Daisy Jones & The Six

Rating:
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Genres: Fiction, Historical fiction
Pub. date: Mar. 5, 2019 (read Mar. 2019 on Audible

I did everything I could to get my hands on an early copy of Daisy Jones & The Six, but friends, I’m so glad I was unsuccessful because that would have deprived me of the joy of listening to this as an audiobook! I usually prefer to read fiction that I think I’m going to love as a paperback because it’s almost never quite as good as an audiobook. But this is one case where I would absolutely recommend reading the audiobook! Audible sold me on this book with the 5 minute sample because it’s read with a full cast, meaning a different voice actor is cast for every single character! It adds so much life to the story when every character is read by a different person and I really felt like listening to this book was an experience in itself. It also works particularly well as an audiobook because the story is written as an “oral history”, meaning almost the entire book is dialogue from the characters as they recount the story. So absolutely read the audiobook, you will not regret it!

For a little background; Taylor Jenkins Reid is the author of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which was published in 2017 and took the book world by storm in 2018. I read it with my book club and LOVED it, so I was really excited to finally get my hands on this book. Daisy Jones & The Six is set in present day, but tells the story of the rise to fame of fictional rock band, Daisy Jones & The Six in the 1970’s, leading up to the break up of the band in 1979 at the height of their popularity. No one knows the true story of why the band broke-up, but for the first time, the members of the band have agreed to tell their story. So the whole thing reads like an MTV-type documentary, where an interviewer has compiled everyone’s accounts of the band’s rise to fame and break-up to finally give readers the full story.

What makes it so interesting is that because the story actually happened 40 years in the past, the band members are, of course, fuzzy on some of the details and many of their stories contradict one another. Because we don’t really know the truth or the motivations of each of each of the characters (some might be motivated to lie for example), it’s up to the reader to decide where the truth actually lies, which the interviewer postulates, is likely somewhere in the middle.

I can see how this book wouldn’t be for everyone – I personally don’t care about 1970’s rock and roll, although I can see how this topic would be an incentive to pick up this book for other readers – but I was captivated from start to finish! I thought the way Jenkins Reid crafted the story was brilliant, as was her writing. Any author that can tell a story this well written and crafted is definitely talented. Plus the voice actors should really be commended because they did a wonderful job capturing the angst and emotion of each character. This is one book I would recommend listening to at normal speed because the actors really are quite talented and absolutely bring this story to life.

One of the best parts of this book is just how real the characters feel. Dialogue can be tricky to write and some authors are just not good at it. But I genuinely felt like every single one of these characters was a real person and it’s hard to believe that Daisy Jones & The Six are not actually a real band. It’s hard to believe someone could bring music that doesn’t even exist to life in such a real way in a book. The most upsetting part is that none of the music in the book actually exists, because I wanted so badly to be able and go and listen to the album that Daisy and Billy wrote together. I kept thinking during the book that the band reminded me of Fleetwood Mac, even though I don’t even know very much about Fleetwood Mac, but I have heard that some of the story is loosely based on that band, although I’m not sure how much truth there is to that rumour.

The overall story is not that different from any other rock story. It has many of the same themes that we regularly see in stories about musicians. The book is filled with sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but the characters and their relationships are really what bring the story to life. However, while the general themes were pretty standard, I did not find the plot predictable. So many of these kinds of stories involve drug abuse and forbidden relationships that tear our artists apart – this book had those elements, yet it still felt fresh and surprising.

Daisy Jones was a solo artist and The Six was a 6-person rock band led by singer Billy Dunne. Both achieved some level of success on their own, but together they were magic. Daisy and Billy had a tumultuous relationship. They both had very strong personalities and opinions about the music they wanted to create, but when they were able to work together, what they created was magical. Likewise, a distinct personality emerged for each of the individual band members and the producers and family members that surrounded the band. I loved the dynamic between Daisy, Billy, and Camila, as well as the dynamics between other band members such as Karen and Graham, Eddie and Billy, and Teddy and Billy. Plus each character had a really well developed sense of self and struggled as much with their own personal demons as they did with the people around them.

