Thursday, September 29, 2011

This Is War.

Drop. The. Puck. Ref.
I don't know as we've ever formalized the terms of the battle.  Yes, there have been 'sorties and surprises', ambushes, minor skirmishes, strafings and sniper attacks.  But a head-on fight, such as that of a fully operational Death Star versus a small but plucky band of determined Rebels?  No.

And though we amiable Bettys rub along well enough--like a band of Pilgrims and Indians enjoying a Thanksgiving feast--we know it's there.  Under the surface.  The knowledge that tomahawks and flint locks are not far at hand should the final reckoning come.
Mistress Goode Mindwell handed over the bread with a winning smile but couldn't help herself.  'Olivia' she growled.  Chief  Six Feathers of the Wampanoag thought 'That's torn it' and threw down his tomahawk with a cry of 'Araminta!'  Next year, Thanksgiving was going to be awk. ward.
I know we all have them.  Our favorite books, our favorite themes, our favorite characters...And it's time to roll your sleeves up and show your ill-advised Betty tats.

Which team are you?  Araminta or Olivia?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, October 3rd.
The Gemel Ring
Charity Dawson carries an Advanced Driver's Certificate,
Everard runs a rest home (on the sly), an awesome American, Mr. Arthur C. Boekerchek.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Grasp A Nettle - Reprise

Betty Keira really threw me under the bus with this one.  I have to admit that Grasp a Nettle is not amongst my favs...but then again, I don't find it quite as horrific as all that.  I think part of my problem is that the second (or possibly third?) act just doesn't live up to the promise of the first act. Once Jenny has her Dawning Realization, all that fighting is just not fun any more.

I have a question for you's driving me crazy...who does the man on the cover remind you of?
Betty Debbie

Grasp a Nettle is/was one of Betty Debbie's least favorite books and when we began searching out websites for what was to become the awesomest blog ever (this one. I mean this one.) we stumbled across this site--a great resource for cross-over characters and I think the Betty bio linked to in our header also came from here. But there it was. Grasp a Nettle was the author's most favorite Neels. How could this be? So when I re-read it I was looking for the occasional flashes of brilliance that would rise the book out of the swamp of pedestrian brangling.

Jenny Wren--a name, no matter how innocently used, that manages to remind me of Kevin Bacon's character in Footloose. She is 25 and a nurse at Queen's Hospital in the East End of London. She's got a pretty face, is average height and nicely rounded. She's also got red hair--an Outlier for sure. She comes home on holidays to help out at the family's stately home. Say what? That's right. They're pretty well off but Jenny is the independent type that prefers not to sponge off the estate. Aunt Bess orders everybody about and Jenny sells tickets to tourists in the lobby.

Professor Eduard van Draak te Solendijk is a mouthful. Don't fret yourself, he almost always goes by van Draak. He is a surgeon and Dutch of all things! He's near forty or almost forty or approaching forty--you never really find out but the point is that he is tall with iron-grey hair and has a "masterful nose" (Which, really, on a man would be quite charming but she's stuck if their daughter inherits it. The van Draak te Solendijk's don't strike me as the kind to go for plastic surgery.)

Dry Ground--Dimworth:
Jenny has been spending a lot of time--off camera, so to speak--telling the oldest son of the neighboring estate (read: heir) that she doesn't have any interest in marrying him. He's a sedate driver, entirely 'suitable' (beware that sobriquet), has a little tummy bulge and his neat penmanship is a moral indictment of his utterly placid nature--and unlike the te Solendijk's of this world, Tubby Toby really is placid. Still, he's like a LIMPET and she can't shake him. If only she could meet someone she has chemistry with!
Aunt Bess has a very handy subdural haematoma--if ever pooling blood can be termed handy. Jenny has to throw her job over (Aunt Bess doesn't thank her, not once!) and come nurse Aunt Bess. Enter the smorgasbord of Dutch deliciousness.

The Good Doctor and and Jenny hit sparks off immediately. He is a teensy bit stiff-rumped, his penmanship is probably nigh unreadable, he drives like a demon and he makes bets with Aunt Bess just to get her to lie still. Of course, in the face of all that self-contained bo-dacity, she has to stick her tongue out and be pert and flippant. They're perfect for each other. And at the heart of things they both know it--else why the hugely flirtatious fisticuffs?

At one point he tells her that he isn't interested in her (Proverbs 16:18) and she asks what on earth his ideal woman would look like? (And if that's not asking for a snub, I don't know what is.) He answers: Tall, calm, sweet-tempered--with good looks, of course; fair hair, blue eyes, a pleasant voice.

Oh, well, if it's a blond you want...

Margaret is Jenny's cousin's widow and mother of the heir to Dimworth. She makes her indolent way down to the stately home from time to time to strike interesting poses and avoid work. Her son the baron is just 6-years-old and his mother is described as "beautiful, languid and not particularly maternal." Later, she reminds Jenny of a "Botticelli angel". That's when I remembered something that bothered me about Botticelli (Humanities nerd alert) when I visited the Uffizi a few years ago (sandwiched neatly between weaning one baby and having another). This is what I wrote in my journal: I finally 'got' Botticelli's Venus, in a huge frame I see a delicacy and wistfulness that is touching. I think he used the same model for Madonna and Child and her similar expression [appears there as] a vapid disinterestedness that is frankly inappropriate. Meet the two faces of Margaret. Her dog and pony show might be attractive to a man but as a parent she can barely summon up the requisite human emotions to make Oliver matter more or less than a stray puppy.
The flip and pert dynamic of Jenny and Eduard becomes interlarded with jealousy and perturbation (which word I hope you're reading per-turb-a-tion).
While at Dimworth, a clock tower stair collapses under the crushing weight of fleeting opportunities and pigheaded British lasses. Eduard rescues Fair Jenny from the top of it by insulting her pluck and illustrious ancestors. He most likely confuses her jungle-cat leap at his jugular with a clench-teethed jump to safety. Anyway she's down and safe and still prickly with him, otherwise this would have been a very short book one way or another.

As a piece of restorative medicine, Aunt Bess makes plans for a cruise. Oh, I feel faint. A slight headache coming on. A run over to lovely Corfu would be just the...Oh yes, back to Aunt Bess. She is a steamroller wrapped in purple velvet--getting her way in a not entirely charming manner. Dr. Hunky says to Jenny, "Your job?" British lass replies, "None of your business." Hunky doctor counters, "It could be my business..." The proper response to this always ought to be, "My ring finger is size four. I like heirloom sapphires."

Briny Deep: Cruise near Portugal
But she thinks that by "It could be my business" he must mean Margaret because, after all, he did say he had a thing for cardboard blonds...
On ship Jenny has a lot of interested men wanting to hang about which is not important at all but it does something for my female ego to know that more than Tubby Toby (who really just needs to find himself a frowzy blond willing to have six kids in quick succession) likes her.
The Good Doctor shows up--which is much harder to do causally than you might think--and joins the ship for a few days. He has flown his own plane out to Portugal--a recipe for doom if you are an American country and western singer but safe enough for a Dutch doctor, I suppose. They have some lashings of cream flirtatiousness (he insults her future children, she implies that he is old, he notices she is frightened, she calls him odious) and to top it off I give you a fabulous dawning realization:
"...I just want to be independent." As she uttered the words, the niggle exploded into amazing solid fact; she had no wish to be independent, it was the last thing she wanted to be...
Beware the Exploding Niggle! It sounds like a very nasty case of Ebola...

