Saturday, June 23, 2018

Moon Over the Alps--1960

First order of business. Check out her orthodondia.
Nobody with teeth that good will ever be considered plain.
Penny Smith (actual name) has an awful fiance, terrible relatives and an inferiority complex. She's come to stew about them on a holiday where the fogs of indecision clear. Her engagement must come to an end. Unfortunately, an acquisitive magpie steals her engagement band just as she is on the point of mailing it back to Rotten Dennis.
She finds it...(reads text closely)..."horribly fouled".
So now she's got a poop-ring. Her moral compass is better than mine because she sends it to a jeweler to be cleaned instead of back to her crappy fiance. (PUN INTENDED)

In the mean time, enter Charles...Smith (not actual name). He's on vacation too, irritated that all the ladies are swiping right on his Tinder profile. Because of the crushing realities of modern dating, Penny's only annoyance is fending off the Entertainment Committee looking for another spiffing shuffleboard player. The two Smiths decide to join forces for the duration of their vacation--leaving the details of their pasts behind them and pairing up anonymously. (And you thought my Tinder reference was off the mark.)

But who can resist a tropical moon? Not these two. Soon Charles is making veiled promises and Penny is wishing her poop-ring were already winging its way to Dennis because she would like to snog Charles with a clear conscience. They snog anyway, you guys.

Who hasn't returned a man's feces-encrusted love-token?
The next morning, Penny overhears Charles telling someone that she's fine for jaunting about on holiday with but she's rather a PENNY PLAIN!

Heartbreak, like an odd-job man, has trod over her happiness in hobnailed boots, crushing the tender flowers of her love. Moments later, when Penny finally receives the ring back from the jeweler, Charles is there to see her slip it on. Now it's his turn for the odd-job man to wade through the fresh cement of his budding devotion. (As a metaphor, this is killing it.)
When interviewed, the laborer could not be bothered to do more
than shout over the sound of his concrete saw: "DON'T SEE HOW IT'S

Though the terms of their agreement had always been "What Happens in Picton, Stays in Picton", Charles turns white and calls her a "rotten little cheat". Thankfully for the page count, she does not spend a moment wondering why a man who was so scathing about her looks should appear so shattered when he discovers she is taken.

Fast forward to Dragonshill. Penny has cut all ties with her poop-fiance and the terrible relatives to take an emergency job on a remote sheep station in the mountains. The father of her charges has been in an accident in South America, the mother has rushed to his side and "Uncle Carl" is there too.

Her responsibilities are the education and minding of four young children, most of the cooking and cleaning, and the companionship of Madame Beaudonais-Smith, a 91-year-old French woman. Let me skip a lot and tell you that she is FANTASTIC at it, whipping up delicious meals, enriching the young ones, baking bread for fun, being a champion skier, and speaking French with Madame after the poppets have gone to bed.

She's out to win "Survivor: New Zealand Sheep-wife"
Finally, "Uncle Carl" comes home and, lo and behold, he is Charles, Beaudonais-Smith. The tender flowers of her love come poking hopeful shoots up and she's bashing them back like emotional Whack-a-mole, hiding behind the formality of using his whole double-barreled name to keep her safe. He relies on the tried-and-true method of quelling his own burning passion--a classic of elementary school relationships: Name-calling. 

A cheap two-timer. Someone who cuts and runs at the first chance. A girl who is not to be relied on. 

A letter from her poop-fiance (I can't go change it now.) makes Charles scathing enough for even his grandmother to notice.
Madame: Charles totally likes you. Like, like-likes you. 
Penny: No, no, I am a hump-backed, wall-eyed toad! 
Madame: You have assests, girl! Your voice.
Penny: Um...?

See, the French have a proverb: "The tongue is the road to the heart."  (Clears throat, steps to podium, taps microphone) Dear Peoples of France, We know how you kiss. We have a name for it. That proverb's a little on the nose...even for you.

But Penny is coping beautifully with all the hardships of back-country living until Verona shows up. Verona is just a stunning auburn-haired model with an antipathy to mountain living. Of course Charles is in love with her and not adverse to flirting with Penny to show Verona (whose name I cannot sign off on) he's got more than one string on his bow.

I'm going to skip a lot here but notable highlights include Charles chucking Penny into a horse trough when she won't use his first name; Charles rifling through Penny's closet, choosing a dress and making her come to tea when she prefers to act like a servant; the careful way Charles proposes in hypotheticals, painfully aware that a mountain man hasn't much to offer; the almost Victorian law Penny lays down when she demands he (the son of the household) not 'meddle' with her (the help)...

Penny had to remind herself that she did NOT want to be meddled with.
Definitely NOT.
Usually NOT.

One of the reasons she can't duck into an empty closet with Charles for some light meddling is that Penny has grown to like Verona. Despite her having all the qualities necessary to be a really cracking villainess, Verona is also a delight. But when a nearby neighbor is horribly injured, the truth comes out. Verona doesn't love Charles at all, but this other fellow with the crushed ribs...

As for Charles? Embracing Verona would be as exciting as watching butter melt. (I don't know your life.) He makes it clear that he is not attracted to alabaster princesses, but is he interested in Penny Plains?

We don't find out until after the best adventure ever. Penny, with no help at all, has to hike out to the snow-bound hut where Charles has sent a distress signal, stitch up his bloody wound, assess the likelihood of death (High), throw his massive frame onto a wonky dogsled and drag it over terribly rough ground (on her bloody knees) back to the homestead--all while Charles is out to it.

Oh my gosh, you guys. I live for this stuff and I cannot approve of myself at all. It's all martyrdom and yet here I am: standing in a queue waiting for my Triple, Venti, Non-fat, Caramel Martyr-iato.

As he recovers, Charles comes to the slow, dreadful realization that she was the one who saved his life and in what manner she did so. Later, he discovers her raw and blistered shoulders and says these actual words (no-I-am-not-kidding): "Off with your blouse."
Is this the right moment to tell you that Madame
investigates 'glandular fever' in one of the shepherds by
examining his groin?

He summons the courage to try to win her again and has the good sense to laugh in her face when she tries to peddle the lie that she is just not interested. He knows she loves him. She's got the scars to prove it. So when she finally flings his words about 'holiday jaunts' and 'Penny Plains' at his feet, he tells her he'd been talking about a stupid boat and begins to tell her in no uncertain terms just how attracted he's been.

When they finally get engaged, Madame is waiting for them in the salon with the parure of family emeralds.

Rating: 8/10 Digging out the sheep. Honestly, this rating means nothing. I struggled to start this book but once I got going, I raced to the end. The really glorious part is that Essie Summers takes the time to go through Charles's wrong-headedness, point by point. Sometimes I feel so short-changed in that department by these mid-century Harlequins but if Essie Summers makes her characters suffer, there's going to be some settlement of the accounts. And I love it.

The Misunderstanding: He thinks she's a worthess two-timer. She thinks he finds her plain and that he's in love with someone else.

Location: Starts in the Queen Charlotte Sounds near Picton. Ends at Dragonshill, in the mountains near Lake Tekapo in South Canterbury

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