The Penniless Princess: Part 4

Cut to downstairs in the house next door, where we learn that the employer of the French Peas is the old friend of Sara’s father.  He has “recovered your fortune, but cannot find your sweet daughter.”  Which is all very true to the book, so cool.

That being said, does anyone with more familiarity with VeggieTales know if the same vegetables are related to each other?  I mean, I assume not, because Sara was spawned of a cucumber.  Then again, we don’t know what vegetable her mother was.

I say this because Carrisford is an asparagus, which makes him look like Ermie’s father to me.  Also he looks delicious.  Gawd, I love asparagus.

Then comes another scene right out of the book.  And some of my goodwill is washed away as they…well, they VeggieTale it right up.

Sara finds a fourpenny piece in the street.  And she promptly thanks God for it.  She heads right to the baker.  In the book, the baker is woman—a grown, single woman who runs her own thriving business, thank you very much.  Awesome.

Here, they have made the baker Bob the To-mah-to.  Whatsa matter, VeggieTales, too many women in this story?  Why the hell not make Bob be Carrisford instead?

In both the book and The Penniless Princess, Sara attempts to buy four penny buns, and the baker, out of an abundance of kindness, slips in two more.

In the book, Sara thanks the baker twice.  In The Penniless Princess, Sara thanks him not at all.  Instead, she takes the buns and heads across the street, where she thanks God instead of the baker.

Okay, hon, I get thanking God for the coin, which did kinda come out of nowhere, but a person (okay a tomato, but my point stands) gave you extra buns, not God.

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Then, in both the book and movie, Sara spies a homeless child, colder and hungrier than she is.  In the book, the child is a girl, and Sara gives her five buns, keeping one for herself.  In TPP, the child is a boy (Whatsa matter, VeggieTales, too many women in this story?) and Sara gives him all of the buns.

Which is especially grating because they immediately cut to her meeting up with Becky in the attic.  Becky plaintively asks if she brought any food.  Sara wisely doesn’t mention that she got free food, but gave it all away.

I now amuse myself by imagining Sara saying that…and Becky kicking her veggieass.

Anyway, Ermie is also in the attic, inexplicably hiding under a bed.  As in the book, she offers to share a care package from home.

In the book, there is a charming sequence where Sara takes bits of detritus from around the room, setting the table with them and painting a word picture for Becky and Ermengarde of a banquet hall where three princesses can feast.

Here, Sara just proposes they “give thanks.”  To God, not her friend.  Again, Sara, a person (Ermie) provided this for you.  The words “thank you” do not leave Sara’s veggielips, though they do leave Becky’s.  So it seems the street orphan has better manners than God’s Little Princess.

And, just as in the book, Miss Minchin catches them before they can actually eat a bite.

In this scene in the book, Miss Minchin could not give less of a crap about the doll, Emily.  In TPP, Mortimer makes Miss Minchin sneeze again, so she chucks him out the window.  Honestly, I don’t find that action entirely evil.  Allergies, yanno?

Miss Minchin takes everything away and threatens Becky with firing.  Me, I’d rather be fired by a sentient, armless green onion than this slimy asshole:

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Anyway, Sara is left in tears.

“I know you will work everything out, God—but when?  When?  I know I am still your princess, but sometimes I am afraid I am only pretending.”

Heh.  How ironic.  Yanno, in the book, Sara is very conscious that she is pretending.  She uses her princess-pretending as a personal philosophy, behavior guide, and coping mechanism.  And she knows she’s doing this.  It’s pretending for a purpose.

Here, Sara really believes that she is the real princess of a real god.  This is why it’s sadly hilariously when preachers exhort us not to rely on ourselves, but only on God.  Because Sara has now worked herself into a position where if she loses her God, she’s lost everything.  She has no other coping mechanism for when things go wrong.

She sings a short and pathetic song about how she misses her (earthly) father but knows she is not fatherless because of her (heavenly) father.  It is decidedly tuneless and not-sing-along-able.

She ends on a spoken, “I trust you, God.

Though even if she didn’t, other persons/vegetables are about to take action in her life.

But I’m sure Sara won’t thank them, either.

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The Penniless Princess, Part 3

Time for Sara’s birthday party, the pivotal moment in the story when she loses everything.  Again, The Penniless Princess plays pretty fair with the original—a pivotal moment is kept, where Sara all but forces Miss Minchin to allow Becky to stay at her party.

