Monday, February 28, 2011

A Dream Came True--1982

This one deserved a better title.  Written in the midst of The Great Betty's Golden Age, it is a wonderful companion to the likes of Caroline's Waterloo, The Promise of Happiness and Polly.  Lady Manderly is one of those characters that would translate so deliciously to the screen, played by one of those stout, aging actresses who long ago gave up complaining about the lack of great roles for women over fifty.
As for the cover art...He's a babe (All hail the turtleneck!) but she's too glossy (are those claws?) and I don't think they could have a background that shouted, 'British lit!' more than if they were dressed as Beefeaters and touring London in a double-decker to the tune of 'Rule, Britannia!'. Love it anyway.


'Little Jack Horner sat in a corner...'  Jemima Mason, 26, can't resist typing out on the abandoned typewriter in the empty office.  But it's 1982, and she doesn't have an iPod (with all those ABBA songs) or a Smartphone (with Angry Birds!) to distract her and she was probably fretting over the fact that her brother is about to fly to America (!).  She's looking for a job as a companion so that her next two years (until her brother can come back and save her bacon (...Silly, Jemima, no one ever comes back from America.)) can be spent in a shabby bedsit waiting for her life to begin.  But then she meets Professor Alexander Cator who throws a batch of typing at her and heads to his office. (Betty Debbie points out that his name is fine in print but beastly to say aloud.  Alexander Cator.)  She also meets the knickerbocker-clad goddess, Gloria.
Alexander doesn't think Jemima will be much of a fit for his imperious aunt, Lady Manderly, but no one else has applied for the position.
Jemima introduces herself to the woman and becomes a textbook study in salary negotiations--whose first rule is: Always be prepared to walk.
They settle into an uneasy relationship and Jemima settles into her shabby bedsit over the newspaper stand down the street.  (Meeting the charmingly colorful Shirley and her fish-cooking mother.)
Alexander pops in and out and, while there is friction, there is also a dawning appreciation on his part.  'You may not set the Thames on fire, Miss Mason, but at least you don't chatter.'  Words to hug to her bosom in her twilight years, perhaps...On her part, she admits that he can be kind when he has a mind to.  She witnessed his concern over a cat she rescues and then he shows enormous delicacy when he catches her in a lie about living in a flat versus a flatlet.  (It turns out that a cat rather minds about the 'let' part.)
But his interesting visits to his aunt's house aren't enough to compensate for the awfulness of her job.  After going through the physically harrowing and soul destroying process of planning Lady Manderly's birthday party, she makes up her mind to quit.  Which is a pity as the staff are rooting for her to catch the Professor's eye.  '[Gloria]'s got looks and our young lady hasn't.'
Alexander asks her to stay on until after Lady M. has a short holiday in Stratford-upon-Avon.  So she does.
The town is a welcome respite from London--plays, outdoor walks and proximity to Oxford (Jemima's hometown) are its main attractions.  She's lonely--more lonely than she's ever been and the professor seems to have forgotten his earlier kindnesses.'...you have the unfortunate effect of bringing out the very worst in me.  You would do better to avoid me.'  But even if he means it (and I very much doubt he does) then he's fighting a losing battle.  Not a page later he tells her, 'You really are a treasure, you know.  We must keep you in the family.'  (I'd like Dawning Realizations for a thousand, Alex.)
So he's in love and we can dust our hands because surely all is plain sailing from here...Now, don't go buying confetti and streamers just yet.  Jemima is convinced that Alexander doesn't like her (though she is unwillingly and unwisely interested in him) and then there's Gloria, looming over the protagonists like a golden-haired, bony-shouldered (she has to be!) gargoyle, shooting little barbs at Jemima every chance she gets.
Also, Jemima is chatted up and taken out by a New Zealander named Andrew Blake--a dead end episode that still pushes the plot along (we have such a smart Betty!):
  • We get to see Jealous Alexander--green-eyed and gorgeous.
  • He gets to kiss her and then shows himself to be worthy of her when, even after she says she wants to slap his face, he sends dinner up to her room so she won't be hungry.  
  • It underlines how desperate for company Jemima is.  A reckless-driving Antipodean?  Who can't even comment intelligently on Hamlet? She deems that better than the cold snubs (from whom, Jemima?) she's been enduring lately.
 She no sooner recovers from this visit when he's back for another.  And when she walks in the sitting room to see him, her dawning realization is right behind her. (Conga!)  And a very clear-eyed love it is too.  Even while she's staring at him like a looby she understands that she'll take a flawed Alexander rather than a thousand inoffensive Andrews. But there's no question of that.  He belongs to Gloria!
Or does he?  After reading book after book of Neels heroes excusing all manner of awful villainess behavior with a bland bon homie, what a joy it is to read the words, 'Be quiet, Gloria!'  And it's not only Gloria he's shouting at.  Responding to the mild observation that she will get coffee from the cook, Alexander shouts at Jemima, 'You're not a servant!'  That's not going to do his peptic ulcer any good...
Allowing herself to be got at, Jemima is persuaded to travel to Scotland (balmy, sunny Scotland) before looking for another job.  Though the interlude is fantastic, I'll opt for bullet points:
  • Jemima receives answers to her job advertisement.  Three positions, each vying to be more vile than the last.  Maybe she worded it wrong...
  • A blizzard blasts the coastline leaving Jemima, Pooley (Lady M.'s maid) and Lady M. stranded with dwindling food stores.
  • Pooley breaks her arm.
  • They drink deeply from the brandy bottle and Lady M. is stirred to near-pluckiness.  
  • Alexander flies his own helicopter in to rescue them!  (How very Prince William of him.)
'It's not snowing at the moment, I'd best be on my way.' He wandered back to her, bent and kissed her hard and swiftly...
They get back to civilization and Alexander plies her with boeuf en croute--her food fantasy while stuck in the cottage with a lot of potatoes.  Lady Manderly and Alexander have a chat about when he'll get around to proposing to Jemima (That's right!  She's won over the imperious old lady with her ladylike displays of moxie.  And it makes me feel great that Jemima will be welcomed into the family instead of enduring the shivs in the shoulder blade that might otherwise have been her lot.)
To Lady Manderly's horrified dismay, Jemima quits her job, covers her footsteps so that a trained Indian tracker would struggle to find her and disappears into oblivion.  (By that I mean to say, she is still at the flatlet over the newspaper stand and working part-time there.)  What a harassed expression Alexander wears when he finally runs her to ground.  'I didn't know you were lying,' he said evenly.  But he's done being mad and kisses her into a stupor.
The End  