Boggy Marshes: Kasteel te Solendijk (Holland)
Figuring out that she is head over clogs in love with him has changed things. Gone is the flippant, laughing remark. Here to stay is Jenny of the wounded ego and baleful expression. Back in England they make plans to go to Holland (because a recently ill old woman needs travel and still more travel) for 'check-ups'. Margaret throws a really excellent tantrum over not being invited to come ("We're going to get married!") but Oliver, her son, gets to go because...this is the part of many British novels where the author throws up his hands and yells, "Primogeniture!" makes zero sense for Oliver to spend any time away from his inheritance but Mommy's Little Plot Mover has to come along and because he's the possible heir to all of Aunt Bess' massive wealth Margaret stays mum-ish.
When they get to Eduard's red-brick pepper-pot albatross there is a little moment of real class embarrassment. Usually, hot millionaire Dutch doctor proposes marriage to plain/pretty poor British girl. It's a large leap of upward mobility for Hyacinth Jemima Beryl Darling. In Grasp a Nettle he owns a castle and doesn't charge tuppence to have his priceless William and Mary settees sat upon by primary school children eating grubby cheese sandwiches. He doesn't have the annoying vicar's wife charging for homemade jam and souvenir pencils. Jenny, when she realizes this, wants to quietly sink through the floor. And for some reason, I do too.
He quotes poetry at her: Tender handed stroke a nettle and it stings you for your pains, Grasp it like a man of mettle and it soft as silk remains.
Girlfriend needs a Hot Dutch to Dense Brit dictionary.
Aunt Bess has her tests and Jenny sight-sees some with Oliver and loses him on a canal boat. This is the same six-year-old that could absolutely be relied on to not upset Aunt Bess after her surgery and old enough to have things explained to. He's mature enough for all that but he hops onto a canal boat when her back is turned? I'm thinking that the computer chip implanted under his skin labeled Maturity Regression was inadvertently tripped.
Of course in her moment of abject humiliation the doctor has to show up and of course she has to slip on a banana peel when she finds Regressive Oliver and get a concussion. (Right about now I'm thinking of all those men on the cruise ship--happy to have the memory of attraction and competence to warm me in my hour of need).
He chews her out when she comes to--or rather his eyes do. She is whisked off to the emergency room and then to a boutique (a new dress is needed) and then off to meet his parents. Dirty pool, I say. She's meeting the folks of the man she loves before the local has worn off? Dirty pool, doctor. Still, his mother meets her full of "charm and devoid of curiosity." I aspire to be that kind of lady. I am not as yet, however. Though it sometimes happens that I am all curiosity and no charm...Discuss.
She is so keyed up at the thought of being told off by him that evening that she employs a little Carl von Clausewitz's OnWar ("The best defense is a good offense.") when she should have been reading the Sun Tzu's Art of War ("He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.") Rookie mistake. (Slaps forehead.)
He waylays her in the hall and she shouts, "I hate you!" Dear me. That might put things back for another...let's see (flips open book, dum-diddily dum)...41 pages.
Margaret arrives in a terror of motherly angst that lasts long enough to water her lashes charmingly and lean on the doctor's rock solid arm. Then it's where's-my-luggage and hold-the-dinner and can-somebody-get-me-a-drink. She is presented with a gift by Oliver's the word when you've given birth to something and they, like, totally think you belong to them?...son. It is a ghastly lamp with a garishly painted Dutch girl that plays "The Bluebells of Scotland." (A song about a laddie that has disappeared! Oh the Layers of Betty! Find me this on eBay. I must haves!) She hates it and this incident only serves to underline Jenny's awesomeness and Margaret's shabbiness. Good parenting is about rhapsodizing over macaroni necklaces and Meg just doesn't cut it.
Oliver and Jenny and Eduard (which is a seriously awesome name) have a day of sightseeing that loosens everyone up enough for a ceasefire and a little kissing--well, not Oliver. He's mature enough to be enjoying an ice and the village clockworks and averting his gaze.
But later it appears that Margaret and Eduard have become engaged because Margaret is bothering to smile (and not just at a man) and Eduard is ordering a donkey and a pony (which must be the Dutch equivalent of a man selling his two-door hatchback for a four-door sedan. He is ready to settle down.) Margaret is really secretly engaged to a man who is decent and knew her from her pram and (most importantly) is not an American so can be trusted to bring up little Oliver correctly.
The doctor asks Jenny if he can tell her something and instead of listening to him she assumes that he wants to break the news of his engagement (Does she not understand that she's the heroine of a Betty Neels book?!). So she tells him she'll be ready to listen at Dimworth.
And boy is she...

An engagement in a spiral stairwell. Nice, Betty.
Rating: I'm having a really tough time rating this. It's not as bad as I remembered--not even close to that bad. So, I guess a treacle tart. It's nowhere near as awful as some I've read (I'm thinking of that one where she accidentally kills a horse and that other one where she runs away because his relative is insane (almost) and he ends up finding her on a bridge) but Betty Debbie has a point--they do bicker a lot. But on the other hand, Jenny has some really great comebacks and in the first half of the book, a tremendous sense of flippant fun. On the other hand she screams "I hate you!"....You get where I'm going with this. But for that "I hate you!" I might rate this higher if only for the speedily purchased donkey and the deft hand The Venerable Neels wields with the supporting characters. The book is practically boeuf en croute for the first 100 pages but the rest isn't quite as fun for me. (But it could be for you! Aggghh. This one is really really hard to rate!)
**So, I wrote the rating before the review and now that I've finished the review I want to rate it higher. It does lag in the third act and I find Aunt Bess annoying and I still hate that "I hate you!" but they really have fun with one another. This might be a boeuf en croute...minus.
Cars: a Morgan 2-seater (hers) and Aunt Bess owns a Vauxhall. He owns a Mini, a Panther J72, and a Bristol 412. Tubby Toby owns a Austin Maxi.
Fashion: leaf green chiffon, silvery crepe, silk flowery beige (that makes her look awful and which he hopes she chucks out a window), many jersey dresses, and Aunt Bess's grand plum silks.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

In Case I Die...

While on vacation a few weeks ago, I happened to read The Vicar's Daughter (for the seventeen thousandth time...give or take).  As those who have read it might recall, this is the one where both of Margo's parents die unexpectedly in a motor crash.  Margo is left alone, but lucky for her she has already met her RDD who handily takes over making most of the 'arrangements' (there's another book like this- Once for All Time).

Anywho...Dr. van der Stevejinck is on a business trip this week  - South Korea and Japan.  Yea. Japan. The city where he's heading to in Japan had an evacuation warning due to a typhoon (a couple of days ago - it probably will have eased up by the time he gets there).  What else, well, there are those pesky tsunamis, nuclear power plant leaks, earthquakes...but other than that, it's a very pleasant place to go...

