Reading The Daevabad Trilogy, AKA Learning to Appreciate World-Building

The book (and series) that shone a light for me on world-building: how to do it well, why it matters, and what it really is at its core.

How did I not appreciate world-building before, you might be asking? I am, after all, a writer. Even if I don’t write fantasy or sci-fi, I should still have had a strong grasp of world-building: not just how to do it, but you know…what it is. And why it matters!

And yet. Here we are. All this time, when my fellow writers waxed poetic about their favorite authors, and how great they were at building worlds, my smiles and nods of understanding were a mere farce. Flashing onto my face out of fear of being discovered, called out: she doesn’t understand world-building!

Okay, I might be acting a little dramatic right now, because I can’t see anyone actually reacting that way (writers are so nice!), but the fact remains: I didn’t get it. Worse, I didn’t think I had to get it, because I write contemporary. The world is built! We live in it! I don’t need to construct anything.

I am proud, but not too proud to admit how horrifyingly wrong I was. And it was The Daevabad Trilogy, by author S.A. Chakraborty, which showed me the true error of my thinking.

Chakraborty is an author I’ve been excited about and followed since even before the first book in the trilogy, her debut, published. I was so excited, in fact, that The City of Brass is the first time I ever reached out to a publisher to request an ARC (advance review copy) of a book. It was terrifying, but I did it! I also interviewed Chakraborty, for Ravishly’s People We Love column.

Photo from    Barnes & Noble    page

Photo from Barnes & Noble page

So yeah. You could say I am (and have been) a fan. That picture up top, in fact, comes from a vlog I recorded (part of my short-lived and hopefully gracefully dead series about fab books) where I pretty much just gushed about The City of Brass for 5 minutes.

This post is for me to gush about her second book, The Kingdom of Copper.

It took me so long to read this book, partly because I’ve been in a reading drought, but partly because it’s long and rich and the tension doesn’t so much hit you in the gut from the first page as climb, over the course of 600+ pages, to mind-spinning peaks.

No, really. I read the book on Kindle, and the last 20% or so I think my heart galloped along, without stopping, at like 180 beats per minute. I kept having to pause and take deep breaths, but I couldn’t pause for long because I was desperate to get back into the story, into the world, and see how things turned out.

That slow build is when it finally clicked with me: this is how you build a world. No, let me rephrase: this is how you build a world well. It’s not just about sitting down and coming up with the details, though those are done so well: the various djinn tribes, the mythical creatures, the different types of magic that live in Chakarborty’s world. All of those well-done and fit together perfectly and you can tell, by reading both books, that she put the kind of thought and care into imagining them as a fine carpenter would into crafting the most intricate of chairs. For example.

The thing that clicked with me was how much the slow build tied into, added to, my ability to appreciate the world that was built, and the overall story as well.

By the time things started moving, by the time things started really hitting the fan, there were so many pieces ready to go that the book could jump forward, slamming on the accelerator, and it didn’t feel like going 0 to 100. More like 40 to 100. Still a big jump, but it made sense.

And as I was mentally racing through the streets of Daevabad like Nahri and her companions, or battling enemies in combat like…literally everyone else…it struck me that none of what was happening in that moment, in that final 20%, would have made sense if it hadn’t been earned through the slow build.

So many different pieces had to click into place for the third act of the book to work, and the only way for them to click was for Chakraborty to spend the initial bulk of the novel building those pieces, from the most detailed almost-throwaway-line to the long-running mysteries we finally saw answered.

Oh, and it’s not just Book 2 pieces that came together! Answers from the first book made their way into the climax scenes. It’s…honestly thrilling to read, and mildly intimidating to think of as a writer.

When I first started reading, at around the 16% mark, I made a note in Goodreads mentioning political allegiances, and how mine stood with two particular characters. By the end, well…things are different. Maybe. I don’t know. I’m still confused! It’s so wonderful!

The politics of this series are so integral to the overall success of the story. And they are well. done.

They’re stressful. They’re complicated, by family ties and friendship and liars and centuries of history. Just like our own world, huh, whaddya know! You start out the book thinking you hate one character and love another, and by the end you’re…well, I won’t tell you, because you should READ IT YOURSELF and then tell me who your allegiances lie with.

This was the first book where I really stopped to take in the care that had gone into building the world. Maybe it’s because I follow the author on Twitter and know how much she loves researching the history she’s weaving through her story, reading her threads about history in which she spins even more stories, or maybe it’s because of the interview I did with her where I asked about this, but whatever the reason, this book hit me in the gut.

