Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Master of Tawhai--Video Review

Sometimes it's cathartic to get a bad review off your chest...

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Master of Tawhai--Notes

"The sign says his name is Satan, honey."
Literature: (17) A bull named Mephistopheles trees her, (36) Without knowing Forrest for any time at all, Rowena suggests that he favors Penny over Lindsay in the manner of Isaac favoring Jacob over Esau, (63) He compares her to Katharina in The Taming of the Shrew, (67) Forrest plays 'The Spring Song', 'Where'er You Walk', Westering Home', 'The Eriskay Love Lilt' and 'The Bells of St. Mary' on the piano, (79) She wants to go to bed early and he calls her Miss Methusaleh, (86) He forecasts the weather and she thinks of him as King Canute who will not find that the wind and weather will obey his will, (95) On Anzac Day she reads a memorial. "On holy mountains, out of the lap of the dawn, the dew of Thy young soldiery offers itself to Thee", (96) Another memorial window at the church reads "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends, (122) Rowena reads the writings of early settler, Lady Barker, which alerts her to sheep fleeing a massive storm, (135) The family sings together. One song is 'Galway Bay', (136) Forrest puts a poem to music by Jane East, an Australian writer:

I have loved green--the green of lovely things;
The pale, flat discs of new nasturtium leaves,
The feathers of a mountain-parrot's wings,
The first frail grass that Spring, new-awakened weaves;
And depthless pools where tides have ceased to run,
And winter apples hanging in the sun!

I have loved green--bright-dropping beads of jade,
Soft pussy-willow silk with silvery folds,
Books with green covers carelessly arrayed,
And emerald bottles capped with tinselled golds!
But the green wonder of your laughing eyes
Stirs me each time, O Love, to new surprise!

Locations: (10) Tawhai Hills is beyond the Rangitata  (This is a fascinating article which references Lady Barker and this area. It talks a lot about the famous Canterbury winds.),

(104) When Forrest takes Rowena to the family seaside home, they travel through Takahe, (122) They travel through the Rakaia Gorge to Lake Coleridge (also referenced in that winds article), (172) When the flash flood hits, Five Forks is used as a rendezvous point.

New Zealand: (13) Rowena is thirsty but declines to drink from a stream for fear of hydatids, (26) Rowena thinks a 14-pound salmon is quite large but the minister's wife says it's small for New Zealand, (27) the minister's wife doesn't like mutton-birds (too fishy). She recommends whitebait, kumeras, Maoris sweet potatoes, toheroas, shell-fish... Rowena is introduced to 'baches', though in Otago they call small beach cottages 'cribs', (34) Forrest tells Rowena she'd be terrified by a Maori haka, (39) Morning tea is served at ten which equalled elevenses at home, (41) Forrest is quick to say he belonged to the New Zealand Navy, not the Navy, (47) the doctor threatens to 'bung' (British Slang. to throw or shove carelessly or violently; sling.) 

Let she who has not had technical difficulties,
bung the first computer.

Forrest into the hospital, (53) Forrest introduces a Maori shearer named Fergus McLaren and tells her there's been so much intermarriage that you can't go by names. Pakehas have adopted some Maori names like Ngaio, Huia and Tiaki, (59) Rowena polishes a kauri bannister, (72) she references a belisha beacon (which is more British, I think), (80) New Zealand birds are listed: bell-birds, tuis, and moreporks. Also, they are preparing to go on a pig hunt which surprises her, (82) the first home at Tawhai Hills was wattle-and-daub, then raupo. His great-grandfather came in December 1850 with the First Four Ships on the Charlotte Jane. An old man nearby can remember the Maori Wars. (93) N.Z.'s only eagle went extinct before white colonialization, (95) they celebrate Anzac Day, (109) they enter the D.I.C. lounge, (128) Lindsay spends her time 'swotting', (129) N.Z. surprises Rowena by celebrating the Queen's Birthday on the Monday nearest June 3rd since the reign of George V, (145) Helen speaks at both the Women's Institute and the Women's Division, (152) Rowena is called an excellent 'rouseabout', (166) Forrest tells her he's seen the Aurora Australis, (170) Forrest confesses to working a 'slinter' with Aunt Lavinia to get Rowena away for the day, (184) Lindsay, though 20, is still a minor and can't marry without her uncle's consent.

"I'm sure we have his blessing anyway!"
Manse Life: (25) The minister's wife is named Nancy, a laughing, copper-headed girl who looks nothing to Rowena like what she is, (28) Nancy says that parish cars always impoverish a minister. "Another bill for thiry or forty pounds would have rocked our budget completely. We call that car 'The Millstone', (30) Nancy only smokes cigarettes to feel wicked and worldly when she is getting too fed up with parishioners. She also smokes one when she's feeling too saintly--it gets her back to everyday levels, (95) three ministers of different denominations take part in Anzac Day services at the chapel on the estate, St. John-in-the-Wilderness--Presbyterian, Anglican and Methodist.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Master of Tawhai--1959

Rowena Melisande Ainsley Fotheringham (23) has First-World Problems, as they say. The difficulty is that she is loaded. Her unwieldy name is enough to assure us Poors that she is more pedigreed and pampered than a blue-ribbon shih-tzu at Westminster.

