Tuesday, November 30, 2010

British Word of the Day

This shall take the rucks out...
ruck (rk)
v. rucked, ruck·ing, rucks
To make a fold in; crease.
To become creased.
A crease or pucker, as in cloth.

[Ultimately from Old Norse hrukka, wrinkle, fold;

Use: The Professor was waiting in his patient's room, sitting on the side of the carefully made bed, rucking up the quilt in a careless fashion. (Winter Wedding)

Hospitals don't make such a fuss anymore if anyone rucks up the bed linen. During my post-natal stays, the only way I could get comfortable was if I made a bit of a nest--shoring up the sides of the bed with those paper-thin pillows and soft as down (ha!) hospital blankets. Me and baby would spend a lot of time falling in love with each other in the hollowed out mess. Lots of rucking going on. Lots.

Upcoming Reviews

Monday, December 6th. The Edge of Winter. A real Araminta, a Pott's fracture, RDD has a devious aunt.

Thursday, December 9th. The Fifth Day of Christmas. Snowed in! Perhaps the narrowest age gap in Neeldom, another polio case!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Winter Wedding - Discussion Thread

Early on in the book, little sister Louisa heads off to a 'disco' with Roy. Having gone to college in the late 70's (in fact, when this book was written), I am slightly familiar with discos. I went to a small church college in a small hick town (thus 'slightly familiar')...the "Star Palace" was THE place to be on a Saturday night. It was conveniently located only 3 or 4 blocks from my apartment...and if at least three of us could come up with the ready, we'd go. I'm sure the place broke about a million fire codes...because it was usually wall to wall with people. No food or beverage was sold there - but that wasn't the point. Neither was trying to have a meaningful conversation with anyone...the music volume was, let's just say, off the charts. Sure, they had dances up at the college - but the college dances tended to be much more sedate...and their music play list was unlikely to include such gems as "Brick House" (here's a kid friendly version), Disco Inferno", or "Heart of Glass" all of which are a lot more fun to dance to than, say, "You Light Up My Life" which was the Homecoming theme song (and which they had on continuous repeat for an entire day on the radio. An. Entire. Day.).

George and Mary (parents of the twins). Were they right to dump all on Emily's shoulders? (even if they apologized enormously and understood how much they were putting her out...?) It seems a little cruel not only to Emily, but also to the twins. Mary must have known that baby sister Louisa would have to do a fair amount of childcare...and she also knew (better than Emily) just how self-serving and manipulative Louisa could be. Discuss.

I love that George is in a Middle East prison (or detainment)...and the charges are left deliberately vague. I'm left wondering just what the poor blighter did to earn a turn in the slammer. Any thoughts?

Louisa takes ten pounds from Emily. She could always do with some 'bread'. I'm a little disappointed with how easy a touch Emily is. She's not helping Louisa learn to stand on her own two feet. It sort of makes me wonder what kind of mother Emily will turn out to be. I'm thinking she'll be the kind that spoils her children. What do you think?

When Emily travels to Holland and Mrs. Wright is with her they go over her wardrobe 'bracingly' and then Mrs. W suggests that they go shopping for a dress the next day. I understand looking at wardrobes 'bracingly'. That's exactly how I face mine when I have to have 'something suitable' - such as a mother of the bride or mother of the groom dress in exactly the right shade of _______ (pick a colour, any colour). Which invariably happens to be a colour that I don't have on hand.

Along with a Jag XJ Spider worth 15,ooo pounds, Renier also owns a 1940s model Lagonda V12 with a drop-head coupe. I'm a bit confused as to the Jaguar. I think this might have been a case of wishful thinking...because Jaguar never actually produced an XJ Spider. It only existed as a concept car. I admit that the concept car is pretty cool looking - much better looking than the Jaguar XJS of the same year. Much. The Lagonda is all sorts of cool too. Mostly because it is an ORIGINAL not some nasty knock-off that any noveau riche American could lay hands on.

Winter Wedding--1979

When Betty Debbie and I divvied up our book selections we each had our favorites. Let's just say that if this were a game of dodge-ball and I were picking teams then Winter Wedding is the slim-hipped nimble kid with a wicked throwing arm. But I didn't want to review it until I had 'been to the mountain', so to speak. Well, it's been almost a year since we've started the blog. I've been to the mountain.

Emily Seymour, 23, is my favorite kind of Neels heroine. Dauntless, pleasant (but not really pretty), plump (ah, but with the right foundation garments...), and stuck in a mire not of her own making.
It's November, bitterly cold, and she's camped out in God's Little Acre--east of the rock and west of the hard place. She works the dreaded night shift, is raising her sister Mary's eight month old twins (which I hasten to mention have not been dumped in her lap because Mary is a coke head--she's in the Middle East with her husband who is languishing in prison on trumped up...oh. Yes. I suppose hashish could be considered a recreational drug. What makes you ask?), has a worse-than-useless model cum baby-minder in little sister Louisa and just overheard the most ego-murdering banter in her life.
...Am I to be fobbed off with that prim miss? Surely there's another nurse...a small, plump creature who merges into the background from whatever angle one looks at her...The only females who grow on me are beautiful blondes who don't go beetroot red every time I look at them.

