Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Upcoming Reprise

Monday June 6th. The Convenient Wife.
A Marriage of Convenience, a wayward ward and an aunt who resembles Miss Marple.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Cassandra By Chance--1973

The ferry to Mull, Scotland

I love this book in just about the same way Betty Debbie does.  It goes like a bomb for the first half and then the rest doesn't quite live up to that early promise but it's really a fun departure for The Great Betty.  My favorite character is the amnesiac Polish(?) WWII refugee.  The character I feel is most hard done by?  That poor clergyman on Mull who has to endure the blow of watching his cautious, sister-approved courtship of Cassandra blow up in the face of a disagreeable blind man and then has to marry them in the end.  That's rough.  I always hopes he finds some little diamond in the rough (with great legs and a willingness to tell sister where to get off) on Mull and marries her out of hand.
Also, if memory serves, this is the post that led The Founding Bettys to their very first follower: Betty Magdalen.

I'm not sure which muse Betty Neels was channeling when she wrote this book, but I suspect that she had more than one. Why? Because Cassandra By Chance is virtually 2 books under one cover.The first one hundred pages take place in Scotland, on the Island of Mull...the next one hundred pages are in Holland.

Cassandra By Chance does not have quite the typical Neels formula...It's not love at first sight for either protagonist - partly because the hero is temporarily blind. What?!? A blind hero??!?? Yup, and a grumpy blind at that. What fun. There is so much to like about this book, so let's dig in.

The heroine's name is....wait for it.....wait.....Cassandra Darling. In Nurse Harriet Goes to Holland you get the best nickname "Haughty Harry", but in this book you get the best heroine name. Ever. Say it slow...it sounds like an endearment. La Neels penned a lot of clunky names in her time, but this isn't one of them. Love it. Physically, Cassandra is tall, but not "out-size", and she's not pretty. That qualifies her as a Betty Neels Heroine Type 3 (the Outlier). Not only is she not pretty, but she has a sharp thin nose...and the tip quivers when she lies. At one point she is described as a "jolie laide", a term that comes up again and again in Neeldom. Here's the definition (as found on Merriam-Webster Online): ...woman who is attractive though not conventionally pretty. Cassandra has a pretty even temperament (that doesn't mean she can't dish it out, when necessary), which is a good thing, under the circumstances. She's kind, sensible, matter-of-fact and willing to apologize, if the occasion warrants it.

The hero - Benedict van Manfeld, age 35. He's got the typical tall, vastiness of a Neels hero, but as I mentioned before, he starts out the book fairly blind. We never get to find out why or how he lost his sight - but he does get to wear dark blue glasses for all of Part 1. He is staying in a friends cottage, on the Scottish island of Mull, with only his Polish Amnesiac Concentration Camp Survivor Trusty Loyal Manservant Jan in attendance. Benedict has what he describes as a "vile temper"...he is prone to swearing (which Cassandra totally objects to, and calls him on). In spite of that, I like him. Yes, he's got a temper, but hey - what good is a blind Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon to anyone? He's got a bit of an excuse for his ill temper. He also apologizes nicely.

The story (pardon the length, I know this is going to be a long one):

Part 1: Cassandra Darling, newly minted nurse, goes to Scotland to tend her sister Rachel's kids - ages 5 and 6. While taking Andrew and Penny (the kids) for a walk, Cassandra and the kids come across an isolated cottage. And now we get the best, the very best, the most phenomenal name for a house....Ogre's Relish. At least, that's the name that Andrew and Penny gave it. Andrew says, "There's a man lives there, and one day I heard Mrs. Todd telling Mrs. MacGill that he relished his peace and quiet, and of course he's an ogre because no one's ever seen him." (If I ever own a cottage, I shall call it "Ogre's Relish". Much better than "Rainbow's End", "Wisteria Lodge" or "Rose Cottage". It would be much easier to neglect the gardening around a house called Ogre's Relish, in fact it might even be a moral imperative.) Penny goes on to explain that there is an old man who lives there too, who goes shopping in town, but hardly buys anything. "Mrs. MacGill says he only buys enough to keep body and soul together." She then tells Cassandra that the ogre is blind. Andrew says that he heard is dad tell his mum, "he can't see, poor beggar." Cassandra feels sorry for him - so she bakes him a cake. Evidently his Polish Amnesiac Concentration Camp Survivor Trusty Loyal Manservant Jan doesn't do cakes or pies. The kids get acquainted with the ogre and like him and his Polish Amnesiac Concentration Camp Survivor Trusty Loyal Manservant Jan. On their way to church, Penny falls into a wee bottomless loch...and in jumps Cassandra to save her. Unfortunately Cassandra isn't much of a swimmer - but that's okay, Andrew runs and fetches the blind ENT surgeon and he can swim just fine - so in he jumps..all's well, etc..particularly well after Cassandra drinks her tea laced with whisky. Evidently that's what you put in tea, but don't worry, it's just medicinal. Cassandra then finds out the the "poor beggar" isn't so poor after all - she sees the large wooden box on the table with a Fortnum and Mason label on it - packed full of spendy delicacies...Fuller's chocolate cake, a Dundee cake, several tins of coq-au-vin, Stilton cheese and a pot of Gentleman's Relish. We all know what that means (he's not really a poor beggar). Cassandra is huffy about the fact the Benedict had told the kids that he was poor...Benedict explains to Cassandra that he is poor - in friends and affection and laughter and love. There is a fair amount of arguing on the part of Cassandra and Benedict - but La Neels balanced the fighting with matter-of-factness and the willingness to not hold grudges. Neither character is terribly angsty (I loathe angsty-ness) and there is a fair amount of laughter and light-heartedness dotted through Part 1.

