Review: The Royal We

The Royal We
The Royal We

This was quite possibly the most unexpected, and entertaining read I have had in a very long time. I picked it up on a sale – and had very low expectations, despite all the good reviews. As a royal watcher, I don’t know anything I dislike more than when people write royal fiction a) get things wrong and/or b) set it in an existing country. In short, I was super skeptical.

This is the story that went beyond that for me. It is built on the story of Will and Kate, but with a whole different origin premise in who inherited the throne after Victoria I – and it keeps wobbling back and forth on the backstory of the royal line. What if the heir to the throne falls in love and marries an American?

I laughed, and I cried (several times) during the reading of this. It is so well-written that the pages just fly by, and even though I had planned on going to bed early, I just had to finish it.

In several ways the story was as implausible, but it was sweet and interesting. The book worked for me in a major way, and I can’t wait to reread it.

Advent calendar: Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a WomanOne of the royal biographies I read this year was Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie.

If you are into history, women in history or royalty, I heartily recommend it. It took me some time to get through after the initial first pages, but that was more due to personal lack of time than the book itself.

I actually think the first parts of the book is the best – when Catherine leaves her home and family to travel to Russia to marry a young man she hasn’t seen. Adopting a country that she has never been to, a religion that is foreign to her and also a language that is far beyond what she is used to.

Catherine, and the ups and downs of her life at court, have been, in my opinion, well portrayed by Massie. If you haven’t read it yet, do.

Review: Kongens hus : Alle kongeparets hjem

Kongens hus : Alle kongeparets hjem by Queen Sonja

I picked this up at the library, after I saw it exhibited at the Open Palace tour in Oslo. It is a beautiful book filled with photographs and interesting text about all the residences that the King and Queen inhabit.

The book is worth looking through for the photographs alone. How the interior is decorated, and not just the public rooms. The pictures of the private apartments are filled with the Queen’s art and the King’s sailing trophies. The pictures of Queen Sonja’s art on the walls remind me of the pictures of the art in the renovated palace in Copenhagen.

Also, pictures of the holiday residences are shared. Some of the places are rarely seen inside by the public.

In addition, if you read Norwegian – the snippets the Queen shares for each residence makes the book worth reading. There is not much new information, but it is well written and makes the book.

Her perfectionism is shown through the story of her sleeping in every bedroom in the palace prior to the renovation so she would know exactly what needed to be done. The only negative is the lack of comments on the uproar on the cost of the renovation.

Her stories are supplemented by facts from the architect Thomas Thiis-Evensen and art historian Ole Rikard Høisæther.

Well worth the read.


Review: Madeleine : Prinsessan privat

Madeleine : Prinsessan privat by Johan T Lindwall
I’m not sure I will ever get used to the Swedish royal reporters’ way of writing biographies. First of all – there is too much inference of what the persons in this book were thinking about specific events. Another reviewer said that a problem with it is that with Johan T. Lindwall you never quite know what are the facts, what are the rumours and what is pure speculation, and I thought *that’s it*: that is my basic problem with the book. There are no citations or footnotes at the end, so you can tell when he is working from the facts from interviews, or other books. Obviously, he also has to protect his sources, and when the sources are the main persons themselves, he is diligent about reporting who said what.  It does however, resort in a slight muddle when you hear about “Queen Silvia thought…” and the people in the room with Queen Silvia at the time were just family… and none of whom are being quoted as the person talking to Lindwall.
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Review: A Year of Living Danishly: My Twelve Months Unearthing the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country

A Year of Living Danishly: My Twelve Months Unearthing the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country
For some reason, I really seem to enjoy books where people move to another country and give their reflections on living there. In this case, British journalist from London moving to Jutland, Denmark. (Something a lot of Copenhageners I know would have had a serious problem with.)

She covers topics, month for month, as she gets used to living in Denmark and the oddities of Danes seen from a British perspective. Sometimes some of the chapters seemed overly long, but as there was a red thread binding the story together, it felt like a complete project.

In some things I could definitely recognise the first period when I moved to Denmark myself – and my first meeting with the Danish tax returns… By virtue of speaking Norwegian you’d think it would be easier, and it was, somewhat, but bureaucratic Danish language is in a linguistic family of its own, with little recognisability to Norwegians.

