The Diana Chronicles

by Tina Brown

I picked this book up from the library; my interest prodded by Sally Bedell-Smith’s incredibly and obviously resentful and contemptuous take on Diana and mushy worshipful view of Queen Elizabeth. I was looking for a more balanced view of both women. The only quibble I have is how quickly Diana goes from a sweetly dumb romantic (and slightly “off”) teenager to a scary sophisticated savvy and strange woman. Perhaps the progression is unknowable; it seems to be a whole series of tipping points. But boy, it happened quickly! The writing is witty and engaging. Another thing that stands out so is how close the two might have been to making a go of it or at least hung on longer and made their time together much happier and more tolerable. If only Diana had gotten psychological help. If only Camilla Parker-Bowles had just backed off. If only Charles had not been such a jerk. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

February 12, 2012

I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies

by Jeanine Basinger

“Marriage,” said Eddie Cantor, long wed to his Ida and the parent of five daughters, “is not a word. It’s a sentence.”

This is a fun read for old movie lovers. That’s lovers of old movies, not movie lovers who are old. As a fan of romantic comedies and dramas, women’s films, and movies with families, I was amazed at the depth and breadth of the knowledge displayed by the author. Or at least her research capabilities. There were a few minor inaccuracies (Scarlet O’Hara did not have 4 husbands in the novel [but she did have 3 children!]) It was a lot of fun to revisit so many of my old favorites, both important classics and the little known or forgotten. Some of the stand-out pieces in my view were the comparisons between the 3 versions of The Painted Veil, Lucy and Ricky, Friday Night Lights, her attention to the movies of the great Doris Day, Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, Irene Dunne… gee the list goes on and on. I don’t think she neglected any movie that marriage was a focus. The book combines a scholarly bent with a sense of humor and irreverent asides and comments. If a reader is not familiar with the movies discussed, and I venture a lot of readers would not be, the book would probably become tedious, but for me there was a treat on almost every page.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

February 14, 2014

The Girl Sleuth

by Bobbie Ann Mason

Bobbie Ann Mason’s book on Girl Sleuths crystallized for me why I loved Trixie Belden and why Nancy Drew left me kind of cold. Any girl (or boy) that grew up on these series books will find a lot to love and relate to in this volume. As well as very illuminating, it is, at times, laugh out loud funny. You will find yourself cringing and shaking your head in wonder at some of the excerpts from the unrevised versions of the stories from the ’30s and ’40s.

If only I had been introduced to Judy Bolton instead of Nancy Drew! Where was she? Did my library even have her? Did I just overlook her? It’s a mystery, but I am sad for my younger self for being deprived of her adventures when I really would have just gobbled them up and waited in suspense for the next one. Well, this book has made me think maybe it’s not too late…I’m bidding on a lot offered on eBay today!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

April 20, 2014

Nancy Drew and Her Sister Sleuths

by Michael G. Cornelius and Melanie E. Gregg

This book consists of 12 or so essays of diverse, and at times, unusual subject matter. Of course one would expect an essay on race and xenophobia (which yielded unsurprising conclusions), but how the french translation quixotically at times altered “Nancy’s” family origins and relationship to her father? The history of the Stratemeyer syndicate was interesting, dispelling many myths about the series (originating from taking information from interviews of Mildred Wirt and Harriet Adams at face value, not accounting for memory lapses or spin.) The essay claiming Nancy Drew was afraid of technology was poorly supported and weakly exampled. I don’t buy it and I had the feeling that another scholar could have made the opposite case. Of particular interest were the forays into the “sister sleuths” Cherry Ames, Trixie Beldon, and Linda Carlton: In many ways, they were better written and the heroines more interesting and more worthy to be role models than Nancy Drew. The essays range from academic and too serious to fun and amusing. But all were very educational and had interesting insights. Being a Marshmallow and a Potterhead, I did enjoy the occasional mentions of Veronica Mars and the essay on Hermione Granger. Surprisingly, there was little to nothing regarding the great Judy Bolton series.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

April 9, 2014

High Society in the Regency Period 1788-1830

By Venetia Murray

My interest in this entertaining history stems from my love for Georgette Heyer and some of her followers’ novels. It really illuminates that the Regency world of Georgette Heyer was indeed her version of that period of history: a much gentler, sanitized, and proper version. So many things in her portrayal of that time were very accurate, but it was the aspects of those times that she skirted around, ignored, or romanticized that interested me much more.

The most surprising thing I learned was how the ton wore their emotions on their sleeve. Apparently, it was not uncommon for men to publicly burst into tears and weep and wail when they were frustrated or angry. Venetia Murray supports this with numerous references in letters and other contemporary accounts. It is pretty obvious that Georgette imbued the Regency period with the “stiff upper lip” values of her generation.

