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 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. 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.


  1. I just love this book. The guy returns a football (read "soccer ball") and falls in love over wet sheets. Although I would never go for a Leo (I would be drooling over Ross) I can see how she would. I think his family should have been more upfront about their worries over Leo's character, but on the other hand, his parents knew he was in love with her and trusted him to work it out. They're both just a cute as can be.

    Her family is lovely, but they do indeed kinda disappear. His sister is actually pretty cute even when cranky. This one is classic Neels.

  2. The Great Betty had me up to the very very end, when Gemma has to make that hideous trip (airport to airport to bus to bus terminal in Central London to train station to train station to home) while Ross is tooling along in relative comfort in his Jaguar. Frankly, having him standing there when she gets home was almost de Vosian. Had The Great Betty not made her word count, I personally could have forgiven Gemma for tossing Ross on his ear and making him do the Big Reconciliation another day -- over the laundry, say.

    I had to do the bus terminal thing as a 15-year-old in 1971. I'd been sent to London on my own (what were my parents thinking?!) and wasn't being met by my cousin at Heathrow. She'd taken a day off from her job at the CIA (I'm not making this up) but only so that she could meet me at the bus terminal for Pan Am.

    I'd gotten through immigration and customs on my own, schlepped my own luggage to the bus queue at Heathrow, endured the 50-minute trip to the terminal, then waited for Becky to arrive. (Had I even met her at that point? Possibly once...)

    I recall being terrified because I had no back-up plan. I couldn't have telephoned anyone, I didn't know how to take a bus to my great-aunt's studio, and I didn't have enough money for a cab. Becky did meet me, but it was a very unpleasant start to a lunatic time. (I was supposed to be there for an entire year -- again, what were they thinking? -- but lasted "only" four months.)

    So yeah, I'm projecting a bit but not that much -- it really was a trip from hell. I'm amazed Gemma was able to have a Dawning Realization in the middle of it.

  3. Oh, and Maud had been dealt with preëmptively by the implication that she'll marry Dr. Gibbons and now that Gemma's married off, and the two girls have careers, Dr. and the new Mrs. Gibbons will take in the twins and George.

  4. I'm off to dig under the bed for my favorite hospital fire/bomb scene--you know, the walls and floors collapse under them, he calls her "darling" to get her to cross into the fireman's basket....

  5. That's my fave, too, Betty JoDee. I love that scene but couldn't remember which book it is. Glad you're going to root around and look. ;-)


  6. Hello Betty friends!
    With some help from the Yahoo Betty group files, I've found the book with the Darling/Crumbling Building scene. An Apple From Eve. The darling part is on page 167 of the 'artsy' cover.

    Today was the 2 weeks after retina surgery check-up for the DIL. The retina has reattached, it will be weeks before the methane bubble dissipates enough to know if her vision will improve, but the docs already see progress there. Praise God. And she is able to start lifting her head and watch tv or read email by this weekend. No kid lifting or real work yet. But Aunt Brig is there for the kids so all's well.
    Thanks for all the prayers.
    Been missing y'all. Tootle loo.

  7. Dear BettyMary,

    So glad to hear that the retina surgery was successful! I kept thinking about your DIL - wondering how it all turned out! Thanks for the update.

    I do love the darling/crumbling building scene from An Apple From Eve...I also like the one where the hero has to haul the girl out of a skylight (A Kiss for Julie). I'm not totally in love with that book, but The Great Betty did write a solid Victorian Hospital Fire.

  8. I just started rereading An Apple From Eve so I'll have that scene to look forward to. Strange because I'd pegged it as one of The Great Betty's "I went on holiday so now I have to write a book with scenes in my holiday spot" stories, which generally aren't my favorites. But if it has the best Victorian Hospital Fire Scene, I'm in!

  9. Yep my brain glitch lifted but I've been tied up, plus An Apple includes perhaps my favorite gesture from a her to a him--involves the apple--watch for it, Betty Magdalen.

