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Review: Meet Me In Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

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Note: This book will be published on July 23, 2019. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review. I do not make any money off of this blog. Even the links provided to Amazon are merely a courtesy for readers.

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The Story

While covering the Cannes Film Festival, photographer James Henderson and perfumer Sophie Duval, meet when Duval hides film star Grace Kelly in her shop. Soon Henderson is covering Grace’s introduction to Prince Rainier III of Monaco and Sophie is given a unique opportunity [no spoilers!]. Oh, and there’s conflict! And romance! And an ocean voyage! And a darn cute poodle!

My Thoughts

My Mom was and is a huge Grace Kelly fan. Grace was everything today’s Hollywood stars are not: Ladylike, gentile, cultured, sophisticated. This book depicted Grace exactly as my Mom taught me to imagine her. Jim Henderson, a British war vet, and businesswoman Sophie add the right “base notes” for the story, while Grace was the headnote (to use the lingo in the book).

The stories of Grace, Jim, Sophie and the rest intertwine with the story told in alternating chapters in Jim or Sophie’s voice. Interspersed are news stories detailing more of Grace’s story–a storytelling device that, in this instance, worked very well. I truly felt like I was reading the real news as the story was unfolding. I found myself rooting for Sophie and anguished at one [no spoilers!] event in her story.

I liked what wasn’t covered nearly as much as the actual story. We were spared potentially cringe-inducing love scenes between Miss Kelly and His Serene Highness, for which I am glad. The story is as much about the making of the princess of our imaginations as it is about the real Grace Kelly. I loved too that there were surprises–twists and turns as unexpected as the curves on that mountain road on which Grace and Cary Grant drove in To Catch a Thief and which would later end Grace’s life.

Final Thoughts

I would love a sequel–but to tell a different story. How is THAT for confusing? I’d love to hear the story of journalist Angeline West, whose byline heads the news stories throughout the book. As a “gal” who has always been the “buddy” to the leading man, I’d love to see Ms. West in a book of her own–a book in which she finally gets the man, but keeps her byline! Kind of like a grown-up Julie Murphy novel, but told by two authors whose talent for historical fiction has few equals today.

This book is the perfect way to remember Grace. Put on your sunglasses, wear a classic maillot swimsuit and read this gem with your favorite cold beverage. It is just made for reading on a sunny day either poolside or on the beach. Read it with your Mom (as I did) or with your daughter. There is nothing in it that is inappropriate for a young girl who needs someone to idolize once she outgrows the pretend Disney princesses and is ready for a real princess.

Meet Me in Monaco: A Novel by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

If you enjoy this book, here are some other reading suggestions:

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Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb, my review is here.

My Grace Kelly Posts:

Luck Be a Lady! The Classiest Ladies–Grace Kelly, the Early Years

Luck Be a Lady! Grace Kelly: The Monaco Years

My Green Dress Cover Art post:

Green Dress book covers post

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Luck Be a Lady! Grace Kelly: The Monaco Years

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Photo by Howell Conant.

I firmly believe that Grace Kelly–or the Principality of Monaco’s press office–invented the Pinterst-worthiness of family life. Just look at the portrait above.  Distinguished looking husband, leaning in protectively to cover his family; beautiful mother dressed with understated feminine elegance; sweet daughter in classic smoked dress and a cute little boy in a high-fashion, lapel-less suit and (unseen) knee pants and knee socks–the pocket square an added nice touch. The baby, in white of course, is serene. Perfect. And the former Miss Grace Kelly of Philadelphia will have women believing she did all of this herself–ala The Duchess of Cambridge today!

 

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Grace always exudes effortless elegance. She was never flushed, never has ruffled feathers, if you will. Her children always look like real children–their expressions are not quite perfect. She’s had to jolly them into doing the photo–a later bedtime and foosball with Papa to get Albie to wear the knee pants. A trip for ice cream and a late-night swim with Papa for Caroline. Baby Stephanie just naturally calms herself in Mummy’s arms though, because, well, Grace, that’s why. That sort of Mummy. She’s a real Mother–her children know how far they can push. She doesn’t offer pbj when they turn up their noses at the Sole Meuniere or whine about the pate. But she does allow mini-banana splits in front of the tv for desert. That kind of Mother.

