Thursday, October 14, 2010


Cover art--let's do this thing. Three widely-spaced buttons are hanging nonchalantly undone (don't you just hate how silk does that?!) and still no hint of cleavage. Nicely played, Harlequin, nicely played...

I'm of a mind to do this review a little differently, so let's to it:

Judith Golightly is in a rut as the senior night sister in charge of the Surgical Wing (which I think is the highest position of any Neels heroine). She is as stacked as the Roman Coliseum and is constantly being pestered by Nigel (who acts like his name sounds) to marry him. But she hasn't made it to the ripe age of 27 without learning to spot a poor marriage risk from twenty paces. If only something (measles, private patients and a hot, hot historian, perhaps?) would happen to push her onto new byways...Judith is resourceful and honest with herself ('She made no bones about being in love with Charles; she was, and that was an end to it.') and, as far as Charles is concerned, I won't pretend I'm not pleased that she's the medical expert in the room.

Charles Cresswell, eminent historian of 12th-century England, is one of the most unusual heroes in Neels-dom. He is absent-minded and, if given the chance, will forget birthdays and anniversaries and the name of their first-born with regularity. He's a bit of an engineer, personality-wise (no harm meant to engineers!)--he loves to be pedantic and technical and is missing that crucial social awareness gene that tells him he's being horribly rude. It isn't this that creates the tension, however, it is more that he's become a hermit due to a Youthful Disappointment (which must be written in caps and kept bright in the pages of his memory along with sachets of pressed violets and a lock of hair). Judith bowls him over with her brick house and, though she terrifies him and he's unwilling to like her, he's always been a keen student of architecture...

Uncle Tom lives near Charles in Cumbria and asks Judith to come housekeep for him since all she's doing on her month-long vacation is recover from the measles, conjunctivitis and broncho-pneumonia anyway. (Koplick's spots gone? Tote that barge! Lift that bale!) He's a bit of a matchmaker and becomes certain that Judith is the right girl for Charles when he notices that Charles, not acting in his usual manner with women (offhand, circumspect, polite and uninterested), is rubbing Judith up the wrong way every time they meet!

Eileen Hunt is on the make for the historian. Her phone call (late in the book) makes Judith cancel her engagement to Charles but Judith ought to have known better. What sort of trouble could a woman be who signed her picture (luridly gracing Charles' desk) 'Always Yours'--showing a staggeringly massive lack of imagination? She probably dots her 'I's with little hearts. Eileen can be flicked away like the dust mote she is.

Lady Cresswell is dying--slowly but surely. Her leukemia diagnosis at the mid-point of the book gives Judith the little nudge she needs to leave her prestigious hospital job (and Nigel) to nurse the old woman exclusively. They spend some lovely time in Cumbria at Charles' house (where he does her best to avoid her) and then hie to the Algarve for some retail therapy. Seriously, Lady Cresswell's final years (she does have a few left) will be spent playing backgammon, carefully applying makeup, shopping for nonsense and praying that someone (Judith) will yank her son out of the 12th century and give her grandbabies!

Nigel Bloom is horrible. Shall I quote the skunk? 'If you married me, of course, you could work a day shift or even do part-time. [Housewife?] That would be silly. You're a good nurse and as strong as a horse, and the extra money would be useful. Once I could get a consultant's post you'd have to stop, of course, it would never do to have you working.' He sort of even had me until the bit about being a consultant's wife. Sure, Charles will forget Judith exists from time to time but when he remembers...boy howdy. Nigel wouldn't even give her that.

Rating: I liked it better than I remembered--the principles had a little Beatrice/Benedick thing going on. My only issue is that there was not quite enough delightful sparkle in their verbal sparring to make it entirely in good fun nor did it have quite the poignancy of, say, The Hasty Marriage or The Secret Pool necessary to explain all that antipathy.
Still, Charles does make a fun fortress to lay siege to and Judith is an engaging crusader. All the supporting cast are adorable and unabashedly matchmaking. Lady Cresswell will need some careful nursing (not in their home but near it) and I actually like that Judith will have something to do after she's married and Charles goes back to shushing her.
The last few pages are magnificent.
I'll give this a Treacle Tart that leans towards Mince Pies.

Food: Judith makes a good beef sandwich. She has coffee and a squashy cream cake to spite Charles. She travels in a butcher's van with Cumberland sausage and pig trotters. Also, we find salmon, Saddle of Lamb, trifle, iced melon, grilled sole, scrambled eggs, thin toast, creamed potato, tomato salad, caramel custard, swordfish, almond and honey tart, and Mountain Rose pudding.

