Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas

Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My LifeLaura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life
by Shelley Tougas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We moved all the time, but always to real cities with malls and movie theaters and bus lines; never to a place like this, a land so quiet and empty the wind had nothing to blow. Rose was no help. She hadn’t wanted to leave Lexington, either, but she never complained. Mom and Rose were all sunshine, all the time, the Florida of moods.

At age 12, Charlotte is tired of moving from place to place. Most recently, her mother has brought Charlotte, her twin brother Freddy, and their younger sister Rose from Lexington, Kentucky, to Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Their mother wants to write a book about a prairie girl, and she’s decided the former hometown of Laura Ingalls (Wilder) is the place to do it. While Rose has always been relentlessly optimistic, like their mother, Charlotte has always had Freddy on her side, but something seems to be pulling him away from her now, too.

This contemporary novel explores the ideas of what home, family, and friendship mean, touching on experiences of racism and poverty, without feeling didactic. Charlotte is smart and prickly, trying to shield herself from being hurt by others by not letting others get close to her. Her first-person narration reveals her weaknesses as well as her strengths; there are moments you can see clearly that her perceptions are about to lead her astray, but you understand her feelings. Because of the limited perspective, some of the secondary characters, especially the adults, read flat and cartoonish, though.

But the book isn’t all inner conflict and introspection. There’s also a bit of a mystery that Charlotte has to solve that is fun for the reader, if not for the character. At various points throughout the book, the Ingalls family and the way they were portrayed in the beloved children’s books and television show are examined in light of historical facts in a way that may pique some readers’ interest to find out more.

There are quite a few references to events in the Little House books (can they really be called spoilers when the book is over 80 years old?), so be aware of that when recommending to young readers. And do recommend this book, because it is an entertaining contemporary read, told with humor and heart.

Source: Checked out from my public library (I had a NetGalley e-ARC, but I didn’t get to it in time!)

Challenges: None

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Down the TBR Hole #11

I started this post back in June, and then took an unplanned hiatus. But we’re back!

Down the TBR Hole was originally created over at Lost in a Story.

Most of you probably know this feeling, your Goodreads TBR pile keeps growing and growing and it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. You keep adding, but you add more than you actually read. And then when you’re scrolling through your list, you realize that you have no idea what half the books are about and why you added them. Well that’s going to change!

It works like this:

  • Go to your goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10, if you’re feeling adventurous) books
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?
  • Keep track of where you left off so you can pick up there next week!

Visit my to-read shelf to see how very far I still have to go!

The Lure of Long Distances by Robin Harvie
Published: April 1, 2011
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I love a good running memoir, especially ones from amateur athletes, so this sounded ideal. After reading some of the reviews, though, I don’t think I’m going to get to it.

Stay or Go? Go

The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear by Seth Mnookin
Published: January 25, 2011
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I’m pretty sure this book will make me both angry and sad, and I’m also pretty sure I need to read it.

Stay or Go? Stay

Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire by Simon Winchester
Published: December 31, 1985
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

As much as I <3 Simon Winchester, I’ve already listened to parts of the abridged audiobook edition, and I think I’m going to give this one a pass.

Stay or Go? Go

Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth by James M. Tabor
Published: January 1, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

The topic sounds so good, but the writing… not so much.

Stay or Go? Go

A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique & American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s by Stephanie Coontz
Published: June 30, 2008
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I should probably actually read The Feminine Mystique before this one, so I think it’s going to hang out in the TBR for a while yet.

Stay or Go? Stay

Taking My Life by Jane Rule
Published: October 11, 2011
On TBR Since: March 28, 2012

I’m a little apprehensive about this one because it was an unfinished manuscript published posthumously, which always gives me pause. But I think I’ll keep it.

Stay or Go? Stay

When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love and Revolution by Jeanne Cordova
Published: October 18, 2011
On TBR Since: March 28, 2012

A memoir of a turbulent – and not all that far in the past, really – time.

Stay or Go? Stay

Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past by Peter Boag
Published: August 2, 2011
On TBR Since: March 28, 2012

This looks like it’s going to be pretty academic (unsurprising, given it’s published by a university press), but still interesting.

Stay or Go? Stay

Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe by George Dyson
Published: January 1, 2012
On TBR Since: April 4, 2012

Another one where the idea sounds interesting, but it appears to be executed better elsewhere.

Stay or Go? Go

Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics by Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim
Published: March 2, 2012
On TBR Since: May 31, 2012

This still sounds like a pretty good cross-section of my interests.

Stay or Go? Stay

Four to go, six to stay. Chipping at the backlist, even though I’ve definitely added more than four books to the other end of the TBR in the last week.

