Monday, November 11, 2013

Fate Takes a Hand - Reprise

I spent last weekend in San Francisco, visiting my eldest son and his wife in their new home.  Well, it's new to them.  It was actually built in 1906 - right after the big earthquake.  They purchased the home right around Christmas of last year.  Stay with me here...
Max and Sophie enjoyed the view from the front porch, but were dismayed when they found out that they would have to spend the weekend sitting on the floor.
Both my son and his wife are hard working computer-y types and are able to afford to live in a nice neighborhood in an expensive city.  

Dr. van der Stevejinck and I loaded up our great socking Bentley minivan with our two youngest sons (ages 18 and 22) plus air mattresses and bedding for the entire crew. Because my eldest and his wife are new to home ownership, I didn't mind bringing our own sleeping arrangements.  My son did mention we should bring chairs.  "Chairs?" I said to my husband, "I refuse to haul chairs 800+ miles. Each way."  


Had I known that my son and his wife only have TWO pieces of furniture in their house, I would definitely have tossed a couple of camping chairs in.

One of the things that I really love about books like Fate Takes a Hand, is the housekeeping details.  Even the most destitute of orphans can manage to have a table and chair or two.  Sure the chairs might be wobbly (especially when sat upon by vast RDDs), but they have them. 

The Heir's home does share something in common with Lally's - the historical angle - no exterior improvements without the planning commission's go ahead.  Lucky for him he already has bathrooms.

-Betty Debbie

We had to shoot a pack mule.
The Founding Bettys, donning their tasteful Pith helmets and explorer monocles, ventured forth and were lucky enough to get their hands on the original Betty Neels novel outline!  (We traded one demon baby, our pinky fingers and three gold fillings for what you're about to read.)

Working title: The Doctor and the Hot Flower Girl (Call agent and demand Harlequin stop slapping my novels with bland and taupe-y titles!)

HeroineEmily Haven't I done that already?  Eulalia Warburton.  (To sound more au courant they can call her Miss Lally...There, publishers, I'm throwing crumbs to your hip-hop generation.)
DebitsLimp  Squint  Evil brother  Homelessness, Elderly retainer (I'll call her Trottie!), Care of orphaned cousin (Precocious but not treacle-y 8-year-old...Bobby (too American!) Peter)
Assets: Built like a brick-house, loads of money,  loads of familymarketable skill-set, arranges flowers, willingness to work, spine like honed steel

HeroBrian Churchill (No.  Eureka!  I have it!  This time he's Dutch.) Fenno van Linssen
Debits: Short,  Skinny,  Bad Career (He's a junior executive at a greetings card firm...), Small-minded and bony-chested fiancee (Sarah (Much too nice-sounding. I want something that says, 'I lop the tops off daffodils in the springtime because they look happy.'Ursula)
Assets: Deeply romantic nature, enduring honesty, willingness to lie like a trooper, a libido, likes children, has cash
Eulalia, flower shop girl by day, 
Goddess of Spring by night

Set-Up: Simple (and plain gorgeous) flower shop worker struggles to maintain financial solvency while lashed to the rocks, waiting for the Kraken to devour her.  (Ha!  I kill me.) Trottie is a pensioner, fruit of misspent youth cousin Peter is an orphan and Eulalia has a sweaty-handed gentleman follower a lease that's about to expire.  What next?!  Fenno walks into the shop and asks for flowers--red roses definitely not red roses for his fiancee.  Sparks fly (figure out a way to imply that he's looking at her body without being tacky enough to say 'body') and a palpable attraction is beaten into submission by her irritation at his coldness and his gobsmacked shock (which reads as coldness) at finding Persephone working in retail.

Conflict: When Eulalia delivers the flowers to Ursula (I'm thinking of an anorexic version of that hard-eyed villainess in the Disney picture...but less smiley and more willing to slap the parlor maids.) a minor row ensues.  Fenno visits the shop again and again (he's never said it with flowers before) so that he can observe her artfully (Too explicit?). Eulalia twits him about what a fractious man he must be to need so many flowers and never guesses that his motives are inclining to wickedness.  Peter contracts loprosy  runs away gets a broken arm (caught in a protest rowdy curb-hopping bikers) and so needs a doctor.  Fenno!  He goes above and beyond the call of duty, making house-calls, having them over for tea..And it all works very well until Ursula (receiving yet another unwanted flower offering from Fenno via Eulalia) screeches out that (well, how do I put it?)...Fenno has been picking flowers in Eulalia's garden.  (Oh dear, we'll have to tone that down for publication. It's a mite smutty.)  So, Eulalia tells her where to get off.
50,000 Pounds!