But she is running away to New Zealand with twenty pounds to her name and the promise of a job at Tawhai Hills being an old lady's companion. Reason? She was thrown over by ex-fiance Geoffrey because he fell in love with someone named Josie (whose name suggests she might take her once-yearly vacations...lowers voice to caravan parks). Geoffrey's parting shot was to also tell Rowena that he was only sort-of interested in her because of her wealth and connections. Which is a weaselly way to break up with someone you're cheating on. Like, just do the pro forma song and dance. "It's not you, babe. It's ME."

She leaves everything...cough...behind.
On her way to her job, a series of unfortunate events finds her walking across muddy paddocks and treed by a raging bull. Rescue comes in the guise of a hunky horseman who nevertheless bawls her out. Enter our hero, the deciduously named Forrest Beechington. He wastes no time telling her that his aunt's companions all threw themselves at him and he, for his part, did not play catch. He does not want Rowena to get ideas about lacing up her cleats and playing ball either.

The warning makes her bristle even though there must be a whole chorus of clanging bells going off in her head. Someone is being sought after for their wealth and position? How terrible! Who could that possibly remind her of? But The Fire Engines of Empathy never switch on the sirens and peel out of the station. Instead, she gets busy inventing a vague semi-engagement with an itinerant artist she met on the boat coming out. (Does that seem oddly specific to you?) That will convince His Lordship, Master of His Shabby Antipodean Fiefdom that she isn't interested in him.

There is an 'occupied' sign on the lavatory door of her heart.
Tawhai Hills IS unfortunately down-at-heel on the inside. And the only extended family are:
Nearly-blind Aunt Lavinia who is "useless"--her words, not mine and certainly not because of the near-blindness. She's daffy in a way that Essie thinks I am going to find charming and don't quite.)
Nephew Tony, 17, who exists for no reason at all.
and nieces
Penny, 17, who is waiting to be old enough for Farmer Nicholas and a follow-up book full of misunderstandings.
and Lindsay, 20-ish, who has a weakness for mopery, sulks and itinerant artists.

Rowena throws herself into the task of restoring Tawhai Hills like a privileged rich girl, confident that training cotton-headed village girls is her birthright. In fairness, she does a good amount of hard work herself, acts as Aunt Lavinia's companion beautifully, calls Forrest "Mr. Beechington" and even condescends to give Village Girl a makeover.

Forrest comes upon them, cutting hair in the sunshine and says, lighting a fuse on a bomb he didn't even know was live, "...if I'm too busy come harvest to get to Geraldine to get mine done, you might attempt to cut mine." Oh my hotness. The image of her fingers in his hair... (Pardon me as I fan myself vigorously.) Village Girl is very lucky she didn't accidentally get shorn bald.

But, for all the flying sparks, Forrest and Rowena are running on different tracks. He is superior and baiting. She is meddling and has lied about a LOT of things. Here's the working list: her economic status, her relationship status, her middle name, and her ability to ride a horse like a professional.

Rowena hates lying so much, you guys.
While visiting town, Forrest catches young Lindsay keeping company with Itinerant Artist Dirk Sargison. (The Dirk Sargisons of this world are handed their cad credentials at birth. Not all of us as so blessed to find their vocation so easily. Dirk is to be envied.) Forrest, with very little actual evidence, labels him a bounder and Rowena (who knows that he for sure is one and has a mini freak out that her mythological semi-fiance has painted her into a tight corner) tells him, in her meddling way, that it's best if Forrest doesn't forbid the relationship outright. Though she knows it means she will be exposed, Rowena suggests that Dirk should be invited up to Tawhai Hills where he will look like a plastic picnic spork next to John Macrae's sterling silverware.

Editorial Note: John Macrae is mooning after a disinterested Lindsay and is described as dependable and dishy and possibly headed into politics. I do not buy for a minute that he is that desperate for the Lindsay we've seen thus far. Boyfriend doesn't need to settle. Boyfriend can have his pick.
Having looked over every eligible maiden in
both the North and the South island, the petulant sad-sack with
daddy issues is definitely the one for me.

In the midst of these domestic upsets, Rowena's Tower of Lies begins to crumble. She show-jumps her way to an outer paddock and Forrest is upset to find that she pretended not to know which end of a horse was the fertilizer factory. He uploads his rage right into her lips and then has the cheek to say, "Don't bottle things up. You could always slap my face! They do it in all the best films."

She takes his advice and drops some truth bombs on him. Her list of grievances is long enough to form the better part of a Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that you are a Scoundrel of the Highest Order. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world:
  • You fire people without cause. 
  • You are stupidly sentimental about killing hawks. 
  • You behave like a feudal lord and are a big meanie about letting people on your land.

She is in the wrong on all counts. Oh, how she is in the wrong. When she discovers that he won't let climbers use his land if there is a winter storm brewing because he lost his brother and sister-in-law while they were rescuing two such fool-hardy people, the coals being heaped on her head look more like the lava flows of Mount Kilauea.

Spokespersons for Miss Kilauea issued a statement
denying any involvement in Miss Fotheringham's hot mess.

Editorial Note (Oh I have notes): But this speaks to the problem with the characterizations in the book. Forrest is raising three young people, has given up a life he loved (at sea), carries a heavy burden of estate management and cares for an aging relative. These are recommendations of his integrity, aren't they? But, finding Rowena's been keeping a tally sheet of his perceived faults comes off as intensely petty. 

