Tuesday, July 31, 2018

No Roses in June -- Video Review

Come for the stoicism, stay for the Power Rangers.

No Roses in June--1961

Back up, Horse. Edward Campbell is about to make his move.
If wedding dresses could talk, what stories they could tell. This one, hanging in an apartment window, billowing into the room would natter over the back fence about the broken engagement she witnessed.
"The wedding was days away and he flew in from South Africa
peddling some story about irresistible passion.
Said he's ALREADY married to her best friend!"
Though Ian, her ex-fiance, tells her that she can 'take it', Fiona MacDonald is not without the need of a restorative. As a good minister's daughter, she's not going to down a bottle of gin and get tight. But she will don a tight dress, garish make-up and go out to have a night on the town in the company of a noted Lounge Lizard. She ends up at a dive called Cat on the Tiles with “rowdy, thought-banishing company”.
"What has being decorous and disciplined ever done for me?"
Just as she is thinking very seriously about pounding jello shots off of Lounge Lizard's sloping shoulders and signing the waiver for Girls Behaving Badly: Dumped in Edinburgh, she encounters a Hot Colonial-type sneering at her. But, after all, she will never see him again. (Gentle Reader, this is her future husband.) After a fender bender in the parking lot, Hot Colonial makes himself their designated driver. Fiona is dropped off last and the conversation goes really well.

Edward was about to lose his five star Uber rating.
Him: You smell of whiskey and look like a hussy.
Her: You have the musk of self-righteousness which is much harder to shower off.
Him: Don't pass out on me since you are definitely drunk.
Her: I'm drunk on sorrow!

Fiona passes out. Not the best look for a girl trying to maintain that she is Most. Certainly. Sober. And as Hot Colonial carries her up to the apartment, let us pass around the box of Kleenex and dab our eyes gently over the fact that she has been carried across the threshold in the muscled arms of a stranger on the very night her ex-fiance carries his own bride across another. The Colonial sees the wedding dress and flings Byron (who knew a thing or two about shagging and inconstancy and diss tracks) at her feet:

...as soon
Seek roses in December, ice in June;
Hope constancy in wind, or corn in chaff,
Believe a woman, or an epitaph
Or any other thing that's false--

Soon, Fiona has taken a job as a governess on a super remote (Is there any other kind, Essie?) sheep station in New Zealand. She is met by her new boss, C. Edward Campbell, the Hot Colonial.

The trollop walks off the plane and he extracts the damning information that Ian jilted her. Of course, thinks Edward, Fiona was tramping it up with another man. She deserves what she gets. He's popped her into the same blender as his perfidious sister-in-law Fleur (also at Cat on the Tiles that night) and hit PUREE.

As much as he'd like to send her away, they have a real emergency on their hands at Belle Knowes. Edward's brother recently died (in an "accident" with a gun) and his sainted sister-in-law (the first wife) died much earlier. Edward quit his job to run the farm and raise the children but help is hard to come by. What can he do?
You could take me back to Dunedin, Mr. Campbell.
It is very telling that when she offers him a way out, Edward does not take it. Instead, he says, "It might straighten you up to taste life at Belle Knowes for a few months. It'll scare the hell out of you, of course." Yes, Mr. Campbell. But I didn't know we were running a Benevolent Home for Wayward Girls.

Her first test in The Great Rehabilitation of Fiona MacDonald, Lady-Delinquent is on the boat ride over to the station. The rabbiters are flirtatious, the dogs are out of control and there is a hot wind kicking up. She exhibits heroism by saving a dog from going over the side of the boat, wins the trust of the captain and kisses an old rabbiter as a matter of honor. Edward sneers. But, note: This is when he says, later, that his heart did its first flippy-flop.

He's so sure though that she is rotten. "...life up here is rather stripped of frills. Veneer soon cracks. You'll show up as shoddy before long." Instead of trying to explain herself to a brick wall like that, Fiona takes the stoic road and waits for time to vindicate her.

When Fiona discovered that Sam Elliott would be her Spirit Guide
on the Stoic Road, she decided to stay the course.

