Before I picked up Sarah Adler’s debut novel, I had no idea that what I needed in life was a love story about grounded flights, olive oil spills, broccoli trivia, precisely three tablespoons of cremated remains and that weird thing where you always run into people you know at the airport. If you’re in the mood to giggle helplessly while falling in love with absurdly endearing characters, then Mrs. Nash’s Ashes will be just what you need, too.
Former child star Millicent Watts-Cohen left acting behind years ago, but she is still famous enough to get asked, “Hey, don’t I know you?” by an endless string of people—some sweet, some obnoxious and some just plain gross. One might expect Millie to be cynical or jaded, but she stubbornly insists on being pure sunshine, open and optimistic. Her wholehearted romanticism leads her to transport the titular bag of ashes to Florida. Mrs. Nash was Millie’s roommate and, despite their decadeswide age gap, her best friend. The love of Mrs. Nash’s life was Elsie, a nurse she met during World War II. Because a future together seemed impossible, they went their separate ways, and Elsie reportedly died 10 years later. But after Mrs. Nash dies herself, Millie discovers that Elsie is still alive, in hospice at a retirement center in Florida. As a last gift to Mrs. Nash, Millie decides to bring her ashes to Elsie, reuniting the two women at last.
Unfortunately, that mission hits a snag when a technical snafu grounds swarms of airplanes. But luckily, the world’s grumpiest white knight rides to Millie’s rescue. Hollis Hollenbeck, a friend of Millie’s ex, might grouse and grumble, but he saves Millie starting with the very first scene of the book, in which he fends off a particularly icky fan. After the rental cars are snapped up, he offers her a lift with him to Florida. Hollis insists that he’s only helping her for his own peace of mind (he’s convinced Millie would cheerfully assist some creep in kidnapping her if left to her own devices), but she has him pegged right from the start. He’s not nice—not at all. But he’s kind. And also really hot, of course.
Opposites attract plus a road trip isn’t a new combination. In the reader’s guide, Adler references the O.G.: It Happened One Night, Frank Capra’s classic 1934 rom-com. Many have followed in Capra’s footsteps, but the familiarity of the plot doesn’t take one iota of pleasure away from watching Hollis and Millie come together. Millie’s a delight, quirky and sweet without ever seeming saccharine or insincere. And Hollis is almost more endearing for how hard he tries not to be sweet. He’s doing everything he can to keep from being charmed, but all his defenses fall by the wayside whenever Millie needs him. Romance readers will know that Millie and Hollis’ story has a happy ending, but it’s not the destination that matters. It’s the journey—and this journey is an absolute treat.