Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Book Review: The Girl in White Gloves by Kerri Maher

The Girl in White GlovesThe Girl in White Gloves by Kerri Maher

I was curious to learn about old Hollywood, but beyond that I wasn't sure what to expect. What I got was both more and less than what I was hoping for.

As far as characters go, this was not a big win for me. I'm not sure if it was the way things were written (third person, lots of telling) or Grace herself. She came across as too perfectly good, naive, meek, insecure, and depressed. I felt distant from her, and I'm not sure if it was the writing style or because Grace Kelly was a distant, naive, depressed, meek, goody two shoes (which rings true from what little I know of her). I think the answer is "both." The end result was that Grace wasn't a particularly fun or interesting person to follow, but over time I did develop a fondness for her even if I never shook a constant mild irritation.

What I did gain was insight into all sorts of interesting things. Grace's life allowed us to flit around learning tid bits here and there about acting styles, approaches, and training and how these differed on TV versus movies versus the stage. We got little bits of information about a ton of starlets of the era from Grace's fascinating insider/outsider perspective. We got to learn about Monaco and little bits of history (the book spans several decades). There's a lot here, and for me this was the highlight of the book and why I kept reading.

Overall, I'm glad I read this book and I'd check out what Kerri Maher puts out next. It's easy to read, steadily paced, and mild but interesting throughout. Kinda like Grace Kelly, I suppose.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Year in Review: January through March

I made a really big list

It's that time of year again! I started making these lists because I'm a list kind of person, but they've become so much more. I've found myself returning to them time and again almost like a scrapbook. It's been a nice way to reflect, remember, and reminisce.

The Deadly Dance by M.C. Beaton
I started out the year by continuing with Agatha Raisin. This year continued on with the depression and stress that crept into the end of 2018 as a result of all the tumult at work. I ended up in physical therapy because I was carrying so much stress in my body that I was actually physically injuring myself by clenching my muscles so tightly. Agatha Raisin was a cathartic escape with her indulgent behaviors and ornery nature. 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
I ended 2018 by starting a reread of the Harry Potter series. I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue with it, but when 2019 rolled around and the stress continued to pile up, I clung to Harry Potter like a lifeline. 

Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon by M. C. Beaton
Much as I wanted the escape into an easy, mindless read, these were starting to wear on me. I don't love the introduction of the agency and the characters Agatha has employed to help her solve mysteries. It's fine, there's nothing bad about it, but making everything an official job takes some of the joy out of it.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
This has long been one of my favorite books in the series and I enjoyed it very much again. Though, the first time I read the series I had definite stronger and weaker books, but this time rereading through them all they all sort of smoothed out into one larger story.

Yvonne Goes to York by M. C. Beaton
I was a little worn on Agatha but still craving the comfort of Marion Chesney (M.C. Beaton) and so I decided to pick up this final book in her traveling matchmaker series. The romance that was slowly building across the series finally came to its lovely conclusion. I don't know if it was because I let a gap go by between the rest of the series and this final book or because I was just so darn depressed, but this book only managed to get a glimmer of response from me emotionally, even though I did enjoy it. Sorry book, it's not you, it's me.  

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
I struggled with this book when I read it the first time. Umbridge was so awful and I spent pretty much all of the 870 pages raging in frustration with Harry (while also being frustrated with Harry for acting like a jerk). It didn't help that my memories of this book are strongly connected with waiting in an interminable line at the DMV, which is where I read a good chunk of the book. Fast forward to my re-read this year, and things were a lot better. Despite being pretty down myself, that surprisingly didn't make this book worse. By this time I knew Harry's story would work out well in the end. I knew there were a lot of great things to come in the book (the Room of Requirement!). Basically, I had perspective, and that gave me a light at the end of the tunnel which made the entire journey much more enjoyable. Hm, perhaps I could have used some of that perspective for what was happening in my life during this time.

Dream More by Dolly Parton
Short, informative, motivational, inspirational. And funny. I like Dolly Parton and her no-nonsense approach. This was a quick read but packed a punch and helped move me in a better direction. 

Rotten Rulers by Terry Deary
I feel like I somehow missed a key childhood memory by having missed these books and the TV show. I've caught up on much of the TV show thanks to youtube (the wife swap episode is the best) and this book was a quick and fun toe-dip into the series. Sometimes the humor felt too forced, most of the time it was just mildly amusing, and every once in a while it was spot on hilarious. I wasn't super impressed and I didn't run out and read anymore books in the series, but I'll probably make my way through a few more of them.

