Thursday, January 6, 2022

Two from Essie

As the end of the year approached, I felt like some comfort reading and turned to Essie Summers (1912–1998) whose light fiction can easily transport her readers from wintery New England to exotic New Zealand settings far away. Summers’ 56 novels were translated into 25 languages and sold 19 million copies, but because she wrote for Mills & Boon/Harlequin she never achieved critical acclaim.
However, American fan Ken Pierce is bringing her books back into print as eBooks (although it is not hard to find inexpensive paperback copies online). I would say he’s her other American fan except I have encountered several besides me. I once met a woman who purposefully went to New Zealand and found her own Summers hero and brought him back to LA!

The Lark in the Meadow (1959) or, Why does no one leave me half a sheep farm?

Sarah Isbister, a British nurse, is the guardian of her half-brother Rory and half-sister Pauline after their parents die in a car crash. Overcome with guilt at having been driving the car, Duncan Alexander leaves them his share in a New Zealand farming estate before he also dies. Sarah is reluctant to accept but knows she cannot support the children on her meager salary, so they set off for the other side of the world. Unfortunately, a spiteful neighbor writes to Duncan’s nephew and partner, Grant, accusing Sarah of being a gold-digger, so sharing the estate is difficult for both, although the children love it there immediately. However, when Grant’s housekeeper breaks her arm, Sarah steps in, and her ability to feed the workers needed for the sheep shearing starts to lull Grant’s suspicions and earn his appreciation:
Sarah and Grant gazed at each other in consternation. “That’s really torn it,” he said. “What in the world can we do? We want stacks of sandwiches for morning tea and afternoon tea . . . and bread and butter for the tea meal at night!”

Sarah thought rapidly. “I could get by with vast quantities of scones and pikelets and oatcakes for the teas at the shed, if only I could bake enough bread for the evening meal. Any chance of getting some compressed yeast from the store?”

Grant looked doubtful. “But bread-making’s a dying art, isn’t it? I mean – could you?” And how long would it take? Doesn’t it have to stand and rise?”

“Oh, about . . . let me see. Half an hour to make, rise it – another half hour, knead it, rise it another hour, knead it . . . bake it . . . oh, about four hours.”
Essie’s heroines are ready for any emergency! And maybe I like these books because the descriptions of food are always so good! Of course, there are misunderstandings that keep this couple apart but it is amusing to see how everyone in sight is soon crazy about Sarah except Grant. She is offered a part-time nursing job, attractive men ask her out, and the farming staff admires her. Grant learns to trust (and love) Sarah even before he learns the real story about Duncan’s faulty brakes and the inheritance while she is partial to him from the beginning.

By the way, the answer to the above question is that I am good at dessert but not main courses or bread (despite a lot of sourdough attempts during the pandemic, my bread never rises) or housekeeping – the estate would crumble with me in the kitchen!  Although I might be good at raising orphaned lambs with a bottle, which is often required.
South Island Stowaway (1971), or Please don't do this at home

Julia quits her job to housekeep for her brother after his fiancée dies but he declines, telling her not to be so self-sacrificing. Impulsively, she decides to persuade him by stowing away in the back of his car, only to realize to her horror that she is in a stranger’s car in New Zealand’s South Island, far from home. Of course, she is lucky she doesn’t suffocate or get murdered! Maybe Essie thought this escapade was winsome but Adam Dare and I disagree and his fiancée Miriam breaks their engagement, after discovering Julia under a blanket and assuming she is his bit on the side. She storms off, and as Adam is temporarily in charge of his sister’s children, Julia can make herself useful – in Essieland, the way to a man’s heart is definitely through his stomach or by taking care of his family. Julia feels so guilty about wrecking Adam’s engagement that she tries to broker a reconciliation - repeatedly - not realizing Adam had seen through Miriam, was glad she was out of his life, and is ready to move on.
His voice was reproachful. “Julia, you are without doubt the most maddening girl I’ve ever known. You’re deliberately reminding me that I was very recently engaged to her and ought not to be holding another girl’s hand yet. As if time had anything to do with it!”
Well, you can’t really blame Julia for wondering if Adam is on the rebound but Adam knows that time is elastic in this type of book. Also, he has to persuade her he is sincere or she will head home the minute his grandmother has recovered from a broken leg. Local history often permeates Essie’s books and I think this book has more than any I can recall. Before The Lord of the Rings, I am sure Essie was one of the biggest inspirations of travel to New Zealand. I especially appreciated how Adam’s grandmother came from Cape Cod – that was unexpected. I wonder if Essie ever traveled to the US or if she just knew her whaling history.


Lex @ Lexlingua said...

Love your alternative book titles! Haha, seriously, I want a sheep farm too and no stunts at home. :D

LyzzyBee said...

Oh these do sound lovely - not an author I've heard of before!

Claire (The Captive Reader) said...

I managed 3 Summers books over the holidays and she was just right for that slow week at the end of the year. That brings my total to 9 now (with about 3 plotlines between them) so I still have lots to look forward to, including these too. Thank you again for introducing me to her! I may have to follow in the footsteps of your fellow American fan and head to NZ for a hero of my own...if only I fancied hill station life!