Monday, July 11, 2011

Roses and Champagne--Reprise

 Dearest Bettys, I'm with Betty Debbie on this one.  I find it charming in parts but problematical.  I don't really buy all those years that our hero wastes not making time with our heroine.  But on the other hand she's an illustrator which is way, way off the reservation.  But on the other hand he uses her job to beat her over the head with.  But on the other hand, Greece.  This novel is firmly occupying my 'But on the other hand' shelf and I'll pick it up when I need something a little different. Love and lardy cakes, Betty Keira

There is nary a whiff of medical fiction in this book. No doctors, Dutch or otherwise, no nurses, plain or pretty. There is a mention of the heroine skinny dipping with the hero and near the end they sleep together. WHAT??? Nakedness and sleeping together? This is Betty Neels, is it not? Don't fret, Gentle Reader, all will be explained.
Katrina, 27, is the plainer older sister here (the Araminta). She goes about her "household duties" for an hour....what household duties??. When her parents died (in a car accident, natch) they had left her, along with the Regency house and splendid gardens and paddocks, also Mrs. Beecham (cook/housekeeper), Lovelace (chauffeur, houseman and part-time gardener), two girls from the village who came each day to help in the house, and Old John...who despite being a little light in the head worked magic in the garden. She dresses in well-cut, expensive clothes...that are dull. I think this is the only time I've read a Betty Neels wherein the heroine has poor taste in clothes. Usually their taste is just fine, they just don't have the money to indulge it. She does have expensive taste in shoes - favoring high heeled models by Rayne and Gucci. She is a first-class driver, unusual in a Neels heroine, but not unheard of. Katrina drives her own Triumph Sports...quite elderly now but still going well. She does have a one of a Neels kind of career. She illustrates childrens books. Katrina paints hobgoblins and flower fairies. You heard me, hobgoblins and flower fairies. For some time, since their parents died (no idea of how long ago...but not recently), Katrina and younger sister Virginia (age 20) have been having to make do with their monied existence. Not to say they are rich...just well to do. By the way, Virginia is just about as vile a piece of Neels younger sisterhood as you'll find. She tells Katrina at one point "I know you've no looks to speak of, but you've got a good figure - why don't you tart yourself up a bit?" That's it, I need to tart myself up a bit. Katrina is very typically blind to her sisters faults.

Lucius Massey. 34ish. Has know Katrina since her pram days. Lives in the larger mansion on the adjacent estate. "Well, surely we've known each other long enough for me to make a few brotherly remarks without you coming over all modest?"..."Why, I remember - let me see, I must have been about twelve and you five - we went swimming in the river, and you without a stitch on." I'm a little appalled that a twelve year old boy would be taking a five year old girl swimming...but I do like that he "had a painful interview with Father in the study." He has always been there for Katrina...in a rather brotherly fashion. He has been taking Virginia out for the past year - as a favor to Katrina. By the way, he's a chartered accountant. Besides his Jaguar, he also drives a Bently Turbo.
Story: Virginia is storming about the place alternately weeping and plotting vengeance. Supposedly Lucius has thrown her over...but since she never loved him, and he never loved her, this is clearly bunkem. She's just throwing a tantrum of epic proportions. And to add insult to injury she lies about what happened and tells all and sundry that Lucius left her for Katrina. "...she has explained at some length to everyone who would listen, she had no chance against your brains, elegance and-er-knowledge of the world - oh, and I almost forgot, your maturity." Virginia immediately goes off and gets engaged to a fairly wealthy young dolt that she can wrap around her finger. Lucius takes this golden opportunity to bulldoze Katrina into courtship and an engagement...so as not to make a liar out of Virginia. He obviously has more than that on his mind. His plotting is fairly fun...it involves coercing Katrina into spending a bundle on a new wardrobe - full of more colorful clothes that "do something for her". At one point he asks Katrina "Do you have any indigent aunts or cousins?" He tells her they will come in handy in keeping her house in the family so that perhaps their second son can inherit. She definitely didn't see that one coming. This is a faux engagement, right? They spend a lot of time riding together in the morning, driving up to London to go shopping, taking care of Upper Tew(the village), hosting parties, going to parties, etc...leading fairly posh lifestyles. On Christmas Day Katrina has a dawning realization that she is...gasp...in love with Lucius. She Can't Let That Get in The Way of Their Friendship.

