Book Reviews || In Order To Live and The Girl With Seven Names

Title: In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s              The Girl With Seven Names:                            Journey To Freedom                                               A North Korean Defector’s Story

Author: Yeonmi Park                                                          Hyeonseo Lee

Publication Date: September 2015                                 July 2015

Version: Audiobook                                                            Audiobook

Genre: Memoir, Biography, Nonfiction                          Memoir, Biography, Nonfiction

Rating: 5/5 Stars                                                                  5/5 Stars

In Order To Live: Human rights activist Park, who fled North Korea with her mother in 2007 at age 13 and eventually made it to South Korea two years later after a harrowing ordeal, recognized that in order to be “completely free,” she had to confront the truth of her past. It is an ugly, shameful story of being sold with her mother into slave marriages by Chinese brokers, and although she at first tried to hide the painful details when blending into South Korean society, she realized how her survival story could inspire others. Moreover, her sister had also escaped earlier and had vanished into China for years, prompting the author to go public with her story in the hope of finding her sister.

The Girl With Seven Names: As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions trapped by a secretive and brutal totalitarian regime. Her home on the border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the confines of the Hermit Kingdom and, as the famine of the 1990s struck, she began to wonder, question and to realise that she had been brainwashed her entire life. Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed surely her country could not be, as she had been told “the best on the planet”?

Aged seventeen, she decided to escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be twelve years before she was reunited with her family.

She could not return, since rumours of her escape were spreading, and she and her family could incur the punishments of the government authorities – involving imprisonment, torture, and possible public execution. Hyeonseo instead remained in China and rapidly learned Chinese in an effort to adapt and survive. Twelve years and two lifetimes later, she would return to the North Korean border in a daring mission to spirit her mother and brother to South Korea, on one of the most arduous, costly and dangerous journeys imaginable.

I’ve recently been reading literature about North Korea and memoirs written by North Korean defectors and wanted to write a review about two of the books I’ve read.  I do want to note that these two stories are very different in both the authors’ experiences and writing style, but they both have very important messages, especially for people, such as myself, who are not aware of what is actually happening in North Korea.

I also want to note that there has been some controversy surrounding Yeonmi Park’s book specifically, but I’m not going to address that here.  I want to instead talk about the importance of their stories.

Both Park and Lee grew up in North Korea and for different reasons and in different ways, crossed the border into China and eventually made it to South Korea.  Both stories are horrifying in what they had to endure, not only in North Korea, but in China and the prejudices they faced along the way simply for being North Korean.

I knew little about North Korea and even though information has historically been restricted in coming into and leaving the country, I didn’t realize how little I knew until I began reading about life in North Korea.  I think that allowing others to hear about these authors’ difficult and very personal experiences allows us to see what it’s like to grow up in North Korea and humanizes the millions of people who live there.

Both of these memoirs discuss why people are so loyal to the Kim dynasty and how the dictatorship works, but both feel very personal because the reader is viewing this from the authors’ perspectives.

In Order To Live and The Girl With Seven Names have been two of the best books I’ve read this year and I definitely recommend them to everyone.

Advertisements

2018 Reading Goals

2017 has been a really great reading year, but I realized that I read a lot of similar books this year and sort of got into a few reading trends.  I want to make a more diverse reading list for my 2018, so here are some goals I came up with for next year:

1-Read more nonfiction books.

I realized that this past year, some of my favorite books have been nonfiction even though it’s a genre I have rarely reached for in the past.  Next year, I definitely plan on reading more.

2-Read more Own Voices books.

More realistic, thoughtful, lived experiences from diverse authors and less stereotypes in 2018 please.

3-Pay less attention to book trends and more attention to what actually sounds good.

I feel like this past year I payed way too much attention to books (particularly YA) that were trending at the moment and less attention to what actually sounded good.  Sometimes, these two things absolutely go hand and hand, but a lot of times for me, they don’t.  I want to read more of what I actually want to read in 2018 if that makes sense.

4-Read more of what I have/buy less/utilize the library more.

This one is hard because I really do find joy in perusing book stores and while buying a book here and there or buying a favorite to own is totally okay, I personally want to stop excessively buying books and reading through what I already own.  And going to the library is always a great way to read new books without committing to buying them.  (By no way am I saying book hauls are inherently bad.  This is just a personal goal of mine from my own habits I’ve noticed.)

5-Read at my own pace.

I tend to be really hard on myself when I get into a reading slump (like now) and read much slower than when I’m really into it, so in 2018 I want to focus on the quality of what I read and not how fast I can get through books.

6-Embrace big books.

Too often this past year, I set aside books over 500 pages because of the size and because I wanted to get through as many books as possible.  Next year, since I’ll be focusing on quality>quantity, I want to embrace those huge books I’ve put off until now.

These are my big 6 reading goals for next year.  Even though I’m a mood reader and my tastes are constantly changing, I think it’s good to set some general goals to keep it interesting and not fall into more reading slumps than usual.   Do we have any goals in common?  What are some of your 2018 reading goals?

