Review: Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy

My Interest

I learned of this book first from blogger Bookish Beck. This year I was reminded of it by blogger Swirl and Thread. Please be kind and visit their blogs and leave a comment. We bloggers live for comments.

Dervla’s journey took place in 1963–the year after I was born. How interesting to see what the world was like 60 years ago outside of the USA or Europe. I had many strong, independent female relatives and love to travel so I knew this book would be a good fit for me.

The Story

Dervla took off on her bike called Roz and headed to India. This, however, was not completely a bike journey. The title tells it all–“with” a bike, not necessarily “on” a bike. There were times out of politeness, sanity, or politics that she accepted rides or boarded a bus or train to get farther a long. In some countries it was completely against the culture for a woman to be alone. In other places threatening men made it quite an ordeal to be alone. She was brave, resourceful and usually very canny about who to trust.

Dervla developed an affinity for the Afghani people–citing the men as “gentlemen” always. Pakistani men often got her admiration, too. She disliked India. This soon after partition and the creation of Pakistan and India that might been a more common opinion–I’m not sure. She got frustrated, but stayed polite, when people mistook Ireland for part of the U.K.

Her journey was often very physically taxing and dangerous. From snow to heat she experienced it all. I’m sure she wanted to quit many times, but did not record much in the way of self-doubt.

Here are some of the quotes that struck me:

I don’t claim to know the right answer to the under-developed problem, but I feel most strongly that the communist answer is less wrong than the Western.” 

Odd to hear about communism from a non-American perspective and to hear it referenced in a good way, but this was 1962 before the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“nothing like religion for spreading ‘brotherly love'”

“having to be noncommittal irritates me more than anything in the world” 

I love that she declared a road “jeep-able.” The motor sport of off-roading was in its infancy then, but she saw it clearly.

Paraphrase: The wealth of the West and the poverty of the East are equally detrimental.

My Thoughts

I’ve left this book un-reviewed for several weeks. I just couldn’t get a good handle on where to start with it. I admired Dervla’s courage and tenacity on her journey. Her political observations (albeit with 60 years of hindsight!!) sometimes seemed very naive–but would they have been thought so at the time? I’m not sure. She was writing in the era in which the First World discovered what was then called the “Third World Countries” and began sending out a new sort of missionaries–Peace Corps volunteers, VSOs, and similar, going forth to boldly proclaim the religion of free enterprise, human rights, and democratic government. Most of those young, idealistic volunteers would have devoured this book and probably agreed with her.

I do plan to read her late 80’s/early 90’s African book as she goes through Malawi at the time I was serving there as….wait for it….a Peace Corps volunteer. (I was a little older than the volunteers of the early ’60s–I would turn 30 months after my service ended).

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys travel literature about unusual trips though her prose isn’t always novel-like. I listened to the audio version.

My Verdict


Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy

Two Reviews: A Real-Life Odyssey and a Nonfiction Thriller

These two books were what people used to call “real pills”–as in trouble. Trouble to review that is. I decided to quit trying to review them in my normal way and do a shorter version.

Candace Millard’s books are must-reads for me (though I skipped her Churchill book). She can tell a whale of a story. This time out is no different. Her portraits of her characters are vivid and full of life. (Though her strong prejudice against Speake came through a little too loud and clear). The adventures chronicled in this book are better than an Indiana Jones movie. But why was it important for us to know about one person’s pornography collection and porn sharing club?? This is the kind of crap that takes serious history down to the level of a bodice-ripper. Happily, that was a tiny blip in the book. Just about every human emotion is in here somewhere and believably conveyed, too.

River of the Gods by Candace Millard

The Special Air Service, SAS, was Britain’s covert paratroop unit in World War II. These men deployed via parachute behind enemy lines in France to wreck havoc any way they could to aid the Resistance. Unfortunately, things do not always go as planned on such covert operations and some were killed, others taken prisoner. Sadly, these men, though in correct uniform, were not treated as POWs by the Nazis–they were treated as spies and tortured. This is a true thriller–true in both it meets the criteria for the thriller genre and that it is a true story. The courage and heroism displayed here was extreme.

