Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Happy Meeting - 1992

First of all, I'd like to petition Harlequin to change the name of this book to something slightly more memorable. My choice? The Girl Who Forgot She Had a Smokin' Hot Red Velvet Dress and Wore a Grey Jersey Instead. Too long? No, what was too long, was the time it took me to read this book - nearly a week.

Cressida Preece aka 'Cressy', needs a ride to Minton Cracknell in a bad way. The book opens with her seated on the side of the road with a mangy abandoned dog and a badly sprained ankle. And so begins a Cinderella story.
Cressy (ugh, as a nickname it's not quite as bad as Tishy, but a close second) lives in ye olde family home...with her wicked stepmother. Daddy is dead, and had the bad judgement to leave all to the second Mrs. Preece...with the vague idea that she would provide for Cressy. Yet another example of poor financial planning in Neeldom. He did leave an annuity for Mrs. 'Moggy' olde family retainer. Mrs. Preece has manipulated Cressy into staying on as an unpaid servant by implying that Moggy will lose everything if Cressy leaves. So Cressy stays. In two years Moggy will be sixty and supposedly eligible for her annuity, and Cressy can get a life. Not that she has any skills. Of course not.
Aldrik van der Linus looks respectable enough - he wraps up Cressy's ankle and bundles her into his Bentley and trundles off to Minton Cracknell and ye olde family home. He is surprised to see the daughter of ye olde house is relegated to a bare little garret of a room. Something is fishy here, but he's not sure what it is. He does call the local doc and tells him of Cressy's injury as a little insurance that Cressy will be taken care of properly. It's a good thing he does - Dr. Braddock stops by to check up on her - only to find her sitting up in bed polishing ye olde family silver epergne. Dr. Braddock promptly enlists the aid of Moggy in carting Cressy downstairs and off to hospital for a nice little vacation/convalescence.
Aldrick may not be able to remember exactly what Cressy looks like, but he does remember a beautiful pair of eyes...which prompts him to do a little sleuthing and find out why Cressy is content to play Cinderella. His grandmother, Lady Merrill, is a willing accomplice. She provides the name of ye olde family solicitor - Mr. Tims, who happily divulges privileged information. Aldrik pulls a few strings...greases a few palms...has Mr. Tims inform Moggy and Cressy (ugh) that Moggy's annuity is ready and waiting and btw, Cressy has 100 pounds ready and waiting for her. They both drop Mrs. Preece like the live snake that she is. Moggy is off to live with her sister and Cressy has a job! What? You heard me, a job. She is to be a temporary companion to Lady Merrill. Yes, that Lady Merrill. Lady Merrill is rather delightful, but Aldrick never makes an appearance...only by phone. Cressy has no idea that this is a made up job OR that Aldrick is at all involved or related.
With this toehold into employability Cressy is not too surprised at another job offer as a companion - to a lady in Holland. Unfortunately, this job will not end well. Well, it wouldn't...seeing as how Jonkvrouw van Germert is Nicola van Germert's aunt. Nicola? She Who Would Like to be Mevrouw van der Linus. Aldrick has a lost a few credibility points with me by allowing himself to be somewhat duped by the fair Nicola. He talks about Cressy's situation with Nicola!! Ouch. Nicola suggests that instead of taking Cressy up to Aldrick's friends in Friesland, Nicola's aunt would be willing to take her on as a companion much closer to home - he can keep tabs on her. All this concern would be touching if it didn't hide her true motivation - which is to keep Cressida close so that she, Nicola, can keep tabs on her.
Cressida is somewhat dismayed to find that being a companion to Jonkvrouw van Germert is nothing like being Lady Merrill's companion. Jonkvrouw v G. treats her more as a servant and less like a lady...