And then I started thinking about world-building in my own writing. No, I don’t have to craft magic systems or form governments or design cities, but I do have to build tension, set scenes, and even in high school friendships and modern families, politics have a part — and I don’t mean Republican vs Democrat politics (well, not just those ones), but the politics of who ate lunch with whom and which child got the bigger serving of macaroni and cheese and who got promoted at their summer job.

All of these things speak into the world of each novel, give it the richness and indelibility that I’m striving for. The permanence.

The Daevabad Trilogy is a series that sticks with you. After I close the book on the last page of the third book, or 10 years from now, maybe in the final days of my life even, I’ll still hold this story in my heart, still remember how I rode the “R” train to work and my heart pounded so hard I thought it would leap out of my chest and the subway roared into the station when I was at 95% and I had to stop reading to walk to work and all I could think about was WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN I’M SO STRESSED THIS IS AMAZING!

Is it too much to say it has the same permanence for me that Harry Potter has had for millions of readers? I THINK NOT IT’S REALLY GOOD OKAY.

Do you have any books or series like that, stories that live in your heart forever? Share them in the comments! And don’t forget to check out The Daevabad Trilogy and maybe buy it and support an amazing, exciting author.

THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER: Being the Hero's Heartbreak

trigger warning: depression, mental illness, suicide, suicidal thoughts

possible spoiler warnings for THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER, by Emily X.R. Pan

Chapter 2. The book starts with a series of scratched-out suicide note attempts. So simple, such a small thing, and I am immediately wrecked. Fingers trembling, aching to turn the pages and move on, eyes fixed to the words, I’m already crying.

I get it. I’ve been there. How do you encompass a lifetime’s suffering into a note? How do explain that you love them so much, so much that you have to go? How do you convey your sorrow and apology when they won’t get it?

I want you to remember: I do, too. Remember me. The good times, not this pain. Raise your children with my picture on the mantel. Don’t forget me. Just because I have to go doesn’t mean I want to erase my existence entirely.

The day before I began reading Emily X.R. Pan’s stunning debut THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER, I sat down and, for I think the first time in my life, began typing out a suicide note.

Books, tables, plants, oh my!

Books, tables, plants, oh my!

I didn’t get far. Just the act of typing out the words “I’m sorry” sent me reeling because it made it so real. So much more real than ever before. I’d had previous attempts, but they’d always been impulsive, the kind that happened because I was overcome with emotion and couldn’t see past the pain of the moment, and never had I come even close to my life being in danger. I’d never had the time to sit down and write a note. 

This time was different. This time started with me speaking to myself in a rational tone of voice. Making a promise. And slowly, as the days passed, growing ever surer in my promise. I had motive. I had a plan. I had determination. If such-and-such didn’t happen…I would kill myself.

THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER is about coping with a mother’s suicide. It’s contemporary but fantastical, the story of Leigh, a biracial girl who, after losing her mother, travels to Taiwan to visit the grandparents whom she’s never met, in search of the bird she believes her mother has become. It is exquisitely written and heart-squeezingly devastating at times. As I read, I kept stopping to take notes, to write down a chapter number and a line or two that specifically affected me.

Chapter 6. One of the first books I ever tried to write was a dual-perspective novel, following a girl after her best friend killed herself as the left-behind finds she can hardly cope. I had tried to kill myself a few months before, wound up in the hospital, and was trying to put myself in my friends’ shoes and imagine their life after me.

The biggest struggle was I just couldn’t fathom that they would be devastated.

Leigh says: “The mother-shaped hole became a cutout of the blackest black. Something I could only see around.” (19).

Am I wrong for wishing they might be sucked into the black hole?

The day before I began reading THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER was the day such-and-such was supposed to happen, or not. And as the hours dragged on, I became surer that it wouldn’t happen. That I would have to die. I was a mess. I cried. My hands shook. I scrolled through my phone’s contacts, trying to find someone I could tell. I started my note. I shuddered and couldn’t finish. 

In the end, I didn’t do it. I lived another day, to open up Pan’s novel, and find myself…completely shaken.

Chapter 19. Leigh wants to know whose fault it is. Did she not love her mom enough? Did her father fail in some way? Did her mom’s friends drop the ball?

