Tag Archives: Shelley Puhak

The Best of EatReadSleep, Part 2

General Adult Nonfiction and Anti-Racist Reads

I love nonfiction so much that I am going to divide it up into categories. I read widely across the Dewey Decimal System (a little library lingo) because I am omnicurious. If you don’t see your interests in general nonfiction, I have a couple of specialized categories coming up in this post and the next.

Click on the title links for the full review.

General Nonfiction and Memoirs

Think Again, by Adam Grant. The review on this title has been very popular, with continuing interest over the past year or so. Grant examines the value of changing our minds in both business and personal decisions.
Deep Work, by Cal Newport. The most creative people guard their uninterrupted time. This book has brought about positive innovation in many lives and organizations.
Stolen Focus, by Johann Hari. A fantastic title that did not get enough love. Listen to the audio. Important and engaging.
Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution, by Dr. Richard Bernstein. This famous doctor is a pioneer in the field of diabetes research. Anyone with diabetes, type 1 or 2, should own this book.
A Craftsman’s Legacy, by Eric Gorges. I have a longer, related post on TheReaderWrites, and both have received tons of hits from mechanics to knitters. I think we humans love to create with our hands.
Salad Love, by David Bez. Of all the many cookbooks I’ve reviewed, this simple, thorough volume with a crystal-clear layout is still a favorite in our house after 7 years.
Educated, by Tara Westover. This harrowing memoir of a woman raised in the fundamentalist Mormon church was on the bestseller list for years. Riveting.
Vincent and Theo, by Deborah Heiligman. A young adult biography of the famous artist and his brother that won all the awards and is perfect for art-loving adults.
The Dark Queens, by Shelley Puhak. Two wild women of the Dark Ages whose stories had been nearly erased. Think Brunhilda and Circe Lannister.
Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance. A difficult American story out of Appalachia, honestly revealed by one of its favorite sons. Oh, I had such hopes for Vance before he sold out.

Anti-Racist Reads

A few years ago, David and I looked around at our very white world and realized that we lived in a bubble. We started intentionally reading as many books as we could on race in America. I began with White Fragility, which was a complete mistake, since I found it elitist and ridiculous. It is one of the very few negative reviews I’ve ever written. However, things improved greatly after that, and many of these books have been influential in our lives. Some are aimed at the white evangelical church and its members. These are all adult nonfiction, but many fiction titles in the blog, especially children’s and young adults’ banned book reviews, are also anti-racist.

Click on the title link for full reviews.

Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson. This is the most scholarly and thoroughly researched of all the anti-racist books we own. A must-read for everyone.
Rediscipling the White Church, by David W. Swanson. Written by a pastor for other church leaders, really. Wisdom for those seeking to be part of the solution.
Be the Bridge, by Latasha Morrison. This was the best book we read by a black Christian leader, compassionately targeted to white Christians. She has a network of discussion groups all over the country.
So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo. The best-organized anti-racist book we read. It is set up in question-and-answer format to make it easy to navigate and understand.
How the Word Is Passed, by Clint Smith. Learning racial history by geography. Very effective, and filled with surprises.

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The Dark Queens, by Shelley Puhak

Fredegund was born a slave, but her shrewd mind and political ruthlessness made her indispensable to Chilperic, the king of Neustria. Once he had disposed of his first and second wives, he married Fredegund for life. She was extremely capable of producing sons, but not so blessed with keeping them alive.

Brunhild was an educated Visigothic princess from Spain who traveled to Francia to become the wife of King Sigibert of Austrasia. As a royal daughter, she knew how kingdoms were run, and immediately began to make allies among the dukes and bishops. She also provided the son and heir, as well as a couple of daughters. As a matter of fact, life was pretty pleasant until Fredegund had her sister, Galswintha, assassinated so that she could become queen of Neustria in her place.

This was the heyday of the Merovingian Dynasty in what is modern-day France, spilling over into most of western Europe. King Clovis conquered the land from the Romans, and his son Clothar divided the kingdom among his four sons: Charibert, Sigibert, Chilperic, and Guntram. He also had an illegitimate son named Gundovald. The more familiar practice of having the eldest inherit everything may seem unfair, but dividing up property in this way kept royal brothers at one another’s throats their whole lives. Women inherited nothing, and inconvenient females were killed off or packed off to a convent. Queens were no exception.

Author Shelley Puhak delves deeply into original sources to unearth the influence that these two queens had over a large portion of Europe in the latter decades of the sixth century. Both of the women were trusted advisors to their husbands, but when they outlived the kings, they continued as regents for their very young sons for many years. They waged war, forged alliances, and wielded power brilliantly and often ruthlessly. Fredegund rode out with the troops and was feared as an expert assassin. She has been called the inspiration behind the Game of Thrones’ Cersei Lannister. Brunhild built roads and abbeys, wrote copious letters, and enlarged her kingdom. She was friends with both Bishop Gregory of Tours and Pope Gregory. Both men respected her, although Gregory of Tours, in particular, generally despised women. Brunhild is the inspiration for Brunhilda of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and the Valkyrie of mythology draw from the legends of these two fearless rulers.

Puhak became aware that the record of the women of this era had been deliberately erased, since the men who wrote the history deplored the idea of women having power. Although she had written essays and poetry in the past, she dug into the surviving manuscripts and the scholarly research to assemble this revealing portrait of the Merovingian era. Sprinkled with paintings and artifacts throughout, the narrative is followed by an almost 20-page bibliography, fifty pages of notes, and an index. In the front, Puhak placed a map of the western world in the sixth century, as well as a much-needed Dramatis Personae. I consulted this list frequently, since there was more than one Clothar and two Gregorys, not to mention a Charibert, Chilperic, and a Childebert. This Childebert thought it would be fun to name his children Theudebert, Theuderic, and Theudelia.

This volume of history is eye-opening not only for the lives that are brought to our attention, but also for exposing the systematic cover-up that kept this knowledge from us for centuries. Let us hope that continued scholarship will bring us even more fascinating stories of influential women from our past.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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