Review: All Thirteen

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team, Christina Soontornvat. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2020.

Summary: An account of the rescue of the Wild Boars boys soccer team describing the engineering and diving efforts, and how the boys endured this experience.

It was a story the whole world followed, fearing for a time that the twelve boys and their coach trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand were dead. Then we learned they were alive. But could a rescue be mounted during a break in the monsoon rains, and would the boys survive?

Christina Soontornvat was in northern Thailand at the time this all happened, and in this “you are there” account she renders the story of how all this unfolded day by day. The account is accompanied lavishly with color photographs and diagrams.

The story begins with the boys of the Wild Boars soccer team and an assistant coach, “Coach Ek,” who has built a close bond with the boys, strengthened off the field with rigorous outings. On this day they decide to go to Tham Luang Nang Non–the Cave of the Sleeping Lady. They planned to go for an hour, but decided to go further–a fateful decision because while they went deeper in the cave, the Sleeping Lady woke up as heavy rains hit. When they turned around, they found the way out flooded.

They found a dry area, and figured soon that people in their town of Mae Sai would notify the authorities and rescuers would come. And soon they did–Navy Seals, an elite group, but one who lacked both equipment and experience in cave diving. Vern Unsworth, a world renowned cave diver happened to be in Mae Sai. He was aware of the dangers, rushing, silted waters that could disorient a diver, clog gear, and potentially take lives with the slightest mistake. Eventually the call goes out to the best cave divers in the world, who come from half way around the world to be part of the rescue effort.

Another part of the story is the incredible confluence of people to help with this effort from an American Air Force Special Tactics squadron to hydraulics engineers who worked on solutions both to pump out and divert water from the caves, critically lowering the levels to reduce the flow for the divers. Perhaps most inspiring is the “Get-It-Done Crew,” an army of local people who do everything from organize food to find critical supplies–fast.

Meanwhile, as days pass on, the boys are growing hungrier. They are wet and cold but still healthy. Coach Ek’s challenge is to keep up their spirits, their hopes, their will to survive. They meditate, they dig, they huddle. Their team bonds and conditioning serve them well. When divers finally make it to them, they find them alive, though losing weight from lack of food. They can’t get them out but they can supply food, and they leave a doctor and three Navy Seals to look after their health. But the extra people are depleting the oxygen in the cave and the continued wet and cold are starting to affect the boys.

The most significant factor are the coming monsoons, which will make the caves inaccessible for six months. The boys can’t survive that long, even if their sheltering place doesn’t flood. The mountain is too thick to drill. The only choice left is to diving in and bring the boys out. Even then, they estimate three to five will die. As the title suggests, there are no casualties (other than a Navy Seal who died earlier, showing the dangers of the caves). But I will leave the story of the rescue to you.

The publication information for the book indicates it to be written at a grade 8 to 12 level. The account has an up close and personal feel, coming from interviews with all the key people. One comes away with profound respect for the boys and their coach who endured sixteen days in the caves, and the combination of Thai people and experts from around the world who overcome logistical and cultural obstacles to mount the rescue. Soontornvat not only describes the challenges, but helps us become part of the scene, feeling the alternating fears and hopes of the parents, the determination of the rescuers, and the gritty loyalty to one another of the boys and their coach. She helps us understand the culture of the Thai people and the strong values that brought them together in this effort.

This is a story one can connect with on so many levels–a story of team spirit, of cultural values, of faith (Coach Ek is closely associated with a Buddhist temple), and of courage, and on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspense. There are so many elements of a great read, which this was for me.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Bob on Books Best of 2015

Not to be outdone by all the other “best of 2015” lists coming out, I give you Bob on Books Best of 2015! This is different from many of the lists which just list books from 2015. This is the book blog of a reader who happens to review, and so some of my best books of the year weren’t actually published this year, and I’ve just gotten around to reading them.  I happen to think there are a number of really good books out there, and they weren’t all published this year!

One other thing I’ve done this year is segment my list into fiction, non-fiction, and Christian. I do read a number of Christian titles, which connects to my work in collegiate ministry, and I think my choices are worthy reads, but skip over this if it is not your cup of tea!

I should also mention that the weblinks here are to my full reviews. Those reviews include full publication information and a link to the publisher’s website, if this was available at the time of the review.


All the Light We Cannot SeeDun CowBel CantoBrendanbeowulf

  1. All the Light We Cannot SeeAnthony Doerr. Hands down my Book of the Year. Incredibly beautiful writing, finely drawn plot that brings together a blind French girl and a German orphan become soldier during the invasion of St. Malo. Written by an Ohioan!
  2. The Book of the Dun Cow, Walter Wangerin, Jr. A contest between good and evil in a barnyard, a modern animal fable.
  3. Bel Canto, Ann Patchett. A dinner party held hostage in a Latin American embassy and the relationships that emerge. Patchett’s best.
  4. Brendan, Frederick Buechner. An account of the life of St Brendan the Navigator as he confronts both external and internal limits.
  5. Beowulf, unknown, translated by Seamus Heaney.  I’ve read but not reviewed this yet. Heaney’s translation of this classic work brings it to light in all its power and pathos.