Part 2: The first scene in Holland reminds me of a scene in Pride and Prejudice (chapter 59 in my copy).
Miss Bennet asks Elizabeth, "tell me how long you have loved him?"
Elizabeth, "It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberly."

Cassandra realizes that she loves Benedict as she is standing in front of his home in Holland for the first time. Yes, Benedict has a lovely house - but really the description of his faithful cook and housekeeper is the money shot..."a large woman with a massive bosom and a quantity of white hair". I'd fall in love with Benedict just to have her.
Benedict talked Cassandra into coming to Holland as his nurse. As far as I can tell, the only nursing she does for him is to put drops in his eyes. It sounds suspicious to me. I am in no way a nurse, but Dr. van der Stevejinck, is prone to the occasional eye ulcer and needs drops put in...trust me, it's not that hard. Do you think he had ulterior motives in inviting Cassandra to Holland? Maybe, just maybe, Benedict has more than a little liking for Cassandra?

Now for some action...a dredge and a barge collide in the river...there are injuries...it's icy, cold, windy...Benedict (who by now has his eyesight back) takes Cassandra along to help. He performs an emergency tracheotomy (after all, he is and ear, nose and THROAT surgeon), and then proceeds to amputate another victims leg. I don't know about you, but I'd be a little worried to have an ENT do an amputation. Oh well, it was an emergency.

Benedict finds out the his restored vision isn't guaranteed to be 100% - he almost drives Cassandra away, but then he gets the airport security guy (on whom he had previously performed a tricky operation)to escort her down a "long dreary passage which apparently led nowhere". Kiss, kiss, marry me....off to Scotland for the wedding, then fade to black as the couple walks up the hill to Ogre's Relish.

Fashion: evidently oversize Aran sweaters are the thing on Mull.
Food: Queen of puddings, Gentleman's Relish, dripping toast and cocoa, game soup, crepes Suzette.
Cars: Aston Martin DBS V8, Daimler Sovereign.
Quotable Quote: "It made it sound as though the village were some vice-ridden haunt full of desperate characters with flick-knives waiting at every corner."

Rating: Part 1 gets a lashings of whipped cream...with an extra lash. Part 2 is a little more pedestrian (unless you're a one-legged amputee) so I give it a boeuf en croute. Together it equals a queen of puddings with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Betty Keira's Life After Betty

It's been an interesting couple of weeks since the End Of Days.  For one thing, both Betty Debbie and I have stopped neglecting our little mommy blogs (much to the relief of friends and family...well, maybe) and been wrestling our homes back into some sort of shape.  You'd be surprised  how the dust bunnies breed when the TBR and TBB (to-be-blogged) piles loom not unlike a small Himalayan foothill.
I organized my junk drawer yesterday.  My. junk. drawer.  Which, needless to say, wouldn't have been tackled if Sister Harriet Goes to Holland and Two Weeks to Remember were calling me.

A thing of beauty is a joy...until the kids muck it up
But what am I reading?  A little political philosophy.  Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions and I ordered De Tocqueville's Democracy in America (which I didn't have a copy of (I probably sold back my copy to the bookstore in college for three dollars and a Snickers bar.) and which my husband immediately snatched)--which is a heavy read but after a year and a half of a steady diet of gumdrops and lollipops...

I'm also leafing through some of my old favorites that I've neglected all this while--Summers, Hill, Cartland....Whaaaa???  Yes.  There.  I said it.  Cartland, Barbara.  Or as I like to call her Madame Ellipsis.  ("But...Roderick...I...am...unable...to...go...to...the...ball!" said Lady Fionella as she swooned.)  She's an author that drives me crazy because 80% of her stuff is just that sort of dreck.  And being consistently campy has its own charms but then she'll go out and write a novel like Love Under Fire:

It's one of my favorite books of all time.  Granted, (gulp) you have to close your eyes to reason and accept that at some point the hero is horrified to think he's fallen in love with someone who says she's a 13-year-old. (Yes.  Really.)  But it's a thumping great adventure story--the best part is when the ship is in a squall and the heroine sensibly decides that staying in the cabin clutching a table leg all night would be a better idea than braving the decks, making a nuisance of herself and being swept out to sea in some sort of proto-feminist gesture--the likes of which all to often pass themselves off as rational plot contrivances.  (And there's nothing I hate more than a heroine who is supposed to be intelligent and wise doing something so TSTL.  Can we all shout with a megaphone to the romance authors of the world: Being a smart heroine does not mean putting the lives of others in danger just to show us you're a girl with pluck.)

