Review: Heartland

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh

Genre: Memoir
Maturity Level: 4
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Rating: ⋆

During Sarah Smarsh’s turbulent childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s, the forces of cyclical poverty and the country’s changing economic policies solidified her family’s place among the working poor. By telling the story of her life and the lives of the people she loves, Smarsh challenges us to look more closely at the class divide in our country and examine the myths about people thought to be less because they earn less. Her personal history affirms the corrosive impact intergenerational poverty can have on individuals, families, and communities, and she explores this idea as lived experience, metaphor, and level of consciousness.

Smarsh was born a fifth generation Kansas wheat farmer on her paternal side and the product of generations of teen mothers on her maternal side. Through her experiences growing up as the daughter of a dissatisfied young mother and raised predominantly by her grandmother on a farm thirty miles west of Wichita, we are given a unique and essential look into the lives of poor and working class Americans living in the heartland. Combining memoir with powerful analysis and cultural commentary, Heartland is an uncompromising look at class, identity, and the particular perils of having less in a country known for its excess.


There is so much I didn’t like about this book that I’m honestly not sure where to begin. So maybe it makes sense to start with what I did like?

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Review – The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century

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

Genres: True Crime, Non-Fiction
Maturity Level: 5-
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

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.


This. Book. Was. Nuts! In the very best possible way.

Continue reading “Review – The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century”

Review- Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

Bad BloodGenres: Non-fiction, True Crime (?)

Maturity Level: 5-

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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆


The full inside story of the breathtaking rise and shocking collapse of Theranos, the multibillion-dollar biotech startup, by the prize-winning journalist who first broke the story and pursued it to the end, despite pressure from its charismatic CEO and threats by her lawyers.

In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood testing significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at more than $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work.

A riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a tale of ambition and hubris set amid the bold promises of Silicon Valley. 


Honestly, this book wasn’t quite as shocking as I was expecting it to be. Maybe it’s because I don’t know much about business or medicine, so I couldn’t appreciate just how bad the things Tharanos was doing were, but it was all pretty much exactly what I was expecting to read. It wasn’t until the author got involved with the story and Theranos tried to keep things under wraps that I started to get really into it and excited. Continue reading “Review- Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup”

Review: The Energy Bus

The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon

81107Genre: Self-Help
Maturity Level: 1
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆


The Energy Bus, an international best seller by Jon Gordon, takes readers on an enlightening and inspiring ride that reveals 10 secrets for approaching life and work with the kind of positive, forward thinking that leads to true accomplishment – at work and at home. Jon infuses this engaging story with keen insights as he provides a powerful roadmap to overcome adversity and bring out the best in yourself and your team. When you get on The Energy Bus you’ll enjoy the ride of your life!


I loved that The Energy Bus is written as a narrative! Having this self-help book set to a story made it so much more accessible and engaging for me. Usually this kind of book is so dry, and I just get bored. But by adding a narrative Gordon got me asking “What is going to happen next?”

BUT. Continue reading “Review: The Energy Bus”

Review: And Now We Have Everything

And Now We Have Everything by Meaghan O’Connell

Genre: Memoir
Maturity Level: 5
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆


35959678Meaghan O’Connell always felt totally alienated by the cutesy, sanctimonious, sentimental tone of most writing about motherhood. After getting accidentally pregnant in her twenties, she realized that the book she needed–a brutally honest, agenda-less take on the emotional and existential impact of motherhood–didn’t exist. So she decided to write it herself.

And Now We Have Everything is O’Connell’s brave exploration of transitioning into motherhood as a fledgling young adult. With her dark humor and hair-trigger B.S. detector, O’Connell addresses the pervasive impostor syndrome that comes with unplanned pregnancy, the second adolescence of a changing postpartum body, the problem of sex post-baby, the weird push to make “mom friends,” and the fascinating strangeness of stepping into a new, not-yet-comfortable identity. 


I’m having a really hard time rating this book, because I felt three different ways about the three different sections: pregnancy, childbirth, and new-mom. Don’t get me wrong, they were all very cohesive, and O’Connell wrote with the same voice and dark humor throughout, but I just connected with her three different parts of her story in different ways. Continue reading “Review: And Now We Have Everything”

Review: Indianapolis

Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic

36373560Genres: Non-Fiction, History
Maturity Level: 4+
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆


Just after midnight on July 30, 1945, days after delivering the components of the atomic bomb from California to the Pacific Islands in the most highly classified naval mission of the war, USS Indianapolis is sailing alone in the center of the Philippine Sea when she is struck by two Japanese torpedoes. The ship is instantly transformed into a fiery cauldron and sinks within minutes. Some 300 men go down with the ship. Nearly 900 make it into the water alive. For the next five nights and four days, almost three hundred miles from the nearest land, the men battle injuries, sharks, dehydration, insanity, and eventually each other. Only 316 will survive.

It begins in 1932, when Indianapolis is christened and launched as the ship of state for President Franklin Roosevelt. After Pearl Harbor, Indianapolis leads the charge to the Pacific Islands, notching an unbroken string of victories in an uncharted theater of war. Then, under orders from President Harry Truman, the ship takes aboard a superspy and embarks on her final world-changing mission: delivering the core of the atomic bomb to the Pacific for the strike on Hiroshima. Vincent and Vladic provide a visceral, moment-by-moment account of the disaster that unfolds days later after the Japanese torpedo attack, from the chaos on board the sinking ship to the first moments of shock as the crew plunge into the remote waters of the Philippine Sea, to the long days and nights during which terror and hunger morph into delusion and desperation, and the men must band together to survive.

Then, for the first time, the authors go beyond the men’s rescue to chronicle Indianapolis’s extraordinary final mission: the survivors’ fifty-year fight for justice on behalf of their skipper, Captain Charles McVay III, who is wrongly court-martialed for the sinking. What follows is a captivating courtroom drama that weaves through generations of American presidents, from Harry Truman to George W. Bush, and forever entwines the lives of three captains—McVay, whose life and career are never the same after the scandal; Mochitsura Hashimoto, the Japanese sub commander who sinks Indianapolis but later joins the battle to exonerate McVay; and William Toti, the captain of the modern-day submarine Indianapolis, who helps the survivors fight to vindicate their captain.


Guys, this book is bonkers! It’s a tale of heroism, and incompetence. The crew members of the USS Indianapolis exhibited amazing heroism in the face of an impossibly gruesome ordeal. Men literally kicking sharks off crew mates, men risking their own lives to swim after others who swum off towards hallucinations. But the elephant in the room is the complete and utter incompetence of the navy that led to the ship to be sunk in the first place, and then for it to be FOUR EFFING DAYS before anyone even noticed! AND THEN they went and blamed it all on the captain, who could have done literally nothing to prevent it, and didn’t own up to their own mistakes for over 60 years. This story is utterly fascinating, and my eyes were glued to the page. Continue reading “Review: Indianapolis”

Review: Hamilton: The Revolution

26200563Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

Genre: Non-fiction, Play
Maturity Rating: 5
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆


Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical Hamilton is as revolutionary as its subject, the poor kid from the Caribbean who fought the British, defended the Constitution, and helped to found the United States. Fusing hip-hop, pop, R&B, and the best traditions of theater, this once-in-a-generation show broadens the sound of Broadway, reveals the storytelling power of rap, and claims our country’s origins for a diverse new generation.

Hamilton: The Revolution gives readers an unprecedented view of both revolutions, from the only two writers able to provide it. Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, a cultural critic and theater artist who was involved in the project from its earliest stages–“since before this was even a show,” according to Miranda–trace its development from an improbable perfor­mance at the White House to its landmark opening night on Broadway six years later. In addition, Miranda has written more than 200 funny, revealing footnotes for his award-winning libretto, the full text of which is published here.

Their account features photos by the renowned Frank Ockenfels and veteran Broadway photographer Joan Marcus; exclusive looks at notebooks and emails; interviews with Questlove, Stephen Sond­heim, leading political commentators, and more than 40 people involved with the production; and multiple appearances by Presi­dent Obama himself. The book does more than tell the surprising story of how a Broadway musical became a national phenomenon: It demonstrates that America has always been renewed by the brash upstarts and brilliant outsiders, the men and women who don’t throw away their shot.


I was given this book as a Christmas gift, and expected it to be basically a coffee table book. I’ve had Broadway collectors’ books like this in the past, and they’ve always been basically scripts/librettos with a bunch of really high quality pictures. Occasionally they might have a note about the costumes or actor bios or something, but usually just song lyrics. So I picked this one up Christmas evening expecting to just kind of flip through and look at the pictures.

Boy was I wrong.

Continue reading “Review: Hamilton: The Revolution”