Beowulf for Cretins by Ann McMan is a lovely, hilarious lesbian romance. Anyone who’s read “Falling From Grace” in McMan’s short story collection Sidecar will be familiar with the beginning of this book. Whether you’ve read that or not, though, you’ll be sure to enjoy Beowulf for Cretins—especially if you’re a romance fan.
Grace Warner is a college professor in the St. Albans, Vermont who’s been working away at her Great American Novel for years and teaches first year English literature, aka “Beowulf for Cretins.” Still licking her wounds from a bad breakup almost a year prior, Grace is on a plane for San Francisco when she meets the beautiful, funny, and warm Abbie. Grace is charmed by their encounter and is pleasantly surprised when she bumps into Abbie at a mutual friend’s birthday party that night. Talking for hours turns into a one-night stand that’s so very, very good that Grace regrets not getting Abbie’s number.
Back in St. Albans, Grace is settling back into life and girding her loins for a mile-high stack of clumsily written papers as her summer classes are ending. When she attends an assembly announcing the college’s new president, she’s shocked to see that Élisabeth Abbot Williams, the 15th president of St. Albans College, is none other than Abbie.
The woman of her dreams is moving to her town, but can Grace do anything about it, especially when she’s finally up for tenure and Abbie is the big boss?
I found Grace incredibly easy to connect with right from the first page because she’s funny, sharp, and warm, which is the ultimate combo for me. Everything is told from her perspective and we join Grace as her life runs away from her down an entirely unexpected path. Grace takes on a ridiculous(ly adorable) dog, embarks on a foundation-shaking crisis of faith, falls in love at the wrong time, and manages to get a happy ending that’s more perfect than anything she’d ever have been able to dream up for herself. As a former Catholic myself, I found her journey with faith interesting, especially as she reconnects with “Merry Larry,” the nun who was her health class teacher in school and the voice in the back of Grace’s mind for years. Seeing how Merry Larry’s own life ended up and the words she had for Grace were perfect, especially as we see the effect they have on Grace and the next phase of her life.
I don’t see how anyone could read this book and NOT have a crush on Abbie. She’s just as hilarious, brilliant, and kind as Grace, with an extra dose of hot as hell. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s French Canadian! Abbie has her own journey, as this appears to be her first serious relationship with a woman (and perhaps her first relationship with a woman at all), although we see less of her arc because this truly is Grace’s story. Even so, I appreciated that she was the kind of woman who shares her feelings easily, because it ensured I never felt cheated out of her perspective as the romance develops.
Between family members, colleagues, friends, and Grendel the dog, there’s a fine cast of interesting characters that round out the story. Of particular note are Grace’s best friend, CK, a young physics professor whose irreverence is beyond fun to read, and Grace’s brother, Dean, who’s a reminder that someone who votes the way we wouldn’t can still be a good person who cares about us.
The Writing Style
Can I just say that it was SO refreshing to read a romance that isn’t brimming with angst?! Grace and Abbie are both nearing 50, they largely have their acts together, and they just really care for each other—even when they know they shouldn’t. And that isn’t to say that the book lacks conflict, because it doesn’t. It just happens to revolve around issues other than the “will they or won’t they” of the central relationship.
Beowulf for Cretins is such an easy book to pick up and sink into, making it a perfect getaway from the stresses of life and the 24 hour news cycle that is just a constant dumpster fire. And because it’s a book by Ann McMan, of course it’s hilarious and has tremendous heart. Reading it feels like being tucked in with a warm blanket to watch a Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant film while eating a bowl of your favourite ice cream (or, you know, insert your own self-care practices here). It’s clear that she cares about these characters and I have a hard time imagining anyone else not caring about them too.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—Christine Williams’s voice with Ann McMan’s words is just magic. Truly, they’re my favourite combination in lesfic and this book was no exception. In fact, listening to Beowulf for Cretins made me love it even more because Williams captured all of the characters and the overall tone of the story so perfectly.
God, everything? It’s a lovely romance that’s easy to read and even easier to love and is sublime in audio.
Oh, I know! In addition to all that stuff I fangirled about in the last two sections, I found myself learning new things throughout the book because I kept looking up references to art and music that I didn’t know.
I can’t adequately talk about the nuances of this book without getting into spoiler territory and/or writing a review that’s so long, none of you will ever read another review from me again.
I was having a spectacularly bad week when I picked up Beowulf for Cretins and it was the perfect antidote. I dare you to read this book without smiling, because there’s no way that’s even possible. If you’re a fan of romance, and especially romance that’s a little different than your usual fare, I highly recommend it. And even if you’re not a fan of romance, I recommend you make an exception because this is a special book. Read it (or listen to it!), love it, and tell all your friends when you’re done, because we all need a little break these days.
Excerpt from Beowulf for Cretins by Ann McMan
They sat in silence for a few moments. Grace could hear rain pelting the kitchen window.
“I thought about trying to find you,” Abbie said in a quiet voice. “More than once.”
Grace put her glass down. She didn’t really need anything else to drink. “Why didn’t you?”
Abbie looked down at the tabletop. “I was a mess. I was confused. I didn’t know what I wanted.”
“Now? I’m still a mess—and I’m still confused.” She raised her eyes. “But I think I know what I want.”
Grace could feel her heart starting to pound. “You do?”
Abbie nodded. “But it’s complicated.”
Grace laughed out loud. “You think?”
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781612941172
- Publisher: Bywater Books
- Audiobook Publisher: Audible Studios
- Narrator: Christine Williams
Ann McMan Online
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