They swan about - going to and fro from their nice houses - eating dinners that their devoted cooks make for them, being locked up after by their devoted housemen. There is a lot of driving up to London to turn in illustrations and shop for expensive clothes in boutiques (not Harrods - because that's where she gets her dull clothes). And possibly to do some chartered accountancy.
Just after New Years they go on vacation together to Greece. He's been to Greece four or five times before, and of course he speaks the language. They run into an elderly pair of sisters who are also on vacation. Addy and Dora. We first meet them at Heathrow, before they get on the plane. Addy is timid and nice. Dora is cross and judgemental. She snorts at Katrina as she walks past her on the plane. Not to worry. Katrina and Lucius's vacation in Greece will be comme il faut ("Being in accord with conventions or accepted standards; proper.")...up until the earthquake. Yup, just as they are about to sort out their love, the earth moves. In my experience, that usually happens AFTER the declaration of undying love. Evidently Lucius needed to get Katrina really alone so that she would listen to him. Their car is destroyed, so they have to walk six or seven miles back to a village. Thankfully Katrina is wearing sensible shoes. They help out at the village for a couple of days sleeping together on the ground, outside(they are chaperoned by the entire rest of the village).

The couple return to England, without any declarations of love, snotty little sister Virginia shows up like an antibiotic resistant infection and manages to make Katrina think that Lucius is seeing another woman...Katrina gets jealous - then finds out Lucius was just helping his pretty cousin find a flat. Cousin Mary is not only already married, but she's preggo to boot. Katrina storms the castle, er, Lucius's study, tells him she loves him...he says he's loved her forever, and by the way, he has a special licence burning a hole in his pocket. They kiss, the end.

Fun things about this book:
  • you could probably plan a vacation to Greece using Betty's itinerary.
  • I also love that Lucius recommends to Katrina that she buy a book at the airport so that she will have something to read. I never undertake air travel without at least 2 books in my carry on - not counting what I might or might not have in my suitcase.
Food: Betty Neels must have been on a diet when she wrote this...and worked all of her food cravings into the story. Ploughman's Lunch, cheese souffle, boeuf Stroganoff, ruche glacee, wild duck, globe artichokes, lemon sorbet, mushroom soup, vol-au-vents, eclairs (twice!), cocktail sausages, chicken and mushroom bouchee, cheese tartlets, scones, sausage rolls, eggs en cocette a la creme, trifle, moussaka, pilaf, chocolate sponge.
Fashion: low necked peacock blue ball gown, brown velvet suit, outfit of old rose silk, something called "Italian knitted" and a chinchilla coat.

Fun Quote: "You beat all the Greek goddesses into cocked hats."
Rating: This is a tough one to rate...some of it I liked quite a bit but overall I found it uneven. Virginia was deliciously outrageous at times, but often just annoying. Katrina may have been a talented artist - but that is given short shrift. Lucius is a chartered accountant, for goodness sake. I think what bugs me most about this book is the fact that Katrina has to do all the hard relationship work...come on Lucius, help a sister out! In fairly typical Neels fashion, the hero doesn't admit to love until the heroine does, in this case less than half a page before the end. Half a page to wrap it up. I'll give it a Treacle Tart.

11 comments:

  1. I reread this one last week so it would be fresh in my mind. I have to admit that I feel about it very much like you ladies. It is uneven, but I liked it better the second time. I think it goes better if you see Lucius as having a massive insecurity where Katrina is concerned... she has, after all, never looked at him and NOTICED him. My question is... if you want a girl to notice you, WHY would you take up with her sister whom she loves. Since Katie is the best kind of sister, there is NO WAY she will let herself think of you that way. So I wondered if there was a subplot that didn't get mentioned. Maybe.. just maybe.. Virginia is nicer than all that. Maybe she's trying to help Lucius out, so she plots the whole thing with him. What do you ladies think of THAT idea? It could work.

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  2. I read this one, well, I read the beginning, liked it okay. I read the end, eh, okay nice at the very end. The Greek trip I couldn't get through the first time I tried. I picked it up again this morning just so I could say I read it. It's beans for me. (I'll eat the toast in my dreams. Haven't had carbs is so long...)

    Interesting Betty Cyndi, but Virginia is just written too selfish to ever do something of that kind. If Betty wanted her to be the match maker, she'd have at least made some subtle (or not so) indications that Ginnia was a not super smeegle. The V-girl never reforms or even says a nice thing to her sister. Does she ever hug her or say anything endearing. Nope.

    Boy howdy are you right about screwed up thinking! "I'll date your sister, let everyone think I'm marrying her and then dump her, then you'll notice me and fall in love."
    Now I get Katrina. He's been a pal, now he's dating her sister, hands off, even after they break up. That's the sister rule, come on!

    I love all the Betty's but I had a tough time making myself read the whole thing.