I'm not normally a nervous Nelly but, I did have a little conversation with Dr. van der Stevejinck before he went something like this:
Me: Umm, not to be morbid or anything, but if you die - not that you're allowed to - where are the important papers?
Him:  (Lists off our insurance policies)We should sit down and talk about this...
Me: How about you make up a binder with all the important papers so they'll all be in one place? That's what [Betty] Sherri does for her husband. Then we can sit down (and maybe I won't try to chew my leg off from boredom...)

I talked to Betty Keira about it the next morning and she loved the idea of an  In Case I Die Notebook - especially since she has funeral to help organize this week.  Here's a page I might put in it (this one is rather Mormon specific):

Funeral Checklist for the Family
Choose a mortuary
Choose a cemetery
Notify family and friends
Prepare an obituary
Plan a time to dress the body – notify RS president
Choose 2-3 people to help with dressing
Choose a place, day and time for the viewing
Choose a place, day and time for the funeral
Choose a place, day and time for the graveside service
Estimate number of guests for luncheon following the graveside service – report to RS president

Mortuary can help with the following:
Choose a cemetery
Secure a burial plot
Choose a casket
Choose a marker stone
Flowers for the casket, immediate family and pallbearers
Coordinating for viewing, funeral and burial
Get obituary and funeral information to the newspapers

Program related items
Photo – if desired

Choose pall bearers
Choose someone to offer the family prayer in a private meeting before the funeral
Opening Prayer
Closing Prayer
Opening Hymn
Closing Hymn
Musical Numbers
Dedicatory prayer at graveside

Other things that the ward will likely handle
Schedule the building
Building setup and unlocked (chairs, tables for luncheon, etc.)
Relief Society: Luncheon plan
Someone to watch children and family home during services

The funerals in Neeldom are always taken care of with great dispatch - and frankly very little fuss, much like yesterday's fish and chips. I remember my mother's funeral - I was about 25-ish, Betty Keira was probably 8 or 9...instead of everyone wearing 'mourning clothes', we older girls went shopping and bought pretty spring frocks - our mum wouldn't have approved of gloomy clothes - especially in May. A few years later our grandmother passed away - she had been battling cancer for a few years and being the kind of woman she was, she had her funeral all planned out to the last detail.  Part of her plan was to have my father, who is a talented woodworker, make her coffin, she had even purchased the fabric to line it.  I do have to say, we had a rather surreal (and slightly hilarious) moment when my father was kneeling on her coffin (after the viewing), using his cordless Makita drill to attach the lid.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, September 26th.
Grasp a Nettle

A handy subdural haematoma,
collapsing clock tower stairs, and a ghastly lamp with a garishly painted Dutch girl that plays "The Bluebells of Scotland."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Damsel In Green--Reprise

I love to loll about in the sheer Christmas-y-ness of this one.  Green dresses, convivial family, home sung carols...I suppose if it were an American scene, all that would be missing is a Norman Rockwell-ian rosy-cheeked Saint Nick peeking from behind the curtains.  
And this reprise is coming at just the right time for me.  I have to begin getting up in the near-dark to get the kids ready for a rainy walk to the bus stop.  I need the kind of cheerful spin on rotten weather that The Great Betty can be so marvelous at.  So, curl yourself into a deep chair, heat up some apple cider and dig in...
Betty Keira

The Return of the Half-Dutch!!! An entire family of half-Dutch - including the hero this time. At least I'm pretty sure they're all half Dutch...the family tree explanation could have used a bit more exposition, but when you have a seven year old boy doing the explaining, you're lucky if anything is coherent.

The romance in Damsel in Green is pretty subtle...for me, this book was all about the Van den Berg Eyffert family (which I always read as Vandenberg Airforce Base). Betty gives us a rare glimpse into the hero's entire family. And it's a big one.
Georgina Rodman, age 23, has recently passed her State Examination to become a Staff Nurse. Everyone calls her George (I would too. I once knew a woman that we called George. Her real name was Kay - her nickname had to do with what she looked like without her wig on, but I digress). I can't quite decide what her type is, so I guess I'll peg her as an Outlier. She's medium height, good-looking (but not pretty), long, fine, silky light brown hair...and a little plump. Her hair sounds like the kind that is constantly getting static. She was orphaned at age 9 (parents died of the flu - not an auto accident!) and spends her off-duty at polio stricken Great Aunt Polly's house...somewhere near Thaxted.

Julius Van den Berg Eyffert (33) is some sort of Professor/Doctor, but we never really find out what he specializes in - which is unusual. If I followed the family tree correctly, his father was Dutch and his mother was English. We meet him fairly early on in Cas because three of his young cousins were involved in an RTA. As his 7 year old cousin/ward Cornelius explains, there are 5 of them (cousin/wards)...and during the course of the book we get to know all of them.
The Story:
We are first introduced to Cor (Cornelius), Beatrix and Karel. Cor has suffered two broken legs, Beatrix has a possible concussion and needs a few stitches and Karel has a problem with his collarbone (evidently not too much of a problem as it is never mentioned again). Cousin Julius shows up and for a brief moment it seems as if this is a troubled family...Nope, they are truly a happy family. Despite the fact that between the six of them they have managed to lose five (5!) parents. And that doesn't count George's lost parents(totting up sums, that makes seven dead parents). It's risky to be a parent in Neeldom!

Julius plans to take Cor back to the family home (Dalmers Place ) near Debden (sounds like something you'd call my office: Deb's Den) which is only a hop, skip and a jump from Thaxted. They will need a nurse and George is just the nurse they want. She reluctantly agrees to go...even more reluctantly when Julius tells her that she is to wear her nurses uniform at all times when she is on duty...which you know will be practically all the time. She is even to wear it to meals. George asks, " May I know why - I mean about the uniform?" "No, you may not," he said blandly. George rides to Dalmers Place in the ambulance with Cor...then helps with the setting up of the Balkan Frame. For most of the rest of the book much of the "action" takes place around the Balkan Frame. Let's take a minute or two to become acquainted with the other inmates of Dalmers Place.

Karel: age 22. Currently attending Cambridge, but comes home for holidays and the odd weekend. He is half brother to Dimphena, Franz, Cornelius and Beatrix. Julius is his cousin. He does come on to George a little bit - in a puppyish sort of way.
Dimphena (also referred to as Phena): age 16. Has recently left school in preparation to going to what sounds like finishing school in Switzerland. Loves clothes, is helpful with little sister Beatrix. For a Christmas party she wears a pink velvet trouser suit.
Franz: age 12. Rides his bike to a nearby day school - because his father was Dutch and they don't believe in boarding school. He occasionally sits with Cor and does jigsaw puzzles. He plans to go to Cambridge when he's older.
Cornelius (aka Cor): age 7. He of the Balkan Frame. Despite the fact that he's a bed-bound 7 year old, he is surprisingly (and unrealistically) good-natured about it.
Beatrix: age 5ish. I didn't notice her age being given, but we do know that she's younger than Cornelius. She has an adorable bedroom and calls the dog Robby and the cats her "nightlights" because they lay on her bed when Cousin Julius isn't home...and their eyes glow. Editors Note: This is obviously fiction, because any 5 year old I've ever met would be scared of eyes that glow in the dark.

I think the most surprising thing for me about Damsel in Green is La Neels consistency in using the supporting characters. Even the couple who live in the teeny-tiny gatehouse, Mr. and Mrs. Legg, are given more than one glance.