Churchill’s Band of Brothers by Damien Lewis

Midyear Reading Challenge Update: The Ongoing Challenges I’m Doing

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One of the options in this challenge is to read by the following categories. While I’ve chose the option to just read and review any nonfiction, I thought as part of my half-way update I’d see how I’m doing on the categories without trying.

Total Nonfiction Books Read January 1 to June 30, 2022


1. Social History   After the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport 

2. Popular Science 

3. Language

4. Medical Memoir

5. Climate/Weather

6. Celebrity

7. Reference

8. Geography [I’m seeing Geography as set in another country] Girl From Lamaha Street (Guyana)

9. Linked to a podcast Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Seamus O’Reilly of Griefcast (podcast)

10. Wild Animals The Puma Years by Laura Coleman

11. Economics 

12. Published in 2022  Valor by Dan Hampton

I have one more I’m currently reading that should be finished by the end of June, but I’ll leave it off.

20 Books of Summer



June 1, 2022 to September 1, 2022

Here is the link to my original 20 Books of Summer post with my list of possible books. I don’t like a set reading list–it gets to be like homework. So these are just possibilities. 

Update from my possibilities list (link above):

  • The School for German Brides arrived very early, so isn’t counted. Click to read my review.
  • The Good Left Undone–DNF
  • The No-Show–DNF for now–I got several audios in at the same time. This one didn’t make the cut, but I’ll try it again later.
  • Entangled Life–DNF, but only because it took too much concentration for a commuting audio.
  • Haven–I’m reading it from NetGalley right now.

Read For 20 Books of Summer

I only do challenges that allow using books in multiple challenges–it’s more fun that way.

  1. River of the Gods by Candice Millard–review coming soon
  2. Churchill’s Band of Brothers by Damien Lewis–review coming soon
  3. The Puma Years by Laura Coleman Click to read my review
  4. Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Seamas O’Reilly Click to read my review
  5. Mary Churchill’s War by Mary Churchill [Soames].Click to read my review

I will finish a few more before June ends.

Audio Book Challenge



Thanks to my long (2 hours+) commute, I listen to a ton of audio books!

I will finish a few more before June ends, but this is when the post fit in my blogging schedule!

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Historical Fiction

    1. The School for German Brides
    2. Book Woman’s Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson
    3. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier
    4. Mary Anne by Daphne Du Maurier
    5. Far Country by Nevil Shute 
    6. Angels of the Pacific by Elise Hooper 
    7. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell 
    8. Under the Golden Sun by Jenny Ascroft 
    9. River of Earth by James Still 
    10. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn 
    11. The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed

I debate some books–if they were written as contemporary (like Spring Magic below or another older book that I’m reading now) are they historical fiction? Who knows! I’ve probably missed a book or two as well. I may finish one more before June ends.

50 European sovereign states 

Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.

NOTE: Even with Brexit, the United Kingdom is still one country, part of Europe, that includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. One book from any one of these four counts as your one book for the United Kingdom.

ERC 2022

  1. The Statement (France)
  2. The Sixteen Trees of the Somme (Norway)
  3. The Vintage Springtime Club (Germany)
  4. The Conclave (Vatican City)
  5. Small Things Like These (Ireland)
  6. The Secret Life of Albert Entwhistle (UK as one country) 

Possibly one or two more countries by the end of June, depending on what I finish reading.


Countries: Ireland, Norway, Germany, Vatican City, France and UK**

** I don’t agree with the UK representing just one country. I see England, Scotland, Wales. and Northern Ireland as unique. My page. My rules.

  1. Spring Magic (Scotland)
  2. How Green Was My Valley  (Wales)
  3. Sorrow and Bliss (England
  4. Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? (Northern Ireland)


Far Country by Nevil Shute 

I found this challenge late, so I’m not off to a great start.