I loved the evolution of each character. Everyone had great personality traits and everyone had flaws. You’d start off loving a character, then find them to be quite unlikable, before finally understanding what they’re going through and liking them again. I’ve heard reviews that some people loved Daisy Jones, while others hated her. I was firmly in the middle. She definitely had a spirit that was to be commended, especially for a woman in the 70’s, but she was also undeniably privileged and entitled and often made bad decisions.

Likewise, I loved and hated Billy. Billy had an obvious conflict with Daisy, but his character was really driven by his personal conflict and fight with addiction. Daisy and Billy definitely brought out each other’s flaws, but they also helped one another to grow in ways they never would have without each other.

I’ve heard some people call this a love story, but it was never really a love story for me. It was more a story about people and relationships. Relationships were central to the story, but it wasn’t always about love. It was also about the power of music as a method of expression and the different ways that we express ourselves and learn and grow from our mistakes. Although I will say, I always look for love triangles where you love everyone in the triangle because I think it brings so much more emotion to a story when you want all 3 characters to be happy, but you know only 2 of them will be together. Daisy Jones & The Six has that kind of love story and it will tear your heart out, but it’s so much more interesting to read about.

There’s more men than women in the story – we’re limited pretty much to Daisy, Karen, and Camila as our female characters – but I loved every single one of them. Daisy had a lot of faults, but I loved how unapologetic she was. She refused to be anyone but who she was and even though she was portrayed by the media as a sex icon, she was an icon on her own terms. She dressed for herself and made decisions for herself, she was always focused on her own gaze rather than those around her. But I loved that Jenkins Reid also drew attention to her privilege. She never really had to work for anything and I loved how her character was challenged throughout the book, both as a musician and as a person.

Karen was probably my favourite female character though and I loved how Judy Greer portrayed her in the audiobook. Karen was another character who knew what she wanted and what she didn’t want and she was never going to apologize for it. Her character was in contrast to what most people would expect from a woman in this era and I loved the way the author contrasted Karen and Camila. Karen wanted to be a successful musician, she was interested in love and sex, but never at the expense of her career, she was comfortable being alone, and she never wanted kids. In contrast, Camila was happy to sit back and support Billy as a musician. She wanted nothing more than to be a mother, and though it was hard, she was content in her life and trusted her husband.

They were both completely different people, who had very different thoughts on what they wanted to achieve in life, but they were best friends and neither was threatened by the other’s ambitions and how they differed. I think a lot of mothers are threatened by women who don’t want kids. I don’t really know why, it’s a personal decision and both are right. But Camila was never threatened by Karen’s differing values and never tried to convince her to feel otherwise. They both accepted and respected the others desires.

I don’t want to spoil what happened to break up the band, but I really liked that it was never really about one specific thing. It was a culmination of all the different relationships in the band. There were different catalysts for different people and I loved how this was a study of all of the band members rather than just Billy and Daisy.

I want to get into some spoilers now, so I’ll just say I absolutely loved this book from start to finish and would highly recommend the audiobook! If you haven’t read it yet, tap out now to avoid spoilers, if you have, let’s keep going!

SPOILERS BELOW

So first of all, because I was just talking about Karen and Camila, I want to say that I loved the abortion scene in this book. It was lovely to see a woman put in a tough situation, but confident enough in herself and her dreams to make the right decision for herself and to not regret it. Karen understood that she wouldn’t have the same luxury to continue her career as Billy and Graham would have if they all were parents. Graham clearly didn’t understand and as much as I liked the two of them as a couple, they weren’t meant to be. I also loved that Jenkins Reid took the typical gender dynamic and flipped it in Karen and Graham’s relationship. So often it’s the girl chasing after the guy, but I loved that Karen was one of the few women portrayed as actually being comfortable alone. I loved how she was contrasted to Camila in terms of their personal goals, and how she was also contrasted to Daisy, who hated being alone.

Finally, I want to talk about that killer spoiler at the end where we discover that the person interviewing the band is actually Julia, Billy’s daughter, and that Camila has passed on since being interviewed. The interviewer tells us at the beginning that some of the individuals have sadly passed on, so at first you’re kind of expecting the typical tragic “musician dies from drug abuse and overdoes” story, but because everyone is being interviewed, you understand that means they’re all still alive. It’s not until later that you realize Teddy was never interviewed because he passed away in the late 70’s. Then we’re thrown for a total loop when we discover Camila passed away mid-interview and that the interviewer is actually hers and Billy’s daughter.