I wanted to yell that no, of course not. The ball is too fucking heavy for them to carry. It’s too heavy for me to ask my mom, my best friend, the boy I have a crush on, to carry. It’s definitely too heavy for me, but I’m trying. I’m lugging it behind me and brushing the sweaty hair from my forehead and wishing I were stronger.

“If I had only— ” (77). 

No, baby, there was nothing you could do. 

I wish I could blame someone for this. Say they didn’t love me enough. But the truth is my brain is a cannibal and it’s eating me alive and no one’s sacrifice will ever be enough. Ever. Not even mine.

What do you when you find yourself relating not to the book’s protagonist, Leigh, but to her dead mother? When every description of the mother who killed herself rockets through your body and lights you up from the inside, eating you alive with recognition? 

Everything about Leigh’s mother could have been written about me. From the memories where she shines, joy sparkling from her eyes to her fingertips to the way she moves about the room. There are moments in which I feel this about myself. Moments when I am joy incarnate, when I imagine a third-person narrator saying of me, She walked with a spring in her step, emanating a joie de vivre that infected everyone around her. She may as well have been in a musical on a beautiful spring day, waltzing through a quaint, charming town while wearing a fluffy, pink sundress. 

And then there are descriptions of her as she is depressed. Slumped, physically bowed down by the weight in her mind, in her heart, unable to even recognize that it’s time to celebrate someone else: a prisoner to her illness.

That’s me so much of the time. It feels like there are weights tied to my fingers and my toes and my nose and they’re all pulling me downward, pressing me into the ground. I get in the car and my hands barely hold onto the wheel, my foot presses the gas gauge too far…I have to pull over, take a deep breath, straighten my back and demand strength from my limbs that isn’t there.

Chapter 24. Leigh finds her mom passed out on the kitchen floor.

I used to pray I could pass out. Hell, I still do. I am overcome with emotion and it hurts like hell and I want it to go away, at least for a moment.

When I cut; when I walk crying down the street; when I post on Twitter; I’m screaming. I’m screaming for you to help me. What do I have to do to get your attention? Pass out? Collapse? Bleed?

Die?

Help me. 

Chapter 29. They thought she was better.

But it was always going to come back.

THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER is a story of grief. Intense, brilliant grief. Every instant where Leigh grieves her mother hit me in the gut, not because I’ve felt that grief, but because I’ve almost been the cause of that grief.

I haven’t lost a loved one to suicide. I’ve been the loved one who was almost lost to suicide.

Chapter 30. Leigh asks herself what makes someone decide to kill herself. Especially when this person is loved.

I flash back to mid-July, 2017. I wish I remembered details of the day other than that it was a Sunday, but that’s all I’ve got. It was a Sunday. I was on the middle or top balcony in Hammerstein Ballroom, at the Manhattan Center. I was out of control. I was surrounded by friends, people who didn’t just profess to love me, but who acted out their love, showing it to me in everything they did.

“You have so many people who love you,” someone mentioned, and the guilt knifed its way through my gut. I knew it was the truth.

It’s not often that I know I am loved. Most of the time I hope I am loved, but fully disbelieve it regardless. This time, though, I knew it.

And it still wasn’t enough. 

Chapter 33. Leigh thinks maybe a place to exercise her religion would have saved her mother. 

I have a place. I call it home. I call it church. I call it family. It’s a megachurch that meets in a theater in midtown Manhattan and the line stretches halfway down an avenue most Sundays. The worship music is loud and exciting and when I sing out so strongly that my throat gets raw, I feel like it will be okay.

If I could just stay in that cocoon all the time. If I could wrap myself in that comfort, familiarity, home, for the other six days of the week…

It still wouldn’t be enough. 

I don’t know what will be enough. I don’t know if anything can be enough. I have it all. I have friends and love and God and worship and home and dreams and safety and it is still not, never, enough. Because I still wander through the middle of most days wondering when it’s going to happen.

When I’m going to kill myself.

And I don’t know what the grief would look like for the people I love, who profess to love me. Honestly, sometimes I don’t believe that they would grieve. I doubt it would wreck anyone the way it wrecked Leigh. 

But maybe it would. Maybe, just maybe, my friends would find themselves shaken, at a loss, sick to their stomachs, knowing I was gone. Maybe they would attend my funeral and have no words for their sorrow. Maybe they would fling their lives away, travel to foreign lands in search of me, in search of a reason, in search of an answer.