Love, Lies, and Liquor by M.C. Beaton
I liked the location in this one. It's set in a dreary sea-side resort that isn't very vacationy. The mystery kept my interest and overall this one felt a little more like earlier Agatha Raisin books.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
This has always been one of my favorite books in the series. I love the diving into past memories, slowing unraveling the mystery of Voldemort's past, understanding how past experiences shaped the people of the present, and going on a quest to find the locket. A little part of me wondered how I would feel about the book on reread. My experiences rereading the other books in the series was that I definitely did have a different impression, and it was actually an even better one. But what about for this book, my favorite? It's funny how rereading can be fraught with so much worry. Well, I loved it just as much as I did the first time, though it felt like it flew by. 

The Medieval Anarchy by Kaye Jones
I love the idea of this series: bite-sized books you can read in an hour and gain a surface-level understanding of a major event or person in history. I know a good bit about the Anarchy by this point, so nothing in the book was new. But it was still nice, accurate, and definitely did give a good overview. I'm not sure if these should "count" as part of my reading challenge, but I also don't know that I need to care that much either since the point of the challenge, for me, isn't to read a certain number of books, but rather to keep me on track in doing something I love and that makes me happy.

Kissing Christmas Goodbye by M. C. Beaton
Ugh, I don't remember much about this book in particular, but I do remember wishing Agatha would stop caring about stupid James Lacey. I loathe James Lacey. If I ever need a reminder to stop being an annoying broken record harping on something that isn't important and isn't good for me, then Agatha and James Lacey are the perfect example.

Remembrance by Jude Devraux
This book is crazy! I picked it up because I adored her book A Knight in Shining Armor and I wanted something like that. I didn't quite get that. I'm not even sure what I got. It had time travel, reincarnation, a story-within-a-story, a blip in another time period, treachery, evil step-mothers, and so much more. It was crazy, ridiculous, annoying, and awesome. I kept wondering if I wanted to DNF it and then getting sucked in again. It felt like a guilty pleasure, but not in a guilty way. It was like taking a break from life, drawing a hot bubble bath, eating chocolate, and having a "me moment." I should do this more often.

A Spoonful of Poison by M. C. Beaton
The thing with these books is that they're not bad. I was getting annoyed with the same old, same old, but also still comforted by it.

The Kings and Queens of England by Jane Murray
March started out with a trip to my local used bookstore and this was one of my finds. I was so proud of myself that I started reading this book the same day I bought it rather than let it sit on my shelves for a few years before I read it, as if used books need to age like wine (my traditional approach, and why I have so many unread books sitting on my shelves for years). I started breaking out of bad patterns around this time, and my reading reflects this. March saw a turning point in my reading away from comfort reads and toward new horizons and achieving things I'd been wanting to do, but hadn't done (like reading newly purchased books right away). As far as the book goes, it was a great old find. I love those history books from the early through mid 20th century. They have a narrative approach that is charming, exciting, and the authors clearly love history.

There Goes the Bride by M. C. Beaton
Ah, James does not look good in this book, and I loved it. He comes across as stupid and tone deaf and I love it when James Lacey is called out for what he is, and when Agatha sees it. It's funny how satisfying it can be to have a person you dislike be seen for what they are by other people.

The Life and Times of Henry VIII by Robert Lacey
This was another book I got at the used bookstore, bringing me up to two books that I read immediately after purchasing. Success! I was definitely proud. I've enjoyed Robert Lacey's style when reading his History of England books and while this wasn't quite as fantastic, it was still very enjoyable. This was more like a coffee table book with big color pictures that I could spend time looking at and enjoying along with his substantial text.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
I might have been moving in a more positive direction, but that didn't mean I wasn't dreading finishing this series. I can't believe it had been thirteen years since I had last read these books and I thoroughly enjoyed rereading them. Rereading this final installment wasn't as tense and horrifying because I knew what was going to happen, but it was more bittersweet...because I knew what was going to happen. I knew everything would be okay in the end, but that innocence would be lost and there would be battle scars.

Productivity Hacks by Emily Price
I went into this book hoping for some tips and tricks that I could implement. Instead I got a lot of confirmation that apparently I'm already pretty productive and I do a lot of the things the book suggests. So, not exactly life-changing, but maybe a little affirming? 

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
I feel like I woke up one day and thought, "I want to revisit this book," and so I did. It's nice to feel free to reread books. I used to feel guilty rereading, but I set myself a challenge each year to reread around ten or so books, and I've been enjoying it a lot. It's nice to go back and revisit. Yes, there are plenty of new books out there, but if I want to spend my time with a story I've already experienced, then why should that be a problem?

Busy Body by M. C. Beaton
This one was nice. I like the Christmas stories where I get to experience snow, decorations, holiday cooking, crackling fires, and fuzzy holiday cheer. Plus, you know, murder and mystery. This was my last Agatha Raisin for a while, and while I will read the rest and while I did enjoy this book, it was a good time to part ways for a little while.


January through March was filled with a lot of numbing to try to combat a lot of stress. I read a lot of comfort reads, and it was totally the result of that numbing, hiding response. March started to see some peeking out from under the covers. 

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