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: A Serial Killer’s Daughter by Kerri Rawson

38915935Title: A Serial Killer’s Daughter

Author: Kerri Rawson

Book Length (Kindle): 3437 Loc (336 pages)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, Crime, True Crime, Autobiography, Memoir

Read Start Date: March 24, 2019

Read Finish Date: April 8, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: “In 2005, Kerri Rawson heard a knock on the door of her apartment. When she opened it, an FBI agent informed her that her father had been arrested for murdering ten people, including two children. It was then that she learned her father was the notorious serial killer known as BTK, a name he’d given himself that described the horrific way he committed his crimes: bind, torture, kill. As news of his capture spread, Wichita celebrated the end of a thirty-one-year nightmare.

For Kerri Rawson, another was just beginning. She was plunged into a black hole of horror and disbelief. The same man who had been a loving father, a devoted husband, church president, Boy Scout leader, and a public servant had been using their family as a cover for his heinous crimes since before she was born. Everything she had believed about her life had been a lie”.

My ReviewWhat I liked. What drew me initially to this book was the fact that the author was the daughter of a notorious serial killer, BTK, i.e., Denis Rader. Having read multiple true crime books in the past, I was interested to get a perspective from someone unique to her situation. Usually true crime books are written by third parties who have done extensive research on the crimes and the killer. In A Serial Killer’s Daughter, we not only get to read about the crimes, but we also get to experience the “behind the scenes” look at the killer himself. Family man or monster? Average guy or sadist? Through out the book Rawson struggles to reconcile these two images of her father — yet Rawson admits that her father was volitale, sometimes erupting into anger and violence without much provocation.

One of the things that stuck with me was Rawson’s description of the BTK killer weeping over his father’s death bed. Rawson’s mother said, “I don’t think your dad had ever sat beside someone who died before.” Little did she know… I have to wonder, what is the psychology of a man who can cry over the death of his own father, but then take the lives of 10 people without empathy or remorse? It is truly chilling. So was Rawson’s visceral need to love and/or forgive her father — to somehow separate the man she knew from the deeds he had done — as though they were 2 different people.

“I missed my father. That was one of the first times I’d admitted that. Was it okay to admit I missed a serial killer? That I loved one? I didn’t miss a serial killer, didn’t love one–I missed my dad. I loved my dad….It was always going to be that simple and that hard.”

What I didn’t like. I would have given this book 4 stars rather than 3 had it not been for all of the religious aspects. I understand that Kerri Rawson is a religious person, and it is obvious that religion is important in her life, but she basically wrote in stream of consciousness /  internal dialogue. For example:

“I spoke of God’s unending ability to forgive–to love. But I was stubbornly holding out on doing it myself. I didn’t know if I could forgive my dad. ‘God? Are you asking me to forgive him or to write him also–let him back into my life? I don’t know if I can–I don’t know if I can trust him.’ ‘You can trust me–I’m your father too.’ ‘But my father hurt me.’ ‘Yes. Remember Joseph?’

And

“I spent the next several weeks stuck on the couch, stewing over my latest predicament, bawling in pain as I tried to keep my toddler son out of trouble, and wrestling with God. Quiet, peaceful, easy, little life, God. Remember? But God lets nothing go to waste. We need to work on your forgiveness problem–we’ve got nothing but time. I don’t wanna God. Do it anyway.”

Aside from the distraction of reading someone’s internal dialogue, I am not a religious person, so the God references, which happened A LOT, were super annoying. I just don’t understand how the portion in italics above helped to move the story along? This is a book, not a diary, afterall.

