Thursday, December 31, 2009

How Dutch was my New Year...

Any Dutch doctor worth his salt tries to be home with his family on New Years Eve. Why? So they can all eat oliebollen together.

Betty Neels never mentions oliebollen as having raisins in them, but most of the recipes I found had raisins. Lots of raisins. I personally loathe cooked raisins - so I hunted around until I found a recipe without them. Very easy to make...but the recipe makes enough to feed a crowd. Next time I will have to cut the recipe in half - or invite a lot of people over to eat them.

Basically they are fried balls of moist/sticky bread dough. I was careful to cook them completely - I don't like doughy bread - and they do turn out the consistency of bread. I think if you left the powdered sugar off they wouldn't be too bad for a sandwich. I threw some chopped apple pieces in some of the dough - the apples added a nice fruity touch without being like raisins.

Gelukkig Nieuw Jaar!

Just an Innocent Girl Unacquainted with Life...

Hi there, I'm Betty Kylene. I'll be popping in here and there as I share with you my journey to discover Betty Neels.

I have read only 3 Betty Neels thus far, "Visiting Consultant" which has the English nurse, Dutch Doctor and uncrushable jersey dress, "Always and Forever" where the heroine thinks that she might go into "computers," "Magic in Vienna" where surprise kisses are doled out like candy and apparently hold as much importance.

Why I think I will be an asset to this blog:
I love food and if there is one thing La Neels likes to write about it is food.

I have actually been to England so I have eaten some of the foods and been to some of the cities. That counts for something doesn't it?

I get weak at the sight of blood, which isn't an asset but a liability in the world of Neels and the "theatre" which doesn't hold actors but surgeons and nurses.

I have an uncrushable jersey dress.

I knit and have a passion for fine needlework. Which I hear is very Neels though I haven't encountered it yet.

What am I getting out of this:
I am hoping that if I am good I can get myself invited to the Very Merry Betty Neels Feast where the menu is food taken from the books. I can't wait for Boeuf en Croute!

Year's Happy Ending-1984 Discussion Thread

  • One of my favorite Neels-isms is her names for much-beloved house help (though of course, in my opinion, all house help would be much beloved). Here it's Mrs. Buckle. Mrs. Buckle. If you think about it 'Mrs. Buckle' walks the thin, precarious path between above stairs (with your Harringtons and Cleves and van Ritters) and any lowlife off the street (Budge, etc.). Nicely done, Betty. [Betty Debbie] I agree that any and all household help would be much particular anyone who helps out in my household.
  • Now that baby. I've had a few so forgive me my disbelief that you could ever just park a pram under a window and get on with the bed-making. For one thing, they'd know you were trying to be productive and I've never met a baby yet that could settle down with that happening. Also, my youngest is a horrible teether and one day just doesn't cut it in the cutting teeth department. [Betty Debbie] I've had kids that seemed to teethe for months. I am very unclear as to how old this baby is supposed to be. Yes, it's teething...but in my own personal experience that could be anywhere from 2 months to 8 months. Then again, she's feeding the little coma patient orange juice. That's not a beverage I generally give small babies, as it has a tendency to burn their little bottoms on the way out.
  • Also, at some point we should discuss Betty's philosophical inconsistency on the subject of marriages of convenience. Here she allows her heroine to accept our hero only after she's discovered she loves him. In other venues such a marriage is only deemed acceptable because neither party cares very much. [Betty Debbie] I personally find marriage very convenient.
  • And on the subject of married ladies' exposed bosoms being allowable I would offer that a safely married lady is a danger neither to herself nor others. [Betty Debbie] I'm not sure what to say about that - seeing as I am a married lady and was suffering from a wardrobe malfunction a couple of weeks ago at my son's wedding. Thank you, Betty Keira, for the loan of a scarf to help disguise a little too much exposed bosom.

Year's Happy Ending - 1984

In honor of the season, Betty Keira suggested that we start off our Betty Neels book reviews with "Year's Happy Ending". It's a bold choice. "Year's Happy Ending" is not your typical Neels. There are no Dutch doctors, no English nurses. And is pure Neels.

First of all, 1984 represents La Neels smack dab in the middle of her writing career. She had been churning out about 4 novels a year for 15 years - so presumably she could do it in her sleep by now.
Here are some of the vital statistics for Year's Happy Ending:
  • Heroine - Deborah Farley, 23 years old. She is a certified nanny (possibly the only "certified nanny" in Neeldom). Small in stature, but with a "pretty figure"...this will come in handy later on in the story...sandy hair, a plain face, beautiful green eyes with sandy lashes. Sandy lashes? At one point she wonders if her eyelashes would look funny if she dyed them. I'm wondering if Betty Neels ever dabbled in makeup? Hello...try some mascara! Her temperament is pretty much calm and pragmatic - except around Gideon...who flusters her.