Into the Tar Pits of Fiona's Likeability many creatures come to drink, sinking in the inky depths. Let us make a survey:
  • Miss Trudington. "Quite Victorian" and Edward's best hope to "straighten" Fiona up. Instead, Fiona gives her a make-over and cures her arthritis. 
  • Her charges, Victoria, Elizabeth, William and James. Half Maori, half Scots. Edward is sure she will be a terrible influence on them but Fiona begins as she means to go on, ringing the school bell, whipping them into shape, opening each day with a prayer and homily. They adore her because she is unstinting in her affection for them, unsparing in her discipline and, unlike one of Edward's old flames, NOT A RACIST.
  • A Maori station hand and his wife. He's gotten into trouble over alcohol (A real case of someone needing to work out his own rehabilitation here in the mountains.) and she is dangerously pregnant with their second child. Fiona does all the housework when the wife goes on bed rest, which proves her to be both not lazy AND NOT A RACIST. 
Other steps on the road to Fiona's Rehabilitation include learning to ride horses (Something which terrifies her), giving mobility-saving massages to Trudy and taking the children to the cottage over in Wanaka for a couple of weeks. Edward agonizes over letting her go sample the wild lights of an obscure New Zealand town, but decides it will be fine as long as there will be another adult around to watch her. 

Miss Trudington was not the chaperone Edward hoped she'd be.
Meanwhile, Fiona just wants to do her job, have her character vindicated and love the children (all the while weeping discretely into her pillow for Ian). Moving on from that loss feels impossible. But (Symbolism Alert) have I told you what Edward's profession is? Road-building. Cutting passes through impassable terrain. Linking two distant points.When Ian sends an opal necklace (to match the engagement ring he got her), it's Edward who sends it back with a reminder that Fiona isn't his wife and that opals are kind of tacky anyway. I dearly hoped that when Edward's letter arrived, Ian's new wife opened it and caused a scene.

One day, Edward asks Fiona to clean his study out and she finds an airmail letter from Edinburgh. It's Fleur's letter (telling her husband (the children's father) that she is going to leave him for another man--Edward) but it's not been opened. Robert never saw it. Ergo, the gun "accident" really was an accident. Edward tells Fiona that night that the emotional thickets have been cleared. (Claps hands.) It's time for him to do some courting!
Alas, Edward was not as specific and unmistakable
as Teen Legend Jake Ryan.

But first a rescue. Fiona and the children are caught in a landslip and she rushes to save James, the wee-est of the children, bracing herself above a protective culvert and shielding his body with her own. I love this scene so much. Fiona can be compared favorably to Mother Teresa and Edward is cool-headed and competent, engineering her way to safety. He stitches her up later but his cool-headedness deserts him and he rushes to the garden to vomit.

Yes. Essie Summers turned vomit into a love token.

Further tokens of love are Edward inviting her brother in from South Africa and having the domestic intelligence to have extra wild pig and cream on hand for her surprise guests. (Grab him, Fiona!) When Trudy is on the verge of announcing her engagement to an old beau, Edward takes Fiona aside. Isn't it time to admit they love each other?

The timing of that is too perfect. Fiona wades into him with a lot of stabbing exclamation points about how he's never trusted her and now that he's about to be left high and dry of a chaperone, he can't start doling out the magnanimity. But Edward isn't going to back down this time. They're going to finally get it sorted out. He doesn't wait for her to explain that night in Edinburgh but takes her on wholly on the faith she has given him. It's New Zealand where there is ice in June and roses in December and Edward Campbell can believe in women.

Edward got the rest after a probationary period of abject grovelling.
Rating: 8/10 Digging Out the Sheep. There are so many unforgettable scenes in this one. Here is a sampling:

  • That image of the gauzy wedding dress wafting into the room--first when Ian is breaking her heart and again when Edward is judging her so harshly. 
  • The rescue with little James and after when Edward is stitching Fiona up and has to excuse himself to throw up. 
  • The young children greeting her with a haka on her first morning at Belle Knowes.
Something I wasn't crazy about was how devoted Essie was in re-quoting an exact quote (in one case a Joyce Dingwell poem about tourniquets) when it's resolved. ("Hey, Edward, remember how you said [quote]. It is being resolved this very minute!") It's mistrustful of the reader and these aren't long books.
I liked the little moments of side-eye Essie casts the rest of the anglosphere about New Zealand not having an established "color-bar". She wants none of your apartheids and Jim Crow laws.
But the real genius of this title is how Essie Summers shows Fiona and Edward's relationship building even when he hasn't put aside his distrust of her and she hasn't gotten over the broken engagement. Some authors would push too hard here, making them too obviously in love too soon. But Essie takes her time, clearing obstacles and whacking back misconceptions like she doesn't have a hard, 190 page count to fret about. 

