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!

Book Review: The Librarian of Auschwitz

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

First line: The Nazi officers are dressed in black.

Summary: Based on the true life events of Dita Kraus we see the courage and strength of the prisoners of Auschwitz. The story follows Dita, a fourteen-year-old girl, and her parents as they are transported to the death camp. Upon arriving, they are assigned to the family camp. Dita is made to work in the “school” where she meets Freddy Hirsch, the Jewish leader in charge of the children of Auschwitz. Hirsch gives Dita that responsibility of hiding and taking care of the contraband books, becoming the librarian of Auschwitz.

Highlights: I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but I do. And this one is beautiful. I absolutely love it. The story is so rich and detailed but heartbreaking at the same time. I have read many accounts of the Holocaust. The strength of the people who lived and endured these hardships is hard to read but they need to be. No one should be allowed to forget these stories and atrocities have happened. I cannot imagine having the courage that Dita has. She was fourteen and risked her life for the love of books and reading. She kept her humanity in the worst possible situation. I loved how the author intermixed the stories that she read into the narrative. We, as the reader, get to experience what kept her going during the dark days.

Lowlights: Several other narratives of fellow prisoners at Auschwitz are woven into Dita’s story. I was confused at times when the story changed narrators.

FYI: Great as an audiobook!

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.”