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For my mother’s generation–those who married at age 18 or at 22 with a newly minted Mrs. Degree in the 1950’s, Grace Kelly WAS style. She was gracious living. She was the ideal mother. She wore the right pearls, the right pumps, the very whitest of white gloves. But you could picture her holding a beautifully planned dinner party with Rainier manning the bar and the children making a brief appearance just as you did at your house–only hers would be the sort of perfect colonial she grew up in. Or, maybe, just maybe a perfect ranch in what is nauseatingly known today as  the Mid Century Modern style. Possibly. My money is on the colonial.

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Photo: AP

Real life was a bit of this and a bit of smoke-and-mirrors. Of course she had nannys, a cook and staff. They weren’t in the photos that graced the covers of the Ladies Home Journal or Good Housekeeping. But when she stepped off the boat or the plane each year with the children for her visit to her parents, SHE held the children’s hands or carried baby Stephanie–not the nanny. You could picture her squatting in the isle of an airplane first class section tying Albert’s tie or re-brushing Caroline’s hair. She’d make a last dab or powder on her own nose and give it all up to God and St. Jude then fix each child with that look and off they’d go into the sea of cameras to be ecstatically happy to see Grandma and Grandpa Kelly and no one would ever know she’d been wanting to pee since 3:30 am. A few years ago, the Daily Mail interviewed Grace’s son, Prince Albert, on his mother. You can read that here and see more lovely photos, too.

But Grace really became the ICON of 50’s era women when her children hit their teen years in the 70s. Why? She gained weight. I kid you not. Grace often looked like she should have gone with the all-in-one and not just a girdle. And you can be sure Grace wore a girdle or at least control-top pantyhose. She was a lady! She was still gorgeous, but there was more of her to love as the ladies liked to say. And, it didn’t go unnoticed that Rainier was not leaning in as far. Or that Caroline really rebelled, or that Stephanie often looked bratty and that dear Albert was about as much of a heart-throb as Prince Charles at the same age (which is to say he wasn’t).

It was Caroline’s rebellion that endeared her to her fans.  See? The said. Even GRACE…. Yes, even Grace. She lived in Paris during the week in those years so the children had an excellent education outside the Principality. The cracks in the marriage–real or imagined–seemed to show. But, look at us, the ladies said. Our marriage isn’t perfect–why there was that time…. They understood. They dieted along with Grace. They tried to be nicer to their husbands. They bought a new dress or nightgown. They pulled for Grace. Her kids troubles’ were the same as their kids’ troubles, though few had a daughter marry a playboy old enough to be her father (the wrong kind of cross-generational marriage!) and few could send the younger ones to a long session at sleep-away camp for the summer.

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Then came that terrible day in 1982 A mother and daughter in the car together. But on that road–that awful curving road from the movie. The road no suburban Mom worth her Buick woody wagon would have let remain without a campaign for guard rails and extra cautious speed limits. Was Grace at the wheel when she died–or was Stephanie? Conspiracy theories raged. The 50s ladies felt a part of themselves die that day. They, too, had taught daughters to drive. They too had fought with moody teens while driving them somewhere. Oh Grace–you can’t be gone. We aren’t old enough to die.

 

 

 

Then came the funeral–oh Poor Rainier! How awful he looked. They had truly been in love, no matter the rumors, no matter the gossipy books. He loved her. He had too–look at his face.

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The 50s ladies have stayed the course. They’ve rejoiced when Caroline found love and cried when the new love was killed. They’ve been the grandmothers Caroline, Stephanie and now Albert’s children never had. They wept when Rainier died. They tut-tutted and what- can-you-do-ed” over Stephanie’s out-of-control life. They struggled with the fashion choices of Caroline’s children as they came of age and now are merrily clucking over Albert’s cute twins. How differently, they say, those kids would have turned out if Grace had lived. I think they are right. Especially Princess Stephanie–a grieving father couldn’t do for her what a mother would have done, no matter how hard he tried. The ladies thought of their own kids, looked at the husband asleep in his chair or staring moodily at golf on t.v. and nod and offer a sad little prayer of relief that their kids–their families–didn’t endure it. They wonder–would Bill/John/Dave/Ken/Al/Jim/Dick/Larry mourn them as tearfully as Rainier had?