But, for every time TPP stays true to the story, we need a departure.  In the book, Becky made Sara a present for her birthday: a handmade, though dirty and worn, pincushion.  Becky gives it with the recommendation that Sara can use her pretending skills to imagine it is “satin with diamond pins in.”  It’s all very sweet.

Here, Becky has painted a rock with a monkey.  I guess because Sara is from Africa?  Whatevs.  I’m rather inclined to agree with Miss Minchin on this one:

“A monkey rock.  Fantastic.”

(btw, something else I should mention about Becky.  She has a Cockney accent.  This is not odd, and in fact is true to the book.  The thing that is odd is that no other child, Sara included, speak with American accents, even though this movie takes place in London.  Shades of the Shirley Temple version again.)

(As well, Miss Minchin speaks with an English accent, but a rather silly one such as an American might put on if they were goofily portraying an English villain.)

Anywho, just as the party is getting into full swing, Miss Minchin receives bad news: Captain Crewe is dead, and died penniless.  In the book, Captain Crewe invested in a friend’s diamond mines, and then died of a combination of fever and stress when he lost everything.

Hilariously, the Shirley Temple version creates a giant plot hole with dad’s death: Captain Crewe is (presumably) killed in the Siege of Mafeking, and “his property and his mines were confiscated by the enemy.”  Which, okay, but by the end of the film, when Sara has found her papa (alive, though injured and with amnesia that she immediately cures by screaming at him), there has been no word on the property and mines being restored.  Meaning that yes, Sara has found her father, but they still have no money and he is now a disabled vet.

But I digress.  The death scene is rather artfully done here, with a fellow soldier presenting Miss Minchin with Captain Crewe’s hat.

“You father has died.  And what is worse, he has lost all his money in the diamond mine.”

Again, fair enough.  That explanation should suffice for little kids.

And again, true to the book, Miss Minchin makes Sara into a servant, so she can try to recoup some of the money Captain Crewe owed her.

A month passes, and Sara becomes hungry and tired, but she and Becky keep their princessy perkiness and sing a song as they clean the school.  And it is just creepy and bizarre to watch Sara scrub a floor, levitating the brush back and forth and she lies, armless, on the floor.

But here, see for yourself:

(This splices together several times that they sing the song—the scenes starting at about 1:28 don’t happen until later.)

(Also, the bit where the students tramp across the freshly-cleaned floor is straight out of the 1995 Americanized version.)

We get a shot of Sara reading her Bible before snuffing out her candle and hitting the hay, and then we get a Silly Song.  Apparently, these are a staple of VeggieTales, to mix up the format and provide a bit of an intermission.  It’s a totally-unrelated-to-The-Penniless-Princess scene and song, where two besties text each other, despite being in the same room.  No mention of God, who I guess approves of incessant texting.

Back in Sara and Becky’s attic, Sara is telling Becky a Bible story.  In keeping with the best VeggieTales criticism, this is an Old Testament story, of Joseph and his jacket, which VeggieTales has also made into an episode.  Then Ermie shows up, and Sara shows them both the story (her Bible is illustrated with vegetables), explaining again that God loves them no matter what.

Becky then shows Ermie the way back to the actual school part of the building, which gives Sara an opportunity to meet the people next door.  See, in the book, Sara meets a servant who lives next door to her, an Indian man named Ram Dass.  He is manservant to the owner of the house, whom Sara knows only as “the Indian gentleman,” because he is an English gentleman from India.  And will, of course, become very important later.

But since this Sara is from Africa rather than India, we get…two French servants.

Yep, makes total sense to me.

And instead of a pet monkey, they have a pet poodle.  Because of course they do.

On that note, we’ll stop for this installment.  But I did want to mention: despite my bitching, I am not a die-hard purist of A Little Princess.  I think changes like India to Africa are silly because they are pointless, but if a version wants to dig into the characters and explore new things, I welcome it.  In fact, my second favorite version, after the 1986 miniseries, is Shokojo Seira, which takes places in present-day Japan.  Becky is a boy and Miss Minchin has a wannabe-boyfriend and Sara is marvelously imperfect, which even the Ermengarde counterpart calling her out for condescension and self-absorption.  It’s…kinda awesome.

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The Penniless Princess, Part 2

Having arrived at school, we meet the villain of the piece, Miss Minchin.  And honestly, not bad.  I can dig it.  Apparently, she is a green onion.  I have no idea if different vegetables are supposed to mean different things, btw, or if they just pick different veggies and try to include everything.