After these contretemps, they agree to be friends and for a short time life at Tawhai Hills is idyllic. Rowena wants to say, "You know that oddly specific artist I spoke of? He wants to seduce Lindsay but I'm a woman of taste and distinction so he's always triggered my gag reflex!"

But she never quite manages to say the words. Instead, she is discovered in the worst possible way (meeting them on the street after an awesome day with Forrest at the Beechington sea-cottage), while never doing a thing to prevent it--I mean, the arrow of Dirk was loosed from her own bow and was headed for Tawhai Hills. Did she never think he would actually see her and say "Oh yeah, we met on the boat"?

Forrest is furious and even trots out some outdated pejoratives. He says, "What is your type, Miss Fotheringham? A type like that dago Lindsay is with?" Meep!

  1. an Italian, Spanish, or Portuguese-speaking person

Using that word is very off-brand for the racially broadminded Ms. Summers. (I only call her Ms. Summers when I am cross.) I am not sure Forrest will be forgiven.

Lindsay's children were this close to
inheriting a rich linguistic heritage.

At Tawhai Hills, Dirk isn't quite the spork Rowena hoped he'd be. He rides well and paints nicely and isn't backing Rowena into semi-private closets while waving a switchblade under her chin. But he misses Lindsay's birthday so...I guess he's just the worst? (She spends her time dancing with John-Macrae-who-is-going-to-be-a-politician someday. Let me tell you. That is not the recommendation it once was.)

Forrest, meanwhile wants the truth from Rowena. She's been circumspect-ish around Dirk but walks into Lindsay's party wearing an actual Emerald of Museum Quality. He pulls her aside and asks for answers and when the only one she cares to give him is that she has never wished for a wealthy husband, he softens and kisses her. (At last, you guys!)

A feathering of unease washes over me as I check the page count. One-hundred and thirty-six. I don't suppose we could get fifty-five pages of No-Expenses-Spared Wedding Planning and a short but poignant Forrest-Meets-Lord-Ainsley-In-England interlude? Because I have had it with misunderstandings.

Time enough for the groomsmen
to perfect their dance number.

Alas. Alas for all of us. Helen has arrived home from her Travels Abroad. Helen was once engaged to Forrest's OTHER deceased brother (What bad witch cursed the Beechingtons?) and lots of people think it would be a cracking good idea of she married Forrest...because Dear Child, in New Zealand at that time, if you were gorgeous and going places, no one at all would marry you. Aunt Lavinia did not find Helen a kindred spirit. Rowena told herself she must have a nasty nature to feel glad about that. 

Rowena has a chance to perform heroics when she spots sheep coming off the mountain in an historically significant way and rushes off to tell Forrest. He alerts the community and thousands of sheep are saved (not to mention all the sheep farmers bank accounts). They dig the sheep out together and then, not long after, he tells her that he got Dirk a job on the southern island. Torrid cheek touching and elbow cupping ensue. 

And then, when Forrest is gone, Helen rushes in. Oh Rowena, the hap-hap-happiest news!--Let me save you some time. Helen got herself engaged to an Aussie and Forrest was all for it. I hope I am as big a fan of free speech as anybody. But Rowena thinks she's engaged TO Forrest. If Helen drove a car as carelessly as she was yammering, I'd have pulled her to the verge and issued a verbal warning--maybe slap her with a two month suspension of chit chat and surprising declarations. 

Once that is resolved, Forrest chases Rowena into the Turret Room and all but proposes. Like an aged wife of a justice of the peace witnessing an elopement in the front parlor, my finger is hovering over the play button on the tape deck. The thready strains of Journey's Don't Stop Believing (For a String Quartet) are ready to bless this union. 

I am denied. 

It's Aunt Lavinia again, rushing in with news of a flash flood. Rowena saddles her horse and follows Forrest and it all gets very noblesse oblige-y here--the rich folk organizing armies of Poors to save their own possessions. I forgive everything though when Rowena fords a river with a child in her saddle. The horse looses its footing and she thrusts the young person at Forrest. "The child! The child!" she says as she is swept away. She is rescued but only after breaking her arm. 

This is such a huge moment that you think it would cut through everything else like a hot knife through butter. This is such sweeping proof of the good character of both parties that when one of them is tempted to think poorly of the other, surely (SURELY) they could:
  • Stop 
  • Think
  • Shut-up

How can you waste my time with your petty dramas?!
While she is recovering, Rowena thinks that Forrest is only willing to marry her because Aunt Lavinia has gifted her a sum of money and Forrest has one more chance to think Rowena only wants to marry rich men. 

Oh. And then, as though our Bubbling Stew of Misunderstanding isn't already boiling over, Lindsay-the-Dramatic (who will someday, nonetheless, fall backwards into a good marriage with an awesome man) attempts to elope with Dirk-the-Already-Married. Rowena manages to save her and hush it up but reputations are both salvaged and wrecked when Forrest sees her as she's giving Dirk the what-for.

Way too long later, Forrest writes to Lindsay that Rowena is not to be trusted and she writes back that, of course, she is. Forrest proposes and Rowena accepts...

And Betty Keira rolled her eyes.
The End.