The stories are funny at times, and interesting at others. (Sometimes both funny and interesting.) Well worth a read.

The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell ( link)

Review: On Duty with the Queen: My Time as a Buckingham Palace Press Officer

On Duty with the Queen: My Time as a Buckingham Palace Press Officer
On Duty with the Queen: My Time as a Buckingham Palace Press Officer by Dickie Arbiter

The book details the time of Dickie Arbiter’s work in the press office at Buckingham Palace. First working for the Prince and Princess of Wales, then later for the royal collections (and also seemingly chipping in whenever needed, as with the funeral of the Princess of Wales).

He also interjects his personal history into the book, and at times that felt more interesting than the royal “scandal” of the week that he had to defuse.

There are personal observations about the royals in the book. However, he is also very careful about not saying much that would (probably) violate a non-disclosure contract. It can therefore get a bit bland at times.

I found the chapter on the planning and arranging of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales fascinating. Especially the bit about extending the route of the funeral cortege to spread the crowds out.

All in all, a decent read.


Review: Still Reigning: Thoughts of a Queen

Still Reigning: Thoughts of a Queen
Still Reigning: Thoughts of a Queen by The Queen [of Twitter]

I loved and chuckled often at The Queen_UK on Twitter in the beginning. I have the first book, and laughed several times while reading it. In most of her tweets and analysis, I thought she was spot on. Witty.

However, with this one… I don’t find it nearly as funny. Maybe because there is so much repetition between each chapter, and sometimes “she” contradicts herself from chapter to chapter.

Plus, I get that it is a gimmick, but after hearing in chapter after chapter (not to mention in several tweets over the past couple of years) how much the Queen of Spain loves Phillip Schofield, I got a bit tired of the whole concept. There is a decided lack of imagination, beyond some jokes that gets repeated ad nauseam.

It is a fun idea when you evolve as you go along, but to me the fun of it has outlived itself.

If you haven’t read the first book, or followed the persona on Twitter, then it is worth the read. If you have… probably not. (And I feel supremely grumpy for saying that, because I really wanted to be entertained.)


Review: Mrs. Queen Takes the Train

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train
Mrs Queen Takes the Train
by William Kuhn

This book in the same genre as  The Uncommon Reader is, and enjoyable for many of the same reasons. It is fictional, but with enough facts mixed in to make it fun to read. (Not a book if you’re taking everything deadly serious.)

The Queen becomes a character with traits that you think you recognize from the newspapers, and some invented, and the rest of the cast of characters are fictional. The storyline is fictional – the Queen is suffering from depression, and wants to go to visit Britannia where she remembers being happy, and takes to the train to Edinburgh. The courtiers scramble to follow her and find her before the news that she has disappeared becomes public.

It’s not the perfect book, but it is a fun summer read.

Review: 10% Happier

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True StoryI can’t remember where I first saw the review for this, and when I picked it up, though I know it is recent, and I might have seen it on one of the many book blogs I skim through Feedly. (Amazon tells me I bought it 9 days ago.)

I’d like to say I picked it up because of the catchy first part of the title, but I think it might be the “reducing stress” part of the title that caught my eye first. Though I certainly wouldn’t mind being 10% happier either.

The book is 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story by Dan Harris

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Review: The Great Survivors: How Monarchy Made It Into the Twenty-First Century. Peter Conradi

The Great Survivors: How Monarchy Made It Into the Twenty-First Century. Peter Conradi

The Great Survivors: How Monarchy Made it into the Twenty-First Century
was recommended to me from a friend as we talked about the future of the monarchies. It gives a good, and easy, overview of the various monarchies in Europe, and the history behind them.

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Review: Ingrid: prinsesse af Sverige, dronning af Danmark

Book cover: Queen Ingrid by Lundgren
Ingrid: prinsesse af Sverige, dronning af Danmark by Roger Lundgren

This is actually a rather decent book on Queen Ingrid of Denmark. I read  Sibylla: En biografi by the same author a while back, and didn’t care for the writing style at all, which I why I am surprised that this one worked for me.

The reason for why this works is mainly that Lundgren has used, liberally, quotes from interviews and other books on the subject. His own writing voice has also seemed to mature in the three years between the two books, and it doesn’t feel so fawning and childlike.