The good news is that this dastard's opinion changes. The bad news is that that wasn't Sammy the Long-Haired-and-Handsy-Lab-Assistant. Ladies, grab your garters. That was our hero--Professor Renier Jurres-Romeijn!
What disappointingly pedestrian tastes he runs to. How delicious will be the wreckage of his Citadel of Certitude.
They save the life of Emily's former boss, Mr. Wright (wherein she displays her usual 'relaxed ease' even when things at home and abroad are grim), and Renier meets Louisa. (Falling down in front of his Jag and faking a sprained ankle? Come on, Louisa. You're an Evil Genius. I expect better.)
Renier is amused by the contrast, no doubt. Mousy and no-nonsense older sister/gorgeous and scheming little sister. I don't forgive him for giving Louisa the time of day (you don't handle vipers, Renier, you call exterminators) but hanging about the Wee Dumpy Cottage on the Scrap of Wilderness lets him see more of Emily's sterling qualities.
And then we come to the night of the hospital ball, otherwise known as, The Apocalyptic-ly Awful End Times of Emily. Let us study the signs and wonders:
  • Sammy the Long-Haired-and-Handsy-Lab-Assistant asks her out on a bet.
  • Excited to be going at all (and maybe surprising a certain Professor), Emily plans her wardrobe...only to find that the Professor has asked Louisa...oh, and she'll need all the money Miss Em has.
  • After feeling really ill-used, Emily decides to make the best of a bad job and add her grandmother's locket to camouflage her frumpy neckline. Louisa has hocked it. (That's my little Evil Genius!)
  • Sammy ditches her at the dance (even though she moves like a dream!) and hands her some punch.
  • Er...that's not punch making her cheeks a mottled red. It's three and a half glasses of fruity vodka (and some Elizabeth Arden blusher applied with a trowel).
  • And, naturally, it's the Professor who finds her (drunk and ugly and abandoned), pours coffee down her throat and gets her home. I vote she abscond with the babies to New Zealand. Who's with me?
Renier has meanwhile found out how Louisa financed her smashing glamor of the night before and is a little less amused by the unblushing blonde than he was before.
Editorial Note:
This does not stop him from letting her use him for rides and dates whenever she wishes. Renier is still a little bit dumb.
But I haven't even got to the part about the Seconal yet! Without further ado...
What do you get when you cross a petulant pre-model, a once-in-a-...er...-lifetime dress show, and a leviathan sense of entitlement?
If you said a Seconal overdose and stomach-pumping catatonic twins than you could already be a winner!
Coming upon the scene at a fortuitous/awkward moment, Renier leaps to the conclusion that Emily's been doping them and rips into her ferociously (naturally after turning little William and Claire inside out). Enter Louisa. Disclosures. Tears. Noticeable non-ripping into Louisa. And then they're sending the blonde assassin home in a cab and all is quiet in the ambulance bay.
Editorial Note: I argue that it is here that Renier has his dawning realization...or over dinner...because you know he's taking her out for treacle tart after an accusation like that. But he's still seeing Louisa so chalk that one up to the Mysteries of The Great Betty...
And then Mary and George get out of "The Middle East Prison"! (cough*rehab*cough) Emily breezes back to the hospital to resign only to be cold-cocked by a dawning realization of her own. 'It's more than that,' he said slowly. 'You look as though someone had lighted a torch inside you.
...'No,' she managed, and meant 'Yes--you.'
She's desolate because she won't be seeing him again.
But wait! (Betty reaches into her bag of tricks) There's more!
She travels to Holland to nurse Mr. Wright in Renier's home. (Suh-weeet!)
This interlude is punctuated with shopping trips (wherein a charming rose pink flyaway chiffon dress augments her basic wardrobe), dressing for dinner, hasty kisses (happily, not that hasty), salty elderly ladies who loathe silver tissue trouser suits with the heat of seven fiery winds...and blonde tartlets as far as the eye can see.
Editorial Note:
Like I said, Renier is kind of dumb (but it's so adorable at this point when he is thoroughly put out that she's not landing in his lap). What better way to catch a girl whom you have called plump and blushing (read: shy) and a nonentity than to dangle Vogue models and leggy Heleens under her nose? But I give him points for originality. Emily is eaten up with jealousy. He's just too dumb to get that this is a bad idea. No matter. He will make a splendid husband.
On Christmas day, Emily receives the gift of her once-hocked locket. Renier. (Ah! What a sweetheart. If only he'd also dropped-kicked the little tramp who sold it, too...)
In a daring, weather-related rescue Emily saves Grandma Jurres-Romeijn's life but won't, when Renier humbly (well, for him humbly), asks her to stay and nurse the old lady. She's going back to England and if anyone wants to send her down a mine shaft to nurse and rescue some Chilean miners then she's the gal.
Away to the bare London blocks to hide herself in miserable obscurity! Until one day (not too much later) he's there sitting in her only decent chair...
The End