Rating: 5/10 A Crumbling Ledge. I feel terrible that I didn't like this more. I am rating it against other Essies but rated against other mid-century Harlequins, we're bumping it up to a 7 or 8. It might have had something to do with the way I read it--in drips and drops--but I knew that once I mentally started re-writing it that the whole thing was sort of a flop. Here are some things that really didn't work:
A) Rowena had twenty pounds, good clothes, the chance to call home for more money at any time and an ability to turn her hand to anything. I never really bought that she was on her beam-ends. It was more like Rich Girl Goes Slumming--which can be fun (see Cold Comfort Farm) but is not my favorite genre. Becky from Betty Neels' The Promise of Happiness (or Becky and the Baron, the Hot, Hot Baron) would have died and gone to heaven for such an auspicious start.
B) Time and again, Forrest is accused of terrible things only to be vindicated as some admirable cross between Superman and Jonas Salk. Time and time again, Rowena selflessly rescues half the community from financial and mortal ruin, only to have him doubt her character. I CANNOT WITH THESE PEOPLE.
C) This book desperately wanted to be stream-lined. Some of these misunderstandings only cropped up for a second but, there we were--side-tracked again. We could have cut some of those and spent more time reading about the home restoration which is always one of my favorite bits.
Things I liked (because I know some of you probably LOVE this book):
A) The premise. Essie took a classic romance trope (common girl meets and weds British nobility) and transports it to New Zealand. It's clever.
B) There are some fantastic lines. The plotting is my issue but, again, Essie Summers has a deft hand at description. At one point, a brassiere is hanging off a tree branch 'in a dissipated fashion'. When they go digging out the sheep (the first time it's described in The Essie Canon) there is magic in it.
C) Though the misunderstandings had grown silly, I liked the last third of the book. Rowena really doesn't like Helen and has no reason to feel that way. The unfairness of it is greatly humanizing.

Location: South Canterbury

Misunderstanding: Too many to count but, okay, the big one is that they both think everyone is out for their money.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Five Stars

I have this odd kick-up in an otherwise compliant personality that manifests in me refusing to read books when they're recommended to me. It's weird, I know, particularly for someone whose blogging bread-and-butter is all about being opinionated about literature. 

One of my critique partners, Afton, told me ages and ages ago that I would hate Code Name Verity. She said that I wasn't, under any circumstances, to read it--that she couldn't vouch for my sanity if I even so much as picked it up.

Afton knows me well.

And when I finally got around to it?

I loved it so much
I wanted to marry it.

The basic plot revolves around a female spy and a her best friend, a female pilot, during WWII. I won't tell you a thing more. I refuse. To give away spoilers would be like tattooing a mustache across a newborn baby. But I will tell you several spoiler-free things I loved about it:

  • It features female friendship. This was the book I was starving for and didn't know it. I love love stories. I will love them until I die. I make no apologies. I infer nothing about my character or intellect because this is so. My favorite thing is when my main characters run off and go make babies. But this book wasn't about that. It's about the sort of intense friendships women are capable of--the kind that turns our middle school free time into friendship-bracelet-manufacturing-cottage-industries and makes us promise to name our firstborn daughters "Sarah Dawn Pritika Kendra Suzanne" after our five best friends. 
  •  In the midst of terrifying war-time skull-duggery, no one is the square-jawed embodiment of perfect courage and perfect competence. No one is named Mary Sue. Characters fail and fall-apart and act like human beings--doing awesome things but not always behaving awesomely. 
  • It shows the things a woman was up against during this time but, again, it wasn't about that and is much more successful for it. It's a greater indictment of these incidents to have the lady character just getting on with her tasks rather than having her jaw drop at the misogyny. The jaw-dropping is more effective when we're the ones doing it on her behalf. 
  • It reminded me of our own Great Betty. Being Awesome was not invented at the same time as avocado toast and selfies. This meticulously researched story highlighted the amazing sacrifices of our fore-mothers.
    The Great Betty would have been all, "Child, please.
    Try putting up a victory roll when you're on the run from actual Nazis."
    I highly recommend the read. Keep plugging away if the beginning feels slow. It pays off!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Time and The Place--Notes

Locations: (5) Kate meets Hugh while hiking  on a high bank overlooking the Motor Highway on the Cashmere Hills, above the Canterbury Plains, (6) they stop in a layby on top of the watershed that divides Lyttelton Harbor from the Plains with a scenic look-out, (11) St. Enoch's is in Kahikatea Valley, (13) Victoria Park is above the school and her home, (26) Ken the Fink's mother lives in Timaru, (35) Hugh and Kate travel to Oamaru to deliver Roddy home to his father after his mother dies, (67) Hugh runs her out to Paekakariki with a picnic hamper during the teaching conference, (68) on this same trip they see Kapiti, the island bird sanctuary,

You, me, a bird sanctuary.
What could go wrong?


(69) the Rector tells her he taught at a school not far from Slough, England

Literary references: (10) There is an inscription under the cross-beam of the eatery they stop at: "Jog on, jog on the footpath way and merrily hent the stile-a, A merry heart goes all the day--your sad tires in a mile-a." (18) He says to her, "A Daniel come to judgement!...O wise young judge!", (46) Kate is reading a book and quotes a character asking, "Is yon lad a man to ride the water with, lassie?" (55) I suspect Essie is quoting herself when she has Kate quote a poem: "No moon? But overhead the stars are bright! No moon? What need have we of heavenly light When you blue eyes, like moonlit skies Are burning bright?" and then she thinks of the Victorian-era Robert Browning poem, "Never the time, the place and the loved one--all together!"