Aldrick stops by to check up on Cressy and finds that she's cleaning out the pantry...the Jonkvrouw goes on the defensive and brings up the fact that Aldrick was responsible for getting her not only her current job but also the job with HIS GRANDMOTHER!! Of course Cressy feels humiliated...but she still manages a magnificently dignified exit. Nicola coos at Aldrick...she'll talk to Cressy and smooth things over - Aldrick agrees. Aldrick agrees??? Yuk. Nicola returns to talk with Cressy and lays it on with a trowel...Aldrick told me all about you, Aldrick and I have no secrets from each other, Aldrick pities you... Cressida marches up to her room, packs her bag and leaves. She's got enough money to get back to England.
Aldrick catches up with her before she gets on the ferry - and hauls her up to Friesland the next day. Cross-over characters Tyco and Charity van der Brons (from The Final Touch) are happy to put her up for the night. We get to see a fair amount of the van der Brons household, which is lovely. Charity is quite pregnant. Cressy and Charity hit it off and Charity is able to reassure Cressy that even though her potential employers have six children, they are quite nice. Editor's Note: I have six children and am usually considered fairly nice. If I had a cook, housekeeper and a nanny plus Cressida, I would potentially be even nicer.
The ter Beemstra's are a nice family. As far as I could tell, Cressida's main duty is to speak English with the children. Much better than cleaning pantries. Cressy spends her days off over at the van der Brons house...which is where Aldrick finds her. He runs her over to his own ye olde ancestral abode...where Cressy is treated to the House and Garden Tour O' Love. Aldrick's olde family retainers fall in love with her - she's much nicer than the dread Nicola. When Aldrick drop's Cressy back off at the van der Brons Charity peeks through the window and sees Aldrick giving Cressida a kiss. Tyco tells her to adopt a wait and see attitude. Cressida enjoyed being kisses by Aldrick...but was unsure of why he kissed her with such satisfaction (dang, now I've got the Rolling Stones in my head...). Aldrick knows why...he's known for weeks that Cressida NOT Nicola is the gal for him. He's just got to talk to Nicola (always a bad idea) and let her know that as far as she's concerned, he's not the man for her.
Meanwhile, Christmas is fast approaching, Cressy keeps herself busy by teaching Christmas carols to the ter Beemstra children...Aldrick keeps himself busy by going to England to spend Christmas with Lady Merrill. This absence allows Cressy's heart to grow a little fonder - she realizes she's in love with him. Just in time too. The local domine tries his hand at chatting her up on Christmas - but frankly, he's a non-starter. Her heart belongs to Aldrick.
Aldrick does show up on New Year's Eve - Cressy is treated to a kiss on the cheek and enigmas. Argh. the deal could have been sealed, but there's another 30 pages to get through. So...let's have a bit of drama.
Blizzard Rescue! Nanny and Baby haven't returned from a visit to Nanny's sister's house and a blizzard is blowing up. Cressy volunteers to go find them - which she does - hunkered down by a rickety bridge. Too bad for Nanny, but she has a Pott's fracture and can't walk. Cressy heads back for help and runs into Aldrick. Literally. He gets Lucia and hands her to Cressy, then goes back for Nanny. Cressy carries the three year-old until more help comes...then she falls down and goes quietly to sleep in the snow. Aldrick notices she's missing and goes back for her. This would be a great place to end, but gosh, there's still 20 pages to go. Let's sum up:
  • Aldrick takes a trip to Argentina...or Brazil - somewhere in South America.
  • Charity has her baby.
  • While the cat's away, Nicola drives up to Friesland to play. She flashes a diamond engagement ring and allows Cressy to think it's from Aldrick.
  • Moggy is in dire straits - her sister has died and Moggy is about to be turned out of house and home.
  • Cressy uses this excuse to flee back to England.
  • Aldrick returns from South America, finds Cressy gone, goes to England, buys a house for Moggy and proposes.

Him: I love you.

Her: I'd like some explanations...

Him: A waste of time - let's get on with the kissing.

The End.

