**spoiler alert** Lately I’ve been getting caught up with “That 70’s Show” on Netflix. I only saw the first couple of seasons during its initial run a**spoiler alert** Lately I’ve been getting caught up with “That 70’s Show” on Netflix. I only saw the first couple of seasons during its initial run and I refuse to watch the final season, as that show just devolved into wretchedness, but the first 5-6 seasons were entertaining with its retro 1970’s shtick: a group of 16/17/18 year old kids just hanging out, falling in love and being stupid. I have a recently-turned 18 year old daughter, who is set to graduate from high school this June. She’s a very intelligent kid, as far as kids go. However, since watching “That 70’s show” I’ve realized something of myself as a parent. I am Red Forman. He was right! 17/18 year-olds are dumb-asses.
What the heck does any of this babble have to do with Anne Mather’s Moon Witch? Well, “That 70’s Show” depicted Mid-western American teens doing what dumb-ass teens do: obsess over sex, TV, drugs, candy and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Not being British nor having been a teen in the 70’s, I can’t attest if this depiction is accurate for English teens of that era, but I’m going out on a limb and ass-u-me that in rural 1970’s UK, dumb-ass 17-year-old kids were, you know, aware of life. However, the teen-aged heroine of Moon Witch is even more of a dumb-ass specifically because she has no clue about life.
Here’s the plot of Moon Witch:
Little 17-year-old orphan Sara’s grandfather has just died. She’s finished her freaking O levels at school and has no one to turn to. She’s temporarily taken care of by a cranky neighbor with 7 kids, but fortune is on its way to save our heroine from ending up on social services.
In his will, Sara’s grandfather left her guardianship to his former boss and CEO of Kyle Industries, Jarrod Kyle. Only he didn’t specify exactly which Jarrod Kyle, so in a bizarre HP-land twist Sara is made the ward of the son and new CEO, also named Jarrod Kyle. Instead of being an old grandfatherly sort, this Jarrod is more of a fatherly sort (being only twice Sara’s age): a silver-blond haired, tanned, cheroot-smoking, sex-god who drives a Mercedes one day, a Ferrari the next, then a Rolls Royce on Sunday. He flies planes and owns and sails a yacht. He has multiple girlfriends (who practically come to a cat fight over him near the book’s denouement), in addition to an overbearing mommy who wants to run her son’s love-life (but he ain’t listening to her).
That’s the set up. This innocent, sheltered 17-year-old beauty is now the legal ward of a 34/35 year old guardian. Fortunately, Jarrod’s father, JK (as in Just Kidding readers, I know this plot is crazy!), steps in and takes responsibility for Sara while Jarrod flies around the world going on trips, both for business and pleasure.
I’ve read tons of historicals with 16, 17, 18 year old girls paired off with heroes in their mid-30s through early 40s. And it's hardly ever bothered me. Historicals play by different rules.
Yet in a contemporary, this is a fine line to walk. It has to be done properly with an understanding of the difficulty such a relationship faces. In Moon Witch, the older man/younger woman thing is …creepy. Even the hero knows it, so he spends half the book avoiding the heroine.
Admittedly, Moon Witch is not a “modern” contemporary, as it was written in 1970. Plus this is a Mills and Boon/Harlequin Presents we’re talking about. So since it’s an HP--which is as far away from real romance as Star Wars is to space travel and history--I eventually got on board. Despite my admitted prejudices, I ended up liking it, even though the book takes a while to get going.
This is not a love story of a middle-aged man paired up with a 20 year old college student who in the US would be too young to buy alcohol, but would at least be armed with some worldly knowledge: how to drive a car, how to read a bank statement, or how to type or do some filing. Sara is 17 and her only skill is how to ride a horse or pony. Her favorite subjects in school are Art and English. She’s never had any feelings for a man before, no stolen kisses with boys, no harmless dates to the soda shop; she’s just a pink-cheeked little girl, who looks nothing like the sophisticated auburn-haired beauty on the original cover.