Victorians were the first to discover that
the forehead was an erogenous zone.

(56) "If 'twere done...'twere well it were done quickly.", (60) the Rector references the Old Testament figure of Methuselah when speaking of his age, (61) the boys call the Rector 'Bulldog Drummond', (93) They see the play The Middle Watch, (120) Hugh tells her he likes her a little disordered and quotes Herrick's poem Delight in Disorder, (125) He quotes Shakespeare: "Methinks the lady doth protest too much." (137) The line I always think of when I think of this book is from Kipling "And he learned about women from her!" (147) He announces their engagement to the whole school by singing 'Where'er You Walk' followed by 'A Gordon for Me' (173) Kate laughs when Della tries to tell her that Hugh and she are lovers. Kate references the Old Testament story of Potipher's Wife, (187) Kate tells Ken that she was in love with the Rector quite early on. "When the true gods come, the false gods go."
Ladies and gentlemen,
The moment you've been waiting for...
The pride of Easter Island!

New Zealand: (20) Ken is a former All Black rugby player, (28) Kate draws the 'child allowance' for Beth, just as every parent in the country does, (37) on their way to deliver Roddy to his father, Hugh points out the sod fences built by early pioneers, (38) Roddy shows them his Meccano set, (43) The Rector wants the school to have a soccer team as well as rugby for the students whose parents come from out of the country, (47) Ken has 'footer' practice, (76) Kate references articles that the marriage council publishes, (106) piggy-back is called pick-a-back, (117) Ken doesn't miss a rugby match, especially ones that play for the Ranfurly shield, (119) Kate collects 'wattle' or mimosa for the Rector's rooms, (134) Kate thinks that Hugh would prefer a table cloth to 'table-mates' or place-mats

The Time and the Place--Video Review

I'm laughing at that line Betty Neels once had in her autobiographical sketch of having to bang out her novels in a tiny landing where everyone was coming and going. For the second week in a row I've managed to be recording when Pledge Two walks in from high school. Ah well. Times and seasons, times and seasons.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Chronological Discussion of Betty

We're starting something new over on the Facebook page. I'll be posting our old TUJD reviews in the order The Great Betty published them and we'll be reading along and commenting on previously dead-ish comment threads. Readers who prefer to stay on the blog have the new feature (see right) of an updated comment log. I'd prefer not to repost the reviews fresh since they are easy to get at on the "Book Reviews" tab and I've found that it can complicate our search function. But the updated comments widget means that you can follow the comments wherever they are being made on our site.
If we are very careful,
we can all have fun and no one will get hurt.

Let's get going, shall we? Here are the books up for discussion this month:

October 30: Sister Peters in Amsterdam

November 5: Amazon in an Apron, A Match for Sister Maggy, Nurse in Holland

November 12Blow Hot, Blow Cold aka Surgeon from Holland/Visiting
Surgeon/Visiting Consultant

November 19: Tempestuous April, Nurse Harriet Goes to Holland

November 26: Damsel in Green

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Time and the Place (1958)

I'll tell you what. I'm getting worried about my rating system. We're on book three and I love them all and what are we going to do?!


Catherine Gordon, 23, is having the devil of a time managing her dog, Plot Contrivance. They're on a ramble way up in the hills above Christchurch and Plot Contrivance knocks Cathy backwards, down an embankment and into oncoming traffic. "Screech!" goes several tons of automotive engineering, stopping just short of turning her three dimensions into two.

The driver hustles around the hood, bawls her out and then stuffs her and Plot Contrivance (who we never see again for the whole rest of the book) into his car. Safety first. Then he drives her to a handy layby...
Not that handy
...where he shows himself a dab hand at pulling slivers from knees. It's almost like it's in his line of work. They adjourn to a local eatery (as you do after a shattering near-death experience) where he makes few personal disclosures and she tells him everything. Topics include, but are not limited to:
  • Her professional anxieties. (She's the Rector's secretary at St. Enoch's--a boarding school for boys--and they're getting a new one on Monday. "It's a pity this man isn't married.")
  • That she has been the guardian of Beth, her 7 year-old niece, for four years. 
  • The dented setting on her brand new engagement ring (That's called foreshadowing, kids.)
  • Her age, which is twenty-three and super legal, despite looking, with her dark pixie hair and her petite frame, seventeen.
What they hadn't gotten around to was names which is a bit unfortunate since A) He is Hugh Alexander Murdoch (35), new Rector to St. Enoch's and B) He has fallen head over sensible Oxfords for his pert new secretary. She does not take his willingness to mine her for information about his new position well.

But maybe it won't be so bad. She generally approves his enthusiasm for St. Enoch's, her One True Love, and stoutly defends his innovations to Kenneth Batridge--fiance, geography teacher, Sports Master, and mopiest Blindside flanker who ever rucked a scrum*.

(*You don't actually ruck a scrum but I found the verb "forming" a scrum to be too civilized for what it looks like.)

Kenneth was a former All Black.
Even I, who know nothing of these things,
know what a big deal this would be to every boarder at St. Enoch's.

