Welcome to my blog. I write about fitting in, sticking out, and missing the motherland as a serial foreigner.

January 2014 books

One Light Still Shines: My Life Beyond the Shadow of the Amish Schoolhouse ShootingOne Light Still Shines: My Life Beyond the Shadow of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting by Marie Monville

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. WOW. My mom mentioned this book in passing in an email. I picked it up (well, checked it out via Kindle) almost in passing, to read in between the arrival of more anticipated books.

But WOW. I don't think a book has ever touched me the way this book has. I am absolutely not a touchy-feely-book person. I don't like it when books seek to manipulate my emotions. I also don't generally go for religious books aside from the scriptures themselves, whether that religion is pseudo (think Mitch Albom dreck, in my opinion) or for real.

This book wears EMOTION and RELIGION and JESUS on its sleeve, and I embraced almost every minute of it. I would recommend that anyone who is human read at least the first half of this book, even better the first 3/4 (and then finish it off if you can manage). I have never wept such genuine tears while reading a book. This woman speaks a different religious language than I do (lots more "Jesus with skin on" and such), and she prays in a different way than I do, but the workings of God in her life as described in this book transcended syntax and word choice and spoke directly to my soul and spirit.

I think I will be uplifted anytime I think of this woman's story, and I am so glad that she wrote this unlikely book. What a fantastic way to start the year!

The Sea RunnersThe Sea Runners by Ivan Doig

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I appreciated many things about this book. I thought the setting was very rich and well drawn, and I liked having my own memories of the terrain (Alaska, and then lots of Oregon-like coast) to draw on as I read. I liked the concept of these four unlikely companions making an unlikely journey.

However, Doig's writing style never really grew on me. Sometimes, I only understood what was going on in spite of the words on the page, rather than because of them. I also feel like more than half the book was very spare prose describing what it is like to paddle a canoe down the length of the west coast of North America. That's the trouble with long-journey books like these: there are only so many ways you can say, "welp, it was hard, and it took a long time."

Furthermore, I docked an entire star because SPOILER [he killed off Melander AND Braaf. It's like when I was a kid writing stories and I wasn't sure how to make it more awesome, so I would just have someone die and figure that would do it. NO IT DOES NOT.] END SPOILER

The LifeboatThe Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


As I read (listened to) more and more of this book, I thought it was alternately a thriller-at-sea, an Agatha Christie-type mystery-at-sea, a legal drama, or a book whose entire storyline is turned on its head by a shocking revelation in the last chapter ("SHE was the murderer the whole time???" etc.). Now that I'm finished, I realize that it was kinda just a story. There is a central conflict, but gosh darn it if it's not clear what that central conflict is - nay, WAS - until the book is almost over.

I have so many unanswered questions. What caused the ship to sink? What did Henry give Mr. Hardy to take Grace on the lifeboat? What was in that box? Did Mr. Hardy survive? What was all that nonsense about the Marconi not working? Was Henry telling the truth when he said he sent the telegram? Don't try to tell me these points don't matter - when you harp on them as many times as the narrator did during the course of this book, they DO matter, regardless of the intent of the author.

Add this to the list of "I should have picked out a related Wikipedia article and read that instead" books. The Lusitania one will do nicely, I think.

Control (Control, #1)Control by Lydia Kang

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It was OK. Too many weird fever/hallucination dreams. You know that scene in Dumbo where all the elephants get drunk (?)? It's like that. I was going to give a content warning, too, except I just realized it's nothing that's not in The Count of Monte Cristo, too.

This book also suffers from a serious case of insta-love.

These Broken Stars (Starbound, #1)These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Ahem. Here is a rare example of a time when the audiobook made me love a book more than if I had read it on paper. What a BRILLIANT performance by the three readers of this book. The authors should be so proud of what those actors did with their book. This is the first audiobook I can ever recall where I was meant to be doing chores or folding laundry while listening but instead I was just standing there, really hearing the story.

These Broken Stars is a little bit Robinson Crusoe, a little bit LOST, a little bit Anne of Green Gables (the two main characters' relationship reminded me of Anne and Gilbert's). I doubt I will enjoy another YA as much as this one, at least not this year.

Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue MissionGhost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission by Hampton Sides

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you wish you could read Unbroken again, for the first time, then Ghost Soldiers is a great option. Unbroken focused on one person; Ghost Soldiers is about the soldiers who participated in the Bataan Death March and the later liberation of a POW camp where many of them ended up.

I can't help but compare this book to Escape From Davao, an epic DNF from last year about a similar subject. I read 3/4 of that book and could hardly make heads or tails of it. Ghost Soldiers, on the other hand, is written with real flair and lively imagery - it's a quick, engrossing, uplifting read. There are a few squirmy parts where some of the savagery the inmates experienced is related in detail, and I also felt sadness more than jubilation thinking of all the Japanese guards who had to die at the hands of the Rangers, but overall there were plenty of examples of the triumph of the human spirit (to use a cliche).

Can I just get this on the record? Filipinos are really something.

Allegiant (Divergent, #3)Allegiant by Veronica Roth

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Hmmmmmmm. I do not know how to review this book. I know I didn't like it. It was just kind of lazy. Things were always unrealistically clicking into the perfect place. Stuff like: there's a city under extensive surveillance, but this ONE night when the rebels are sneaking into town to do some major undercover stuff, guess what? It's snowing, and the cameras will be obscured. Nice. Or Four illegally disables the security system at the compound but when caught, he gets a slap on the wrist and they even let him back in the security command room again. What?

But I do think the ending was rather brave.

Sometimes after finishing a book series, I like to think back to the first installment and consider if I could have ever imagined where the story ended up. In the case of the Divergent series, I never would have guessed that the conclusion would hinge so much on Four's mother/father issues. That came out of left field (or Insurgent, as the case may be).

There were some poignant scenes that alllllmost moved me, and some boyfriend/girlfriend relationship talks that were astonishingly realistic even though I was annoyed by them, and the good will built up by Divergent was not entirely smashed to smithereens by Allegiant. But it was tested. And ultimately it failed.

Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the WestEscape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great companion book to Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. As I began to read, I wondered if I should continue. I was very affected by the descriptions of the horrible conditions of Camp 14. Ultimately, I'm glad I pressed on. This is a remarkable (to use the title's word) story and the author is very skilled at putting it in context. I could hardly put it down.

January 31st, outsourced