Fashion: Denim skirt and blouse, blue silk shirtwaister, Laura Ashley blouse, thick silk skirt, wispy sandals, a denim slacks and T-shirt (that does not dim her beauty but this is 1982 and those are Mom-jeans, dollars to donuts), cotton knitted dress, low-heeled worthy walking shoes, a brilliant blue bikini (that he takes no notice of), and a handkerchief lawn dress in blue. Charles wears a dressing gown of 'subdued magnificence'.


  1. Betty Barbara here--
    I had to go wash my eyes out after looking at that cover. Oh my gracious goodness--one of those clinched-teeth, strong jaw, angry heroes--in a turtleneck! And that grip on her arms is sure to leave bruises! You have already mentioned the amazing lack o' cleavage, but her hair--were they standing in a wind tunnel perhaps?
    I sure do love these very Old Skool covers! What a hoot!
    I can honestly say that I do not remember reading this one--not at all.

  2. I thought I had read this one--I thought it was the one in which the hero pronounces her name "Chewed-it." I would have remembered a history prof hero though.

    My own grad history professor is quite a head-turner (what do ya think kept me in school?). Women of all ages used to sidle up to me at conferences testing the waters of his availability (despite a noticeable wedding band) and expressing envy of me. I am still quite in love with him (Professor van der Hertenzoon married me with the understanding that the moment Dr. van Verbieden wiggles his pinky at me, I'm Outa Here).

    However, he is an Old School Gentleman Scholar. In fact, there were only two times in the twenty years I've known him that he ever acknowledged a gender. Once when I was a grad student at a conference social, he observed laughingly to a male colleague, "Is that the kind of dress a good little Baptist girl should be wearing?" I now know to always sit down in a dressing room to check just how high a skirt can ride up. (I did smart back, "Should a good little Methodist boy notice?")

    Then there was the undergraduate Civil War class in which a female student moved from the back row to the front, row-by-row day-by-day, unbuttoning her front-buttoned denim skirt a button a day until there was not much left unexposed right in front of his lectern. I would laugh and laugh at his concerted successes at answering her numerous questions without ever looking at her.

    And, he ALSO looks nice in a turtleneck.

    1. Only 10 years later--the book in which the hero (Dieter, which i always read like "one who diets") calls the heroine "Chewed-it," which she finds attractive, is Madeline Charlton's "A Sense of Words. It was a very nice read, for an-author-who-is-not-Betty. (Judith is tall, built, but insecure of her looks; works as a technical translator, goes to Switzerland to translate a candy- machine manual, falls for the boss with the cute accent. They frequently talk like grownups and even discuss the fact that they are of different religions (I read this as a young teen and, being Jewish, was not familiar with these distinctions. Harlequins were very educational! I haven't read any in a long long time but find this site oddly comforting, just like a Neels book, as well as lol funny. Thank you, Betty and all the other Bettys.
      Betty van der Baersma

  3. I had a Magical Thinking Romance Theater moment with a Physics professor, but it's long gone now. He might even have been Dutch (or German, I forget) and he was gorgeous, but that was A Long Time Ago, and as I can't even remember his name, it's all a bit academic. (heh heh)

  4. Oh, erm, well, I mean to say, I'm just not sure about this one. I love it that Judith is beautiful and blonde and stacked and it's all good. But Charles is just too too crusty for my taste. And The Big Disagreement/Misunderstanding? Puh-leeze. Arthur the dog could have fixed that in a couple barks.

    Also, it's sad that Lady Cresswell's going to die. Not Lisa-the-disappearing-dead-child sad, but sad.

    Finally, it didn't help that I read this right after Magic in Vienna -- for some reason, The Great Betty's "I was on holiday now let me write a book about it" books are not her best.

  5. One of my least favourites. It did worse on the re-read than any other so far. I just can't get warm to it........But it is still a Great Betty tome, so it has that in its favour.

  6. G a s p ! One of your least favourites? And it did worse on the re-read?

    Quickly, bring me my vinaigrette! I feel a faint coming on...

    You are right, Aussie Betty, it is a great Betty tome. 🤗
    Don't you just love their first meeting? ❤️
    And how he invites himself for a ride and she can't shake him off? 💙
    And the scene at the museum? ❤️ sigh
    Great Lake District travelogue!

    I have a soft spot for our Lone Historian in the Canon.

    I ❤️ JUDITH

    P. S.: Blogger doesn't like me today...