Okay, okay, back to the story. George spends lots and lots of time caring for Cor and entertaining him and little sister Beatrix - around the Balkan Frame. She even goes so far as to let Beatrix accompany her on her afternoon walks...thus gleaning little nuggets about Cousin Julius. Christmas is closing in, so she and the kiddies (along with Dimphena and possibly Franz) spend weeks making Christmas decorations and hand painting cards - around the Balkan Frame. Query: Does anyone actually paint their own Christmas cards?? Even though this is evidently a posh house, all of their decorations are new and handmade. The boys insist that balloons are part of this decor. Balloons? Whatever.

George takes a day off and drives up to London to go Shopping. She buys herself a dark green velvet dress - with a white clerical collar and organdie cuffs. I keep trying to make this sound "come hither" and fail. She wears it to the Christmas party - after first showing seven year old Cor who remarks; "George, you're a smasher - Cor love a duck!" George reproves him - "...where did you learn that vulgar term?" He looked innocent. "Vulgar? Mr. Legg often says it."

She spoils much of the evening for herself by wearing her mother's rose diamond ring and letting everyone think she is engaged. Quite a silly thing to do...and Julius calls her on it before the evening is over. They end the evening drinking Damsel in Green...a Dutch liqueur. Julius pays George a compliment, "...You're a damsel, aren't you? And you're in green...and just as heady as the liqueur." Soon after this Julius has a conversation with her about his family. He asks her how she feels about her "job". "...I'm very fond of Cor and Beatrix - and Franz and Dimphena..." she says. He says, "You forgot Karel." "Karel? Oh, yes, They're like brothers and sisters." That's just what Julius wants to hear... As George heads out of the office Julius kisses her "without haste". She still hadn't found her tongue (I'm sure that doesn't mean what it sounds like) when he remarked "Your uniform isn't enough." He sounded resigned. You see...He wanted her in her uniform so that he wouldn't be too tempted to kiss her unexpectedly. I guess. George and Julius go to church together in the morning - in the Mini.

Since they're half-Dutch, it's time for some to-ing and fro-ing. As soon as Cor gets his casts off - no more Balkan Frame - they all pack up for a trip to the family home in Holland. This house is named Bergenstijn (hopefully not Dutch for B*** House). It's lovely and grand...lots of family come to visit and give George a bit of a once over. We get the BEST EVER (well, really it's the worst) name for girl - one of the maids is named...Pancratiana...and they call her Pankie for short(it just sounds like a disease -pancreatitis). George tells Julius that she's accepted a post as Night Sister in Casualty (after all, this job is just about over, and a girl needs to look to her future) she exclaims "It's - it's what I've always wanted!" So of course Julius has to invite Madame Defarge to the family gathering...a beautiful youngish widow, thin as a wand, who wears a silver trouser suit. Actually her name is Madame LeFabre but I always read it 'Defarge' evil villainess is pretty much the same as another -right? Her main contribution to the story is to pretend that Julius said it was okay for George and Beatrix to go skating...which is what they do and then NEARLY DIE!! Julius has a typically Neels reaction...he gets mad at George - George swears the kids to secrecy about Madame Defarge...but then...(remember, these kids are only 1/2 English)...the Dutch half spill the beans! Kiss kiss. I've been in love with you since we first met, but I had to be fair; I had to give you a chance to see what life with me would be like. You had to decide for yourself if you could be happy with my fabulous lifestyle and a ready made family of 4 partly grown kids (I guess Karel doesn't count). Well of course I could be happy with your fabulous lifestyle and the remarkably un-angsty kids, kiss kiss, The End.

Food: prawn cocktail, roast gosling, chocolate mousse, zambaglione, little bouchees filled with smoked salmon, haricots verts (?), potatoes noisettes.

Fashion: Savile Row tweeds, a delicious milk chocolate organza dress, deep orange sweater with elderly slacks, corduroy coat, cherry red dress (Beatrix).

Literature: George spends a lot of time reading aloud to the kiddies. She reads Faithful John, The Rose and the Ring by Thackery, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny by Beatrix Potter, and The Wind in the Willows.

Automobiles: Rolls Royce Silver Shadow Drophead Coupe, dark blue Aston-Martin, Mini

Fun Quote: "Your bosom is heaving too - so many girls don't have bosoms these days. I suppose it's the fashion." He sighed.

Rating: For sheer commitedness to an entire family I would dearly love to give this one a full lashings of whipped cream...but, sadly George just doesn't quite work for me. She's just a little too compliant...she's the one to tuck in everyone's children while the rest of the adults are whooping it up, watches the babies while the rest of the adults have tea and conversation, play games with the kiddies while rest of the adults pretty much ignore the children...I guess she's just a little too self-sacrificing for my taste. Sure, she gets a handsome,rich family man in the end, but she doesn't have a lot of fun getting there (the closest thing to a date she has is staying up late after the Christmas party and going ice skating - before the almost dying thing). I do like Julius - he mostly plays fair by her - gives her a chance to get to know the whole sitch and only occasionally waylays her with kisses (Question: Is kissing your employee without asking ethical? It seems not.) I think I'll have to settle for Boeuf en Croute on the strength of the sheer homeyness of the story.

Cross Over Characters: Yes! If you want to visit Dalmer's Place and company, you can find them all(plus a baby, 5 years later) in A Small Slice of Summer (not a favorite of mine -the heroine is called "Tishy").

Friday, September 16, 2011

Cinema Betty

via email:

Betty Debbie

I just finished watching "Carry On, Nurse"(released 1959) on TCM. I suspect the Great Betty would NOT be amused. But I laughed like a loon. I especially enjoyed the fact that I knew why the staff nurse and the sister had different colored uniforms, and different colored belts and they actually showed a sluice room!! Of course the plot is sillier than Our Betty ever allowed. And there are no RDDs. But still, a nice bit of mad-cap British comedy. And I think that Betty fans would enjoy it.

I found a clip on YouTube from Carry On, Nurse.  You're right, La Neels would never have used such frivolity in a hospital setting...but it is rather madcap and fun. Unfortunately it's not available on Netflix, so the rest of us might be out of luck.  I did find another British rom-com there called Nurse on Wheels... I'm not sure, but it looks like most (if not all) of it is on YouTube.
-Betty Debbie

Bettysday with Betty Barbara

Dear Betty Debbie

Well, I couldn't actually call these pictures Betty in the Wild, now could I? Not with them being taken on Bettysday at the elegant Tea on the Tiber ( in Ellicott City, Maryland.

Betty Margaret and I had decided in early Sept that having tea here would be a most proper way of celebrating Bettysday. Little did we anticipate that the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee would dump 8 inches of rain on our area and result in flooding in Ellicott City. Fortunately for all, Tea on the Tiber wasn't damaged beyond water in the basement and so we were able to partake in a most delicious tea. As you can see, the tea stand was loaded with scones, elegant little savory sandwiches and finished with big slices of frosted carrot cake, small shortbread biscuits and chocolate dipped strawberries. We each got our own pot of tea to fill our china tea cups.

A fine time was had by both of us and we staggered (in a very ladylike manner) quite satisfied, back to the car(the town Mini-cleverly disguised as a Saturn sedan) and then home.