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In another bit of adult humor, there is an ominous thunder-and-lightning when Miss Minchin is introduced, despite the sunny day outside.  I admit, I chuckled.

But I need help with something.  The introduction of Miss Minchin is also the introduction of a running gag: any time anyone says the words “Miss Minchin,” a horse whinnies.  This is played for laughs, but I don’t get the joke.  Honestly, I have absolutely no idea.  Help!

We also meet Miss Amelia.  In the book, Miss Amelia is Miss Minchin’s browbeaten younger sister.  Here, they have combined the character with the French master from the book, Msr. Dufarge.  So the character is still Amelia, but not Miss Minchin’s sister and she teaches French.

Eh, I can dig that, too.  They have to shorten this story somehow.

What I can’t dig, however, is that Amelia is a blueberry.  Last I checked, blueberries are not vegetables.

Oh, and while I’m at it, check this out:

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Here is Sara in The Penniless Princess.

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Here is Sara from the miniseries, looking very much as Sara is described in the book.

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And here is Shirley Temple as Sara.

So, suspicion confirmed: they were clearly basing this more on the Temple version than the actual book.  Sara Crewe, the real one, has short, straight dark hair, not red ringlets.

Not to mention that immediately, Sara acts all cutesy-child, in a decidedly un-Sara Crewe-like way:

“We rode a boat all the way from Africa!  There was a storm one night at dinner, and the waiters kept dropping the dishes!”  *giggles*

And the hits just keep on coming.  Much as in the book, Sara requests a single doll, to have someone to talk to while her father is gone.

“You mean like…THIS ONE???”  *Captain Crewe levitates a teddy bear out of thin air*

Um, no, Dad.  That is a teddy bear.  I asked for a doll.  Idiot.

But Sara is delighted, even though every single other version has gotten this right: Sara has a doll, named Emily.

Now she has a bear, whom she inexplicably names Mortimer.  Again, I am at a loss as to why they made this change.  The only possibility that occurs to me is they felt there was a lack of male characters in this show, so they changed Sara’s toy from a girl doll to a boy bear.

(This is not the last gender-switch they will pull, either. Grrr…)

Miss Minchin, btw, is allergic to Mortimer.  Or his stuffing, or something.  This is also played for laughs.  Allergies, HA!

All that done, Sara and Captain Crewe hug (or rather, they lean against each other, because no arms), and off he goes, back to India Africa.

Sara immediately (and I do mean right that very second) goes to French class.  In another cute moment of adult humor, the lesson is completely on French phrases that many American adults would know, such as “a la mode” and “cul-de-sac.”

This French class scene stays mostly true to the book: it’s a pivotal scene, where Miss Minchin first begins to truly resent Sara, already bilingual at age seven.  In fact, it’s one of several instances where dialogue is lifted directly from the book, so..kudos!

Here, we also meet Sara’s future best friend, Ermengarde.  And here we have a change: Ermengarde in the book is a not-very-bright girl, due to a combination of being…well, not very bright, and having a very overbearing father.  But she and Sara are BFFs anyway, because Ermengarde also happens to be sweet and loyal and generous and loving.

And here, “Ermie” (a piece of asparagus) is just a goofball.  The kind of cutesy little sidekick who shrieks every line.  Great.

And it’s time for another song!  Great.  Again.  This one is about imagining things.  Now, this is a very important theme of A Little Princess—that imagining things can help us get through tough times…but this song, again, just doesn’t seem very catchy to me.

So, after their one five-minute class of the day, and their one five-minute playtime of the day, Sara and Ermie part ways and Sara heads back to her room…where she finds the little servant girl, Becky, asleep.  This is, again, a very true-to-the-book scene, right up until the show starts playing it for laughs, having Becky (a blonde-haired carrot, if you care) fall asleep every few seconds, then wake up and not remember a thing, all Memento-style.

Sara proves her niceness by levitating a piece of cake at Becky.

And so, we now know all the characters we need to know…for now.  The Penniless Princess has completely dispensed with Lottie, another of Sara’s friends from the book.  And again, I don’t blame them for that a bit—Lottie is a very young, motherless girl whom Sara takes under her wing, even going so far as to let Lottie pretend that she, Sara, is her mama.  And I can see how that might be confusing for the little kids this is aimed at.

Next time…Sara’s birthday party!