Maybe.

I doubt it. But maybe that doubt is the depression speaking.

Regardless: what do you do when you read a book and know you’re not the hero: you’re her heartbreak?

Chapter 52. Leigh’s mom can’t hold herself upright. Her body droops, sags, drapes along the floor and the shoulders of those who carry her. 

There have been moments, usually when I’m behind the wheel of a car, when my body becomes weighted down. My shoulders sag, my head lolls forward. My eyes close for a blink and it takes a second, two, six, for them to snap open again.

We like to call depression a mental illness, relegate it to the kingdom of the mind and pretend it has no physical effects. But there are moments when my body is just as sick as my mind. When the strength seeps out of my muscles and my bones may or may not be made of silly putty and I think it would be easy, so easy, to simply disintegrate.

Chapter 52, but later. Leigh sees a happy family picture and wonders how a picture can lie about so much brokenness.

It me, the selfie queen

It me, the selfie queen

I am the queen of selfies. It’s partly because I have no shame in public, partly because I don’t like the way I look from any other angle. And I smile. Liberally. I laugh, loudly. I tell jokes and I spiral upwards and if you looked at me and didn’t know, you just might think I was okay. Better than okay: amazing.

It’s always the broken ones who laugh the hardest.

I don’t know how to cope with being a hero’s heartbreak. I honestly don’t. For me, I read to understand. To put myself in Leigh’s shoes and my friends in mine, to seek to understand what it’s like to lose someone to suicide, to envision my loved ones going through that…to swear to never put them through it.

There’s this thought I have often when I’m depressed: that I know this is a terminal disease. Not because it’s going to be with me until I die, but because it’s going to be the reason I die. Because it’s going to be my hand which takes my life in the end. 

An old counselor of mine used to say that even then, it wouldn’t be depression’s fault. Because it’s my hand which yanks the blade, scoops up the pills, etc, etc. 

I believe her but mostly I don’t. And I read THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER and I cry because I understand the mother and why she did what she did even though no one else does and it breaks me into infinitesimally small pieces. In every instance, I relate: not to Leigh but to her dead mother.

Chapter 63. It is the image of a cicada molting. How many times have I wished I could claw my skin off my back. How many times has the pain in my mind sent me reeling, cursing, clawing.

How many times have I wished for a new self, a new skin, a new mind. How many times.

Chapter 65. In which Leigh’s aunt, in a memory, reflects upon her sister, Leigh’s mother. The mother who killed herself. The mother who was depressed, yet had a spirit bursting with creativity and ambition.

I think I am Leigh’s mother.

Chapter 83. I have never seen my pain represented so clearly on the page, so fully and starkly. We kaleidoscope through suicidal moment after suicidal moment while Leigh’s mother — while Dory — contemplates death. A bottle of pills. A knife. The one that hits the hardest: freezing in the snow.

I didn’t know I was suicidal until I was in high school. It was a boarding school, in the Black Forest, in the mountains of Germany. I lived with a woman who abused my emotions. 

There is a moment, crystallized in the amber of my memories: I walked out of her apartment on the second floor of the centuries-old farmhouse. I stepped into the next room and looked out the window, took in the hills soaring into the sky, transforming into snow-topped mountains.

I would leave. I would walk, then run, then traipse and stumble through the chill, through the snow, until I could no longer move. I would rest. And eventually, my rest would turn to ice. My blood would stop moving in my veins. My heartbeats would slow down until eventually they stopped. I might not even notice when it happened. But one minute, I would be, and the next...I wouldn’t.

I didn’t know I wasn’t alone in dreaming of snow taking over.

I didn’t know, and I read the words, and I broke.

The last thing I want is to make the people who love me suffer. Grieve. Cry. Wonder. I don’t want to turn into a bird. I just want to turn into someone who can survive life.

LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS Will Change And Improve Your Life

Samira Ahmed's debut, LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS is one of those books that doesn't leave your mind after you've consumed it.

I say "consumed" because that's how this book is best read: all at once, inhaled and then savored. It leaves a pleasant taste lingering in the back of your mind, a book hangover but nicer.

According to the synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz can’t wait to graduate from her small town high school. She dreams of studying film in New York City and kissing a boy (or, maybe two). Her parents forbid both. While she wrestles with parental expectations and her own desires, Maya’s world is rocked by a horrifying act of domestic terrorism that ignites an outbreak of Islamophobia that threatens to alter the course of her life forever.

