all you need to know about me - and then some
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I'm a Library Associate/Adult Services in Maryland. I'm married. I have three children and two grandchildren. And I have twenty chickens and one beehive in the backyard.

Jan 25, 2013

The Aquariums of Pyongyang

Continuing with the North Korean camp prisoner theme, I had to go outside our library system to reserve "The Aquariums of Pyongyang" mentioned in "Escape From Camp 14..."  It was originally published in France in 2000 and translated/published again in 2001. Author and prisoner Kang Chol-hwan wasn't born in the camp. When he was seven years old, he and his entire family - grandparents, uncles, his father and his sister - were imprisoned because the "authorities" deemed them enemies of the state. His family had actually emigrated to North Korea from Japan because his grandparents believed (wrongly) that they could return to North Korea and help re-build the country. First, the grandfather's Volvo was confiscated by the authorities. Then the grandfather was taken away one day (he just disappeared). And, finally, the authorities came for the rest of the family and hauled them away in the bed of a tarp-covered truck. They spent ten years in the camp before they were finally released, but unfortunately they never determined what happened to the grandfather. As we know from his account, Chol-hway managed to flee across the border. We can only hope the "wall" comes down between North Korea and the rest of the world, so people don't have to leave their homeland just to survive. Sooner rather than later.

Jan 8, 2013

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

The first half of Escape From Camp 14 reads like a documentary, but that doesn't mean it isn't a page-turner. We all know, I'm sure, that North Korea is a "sealed" country - no news/information comes out of the country that isn't controlled by the state. And I'm sure most of us also know that the North Koreans have been starving for years. But how many of us know that there are "concentration-like" camps within the country? Camps where people are brutalized daily? Where the only difference between these camps and Hitler's is that no ovens exist to exterminate prisoners on a larger scale?

The prisoners in these camps are worked to death, starved and tortured. They are executed if they try to escape. They are rewarded, usually with a scrap of food, if they snitch on each other, which happens often. No one trusts no one. Parents don't trust their children. Children don't trust their parents or their fellow students. And teachers beat the kids constantly. 

These camps have existed for years - with generations born into the camps that have never known freedom or what the outside world (just outside of the prison camps) is like.  Shin Dong-hyuk was a prisoner by virtue of his birth only. He knows nothing about the outside world until a political prisoner shares tales of grilled meat and other foods. It is then that Shin begins to desire freedom. The freedom to eat and never be hungry again.

Shin is the only known prisoner born into a North Korean prison camp who manages to escape and tell about it. And, as Kongdan Oh, coauthor of The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom, says, "Mr. Shin's story, at times painful to read, recounts his physical and psychological journey from a lifetime of imprisonment in a closed and unfeeling prison society to the joys and challenges of life in a free society where he can live like a human being." Shin says, "I am evolving from being an animal. But it is going very, very slowly. Sometimes I try to cry and laugh like other people, just to see if it feels like anything. Yet tears don't come. Laughter doesn't come."

Shin's existence within Camp 14 will shock you. Especially when you discover early on that he snitched on his mother and brother, who were planning an escape, and in return, he is tortured and then forced to watch their execution - all at the age of 14. And it only gets worse for Shin (believe it or not) until he escapes about 10 years later.

Jan 5, 2013

Can ONE PERSON make a difference in another person's life? Laura Schroff lives just two blocks away from Maurice Maczyk in downtown Manhattan in a brand-new penthouse apartment. Maurice lives in a one-room apartment(yes, one room)in the projects with eleven other people who come and go (when his mother isn't in jail and they still have a roof over their head).

Laura is a highly successful executive at USA Today. Maurice is an eleven-year-old boy begging on the streets. Two people, and two different worlds, come together on the day that Laura stops and offers to take Maurice to McDonald's for something to eat. Laura and Maurice begin meeting regularly every Monday to have lunch together. Laura knows that Maurice is hungry and scrounging for food throughout the week, so she packs a lunch for him to pick up on his way to school each day. Thus begins a friendship that grows, and remains, to this day.

This story is an emotional roller-coaster ride. I guarantee that you won't be able to put the book down once you've started reading it. And you won't look at that person you see begging, or just walking aimlessly on the street because he's homeless, in the same way ever again. You just might begin to wonder what you can do to help because you'll understand that one small gesture, from one person, can make a real difference in someone's life.