To be honest, I didn’t think that much of it, I was just like, okay, that’s kind of weird, but whatever, doesn’t change that much, just makes it seem weird that everyone was talking about her and her parents in the third person. But I watched Hannah’s (A Clockwork Reader) review on Youtube and she brought up a great point about how that shines a different light on absolutely everything that precluded it. Keeping in mind that everyone is telling their story to Billy’s daughter would absolutely change how they would tell their story and should make us question even further what the actual truth is.

It explains why no one every really says anything bad about Camlia, because people don’t really talk bad of the dead and it makes you wonder what Daisy and Billy’s relationship actually was like since it was probably really difficult for them to discuss the topic with Billy’s daughter. Throughout the whole book, I thought that Billy and Daisy had great chemistry, but I was somewhat surprised with their love story. Billy seemed to genuinely love Camila and Billy and Daisy both hated each other on so many different occasions, that it made you wonder if the music was really enough for them to overcome that. But knowing they’re telling their story to Julia paints everything in a different light and kind of makes me want to go back and listen to the whole thing again.

It speaks volumes about Taylor Jenkins Reid’s talent. She really did bring these characters to life in the most impressive way, it’s genuinely a bit jarring to me that none of these people are real. There were no throw-away characters, even annoying characters like Eddie were still incredibly relatable. A lot of the characters made bad decisions, but they were so well developed, it was easy to understand why they made the decisions they did.

Phew, well that was the quite the review and I think it’s actually made me appreciate the book even more than I did when I finished. I love when writing a review helps you confirm how you actually felt about a book and this review definitely helped me. I also love when a book makes you feel so much you can write a review this long. So definitely check out this book and audiobook. I know some people haven’t been loving this book as much as they hoped, but I definitely did!

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Bookish Academy Awards Tag

I love watching and reading people’s lists for this tag every year, so this year I decided to jump on the bandwagon and do the tag myself! It’s basically a list of all the awards at the Academy Awards, but for the books I read in 2018. I’ll be picking my winners from all the books I read in 2018, not just the ones that were published in 2018. So I have a total of 120 books to pick from and you can see my full list here if you’re interested. I’ve done my best to avoid selecting the same book for multiple categories, but in some cases I felt the same book really was the best pick for both awards. Here we go:

Best Male Protagonist (Best Actor)

Winner: Bitty from Check Please!: #Hockey

Reason: He’s a gay hockey player who loves to bake and make people feel good! What’s not to love?!

Runner ups: Prince Cas from Ruined, Radu from Bright We Burn, Cormoran Strike from Lethal White

Best Female Protagonist (Best Actress):

Winner: Morrigan Crow from Wundersmith

Reason: She is brave and perseveres though she is alienated at her school. She just wants to be accepted and be a good friend.

Runner ups: Kimberly from Girl in Translation, Felicity from The Ladies Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, Maddy from Code Name Verity

Best Male Sidekick (Best Supporting Actor):

Winner: Axel from The Astonishing Color of After

Reason: He is so sweet and such a good friend! He is always there for Leigh and understands when she needs some personal time.

Runner ups: Mitch from Vicious/Vengeful, all the boys in Fence, Benji from Us Against You

Best Female Sidekick (Best Supporting Actress):

Winner: Kitty from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Reason: She has such a great personality and she loves her sisters. She made me laugh so much and I loved her energy!

Runner ups: Amari from Children of Blood and Bone, Sheilagh Fielding from The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Rosa from Rose Under Fire

Best Writer you discovered for the first time (Best Director):

Winner: K.A. Tucker

Reason: I read her newest book, The Simple Wild and fell in love with her writing, characters, and setting!

Runner ups: Alice Oseman (Radio Silence), Emma Hooper (Our Homesick Songs), Courtney Summers (Sadie)

Best Plot Twist (Best Cinematography):

Winner: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Reason: There are a ton of crazy plot twists and I didn’t see any of them coming! Blew my book club’s mind!

Runner ups: The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager, The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

Best Action in a Book (Best Visual Effects):

Winner: Ruined by Amy Tintera

Reason: It is so fast-paced, it just throws you into the action right away and it never stops!