Rating: Obviously, my love for this one knows no bounds. Mountains of Lashings of Whipped Cream--a veritable Grand Canyon of Cream. But why? To enumerate:
  • Emily has a been handed a crap sandwich, if you'll forgive the term. Twins, Louisa, vodka punch, petty larceny, frumpy clothes, the night shift, snow, a bleak flat, mishandled pharmaceuticals and accusations of criminal carelessness...and she's nigh on Unsinkable. She isn't one of those dummies who think that Louisa is just the best sister ever or that Sammy is anything other than a warm body on the dance floor but she's not going to wallow in the muck.
  • Our hero is clue.less. He's doing his poor best but he's playing catch up from the word go. He keeps trying to goad her into plucking him off the tree like a ripened mango but, in the end, he's the one who has to travel to her side of town and chance his heart. Yay, Betty! He's not one of our stoic fellows who sail placidly through life without fuss or bother. Renier will be a mite more tempestuous (having moods and so forth) and probably more fun.
  • Louisa, as bad as she is, isn't (except for the Seconal--which situation arose out of selfishness not malice) nearly the most irredeemable Neels villainess (though I looooooove hating her). I envision her meeting Renier's younger brother and getting the education of her young life. If he's willing to trouble making her into a worthwhile human being (deep-tissue psychoanalysis, one of those desert boot-camps for delinquent youths and a lobotomy) and keep the medicine cabinet firmly locked then those two crazy kids could make it!
To sum up: I love this one! Go get it.

Food: Cereal and coddled eggs (these are scrambled, yes?), the notorious vodka punch, copious amounts of strong coffee, steak and kidney pie, treacle tart, fish and chips, brown bread ice cream (must try this), rib of beef, frozen lemon cup with a lemon sorbet, avocado pears with shrimp stuffing, turtle soup (First, find a turtle...), turkey, flaming Christmas pudding (alcohol and an open flame!), and olie bollen to ring in the Dutch New Year.

Fashion: A sensible coat, rubber boots and a wooly hat, pantyhose, a flowered crepe dress, blue organza, a silver locket (that she could have taken her sister to small claims court over, I suppose), a highly objectionable pink frilled shirt, and a velvet skirt with several tops (for all those sartorially sticky moments when a nurse's salary must pass muster in a mansion). Grandma wears a grey chiffon with her diamonds while Emily enchants in a rose pink flyaway chiffon. Unacceptable tartlets don silver tissue trouser suits and whistle eligible bachelors down the wind.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Betty Goes to Church

The church was full on the Sunday before. The Lord of the Manor with his wife and family sat in their high-walled pew, and the Vicar's wife and his five daughters were on the other side of the aisle. Rose and Flora had their fiances beside them, and Lucy's current boyfriend sat there too. Only Katie and Philomena were unaccompanied, and as usual the village craned its neck to see if Miss Philly had found a man yet. The nicest of the bunch, everybody agreed, but likely to die an old maid. Philly, unaware of the village's concern for her future, sat quietly, listening to her father's sermon, while hidden away at the back of her mind she wondered what the Professor was doing.
An Ordinary Girl

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Question of the Week

Winter. Here in the Northwest we're having a bitterly cold snap and it made me think of the contrast between winter in Winter of Change and An Ordinary Girl. In the first it feels grey and lowering and dark and frigid. In the second, it feels like a pleasure to be snowed in and eat porridge by a fire and dig a path to the hen house.

It's much easier to feel happy about winter when it is new and there is Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year's to prepare for but once those are out of the way and you've got all of January, February and March ahead of you it feels rather daunting.

So, I have no question really but just noticed how differently Betty handled the subject of the same season in two different (so different) stories. Discuss.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Betty Goes Christmas Shopping

In the U.S., the day after Thanksgiving is a day near and dear to retailers hearts. Black Friday. You either love it or hate. Dr. van der Stevejinck leans towards loving it...I lean the other way. I'm not fond of shopping in crowds - I tend to get a little anxious and claustrophobic. Totally not worth it for me (although I am not above sending my darling husband out).

Dearest Eulalia might be a short book, but Betty didn't skimp when it came to the description of Christmas shopping:

'They went shopping in the morning and Eulalia, at Aderik's quiet direction, bought silk scarves, exquisite handbags, gloves as supple as velvet, earrings for his mother, thin gold bangles for his sisters, books for his brother, before having a cup of coffee while they decided what to get Katje, Ko and Mekke. Soft fleece-lined slippers for Ko, whose elderly feet would be glad of them at the end of the day, and silk-lines gloves for Katje. As for Mekke - a quilted dressing gown in one of the bright colours she loved...'

They make it sound so easy - but I suppose it helps that they are probably shopping in rather more upscale stores than I generally frequent...and NOT on Black Friday.

Cinema Betty

In An Ordinary Girl, our heroine babysits some children at a big, lavish society wedding. I was put in mind of:
Here Comes the Groom (1951)

Don't tell me about Bing Crosby. I don't want to know. He's a little like Russel Crowe in my regard: He's allowed to throw as many telephones across hotel rooms as he'd like and if he's paunchy, then all the better.
In this one, war-correspondent Pete drags two French orphans home from Paris only to find his long-suffering love Emmadel (A very ordinary girl) engaged to a millionaire. Channelling a certain young tearaway cousin, Pete proceeds to break them up and get his way. Female wrestling, make-overs, fall-down drunks and fabulous musical numbers.

