REVIEW: Honey for Tea by Elizabeth Cadell
Jendy Marsh was worried about her sister Nancy. Six weeks before her wedding day, Nancy had broken off her engagement to Allen Harvey and gone away to Spain. Nancy and Allen were the two people Jendy loved most in the world, and there was so little she could do to help them except wait until she was needed. Delightful tale of romance and heartache, and happiness at last in an English village and under Spanish skies, with as engaging an assortment of characters as you could hope to meet.
I was casting about for what to read next and thought, “I haven’t read anything by Elizabeth Cadell lately.” The effort I put into choosing which book to read boiled down to which ones were already on my ereader and thus I chose “Honey for Tea” mainly because the title sounded soothing. The abbreviated blurb for the latest edition only covers a tiny bit of the (usual) convoluted plots that Cadell seemed to love.
Before I get going with the review, there are a few things to mention. First there is a child character who is ghastly. She’s written to be ghastly, she’s supposed to be ghastly. Still, there are a few times when I thought about what kind of home life she must have with her ghastly mother (written to be, supposed to be). A few other characters also had moments of feeling this way but the little girl’s actions soon wiped those thoughts from everyone’s minds. But, she’s also described – several times – as fat. Once was enough but Cadell kept at it as if to make sure that we connected “fat child’ with “awful behavior.” The book was first published in 1961 and hopefully we’ve gotten beyond that now.
Secondly, there are a wealth of covers out there for “Honey for Tea” and the most recent one makes you think this is going to be such a fun, happy book. There are funny moments, there is happiness at the end but its darker tone is more suited to the second one I’ve included.
Thirdly, I had to keep checking the original publication date (early 1960s) because, Cadell includes some things that must have been mildly shocking for the day.
I’ll pick up right after the events of the blurb which kicks things off. The two Marsh sisters have been friends with the two Harvey brothers for years. Jendy and Nancy went to live with their acerbic spinster aunt Edie after one of those tragic book accidents that left them orphaned. The family estate was built in Tudor times by the besotted husband of a woman whom Walter Drake supposedly brought back from the Spice Islands. Images of the original Jendy are everywhere. But sadly after 13 generations, the line will end as Uncle Bertrand never married despite Edie’s pushing and manipulations. Now she and her one elderly maid live in a house that is mainly closed up and rarely heated due to costs.
After Nancy hightails it back to Spain, Jendy arrives home to try and console the jilted bridegroom – whom Jendy has loved since she was sixteen. She’s surprised to discover that the younger brother has returned from his artistic wanderings and appears ready to settle down. Her childhood (evil) nemesis plus the (described above) child of said nemesis have appeared on the nemesis’s brother’s doorstep much to his dismay. The nemesis is on her third divorce (shocking!) and the brother – while not actually described as such – is obviously gay (shocking!) but he is treated and described tenderly by Cadell (yay!).
Then a battered car and caravan (US=house trailer) pull up and disgorge a young man and his (very) pregnant girlfriend (shocking!). Wally has a job and (beautiful Swedish) Greta soon gets one at Aunt Edie’s house after which Aunt Edie makes her mission to get the two wed – not because she is frowning on anyone’s morals but because she doesn’t want this child born a bastard.
I can only imagine what 1961 readers thought of all this and I didn’t even mention the last shocking thing.
There are so many more plot threads and twists to come but I’ll stop here. I did immediately figure out one of them just Because. But the rest of it? Wow, I did not see some of these things coming. Many things are happening simultaneously and at first seem unrelated. Stay patient because in the end everything will make sense although it will come down to (literally) the last two pages before All Is Explained.
The romances were … weird. One I knew was going to end with two certain people in love but there are just hints and glimpses for the most part. Since I had already put these two together in my mind, I caught them and could see the romance unfolding but it’s one of those that sort of drifts into place. The other one, well I’m not sure I’m 100% behind it. It’s got a bit of soap opera bits and I’m just not totally convinced of “wuv, twue wuv” at the end.
What I did really enjoy is how Jendy and Aunt Edie – who have never really got on well – finally bond. I had something similar happen but unfortunately it occured after all the older females in my family had passed on and I can only look back and wish I’d paid more attention to their discussions of family. I have family pictures and am taking the opportunity to quiz my mother about them before it’s too late. Aunt Edie remains acerbic through to the end which tickled me. Wally and his ability to verbally best just about anyone was also a treat. Wally has Hidden Depths, mad house repair skills, and truly loves Greta who also loves him.
“Honey for Tea” isn’t quite what I was expecting. I do wish that the fat shaming hadn’t been there. I would love to know how the book was received “back in the day.” Overall I liked it but honestly it will not be among my favorite Cadell books. B-