BOOK REVIEW: The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

35901186Title: The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century

Author: Kirk Wallace Johnson

Book Length (Audiobook): 8 hours 9 mins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime, History, Science, Mystery

Read Start Date: April 10, 2019

Read Finish Date: April 11, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: On a cool June evening in 2009, after performing a concert at London’s Royal Academy of Music, twenty-year-old American flautist Edwin Rist boarded a train for a suburban outpost of the British Museum of Natural History. Home to one of the largest ornithological collections in the world, the Tring museum was full of rare bird specimens whose gorgeous feathers were worth staggering amounts of money to the men who shared Edwin’s obsession: the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying. Once inside the museum, the champion fly-tier grabbed hundreds of bird skins–some collected 150 years earlier by a contemporary of Darwin’s, Alfred Russel Wallace, who’d risked everything to gather them–and escaped into the darkness.

Two years later, Kirk Wallace Johnson was waist-high in a river in northern New Mexico when his fly-fishing guide told him about the heist. He was soon consumed by the strange case of the feather thief. What would possess a person to steal dead birds? Had Edwin paid the price for his crime? What became of the missing skins? In his search for answers, Johnson was catapulted into a years-long, worldwide investigation. The gripping story of a bizarre and shocking crime, and one man’s relentless pursuit of justice, The Feather Thief is also a fascinating exploration of obsession, and man’s destructive instinct to harvest the beauty of nature.

My Review: When I first starting reading this book, I had no idea that it was actually nonfiction, and based upon real events. I had never heard of using bird feathers for fishing lures, nor had I ever heard of a “fly tier” enthusiast stealing exotic bird feathers from a museum — in some cases, the very same birds collected by Alfred Russel Wallace, and other naturalists of the same era (around the time of Darwin’s expeditions).

The writing of Kirk Wallace Johnson was so good, that I was convinced for the first portion of the book that it was a fiction story. After I got into it a bit further, and looked the book up online, I realized that this story is actually true! It seems to be a little known fact, which makes for an awesome and refreshing novel. The story is very engaging, and even though it is nonfiction, there is the distinct smell of a fiction thriller — a daring heist of rare, expensive bird skins leads an amateur detective into the bowels of the fly tier underground, where the secretive fly tier community not only trades in black market and sometimes illegal feathers, but closes ranks when threatened.

Did Edwin Rist work alone, or was there perhaps more at play?

I love that this book unwittingly educated me, not only in the not so known world of fly tying, but also the feather trade in general.

The book alternates between telling the story of the feather heist, and telling the story of the author trying to track down the thief. The author also explains about the history of feathers and fashion, and how during the Victorian age several species were almost hunted into extinction all in the name of women’s vanity and social stature.

This book gets a rare 5 out of 5 stars from me. Everyone should read about this strange little piece of history. Even if you don’t generally like nonfiction books, this book will not disappoint.

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

34974310Title: The Last Black Unicorn

Author: Tiffany Haddish

Book Length (Audiobook): 6 hours 29 mins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, Autobiography, Essays, Humor

Read Start Date: April 8, 2019

Read Finish Date: April 10, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: From stand-up comedian, actress, and breakout star of Girls Trip, Tiffany Haddish, comes The Last Black Unicorn, a sidesplitting, hysterical, edgy, and unflinching collection of (extremely) personal essays, as fearless as the author herself.

Growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles, Tiffany learned to survive by making people laugh. If she could do that, then her classmates would let her copy their homework, the other foster kids she lived with wouldn’t beat her up, and she might even get a boyfriend. Or at least she could make enough money—as the paid school mascot and in-demand Bar Mitzvah hype woman—to get her hair and nails done, so then she might get a boyfriend.

None of that worked (and she’s still single), but it allowed Tiffany to imagine a place for herself where she could do something she loved for a living: comedy.

