What’s Ashley Reading?: Queens of the Conquest

Queens of the Conquest by Alison Weir

First line: Imagine a land centuries before industrialization, a rural, green land of vast royal forests and open fields, wild moorlands and undrained marshlands, with scattered villages overshadowed by towering castles, and small, bustling walled towns.

Summary: In the first of a four book set, Alison Weir looks at the lives of the first five queens of England after the Norman conquest: Matilda of Flanders, Matilda of Scotland, Adeliza of Louvain, Matilda of Boulogne and the Empress Matilda. Each woman made their mark on the early part of English history through their good works, descendants and political maneuvers.

My Thoughts: I love to read nonfiction and biographies most of all. They tell so much about a person’s life but also about the time period. And this one was particularly fascinating. These women lived almost one thousand years ago but we know quite a lot about who they were, where they were at certain times and what they did. Some of the queens even left behind letters, their personal seals and elaborate tombs for historians and lovers of history to see.

I was not very familiar with these early queens so I learned a lot from reading Weir’s book. The fact that 4 of the 5 queens were named Matilda made the reading a little bit confusing but the author tried to make sure she differentiated between them either with their titles or other names they went my such as Maud. Life during these years was very hard and life was short but these women accomplished a lot during their time. And that so many of them spent such a short amount of time in England is shocking. They helped rule over several duchies in France and had to split their times between each country.

If you are looking for a great insight into medieval England then I would highly recommend picking this book up. It is a big book and very dense but filled with lots of information and several pictures are included in the middle too.

FYI: The next book, Queens of the Crusades, will be out on February 23, 2021.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Five

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

First line: There are two versions of the events of 1887. One is very well known, but the other is not.

Summary: Everyone has heard the story of Jack the Ripper. He haunted the streets of Whitechapel preying on women. His victims known as the canonical five are Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Catherine and Mary Jane. His story has been researched and turned over hundreds of times but very little is actually known about the women whose lives he took. Here are their stories.

My Thoughts: I have recommended this book to anyone and everyone! I was completely engrossed in it. It is thoroughly researched and well written. It reads like fiction and is easy to get caught up in these women’s lives. I found myself hoping for better outcomes as I read even though I knew how each of their stories was a going to end.

Rubenhold brings these women and the times that they lived to the forefront. Everyone thinks that they know the victims. They were prostitutes right? Wrong. Some were but not all five. Each has a story to tell. I could not believe the detail put into their narratives. Using housing records, census, interviews and newspaper reports we get fuller picture of their lives.

Sometimes we romanticize the Victorian time period but it was anything but ideal. People were barely able to care for their families. Housing was not always safe or healthy. Disease, alcoholism and poverty were prevalent. How people survived is astounding.

If you love history, true crime or biographies than this is perfect for you. It is full of information that will keep you reading until the very end.

FYI: There is very little mentioned about Jack the Ripper. This book focuses on the women only and the time that they lived.

Book Review: Little Leaders, Bold Women in Black History

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

First line: This book grew out of a project I began during Black History Month.

Summary: Written and illustrated by the author this collection of short biographies of historic African American women is perfect for children and adults alike. The subjects cover famous women like Harriet Tubman, Ella Fitzgerald and Katherine Johnson.

Highlights: The illustrations are beautiful. The artist had children in mind when drawing them so she drew each woman as a child. I love the little additions that represent their career or interests. I think this would a great way to introduce or further explore the amazing achievements and role models of African American women.

Lowlights: Nothing. It is perfect!

FYI: A great read for Black History Month or Women’s History Month.

*Find it on our Sunflower eLibrary*

Book Review: Everything is Awful

Everything is Awful by Matt Bellassai

First line: I was six years old when I last peed my pants.

Summary: Matt Bellassai is an internet star! He has his weekly show where he gets drunk and tells you have to live your life. He started his career at Buzzfeed and won a People’s Choice Award for his online videos. In this book he talks about the embarrassing and real parts of his life from his childhood to coming out to living in New York City.

Highlights: Hilarious stories! I love to watch his weekly videos on Facebook. Coworkers laugh at me while I am busting up in the breakroom. I cringed during the braces story, felt embarrassed during the closet scenario, and laughed through the rest of it. He has a way with words and while I was reading, I could hear him speaking which made it even better.

Lowlights: I wanted pictures! Several of the stories were a little slow moving but not enough to hinder the telling and laughs associated with it.

FYI: If you watch his Facebook series, “To Be Honest”, then this is a must read!

Book Review: My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me by Jennifer Teege, Nicola Sellmair, and Carolin Sommer (translator)

First line: It is the look on the woman’s face that seems familiar.

Summary: Jennifer Teege was shocked when she learned about her family history while browsing her local library. When she picked up a book and scanned the pictures inside, she was shocked to see her biological mother. As she continued to read, the book followed her mother’s struggle to love her father, Amon Goeth, who was the commandant of the concentration camp depicted in the movie Schindler’s List. Jennifer was adopted at a young age but she had had contact with her biological mother and grandmother as a child. She was never told her family’s past and now she has to come to terms with what they did and did not know.

Dachau (near Munich, Germany)

Highlights: Fascinating story! I have visited Dachau in Germany and felt the heaviness that still surrounds the place. I read this in two days because I had to know more about her and what she learned. The story is interspersed with information and interviews done by one of the coauthors. The pictures were a great addition so I could see what the people looked like.

Lowlights: Some places were a little repetitive. She kept reiterating several key points. I think that it was a strategy to remind the reader but since I read it very quickly they were redundant.

FYI: Originally written in German.

Looking at the rows that once were the barracks.

This book was something I came across when checking in returns and was immediately struck by the title.  I saw the movie Schindler’s List many years ago but I remembered the basics of the story.  I was extremely interested in anything to do with World War II and the Holocaust.  I have read The Diary of Anne Frank, Numbering the Stars by Lois Lowry, The Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene and so many more. I have been able to visit Germany four times and see historical sites but nothing can prepare you for visiting one of the concentration camps.

Crematorium

My first visit to Dachau, the first concentration camp in Germany, was when I was about 10 years old.  It was a scary and disturbing time.  I remember asking to go sit outside because I was getting physically sick. I was able to visit a second time when I was in college and could understand the significance of the place and its history.

I re-watched Schindler’s List recently and was once again shocked by the brutality.  Spielberg and his film convey the heaviness that these places still carry decades later.

It is important to remember these events and learn from them.  As the monument at Dachau says, “Never Again.”