Dearest Eulalia has a marriage of convenience after the heroine suffers the loss of a relative. That's enough to recommend:
Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008)

Translation: A Match Made By God. The lyrics of one song seem to echo Dearest Eulalia, 'Slowly, slowly love will come.'
Shy, introverted, and kind-hearted Surinder "Suri" Sahni is an office employee for Punjab Power. He quietly falls in love with the daughter of his former professor, beautiful and vivacious Tania "Taani" Gupta, whom he first sees during the preparations for her wedding. When they are introduced however, Taani jokingly berates and blames him for setting an impossible set of standards (reiterated by her father) that she was never able to meet growing up. A short while later, the shocking news arrives that her lover and fiancé and his wedding entourage were killed in a road accident. The hitherto immensely carefree Taani's immediately distraught; her father suffers a heart attack. Fearing that Taani will be alone in the world, the professor on his deathbed, and paternally affectionate toward Suri, requests him to marry her. Suri silently concedes; Taani tearfully agrees for her father's sake.

This is on Netflix streaming and Betty Debbie cannot recommend it highly enough. Also, fabulous musical numbers.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Very Betty Thanksgiving

The cruise ship from Holland was a little
cramped and we didn't even have any Betty Neels on board!

I did not write this post today. I wrote it on Tuesday. It's unthinkable to imagine the Pilgrims inviting the Indians over for harvest corn and game jerky and then being...er...jerky enough to blog about their love of Betty Neels while Squanto and the rest of the Wampanoag kick back on the recliner, look anxiously at their Swiss time pieces and wonder when dinner will be ready. Like I said, unthinkable.

At Casa van Voorhees we are no doubt sitting around the unlit fire (as Mijnheer van Voorhees loves to blow out the pilot light every spring and neglects to light it again until I goad him beyond bearing) and sipping on apple cider (the van Voorhees are insatiable in their love of apple cider), avoiding football (because my Mijnheer is not at his best discussing football knowledgeably) and wondering when dinner will be ready.

We don't know what The Great Betty would have thought of Thanksgiving (classy because it's all about gratitude and humility and eating things not out of tins or trashy because it's just another boorish American holiday--such a quandary!) but I thought this would be a fun chance to name our Betty-related blessings (Oh! Oh! Me first! Me first!):

I'm thankful for a great group of fellow Bettys. What a fun year this has been! The Founding Bettys didn't know we'd be meeting all of you when we kicked around the idea of starting a blog last year. Really, if we had twenty visitors in a year it would have been the bee's knees but every comment and every lurker (let's find a nicer Betty-name for that) gives us a lot of inspiration and drive to keep going (when the last thing in the world you want to do is read another book and blog about it (It happens.)). And you Bettys keep it entertaining and tempestuous (Who can forget the Great Turban Divide or the late unpleasantness over Betty's character names? I call it the Fabian Fracas. (Yes, that is a hill I will die on)).

And you?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dearest Eulalia--Discussion Thread

Miss Lally goes grocery shopping (Aderik comes along to carry the basket?). She buys meat at the butcher, vegetables at the greengrocers, skips the baker because she and Jane make their own bread...I'm already exhausted. I suppose if all these shops were a few doors down from my own I and knew everyone in the village then it wouldn't be too terrible but otherwise...Confession: When the four-year-old was doing the potty dance yesterday at the grocery store, I accepted (after careful vetting, a full name, the commandeering of his cart and a command decision) an offer from a complete stranger to take him to the bathroom. He was a man...a big one...named Carl. (He made the offer in such a 'Please, lady, I promise I'm not a creep' sort of way.) He walked off with my little one after introductions were made. When needs must the devil drives. Thank heavens I didn't have a trip to the butcher's and the baker's on top of that.

Aderik flies off to Albania for some medical reason with might be the first and only mention of Albania in the Neels canon. After scrupulous perusal of the wiki article I found that the most interesting chapter of that nation's history is that they had a King Zog (see right). Really. You're welcome, Bettys. That's why you pay me the big bucks... ;0)

There are TWO cross-over couples in this short book. Christina and Duert ter Brandt from Not Once But Twice (published in 1981 - we haven't reviewed it yet) AND Daisy and Jules der Huizma from Discovering Daisy.

At the hospital ball Miss Lally didn't lack for partners. She was a married woman by then and I confess to a little dancing-with-other-men squeamishness. While acknowledging the proud and storieed history of platonic dance, it is not nor has ever been the formal position of this Betty that dancing with men I am neither related to nor married to is taboo, per se, but when I've taken dance lessons with Mijnheer van Voorhees and the instructor wants us to switch, I am
A) Relieved that I won't be yelling at my husband. (He is no great shakes as a dancer and I'd just as soon he trod on someone else's toes.)
B) Holding my new partner at the ends of my hands.