I've also been reading a bunch of young adult fantasy--short stories, Robin McKinley, Mary Stewart, that sort of thing.  Betty Debbie is a font of recommendations on that end.  I love YA fantasy in the same way that people feel passionate attachment to film Westerns.  On one hand, they can just be about the spurs and the boots and the guns or the fairies and dragons and the magical enchantments.  On the other hand, they can be the scaffolding to discuss weightier issues.  (Come to think about it...most genres are like that--very easily dismissed as formulaic (and a lot is) but it can also be just the skeleton that holds up THEMES (In my head I have triple underlined 'Themes' and drawn little hearts around it.))

What's in your TBR list?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, May 30th. Cassandra by Chance.

Benedict, the Blind Hero!
Ogre's Relish!
Jan, the Polish Amnesiac Concentration Camp Survivor Trusty Loyal Manservant!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Nurse Harriet Goes to Holland - Reprise

As I remember it, this was the first book we reviewed that featured a gal wearing a turban. In public. On purpose.  Sadly, it was not to be the last time.  Interested in our take on turbans? See posts here and here.  I think my favorite bit in the book is the fact that this gorgeous dainty little blonde carries a pocketknife that must be roughly the size of a small moon. -Betty Debbie.

The original title was Tempestuous April. I do not understand why this was considered objectionable enough to be renamed. And then the later editions become Tempestuous April again. Go figure.

Are you ready for the Cook's Tour? Because Betty Neels threw everything but the sluice (British word alert!) room sink in this, one of her earliest works.

The principles:

St. Nick's Men's Surgical Night Sister Harriet "Haughty Harry" Slocombe (yes that is the best nickname ever!) a gorgeous dainty blond who eats like a horse, crushes the pretensions of overly-familiar housemen (hence the name), carries a pocket knife with her at all times and has two older sisters(who get names and babies) and three younger brothers (only one of whom is named--the others presumably live in foster care as we see neither hide nor hair of them). She travels to Friesland with her best friend Sieske who becomes engaged to her boyfriend Wierd--which qualifies as loopiest Dutch/Fries name in the entire Betty Neels canon.

Dr. Friso (which I always want to read as "Crisco") Eijsinck does not have a harassed expression, a permanent stoop nor a soup stained waistcoat (like she'd been imagining he had). Instead, he's 34, sardonic, a great one for the ladies and the owner of a dark blue Bentley, a sturdy Land Rover and...wait for it...an AC 428 Fastback--which she's already seen and fallen in love with him in so that we are presented with the most wonderfully ridiculous sentence in the whole book: "Every now and then she thought about the man in the AC 428 Fastback." From this we must conclude that Betty possibly had an endorsement deal with the AC 428 Fastback guys and was raking in the dough from product placement. Otherwise she would have said, "...about the man in the blue sports car..." Kudos Betty.

Fairly run of the mill--girl and boy meet and immediately fall in love. He turns out to be not so nice but then he sort of is. Lots and lots of sightseeing in the surrounding countryside ensues (seriously, it was like Betty thought she would never write another book again and felt the need to include everything). Think I'm kidding? Here's a partial list:

Amsterdam (along with particular sites named)
Sneek(to sail in a boat and talk about a botter)
den Haag
Queen Juliana (she's walking at a brisk trot through the tulip garden at Keuknhof)

Brief discussion on Fries engagements, sailing practices, hand shaking customs, bicycling, canals (there's actually an accident involving one), dijks and reclaimed lands, Dutch midwifery law (yes, actually)

La Bonneterie
Great Pier
A semi-important statue of a cow
And a laundry list of Dutch customs and words: tot ziens, dominee, guldens, polders, dank u, botter, deftig. (I could go on.)

I'm not sure but that this book might serve me better than a Rick Steve's travel guide. Anyway, she ends up using her pocketknife and midwifery skills to both rescue a dog and assist in a delivery in a house located in a flooded polder. And if that sounds like several Betty Neels novels disemboweled themselves on one page you're not alone. She would return to all these memes in novels to come.

The doctor now treats Harry with diminished disdain (though he does make a crack about her dressing up for his benefit when she's wearing an "almond green thin wool dress" capped by a silk turban. You should never comment on a woman's looks when she's wearing a turban (see below) as it is obviously indicative of her fragile mental condition. But he's bit of a git. (Though it pains me to say it.)

He woos her by lecturing her in turns on orchids and the weather and by trotting out this line, "Shall I add you to my list of girlfriends?" Clearly he doesn't know who he's dealing with.

Finally they seem to be getting along--or he is just quoting he Friesian National Oath for kicks?--when he tells her that love lasts "so long as the wind from the clouds shall blow and the world shall stand". But before you can say My dijk's sprung a leak, the wind stopped blowing and the world fell recumbent. Yup, he's given her the cold shoulder and she's taking the next boat back to London.

See, while they were busy discovering love's true bliss there was a viper in the grass. Teike is a fourteen-year-old little sister to Sieske. She is also a sociopath. Probably she kicks dogs and tears the wings off butterflies and has a future of poisoning neighborhood cats. Having developed a totally rational passion for the good doctor she sets out to sabotage the relationship. And boy does she. Disappointingly, she is never administered the spanking she so obviously requires.

