The Great Betty Read #37: Neels’s THE HASTY MARRIAGE

Hasty_MarriageThe Christian edict that “the last shall be first” comes true in many a Neels romance. Such is The Hasty Marriage (1977). The waif. The mouse. The mousy-haired. The too-small, too-plump, too-plain heroine. And, horrors, on the shelf too. Pushing thirsty. An *gasp* old-maid-in-the-making. The heroine who declares her un-attractiveness on every page. Is there a more self-deprecating one than The Hasty Marriage‘s Laura (do we ever learn her last name?).

A ward sister at St. Anne’s in London, she comes home to visit her father and finds her Dutch godfather with his colleague, Dr. Reilof van Meerum. Drama ensues, as we learn from the blurb:

Laura had always been used to taking second place to her pretty younger sister, Joyce. If Joyce wanted something, she got it! It was, therefore, no surprise to Laura that when she fell in love with the attractive Dutch doctor Reilof van Meerum, he chose Joyce instead. But when Joyce walked out on him to marry another, richer man, Reilof asked her to marry him. He needed a wife, and Laura, it seemed, would do as well as anyone. So she accepted–but could she really expect to be happy with a man who did not love her?

For the most part, and thank the good Neelsian gods, Joyce is absent from the narrative. When she appears, at the start to lure Reilof and at the end to put a canker in the rose of Laura’s marriage (stilted and unconsummated as it is, it’s hers and she loves Reilof enough to be willing to live with this compromise). Continue reading

Betty Neels #35: A GEM OF A GIRL

Gem_Of_A_GirlWhile always happy to add another Betty to my Great Betty Read endeavour, reading A Gem Of A Girl didn’t come easily and I dragged it over weeks and weeks. Unlike most Betties, this had the Other Man in place of the Other Woman, which I thought would be a refreshing reversal on one of romance’s, and Betty’s, most tired conventions. And yet, I didn’t love it: I recognized Gem‘s virtues, but didn’t relish reading it. It started out great with the nurse-heroine, long-suffering from taking care of something like ten younger siblings, loses her job when the long-term care home where she works burns to the ground. There’s a great heroic scene where Gemma practically runs into the flames and is pulled back by the hero, Ross, a visiting Dutch doctor:

“It’s my ward,” she cried, “the wind’s blowing that way. Oh, my dear old ladies!” She leapt forward and was brought up short by a large hand catching at the back of her sweater.

“Before you rush in and get yourself fried to a crisp, tell me where the fire escape is?” Gemma wriggled in a fury of impatience, but he merely gathered more sweater into his hand.

Now, isn’t that marvellous? Only in England to consult with Gemma’s doctor neighbour, after rescuing old ladies from immolation, Ross invites Gemma to Holland where he needs someone to care for his ill sister. Gemma is soon caught up in the life of his wonderful, loving, caring family. She feels centred and happy in Ross’s home, but there’s a snake in the grass named Leo, a “modern” young man who pursues Gemma plain and plump, a double-whammy of unmarriagability in the Bettyverse. Continue reading

The Great Betty Read: THE EDGE OF WINTER, #34

Edge_Of_WinterOn the Betty Neels scale of perfection to meh, The Edge of Winter falls closer to perfection, except for one great big ole blip near the end. In the dramatic opening, our heroine, with the unlikely name of Araminta Shaw, is rescued from a treacherous Cornish cliff (she descended the ramparts to save a stranded child) by a mysterious sailor, who … behold, shows up as Dutch visiting Dr. Crispin van Sibbelt at the hospital where Araminta is employed as a nurse. Like my favourite Neelses, Araminta and Crispin do NOT hit it off: he’s arrogant, overbearing and teasing; she’s annoyed and peevish. She hates him and especially herself for finding him attractive. One night, after a particularly harrowing hospital day, Crispin shows up at Araminta’s flat, with supper … from Harrod’s. Is there anything to compare to a hero who appears when the heroine is too tired to deal with supper? They eat companionably enough and Crispin kisses Araminta. She’s half in love with him and in total denial, giving rise to one’s of Betty’s finest peevish-heroine passages: “He had invited himself — and he had behaved very strangely; she had been kissed before, but somehow this time she had felt disturbed by it, and that was strange in itself, because she didn’t like him. She would take great care to treat him with polite aloofness when next they met. She entered the Accident Room, carrying on a mythical conversation with him in which he came off very much the worse for wear” (40). WARNING: spoilers ahead. Continue reading

GUEST POST/REVIEW: Janet Webb’s June TBR Challenge Read: Charlotte Lamb’s A VIOLATION

ViolationMiss Bates is thrilled to have the pleasure and privilege of offering her readers Janet Webb’s wonderful review of Charlotte Lamb’s A Violation for June’s TBR Challenge. (Please note that the novel under review contains the heroine’s rape. Miss Bates hasn’t read A Violation … yet, that is, after reading Janet’s review … and can’t say how explicitly the subject is treated.)

Blurb: She had it all, conventional wisdom said – a creative career in glamorous advertising and a handsome, upwardly mobile boyfriend. Yet the gnawing dissatisfaction Clare Forrester felt was pushing her to the crisis point. She had no answers, but she knew something had to change.

Then fate intervened with a nightmare – a senseless violent rape she was powerless to prevent. When time began again after that shocking moment, Clare’s life and the lives of those closest to her were changed beyond belief.

Values, friendships, family relations – all were traumatically altered. And now the question was, could Clare rebuild any life at all from the shattered fragments of her self. And would the power of love heal the deepest wound a woman could know … Continue reading

Of Twitter and Other Things: “How Old Were You When You Read Your First Romance? Name It, Please!”

