having grown up with a philandering father and his own romantic past leaving deep emotional scars, Hollis is the counterpoint to Millie’s effervescent cheer and hopeful positivity. If Millie is determined to prove that true love does exist and can last, then Hollis is along for the ride to prove that it actually doesn’t.
Their journey from D.C. to Key West is not without detours and a few bumps…and a run in with a deer. I will say a lot of the road trip was amusing and I found myself giggling hysterically at both their banter and the places and absurd situations they found themselves in. And then when they finally give in to their mutual attraction, under the watchful gaze of 25 Jesus color by number paintings (trust me, the scene goes from hot to hilarious back to hot in a matter of sentences that do not miss a beat), Millie, who doesn’t do one night stands or casual sex, wonders if she can keep her heart intact from a guy who seems determined to keep his own heart closed off from any real emotional entanglements.
Meanwhile, back in the 1940s, Rose and Elsie, both stationed in Key West, find themselves falling hard and fast for each other. However, this is 1944, and same sex relationships are not quite as easily accepted, and to Elsie’s mind, there is no easy way for them to be together. Despite Rose’s determination to fight for their relationship, Elsie realizes that the best thing she can do for Rose is to urge her to find her happiness elsewhere, in a more traditional setting. Their romance is bittersweet and poignant and heart-wrenching. Rose marries her old sweetheart after the war and moves to Chicago and then to D.C. Elsie stays in the Navy and the two reconnect through letters a couple of years after their parting, only to lose touch for good through circumstances beyond their control.
In present day, Millie having lost faith in her own judgment, wants to reunite Rose’s remains with Elsie, who now lives in a nursing home and is on hospice care. Time is clearly not on her side as she is making her way from D.C. to the Florida Keys and also finding herself unexpectedly falling for the guy helping her get there.
The book is ridiculously charming and funny, sweet and tender, and also heartbreaking. The dark moment, when it comes for Millie and Hollis, is full of angry words and hurt accusations. And you wonder how Hollis could possibly come back from that but he finds a way and boy does he.
While this is a book about falling in love, a charming romance full of heart and humor, it is also a book about grief. I loved this book, it resonated with me, the themes of loss and pain, and heartache spoke to me on a personal level that may not feel as comfortable for everyone to experience. The author does an excellent job of laying out the content warning at the beginning of the book. While I loved this book, I recognize that it may not be for everyone. But if you’re looking for a contemporary romance that truly gives you all the feels, from laughter and tears to sighing a happy sigh at the utter romance of Millie and Hollis falling for each other, then this book absolutely has you covered.
Content Notes: death, off-page parental death, grief, homophobia, toxic past relationships, off-page sexual objectification of a girl, on-page sexual objectification of a woman
I’m hearing excellent things about this book. Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm, Melanie!