Beam-Ends: Eulalia gets a promotion and a medal fired.  Fenno, nursing a terrific sense of guilt (and passion--but tastefully!), throws Ursula over and proposes a MOC to our heroine buys her a house!  (Note to self: Remind my publishers of my substantial fan base and remind them, too, that this isn't the part where the RDD buys himself a mistress. Leave that to the Harlequin Blaze stable of tarty writers...)

Beam-Ends x2: Eulalia entrenches herself happily in her home town, swallowing the solicitor's lie about a deceased great-uncle and the one thousand ten thousand fifty thousand pounds!  She gets a rabbit and a cat for Peter and plans a flower shop with cautious optimism.
But all is not well in Eden.  Victor, a local lad lately returned from the outer reaches of hell America, tries his arm with the fair heiress.  Trottie breaks her leg.  Fenno fixes both Trottie's leg and Victor's wagon. 

Muddy Waters: Eulalia meets a hooded stranger named Deep Throat in a parking garageoverhears the village drunk mention a Bentley-driving stranger. Eulalia, having obtained five A-levels in her salad days, is no fool and quickly tracks down the kernel of brandy-soaked truth at the bottom of the barrel.  She travels to London and lays her case before Fenno.  He bought her a house!  Are there quid pro quos? (Too tarty?)  Fenno, sure he loves the fair maiden, offers her a proposal contingent on his getting out of an entanglement with Ursula (page count!) shakes it off, dismisses her fury and makes her spend the night.  (Be sure to mention chaperones.)  

He sends your girl flowers, you send his diamonds.  
He buys your girl a house, you get his in a clinch.  
THAT'S the Chicago way!
Notes: Trottie won't have a home if Lally gets married so develop a secondary romance for her with Dodge, Fenno's accountant butler.  Also, clear up the mess with Ursula--have Fenno catch her in the arms of a demon from the darkest corners of the underworld an American...from Chicago!

Filler: Fenno invites Peter to Holland where Eulalia meets his evil and insecure aunt delightful mother and gets the Indoor/Outdoor House Tour of Anticipatory/Implied Conjugal Relations.  Her humiliation over finding out she owes him her home and 50,000 Pounds is not to be mentioned.    

Resolution: Home once more.  Fenno waits until Dodge takes Trottie off for a spot of snogging the day and then makes a short (if to the point) declaration of undying love. He promises to install Eulalia in an upscale London condo with open duct work and an industrial finish his garden oasis in the city, serve her several Cordon Bleu meals a day and await pledges of her affection.
Page Count Neither Exceeded or Skimped: The End

Rating:  The biggest issue I take with this book are the names.  Miss Lally (which I kept intentionally mis-reading as LAY-lee instead of LAL-lee so that it wouldn't seem quite so bad) and Trottie (which any way you slice it sounds like a mix-breed Labrador with a case of the runs) are difficult pills to swallow.  Still, they're just names and I found the rest of the book really charming.  Though written in the last few years of her career, La Neels hardly seems like she's flagging (would that I could be a tenth as awesome). 
This is a Boeuf en Croute or maybe even higher--I read this when my husband was out of town and it's all I can do in those circumstances to keep the kids from sharpening sticks and circling helpless neighbors with tribal cries of 'Kill the Pig!' Anyway, just when I'd get going on the book I'd be interrupted with all manner of Lilliputian catastrophes. ( I know it's a great book when I'm more than usually annoyed that I have to put it down and know it's a Beans on Toast if I'd rather deep clean the oven than pick it up.)
But in blue...
I loved the secondary love story, adored Peter and wanted to pop Ursula in the nose myself even though, as it turned out, she had every reason to be suspicious about Fenno and that gorgeous flower girl.

Food: Banana sandwiches and Marmite and orange squash are her meals with Peter.  Trottie doesn't trust fish on Mondays.  They make cheese sandwiches, Madeira cake, and when Fenno does his spot of Good Samaritanism he has a ploughman's lunch of bread cheese and beer.  More refined meals include lobster bisque, chocolate pudding, and chicken a la king.  Adorably, Trottie and Dodge court while making cucumber sandwiches and scones.

Fashion: She wears a navy dress in the flower shop.  Fenno changes from country tweeds to sober grey suiting after popping out to the country to BUY A HOUSE.  Eulalia owns a small-brimmed velvet hat and Ursula unwisely dons a bright blue dress cut very low 'which was a mistake, for her figure was what she described as boyish and the dress did nothing for her flat chest.'  Cough.


  1. Watch out, Max and Sophie! Step back from the curb! Any second now Mike Post and Steve Heller will be chasing a villain down the street in their car.
    Huh? What did you say? No, little red pen, those are not clothes lines like in Italy.