Runner ups: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang, Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Best Book Cover (Best Costume Design):

Winner: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Reason: LOOK AT IT! This is my first repeat, but I am just so in love with how beautiful this is and all the colours – I had to pick it!

Runner ups: Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper, The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Best Audiobook (Best Musical Score):

Winner: Joanne Froggatt in Wuthering Heights

Reason: Froggatt is an accomplished actress and she did a wonderful job with all the accents and drawing me into the story!

Runner ups: Kyla Garcia in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Phoebe Robinson in Everything’s Trash, but it’s Okay, Rebekkah Ross in The Nowhere Girls

Most Unique Plot/World (Best Original Screenplay):

Winner: Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

Reason: I am obsessed with everything about this series. I love the world-building, the plot, and all the characters.

Runner ups: Women Talking by Miriam Toews, The Poppy War by R.F. Huang, Sadie by Courtney Summers

Best Book to Movie Adaptation (Best Adapted Screenplay):

Winner: Love Simon

Reason: I actually liked this more than the book. The acting, storyline, and soundtrack were all amazing! Technically I didn’t read the book, Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda, this year, but I did see the movie!

Runner ups: To All the Boys I Loved Before by Jenny Han on Netflix

Best Graphic Novel (Best Animated Feature):

Winner: Fence by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad

Reason: So much wonderful character development in this series! Somehow these authors succeeded in making fencing super interesting!

Runner ups: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, Check Please!: #Hockey by Ngozi Ukazu

Best Novella or Short Book (Best Short Film):

Winner: Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Reason: Unique storytelling that demonstrates women’s ability to find solace, humour, and healing in one another.

Runner ups: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, Songs of a Sourdough by Robert W. Service

Best Historical Fiction (Best Documentary):

Winner: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Reason: The writing, the setting, the characters, and the story are all so captivating and richly developed.

Runner ups: Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Best Standalone (Best Picture):

Winner: Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper

Reason: The writing is magical and transporting. I loved this mix of historical fiction and magical realism.

Runner ups: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker, Women Talking by Miriam Toews

My Favourite Audiobooks

I started listening to audiobooks about a year and a half ago, so I’m still pretty new to them, but I’ve read around 30 audiobooks and wanted to take some time to highlight some of my favourites. I think audiobooks face additional challenges in being well liked and rated because not only does the writing have to hold up to being read aloud (sometimes writing styles just do not sound as good aloud as they do written) and it has to have a good narrator. Narrator is so important and you’ll notice that the narrator played a key role in my enjoyment of some of my favourite audiobooks.

Before I dive into my list, I just want to say that I believe that reading an Audiobook is no different than reading a paperback book or an e-book. I consider both of them to be reading. There’s some reading purists out there who don’t think audiobooks count as reading, to which I say, that is very privileged of you. Audiobooks open up the world of reading to so many more people who may struggle with reading physical books for various reasons, and I can only see that as a good thing. Anyways, without further ado, here is my list (in no particular order):

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed (read by Rebekkah Ross)

The perfect example of a good story paired with a good narrator. The Nowhere Girls features 3 main characters, all with very different perspectives and life experiences. Grace, Erin, and Rosina are all high school students in the same school where their former classmate was basically driven out of town when she accused one of the school’s football team of raping her at a party. When the girls find out that other women have had similar experiences, they band together to seek justice. It’s very diverse and I highly recommend to young adults.

Not That Bad by Roxane Gay (read by various writers)

Not That Bad is an anthology of essays written by various writers about rape culture. The essays were collected and edited by Roxane Gay and represent an extremely diverse mix of stories and perspectives. The premise of this book is that we need to talk more about rape culture and that sometimes we suppress our stories out of a feeling that they’re not as bad as what happened to someone else or not bad enough to warrant making a fuss about. This collection re-iterates the idea that it is all that bad and that all stories deserve to be told and heard.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (read by Joanne Froggatt)

If you regularly read my blog, you’ll know that I became totally obsessed with Wuthering Heights and Joanne Froggatt this year. I didn’t expect to like this classic, but Joanne Froggatt does such a FANTASTIC job narrating this that I became totally enthralled with the audiobook. Froggatt’s narration is an Audible exclusive, so you will have to go to Audible if you want to listen to this version. But it is worth it because she does such an excellent job at bringing this classic to life. Audible is also a really good service, despite being a little expensive.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez (read by Kyla Garcia)