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Down the TBR Hole #10

Down the TBR Hole was originally created over at Lost in a Story.

Most of you probably know this feeling, your Goodreads TBR pile keeps growing and growing and it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. You keep adding, but you add more than you actually read. And then when you’re scrolling through your list, you realize that you have no idea what half the books are about and why you added them. Well that’s going to change!

It works like this:

  • Go to your goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10, if you’re feeling adventurous) books
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?
  • Keep track of where you left off so you can pick up there next week!

My to-read shelf: 1052 titles

The Shakespeare Riots: Revenge, Drama, and Death in Nineteenth-Century America by Nigel Cliff

Published: April 17, 2007
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I’m just not feeling the need to read about the Astor Place Riot anymore.

Stay or Go? Go

The Book of William: How Shakespeare’s First Folio Conquered the World by Paul Collins

Published: July 1, 2009
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

On the other hand, I am still interested in the story of the First Folio. (Thanks again, Book Riot.)

Stay or Go? Stay

The Return to Judaism: Descendants from the Inquisition Discovering Their Jewish Roots by Sandra Malamed

Published: November 15, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I’m still interested in the topic, but not this particular book.

Stay or Go? Go

The Big Bang Symphony: A Novel of Antarctica by Lucy Jane Bledsoe

Published: May 6, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

A little contemporary Antarctic fiction to go with all the non-fiction history.

Stay or Go? Stay

Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages by Guy Deutscher

Published: August 31, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I’m a little on the fence with this one, but I think it’ll stay. For now.

Stay or Go? Stay

Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms & a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories by Simon Winchester

Published: October 27, 2009
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

Simon Winchester is one of my automatic TBR non-fiction writers.

Stay or Go? Stay

Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People by Jon Entine

Published: October 24, 2007
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

Another one where the topic sounds interesting, but not this particular book.

Stay or Go? Go

You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers

Published: October 1, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I actually started reading this at one point, and couldn’t get into it.

Stay or Go? Go

Descartes’ Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human by Paul Bloom

Published: April 27, 2005
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I’m pretty sure I started reading this at one point, too. And I think I may have had it confused with a different book.

Stay or Go? Go

Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything by Stephen Baker

Published: January 1, 2011
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I watched the Jennings/Rutter/Watson match on tv, and I’m interested in the history of the machine

Stay or Go? Stay

Five to go, five to stay. Chipping away at the TBR. New to-read shelf: 1047 titles.

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Getting Old is Murder by Rita Lakin

Getting Old Is Murder (Gladdy Gold, #1)Getting Old Is Murder by Rita Lakin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hello. Let me introduce myself. I’m Gladdy Gold. Actually, Gladys. I’m a self-proclaimed P.I. That’s right, a private eye. Operating out of Fort Lauderdale.

When did I get into the P.I. biz? As we speak. My credentials? More than thirty years of reading mysteries. Miss Marple and Miss Silver are my heroines.

At age 75, retired librarian Gladys “Gladdy” Gold lives in Lanai Gardens, a Florida “retirement community” condo development. With her circle of friendly neighbors (including her younger sister), she enjoys a regular routine of walking, sitting by the pool, Publix shopping trips, canasta games, and other everyday activities. Lanai Gardens is a community unto itself, with everyone into one another’s business, so Gladdy fills the reader in on the goings-on in everyone’s life. Life that seems pretty predictable until ladies start dying right before their birthdays, and Gladdy quickly begins to suspect foul play.

This is a quick-moving book, with short chapters and snappy observations. It’s easy to hear Gladdy’s New York twang in her short sentences and wry humor. She is the gossipy great-aunt you didn’t know you had, but she is ready to sweep you up into her world and make you at home. Interspersed with the first-person chapters narrated by Gladdy, there are a few chapters that take a third-person perspective to reveal events that she doesn’t yet know the details of. With the murders presented on the page this way, the reader actually has more clues to the mystery than the book’s amateur sleuth does.

I picked this book up as part of my current obsession with cozy mysteries, and because it would qualify for Read Harder 2018 task 23: A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60. It almost qualified for the one-sitting book task, since I read nearly all of it on a flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta. (And I already fulfilled that task with The Grownup.) It’s a fun read, and I like the quirky characters, and I really enjoyed the way it manages to echo the small-town settings so frequently found in cozies without taking place in a real (fictional) small town. It stands out, too, for the fact that Gladdy isn’t a newcomer to the community, like many cozy mystery protagonists; she’s been living in Lanai Gardens for years. The book is the first in a series, so if you enjoy it, there’s more to come!