Coming up during the rest of the year

The next Classics Club Spin is a definite as is October’s 1929 Cub read. I’m not sure about the Aussie lit month this year, but the others should be a “go.” I haven’t put in a Christmas book challenge even though I enjoyed one last year that’s way too mood-driven to predict.

What about you? Are you participating in any of these challenges? Leave me a comment or a link to your own post.

Review: The Puma Years: A Memoir by Laura Coleman


My Interest

I think this was a World Book Day freebie for Kindle. Anyway, it has cats. No matter the size, they are cats. It sounded like “Peace Corps With Cats.”


The Story

I came to Bolivia wanting to transform. I wanted to be a butterfly. Maybe I should have been hoping for something else. A botfly, perhaps. (p. 217)

Laura comes from an apparently privileged background. Nothing wrong with that. She is afraid of life (or so it seems). By her own admission, she quits everything. Eventually she lands in Bolivia at an animal sanctuary–a very primitive animal sanctuary where howler monkeys and big cats are among the animals being “saved” through good-faith efforts at therapeutic rehabilitation. The animals have been wildly inappropriate pets (pun intended) and then were dumped or rescued. The shelter has a few Bolivians who run it, but it relies on the sort of young volunteers typical of Peace Corps. (FYI: My Peace Corps group was a-typical. We were mostly over 30 and had professional experience in addition to our degrees (sometimes multiple degrees). Laura has never had a cat–only dogs. When she meet Wayra, a Puma, she falls in love. So much so that she extends her trip. And, then returns again and again. Warya helps Laura conquer her fears and feel connected.

“‘MeowI copy tentatively.” She meows back….I collapse next to her. “That’s the first time she’s ever meowed at me!” I exclaim. I push my arms through [the cage] and she grinds her face against me, starting to purr….(p. 218).

My Thoughts

In my ancient day, the teachers (I was not a teacher) in Peace Corps, often went to very remote schools in places much like Laura’s animal rescue park. Isolated. Remote. Primitive. Like Laura, those who didn’t quit often “found” themselves and had a professional epiphany and got their lives together. I liked seeing Laura grown in this way–she found a way to go home and be successful

But, I loved reading about Wayra more–how utterly cat-like she is even though she is so much bigger than my own cats. even bigger than a Maine Coon Cat. The snuggles, the bathing and grooming, the preening, the little noises, the ‘squinching‘ (as I call it) her paws, the  ‘kneading” with her paws, the desire to just be with her person–so real. The “meow” scene was so wonderful. Back when my little cat was young enough to stay outside all day (she loved it and don’t worry she had food, shelter, water) she would be on her steps to greet me when I got home. A meow, a head butt against my leg, then she’d grab at my pants with her claws (nicely). I’d pick her up and she’d rub her face against my chin and then hop down. She still does these things, but in the kitchen before blasting outside to tour the yards. Her sister has similar rituals, but those have always happened on my bed because she is shy. I loved all the “normalcy” of Wayra’s relationship with Laura and the few glimpses we were given of the other cats with their volunteers.

My Thoughts

I rejoiced when Laura called her Mom on the eve of going home and said she wanted to stay. I rejoiced with each bit of understanding of herself and of cats that she gained. The world isn’t so scary any more once you’ve gone swimming with a Puma! Her love for Wayra was real–I felt it, too, as was Wayra’s love for her. I loved the trust she developed with “her” big cat and how she was welcomed back after her trips away. While Wayra wasn’t Elsa of Born Free (if you are too young to know this reference then please Google it), but with Laura’s help and love Wayra, too, stopped being afraid of everything.

Animals are so amazing in the ways they interact with us. The certainly can “heal” in my belief. Not in any weird way, just by letting us feel loved and growing through that.

I was saddened by only one thing. When Laura went home and moved to an island off Scotland, Laura got…a…D-O-G for companionship. I felt that was a slap in the face to poor Wayra, but I know it was most likely that she couldn’t bear to have another cat. Wayra was her one and only. 