Dec 29, 2012

If you plan to commit a crime, be sure you're NOT in Italy when you do it. It seems that you're guilty in the eyes of the police and prosecuting attorneys when it fits their political needs. Apparently, about 50% of the cases on appeal are approved for re-trial because of the shoddy work of the police and court system. Raffaele Sollecito is Italian, but that didn't protect him from the police, prosecuting attorneys and judges colluding to find him, and Amanda, guilty of a heinous crime that they didn't commit. They also spent FOUR years in jail trying to prove they were innocent. Even though I knew the outcome of their ordeal, the account of how they became enmeshed in the system - and then managed to free themselves - made for a good read.

Dec 26, 2012

Little Boy Blue

If you think you know what happens to animals dropped off at your local humane society (they are eventually adopted by loving people, right?), be sure to read this book. It will definitely open your eyes to the magnitude of the problem of animal overpopulation and how it's dealt with in this country. You're not gonna like what you read, but you need to read this book anyway. (Kavin's description of the killing methods and disposal of the bodies will break your heart.)

Prevention - spaying and neutering - is a major key to the overpopulation problem in this country and you can help by donating your time, and money, to the people out there fighting the fight every single day. You can also foster animals until they're placed in a home; otherwise, they'll be disposed of.

Dec 15, 2012

Silent No More: Victim 1's Fight for Justice Against Jerry SanduskySilent No More: Victim 1's Fight for Justice Against Jerry Sandusky by Aaron  Fisher

Yes, this is about the pedophile Sandusky.  No, it's not about the specific details of the sexual abuse although you get the picture as to what Sandusky was doing to his victims.  Told from the perspective of Victim #1 Aaron Fisher, his mother Dawn and his psychologist Michael Gillum, you see how Sandusky was able to take control of Aaron and to abuse him.  Aaron was only 10 when Sandusky came into his life and 14 when he tried to get away from. What's really incredible is Aaron's ability, finally, to end the abuse even as Sandusky was stalking him.  I started the book last night and finished it before bedtime.  I just couldn't put it down until I got to the conclusion even though I knew that Sandusky was convicted and finally jailed. 

I confess I was pretty agitated reading this.  To think that this man could go to Aaron's school and have him pulled from the classroom - repeatedly - and the school officials chose to comply with his requests.  Apparently, Sandusky had other boys pulled from the classroom on a regular basis.  What the HELL did those staff people think was going on???  And don't get me started on that piece of **** Sandusky is married to, who chose to remain upstairs while the boys were being tortured - let's not mince words here - in her basement.  So many people chose to let this man, no, this monster, prey on young, helpless, innocent boys because they were too comfortable in their own lives.  Doing something about what they had to have known, or at least suspected, was going on would have been "painful" for them.  So, instead, they enabled (yes, enabled) Sandusky to inflict mental and physical pain on boys who couldn't defend themselves.

At first, Aaron just wanted to get away from Sandusky.  But with the help of his psychologist, he was able to expose Sandusky for what he is and to follow through, legally, to his arrest and conviction even as the officials dragged their heels for years.  For me, the power of this story lies in Aaron's willingness to expose himself emotionally to put an end to Sandusky's activities.  If only other silent victims could do the same.  Perhaps then these pedophiles would be run out of town for good.

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Nov 14, 2012

After my first reading of Lucky, I wondered why author Craig Inglis would choose to write a children’s story about a dog named Lucky who is hit by a car and loses his leg.  What an awful thing to think about, especially for a young child.  However, upon re-reading Inglis’ book I realize the power of this story for those children who may have had a pet injured in an accident.  Ingles, rather than dwelling on the negative and sad aspect of a dog losing his leg and being permanently handicapped, shows the reader that all things are possible even after a tragic accident.  Lucky is still very much loved and has learned that, by working hard, he can do anything – some things even better – than a four-legged dog can do.  Having three legs instead of four does not change his ability to do tricks OR change the way his owner feels about him.  As Inglis wrote, the man and Lucky are so happy “it almost seemed like they could fly.”  The message here is that Lucky is not just the same dog as before, he is better.

Oct 29, 2012

From Animal House to Our House: A Love StoryFrom Animal House to Our House: A Love Story by Ron Tanner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For anyone who's contemplating buying and rehabbing an old house, especially in Baltimore city, this is a must-read BEFORE you do that.  I'm not suggesting that you'll choose NOT to buy an old house, but author Ron Tanner's experiences will, at the very least, give you a clearer picture of what you'll be up against.  And if you love old houses, as Ron does, you'll choose to go forward in your quest to possess a grand old lady!  This book is especially interesting as Ron's house just happens to be "local."  If you can't get down to his neighborhood to see the house, here's the next best thing:

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