Thursday, February 25, 2010

Always and Forever - 2001


Half-orphan child of widowed mother.
Widowed mother is rather weak.
Mother marries again.
Step-father is harsh and cruel.
Half-orphan runs away to Great-Aunt, traveling quite a distance in some duress.

No, this isn't a review of David Copperfield, but the above list does bear a striking similarity to the opening scenes of it.

Amabel Parsons (Amabel...so close to amiable, and yet....yuck). Age 26ish, Araminta from top to bottom. Her widow mother has left her in charge of their B & B while she is in CANADA visiting Amabel's unnamed sister who has recently had an unnamed baby. Sooo. That leaves Amabel in a lonely, somewhat isolated farmhouse, welcoming strangers in to sleep in the bedrooms. During a brief break in the middle of a raging thunder and lightning storm, "The lull was shattered by a peal on the doorbell.". (cue scary slasher movie music). Enter....

Dr. Oliver Fforde (yes, two "f"'s and an "e" -which he would be required to drop if the Fforde Ffamily ever immigrates to America) and his mother. Thus begins our story. Amabel and Oliver (she doesn't have to call him Dr. Fforde) are Ffriends at once, they enjoy each other's company. He worries a bit about her being alone, he visits periodically. Then comes the day....Amabel gets a letter from CANADA....this does not bode well for our heroine. Her absentee mother gives her the Ffabulous news that she is going to stay a little longer in Canada and Get Married!!! and then Mommy dearest concludes with this lovely parting shot "You're such a sensible girl, and I'm sure you're enjoying your independence. Probably when we get back you will want to start a career on your own." This is code for: Since I now have a man in my life, I won't need you. Amabel sits down and assesses her accomplishments. "She could cook - not quite cordon bleu...she could housekeep, change plugs, cope with basic plumbing....tend a garden...Her pen faltered. There was nothing else." It goes on to say that she had her A levels. As far as I can tell, having her A levels would mean that she could go to University. Right? Why do Neels heroines never take advantage of that? I know, you're going to say..."But Betty Debbie, I read a Neels wherein the heroine has gone to university." To that, I say, "Yes, she may have started, but she dropped out...probably so her younger brother or sister could go instead, or to take care of her sick/aging a)mother, b) grandmother, c) aunt, d) second cousin once removed, e) all of the above...." Do they not have scholarships and college grants in the UK? This lack of education keeps coming back to haunt Amabel...

Mummy and new Step-Daddy Keith(why couldn't Betty have named him Edward as in Murdstone??? That would have been so much fun) come home. Step-Daddy immediately plows up the beautiful but old apple orchard so that he can build a big ugly greenhouse Ffor his profitable market garden. Amabel can stay and be unpaid labor, thus saving Step-Daddy a boatload of expense. That might have been okay...but Step-Daddy has an even darker side. In one sentence we Ffind him hitting the old dog Cyril and kicking the old cat Oscar. He then goes on to say that dear old Cyril and Oscar won't be alive much longer, if he has anything to say about it. That tears it. The very next day Amabel throws her bonnet over the windmill with a vengeance. She hauls herself, her luggage AND Cyril and Oscar cross-country to York. Oops, she Fforgot to call Aunt Betsey, I mean Thisbe. (I so identified the beginning of this book with David Copperfield that I thought Aunt Thisbe's name was Aunt Betsey - until I reread the book). Aunt Thisbe bears a striking resemblance, personality-wise to Betsey Trotwood. Aunt T is happy to welcome Amabel, and just as happy, later on, to welcome visiting Dr. Oliver Fforde. Amabel and Oliver have a lovely day together - taking their dogs for walks on the beach at Flamborough (in November or December...on the North Sea). Amabel confides to Oliver that she needs to get a job just as soon as she can, because she found out that Great Aunt Thisbe was supposed to go on holiday in Italy, and Amabel just has to find a job, where she can live in AND take Cyril and Oscar, her Ffurry millstones.