So already I'm feeling this book. I mean, hello, desire to move to New York City and wanting to kiss boys? The book may as well be about me! Well, except for some differences: Maya is into photography and I'm a writer; her parents don't want her to do what she wants and mine were relatively supportive; she's Muslim and I'm Christian. 

These differences between me and Maya really only made me love the book more; there's something delicious, to me, about reading a book that stars someone with core differences but to whom I can still relate on such a deep level.

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As I read the book, I was fully captivated by the contemporary YA storyline; when the act of domestic terrorism occurs, I had this fleeting worry that it would change the book. It did; it made it a little darker, a little more real, as Maya has to deal with Islamophobia. But Samira Ahmed does an incredible job at weaving the darkness into the story without letting it overwhelm you, and she planted me squarely in Maya's shoes in a situation I'll never experience but which I feel the emotions of as clearly as if I were living them.

That's what a book is supposed to do; it's supposed to let you live another experience so you can comprehend it better. 

But this book isn't fabulous only because of how Samira handles darkness; it's also a beautiful, romantic tale of passion and dreams. It has lovely moments of lightness to counteract the hard things Maya goes through. 

I'm such a fan of this book, you guys! It was published Jan. 16 (this past Tuesday!) by Soho Teen, and you can order a copy yourself if you feel the desire to read something brilliantly written, emotionally moving, and also just plain adorable.

    NICE TRY, JANE SINNER Is a Top Book of 2018, For Sure

    Phew, Y'ALL. Lianne Oelke has written what is possibly going to be on all my lists of favorite 2018 reads. I began NICE TRY, JANE SINNER on the first day of the year and finished it this Sunday; yes, that's how good I think the book is, I think it'll stay at the top of the list all year long! According to the synopsis: 

    jane-sinner-cover-offset.png

    Recently expelled from high school, Jane Sinner grudgingly enrolls in community college, a situation made slightly more bearable when she joins a student-run reality show. House of Orange is her chance to start over—and maybe even win a car (used, but whatever)—and no one there knows what she did in high school. What more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that gets why she’d rather turn to Freud than to Jesus. But she’ll settle for using HOO’s growing fanbase, and whatever Intro to Psych can teach her, to prove to the world—or at least viewers of substandard television—that she has what it takes to win.

    Sounds intriguing, no? I read this book because I was given a free eARC on Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion, and my honest opinion is this: this book rocks.

    Here's a link to my Goodreads review in which I rave about it. 

    Basically, this book was one of the most well-done examples of a good young adult voice that I've read in a while. Jane is about the definition of "caustic," with an exceedingly biting tone and total no-nonsense approach to life that I adored. She's not like me (I'm overly emotional and she likes to pretend she doesn't have any) but I related to her on a visceral level, and I adored just how strongly her personality came through. When I write (and read) voice is one of the most important things to me, and this book nailed it.

    I won't talk about the part I loved the most about this book because SPOILERS, but I will say it accurately depicts what a lot of people go through during certain hard times. For that reason, it was at times a tough read; I had to take a break in the middle of charging through the words in order to reset my mind. It does deal with mental illness in a very unflinching way; but that's how I prefer to write and read, so I'm not mad about it.

    Another thing the book does really well is experiment with funky format and structure. The way the dialogue is written, as though it's a script, actually makes it really easy to read and to forget that it's in a journal-format, which is not always my favorite. It was good, though, because you get the feeling Jane wouldn't be so honest if it weren't in her journal. 

    This book turned my emotions topsy-turvy and I legit have a very real, very strong book hangover because of it. I'm...obsessed. 

    Give Lianne a follow on Twitter or check out her website, and I would highly recommend ordering this book because, y'all, it's just that good.

    Have you read NICE TRY, JANE SINNER? Let us chat about it!!! It's SO GOOD, RIGHT???

    READING GOALS for 2018: The Most Exciting Things

    Hello, hello, hello! We're a full five days (what?? how??) into 2018 and I have finished one book already! Ha! Granted, it was less than 100 pages long, BUT STILL. It's an excellent intro for today's goal-setting post, which is all about my READING GOALS for 2018! Honestly I think this is the post I'm most excited about writing this year! Haha. Listen, I just love reading, okay???

    Anyway, this year I want to do a lot with books. I have so many goals, so I'm just gonna jump right in!