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  3. OK... so I was rereading the review just now to my daughter and I had a new thought. Maybe, just maybe, the reason Lucius waited so long to say anything to Katie was because of the parents' death? He wanted her to have (how un-Neels) a respectable grieving period before he presented her with a new emotional tangle. Oh... or how about this? Maybe he was waiting to get Ginnie the virago out of the way. After all, Katie was responsible for her until she was a)21 or b)married. So... he took her around, "dumped" her so she'd get married to get even with him and... then got what he wanted. Now THIS plot fits the scenario in the best Neels fashion. Heroes are very deep and often playing a long game. :-)

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  4. Interesting subplots, Betty Cyndi. I agree with Betty Mary with the Beans on Toast rating, for the same reasons that she and Betty Keira gave. Also, what didn't sit too well with me was the upper crust aura of the book (I'm big into the "feel" or "ambience" of a book)-- all the socializing and fine dining between the two homes. But I did like the diversion with the Pete Johnson character. I thought it would've been more Betty-like if she would've made Pete into a gold digger.

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  5. Can someone please clarify to me the references to Araminta types on this blog? The context seems to say that she's the plain heroine, but I'm currently reading "The Edge of Winter," and the main character, Araminta Shaw, is pretty with bright hair, dark blue eyes, and honey lashes. Are you gals referring to a different Araminta? Thanks.

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  6. Virginia's just another in a long line of extremely selfish siblings.

    Which, frankly, is one thing I love about Betty. Relatives are petty and mean and selfish and self-centered and catty. Not everyone has a family like The Happy Hollisters and Betty knew it.

    I just wish she'd have let her heroines know it too, sometimes.

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  7. Betty Barbara here--
    with an answer for Betty Lulu--
    The Araminta in The Edge of Winter is the one-off. All of the other Aramintas (and Betty Neels used that name for the heroine in at least 2 other books) are mousy.
    So in The Uncrushable Jersey Dress shorthand--Aramintas are small, mousy, and Olivias are tall and stunning, with 'splendid' figures.
    The Founding Bettys did a post about this very early on, but I can't find the reference.
    I hope this helps a little.

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  8. Betty Cyndi, if the hero was the kind of guy to set up the sister with somebody, just to get her out of the way, would he be a hero? And you are right, La Neels would have had him want to marry her right away to solve the no parents problem. Although Betty is not above having the hero torture her with his absence for awhile. But the guy is usually clueless about the deaths, or sudden poverty or whatever and as soon as he knows the woman is suffering, he shows up. Lucius if physically present all the time but not really emotionally there for Katrina.

    Betty kitap, I agree. Sometimes people are mean. Yeah, God and their mother probably love them, but we don't have to like them. I get tired of the 'deep down everyone is good and will do the right thing in the end' books. Betty knew real people and wrote about them. And the thing is some people never catch on. So that thing about the Betty heroines not figuring out the bad guys, it's true, too. I've got a daughter that lives in LA LA land. I pray a lot! But yeah, some of these gals should have figured out the manipulators.

    Betty Lulu, I like the Pete Johnson character, too. And at the point Pete shows up I'm thinking, "Here's our Hero". Ditch Lucius (too close to Lucifer for my taste.) Show the jerk that when you manipulate and then keep the girl dangling you get the boot. Give us a good quick background on Pete and let's have a real happy ending! Of course, I was reading this while trying to plan a vacation to the Wisc. Dells with my just a bit older brother, who could have been a Betty Hero, by attitude alone. Strong, silent, controlling, bossy, mean, arrogant,...Okay, I was mad at him. He literally told me there would be NO COMPROMISE. We could go on vacation with him if we agree to go along with his plans. How old am I? Twelve Otherwise make my plans, and if our roads cross, then all's great! And unfortunately for the cousins, it aint gonna happen.

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  9. Thanks, Betty Barbara. That helps! :)

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  10. Betty Anhk here
    Just reread this book. Its not really a favourite, though I think its very good Katrina that has a career she loves and at which she seems successful. Even though she spends hardly any time working, what with all the dressing and dining, riding and social small talk that one must simply.
    I think Lucius could be bit of a pill, condescending and an overly helpful style advisor. Pete - possibly more promising than a Greek speaking accountant? And she's twenty seven before he makes his move? And he takes her sister out since Virginia was seventeen (The Hunt Ball) just to get in more time with Katrina. I mean, it could have all been big brotherly, but still bad planning much.

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  11. I liked it. Loathed Virginia -- she need a good swift boot in the bum. And I've spent entirely too much time reading Harry Potter. I kept picturing this Lucius looking like Jason Isaacs, complete with long platinum hair, wizard's robes and a permanent sneer on his face. :)

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