Duck, Duck, Moose

Duck, Duck, MooseDuck, Duck, Moose by Joy Heyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Duck’s best friend Goose is gone for winter and Duck is lonely. The animals try to cheer Duck, but Duck, Duck, Pig is too messy, and Duck, Duck, Moose is too scary. Will Duck be alone until Goose gets back? Or can Duck find a way to happily play until Goose gets back?

My Review

Duck, Duck, Moose has all of the elements of the perfect picture book. The story is entertaining for adults and children alike. There aren’t too many words per page and they are fun words to say and hear. The charming illustrations work with the words to tell the full story. Each time we have read this, my kids can’t wait to turn the page to see what problem Duck will find himself in next. I love Duck’s facial expressions. They tell the story in and of themselves.

This book also has a feel good message about friendship and social skills without being annoying or preachy. I love the example duck shows of turning a disappointing situation around with a little problem-solving and a change in attitude. It’s really a plot and message that is relatable to real life. But most importantly, it’s just a positively enjoyable book!

Age Recommendation: I love reading this book over and over with my kids. This one works for the youngest of readers to the oldest.

Appropriateness: Only warm fuzzies and innocence in this one, along with a good dose of wit.


Classroom Use: This book would be great inspiration for creative writing exercises.  Students could come up with their own ideas of what traditional games with combinations of animals might look like. What would work well? What wouldn’t?Students could also write about what they thought Goose was doing while he was away. Would be a great study in point of view.

This book is perfect for studying standards related to “main ideas and details” particularly in looking at describing characters in the story.  Because the illustrations are an integral part of showing characters emotions they actually become “text evidence.” The visual text evidence may be more concrete for some learners and help cement the idea of how to find and use text evidence to support conclusions.  This would also apply to teaching standards related to “integration of knowledge and skills.”

Other Book Recommendations: If you like Duck, Duck, Moose or books like it then you should try The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak, any Elephant and Piggie or Pigeon books by Mo Willems, Cindy Moo by Lori Mortensen, and Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea.


My Lady Jane

My Lady Jane (The Lady Janies, #1)My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Edward (long live the king) is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d much rather be planning for his first kiss…

Jane (reads too many books) is Edward’s cousin, and far more interested in books than romance. Unfortunately for Jane, Edward has arranged to marry her off to secure the line of succession before he dies. And there’s something a little odd about her intended…

Gifford (call him G) is a horse. That is, he’s an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated). Every day at dawn he becomes a noble chestnut steed—but then he wakes at dusk with a mouthful of hay. It’s all very undignified.

The plot thickens as Edward, Jane, and G are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy and the fate of the kingdom is at stake.

My Review

I was completely surprised by how “good” of a read this one was. I was expecting humor and silliness, but I wasn’t expecting to actually be caught up in a well structured, well told, exciting, and enthralling story. It reminded me of “The Princess Bride” with lovable characters, romance, good guys and bad guys and some in between, swashbuckling excitement, all while not taking itself too seriously and using cliche and one-liners to perfection.

I am impressed with the authors’ skills in balancing all of the aspects of good story and writing with laugh out loud silliness. The jokes are weaved into this alternate reality of historical events with both subtlety and transparent nonsense, and it works both ways. Yet the humor doesn’t become higher priority than the story-telling, so it’s satisfying entertainment. I was cheering for love and justice to win in the end and intrigued by how it would be done.

Ironically, this fantasy “spoof” of the Tudor time period inspired me to research and learn more about the actual events that inspired the book, so I now have a much greater understanding of the English monarchy from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I. I love the series “Victoria” on PBS so I even took my study a little further to see how the chain of the monarchy led to her reign as well.

This is a one of a kind young adult fiction and a thoroughly enjoyable one too.

Age Recommendation: Some understanding of history will add to the enjoyment of the genius and humor of this book so I would recommend it to 15 and older.

