Saturday, December 29, 2012

Betty by the Numbers: Christmas 2012 Favorite Scene

I don't know how clear it is from the little thingamabob on the side panel, but the results are in for our Christmas 2012 poll of favorite Christmas-y scenes.  We had 89 votes from 28 people for 17 different scenes.  And the winner is...

Well, the sad news is that one scene got zero votes.  No one selected the Father Christmas parade from A Girl to Love as a favorite, even though Sadie is just as excited as little Anna and Julie, the five- and seven-year olds who are the ostensible primary beneficiaries of the trip.  Oh.  I get it.  Is that why?  Still -- if the Boxing Day cocktail party got a vote (a single vote, or 1% of total votes), but Father Christmas got none, are we lushes devoid of sentiment?

Seems unlikely, though one worries that the Christmas-morning church and "loving and giving" conversation in Damsel in Green got only two votes, as did sharing our Christmas with the patients on Katie's and other wards in When Two Paths Meet.  The other two-vote-getter was the rather un-splashy St. Nicholaas Day of the van den Berg Eyyfert family in DiG.

Four scenes got three votes (3%) each, none from the big day itself:  Christmas Eve at Julius's, with all the attendant decorating and dining and drinking and dressing-up in DiG; Christmas Eve in Salisbury with light-gazing, dress-buying and fortuitous meetings in WTPM; Boxing Day in ditto, with its further fortuitous meeting-ness; and the shopping sprees of AGtL in the weeks before C-Day.

Just ahead of those, with four votes each, are the Christmas preparations that can be easily completed at Fortnum & Mason's (if you have the right person take charge) in A Christmas Romance, and the Christmas Eve festivities of the Dutch-English ter Mennolts and their English guests in The Mistletoe Kiss.

Now we're up in the upper atmosphere, with the top-six scenes.  In sixth place, with six votes (7% of those cast), are the various scenes in which Georgina and her charges keep Cor entertained and get supplies in store for hall-decking (acres of paper chains) in DiG.  Very festive, with champagne, a new dress and mince pies zooming about the text.

Our fifth-favorite got eight votes (9%), and involves the very different preparing-for-Christmas scene from ACR, when Theodosia learns at the last minute that she'll be Christmas-ing on her own this year, lifts up her chin and purchases the bare necessities to create a joyful day on a shoestring for herself and the cat.  Fourth-favorite is the lovely Christmas-morning scene from AGtL, when everyone (even Oliver!) crowds onto Sadie's bed to open marvelous, magical presents from each other and Father C.  That one got nine votes, which is 10% of the total.

The top three finished very close to each other, with 12, 13 and 14 votes each.  Margin-of-error suggests this is more truly a tie.  We gave 13% of our votes to Ruerd and Emmy's almost-psychedelic smooch on Christmas Day -- that's the title scene from The Mistletoe Kiss.  Radinck's thoughtful sneaking out before anyone can realize that he's witnessed carol rehearsal won 15% of our votes.  I do wonder how many people were voting further for his teasing his wife about Christmas music that evening, almost resulting in Caroline's Waterloo as she botches her knitting and flails about for answers to his sly questions.

So our favorite Christmas scene for 2012  was the last few paragraphs of A Christmas Romance, as Hugo pushes his Bentley from London to Finchingfield, reads the great-aunts the riot act, races back to London (the dodgy part) to scoop up Theodosia and Gustavus, strew kisses about the place, zoom home to London (the best part) and render up a tender proposal of eternal love and joy as the midnight bells chime in Christmas Day.  Yes -- I love that one, too.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Not A Creature Was Stirring...

...except for the picture of this cute little mouse (sent via email by Betty Francesca):


Monday, December 24, 2012

We Wish You a Christmas Pudding

And the very merriest, happiest day possible.  Mine has gotten off to a bang with the arrival in today's post of my best Christmas gift ever:  a Never Say Goodbye necklace, featuring Betty Keira's mock-up of a From Poland with Love alternative cover, a ship and a gray pearl.  SSKKEEEEE!  Plus a charmingly droll note from Betty Debbie.  Thank you, Founding Bettys!

Serendipitously, I'd been mulling over a gift list for all of you who join in the fun on The Uncrushable Jersey Dress.  I've carefully chosen everything needed for my friends and family, but get so caught up in the spirit I can barely stay my hand as I walk through the grocery store:  "You know who'd like a pomegranate?  Me neither, but surely someone would like a pomegranate.  I'll get one!"  I raucously applaud Sadie and Oliver's several shopping trips for Christmas, and Georgina's many walks to the village for more paper, glue, sequins or whatever.

So you can imagine how quickly Betty JoDee's image vaulted into my brain when I walked through the bookstore recently and saw this calendar.  Yes, indeedy.  For Betty Magdalen, I'm keeping my eye out for a parasol she can bring to Georgia for 2013's Romance Writers of America conference.  My fingers are crossed that a mousy but unflappable peahen wanders into Betty Mickie's backyard this spring.  I suspect Betty Keira doesn't need a copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting, but I wish her only good surprises in the process from here on out, and a trained nanny -- or untrained but so able sister -- to help out at home.  Betty Debbie gets a re-gift:  the fancy cream my brother-in-law gave me that's designed to stave off the encroaching years.  Snerk.