When Hugh finds out that Kate (He calls her Kate which would be cute if I could ever manage to get Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes out of my head.) is to marry Ken, he is scornful. She had big ideas, she'd told him, and Ken Batridge, despite the thickness of his neck, is a little man.

Kate's problems with Ken extend far beyond his antagonism for the new Rector and his insistence for rugby over soccer. She also wonders if Ken doesn't want to make a home for little Beth, her actual adopted daughter(!), after the wedding. That suspicion came in the form of his mother, sneaking up like an alleyway tough and clubbing Kate over the head. It's unfair to Ken, she whinges, to begin married life so encumbered. Maybe Kate should send her daughter (!) to an orphanage. Worse, Ken admits he asked his mother to broach the subject. I guess his career blocking 250 pound rugby athletes made him fit only for hiding behind his mother's apron.

The contrast between Churlish Ken and Headmaster Hugh is brought into high contrast when Beth goes missing. Ken, probably hoping that a long fall off a tall cliff will solve the little problem of Who Will Pay for Beth's Eventual School Fees, doesn't even give his fiancee a ride home. Hottie Hugh? He rounds up the entire Sixth Form and organizes a search party without being asked. Sure, finding Beth had fallen asleep in an upstairs closet and having to call off the search is the Parenting Walk of Shame, but, at least "sir" understood.

Hugh is invited to take dinner with them and, as her boss sits comfortably by the fire he says, "Kate, I'm writing a book." (He just says it like being a first-time author is his superpower, with none of that insecurity that mere mortals have.) The name is dreadful--"Salute to Kate" (about Henry VIII's last wife, Catherine Parr)--and I can't get behind it at all. But as a gambit to spend more time, off-hours, with his secretary and speak words of Renaissance Romantical-ness, it's genius. Kate agrees to be his late-night typist (not a euphemism).

It is time now, to admit that she is in love with High-minded Hugh. He cares deeply about his charges, is kind to little girls and only canes the boys who really deserve it. (Yes. He is a mid-century boarding school headmaster. Though no one is actually caned in the book, caning is in his job description.)

The sign on the Headmaster's office door
raised everyone's spirits.

There's only one thing to be done. She dashes off a letter to Ken ("Dear Ken, When I accepted your proposal of marriage, I didn't know it meant I would be expected to drop my daughter off at the nearest fire station. The black emptiness of your soul gives me vertigo. Etc., etc. Never again yours, Cathy.") but decides to hold onto it until after she, Hugh and Ken travel, by ferry to a teaching conference in Wellington.

As she is wandering about the evening boat deck with Hugh, bravely keeping her hands to herself, there is an amorous clinch. Oh no. I see what you thought. How awkward. No. It's Ken's voice, desperate with longing, pledging eternal love to an unknown blonde and promising to break it off with Kate just as soon as he can. I'd bet that if the unknown blonde has a six or seven children, he will raise them all under the auspices of his compliant mother...that is the degree to which he has forgotten himself.

For her part, Kate is irritated and feeling enormously justified for wanting to kick him and his Conventional Diamonds (With Complimentary Dented Setting) to the curb. But Hugh is consoling and chivalrous. In the space of moments, he hatches a plot to have it look like it was Kate and himself carrying on in the moonlight. They'll meet the others and faces will be saved.

Sure, she agrees. Honestly, it's hard to think with Mr. Murdoch's arm around her shoulders. I mean, she could squeeze out a few tears for Caddish Ken if Hugh would hold her tighter...What? Oh yes. Let's go surprise the finks.

The finks aren't the only ones who get a surprise. The Unknown Blonde is none other than Della Penvyre. (That name is delicious. As delicious as the woodland creatures she sucks the blood of in the light of a full moon.) She and Hugh go back. Way back.

Ken is dropped, almost as unceremoniously as a hot potato, but Della gets no traction. Hugh is devoted to making Kate look like the object of his interest and does so for the rest of the conference. "I can't think why you should help me," she says and it is all he can do not to choke out, "I LOVE YOU. It's because I love love love you."

Kate makes a final break with Ken...

"Ken, you put the GAG in engagement."
...and they all return to St. Enoch's older and wiser. Any sensible pair of would-be lovers would settle down to a little light wooing. (Just enough to be a human resources nightmare.) But Kate hears that Mr. Symonds (Della's step-father and former mentor to Hugh) will be taking a teaching position with St. Enoch's and the Widow Penvyre will be making a home with her parents.

Della wafts into the atmosphere of the boarding school like a cloud of poisonous gas. Her first order of business is to send Ken around to Kate's house to stir the cold ashes of their love. (Can't have Hugh's beguiling secretary unattached now, can we?) But when Kate tells him he's as welcome as a measles rash, he kisses her knowing full well the Rector, walking up the garden path for a typing session (not a euphemism), can see him do it. Cretinous Ken is the worst.

But what about Hugh? Is he jumping to Della's tune like a puppet on a string? Kate can't quite tell. He certainly seems courteous and indulgent with his old flame but Della (who you should imagine is going around to everyone's lawns each night and planting them with forks or salting them or TPing the trees) isn't the one he seems bent on escorting all over the place. Time and again the Rector hijacks Kate into going on dates (the sort of thing he needs a companion to attend) and behaves in a very unrectorish manner with her lips.

