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Reflections on the #AtoZChallenge

by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

April 14, 2012

W!N: Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden

Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published March 2012 by Viking
ISBN13: 9780670023325


The shocking story of one of the few people born in a North Korean political prison to have escaped and survived.
North Korea is isolated and hungry, bankrupt and belligerent. It is also armed with nuclear weapons. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people are being held in its political prison camps, which have existed twice as long as Stalin's Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. Very few born and raised in these camps have escaped. But Shin Donghyuk did.

In Escape from Camp 14, acclaimed journalist Blaine Harden tells the story of Shin Dong-hyuk and through the lens of Shin's life unlocks the secrets of the world's most repressive totalitarian state. 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 own family. Through Harden's harrowing narrative of Shin's life and remarkable escape, he offers an unequaled inside account of one of the world's darkest nations and a riveting tale of endurance, courage, and survival.


Blaine Harden is a reporter for PBS Frontline and a contributor to the The Econmist. He has formerly served as The Washington Post's bureau chief in East Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa; he also worked as national correspondant for The New York Times and as a writer for the Times magazine. He is the author of Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent and A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia. He lives in Seattle, Washington. 


“Following Shin’s story from North Korea to China to South Korea and eventually to the States and connecting it to the larger story of North Korea’s dictatorship and culture, Harden tells a gripping story. [ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14 is] a book that all adults should read.”
Library Journal (Starred review)


“With a protagonist born into a life of backbreaking labor, cutthroat rivalries, and a nearly complete absence of human affection, Harden’s book reads like a dystopian thriller.”
Publishers Weekly

“The chilling [and] remarkable story of deliverance from a hidden land.”


If you would like a chance to win a copy of Escape from Camp 14, please use the entry form below. Please note the book can only be sent to a U.S. postal address.

April 13, 2012

Book News at Athens Patch

I'm a bit under the weather so I did not get the contest for Camp 14 up for today. It will start tomorrow. In the meantime, head over to the Athens Patch for book news.

Also, voting for the Independent Book Blogger Awards at Goodreads continues. I would appreciate your vote! See my post here about other ways you can support my blog.

Happy Friday!
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April 12, 2012

Tips on Thursday: Ratings

Three stars
Three stars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The topic I'm discussing today has cropped up on a few blogs over the last few months: star ratings. You may notice I do not give star ratings to the reviews on my blog. However, if you see my review on Amazon or Goodreads it will have a rating. It is required at Amazon and I do it at Goodreads because I hate having blanks on a form. I also don't mind leaving a star rating on Goodreads, but I hate that Amazon requires it. I'll explain below.

The first post I saw about ratings was more about the algorithm Amazon uses to determine featured books. At Amazon, only 4 and 5 star ratings are considered. Because everyone knows this, it might be encouraged that reviewers leave 4 and 5 stars to help the author out. Also, because of the reliance on 4 and 5 star reviews, 3 stars have been deemed a negative review. One post I read argued for reviewers to change their perception on how they think about the ratings and reconsider 3 stars not to be helpful. It is interesting to note that Publisher's Weekly only provides a starred review. I kind of wonder if a thumbs up or down would be better than the 5 star rating system.

Concept Processing
Concept Processing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I personally do not think 3 stars equate to a negative review and I worry that we are/will experience rating inflation (much like grade inflation). If you think about the star ratings as letter grades, we would have A, B, C, D, and F. You may remember from your school days, a C is average. A C would equate to a 3 on our star system. Since 3/C is the average, by definition most books will fall into the 3 star range. When I see a reviewer giving all 4 and 5 star ratings, I think they are incredibly lucky in choosing books for review or they lack discernment. If it is the latter, then the reviewer's credibility is questionable. To me, a 3 is still a good book. I think people should read it. It's entertaining. For a 3 star book, I'm glad I read it, will probably read other books by the author, recommend it to others, but probably don't care to read it again and again.

Since most people are incapable of being 100% objective, reviews always contain at least a small degree of bias. I think ratings show the most potential for bias. Why? Because we automatically compare books when we put them on a scale. Have you ever read the most outstanding book, then read another in the same genre and feel let down? You would give it a lower rating, right? However, would that have been the rating had you never read the outstanding book? I try to vary the genres I read for this purpose.