Betty Barbara, may your medical needs be few, your recuperations easy and swift, and your doctors handsome, capable and possessed of charming bedside manners.  Betty Cindy, may you find the time to check in with us more often.  Betty Mary, an umbrella to equip you for frequent visits to Ireland.  For Betty Anonymous, if I may, I wish another skating session in Amsterdam, with a very minor injury that leads to a meaningful encounter in Casualty.  Or maybe just a tender strapping-up and confidence-inspiring reassurances by the side of the canal.  For Betty Carla, a freak sprinkling of snow in the southern hemisphere on Christmas Day, which I guess it already is there.  For Betty AnoninTX, a carry-on's worth of uncrushable jersey for her next mega-trip encompassing dozens of parks and multiple countries.  Betty von Susie, the entire "Love & Laughter" series Harlequin published back in the day -- for I believe you "dearly love a laugh."

Army Betty, Betty Adrienne, Betty Kylene and Mrs. Betty Fife, may you discover a new form of needle-work on which to test your considerable talents.  Except Army Betty -- may your knitting skills improve with each day of the bright new year.  And to Betty Kathy and all the lurkers, I wish you innumerable giggles and many moments of connection -- and maybe the gleeful foolhardiness to chime in from time to time.

Let's see...who else...  Betty ANHK?  You out there?  Anyway, the non-lurkers will need to remind me, as my BIL's cream doesn't fend off the encroaching memory fade.

And to all a very good night, and the best imaginable new year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I Cannot Think of a Christmas-y Phrase That Allows Any Play on the Title When Two Paths Meet

I shall keep trying to think of a festive tie-in for the title of our final finalist for the 2012 Best Betty Christmas vote, but doubt I’ll get there.  The candidates, for the last time – second-to-last, really, as I’ll list them again when I post the voting link – are:

Damsel in Green (1970)
Caroline's Waterloo  (1980)
A Girl to Love (1982)
When Two Paths Meet  (1988)
The Mistletoe Kiss  (1997)
A Christmas Romance  (1999)

So our final re-cap is for When Two Paths Meet, recently reprised with Betty Debbie’s brilliant review.  The setting is romance as geography: Katherine and Jason court in Salisbury (the only city in Wiltshire, apparently), in and around the cathedral famous for the beauty of its architecture and setting, as captured in the glorious paintings of John Constable – and, more vaguely, on the cover of the original Harlequin edition of this novel.

So we open in October, and in jig time Katherine has her first job, thanks to Jason, living quite close to the cathedral and companioning the elderly Graingers.  She looks forward to deploying her salary in service of amassing a more flattering wardrobe by Christmas.  She sets aside some money to buy presents for her vile brother and his almost-as-vile wife and their two unloving and unlovely children; whether that’s true-spirit-of-Christmas or get-yourself-to-a-shrink-and-deal-with-that-martyr-complex is in the eye of the beholder.
By chapter five, Katherine is a nursing aide at the hospital, and we are drawing closer to the holiday.  Sister is pressing every able-bodied patient into paper-chain construction, and the ward is further bedecked with paper flowers and “coloured crepe-paper mats for the bed tables and locker tops.  They would be the very devil to keep tidy and clean, observed Andy, but Sister, who considered herself artistic, always got carried away at Christmas.”  Needless to say, the visit to Katherine’s family is a complete bust – “She had been stupid to come” – let us draw the veil.
An evening out with Jason’s fun and friendly young cousin, Edward, does Katherine a bit of good, as do the mince pies back at Mrs. Potts’s boarding house, and the promise of turkey on Christmas.  Mildly heartened, Katherine has a bit of a spree on a snowy Christmas Eve, as she’ll be working Christmas and Boxing days.  She buys herself a new wool crepe dress and plain black leather shoes, and after boiled ham with parsley sauce at Mrs. Potts’s, and then heads out to the cathedral for the midnight service.  Exiting that uplifting event, she’s waylaid by the doctor and Edward and a steaming-mad Dodie Veronica, who drag her back to the doctor’s for steaming-hot chocolate and salmon (this does not sound a perfect match to me).  She also gets an invitation to the Fitzroy New Year’s Eve party, which should be a doozy.  Jason drives her home and kisses her cheek.  Happy Christmas indeed!
Christmas day dawns early and chilly, and we’re off to work, where three RTAs in the night will keep us busy.  However, there’s also a bran tub of presents; Katherine draws the last one.  “notelets — so useful, Staff Nurse pointed out kindly, for writing thank-you notes for presents.
“Only Katherine hadn’t had any presents.”  One could weep.
Still, the ward is genuinely festive, “the consultant surgeon, Mr. Bracewaite, arrived with the turkey and, suitably aproned and crowned with a chef’s cap, carved with the same precision he exhibited in the theatre.” (yuk)  There are crackers (the bang-prize kind, not the cheese-and kind), paper hats, and a bottle of plonk (cheap wine), which the nurses drink on duty(!).  Katherine gets to tour the other wards, adding another two glasses of hooch to her count for the afternoon.  The alcohol content does not, fortunately, cause her to drop a patient, but she does bump into Jason in Paediatrics and drop a clanger – calling him by his first name.  Oh, dear.