The Rector stops here.
Della treats Kate like the hired help--always. If it's tea with the student's parents, Della is handing dirty dishes to Kate. (--Doubtless, she is schlepping her way to the servery, muttering, "I'll tell you who's a dirty dish.") If Hugh has to host friends over at the Rector's lodgings and asks Kate to make some womanly touches, Della swoops in with floral arrangements so elaborate it looks like Secretariat died.

Still, Kate has those nights with Hugh as they go over his book. The book is good (and thank heavens it is because I am not sure a romance could be properly launched with a manuscript you want to take a red pen to), revealing him to be passionate and eloquent. (I think that the BBC is going to pick it up eventually and do an entire series of the sort they did in the 70s--back when characters moved from one paneled room to the next and when staring out of a mullioned window was code for "I want to Brighton him, but I'm married to the king." The Murdochs are going to be millionaires.)
The series will be remade in 2020,
starring an improbably muscled Henry VIII who
takes his shirt off to scythe some fields. It's a metaphor!

Kate, bless the sainted shade of Essie Summers, is no idiot and sees Della for what she is. At one point, Kate is invited by Mrs. Symonds to take tea and look at all of Della's scrapbooks. I imagine them FULL of toddler beauty pageant photos because they sure as heck don't have even one picture of Ian Penvyre, deceased spouse of the Widow Penvyre. All of this was a set-up though, to get Della some time with that Pesky Typist! (still not a euphemism)

Della looked chagrined. "I thought that perhaps what had triggered things off was your finding Kenneth in the saloon that night with me, when he'd said he was turning in early. And I've felt so conscience-stricken since."
"Have you?" Catherine knew that her voice was derisive. 

But, when she's alone, Kate wonders and worries.

Meanwhile, the Headmaster discovers trouble among the boys in the form of  "Lurid literature--very lurid--being circulated, and pornographic postcards. Egyptian stuff."

Editorial Note: This episode is going to be viewed differently for different readers. The reference to Egyptian stuff makes me want to know what the heck was going around in the mid 50s. (--but not enough to Google it. Heavens, no.) The world described in this book is no more, on a variety of levels (Specifically, I mean the scope, accessibility and acceptance of porn consumption.), and how you read this bit is going to depend a lot on how fine and not fine you are by these changes. 

Essie, from the mouth of Hugh Murdoch, has a wonderful speech about how he's less worried about the boys who are innocent but have been taught the facts of life along with the wonder of intimacy by loving parents, than he is about the boys who are ignorant of all of it. Yes, says Hugh, there are miles of difference between innocent and ignorant.

He's spilling all of this out to Kate as she sits by his fire. It's late and after locating the source (Seriously, it's tragic to me in 2017 with a whole Internet of Porn that Essie could write about a single source.) and blackening his daylights, he returns to his home to find Kate waiting with a hot dinner for him. A listening ear, warmed slippers, a hot's all very connubial.

He proposes.

"What an excellent Rector's wife you would make...I can't very well speak words of love to know why..." Drat it. He doesn't finish that thought. What he was going to say was "...because of that Rugby Ball you had yourself engaged to." What she thought he was going to say was "...because I harbor a secret passion for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's widow." (Poor Ian is NOT Lord Voldemort but the fellow hardly gets any ink at all.)

She accepts under the famous Mills-and-Boone Clause: If the party of the first part hungers for bread, that party is legally authorized to accept a half-loaf of the aforementioned bread from the party of the second part though said gluten-related products will not only fail to satisfy the party of the first part but, forthwith, begin to canker the soft cardiac organ of the party of the first part. The party of the second part is released from any liabilities under this clause.

Hugh lets her know, right away, what sort of marriage she is letting herself in for as they take a House Tour of Love.

Kate: "In fact, I once slept in the guest-room."
Hugh: "Well, that's a room you won't occupy again."

He also reminds her that he can start dictating the more earthy scenes in his book which should make for much nicer typing. (possibly a euphemism)
Hugh wondered if she knew what he meant.
If she thought she might dip her toe into this whole Engaged For the Second Time in Six Months thing, her ideas are shattered. The next night is the night of the school musical performance and the Headmaster is invited to sing a few numbers in front of all the students, staff and parents. He drops enough hints that there is a romance going on between him and his secretary to turn every neck in the place and then lays down this joint and has everyone sing along, for good measure: A Gordon For Me

A Gordon for me, a Gordon for me, 
If ye're no a Gordon ye're no use to me. 
The Black Watch are braw, the Seaforths and a' 
But the cocky wee Gordon's the pride o' them a'.

The whole auditorium goes wild and, honestly, I was about to rise and sing by the end of it. Della's rage is so incandescent that it's a wonder everyone didn't have to don fall-out goggles.

Soon, Della tells Kate to meet her out by the track.

I have been to Middle School, you guys. No good will ever come of meeting anyone out by the track. Not ever. Never.

Sure enough, Della claims that Hugh couldn't stand the thought of living off of Ian's fortune but that he will always be hers. No matter what a Brazen Little Typist has to say about it. Is Kate listening? Or is she wondering how bright a mark grandma's opal ring would leave on Della's cheek?