With the overflow of the quotes, it feels like a television documentary with Lundgren as the narrator, and the royals as the subjects.

Some of the things that come up are new information, and some isn’t. We learn that both Queen Margrethe and her son Crown Prince Frederik learned Swedish from Ingrid, at their own request, to speak with their Scandinavian relatives and friends. I knew from before that Queen Margrethe spoke Swedish well, but I had never heard the tidbit about Frederik. And now it came from his own “mouth.”

At the same time, the quotes can be a bit duplicating in their information – why is it necessary to have quotes from Queen Margrethe and Princess Benedikte iterating almost word for word the same information, for example? (And this happens a lot throughout the book.)

There is a literature list in the back, but I wish that he would have made it clear throughout the book when he was quoting from another piece of royal biography or when it was in direct interviews with the royals.

For example, the story from Ex-King Constantine of Greece that his father-in-law locked Constantine into a bathroom when he came to ask for Anne-Marie’s hand in marriage, first came to my light with the DR television series about King Christian’s descendants (or other biographies, for all I know). If Lundgren did not get his information from there, but from an interview with Constantine, it would have been good to have that cited in the material.

When there is not quotes to liven the material, from Ingrid’s younger years, or when her parents met each other, the story falls a bit flat because everything is so sugar glossy and nice.

Overall, I don’t regret reading (or buying) the book, but there are some definite room for improvement. And while I, after reading the Sibylla book, had not planned on reading Lundgren’s newest book on Queen Silvia, I am now planning to do it.


Review: The Chocolate Kiss

The Chocolate Kiss
The Chocolate Kiss by Laura Florand

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just reread this book, and completely had a chocolate craving. Especially since the hot chocolate played such an essential role in the book – almost like a character of its own.

And then it snowed today. So I felt like I had the perfect excuse.

I made the chocolate chaud recipe in the back of the book. It was a perfect cup on a cold day.

hot chocolate

The next time I make it, I might skip the cinnamon and nutmeg infusion though. I think the chocolate could stand on its own well enough.

Review: Nasjonal klassereise : Mette-Marit og politikkens abdikasjon

Nasjonal klassereise : Mette-Marit og politikkens abdikasjon by Hedvig Skonhoft Johannesen

The book, or leaflet (considering the amount of pages, was written for the centenary of the Norwegian female vote. It’s part of a series of 12 publications from various women on what happens in Norway today.

This particular one covers the Norwegian Crown Princess, and how she is portrayed in the media, how she has “travelled through the classes” and why the Norwegian media aren’t asking more critical questions of the royal house when they have the chance to do interviews.

The latter was very clear both last year, with the interview that sparked the whole dress-discussion, but also with the 10 year anniversary documentaries that were made a couple of years ago.

We’re shown a glossy image of the royal family, as much as possible.

It’s a good and valid debate to ponder about – I do question why it is just Mette-Marit who is coming up for the debate here, and why she hasn’t included Queen Sonja in the discussion. The two of them combined have done a much greater journey through the class-system of Norway than just Mette-Marit alone.

If it hadn’t been for Sonja coming first, I’m not sure Mette-Marit, or someone similar to her, could have come along as “easily.” The Norwegian monarchy would have looked vastly different in 2000/2001 if it hadn’t been for the Queen paving the road first.

Review: The Mac + Cheese Cookbook: 50 Simple Recipes from Homeroom, America’s Favorite Mac and Cheese Restaurant

The Mac + Cheese Cookbook: 50 Simple Recipes from Homeroom, America's Favorite Mac and Cheese Restaurant
The Mac + Cheese Cookbook: 50 Simple Recipes from Homeroom, America’s Favorite Mac and Cheese Restaurant by Allison Arevalo

All the recipes in the book looked like they’d taste amazing. (Especially at this time of year, when all you want is something nice and warm and gooey and cheesy… I’m sorry, what was the topic again?)

I tried out the classic Mac & Cheese recipe from this book, and was generally very happy with the result. I felt that it would have been much easier for me as a home cook, who generally isn’t making béchamel sauce by the vat all the time, or making Mac & Cheese for dinner every day – if they would have included the recipe for the béchamel (or as they call it Mac Sauce) – in each of the recipes instead of having it stand alone. As it were, it ended up being a whole lot of turning the pages back and forth for me, and it would have been easier to make the recipe if all the parts were on the same page.