Rating:  Queen of Puddings.  Easy.  What makes it so great?  Though Jemina and Alexander don't spend very much actual time together (Their courtship consists of a few walks, the sliver of time before Lady Manderly walks in the room and some awkward meals.), it's always to good purpose.  Gloria gums things up a bit (a sticky millstone) but she serves a purpose:
  • If we pretend that Alex is a real person then I take him at his word that he's using Gloria as camouflage while he's trying to get Jemima to like him.  It's not a brilliant plan (If you lie down with dogs...) but Gloria keeps Alex's actions from screaming, 'IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou!' while Jemima decides if she'll give him a shot.  (Because she would have refused to go out with him on a straightforward date, I think.)
  • If we remember that Alex and and Jemima are merely characters in a book by Betty Neels (Breathe deeply, Bettys!), then I get that The Great Betty needed a true villainess (particularly as she made semi-evil Lady Manderly so likable) to sustain the tension and play off of.  It's okay for me--not great, but understandable (and particularly forgivable since we get a very complex and nuanced Lady M. in return).
And when we get long stretches while the principles aren't together you might expect to be bored to tears but, again, Lady Manderly just makes everything else so fun that you don't even notice.
It does need a new title (Jemima and Lady Manderly, Snowbound in Scotland, Life-flight to Love! (Hey, I'm spit-balling here...)) but the rest is a dish.  Love it.

