REVIEW: Making Sure of Sarah by Betty Neels
Plain, innocent Sarah Beckwith is stuck living with her parents, keeping house for them. She has no expectation of ever escaping and finding love…until, in a surprising turn of events, she encounters a gorgeous consultant!
Though Dr Litrik ter Breukel is struck by Sarah’s charm at once, he vows to take things slowly. But he’s unable to resist helping the lonely Cinderella, and soon he longs to rescue her in another way…with a diamond ring!
This little novella is distilled Betty Neels. There’s not quite as much time and space to squeeze everything in but it hits most of the highlights and really doubles down on the “put upon heroine.” Yep, there’s a lot of that. Still for all the times Sarah’s mother acts peevish and her father – “He’s not my father; he’s my stepfather” – yells and gets irate, Sarah has some backbone and occasionally uses it. She just needs a little boost every now and then.
Sarah, her cranky diva mother and her father – “He’s not my father; he’s my stepfather” – are driving back from France through Holland when Mr. Holt wrecks the car in a canal. Of course it’s not his fault! It’s his wife’s fault for not pointing out the road he should have taken – except she did and was ignored – or it’s Sarah’s fault for not mentioning the exit – only she did and was ignored but Sarah calmly points this out in a matter of fact voice. I could almost hear the hint of satisfaction in her tone when she does.
And it’s then that Sarah – drenched in smelly canal water and having sat in Casualty (US=ER) for hours and fallen asleep – meets her Knight in Shining Armor. Only take a seat because it will take the whole novella for them to finally get on the same page about true love and all. Anyway, Litrik takes one look at “a girl completely lacking in glamour” and falls head over heels.
He sighed deeply; to fall in love at first sight with this malodorous sleeping girl, with, as far as he could see, no pretentions to beauty or even good looks, was something he had not expected. But falling in love, he had always understood, was unpredictable, and, as far as he was concerned, irrevocable. That they hadn’t exchanged a word, nor spoken, made no difference. He, heartwhole until that minute, and with no intention of marrying until it suited him, had lost that same heart.
Our Litrik is smart though – he’s a consultant orthopaedic surgeon – and he knows he better go slow and steady with Sarah or he’ll spook her. And also find her a convenient sink to be sick in. Well, he can’t claim he hasn’t seen her at her worst.
Of course he won’t hear of her staying in a hotel though he kindly directs it all with the appearance that she’s doing him a favor in being available so he can discuss her mother’s and father’s – “He’s not my father; he’s my stepfather” – care. Poor dear Sarah has no clue she’s being manipulated. And oh, I want to see the ter Breukel house. It sounds just like a 17th century Dutch painting. Probably the set director of “TULIP FEVER” used their house as an inspiration for the interiors of the Cornelis Sandvoort house. Seriously, someone tell me where these Neels Dutch families find their cheerful family retainers who have been with them for decades and happily take on washing, pressing and folding the clothes of all these frumpy Englishwomen the men of the house fall in love with.
Neels very succinctly sets the stage with the old carved wood paneling, the crystal candelabra, the Chippendale chairs, the silverware – “very plain, with a crest worn by time.” The food is of course very good, simple but beautifully cooked, but you’ll have to read another book for the full-on Neels description of every morsel the heroine puts in her mouth. She does eat with “a splendid appetite.”
Slowly, stealthy like a man creeping up on a wild creature, Litrik begins to arrange Sarah’s life – to make life easier for her because he really is madly in love. Thankfully his family falls in with his plans completely, happy that their beloved brother and nephew has finally found a woman he loves after all the women who were pushed at him. They are just as exquisitely mannered about it all and catch on to any verbal cues Litrik lobs their way and hit them back over the net. Poor Sarah just has no idea ….
All too quickly, but not before a Sunday day trip through parts of Holland – and I want to see this Het Loo Castle in Apeldoorn, it’s time for the grouchy Holts to be transported back to England – all done with the most fuss imaginable – and with the Dutch nurses doing cartwheels of joy to see the last of them. Clapham Common, here we come.
There the loyal housekeeper who makes me think of Hermione Baddeley waits to cook and get upset at the Holt’s contrariness and roars. Sarah, meanwhile, quietly contemplates a life of boredom and misery. Dear Sarah really is a squashed cabbage of a young woman. At her mother’s beck and call and trying to avoid her stepfather who sounds a brute, she longs to do something but is trained for nothing since her mother couldn’t face the thought of her daughter being so ungrateful as to leave – cue dry tear into a handy hanky.
No it’s going to take Litrik and his village to carefully jostle things and spring Sarah from her lifetime of drudgery. It’s almost like he’s playing chess the way he thinks it through. Now here is where Litrik really shines for me. Unlike the hero in, say, “Dearest Eulalia,” where he steamrolls her, Litrik wants Sarah to be sure. So he helps arrange that (it takes a village) even though some of his villagers think he’s nuts not to just scoop her up and marry her. Nope, not how he’s gonna do it.
Misunderstandings follow but in that Betty Neels way wherein the truth comes out fairly quickly except for any hint of “love.” No, we have to wait until the print almost runs off the last page before Sarah or Litrik will fess up to that! But we end with a beautiful country wedding, a mother-of-the-bride with a huge hat – really, what is it with British women and big hats at weddings? – and a hero with gobs of money to buy his darling something other than that (uncrushable) unpretentious jersey dress. B
Now – there are two options to purchase this book. It’s sold on its own for $4.99 (gulp) or (and this is the link I’ve provided) it’s part of a two-fer Harlequin reissued for $2.99.