A lot a people have mixed feelings about this book. The main character is pretty unlikable, which hampers some people’s enjoyment, but I’ve come to the conclusion over the last year or two that I tend to like books with unlikable characters. Julia is the daughter of Mexican immigrants who is grieving the death of her older sister, Olga. Her grief makes her very confrontational and she pushes back against her friends, teachers, and parents. I understand why people don’t like it, but I thought it was such an accurate portrayal of a teenager suffering from grief and the expectations of her parents. I’m also obsessed with Kyla Garcia’s reading of this book. I thought she did such a wonderful job capturing Julia’s character and tone and it made this book so much more enjoyable.

Everything’s Trash, But it’s Okay by Phoebe Robinson (read by Phoebe Robinson)

I love books that are actually read by the author. This is Phoebe’s second book and I thought it she really stepped in up in this one. It’s a series of essays about America, Phoebe’s life, and what it means to be a black women in America. Phoebe is famous for her podcast with Jessica Williams, Two Dope Queens, so she’s a pro at being recorded and it shows. She is extremely funny and woke and really, who better to narrate your audiobook than you. This book is worth reading for her essay on White Feminism alone. A funny and thoughtful collection.

What Happened by Hillary Clinton (read by Hillary Clinton)

This audiobook is perhaps a little dated now (crazy considering it only came out a year and a half ago), but I still recommend it because it made me cry and stoked my righteous anger. I’m sure everyone knows this is Hillary’s perspective of what happened in the 2016 election, which at this point seems a little bit like, who cares anymore. But I think it is so important for us to try and understand what did happen in that controversial election and the gender and societal prejudices that worked against Hillary so that we can aim not to repeat those mistakes in the next election. 5 women have already announced they will be running for president in the primaries and we need to make sure that we support, critique, and hold them accountable in fair and equitable ways. Though Hillary didn’t win, she inched the door open that much further for the women coming behind her.

One Day We’ll All be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Saachi Koul (read by Saachi Koul)

A lesser known essay book written and read by Buzzfeed writer and Indian-Canadian immigrant, Saachi Koul. I didn’t really know anything about Saachi, but I ended up really liking her collection of essays on what it means to be the daughter of Indian immigrants and the struggle of reconciling that with also being a Canadian millennial who grew up with a different set of values and interests. I always appreciate a good book by a Canadian author and I thought this collection had a really good balance of funny, but thoughtful, essays.

The Feather Thief by Kirk W. Johnson (read by MacLeod Andrews)

This is the oddest book selection for me. It’s about an avid fly-tier (someone who makes “fly-ties” for fly fishing to attract fish) who broke into the British Museum and made off with 300 rare bird specimens so that he could use and sell their feathers for fly-tying. It’s an odd topic and one of the weirder heists I’ve heard about, but the book was absolutely fascinating! It’s not a long book and I listened to the entire thing in a single weekend because I was so entranced in the world of fly-tiers and naturalists. The author seeks to understand what happened to the stolen feathers and gives us lots of background on fly-tying and the scientific value of the stolen birds so that the reader can better understand both worlds. The narrator was terribly bad at accents, but otherwise did a great job.

 

Special Mentions:

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (read by Emily Rankin and Catherine Taber)

I’ve listened to a bunch of historical fiction audiobooks and most of them have not translated well into audiobooks. Before We Were Yours is the best one I’ve read and had a strong narrator and a really interesting, but dark, story.

 

 

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal (read by Meera Syal)

I didn’t love the ending of this book because I felt it tried to tackle too much in one short book. But the narrator for the audiobook is fantastic and with the exception of the ending, the story is really funny and interesting.