My Verdict


The Best “free” book I’ve had for Kindle. Don’t miss the photos at the end of the book–they are superb.

The Puma Years: A Memoir by Laura Coleman


Review: Mary Churchill’s War


My Interest

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I collect everything on the Churchills, so this is a natural for me. Seeing it on #Netgalley, I had to have it. I will be buying the print book, but this review is based on the audio in which the editor (and reader of the text connecting sections of the diary) is Mary’s elder daughter, Emma.

Winston and Clementine Churchill suffered the sort of loss all parents dread. Going away and leaving the children with a nanny only to be called home to a dying child. Their fourth child, Marigold, died, soon after her parents returned home. A year later, Mary was born. Unlike the older children, Mary was cared for by a distant relative who had trained as a Norland Nanny. Winston and Clementine were very involved children for their class and day. Winston had been so neglected by his own father that he destroyed his son Randolph by spoiling him and never correcting his bad behavior. The three (surviving) older children all had difficulties with relationships and with alcoholism. Mary, however, was married for life to one man, had five healthy children, many grandchildren (one of whom was a bridesmaid Princess Diana–a very distant relative). Winston and Clementine both gave of their time and love to all of their children, but Mary having had a very stable and well-regulated childhood, turned out the healthiest. [In this the Churchills and the Roosevelts were so much alike–disasterous marriages for the children, etc., only it was FDR’s mother who spoiled them. FDR and Eleanor lost a baby son. Their 5 children had around 14 marriages between them].

The Story

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When the Diary starts, Mary is about to be 18, World War II is starting and Winston is not yet Prime Minister. Mary is in the last days of school–still a fairly rare thing for a girl of her class (Clementine had gone to school though). The Churchills included their children in the luncheons and dinners they gave, so their children were very well versed in public affairs, the arts, and literature from this exposure alone. Randolph only was indulged and allowed to argue and debate with guests even if it sent his mother from the table in anger and disgust. The girls, were to make polite conversation. So Mary often had a ring-side seat to some of the greatest moments in 20th Century history and met most of the Allied war leaders including Roosevelt. (She found FDR not as brilliant as her father and found FDR Jr, very handsome but a bit tedious; She admired Eleanor).

Her diary has the usual confidences about young men, about what she sees as her personal failings and, funnily enough some Bridget Jones-ish moments about her weight! She confides her thoughts on her siblings (she finds she can no longer lover or like her brother), her sister-in-law Pamela (whom she often calls “Spam) [and who would always be charitably described in books and memoirs as a “courtesan”] and on finding her eldest sister, Diana, a bit difficult (she was 13 years older). It is her sister Her cousin, Clarissa (later to be the 2nd Mrs. Anthony Eden–click for my post on her), who ran with a very artsy crowd, worked at Vogue and skipped any military service, she found hard going (as did I when I read her memoir). Her sister Sarah, the actress, and her mother, Clementine, she mostly got on well with and enjoyed spending time with each of them She and Sarah shared the duties of ADC to her father on his long trips to the wartime conferences (a role the Winston must surely have wished Randolph to have been capable of undertaking). But, it is her father whom she openly idolizes, adores, cherishes. He is almost a religion to her. She is so grateful (which is a huge sign of maturity I think) when he takes time out to speak to her. But, Mary, too falls afoul of “Papa” when she criticizes the sainted son, Randolph. She bitterly and quite rightly resents this.

One fun note–her thoughts on the movie Mrs. Miniver were like mine. It was a lovely film, but the family didn’t seem very British or middle class! I’ve always thought Walter Pidgeon was too “American”–Leslie Howard would have been a better choice to me.