 So that’s Christmas, but remember, it’s England – so Katherine’s early dismissal by Sister on Boxing Day counts as part of the holiday, especially as she once again gets scooped up by Jason and borne off to his house for tea ‘round the fire, with fruitcake.  The witch Dodie appears, tosses out a few shockingly unkind insults, and then vanishes in a puff, leaving the Fitzroy boys and Katherine to enjoy Dover sole and trifle and poker lessons.  I wish I could make a case for the 27th being part of Christmas – the snow’s still crisp and white and even – because the three of them hie off to Stourhead, and it’s just the loveliest outing ever.  But I don’t see how I can advance that argument.  So that’s it for Christmas When Two Paths Meet.  (But New Year’s...)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Winter Break

This is the morning that I usually post our upcoming reprise...but not today.

Not today.

As next Monday is Christmas Eve, and the following Monday is New Year's Eve, Betty Keira and I are going to take a break.  I plan on spending as much time as possible over the next couple of weeks holding  my newest grandchild and Betty Keira has plenty of little pledges of affection to keep her busy too.

Betty van den Betsy may (or may not) post during the interim.  

I will be checking in, so if any of you (our dear, dear Bettys) have anything you would like to post, feel free to send it along, via email, and I'll be happy to post it for you.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The Founding Bettys
Photo: Proud grandpa...first time holding Henry.
Dr. van der Steverinck and Henry.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Love in Reality

I'm always happy to share happy news.  Here's the latest happy news from Betty Magdalen (via email):

To my fellow Bettys:

My first single title contemporary, Love in Reality, is live at
Amazon  and Barnes & Noble. Here's a blurb:
TV producer Rand casts a confident bartender, Lissa, as a ditzy reality show contestant, not realizing she’s actually Lissa’s law student twin, Libby. Life in The Fishbowl encourages scheming, but as Rand and Libby fall in love, they have to be honest with themselves—and each other.
Love in Reality starts The Blackjack Quartet. Book 3 of that series, Blackjack & Moonlight, was the Golden Heart finalist this year. 
Love in Reality
 Now, I know what some of you might want to know. How much touring of Brighton is there in this book? Well, yes, the hero and heroine do make very quick trips to Brighton, but it’s at the more discreet end of the “Brighton Tours Ltd.” services spectrum. And those two scenes could be skipped. (Sadly, Brighton plays rather more of a role in the subsequent books in The Blackjack Quartet series. Just keeping it real.)

A Girl to Love--Reprise

Morning, Bettys!
I think my main beef with this book is not that it's bad.  It's more that I find it difficult to put it into any sort of Betty context.  The heroine feels straight out of your standard Betty catalog but the hero is, in Betty Debbie's words, "Not your average Neels hero."
The biggest pill to swallow?  Probably his disengagement as a father.  Add to that, the fact that Sadie is going to have a job of it, whisking the whiskey tumbler out of his hand, tolerating the show biz types that will waft into her life, and quelling his moods.  I can buy, though, that she's awesome enough to pull it off.
The book can be a lot of fun.  So it's not that it's bad.  It's not.  It's just not what I signed up for when I cracked the spine and dipped into my Betty book.
It's a puzzler.
Puzzle away!
Betty Keira
Wow. I didn't remember liking this book - that may be in part to the depressing looking couple on the cover. But oh, my stars and garters, it was fun...and different. Very different. How? Let's dig in.

Sadie Gillard is a fairly typical Araminta. At 23 years old, she is a bit on the youngish side, but she does have mousy hair, plain face and fine eyes, and yes, she's an orphan with no real marketable skills. Grandma has just died and left her with nearly nothing. The charming, but old-fashioned thatched cottaged has to be sold and the best Sadie can hope for is a job as a housekeeper or mother's helper. I know, I know, you're saying, 'Betty Debbie, that is absolutely classic Neels'. Well, yes, but now it gets different.

The house is sold immediately and for full market price (obviously a better economic climate than now) a playwright. You heard me. A playwright. He's probably the oddest hero in Neeldom. What makes him so different? Let me count the ways.

  1. Oliver Trentham has no medical connection whatsoever. None.
  2. Writes screenplays for television. Television.
  3. Long and lean. Lean, not vast.
  4. Has two daughters, ages 5 and 7.
  5. Has only been a widower for about 3 years!
  6. Drives too fast.
  7. Drinks too much.
  8. Employs an abusive governess.
  9. He is rather irascible. Or do I mean explosive?
  10. Works with rather a fast crowd back in London.
Not Betty's usual cup of tea. In fact, on the surface he doesn't sound that appealing. This is not one of those love at first sight stories...for Sadie or Oliver. But that's a good thing. Especially since they spend a few weeks living together unchaperoned. Unchaperoned? Yes, Sadie has stayed on at the quaint thatched cottage as housekeeper - a job she is uniquely qualified for, since she's lived there for the past twenty years.

Sadie is an unlikely looking housekeeper - for one thing she's way younger than Oliver expected, and he's inclined to let her go...until he gets a chance to sample her cooking. Girlfriend can cook. It only takes two meals and he's hooked. Conditionally. The conditions are thus: She must eat meals with him and he'll lug in the coal and logs.

The days pass with Sadie cooking and cleaning, Oliver typing and drinking..and bellowing when he wants something.

Rather than do a detailed synopsis of the rest (hey, I just got back from Hawaii on Tuesday...) I'll just give a few highlights of the rest of the plot.

Miss Murch and The Girls arrive at the Thatched Cottage.
Miss Murch exposed as the wicked liar that she is!!
Christmas Morning on Sadie's Bed.
Sadie Goes to London.
London doesn't agree with Sadie - or the girls.
Oliver takes a trip to GREECE to 'think things over' (leaving Sadie with the girls, who promptly get the flu).
Oliver dates several 'pretty ladies'.
Happily Ever After in a little Thatched Cottage.