Food: Steak and kidney pudding, a Potemkin trifle (Thrown together at the last minute to replace a dropped dish, it is merely superficially attractive and probably tastes beastly), awful coffee and tea (has Lady Manderly lost her sense of taste?), vol-au-vents, pate, lobster patties, a lonely risotto and ice cream.  When he's so mean to her over The Kiwi's Kiss, he still sends her soup, a cheese souffle, a peach and coffee.  Lady Manderly asks for chicken supreme when they're stranded in Scotland but the others eat baked potatoes and cheese, bacon, fried potatoes and treacle tart.  While stranded, Jemima dreams of having French onion soup, grilled sole and boeuf en croute (which is not immediately available but he feeds her it as soon as soon as he can which is just about the most adorable thing ever.).

Fashion: Gloria is decked out in black velvet knickerbockers and plaid knickerbockers at another point and I am consoled that, even though Jemima drools over her clothes, Gloria will live to regret her fashion choices.  Jemima is more often found in neat, navy blue numbers and brown dresses (one of which is a stunner ( a chestnut brown jersey with a pleated, calf-length skirt and a little jacket). Does Alex ever get to see it? Someone re-read it and tell me!).  In Scotland, Jemima goes rustic and dons an old cloth cap, a well-worn, too-big anorak and woolly gloves.  Lady Manderly, a reactionary if there ever was one, stuck closely to her purple satins, diamonds and furs.

29 comments:

  1. Yeah, I'm with you on the brown outfit--I'm not sure that he ever got to see it (I wondered too).

    The Divine Lady M. is done beautifully--just when you think she is hopeless, she starts to grow on you. By Scotland, you're glad that she doesn't live in your house, but she could be entertaining on holidays.

    The Scotland interlude is a tour de force, and the meal afterward makes Alexander an official Neels Darling.

    Nice gargoyle touch (almost makes up for Aunt Jemima).

    I have an extra copy. Anyone need one?

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  2. I would love your extra copy, Betty JoDee. This one sounds so fun and I haven't got it yet. I have extra copies of the following if you can use any of them:

    ONCE FOR ALL TIME 2 copies - original and reprint covers

    ROSES AND CHAMPAGNE

    THE FATEFUL BARGAIN

    TWO WEEKS TO REMEMBER

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  3. Nothing makes up for Aunt Jemima, Betty JoDee... ;0) I only felt bad that that sort of advertising tainted the name forever. I just adored this book but she made me think of syrup for at least 50 pages.

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  4. I always associate "Jemima" with Jemima Boone, daughter of Daniel--I loved the t.v. show when I was little--so I don't have the other association issue. I think Our Jemima fits with my image of the feisty daughter.

    Great, Betty Cyndi! Send your mailing address to the Founding Bettys, and I'll send it along. I don't think I have Roses and Champagne, but I'll check for sure--which I can do easily now because this last weekend I impressed The Spare, The Princess Royale, and The Littlest Princess into helping me gather up the books and organize them. The Littlest Princess learned to read "Betty" so she could pick them out from the other paperbacks, and the other two sorted them into alphabetical order. I was doing it for their own academic good, e.g., which comes first-- Fate is Remarkable or The Fateful Bargain? This afternoon after school I'll get them to make a list of duplicates and post them on the Betty Swap page.

    I'll rent out the three of the-otherwise-not-very-useful-Consequences of Brighton cheap to any Bettys who need sorters.

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  5. Betty Barbara here--
    Add me to the list for whom the name Jemima conjures up pictures of pancakes. (And I even have at least one Jemima in my extended family tree-circa 1870).
    Oh pooh! Betty Cyndi beat me to the free book. Dirty words!

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  6. Betty Barbara here--
    With a query--I have not read this book (I know that I could not forget a helicopter rescue!). So is Alexander a medical-type professor or an actual university-type professor? Inquiring mind wants to know!

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  7. Professor Alexander Cator is a professor of endocrinology. One of many in Neeldom.