The Misunderstanding: He thinks she leads a secret debauched life and must be reformed by wholesome isolation and fresh mountain air.

Location: Belle Knowes a sheep station on the shores of Lake Wanaka, Otago region, New Zealand

Other Notes: Mentions made of Pigeon Island, Lake Wanaka, Hyndman's (a bookstore in Dunedin). Writers Patricia Wentworth (p. 102) and Joyce Dingwell (p. 114) are mentioned as well as one of her own poems (p. 115).

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Writing With Betty: Janna Roznos

I have another author interview and, I can't tell you how much I enjoy hearing from the Betties on the subject of writing. Betty Janna was good enough to sit down and answer a few of my most pressing inquiries:

We're here to ask the hard-hitting questions.
Is writing something you've always done/always wanted to do?
I have always been a writer. I made my living working in the aerospace industry here in southern California as a subcontract administrator so I spent my time reading contracts and writing them. Over the years, I've volunteered to write newsletters for several non-profits, grants for our local historical society, and of course I've written stories for myself. I have intermittently written fiction but usually gave up on it for various reasons until a few years ago when I finally decided it is now or never, so I sat down and started writing the book that was rolling around in the back of my head.

Since then I have been published in an anthology, Secrets of the Moonlight Cove. A group of writers from the local Romance Writers of America (RWA) that I belong to invited me to participate. It was a HUGE learning process for me . . . getting an editor, applying for a copyright, meeting the deadline, and of course working within the group of writers and having all our stories intertwined with each other.
Moonlight Cove sounds like a place with ghosts
and nosy kids and a pesky dog.

What draws you to the romance genre? Are there other genres you would try?
I'm interested in reading books with strong, unique female protagonists and romance novels seem to always meet this. Also, reading is a joy for me, so I want the happily ever after or happy for now ending. I get enough of ‘bad’ news from the newspaper or watching the evening news. I don’t want that in my books.
I grew up reading Harlequin romances – those with the red edged pages. I didn’t belong to the Harlequin reading club nor did I know anyone who did. I bought them at the local YMCA used book sale. Needless to say, vintage Harlequins hold a special place for me.
My other reading fascination is Mount Everest. Ironically, I suffer from altitude sickness so although I do like the outdoors (my husband and I fly fish) mountain climbing is off my agenda so I read about it.
Do you work with a critique group/belong to a trade organization?
I am a member of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and belong to two of their local chapters; one chapter is quite large (over a hundred members) so they have the resources to bring in some 'rock star' authors for programs. They also sponsor a local writers conference at one of the big hotels, which is always well attended.
The other chapter is quite small (about twenty members) so the programs are usually local writers. So, both chapters offer different perspectives.  Several of us got together and started a critique group but unfortunately it didn’t last – other priorities got in the way and it folded.
Actual footage of a folding critique group.
Tell us a little bit about how you developed the idea for your latest story.
The current story I am working on (rewriting in fact!) was inspired by the recession. I saw so many people my age mid - fifties lose everything: first their job (their career really) and then their house, their car, etc.
A good friend of mine, we grew up together and he has been like another brother to me, lost everything in the recession. Yes, he did make some poor financial choices too, but what stuck me was rather than reinventing himself he kept trying to grab onto what he had. I think the people who came through the recession were the ones that reinvented themselves for the ‘new’ economy. And so, my book is about a middle-aged woman who is wants to rebuild what she lost but then discovers — through a series of unfortunate events and meeting a really great guy, too — that for true happiness she must reinvent herself to be able to live happily ever after.
What was the biggest roadblock to getting out that first draft?
Although I've read lots of books, writing a book is very different. I struggle with grammar and spelling (And no, grammar check programs or spell check programs are not a help!) I also get frustrated and throw off the work and do something else. I’m very good at procrastination!

"I could plot my next chapter or paint my whole house with this
tiny brush while I have an affair with Richard Burton!"

However, the more I write I think the better I am getting at it. Also, I try to ignore that voice in my head that is constantly telling me I’m not good enough, or that no one will want to read this, or this isn’t any good.
What challenges do you find in making time for writing? How do you overcome those?
Even though I’m ‘retired’ I still find it a challenge to make the time to write. There are lots so of distractions – my garden, family, walking the dog, watching You Tube videos (Oh My Gosh! Don’t get me started!) and just life that demands attention.