    Great review! Nice angle!
    Betty Anonymous

  2. Lally – Short Dark Curly Hair

    I love the scene of the first meeting at the flower shop. Eulalia is refreshingly impertinent.

    A giant of a man, elegantly dressed, no longer young, and wearing a look of impatient annoyance upon his handsome features.
    He came to a stop in the middle of the floral arrangements and said curtly, 'I want a couple of dozen roses sent to this address.'
    'Red roses?'
    'Certainly not. Yellow—pink, it really doesn't matter.'
    He stared at her, and really she was worth being stared at: a big girl with generous curves, short dark curly hair, large grey eyes and a pretty face. He said abruptly, 'What is your name?'
    'Eulalia Warburton,' she replied promptly. 'What is yours?'
    He smiled thinly. 'The roses are to be sent to this address.' He handed her a card. 'How much?' 'Fifteen pounds and two pounds for delivery.'

    One of the cheekiest lines in the book:
    'It was a perfectly good day before you came in,' she told him.
    Ha ha ha. Love it.

    Do you know why he sent her the flowers in the first place and wore a look of impatient annoyance. Ursula told him she didn’t care to live with him at his Dutch home and suggested taking friends with them when they went there.
    So he walked out on her and he was so enraged he didn’t keep his date with her later that day.
    Ha! Love it.

    Short dark curly hair?

    Was Eulalia the only heroine with short hair? I don’t remember.

    Fate Takes a Hand © 1995

    Watch Lally walking, dancing and prancing down Kalverstraat on a wet day in 1971 — two years after Sister Peters first walked along that selfsame street in Amsterdam.
    Typical 70s fashion?

  3. "Are we almost there, Dad?"
    "Son, you know how long it takes to your aunt’s house."

    "Mom, did you bring my warm Harry Potter sweatshirt."
    "It’s in your bag at the very back at the bottom of the trunk."
    "I’m cold, Mom. Can we get it?"
    "Next time we make a stop."
    "I’m really cold, Mom. Can we get it now?"

    "Oh look! There’s a McDonald’s. Can we go there, Dad?"
    "We’ve just had tea and muffins at Casa van Voorhees."
    "That was ages ago."
    "Exactly forty-five minutes."
    "But I’m hungry, Dad."
    "How old are you? Eight or eighteen?"

    "Aw! Mom? The battery of my iPad is dead."
    "Ha ha ha. I told you to recharge it, dunderhead. You shouldn’t have been fiddling with it the whole time. I told you so. sigh I knew this would happen."
    "That’ll be 50 ¢, young man. I told you – no name calling during the entire trip."
    "Aw. Come on, Mom."

    "Are we almost there? — Dad? Are we almost there?"

    "I’m bored, Mom."
    "Why not read one of your books?"
    "That’s boring."

    "I’m not feeling too good. Can we stop here?"
    "No, we’re going for at least another one hundred miles before the next stop."
    "Dad? I’m not feeling too good. I think I’m going to be sick."

    "I’m tired, Mom."
    "Why not take a nap, sweetheart."
    "I’m not a baby, Mom."

    "How much longer, Dad?"

    "Dad? Are we almost there? — Dad? Da-ad! Are we almost there?"

    After twenty hours and forty-six minutes of completely relaxed driving, Doctor van der Stevejinck, who was not a fussy driver, finally stopped the car at their destination. Betty Debbie, still feeling as fresh as a daisy, nimbly climbed out of the caravan after her husband had opened the door for her and stood on the curb. She could hardly wait to see the new home of her eldest son and her daughter-in-law.

    The Heir and his wife were waiting for them at their house, a handsome Edwardian – cough – Theodorian residence, one of a row lining a quiet street close to the hospital. 'Exellent' was the only way to describe it, reflected Betty Debbie, 'and it wasn't even furnished'.

    1. *snorts milk out of nose*
      Hilarious...and yes, it always feels like twenty hours of driving. Thankfully, my teen is used to long road trips and usually comes quite prepared to entertain himself. (Let's just gloss over the vacation wherein he didn't bother to pack underwear, socks or EVEN ONE PAIR OF SHOES!!!(he had hopped into the car barefoot)).

    2. Ha ha ha! Hilarious... When did you find out? No, don't answer that. I forgot: gloss over...

    3. We found out when we were getting ready to stop for breakfast (3 hours from home)...and my teen didn't have any shoes. Luckily for him (and me), I am possessed of superpowers...the kind that lead me to suppose that someone who didn't worry about shoes might not have packed OTHER other necessities, so we were able to get all of them at once. I just counted it as "back-to-school" shopping (except that I had to spend more on the sock and underwear since they weren't quite as 'on sale' as I liked).