Source: Ebook checked out from my public library
Challenges: Counts for Read Harder 2018 (Task #23: A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60)

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Ten Books I’m Looking Forward to in June

Ten of the books on my TBR coming out in June (I seem to have skipped May. This month has been weird, y’all.) that I’m especially looking forward to:

President Bill Clinton and bestselling novelist James Patterson have written a spellbinding thriller, The President is Missing.

The President Is Missing
Bill Clinton and James Patterson
(June 4)

Do I really need to know more than that? No, not really.

 

Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home begins at the grave of Katagiri Roshi, Natalie’s Zen teacher, in Japan. Twenty years after Katagiri’s death and Natalie’s return to New Mexico, she is permanently settled in Santa Fe with her partner, Yukwan. Except that, as Buddhism teaches us, nothing is permanent.

Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home: A Memoir
Natalie Goldberg
(June 5)

Natalie Goldberg is one of my favorite writers-on-writing.

 

In 1587, 115 men, women, and children arrived on Roanoke, an island off the coast of North Carolina. Chartered by Queen Elizabeth I, their colony was to establish a foothold for England in the New World. But by the time the colony’s leader, John White, returned to Roanoke from a resupply mission in England, his settlers were nowhere to be found. They had vanished into the wilderness, leaving behind only a single clue–the word “Croatoan” carved into a tree.

The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke
Andrew Lawler
(June 5)

At first glance, I thought this was going to be a novel about Roanoke. But it is not. It is a non-fiction look at what might have happened, how archaeologists are trying to figure it out, and the way the Lost Colony has entered the popular consciousness.

 

Nora Tucker is looking forward to summer vacation in Wolf Creek–two months of swimming, popsicles, and brushing up on her journalism skills for the school paper. But when two inmates break out of the town’s maximum security prison, everything changes.

Breakout
by Kate Messner
(June 5)

I’m always up for a new Kate Messner book.

 

Tea and books: the perfect pairing. There’s nothing quite like sitting down to a good book on a lovely afternoon with a steaming cup of tea beside you, as you fall down the rabbit hole into the imaginative worlds of Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, and Sherlock Holmes . . .

A Literary Afternoon Tea: 55 Recipes for Savory Nibbles, Bite-Sized Sweets, and Custom Teas for Book Lovers
Alison Walsh
(June 5)

I prefer the title on the cover image, so I hope that’s the one they’re going with. I’m not sure “want to read” is quite right, since it’s a cookbook. But I’m definitely looking forward to paging through this one. Books! Tea!

 

When Katie Met Cassidy is a romantic comedy that explores how, as a culture, while we may have come a long way in terms of gender equality, a woman’s capacity for an entitlement to sexual pleasure still remain entirely taboo. This novel tackles the question: Why, when it comes to female sexuality, are so few women figuring out what they want and then going out and doing it?

When Katie Met Cassidy
Camille Perri
(June 19)

That actually sounds rather serious, but I’ve seen this book characterized as “a rom-com with two women”, which I am totally here for.

 

[…]But a few days later Kate receives a call from the police–Cordelia has been found dead on the mansion property, and Kate is all-but certain that her name is high on the suspect list. She finds herself juggling the murder investigation and her growing fascination with the magnificent old house that turns out to be full of long-hidden mysteries itself. Kate knows she must clear her name and save her town–before she ends up behind bars.

Murder at the Mansion (Victorian Village Mysteries #1)
Sheila Connolly
(June 26)

New cozy mystery series! (The name Kat(i)e certainly seems to be popular in fiction these days.)

 

For all the scores of biographies of Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the most famous detective in the world, there is no recent book that tells this remarkable story–in which Conan Doyle becomes a real-life detective on an actual murder case. In Conan Doyle for the Defense, Margalit Fox takes us step by step inside Conan Doyle’s investigative process and illuminates a murder mystery that is also a morality play for our time–a story of ethnic, religious, and anti-immigrant bias.

Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World’s Most Famous Detective Writer
Margalit Fox
(June 26)

I read and liked Julian Barnes’ Arthur & George, and I’m really looking forward to a non-fiction account of a different case in which Sir Arthur took on the detective role. If I hadn’t already zipped through The Feather Thief, this probably would’ve been by Read Harder Challenge book for the True Crime Task.

 

In this exciting historical mystery debut set in Victorian England, a wealthy young widow encounters the pleasures—and scandalous pitfalls—of a London social season . . .

A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder (A Countess of Harleigh Mystery #1)
Dianne Freeman
(June 26)

Victorian-set historical mystery. Debut in a new series. Yes, please.

 

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1)
Rebecca Roanhorse
(June 26)

Post-climate-apocalypse fiction set in the southwest, featuring a Native woman who clearly is ready to kick butt and take names. Look at that cover. I’ve already placed my library hold.