Appropriateness: The subject of “consummating marriage” comes up a bit, and  there are some other references to kissing and sex. Some of it may be bordering on crude for some readers, but in the spirit of the book I found it all hilarious, endearing, or relatable and accurate.  There is kissing and characters are often found naked due to the condition of sporadically changing into animals, but none of the description is sensationalized or gratuitous.

Other Book Recommendations: If My Lady Jane interests you then I think you would also enjoy The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Goblins in the Castle by Bruce Coville, Frogkisser by Garth Nix, The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman,  Holes by Louis Sachar,  My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century by Rachel Harris, The Kiss of a Stranger by Sarah M. Eden, and The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak.


Time Between Us

Time Between Us (Time Between Us, #1)Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Anna and Bennett were never supposed to meet: she lives in 1995 Chicago and he lives in 2012 San Francisco. But Bennett has the unique ability to travel through time and space, which brings him into Anna’s life, and with him a new world of adventure and possibility.

As their relationship deepens, the two face the reality that Bennett must go back to where he belongs. Against a ticking clock, Anna and Bennett are forced to ask themselves how far they can push the bounds of fate, what consequences they can bear in order to stay together, and whether their love can stand the test of time.

My Review

I was really wanting a “fluffy” book that wouldn’t require me to work too hard to get into it, that would be quickly entertaining and interesting, and not completely devoid of good writing. Time Between Us filled that role pretty well.

I was drawn in right away by the mystery introduced in the first pages. The writing was easy, but not annoying. I found the characters believable and likable, though the “best friend” was maybe a little too cliche. The pacing of the development in romantic interest and tension was good for me. The pacing and format for revealing the secrets of the time traveling mystery felt a little disjointed, and I wanted more details as to why and how this was even possible, as well as better description of the ins and outs of the rules that control the power.

I wasn’t sure I completely believed that Anna and Bennett wouldn’t have been a little more active in using the power to be more irresponsible. I thought their greatest moment of irresponsibility in going back to change the past didn’t carry enough “umph.” Anna didn’t seem ashamed or sorry enough for the unintended consequences of that choice, and I was disappointed that there wasn’t more information about how the rest of that plot point played out from there.

Despite some unsatisfying plot holes this book still met my desire for entertainment at the time, so overall I liked it. I started the second book in the series and wasn’t really drawn in or interested like I was from the beginning of this one. So I doubt I will be finishing the sequel. But at least I got what I came for in this book.

Age Recommendation: This is a young adult fiction and definitely fits that genre well, so I recommend it for “young adults.” Likely 14 and older will enjoy it most.

Appropriateness: There is physical touch and kissing between teenage characters. I found the description appropriate for the intended audience. There was some swearing in the book but it didn’t distract me from the story.

Other Book Recommendations: If Time Between Us interests you then you should also try Until we Meet Again and Remember Me Always both by Renee Collins, Eruption and Reclamation by Adrienne Quintana, The Unicorn Hunter by Rachel Kirkaldie, The Time Key by Melanie Bateman, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, The Midnighters series by Scott Westerfeld,

The Nightingale

The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

An epic novel of love and war, spanning from the 1940s to the present day, and the secret lives of those who live in a small French town. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women.

My Review

I read this book at the wrong time. I should have loved it. It’s historical fiction, set in France, with romance. But it’s also heavy World War II terrible stuff and in the few months before picking up this one I had only read other heavy subject matter books.

It didn’t start out too heavy though. I actually first listened to the audio book and then switched to ebook. I was completely caught up throughout part 1 in the French language and culture and description of the scenery, the family relationships, and romance. I enjoyed the poetic language that was so fitting for the time and place. Though I did find the detailed descriptions of clothing and food a little too frequent and over the top.

Then the Nazi’s invaded France in the book and turmoil and trauma invaded my La Vie en Rose experience. I just wasn’t prepared for it like I thought. After having recently read so many books about our current and real world tribulation I realized that I really wanted a little “fluff” to read.

I was interested in the characters though so I kept pushing through until I could see the writing on the wall that things were only going to get more “real” and I wasn’t even halfway through the book. I just couldn’t do it; I didn’t have the emotional stamina.