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  8. Dearest Betty Barbara, How about if, after reading the book, I forward it to you? :-) Then we can both benefit! After all, you were more than generous to me last week. I have just finished the four you sent to me on the bookswap.
    Betty JoDee, I'll be happy to send you Roses and Champagne. I like it. It's got no doctors and nurses in sight, but a cute storyline and a trip to GREECE. Fun!
    I'll send my address to the founding Betty's right now.
    Thanks!

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  9. Betty Cyndi
    Ooooh, Thank You So Much! I would love to get the book after you are through with it.
    Betty Debbie--thanx for the info. Gotta watch out for those endocrinologists!

    Betty Barbara

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  10. He's a doctor who specializes in endocrinology -- so he lectures, sees patients with glandular disorders, and otherwise seems not to work at all. One wonders how he made it to the far side of 40 without succumbing to the plain-but-lovely-eyed ward sister on Men's Medical at some East London Victorian red brick hospital...

    I have to say this book seemed to be a bit like that trifle Jemima [Puddle Duck, anyone?] threw together. Take any of the Poor Little Match Girl heroines, throw in the Scottish snow storm from The Fifth Day of Christmas, a RBD, an titled woman who behaves badly and has no manners (that's our republican Betty!), and the heroine's disappearing act at the end, and you get this book.

    Frankly, it's been done better elsewhere. Treacle Tart for me -- although, I'll pay The Great Betty the compliment of saying that it's Treacle Tart served when you're starving in a blizzard on Scotland's west coast, which has got to taste pretty darn good.

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  11. I finally posted my extra copies on The Great Betty Book Swap page. Someday I'll find my missing box, and I'll have some more vintage ones.

    I can't believe Betty Magdalen didn't fall for the rescue by RDD-piloted helicopter in a blizzard bit. I think she must be clotted cream-on-scone deprived today.

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  12. Wow, I don't think this has ever happened before.
    Yes, Betty Magdalen, I actually agree with you on this one. And my treacle tart is considerably lower than most people's cuz I know it's really tiny molasses pie.

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  13. Jemima - finally, Betty Magdalen, someone made the Jemima Puddle Duck connection. This is NEELS! Britain!! Can we say Beatrix Potter??

    :)

    me<><

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  14. Betty JoDee -- Two reasons for my failure to fall for the helicopter pilot RBD. 1) Even if he was trained by the RAF to fly helicopters, when did he have time to keep up his pilot's licence (or whatever the Brits call it, and however they spell it) and why would he bother? 2) Flying a helicopter in a blizzard seemed implausibly convenient. (Getting the local S&R team to fly a helicopter might have made more sense...) I much, much, much prefer Hugo's arrival at the cottage in Scotland at the end of Fate is Remarkable -- he gets a ride on the plow.

    My scale would suggest I'm not deprived of yummy foodstuffs at all! :-D

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  15. Yeah, I agree about the improbability of the helicopter piloting thing, and, the sheer determination and practicality of getting a ride with the snow plow. My own beloved, non-pilot that he is, would certainly do something like that. It's real and therefore romantic in a special way.

    me<><

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  16. Antipodean-base word antipode: (noun - the parts of earth diametrically opposite - often used of Australia and New Zealand as contrasted to the Western Hemisphere. AWESOME!! Loved this word, Betty Keira. I must get this into a conversation today.

    Things that made me go "hmm" about this book:

    1. Why would a sensible girl such as Jemima quit her job because of a man? Why not get a copy of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing and borrow a typewriter and get yourself some skills first?

    2. Pooley has to break her arm? Really Betty?

    3. Skis - how do you get luggage and another person to a helicopter on skis (oh yeah, and Cocoa). Liked the flyboy aspect, though.

    All in all, great book. Lady Manderly puts it over the top for me. Jemima is absolutely likeable and adorable. The award for best person in a crisis...

    Queen of puddings indeed!

    PS - Where is the Book Swap Page?

