Posted in Books

Book Review: Hart & Seoul by Kristen Burnham

For all my k-pop and k-drama (or c-drama) friends, here is another must-read in that genre! Yes, I found another one and it’s an AMAZING read! 🙂

PLUS: I got a chance to interview the author herself!

About the Book

Girl meets boy. Boy falls for girl. Girl discovers boy is a runaway K-pop idol in hiding.

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

Author Interview

This is probably one of my favorite interviews I’ve ever done. Read on for plenty of fun (and an amazing list of k-drama recs that I need to get started on ASAP).

I absolutely love the storyline for this book! What was the inspiration behind writing it?

Thank you!  When the idea came to me—at the time it felt like out of nowhere, but really I attribute it to years of being enthralled by K-dramas—I wasn’t entirely sure where the story was going to take me, and the first draft was really just me throwing down a bunch of ideas.  But gradually Merilee and Lee’s characters became clear to me, and it evolved into a story of choice and awareness…with a little K-drama fun thrown in.

What’s your writing process like? How do you plan out where your book is going?

My writing process is basically to write whenever I get a chance! I work full-time, as many authors do, and mainly pound away at the laptop in the evenings and weekends. I personally work really well with having a daily word count goal; no matter what, I hit that goal, and it really helps keep me on track.  I will admit, with H&S, I had a clear image of the overall plot, but the details took a while to work out.  Two years, actually.  But thanks to really insightful beta readers, it all came together.

Who was your favourite character to write in Hart & Seoul, and why?

Lee, hands down.  He’s just so, so, Lee.  Not your typical bad boy, a goal I had right from the beginning.  I had a blast finding the balance between humorous arrogance and vulnerability, which is why I think people enjoy him so much.  And, not to give away spoilers, he and I share a lot in common in terms of struggles, so there’s a lot of myself in him…minus the idol stardom status, of course!

What was it like creating k-pop star character? Was it easy to write and make it realistic? Did you need to do research (and if so, what was it like)?

A LOT of research went into this. I am, of course, neither an idol or Korean, so I knew from the beginning that I’d need help. I visited South Korea, specifically Seoul, to see where Lee would live and, honestly, to experience culture shock myself so that I could write it realistically. To be surrounded by people yet feel cut off from them (mainly because my Korean is abysmal) was something that I’d never been exposed to, and I’m grateful that I did it. The challenge in writing H&S was that Lee’s experience is shown through the eyes of Merilee, so she is witnessing him being perplexed by things that are normal to her…there were a lot of rewrites to make sure that I got that right.  One beta reader, who lived in Korea for a year, was particularly helpful in research, and if she didn’t know the answer she had friends in Korea who did.  It was truly a team effort with this book!

A comment that I get a lot is the food in this book, something that ironically I didn’t intend to highlight.  However, I guess my love of Korean food really came through!  I have a favorite Korean restaurant, and every time I went I would always walk out inspired to keep working on H&S.  Well, that and full.  Very very full.

What scene or chapter in the book is your favourite?

If I have to pick one…I’d say the restaurant scene, when Lee is trying to get the waiter’s attention.  Won’t say anymore because, ya’ know, spoilers.

Do you have any favourite authors?

Do I ever!  Anna Lee Huber, Ashley Weaver, Elly Blake, Gwenda Bond, H.G. Howard, Shannon Messenger, Beth Revis—I could go on and on.  I once heard that reading is the best way to learn to write, and I agree 1000%.  Read your favorite authors, try new genres, and explore the literary world to get a sense of your style and genre.  I also highly recommend Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book On Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need, by Jessica Brody.  Hands down the best resource for writers.

What inspired you to write and become a published author? 

I have always wanted to write, since I was about twelve, and dreamed of being published, although I never thought that it would happen, mainly because I didn’t believe I could actually complete a full manuscript.  H&S is the first full-length novel that I’ve ever written, and will always have a special place in my heart because it proved to me that I could actually do this.  It has, from the very beginning, been a story that I wanted to share, and I’m so humbled and honored that it is out there for people to read.

Do you prefer writing in silence or to music? If you listen to music, what kind?

I love to write while I watch movies.  For whatever reason, it helps keep me focused and on track.  If not movies, then definitely music; I listen to a wide range of genres and love to get cozy somewhere and type away to rhythm of the music.  And nothing gets ideas flowing more than listening to a good K-pop track, of course.

Any new books coming soon?

H&S has, from the very beginning, been planned on being a duology.  There is a lot more for Merilee and Lee to go through, adventures to be had…I mean, she hasn’t even met the other members of Thunder! 

And just for fun…do you have any k-pop or k-drama recommendations?

I don’t have a particular favorite K-pop group that I prefer over the other, as I mainly just pick songs that I like.  I have G-Dragon, Blackpink, BTS, Red Velvet, Lee Hi & Davichi on my playlist at the moment.  But as for K-dramas? All I can say is, brace yourself.

Kristen’s List of Awesome Amazingly Dramatic K-dramas

  • Boys Over Flowers (aka, the gateway drama)
  • Playful Kiss
  • Palace Princess/ Princess Hours
  • My Princess
  • Fated to Love You
  • She Was Pretty (LOVE this one)
  • My Secret Romance
  • The King Loves
  • Strong Woman Do Bong Soon 
  • The Legend of the Blue Sea
  • 1% of Something
  • Bride of the Water God
  • Master’s Sun
  • Let’s Fight Ghosts
  • Oh My Ghostess
  • The Great Doctor
  • Full House
  • Scarlet Heart Ryeo

My Review

A copy of this book was graciously provided by the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review.

If you saw my list of c-drama recommendations, you’ll know that I had this mini crush on the actor/singer Lai Guanlin. Well, this book is basically the manifestation of you dreams of dating a k-pop star, giving you a chance to live vicariously through Merilee. Boy will you appreciate it.

I have read other books where an ordinary girl ends up meeting and dating a celebrity, but those books seemed awfully cliche. Hart & Seoul, though, gives you a chance to live out that dream sans all the outright cliche stuff. I mean, the storyline is still predictable because it after all is a k-drama like novel, but Lee and Merri’s relationship seemed to progress authentically and naturally. I genuinely enjoyed this book, and man did I feel all the feels. I laughed (LOVED how Lee gave Merri the nickname Merri Christmas), and cried, and my emotions were brought to a satisfying full circle.

Also, I really appreciated how Burnham inserted the themes of anxiety and depression into this novel. It really builds to that authentic portrayal of teen life in the 21st century, and a realistic window into the lives of celebrities. Not everything is sunshine and rainbows, and I think it’s important for people to realize that having fame and money isn’t what makes you happy.

One of my favorite scenes was when Merri described how Lee was driving. My friend (from Korea) was literally describing how aggressively they drove in Korea right before I read this book, so that scene definitely stood out to me–it was so accurate!

If you like k-dramas, and Wicked Fox by Kat Cho, or I Believe in A Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, you DEFINITELY need to check this one out. You won’t regret it!

Also, did you see in that interview question above? There’s going to be a second book! EEEEEEK! I’m so excited for it.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Hart & Seoul by Kristen Burnham

  1. Oh wow…..I dont really watch k dramas ( I’ve seen playful kiss though) but I definitely wanna try some of her suggestions😁 I’m stoked!!
    Also, your interview left me open mouthed………that was A-MAAAZING!!!


    I’m not really into the romance genre, but it was a beautiful review!!💛


    1. Aw thank you!
      Omg I was never really into dramas either. But as you probably saw from my c-drama rec and started getting into them. A little less right now, though I’m kinda half half between c and k dramas.
      So glad you liked my post and review!

      Liked by 1 person

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