Review: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, Hallie Rubenhold

Hardcover, 333 pages
Published April 9th 2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: Library
The Five_

From Goodreads…

Five devastating human stories and a dark and moving portrait of Victorian London – the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper.

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women.

For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that ‘the Ripper’ preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman.

Can we just take a minute and first be glad we were not born poor in Victorian England? Even more so born a poor girl in Victorian England. Now to the book- The Five was fascinating and also just really sad. No gore, no murder theories, just the details that could be dug up about these women and about the reality of life at the time.  And life at that time – it was not easy. I would never have imagined it was easy truly, but this book broke down the day to day for women and girls in a way that really made me think. The final indignity for each of these women is of course that they were all assumed to be prostitutes because they were out on the street at night and I love how Rubenhold takes a new look at each of these lives so the women can be remembered differently. While there are no gory imagined scenes of The Ripper in The Five I still found myself cringing at the dirt and disease, at the child labor and at the brutality of life.

I was also raging at the mistreatment of women from all sides – the police, the press, the societies allegedly for the benefit of the poor if they were deemed worthy. Raging. I was impressed at the amount of research that Rubenhold must have had to do for any records of these women – especially Elizabeth who came from Sweden and  Mary-Jane who left behind the most mystery. Census records, apartment rentals, workhouse registers – the details she went to are pretty incredible. Rubenhold brings The Five to life while you’re reading and restores them as women – mothers, sisters, friends and not prostitutes (save Mary Jane) and not just victims. They all have stories and they should be known.

As I read many of the names of London streets I flashed back to reading Lauren Willig’s The Secret History of the Pink Carnation series or Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister. But these five women would have been blessed to be so lucky as to be a maid to the Pink Carnation or one of Milan’s Dukes. Such an entirely different London to read about. I feel like this book is going to alter my perspective during my fictional reading in the future and I’m thankful for that.  

Now to decide if I want to follow the rabbit hole into reading about the Ripper? Or if I’m just going to be content with reading Deanna Raybourn’s next Veronica Speedwell- A Murderous Relation – which comes out this week!  Maybe that will give me all I care to think about the murders. And if you haven’t read that series yet – Get on it because I’m obsessed. But aside from that – any books about Jack the Ripper that I should read?

Review: Naturally Tan

Only nearly June and my first review of 2019! I have read SO much with good intentions and then there’s life and two kids and all the germs.  All the germs.  I so enjoyed this book that I had to finally stay up past my bedtime to post about it.

Naturally Tan, Tan France

Hardcover, 288 pages
Expected publication: June 4th 2019 by St. Martin’s Press
Source: ARC won from Shelf Awareness, St.Martin’s Press
40097937

In this heartfelt, funny, touching memoir, Tan France, star of Netflix’s smash-hit QUEER EYE, tells his origin story for the first time. With his trademark wit, humor, and radical compassion, Tan reveals what it was like to grow up gay in a traditional Muslim family, as one of the few people of color in Doncaster, England. He illuminates his winding journey of coming of age, finding his voice (and style!), and how he finally came out to his family at the age of 34, revealing that he was happily married to the love of his life–a Mormon cowboy from Salt Lake City.

Are you watching Queer Eye on Netflix and crying regularly like me?  If you’re like me you’ll have a guess at how excited I was to get my grabby hands on an ARC of Tan France’s memoir.  Thankfully Tan comes off just as delightful in print as he does on screen.  I love how truly appreciative he sounds of the life he’s having – a gay, South Asian, Muslim man who had his share of hardships now holding himself out there to a whole world of queer, brown children.  As I reader I was appreciative of his honesty with what he wanted to talk about vs. topics like his faith not being for public consumption.

When Tan was open about his past he was definitely open though.  Romance, bad jobs, teenage exploits – as well as bullying, real sadness and hard feelings.  Best of all were the  warm fuzzies I got from reading about going out with his husband for the first time.

Image result for tan france gifs

 

The stories of meeting the Fab Five were everything a fan could want! Tan puts himself out in this book without giving too much of himself away.  He’s someone you just feel happy for over the success he’s finding.

Pick this up for good stories and fashion tips!  What other celebrity memoirs should I be looking for? Busy Phillips is pretty high on my list right now…

Thank you Shelf Awareness and St. Martin’s Press for this advance copy!