Tiffany can’t avoid being funny—it’s just who she is, whether she’s plotting shocking, jaw-dropping revenge on an ex-boyfriend or learning how to handle her newfound fame despite still having a broke person’s mind-set. Finally poised to become a household name, she recounts with heart and humor how she came from nothing and nowhere to achieve her dreams by owning, sharing, and using her pain to heal others.

By turns hilarious, filthy, and brutally honest, The Last Black Unicorn shows the world who Tiffany Haddish really is—humble, grateful, down-to-earth, and funny as hell. And now, she’s ready to inspire others through the power of laughter.

My Review: I had never heard of Tiffany Haddish before reading this book. I am giving it 5 out of 5 stars because I actually laughed out loud when I was reading this book — and that rarely happens, even when the book is supposed to be funny. This book is not only freaking hilarious, but Haddish reveals the good, the bad, and the ugly of her life in a surprisingly intimate fashion. From being called a dirty unicorn when she was a child (because she had an ugly wart on her forehead which looked like a horn), to sexism in the work place (comedy is still predominately men), and lastly to an abusive relationship with her twice ex-husband (she married and divorced him two times) Haddish reveals in poignant (and hilarious) essays how and why she is the person she is today. Where most people would have crawled into a hole and died, Haddish turned her pain into comedy and realized her dreams. I can’t help but to salute her for her triumph in the face of so many odds against her.

The Audiobook Recording: The audiobook is read by Haddish herself, which added tremendously to the book. Not only are the words themselves funny, but the way she tells the story makes it even funnier. Even when the subject matter is not really funny (like the parts about her abusive ex-husband) Haddish finds how to present it in a humorous way to get passed the uncomfortable part and get to the story. I think people in general do not want to hear about negative subjects like poverty, abuse, etc — but if you frame it in funny terms, people actually listen.

I would definitely recommend this book to everyone!

BOOK REVIEW: The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

32075671Title: The Hate U Give

Author: Angie Thomas

Book Length (Audiobook): 11 hours 44 mins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

Read Start Date: March 24, 2019

Read Finish Date: March 26, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

My Review: I had no idea what this book was about before I started reading it — honestly, I do not remember how it ended up on my holds list at the library. I am struggling to write a review of this book, as it has raised many mixed emotions for me. I have mixed emotions because on the one hand, I understand that there are bad cops out there that give good cops (like my brother) a bad name — but I also know there are criminals out there who give non-criminals out there a bad name.

The theme running throughout the book, and the meaning behind the title, is from Tupac’s famous quote, that Thug Life means, “The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everybody”. The plot of this book could be ripped straight out of today’s headlines, i.e., Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, African-American vs. Police, etc.

Living in Europe for the past two years, I have not really been following the recent movements, but I can understand that it is a very contentious issue. This book takes the view of an African-American teenage girl, and more or less paints the police in a bad light.

Starr is traumatized when her best friend Khalil is shot dead by a police officer during a traffic stop. In the aftermath of this tragedy, Starr takes a deep look at what being African-American means to her. Starr has many juxtapositions in her life. Her father, Maverick Carter, a formal gangbanger, enrolled Starr and her brothers in a mostly white school in a better neighborhood. During the school week, Starr has white friends, and even a white boyfriend. On the weekends in her African American neighborhood (Garden Heights) she leads a different, and separate, life.

This book (and the movie version that I watched afterward) really moved me – at some points to tears. I really felt bad for Starr and her community, especially Khalil, who was shot because the police officer was scared he was reaching for a gun. Khalil wasn’t doing anything wrong, but the police officer didn’t know that. This happens in real life, and it is very, very sad.

There is so much broken with American society, and this book poignantly shows that. Not all African-American men are gangbangers and thugs who sell drugs, and not all police officers are dirty, trigger happy cops who murder African-Americans without provocation – but it is these stereotypes which keeps everyone imprisoned behind walls of hate and suspicion, and forces our collective children to grow up with fear and a learned hatred.