The Penniless Princess: Part 1

Okay, kiddies, let’s start 2017 off with some lighthearted fun.  I think we need it after this past year, when seriously only ONE good thing happened.  (Mind you, it was a big thing, and awesome!)

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And speaking of classic literature for girls, I happen to have been kinda obsessed with A Little Princess since I was about seven.  So this review will have copious comparisons to both the book, and the other movies/miniseries based on it.

First of all, this appears to be the first time A Little Princess has been Christianized.  And A Little Princess is decidedly not a Christian book.  In fact, there are more (and more serious) references to the Hindu gods of Sara’s childhood in India than there are to the Christian God.  It would appear that Sara has a very egalitarian view of religion, saying “God bless you” to someone, yet also respecting other belief systems.  The same goes for Ram Dass, who at one point is of the opinion that Carrisford’s Christian God could lead him to Sara.

(Okay, I realize I’m naming names and all, so obviously I’ll be spoiler-rich in this critique, all the way along.  Fortunately, A Little Princess is the in the public domain, as are two of the movies, the 1917 Mary Pickford treatment, and the Shirley Temple version from 1939.

A Little Princess at Project Gutenberg

 

Jesus doesn’t even rate a mention in the book.  Ironically, this is a criticism frequently made of VeggieTales in general by Christians: they mostly do Old Testament stories, and generally mention God, but hardly ever Jesus.

I’ll also say, by way of intro, that the VeggieTales have always kinda freaked me out.  I never watched them as a kid, so I have no nostalgia associated with them.  And frankly, their lack of arms and legs confuses and frightens me, especially when things they are “holding” simply levitate in front of them.

And I also am weirded out by the way most of the veggies look like they have already been chopped with a knife!  I mean, just look at this horrific shit:

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They’re ready to be tossed in a salad right now!  So they should not be singing!

Oh well.  Enough with my terror of vegetables that have clearly been infected with rage virus.  On with the story!

The Penniless Princess opens as all VeggieTales…um…tales do: with that obnoxious opening song, followed by Larry the Cuke and Bob the To-mah-to talking about what we’re going to see.

I admit, some of the VeggieTales humor meant to appeal to adults is kinda cute and charming.

“Ah, the classics.  They are so very classy.”

Larry reads a letter from some little girl from England, who has trouble being nice when people are assholes to her.

And so this segues into the story of Sara Crewe, a rhubarb spawned of a cucumber (Larry the Cuke also plays her dad), fresh off the boat from Africa and WRONG.

Sara Crewe grew up in India, not Africa.  So we are left with the question of whether all foreign places are basically the same to the writers or (what I consider the more likely option) they were basing this story more on the Shirley Temple version than the actual book.

(Granted, Shirley Temple’s Sara Crewe was from India, too, but the story was based around Africa itself, with the Boer War (specifically, the Siege of Mafeking) a big part of the story.

But honestly, I can’t otherwise imagine why they would randomly change where Sara grew up.

Anyway, the jokes-for-grown-ups start right off the bat…

“Musicals are so unrealistic!” [cries a random veggie]  “People just bursting into song for no reason.”

…and the veggies do indeed burst into song for no reason.  Now, an immediate song in a musical can have good reason: it can establish the setting and quickly and clearly introduce the main characters.  Think “Good Morning, Baltimore” in Hairspray or “Skid Row” in Little Shop of Horrors.

Here, the song more introduces us to the theme: that Sara is a princess not just because she is her daddy’s little princess, but because she is also “daughter of a King” (God).  This is the most significant change from the book…the why of “princess.”  The book itself, and the very best (by a lot) screen version of it, the 1986 miniseries, demonstrate that Sara is a princess because she is trying to behave like a princess behaves.  And she means that in the very best sense: princesses are supposed to be generous and kind and gracious and aware of all their privileges.

Other versions tweak this considerably: the insufferable (I know, voice crying in the wilderness) 1995 version simply states that all girls are princesses, because…well, because all girls are princesses, silly!  And the Shirley Temple version simply seems to think Sara is a princess because she’s rich.

In fact, The Penniless Princess takes away more than just the why of princess; it takes away the agency of the princess in question.  See, the whole behave-like-a-princess thing was Sara’s own idea, her unique personal philosophy.  And a decidedly unreligious philosophy, at that.  When things were at their worst, Sara didn’t turn to Jesus, but to her own “imaginings” and ideas.  And if there’s one thing that’s antithetical to modern RTC-anity, it’s having a unique personal philosophy that has nothing to do with Jesus.  Leaning on your own understanding, if you will, and being (gasp!) self-reliant.