Nonfiction November Week Two: Nonfiction and Fiction Pairings

The Nonfiction extravaganza continues this week!  Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves is taking the lead with matching nonfiction and fiction titles.  Don’t forget to check the other hosts: Katie at Doing Dewey, Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?, Julie at Julz Reads, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness.

My first suggestion is a match to two nonfiction reads: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann and Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot (thanks Eva at the Paperback Princess for this suggestion).  So these two are extremely far apart as nonfiction books go but both were heartbreakingly sad in their own way.  Both also had me thinking about the ways in which the Native American people have been hurt ever since being “discovered.”  So for a fiction that is kick ass on behalf Native people and women in particular you MUST read Trail of Lightening by Rebecca Roanhoarse.  I finished the book and immediately put it on hold at the library for my husband to read – and he doesn’t read fantasy.  I cannot wait for the next book to come out!!

This pairing feels a little random but this is the pairing in my head when I was reading Damnation Island – so maybe I’m just a little random.  Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad & Criminal in 19th Century New York by Stacy Horn and Libba Bray’s Diviners Series.  Book 2 of the Diviners, Lair of Dreams, is what linked for me with islands and mental hospitals – but I think this is a series worth diving into if you have time (they are loooooooong).  New York and the divisions of class and race are at the forefront of both of these reads so while it might seem like a stretch I think they go together quite well.  You might find them to be the cats pajamas!

I have one more bonus pairing! I started reading The Fruit of the Drunken Tree this morning  – I know it is fiction but library holds don’t wait! This book about two childhoods in Columbia under Pablo Escabar is quite good so far and it is making me think of Mark Bowden’s excellent Killing Pablo.   Highly recommended if you haven’t read that one!

Have you read any of these?  Any match ups you can suggest for me?

Nonfiction November Week One: Your Year in Nonfiction

Nonfiction November is finally here! I swear I’ve been saving up a list of books to read this month  – but surprisingly have still read quite a few this year.  Nonfiction November — hosted this year by Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) Julie (JulzReads), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Katie (Doing Dewey), Rennie (What’s Nonfiction) — is a month-long celebration of everything nonfiction.

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

 

I’m tied.  I just finished Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover.  I was holding off reading this because I was sure it was a case of hype over substance, and I am so happy I was wrong.  Yay book club pick!  I flew through this book!  Another winner is Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann.  While Educated flew, this book took me weeks to get through.  This story was just so sad.  Reading as members of the Osage were picked off by predatory whites while also being held back by the legal system – not at uplifting book but the story was fascinating.  This feels so important still with the news about Native voting rights and events at Standing Rock. I just read this is going to be a movie and I hope it is as well done!  But then I also read So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo and I don’t even have the words to do it justice.  I cried, I raged, I thought about this book a lot.  Just read it.

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

Like the rest of my reading life this year, my nonfiction has been kind of a hot mess.  Politics (A Higher Loyalty), murder (I’ll Be Gone in the Dark), mental health (Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad and Criminal in 19th Century New York) and sex toys…  Looking through my goodreads shelf I definitely need some celebrity memoirs in the mix.  I have my eye on Busy Phillips’ and Ellie Kemper’s new books to scratch that itch.  I started From the Corner of the Oval last night and it is a delight!

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

I think everyone needs to read So You Want to Talk About Race so I’ve tried to talk that up.  For “lighter” reading I’ve been pushing I’ll be Gone in the Dark (so creepy!) and Killers of the Flower Moon.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I love loading up my to read shelf during November.  There are so many great books I miss hearing about.  I love seeing other book nerds excited about book pushing!  I’m trying to avoid books by white dudes where I can so I have an eye out for suggestions particularly to keep reading more diversely.

So what am I missing that you love?  If you aren’t doing Nonfic November get over to Sophisticated Dorkiness to check out all the posts!

 

 

 

 

 

All the news is garbage – but I love my library!

I am reading the news in short snippets these days because unless it’s about Serena Williams or maybe Prince Louis’ christening it all gives me panic attacks. I’ve been reading fiction voraciously to escape (and a few nonfic too) and The Chicago Public Library is giving me everything.  Here’s a list of what I’ve been loving – other than reading Goodnight Moon on repeat.

Fiction

Non-Fiction

With Babycakes 

  • Ranger in Time series by Kate Messner – what is there not to love about a golden retriever traveling through time and space to help people in need?

What else is out there that I should be reading to avoid reality?