Rating: A Happy Meeting was just okay for me. Cressida and Aldrick spend too much time apart for me. I do like seeing more of Tyco and Charity, but the attention to other characters just doesn't make up for a so-so hero. Aldrick might not be engaged to Nicola, but the fact that he talks about Cressy to her (granted, he doesn't know he is soon to realize his love for Cressy) is a bit icky. So is the fact that he follows Nicola's advice - against his better judgement. Twice. Keeping in mind that I had oral surgery, houseguests and Christmas over the time that I read this (which didn't help) I'm going to give this one a treacle tart. Your mileage vary.
Food: Mrs. Preece has her daily serving of junket, fairy cakes, cheese rolls, a mouth-watering mountain of a cream cake, erwetensoep, cheese souffle, creme brule, speculaas, roast pheasant, briased celery, ices with whipped cream and nuts and that Dutch New Years treat, Olie Ballen!Fashion: A shopping trip to Yeovil which yields a tweed skirt, a couple of blouses, a woollen jumper...and a dark red velvet dress (purchased at Laura Ashley) which is never heard of again, instead, she wears a grey jersey dress over and over again and bemoans the fact that she doesn't have anything festive to wear during the holidays. Too bad she didn't have a dark red velvet dress...


  1. Yes! The Mystery of the Missing Red Velvet Dress! Whodunnit? (My guess is that The Great Betty just forgot about the red dress...)

    But I would like to nominate A Happy Meeting for Worst Location Ever for the HEA. A solicitor's office? Really? All those wherefores and parties of the first part are bound to suck all the romance out of any scene. And it says all kinds of not-good things about Aldrik that he thinks that's appropriate.

    Oh, and another thing that rankled was the scene in the blizzard. I get it that Anna and Baby get first priority, but what self-respecting (and English girl-loving) RDD forgets about the heroine so that she falls in the snow and is about to fall asleep (not a good sign in a blizzard, as we know) before he remembers her? In any other book in The Canon, the hero would have handed Anna off to someone perfectly capable and made sure Cressy is okay. Because, y'know, his very happiness depends on her being okay, even if he doesn't know it yet.

    1. I always thought that he just assumed that Cressy was following behind; he had no reason to expect that she wouldn't. And I can see him being caught up with the partially frozen baby and Nanny's fracture. But 20 minutes? No. Maybe 5, tops. That said, being the !Crisis!Junkie that I am I still enjoy it.

  2. The red velvet dress was a puzzler for me. I'd just finished reading this one this morning and I had no recall of a red dress. I wasted time in Holland, before finding Yeovil is in England! I went back over it, and found two shopping trips in Yeovil and no red velvet. I finally found the red dress was bought on the first shopping trip after she leaves the evil step-monster. Maybe she bought it to fit her wispy figure and it didn't fit once she filled out on Mrs. Wiffin's cookin'.
    The ugly gray thing was bought just before she left the English gramma's. Obviously that one was a perfect fit, and jersey does stretch better than velvet!

    Nice review. I agree with your rating, the frequent hard kisses get it past madiera cake with a dollop of golden syrup.

  3. Betty Barbara here--
    Add me to the list of those who wondered about the never-again mentioned Red Velvet Dress! And thank you, Betty Magdalen for raising the point about the lack of care for Cressida in the wrap up of the Blizzard Rescue. He's already told his dear granny (whom I just loved) that Cressida is the girl for him--so how did he lose track of her like that?!?!
    Nicola made a marvelous villainess--it was fun to watch her scheme.
    I think Lady Merrill(dear granny) had the best lines--the scene when Aldrick tells her that he's talked to Nicola and all is resolved, and granny thinks "oh no they're not!Clever men can be so dense about these things(or words to that effect)".
    However, Cressida does get some major points for how rapidly she ditches the step-mother, once it is made clear that Moggy is also free to flea. I did like that bit.
    But, Betty Debbie, you are right in your rating. Cressy and Aldrick spend too much time apart for this to rank any higher on the chart.
    Minor quibble--the ter Beemstras lose big points for letting their youngest child be known as Baby, once she's past a year old. She has a lovely name--use it!

