Review: Hart & Seoul by Kristen Burnham (arc)

Title: Hart & Seoul 
Author: Kristen Burnham 
Series: Stand-alone 
Genre: Contemporary, YA 
Publication date: June 4, 2019 
Rating: ★½ 

Merilee Hart has been doing her best to keep things together since her mother left, her art a welcome escape from her depressing new reality. But things seem to go even more awry the moment her next door neighbor’s enigmatic and mysterious nephew arrives from South Korea. Lee is moody, cocky, and utterly infuriating. But when Merri’s closest friends betray her and her father crushes her dream of going to art school, Merri finds herself drawn to Lee, who seems to live within even greater shadows than her own. And just when she thought things couldn’t get crazier, Merri’s world is upended when she discovers Lee’s big and bizarre secret…he is none other than a runaway member of the K-pop mega-group Thunder. It’s not long before Thunder’s fans, the Storm Chasers, begin to close in on Lee, ready to do whatever it takes to return their favorite idol to his rightful place in the band. Faced with the prospect of even more heartbreak and caught up in an international whirlwind that has a life of its own, Merri realizes that she must find a way to mend herself, gain control of her life, and pursue her dreams—her heart and soul depend on it.

When it comes to K-pop and its related idol culture, my knowledge of its works is not non-existent but it’s definitely limited. I started reading this book unbiased, although not completely objective either as I am certainly interested to learn more about what it’s all about. If anything I was ready to love it. Hart & Seoul seemed like a simple, compelling way to fall in love with a mostly foreign world of entertainment and hopefully its (in this case fictional) lead pop stars. 

It didn’t work out quite as planned. The premise is exciting, though. An undercover K-pop idol, reconnecting with the real world and somewhere along the way falling in love with a regular American girl; and in return the girl entering a fantastical world previously unknown. It’s a trope I can always rally behind, it reminds me of my teenage years and foolish but oh so compelling movies. I didn’t expect or even want this to be deep and thoughtful. I just wanted it to be fun. Unfortunately I was often too busy being annoyed to enjoy the experience.

Everything was painfully obvious. And I know it’s a lot to ask this kind of book not to be, but there are limits to my ability to deal with the obvious. I could see everything coming miles away, the foreshadowing was so unsubtle and yet somehow the main character always found herself suprised. That doesn’t work. And annoyed the hell out of me. 

Main character Merilee was likable enough and so was K-pop star in disguise Hyung-Kim Lee. If that’s even his name, because he was usually called Lee, sometimes Eeunim, or just Ee. At first I thought I didn’t get it because I lacked some knowledge on Korean name-giving but it’s more - it genuinely just doesn’t make sense. Nor did the nickname “Lee” chose for Merilee. He called her Christmas, because you know, Merilee, Merry, Merry Christmas, Christmas. So yeah.

Writing about different cultures and especially doing them justice is tricky. It takes tons of research and hours of careful consideration. You really don’t want a book to paint a cliche picture. Sadly I felt this was exactly what Hart & Seoul did. The way the main character’s aunt (who had been living in America for years) “spoke” and the grammar mistakes she constantly made, were painful to read. Maybe on tv this works, but seeing the errors written on paper made it come across as really condescending. Or at least that’s how I felt. The Korean references made me roll my eyes multiple times. I’m sure there has to be more to Korea than Gagnam Style. Lose the cliches and superficial characteristics, that would be my biggest advice.

I also didn’t feel like the author payed enough attention to how sparkly Lee was? I really like my boys sparkly, you know. Or wait. She did. Once or twice. Per sentence. IT WAS SO ANNOYING. She frequently called him sparkle boy, I kid you not. So sexy. I got major Twilight vibes and that might not be the best advertising for your book about K-pop idols.

