Escape From Camp 14 - Blaine Harden

Amazon Summary: North Korea’s political prison camps have existed twice as long as Stalin’s Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. No one born and raised in these camps is known to have escaped. No one, that is, except Shin Dong-hyuk.

In Escape From Camp 14, Blaine Harden unlocks the secrets of the world’s most repressive totalitarian state through the story of Shin’s shocking imprisonment and his astounding getaway. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence—he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his mother and brother.

Escape from Camp 14 offers an unequalled inside account of one of the world’s darkest nations. It is a tale of endurance and courage, survival and hope.

Rating:4 / 5

Review:This will probably be a relatively short review considering the nature of this book. There isn't exactly much to "review" or critique here - Escape From Camp 14 is a factual journalistic account of Shin Dong-hyuk's life and escape from a North Korean labor camp. There are no frills added by author, Blaine Harden which is fitting given the solemn tone of the story. Given how rare a personal story like this is coming from behind the nation's walls of secrecy, it seems imperative to read if you have any interest whatsoever in global affairs. I was astounded by not only Shin's bravery throughout his story, but by his willingness to come forward and share such intimate details of his life with the public. He's truly remarkable and my heart goes out to him and any others facing these nightmares each day.

All I can really say is - this book is going to stick with you.

Recent News:
-North Korea Ready to Start Nuclear Talks
-Did North Korea really admit to its horrific forced labor camps? Not exactly.
-In Kim Jong-un’s Absence, Rumors About Him Swirl in North Korea
-Japanese women who have escaped from North Korea find little sympathy at home

Final Thoughts: Read this. Learn. Understand.

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy (Review)

Amazon Summary: Described by William Faulkner as the best novel ever written and by Fyodor Dostoevsky as “flawless,” Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and thereby exposes herself to the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel's seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.

Rating: 3.5 - 4 / 5

Review: Coming in at a little over 700 pages, Anna Karenina felt like quite a journey by the ending. It took me a little over a month (while reading comics in between) to get through this one and I'm definitely feeling the sadness of being separated from the characters after so long. I've been writing up this review on and off all day because I'm not sure how to summarize a piece as large as this. The two elements that stuck out to me the most were the larger thematic topics the book broached (relationships, gender, family, class issues etc.) and the political commentary of the time/location. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that a good portion of the political discussion went right over my head. Don't get me wrong - there are parts that are easy to follow despite having no background information - but there were large paragraphs where I had to concede my lack of understanding. Despite this, I was very drawn in throughout the majority of the book. The books sections take on a third-person perspective from each character's point of view which shifts the narration tone a bit with each voice. As might be assumed, the pieces from the titular character were the most interesting for me.

The book felt split primarily between the lives of Anna and her lover, Vronsky, and their distantly related acquaintances Levin and Kitty. Anna lives a much more liberal and upper-class lifestyle (due to her decision to leave her husband and child for Vronsky) while Levin and Kitty have a slow-paced, more traditional marriage running the family farm. I especially enjoyed scenes in which the women's lives were juxtaposed amongst one another - particularly because their interactions (the 'whore' vs the 'madonna') still somehow felt deeply relevant to our current society. I'm still amazed at how little our interactions and roles have changed despite how far off these characters seem from my own life. Levin, who is an obvious stand-in for Tolstoy, while not awful is a bit on the dull side and has some very long-winded passages.

If you consider yourself a writer or an avid reader, this book is worth your time if only to study Tolstoy's mastery of language. And I'm sure I was still missing some of the depth due to subtleties being lost in the translation. Each scene, no matter how simple and mundane was lovely to read and incredibly easy to get lost in. I was surprised to find the depth and humanity that Tolstoy gave to his female characters. I felt they were represented sympathetically and fairly the majority of the time - although I thought the ending was extremely rushed and did not give Anna (or any of the other ladies, to be fair) her due. I was really loving the book the majority of the way through, and it would have earned a solid 4 from me had it not ended as unresolved as it did. The amount of time given to Levin at the end vs. Anna and her family seemed self-indulgent and not as carefully planned as the rest of the book. Perhaps it was done for a reason that I'm not understanding, but I wanted more of a resolution after dedicating so much time to the story.

Final Thoughts: I have a feeling the average reader will find this a struggle to get through - but it's written beautifully and is overall well done. For readers and writers it's a must - for everyone else it really depends on your level of interest when it comes to realistic fiction and how much time you're willing to spend on one book.

Animal Crossing QR Codes (Paths)

One of the few things I tend to carry around with me all the time is my Nintendo 3DS. It's easily one of my favorite ways to play games because of how small and portable it is. The most relaxing & happy game I play (almost daily at this point) is Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I won't go into detail about gameplay as it is very popular and there are plenty of references if you Google it! One of the best parts of the game is the amount of customizable content that can be used to decorate your house & town. I've collected some of my favorite QR codes to share with you guys for your games! This will be the first in a series of posts - today I'm posting PATHS as our first collection.

Trip to Outer Banks, NC

I had the pleasure of spending a few days of my summer in North Carolina's Outer Banks with my boyfriend and his family. It was about a 10 hour ride to get from New York to our destination - and although the end result was quite fun I don't know that I'd necessarily be willing to take such a long drive in one shot again. I'm always a little scared to bring our camera onto the beach because I don't want sand to get into anything, but I decided to brave it on this trip and I'm pretty happy with the results. I hope you enjoy some of the shots I took!

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Chew - John Layman, Rob Guillory (Review)

Amazon Summary: Tony Chu is a detective with a secret. A weird secret. Tony Chu is Cibopathic, which means he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats. It also means he's a hell of a detective, as long as he doesn't mind nibbling on the corpse of a murder victim to figure out whodunit, and why.

Rating: 2 / 5

Review: I read Chew and Sex Criminals back-to-back which was a very disappointing two days for me. I'd have to say I disliked Chew a bit more - less for political reasons, and more because it's just not my style, I guess. The story evolves around detective Tony Chu who is a "cibopathic" - it is explained to us that he receives psychic impressions about the food he consumes. Naturally, this leads to Tony being employed by the FDA. Why? Oh right, because while this universe already has food-related superpowers, it is also going through a chicken shortage. And the FDA is apparently spending a lot of time and resources cracking down on the illegal, underground chicken-selling market.

We meet Amelia Mintz (the love interest), who seemingly serves no purpose other than to give Tony someone to excessively drool over. She is a "saboscrivner". This means she can apparently write and describe food so well that people actually feel as though they are eating it. She uses this power to describe disgusting, rotting food so that their foes will vomit in times of peril ..... yeah (this was where I started to side-eye the book).

If my review sounds disjointed and over the top, you understand exactly how I felt while reading through this comic! After seeing the many awards and accolades it received I was expecting more than weak food themed world-building as a vehicle for amateur humor and excessive gross-out scenes. I've never been a fan of gratuitous potty humor and this brought little else to the table for me to grab onto. I got the feeling much of it is supposed to have a dry, tongue-in-cheek tone but I wasn't digging it. I can only stomach seeing someone eat an uncooked corpse so many times before I close the book - especially when I'm receiving little to no characterization.

Guillory's art is highly stylized, and was definitely the best part of the comic. It's not my personal favorite (a little too loud and cartoonish for me) but I would be interested to check out some of his other work and see how it comes across with a different story. If nothing else, it is very clean and well done.

Final Thoughts:If you don't like gross-out humor, you'll probably feel the same way I did. If that type of comedy is your thing and you dig it stylistically - give it a go. There is obviously an audience out there for it, even if it's not me.