My Thoughts

Mary shows herself to be a a little (and understandably) priggish, very upper-class, and yet also very sincere. Her religious faith, her sense of duty, and her devotion to family and country are very typical of her time. She would go on to raise a Member of Parliament who became a Cabinet Minister (oldest son, Nicholas) and was wife of an MP & Cabinet Minister who also severed as the UK’s Ambassador to France and as the man who handed Rhodesia over to become Mugabe’s Zimbabwe (where her daughter had an affair with Andrew Parker-Bowles). Her home “training” stood her in good stead to be the wife of a successful politician–which it did, especially when Churchill suffered his stroke after the war–but that’s in a different book!

I wasn’t sure what I would be listening to when I started this book, but in the end I found it to be much, much more interesting than I had imagined. It’s too bad that Mary didn’t go on to try for Parliament. I think she’d have given Mrs. Thatcher some serious competition even without a University degree.

Mary Churchill’s War by Mary Churchill [Soames] and Emma Soames

Review: Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly

#DidYeHearMammyDiedAudio #NetGalley

My Interest

My constant search for audio books for my long commute led me to this memoir on Net Galley. I am fascinated by big families, so a widowed father with 11 kids–why not? The author is one of the kids.  Dad did well enough to provide a housekeeper even when his wife was alive. I liked the sound of it. Add to it that this is a novella-length memoir and you have the perfect book to finish the week that starts finishing a book on the wrong day. I like “week-length” audio books for my commute. Sometimes, though, I have to to take longer ones.

The Story

My parents were formidably, perhaps even recklessly Catholic.”

“To be one of eleven was…demented.… [and] It didn’t help that we were so close in age and traveled often singling in the kind of large, vaguely municipal transport vehicle usually reserved for separatist churches and volleyball teams made up of young offenders.”


I know that in Ireland “Mammy” means Mom. Here in the USA, however, the term is cringe-inducing and might get you banned from social media if you used it. (While reading this book, I watched a  Neil Sean YouTube video that included the Al Jolson film, “The Jazz Singer” and I cringed just thinking the word  “Ma….”].

Anyway, the book’s title comes from the fact that when the author was little, his mother died of breast cancer, and he in his kindergarten-aged-logic went around telling everyone at the wake, “Did ye hear Mammy [Mommy] died?” like it was news. Ouch! Recounting his life in a series of vignettes (columns?), O’Reilly tells about life as one of the “wee ones” of the family–those who rode at the back of the families airport shuttle bus. The little boy with the cereal box full of toy dinosaurs, whose engineer Dad, recorded on VHS (and catalogued) nearly everything broadcast in Northern Ireland in the Full House tv years grew up to tell the story of how little he remembers about the mother he knows was wonderful. He also tells about how his father coped by keeping busy.

It was the Dad I really liked. He did obsessive things like catalog everything he recorded on 3 to 4 VCRs, he kept a garage full of stuff as interesting as three chain saws, and how was a true Catholic–not just one who wasn’t successful with any birth control method. He gave of himself and his time to the church, his family, and his community. He thought his kids were best served living in nowhereville, having poor little entertainment aside from a house crammed with books, and did little or nothing to get involved at school. In spite of this–or maybe because of it, his kids did well. I wish I’d been more like Séamas’ dad. Maybe my kids would be readers today!

The O’Reilly kids sang at church events but didn’t get preachy–this is not the Irish Catholic Duggar family. At least Séamas (and I assume others) read every book in the house and followed his own rabbit trails of interests so that he came to know all kinds of weird facts about stuff like dinosaurs. Séamas, though, also came to a point where he did not sleep, constantly felt he deserved more attention but, guess what? He didn’t go off the rails. He did not become a drug addict or kill people or anything like that. Instead,  he had his appendix out and go back to life. And, he learned to tell his story with humor and grace. After all, if your dad was the kind of guy who had a pet name for his favorite step-ladder, how could you not turn out ok?

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly releases tomorrow, June 7, 2022, but is available now for pre-order.

My Verdict


A good, fun, memoir

Review: Valor by Dan Hampton


Thank you to #Netgalley who gave me a copy of the audio version of this book in exchange for a fair review.