Many things also didn’t make sense. Situations brought about emotions that didn’t seem to fit or were exaggerated and I honestly can’t imagine a K-pop idol being so unworldly he would call blonde hair ‘yellow’. I think it was supposed to be endearing. It wasn’t. Neither was the chemistry between Lee and Christmas - uh, Merilee. There wasn’t any. And if a romantic book isn’t really romantic…

Ah well. It could have been good but it failed to deliver. Wouldn’t recommend. Especially not if you’re into K-pop and have some actual insight in what it’s supposed to be. I imagine the book would only annoy you even more.

Review: The Girl The Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young (arc)

the girl the sea gave back adrienne young

Title: The Girl The Sea Gave Back  
Author: Adrienne Young  
Series: Sky In The Deep  
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, YA  
Publication date: September 3, 2019 
Rating: ★★★★ 

For as long as she can remember, Tova has lived among the Svell, the people who found her washed ashore as a child and use her for her gift as a Truthtongue. Her own home and clan are long-faded memories, but the sacred symbols and staves inked over every inch of her skin mark her as one who can cast the rune stones and see into the future. She has found a fragile place among those who fear her, but when two clans to the east bury their age-old blood feud and join together as one, her world is dangerously close to collapse. For the first time in generations, the leaders of the Svell are divided. Should they maintain peace or go to war with the allied clans to protect their newfound power? And when their chieftain looks to Tova to cast the stones, she sets into motion a series of events that will not only change the landscape of the mainland forever but will give her something she believed she could never have again—a home.

The Nādhir would follow me into the mist of the forest when the sun rose. And only the gods knew if we’d ever come out.

The Girl The Sea Gave Back is a stand-alone companion book and often called a spinoff, but it reads surprisingly like a sequel to Sky In The Deep. It is set in the same village and deals with a largely similar cast of characters, which makes the return to this Viking-esque world both familiar and welcome. Sky in the Deep left me craving for more and so did this book.

In The Girl The Sea Gave Back we follow Halvard and Tova, two youngsters fresh into adulthood from different clans, destined to cross paths and end up on opposite sides of an inevitable war. Their lives couldn’t be more different. While Halvard is a child of peace and chosen to become the next clan leader of de Nādhir, Tova has always been a Rikki outcast living with the Svell. If she hadn’t been a truthtongue, a thread between the living and the future, and cast the rune stones for her enemies, her life would have been forfeit the moment she washed ashore. But the Svell tala, Jorrund, recognised her potential and fought to give her a fragile place within the Svell community. When the power balance shifts, however, Tova’s fate is left in the hands of clansmen who both fear and detest her.

I have always liked Halvard, getting to watch him grow up has been an unexpected pleasure. His personality largely moulded by Fiske, Iri, Inge, Eelyn’s father and Myra, there was no way he would not turn out a fine, strong human being. But getting to know Tova was equally intriguing. I liked who she was and how she dealt with the hardship of having absolutely no one to rely on and having to carry the burden of the rune stones. The story is fast-paced and full of action. As war looms on the horizon and alliances shift, people die and fight for a future that might already be set in stone. 

There are appearances from Fiske and Eelyn and I can’t decide if I loved those parts or if they disappointed me. Because as great as it was to have them return, them now being mere side characters left me unsatisfied. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to these two before and these small interactions weren’t enough. It just wasn’t.

I’m also not sure we needed the flashbacks. It felt as if they were mostly there to give us a piece of Fiske but since we hardly learned anything new in those scenes, I would have preferred a more fleshed out main story. Because that’s something I missed. The book is short and should have been longer. There is not enough room for detail and careful development. It missed something, some of the magic. It’s good but it could have been better, which despite me liking it, also left me somewhat disappointed. 

Adrienne Young’s writing on the other hand, I’m a big fan of. Her words seem simple but they carry weight. They draw people in. I like the way she builds scenes and has a nose for small but significant moments.

If you loved Sky In The Deep, I recommend picking this up. Vikings are fun and so is this world. It’s perhaps not as good as the first book but it’s worth reading and enjoyable. And who knows, maybe there will be a third part that will fulfil all our wildest dreams. A girl can dream, right?

Also both Sky In The Deep and The Girl The Sea Gave Back reaaaaally make want to pick the ‘Vikings’ tv show back up.

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