Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Book Review Club (February 2010)

Welcome one and all to the lucky THIRTEENTH meeting of The Book Review Club! Sorry to be starting a little late today. It's all due to small bumps in the road of life: a child with some tough math homework (fractions, ugh!), a little teen drama, an unfortunate run-in with the delete key. But, we're here and happy and ready to talk books!

First off, Happy Belated Ground Hog Day! Yesterday, on Gobbler's Knob in Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. However, many groundhogs around the country did not. Which means we're either in for another six weeks of winter. Or... we're not.

In either case, your life will be that much more interesting and fun with some books lying around, just waiting to be read. And that's where we come in. :)

A few weeks ago, Child #2 and I were riding in the car. I tuned the radio to NPR where an author interview was underway. Barbara Demick, Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles times, was talking about her December 2009 release, NOTHING TO ENVY (ORDINARY LIVES IN NORTH KOREA).

Barbara's book chronicles the lives of six North Koreans over a period of 15 years. These people are all from Chongjin, a very poor industrial town in northern North Korea. Chongjin was particularly hard hit during the famine of the 1990s when its factories shut down due to lack of energy and raw materials. In NOTHING TO ENVY, the six North Korean citizens (a pediatrician, a widow, the widow's daughter, a college student, an orphan and a kindergarten teacher) "fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we experience the moments when they realize that their government has betrayed them." ( And we experience how they each decide to defect to Seoul, South Korea.

By the end of the radio interview, Child #2 (a 16 year old boy) and I knew we wanted to read NOTHING TO ENVY.

I don't read a lot of adult nonfiction. But I can say NOTHING TO ENVY is one of the best book I've read in the last six months. Not one of the easiest, mind you, because the subject matter tugs at your heart strings. But well, well worth it.

The title, NOTHING TO ENVY, comes from a patriotic song North Korean children learn, much the way our children learn "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

On a personal note, I find anything to do with Korea fascinating. Child #4 is adopted from South Korea. From the guarded bridge at the DMZ (demilitarized zone, I have looked out over a little corner of North Korean. One of my sisters has visited North Korea twice with food-aid groups. She returned with details similar to many of the details in NOTHING TO ENVY. Even without these connections, though, this book is excellent.

Please click on the links below for amazing reviews from amazing reviewers!


Stacy Nyikos: THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie (young adult)

Thao of Serene Hours: THE NAUGHTY CLUB by Suzanne Young (young adult)

Sarah Laurence: BEAUTIFUL CREATURES by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl (young adult)

Alyssa Goodnight of the Writers' Road Less Traveled: PETRONELLA SAVES NEARLY EVERYONE: THE ENTOMOLOGICAL TALES OF AUGUSTUS T. PERCIVAL by Dene Low (middle grade)

Linda McLaughlin: THE SHAKESPEARE STEALER by Gary Blackwood (middle grade)


Ellen Booraem of Freelance Ne'er-do-well: WOLF HALL by Hilary Mantel (historical)

Kaye of the Book Review Forum: THE LOST QUILTER by Jennifer Chiaverini (historical)

Scott Parker: THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Patti Abbott: CROSSROAD BLUES by Ace Atkins (crime fiction)

Prairie Rose of Prairie Rose's Garden: HARDBALL by Sara Paretsky (mystery, V.I. Warshawski series)

Beth Yarnall: DEEPER THAN THE DEAD by Tami Hoag (suspense)

Staci of Life in the Thumb: THE TIME OF MY LIFE by Patrick Swayze & Lisa Niemi (memoir, audio)

Stacy of The Cat's Meow: THE ANGELS GAME by Carlos Ruiz Zafon


Beth of From the Desk of Bee Drunken: NO IMPACT MAN by Colin Beavan

Jenn Jilks of My Reflections: WORDS TO RHYME WITH: A RHYMING DICTIONARY by W.R. Espry, 3rd edition

Sarahlynn of Yeah, but Houdini didn't have these hips: WRITER MAMA: HOW TO RAISE A WRITING CAREER ALONGSIDE YOUR KIDS by Christina Katz

Jody Feldman: 101 PLACES YOU GOTTA SEE BEFORE YOU'RE 12 by Joanne O'Sullivan

**Exceptional previous reviews are only a click away.**

Note to Reviewers: You know the drill.:) If I missed you, leave me a comment and I'll rectify the situation straight away. And award myself one less cookie today!