Editor's Note: Sadie and Oliver won't have a traditional he ages he will become a 'peppery' old man who is a little too fond of whiskey. Sadie will spend her time cooking nourishing meals that sop up alcohol and replacing his shot glass with cups of cocoa. After a year or two Oliver will stop writing screenplays for love stories and focus on documentaries about plant life and ancient stone-napping techniques - any subject that won't require casting calls for starlets. Sadie will remind Oliver about his parenting responsibilities and tiptoe around the house in felt slippers, shushing the kids, when he's writing. Of course, this is all my opinion. What do you think?

Rating: I wouldn't recommend this book for a 'comfort read'. A Girl to Love is quite an outlier in the Neels canon. That said, I really, really enjoyed it. Perhaps because it's so different. Sometimes I really struggle to get through my 'assigned' reading each week. This week I zipped through it in two hours. That's two hours with notes. Two hours when I should have been packing for Hawaii. Perhaps I was just avoiding chores, but even if I was, it was an enjoyable way to do it. I readily acknowledge that there are many imperfections, but they just didn't fuss me all that much. I think I'll give this one a boeuf en croute.
Food: Queen of Puddings, scones, fruit cake, steak and kidney pudding, mackerel pâté, Welsh rarebit, cocoa for supper to counteract the whiskey, rice pudding - creamy and stuffed with raisins, stuffed celery, sausage rolls, vol-au-vents, cheese straws, Oliver comes home from a date with a vegetarian surfeited with nut cutlets and bean shoots.
Fashion: Two severe nylon overalls which Oliver bans her from wearing, a pair of serviceable felt slippers, green tweed coat and martching skirt and beret, sapphire blue wool dress, sensible pink winceyette nightie, a Christmas gift from Oliver of an amber silk crêpe blouse and matching skirt, a glowing green organza party dress.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

All I Want for Christmas is A Girl to Love

So we arrived at six finalists for the 2012 Best Betty Christmas vote, as listed below.  Not to influence anyone’s thinking or independent judgment or anything, but I suspect this is the one that will get my vote. 

Damsel in Green (1970)
Caroline's Waterloo  (1980)
A Girl to Love (1982)
When Two Paths Meet  (1988)
The Mistletoe Kiss  (1997)
A Christmas Romance  (1999)

One reason I suspect this:  I know Sadie Gillard and Oliver Trentham’s names without having to look them up.  The best I can do on the others is DiG’s heroine first name and hero last name, CW’s heroine first name (hint provided), and I may never forget that ACR stars Theodosia.  Betty Keira will post Betty Debbie’s full reprise of A Girl to Love on Monday, but meanwhile I shall remind you, at more length than intended, of the wonderfulness of the Christmas celebration it shares with us.

Background: Sadie’s granny dies five weeks before Christmas, and Sadie has to sell the cottage in Chelcombe, a small village in Dorset where she’s lived for most of her 23 years.  Fortunately, Oliver buys the place and hires her to housekeep for him and his two small daughters.  In the grand British Betty tradition of upper-lip-stiffening, Sadie mourns Granny for about three paragraphs and then starts making the best of things – and one of the best things is that Christmas is coming, and someone has got to make the season festive for the girls, since their haughty, cold-hearted governess sure won’t do it, and Dad is too emotionally insecure and work-burdened to be proactive in the matter.  Beautifully, and love-inducingly, he pitches in when offered the chance.

As, for instance, when he bundles Sadie into the Aston Martin Volante (not socking great in size, but great in awesomeness) and heads to Bath for a spot of gift-getting.  Sadie buys herself some more colorful clothes as well, including a sapphire-blue dress to wear on Christmas – and for Neels aficionados, perhaps a skosh of foreshadowing...  Later, we get to peek over Sadie’s shoulder as she composes her lists of household necessities for this most consumerist of holidays, and tag along as she makes her purchases at both Mrs. Beamish’s village shop and at the “splendidly old-fashioned grocers” in Bridport, where, “they offer you a chair, you know, and call you madam.”

Coming away from Bridport, Oliver frowns, prompting Sadie to ask, “You don’t like Christmas?”  “It’s become a commercial holiday, I seem to have lost the real Christmas years ago,” he replies.  Sadie assures him, “You’ll find it again in Chelcombe.”

Or perhaps in Bridport, for after the two little girls arrive, Sadie proposes a trip to that city to see Father Christmas parade through town.  The festive air is infectious, and kinda-sorta leads to the dismissal of the vile Miss Murch.  With her gone, the happy almost-family is free to make paper chains, with Oliver “making rather a botch of it,” but at least he’s trying.  And he’s happy to take the girls and Sadie shopping, in Dorchester this time, so they can buy presents for each other, including a shocking tie for Dad and a garish headscarf for Sadie.

We also have mention of the carol service at church, the children’s party at school, carol singers arriving for mince pies, “tying up of parcels and, for the first time in years, a great many Christmas cards.”  By Christmas Eve, the cottage is festooned with holly and colored paper, and the pillowcases are ready for stuffing with gifts.