If you are going to include a rating system on your blog, I encourage you to denote what each category means. I don't mind Goodreads rating system, because when you hover over the stars a scale is provide denoting what each star rating means (1 = didn't like it, 2 = it was ok, 3 = liked it, 4 = really liked it, 5 = it was amazing). Amazon does not provide any explanation of its rating system that I can find. Therefore, whereas a 3 star rating may mean I liked it, to someone else it might mean I didn't like it.

Because of the subjectivity in the star rating, a reviewer should always qualify their response with an actual review as to why they rated it they way they did. Nothing irks me (or the author) more to see a rating on Goodreads and no explanation as to why.

What do you think about the star rating system? Do you consider how many stars a book has when choosing it? Would it be better just to give a thumbs up or down a la Siskel and Ebert?
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April 11, 2012

Independent Book Blogger Awards

I'm doing something that I haven't done since high school - asking people to vote for me. Instead of hoping to make the homecoming court or student council, today, I'm hoping to move to the next round of the Independent Book Blogger Awards at

Independent Book Blogger Awards
Vote for Girl Who Reads for the Independent Book Blogger Awards!

The first round of voting began yesterday. In this round, public vote will decide the top 15 blogs in each category (Adult fiction, Young Adult fiction, Non-fiction, and Publishing News) who will become semifinalists. (My blog is in the Adult category)The semifinalists will then be judged by a panel of industry professionals to determine the winner in each category. The winner in each category will win a trip to Book Expo of America including hotel accommodations and airfare.

You must be a Goodreads user to vote. If you don't want to sign up for an account, there are other ways you can help.

  • Tweet between now and April 23. Here is a sample tweet or you can make your own: Vote for @Girl_Who_Reads for Independent Book Blogger Award [Tweet This]
  • Post a status message on your Facebook page encouraging your friends to vote for me. You can use the message above or create your own. Please be sure to include this link:
  • Post a message on your blog or Tumblr. If you would like the above graphic to use, please email me and I can send you the HTML code for it. You can also grab my button on the side bar to help advertise. Feel free to use any or all of this blog post on your own blog/Tumblr.
If you don't tweet, facebook, or blog, you can still help. The finalists are determined by a panel of judges who will be looking for certain criteria:
  • quality of writing (well-written, cohesive, succinct, without spelling or grammatical errors) (20%),
  • quality of analysis (illustrates blogger’s knowledge and comfort with the topic at hand) (20%),
  • visual design and presentation (design and layout of the blog should be aesthetically pleasing without detracting from the focus of the content) (20%), 
  • audience tone (dialogue reflects intended audience) (20%),
  • and reader discussion/impact (relative concentration of the types of discussion that the blog prompts among its readers, regardless of whether the discussion is positive or negative in nature) (20%).
The last item in particular you can help me. Please consider leaving a comment on one or all of the following posts (these are the ones that have been submitted for consideration):
Thank you for supporting my blog through voting, tweeting, sharing on Facebook, and leaving comments. You can vote for one blog in each category: Adult, Young Adult, Non-fiction, and Publishing news categories. There are many excellent blogs, please do take a look at them.

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April 10, 2012

Kid Approved: Fire Mage

Fire Mage (Blacklight Chronicles #1) by John Forrester
Published November 2011 by Amber Muse
ISBN13: 9780984825905
Read March 2012
Add to Goodreads Shelf
Buy: IndieBound, Powell's Books, Amazon

Many of you know I have a niece who has been a reluctant reader in the past. After reading The Gateway Chronicles by K. B. Hoyle, she has found she loves books. Now, we are trying to find books that she will like so she will keep reading. So on Twitter one day I asked for recommendations. John Forrester responded and offered to send me an ebook copy. 

I read Fire Mage in a week. It is fast paced - you jump from action scene to action scene with little downtime. The writing was superb to the point that I would often forget I was reading a middle grades book. Before I even got to the end I knew I needed the sequel.

I knew this story would be a winner with my niece (and hopefully my nephew, except he is all about graphic novels right now). I purchased paperback copies thinking they would read them this summer with my mom. A bit to my shock a few weekends ago, I see my niece reading it and about halfway through it. It only took her a week to read it and this weekend she had already moved on to Sun Mage (but I made her promise me she wouldn't tell me what happened because I haven't had the chance to read it, yet).

