Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Reading with Betty Melissa

Introduce yourself (Be as vague or as specific as you like.)
I’m a librarian living in the Midwest of the United States.  I’m a lifelong reader, a trait I think I inherited from my mother.  I’m also an avid amasser of books. If I find a topic that interests me even a little, it isn’t odd for me to buy a book (or five) on the topic to learn more.  I have no idea how many books I currently own, but it’s a lot.
Betty Melissa likes books the way some people like breathing.
When did you start reading Betty Neels?
Not too long ago, less than ten years ago.  I was going through a bad patch with a lot of trauma and stress in
my life.  My father was ill and my job at the time was toxic. I found a refuge in reading “comfort reads”,
which I really hadn’t done before.  I’d seen Betty’s name mentioned in various lists of recommended authors
but was very smug and thought a Harlequin writer could never be any good.  I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
The story I love to tell:  I was at a library book sale and somebody had apparently donated their Betty Neels
collection.  I hesitantly picked up one book and bought it, thinking that if I didn’t like it no harm no foul.  
And if I did, I would go back and buy a few more. I read the book—it was The Vicar’s Daughter—and went
back and bought every other Betty Neels book there.  Roughly 65 total. It was a great start to my collection!
Sixty-five books, sir. Sixty-five. It IS all flowers and fairytales.
What is your favorite book(s) and why?
Favorite Betty Neels: The Promise of Happiness.  And it snuck up on me. I read it, moved on, didn’t think
much about it.  Then I ran across the Jersey Dress blog and was struck by how much the book was loved in
the review and the comments.  So I read it again and found that the heroine had to be the strongest, most
resilient of all of Betty’s gals, the vast majority of which are incredibly strong.  Plus I loved the hero, the plot,
the pets, and slimy Basil.

Other Betty Neels books I love: Dearest Love, The Magic of Living, Caroline’s Waterloo, Winter Wedding,
The Gemel Ring, Damsel in Green, Tabitha in Moonlight, Pineapple Girl, and one of Betty’s oddities without
a doctor hero, A Girl To Love.