  10. She just hands him the apple core as she goes to greet his horsy Veronica-qua-fiancée. That one?

  11. I've always loved that, too. :)


  12. Betty Barbara here--
    I just finished this one and liked it well enough. But I felt we got too much of Gemma and Leo.

    At various times Betty named the twins William, James and John! So not even she fleshed them out enough to make them real people. But George! Now George was a cutie and very real.

  13. Is it possible to have truly beautiful eyes (and lashes) and yet be very plain?

  14. OH. MY. WORD.
    I was looking for a higher resolution of one of Betty Barbara’s "favourite" covers when I found THIS
    cover of A Gem of a Girl. Take a look at her hands.

  15. Those are some SERIOUS man-hands!

    1. Man-hands or man hand? The left looks perfectly normal to me. I think she may be turning into her She-Hulk persona, starting with the right hand. No, wait; that's a different book.

    2. This, er, strange cover reminded me of the cover of a non-Neels Harlequin we had seen, and Betty Debbie's comment, "and is it just me, or does the 'lady' on the cover of Fire and Steel look like a dude in drag?" Took me the longest time to find it, thinking erroneously that it was a Neels. The highlights of my search – I came across pictures of dear Betty AnoninNM and pictures of Betty Magdalen & Betty JoDee every once in a while. Ha!

    3. Awww! You found my little Betty AnoninNM again. I have managed to find her 109 large print Betty books, plus I bought her the one with Dearest Eulalia in it, which I don't think is out in large print. 25 to go. I'm having a hard time finding these last ones. I've found a few, but the price is 54+ in British pounds on all of them. I found one I need for 173 British, and I just can't pay that. The search continues, I suppose! You should see the HUGE print in Making Sure of Sarah. If the PRT stood across the room and opened it up, I think *I* could read it without my glasses. She's reading An Ordinary Girl right now.

      Betty AnoninTX, the daughter

    4. Dearest Eulalia is out in large print in a 2fer with The Doctor's Girl, 9780263204650, available at (from massive books), £8.10 + delivery.
      If you go to, hahaha, $645.96 new (1 offer) $403.52 used (2 offers), hahahahahaha...
      Dear Betty AnoninTX, you must have been busy, foraging like a squirrel, for more large print Betty books for your mother. I think you bought her a few dozens since the last time you mentioned a figure of the books she had.

      I wish you good luck as the search continues...
      Betty Anonymous

    5. I <3 you! Just bought it. :) I went through the Amazon UK pages of Betty Neels books, and I also found a copy of Stars through the Mist for her. Then I realized it said "dispatched from US" and ordered it on the US site. haha It was a new listing. She actually can read the regular print with effort, but I think that at going on 90, she deserves to read without effort. I laughed so hard at the "foraging like a squirrel" because that is exactly what I do. I check eBay every day to see if any I still need have been listed.

      I now have a decent paperback copy of Mistletoe Miracles and also a copy of The Doctor's Girl if anyone in the US needs them.

      Betty AnoninTX aka the Squirrel

    6. PS For a while on Amazon, there was a seller who had used Betty books listed at $9999 and $7999. (scratching head...) Perhaps the seller intended the books to be purchased by millionaires only, not retired librarians who are most certainly not millionaires.

      I had a teacher who checked out an out-of-print hardback book and asked me if I had any idea how much $$ it was worth. Turns out she had checked Amazon and found a used hardback copy at an outrageous price and assumed it was rare and valuable. I showed her it was still in print in paperback for $4.99 and tried to explain that the price set by sellers is not really the value of a book.

      The Squirrel

    7. Good morning, dear Squirrel, I saw you a while ago, and now good night and sleep tight. I woke up a bit after 4 o'clock this morning and although I could have just closed my eyes again I picked up the Regency I am reading at present (three authors, three stories within a frame story) because it was Sunday, so I could, and I just had to know what happened next to the second couple. (The bespectacled heroine has a beautiful spoilt mean younger half-sister worthy of any mean Neels sibling, step- or otherwise...). Closed the book and my eyes a scant hour later.