My Interest

How amazing that I’d find a World War II (nonfiction) book, set in the Philippines, featuring a guy from a Kentucky family after having just read a novel set in the Philippines in World War II and have just read two books featuring young men from families in…you guessed it…Kentucky! Plus there was a lot of talk of Australia. Now, just where were two of my books set recently? Yep, Australia!

My interest in World War II is always with me. When I saw this book, I immediately requested it.

The Story


Map of the Philippines in 1944–Batan is at the very top of the map.

Bill Harris, son of a Marine Corps General, Annapolis grad, and all-around decent guy, happened to be serving in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked, General MacArthur fled with his wife, child, and nanny, and the U.S. forces surrendered. Bill did not like the idea of being held captive–being a Marine he preferred to go on fighting. He and a buddy (I thought the story sounded a bit familiar) escaped. The buddy went on to be Governor of Indiana many years later and I have his book on this escape in my Kindle. (I haven’t finished it. He may have been elected governor, but he wasn’t a gifted storyteller).

In a odyssey that would span most of the war, and at times would involve more Americans, Bill Fields starved, swan miles, paddled, sailed, hiked, climbed and more to stay free. When finally his freedom ended the war was nearly won.

My Thoughts

This adventure was very exciting. I often stayed in the car in the parking lot at work listening until the very last minute. Ditto in the driveway at home. It was that interesting. I especially enjoyed the comments the author made about “Dugout Doug”–General MacArthur, who like Britain’s Lord Mountbatten, was an early adopter of modern public relations tactics to promote himself. How a 5-star General got away with skedaddling to Australia to sit out the war (supposedly it was to avoid capture to continue directing the war–it really just got him out of having to surrender) while his men were taken prisoner, yet he STILL got the nation’s highest honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, is a testament to the man’s ego and powers of self-promotion. You can read the citation here. Then men Bill Fields knew had little regard for him before the surrender and even less after. (Though to be fair, he did get a lot right in the reconstruction of Japan).

Harris had MacGyver-level resourcefulness. He used just about every bit of his Naval Academy education and training as well as all that was taught him after graduation at Quantico to stay alive, stay free, and keep going. This refusal to be defeated, his insistence on continuing to try and try again, earned him a spot on the U.S.S. Missouri to see the Japanese surrender.

This is an amazing story and deserves to be made into an outstanding movie.

Valor by Dan Hampton

My Verdict


To learn more about the battle for the Philippines in World War II, check out this page from the U.S. National Archives.

Governor Whitcomb’s Book on the Escape


Escape From Corregidor by Edgar D. Whitcomb

Review: A Royal Life by H.R.H. The Duke of Kent and Hugo Vickers


My Interest

Unless you just found my blog today, you’ll know I follow the British Royal Family. 

The Book

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H.R.H. Prince George, Duke of Kent and wife Princess Marina of Greece with young Prince Edward of Kent

H.R.H. Prince Edward (the “other” Prince Edward) was born to Prince George, Duke of Kent (son of George V and Queen Mary) and his wife, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark (first cousin of Prince Philip) in another Jubilee year–1935. It was George V’s Silver Jubilee that year, and few suspected the King would be dead in a matter of months. Born seventh in the line of succession, young Eddie with his dual royal lineage was related to just about everyone royal. Sadly, his father, Prince George, died in a flying accident during World War II. There are conspiracies theories about the death as you might imagine, fueled by the fact that no author has ever been allowed access to his papers in the Royal Archive at Windsor. 

Eddie progressed through the predictable posh schools, landing last at the poshest–Le Rothesy in Switzerland, before attending Sandhurst and joining the Army. He married a beautiful, talented lady, and had three children. He likes cars, music, and history. He hunts, shoots, fishes. He used to ride in Trooping the Colour on gray horse behind the Queen. His Army career, like that of Princess Anne’s first husband Mark Phillips, ended due to having to serve in Northern Ireland. He is interested in mechanical things and, like Princess Anne admitted recently, would possibly have enjoyed studying engineering.