Betty Barbara

Dear Betty Barbara,

Good for you and Betty Margaret! Dr. van der Stevejinck and I have to run down to Seattle today - I'm thinking a stop at The Crumpet Shop might be in order - right before heading over to Pike Place Market to buy flowers.

I should have put a warning label on this post : Do not look at pictures on an empty stomach! (It all looks too scrumptious!).

Love and lardy cakes,

Betty Debbie

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bettyday Greetings from Scotland

Via email:

Dear Founding Bettys --

It’s only just past midnight in the Pacific Northwest (8 a.m. here) so may I be the first to wish you a happy BettysDay 2011?

We’re in a country house hotel outside St. Andrew’s, in the Kingdom of Fife (the only bit of Scotland allowed to call itself a kingdom, although I still don’t know why). Alas, I don’t believe this part of Scotland (the East Coast) shows up much in The Canon, but just yesterday, Betty Ross commented on whether his doing all the driving made me feel like a Neels heroine. (Not really, was the answer.) We then had a fun conversation discussing – okay, I just lectured him – all the trips The Great Betty must have taken in her lifetime.

In honor of her 101 birthday, I wish all the Bettys in all the time zones a very happy BettysDay!

Love & a cream tea --
Betty Magdalen

Dear Betty Magdalen,

Scotland?  You're killing us. 

There are a few books in The Canon wherein the heroine spends some time in Edinburg, and RDD's are always heading up there to lecture...

Happy Bettysday to all!
The Founding Bettys

!!!!!!!!! Bettysday !!!!!!!

September 15th ought to be easy for me to remember.  It's my sister-in-law's birthday.  It's in the middle of the month...and, oh, (scratches head).....IT'S BETTSDAY!!

Once again, Bettysday celebrations were getting a little out of hand...
I have a very busy Betty-inspired day ahead of me:
  • My shabby, yet meticulous, grooming will commence as soon as I hop off  'computer'.
  • My early morning will be spent in much the same way as how Constance Daisy Rose Smythe Fforde, daughter of the vicar, would spend hers--wending her way from cottage to cottage, checking on the pensioners and delivering needed tins of Bovril.
  • Later, like Bertha Matilda Emily Araminta Seymour, I shall be pressed into service to mind an unforgivably scream-y, ginger-haired toddler.  My gentle ministrations will soothe the savage beast however and she will be putty in my hands before you can say, 'Fairy cakes."
  • Anxious to prepare an evening meal fit for my Mijnheer van Voorhees, I shall slap it together with an aplomb shared by any heroine who had to churn out vol-au-vents for sixty.  No doubt the smear of flour on my unlined brow will inspire the Mijnheer to kiss me until my cheeks are rosy with confusion.
  • Afterwards, I plan to don the aprons of Maisie the char woman and set to with a will.  (Not at my house.  That's what the kids are for!)
  • At the close of the day I shall sit in the light of a rose-colored lamp, working away at my gray grey cotton Sunday dress, whose fabric, salvaged from a fitted sheet, I will pray no handsome stranger recognizes as what it is.  
Professor Nathan van Voorhees hid a smile.  That was a sheet, he would bet his life.  He shrugged and resumed admiring the neat pair of ankles that went with it...
And, kidding aside, that's exactly what I'm doing today.  I hope you're all having a wonderful day filled with Bettyness and if it's not, I hope you can find the Bettyness in your day anyway!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, September 19th.
Damsel in Green

It's a (half-Dutch) Family Affair!
 Heroine called George! Heaving bosoms!

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Gentle Awakening - Reprise

Even though A Gentle Awakening never makes it onto a list of my Top Ten favorite Neels, I have to say that for the most part, I love it. And, as Betty Keira says, you never confuse the plot with that of any other book in the canon.  That, in itself, is a strong recommendation. Florina ( might not be the worst name La Neels ever came up with, but it's so wishy-washy...and the picture on the cover doesn't do justice to the ginger makes her look like a candy striper) is a pretty likable heroine - I do get a wee bit tired of her hero worship, but other than that, she's a peach!

I give you ginger hair AND a pink striped outfit.
I adore the cat-fight - and the fact that Florina manages to avoid the detestable Felix when he makes his trip to England...and the Bataan Death March is genius, sheer genius.  I'm with Betty Keira on the whole kids in the kitchen - I just spent half the summer with a lot of extra 'kids' in my kitchen (okay, so some of them were in their twenties, they are still my kids).  It's impossible for me to work really well in the kitchen with more than one other person.  I need my personal cooking space. - Betty Debbie

A Gentle Awakening is one of those Betty Neels' that never gets confused with any other. For instance, one never scratches one's head and asks if this is the one about the glass floor or not.

Florina Payne is not a mouse. On one hand she is a ginger-headed drudge of 27 with no marriage prospects. On the other, she is a cordon bleu trained chef, speaks fluent Dutch and is willing to go toe to toe if she feels herself getting walked all over. Clearly, she is Clark Kent and Superman--by day a mild-mannered and dutiful (if not loving--because her father is a piece of work) daughter, by night, a knife-wielding tempestuous cook. Florina is back and this time it's personal.

She is an outlier with ginger eyebrows and a ginger plait and as you can see, it has rather distracted me (FYI, you're welcome for the gratuitous Gilbert Blythe add-on):

Sir William Sedley is a famous paediatrician which immediately put me in mind of Doctor Spock because that is the only paediatrician who could ever be prefaced as 'famous' and I began to wander off the point as I pondered what could possibly have made him famous. Conjoined twin separations? Magic baby-vomit dodging skills?

He has a little daughter that he had the poor taste to name Pauline (this is from a woman whose husband and two siblings all have Paul derivatives as names--I know of what I speak). He also has a festering boil---Oh! You thought I meant the kind on his skin! No, no, her name is Wanda and she is his fiancee'.

Florina is cycling along a road and in my head she's not wearing a helmet because though my emergency-room nurse neighbor has plenty to say on the subject of helmets and violent brain trauma it must be faced that helmets are not romantic so no matter how right they are in reality they are rubbish in romance novels. Sir William ("She wouldn't have a Willy or a Sam--no Sam!") drives up in the requisite Bentley with Pauline and asks about lodgings. No heat is exchanged.
Florina pops herself into a cottage where she faces her father (mentally I conjure Jabba the Hutt) who is so awful that when the book ends the only question is: Why didn't The Great Betty engineer a little Newtonian physics between his insufficiently small auto and an articulated lorry? If ever a parent deserved it...
Sir William spends one short afternoon the next day touring Wheel House with the owner. He decides to buy it on the strength of a thick glass panel in the living room floor where the mill wheel once was. Tres cool. Wanda is not consulted--an ill-omen that all is not well in the House of Sedley.

Florina, after discovering that her father isn't going to have a heart attack if she ups and offs, gets a job at the Wheel House which means the end of us fancying her on picturesque little bicycle trips in the countryside.