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: How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan

39203791Title: How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by 

Author: Michael Pollan

Book Length (Audiobook): 13 hours 42 mins

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, Science, Psychology, Health, Philosophy

Read Start Date: March 27, 2019

Read Finish Date: April 6, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: “A brilliant and brave investigation by Michael Pollan, author of five New York Times best sellers, into the medical and scientific revolution taking place around psychedelic drugs–and the spellbinding story of his own life-changing psychedelic experiences. When Michael Pollan set out to research how LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) are being used to provide relief to people suffering from difficult-to-treat conditions such as depression, addiction and anxiety, he did not intend to write what is undoubtedly his most personal book. But upon discovering how these remarkable substances are improving the lives not only of the mentally ill but also of healthy people coming to grips with the challenges of everyday life, he decided to explore the landscape of the mind in the first person as well as the third. Thus began a singular adventure into the experience of various altered states of consciousness, along with a dive deep into both the latest brain science and the thriving underground community of psychedelic therapists. Pollan sifts the historical record to separate the truth about these mysterious drugs from the myths that have surrounded them since the 1960s, when a handful of psychedelic evangelists catalyzed a powerful backlash against what was then a promising field of research. A unique and elegant blend of science, memoir, travel writing, history, and medicine, How to Change Your Mind is a triumph of participatory journalism. By turns dazzling and edifying, it is the gripping account of a journey to an exciting and unexpected new frontier in our understanding of the mind, the self, and our place in the world. The true subject of Pollan’s “mental travelogue” is not just psychedelic drugs but also the eternal puzzle of human consciousness and how, in a world that offers us both struggle and beauty, we can do our best to be fully present and find meaning in our lives”

My Review: This book was interesting, but not one of my favorites. Although I liked some of the anecdotal stories that Pollan tells about his own personal experiences with psychedelic drugs (from magic mushrooms to frog venom), I found the science aspects of the book to be rather dry — but I guess that is just the nature of very scientific subjects.

I had such high expectations of this book, based upon the raving review of my boyfriend, that I felt a bit disappointed by my lack of enthusiasm in reading it. I thought it was going to be some enlightening story, that drugs like LSD, etc., would suddenly make sense to me. That I would “see the light” so to speak. Maybe I am just skeptical that a drug which admittedly alters ones perception artificially can somehow treat mental illnesses. That could just be “the establishment” brainwashing me to be against drugs, but who knows.

But the book had its redeeming qualities as well. I found several stories very intriguing, especially those about Paul Stamets, a mycologist (a scientist specializing in mushrooms). Pollan described several interesting patents that Stamets held, including one for a mushroom which was used as a natural ant killer. How do you ask? You should read the book to find out.

Being somewhat of a Startrek fan, I also found it very interesting that the creators of Startrek Discovery decided to name a character Lt. Commander Paul Stamets, and that such character knows more than anyone in the world about space mushrooms. Coincidence? I think not.

Despite my failure to be blown away by the subject matter, I did find it interesting overall. If you are looking for a scientific read that pushes the boundaries of societal norms, then I would recommend to read this book.

 

BOOK REVIEW: Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking

40277241

Title: Brief Answers to the Big Questions

Author: Stephen Hawking

Book Length (Audiobook): 4 hours 54 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Science, Nonfiction, Philosophy, Physics

LinkGoodreads

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: (link to Goodreads above) “Stephen Hawking was the most renowned scientist since Einstein, known both for his groundbreaking work in physics and cosmology and for his mischievous sense of humor. He educated millions of readers about the origins of the universe and the nature of black holes, and inspired millions more by defying a terrifying early prognosis of ALS, which originally gave him only two years to live. In later life he could communicate only by using a few facial muscles, but he continued to advance his field and serve as a revered voice on social and humanitarian issues.

Hawking not only unraveled some of the universe’s greatest mysteries but also believed science plays a critical role in fixing problems here on Earth. Now, as we face immense challenges on our planet—including climate change, the threat of nuclear war, and the development of artificial intelligence—he turns his attention to the most urgent issues facing us. Will humanity survive? Should we colonize space? Does God exist? These are just a few of the questions Hawking addresses in this wide-ranging, passionately argued final book from one of the greatest minds in history.

Featuring a foreword by Eddie Redmayne, who won an Oscar for playing Stephen Hawking, an introduction by Nobel Laureate Kip Thorne, and an afterword from Hawking’s daughter, Lucy, Brief Answers to the Big Questions is a brilliant last message to the world.”

