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

March 2015 books

This Shattered World (Starbound, #2)This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brilliant at times, mostly just good. It's different, at least - the characters and the story never quite went where I expected them to go. I liked Jubilee and Flynn, though they were never Lilac and Tarver (good thing those two show up in the book later - at first their scenes seemed totally gratuitously cameo-y, but it did not take long for me to really enjoy having them around again). Also, this was another stellar (ha ha) audiobook performance. Some day I need to read this and These Broken Stars in print to see if they hold up.

It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and WarIt's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

THIS BOOK. SO GOOD. THIS WOMAN. SO AMAZING. Here are the things the author did so well:

1. Explaining why photojournalists risk their lives to take pictures. I - and I think the majority of people out there - tend to jump to the "it's not worth it" conclusion, but I think Ms. Aaddario made a good case for the work she does. I definitely gained a new appreciation for what journalists and photojournalists go through to inform and influence.

2. Talking us through what it's like as a woman in this business. She wasn't preachy or in-your-face about it, but she was very frank about when it's awesome because you can access female subjects in conservative areas, and when it sucks because you are underestimated or shut out of stories or groped.

3. Weaving a compelling love story into her memoir. This came out of nowhere for me, but this book would make a smashing good movie someday, and it would be totally swoon-y.

4. Describing the impact of motherhood on her career. Not that she and I have much in common, but her thoughts on how hard it is to find balance and navigate the professional world when your equilibrium has shifted to include a tiny helpless person really resonated with me.

5. Pictures. There are so many of them in this book, and they are sprinkled throughout in appropriate moments, rather than being corralled into a center insert.

Definitely one of the best memoirs I've ever read. This woman is a rock-star photojournalist, wife, and mother, and I'm a better person for having read her book!

Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's EliteWithout You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. On the whole, a very accessible, always interesting account of an outsider's time in North Korea. However, I did not like the author very much, which in a memoir is a big deal. She was deceptive and pandering and reckless and - most offensively - pretentious. Every time she called that man in Brooklyn - who could not even be bothered to self-censor his emails to her in freaking NORTH KOREA - her "lover," I wanted to chuck my Kindle across the room. BOYFRIEND. JUST SAY BOYFRIEND.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It's a very unusual story and as I read I was often lost in recollections of the very first English class I taught in Damascus. I was the first Westerner my students had ever met, and they loved telling me all about my own country. It was hard sometimes to listen to them tell me about how cruel my own government was to my own people, when all I would have to do to refute them would be to tell them to ask their parents about Hama. So yes, this book really resonated with me, even if I was also sometimes troubled by it.

I think we English teachers abroad sometimes think we can know our students because we spend hours with them every day in a classroom, and read their thoughts in essays, and observe them with each other. But over the years I've come to believe that our students are still essentially unknowable. As their teachers, and as cultural outsiders, we can never really know their world, not completely. The author of this book is sometimes clear about the ambiguous nature of her relationship with her students, but other times she is too sure of their inner thoughts and emotions. She's sure that they're becoming frustrated by the limitations of their internet, or she's sure they're becoming disillusioned by this or that aspect of NK dogma. And I just think we can never really know.

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)Cinder by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Probably more like 3.5 stars, but I'm bumping it up because hooray, I can pass this on to Miriam now that I'm done reading it! She was drawn in by the cover and kept asking me about the story. She hasn't read a lot of (perhaps any) science fiction, so I started to explain hovercrafts and robots. Then she said, "oh, so it's like Star Wars?" Yes. Yes it is, Miriam. Exactly like that.

I can't wait to see how she likes it!

My main complaint is that this book suffers from that syndrome where there is something really important the main character should be doing, but for reasons of Plot, she stands around thinking about it instead. JUST FIX THE DANG ANDROID, CINDER.

The House at RivertonThe House at Riverton by Kate Morton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I give this one a very robust MEH. If you read the description and think you might like this book, go for it!!! If not, don't!!!

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