Other books…far too many to list.  My favorite authors are D.E. Stevenson, Anne Hepple, Elizabeth Cadell,
Raymond Jacberns, Mrs. Alfred Sidgwick, and Mable Barnes-Grundy…most of which will have people saying
“who”?  I love authors who wrote in the first half of the last century, from 1900 to about 1950. The home
front of both wars is a special fascination for me. Stevenson, Hepple, and Cadell all write lovely family
stories with a romantic element.  For strong heroines, you don’t get better than Jacberns, Sidgwick, and
Barnes-Grundy, and considering they are all writing around of the turn of the last century, that’s pretty
amazing. I don’t usually like male authors but love Nevil Shute and Nigel Balchin.  
Least favorite and why?
I hate to say it, but any time a book has awards it won listed on it is an immediate turn off for me.  I read
largely for entertainment, and the authors I love aren’t the sorts to win awards. Nothing against those
books, but they just aren’t for me.
Life is too short to be bored to tears.
What appeals to you about Betty Neels novels and why do you find yourself attached to them?
The heroines.  Nearly every Betty heroine is a strong, resilient, intelligent woman who gets things done.  
Even if they seem “weak” they aren’t. They tend to know exactly what they want, and aren’t afraid to stand
up for themselves.  Romance novel heroines are often dismissed as weak or silly. I think anybody who reads
Betty Neels will know this is nonsense. From what I’ve read of Betty’s real life, she herself was a strong,
resilient, intelligent woman who got things done…so it isn’t surprising that is the kind of woman she wrote
On top of that, Betty had a brilliant way with a descriptive phrase.  “She swung around in a whirl of pink
dressing gown” from The Magic of Living is one of my favorite examples.  Just lovely.
Top all that off with wonderful travelogues of England and the Netherlands, fascinating descriptions of food,
and great descriptions of clothes!
What is your favorite genre(s) to read?
What is generally referred to as either middlebrow fiction or comfort reads from roughly 1900 to 1950.  I
view these as books that give a modern reader an insight into what life was really like for “normal” people
back in those years.  The books I most enjoy generally feature ordinary people, not celebrities or artists or
politicians, etc. Not famous people. Just women going about their daily lives.  I think it really gives you a
glimpse into what life was like back then. I tend to read more British books than American.
I’ve also recently become fascinated with “Girls Own” stories.  These are stories aimed at British schoolgirls,
again written largely from 1900 to 1950.  Many are set at boarding schools but others are stories of family
life. Like the books written for adults I talk about above, I think they give modern readers an idea of what it
was like to live back in that era.
Do you have a favorite book in any of these genres?
Children's/Picture book
Probably thousands.  Picture books-- I love Curious George and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  As I said
above I’ve recently become interested in “Girls Own” stories, and one of my favorite authors in that genre is
Raymond Jacberns, who wrote about independent young girls and women way back in the late 1800s.  She
died in 1911, but her books have some incredibly tough little girls in them, which for the era just fascinates
me. I also like a series called Milly Molly Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley, which are gentle little stories of
a little girl living in a small English village with her loving extended family.  Very sweet, and quite funny too.
I also love the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary.
I was a literature major in college and pretty much exhausted my interest in classics back then.  I used to
love John Steinbeck. No idea what I’d think of him now.
'Tolkien' is my safety word.
I used to be a hardcore mystery fan, and that was all I read for years.  Then the genre just started getting too
repetitive and the same themes seemed to be used again and again, and I lost interest.  Every once in awhile
I’ll pick up a new mystery but I’m usually disappointed. I do still like some of the older authors. Craig Rice
is one of my favorites.
Not my thing.
I really enjoy reading books about authors.  If I like an author I try to learn as much as I can about them, but
most of the ones I like are so obscure I can only find a tiny bit of information online.  But I do have
biographies of Nevil Shute, Elizabeth von Arnim, and Nigel Balchin that I’ve enjoyed.
I do enjoy a lot of non-fiction.  Generally if I’m interested in a topic, I’ll wander onto Abebooks and try to
find a book or two or five on the topic.  Which often means I’ve moved on to another interest, and then I’ll
find yet another book in my TBR pile on Land Girls that I bought a year before (this actually just happened).  
Some of the topics I enjoy: I like old movies and am always buying biographies of the classic movie stars.
Pretty much anything to do with the home front, especially of England during World War II, like the Land
Girls, rationing, or just everyday life in general.  There are also some historical true crime cases I’m fascinated
by, like Lizzie Borden and Madeline Smith.
Not really my thing.
The Hunger Games was way offended.