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Down the TBR Hole #9

Down the TBR Hole was originally created over at Lost in a Story.

Most of you probably know this feeling, you’re Goodreads TBR pile keeps growing and growing and it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. You keep adding, but you add more than you actually read. And then when you’re scrolling through your list, you realize that you have no idea what half the books are about and why you added them. Well that’s going to change!

It works like this:

  • Go to your goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10, if you’re feeling adventurous) books
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?
  • Keep track of where you left off so you can pick up there next week!

My to-read shelf: 1050 titles

Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life by Stephanie Staal

Published: January 31, 2011
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

The reviews on this one are pretty rough. Probably best to skip the memoir and just read those books instead.

Stay or Go? Go

Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz

Published: May 18, 2005
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

My wife and I were married in a church ceremony in 2005; the state of California joined the party three years later. (And then left the party, and then came back, thanks to a US Supreme Court ruling – that was an interesting little roller coaster.) This still looks like good reading.

Stay or Go? Stay

All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age by Hubert L. Dreyfus

Published: January 4, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

The gaps in my reading are large and strange. Name a classic, and it’s entirely possible I haven’t read it. (Unless it’s Shakespeare, which I took more than one college course on.) Not out of any conscious aversion; I seem to have had an unusual high school required reading list. And while I took a comparative literature survey course on “Masterpieces of Western Culture”, we read selections from anthologies, not whole works. So, I have a back-burner project of actually reading The Classics, and this book looked like it might be helpful. The reviews on it are definitely love-it-or-hate-it, though, and it looks like it’s not quite what I want.

Every time I look at that cover, I think of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Poor whale.

Stay or Go? Go

On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits by Wray Herbert

Published: January 1, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

A little pop-neuroscience.

Stay or Go? Stay

Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession by Craig Childs

Published: January 1, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

The subject is interesting, but I don’t think this is one for me.

Stay or Go? Go

Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality by Patricia S. Churchland

Published: January 1, 2011
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012
More neuroscience. Yep.

Stay or Go? Stay

 

Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed by Sally M. Walker

Published: October, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

Antarctica. For kids.

Stay or Go? Stay

 

Peace Is Every Breath: A Practice for Our Busy Lives by Thích Nhất Hạnh

Published: January 1, 2011
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

Stay or Go? Stay

 

Scott, Shackleton, and Amundsen: Ambition and Tragedy in the Antarctic by David Thomson

Published: 1977
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

An older book on the Heroic Age of Exploration. I actually don’t think I need to read this particular one.

Stay or Go? Go

 

Nomansland by Lesley Hauge

Published: June 15, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I keep thinking this book is older than it is. Possibly, I have it confused with another book.

Stay or Go? Go

 

5 out, 5 stay in. New to-read shelf: 1045 titles.

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You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly

You Go FirstYou Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard balanced an unopened Dr Pepper upright on her hand and thought: This is what it feels like to hold my dad’s heart.

She’d read online that the heart weighed about twelve ounces.

Same as the Dr Pepper.

(Somebody should probably mention to Charlotte that there’s a difference between ounces (mass) and fluid ounces (volume). Although Google tells me that a 12-ounce can of soda weighs about 13-14 ounces, so it’s pretty close!)

I’d been especially looking forward to this book since reading Kelly’s Newbery-winning Hello, Universe in February. This book has much of the charm of that book, with its painfully realistic middle-schoolers, but without the magical realism that was a part of Virgil’s story.

Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard is dealing with her dad’s sudden health problem and the way her best friend seems to be drifting away from her now that they’ve started the seventh grade. Eleven-year-old Ben Boxer has just found out his parents are divorcing, and he doesn’t know how to talk to them about the troubles he’s been having fit in at middle school. Charlotte and Ben play online Scrabble against each other regularly. It’s their only interaction: Charlotte lives in Pennsylvania, and Ben lives in Louisiana. They’ve never met in person. But they have more in common than they think, and they might just be able to help one another.

Kelly captures the agonies of middle school perfectly – as a mom myself, I just wanted to hug both Charlotte and Ben. Their struggles are so familiar. At an age when they’re just starting to figure out who they are, the world seems to be suddenly rearranging itself all around them. The chapters alternate perspective between Charlotte and Ben, revealing the parallels in their lives to the reader before they really connect with other as more than word game adversaries. They’re both smart and awkward, and there are a lot of kids who will recognize themselves. Like in Hello, Universe, there isn’t a lot of action on the page; the development is emotional and psychological rather than physical. For those who enjoy character-driven stories, though, it’s a gem.

Source: Checked out from the public library

Challenges: None.

