2 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
Though I’m normally a fan of almost everything by Betty Neels, this one just didn’t really jive with me. You’ve got a man who’s marrying to secure a nice guardian/mother figure for his brother’s orphaned children, and a demure (almost passive) heroine who’s secretly in love with him. With Betty Neels books, you know that the love is always in the background and set to a very slow boil, but this one just kept getting overwhelmed with side details and characters until you don’t really remember that it’s a romance at all.
So we start with Eustacia, who’s in bad financial straits due to no fault of her own (she’s well educated and went to a prestigious girls’ school but has no particular skills to speak of). Eustacia meets Sir Colin (he’s an esteemed doctor who’s at the top of his frield, well connected and with deep pockets, which is usual of all Betty Neels’ heroes), who, after his younger brother dies, is left as the guardian to two small children.
He wants a girl who’s going to look over their needs, one who is gentle and kind, and preferrably one who isn’t going to disrupt his routine or his career. He proposes to Eustacia, who accepts.
So, Betty Neels has done the marry-first, fall-in-love-later storyline a few times, and though it’s a convenient way to throw the characters constantly in each other’s pathways, it just doesn’t really work here. You have the kids who need attention, the loyal servants who think they’re helping… though I really enjoyed the visiting characters from previous novels (Prudence and Haso from Paradise for Two), it just kind of felt as though there was no rhyme or reason behind these two falling in love, and we were at the end of the novel before I really knew what was happening!
Other Things to Know:
You could say that romances in general always have a lot in common – the girl gets the guy, and they always sail off into the sunset. Paranormal romances have ghosts and vampires in the background, while regencies always have earls, the ton, and ballroom gowns. But Betty Neels’ novels have so much in common with one another that they’re almost a genre unto themselves. I’ve read almost everything she’s published, and I think out of 100+ books, there are really probably fewer than 10 that don’t feature a doctor/surgeon/medical professor as the protagonist, and the heroines are always either nurses or, barring that, work as some nurse’s aide at some point (so that she can cross paths with the doctor). Most of the females tend to be plain (so that we can relate to them more easily, as they’re not ravishing beauties?) and they almost always have memorably beautiful eyes framed by long lashes. More often than not, there is some scheming, sophisticated woman who’s also pursuing our doctor, whom the heroine sees as a real threat, but who ends up being too hard-edged, too self-absorbed, too modern, really, for the hero in question.
The love story is almost a backdrop – always there, but kind of left behind within the everyday routines of having tea, shopping for clothes (there is always clothes shopping, envy of women with better clothes, etc) and food descriptions (the restaurants they go to, or food that the dedicated cooks prepare, from cucumber sandwiches to lobster claws and apple pies with cream). As I said, it’s a genre unto itself; she’s an author I find to be very comforting and comfortable to read, but it’s not your normal everyday romance novel in the sense that there won’t be a lot of kisses, unmitigated passion, or even gradual realizations of feelings.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
If you’re willing to talk about Betty Neels in terms of her ability to offer comfortable/comfort romance, where a kiss is the most passionate thing that might happen and where the romance is almost secondary to the daily tasks of the day (having tea, going on walks, rescuing kittens and whatnot), the closest I can think would be someone like Georgette Heyer, though that’s set in the regency era and Betty Neels’ romances are more or less present-day (think 1990s). I think most people either find her soothing or like the boringest writer ever… (I find her soothing!)