 

Top 5 Reads of 2018

This is the companion post to my Top 10 Books of 2018, which features my favourite reads of the year that were actually published in 2018. This post will feature my top 5 books of the year that weren’t published in 2018. This works out well for me because its hard to narrow it down to just 10 books and the majority of the books I read are new releases. So here’s my top 5 reads of 2018 in no particular order:

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

You know how sometimes you read a book and you really like it, but then the more time passes, the more unsure you are of whether you actually liked it as much as you thought? This book was the opposite of that for me. I really liked it when I read it, but the further removed I’ve gotten from reading it, the better I think I actually like it. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter tells the story of Julia, the teenage daughter of Mexican immigrants, and how she deals with the death of her older sister Olga. I know some people aren’t a fan of this book because honestly, Julia is super unlikable and confrontational in the story, but I thought it was such an accurate portrayal of a raging, rebellious, grieving teenager. Julia is struggling with accepting the death of her sister, who was the perfect daughter in her parents eyes, and she acts out against her parents traditional Mexican values. She struggles to understand her parents and her parents struggle to understand her. It’s ultimately a coming of age story about grief and the struggles of immigrant families. I listened to it as an audiobook and I would highly recommend this format – the narrator was fantastic and the whole reading experience was super enjoyable, despite the heavy topics.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

This was probably my most unexpected read of the year. I set an informal goal for myself to start reading more classics. I tried some Jane Austen and wasn’t the biggest fan, but I found Wuthering Heights on audiobook for a really cheap price and decided to give it a go. I’m not sure whether to credit Emily Bronte or Joanne Froggatt (the narrator) for how much I liked this, but together they made me absolutely LOVE this book. I don’t always love classics because they tend to wane on too much about nothing, but I loved the drama of Wuthering Heights. Evidently I have a thing for unlikable characters because NO ONE in this book is very likable. I think most people are familiar with the plot, so I won’t get too into it, I’ll just say that it’s an inter-generational story about the cycle of abuse and the human ability to both love and hate. I’ll still give Bronte most of the props, but Froggatt’s narration definitely played a role in making me love this as she does a fantastic job with all the characters and accents!

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation was one of the first books I read this year and while it was a slow-read novel, I really loved it. This book tells the semi-autobiographical story of 10 year old Kimberly Chan and spans about a decade in scope. Kim and her Ma are sponsored by her Aunt and move to New York from China. It’s based off the author’s experience immigrating to America and I thought it was such a well crafted story about the struggles immigrants face to build a new life and climb their way out of poverty. Kim and her Ma live in a run down apartment and work in her Aunt’s sweat shop sewing clothing. It’s technically Ma that works in the shop, but the workers regularly enlist the help of their children since they work on commission and it’s the only way they can make decent money. Kim attends school during the day and is driven by her desire to learn and get a job that will enable her to lift her family out of poverty. Like I said, it’s a quiet sort of story, but powerful and I really loved Kim’s character and perspective.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

I’m just now realizing that I read 3 of the 5 books on this list as audiobooks (this being the third), which is actually super impressive since I tend to dislike audiobooks a lot more than I love them. But I guess I found some real winners on Audible this year! The Nowhere Girls tells the story of 3 very different high school classmates: Grace, Rosina, and Erin. The biggest thing I can say about this book is: great representation. Grace is a fat, Christian girl; Rosina is a gay, Mexican girl; and Erin has Asperger’s. Grace is new to town and when she learns that the former resident of her bedroom was a high school girl who was essentially driven out of town when she claimed she was raped at a party the year before, she starts a secret club to do something about it. I really liked this book because it was diverse and it addressed relevant social issues that any teen girl can relate to. Plus, it has another great narrator!

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

I’ve been raving about this series since I read it back in August. I included the sequel Wundersmith in my Top 10 Books of 2018 post, and I have to include the first book in this list. I can not say enough good things about this series. It is the smart, fun middle grade book that I’ve been looking for since Harry Potter. It tells the story of cursed child, Morrigan Crow, who is whisked off to the magical land of Nevermoor on the eve of her death day by the enigmatic Jupiter North. There she participates in the trials to become a member of the prestigious Wunder Society, all while trying to hide the fact that she’s an illegal immigrant to Nevermoor. This book is so whimsical (it has a giant, talking cat and flying umbrellas), but what I love most about it is that it has depth. It’s so well written and crafted that this magical world pretty much builds itself. It’s obvious that there’s a lot more to the plot than Townsend reveals upfront and I think we’re in for a multi-layered, multi-book series that has the potential to be just as popular as Harry Potter. I really, really loved this and I can’t wait to see what Jessica Townsend publishes next!  