Anyway, I gather that most of these VeggieTales songs are meant to be sung along with by kids, but I find this first one thoroughly uninspiring.  And not just because I don’t share the belief system, but because of lyrics like these:

My little princess
You’ll never guess
How much love that
Your one life can bring

My little princess
I confess
For you are loved by me
And loved by the King

And Sara doesn’t even have one line to sing in this whole song.

And so, we arrive at The Minchin School for Lovely Little Ladies, which I consider a cute play on the school’s title.  At least, it saves parents having to Google the words “Select Seminary.”

And next time, we’ll meet Miss Minchin!

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The one and only REAL Miss Minchin.

The Prodigal’s Christmas Reunion: Completed Critique

“If I remember correctly, falling in love wasn’t listed in the terms of the will,” Lucas said drily.

“Not in the will, no,” Brooke agreed.  “But you never know what God has planned.”

Chapter 1

Chapter 2 and Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7 and Chapter 8

Chapter 9 and Chapter 10

Chapter 11 and Chapter 12, Part 1

Chapter 12, Part 2 and Chapter 13

Chapter 14 and Chapter 15, Part 1

Chapter 15, Part 2 and Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18 and Chapter 19, Part 1

Chapter 19, Part 2 and Chapter 21

Chapter 21 and Epilogue

TPCR: Chapter 21 and Epilogue

The Teenage Wedding goes off without a hitch (har), with Lucas convincing Erin to attend the ceremony with him instead of presiding over the last-minute details of the buffet.

We actually get a preacher talking here, as Reverend West (he of the “Grandpa Asshat made his peace with God, so his manipulation of you all was for the best”) draws parallels between a wedding and Christmas, because both are about promises or somesuch.

“With God as the center of your marriage, you will be able to get through the ups and downs that every couple faces as they journey together.”

Shh.  Don’t tell the teens that atheists have a lower divorce rate than born-again Christians.

Marriage is on Lucas’s mind in more ways than one, and he invites Erin over to watch Max open a Christmas Eve present.

[Max] raced over to Erin, grabbed her hand and tugged her toward the Christmas tree, his patience finally at an end.  Lucas knew the feeling!

Okay then!

!!!!!

Max chooses to open the biggest of his gifts, which seems kinda like jumping the gun.  I never got to open the Big Gift on Christmas Eve.  It was a small gift, if not a stocking stuffer.  Anyway, it’s cowboy boots, because Max has become obsessed with cowboys.

Lucas opens a gift that Arabella gave to Max to give to him, which is a brand new and newly-framed photo of the three of them snapped at the wedding reception that very day. Which is quite sweet.

And Erin’s present is from Lucas, and it’s the box that his mother (re)gave him.  And inside that box is a little box that has an engagement ring.

Which part of me thinks is sweet (he’s making her a part of his family by giving her the heirloom), but at the same time feels just slightly off because of his fraught history with his own family.

Anyway, Max reacts in a pretty cute four-year-old way to seeing the littler box.  He’s all, DAMN ERIN YOU GOT TWOOOOOO PRESENTS!!!

Lucas says that the whole Asshat will thing happened because God wanted them to be together, which Erin agrees with, and of course she says yes.

***

One year later, and GEE I WONDER IF ERIN IS PREGNANT???

Yeah, she totally is.

We catch up again with all the other characters, and again I feel kinda sorry for the author, who has to wind up everyone’s stories, not just her own characters’.  In fact, I feel like this story has really suffered because of the need to give time to at least ten other characters she didn’t even create.

Okay, odd thing, though.  The little girl, Macy, whose mom died?  She’s barely name-checked in the epilogue, with only a mention that she helped decorate a cake.  I suppose we’re to assume that she’s living happily ever after with her adoptive parents, but the “Questions for Discussion” at the end of the book describe her as someone who “[brought] the Clayton family together,” so I expected more.  Especially since Christmas must be a hard time for this kid, seeing as how her mother died at Christmastime only a year ago.

Oh well, let’s talk weddings!

Lucas and Erin got married in April, the second couple to get hitched after the Teenage Wedding.  Everyone else is hitched, too, except for Lucas’s sister, Mei, and her fiance, who are bizarrely waiting until Valentine’s Day to get married.  Which means they have been engaged for well over a year, since their romance took place at Thanksgiving time.  Why didn’t they get married on Valentine’s Day last year?  I don’t get it.