Kate is becoming super stressed out by bottling up all that love for man who may never even bother drinking that vintage. It all comes to a head when Hugh tries to thank Kate for all that typing (not a euphemism) with a lovely moonstone necklace. She is grumpy because she did it for love and he is grumpy because he really only got the necklace because he can't say, "I love you" out loud. Angry kissing follows which in real life I do not approve of but in my mid-century romances is like the ignition switch on a backyard grill. It's the way things get cooking!

Della comes to say that she and Hugh were L-O-V-E-R-S but Kate laughs in her face. She knows Hugh too well. And maybe it's time to really air out all the difficulties. She decides to pedal her little bike up to the Rector's house and lets herself in. That's when she sees...Hugh...looking curiously like he's about to embark on a little typing (euphemism) with Della.

"Oh Della, Della!"
Kate sneaks out the back and her bike is clipped by a lorry, landing her in the hospital.

Looking up into Hugh's shattered face, all she can say is something to the effect of, "Let's end this sham. Who were we kidding?" He agrees to let her go (What option does he have?) but asks her to wait until she's out of the hospital. When she's on her feet again, he's got one last gift for her. He leads her to his living room, gives her a stinking forehead kiss and pushes her through the door. Who is waiting?

The Lily-Liveredest Blind-side Flanker in the whole country! KEN! Does Hugh think that's what she wanted? Oh [BLEEP] no. This ends here.

And it does. She tears a strip off of Ken and then she tears into the Rector's office.

I'm not going to spoil it. It's too good. But her declarations of love include the line, "But of all the things I hate you for, I hate you most for what you've done this afternoon..." The Rector is an idiot but he's not a fool. He confesses that he actually dumped a pitcher of water on a hysterical Della, that night of the accident. And he's not letting anything come between them, or their typing, again.

Rating: 8/10 Digging Out the Sheep.
I think it was Betty Amanda who suggested that the Widow Penvyre is the most evil villianess in the Summers Canon and she's certainly wonderfully awful. Della snoops and sneaks, lies outright and isn't even particularly constant (I still don't get how she knew Ken well enough to have him give up Kate within hours of their reacquaintance). If there's a theme to the last several books, however, it's that our heroine gets to dish back everything she's dished out. And boy does Kate dish. At one point she feels duty bound to marry Hugh, if only to save him from the machinations of Della.
Though this book is the first one that isn't set on a country sheep station, I was impressed by Hugh's ability to prove his manly bona fides within a school setting. It's interesting to me that Essie has him propose right in the thick of the Lurid Crisis but it's of a piece. She likes her protagonists protagging and working hard and, here, they're doing just that. Essie shows us just how fulfilling the partnership is going to be and then, with the proposal, complicates and chases that dream.
Hugh is going to get his book published but will toil away molding the lives of young men because he is awesome and Kate will be at his side--the best Rector's wife that ever was.
"There are boys up to shenanigans."

The Misunderstanding: Kate thinks he is in love with his dead friend's glamorous widow. He thinks she's still in love with her imbecilic ex-fiance. They both have to hide their burning passion and pretend the marriage they are about to begin is strictly business.

Location: Around Christchurch

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Wedding Rewind

A good friend of mine is the marketing director for a wildflower seed packet company. She wanted to do some YouTube videos for increased online content and asked if Professor van Voorhees and I would be willing to be interviewed about our wedding. Remembering the Gore Vidal quote ("Never miss a chance to [go to Brighton] or appear on television."), I said "Heck yes."

Since this is a blog devoted to kissing and love and all things cozy-romance, enjoy the wedding memories of Casa van Voorhees:

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Opinions of a Novice

I lent my friend several Betty books because she hasn't the faintest clue about things like what to do in case of a bomb (Answer: Hang your purse on a handy wire sticking out of a wall and start dressing wounds.) or how hair-raising driving one's Mini all over the Dutch countryside can be. Though I gave her five, I offered her all sorts of hemming and hawing expressions of "If you hate them, don't continue to torture yourself." Well, she's raced through them all and these are her findings! I offer you our messaging. I am in blue and she is in a chic pale gray, just right for a wedding to begin an arranged marriage:

I'll ask questions and you answer at your leisure. Take all the time you want. I don't care if this takes three weeks.
Q: In order of least to best, how did you like the books? (A Kiss For Julie, The Promise of Happiness, The Little Dragon, Magic in Vienna and Discovering Daisy)
Don't elaborate at this point. I just want a list

A Kiss for Julie, discovering Daisy, The Promise of Happiness, Magic in Vienna, the Little Dragon. Although those last two could easily be switched
Q: The Little Dragon is contentious because some of the Betties don't like all the lying he does and don't like that he calls her a dragon. I come down on the 'it's a hoot' side. What did you like about it?
Hah I liked all the lying. It made for a different story line
And to me was more realistic.
If someone told me they hated rich people I may keep my mouth shut too.
And I take names like little dragon as a compliment so it doesn’t bother me.

We are as one, Paula.

Did you actively dislike any of them and why?
The first one. Characters were too shallow in development and the plot seemed weak. The plot concept I liked but it just seemed poorly executed.
If it was your book I’d tell you to go back and rewrite
Yes. That one is Late Canon and she's a lot more spotty at that end. Though everyone likes the macaroni and cheese and the too-tight shoes and poorly-made-over dresses.
Would you ever read her again?

Sure. I was actually going to ask you for a few more
I like that they are a fast read
And a little princess like

Nifty. They are a bit princess-y.
My bookshelf is at your service