My Thoughts

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Queen Elizabeth II and her paternal first cousin, H.R.H. Prince Edward, Duke of Kent

Eddie Kent has spent his life loyally serving the Queen. He is discreet, dutiful, and polite. Therefore, this book reads like a compilation of Court Circulars from 1952, when as a school boy he walked in King George VI’s funeral (and months later in that of Queen Mary) until today. It is not quite as dull as the official biography of his late paternal uncle, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, but close. Even the comments from his children were not terribly illuminating. His wife seemed vacant in her comments.

As this book is part of the counter-offensive to the preaching and moaning of the Queen’s third grandson and his wife, it is no surprise that the Duke supports working within the royal system and supports the Queen truly with his “life and limb and earthly worship against all manner of folk” exactly as he swore, on his knees, to do at her Coronation. He feels supporting the Queen is “by far the most important thing in life.” He has never felt “locked into” a system nor that any system was “working against [him].” According to co-author Vickers, the Duke “represents important values, not always appreciated by the present generation.” No question at whom that is aimed.

The only things I learned about Eddie that I did not know were that he hates getting rid of books, keeps meticulous records of the amount of time it takes for the performance of each opera he attends, and hated sports at school. He did not come to like riding and [fox]hunting until he joined the Army and had to learn to ride properly due to being in a mechanized cavalry regiment in which officers had to ride well. I learned at the Coronation one elderly peer stood and the his robes, antiques inherited from a previous holder of his title, disintegrated to the floor (hilarious) and that the late king of Thailand loved jazz.

I did like seeing some family connections of another sort. Eddie, Prince Philip, Princess Anne, and H.R.H. Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester who is an architect by education/training, all were/are fascinated by engineering or engineering-related fields. The Duke (and his lovely wife) loves music–especially opera, like Prince Charles and like the late Lord Harewood (the Duke’s paternal cousin–the eldest grandchild of George V). He also loves jazz (hence the mention of the King of Thailand) like the late Lord Harewood’s younger brother, Gerald. With Gerald, too, he shared his love of fast cars and auto racing. With Prince Charles he shared a difficulty with math at school and loathing of most team sports at school. He and his wife share with William and Catherine a love of Amner Hall as a wonderful family country home. The Kents had the house before Royal friends, the Van Cutsems, who had it before the Cambridges.

There is nothing revealing in this book what-so-ever. The Duke barely mentions being married. His children get a nod. His dogs are mentioned. No thoughts on anything except music, engineering, skiing, how lucky he was to go on all those royal trips, etc. Don’t complain, don’t explainto a “t”. Sing God Save the Queen, salute, and sit down. “And, quite right, too” one can hear him say in his basset hound-like club man voice (I heard him speak in a recent documentary about the Queen).

Read my post on the Duchess of Kent’s disguised pregnancy

The book has one fantastic photo of Queen Mary with many of her grandchildren from the Duke’s personal collection. Sadly, two of the photos have misidentifications. In one the Duke himself is left out–it is supposedly his christening, but it was clearly his sister, Princess Alexandra’s christening because a nanny is very clearly wrangling him as a toddler in her arms! The other identifies the current Queen as the Duchess of Gloucester! Surely the handbag was a tip-off? Apparently not.

Royal Life by H.R.H. The Duke of Kent and Hugo Vickers is available in the USA on Kindle and will be out in an outrageously high-priced hardbound edition later in the year.

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Reading Wales Review: Sugar & Slate by Charlotte Williams

My Interest

I read this for this year’s Wales Readathon–#Dewithon22, hosted by Paula at The Book Jotter blog. She suggested this book as one everyone could read this year. You can read Paula’s post about the book here.

The Story

“Ever see any of our kind go searching out their white roots?”

Maps showing [Formerly British] Guyana and Wales

Charlotte grows up neither Guyanan nor Welsh. Her black father and her white mother have made her against the rules. She is “mixed.” Where does she belong?