But I still wanted to find out what would happen to these characters, and I had to know who the elderly lady narrator really was. So I skipped to the end and skimmed backwards until I felt like I had a pretty good idea of the major events. What I found out made me glad I stopped where I did, but I feel sad that at another time, in a little different mood, I could have really enjoyed the depth of character and plot.

Age Recommendation: 18 and older. This is a war story and also a romance. Readers should be mature enough and knowledgeable enough about WWII to follow characters through horrible trauma and deprivation,  but also find purpose and joy in love.

Appropriateness: There is sexual content, both between married and unmarried characters as well consensual and not. There is war related violence and injustice. I didn’t read the whole book, but from what I did read some of it was more graphically described than what I was up for at the time, but it may not bother other readers. Had I been in more of a mood for something deep and epic it may not have bothered me either.

This book would provide plenty of discussion material for book club in regards to are historical and cultural factors, family relationships, communication, how best to stand up for truth and morality, what is most important in war or where their is injustice.

Other Book Recommendations: If The Nightingale is of interest to you then you should also try The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, The Zion Covenant series by Bodie Thoene, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Armageddon Summer by Jane Yolen and Bruce Coville, The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski, Cash Valley by Ryan K. Nelson, or Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.



I am Malala

I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the TalibanI Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

I come from a country that was created at midnight. When I almost died it was just after midday.

When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. At 15 years old she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.

Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

I Am Malala is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, of a father who championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.

My Review

When I started listening to the audio book I think I was expecting a fairly short recap of a girls life leading up to how and why she got shot. I mean, she was just a teenager after all so how much of her life could there be to tell? I chose the book because it was readily available, and while I had heard about Malala I didn’t really know much about her, and she seems like the kind of person I should know about in order to be up on the current issues.

I was surprised when the book started right off with the day of the shooting. I realized this was not going to be the book I was expecting, but I was ok with that because I was only more intrigued by the “why” after hearing about the “how” of the shooting.

It was a pleasant surprise to learn about the history and culture of Pakistan and Islam. I’m not the most well-informed world citizen, but I ain’t totally ignorant either, so this was a great format for me to gain a broader perspective of the intricate and interconnected workings of our modern world. I was fascinated by the history of Malala’s family and how it connected to the broader national and religious history. The descriptions of the Swat Valley left me hoping I could someday visit Pakistan to see it for myself.

I watched “The Viceroy’s House” on Netflix after finishing the book; it is a movie about the time surrounding Pakistan’s birth. While it may not be the most accurate portrayal of history, it did teach me much more than I had known before about that time in history. It also furthered my interest in learning more about Pakistan and Afghanistan so I can better understand current events.

Malala’s teenage voice and perspective were fun and refreshing through a tale of hardship and danger. But she also has a maturity and wisdom beyond her years. It was joyful to hear that a girl who is willing to stand up to gangs and murderers for the right to go to school also was obsessed with Twilight and dreamed of being a vampire.

I respect Malala and her family not only for their work to provide educational opportunities for girls, even at the risk of their own lives, but also because they are good. They are devoted to their God and to each other. They show patience and understanding for differences in people. There is no self-righteousness nor self-deprecation when describing the wonders and problems in their country and religion. Malala’s voice keeps a neutrality even when describing the ways in which the Western world wronged or betrayed her country. There is acceptance of the good, the bad, and the ugly in all of us, but with a hope and striving for the best. More empathy in this world could make all the difference.

Age Recommendation: 16 and older. Malala is a teenager herself and is relatable as such, but the issues in the book and her experiences require some scope of world understanding.

Appropriateness: Some readers may be disturbed by the violent and unjust events in the book, but I didn’t find any of the description offensive.

I gained a lot of perspective of my place in the world and felt a bit humbled by it. This would be a perfect book club choice.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in I Am Malala then you might also enjoy When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen, and Without You there is No Us by Suki Kim.


The Spy

The SpyThe Spy by Paulo Coelho

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

When Mata Hari arrived in Paris she was penniless. Within months she was the most celebrated woman in the city. As a dancer, she shocked and delighted audiences; as a courtesan, she bewitched the era’s richest and most powerful men.