Of course, despite the inheritances having been handed out and freedom restored, everyone has opted to stay in Clayton indefinitely, except for the Teenage Couple, who are living and attending college in Denver.  Which makes them the sole escapees, so…go Teens!

And Erin reveals to Lucas that she is pregnant, and the end.

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Happy Wintermas and Merry New Year, all!

 

***

 

Coming soon: a poll for which movie I shall critique next.  Possible options:

I’ll be honest: the VeggieTales have always kinda freaked me out.

Too on the nose right now?

Suggestions welcome!

TPCR: Chapter 19, Part 2 and Chapter 20

Part of me still feels bad for the author, who now has responsibility for another big reveal: Who’s the Baby Daddy?

Lucas and Erin and Max do something very sweet, and arrange to give little Macy one of Erin’s new kittens (it is mostly Max’s idea).  This gives them the opportunity to tell Macy’s dying mother, Darlene, about the arrest of Some Bitch.  This greatly upsets Darlene, who requests that the minister and the whole Clayton clan (in other words, really, the entire town), make her a deathbed visit so she can make her Baby Daddy Dying Confession.

So all the named characters congregate, except, once again, Lucas and Mei’s mom.  Damn, this woman never gets invited anywhere.  Not to her own son’s welcome-home party, and not to the bedside of a dying woman who might have had an affair with her husband.

But the Baby Daddy wasn’t Mei and Lucas’s dad.  It was their dad’s brother.  Who apparently was the father of Sheriff Cousin and Cordon Bleu Cousin and Brooke, who’s going to adopt Macy.

I think.  This book would really have benefited from a family tree on the first page.

So Macy’s going to be adopted by her half sister.  Again, I think.

“George was going through a difficult time after Lucy died and he turned to me for comfort.  It was a mistake.  We both knew that.  When I found out I was pregnant, neither of us knew what to do.”

Um, get married?  If the guy was a widower and you were single, what was the problem?

“George didn’t want to lose his family, but he was a good man.  He wanted to do the right thing.”

So he didn’t marry her.  Because of “scandal.”  Wuss.  Then he died while she was still pregnant.  I dunno, I feel like being a single mom in a town this small and gossipy is a way bigger “scandal” than marrying a guy and letting people count only six or seven fingers instead of nine.  But I guess that’s why I’m not an RTC.

Anyway, Grandpa Asshat gave her money, enough to buy her house, so she raised Macy in this bizarre, in-your-business town, with everyone wondering for nine years who the baby daddy was, because they have nothing better to do.

Reverend West has this conclusion for everyone:

“You may not agree with [Grandpa Asshat’s] methods, but his motives were good,” Reverend West said.  “He acknowledged his mistakes and got right with God.  A hint of a smile touched the man’s lips now.  “I think as far as the will is concerned, George would say that the end justified the means.  You’re all in Clayton.  Now each of you has to decide where to go from here.”

The end justified the means.  Frak your careers, children, and lives outside this town!

The family then bizarrely offers forgiveness to Darlene, though what she ever did to them is beyond me.

***

Later that evening, Lucas returns home, where Erin has been watching Max.  A point is made that Max always calls Lucas “Daddy” now, which is kinda sweet, but could have just been taken care of in dialogue.  Lucas informs Erin that Darlene just died, and that she sent Macy away so she wouldn’t have to see, which is nice.

Now that this series-wide subplot is over, we can get to the next one: the Teenage Wedding!

(Sorry for the Wintermas delay; I was making rather merry this weekend.)

Happy Wintermas, all.

TPCR: Chapter 18 and Chapter 19, Part 1

Kathryn Springer has a thankless task just now: she has to tie together the loose ends for everyone, starting with the reveal of the poisoner/dress slasher/badge and gun thief/poisoner again.  Granted, that might be kinda exciting, except that I haven’t read any of the previous books and have no idea about who is really who.

The whole family gathers at Erin’s cafe to make the food for the Teenage Wedding.  This is also part of Sheriff Cousin’s cunning plan (so cunning you could brush your teeth with it!)—he’s installed two surveillance cameras at the cafe, so that when they all leave to go caroling later and all the Teenage Wedding food is around, they can catch the poisoner on tape!

Okay, admittedly, this plan is not as stupid as I thought it would be, coming as it is from Sheriff Cousin.