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  17. OK, so thanks to Betty JoDee, I got this one in the mail yesterday (yay!) and read it last night (so's I can pass it to you, Betty Barbara... going out today). I loved it! I absolutely agree with the review, down to the knickerbockers! Loved Lady Manderlay. Loved when Gloria got her comeuppance. Loved the helicopter, and Jemima's mad emergency housekeeping skills and her patient handling of Lady M which yeilds good results. Quoth that lady, "I can't help but wonder what Gloria would have done in your place."
    Lovely, lovely, lovely. In some sense, you get to see Lady Manderlay's dawning realization. My one small quibble is that I'd have liked a slightly better view of Alexander's dawning realization.
    Betty Barbara, the book will go out in today's mail. Enjoy it!
    Love and lardy cakes,
    Betty Cyndi

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  18. Betty Barbara here--
    The postal service comes through and I have now read the book. And my feelings, like a lot of Bettys', are all over the place.

    I am, as I often am, bemused by why our Miss Mouse should fall in love with the (in this case)RBD. Oh, I know--it goes something like this--he's nice to the cat that was run over and he tells Gloria to "be quiet". Otherwise, he's always snide to me. That makes him worthy of my everlasting regard.
    So, because I am in love, I must immediately remove myself from any contact with him. So I will give up this job I am coming to enjoy (and which suits me very well, if only it paid better)because I said I would and I have no patience with people who don't do what they say they're going to do--(Jemima, it's called Changing Your Mind and it's okay to do!).
    Yes, Jemima, you do need a better job so I agree with Betty Marcia's point #1 above.

    So I guess you could gather that I often wanted to smack Jemima upside the head.

    I had no problem with the helicopter bit. Our Betty has had RDD's with piloting skills in other books.

    I really liked the whole trapped in the blizzard bit--because for once our people were not all snug, just waiting out the storm! They were short of food(except for the miraculously renewing potatoes), short of fuel and then the water pipes froze! But having Pooley break her arm was definitely OTT (over the top). Loved the way Jemima coped. That was where she really came into her own.
    I came to enjoy Lady Manderly, but equally glad I didn't work for her!
    But what hit me after I read it, was how cleverly Alexander manipulated Jemima into staying with Lady M (i.e, where he knew where she was!). I can hear him--Auntie dearest, why not visit Stratford? Auntie Dearest-you know Scotland would be nice this time of year. How about visiting your lodge?
    While I won't rate it quite as high as Betty Keira, I'd give it a solid Boeuf en Croute.

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  19. Betty Barbara -- While I'll admit I've found the other RDDs' piloting skills a bit convenient, shall we say, the helicopter is just OTT -- Britspeak for "other the top" or, in American, way too much, man.

    Here's why: It's not inconceivable for mere mortals to own their own helicopters (I gather prices are in the $500,000 range for personal use models), it's not the most convenient device to own in general.

    We live next to a private air strip (grass only, so no night flying and no winter flying) co-owned by two pilots. One of them is a helicopter pilot -- he flew copters for the Pennsylvania state police. I chatted with him one day and he explained he'd retired from the state police, but he still taught would-be helicopter pilots and had two other consulting jobs related to helicopters. He may own his own helicopter, but it's likely he just rents one when he needs it to give a lesson.

    Whereas, a whole bunch of guys locally own small planes -- often more than one. It's easier to learn to fly a small plane, they can go farther more cheaply, and so forth. So I can believe Jake in Midnight Sun's Magic (which I rereading now) owns a plane and has a current license, but an RDD/RBD just doesn't need to know how to fly a helicopter.

    It's a bit like all of us having our driver's license for cars, but just a few of us having the special license for motorcycles, and only one of us being licensed to drive a tractor-trailer. And you wouldn't have that class of license unless you actually worked in that field.

    That's my theory, at least. :-)

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  20. Betty Barbara here--
    Well, of course it's over the top! That's what makes it such a hoot!! We've swallowed everything else about the story, why not an RBD copter pilot?? I guess it was one bite too many for you...
    See, Betty Magdalen, I never thought Alexander actually owned a helicopter. My scenario has him flying into the closest (to the lodge) open airport and renting a copter. Just as I am never sure if the plane flying RDDs actually own their own planes. Sometimes Betty has them 'flying' and sometimes she has them 'chartering', which can be the same thing or two different things.

