What’s Ashley Reading?: Hamnet

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell

First line: A boy is coming down a flight of stairs.

Summary: In 1580, in England, a young tutor named William Shakespeare meets the daughter of his employers. She is a strange girl who wanders the fields with her falcon on her arm. Against the wishes of their families they marry. Agnes has a reputation as a healer. People flock to her for cures. However, when their son, Hamnet, falls ill to the bubonic plague there is little she can do for the boy. With the heartache and loss Shakespeare writes one of his most epic plays.

My Thoughts: This book was beautifully written. It was almost poetic in its writing and style. I listened to most of this and the reader was so soothing. I think this would be a perfect book for book clubs, fans of historical fiction or literary fiction.

This brings to life a major part of Shakespeare’s life, his family. Very little is written or talked about since his most famous times were in London and on the stage. I loved learning about Agnes (or Anne) and their children. Life was so simple back then but also very tragic as well. I knew very little even though I have read several of his plays and watched many documentaries and movies of his life. The fact that we can still see some of the places he lived in Stratford-Upon-Avon is astounding since over 400 years have passed.

My favorite chapter, and the one that will most likely stick with me, was the one about the flea. O’Farrell spends a whole chapter on the flea that brought the plague to the home of William Shakespeare and eventually killed his only son. It is hard to imagine how something that started thousands of miles away could affect so many. The tale was fascinating. Who would ever consider writing about the flea?! It is genius.

FYI: Winner of Women’s Prize for Fiction.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Half Sister

The Half Sister by Sandie Jones

First line: Kate sees the familiar nameplate on Dr. Williams’ office door and feels a knot in her stomach.

Summary: Kate and Lauren are sisters who recently lost their dad but each of them has a different idea of who the man actually was. Kate idolized him. Lauren’s relationship was more distant. Then one night at a family dinner a woman shows up who claims to be their father’s daughter. Everyone is shocked by the revelation but none more than Kate. She is determined to prove that Jess is a liar. Lauren is more accepting of her which leads to even more discord in the family. As Kate looks deeper into Jess’s story she finds that not everything is as simple as Jess claims.

My Thoughts: This book kept me reading! I kept telling myself just one more chapter. One more chapter. I loved the different viewpoints. I liked that each woman was completely different from each other. It made the story more interesting because of the conflict. Little clues and hints appeared throughout. Some were red herrings. Others were not. I flew through this book with my heart pounding waiting for the ending.

I do have to say though that some of the stuff seemed a little farfetched. There were some overreactions and wild theories from the characters. I rolled my eyes a few times because it got a little dramatic but it did not stop me from reading it. I was pleased with the ending. I would highly recommend this for fans of thrillers and fast paced novels.

FYI: Great for fans of Ruth Ware and Shari Lapena.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Queen’s Secret

The Queen’s Secret by Karen Harper

First line: After all the grand celebrations leading to my one hundredth birthday, I had feared dreadfully that the calendar day itself would be a disappointment.

Summary: Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, also known as the Queen Mother, took on an important role during the Second World War. Hitler even called her “the most dangerous woman in Europe” because of her popularity and determination to stop the Nazi threat. Using her position she helped Londoners get through the hard years of bombings and rationing. Her support of her husband and Winston Churchill made her a force to be reckoned with. She knew and participated in the most important plans of the war. But even as she was keeping the countries secrets she was hiding a few of her own.

My Thoughts: I am not a 100% sure how I feel about this book. As a story it was a nice easy read. I learned somethings about the time period and the role of the royals during it. It was interesting to see what life was like for them. Elizabeth sounds like a fascinating woman. She lived to be over 100 years old. She saw the world change drastically. I really would love to read a good biography on her someday.

But I had a hard time believing some of the secrets she dealt with from her past. When searching for any confirmation on them I only found one source which was a tell-all book from a member of the aristocracy. I don’t know how accurate it is but it made for an interesting story plot. And since the queen mother is gone it will not be able to be truly known.

I immediately wanted to watch The King’s Speech and The Crown after finishing this!

FYI: This is perfect for fans of The Crown!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Lady in Waiting

Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner

First line: One morning at the beginning of 2019, when I was in my London flat, the telephone rang.

Summary: Lady Anne Glenconner, lady in waiting to Princess Margaret, led a spectacular life. She lived through the Second World War, carried the train of Queen Elizabeth at her coronation and married to an eccentric aristocrat. In her memoir she takes us behind the scenes of important events in the British monarchy and her life. She has many ups and downs but stays strong through them all.