Oliver hears of a possible job through the evil villainess, Miriam Potter-Stokes, an elegant young widow who wants to get her fingers into the Fforde pie (I am sad to report that "Miriam" is also the name of my only granddaughter). Miriam has an old school chum, Delores who just so happens to own a little shoppe in The Shambles and needs a shop assistant. Oliver gives Amabel(that name just doesn't get any better) the heads up about the job, and Amabel is all set. A job (at sweatshop wages), a room behind the shop to live in with Cyril and Oscar, and a sink and a toilet. What?? No shower or bath? That's okay, once a week she goes back to Aunt Thisbe's and takes a bath. Whether she needs it or not. The scenes in York are actually my favorite part of Always and Fforever. Amabel and Oliver walk around town seeing the sights...(I love York - I spent a day there once), then head out to spend the next morning at the sea again. In December. Yeah. Dolores figures out that Amabel's Oliver is the same as Miriam's Oliver, and so gives Miriam a call. Miriam fakes tears and begs Dolores to give Amabel the sack. Which she does. This makes Amabel and her Ffurry millstones homeless. Aunt T is still in Italy, her household helpers are away for 10 days...so Amabel uses up her money for lodging and finally takes sanctuary (great shades of Victor Hugo!) in a little church. Oliver just so happens to show up and takes her to his Great-Aunt Lady Haleford, who is recovering from a mild stroke and is a bit peevish and irascible. Aramintas are great at this sort of thing - companion to the elderlies (British word alert!). She realizes finally that she is in love with Oliver (Oh NO, I Must Not Let It Show). Miriam Potter-Stokes finds out that Oliver is still seeing her, so she sneaks up to Lady Haleford's and tells Amabel that Oliver is a great one for helping lame dogs over styles, but nevertheless, Oliver is Marrying Miriam. This, by the way, is completely and utterly Ffalse. Oliver has never particularly liked Miriam - they went on a few dates and saw each other at parties held by mutual acquaintances. Amabel of course does not know this and is somewhat relieved to be called home to nurse her mother through a bout of pneumonia. Turns out, her mother is practically well - it's just cheaper to have Amabel there than to pay a housekeeper. Oliver finds out what Miriam has done and sort of tells her off "I need a wife who loves me and whom I love", then, after a few days he goes to Ffetch her from her mother. But not without first collecting Great Aunt T (now returned from her Italian sojourn) and installing her at his home to act as chaperon...until the wedding because "Oliver is a stickler for conventions"(which I always think sounds like he hands out campaign buttons at political rallies).

Food: omelettes, egg custard, pork pies, mushrooms in garlic sauce, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, lemon mousse, hot buttered parkin, chicken a la king, lemon tart swimming in cream, prawns, ceasar salad, grilled sole.

Fashion: a jersey dress in a pleasing shade of cranberry red! When Amabel splashes out on a new dress for Christmas she buys....a silvery GREY dress.

Rating: Alas poor Yorick, I mean York, I wish I could rate you well. The best I can rate the names in Always and Forever - beans on toast. Evil Canadian dog-kicking stepfather named Keith - beans on toast. Mother...tinned soup. Great Aunt Thisbe - queen of puddings (she is kind of awesome), plot similarities to David Copperfield - boeuf en croute (I wish Betty had kept going in that vein), the arc of Amabel and Olivers friendship/love - boeuf en croute (like at first sight that turns to love). I suppose if you add it all together, divide by the common denominater, take the square root of Miriam Potter-Stokes, the answer would be somewhere in the neighborhood of treacle tart (with a little lashings of whipped cream for York).

20 comments:

  1. My brother-in-law and his family live just south of York in Naburn (just past Fulford on the A-19 and turn right before you get to the M-60, as I recall), so I've gotten to tramp around York a few times.

    Has anyone had tea (or any meal) at Bettys? No kidding, that's what it's called. It's an institution in North Yorkshire -- a wonderful combination of Swiss food (yum, roesti potatoes) and English tea time treats. For my "hen party" (British word alert!), I got lots of yummy food from Bettys and had a tea party for all the women (the men & children had gone off to Lightwater Valley Park, an amusement park near Ripon, where we were staying). This was in late April, not the warmest time of the year, so while they were riding the ladybug ride with the littlest bridesmaids, I was enjoying hearing about everyone's weddings.

    No one should be allowed to visit Harrogate or York (or a couple other places) without having food at Bettys.

    Betty Ross isn't sure "elderlies" is worthy of a British Word Alert. (I was thinking "wrinklies" but am not sure which side of the Atlantic that comes from, and it's a bit rude.) OAPs is -- that's the acronym for Old Age Pensioners, a bit like being old enough for Social Security here.

    And here's my conspiracy theory about Amabel's name. I can't find the page number, but in the same edition that you have, her name appears as Amabel in one line and as Mabel two lines later. Now, doesn't Mabel sound more like a Betty Neels heroine? But can't you imagine some suit at Mills & Boon saying that it just won't do, and so please couldn't she Do Something? Which leave some poor staff in the position of making all the Mabels in the book into Amabels. (Makes me think of Baby Bels, those miniature red-wax enveloped cheeses...)

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  2. Conspiracy Theories! Yea! Yes, Mabel does sound Neelish (in a horrid way - along with such names as Bertha and Eulalia).

    There's a place called "Bettys" with really good food? That is so going on my list of places to go.

    I'm sticking to my guns on "elderlies". It may not be quite a "British word alert" - but it gives me a giggle every time Betty uses it. (going along with your conspiracy theory, maybe it was originally OAP's and Harlequin changed it for us Yanks ;0))

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  3. Maybe the east coast might say 'elderlies' but the west would say 'the elderly' or 'old people' or (stretching) 'old folks'--as in 'old folks home'.

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  4. Betty Debbie -- I even provided a link. Click on the pink Bettys and it takes you right to their website.