All's well that ends well, though. He chases her back to Dartmoor and proposes in a village shop (common to Neelsdom) and, as nice as you like, tells everyone that the wedding is "tomorrow at 11." The End.


I'm really not sure why I didn't like our hero very much. I mean, cold aloof and mocking is practically a requirement in the land of Betty Neels. Still, he seemed unnecessarily irritating. At one point he says, "And if I tell you that I shall miss you a great deal more than Moses (a dog), what will be your answer, my dear Harriet?" I had a marriage proposal that sounded suspiciously like this one. My advice? Throw him over and wait for the short Mexican. So, I'll give our hero a "treacle tart"--not terrible but I've seen better.

What gets my unqualified endorsement is the nursing atmospherics at the very beginning. You can almost see the ghost of Grandma Hanna spending her night nursing inconveniently-timed cardiac arrests, stuffing patients back in bed, walking the ward barefooted. It's the best and most realistic depiction of nursing I think I've read. So lashings of whipped cream on that.

If I even the two out I'd give this a "mince pie". It was a great early effort but she had not yet learned to make her heroes likable and her travel guide less episodic.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

"Professor Baron Gijs van der Hotten ter Hunke, let's be wild and crazy and bring the tulips INDOORS!"
I spent my Mother's day being pampered by an adoring family.  All the usual things were there: Breakfast in bed (Not inedible at all.), coupon books from the kids (I made sure to cash in my 'One free hug' ones early), free-form poetry from the eight-year-old ("It was too hard to rhyme...so I didn't!") and flowers from the little Mijnheer.  He brought me some lovely tulips.  (Which, now that I think about it, is sort of an homage to The Great Betty and is more thoughtful than ever.)

Anyway, that got me thinking about tulips in The Canon.  Yes, there's an entire book titled Tulips For Augusta and sometimes there are Excursions of Pity/Mild Affection to the tulip fields.  But, when the lovely heroines are striking picturesque poses as Arranger of Stately Home Flowers, do we ever get tulips there?  I don't think so.

So, what's your favorite flower to get and do you have evidence that I'm dead wrong on the tulips thing?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, May 23rd.
Nurse Harriet Goes to Holland (aka Tempestuous April)
Haughty Harry, a turban and a glimpse of Queen Juliana!

Ginger-Haired RDD

An offering from Betty JoDee (He looks familiar, but I can't quite place him) - Betty Debbie

A Ginger-Haired RDD

This Archie had no Veronica. Can you name him?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Marrying Mary--Reprise

When Betty Debbie and I talk about this book we usually bring up the fact that mother has her own garden shed in which to work which is like the holy grail of personal space (detached and far enough away to avoid any hint of, 'Mooooommmmm!  Spencer hit me!'...or something...).  Sure, there's an entire love story going on here but the real hero is that garden shed.
Also, I can't believe the hero is named Roel.  The End.

There really isn't anything exceptional about the plot of Marrying Mary. So here's the summary. Girl sees boy, falls in love at first sight on page 17, boy thinks she's good looking...can't completely get her out of his mind, blah, blah, blah, FINALLY realizes that he loves her on page 187....marry me, kiss, kiss, the end.

So why do I like this book so much? It's all about the characters. La Neels has fleshed out quite a few characters in Marrying Mary. Many are archetypal Neels, but she does pull off a few gems.