  • Hero - Professor Gideon Beaufort, 35 years old. he fits the Neels model, in that he is tall and large...but he's not Dutch - or a doctor. He is described as having iron grey hair and bright blue eyes. Iron grey hair at 35??? I guess it could happen. It sounds like he's some kind of professor of one point he tells Deborah that he studies "the production and distribution of money and goods". That phrase sure sounds like something out of a textbook. La Neels pretty much slides past any details of his job (in sharp contrast to the specific operations that her Dutch doctors perform). He's a widower with a 10 year old daughter. He again fits the Neels model, in that his first marriage did not go well - and the unloving wife is gracious enough to die - after running away with someone else.

The story begins with Deborah going to act as emergency nanny to the Burns family (Mrs. Burn's mother is taken suddenly ill). Deborah is currently between nanny jobs, so she accepts. Mrs. Peggy Burns is Gideon's sister. The Burns family consists of 4 year old twins, Simon and Suzanne, and an impossibly well behaved baby, Deidre. This baby is placid to the point of being catatonic. Except for one day when she's teething.

As part of Mrs. Beaufort's (Gideon and Peggy's mother) recovery, the whole family flies down to Portugal. On a private plane. Of course. They meet Gideon and Eleanor (Gideon's daughter) there. When Gideon first sees Deborah in a bikini he says "Don't expect me to ever call you Nanny again."

Gideon begins his courtship of Deborah. He takes her to town and they listen to
fado music and eat grilled sea bream washed down with Vinho Verde. He asks her to marry her - so that Eleanor will be happy and have a mother...yes, a marriage of convenience, and yes, he's using a child as emotional blackmail. Deborah turns him down flat. " ...I'd like to have a husband who loved me and whom I loved, otherwise I'd just as soon stay as I am." (page 88).

Back in England, Gideon invites Deborah over to his house. "...[Eleanor] misses you - she'd rather set her heart on having you for a mother you know." More emotional blackmail. It's really rather sweet, mostly because he is quite open about it. She gets the grand tour, and then Gideon proposes...again. She turns him down. Again. He tells her that if she ever changes her mind, the offer still stands, "And I promise you that I won't ask your reasons.." (page 101).

Deborah realizes that she's fallen in love with him, so she drives over to his house and tells him she'll marry him. Two weeks later they are married - she wears a simply cut dress in fine wool, the color of clotted cream, with a heavier topcoat of tweed - since they will be traveling right after the wedding. Where? Holland, of course. By Hovercraft. With Eleanor. Gideon had some sort of conference in den Haag, so while he was in meetings, Deborah and Eleanor went out shopping and exploring. Evidently the place to shop in den Haag is "La Bonnetiere" (this particular store is mentioned time and time again in Neels novels). Gideon buys her a cashmere top coat...Neels men are always buying the heroines cashmere top coats - I wish my husband would buy me a cashmere top coat...

Back in England again, Gideon slowly starts noticing Deborah. He plans a weekend house party and tells Deborah that he'll take her up to London so that she can shop for some new clothes. Enter "the Other Woman"- Lady Barbara Inge. She's really not "the Other Woman" - but she'd like to be. Of course she's beautiful, glamorous, well dressed and witty - and divorced.

After spending the day shopping (at Harrods) Deborah returns home and models her clothes for Eleanor and Miss Timmis (Eleanor's elderly governess). Miss Timmis tells her that her evening dress is ravishing, even if rather revealing "Although as you are a married lady, an exposed bosom is quite allowable" (really? and if so, why? Discuss.).

Deborah takes the dogs for a walk one evening. The Jack Russell falls into a pond, she rescues it (ruining a new suit...which begs the questions: why walk the dogs in winter in a new suit????)...then she gets lost in the dark. Gideon comes home, rescues her and then puts her to bed, after she falls asleep in front of the fire, snoring in a faint, ladylike manner (tired out from near hypothermia and medicinal doses of brandy).

Things come to a head - she admits that she loves him, he admits he loves her, they kiss, the end.

I really enjoy this story - possibly because the heroine is quite capable, calm and pragmatic. I give this book a rating of 8.5. That's a strong helping of boeuf en croute with a spoonful of queen of pudding for afters.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wherein I Make a Valiant Effort... list the collected works of Betty Neels.

I sat down this morning and typed up a list of Betty Neels novels (see sidebar). It's a tough proposition. I wish I could've just copied and pasted from one source, but I really didn't want to include a list of all of her collaborative books and omnibus collections.

I don't know if I got all her books...according to Wikipedia, La Neels wrote a total of 134 books...but I came up with 138 titles. I'm not sure if they're counting some of her slightly shorter stories that were included in omnibus books. Some stories have different British titles - although I think I was able to sort through those. The dates and order are not definitive...but they give a general sense of when Betty published the books. Sometimes I had the British copywrite date to go by, sometimes the U.S. copywrite date.