But as paranoia consumed a country at war, Mata Hari’s lifestyle brought her under suspicion. In 1917, she was arrested and accused of espionage. Told in Mata Hari’s voice through her final letter, The Spy is the story of a woman who dared to defy convention and who paid the ultimate price.

My Review

I couldn’t get very far into this one before the details of rape and abuse were just too much. I picked The Spy up because I really enjoyed Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. I thought with the uplifting and even Christian theme in that book certainly Coelho could tell the life story of a prostitute convicted of treason with some class and delicacy. Unfortunately, for me the first chapters of The Spy felt more like an excuse to romanticize sexual abuse rather than an effort to present truth, fact, or history.

“A Novel” is clearly printed on the front cover so I should have been expecting this to read like fiction, but because it’s main subject is the life of a real person I was expecting a more biographical feel.

The narrator in the introduction of the book sets up Mata Hari as a hero. Then in the first chapter Coelho begins to tell the story through Mata Hari’s own voice; unfortunately with the voice he gives her she comes off as completely selfish, even narcissistic. She certainly was a “broken” person which is understandable given the abuses she endured, but Coelho’s choice in presentation of her life events and her reactions to them left me unimpressed and sad. I didn’t feel like cheering for her as a hero; I felt pity that a traumatized woman didn’t get the help she deserved.

Through Coelho’s characterization of her, Mata Hari says, “My only crime was to be an independent woman.” I find it sad that Coelho would equate self-destructive choices from a victim of abuse with independence and heroism. Since I didn’t actually finish the book I guess it’s possible that the author actually finds her heroic for other reasons, but based on the first few chapters I was pretty sure his ideas of heroism and mine are very different. I don’t know much about Mata Hari (I had hoped this book would help me learn more), so I can’t really say whether she was heroic or not, selfish or not, but I don’t think Coelho’s book is going to give me an accurate picture of this complicated woman.

Age Recommendation: With the sexual content I would say this for mature adult readers.

Appropriateness: I found the author’s choice of how to present the sexual content very inappropriate and I would not recommend this book.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in Mata Hari’s story I have found several nonfiction options on Goodreads that you should try before picking up this book. I am interested in reading Mata Hari: The Controversial Life and Legacy of World War I’s Most Famous Spy  by Charles Rivers Editors.

If you are interested in historical (or historically based) heroism I recommend The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne, or Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.


AtlantiaAtlantia by Ally Condie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

For as long as she can remember, Rio has dreamed of the sand and sky Above—of life beyond her underwater city of Atlantia. But in a single moment, all Rio’s hopes for the future are shattered when her twin sister, Bay, makes an unexpected choice, stranding Rio Below. Alone, ripped away from the last person who knew Rio’s true self—and the powerful siren voice she has long silenced—she has nothing left to lose.

Guided by a dangerous and unlikely mentor, Rio formulates a plan that leads to increasingly treacherous questions about her mother’s death, her own destiny, and the corrupted system constructed to govern the Divide between land and sea. Her life and her city depend on Rio to listen to the voices of the past and to speak long-hidden truths.

My Review

I didn’t love Matched by Ally Condie so I’m not sure why I decided to pick up Atlantia. Maybe because I thought there were a few redeeming qualities in Matched, at least enough for me to give Condie a second chance. The plot also intrigued me, and I was looking for something easy to read and entertaining to read over the holidays.

Well, Atlantia certainly fit the bill for easy to read and it was entertaining enough that I finished it. However, it had many of the same disappointments that I found in Matched. It’s difficult not to compare the two books because they are both dystopian fiction for teens, written by the same author.

In both books I was quickly drawn in to the premise, the excitement of exploring a new world, and the anticipation of how the story and characters could develop within the rules of the new world. I think the author did a better job of creating a believable world for Atlantia than she did with Matched. I didn’t find myself questioning so much whether the human responses were plausible given the circumstances. I was actually quite impressed by the beginning of the book. I loved how Condie “showed” me the rules of the world she had created rather than “told.” The pacing was quick and engaging, and the world itself was interesting and had some unique aspects. Through the first quarter of the book I had high hopes that it was going to succeed where Matched had failed me.