What are the five books you would take if you were stranded on a deserted island?
Five books, or five pallets of books?  Gosh, just five…I don’t really know. Probably The Promise of Happiness
by Betty Neels, Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson, The Corner Shop by Elizabeth Cadell, A Family of Girls
by Raymond Jacberns, Trustee from the Toolroom by Nevil Shute, The North Wind Blows by Anne Hepple,
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, Cynthia’s Way by Mrs. Alfred Sidgwick, Two in a Tent and Jane by
Mabel Barnes Grundy, Sally’s Family by Gwendolyn Courtney, and Mr. Skeffington by Elizabeth von Arnim.  
Hmm, that seems to be more than five. But math was never my strong suit.
Where do you do most of your reading?
Either in bed or the bathtub.
What books are in your to-be-read pile?
Not enough room to list.  If I can manage it I’ll include a picture of a portion of my To Be Read pile. If the
picture goes through okay, <part> of my TBR pile is on top of the bookcases.  There are other parts of my
TBR scattered throughout the house, though they are organized, as befits a librarian. No idea how many
total—I’m certainly never going to count because I then might be compelled to stop buying books and I
can’t have that.
The books on the shelves are my fiction books.  I have other bookcases for other interests.  The books on the top are part of my To Be Read pile.  A small part of it.  Books on the top left are "Girls Own" books.  Books on the top right are fiction.  You can see some storage boxes on the bottom shelves.  Those are my unread vintage Harlequins.  
As to what I’m currently reading now, I’m reading a lovely story by Mabel Barnes-Grundy, one by Mrs. Alfred Sidgwick, a girls’ spy story by Gwendolyn Courtney, and a few others.  I’m generally reading anywhere from five to ten books at a time. I think right now I’m reading about seven.
Do you listen to books? Any favorites on Audible?
I do.  I have a half hour commute each way every day and having something to listen to keeps me from
insanity and road rage during that time.  One of my favorites is the Audible of The Corner Shop by Elizabeth
Cadell. The narrator is brilliant, and does an amazing job bringing the book to life.  I’m also fond of Agatha
Christie stories narrated by Hugh Fraser. He does a very good job with the Poirot stories. I like the ones he
does better than the ones narrated by David Suchet.
Do you have any memories of being read to or reading with others?
I taught myself to read before I was in school, and family lore says I was reading at the age of three.  No
idea if it’s true but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me. So I don’t really remember being read to. And a small
humblebrag—I won a prize for the most books read in my kindergarten class.  I think I read something like
120 books. The nearest other person read about twenty. I won a little plaster bank. It’s pretty much the
only thing I ever won so I’m quite proud of it.
Betty Melissa knew when her mother skipped pages.
What book was the first one to ignite your interest in reading?
I sometimes think I was born reading, so nothing really ignited it.  Just always loved to read. I’m one of
those people who, if they don’t have a book, is reading the cereal box.  Just need to be reading all the time.
What's a book you find yourself constantly recommending?
I know people bash Facebook but I love being on the various groups for book lovers on there.  Usually great
groups of kindred spirits who don’t mind me rambling on about my love for Elizabeth Cadell or Raymond
Jacberns.  Some of them even know the author! I’ve tried to recommend Betty Neels to “real” people, but
generally just get a blank stare.  I’ve never even tried with most of the authors I read.
Despite knowing that Amal would have loved Caroline's Waterloo,
the Clooneys refused to join the book club.
So it is wonderful to be able to write an enthusiastic post on Raymond Jacberns on the Facebook page for girls’ stories and have people not only knowing who she was, but saying they love her too.  I talk about Raymond Jacberns a lot on Facebook!
Ditto Elizabeth Cadell, who wrote such fun books. Romance, but usually with a hint of a mystery.  The
Corner Shop and Mixed Marriage are my favorites. The Corner Shop is about a woman who runs a
secretarial agency and goes to a remote house in the wilds of England to find out why three of her best
secretaries refused to work for a professor.  She ends up organizing his life for him, and falling in love
with him to boot. Mixed Marriage is laugh out loud funny, about a British girl who marries a Portuguese
man and ends up in serious culture shock.
Anything else?
I love being part of the Uncrushable Jersey Dress group on Facebook!  Such a great group of women!


  1. Thank you, Betty Melissa! Fascinating first Betty novel story! Also bears out your other statement/book buying strategy:

    "If I find a topic that interests me even a little, it isn’t odd for me to buy a book (or five)" [...]. — Or sixty-five! šŸ“– šŸ“ššŸ“ššŸ“ššŸ“ššŸ“ššŸ“ššŸ“ššŸ“ššŸ“ššŸ“ššŸ“ššŸ“ššŸ“ššŸ“ššŸ“ššŸ“š LOL. šŸ˜„

    Thank you for mentioning those "who?" authors, too.

  2. I love the new approach! Was afraid the blog was ending, & now these wonderful Neels fans! Thanks so much!

  3. I don't know how I missed the news! Have remedied the problem & my "Caprice" order is arriving soon! When/where do we talk about it?