Then, yay! it’s Christmas morning and Anna and Julie crowd onto Sadie’s bed with Tom the cat to open their gifts.  Oliver joins them with the tea tray, and amongst the garish headscarves, hankies and knitted gloves, Sadie receives an “extravagant box, tied with bright cords and.. awash with tissue paper.”  It contains a real silk blouse and skirt in amber:  “Its elegance was indisputable.  Just looking at it made her feel beautiful,” and, in fact, brings her to a teardrop or two of happiness.  Plus a demand that she “kiss Daddy thank you,” which she does, chastely on his cheek.

Walking to church through the snow, carving turkey “in a masterly fashion,” and playing with new dolls and their hand-sewn outfits, before a late tea and bit of record-player listening, round out a “lovely day.”  I am quite sure we have all re-discovered the spirit of Christmas at this point.

Of course, Betty doesn’t neglect the quintessential experience of the holidays:  cleaning like crazy, making a big mess of everything, and then tidying up again.  On Boxing Day, Oliver invites an unknown number of people over for drinks and titbits, which requires Sadie arising at the crack of d. to manufacture the sausage rolls Oliver is accustomed to ordering from Fortnum’s, and staying up late to clear away the dishes and napkins after a singularly successful drinks party.

Spirit of Christmas, indeed.  Plus, they're -- spoiler alert -- engaged by New Year's, so loving and giving abounds for ever after.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Meet Me Under The Mistletoe Kiss

Gracious!  Look at the date!  What with decking my halls and wedging myself into a corner of an overstuffed hotel ballroom for the Jonkheer’s office holiday party, doing ankle-strengthening exercises for the threatened ice-skating at my own office holiday party and berating dilatory family members for their failures to produce either travel plans or Christmas wish lists, I’ve fallen behind on the Christmas-scene re-caps.  For the fourth of six times, let me just note the finalists for the upcoming TUJD Best Christmas Ever (2012 version) vote:
Damsel in Green (1970)
Caroline's Waterloo  (1980)
A Girl to Love (1982)
When Two Paths Meet  (1988)
The Mistletoe Kiss  (1997)
A Christmas Romance  (1999)
The Mistletoe Kiss actually opens in October, with Ermentrude Foster and Ruerd ter Mennolt meeting for the first time over his desk at St. Luke’s hospital.  As autumn strolls toward winter, they get off to a bad start, rectify that over boiled eggs, rescue a kitten, adopt a dog, and so forth.  Ruerd’s rude and unkind fiancée suggests he throw a Christmas party, and Emmy begins knitting a pullover for her father’s Christmas present.  Mr. Foster gets a job offer, engineered by Ruerd, that will allow him, the Mrs. and Emmy to spend Christmas in Dorset, where they belong, rather than in noisome, crowded, dingy London.  But before that can happen, Emmy must get hit in the head by housebreakers, and Mum and Dad must discover that the Dorset plumbing is faulty and the house over-burdened with the previous owner’s furnishings, which sad setting for a convalescent Christmas inspires Ruerd to invite the whole clan over to Huis ter Mennolt.

And then we get truly festive.  The Fosters and Ruerd decorate the tree together, topping it with a fairy doll that his youngest niece will receive as a gift after the holiday, and Emmy and Ruerd deck the nursery walls with paper chains before a bevy of siblings arrive with their children (so important an element of a true, old-fashioned Christmas, right?) in tow.  There’s shouting and laughing, racing, dog-hugging and uncle-hanging-onto.  Twenty people sit down to dinner, with white lace and sparkling glass and polished silver surrounding an epergne filled with holly, Christmas roses and trailing ivy.  You may imagine the menu.

Next day is Christmas Eve, with the promise of snow in the air, a brisk walk, tea by the fire with Christmas cake and another magnificent menu (roast pheasant tonight).  “Christmas Day proved to be everything it should be”: church in the morning, with carols albeit in Dutch, then presents after lunch.  Emmy gets a “blue cashmere scarf, the colour of a pale winter sky” that will remind her of the professor every time she wears it.
And the mistletoe of the title?
“She turned to go back upstairs again.  ‘I ought to be changing,’ she said quickly.  ‘Thank you for my scarf. I've never had anything cashmere before.’
“He didn't say anything, but wrapped his great arms round her and kissed her.
“She was so taken by surprise that she didn't do anything for a moment.  She had no breath anyway.  The kiss hadn't been asocial peck; it had lingered far too long. And besides, she had the odd feeling that something was alight inside her, giving her the pleasant feeling that she could float in the air if she wished.  If that was what a kiss did to one, she thought hazily, then one must avoid being kissed again.
“She disentangled herself.  ‘You shouldn't…’ she began. ‘What I mean is, you mustn't kiss me. Anneliese wouldn't like it…’
“He was staring down at her, an odd look on his face. ‘But you did, Ermentrude?’
She nodded.  ‘It's not fair to her,’ she said, and then, unable to help herself, asked, ‘Why did you do it?’
“He smiled.  ‘My dear Ermentrude, look up above our heads.  Mistletoe—see?  A mistletoe kiss, permissible even between the truest strangers. And really we aren't much more than that, are we?’
“He gave her an avuncular pat on the shoulder. ‘Run along and dress or you will be late for drinks.’  Emmy didn't say anything; her throat was crowded with tears and she could feel the hot colour creeping into her face.  She flew up the staircase without a sound. Somewhere to hide, she thought unhappily.  He was laughing at me.
“But the professor wasn't laughing.”