...again, it's not a definitive list...more like a guideline.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Begin As You Mean To Go On

Betty Debbie and I thought it would be a good idea to offer an introductory blog post wherein we explain the title, our obsessions and who the heck we think we are.

Who are 'we'?
We are Betty Debbie and Betty Keira, two plucky American sisters living in the Pacific Northwest--and we adore us some Betty Neels.
Sadly, we don't think that being Americans would win us any points from our late Betty muse. Americans in her novels tended to be flashy fat male millionaires, making indelicate displays of wealth and eventually taking the unsuitable (and bony) fiancee' off the hero's hands. But she would like us, we promise. For one thing, we're short and curvy--and my hair color is as near to mouse as it is possible to be. For another, we go to church on Sunday.
But as a disclaimer/confession we should mention that though we came from a pet family, neither of us own any animals to speak of nor do we particularly like (gasp!) them. (Which makes me somewhat sympathetic to the 'bad girl' who doesn't want an over-sized sheepdog mucking up the carpets.) This fact is mitigated by our large(ish) families. Betty Debbie has six kids to muck up the carpet and Betty Keira has four.
Also, as we are Mormon ladies, we think she would not approve of our religious beverage restrictions. That Betty liked her Fortnum and Mason's tea and sherry.

Why Betty Neels?
First off, we love love love Betty Neels. She wrote more than 130 books over the course of her writing career and once she hit her stride most are circumscribed little post cards filled with lame donkeys, Dutch doctors, hospital sluice rooms, English village life, splenectomies, lashings of whipped cream, nursing caps, dauntless heroines, Gucci scarves, and uncrushable jersey dresses. A heaving bosom in the world of La Neels is most likely to occur as a result of an unexpected hemorrhage during a ward round. For this, Betty is a treasured oasis.

But why a blog?
I was cataloging my books a few months ago and received an unpleasant shock. I had known for some time that Betty's entire body of work was near 130 books and every time I would pick a new one up I'd think to myself, "I've got about 30 more...give or take." Alas, gentle reader, I was only missing a couple. Pulling myself away from the dark abyss of no more new Neels, my sister and I hatched the blog.
Also, there wasn't anything on the web like what we wanted. Not to take anything away from the internet, but no one can chat Neels like we can.

The Uncrushable Jersey Dress?
Neels heroines adore fashion. Even when they are plain and dumpy and poor as church mice--no, especially when they are plain and dumpy and poor as church mice, they love to flip through the pages of Vogue and drool over the unsuitably short mini skirts. But even when they have next to nothing and have to pack themselves off to Friesland with hardly a stitch, Betty shows some mercy and lets them throw in the perennial jersey dress--uncrushable and suitable for all occasions. We are given many reasons to feel the pangs of social mortification on the part of these heroines but never, ever too much if they have an uncrushable jersey dress.

The rating system?
We think Betty Neels was probably a pretty cool chick, but since not every book is a winner we've devised a rating system (up there on the side bar) to let you know what we think of each. We like to think that La Neels was a good trencher woman and every dish we've rated makes multiple appearances in her books.
One of these years we'll have to actually try Queen of Puddings...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Get ready....

As I was contemplating the reorganization of my office yesterday, it occurred to me that I had a golden opportunity to set things up for the new year. I adjusted the shelves above my desk so that I could house the Betty Neels Collection in an easy to access place. I pulled out a printout of all of Betty's books (thanks to Wikipedia)...and put mine in chronological order. I checked them off - and double checked the ones that I have multiples (future blog giveaways).

I'm nearly ready. How 'bout you, Betty Keira?

BTW, how do you like the new background?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas IS Coming

I know we're not officially starting our blog until next week...but it looks so lonely.

Here are a few of the required ingredients for a Betty Neels Christmas:

*Mince pies. I thought these were like mincemeat pies, until reading Betty. Her characters are described as eating platefuls of them. Come to find out they are more like a mini tart with mince filling.

*Lame presents. Seldom does La Neels get creative with her gift giving. Her leading ladies are most likely to give the leading man a leather wallet, a picture frame or possibly a hard to find book. The leading men are most likely to give the girl a nice pair of earrings (if they are married) or a Gucci scarf (if they are not).

*Family. If the Dutch doctor is in his native country, his entire family - including great-uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews will descend upon his house for Christmas.

Practically obligatory on Christmas - unless they went to the midnight service the night before.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas is Coming

I'm not putting out Christmas cards this year. I don't think Betty would have approved. I should only take a Christmas card sabbatical if I am:
  • wandering the countryside with a cat named Chester or Bolly or Tooks, homeless and fleeing dastardly step-brothers.
  • eking out a living by composing greeting cards and even then I should take care to see that my old nurse Baxter gets one with a precious bottle of sherry.
  • a recent orphan living with an aunt who has also recently become a widow. She is also, evidently, the only person I know.