    Read at least 52 books

    This is my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal for the year. Last year, I ambitiously set a goal of 65 books, which I downsized to 50 in September when Goodreads showed me 13 books behind. I just barely managed to actually hit that goal (what!) and so I upped it this year. This goal equals reading one book a week, which I consider inherently manageable. I highly doubt I'll always be "on schedule," because I read about four books at a time and often they sync up with each other (a few days ago, I was at 15% of all four books...ha!) but I should make it. The actual goal is to surpass it, but that'll just be a bonus if it happens.

    Read outside my comfort zone

    Last year and in 2016, I mostly read young adult (YA) books, because these books are my Linus' blanket. They comfort me, they make me happy, they soothe me. Toward the end of last year, though, I started reading some nonfiction as well, and found that it's also wonderful. In 2018, I want to expand that. I want to read all sorts of nonfiction: essay collections, memoirs, biographies, history books...I also want to read poetry collections, theology books, and select literary fiction titles. I want to expand!

    Re-read some old favorites

    Last year I decided I would never in my life have time to re-read books. This year, I've decided that I just need a little structure to make it work (more about the structure next). This is purely because I want to go back to when reading was something I did for fun, not a task, and a lot of the books I read otherwise are for work as an interviewer, blogger or author. These are just for fun.

    Stick to my reading structure

    I read (at least) four books at a time, and my reading structure is as follows: 

    1. An ARC (advance review copy) that has been sent to me by a publisher: this is because I have a lot of them sent to me to review, blog about, and interview authors for.
    2. A published YA novel: because, duh, they're my favorites and there are still so many books that I don't get ARCs of.
    3. A nonfiction/adult title: kind of self-explanatory, ya know?
    4. A re-read: a favorite of mine that I'm reading for the second time.

    I read in 30-minute chunks and sprinkle my reading throughout out the day, during downtime (when I'm working) or after completing two other tasks. Poetry collections, theology books and literary fiction books will be filed under "tasks" and I'll read 30 minutes of them every couple of days, aka they're not in the official rotation. 

    Become a real BookTuber

    I dabbled in 2017 with some bookish vlogs, but this year I want to become a real BookTuber. I want to do at least two bookish videos per month. If you're interested, follow my channel or check out one of my first "Fab Book Friday" videos here:

    Subscribe for more!!

    What are your 2018 reading goals? Leave them in the comments and let's discuss!

    Suki Kim's North Korean insightful masterpiece

    I felt like I was there.

    The cold seeped into my bones as I read about frigid nights bundled under too many blankets.

    Fear invaded my heart at the idea that I was being watched every second of every day, every email, blog post, communication monitored.

    It was as if I, too was walking the frozen walkways of PUST, the English-language university just outside of Pyongyang where journalist and writer Suki Kim spent six months teaching the "creme de la creme" of North Korean students.

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    I'm talking about the immersive writing in Kim's 2015 investigative reporting memoir, WITHOUT YOU, THERE IS NO US, about the time she spent as an writer pretending to be a missionary pretending to be nothing more than an English teacher in the elusive regime that, in recent days, has infiltrated American news with fight and American people with fear.

    We've all heard the stories about North Korea amping up its missile testing; we've probably either seen or read about the tweets sent by our president in reaction to said missile tests; and a lot of people are wondering what it means.

    It reignited, in me at least, a curiosity about this regime. 

    I'm fascinated by the idea of North Korea; that there exists a country out there that is closed-off from the rest of our increasingly global world? That they hate Americans—me—and are groomed to do so by their government? That apparently you can (but probably shouldn't) visit, but only on state-sponsored, highly controlled trips? It's a mystery and an enigma.

    I bought my copy of Kim's book in part as a reaction to a controversy it sparked; there are those who decry her description of the book as investigative journalism because it has such a strong memoirist element. I read an article Kim had written in defense, and being a woman who finds investigative reporting and memoir equally intriguing, I thought a combination of the two would be simply entrancing.

    I wasn't wrong.

    The book gripped me, nearly from the first page. Kim does an excellent job of placing the reader right there with her in the narrative, to the point where I began to feel affection for the young men she taught in the same motherly way she did.

    And it's timely, now more than ever as headlines are nearly constantly filled with news about the reclusive country in the north of the Korean Peninsula.

    If you're interested in North Korea or in politics or in good books written with a strong narrative, I would have to recommend you buy this book. It's well worth it.