She begins her great-shades-of-Like Water For Chocolate cooking. The set-up is thus: Sir William's old nanny, Mrs. Frobisher ( a hatchet-faced woman with an indiscreet streak and a heart of gold), housekeeps, two ladies come in to do the rough, Florina whips together delicate meals with a masterly air and Pauline keeps herself busy helping (read: being underfoot) in the kitchen and going on excursions like mushrooming and raspberry picking. Sir William swings by on the weekends to raise his daughter but in the Land of Neels we are not to read this as off-hand or neglectful. So don't.
Enter Wanda. All you need know is that she jangles with surplus jewelery and a certain nouveau riche trashiness. "The air positively hummed with their mutual dislike, instantly recognized, even if silent." (Rubs hands. Yes!) She also likes to sleep late and play bridge. Obviously she must never be trusted with a child.

Measles. Pauline is down first but she's had her jab so it won't be too bad. Mrs. Frobisher, an old woman, goes down next and it's disastrous. There Florina is, her ginger plait becoming more and more untidy, unable to contact Sir William (because Wanda the Ice-Princess, like all nouveau riche, has bad phone etiquette) and fixing herself beans on toast. That's when you know the poop has really hit the fan: A cordon bleu chef is making herself beans on toast.
Sir William finally comes, is satisfyingly horrified that she's been single-handedly running the household with two invalids, and calls in his trusty right hand Jolly (who doesn't look it, of course) to come and help out. He shows his mettle as no Neels hero has, before or since. He makes coffee, brings morning tea, delivers trays of food, hoovers (!), scrapes potatoes and washes dishes. He's practically Betty Crocker. I'm going to need a moment to fan myself. Ahem!
Wanda makes a brief appearance only to order everybody about and then become terrified by the idea of breaking out in red spots.
After the Contretemps of the Communicable Disease has passed, Florina has a well-earned vacation. Happily she has been invited to a Dutch cousin's wedding in Zierikzee the same week that Sir William will be over in Leiden. A very green carpool is arranged. At Aunt Minna's house we learn:
  • Sir William's Dutch is merely adequate while Florina's is excellent. (Heroines rarely are given the opportunity to be totally awesome in something the hero is just okay in. Her cooking and Dutch are fun little ways that Neels shows us that Florina might be shy and awe-struck by Sir William but she certainly isn't out of her depth)
  • Luxury hotel Schudderbeurs is handily close to Aunt Minna's house. My wouldn't that make a convenient watering hole in the case of Florina's marriage to a fastidious famous paediatrician.
  • Felix. Florina's uncle has a young business partner whose eyes are too close together. He makes a move on Florina (who at 27 is rather ripe for one) and is rebuffed. He calls her a b@#!*--all the more shocking because of The Venerable Neels' notable forswearing of swearing. Felix should also discover some Newtonian physics in the guise of Sir William's fist but, alas, is allowed to keep his nose for the duration.

Felix is so angry that this plain-Jane doesn't want a little lay-by dalliance that he deliberately puts his arm around her waist when Sir William comes to pick her up. William doesn't see her deliver an indignant shove to the Craven Felix and he's shattered (read: cold, withdrawn, "like a young man in the throes of his first love affair") to discover that he doesn't like Felix one little bit.
Back at the Wheel House William begins dropping hints like hot bricks ("Oh, you disturb me...", "I forget you're my cook.", "You have such beautiful hair..."). He's clearly made his mind up about Florina but is undecided about whether or not she's made her mind up about him.
Wanda comes down to the country again in order to fulfill her contractual role as Wicked Fiancee. In the course of making herself disagreeable she engages Florina the Good in a cat fight--seeing in her ginger eyebrows and worshipful mien a goose ready for plucking. But a 'royally angry' Florina has that alter-ego that prompts her to dump a pitcher-full of fresh lemonade over Wanda the Wicked. See why I never get this book mixed up?
Jolly makes a mental note to stop calling Florina 'miss' and begin calling her "Miss Florina".
But Felix the Craven's idea of a good time is to spend his precious week of holiday, not in chatting up the to-be-pitied women of Holland, but in traversing the Channel and destroying the dreams of a earnest working girl. He shows up at the Wheel House and insinuates a close relationship with our plucky chef. Sir William (once again cold and aloof) and Wanda the Wicked push Florina into Felix's flaccid arms. Florina is so distraught that she finally burns something ("Dinner is ruined!") and orders everyone out of the kitchen in a rage.
She avoids him for the rest of the week.
A motor smash up (no, not involving Florina's father or Felix the Fink or the Pustule of Death--Wanda) serves a a vehicle for the rescue of Florina and Pauline by Sir William. A touching bit of hand-holding is described. Pauline's concussion (she should have been wearing a helmet!...while running through the woods) takes them to London. Wanda and Florina have it out and Wanda the Really Despicable tells William that Florina is in love with him--right in front of Florina's face!
Editorial Note: There is a code of womanhood being breached here. It is permissible to rip to shreds a woman's choices in wedding millinery. It is forgivable to give her an eating disorder with constant criticisms. It is even allowable to take her man (if he hasn't put a ring on it). It is never okay to knife her in the back in front of the other sex. That kind of thing will get you kicked out of the club.
William says, "I know" which is the only thing he can say since Florina has been "Yes, Sir William"-ing him with calf's eyes for 200 pages.
He suggests that she take a leave of absence and she is disrespectful and flippant (which is a nice change as she has been worshiping at the shrine of Our Lady of Sir William for long enough). She goes off to The Netherlands to be a nanny for a bit (which is nothing like being a chef but evidently they were really up a creek) and William takes Wanda down to the country. One ordinary meal and a Bataan-like Death March through fields and paddocks and over stiles in high-heeled shoes is enough to convince her that Larry the American is the man for her. She actually chucks the diamond ring at his head and demands to be taken back to London. As it was most likely garishly large and of a modern cut, it could really have done some damage if it had connected with his head. (He should have been wearing a helmet.) William smiles wickedly. He's practically Machiavelli incarnate.
He collects Florina who is puzzled to see him again and when she demands to know where they are going he pulls into the slow lane and declares his love. He should probably have taken some hints from Felix the Craven and pulled into a lay-by for a spot of thorough kissing but we have to be content with meaningful hand-holding as he pulls into the fast lane once more and speeds homeward.

The End.

Food: There was so much so here's a not-comprehensive list of things I hope Betty Debbie might make: pommes lyonnaises, duchesse potatoes, braised celery, rolls, tomato chutney, calabrese, petits fours, vol-au-vents, salmon in aspic (at the hotel), liver and bacon (for her father...the swine), bacon and eggs with mushrooms and fried bread and tomato (first meal she makes for Sir William), boeuf en croute, watercress soup, profiteroles and chocolate sauce, crepes de valaille Florentine, artichoke hearts, lobster cardinal, beans on toast (in the middle of the Measles epidemic), Ploughman's lunch, poulet au citron, creme caramel, poulet Normand, milk pudding, boeuf flamand with beer and onions, strawberry Pavlova, accidentally burnt croutons, congress tarts, avocado pears with hot cheese, Paulina-made cakes and scones, lemonade, bitterballen, and nasi goreng (?)

Fashion: cheap, hard-wearing dresses, (striped cotton and a large white apron), enormous hoop earrings and a great many gold bangles (our villainess), scarlet chiffon (again our villianess), a peach-pink (so as not to clash mentally with her ginger hair) skirt suit from Country Casuals with low-heeled court shoes and a handbag.