Mary Pagett is a tall, beautiful girl with an abundance of chestnut hair. That qualifies her as a Betty Neels Heroine Type 2 ("The Olivia"). She is capable, hard working, self-sacrificing and sensible. She takes care of her family. And they let her. Boy, do they let her. She falls in love at first sight with Roel - but she doesn't chase him. She's not above a little romantic daydreaming, but she doesn't let herself get carried away.
Great-Aunt Thirza. You might think Thirza is an unusual name - but aunts and great-aunts in Neeldom are often called by this and other equally out-dated names. She is a cantankerous old lady with heart problems. I'm guessing that her heart problems are not cholesterol induced - since she is a vegetarian. Great-Aunty invites herself to the Pagett's home to convalesce when she comes out of hospital and the whole family is compelled to become temporary vegetarians. Against their inclination. All of Neels good guys/gals have "healthy appetites", so eating vegetarian does not sit well with the Pagett family. When the old lady dies she leaves Mary a cookbook, "with the hope that by its perusal she might improve her cooking." Mr. Pagett - Mary's father is an absentminded intellectual. Because, if you are an intellectual, of course you're absentminded. Besides being a "learned scholar" he is writing book - which necessitates him spending a great deal of time at one of my favorite places in London, The British Library. He inherits a few thousand pounds from Aunt Thirza and immediately loses it to a con man...along with a good portion of the rest of his capital. Thus making it necessary for Mary to get a job.
Mrs. Pagett - she is that rarity in Neeldom - a mother with her own career. She is described as "a lovable, whimsical lady, whose talent for designing Christmas cards had earned her a hut in the garden to which she retired after breakfast each day, only appearing at meals." I would like to retire to a hut in the garden and only appear at meals. Good work, if you can get it. Mrs. Pagett's character could so easily have become annoying (how much whimsicality is too much??), but Betty manages to keep her from crossing the line into irritating land.
Polly Pagett - Mary's 13 year old baby sister. Quite irrepressible. She is a keen and not very accurate player of the recorder. Near the end of the book she gets a nasty virus, which Mary nurses her through. Roel sets them both up for a week in his country cottage...so that Polly can recuperate, THEN he takes the pair of them to Holland for another week, to finish the process off. I have never had that kind of recuperation. I would love to give it a try.
The Brothers Pagett. I would name them if I could - but since Betty didn't, I can't. We will hereafter call them and (others like them) "Shadow Siblings". Not an uncommon occurrence. Here's what we know about Mary's brothers - she has 2 younger brothers who are away at school...possibly Cambridge. They are only mentioned a couple of times in passing. When the family is facing financial disaster, those boys never chime in with any offers to help. How does the financial disaster affect their schooling? How are they going to pay tuition, books, housing, etc.??? Don't know.
Roel van Rakesma - our hero. Thirty five year old Frisian heart specialist. Of course he's tall and big...but I've got a problem with him...Betty describes him as having gingery hair that is going grey. GINGERY!?! Of all the colors to have on a guy she chooses gingery. Yuk. Gingery hair on a guy is never a good thing. I have to mentally replace the ginger with sandy hair going grey....much like my husband, Dr. van der Stevejinck. Roel is not looking for love, but there's something about Mary.....
Fred - One of my favorite servants in Neeldom. He has a fiancee named Syl - they plan on getting married soon. Ilsa van Hoeven doesn't like him...but then again, most villianesses dislike the hero's household help, and plan to replace them at the earliest possible time. Fred meets Mary for the first time on page 172: "Here was a fine-looking young lady...worth a hundred of Mrs. van Hoeven. Fred, a staunch Methodist sent up a brief and urgent prayer on behalf of his master." I love that he is a staunch Methodist. Because, if you're going to be Methodist, you should also be staunch.
Ilsa van Hoeven - a sugary voiced divorcee who is after Roel. Of course she is beautiful, but as Mary's mother says, "She must be looking forty in the face. Perfect make-up of course, but I could see the wrinkles." (Mrs. Pagett is not always as vague as she seems). Ilsa ends up marrying a middle-aged tycoon from Florida.
Pleane van Rakesma - Roel's youngest sister. She comes to London for a visit along with Ilsa (who she does not like). While in London she gets lost under the railroad bridges while she's looking for homeless people. She is found by Roel and Mary, throws up in front of Mary's house on the way home, which means she has to spend the night at the Pagett home getting over a bout of food poisoning. She is also more than a bit irrepressible.
Mrs. Blackett - who comes daily to "oblige" the Pagett's. She wears "horrible" slippers - with nicks cut out for her corns. Mrs. Blackett has to be soothed constantly with tea so that she won't quit.
The Pagett home is practically a character in this book - a mid-Victorian rectory built for a large incumbent family. It comes with faulty drains, a damp patch in the drawing room ceiling that only dries out in summer, a useful kitchen garden, Mrs. Pagett's hut, roof tiles that fall off and doors that need repainting. The rooms are large and the windows drafty - thus making the house nearly impossible to heat.

There is a scene that I especially like in this book. Mary's absentminded father has invited three extra guests to Sunday dinner...and neglects to mention that until after church. Mary has to run home and scrounge around in the fridge for stuff to stretch dinner. She decides to make quiche:

"While the oven heated, she made the pastry. 'And if it turns out like lead they'll just have to eat it'...the bacon fried and the eggs beaten, she almost flung them into the pastry case and banged the door on it."
You go, girl. When Mary is grumpy she talks to herself and slams oven doors. As a bit of a door slammer myself, I thoroughly approve.

Food: Madeira cake, sausages and chips, roly poly pudding, cream cakes, fairy cakes, beef en croute, digestive biscuits, tiny cucumber sandwiches.
  • page 164 - a green cotton jersey dress
  • page 187 - a dressing gown only fit for the dustbin (British word alert!)
Rating: 9 - a good solid Queen of Puddings.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Pennsylvania Dutch?

Many thanks to Betty Cindy for sending us these yummy pictures and a sneak peek at the fun they had!

Here they are - or we are. :)

The RDD supervises.

Bettys Cindy, Magdalen and JoDee!

Is that honorary Betty Hazel on the left?

Bettys chatting.
The groaning board.


The food was incredible. Egg salad finger sandwiches, divine chicken salad finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream (two kinds!) lemon curd, pineapple butter, raspberry jam, Gouda cheese, mince tarts, cherry almond cake, light buttery cookies - which were UNBELIEVABLY GOOD! - Andes mint brownies, banana bread, fresh lemonade and of course, tea.

And the ladies were kind enough to accept my messy kitchen and dining room table - I'd been fussing with food all morning and by the time I got dressed and got things put out in the living room my legs just gave out. And Betty JoDee arrived. And, speaking of kind, they filled my plate and cup and glass and kept me in goodies throughout. Lovely people!

The Founding Bettys, btw, were much on our minds - we mentioned time again what a monumental task you set for yourselves, and how thankful we are to have found your blogs. And we also praised Betty Keira's wicked gift with graphics! :)


p.s. Oh - and I forgot to mention that this wee tea party lasted over six (SIX!!) hours. WHAT FUN!