The Feather Thief

Rating: 
Author: Kirk Wallace Johnson
Genres: Non-fiction
Pub date: Apr. 2018 (read Dec. 2018 on Audible)

I’m not quite sure what possessed me to pick-up The Feather Thief. It’s unlike any of the books I normally read, but I saw it on the Goodreads Choice Awards and was intrigued and then made an impulse buy on Audible. Needless to say, I was very impressed!

This works so well as an audiobook. I’ve said it again and again, but sometimes I struggle with audiobooks and it’s the only time I actually prefer reading non-fiction to fiction because non-fiction reads more like a podcast and it’s easier to digest in audio form. I could definitely picture this as a podcast series and I thought the narrator did a really good job (minus the accents, he is atrociously bad at accents, but it was find of funny).

The Feather Thief is based entirely on a true story and is one of the more bizarre incidents I can think of. Kirk Johnson first heard about the feather thief when he was fly fishing in the American south and his guide mentioned in passing a bizarre story about a young man who had stolen 300 bird specimens from the British Museum in order to use their feathers to make fly-ties for fly fishing. Johnson was totally intrigued by the story and spent the next several years investigating the crime.

It sounds kind of boring, and I could see how it would not be for everyone, but Johnson does a fantastic job recounting this heist that had me totally engaged in the world of fiy-tiers, naturalists, and museum thieves. I sped through this audiobook in just 2 days and was totally enthralled the entire time.

Johnson does a great job presenting the story. There are several components that make this an intriguing tale. First, there’s the naturalists and science. Many of the birds that were stolen from the museum were specimens collected by naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace in the 1800’s and were used to confirm Darwin’s theory of evolution. Many of the birds are exotic species from South America, such as the Resplendent Quetzal, the Blue Chatterer, and the Red-Ruffed Fruit Crow (aka Indian Crow). Many of the bird species in the museum are now endangered and the birds provide an important historical record to scientists and are often still used in research, such as in studying the effects of climate change. The theft of the birds represented a sad blow to the scientific community.

Second, there is the fly-tying community. This was a totally new concept for me. If you’re familiar with fly fishing, you might be aware that fly-ties, which generally look like insects and bugs, are used to attract fish. However, what you might not be aware of is that making fly-ties is an art form that an entire community has developed around. There are some intense fly-tiers out there and those that get into traditional victorian fly-tying can spend hours and days working on specific ties. Because this hobby was developed in the victorian era, many of the feathers used in the fly-ties were sourced from bright and iridescent birds, such as the resplendent quetzal and the king bird of paradise. These birds are rare and it is expensive to acquire their feathers, yet authentic feathers are considered a requirement in the fly-tying community. Dyed feathers are considered (by the community) as incomparable and many fly-tiers participate in the buying and selling of the rare feathers. This is technically illegal, since most bird species are protected and you can’t just buy their feathers, but it’s a little persecuted crime and the sale of feather and entire birds can be found all over ebay and at fly-tying conventions.

That brings us to the heist. Edwin Rist has been an accomplished fly-tier in the community since he was a boy, but has always struggled to afford the feathers required for many of the traditional victorian fly-ties. He moved to England to pursue his degree in the flute, and at the age of 20, pulled off a pretty epic heist of the British Museum that was not even discovered until months later. He broke into the museum with a suitcase and stole 299 birds before disappearing into the night. He claims he only intended to steal a few birds of each species for his own use, but got carried away in the face of such beauty. He then proceeded to find buyers for the birds and feathers.

The British Museum has some 1500 drawers of birds, so it took them months before they even discovered the theft, and when they did, they were flummoxed about who would possibly be interested in such a small, but specific, subset of birds. Edward Rist was eventually caught (obvious since we’re sitting here talking about him), and was put on trial for the heist. However, even though he had been caught, many of the birds were unaccounted for. A good number were seized from his apartment and he did list some of his buyers, but almost a third of the birds still remained unaccounted for. Where were these birds? Did Edwin stash them away somewhere? Did he have an accomplice? Are they still floating around the seedy underbelly of the fly-tying market? These were the questions Johnson set out to answer. This book recounts the history of the birds, the fly-tying community, and the heist, but it also sets out to track down what happened to the missing birds and whether or not Rist acted alone and was correctly tried.