Yesterday, in a Twitter conversation about the romance community and its actual, or perceived insularity – one thing led to another, as they are wont to do on Twitter – and Miss Bates ended up posing the question: “How old were you when you read your first romance? Name it, please. She really likes lists.” Miss Bates is grateful to all respondents who shared memories of that one book, or author that/who sparked their love of the genre. What was interesting to Miss Bates wasn’t solely the titles and authors, the ages more so, the stories around them and the effect, impressions, and responses the romances elicited in their readers. These books, in the life of the reader, were threshold books, no matter how humble the category romance now dead to all except the squeal of the find at a church bazaar, books that led and guided romance readers to the genre.

What emerged, from what is only anecdotal evidence, is that these spirit-guide books are sometimes Poohs to our Christopher Robin. Many romance readers/tweeters read their first romance, though by no means all, at twelve, or thirteen, that important moment in a girl’s life when she’s tasted a bit of independence. Her body is strong; her mind, acute. But changes are on the horizon: she’s a filly nosing the spring air: something is coming, something new. A burgeoning sexual self, a budding and newer awareness of her identify. The blessings of being a reader (please read to your kids, parents, please take them to libraries and bookstores and let them explore and choose books) is that we can rehearse and muse and consider so many lives between the pages of a book.

Miss Bates cannot speak for her fellow-tweeps: why that book? What did she get out of it? We most surely bring so many things to our reading of a narrative. Miss Bates speculates that sexual curiosity may have led us to the romance novel. But it’s not the sole reason we read romance: the need to redefine how we negotiate relationships, relationships+: not family, not friendship, but the seeds of what we’d later understand as “cleaving,” to use an old-fashioned term, the physical and emotional attachment to The Other, daunting, exciting, and necessary.

For her part, Miss Bates was twelve, or thirteen. She remembers she was heavily involved and invested in the school musical, Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. She had a behind-the-scenes role as assistant director. It was thrilling to be a part of. But changes were on the horizon: she was leaving her inner-city neighbourhood and school, rich with cultural diversity and history, and moving to a new school and neighbourhood, something more staid and suburbaney. She recalls making production posters, setting up cues, pounding away at the stage set, and rehearsing actors and singers, all the while keeping her copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower in her locker and sneaking a few pages during her lunch hour. What happened when Miss Bates posed this question about when and which romance on Twitter? To follow, her list of wonderful women and their younger selves and ur-romances (links to things are provided where Miss B. can). If you were part of the Twitter convo and Miss Bates inadvertently left you off the list, please let her know in the comments, or tweet her! Continue reading

TBR Challenge: Carla Kelly’s MISS CHARTLEY’S GUIDED TOUR, Or What Happens When the Itinerary Is Tossed

Miss_Chartley's_Guided_TourMiss Bates shares an ambivalent relationship with Carla Kelly’s historical romance fiction. She enjoys them, doesn’t love them. She reads them from cover to cover, but experiences moments of restlessness, or boredom. When she ends a Kelly romance, she’s glad she read it. They resonate, but reading one is preceded by feelings of obligation and an “it’s-good-for-you” pep talk. Why is that? Because Miss Bates finds an unappealing preciousness to Kelly’s characters. Her characters’ “buck up” attitude to disasters that befall them tend to the farcical. Though historical details are accurate, the ease with which class distinctions are discarded, while ethically appealing, makes Miss B. squirmy with discomfit. Yet Miss Bates loved Kelly’s Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour. She loved it because it calls on the hero and heroine to engage with life, even after horrific events befell them and they “bucked up” to make the best of lives gone wrong. Kelly writes about how a time to weep gives way to happiness … and the means of that happiness are to open the heart and to serve others. The best way that Miss Bates can think of to describe Kelly’s appeal is that her romances exemplify Christ’s notion that to find your life, you must lose it. Miss Bates loved Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour … despite the ragged hole of implausibility in its fabric. Continue reading

He RULES Over All: Georgette Heyer’s CONVENIENT MARRIAGE and Omnipotent Hero

Convenient_Marriage_2Sometimes, Miss Bates’ reading is desultory. Sometimes, “the world is too much with us” and our ability to immerse ourselves in a book is distracted and restless, no matter how willing we are, no matter how much we desire to lose ourselves in story. Miss Bates read Georgette Heyer’s The Convenient Marriage in fits and starts, dribs and drabs: picking it up for only minutes at a time; then, dropping it to follow the latest debacle on Twitter. She read trusted points of view on the Kathleen Hale/Guardian disappointment and wrestled with her redefinition of Miss Bates Reads Romance and a return to her original purpose. The blogger black-out was a blessing in disguise: for the first time in over a year, Miss Bates had to put the blogging aside and think about the blogging. With so many voices raised in protest, she re-acquainted herself with other blogs, ones she’d visited daily before MBRR, always anticipating a post, places where she typed her first comments, places of welcome and delight. Throughout, she read without any great concentration, but with commitment to get through the darn thing, Heyer’s Convenient Marriage proving inconvenient.

Miss Bates was bored, bothered, and preoccupied … and then, Horry took a poker to Lethbridge and she was captivated. That’s what it takes, dear readers, one delightful, or profound moment and the book can take us away, out of the daily into the “other” place … the paradox of the fictional world which, in a moment, becomes more real than waking reality. Horry emerged: impetuous, immature, and heavy-browed; Lethbridge, vindictive, unhappy, and strangely sympathetic; and then, Rule, he who ruled over all, urbane, powerful, wise, utterly charming and loveable. BUT …  Miss Bates had to contend with the breaking point of the novel: Rule, wonderful as he may be, is 35 and his wife is 17. This never left Miss Bates’ mind and she never quite made her peace with it. But she loved the novel and will have to live with her conflicted feelings. Because, sometimes, that’s what fiction leaves us, a sublime discord that we can pull out and think about for distraction, delight, and discussion 😉   Continue reading