I was sad to see them go.


The Return of Betty. Chapter II

Betty JoDee gets us started:
Chapter II

Aralucia looked up from her pretense of reading the latest Vogue to steal a glance at the professor who had buried his face in a Lancet the minute they took their seats on the hovercraft. He slid a sideways glance at her.

“Arcie, I hardly think that you’ll find anything in there to suit your, er, curves.”

She raised an indignant chin in response, “How rude! You don’t have to remind me that I’ll never be a candidate for fashion modeling. And,” she narrowed her eyes, “don’t call me ‘Arcie.’ That kind of endearment is saved only for a beloved or betrothed.”

Arching an eyebrow in derision, “Don’t you mean beloved AND betrothed? Aren’t they mutually inclusive?”

She snapped back, “Haven’t you heard of a Marriage of Convenience?”

[It is here, Clever Reader, that I was dearly wanted to go with “Listen, Sister, I’ve been married, and it ain’t convenient!”—but suppressing my inner Groucho instead I went with:]

The professor gleamed beneath his heavily lidded eyes, “Although I have colleagues who tried out such nonsense, I view dressing room cots as beastly uncomfortable.

Just jump in, Bettys--

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Return of Betty

Hi Founding Bettys,

For what it's worth, I compiled Chapter I of the little tome we got started on one of the threads, which I have nicknamed The Return of Betty. I have also attached five graphics to accompany it. I thought that if you want to post it, I would follow up the next day (so as to give ample warning) with an opening paragraph to start a second chapter (It starts on the Hovercraft, if y'all want to start it instead).

Countdown to "Waiting for Deborah (and Keira)" Event (that's what we're calling it): 2 days

Tot ziens,
Betty JoDee

Dear Betty JoDee,
Gosh, we do like initiative here at TUJD (it makes our jobs so much easier).  I'm looking forward to chapter two!
Tot ziens,
Betty Debbie

The Return of Betty
Chapter I

The cold giant drops pelting the ancient glazed window glass on a dreary February morning did little to relieve the grimy facade of Betty St. Margaret's, a hospital of Victorian appearance and disposition that valiantly anchored the deteriorated neighborhood that encircled it. Sister Aralucia Blackstock swiveled her mousy head away from the view, longing for a steaming cup of tea but knowing that she still had to meet and greet the new foreign consultant arriving momentarily on Men's Medical....

“I had heard that Betty St. Margaret’s nurses were the best in Britain. Apparently that information is as outdated as that autoclave you’re using to wash teacups.”

Aralucia whirled around in shock. A giant of a man towered over her. His bright blue eyes glinted with derision and some other emotion that wouldn’t be explained for 155 pages.

“Staring out the window, nurse? Why aren’t you clock watching instead?”

The nerve of this man! Thinking that she was wasting time when she was just longing for tea and doing sums in her head. “Because the clock hasn’t worked since the last bomb explosion.”

“Ah. The one where Fraam and Ermengrace met and fell in love.”

Her soft mouth dropped open and her lavishly fringed eyes opened wide. “You know Fraam and Ermengrace?”

He ignored her direct question as he was going to do for the next 150 pages. “I am Wal Dorf Salid. It sounds better in Dutch or spoken with an English accent. But you are to call me ‘Professor’ for the next thirty pages.”

“Yes, Professor,” she said with a snap. Odious man. How she hated him and his well-cut suits and his splendid build and his key chain that said “My Other Car Is a Bentley.” If only something would happen to take that smug look off of his face . . . .

Mrs. Dawn Trodden was propped up in bed, her wispy white hair carefully combed over boot-black eyes.

"Cor, Sister," she breathed, eyeing the professor like he was a plateful of steaming fish and chips. "They grow `em big in foreign parts. He'll do fer yer, I reckon."

Aralucia struggled to keep her face impassive and her sour dislike of the Dutchman hidden. "Mrs. Trodden is suffering from a diverticular inversion of the duodenum, Professor," she said severely.

He ignored her and smiled benignly at the older woman. "Yes, Mrs. Trodden, Sister and I match each other nicely, don't you think? We shall marry shortly and name our first rescued kitten 'Troddie' in your honour."

It was no good frowning, Aralucia discovered, Mrs. Trodden was putty in the professor's hands. As were Staff, the student nurse, the part-time nurse, Mrs. Potts who brought him sandwiches and biscuits without being asked, and the Principal Nursing Officer who just happened to come by Women's Medical at that precise moment. To a woman, they were all sighing at the sight of his massive frame, expertly clothed in Savile Row clerical grey.

"Professor," Aralucia said crisply, "If I'm to ignore my feelings for you for the next 150 pages, it would be far better if you wouldn't allude to our eventual marriage."

He looked down at her, bemused. "Oh, did I suggest I was going to marry you? Silly girl. Of course not. I'm marrying some other woman whom of course I will not mention again as I kiss you from time to time, rescue you from various states of peril and imminent death or at least laddered tights, and otherwise spend all my spare time focused on you, your lazy sister, mean-spirited stepmother, mooching brother, and faithful factotum."