Gluttony is another thing that GH did touch on in passing, but is explored in detail here. 2 or 3 or more enormous steaks at one sitting, conservatively, for example. The obsession with sauces and gastronomy and gourmet meals was amazing. Menus with literally over a hundred dishes. The extravagance and the waste in all areas of daily life. The over-indulgence in drink. Murray writes that it was common, indeed, fashionable for certain segments of male high society to be drunk, or tipsy all day long. High society as a whole were bored or idle all of the time. Meals were often the highlight of their day and would last for hours and hours.

And the immorality, of course. Discreet or not, married lovers and mistresses were not shunned and neither were courtesans. They were known and accepted in the highest levels of society.
It is much easier to understand and be sympathetic to the Victorian mindset as being a reaction and rejection of the ways of Regency England after reading this book.

The choices of illustration are curious. All of the plates are caricatures, cartoons, and drawings. I wish she had chosen more realistic portraits of some of the interesting people she discussed.

Yes, Georgette Heyer did romanticize and ignore some certain truths about high society while being very historically true in most things. Frankly, I’m glad she did!**4 out of 5 stars**

June 20, 2017

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World

by Jennifer Kloester

Terrifically entertaining and interesting guide to the Regency World of Georgette Heyer. Kloester goes into just enough depth on such topics as Clothing, Sport, The Wars, A typical day in a bachelor’s or a Debutante’s life, The Royal Family, etc. to both enlighten the Heyer fan, and to remind them of what they already know. It’s not for the serious historian or sociologist. She keeps it light and entertaining. As she goes from topic to topic, she adeptly and smoothly weaves in illustrations and examples from Heyer’s own novels. There are line drawings throughout on, for example, carriages, bonnets, underclothes, architecture, the leading figures of the day. One of the highlights are her appendices. The one on the cant or slang of the day is particularly entertaining and handy. I started out intending to just skip around and read the parts that particularly interested me, but I ended up reading the whole thing, cover to cover. **5 out of 5 stars**

June 13, 2017

The Search for Anne Perry

by Joanne Drayton

This is a very good exploration of Anne Perry and her struggle to move forward from the knowledge that she murdered the mother of her adolescent soulmate. The murder and trial is explored in detail, as well as her childhood and her personality and what factors led to the murder. Some thought is given how such a talented good woman could have committed such a horrible act. Unlike many of the other reviewers, I thoroughly enjoyed the critiques of each of her books and how they give insights into her psyche. In one notable passage, one of Anne’s characters explains how easy it is to kill someone by hitting them on the back of the head! (Just get them to reach down for something!!) This is of course how Julia and Pauline murdered Pauline’s mother. I enjoyed them because I have read all of the Pitts and have a passing familiarity with the Monk series. The biography jumps back and forth between her childhood climaxing in the murder and trial, and her life as a successful author leading to the movie Heavenly Creatures which created such a furor around her. This is fine, except that it is haphazardly done. There are important threads left hanging ( her efforts to get television series based on her Pitt and Monk mysteries. Only the pilot was made of The Cater Street Hangman. Why?) Although Anne is a very devout Mormon and her faith has been crucial to her ability to forgive herself and create a successful life, how does she deal with some of the negative aspects of that faith that seem to contradict her feminist values? Her mother was not an ideal parent, her and her father’s bad parenting decisions certainly contributed to the tragedy. Yet Anne is unfailingly supportive and protective. Joanne Drayton obviously enjoyed unparalleled access to Anne and her friends and literary partners. It is a very sympathetic portrait, but she does not shy away from exploring her eccentricities and her novels that were not as well-received or as beloved as her detective fiction. In fact, a little less time on her Mormon novels would have been welcome. Yes, I get it, these are the ones Anne loves the most and probably give the most clues to her inner life. I also wish her continuing horror at meeting Pauline again had been explored a little more. Pauline Parker has made very much a success of her life and is also respected and liked by her community.

One does get the idea that Drayton did not push Anne to talk about anything she did not want to talk about. Some reviewers have bemoaned the fact that Anne has not publicly prostrated herself on the funeral pyre of remorse and mea culpas at every opportunity (and for the public’s entertainment?). But that is not Anne Perry. She is very reserved, dignified, and controlled. She has expressed remorse and taken responsibility and blame. And yes, perhaps she has blocked out some of the horrific aspects of her participation in the murder. Even finding excuses and justifications (It was the meds!). If that is what she had and has to do to move forward and rehabilitate herself, then God bless her. Would that all murderers released from prison had the strength of character and the resolve to do what she has done. It was very brave and even shocking for Anne to authorize a biography considering her private nature. I hope she is happy with it. **4 stars out of 5**

April 16, 2017