At the halfway mark, unfortunately, my hopes crumbled. The book centers around conflict between the world Below (the city Atlantia which was built in a “bubble” on the ocean floor) and the world Above (the world we inhabit). The main characters and the storytelling begins Below, but it’s clear early on that the story will, at some point, have to continue Above. I was disappointed and bored to get halfway through and still be building to the point where the action would switch to Above. I knew at that point that there was going to be rushed action to the climax and rushed resolution in order to wrap up the story in the number of pages left.

I was right. I didn’t get nearly the feel or Above that I needed to balance the care that had been taken to show me Below. The characters Above were weak without the needed development and I didn’t care for them like I needed to in order to really care about the plot. In the world Below the author used mystery and the characters’ gradual discovery of important information to build tension. A little over halfway through that method completely broke down and information just starts getting handed out left and right. It felt like the author knew how she wanted to wrap it all up, but she didn’t have a great grasp on the steps needed to get there. She spent an overly long time building up which could have been ok if the same care had been taken in the action and resolution. But instead it just fell flat and became forgettable.

I debated on whether to give 2 or 3 stars. I settled on 3 because I respect the potential of the author’s ideas. I even liked the poetic style she tried to give her prose. I felt like it fit the idea of an underwater civilization that worships “the Gods.” Had she just been able to balance the story elements better it would have been a satisfying entertainment escape.

Age Recommendation: Because of the dystopian elements as well as some teen romance this book would be enjoyed best by 14 and older.

Appropriateness: There is no swearing, no graphic violence or gory descriptions. Some kissing but not overly descriptive. Pretty squeaky clean in my book.

Other Book Recommendations: If Atlantia interests you, you might also like Matched by Ally Condie, Until We Meet Again , Remember me Always, or Relic, all by Renee Collins, An Uncommon Blue by R.C. Hancock, Eruption and Reclamation by Adrienne Quintana, Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan, or The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau.

Without You There is No Us

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: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

It is 2011, and all universities in North Korea have been shut down for an entire year, the students sent to construction fields – except for the 270 students at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), a walled compound where portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il look on impassively from the walls of every room, and where Suki has accepted a job teaching English.

Life at PUST is lonely and claustrophobic where letters are read by censors, every conversation is listened to, and a communist regime controls behavior, belief, and fairly successfully even thoughts. To the students, everything in North Korea is the best, the tallest, the most delicious, the envy of all nations. Suki is unnerved by their obedience to the regime and the ease with which they lie. Still, she cannot help but love them – their boyish enthusiasm, their eagerness to please, the flashes of curiosity that have not yet been extinguished.

Without You, There Is No Us offers a moving and incalculably rare glimpse of life in the world’s most unknowable country, and at the privileged young men she calls “soldiers and slaves.”

My Review

Fascinating is the best the word I can think of to describe this book. I didn’t know much about North Korea before reading/listening, other than the basics such as it’s a communist country with a preoccupation with nuclear weapons, it and South Korea were separated at some point after some war in the past, Japan had invaded Korea at one point, and North Korea was very much closed to the rest of the world. I wouldn’t say that this book is a great textbook for learning the history or political movements of North Korea, but for someone with decent logic and reasoning skills, and a pretty good grasp of world history this was a very engaging way to get a glimpse into the role North Korea has played and currently plays on the international stage.

The book is categorized as a memoir which I would say is accurate, but it felt like a memoir ensconced in truth and important perspective. As a South Korean who immigrated to the United States the author has a very unique context from which to view the events and ideas she experienced in North Korea. Because the book is written from her experience and with her own reflection on that experience it does fit the memoir mold. However, as a reader I trusted her reflections because of her own past and culture. She could see things in a way that others without her kind of love for Korea would not. Which was kind of the point of her efforts. I appreciated not only her interpretation of reactions, ideas, and events based on her personal ties to the country and people, but also her sharing the insight and identity she gained and lost through her experience.