    And why this should remind me I don't know, but I have recent posts up at Promantica for Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess and Jean Webster's Daddy-Long-Legs.

    I'm mulling over a post about Betty Neels books. Haven't quite worked out the formula yet...

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  5. I am wrenching myself away from my computer and it's hard, all I want to do is wallow in Betty and then go to Amazon and buy the books.

    And speaking of books, I can donate (thank you Betty Magdalen) a Betty! A Kiss for Julie. How can it be that when Betty wrote more than a hundred, I have a duplicate? sob sob ... but you can, if you wish, give it away as a prize and I'll post it to whomever :)

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  6. My copy of A Kiss for Julie is a large print edition which is like the gold standard for semi-presbyopic Bettys like me.

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  7. Always and forever was me FIRST Betty Neels. 5 minutes in I knew the formula for all of La Neels books.

    You forgot the best part of the book when Amabel thinks she might go into "computers" which is hilarious. Dr Moose Steuve Van der Harr is in "computers" and when he meets long lost relatives or friends he tells them that he works for a supermega semi conductor company and they always say "Ahhh. Computers."

    Been to York, loved it. Took a Ghost Tour of the City and the guide looked like my ex-boyfriend whom I was not quite over yet.

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  8. Stories of old boyfriends! This thread is getting good!

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  9. Could it have been the ghost of your ex-boyfriend?

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  10. Confidential to Betty Janet -- I did a thorough stock-take of my Betty Neels collection, and I had 14 duplicates. Coming to you soon -- as soon as we can clear 12+ inches of snow and get to the post office...

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  11. 12" of snow? I hope you have a frozen chicken and some tins of mushrooms to see you through the unpleasantness!

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  12. Ah, but that's why I have a tractor with a snowblower running off the PTO & three-point linkage! We got one of the cars dug out from the barn this afternoon, and I cleared enough of the regular driveway to accommodate it. We even managed to get to our favorite pizza place for "dinner out" (not exactly Neels-worthy meal, but I love it). The pizza there is second only to Betty Janet's pizza...

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  13. We spent a day in York in 2003. Loved the walk through museum, loved all of it really. Wish I had known about Betty's then, will put going there on my bucket list.
    It was a forgettable story for me save the York scene, not something I say very often.

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  14. I guess I'm in the minority on this. Amabel's name (looks like the proofreader messed up Annabel to me. Whatever.) doesn't bother me; I mean, most of us don't name ourselves, do we? Oliver was a doll and I thought the whole book was sweet, including Oliver's dash to the market garden (Operation Market Garden? :)) to rescue Amabel. Evil steps (brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers) and wimpy using parents/siblings are a Neels staple, aren't they?

    BTW -- one of my favorite writers, very quirky and probably not to everyone's taste -- is Jasper Fforde, who doesn't seem to be keen on changing the spelling of his name (which is an ancient name of Anglo-Saxon origin, and one of the earliest topographical surnames still in existence.) So there.

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    1. Hello there, Betty Janet AOh, saw you earlier on the globe widget. Enjoy reading your comments. You go through the Canon at an astounding rate. I noticed that you always leave your comments following the original reviews. For quite a number of books there have been reprises and I wondered if you had read those as well. You can find those typing in the title you seek adding reprise (assuming you use SEARCH THIS BLOG to find the reviews). Just thought I'd mention it.

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    2. Thank you for the info. I guess I post after the first thing I find ... but I will do more searching! :)

      I'm reading quickly because I'm blessed with a library system that has a large number of Neels e-books. I've really gotten hooked on them -- I used to read more "usual" Harlequin fare (Greek/Italian/French/whatever alpha male meets British/American/Aussie heroine) but they kind of bore me now. I much prefer Betty -- partly because of the "out of time" feeling they have. It's like reading Josephine Tey; I get this "post-WWII" feeling and I enjoy it very much. I'm kinda old fashioned. :)

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    3. Josephine Tey - that name rang a bell. I've watched Hitchcock's Young and Innocent at least a hundred times, I think, and I do have the novel it is based on, A Shilling for Candles, somewhere in my one of my bookcases. Now if I only knew which one...

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  15. Glad to find another Tey fan. "Daughter of Time" turned me into a Ricardian -- and it's mostly set in a hospital. I think Inspector Grant could have been played by a young Sean Connery... Also, of the non-Grant Teys, I adore Brat Farrar, which PBS turned into a miniseries. Really good.

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  16. So in my copy, Dr Fforde tells Amabel on page 111 that his aunt is widowed with no children but then on page 116 his mother speaks on the aunt’s son who inherited the manor house. This is the first glaring editing mistake I’ve ever come across in Betty’s books. Are there others?

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    1. Someone mentioned a kitten named Muffin that goes AWOL and is never seen again in another book. I imagine it was so easy to let those things slip in The Land Before Ctrl+F. Typewriters must have been a real challenge.

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