This book may be fiction, but it might as well be nonfiction. Too many times in recent history there have been police shootings of African-American men. Sometimes it is justified, but I can only imagine that sometimes stereotypes and racism (whether conscience or not) have played a part in such a shooting. Sometimes the office responsible for the shooting is indicted, and sometimes he is not. Each time the media and the parties involved become incensed, and it only adds more fuel to an already out of control fire.

Even though this book is supposed to be for teenagers, I would also recommend it to any adult. I usually read only for entertainment, but sometimes it is good to read a book that provokes thought and introspection.

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Moor by Sam Haysom

40023909

Title: The Moor

Author: Sam Haysom

Book Length: 224 pages

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Paranormal

Read Start Date: January 8, 2019

Read Finish Date: January 26, 2019

In the 1830’s or 1840’s an alleged witch, Emily Brown, was stripped naked, her body mutilated, and was hanged from a tree near her home. The perpetrators of the crime were never caught. Now, in 2002, the Moor is haunted by her restless and malevolent ghost, or that is what the local legend says anyway. James, Gary, Matt, and Tim (all 13 years old) and Tim’s dad, the charming and likeable Mr. Stevens, are in the moor on a weekend walking trip, when strange things start to happen.

Noises in the night. Severed rabbit parts strewn about the campsite. And then Gary goes missing. Has Emily Brown exacted her revenge, or is something even more sinister lurking in the darkness? As a storm bears down on the bedraggled group, will they make it out in time, or will they become the moor’s next victims?

This book was excellent. From the writing to the overall plot this book delivered 5 out of 5. I don’t want to say too much about the plot because I want to save the surprise. I liked how the story alternated between perspectives of the characters and from the years 2002 and 2015. A little bit paranormal, a little bit supernatural, this book will keep you guessing until the end.

Check out this book on Goodreads: The Moor http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40023909-the-moor

Professional Reader

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

BOOK REVIEW: Educated by Tara Westover

35133922Title: Educated

Author: Tara Westover

Book Length (Audiobook): 12 hours 10 mins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Autobiography

Read Start Date: January 9, 2019

Read Finish Date: January 14, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it.

My Review: I really liked this book, as disturbing as it was. I would go further to say that this is a must-read for 2019. The writing is great, and it reads truly like fiction, even though, alarmingly, it is not. I read (listened) to this book in only a few days, as it is honestly hard to put down. Educated is the true story of the author’s childhood growing up in a fundamentalist Mormon family in rural Idaho. It is a revealing story, which looks into the hard truth of Westover’s upbringing, and the author’s portrayal of her family and herself is at times scathing and highly critical.

The story parallels the fiction book The Great Alone in so many ways. In both stories, the protagonist grows up in the shadow of her overbearing, paranoid father. Westover’s mother is, like I imagine most women are in abusive relationships, meek and diminutive, bending to the whims of her husband, no matter how ridiculous or crazy. This is also true in the The Great Alone. Both fathers suffer from some form of mental illness, in The Great Alone it is PTSD, and in Educated, the author’s father is (undiagnosed) bipolar. Being conservative / fundamentalist mormon adds another layer to the complications of living with such a man, as Westover’s father becomes a prophet of sorts for his harshly conservative brand of Mormonism. His “testimonies” are the bedrock of the family ethos and are not to be questioned.

I have some spoilers below, so read on with caution.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: Educated by Tara Westover”

BOOK REVIEW: It by Stephen King

830502This great book has all the elements of a classic Stephen King novel: 1) good vs. evil; 2) something supernatural; and 3) both weird and oddly believable.  Stephen King who is one of my favorite authors began this book in 1981, and finished it in 1985. It is over 1,000 pages long (on audio book it is about 44 hours of listening)! It took me about a month to read, but it is well worth the time!

The first time I read this book was in 1998, when I was 15 years old.  Actually, I believe that this book was my introduction to the world of Stephen King — and I can honestly say, that I have loved everything I have read from this story weaving genius.  I have not had the opportunity to read all of his books (there are so many!), but It stands out there on a golden limb, together with other classic Stephen King books like Carrie and the Shining.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: It by Stephen King”