Mini-reviews – End of 2014 Reading part 3

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
Published by Viking Adult

I read this book because a customer at my job recommended it to me during a discussion of the book (and now movie) Unbroken. And also, I had just finished Without You, There is No Us and wanted to read more about North Korea (I still do. Recommendations, please.). Let me just say that anytime I read anything about North Korea, I am never not shocked and heartbroken. That was the case with Escape from Camp 14, without a doubt. I learned more about this atrocious dictator and how he keeps his people enslaved and malnourished and completely ignorant about the rest of the world. In this book, the man who escaped lived in what was basically a death camp, only they don’t outright kill people there, just overwork and underfeed them and get them to have no relationships with one another so they end up either dying of starvation or disease or another prisoner or guard kills them for something horrifyingly insignificant. It’s awful and sad and I don’t even know what to say.

Here’s the thing about this book, thought, that I didn’t like so much. It’s not written by the guy who actually escaped, Shin Donghyuk. Instead, journalist Blaine Harden tells his story for him. For whatever reason, this format just bothered me. I know that Harden spent tons of time with Shin and really got to know him, and I’m sure he knows his story inside and out, but there’s just no way that he can possibly fully understand what Shin has been through. It seemed to me that this format kept the book at arm’s length for me and I would have been much happier reading a book that Shin wrote about his own experiences.

All that being said, Escape from Camp 14 is incredibly fascinating and I would still recommend it. This stuff is happening in our world, RIGHT NOW, and we need to be aware.

YouYou by Caroline Kepnes
Published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books

So. This is a book about a stalker, from the stalker’s point of view. The “you” in the title is the girl he’s stalking. He’s basically writing this book to her, so it reads kind of like this: “I watch you as you get ready for work and you are so beautiful it almost kills me” (I made that line up, but that’s the general idea).

This book is so freaking creepy but it was really good, too. It’s almost weird for me to say a book THIS creepy can be good, but truly I couldn’t put the thing down. The crazy part is that the girl he’s stalking actually becomes friends with him and they kind of start dating … well, read it to find out more. But it got me thinking about all kinds of things like how well do we really know the people we surround ourselves with? You is really good and if you can handle the creep factor, definitely pick it up.

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Published by Scribner

This one is hard for me because I had very, very high expectations. Several people who have very similar reading tastes to mine named it their favorite book of the entire year. I went in expecting to be blown away, and while it is an excellent book and I did really like it, it isn’t my favorite ever.

There’s a lot going on in All the Light We Cannot See, but basically it is set during World War Two, and it’s about two people: Marie-Laure, a young blind girl living in Paris with her father, and Werner, a young German boy who joins the Hitler Youth and ends up being an asset to the Nazis as he has a special talent with radios. I liked the alternating focus between the two – the quick pace kept my interest throughout, and I got to the point towards the end when I was just frantically turning pages to get to how this book would end. I liked how the book explores what this war did to ordinary people, and it was particularly compelling reading about how the Nazis groomed the Hitler Youth to become killers, basically.

I really liked this book, a lot. But it wasn’t my favorite ever and definitely wouldn’t make a top ten list for the year, either. I’ll just take this as yet another reminder that not all books have to be the best, and I shouldn’t have such high expectations.

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12 thoughts on “Mini-reviews – End of 2014 Reading part 3

  1. Oh, aren’t expectations just the nuttiest – how they can really alter a reading experience? Why do we do this to ourselves? 😀 I liked All the Light We Cannot See well enough but didn’t love it. Something about it felt like it was trying to impress me. Does that make sense?

    And, here is my NoKorea rec: Pulitzer Winner The Orphan Master’s Son (my review: http://wp.me/p7r47-2Bj). I meant to read a nonfic companion that I never got to but still on my list: Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick.

    1. Yes I TOTALLY get what you mean about the book trying to impress you. Now that I think about it like that, I felt similarly. I remember when everyone was recommending The Orphan Master’s Son but had no idea it had anything to do with North Korea. I’ll have to check it out! I read Nothing to Envy years ago but don’t remember much, I may read it again soon.

    1. Maybe if you have lowered expectations you’ll end up liking it a lot more! It really is a beautifully written novel. Just not sure it’s the BEST EVER. 😉

  2. Nothing to Envy is wonderful, and I highly recommend it! I also just got the book The Impossible State but have not read it yet.

  3. I recently read Escape form Camp 14 and Nothing to Envy and I will be posting my thoughts on both soon. Also on my reading list are: Without You There Is no Us and Escape from North Korea by Melanie Kirkpatrick.

    1. Without You There Is no Us is fantastic, I highly recommend checking it out. I haven’t heard of Escape from North Korea so I will look into that one, too. Thanks!

  4. Have you read Nothing to Envy? That book is AMAZING and I think everyone should read it. A couple books sort of about North Korea are the one by Laura Ling when she was imprisoned there and her friend (I can’t remember the name of the friend or the titles, but if you look up Laura Ling you’ll find it). I love reading about North Korea too.

    Okay, that You book looked really good to me but it sounds soooo creepy!!!! I don’t know if I could handle that LOL. Have you seen the show Stalker with Dylan McDermott? This just reminded me of that show which is really good!

    All the Light We Cannot See is the one I was the most disappointed in last year!

    1. I read Nothing to Envy but it was so long ago that I remember very little – I may read it again this year. I just requested the one by Laura Ling from the library,thanks for reminding me about that one! No I have not seen the show Stalker but something makes me think that seeing it on TV would be even MORE creepy than reading it in a book. So I might just have to pass. 😉 That’s too bad about All the Light We Cannot See. I think it’s all about the expectation – if you didn’t expect it to be so amazing you might have liked it enough, does that make sense?

  5. I got All the Light on Kindle (where it will probably sit forever because I get distracted by newer things!). Will keep my expectations in check. And as for a book about North Korea, highly recommend The Orphan Master’s Son OR the graphic novel Pyongyang. Both very good and very…in-depth about what is going on over there.

  6. I loved You as well – as much as you can love such a creepy book and disturbing topic. I thought Kepnes did a fantastic job playing with a reader’s emotions and playing on their sympathies. The psychology of what she does with the characters and to the readers is so interesting!

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