I demand attention too, Betty Janna.
Tell us what challenges you about the process ahead of you--marketing, query letters, rejection, bad reviews, technical issues, etc., etc.
Writing is only one half of the equation - getting published is the other half. So many people have told me to just go head to publish it myself (through Amazon or iBook or another eBook platform). And, I think . . .yeah right! Self publishing is fraught with lots of decisions it’s not as if you just hit a few keys on the key board and then whamo! You have a book. I have entered a few writing contest and have done reasonable well – no wins . . .yet, but I have gotten some good feedback and that always helps.
I've loved hearing about favorite books that our Author Betties love and are inspired by. Which are yours (of every and any genre)?
Looking over my bookshelf, some of my favorite authors (in no particular order) are: Joanna Trollope, Julie James, Madeline Hunter, Pamela Aidan, Elizabeth Hoyt, Mary Burchell, Anne Weale, and Essie Summers. There are more, but books have a way of coming into my life and then leaving again on to their next home.
What do you like about Betty Neels? Any favorite books of hers we can fight about?

Partisans for 'Caroline's Waterloo' and 'Dearest Love' enter the octagon.
Betty tells a good story! In just few lines she sums up the character that as a reader we can truly see, identify with, and relate to. Her protagonists are strong woman within the context of the story. She also writes of a world that I’m not sure ever truly existed – right and wrong are definitely defined, good triumphs over evil. Love conquers all. It’s a place I think we all would like to live.
I think my favorite Betty Neels book is Dearest Mary Jane. It is the one I return to again and again for yet another reread; however, I haven’t read all of Betty Neels so who knows maybe I will find another favorite one of these days
Thank you so much, Betty Janna!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Come Blossom-time, My Love--Video Review

Come Blossom Time, My Love--1961

*reads description of heroine with light
brown and curling hair...checks cover...
reads description again...*
Jeannie Fraser (22) is a typist by day and Cinderella by night. Like any good Cinderella, she comes with an evil step-parent (Miserly Bertram Skimmington who owns a pickle cannery!) and two siblings--Peter (14), who dreams of owning a sport coat, and Teresa (9), who writes revenge poetry.

One day, Jeannie gets a letter from her dead-fairy-godmother bequeathing her an orchard in Central Otago. And it is about time! Peter is on the verge of step-patricide, Teresa has the sort of cough that carries off operatic sopranos to have romantic on-stage deaths and Jeannie has eaten enough 'hateful, horrible tapioca' to last her a lifetime.

Jeannie couldn't take another night of pudding.
So she kidnaps the children and disappears. Yes. You read that right. She lays a false trail, buys new clothes, registers under fake names...It only wants aviator glasses and trench coats to be more thrilling.

When she makes it to her new estate, she walks bang into the path of her new manager. And, quelle horreur, THEY KNOW EACH OTHER. Ahem. Back in Auckland, Jeannie caught him in a torrid embrace with her noble boss's Very Young Wife.

Jeannie is ready to go off-grid like a doomsday prepper, and is horrified to think that she could be tracked down if her manager talks. For his part, Fergus MacGregor is still furious about the Puritanical self-righteousness she exhibited when she walked in on him committing a Class C Human Resources Violation in the boss's office.

Jeannie thought that his melting brown eyes bumped it up to a Class B.
And so they square off for The Great Patriotic War of Mutual Misunderstanding. Of course the children adore him. Children cannot be trusted to hold a grudge when you really need them to. Living on the same land doesn't help her either. Their proximity to one another means that little bits of correct information get shaken loose like sheetrock dust raining into a basement apartment. He notices that she is careful not to spend too much of the inheritance. She admires how he looks after his elderly uncle. She is quick to pitch in on the harvest. He's been trained as an accountant.

And if it all looks like they're headed south on the gentle wheelchair ramp to Sensible Conjugal Bed-flannels, never fear. Neville is here. He's a local sheep buyer and I cannot imagine Essie Summers writing him without the hugest grin on her face. He is an unapologetic scoundrel and gets all the best lines.

"No good getting mad with me. Just forget it.
I'm quite unsnubbable."