2017 Reading Wrap Up

Another reading year has come and gone and I am super excited that 2017 has been my best year for reading yet!

I met my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 120 books with a total of 42,857 pages read over the past year.

I started this book blog and joined NetGalley this year, which I see as two cool bookish things that happened this past year too!

I thought to celebrate, I would do a reading wrap-up of some of my favorite and least favorite books I’ve read this year.

 

Favorite Books Of 2017 (In No Particular Order)

 

 

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Recommend If:  You like comedic memoirs, are interested in mental health, or have a wacky (and wonderful) sense of humor.  I highly recommend the audiobook narrated by the author.

Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Recommend If:  You like character-driven, slower paced books with a lot of heart. 

Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham

Recommend If:  You are a Gilmore Girls/Lauren Graham fan and like comedic memoirs.  I highly recommend the audiobook narrated by the author.

In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey To Freedom by Yeonmi Park

Recommend For:  Everyone.  This is a really important look into North Korea from the eyes of a defector.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Recommend If:  You are in the mood for a small book that packs a big emotional punch.  Be ready to have a box of tissues handy.  I highly recommend the illustrated version.  It’s really lovely.

The Passion Of Dolssa by Julie Berry

Recommend If:  You love YA, but find yourself reading the same plot over and over again.  Trust me, this book isn’t like any YA book you’ve read in the best way possible.

The Unseen World by Liz Moore

Recommend If:  You like historical fiction (specifically the 1970s/1980s), literary fiction, or appreciate both well-rounded characters and a great plot.

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Recommend If:  You are in the mood for something light-hearted, very British, and whimsical.  If a very, VERY loose retelling of history involving a light touch of fantasy sounds good to you with plenty of humor, you’ll love this.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Recommend For:  Pretty much everyone.  I personally loved Angie Thomas’ writing, but that aside, the story is wildly relevant.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Recommend If:  You like historical fiction that focuses on three women’s lives in an as they are affected by a part of WWII that is not as well known.

The Secret Place by Tana French

Recommend If:  You have read all of French’s books up until this point.  You can *technically* read them out of order, but I think it flows better if you read them in order since they kind of build off one another.

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling and Jim Kay

Recommend If:  You are equally obsessed with Harry Potter and are always craving more.  

The Girl With Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee

Recommend For:  Everyone.  Another very different, but very important look at North Korea from a defector.

 

Least Favorite Books Of 2017 (In No Particular Order)

 

The Woman In Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

True Crime Addict by James Renner

After The Crash by Michel Bussi

The End Of Wasp Season by Denise Mina

Unbreakable by Kami Garcia

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

 

I hope you’ve had an equally successful reading year and here’s to more great books in 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review || Little Fires Everywhere

34273236

Title: Little Fires Everywhere

Author: Celeste Ng

Publication Date: September 2017

Version: Audiobook

Genre: Literary Thriller, Contemporary, General Fiction

Rating: 2/5 Stars

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned — from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules. 

Enter Mia Warren — an enigmatic artist and single mother — who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community. 

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

First of all, congratulations to Little Fires Everywhere for winning the Goodreads Choice Award 2017 for Fiction!  That’s also very impressive since this book only came out in September, so way to go!

Let me also say that this book has a lot of very positive reviews, so am definitely in the minority when I say I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t like this book more.

I did really like the story idea.  I’m a sucker for well written, character-driven “literary thrillers”.  I also liked the moral questions this book raised regarding the adoption that divides the town of Shaker Heights.  There is some excellent social commentary surrounding race, culture, and what family actually means.

Unfortunately, those are the only parts of the book I enjoyed.  I wasn’t a fan of Ng’s writing style.  I was distracted when she heavily described minute details of the book, but glazed over important plot points.

I also felt like it took a long time to get to the actual plot of the book.  It felt like the whole first half of the book was focused on introducing the characters, but in my case, I didn’t really like or connect with any of the characters.

I also didn’t like the audio version of the book.  I don’t want to focus on this too much, but I’ve found recently that audiobooks that try to do different accents can be distracting and questionable and in this particular audiobook, I felt that.

If you absolutely loved this book and are wondering why the heck I didn’t, trust me, I’m right there with you.

Book Review || The Broken Girls

35533431

Title: The Broken Girls

Author: Simone St. James

Publication: March 20, 2018

Version: NetGalley ARC

Genre: Suspense, Mystery, Thriller, Paranormal

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Vermont, 1950. There’s a place for the girls whom no one wants–the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It’s called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it’s located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming–until one of them mysteriously disappears. . . .

Vermont, 2014. As much as she’s tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister’s death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister’s boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can’t shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past–and a voice that won’t be silenced. . . .

Let me start by saying that I was super happy to get approved for this arc because it sounded so good to me and though my book blog is very small, I love that publishers want people to read their books despite not having the heaviest traffic.  Yay reading!

Okay, enough rambling, let’s get into the review!