Not an entirely unmixed Christmas for Emmy, then.  But, as Grandmother ter Mennolt says, “I must confess that I prefer the quiet of my room, but it is Christmas and one must make merry!”  Which seems to involve stuffing oneself with bonhomie, turkey and mince pies, although as a cousin ter Mennholt notes, “‘Of course, not all Dutch families celebrate as we do here.  This is typically English, is it not?  But you see we have married into English families from time to time, and this is one of the delightful customs we have adopted.’”  And after that, we have some lovely wintery time with children and pea soup, blow hot-blow cold professorial nonsense and bitter-twisted-fiancée/ex-fiancée-lies, escape plans and loin-girding to arrive at the eventual HEA on the beach with a bitter wind slicing into our snogging bones.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, December 17th.
A Girl to Love
Hero is a television writer(!), abusive governess, awesome Christmas scenes.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Romantic Encounter - Reprise

Romantic Encounter is not the first (or last) book in Neeldom that features our fair heroine taking a protracted leave of absence from her regularly scheduled nursing job.  I do find the habit charming and (probably) helpful, but wonder how common a leave of absence like that would be...especially the 'protracted' part. This is not the same as being "unemployed in Greenland" (bonus points if you recognize the quote). I find myself puzzled about Mrs. Napier's actual medical diagnosis/prognosis...and inordinately curious. Anyone care to venture a speculative guess as to mum's possible ailment?
The cover of this book is spot-on--down to the over-used leaf green crepe dress and sweater set. But the title? Gah. Romantic Encounter is not the name for this book. There is no particular encounter that earns the moniker 'romantic'. Lorry accidents aren't romantic. Attempted muggings aren't romantic. Spring cleaning ancient rectories aren't romantic. Flipping to any page at random (as I am doing now) and running my finger down a page willy-nilly would procure a more fitting title. So here I am on page 77 and we've got some contenders: Pressed for Time, Pleasant Plans, Remarkably Neat and Tidy, or Florence, Tartly. Any one of them would fit better.

Florence Napier, 25, has been nursing her mother in the wild out-back of the British mainland for a year. She has other family also but for the purposes of the story, all you need know is that Father is an otherworldly vicar and the boys are nameless ghost-children that mother has made up out of whole cloth due to her protracted mental illness. Everybody humors her and pretends that they're in the garden or at boarding school.
Alexander Fitzgibbon, 36, is a 'chest' surgeon of some sort and offers Florence a job as a nurse in his private practice where he probably overcharges the Sirs and Ladies of the hoi polloi out of their inherited monies in order to finance his more philanthropic concerns. That's trickle-down economics for you...
Alexander is one of those If-I-say-jump-you-say-'How-high?' types and attempts to push Florence into the little cubby hole in his head marked 'Private Practice Nurse'. Florence notices him trying to manage her and begins her mind games posthaste.
'The time we agreed upon?' he asked silkily. 'I should warn you that I frown on unpunctuality.' 'In that case, Mr. Fitzgibbon,' said Florence sweetly, 'why don't you have one of those clocking-in machines installed?'
Alexander has 'lofty moods' and Florence can't pin down precisely why she goes to all the trouble to answer him back (especially as she's pulling down a nice paycheck from him each week) but can't help herself nevertheless. And then he goes and spoils it by showing facets of his personality that have nothing to do with the descriptors: smug, cold, icy, biting, etc.
They amputate a leg of a lorry driver and rescue him from certain death. I suppose that the wrong sort of marriage material would go to pieces and not know what to do with crumbling bricks and assorted industrial debris but Mr. Fitzgibbon is shown to be the right sort of material as he begins chucking bricks over his shoulder and hacking off limbs...ah,...limb. One little one...below the knee. All his most lovely traits are on display (honor, bravery, humor, tact, kindness) but still no dawning realization.
All this bon homie is pushing her dangerously near The Cliffs of Passionate Partiality but Florence is pulled from the brink by the appearance of Eleanor Paton (one 't' in Paton. No relation to the take-no-prisoners WWII general and hardly any resemblance...) who breezes into the surgeon's rooms with all the welcome of an ill-wind.
And there we are on page 57 with the principle dynamic in place. Eleanor is pushy and needy. Alexander continues having moods but generally shows himself to be better than he seems (He has a clinic in the ghetto!) and Florence is increasingly impatient with his impersonal manner. She fetched his coffee and set the cup and saucer down on his desk gently, suppressing a sudden and surprising wish to throw the lot at him. She wasn't sure why...
They eat out together a lot, enjoy lovely conversation and have some mutual dawning realizations which you would be forgiven for thinking might actually matter. They don't matter though. (What?! But they're dawning realizations! It's a straight line from those to the alter!)
She has her actual, unchangeable, I-will-probably-be-a-spinster-forever-now dawning realization some time later while he is eating lunch with her family out in the country. And what do lonely nurses do with unrequited love? They quit their jobs, roll those 401Ks over and find a new job in beautiful, remote New Zealand!
Alexander cheerfully accepts her resignation 'Splendid; nothing could be better, Florence, and you have no need to stay for a month--I'll let you off that. Go at the end of the week...I have been interviewing several likely applicants...'
He also offers to write her a reference. After a cozy gossip with the office secretary about how Eleanor the Cat is getting hitched to some factory owner in the Midlands (with a hairline as thin as his pocketbook is full, I imagine), just like that she's gone.
Because Florence's replacement is 'Mrs. Bates, a widow lady' (not Miss Bates, 36-24-36), you know that it is just a matter of time before he chases Florence down and kisses her shoes off in full view of the village church, store and school.
The End