The first time our hero lays eyes on the heroine, the chick is decked out in a sexy pinafore: Moon Witch is not written in a psychologically intense way Charlotte Lamb would handle the older man/younger woman trope as she did in the wonderful Temptation and Crescendo. IMO, Lamb has written the best and the worst HPs of all time, although that was because she was like a power hitter in baseball who either hits nothing but home runs or strikes out at the plate. Anne Mather, on the other hand is no armchair psychologist, nevertheless she did write some oddly entertaining books. She was a big fan of older woman/younger man plots, evil mothers-in-law who’ll stop at nothing to break up the protagonists, and cheating tropes (married or engaged). She’s written tons of crazy HPs/Mill and Boons.
This one was definitely crazy.
There’s lots of hinting at the attraction between our leads, but it comes full force when the kid, er heroine, starts dancing to some of her favorite tunes, hits from Sammy Davis, Dave Brubeck & Dean Martin. Now remember this was published in 1970. Mather could’ve gone with Led Zeppelin, the Doors, Rolling Stones, Elvis, or even freakin' Tom Jones…but no. That’s why I’ve liked the Harlequin Presents series. No matter what decade they were written in, they’re always strangely anachronistic, at the very least 15 years out of style.
(Side note: That’s one reason why I can’t stand the recent batch of HPs; the writers have ditched the weird, fake, old-timey fantasy setting in favor of some sort of chick lit/50 shades of hot new adult sex fusion that is perfectly fine for just about every other contemporary romance, but not HPs! Harrumph to that, I say!)
So, anyhow, Sara’s alone, shaking her ass, dancing to the "latest" sexy beats, turns around, and there he is: Jarrod, lusting after her.
“Turning the volume up she allowed her own inhibitions to melt away, closing her eyes, and dancing with the same abandon she had seen teenagers on television adopt…Sara halted abruptly, conscious of the informality of her attire, the bare feet, and the damp untidy tangle of her hair. She switched off the radiogram, and for a moment the silence seemed as deafening as the music had been. He did not speak, but continued to look at her, his eyes slowly following the length of her body and back to her face again resting for a heart shaking moment on her mouth…”
Sara is given a car, starts her driving lessons and gets to go to one measly party where all the boys her age are hot for her. Then she immediately gets pneumonia afterwards and is out of commission, laying around doing nothing for the rest of the book until Jarrod decides to take her with him on a glamorous trip. First to NYC for some wining and dining in the finest Manhattan restaurants, shopping trips and carriage rides through Central park, then off to Jamaica to meet his mother.
Mather introduces another man into the story near the end: a rich, sexy, friend of the hero who’s the same age as he is. This is just to confirm that the heroine knows her heart and it’s Jarrod she loves, for, like, 4 eva!!!
They share their first kiss a few pages from the end, and Jarrod reminds her there is more to male—female sexual relations than just kissing. To which Sara’s eyes open wide with awe and surprise.
Hey, if Courtney Stodden’s marriage is still going strong, then the reader of Moon Witch can have hope that Sara and Jarrod will be happy together for many years to come. Until Jarrod gets cancer 15-20 years later from all the smoking and tanning he does and leaves Sara a wealthy widow long before she hits 40.
Moon Witch wasn’t just a hit with readers. For Harlequin it was an “All Time Favorite Best Seller.” My copy is the 9th printing since the original 1970 hardcover release, and who knows how many times it’s been reprinted or rereleased since 1982. It’s available as an e-book today. Another Anne Mather phenomenal success was No Gentle Possession which was—like many other HPs—offered free with dish detergent:
Anne Mather must’ve been the bomb back in the 1970’s. Her Leopard in the Snow was made into a movie starring, Mr. 2001 Space Odyssey Canadian cutie, (well I think he was a cutie, anyways) Keir Dullea.
Moon Witch reminded me of Anne Mather’s Stormspell. That was a full-length book, with a similar older-man younger woman scenario, although no guardianship-ward/ temporary daddy "ick" factor thrown in. In that one, the hero was just a cheating sleaze who “initiated the heroine into womanhood” before leaving her for his fiancée, but at least we the readers got to see into the hero’s mind to understand him better. Plus, in Stormspell the heroine got to spread her wings a little before she and the hero settled down.
Still…I can see why this HP appealed to the romance loving masses. Moon Witch, you are an awful book, straddling a fine line between romantic and pervy, and I hate myself for liking you. Gods above forgive me, but I do.
3 ½ stars
(For full disclosure, I met my husband-to-be when I was 18, he was 22 and we were both dumb-asses. We'll have been together as a couple 20 years this March.) ...more