My Thoughts: After watching The Crown I have become fascinated by Princess Margaret. I knew very little about her but came to love her wild side and the way she stirred up the monarchy. When I saw Lady Glenconner’s book on Netgalley I immediately had to request it.

The writing is very simple. It is almost like having a conversation with the woman herself. It flows so easily and is a lot of fun to read. You can feel her emotions as you read along. I loved hearing her memories about life with the royal princesses. I was shocked as she discussed her marriage. Her husband sounds like a very difficult man to be around but that she stuck it out shows her devotion and will to commit to her promises.

I loved looking for pictures as I was reading. And I found the pictures at the end delightful. It was nice to put faces to the names. Mustique looks like paradise. I have never visited the Caribbean but this definitely makes me want to take a trip.

The one thing I was missing was more insights into the lives of the Queen and Margaret. They appear and play important parts in her story but I expected more from reading the blurb.

FYI: If you love The Crown then this is a good follow up read.

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.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Mudlark

Mudlark by Lara Maiklem

First line: It is hot and airless on the 7.42 from Greenwich to Cannon Street.

Summary: Mudlarker Lara Maiklem spends hours walking miles along the riverbank of the Thames in London. In her wanderings she finds little trinkets that give us a look into the English past. She has found items ranging from the Romans to modern day trash.

My Thoughts: I absolutely devoured this book. I first heard about it on a podcast, Talking Tudors, hosted by Natalie Grueninger. In one of her recent releases she talked with Lara about her upcoming book and the Tudor related finds she has discovered in the mud of the river. Immediately after listening to it I had to find a copy to read. Thank goodness Netgalley had it available.

I really enjoyed how the author laid out the book. She started at one end of the Thames and worked her way to the sea. As she described her finds she also delved into her past, experiences on the foreshore and other mudlarks and their finds. I loved learning about the items she found. I was constantly on the internet looking for pictures of these items and reading more history behind them. I am really jealous of the items she has in her curio cabinet. I am seriously thinking about getting a day pass to mudlark the next time I am in London. Or can I mudlark in Kansas?

FYI: Lara Maiklem is on Facebook and Instagram. If you want to see her finds and hear more about mudlarking then check them out.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The First Mistake

The First Mistake by Sandie Jones

First line: “Sophia, let’s go,” I call out from the hall.

Summary: Alice’s life is beginning to come back to normal. She has remarried after the death of her first husband. She has two beautiful daughters and a successful business. But when her husband, Nathan begins acting strangely she turns to her best friend, Beth. As they talk about the situation Alice begins to wonder who she can trust anymore.

My Thoughts: This by no means is anything groundbreaking or new to the genre but it was a lot of fun to read. It went by very fast and kept me interested the whole way. I liked how it was divided into sections for each of the women. We got a look into each of their lives and pasts which helps build up to the conclusion. I had so many theories flying through my head as I read. Each became more twisted with each passing page.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes a fun thriller. It is a perfect summer read!

FYI: Sandie Jones’ first book, The Other Woman, is fantastic as well!

What’s Ashley Reading?: What Angels Fear

What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris

First line: She blamed the fog.

Summary: When a young woman is found murdered on the steps of Westminster Abbey all the signs point to the young viscount, Sebastian St. Cyr. In order to prove himself innocent he uses his skills gained from his time in his majesty’s military as well as enlisting the help of his former mistress, Kat Boleyn.

Highlights: As a fan of historical fiction this has become one of my favorite mystery series. Sebastian is a smart and witty protagonist. The street urchin, Tom, is a great addition. He is fun and gives the reader a look into the darker underworld of the poor in London. I love that Sebastian is involved and cares about others unlike many of the people in the upper classes. I have read nearly all of this series so far and have even gotten my mother hooked on them as well.

The author does an amazing job of researching the time and drawing in historical figures. While reading this I can even connect it with the PBS show, Victoria, even though it happens about 25 years before her reign. In one of the most recent books we get introduced to Princess Charlotte who is the future wife of Uncle Leopold.

Lowlights: Sebastian may be a little too perfect. He knows a lot people and can handle about any situation. However, this can be said for most primary characters. It seems a little cheesy but it is easily overlooked because the story is so fun.