  1. Sorry to hear about your hardships, but thanks for hosting. In Maine we’d be celebrating if there were only 6 weeks left of winter. We get the most snow in March.

    Thanks for the review – I’ll have to show my husband since he teaches Asian politics. That's so cool that your son wanted to read it too. My kids typically complain when I listen to NPR.

  2. That sounds like a book well worth reading. Thanks for organizing book club yet again. :)

  3. Barrie, the link to Beth's blog took me to last month's review, but I just clicked on the blog title and found the newest one.

  4. Wow, Barrie, that book sounds fantastic. I don't read much nonfiction either, but this sounds like a must-read. How on earth did the LA Times get such access to these folks?

  5. I watched a movie with a sort of similar backstory (it took place in Japan) called Hula Girls. Loved it. Thanks for the review! I love that your son wanted to read it too!

  6. Thanks, Barrie!
    Life does get in the way of fun, doesn't it?!
    Good for you for adopting, and integrating their genetic history.
    I met my birth mother, as I think you know, and it did not go well. But I had a wonderful upbringing. So many children need homes out there.
    Can't tell you what I'd do to get another radio interview! THings are so difficult.

  7. My pile is getting low and I’d like to get back to reading more non-fiction – have added some of these to my off-to-the-library list.

  8. Sounds like a great book, Barrie--as you say, perhaps not easy to read, but then it's always good to read something now and then that challenges us or faces us to think about truths that aren't so pleasant.

    I've been getting through these long winter nights reading some juicy mysteries, my favorites. No matter what Phil says, I think we'll have another six weeks of winter:) My post is finally up.

  9. Linda, re: Beth's post--thanks! Fixed it!

  10. Wow! thanks for doing all the leg work and grouping these awesome blogs. I'm heading to check out some of them now.

  11. The very thought of the delete key can wake me screaming in the middle of the night. Yeesh. I hope it did not terrorize you too much!

    NOTHING TO ENVY sounds so compelling. Nonfiction is this whole new world for me. So new. So different. So mesmerizing. Must read more of it!

  12. Sounds like a great book.

    I joined the book club this month. Here's my post:

  13. Hi Barrie, the book sounds fascinating. Thanks for the great review.

  14. Hey. I don't normally leave comments, but I just wanted to say thanks for the great information. I have a blog too, though
    I don't write as good as you do, but if you want to check it out here it is. Thanks again and have a great day!

    Retribution Paladin PvP

  15. Thanks so much for compiling all this! Can't. Wait. To. Read. Must. Force. Self. To. Write. Instead.

  16. Teresa,
    I think you'd particularly enjoy reading about China's role with defectors.

  17. Sarah, three of my four kids complain when I listen to NPR! Child #2 is the only one who is fine with it. I love it for two reasons: I love NPR and I love the discussions it sparks with this child. I'll let you know what he thinks of the book. Oh, and not hardships, just blips on the screen. :)

  18. Ellen, the North Koreans features in this were defectors. Which means, actually, that there is nothing ordinary about them! (I'm thinking of the title: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea)

  19. Isn't NPR great? I love it when I tune into public radio (usually Radio 4 in the UK) and get exposed to something that would have passed me by.

    I know very little about North Korea, other than the obvious bad stuff. This book sounds like a good way to get to know the real people. Reading about other areas of the world can certainly strengthen one's sense of gratefulness!

  20. You're so right, Barrie, about rhyming dictionaries for kids. I know I bought a couple for my class that are much simpler and geared for kids. I wrote about them here. I gave them away in a previous chapter of my life! I hope they're being used!!!

  21. Hey Barrie! Sent you an email. Check it out when you get a chance!

  22. One of my daughter's friends had a South Korean exchange student for six months - the sweet girl was only 12 and very quiet (of course!) but she and my daughter got along very well. I love reading non-fiction and will have to read this. Thanks for your passion - it's always inspiring. And your NPR must be our CBC - can't clean house without it- (or drive, or cook, etc)


Comments are always welcome!