All Abuzz over Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy

Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy; Hallie Lieberman

Published November 7th 2017 by Pegasus Books
Hardcover, 288 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
33786672

Once only whispered about in clandestine corners, vibrators have become just another accessory for the suburban soccer mom, showing up in all manner of pop culture, from sitcoms to talk shows to the pages of glossy women’s magazines. But how did these once-taboo toys become so socially acceptable? The journey of the devices to the cultural mainstream is a surprisingly stimulating one.

In Buzz, Hallie Lieberman—who holds the world’s first PhD in the history of sex toys—starts at the beginning, tracing the tale from lubricant in Ancient Greece to the very first condom in 1560 to advertisements touting devices as medical equipment in 19th-century magazines. She looks in particular from the period of major change from the 1950s through the present, when sex toys evolved from symbols of female emancipation to tools in the fight against HIV/AIDS to consumerist marital aids to today’s mainstays of pop culture. The story is populated with a cast of vivid and fascinating characters including Dell Williams, founder of the first feminist sex toy store, Eve’s Garden; Betty Dodson, who pioneered “Bodysex” workshops in the 1960s to help women discover vibrators and ran Good Vibrations, a sex toy store and vibrator museum; and Gosnell Duncan, a paraplegic engineer who invented the silicone dildo and lobbied Dodson and Williams to sell them in their stores. And these personal dramas are all set against a backdrop of changing American attitudes toward sexuality, feminism, LGBTQ issues, and more.

What bravery must Hallie Lieberman have to have said “I’m going to be the first person to pursue my doctorate in the history of the sex toy.”  I can’t imagine walking into a professor’s office to say that!  Bravo to her.

I know the personal is political but wow does Buzz get personal. The history of America’s sex toy industry is as fascinating as you might imagine, ranging from a man pursued by the Federal government under RICO to a bisexual woman who went from hosting masturbation workshops to opening one of the first feminist sex shops.  Feminism is everywhere in Buzz, but also advocacy for the sexual experiences of the disabled and the rights of gay couples.     

Lieberman also takes the story of America’s sex toy interest from garage manufacturing to sales at Macy’s.  Seriously, this book covers all kinds of ground!  I definitely recommend this one when you want a non-fiction read that doesn’t get too serious, but still covers surprising depth.  Even if I was giggling to myself at that cover every time I pulled Buzz out on my train rides.

 

Review: Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the WWII Ghost Army

I’ve been reading a lot of middle grade fiction lately, maybe I’m just way too excited for my big 7 year-old to be reading with me.  When asked to look at this middle grade non-fiction book I was way too curious to pass it up.

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Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the WWII Ghost Army, Enigma Alberti

Published January 23rd 2018 by Workman Publishing Company
Hardcover, 96 pages
Source: Finished copy received from publisher

Your mission: Find Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook. And discover one of the most unusual stories of World War II.

Meet the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, better known as the Ghost Army. This group of artists and sound engineers were trained to deceive the Germans in World War II with everything from fake tanks to loudspeakers broadcasting the sound of marching troops. And meet Victor Dowd, a real-life sergeant who with his fellow Ghost Army troops fought his way from Normandy, through France, and eventually across the Rhine.

First of all, why have I not heard of the Ghost Army?  A whole unit devoted to fooling Hitler and the Nazis with artwork, sound effects and clever camouflage – what an amazing story!  I read this almost entirely in a train ride, so less than an hour, a fast read but I was completely engrossed.  Yes, this was written for kids but my interest is piqued and I will be finding some more titles on this unit to read soon.
This book didn’t talk down to the young reader but made the Ghost Army’s story engaging by talking about Victor Dowd and his experiences as an artist being used to paint planes and trucks to trick the Nazis about the soldiers and units in place.  I haven’t looked at kids’ nonfiction since I was a kid and I wasn’t sure how it would come together.  Victor’s individual story made it compelling on an individual level I think and then makes the branching out into the rest of the Ghost Army easier for a young reader who might not be used to nonfiction.  
And then there are the spy tools.  Spy tools!  My daughter wasn’t interested in the topic – she is too young and this isn’t her thing – but even she was ready to break out the spy tools to solve the mystery of the missing sketchbook.  These were awesome!
I loved this book! I will definitely be gifting copies to some young readers in my life and sending it to my daughter’s school.  I can’t wait to pick up Enigma Alberti’s first Spy on History book, Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring -that is a topic we’ve talked about at home so I hope the kid is ready. 
Thank you so much Workman Publishing for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion!