Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Escape from Camp 14 ~ Blaine Harden review [@VikingBooks] (repost)

This is a repost of an earlier published Book Sp(l)ot Reviews review. (The original post.)


Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West
Viking Adult
March 29, 2012
224 pages
add to Goodreads/buy from Book Depository/or Amazon

The only person known to have been born and raised in one of North Korea's prison camps and then escape* (others, brought to them have been released after some years), Shin Dong-hyuk lived more than two decades in North Korea's Camp 14.

Estimates have between 150,00-200,000 people living in North Korea's political prison camps. Isolated, starving, routinely beaten and cut-off even from the rest of their country, those living in these camps know very little (if anything) of the outside world. While most in North Korea are taught of South Korea and the United States' evil, growing up in Camp 14, though, Shin heard none of this. Expected to work long 15 hour days from a young age (10-year-olds worked together to push two-ton coal cars up a hill), prisoners subsisted (just barely) on corn, cabbage and salt.

Beatings were routine - from the guards, from family members, from other prisoners - and life was beyond hard, everyone sold everyone else out.

It would be no wonder that people wanted to escape. But few seemed to dream of it and even fewer try. Those, like Shin, who has always known this life didn't know there was a better world - with more food, something called love and friendship and trust. Not only that, the consequence for escape, attempting it, or even talking about it made it, often too dangerous: death.

Until the idea for escape did form in his mind. And he acted on it.


While the reading level of Escape from Camp 14 is not difficult (especially compared to many nonfiction books), it's the content that makes reading Shin's story hard at times.

Harden admits, quite frequently, that there is not, truly, a way to fact check Shin's story. He can't go to the camp and do interviews, he can't call anyone up and ask them questions, he can't even go into North Korea. While this does make the reader slightly dubious of Shin's story - especially when it's acknowledged that the story has changed in some dramatic places - the tale has been vetted in a way. Other memoirs have been published about people's experiences in the camps (those that were released or former guards) and different groups have led investigations/inquiries. These individuals and groups do contend that Shin's recollections are  in line with what happens in the prison camps. He has the physical scars, as well.

Harden's background as a reported and knowledge of the area adds some great extra information to the book. I learned a lot more about not only North Korea and its politics, history, and practices but also about South Korea and China as well (including their relationships with North Korea and its defectors).

While Shin's life and the life of those in Camp 14 was so separate from what was happening elsewhere in North Korea, it was very nice to know what was happening concurrently in the rest of the country.

The book doesn't wait for a nice, neat ending; it shows us how Shin's life is today. How he's adjusting to life, learning about being a regular human being whose life is not completely controlled, under constant threat of violence by prison guards. I wish him well.





*This according to the book, the synopsis on Goodreads makes it sound as if there are others, so if my review is wrong, I apologize. I'm basing it on the text of the book.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The House ~ Simon Lelic (earc) review [@Simon_Lelic ‏ @PenguinUKBooks]

The House
Penguin UK
August 17, 2017 (ebook)
November 02, 2017 (print)
340 pages
add to Goodreads/buy from Book Depository/or Amazon UK

What if your perfect home turned out to be the scene of the perfect crime?

Londoners Jack and Syd moved into the house a year ago. It seemed like their dream home: tons of space, the perfect location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it.

So when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, Jack and Syd chose to ignore it. That was a mistake.

Because someone has just been murdered. Right outside their back door.

And now the police are watching them...

Starting, probably, when I first The House's description, I had very little idea what was going on with or. more accurately, in this book.  Even while reading it, I often was not sure just what was happening, as they presently took place or even afterwards.  But all in the absolute best way possible. The House is very much a book that keeps you guessing. Who do you believe? How much of what they say do you belive? And why, oh why, is all of this happening? If it even truly is.

The House has two narrators: Sydney and Jack. What makes this different than most novels is that Syd and Jack are aware they're telling a story to someone, what you're reading is something they're writing, in alternating parts, to tell their story. This makes things a bit different and I enjoyed teh more relaxed air it gave to the story, especially on Syd's part. It was a bit like a diary combined with a novel. It isn't something polished and objective and it connects you more with the characters. It makes you more curious about the truth and what's happening that made them feel the need to write this.

There was a point, later in the story, where I wasn't sure if what I was reading was supposed to still be something written by the characters or it if had transitioned into a more conventional narration. (And if it was still the characters writing their story, that left some other questions for me.)

With this story, I especially liked having Syd and Jack telling the story. Not only do we not know, for sure, that either of them is a reliable narrator, we only see events through their eyes, based on their interpretations and in the way they want the other to see/read. Not only does this mean some key information is being withheld, you also do not always know when it is. It makes the mystery even better.

The novel is a great mix of being unsettling and confusing while telling a great mystery. There are several times it seems like you might, now, be piecing the clues together only to be thrown when something else transpires. When we do finally learn what has been happening, who has been doing it and why, it is both surprising and completely in keeping with what we have already learned and read.





digital review copy received thanks to publisher, via NetGalley

Friday, August 11, 2017

Book Trailer Friday [@HMHBooks]

Seems like a good week for this book trailer pick, Imagine:





Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope some day you'll join us, and the world will be as one.

Join one little pigeon as she sets out on a journey to spread a message of tolerance around the world. Featuring the lyrics of John Lennon’s iconic song and illustrations by the award-winning artist Jean Jullien, this poignant and timely picture book dares to imagine a world at peace.

Imagine will be published in partnership with human rights organization Amnesty International.




September 21, 2017 // Clarion Books // Goodreads // Book Depository // Amazon

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sparks of Light ~ Janet B Taylor (earc) review ]@HMHKids @Janet_B_Taylor]

Sparks of Light (Into the Dim #2)
Houghton Mifflin
August 01, 2017
448 pages
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For the first time in her life, Hope Walton has friends . . . and a (maybe) boyfriend. She’s a Viator, a member of a long line of time-traveling ancestors. When the Viators learn of a plan to steal a dangerous device from the inventor Nikola Tesla, only a race into the past can save the natural timeline from utter destruction. Navigating the glitterati of The Gilded Age in 1895 New York City, Hope and her crew will discover that high society can be as deadly as it is beautiful.

There is not a lot of recapping of Into the Dim in this second book, Sparks of Light, so if you have either not read that book or largely forgotten it, you may feel a bit left out at certain points. Of course, the larger, more major parts of Into th Dim we are reminded of simply by who is or is not present when Sparks of Light beings and what we thn learn of their current location or state. Though there were a few things I wanted to go back to Into the Dim and refresh myself on, I liked the focus on the now.

I liked that each book, so far, at least, seems more self contained. Yes, you will be spoiled for some parts of Into the Dim if you read Sparks of Light first (some pretty big things so I really don't recommend it) but it's still possible.

I appreciated that in this book, Hope is familiar with the Viators, with the Dim, how it works and its limitations. There is both their immediate plan and worry, in 1895 New York City with Tesla, but also a larger, overreaching goal. The author does a great job focusing very much on the here and now (whenever that may be), with great attention to detail and historical fact and accuracy but simultaneously making it all a part of a larger whole. This is true of both the Viators characters and for history and what's supposed to happen.

I loved that gender, race and class played into the time travelling and what they encountered or experienced.  Paired with Hope's memory and her knowledge of the time, it felt like a very true representation of the period. It is also extra enjoyable that it isn't simply: go back in time, say this to this person, don't do this and then come home. Their plans are often foiled, inadvertently or purposefully or both and it makes for a bit more excitement and danger.

This series does a great job of giving us fun, thrilling and often dangerous time travel adventures, fantastic character relationships and accomplishing one, isolated mission somehwere in time while also having something larger they're still working towards in the present. This is a series where I would gladly read several more installments.









digital review copy received from publisher via NetGalley
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