Dearest Eulalia - 2000

Her name might be Eulalia, but she really gets called 'Lally' - couple that with a last name of Langley...Lally Langley sounds like a woman of dubious reputation...but that's not our girl. The worst that can be said of Lally Langley is that she is a 'canteen lady' and she spends an inordinate amount of time deceiving her arthritic grandfather about their actual living conditions. Grandfather is quite crippled and confined to his room. The house is rather grand, but grandpa has very little money. He can't sell the house or furnishings...some kind of legal twaddle prevents him. So there they are living in a large, lovely home that they can't afford to heat. Grandpa doesn't know the extent of Lally's loving deceptions. He's stuck in his room while Lally and housekeeper Jane conspire to help him live in the style he is accustomed to, while they eat mince in the kitchen and bake their own bread to save money. What money they do have comes from Lally's job at the hospital canteen. Enough to pay for one helping of lamb cutlets, but not for three.
The story opens with Mr. Aderik van der Leurs spotting our girl walking across the hospital entry. He falls for her like a ton of bricks. Here he is, age 38 and heart whole...there she is, the girl of his dreams. The rest of the book is a lovely little playbook:

"How to Get the Love of Your Life to Love You in Thirteen Simple Steps"

Step One. Insinuate yourself into her life. Aderik is able to dredge up a connection between his own father and Colonel Langley. Just enough to get him in the door.
Step Two. Make yourself useful. Aderik is just as handy with a spanner as he is with a with a stethoscope. Nothing says 'I love you', like fixing a girl's washing machine.
Step Three. Declare your intentions to her nearest and dearest. Aderik confides in grandpa that he is in love with Eulalia and plans to marry her. The Colonel gives his blessing.
Step Four. Propose. Sure, she won't accept the first proposal, but it is the thin edge of the wedge. A proposal always gets a girl thinking about matrimony.
Step Five. Travel to Albania. This will introduce a feeling of concern on her part - Albania sounds vaguely menacing...also 'absence makes the heart grow fonder', right?
Step Six. Fast talk her into a Marriage of Convenience. The Colonel passed away while Aderik was in Albania, leaving poor Lally without a home of her own, and only her salary as canteen lady to live on. Convince her that "love can come later". Promise to make her happy.
Step Seven. Special License. Marry in haste, get her to fall in love at leisure. No Dutch relations to clutter up the happy event, just one cross-over character as best man ( Jules der Huizma from Discovering Daisy), Jane and Lally's cousins who have inherited Grandpa's house.
Step Eight. Buy her a cashmere Coat 'O Love. Aderik then leaves a large bundle of money for Lally to purchase an entirely new (and suitable for a consultants wife) wardrobe.
Step Nine. If you love her, let her make her own mistakes. An icky anaesthesiologist invites her to see his etchings...I mean, takes her to a museum and then makes improper advances. She shuts him right down and then tells Aderik about the skunk.
Step Ten. Present an engagement ring and a kiss. A slow kiss. Lally likes it...enough to kiss him back.
Step Eleven. Adopt a Kitten and/or give your wife a wedding gift of a pearl necklace. Any excuse for a kiss. Or two.
Step Twelve. Be in the Hospital when there's an explosion. This is always a sure-fire way of nudging a girl into a Dawning Realization and perhaps an actual declaration of love. As soon as Lally hears of the explosion, she's off to the hospital like a shot.
Step Thirteen. Kiss. Lather, rinse, repeat. Ignore firefighters, doctors, nurses and any other bystanders.

Rating: A lovely and quick read. I really only have one little quibble with it. I don't get why a recently married woman would go out, alone, with the anaesthesiologist. Besides that, it's an adorable book. Aderik is never mean - he always keeps his eye on the prize - the prize being Eulalia's love. Sure he's a little devious, but it's all for a good cause. Lally feels completely at ease with him and totally at home in Amsterdam. He knows she's on the right track, all he needs is patience. He initially tells her that they can marry first then get to know each other...love can come later, if she wishes it. He never pushes her, but he doesn't just leave it there...he takes steps. Once she is comfortable at one level, he gradually takes it up a notch. Nothing is ever forced. Eulalia is pretty fun too. She goes along with everything while remaining charmingly oblivious (she beams at him on a regular basis). She then starts to get a bit fractious...there's something she just can't quite put her finger on...an itch she can't scratch...what is it? Oh, yeah, it's love. Queen of Puddings!
Fashion: She was 'wrapped in a garment which he supposed was a dressing gown, cut apparently with a knife and fork out of a sack.' Wedding outfit consists of a grey wool coat with matching crêpe dress and a little velvet hat. Darling pink ballgown, Burberry and matching rain hat, new pink dressing gown.

Food: Toad-in-the-hole, breast of chicken for the Colonel, macaroni cheese for Jane and herself, Bath Oliver biscuits, shepherds pie, enough lobster dishes to make the poor crustaceans an endangered species, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, a trifle to put to shame any other trifle.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

British Word of the Day

tearaway noun (Brit.) hooligan, delinquent, tough, rough (informal), rowdy, ruffian, roughneck (slang), good-for-nothing

Use: There must be someone who would play the part of the devoted admirer...Her cousin, a young tearaway with too much money and too much time on his hands... (An Ordinary Girl)

What a wonderful word. Is it still in use or has it gone the way of 'ruffian', I wonder? It sounds like an excise-man chasing after a bootlegger and just getting his pant pocket. Tearaway.