If the book were just Suki Kim’s musings about Korea, war, communism, religion, loyalty, truth, and education then it would be interesting but it may not be as important as it felt to me. Kim is a journalist, one who had followed stories in North Korea before her time as a teacher there. Her perspective from that role gives the book an element of reporting that left me feeling I did understand historical events and international relations better.

I loved how the combination of memoir and journalism gave me interesting facts but also affected me emotionally. There were times as I listened that I was caught up purely intellectually in the picture of North Korea that the author was painting for me. It’s a country so removed from me with so many secrets that it was just mesmerizing to hear what being there, living there would be like. But then I would slowly transport myself and start imagining what it would really feel like to be there. The author would share a scene where the restrictions, regulation, and control were no longer just interesting facts, but the realities of people’s lives, and I would feel such sorrow and hurt for the Korean people and any others living always as prisoners.

My emotions yo-yoed right along with the author’s as she described her love/hate relationship with her job, with her students and coworkers, and with the culture she was proud of, but had also rejected in some senses. In an effort to educate myself more about North Korea I read some newspaper articles after finishing the book. I hated how the articles painted all North Koreans as our enemies. Kim’s writing, on the other hand, reveals the humanity of the people, the ways in which we are all the same, while also clearly broadcasting the naivety and even the threat that the North Korean people’s beliefs and choices hold for anyone they deem their enemy (or that their leaders deem their enemy). However, I didn’t come away feeling endangered or afraid. I felt pity. How can I hate a people who have lived for generations under the brainwashing effect of propaganda and lies? I worry FOR them, just as Suki Kim does, but not ABOUT them; they are not my enemy.

Ironically, Kim is clearly not a Christian or a believer, but I found her approach of love, patience, and correction so Christ-like. She compares the belief and faith in God that her Christian coworkers have to the faith and belief that the North Koreans have in their “great leader” and their communist party. From her experience, I can’t deny the grains of truth in her comparison. But I also empathized with the emotion that one coworker expressed or almost expressed when Kim confronted her about the hypocrisy she saw in the coworker’s religious beliefs. It seemed to me that the coworker at that moment was blessed with a Christ-like love for Kim, despite the confrontation Kim had just initiated.
The coworker emoted mostly with her face, a desire to share some eternal truth that she knew, but that she wasn’t sure Kim was ready for yet. Interestingly, since Kim is the one narrating the experience, I think she must have seen her coworker’s emotion too, otherwise she could not have described it in a way that would allow me as the reader to pick up on it.

I think Kim believed her Christian coworker’s good intentions even if she didn’t completely agree with them. I read a blog post from the author where she talks about the backlash she has received since publishing the book from readers who don’t agree with her actions either. But I feel gratitude for Suki Kim and her good intentions. I think, despite her unbelief, her work and writing will open hearts and minds so that God can work with us all as our world gets smaller through technology and more dangerous if small-mindedness is encouraged. I hope, as the author does, that North Koreans will gain freedom and that the world will be ready to receive and help them when they do. I hope that the good that is ingrained in their culture will be appreciated and magnified, not suppressed or wiped out by our often egotistical and overbearing western culture. This is where history can be our best teacher if we will learn from our mistakes of the past to guide our future.

My husband is a geographer so maps are always an interesting source of information in our lives. He found this data image for me that shows light for areas where navigation data is used and shared. This image shows South and North Korea and China. The darkness of North Korea sums up the country fairly well. A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say.


P.S. Listening to this book was a good choice for me. I loved hearing the reader pronounce the Korean names and words that I would have had no idea on had I been reading.

Age Recommendation: 18 and older. To appreciate the implications of and information in this book requires some understanding of history, culture, and politics that I think generally comes only with adulthood.

Appropriateness: Harsh realities of communism, tyranny, poverty, and prejudice are a constant presence in this book, but I didn’t find any of it to be sensational or gory. It can certainly be depressing at times, but mostly I was fascinated. The author does use the term “lover” to describe an old flame, but there is no description of romantic relationships.

