Anne Bonny #BookReview Star Of The North by D.B. John 5* #Thriller #NorthKorea #USA #NewRelease @HarvillSecker ‘Powerful writing that is destined for success’ #StarOfTheNorth

cover
Star Of The North by D.B. John
Review copy
Synopsis:

North Korea and the USA are on the brink of war

A young American woman disappears without trace from a South Korean island.

The CIA recruits her twin sister to uncover the truth.

Now, she must go undercover in the world’s most deadly state.

Only by infiltrating the dark heart of the terrifying regime will she be able to save her sister…and herself.

My Review:

I had previously heard great things about this novel and was very much looking forward to reading it. It is such a unique concept, set in the modern day and surrounding the mysterious country that is North Korea. I didn’t know a lot about NK going into the novel and although it is a fictional story, I felt I learned some of the obscure and frankly quite bizarre history of NK.

The novel opens on Baengnyeong Island in South Korea 1998. Young lovers Soo-Min and Jae-Hoon are enjoying a romantic trip to the beach. When suddenly it becomes clear they have witnessed something they shouldn’t have, and they are apprehended.
By whom, at this point is unclear.

2010 – Georgetown, Washington DC. Jenna is still under-going counselling after the trauma of losing her twin sister. Jenna is an intelligent, driven and ambitious young woman. She lectures at university’s and has not allowed her personal problems to hold her back. At least not academically or in the career sense. She is approached by a man claiming to have know her father and as a matter of national security.

‘We’re the Agency, Jenna. The CIA’ – Charles Fisk

In Baekam county, Ryanggang province North Korea. The novel will tell the story of Mrs Moon, a street vendor. What this character brings to the novel is an insight into the lifestyle in NK. Mrs Moon, lives in abject poverty and her life is far from easy. In NK a citizen’s life is dominated and controlled by the state. Every aspect of your life and you can be tried for even daring to ‘think’ against the regime. Mrs Moon takes hold of an ‘enemy package’ but what is really a package of much needed food and supplies and leaflets showing a way of life outside of NK.

‘Our Lord Jesus Christ a name erased from history’

Back in the US it becomes clear that Jenna (Jee-Min) is Soo-Min’s twin sister and is given an opportunity to hear from other abducted citizens and their families personally. There is a compelling moment between Jenna and Mrs Ishido, a Japanese citizen who had her 14yr old son abducted. It is in this moment you realise the sincere harsh reality of life in NK and it is about to get a whole lot worse. . . . .

Meanwhile, in NK as the citizens gather to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the founding of the workers party. Cho Sang-Ho a lieutenant colonel for the ministry of foreign affairs, learns that he is to be promoted. Bringing him ever closer to their supreme leader Kim Jong-Il. Whilst this would fil most citizens with joy and ambition. It fills Cho with dread. For Cho is adopted and doesn’t know the truth about his ancestry. Knowing a promotion will bring his heritage under severe scrutiny he is filled with fear.

‘The crime of having bad blood’

As Jenna continues to travel the globe in working with the CIA. Her backstory is further explored. Her mother Han is of Korean descent, whilst her father Douglas was African American. Douglas drank himself into an early grave after the disappearance of his daughter and his wife and surviving daughter Jenna, remain just clinging to life.

‘Time was simply a sentence she would serve until she died’ – Jenna

Back with Mrs Moon, we see the other side of NK, the side NK doesn’t want you to see. The poverty, vagrant kids and street informers.

‘There are those who starve, those who beg, and those who trade’

‘The Emperor – the soldiers – the citizens – the slaves’

As Jenna learns more and more about NK kidnapping of non-Korean citizens and why they would do this. She becomes a one-woman crusade to get justice for Soo-Min and the other citizens who had their lives stolen away. Jenna is further outraged when she learns of the infamous Camp 22 and the experiments that take place there. . .

‘The experiments require human prisoners’

Lieutenant Colonel Cho faces his greatest test yet, when he is given the assignment of embarking on a mission into the US.

