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A book review 50 years in the making

Yours to Command by Mary Burchell

Not wanting to match wits at this point, Mae has decided to temporarily pass on the dialogue-based review style we originally planned. Therefore, no MST3K or Beavis and Butthead criticism for Yours to Command. Instead, her efforts while we read our first classic Harlequin Romance and my second non-Mae Wood romance were focused on how to update this tale of lost love, envy, childcare, hand holding, and found love for her 21st century audience of 32 or so fans. In Mae's hierarchy of romance fun, outlining stories is in her top five favourite things to do somewhere between hitting the heart button on FB and looking through stock photos. Lucas Manning, one of two love interests in Yours to Command, and strictly a first and last name fellow until emotions change, is a retired basketball player turned sports broadcaster in Mae's head, unless she's changed sports in the past couple of weeks. On to the actual book, sort of:

Before the Kindle, there was the paperback. And before tattooed weightlifters and neon script that I guess evokes sexiness or being sassy or something, there were acceptable typefaces and hand-drawn, fully clothed individuals who you could take to a work party without worrying about what the gossipy wives would say. In other words, the good olde days. During the extra halcyon decade of the 1950s, Harlequin originally published Yours to Command (or YTC in 2010s talk [insert your own emoji or sticker]), one of Mary Burchell's 112 titles. The woman behind Burchell, Ida Cook, was super impressive. Wikipedia her.

So, it turns out that Yours to Command is not about a master-servant dynamic. If you are into the acronym romance subgenres, sorry. Instead, Yours to Command is the name of play starring Mr. Lucas Manning. Our heroine, Sydney, works at a boarding school for boys ages 6 or so and up, and meets the actor and uncle extraordinaire in the context of her job as Matron. Lucas Manning is a bachelor. His brother died, leaving behind two boys. Their mother is beautiful, but self-absorbed. She can't be bothered by the boys, so Lucas Manning takes charge and places them in Sydney's boarding school. After the actor and matron meet, the actor gives the matron free tickets to his play in London. Sydney goes to London to see the play. In true 1950s English fashion, Sydney has never eaten lasagna, so Lucas Manning treats her to lasagna and his play.

If Yours to Command were plot twistless, Lucas Manning would be sufficiently dreamy for Sydney. But, Sydney's first love and former fiance is also a boarding school worker. About 12 months or so after their broken engagement, he shows up at her school as the new headmaster. Totally unplanned. And he has a new fiancee, Marcia. Marcia introduced Sydney to Hugh, so Sydney is unhappy. Two men. Two women. Then three women, because we also get to meet the aforementioned selfish though stunningly attractive mom, Anne. Only two of the five will find love and happiness. And because the passion and general life satisfaction is of such a limited quantity, there is more jealousy and female-on-female emotional warfare than I would think that women in 2017 would like to see in a novel. Or maybe cattiness, if it's okay to use that term, is still embraced by a fiction world that Mae swears is supportive of and empowering for women. I'm not judging necessarily, just noting that the claws are out in this book, if it's also okay to use that phrase, and the anger is directed at other women not the men who assisted in creating the messy situations.

As for the passion that we do get, it's obviously a trifle understated in comparison to what I've read in Mae's books or in Professed. I don't think hot added a second "t" or the alternate "aw" for "o" until some surely traceable date between the immediate Post-War years and our era of allowing adolescents to dictate the vanguard of texting and messaging spellings and terminology. Understated or not, the plot could be used, as Mae discovered, as a fun template for a work that's less Slo-mance and more contemporary.

For a book penned by someone who wrote 111 other romance books, the writing is mostly quite good. While you'd hope that such output would mean that the author had craftsperson-like skill, the fact that there was ample artistry and originality in the writing was a little unexpected. To be sure, certain words like "drily" or "arbitrarily" were overused either throughout the book or during individual scenes, which probably goes with the territory of being a volume writer without, I would assume, the sort of editing I'd associate more with literary fiction as opposed to genre fiction. But the scenes were vivid enough and the dialogue, as I think Mae would agree, was surprisingly decent, and actually very authentic-sounding at times. This was especially true of the children's dialogue. Overall, we expected something much more mockable from that standpoint than what we found. A few conversations even had Mae's suggestiveness seal of approval, such as the following one between Sydney and Lucas Manning:

Sydney: You're so very kind to me. Really, I don't know why you should be.

Lucas Manning: Don't you.

He smiled at her rather mischievously.

Lucas Manning: Well, you think about it hard enough and you'll know why.

In no way was Yours to Command my scene or my thing, but for light mid-20th century English soap opera with a very happy ending, it was enjoyable to read with Mae. Hopefully for book 2, we'll move closer to our original plan of jointly assessing the reading experience. With that in mind, on to fictional New Zealand.

-The Woods, mostly the Mr.

Yours to Command, Mary Burchell

Mills & Boon, 1955

Harlequin, 1964

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