I read this because it was selected for book club and I am looking forward to the discussion that will be possible.  This is a perfect book club read.

Other book recommendations: If Without You There is No Us is of interest to you then I think you would also enjoy So Far From the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr,  Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Just Mercy

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and RedemptionJust Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

My Review

This is a really difficult book to review for me. It is an important book for our time. It contains hard truths, but truths nonetheless. It was an uncomfortable and terribly sad read, sometimes even traumatic. I learned things about our justice system that are extremely disheartening. I was presented with narratives of mankind at our very worst and our very best. This book pushed me to consider perspectives I never would have considered on my own. I will be thinking about it for a long time, and I can say that I am glad I read it.

However, I didn’t really like it. Part of my dislike is related to the content, not because I disapprove or disagree. The book presents the realities of injustice, discrimination, bias, corruption, the workings of our country’s justice system, and life and death in prison. It’s harsh and disturbing, and while the realities of life are not always pretty, it was hard for me to take more than just a little of the story at a time. Sometimes I could read only a few pages before I just felt sick about what was being described and had to put it down. However, I did keep coming back and eventually finished it. I had to respect such an important topic, and I needed to know that I had read the whole thing so I wouldn’t misunderstand the author’s purpose. I recognize that it’s ok for me to be disturbed and uncomfortable. In fact, that’s a good thing in some instances because it can evoke change. But I still can’t say that I enjoyed the feeling or experience.

The format of the book also played a part in my dislike. It’s really just a collection of cases that the author has worked on throughout his career, but there is one particular death row case that Stevenson stretches through the entire book while to try to tie it all together, to keep a flow going, and also to provide suspense. This main case is interrupted by tellings of other cases and experiences. I found that format confusing and sometimes abrupt. It was harder for me to keep track of a timeline and order of each case when they were all mixed around main story which was only important to me because the author also describes history, changes, and developments in our justice system that either affected one of his cases or that one of his cases catalyzed. It would have been easier for me to keep track of the causes and effects with a more linear time format. It was hard for me to keep the names and details of each case straight.

I was also turned off by some of the writing. I got tired of the detailed descriptions of every courthouse and prison that the author visited. They didn’t really add to the impact of the case he was describing. The details of the crimes or innocence of his clients packed enough punch all on their own. Repeated description of how different buildings were positioned within a town or how the rooms were laid didn’t help me understand any of his points better.

The author had a tendency to “beat a dead horse” with some of his points as well. I felt bogged down reading so many statistics or examples that supported a conclusion Stevenson was drawing for me. After just a few of his given examples I was on board with him; I believed that is was right in what he was wanting to convince readers of. But then I would get several more examples to really pound it in. At one point I made note that the author had gone on for another 1 1/2 pages pounding the same point after I was already sufficiently convinced.

It was impossible to not feel the author’s passion for his work and I greatly respect him for what he does. We all have our own life experiences or our own “broken-ness” as the author calls it, that affect our choices, behaviors, and even views. I am grateful for a look into Stevenson’s experience and views that opened my mind and heart. However, I also found myself pondering the one-sided-ness of the experience that he presents. It would be an interesting exercise to be able to read from a criminal prosector’s perspective, or a law enforcement perspective on trying to bring full justice to victims after having read a criminal defense attorney’s perspective on trying to bring “just mercy” to broken criminals.

I have no experience in law (unless competing in “Mock Trial” in junior high counts), but I would think this book should be required reading for any law student. Would I say it should be required reading for anyone? I don’t think so. But if it sparks your curiosity at all, or if you are one who likes to be stretched in your thinking, to be informed on all sides of multi-faceted issues, then sure give this one a try. You probably won’t regret it. But then again you might. You definitely will never be the same.

Age Recommendation: 18 and older.  The detailed descriptions of prison conditions, crimes, abuse, prejudice, and injustice are not for the faint of heart or unprepared mind.