Just before they get started on the food, Some Bitch (Cousin Arabella’s mom) shows up to help.  Everyone is kinda rude and dismissive to her, which seems at least a bit unChristian of them, especially considering they just ended a freaking prayer circle.

Anyway, they make some food and then it’s time for caroling and Erin has to double back for her mittens.  This allows her to accidentally catch the poisoner in the act…

IT WAS SOME BITCH ALL ALONG!!!

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Was this meant to be a surprise?  Because Some Bitch is the only names character still at large who it could possibly be, since it’s obviously not going to be any of the heroes or heroines from the other books.

Also, she was making her villainy kinda transparent: the only other time we see her in this book, she just randomly showed up at Erin’s cafe to insult her.

No real reason is offered for all this initially, other than Some Bitch is “crazy” and “unhinged.”  Turns out she had secretly sided with the Bad Side of the family, because she was angry with Grandpa Asshat for making this bizarre scheme to give the grandchildren stuff, instead of her.

Honestly, when I write it down like that, it’s hard not to understand where she’s coming from.  Not that it excuses food poisoning or anything, but I get why she’s upset.

Hilariously, Some Bitch tries to pin the poisoning on Erin, as the entire rest of the family crowds back into the cafe kitchen.  (Weren’t they just caroling?  Why did they all come back when they had no reason to suspect anything was happening?)

Even more hilariously, Erin “wasn’t even sure what she could say in her defense.”

Um, Erin?  Cameras?  Did you really forget that this is all on film?

Apparently, because Erin is received when Lucan immediately comes to er defense.

If Lucas believed her, maybe the others would, too.

Yeah, or maybe they’ll watch the tape from the camera they just set up!

Sheriff Cousin finally points this out, though we don’t hear the reaction of Erin going…

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Nope, Some Bitch is escorted off by Sheriff Cousin, and the wimmins focus on the really important issue:

“We’ll have to throw away all this food now,” Vivienne said in a low voice.  “What are we going to do?”

Um, check the tape to see what Some Bitch actually tampered with?  I mean, she had only five minutes, it couldn’t possibly have been everything.

But I guess Vivienne has forgotten about the cameras, too.  Makes sense, since it has been 90 whole seconds since Sheriff Cousin directly mentioned them.

What is it with Christian romance characters that they have the memories of goldfish?

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TPCR: Chapter 17

The morning after the date, Erin wakes up feeling like shit, and it’s not because she and Lucas got drunk off their asses and made out into the wee hours like a couple of teenagers.

(Yeah, yeah, I know he had his little kid along.)

In fact, she gets a call from Sheriff Cousin’s fiancee, her waitress, that Lucas and Max have also been taken ill and Max has been taken to the hospital.

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Naturally, foul play is once again suspected, but Mustache Twirler is in jail, so that just leaves…every other person on the Bad Side of the family.

Erin heads to the hospital to see Max, who is asleep and being hydrated, and finds Lucas in the chapel.  Turns out that while he was watching his little boy heave his little guts out, Lucas was planning how to leave town while still guaranteeing everyone else their fair share.  So, turns out the Bad Side did indeed figure out what could make a person leave—poison their kid.  Still doesn’t explain why they thought ripped weddings dresses and random acts of arson would cause the same thing.

Erin counters that by leaving, it will “hurt your family more” and leave Lucas “in control.”  Which seems a low blow to deliver to someone who just wants to protect his son.  But Lucas doesn’t take offense, perhaps because he’s too exhausted to even notice what she said.  She adds, because she is now remembering that this is a Christian novel, “[God] never leaves us or forsakes us.”

This trite little tidbit turns it all around for Lucas, even though you’d think he’d have heard such things a thousand times before, growing up with a missionary for a father. But no, he prays:

Lord, if You’ve been waiting all this time for me to come to my senses, thank You.  I’m tired of doing things my own way.  Your plan, whatever it is, has to be better than mine.  Mine’s taken me on a path to nowhere.

Yeah, God, ever since I stopped going to church and left my tiny incestuous town, I went to college and vet school, have a career I’m passionate about, and now, an adorable son that I love.  This life of mine sure has been “a path to nowhere.”

So, now excited about following God’s plan, Lucas heads out of the chapel, only to find his whole family there, concerned about Max.  Basically, it’s a roll call from the previous books in the series, but the interesting thing is, almost all of these people have jobs, which they were apparently able to leave mid-morning, no questions asked.