He wished Mrs. Trodden a pleasant afternoon and said, "Now, Sister, if we might complete the round?" just as if she was the reason they had not moved for twenty minutes.

“Dorf darling, I’ve been waiting in the Rolls Royce Panther VI for hours.”

Aralucia balled her small hands into fists. “Dorf darling”? How annoying that the woman who had interrupted them on the Men’s Medical Wing was breathtakingly beautiful--if you liked women with non-existent bosoms.

The professor did not appear annoyed at all. “As soon as I arrange for this mousey nurse to drop her job and go to Holland to nurse Mrs. Dawn Trodden at my manor house, I’ll take you out to the Savoy for a meal you won’t eat and then we’ll go dancing.”

“Sir, you are a great man!” exclaimed Mrs. Dawn Trodden from her bed. “But what will I do wi’ me cat?”

“I’ll arrange at great expense and trouble to ship your cat through customs.”

“I hate cats,” the bosomless other woman spat out.

“Takes one to know one,” Aralucia muttered under her breath.

The professor raised a glacial eyebrow. “For that remark, nurse, I’ll be rude and aloof for the next three chapters. And no house tour.”

Inwardly Aralucia quailed. Outwardly, she remained defiant. “I don’t believe I’ll go to Holland, thank you very much.”

His smile was nasty. “In the twenty minutes we’ve been here, I’ve already submitted your resignation, applied for a work visa, informed my mother that I’m going to marry, and I’ve gassed up the Rolls. You’re protests are quite useless.” He nodded at Mrs. Dawn Trodden and took the other, bosomless, woman by the arm. “I’ll see you in Chapter Two on the Hovercraft.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, May16th. Marrying Mary

'Whimsical' mother, shadow siblings, a staunch Methodist, and a ginger haired RDD.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Gem of a Girl - Reprise

I think someone should tally up exactly how many hospital/care facilities are destroyed in Neeldom and compare the data with British/Dutch statistics for the same time frame.  I'm hoping that reality was much less destructive. As horrific as the fire is in A Gem of a Girl, for sheer drama I think I'd have to go with the one in Blow Hot, Blow Cold.  What's your favorite disaster scene in the canon? (great, now I've got the music from The Poisiden Adventure stuck in my head...there's got to be a morning after ♫...)- Betty Debbie"It's been you, ever since I first saw you, all tangled up in the washing." Of course I have a soft spot for this book. Our hero and heroine meet while she's doing the laundry. The first time I met my husband he was bent over an industrial washer, tugging on a bundle of soaking rags. This book is pretty much all about me.

Gemma Prentice is 25-ish, plump and plain, with five younger siblings (all lookers) and Cousin Maud whom you would be forgiven for thinking important to the plot. No parents to speak of (I mean, they get a sentence about their grisly death stuck into the middle of the book in the most off-hand manner.) She is a nurse who is better than the geriatric hospital that she's working at for the benefit of her family. She's very friendly and sensible.
Ross Dieperink van Berhuys--no seriously, that's his name. Thank heavens she calls him Ross because that name is almost a deal-breaker. He's 38, tall, broad-shouldered with "pale" hair which was "probably silver as well". He's a doctor who is visiting the doctor who lives next door. He is happy to fetch her sausages (evidently Betty doesn't believe in deep freezes) and drive her sister Mandy around. Gemma thinks he's a dish but that's as far as it goes.

He falls in love with her over the laundry. She likes him very much but fails to read his willingness to hang wet sheets on the drying line as a declaration of undying love. We find out that she works in a sort of nursing home out of an old manor (so we've got crippling death taxes and the National Health Service). It is a hodge-podge of architectural styles but all the venom is saved for the Victorian wing.

Of course it burns down leaving Gemma without a job. The attending doctor, Charlie Briggs, who once dismissed Gemma as a romantic prospect fails to come on duty and is probably drunk. As this trope (lame heath worker showing impressive cowardice or dereliction of duty in the face of crisis) is used often I will call it The Charlie Briggs Effect.

Ross asks her to come to Holland to nurse his sister (and fall in love with him!) who has brucellosis and an allergy to antibiotics. She does and you can forget all about Gemma's nice family for the remainder of the book--she does.

Brucellosis is also called Bang's Disease, Malta Fever, Gibraltar Fever and rock fever. Bang's disease would have been funner. Anyway, Rienieta has joint pain and fevers and is described as "a handful". Despite a common Neels-ism being spoiled-brat womenfolk, Rienieta turns out to be nice but grumpy about being sick for a month. She also utters the most un-Betty line in the whole book: "...two dates in one evening!...You must be very sexy Gemma."

That's right. Two dates. Enter the villain.

Leo de Vos (whose name in Dutch must translate to "he who twirls a greasy mustache") is a classic Neels bad guy. Let's keep score, shall we?
•Trendy clothes (strike!)
•longish hair (strike!)
•curses at hapless lorry drivers when he's on the road (strike!)
•skips charming canals when sightseeing (strike!)
•calls her darling (strike!)
•drinks vodka (strike!)
•takes her to an Indonesian restaurant in a semi-basement (spicy Indonesian food! A semi-basement! Double strike!)
•He owns a Porsche 911s Targa (which must also be Dutch for jerk-mobile). Strike!