This memoir tells of Charlotte’s life and her search for belonging. It is about the life of someone who is not this and not that. A life always navigating in the middle. Of never being fully accepted by either side.

“Its the same sensation people struggle with when they hear an Asian man speaking with a heavy Scottish accent, or see a guy with dreadlocks riding with the hunt or a black ballerina in a tutu.”

Her childhood is split by her father leaving to reclaim his far-forgotten African roots. Later he will return to his native Guyana instead. Her mother wants to be with her family in Wales but they go off to Sudan and Nigeria. They return to Wales. All of this leaves Charlotte disoriented and a alienated. Unsure of who she is.

She finds her way through normal life while sorting out her confusion. She is treated badly as a teen by the boys in her school. She goes off to University. She makes a life with a white, Welsh husband. When he takes a position in Guyana, her turmoil explodes for she doesn’t fit in there, either.

My Thoughts

This is a brilliant memoir. Brilliant. That’s a word Americans rarely use in this way. But it’s the best word for it. I must have highlighted half the words in the story. Sadly, it is a very difficult book to review. I can say that the prose is vivid and readable and that the emotions are raw. But how to show this? I’m not sure I can–just read it.

What makes someone [insert a nationality]?

Are the generations of Turkish Guestworkers now Germans? Are the Moroccans who settled in post-war France truly French? Should anyone whose ancestors came to North America in a boat or plane be called an “American?” For Charlotte the question of who is, and who is not Welsh, is the same questionbeing asked the world over today in terms of other nationalities. But she does such a superb job of personalizing this question. Of navigating the waters of her own family.

Does having two parents born in Wales make one “Welsh?” Apparently not. This is difficult for an American. Anyone born here, even to parents in the country illegally, is automatically a citizen–an “American.” Does speaking the Welsh language make one Welsh? Not completely. It’s a puzzle. It’s much the same with her parental linage.

“Africa,” as too few Americans realize, is a continent divided up by 19th and 20th Century colonial rulers without regard for ethnic, linguist or other liness of settlement. The “countries” on the continent of Africa, like their borders, are made up. The same is also true in Guyana–there were at one time THREE separate colonial outposts called Guyana, ruled by three different colonial powers. Charlotte’s father was from the British one. But is he somehow an African of whatever ethic origin? Not really. Is he even still Guyanese? It’s all such a puzzle.

I believe this book will be taught in Universities in courses on ethnic identity or self discovery, and other topics, for years to come.

My Verdict


Sugar and Slate by Charlotte Williams

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Review After the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport–UPDATED



My Interest

First, thank you to NetGalley for giving me a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

I started reading on the Romanov’s with Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert Massie in 1977. It’s a given that I’ll at least skim just about any book with their name in it. Plus, this one was a book I agreed to review on Netgalley and forgot about, so I needed to get that done.

The Story

There are two major stories here–what happened to some of the surviving Romanovs after Yekaterinburg and what happened to other, mostly aristocratic or otherwise high-ranking Russians who escaped Russia after the Bolsheviks came to power, the Civil War started, etc. The term “White Russians,” or those who were either pro-Tzar or just anti-Communist, is a generic term for most of them. It refers to the side they were on in the Civil War, not to race or ethnicity. The other story is various writers, dancers, artists and others in Paris at the time. Hemingway even gets a mention.

My Thoughts

Of all the author’s work, this to me is her weakest. Throwing names around about artists, then discussing Russian authors of the period who are barely known today just wasn’t that interesting to me. I DID however, LOVE reading how several aristocrats came to earn their living–especially the women and how various Romanovs ended up. I also found it fascinating that parts of regiments stayed together in exile, working together in French car factories! I also found it very interesting to see how the former aristocracy came to terms with their reduced circumstances. Attitude is everything and some just plain got on with life. I admire that. To me, this was the story–forget Hemingway and a few others. The artist or writer stories lack the sureness and polish of her Romanov chapters. Her gift is in writing social history as it relates to the Imperial Family.

My Verdict


After the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport

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