Upcoming Reviews

Monday, November 29th. Winter Wedding. Heroine is mistaken for a single mother! Seconal Twins! Worst Sister/Aunt Ever!

Thursday, December 2nd. A Winter Love Story. "I'd rather buy a book than a hat", Marriage of Convenience, they buy a cottage together!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Preview of Things to Come...

As you can see, it's snowing outside my house right now. I adore snow. In moderation. And from the inside of a cozy home, preferably with a fire in the fireplace. I don't adore snow to drive in...luckily I went to the store this morning before it started - I can now cuddle up by the warm glow of my computer screen.

I thought it might be a good time to give our readers a sneak peek at what we'll be reviewing in December...you'll have to check the regular Tuesday 'Upcoming Reviews' post for the actual dates, but here's our working list for next month:

Winter Wedding
A Winter Love Story
The Edge of Winter
The Fifth Day of Christmas
The Mistletoe Kiss
A Christmas Wish
Roses for Christmas
A Christmas Romance
A Christmas Proposal

That's right, it's all about Winter and Christmas. So, rifle through your bookshelves, crawl under your bed, look in your closet...wherever it is that you keep your collection. Dig out those holiday Neels and lets get cracking.

An Ordinary Girl - Discussion Thread

'The vicarage was as imposing on the outside as inconvenient on the inside', which is a rather adorable description. I'm left wondering at what the 'inconveniences' were. Here are my guesses:
  • non-existent or grossly inadequate central heating
  • grossly inadequate plumbing (especially the hot water heater - also toilets that don't flush on the first try)
  • draughty windows and doors
  • shabby and outdated furnishings

The exterior of the van der Stevejinck home is anything but imposing...but most of the inside is pretty 'convenient' (and by 'convenient' I mean cozy...er...smallish).

When Philly babysits at the wedding the baby 'pukes on her shoulder'--I'm trying to remember if this is the first use of the word 'pukes' in a Neels? Looking at the copyright date (2001) La Neels would have been over 90 years old when this came out. Conspiracy theorists (not me! not me!) might argue that the use of a word like 'puke' was put in by a ghostwriter...I like to think that her editors were just getting younger.

'Philly, reflecting that elderly grannies should never be written off as dim old ladies, filled her glass obediently.' As a 'granny' myself, I hope I don't get written off as a dim old lady before my time...but somehow I don't think I'll be quite as 'with it' in my nineties as The Great Betty was.

Someone gives Philly a tee shirt 'emblazoned with American slogans which she didn't think would go down well in Nether Ditchling'. First of all, Philly is showing her age. Had she been ten years younger she wouldn't have balked at it. Very seldom do we see Neels heroine wear anything so crass as a tee shirt emblazoned with anything. Betty does branch out on the subject of silly sayings on pinnys (Claribel in The Course of True Love has a plastic pinny that says 'Work Hard').

An Ordinary Girl--2001

My one Very Small Quibble about this book is that it is slapped into a two-fer called The Engagement Effect with a non-Neels author. The name has nothing to do with either story and must have been chosen strictly on alliterative merits. That's okay, though, because the hero depicted on the cover is pretty hunky in a business-casual sort of way and you stop noticing the title pretty quickly... Also, mine is in large print which I adore. Here's my review, ripped from the fevered scribblings of our over-wrought villainess:

Dear Diary,
I had a simply ghastly time at that engagement party out in the wilds over the weekend. James got lost (which is so unlike him!) and we ended up detouring through this poky little village in the back of beyond. I didn't mind being lost--personally the last engagement party I eked any amount of fun out of was our own...but then, being the center of attention is always more agreeable than being the 'So-and-so and guest' on someone's invitation list.
So there we were in the middle of nowhere when James stops and asks for directions. This perfectly wretched-looking rustic leaned into the car and dumped her shopping on my lap (Sausages!) and poked her red, chapped hands at the map and then had a moment with MY FIANCE!
Don't ask me to explain it. I don't even know if it happened but they both sort of looked up at each other and suddenly the lyrics of 'Some Enchanted Evening' are blaring through my brain and I'm imagining all his fabulous millions slipping through my fingers. And then he said, 'I shall remember' in what I privately term his Lion King tone. I don't know what to make of it.
No matter. We shan't see her again,

Dear Diary,
That horrible blight on the English countryside (Nether Waddle, Nether Ducky...Nether Ditchling!--they ought to petition the Council to get that changed) ruined another perfectly unexceptional day. I (and by I, I mean James) had to run a wedding present down to Coralie's house and it's not as though James was doing anything fun anyway--just those awful paediatric cases--common ones, too. I tell him over and over again that he should restrict himself a bit he's not ready to listen. I'm putting it on my To Be Changed list for after the wedding. What with all his home furnishings, cook and rather stodgy taste in neck ties, that list is getting long...
We got caught in the snow (It's almost April! How was I to know?) and were forced to lay up at the Vicarage--you know, one of those drafty old monstrosities built when having babies was what you did for a living. That Rustic was there--the one with the sausages. They call her Philly and she isn't even that young. She looked worse than I remembered, all swathed in snow gear--I'm sure I imagined that thing that I thought I saw...
And then they made us have porridge for breakfast. (Gah! Poor people food!) Strangely, James didn't look very happy to leave--shoveling show was probably a serious cardio workout...I wouldn't know, I didn't touch the stuff.
I think I'm going to make him sell his country cottage. That's going on the List too. And get rid of his old Nanny who caretakes it. That's going on the List too! And his icky dog...