Rating: Boeuf en croute with some parts earning a Queen of Puddings. Our hero deserves the highest rating as he is so helpful with chores, creatively dumps the bad girl, often smiles wickedly and drops hints all over the place that Florina is the gal for him. Florina would get a higher rating from me if she didn't call him Sir William quite so much and didn't invite scads of children into her kitchen at the least provocation. Perhaps when I am out of the phase where I have to cook meals while pivoting on one leg (because the toddler or the baby has attached himself to me) I will find this trait to be more believable and less tooth-achingly saccharine.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Betty and Back to School...

It's been a crazy summer at Casa van der Stevejinck.  From early July  until YESTERDAY we've had extra family members...for one week we had thirteen people here.  Thirteen. 

I dropped off our last kid to go yesterday morning at around 6:30am. He was sharing a ride and a u-haul with his roommate - hopefully they made it okay (13-ish hour drive - I haven't heard from him yet).  I spent most of the day yesterday AND today cleaning and doing laundry - for the first time in nearly 3 months I feel like my house is clean and organized (just don't open the door to my sewing room - I haven't made it that far yet). I even turned out a few cupboards today.  Anywho...I got to thinking about the School in the World of Neels.  Here are my (admittedly) random thoughts:

1. No Neels heroine ever goes to uni. They do take nurses 'training', courses in computer or other office skills - that's about it.
2. Heroine's brothers may well go to Cambridge...but if they do, they may as well be ghosts for all the help/input they give the family. Very seldom (but it does happen) younger sisters go to school...there's that one where the sister is going to be a doctor...Anyone?
3. Younger siblings always need help with their maths.
4. Younger boy siblings usually go to boarding school.
5. Younger girl siblings usually go to day school.
6. Dutch children don't go to boarding school.
7. Hero's sisters sometimes go to uni.

I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this, just that I would like someone to come help my teenage son with his maths...someone besides me (I'm the type to tot up wildly inaccurate sums on the back of an envelope).  Anyone?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, September 12th.
A Gentle Awakening.

Half-Dutch heroine, lemonade poured on the villainess,
measles outbreak.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Henrietta's Own Castle--Reprise

Confession, Bettys, is good for the soul...or so they say.  So here's mine:  I don't really love this book.  I don't hate it and it's never done anything wrong like steal my man or kick my dog.  I have no defensible reasons for these feelings.  But whatever you do...don't tell Betty Debbie. Shhhhhhhhhhhhh...  Still, when he climbs over the wall at the end of the book, Marnix comes off as hilarious and persistent--two of my favorite things a man can be.
Love and lardy cakes,
Betty Keira

Henrietta Brodie is just about as close to being a spinster as Neels ever lets her heroines get. There might be a few that are just as old (Laura from The Hasty Marriage comes to mind), but somehow, they don't reek of incipient spinsterhood quite like Henrietta does. They may have cats and knit, but somehow they never quite cross that line.

Henrietta Brodie age 29. An Olivia, if ever there was one. An Olivia with dark, gently curling hair. Described as "dishy" and having "blinding good looks". She is an orphan. Has been for quite some time. She has recently turned down a marriage proposal - to a boring, but worthy (there's a bit of damning with faint praise) Chief Pharmacist. This wasn't her first marriage proposal, but she wondered if it would be her last - she is getting on a bit...but wait!....she gets a letter from a solicitor, informing her that her Aunt Henrietta Brodie (let's name the child after her aunt so that maybe she'll inherit something) died last week and left her some property in the village of Gijzelmortel. Well, of course she throws her bonnet over the windmill, quits her job as Sister at St. Clement's and drives off to Holland in Charlie -"a very old Mini bought from one of the housemen 3 years previously, it had been second-hand then...." (I don't know of any other Neels characters that name their car. Dr. van der Stevejinck's sister does - and so do her kids. It's a little weird, but very funny at times) Henrietta invests in some new clothes including a pair of unfashionable, sensible, lined boots...she might be glad of them; the guide book had said that it could be cold in Holland and that skating was a national pastime, which led her to believe that there might be degrees of coldness, for it wasn't a national pastime in England.
Henrietta drives Charlie onto the ferry (I feel for her here - I'm betting Charlie had a manual transmission - and negotiating tricky curving uphill ramps in a ferry, with a stick shift, is not for the faint of heart...I know, I've done it a time or two). She drives through Belgium, takes another ferry at Sluis, gets on the N97, skirts Tilburg then sees the signpost to Gijzelmortel. She turned into the exit point, swings the little car under a flyover and joins a narrow road which leads her to a narrower lane, then it's easy does it to Gijzelmortel. Except for the sleet and the gathering darkness. The village is so tiny she has no trouble finding Dam 3, her new home. (Thank you Betty for the travel log - it will make finding the fictional town of Gijzelmortel easy when we go on our Neels in the Netherlands Tour). And now we FINALLY meet....

Jonkheer Mr. Dr. Marnix van Hessel, her new landlord. What? Landlord? I thought she inherited the house...yeah, about seems the solicitor neglected to go into that little item. (I happen to live near an Indian Reservation - where many non-Native Americans own homes...the land isn't their's, it's leased...which can turn into quite a nightmare if the homeowners want to sell their home, but the lease might not get renewed). Sparks begin to fly right from the get-go with these two. He is rude and arrogant, but also unexpectedly kind and thoughtful. A riddle wrapped in an enigma. Even though Neels' Holland is chockablock with barons and jonkheers, usually this means no more than a large house and fabulous wealth. Not this time. Okay, yes, there is a castle AND of course Marnix is wealthy, but the difference here is the whopping amount of rampant feudalism. I'm surprised that Betty didn't trot out the phrase "noblesse oblige" when referring to Jonkheer Marnix's responsibilities. Shades of Mr. Banks from Mary Poppins:

It's grand to be an Englishman in 1910
King Edward's on the throne;
It's the age of men
I'm the lord of my castle
The sov'reign, the liege!
I treat my subjects: servants, children, wife
With a firm but gentle hand
Noblesse oblige!

Marnix walks into the house without so much as a tap on the door. Henrietta is a wee bit uneasy (Stranger=Danger), so she tells him to leave, "...this is my house and I must ask you to leave it." He comes right into the kitchen and remarks: "A very hoity-toity speech". Question. Would Dutch Doctor Jonkeers really use the term 'hoity-toity'? It sounds a bit forced.

Speaking of kitchens (we were just a couple of sentences back), Henrietta describes her new one as "adequately equipped". She then goes on to detail how it is equipped: "a sink with a geyser above it, a small table with two gas rings and shelves of saucepans and cooking utensils." She calls that "Adequately equipped"???? I've gone camping with more kitchen appliances than that. I can overlook the lack of cupboards, I can overlook the lack of counter space (Dr. van der Stevejinck and I set up housekeeping in a little basement walk-up that had absolutely no kitchen counters. None. One cupboard over the sink/drainboard. True story.), but what I have a tough time with is the lack of refrigeration and the lack of an oven. I get that refrigerators might have been thin on the ground in a throw-back feudal village like Gijzelmortel, but come on, ovens too?? (my grandmother cooked on a antique wood-burning kitchen stove/oven well into the 1970's so maybe Betty could have thrown us a bone there...after all, Henrietta did heat her home with some kind of wood stove - or is cooking on a wood stove somehow not European?) Henrietta does go on to make bread in that self-same kitchen using "a tin oven she had found to set on top of the gas rings." Really? I'm all in awe of her bread making skills if she can manage to bake respectable loaves of bread in a tin oven on top of gas rings.