Rating: This one is a bit of an enigma. I hardly remembered the plot at all in part because nothing huge happens. Sure, there's the bit about the amputation but even that is a very small wave on a very calm sea.
I like it quite well in spite of (because of?) that. The Venerable Neels has tucked little charming observations and real moments here and there throughout this gentle story.
I am a little annoyed by the fact that both of them have two dawning realizations each--it's rather like playing a game of Chutes and Ladders, two steps forward and one step back. But I think it also feels more real than a dramatic bout of measles so I'm not going to fuss too greatly.
It earns a boeuf en croute from me for the delightful chase Florence gives Alexander (The end is gorgeous.). I love how her temperature can be taken by what she's calling him: sir, Mr. Fitzgibbon or Alexander. He's really not as awful as all that (not for very long anyway) and she is peppery without being shrill.

Food: Alex (when he remembers to feed her) gives her the standard hero 'this-soup-hasn't-been-near-a-tin' treatment. Her landlady serves all sorts of wholesome, if uninspired, fare. Sausage rolls, crab mousse, noisettes of lamb, corned beef salad, lettuce and cucumber soup, shepherd's pie, sausages and mash, chicken tartlets (which I need Betty Debbie to knock-off), Rich Tea biscuits, roast, baked potatoes, rhubarb pie, duck with port wine and pink peppercorn sauce, Macaroni cheese, tin of beans and cheese sandwiches.

Fashion: Florence meets Alexander while wearing her spring cleaning clothes--a duster over her hair and a boot lace making a pony tail. She wears a possibly subdued (but probably flirty) French navy jacket and skirt to her interview which sounds like something an up-and-coming State Department drone might wear to a foreign summit before being told that all the lifers wear pant-suits and a grim expression. While working, she notices that some people wear clothes difficult to change into and out of (ie. buttons from neck to waist or assorted drapes and layers). Also, she gets a lot of mileage out of a leaf green crepe dress with a square neck and matching jacket.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, December 10th.
Romantic Encounter
Amputation at an accident, ghetto clinic, shadow siblings.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Girl With Green Eyes--Reprise

Eek!  Good Afternoon, Dear Bettys!
I am terribly tardy posting this for no other reason than that I got lost in a morass of laundry and purging.  Happily, instead of purging the contents of my tum, I have been able this week to purge bags and bags of clothes, toys and books from my kids' stash.  And to their credit, all the four pledges have helped me cheerfully.  (Cue 'The Circle of Life')  And it's nice to do before Christmas comes along.
Still, I think the zeal I feel this year might be a little early nesting.
But, as much of a revolving door relationship I have with my possessions, they would have to pry my collection of Betty Books from my cold dead hands.
And that goes double for The Girl With Green Eyes which I find adorable.
Love and lardy cakes,
Betty Keira 

"She looked up then, straight at William, and smiled at him. It was the kind of smile Boadicea might have had on her face as she led the Iceni into battle." It's quotes like this one that raise The Girl With Green Eyes to a higher level than it otherwise might be at.

Lucy Lockitt (age 25) is a pretty girl with abundant pale brown hair and beautiful green eyes that glitter like emeralds when she's mad. Older sister Imogen is junior executive material, younger sister Pauline, who is engaged to the pompous Cecil, works at a trendy art gallery, the kind that is frequented by rich Arabs. Their father is THE Gregory Lockitt, archaeologist, who travels the world with his wife. Lucy has been working in an orphanage for the past four years...which work is constantly referred to by her family as her 'little job'. With a family like hers, it's no wonder our girl is a bit shy.
Dr. William Thurloe (age 35) is a paediatrician who consults at City Royal Hospital, which is where he and Lucy meet for the first time...and fall in love. Lucy is there with hydrocephalic orphan Miranda. There is no mention of his family, but he does have a devoted couple, Mr. and Mrs. Trump, who work for him.
The Widow Seymour, aka Fiona, is a conniving woman who will never see 30 again. She would dearly love to be William's wife - and to that end is constantly grasping at him. To William's credit, he really doesn't give her any encouragement. Lucy thinks to herself that Fiona is 'all gush and black velvet'.
Alice: In a very Brady move, La Neels has given us a perfect British take on the confiding cook cum housekeeper. Alice is more loving and protecting of Lucy than anyone else - a fact which William picks up on. When Alice gets excited she drops her aitches.
Act I:
Lucy falls in love at first sight with William - but very quickly sees what she perceives as competition - in the form of The Widow Seymour. By page 25 we get a glimpse of William's daydreams - which include a jumble of ridiculous thoughts...nurseries, rice pudding, children other words, marital bliss with Lucy. Lucy and William happen to be on an approximately even social plane - and if you imagine their social circles as a Venn Diagram, you would see that they definitely overlap. Overlap enough to go to the same parties. Which is where they meet up again - outside the confines of orphanage or hospital. Lucy tries some plotting and planning - so that she can 'accidentally' run into William while he's walking his dogs.