Dear Diary,
He slowed down, I swear it.
We were driving out to Coralie's wedding and you know how James always tears up the road (in the best possible taste, of course). Well, we were coming through the village and he slowed down (well you have to a bit, naturally, but NOT THAT MUCH) and his eyes...he looked like one of those Sunday rubber-neckers! We picked up Philly (who looked plain (doesn't she always?)) who had to babysit for the family. I was so glad to be wearing a simply magnificent hat and outfit--Coralie was livid with jealousy!
We took Philly home later and the car reeked of barf and baby powder. She looked like the hired help. Of course James couldn't help but compare us...
Ah well, I can brush my hands of that problem!

Dear Diary,
What!? Are they handing our charitable scholarships now for country bumpkins to visit London?!--and not just any London, my London! Little Miss Direct and Demure was at that china exhibition I dragged James to. I was wearing one of my best suits--the slinky one with the plunging back (I can tell James loves it--he doesn't know where to look first!)--when I saw her reading the placard next to some porcelain.
Reading it!
A girlfriend told me that he offered Philly a ride after handing me some excuse about paediatric thrombo...blahblahblah...
What is going on?

Dear Diary,
There was a village fete. No, not in London! At that beastly place in the hinterlands and Coralie (who has been wanting to get back at me for outshining her at her wedding, I swear) rung me up (on the pretense of asking me the name of my milliner) and told me that her postman told her cook who then told her that James showed up to it with his Nanny and spent the whole time mooning about after Philly the Charming Provincial and her homespun attractions. He manned the bran bucket (???) and drank beer and grinned like a yokel the entire day.
I am thoroughly put out and have coerced my creepy little cousin to do a spot of 'Love's Young Dream' blighting. He is to hang around in the village and attempt to woo Philly (though who knows what will work on her bucolic sensibilities). I'll drive James by at just the right time...and bingo! I'll be Mrs. Professor James Forsyth by summer.

Dear Diary,
It didn't work.
But it's okay. I'm pretty philosophical about it now.
They got married, like, the week after I changed my Facebook status to 'single'. Whatevs. Everybody is talking about it and I just want to shout at them, 'But she couldn't carry off a flowered lime green hat, now could she?!'...I have jumped back into the dating pool and am on the verge of landing an American oil tycoon named Billy Bob William. We just have to get him past his physical and mental health screening and then we sign the pre-nup! Cross your fingers he doesn't need any defibrillation! LOL He's just the sort of man to appreciate a girl like me. His kids are kind of being pills...
I saw Philly and James driving out to the country (shudder) the other day and wanted to siphon their gas tank but they'd probably end by hopping on a bicycle built for two and peddling into the sunset. Ick.
The moral of the story is to not to let yourself be swept off your feet by blue eyes, glossy black hair, youth and original teeth.

Rating: I kept getting interrupted while reading this (mostly by a two-year-old whose body is somehow made entirely out of elbows and knees) so the short and wonderful read took longer than it should. Holy Hanna, I loved this one! For the children's village fete alone it deserves lashings of whipped cream--it's a lovely golden day. But then toss in truly hiss-worthy villains, getting our hero's perspective a ton, and the kind of I-love-you-but-can't-tell-you-so-we'll-just-devour-each-other-with-our-eyes-like-the-principles-in-a-cheap-Mexican-novella heat that is just what the doctor ordered...Fab.U.Los.
James is one of those heroes who is going to spend every day of his life getting on his knees and thanking the good Lord for getting lost in Nether Ditchling. I will whet your appetite with the moment that the bottom drops out of his life: He...watched her coming along the wide corridor to the ward. He saw her cheerful face too, damping down a strong feeling that he wanted to go and meet her and wrap his arms around her and tell her how beautiful she was.
And that's not even the best part.

Food:Braised steak casserole, sausages (that get dumped in Sybil's lap), egg custard, stewed beef and dumplings, porridge, bacon and egg pie with a thick potato crust to disguise the too few eggs for too many people, pork roast and applesauce, egg sandwiches, macaroni cheese and (on their halcyon day) cheese, pickles, rolls and beer.

Fashion: She is 'extinguished' by a long cape to keep out the snow, he wears her father's old sweater and wellies to dig a path to the chickens, he wants to scoop her up and tell her how gorgeous she is while she's wearing a too-large short jacket and last year's tweed skirt. He wears a morning coat and top hat to a wedding, Sybil wears colorfully atrocious headwear (that seems to underline all her worst qualities (vanity, selfishness, poor taste, etc...)) comprising green straw, an enormous brim and a multi-colored flowered crown, and Philly is garbed in a simply cut blue dress that gets baby barf on it. Also, Susan's parents give Philly a T-shirt emblazoned with American logos that she doesn't feel would go over well in the village (which is a shame, really, because this American would love that village to pieces).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Betty Goes to Church

'...will you come to church with me after breakfast?'
'Yes, of course I will. Is it that little church we pass on the way here?'
'Yes; there is service at nine o'clock. I think you may find it not so very different from your own church.'