While exploring her new house, Henrietta finds a little cupboard hidden behind a picture. Very mysterious. In said cupboard she finds some table silver and a velvet-covered box. "There was a garnet necklace inside; a gold chain, very thick and solid, the garnets fashioned into a cascade of flowers...she would have to tell someone." This is our introduction to:

The Sad, Melancholy Tale of Henrietta Brodie, the 1st.

Marnix relates the story to Henrietta while giving her a lift to Tilburg.

Henrietta's aunt, (we'll call her H1) and Marnix's uncle (alas, unnamed) fell in love when they were fairly young. Sadly, Uncle was already unhappily married to a horrible woman. "They didn't have an affair in the usual sense of that word; it wasn't until she was forty or so that he finally persuaded her to go and live near him...he desperately needed someone to love, so H1 gave in at last and made her home in Gijzelmortel...although they loved each other deeply they were never more than friends - the village loved her; so did anyone who met her. If my aunt had died, they would undoubtedly have married, but my uncle died first...." I guess this explains why Henrietta II's parents didn't talk about H1 or invite her to go family vacations (Henrietta's parents have been dead for about 10 years at this point, so you'd have to assume all this tortured platonic love took place in the 1940's and 50's - possibly into the 60's, not nearly so acceptable back then, I'm thinking).

Marnix stops by to tell Henrietta to expect a visit from his agent, Pieter van der Zande. Upon leaving her, Marnix takes her outstretched hand, and instead of shaking it goodbye "...He took the hand and pulled her towards him quite roughly and bent to kiss her surprised mouth. 'I wanted to do that". It may not have been a case of Droit de seigneur...but it was kissing cousins with it. I would find that unexpected kiss more disturbing and unforgivable if he hadn't shown up at her house a few hours later to apologize. And then to notice she was baking bread. "Don't apologize, I'm not a silly girl, you know. I've just made a batch of loaves." Fresh bread and kisses. Two of the best things in life.

I really like this book. A lot. Which is why it is tough to introduce the next character. Loes Rietveld, the dominee's daughter. We shall now refer to her as Oh, Noes Loes! She is the fly in the ointment. The curdle in the milk. A stinker of the first water. Sure, Betty had heroines that were much more evil and loathsome...but Oh, Noes Loes! is only 18 years old. Marnix is looking 40 in the face. If he was, say 45, and she was (let's do the maths) 23 years old I wouldn't have quite as big a problem with it is, Oh Noes Loes! is just plain creepy. She's a pretty, dainty blond with sly eyes and a selfish pout...only not when Marnix is looking. When he looks she's all wistful and sweet (can't...stop...gag....reflex....). Of course she doesn't love him. I don't think she even likes him, but she does like the idea of living in the castle and being wealthy. A lot. But really, 18??? Creepy. She is a mistress of two-facedness. Henrietta sees that immediately, but she doesn't think that Marnix does (and frankly, I'm not sure he ever does see her duplicitous nature). I shall now proceed to ignore the character of Oh Noes Loes! as much as I can.

And now we come to the carnage! Yes, CARNAGE. An airplane crashes in a field near the village. This is the sequence of events: Henrietta sees an airliner swoop from behind the houses, barely missing the roofs, then it swerves, gains altitude, engines sound bad, she runs inside, closes down the stove, puts on her boots and coat, grabs a scarf, talks to Marnix at the door - he gives her instructions and warnings, she bangs her door shut and walks as far as the castle gates. All BEFORE the plan goes down. Really? It's not that I doubt it would take an airliner that long to crash, but if it did, wouldn't it be quite a ways from the village? I shall have to consult Dr. van der Stevejinck about this as he knows much more about matters aeronautical.

Marnix tells Henrietta to go to the castle and get organized for the wounded...what follows is Henrietta being efficient and helpful and Oh Noes Loes! not being helpful. Marnix does some emergency surgery in the castle with Henrietta's help (did I mention that he is a consultant surgeon? Oops). Lots of descriptions of people injured, especially burned. When it was all over Marnix takes Oh Noes Loes! home. "The poor child is quite unfit for such sights and sounds - she tells me that she did her best to help, but she is sensitive and young..." Henrietta stared at him; he surely couldn't believe the rubbish he was uttering.
Henrietta goes home and has a good noisy cry...about everything comes Marnix...."her voice spiralling upwards with rage, 'Why shouldn't I cry?' she flung at him, quite beside herself. 'Just because I'm not small and fair and blue-eyed it doesn't mean that I haven't any feeling.' She gave a watery snort. 'Go away, do - you've no right to come into my house!" I love the bit about the watery snort. Sounds a bit like a water buffalo.
Enough already about the airplane crash. Mr. van der Zande (remember, he's Marnix's agent) comes to make arrangements about the lease-hold. He unburdens himself to Henrietta about his love-life. Seems he would like to marry the fair Engelina, but mummy dearest doesn't think he's old enough to get married. Mummy dearest would like for Pieter to take care of her for the rest of his life. Henrietta suggests the Engelina come and stay with her SECRETLY. This goes just fine for Pieter and Engeline, but unfortunately Oh Noes Loes! sees them driving Charlie the Mini and tells Marnix that Henrietta and Pieter are going out. Misunderstandings galore. After helping a horse to foal in a field, our hero and heroine finally, finally work things out. The Betty actually gives us five (5)!!! pages of explanations interspersed with thorough kissing. The end.
Food: erwtensoep, loaves of bread cooked in a tin oven, lobster souffle, Barossa tart.
Fashion: sensible but ugly lined boots, apron, slacks and a thick sweater, tweed suit in a pleasing shade of brown.
To sum it all up: Every time Henrietta and Marnix meet they start fencing. Verbally. She is irritated, annoyed and intrigued by Marnix...sparks fly. Marnix doesn't help matters much. He is dictatorial, brusque, ill-mannered and has more than a bit of a temper - he is also often helpful and generous. Shall we mention chemistry and tension? Henrietta's Own Castle has got to be one of the top ten Neels books when it comes to *ahem* "tension". At this point I would love to insert a montage clip of David and Maddie from the old tv show Moonlighting, slamming doors. If only I could have found one. The Venerable Betty wasn't always able to balance her arguing couples well. At times the ladies just come off shrill and unappealing. She manages to make Henrietta likeable in spite of her yelling at Marnix and Marnix is appealing (though a bit dim about Loes being what Loes was) even though he has more than his fair share of "Lord of the Manor" attitude (which could so be a deal breaker in my book). I love it when they get together at the end, I practically cheer when Marnix climbs the kitchen wall to declare his love. You just know that Marnix and Henrietta will have a lively marriage - lots of fighting, and lots of making up...the good kind. I give this book a good solid boeuf en croute. (If you skip the references to Oh Noes Loes being 18 it might even bump up to a queen of puddings)
Fun quote: "You are a woman of parts, Miss Brodie."