Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Review: Bai Tide by Erika Mitchell

Title: Bai Tide
Author: Erika Mitchell
Year Published: 2015
**Next book in the series, Take the Bai Road, comes out July 3, 2017


Genre: Fiction
Pages: 243
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)USA (CA) and North Korea

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author and TLC Book Tours for review.


Summary (from the inside flap of the book): After the events of Blood Money, CIA case officer Bai Hsu is assigned to a high-security private school for what he's told is an easy assignment. Just a few months after he arrives, a hostile operative with ties to North Korea tries to break in to a school event, with motives unknown.

As his investigation progresses, he unravels a plot that, if not stopped, will result in the untimely and murderous deaths of tens of millions of people. Bai Tide is Bai's greatest challenge yet. A mission that will take him from the windswept beaches of San Diego to a whiteout blizzard in the foothills of Pyongyang, and make him question everything he thought he knew about working in the field... and about himself.
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Review: I wasn't sure what to expect when I began this book. All I knew was that it was a spy novel and I haven't read one of those in a very long time. To be honest, I am still not sure if the book is intended for YA or adults.

Setting the story in a fancy prep school was clever as it leaves open lots of possibilities for the storyline: international students; wealthy families; political connections; and more. I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but one of the students definitely plays an important, though minor, role. She is more of a jumping off point for the intrigue. The headmistress is the only one who knows Bai's real role at the school and to be honest, I kept thinking she would turn out to be CIA as well, but maybe that's too obvious.

My favorite parts of the book were the scenes that took place in North Korea and given the tensions between the US and North Korea, this book seems timely. I've had a bit of fascination with the country ever since I read Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy. I don't want to visit, but I think it's because I cannot imagine living in a country that is so repressive and... gray. Bai Tide did a good job of showing the grayness of North Korea, the scary nature of the government, and the darkness at night when the power is turned off. I really felt like the characters were there and the contrast from San Diego, CA was very clear.

Erika Mitchell, the author, said she was available to answer questions so I took her up on that offer.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration for your stories?
A: Every plot usually starts with an image of what Bai is doing at the moment (e.g. running for his life, conducting a covert meeting, bored at work, etc.) and then I figure out the context from there. I'll get a picture in my head, and then my next job is to figure out how it came to be and what will come of it. Half my job as an author is getting my characters into trouble and then writing down how they get themselves out of it!

Q: What research did you do for the sections of the book that took place in North Korea?
A: Writing the North Korean scenes required a staggering amount of research in the form of documentaries, news articles and commentary, memoirs from refugees, and even an interview with someone who'd recently left South Korea and who had family in North Korea. North Korea is often the butt of easy jokes, and I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to peel back the layers of secrecy and mythology in order to present a bald, unvarnished experience of what life in the Hermit Kingdom is like right now. North Korea is one of the great human rights tragedies of our time, and the hell of it is that it's a tremendously complicated problem with no easy solutions. The more I researched the living conditions there, the more I gave myself nightmares. I could barely sleep until I finished writing those scenes! I'm quite proud of how they turned out, however, and grateful to have had access to enough information to do them justice.

Q: What's in store next for Bai Hsu?
A: The next novel, which is called Take the Bai Road, comes out July 3! In this next mission, Bai is sent on a covert mission to Mexico to investigate a shadowy organization called the Ghost Cartel, which may or may not already have hooks in the U.S. government. With no official cover, no backup, and no resources, this is Bai's most challenging assignment yet. It will take him from the docks of Lazaro Cardenas all the way to the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. and rip away everything that's ever mattered to him.

I like that these books are partly set overseas, a change of scene makes it more interesting!

Challenges for which this counts:

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