Our hero, on the other hand owns a Jag XL-S and an Aston Martin(Dutch for"I'm not a pansy"):We spend a lot of time with Gemma mooning after this pitiful excuse for a man while Ross pulls her out of one humiliating scenario after another with a brotherly manner and a magnanimous air. Betty really makes the most of his irritations with Gemma's stupidity but he only ever erupts once: "Why do you have to be such a child--the eldest of six and still wet behind the ears!"

But you know they're destined for each other. For one thing, he knows how to figure out what she wants when she dances past him on the arm of a long hair. "Hullo," he said matter-of-factly. "I hope I interpreted that look correctly. It was rescue you wanted, wasn't it?" If nothing else seals their future happiness, his ability to know when to leave a boring party on a pre-textual medical call just because she's wiggled her eyebrows from across the room does.

But back to the rat. He throws a party for her that ends with Ross knocking out his front teeth (and the rat that Leo made a bet with (to have Gemma fall in love with him, naturally)). Our Neels heroes rarely punch the daylights out of anybody but street toughs and this was delightfully...er...matter-of-fact. Gemma ends the evening by bursting into tears (always unattractive in a Neels heroine--here Betty reaches gritty realism with puffy eyelids and blotchy faces) and throwing up into a ditch. (It's cuter than it sounds.)

Ross rallies her by taking her out on the town for a few nights to show the slimy de Vos that his evil machinations were all for naught. Her self-respect is restored and we get to hear about a wild silk cream outfit that she'd not even worn yet.

She flies home after a pretty public farewell in the airport terminal and only in the bus queue does the lightning bolt come. Ross! (smacks forehead).

But Ross is in Holland.

Er...no he's not.


Due to the villain's missing front teeth and the happy occurrence of each of our hero's kisses coming at perfectly reasonable times, this one deserves a solid boeuf en croute. If the end had also tied up the vexing question of "What to do with Cousin Maud and the kids?" it might have earned a lashings of whipped cream but as it stands Gemma will have to pucker her brow for a moment before Ross produces an old Nanny looking for a job, perfectly happy to housekeep for Gemma's window-breaking brothers.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Pennsylvania Bettys, Ahoy!

Possibly the old town hall of Williamsport, PA, but I won't swear to it.

I received this email from Betty Magdalen, and am passing it along to you East Coast Bettys:

Ancillary Staff members Betty JoDee and Betty Magdalen are converging on Betty Cindy ("Silly `Ma") in Williamsport, Pennsylvania on Friday, May 13 for food and happy chatter. Any Bettys who want to join us should email us (the Founding Bettys)at jerseydress@westopia.net and we'll make sure everyone has everyone else's email addresses. No reason to be superstitious -- the food and the company will be too good.

We promise there will be photos!
Love and small sugary biscuits --
Betty Magdalen

The Founding Bettys are cursing their bad luck and lack of "R" in their RDD's. Argh.

Life After Betty

Now that we've reviewed all the books in the canon, Betty Keira and I both have a little more time for discretionary reading - and other things. 

Betty Keira loaned me several Essie Summers books when I was down at her place last month.  I just set them aside - I wanted to wait until I was completely done with my reviews (heaven knows I've had plenty of other distractions lately), so I've been working my way through them whenever I need a break.  Here's the complete list of what I borrowed:
  • Beyond the Foothills
  • The Tender Leaves
  • A Mountain for Luenda
  • Goblin Hill
  • Return to Dragonshill
  • Heir to Windrush Hill
  • The Bay of the Nightingales
  • The Lake of the Kingfisher
  • The House on Gregor's Brae
  • A Touch of Magic
I also picked up Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters, on the recommendation of my daughter-in-law's mother.

What are you reading?

And now all I had to do is keep it clean...

Besides reading, I've been redecorating the office that I share with Dr. van der Stevejinck.  We took a boatload of crap stuff out, and I'm carefully editing what comes back in.  Dr. van der Stevejinck has a proper desk in the opposite corner, mine (as you can probably tell) is a reclaimed closet space. I've managed to  pare down what's around my space, but I did include embroidery supplies (now that I don't have as much time with The Great Betty, I'll have a chance to do a little needlework...like the Araminta that I am), and my painting supplies (Ha! I bet I fooled you into thinking that I'm artistic).

Stay tuned for my amateurish attempts
at embroidery.
What are you doing with your spare time?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Monday, May 2, 2011


Betty Cindy sent us this darling video of the RDD Bobblehead that she created...it's quite short, but has an adorable giggle at the end.

The Founding Bettys wanted to add a little extra soundtrack - but that would take more technical expertise than either of us had available this weekend.

How about some script submissions...or perhaps an appropriate musical selection?

Year's Happy Ending--Reprise

The thing that I remember the most about this book is that Peggy, in the fine tradition of RDD/RBD sisters, has no problem loading Deborah up with a teething baby and haring off for a day of entertainment.  It speaks ill of her future SIL helpfulness...Enjoy!--Betty Keira

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 yet...it 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 Economics...at 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.