He is NOT, marriage material. When he asks her out, Fergus arranges to come and watch the children, bringing a game of Monopoly under his arm and some bottles of pop. (Does he hope Teresa will blab family secrets? The lime-fizz can't hurt.) Now Jeannie has no excuse to hide herself away. Soon she discovers that Neville has an unfortunate family connection: Cecily. The Young Wife. The Torrid Affair-er. A woman who knows Jeannie disappeared and has good reason to hate her.

Over time, Jeannie hates thinking of that overcharged moment in her boss's office, even more than she used to. Fergus is fighting his own attraction for a woman who doesn't trust him. When he kisses her, he says, using insult like a suit of armor, "Neville will teach you if I don't." A girl cannot take that sort of thing lying down. She retorts, with a sort of malicious sting, that it's been pleasant to learn from Neville. But then she trips all over her dawning realization.

The next time they kiss, it's for a better reason: wanting to. Too bad it's the night that Cecily, like a taco combination plate, returns. Thereafter, the emotional landscape becomes inflamed and feverish. No. Wait. That's her appendix. It bursts on the way to the hospital. Though they have just had ANOTHER fight, Fergus lies and says he's her fiance.

Editorial Hectoring: Look, Fergus. I might have thought twice before adding another layer to the constraint and complication already so abundant in your relationship. But what do I know? I've only been married for twenty glory-filled years. 
The More You Know.........
When she is recovered enough to be interviewed by the Press, word leaks out that they are engaged. "I'll be termed an opportunist," he says, reading the item he helped to plant. His bright eyes are on hers, waiting... When she calls the idea ridiculous, he breathes easy. It won't matter to her that he has nothing but a modest bank balance and a decent car.

When the engagement becomes known, they are forced into acting out the charade. But not in private, Fergus. "You know I'm a bounder," he replies. "You knew it from the start." He might allow his lips to twist cynically but they are too busy rearranging themselves over HERS.

Later, Fergus confesses to having spent three month in prison on a charge of drunk driving. (That's why he's always pounding lime-fizz.) Jeannie's faith in him finally makes him tee up his pride, whacking it with the 3 iron for a long bomb down the fairway. May it be forever lost in the rough or eaten by an alligator.

Then, Cecily's husband, The Noble Boss, dies.

ROLL CALL! We have:
Cinderella, Who is On the Lamb and Pathetically Pleased with her Sham Engagement
A Chiseled Jaw With a Mysterious Past and an Unspoken Passion for the Girl Who Wears His Ring
The Well-looking Widow

Bad-Girl Guidebook, Rule #4: If you can't BE good, have good lipstick.

The end comes when Cecily tries to blackmail Jeannie with the knowledge of how she left Auckland. Frightened for her brother and sister, Jeannie duly breaks off her engagement and Fergus gathers them all in Cecily's drawing room like Miss Marple, cracking the case at the end of the who-done-it. There will be no more things left unsaid and he addresses the DUI first. It was Cecily who was drunk and grabbed the wheel. He sold his accountancy practice to pay for her reconstructive surgery. But, all in all, he will be a decent marriage risk. (Which Jeannie had already sorted out for herself.)

Jeannie unburdens herself about the Tyrannical Pickle Man and finds out that he DIED the day she left Auckland! Cecily, the lying snake, kept that info back. Oh, and she threw herself into his arms, that day in the boss's office.

It's all over but the shouting...er, kissing. There is a LOT of kissing.

Rating: 6/10 Fire at the drapers. I have a lot more affection for this book than that rating suggests. It's kind of an outlier for The Summers Canon since the hero is an orchardist with a past. There is a smashing secondary love-story for a later-in-life couple. I also love that Jeannie has a really good reason (two actually--Peter and Teresa) to stay quiet about why she left Auckland. So it's not just pride keeping the plot going. But I wanted the main characters to have more fun together--to see that they would be a great couple--and, though I generally love the bits of poetry Essie Summers sticks into her books, these were not well integrated. Ultimately, I find that the parts hang together awkwardly. Still, it's a sweet book and I really love the way that the hero really has a serious set-back that impacts his marriageability.

The Misunderstanding: She thinks he's chasing a married woman. He thinks she is a snob who refuses to mix with the rural community.

Location: Strathlachan, an orchard near Corriefield, not far from Dunedin in Central Otago.

Other locations mentioned: Fiji, Auckland, the Roxburgh Hydro, the Leviathan (a hotel in Dunedin), the drive (also in Dunedin) through the Octogon, down Princes St and to the Burns statue, First Church on Bell Hill