I like to think some of those ladies still have the Grace Kelly glasses in a dresser drawer, still have the pearls and gloves tucked away, too. (I also hope they secretly burned the 70’s Grace kaftans, too. For as likely Grace herself knew, they didn’t really hide the weight gain.)  I hope in cedar chests or bookcases or boxes of treasures that some of the ladies still have the magazines or newspaper clippings or scrapbooks of Grace’s  Hollywood career or her Royal wedding or a Ladies Home Journal with her Pinterest-worthy family on the cover. I hope sometimes they take them out and enjoy reliving the stylish days of Grace.

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Want to be as stylish as Grace? This fun book can show you how! What Would Grace Do by Gina McKinnon.

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Luck Be a Lady! The Classiest Ladies: Grace Kelly, the Early Years

 

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This week we’re starting a new series–Luck Be a Lady, about the classiest women of my time (Or thereabout). We’ve already looked at one such under the guise of Valentine’s Day: Amal Clooney, today’s classiest lady. At the left is Mrs. Clooney in her day job as a very high-flying human rights lawyer. She is shown be-gowned for an appearance before the European Court of Human Rights.

Today’s classy lady is a woman who does it all–or nearly all. Career as something other than a mere celebrity, lady-like behavior, beautiful, tasteful wardrobe, discreet behavior. Public p.d.a is rare and subdued. Wardrobe malfunctions do not happen.

 

The first lady in this series is the former Miss Grace Kelly of Philadelphia. Grace was the epitome of a 1950’s lady. She was a  classic, icy blonde, Beautifully coiffed blonde hair, with great measurements–the way women were “known” in that day was by their measurements. Grace was 5’7″ and 34-24-35 (Bust, waist, hips.) Very nice figure in that day before women were expected to look like heroin addicts. She came from a Main Line Catholic family that would boost of two Olympic oarsmen–her father and brother.The Kellys were truly the stuff of American dreams in terms of her father’s business success,  his lovely family and beautiful family home.

When Grace left home to study acting in New York she did it as a lady–she stayed at the famed Barbizon Hotel for Women–a sorority house, if you will, for aspiring, but upper class, fashion designers, literary agents and editor, actresses and perhaps a rare female attorney or similar. Grace modeled and worked her way into acting from this address.

 

She was, of course, helped by her father’s bank account and her Uncle’s connections–he was playwright George Kelly and was not on good terms with the family. But his name helped Grace get her start. She studied acting and in 1950 had a screen test. Her first big hit was Magambo with Clark Gable. Rumors abound about an affair on set–being a lady in Hollywood in those days meant discretion, but not prudery. There would be more rumors, though Grace was never shown to the world in anything like a compromising position. She remained a lady in public, always.

Grace was always beautifully dressed, manicured and coiffed. Many of her clothes were from leading designers such as Edith Head and Oleg Cassini–with whom Grace supposedly had a serious love affair.  The photo on the right shows them out together. I’ve always admired Grace for being willing to be seen in her glasses! Here’s a nice round-up of her early style hallmarks.

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After staring with Clark Gable, Cary Cooper, Cary Grant and other Hollywood leading men and earning an Academy Award, Grace gave Hollywood up to marry His Serene Highness, Prince Rainier of Monaco.

It is this marriage that makes her so interesting. It takes her out of Hollywood and puts her into the European Jet Set back in the day. This was where her “career” as a lady was at its peak. Her simple elegance, shown on magazine covers of the day, made her a true style icon. My Mom had those glasses and wore many an outfit similar to various ones worn by Grace.

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Her wedding, in the tiny principality of Monaco was THE Royal Wedding of the 1950s. The story is told in fascinating detail in the book, The Bridesmaids, published in 1989. Written by one of the bridesmaids–whose husband was Grace’s agent–the story is predictably gossipy in tone, but paints a vivid picture of the Grace who went down the isle to destiny. After all, this was the height of the “Mrs. Degree” era for young women. They went to Radcliffe not for a career of their own, but to marry a Harvard man (or, in my family, a Purdue man!). That Grace parlayed an Oscar into a Serene Highness for a husband was the gold standard of this era. (FYI: A Serene Highness is a notch below Royal Highness. British Royals are Royal Highnesses).

Tomorrow we’ll see how Grace truly helped start the Pinterest-Worthiness of Family Life.