Act II:
Holland. The Venn Diagram overlaps a little more with the introduction of Francesca and Litrik. Cross-over characters from The Secret Pool. Fran shares a bit of revisionist history about Lisa...the little girl who was raised as her husband's daughter (but wasn't), and then DIED...and now they have a baby girl named after her. William went to med school with Litrik, Lucy went to school with Francesca (before she went to live with her three aunts).
Lucy dreams of doing something clever so that William will notice her.
Act III:
Back in England no one cares what Lucy did on vacation, it's all about wedding plans for Pauline and Imogen. The idea of having a large wedding is becoming less and less appealing to Lucy. Lucy goes out to dinner with Pauline and her pompous fiancee and his even more pompous brother at The Savoy. William and Fiona happen to be at the same restaurant (Venn, baby, Venn). Fiona is catty towards Lucy, twitting her about her single status. Lucy retorts with a bit of poetry by John Burroughs:

Serene I fold my hands and wait, Nor care for wind or tide or sea; I rave no more 'gainst time or fate, For lo! my own shall come to me.
The fact that Poetry is Lucy's strong suit (this is not her first time spouting rhymes) and leaves Fiona floundering will become a crucial plot element later on...It's a good thing that William loves Lucy, otherwise this could have been a dangerous development. As it is, he finds her poetic abilities charming. Editor's Note: I adore this line from Pride and Prejudice about poetry and love: "I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love! Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may [be the food of love]. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it away entirely." and now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...
It's time for a little action! The orphans get Legionnaires Disease! This will require a boatload of overtime on the part of Lucy and ends with her getting to spend a few days back at City Royal with Miranda. William takes her home to his house every afternoon for lunch and a nap, which is quite sweet. Fiona drops in one afternoon and spends her time making barbed remarks to Lucy - which she wisely ignores. William is just perceptive enough to remark (after Fiona leaves) that the two don't like each other. Truer words, William, truer words...He then goes on to clearly explain that The Widow Seymour does not now, nor ever has meant anything to him, and by the way, will you marry me? Lucy needs a little time to think. The darling boy forgot to say the magic words. I love you.
Act IV:
After all the overtime Lucy has put in, she's given a week off. Goody, says Imogen. You can plan the welcome home party for mum and dad. She still hasn't given William an answer, in fact she has seen neither hide nor hair for days. He doesn't call, he doesn't write...surely if he cared...He doesn't even make it to the party, although The Perfidious Widow Seymour does. She makes a calculated gamble and tells Lucy that William is back at her place...for the weekend (which seems to have Brightonish overtones). This is not your garden variety muddying of waters, no, Fiona is pouring toxic waste directly into the River of Love. The Widow Seymour then tells William that Lucy is about to get engaged to young Joe Walter. He'd like to see Lucy about that, but she's gone into the witness protection program and is hiding out. Yes, Fiona and her tissue of lies has wreaked havoc.
Lucy gets let go from the orphanage - and is not even given the option of volunteer work. Her family is delighted that she free from her 'little job'.
At a party given by someone to honour her dad for something, William keeps an eye on Lucy - he notices that she isn't spending any time with young Joe Walter...he would like to talk to Lucy, but she's in full avoidance mode, so he writes her a note and asks Trump to mail it for him since he's on his way to Holland. Fiona stops by for one last try at him and sees the letter. While she's ready to admit defeat when it comes to William (and run off with a wealthy, though unattractive American), that doesn't stop her from trying to spike Lucy's guns. The Thieving Widow stuffs the letter down her dress and then hustles over to Lucy's house and reads part of it to her - substituting her own name. William had gone so far as to quote poetry in the letter which was quite romantic, but lost on Fiona. Meanwhile, Trump has discovered the theft so he high-tails it over to Lucy's house and tells her that Fiona stole a letter addressed to her. Lucy immediately realizes that the poetry was meant for her, so she wangles William's schedule from Trump and flies to Holland!
She then borrows a car and driver from Fran and Litrik and tracks William down. Love is declared, kisses exchanged and then a small request from Lucy, 'would you mind if we got married before my sisters?' 'I not only don't mind, I insist'. The End.
Rating: I like so much about this book. Lucy is a regular girl. Sure, she's pretty, but she isn't vain about it - not with sisters like Imogen and Pauline around, and her mother - all of whom reinforce the idea that she isn't clever and doesn't make enough of herself. I like the fact that she's held a job for four years despite her family's derision. William at times is quite delightful - even though his characterization lacks depth (I am left feeling that The Great Betty just didn't flesh him out quite enough). The Widow Seymour is deliciously evil - her scenes with Lucy are some of the best in the book. After the review I did last week (When Two Paths Meet) with a hero that spends way too much time with 'the other woman', I'm glad that William is much clearer about his lack of intentions towards Fiona - and in fact has few actual dates with her. There is no earth-shattering action (for Pete's sake, they quote poetry at each other!), but in spite of - or perhaps because of that, the book mostly works for me. It helps that the ending of the book is quite adorable. Queen of Puddings!
Fashion: Sandals from Raynes that are cripplingly tight, rust velvet dress, mohair sweater in shades of green to match her eyes, brown velvet suit with Liberty scarf, amber silk with long full skirt and ruched chiffon bodice, grey dress that is elegantly demure - which she wears again and again because William likes it.
Food: Chopped egg and cress sandwich, Madiera cake, fish salad, lamb chops with new potatoes and green peas, chocolate mousse with orange, lobster tartlets, roundels of lamb, caramel mousse with a coulis of raspberries, grilled sole and spinach (because Miss Imogen wants to lose 1/2 a stone before her wedding), cheese tartlet, chicken casserole, mountainous cream cake, apple tarts, potato soup with out of this world flavor, creamed chicken, vol-au-vents with salmon mousse, shrimps chopped with scrambled eggs, petit-fours.