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking”

BOOK REVIEW: Talking with Psychopaths and Savages by Christopher Berry-Dee

32713413Title: Talking with Psychopaths and Savages

Author: Christopher Berry-Dee

Book Length: 292 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, Psychology, True Crime

LinkGoodreads

Brief Summary of the Plot: Criminologist Christopher Berry-Dee goes deep inside the mind of the world’s most sick ,sadistic and predatory people alive. The author introduces the book as follows “Welcome to ‘Christopher World’, with a gilt-edged invitation to take you on a journey for, dare I say that I am your ‘tour guide’ on a road trip into the deeply disturbing and darkest recesses, the abyss of the minds of psychopaths and savages, because now that you are reading this book, you are coming with me, like it or not!” The author discussed the differences between “psychopath” and “savage”, fleshing out his thesis using 9 “case studies” on some of the most vile and violent people on Earth.

My Review: Although I found the crime details thoroughly disturbing, there is also something surreal, and therefore fascinating (all be it in a negative way), about people who kill without empathy or remorse. I have a hard time killing a spider, so I cannot even imagine how someone can be capable of killing another human being, and then acting like it was nothing. The concept of harming another person is completely alien to me, and somehow, because of this, I was able to disassociate a bit from the narrative, and see it more as a story rather than the facts of a real life crime. To not disassociate, would have certainly led to agoraphobia. These psyhopaths are outwardly just ‘normal’ people…they could be anyone!

This book dives into what makes these people tick — what drives them to kill. “And what motivates the psychopath is the desire to take what he, or she, wants regardless of the consequences. He is insensitive to all but his own needs; his inability to recognise the needs or rights of others means that he sweeps them casually aside or simply uses them for his own ends.”

In telling the story of John Cannan, a British robber, serial rapist and murderer, the author paints the following horrifying picture “The dark hair is well groomed…He is dressed immaculately…His voice is soft, almost upper-class…Confident, he is seemingly a worldly person who could almost certainly hold his own in any company…So far so good, for there is nothing to worry about in what you see in John, is there? But ‘Buyer Beware’, because what he portrays is a mask , when everything behind it can be demonstrably monstrous. He is like a fake Rolex watch — all shiny and false — then, when you rewind it, the spring breaks, and savagery is released.”

Shiver. Puts a whole new perspective on internet dating, doesn’t it?

If you like to read true crime novels, or just like to be plain scared, then this book is for you.

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Calypso by David Sedaris

35832073

Title: Calypso

Author: David Sedaris

Book Length (Audiobook): 6 hours 45 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Humor, Nonfiction, Essays, Memoir

LinkGoodreads

Brief Summary of the Plot: Calypso is a series of essays or stories. Most of the stories are about Sedaris and his family. Goodreads says “When he buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, Sedaris envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lounging in the sun with those he loves most. And life at the Sea Section, as he names the vacation home, is exactly as idyllic as he imagined, except for one tiny, vexing realization: it’s impossible to take a vacation from yourself.”

The Writing: The writing is excellent. David Sedaris is probably one of the funniest authors I have ever read. I find myself laughing out loud at some of the many stories (I usually never laugh while reading, even if its supposed to be funny). For example, I particularly liked his story about getting a fit bit. Once he got the fit bit, he was obsessed with getting steps. Starting out with 10,000 he soon graduated to 20,000 steps a day, then 30,000, all the way to 60,000 steps! From walking around his tiny Sussex village (he was living in England at the time), to picking trash up off the road, he would find things to do just to make the steps. When his fitbit broke, he asked himself “Walking twenty-five miles, or even running up the stairs and back, suddenly seemed pointless, since without the steps being counted and registered, what use were they?” He promptly purchased another one.

The Audiobook Recording: the audiobook recording is also really great. The audiobook is read by the author, which makes it extra special, because, well, he is just a super funny guy. Parts of the audiobook seem to be recordings of his stand up comedy acts. My favorite stand up act was about the things people said around the world to curse out another person during a road rage attack. It went something like this: “The Romanians really do lead the world when it comes to cursing. “What have you got for me?” I asked a woman from Transylvania who was now living in Vienna. “Shove your hand up my ass and jerk off my shit,” she offered. I was stunned. “Anyone else would say, ‘Shove your hand up my ass,’ and then run out of imagination,” I told her. “You people, though, you just keep going. And that’s what makes you the champions you are.” Maybe it’s not too late to learn how to drive, I thought, watching as she walked out the door and onto the unsuspecting streets of Vienna, this poet, this queen, this glittering jewel in a city of flint.”