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  21. Betty Barbara -- So, as fate would have it, we sat next to a former Air Force pilot at breakfast this morning. He has 4500 hours flying for the USAF over a 20 year career, although none of it was helicopters.

    Now, we know that the military trains people to fly helicopters, and that's pretty much the only way I can imagine Alexander having the skills to fly one. So that part I can buy. But he's a specialist in endocrinology, and there aren't a lot of opportunities for an endocrinologist to keep up his helicopter skills.

    But -- how about this? -- he hasn't kept up his pilot's license, but he does happen to know how to fly that particular helicopter. He gets to [someplace in Scotland] that a) has helicopters but b) doesn't have enough trained pilots, and c) is willing to let Alexander fly one just because, you know, it's an emergency and all.

    Oh, all right. It could happen. I guess. *grudging admission of enough plausibility to pass the straight face test*

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  22. I like to think of him supplementing his income by taking charter groups on aerial tours of the Dutch coastline...

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  23. I like that image. :-)

    Alas, it also makes me think of the spectacular and awesome (in the bad sense) video footage we have of Japan getting swamped by the tsunami. Someone (probably not Alexander Cator) was up in a helicopter shooting that footage. That can't have been a happy moment, however dramatic and immediate the result.

    :-(

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  24. Betty Barbara here--
    Well, this is one of Betty's books with a medical hero where we don't really get to see him be a doctor! Really, think about it--we get to see him set Pooley's broken arm, that's it. (And that's probably why Betty had Pooley break her arm!). So we really have no idea what he does with his days. We can extrapolate from other books, but we can't be sure.
    So Betty Keira may be on to something!

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  25. We don't know that Alexander didn't do military service in which he might have been trained to fly a helicopter. And, in a country so tied to the sea, it'd be handy to have helicopter skills - he could be part of a rescue group (as other RDDs/RBDs have been) which would keep his skills sharp.

    I know a couple of helicopter pilots. (That sounds odd - but I do) one is still an active duty Coast Guard pilot out of Puget Sound (who was formerly stationed on Kodiak Island, serving The Vast Bering Sea) and two others are both businessmen who served in Viet Nam and have used their not-ill-gotten gains as businessmen to keep their licenses current. Neither fly often but at least until a few years ago, while both were still in their 50s, they still flew often enough to keep current.

    And neither owns a chopper - they rented them when they were able.

    But it still rather strains credibility. Of course, we're talking about a country where the wife of a Royal decided she wanted to learn to fly a helicopter. And did.

    me<><

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  26. Ale-Cator is a mammoth reptile.

    I'm sorry ladies, I couldn't resist. Please forgive me!!

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  27. Loved the book, enjoyed the review, but was disappointed at no one coming up with a snarky comment on the name of the islands at the head of the loch (Rum Eigg and Muck). :)

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  28. I liked the way that Lady M's character was developed over the course of the story. Jemima was also an extremely likeable heroine, and super spunky to boot. The snowbound lodge episode with its helicopter rescue conclusion was quite gripping. But overall, as a romance novel, it was rather a disappointment as there were so few romantic opportunities for Jemima and Alexander. The only time he brought her out for one of those sumptuous meals that we read about so often in the other books was on page 230 of 254 of my ebook and even then, it was not a genuine dinner date, just that they had to eat dinner after returning to civilization. There was no occasion in the whole book in which he brought her out of his aunt's house just to spend time with her. I also did not like the way Alex kept exposing Jemima to Gloria's insults, it was hardly gentlemanly, to say the least, especially after he was supposed to have had his dawning realization. So I agree with Betty Magdalen about this being a treacle tart, only I would have ranked it lower if not for Lady M and Jemima.

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  29. Forgot to tell you all, I am from the Antipodes........We do not make a practice of producing ne'er-do-wells!!!!!!!!!!! My husband was the best do-well in the business!!!!!

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