FYI: If you like this then try The Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig. It is a female centered spy novel series that takes place during this time period.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Midnight Riot

We have several new apps and services.  My new favorite is RBDigital Unlimited.  It has a wide selection of older audio books available to download onto your mobile device.  I love to read the new releases but sometimes there is a book that I have been meaning to read but have not gotten around to it yet.  Well this is a good way to get them off the TBR list!  The best part of this is that there is no waiting for a title.  Every title on the site is available immediately.

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

First line: It started on at one thirty on a cold Tuesday morning in January when Martin Turner, street performer and, in his own words, apprentice gigolo, tripped over a body in front of the West Portico of St. Paul’s at Covent Garden.

Summary: Peter Grant, a probationary constable, has hopes of becoming a detective. When investigating a disturbance he gathers some information from a witness. However, this witness also happens to be dead. With the knowledge that Peter can communicate with ghosts brings him to the attention of Chief Investigator Thomas Nightingale. He heads a special department in the London PD who deal with magic and supernatural occurrences. As a string of murders overtakes the city, Peter is thrust into the world of magic and mystical beings.

Highlights: I found this to be a mixture of Sherlock and Harry Potter. This is a fun book. As a grownup who loves to read a mixture of YA, fantasy and mysteries, then this is the perfect combination. It was originally recommended to me by my German sister, Melanie. This sat on my to be read pile for a long time but when I saw that I could listen to the audiobook using RBDigital Unlimited, I immediately checked it out. It was gritty and dark but at the same time a little lighthearted. There was humor mixed in with the murder.  One thing that I found to be new and interesting is that several of the characters are rivers in human form.  This is the name of the series, Rivers of London, but I never actually considered that they would be actual characters.  If you want something a little different than this may be it.

Lowlights: A lot of the story was building the world. Who is Peter Grant? What is the magical department and what do they do? As with all new series it takes a bit to get the ball rolling. I think this was my main issue but I will definitely pick up book 2, Moon Over Soho.

FYI: There is language and violence.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Kennedy Debutante

Learning about the lives of important figures in history is just fascinating.  Over the years I have started picking up more biographies because of my love of historical fiction.  Nonfiction has a bad reputation as boring.  This is not always the case.  Many nonfiction books now are reading almost like fiction.  They flow well and tell a great story.  I laughed out loud while listening to Tina Fey read her biography, Bossypants!  I was shocked while reading, A Stolen Life, by Jaycee Dugard.  I cannot wait to listen to the upcoming autobiography, Becoming, by former first lady, Michelle Obama.  Everyone has a story to tell.  Browse through our biographies (92s and 920s) and see what catches your eye.

The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher

First line: Presentation day.

Summary: In her debut novel, author Kerri Maher introduces us to Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy. She is the second oldest daughter of Ambassador Joe Kennedy Sr. While living in London Kick does everything a good debutante is supposed to do. She attends balls, is presented to the King and socializes with the aristocracy. However, she wants something more. When she meets Billy Hartington, the heir to the dukedom of Cavendish, she finds what she has been looking for. Their dreams are derailed when Hitler invades Poland and Kick is sent back to the United States. She becomes even more determined to return to England and the man she loves even if it means defying her family and her religion.

Highlights: A fantastic example of biographical fiction! Everyone in the U.S. has grown up hearing about John F. Kennedy and his family. However, I had never heard of his sister, Kathleen. I was fascinated by her story. She was a young debutante who was practically American royalty. She lived in England and fell in love with the heir to a dukedom. Her life though was not perfect. She had many struggles in her life.

My heart broke for her when her family and society were against her relationship because she was Catholic and he was Protestant. The author does a great job of bringing her confusion and inner battles to the reader. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for her to make a choice between the man she loved and her family. I liked this look into the life of the Kennedys. Her parents were very strong willed and wanted their children to achieve great success, which several of them reached. Kick became the rebellious one who followed her heart.

“At the end, she said, ‘I just don’t know what to do.  It’s all mixed up in my head–my mother, my father, his mother, his father, my religion, his religion, my heart.  I don’t know what to listen to.  None of them agree.'”

I was nearly in tears (which rarely happens) while finishing this book. The family became so real on the pages and their heartbreaks became mine as well. This was wonderfully researched and written. I cannot wait to see what Kerri Maher writes next!

Lowlights: While I appreciated the insight into Kick’s years of separation from Billy and the personal struggle to come to terms with what life with him would entail, I felt that it stretched out a little too much. For several chapters we watch as she continues to debate and think about her choices. I felt that this made us understand how important it was but at the same time, it slowed the plot down.

FYI: If you love the Kennedys or World War II historical fiction than I would highly recommend this!