I know it’s sweet and all, and I know they all live in the same town, but honestly, and not to be cruel or anything, but Max is fine, just a bit dehydrated from puking, and I’m sure some of them might be able to walk off the job, but the sheriff?  The cowboys?  The teacher?  Oh well, it’s all very heartwarming.

And the heartwarming moments just keep on coming: Max wakes up screaming for his daddy.  This makes Lucas feel like shit and Erin smile, because she gets that Max is yelling for Lucas, not for his dead birth father.

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But the mystery of the food poisoning remains!

Don’t worry, I’m sure Sheriff Cousin has a plan that is just as cunning as the last one.

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TPCR: Chapter 15, Part 2 and Chapter 16

So Erin has asked Lucas to drop her at Arabella’s so she can be with Max while Lucas meets with Sheriff Cousin.

“I can handle Vincent,” she insisted.

“You and whose army?”

“God’s.”

Huh.  This story finally remembered it was Christian.  Ah well, it was fun while it lasted.

Lucas drops Erin off, and there is no sign of Vincent or Maurice, so Erin heads in and Lucas has his first prayer in years!

God, I don’t deserve Your attention, but Erin and Max…keep an eye on them, okay?

Not as heartrending as some other Love Inspired First Prayers, but not bad.

Sheriff Cousin informs Lucas that Maurice is violating his parole just by crossing state lines, which is nice.  And Sheriff Cousin proposes setting a trap for Mustache Twirler, with the help of Erin, whom S.C. apparently bent space and time to call when neither we nor Lucas saw, because she is “willing.”

So Erin heads back to her place with Max, with the apparent full knowledge of S.C.

She had no idea what Vincent’s latest betrayal would do to a man who’d spent years running from his past.  But would Lucas turn away from God again—or run into His arms?

Um, you’ve got a kidnapper on your trail right now, Erin.  Not sure this is the hot issue.

Erin and Max head into the barn and she hears some noise in the loft and assumes it’s Sheriff Cousin.  And almost immediately, Mustache Twirler shows up and wants to take Max for “a ride and see the Christmas lights,” which just makes me wonder were his pedo van is parked.

Erin gets him to admit that he’s trying to drive Lucas out of town, which doesn’t rove a difficult task.  She tries to get him to confess to setting the fire and being a party to the kidnapping, but Mustache Twirler isn’t having it and calls in Maurice (who was apparently just twiddling his thumbs outside) to assist in the kidnapping.

This takes Erin completely by surprise, because she had been under the impression that Sheriff Cousin would have arrested Maurice by now.  Know who else is surprised?  Lucas, who is the one in the loft, not Sheriff Cousin.

(Come to think of it, if Erin thought Sheriff Cousin was in the loft, why did she think he was in the process of arresting Maurice?  Gorramit, not all inspirational romance writers should write action scenes.

Lucas prays for God’s help, and suddenly sees a fire extinguisher attached to the wall of the loft.

He had forgotten that sometimes God’s response could be very swift.

Well, Lucas, unless the fire extinguisher wasn’t there before you prayed, I wouldn’t give him the credit.  I’d give Erin the credit for being concerned about fire safety.

So Lucas flings the fire extinguisher at Vincent’s head and beans him (you’d think that might kill him, but it doesn’t even knock him unconscious), and Erin and Max make a run for it as Sheriff Cousin FINALLY shows the hell up and does some arresting.

A short while later, they’re all congregated in Erin’s house while statements are being taken, and Lucas is demanding to know (quite rightly, I’d say), just what the hell took Sheriff Cousin so long.

“We had to get something on Vincent.”

“So we let a known criminal attempt to forcibly take your son and girlfriend and did absolutely nothing before YOU had to step in!  Perfect plan, right?”

***

Still later (a few days later, actually), back at the ranch cafe, business is slowly picking up.

And Lucas and Max show up to ask Erin out on a date.

A picnic date.

At her house.

Without asking her.  Yeah, not sure if Lucas is down with the “dating” stuff yet.

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But Erin seems delighted with all that, so who am I to judge?

Erin and Lucas take care of a few loose ends during the date, she saying that she is actually thrilled to be running a cafe and not being a vet, and he saying that he is thrilled to be a vet (and owes that mostly to her, which is quite sweet).  So it all works out!

Then Erin obsesses over What All This Really Means, and is Lucas still planning to ditch town in a year?  Which, girl, he’s having a date with you with his son tagging along, so I’d say it’s looking pretty good for you.

But we’ve still got five chapters and an epilogue to go, so who knows???

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