‘He had never in his life imagined that he would enter the belly of the Yankee imperialist beast’ – Cho

The novel rotates around the point of views of Cho, Mrs Moon and Jenna. As we are given a full insight into life in NK and the fragile relationship it holds with the US. We learn what it means to be deemed an ‘unperson’ or have ‘hostile’ blood. There are moments it sounds eerily similar to Nazi Germany.
Yet this isn’t history. This is modern-day!

‘Purity brings reward. Impurity brings death’

I can’t fully cover the various themes within the novel as to do so would ruin the enjoyment of the novel for others. There were multiple times I read, in pure shock and horror. How is this going on in 2018? I found myself trying to fact-check which aspects of the novel were real and based on what testimony etc.
There is a part at the end of the novel which offers a great insight into further reading and resources. By the time you have finished Star Of The North, you NEED to read it.

The novel has powerful and hard-going themes but the quality of writing is astounding. The characterisation of Jenna, Cho and Mrs Moon really adds to the whole feeling of the novel. It doesn’t feel like a sociology lesson, it feels like a complex and well-written story, which it 100% is.
The mass brainwashing sounds like conspiracy theories gone mad.
But is this what it is really like in NK?
The urban myths spread by citizens and demand for complete and utter Kim worship is shocking to read. But not as shocking as the scenes from the gulags, political prisons and concentration camps. Where life is everything we have come to know about the holocaust. It is population control, murder and political genocide.

Even something just as simple as ‘the three generations rule’ sounds like something straight out of Nazi Germany.
This novel will shock you, it is dark, and it is frightening.
I can completely see why it carries the promo banner ‘thriller of the year’ because it is destined for success. 5*

More information about D.B. John

Anne Bonny #BlogTour Q&A – Let Me Be Like Water by @_sarah_perry #Literary #NewRelease @melvillehouse #LetMeBeLikeWater #AuthorTalks

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Let Me Be Like Water S.K Perry
Synopsis:

Holly moved to Brighton to escape. But now she’s here, sitting on a bench, listening to the sea sway… what is she supposed to do next? How is she supposed to fill the void Sam left when he died? She had thought she’d want to be on her own. Wrecked. Stranded. But after she meets Frank, the tide begins to shift. Frank, a retired magician who has experienced his own loss but manages to be there for everyone else. Gradually, as he introduces Holly to a circle of new friends, young and old, all with their own stories of love and grief to share, she begins to learn to live again.

Q&A:

Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?

A) Let Me Be Like Water tells the story of the narrator – Holly – who loses Sam, her partner of five years when she’s in her early twenties. The novel takes place in the first year after his death, as she begins to process her grief. She moves from their shared flat in London to Brighton and – sat by the sea one day – she meets Frank, a retired magician. He introduces her to a Book Club he runs, teaches her to bake, and helps her find her feet. She takes up running and spends her time navigating the chaos of loss as best she can, getting to know herself again and reimagining the rest of her life without Sam. It’s sad, but also (I hope) funny, and really it’s about what it is to heal.
In terms of my background, after graduating uni in 2012, I worked in a call centre for a bit, during which time I co-founded the Great Men project, an initiative working with men and boys to discuss and affirm healthy masculinities, challenging behaviours linked to violence, sexual violence and disproportionately high suicide, addiction, and imprisonment rates in men and boys, and promoting mental health awareness and gender equalities. I then studied for an MA in Creative Writing and Education, and spent a year working in school using creative writing to promote emotional literacy and wellbeing. I spent a year as the Global Campaign Manager at PEN International, and have acted in gender consultancy and training roles for businesses and NGOs. As a writer, I was longlisted for the inaugural London’s Young Poet Laureate and was Cityread Young Writer in Residence in Soho, from which my poetry book Curious Hands was commissioned.

Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea to writing to publication?