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Round-Up Review: The ScotShop Mysteries

A Wee Murder in My Shop (Scotshop Mystery, #1) A Wee Dose of Death (ScotShop Mystery #2) A Wee Homicide in the Hotel (ScotShop Mystery #3)

A Wee Murder in My Shop by Fran Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Wee Dose of Death by Fran Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Wee Homicide in the Hotel by Fran Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As with the Gethsemane Brown books, I’m putting up one review for all three of these. I read all three of the span of five days, so they’re sort of a single entity in my head at this point.

Those Gethsemane Brown books seem to have sent me down a major rabbit hole of cozy mysteries, by the way. Specifically, it seems, cozies with ghosts in them. I did not see that coming, frankly.

Peggy Winn lives in Hamelin, Vermont, where she runs the ScotShop, selling all things Scottish to tourists. She makes regular visits to the Perthshire town of Pitlochry to purchase authentic Scottish wares for her stock. At the opening of the first book, she’s particularly glad to get on that transatlantic flight, because she’s just discovered her (now ex-)boyfriend in bed with her (now ex-)best friend. While in Scotland, she happens upon a strange shop and purchases a lovely tartan shawl, which she soon discovers comes with a genuine Scottish ghost. Macbeath Donlevy Freusach Macearacher Macpheidiran of clan Farquharson, deceased circa 1359, to be precise. She nicknames him Dirk.

Peggy returns to Hamelin, ghost in tow, to discover her ex-boyfriend is now her late ex-boyfriend – he’s been murdered overnight inside her shop. In the grand tradition of cozy mysteries, Peggy takes on the task of unmasking the murderer, since the local police chief is not exactly pursuing all leads.

In the second book, the local police chief is still thoroughly unhelpful, and Peggy (and Dirk) take on the task of figuring out who killed a local college professor in a deserted mountain cabin. Once that mystery is solved, the third book brings the Highland Games to Hamelin, along with (yet another) murder for Peggy and Dirk to investigate.

This appears to be a three-book series, without a fourth installment on the horizon. Which is a bit of a shame, since it seems poor Dirk will never actually get to reunite with his own Peigi or otherwise get to rest in peace.

I found the series charming, with its slightly eccentric small-town characters. The interactions between Dirk and Peggy, fraught with communication difficulties due to the seven centuries of linguistic development between their respective versions of English, in addition to cultural differences, are entertaining. Peggy’s relationships with the secondary characters round out the story and provide some interesting glimpses into parts of her life not revealed on the page. It is some of the loose ends of those threads that have me rather hoping for another sequel.

Also, I kind of want a Scottie dog now.

Source: Checked out the first book as an e-book from my public library via Libby; borrowed the second and third in paperback form from the library.

Reading Challenges: None. I’m ignoring the glares coming from Mt. TBR over there.

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The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the CenturyThe Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century
by Kirk W. Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 2009, Edwin Rist, age 20, American student flautist at the Royal Academy of Music, broke into an outpost of the British Museum and stole hundreds of preserved birds. Among the haul were scientific samples gathered in the 1800s by Alfred Russel Wallace, painstakingly labeled with data about where and when they were obtained. Priceless to researchers, the birds – or, more precisely, their brightly-colored feathers – were worth thousands of dollars to a select group: Victorian salmon fly-tying enthusiasts. When Kirk Wallace Johnson heard about the heist two years later, during a difficult time in his own life, the case gave him something to focus his energy on. Why did Rist do it? What happened afterward? And where, exactly, were those hundreds of birds?

Johnson opens the book with Rist in the middle of the burglary, then jumps back to the history of the birds and their collector, Alfred Russel Wallace, the Tring Museum and its beginnings as the private collection of Walter Rothschild, and the nineteenth-century “Feather Fever” and birth of the hobby of tying salmon flies to exacting standards. He chronicles Rist’s life as the homeschooled tween learns about and becomes obsessed with fly-tying, becomes famous among his fellow hobbyists, and heads to London with his flute. He covers the official investigation as well as his own inquiries into what exactly happened and how. It reads like a novel, introducing characters and backstories while briskly developing the plot. End notes detail his sources, including official records and personal interviews with key figures.

This book sounded interesting from the first time I heard about it – a feather-stealing flautist? Victorian fly-tying masters buying and selling black-market bird parts? It did not disappoint. In my paperback ARC, the photo section was black-and-white and not great quality, so I was very happy to discover the photo gallery on Johnson’s site. This is definitely my kind of true crime book!

Source: ARC borrowed from a friend (thanks, CG!)

Reading Challenges: Counts for Read Harder 2018 (Task #2: A book of true crime)

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