  4. Betty Barbara -- I have to disagree about "Baby" as a nickname. I have a lovely name (although, to be strictly honest, no one in my family used it) but my mother got into the habit of calling me Baby even as I topped out at 5'11". (Imagine the looks we'd get in retail establishments when my mother would call, "Baby, come look at this," and I'd show up. She was similarly tall, although not as uh, outsize as I.)

    Eventually my siblings -- all older than I -- shamed my mother into giving it up when I was 18, and I really minded, particularly as she *still* wouldn't call me by my given name. Admittedly, it was never appropriate to call me Baby, but it was loving and special.

    1. I love that. I was "little one" well into my 20s and I was already 5'7" at the age of 12 (didn't quite attain your heights, Betty Magdalen :)) It was loving on her part, too. And since she left us when I was 26 (leukemia), it's also a cherished memory...

  5. Betty Magdalen--
    I am happy that you have warn memories of being nicknamed "Baby". However, I have known several and their families tended to treat them according to the nickname--never good!
    I come from a Southern family--in which a number of female relatives were known as "Sister". And that always bothered me. That person wasn't MY sister--she was my cousin, aunt and so on. She had a name--why not use it?? It seemed to me that the person was being ID'd by her place in that family, rather than by who she was.
    I also came from a staunchly Catholic family--so some of those cousins and aunts were also nuns--Sister "Sister", if you will!

    1. I was sure I understood where "sister" came from, until you said you were Catholic. Us evangelicals "brother" and "sister" each other a lot. Maybe it just got passed on as part of tradition and lost its original meaning somewhere?

    2. My older sister was known as 'Sister' or 'Sis' from the second she was New England born mom had expected a second boy and had a name picked out accordingly. Sis went officially nameless until my grandpa visited mom in the hospital bringing a box of Rosemarie chocolates, and Rose Marie is Sis's official name but it just didn't stick within the family. She entered the convent at age 15 (50 years ago) and became Sister Sis (to us). Mostly we still just call her Sis. We find it quite fitting!

  6. Betty Barbara -- If I had been named the way I was treated, it would have been a word far worse (and less animate) than Baby. (Not my mother, who really was lovely in her own way. But my sibs were/are another story.)

    You are right -- no question about it. But at least now you've heard of an instance where the name Baby wasn't demeaning . . . at least not compared to the alternatives! :-)

  7. That's funny, Betty Barbara, my dad sometimes calls us 'sister' and I just think it's about the cutest thing ever. This from a woman whose nickname was Bagira...

  8. Betty Barbara here--
    With one last thought on the nickname subject:
    It just proves that nicknames are bound up in the family dynamic, never to be really understood by outsiders!

  9. nicknames are bound up in the family dynamic, never to be really understood by outsiders!
    Exactly Betty Barbara! Or sometimes outsiders cause the trouble.
    When we left the A.F. and moved here 15 years ago, Betty Ariel was a novelty on our rural country school bus, due to her name. Her older brother and younger sister acquired nick names because of it. They we're now Sebastien, Ariel, and Flounder.
    Oldest son didn't have much to complain about but Betty Brigid's 'new' name was less that flattering. Fortunately, for both the novelty wore off after our first year here.

  10. Does anyone think that Cressy and Tishy/Cressie and Tishie suffer from the contrast with the strong, wonderfully happy cross over characters in their stories?

    1. Tishy is such a great lovely character herself, so no, I don't think so.

    2. After re-reading this, I had a change of heart. First reading said that Cressy was wishy washy and Aldrick was too easy going with the Dutch serpent. On second reading it became a very gentle and pleasant story. Ahh Betty, you never let me down!

  11. a really pleasant story, I must admit; I very much like Charity and Tyco of The Final Touch being involved so much... but I would like to point out something different: I have read first the Russian, then the Polish translation - now I am about to finish the English original stuff and... to my mind, translation(s) can kill a very much specific British atmosphere of BN's books, which I personally like so much!