A) In some ways the book was vey accidental, which I think maybe lots of first novels are. I was working in a call centre (meaning lots of time to write), and then a family death and a life-changing trauma left me feeling completely adrift. I have a grandad I never met, who’s also a bit of a family legend, and I guess he became the starting point for the character Frank. I find the sea therapeutic and if I sit by it, or swim in it, I often find my mental health bolstered, so it made sense for Brighton to be the setting of my story, the place where the narrator Holly struggles to heal as she grieves the loss of her partner. As a woman in my early twenties I was yearning for narratives of female friendship; accounts of sexual experiences located in the female body; depictions of womanhood just started. I wrote about running because I think trauma is often processed by our bodies, whether we push them too hard or neglect them entirely. I wrote about food because I love to read novels that make you hungry. I wrote about sadness because I wanted to find a way to hold what I was feeling, a story other people could be held in too. It was a jumble of thoughts and feelings that felt like the beginning of a book so to motivate myself to finish it, I entered it into the Mslexia Novel competition. When it was longlisted I had to finish it (fast! I wrote 30 000 words in a fortnight), and then when it was shortlisted, I had time to edit it before pitching to agents at an event run by the competition. My agent, Laura West at David Higham, edited it with me for around eighteen months before it was sent out to publishers, and then last year Nikki Griffiths at Melville House said they were going to buy it. I was working on a project in Tegucigalpa, Honduras when my contract first came through, sat on a rooftop and eating with my colleagues; it was really surreal!

Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?

A) I’m so fickle; anything I have just read and loved becomes my favourite! I’m currently reading Sharlene Teo’s Ponti, which is great. Most recently I loved The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy. Some of my other favourites are: everything written by Zadie Smith; The First Bad Man by Miranda July; All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr; Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche; and All The Birds Singing by Evie Wylde. I love memoir and poetry too. When I Hit You: Or, a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy is phenomenal, as is Small White Monkeys by Sophie Collins. Poets I love include Belinda Zhawi, Mary Jean Chan, Miriam Nash, and Ella Frears. I also love and respect poets like Victoria Adukwei Bulley and Toni Stuart who are working across mediums, using film or documentary or dance for example, to do other interesting things in their work. Victoria produced the Mother Tongues films, which were some of my favourite pieces of literature I engaged with last year.

Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?

A) As a child, I was wildly obsessed with Anne of Green Gables; my first true love was Gilbert who she ends up marrying and although I was happy for them, this really broke my heart. I think I was maybe a bit in love with Anne too, which made it even harder to swallow. Also I loved a book about a group of kids who founded a theatre: The Swish of the Curtain. I grew up in a wonderful time; we had the anticipation of each new Harry Potter book (I still fall asleep listening to those audiobooks again and again) and the Noughts and Crosses series, which were brilliant stories in themselves obviously, but also the first time the structures of whiteness were made visible to me as an eleven year old white girl. I wanted to be an actor, so as a teenager I read plays devoutly; I loved Shakespeare’s comedies, as well as Tennessee Williams. I was obsessed with Sylvia Plath for a while, and we read The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Saturday by Ian McEwan at school for A level English. I had great teaches and loved both these books so I think they were both quite foundational novels for me too.

Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?

A) Answering these questions the book isn’t actually out yet so I will have to wait and see! My favourite thing about writing is teaching though; I love working with other writers and creating ways they can tease out what they want to say and the best way of saying it for them. It makes me a better writer too, and it’s always a thrill to be present in someone else’s creativity.

Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?

A) I’m so blessed in this regard. I am surrounded by other writers and creatives who are very supportive, including my partner and some of my closest friends. My housemates are some of the best people in the world, and my family are really supportive and wonderful too. My agent is the person who has pushed me hardest and really nurtured me too; I’m so grateful for her support with this book. Being published by an independent is also very humbling; they take big risks on the books they put out because they’re smaller in terms of resources. I’ll be forever grateful to Nikki Griffiths at Melville House for taking the plunge with this book; putting it out there is a real show of support and I feel very lucky to have had that from her.

*Thank you for taking part in the Q&A on my blog, I wish you every success with your writing career.

SK Perry © Naomi Woddis copy
S.K. Perry
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