Eulalia, standing beside him in the ancient, austere little church, reflected that he was quite right. Of course she couldn't understand a word but somehow that didn't matter.

-Dearest Eulalia

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Betty in the Real World

Winter of Change:

Fabian's Cousin Emma has quite the flair for dramatics. At one point she strikes a pose worthy of Sarah Bernhardt. Wow. Her wiki article is worth a read: sleeping in a coffin, bearing a child to a nobleman who only proposed marriage when the son was born (she gave the lost-in-the-sands-of-history nobletwerp up because his family persuaded her to but I prefer to think she had too many brains to marry a man with such obvious dynastic obsessions), developed gangrene after leaping from a parapet (in a play) and had her leg amputated...and continued to act for at least another 7 years! I had always thought of her as British (her name struck me that way which is silly because Bernhardt is clearly not English) but she was French. (Oui!)

The Fateful Bargain:

Emily reads Vanity Fair to Lucilla. They both agree that "Amelia Osborne was the most tiresome milksop that ever walked". Here's the wiki run-down of her character:

Amelia is the heroine: pale, passive, and emotionally devoted to her husband and son. She marries George Osborne against the wishes of George's father, and when George dies at the battle of Waterloo she brings up little George alone while living with her parents.

After George Osborne's death, Amelia is obsessed with her son and with the memory of her husband. She ignores William Dobbin, who courts her for years, and treats him shabbily until eventually he leaves. It is only after Becky shows her George's letter to her that Amelia realizes what a good man Dobbin is, although she has already written to him to ask him to come back. She eventually marries Dobbin.

Uh, she does sound a drip. I have a copy of Vanity Fair sitting at the bottom of my to-be-read pile where it has started decorating and paying a mortgage. I'm always meaning to read it. I can't say this makes it any more likely...

The hero has a housekeeper reminds the heroine of Mrs. Tiggywinkle (Tiggy-Winkle). Wiki to the rescue!:

The story of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle had its origin in Kitty MacDonald, a Scottish washerwoman the Potters employed over the course of eleven summers at Dalguise House on the River Tay in Perthshire. Potter was 26 when, in 1892, she visited MacDonald while staying at Heath Park, Birnam. She wrote in her journal: "Went out with the pony ... to see Kitty MacDonald, our old washerwoman ... Kitty is eighty-three but waken, and delightfully merry ... She is a comical, round little woman, as brown as a berry and wears a multitude of petticoats and a mutch. Her memory goes back for seventy years, and I really believe she is prepared to enumerate the articles of her first wash in the year '71."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Toad in the Hole II

A couple of days ago I made Toad in the Hole. It opened to mixed reviews. I could tell it had real potential, so I reworked the script...I mean recipe. The basic recipe this time around is the same...but I added some catchy musical numbers...er...stuff to the batter (I had complained that it was bland and a bit soggy). After discussing it with Betty Sherri, who has had actual experience with toad-in-the-hole, I came up with a few things to add in that I hoped would enhance it.

1 small baked potato, grated and seasoned slightly with salt and pepper
about 1/2 a cup of grated sharp cheddar
fresh thyme - just a little bit
fresh rosemary - just a little bit
1 clove crushed garlic

I don't usually have fresh thyme or rosemary, but since I did, I used it (I don't think my Thanksgiving turkey will miss the small amount I took).

Verdict: Much better flavor, but still a bit soggy in the middle. I would like to ask our Readers for any suggestions to counteract the sogginess. I tried cooking it a little longer this time - and it was darker and crispier on the outside...just not in the middle.


Cinema Betty

I know that most of you will take issue with me over my attitude in regards to Fabian (and not just his name) in Winter of Change. I really thought that for the first half he ought to be tossed off a parapet or something. It is for this reason, and for Cousin Mervyn trying to marry Mary Jane for her money that I recommend:
Suspicion (1941)
Now that we've sorted out the formalities--the will and the wedding-- how's about you have a nice glass of milk?

Where to begin? Cary Grant plays Johnnie (a sort of Fabian/Mervyn swamp thing) and woos a shy English girl--Joan Fontaine (rhymes with Mary Jane). He sees her on a horse (that is not sent off to the vet for wildness and a rolling eye) and asks for her hand. After their marriage, death follows Johnnie (just like Grandpa and Uncle but with more of a manslaughter angle), some really slippery bed linen is bought (seriously, she deserved what she got for putting Cary Grant in that ridiculous bedroom suite), and some old furniture is put in hock.
Like Winter of Change, Suspicion is a movie that could have been great but wasn't and it is more than likely that the hero will poison her in the end.

The Fateful Bargain. Let's see...Petulant invalid who needs to relearn how to walk?:

Heidi (1937)
I'm a bit of a Shirley Temple fan. Sure, you might say that her curls are impossibly perfect but it's hard to argue with an eight year old that can carry a blockbuster on her two precocious feet. Can you name many full-grown stars today who could pull off the triple threat of singing, dancing and acting?