I’m going to review this book in two parts: the ending and everything not the ending.

Everything Not The Ending:

I really liked the atmosphere of this book.  It is absolutely creepy, especially during the parts that take place at Idlewild in 1950.  Something strange is happening at the school that causes four completely different girls to band together and seeing glimpses of their lives and friendship in such a dismal place was fascinating.

I did enjoy the parts that take place in 2014 as well as Fiona tries to piece together what happened at the school, but these parts lagged sometimes, especially the parts that focused on her romantic relationship.  I also didn’t feel as though Fiona was as fleshed out as the four main characters at Idlewild.

One thing I didn’t like was that the story tried to do too many things.  There were multiple plots that never really connected and left me wondering what the main point of the story was.

The Ending:

Was really not my favorite.  I felt like it tried to wrap everything up too quickly and neatly.  All of the “answers” to the multiple mysteries of the book happened in a neat sequence and some felt pretty far-fetched.  I was ready to give this book a solid 4/4.5 stars, but the ending took it down for me.

Overall, I did enjoy this book and would definitely recommend for a fall/winter read when you’re in the mood for something atmospheric and creepy and not so focused on the mystery piece of the story.

**Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with an ARC of this book.  All opinions are my own.**

November Wrap Up

November wasn’t the best ever reading/blogging/bookish month for me.  Partly because this time is busy and partly because after discovering BTS, I’ve been on a music binge.

I mean, look at them.

bts-21.jpg

LOOK AT THEM.

giphy (49).gif

(And if you’re late to BTS like me, their music is wonderful and I highly recommend.  You should go watch them immediately.)

Anyway, let’s get to the seven books I read during the month of November.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan: I can’t believe I never read this book when I was younger, but I decided to finally give it a go!  I think I would have enjoyed it more as an elementary or middle schooler, but I still appreciated the humor and Rick Riordan’s writing.  I gave it 3/5 stars.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang: This graphic novel follows three different characters whose stories intertwine.  The art is incredible and the story packs a big punch.  I loved it and gave it 4.5/5 stars.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: This book was the biggest disappointment for me this month.  I read it for my book club and was expecting it to be a new favorite.  While I liked the plot and moral questions it raised, something just didn’t connect with me and the audiobook particularly fell flat.  I gave it 2/5 stars.

The Fireman by Joe Hill: This book started out so strong (a mysterious disease that sets the infected on fire), but tried to be too many things and was just weird.  Also, I really was not a fan of the audiobook narrator.  I DNFed this one.

From Here To Eternity by Caitlin Doughty: I’ve never read a book quite like this one, which is definitely a good thing.  Doughty presents some really great ideas on death and for a topic so scary and heavy, she does a great job talking about it in a super non scary way.  I gave it 3.5/5 stars.

Wolf By Wolf  by Ryan Graudin: This may be another case of I really didn’t like the audiobook version and may have like the physical book better.  The idea was great (an alternate history story involving a shape-shifter on a mission to kill Hitler), but the questionable accents and pacing threw me off.  I gave it 2/5 stars.

Warcross by Marie Lu: This book surprised the socks off of me.  I really enjoyed it.  My full review can be found here and I gave it 4/5 stars.

Book Review || Wolf By Wolf

51LKTQmvKxL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

Title: Wolf By Wolf

Author: Ryan Graudin

Publication Date: October 2015

Version: Audiobook

Genre: YA, Alternate History

Rating: 2/5 Stars

The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule. To commemorate their Great Victory, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s Ball in Tokyo.

Yael, a former death camp prisoner, has witnessed too much suffering, and the five wolves tattooed on her arm are a constant reminder of the loved ones she lost. The resistance has given Yael one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year’s only female racer, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin’s brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move.

But as Yael grows closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?

I’ve made it my personal mission lately to read books already on my TBR which is why I decided to read this Wolf By Wolf.  I had heard great things about it since it came out 2 years ago, so I went for the audiobook version which was probably a why this rating is so low.

I have to get this out of the way: the audiobook narration drove me absolutely bananas.  When she was just narrating or voicing the thoughts in characters heads, she did an excellent job.  However, the switching constantly between questionable accents was distracting and odd.  The German, Japanese, and Russian accents sounded pretty overdone, especially since the story has words in different languages mixed throughout.  I don’t speak Japanese, German, or Russian and can’t comment on the authenticity of the accents, but I can say it was unexpected and did take away from the overall story for me personally.

Another strange thing that distracted from the story was that the author repeated a word or words a lot.  A sentence may be structured, structured, structured like this.  This.  This.  It got old.  Old.  Pretty fast, fast, fast.  It wasn’t just a few times either, or else I honestly probably wouldn’t have picked up on it.

I like Yael’s character and how her backstory was explored, but I didn’t feel like any of the other characters were flushed out well.  Felix and Luka sounded the same half the time and all of the other racers were just names thrown in to fill out the story.  The story itself started out pretty strong, but there were parts that were boring and I found myself wanting the race to be over already.