Appropriateness: There is description of murder, rape, adultery, capital punishment, stealing, drug use, racial discrimination, corruption in law enforcement and the justice system. However, it is not gratuitous.  There is a overarching moral purpose for presenting such distasteful circumstances.

This would be a great choice for book club.  So much discussion material, but make sure all members of the group are willing and able to handle the subject matter.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in Just Mercy then you might also like Without You There is No Us by Suki Kim, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, or The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

A stable – Christmas thoughts

Two years ago I shared the song “I Believe in Santa Claus” and how it reminded me of thoughts and feelings I have had while a reading a certain part in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  (You can read my full post and find the song linked below if you want.)

So I found it ironic that I found myself this Christmas season thinking again about C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. This year though I been thinking about a part in the last book of the series.

In The Last Battle all of the great kings and queens and friends of Narnia have been brought together to defend the land they love from invaders and traitors. The battle converges around a stable in which the heroes of our story believe they will meet the terrifying God of their enemies.  But instead, upon entering they find they have been magically transported to another world.

One characters comments, “It seems then…that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places.”

“Yes,” replies Lord Digory. “Its inside is bigger than its outside.”

Then Queen Lucy adds, “Yes, in our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”


Obviously, Queen Lucy is referring to the stable in which the Savior of our world was born; and His presence there, His mission to atone for the sins and heartache of the world was much bigger, more eternal, more important, more divine, and more beautiful than the size and appearance of that basic enclosure for animals. That really was the point. Jesus Christ’s birth in a lowly stable set the stage for the rest of His life and for the faith required to receive Him and be saved.

Isaiah explains it best –

“For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:2-5

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Even Had Christ been born in a lavishly adorned palace, or some other place deemed more suitable to a person of His importance and divinity, He still would have been “bigger” than that structure.  Which makes the meekness of His birth all the more humbling and impactful.  The event was heralded grandly by angels and a new star in the heavens; yet, it was the meek and humble who heard and saw and were called to come and see the sacredness of that place. The place and manner of His birth show his divinity as God’s beloved Son, as well as His mission as the Son of man, our brother, our advocate with the Father, our friend. “He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:6).

We too, like the stable, have much more on the inside than what is outwardly visible. We have divine potential as children of our Heavenly Father; because of the gift of a Savior our potential can be realized as we follow Him and learn and grow line upon line. As we partake of the power of Christ’s atonement through repentance, faith, charity, and good works, we become more, become better, become bigger than what we can ever be on our own. One of the great beauties of the Christmas season is how much more we all look for and see “the stable” in others, which inspires us to behave with more kindness, patience, and love toward them as well.

It may seem at times that our lives resemble the stable because we feel unexceptional or even unclean.  Perhaps circumstances or events outside of our control are as unpleasant as the smell of livestock.  But I think it’s comforting to know that Jesus Christ wasn’t born in a stable by mistake. It was fulfillment of prophecy and God’s plan. From the outside His birthplace seems at odds with his divine heritage; in fact, from an outsiders perspective Christ’s entire life was lacking the prestige and luxury that would normally be attributed to a great leader, king, and savior.

But when we look beyond the outward appearance, when we act in faith and enter “the stable,” from the inside we can see with different eyes. The Lord’s message and purpose becomes clearer, and our lives hold greater meaning and joy.


“Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me. And he hath said: Repent all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, and have faith in me, that ye may be saved.

Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope. And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.

If a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity.

And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all…Charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.” (selected verses from Moroni chapter 7.)

 I love how the light, joy, and love of the Christmas season helps me to see better and focus more on the Light of the World, Jesus Christ.  In this world full of uncertainty, suffering, and sin a humble “stable” is often overlooked or ridiculed; it’s lack of status and beauty may be seen as a sign of weakness, naivety, or stupidity. But just like all those thousands of years ago I know the Savior is inside that stable waiting and wanting to receive all of God’s children. His invitation is still current and it is addressed to us all: “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Luke 11:9) Once we enter we will find more than we could have imagined, something “bigger than our whole world.” Almost another world entirely.