Furthermore, it is rather hellish on dishes as the amount of pots used is rather high. I actually ended up reusing my pasta pot (left the pasta in the sieve I used to drain it) for part of it, since I was doing the dishes by hand.

But the result was amazing, and I might end up trying out some of the other recipes from the book as well.

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Review: My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir

My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir
My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir by Noelle Hancock

The premise of this book is a little bit crazy, but I appreciated it in the end. The author lost her job during the 2008 crash and is flailing over what to do. She decides to live a year with Eleanor Roosevelt for inspiration, facing her fears all the time.

She swims with sharks, does comedy stand-up, flies a plane, sky dives and a lot of other things.

I rather liked the concept of facing one fear each day. Interspersed with quotes and Eleanor Roosevelt’s history, it makes for an interesting and dynamic book.

The writing is easy and fun to read along to. (Must confess I skipped ahead on some pages – turns out that reading about certain aspects set my own fears fluttering.)

Review: The Chocolate Heart

The Chocolate Heart
The Chocolate Heart by Laura Florand

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Laura Florand is a recent discovery of mine. It’s only last month that I picked up the first book in this series, and then ended up devouring all her backlist like a madwoman. Paris, chocolate and cultural misunderstandings… – what’s not to love?

The Chocolate Heart is one of those books that, if it was less well written, would be annoying as hell. It is about the heiress Summer Corey and the pastry chef Luc Leroi. Summer’s dad buys her the hotel where Luc works at the 3 star restaurant. From the minute they meet, there is misunderstandings.

These go on for almost the whole book – and could maybe partly have been solved in half the time if the two of them were less neurotic, and less inclined to misunderstand everything the other one is saying.

It is only Florand’s excellent writing which carries the story so well to the end. As it is, it is delicious and sweet and wistful…

It’s actually a book that I am sad to see end. The first book in this series was good, but I feel like the stories and the writing is improving book by book, and it will be a pleasure to read the next one, and re-read them again and again.

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Review: Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris

Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris
Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris by Ann Mah

I’m currently working my way through the Julia Child memoir of living in Paris. I seem to be on a Paris book-kick at the moment. (Julia Child, David Lebovitz, Laura Florand and Lauren Willig, to name a few.) This memoir seemed to tie nicely into it, and looked like a fun read.

Ann Mah and her husband moved to Paris for her husband’s diplomatic job. Only when they got there, he was stationed in Iraq for a year. She took to exploring the country and its food history, and trying to manage on her own.

On the way, there are recipes, and stories of trying to make friends. The best story was inviting total strangers home to cook together, just because you happen to like the same restaurant. I would love to eat those dumplings.

To be honest, there is a bit too much jumping around in this book for my taste. The chapters lack a certain fluidity between them, and feel like articles stuck together in a book. I actually ended up reading it that way, which I found worked much better for me.

In the end it all comes together, and I am definitely going to try to make boeuf bourguignon, and maybe some of the other recipes from it.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jelling stones defaced

In Jelling, a small town in Jutland, Denmark, two massive rune stones stand on top of a huge hill. The stones are grave stones, or memorial stones.

One of the stones was put up by Gorm the Old, as a memorial for his wife, Thyra.  The other one was put up their son, Harald Bluetooth, both as a memory of his parents, and as a way to brag about his conquest of Denmark and Norway and his conversion of the Danes to Christianity.

I remember seeing the stones as a teenager, and thinking they were very impressive. Later, we also studied them in my Norwegian class.

Last night, someone with a spray can of green paint defaced a bit of Danish royal history. The stones, as well as the nearby church, have been tagged with graffiti. The signature tagged says Gelwan E.

You can see a picture of the stones before the graffiti here.

A case of old text tradition meeting new text tradition, but not a pretty mash-up, in my opinion.

Baptism of the twins

The royal Danish twins will be christened in Holmens kirke on April 14.

This is the church where Crown Prince Frederik was christened, where Queen Margrethe was christened and where Margrethe and Prince Henrik were married. Due to the fact that the family had ties to the church, it was also believed that Christian would be christened there, but the parents chose the Palace church at Christiansborg instead then.

It will be interesting to see which names they have chosen.