The Wright BrothersThe Road to CharacterThe FellowshipBuffalo for a Broken HeartBully Pulpit

  1. The Wright Brothers, David McCullough. Outstanding account that highlighted their engineering and experimental skills honed through bike-building, and their work ethic.
  2. The Road to Character, David Brooks. An effort to initiate a conversation about “moral ecology” by exploring the quests for character of a diverse group from Augustine to Bayard Rustin.
  3. The Fellowship, Philip and Carol Zaleski. A fourfold biography of the literary lives and influence of the four principal Inklings.
  4. Buffalo for the Broken Heart, Dan O’Brien. Part memoir, part nature writing on restoring life to a Black Hills ranch by converting to herding buffalo.
  5. The Bully Pulpit, Doris Kearns Goodwin. Not only great for accounts of Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft and their relationship, but also the “muckraking” journalists brought together by Sam McClure.


17293092 (1)A Glorious DarkSufferingSpiritual Friendshipslow church

  1. Playing GodAndy Crouch. An important book that looks at power, considering not only the possibility of corruption, but also the redemptive uses of power, which we cannot help but wield in some measure, as creatures in the image of God.
  2. A Glorious DarkA. J. Swoboda. A marvelous set of reflections on the darknesses of life and our glorious hope organized around the Triduum of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.
  3. Suffering and the Search for MeaningRichard Rice. A concise, clear, and pastoral exploration of some of the ways Christians attempt to address evil and suffering.
  4. Spiritual FriendshipWesley Hill. This books seeks to restore to the church a high view of friendship, and its importance for those seeking to live single and chaste lives.
  5. Slow Church, C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison. Modeled after the “slow food” movement, the authors call for an embrace an ethic of quality, an ecology of reconciliation, and an economy of abundance.

Those were my “best of the best”. Since this medium is interactive, I’d enjoy hearing what yours were. That might give each of us all some good ideas of something we’d like to read in 2016!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Bob on Books!

What I’d Place in a Little Free Library

Little Free LibraryI posted yesterday about Little Free Libraries, the free lending library you can “Steward” in your front yard. At the end of the post, I asked what books you’d put in a Little Free Library if you had one. So, it is only fair that I give a list of a few of the ones I’d put in there.

This is an interesting exercise, because at least some of the books I read wouldn’t be ones my neighbors would be keen about. So, here’s the compromise between things I feel good about and that I think others might like. Tell me what you think:

First of all, some children’s books:

  • Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen. We always loved reading this aloud to our son.
  • Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak. Great pictures and story to address children’s fears.
  • Good Night Moon, Margaret Wise Brown. We loved saying good night to the moon and everything else!
  • The Cat in The Hat, Dr. Suess–either this or one of the others. We always loved Yertle the Turtle.
  • I Am A Bunny, Ole Risom with illustrations by Richard Scarry. Our favorite board book and frequent baby gift. The illustrations are amazing.

Then some books for older children and young adults:

  • Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White. I first heard this story in 5th grade and we read it aloud as a family.
  • Carry on Mr. Bowditch, Jean Lee Latham. Tells the story of a young sailor who becomes a renowned mathematician.
  • A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle. A sci-fi book with strong character values.
  • Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury. Evokes a mix of summer vacation memories and fantastic elements.
  • The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis. I feel like this book is the Wardrobe to the whole series of Chronicles of Narnia.

Adults: Fiction

  • Bel Canto, Ann Patchett. Just read it, her best in my opinion, and something I think both men and women could like.
  • Surreality, Ben Trube. Have to get my son’s in here. Besides, I really think if you like techno-thrillers, you’ll find it as good read. Kept me up at night!
  • Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie. Her most famous, and introduces you to one of her most famous characters.
  • The Crocodile on the Sandbank, Elizabeth Peters. The first of her Amelia Peabody stories. We have loved following Amelia Peabody from one hair-raising adventure to another.
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr. I think this is one of the best science fiction books, an early post-apocalyptic book envisioning a post-nuclear world.
  • Hunt for Red October, Tom Clancy. I thought some of his early stuff was best.
  • Shoeless Joe, W. P. Kinsella. The book that served as the basis for the movie Field of Dreams. A wonderful tale for anyone who loves baseball.


  • The Wright Brothers, David McCullough. Ohio boys who were the first to figure out powered flight. Well-told by this master historian and biographer.
  • Great by Choice, Jim Collins. One of the best business books I’ve read.
  • Genome, Matt Ridley. Fascinating science writing on the 23 pairs of chromosomes that make us who we are.
  • Destiny of the Republic, Candice Millard. The fascinating tale of the short presidency of James Garfield, another Ohioan, and the crazed assassin and incompetent doctor who contributed to his untimely death.
  • Unbroken,Laura Hillenbrand. Tells the story of Louis Zamperini, Olympic-level runner and POW.
  • Shiloh, Shelby Foote. His account of the battle of Shiloh and a great introduction to this great Civil War historian.
  • Both-And, Rich Nathan. This is a book written by a pastor in my home town that talks about how the church can overcome the polarities that are tearing apart American society. He articulates a picture of what many of us long for church to be.
  • Prodigal God, Timothy Keller. He takes the parable of the prodigal and turns it on its head, showing that the real prodigal is the father, who represents God, prodigal in his love for both is profligate and self-righteous sons.

Of course, there is probably not a single person who would agree with this list. And that’s the great thing about Little Free Libraries. You can add your favorites to someone else’s while discovering something new for yourself.

By the way, for right now, probably the way I will support Little Free Libraries in my area is to visit that box a few blocks away, and add a few of these books, and see what they have that I might like.

So, if you were to take one from and leave one with my hypothetical Little Free Library, what would you take, and what would you leave?