So what did my niece have to say?
Fire Mage is about Talis and his friends finding an island. If they don't finish their quest their town will be lost. I liked the adventure and magic. It was a good story. I recommend it to everyone who likes magic and fantasy books. ~ Jamie, age 10

I enjoyed the descriptiveness of the setting. When they were in the arena I kind of imagined this scene from How to Train Your Dragon, minus the dragons:

ROME - OCTOBER 14:  Tourists walk in the Colis...
ROME - OCTOBER 14: (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

But in all honesty I wondered if it was more like the battles in rhe Colosseum. As I did picture the city to be a lot of stone and brick, much like I imagine the ancient Romain Empire.
I was a little confused about the world they lived in. It was written for younger kids, so maybe they don't question the laws and physics of fantasy worlds like I do as an adult. My niece apparently had no problems just accepting it was the way the world works. 

It was a fun read that will leave you questioning loyalties and maybe rooting a bit for love.

Voting begins today for the Independent Book Blogger Award at If you enjoy my reviews and other posts, I would appreciate you taking the time to vote for Girl Who Reads.

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April 9, 2012

Video Blog #11: This week's books


You Are What You Wear by Jennifer Baumgartner
Add to Goodreads Shelf
BuyIndieBound, Powell's Books, Amazon

See my article at Athens Patch

True Love Way by Nancy Scrofano
Marlo Spencer relishes all things retro. Old TV shows, classic movies, and even the collectible lunch boxes to go with them. In fact, she’s quite cozy in her Malibu apartment, surrounded by her treasured knick-knacks and vintage memorabilia. It’s her best friend, Nik, who doesn’t get her fascination with all that “old junk,” as he calls it. He especially doesn’t understand why she’s so keen to get back to their hometown of Napa when her high school sweetheart, Josh, suddenly returns after twelve years in Paris and nary a single phone call, eager to reunite with her. So, when Marlo heads up north to wine country to rekindle her relationship with Josh, Nik tags along, claiming he was already planning to visit his sister, Savannah, Marlo’s gal pal. Once they reach Napa, however, dreams of a blissful reunion are shattered as old secrets and past betrayals are revealed, leaving an unsuspecting Marlo to pick up the pieces. Can she forgive and forget, or will true love find a different path to her heart? From

 In My Mailbox:

The Day the World Ends by Ethan Coen
Buy: IndieBound, Powell's Books, Amazon
From one of the most inventive and celebrated filmmakers of the twentieth century, and co-creator of such classics as Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and True Grit, a collection of poems that offers humor and insight into an artist who has always pushed the boundaries of his craft.
Ethan Coen's screenplays have surprised and delighted international audiences with their hilarious vision and bizarrely profound understanding of human nature. This eccentric genius is revealed again in The Day the World Ends, a remarkable range of poems that are as funny, ribald, provocative, raw, and often touching as the brilliant films that have made the Coen brothers cult legends. From

Helen Keller in Love by Rosie Sultan
Buy: IndieBound, Powell's Books, Amazon

A captivating novel that explores the little-known romance of a beloved American iconHelen Keller has long been a towering figure in the pantheon of world heroines. Yet the enduring portrait of her in the popular imagination is The Miracle Worker, which ends when Helen is seven years old.
Rosie Sultan’s debut novel imagines a part of Keller’s life she rarely spoke of or wrote about: the man she once loved. When Helen is in her thirties and Annie Sullivan is diagnosed with tuberculosis, a young man steps in as a private secretary. Peter Fagan opens a new world to Helen, and their sensual interactions—signing and lip-reading with hands and fingers—quickly set in motion a liberating, passionate, and clandestine affair. It’s not long before Helen’s secret is discovered and met with stern disapproval from her family and Annie. As pressure mounts, the lovers plot to elope, and Helen is caught between the expectations of the people who love her and her most intimate desires.
Richly textured and deeply sympathetic, Sultan’s highly inventive telling of a story Keller herself would not tell is both a captivating romance and a rare glimpse into the mind and heart of an inspirational figure. From
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In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren and It's Monday! What are you reading? is hosted by Book Journey. Visit these blogs to learn about other great titles being read by bloggers.
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