Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

How does one even begin to describe the life into which Shin Dong-Hyuk was born?  The son of parents chosen by his captors, Shin ages (I hesitate to use the term,”grows”) in the bleak environment of Camp 14, one of six North Korean political prison camps in existence today. Physical and psychological torture were simply a way of life. Cut-throat competition for food and clothing were encouraged by prison guards, and expression of any form of love was simply non-existent.  Before Shin’s miraculous escape  in January 2005, no one born into one of these camps had ever left alive.

Blaine Harden, a veteran reporter and one-time bureau chief for The Washington Post weaves a stark, informative narrative about not only the horrors of camp life and the escape itself, but of young Shin Dong-Hyuk’s difficult adjustment to a life of freedom.  Having lived in a constant state of hunger and physical want, Shin continues to live with the guilt of choices and behaviors that were necessary survival techniques within the camp.  He shares, “I am evolving from being an animal, but is its going very, very slowly.  Sometimes I try to cry and laugh like other people, just to see if it feels like anything.”

Through the unimaginable scenes describing Shin’s life, Blaine Harden exposes the North Korea that exists beyond the headlines– and it’s not a pretty sight.

–Penny

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin

Erik Larson, bestselling author of The Devil in White City, has done it again with his highly readable, nonfiction narrative of an unassuming college professor who becomes the first U. S. ambassador to Germany.  In 1933, William E. Dodd brings his wife and two adult children to Berlin at the beginning of Hitler’s rise to power.  While his daughter, Martha, is enjoying the extravagant parties of high society and the attention of  several handsome young men of the Third Reich, Dodd and his wife struggle to fit in with the more influential members of Germany’s political spectrum.  As the horror of Hitler’s violence and murderous acts reveal more and more of his true character and intent, Dodd watches in alarm as the State Department continues business as usual– with indifference.  In the Garden of Beasts offers a rare, eyewitness account of the unfolding events leading up to the world’s second great war. It pulls back the veil of incomprehensibility as to how such an evil man was left officially unopposed until Europe was awash in blood and terror.

Fascinating read!

–Penny

The 6 Husbands Every Wife Should Have

book jacket

 “You’re not the person I married– you changed!”  “I’m not the one who changed, you did!”  Too often these words are spoken with dismay by couples experiencing strained marital relationships. But according to Dr. Steven Craig, author of The 6 Husbands Every Wife Should Have, “marriages don’t fail when people change; they fail when people don’t change.”

In this book Dr. Craig, a therapist, corporate coach, and host of popular Detroit radio show, discusses the six stages of marriage that he believes every couple faces and how as we change and adapt to our roles in each of these stages, we grow into a deeper, more meaningful relationship with one another. His goal is to reveal how individuals should approach marriage and to share specific methods to facilitate the changes that both husband and wife must embrace within themselves in order to develop a growing, vibrant marriage.

Complete with a “Change Readiness Quiz” and plenty of anecdotal evidence from his years as a therapist, Dr. Craig easily convinces the reader that marrying Mr./Mrs. Right is far less important in a life-long commitment than the willingness of both spouses to become Mr./Mrs. Right.

Great, thoughtful, and easily absorbed read!

–Penny

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A Walk to Remember

A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks is an older book, but it is one of my favorites (by my favorite author: Nicholas Sparks!)  I have read this book and watched to movie more times than I can count.

The story line to A Walk To Remember follows: In 1958, Landon Carter is a teenager who spends most of his time hanging out with his friends and trying hard to ignore the impending responsibilities of adulthood. Then Landon gets roped into acting the lead in the Christmas play opposite the most renowned goody two-shoes in town: Jamie Sullivan. Against his best intentions and the taunts of his buddies, Landon finds himself falling for Jamie and learning some central lessons in life.

This is sure to bring a tear to the eye of readers. As the author suggests, “first you’ll smile, then you’ll cry”. You might also check out the movie of the same title, which was based off of this book.

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The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

The BIg ShortMichael Lewis, author of a number of best-selling non-fiction titles including Liar’s Poker and Moneyball brings his character-driven, narrative voice to the topic of the 2008 crash of the U.S. stock market.  Now, I know next to nothing about stocks and bonds, short and long sales, and the like, but yet I was able to follow this unbelievable tale of smart people being hypnotised by the mistaken belief that the real estate market was impervious to failure.

Few understood, or were willing to admit the risks involved in the selling, and re-selling of bundles of lower- and middle-class Americans’ questionable mortgage debt.  At one point the author asks, “who in their right mind would take out a mortgage knowing that they would be unable to make even the first payment?” And then immediately reworks the question and asks, “who in their right mind would lend to individuals  knowing that they would never be able to make the first payment?”  Lewis’ contention is that mortgage brokers were anxious to lend to anyone so that they might, in turn, sell the mortgages to the lucrative derivative markets.

The author introduces us to a handful of investors who perceived the inevitable and lived to become rich… very rich.  So why does it make me want to bury my little bit of cash in my back yard?

–Penny

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The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared, by Alice Ozma

Alice and her father, a beloved elementary school librarian, have shared a love of reading together since before she can remember.  One night, during Alice’s fourth grade year, she and her dad make a pact to read together every night for 100 consecutive nights.  While celebrating over pancakes upon reaching their goal, they decide to keep “the Streak” going for as many nights as they possibly can.  Thus begins an evening ritual that last until Alice enters college– 3,218 nights!

Alice tells of her relationship with her somewhat eccentric father through the tales of shared books. From learning to ride a bike to their shared love of spiders and thunderstorms, this lighthearted, loving memoir of a girl and her father promises a great read!

–Penny

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Ghost in the Wires

Kevin Mitnick subtitles his memoir, “My adventures as the world’s most wanted hacker.” From the age of 16, he was sought after by law enforcement officials as he became addicted to first phone phreaking and then computer hacking. But during all these escapades, he never damaged or destroyed the systems he invaded.

Kevin had a need and thirst for knowledge and the intrigue of “what makes things work” – from basic phone systems and reprogramming phones to use someone else’s number to make long distance calls to downloading full network operating systems, he always wanted to know how things worked.

As a master of social engineering, he posed as managers and officials looking for information on how to access the very systems that the people he fooled tried to protect. He investigated a hacking “friend” only to find that the friend was in fact an FBI agent who was investigating him. As a result of this discovery, Kevin “disappeared” as the FBI began an all out effort to track him down and ultimately arrest him.

This is the stuff that Hollywood blockbusters are made of — and proves that truth is often more exciting.

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