Expectations/Recommendations: I previously read another book by David Sedaris (Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls) back in 2017, and I remember liking it. This book surpassed my expectations. I would definitely recommend it.

BOOK REVIEW: Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth

43784097

Title: Black Klansman

Author: Ron Stallworth

Book Length (Audiobook): 5 hours 52 mins

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction

LinkGoodreads

Brief Summary of the Plot: In 1978 Ron Stallworth was the first African-American Intelligence Unit Detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department. As part of his job, he scanned the daily newspapers for any reports or information concerning hints of subversive activities which could impact the welfare or safety of Colorado Springs. One day he saw a classified ad for the KKK. He answered the ad, pretending to be a white man and racist. When the KKK called him back, it sparked a year-long undercover investigation into the KKK, during which time a white undercover cop pretended to be Stallworth in person, while Stallworth continued to be himself over the telephone.

As per Goodreads (link above), “Black Klansman is an amazing true story that unfolds like a crime thriller and a searing portrait of a divided America and the extraordinary heroes who dare to fight back.”

What I thought: Overall, the book was good. It was a really interesting subject, and one that I had never heard of before. The writing was good and so was the audiobook version. If I had to compare it to the other memoirs I have read this year so far, I would say it ranks toward the bottom, but that’s not to say this book is not good…I just read some really fantastic books in January, 2019.

BOOK REVIEW: Becoming by Michelle Obama

38746485Title: Becoming

Author: Michelle Obama

Book Length (Audiobook): 19 hours 10 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Links: Goodreads and Amazon

Genre: Nonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir

Read Start Date: January 19, 2019

Read Finish Date: January 27, 2019

The Audiobook of Becoming is read by the author, Michelle Obama. This is really fantastic because its like the author herself is talking directly to you about her own story. On the list of memoirs I have read so far this year, (Educated, The Year of Less, and Girl Wash Your Face), this book ranks toward the top.

The book is very well written and M. Obama writes with the openness and frankness that is the foundation of every good memoir. From fertility issues to the white house, M. Obama seems to hold nothing back.

As the Goodreads synopsis (link above) puts it, “In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.”

I couldn’t have said it better. This is a must read for 2019. I have some spoilers in the rest of the review, so feel free not to read on.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: Becoming by Michelle Obama”

BOOK REVIEW: Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

35542451Title: Girl Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be

Author: Rachel Hollis

Book Length (Audiobook): 7 hours 4 mins

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Non-fiction, Humor, Memoir, Self-help

Read Start Date: January 3, 2019

Read Finish Date: January 23, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: “Founder of the lifestyle website TheChicSite.com and CEO of her own media company, Chic Media, Rachel Hollis has created an online fan base of hundreds of thousands of fans by sharing tips for living a better life while fearlessly revealing the messiness of her own. Now comes her highly anticipated first book featuring her signature combination of honesty, humor, and direct, no-nonsense advice.

Each chapter of Girl, Wash Your Face begins with a specific lie Hollis once believed that left her feeling overwhelmed, unworthy, or ready to give up. As a working mother, a former foster parent, and a woman who has dealt with insecurities about her body and relationships, she speaks with the insight and kindness of a BFF, helping women unpack the limiting mind-sets that destroy their self-confidence and keep them from moving forward.

From her temporary obsession with marrying Matt Damon to a daydream involving hypnotic iguanas to her son’s request that she buy a necklace to “be like the other moms,” Hollis holds nothing back. With unflinching faith and tenacity, Hollis spurs other women to live with passion and hustle and to awaken their slumbering goals.”

My Review: I’m having a really hard time writing a review about this book because I really do not know how I feel about it. I didn’t love it, and I didn’t hate it. It paled in comparison to the other memoirs I read this year so far (Educated and The Year of Less), but it was also entertaining. Sometimes I could not relate to the author (e.g. she is a Christian and talks openly about God, and I am not religious). Other times, I did relate to what she was saying, and I generally liked her “you go girl” attitude.

This book is by far not my favorite, but a solid 3 out of 5 stars.