It really was a fascinating story. Like I said, I can see how this wouldn’t be for everyone, but as someone who is currently engaged to an ornithologist and has heard more than my fair share of interesting facts about birds, I was intrigued. (Plus my partner was thrilled when he walked into the room and heard me listening to this; he was like, “wait… are you listening to a book about Alfred Russel Wallace?!” and then proceeded to get really excited for me) I thought the heist was interesting because it’s mystifying. What could possibly possess a 20 year old flutist with his entire life ahead of him to break into a museum just to steal a bunch of birds? But I think what was most interesting to me was the fly-tying community.

The fly-tying community is not messing around. They are a serious community. I don’t know if Johnson portrayed them accurately in this book or unjustly made them look bad, but to be honest, I think they deserve it. I’m sure there’s a lot of honest fly-tiers out there who get a lot from the community and what to improve it, but overall, I thought the community was pretty shameful. Johnson isn’t that critical of the community, but I think he was rightly frustrated with them. The heist obviously drew a lot of negative attention to fly-tiers as a community, which is unfortunate, but I think this community really needs to be held accountable for their destructive actions.

No one person is every indicative of a community, but the way you react to that person is. The fly-tying community essentially won’t talk about Edwin Rist. They don’t condone what he did, but they also don’t really seem to care that much about what he did. The community openly participates in the buying and selling of rare and endangered birds and they are never held accountable for it. Much of what they’re doing is illegal, they just try and hide it under legal means (like “I got the birds/feathers in an estate sale” or “I inherited them”).

I’m biased and I’m obviously going to side with the scientists, but these fly-ties are never actually used for fly fishing. There’s literally no reason why the community can’t use fake or dyed feathers. It’s a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with taking intense pride in your hobby, but not at the damage to endangered species. Many of the people Johnson interviews openly state that they don’t understand why the museum needs so many birds and believe museums should be selling their birds to fly-tiers. They feel they have a greater entitlement to the birds and are of the mindset that they’re honouring them through art. The most shocking to me was Ruhan Neethling (yes I’m calling you out by name dude because I think you are shameful), who bought two of Rist’s birds and knowingly kept them (many buyers sent them back to the museum when they found out they were stolen) because he felt the museum didn’t deserve them as much as him and that unless the museum could tell him exactly what they’d do with the feathers if he returned them, he’d be keeping them. As if the museum needs any reason for the feathers to be returned, the birds were stolen for them, no reason is needed for their return.

Anyways, I thought many in the community showed a complete ignorance to the scientific importance of the birds and showed no remorse over the birds having been stolen. Johnson indicated that he could see a marked increase in the buying and selling of birds and feathers in the fly-tying community forums and on ebay since the heist and postures that this influx is likely related to the stolen birds. Unfortunately there is no way to prove someone is trading stolen birds. All they had to do was remove the museum tags from the specimen and it could never be proved that it was stolen. This also struck me as sad because even though the museum managed to recover almost 200 of the birds (in the form of full specimens and plucked feathers), the birds without tags were no longer useful for scientific purposes. All in all, I think about a third of the stolen birds were returned still with tags, and therefore could still be used for science.

But I think what makes the fly-tying community so frustrating is their refusal to discuss Edwin Rist or the heist. They are both essentially taboo subjects in the community. Any posts on community forums about either always receive complaints and are immediately removed. To me, this demonstrates a lack of remorse on behalf of the community. They don’t seem to want to be better. They just want to return to the safety of anonymity so that they can continue to not feel bad about trading illegal feathers and continuing to endanger bird species. So that’s my rant about the fly-tying community. Like I said, I don’t want to condemn anyone’s passion or community, but this community obviously has a seedy underbelly and regardless of what Edwin Rist did, I think they need to address it.

Back to the book, I obviously liked it, but my one complaint would be that the ending felt a little anti-climatic. I commend Johnson for his investigative journalism and I understand that sometimes our conclusions and investigations don’t end the way we hope they will, and it was just a little disappointing. The ending felt a little abrupt and not wholly satisfying. But that’s just the way it goes sometimes and I did thoroughly enjoy the journey. I would recommend this book to bird lovers, fly fishers, those who love a good heist, and those who love a good true story. This was definitely weird, but in the best way.