The Making of a Gripping New Novel Set in North Korea

Our new Igloo Book Buzz selection, D.B. John’s STAR OF THE NORTH, published by Crown on May 22, is particularly timely, as much of the highly-charged narrative unfolds in North Korea. Crown Senior Editor Nate Roberson offers these insights: “Describing STAR OF THE NORTH as a ‘thriller’ is accurate—it’s one of the most exciting books I’ve read in years—but also incomplete, because this book is so much more than just an entertaining thrill ride.

“With unparalleled insight and empathy, D. B. John has pulled back the curtain on a fascinating world that even now remains opaque to so many Americans. As we watch a brilliant CIA agent fight to rescue a victim of the regime, we are also seeing the other side of that coin, the people of North Korea whose very survival hinges on overcoming an unfathomable degree of oppression and deprivation. As North Korea once again takes center stage in world events, I am grateful to have been so immersed in a work that moved me, kept me up all night turning pages, and ultimately totally transformed my understanding of North Korea.” D.B. John: “I had long wanted to make this closed, secretive country the setting for a thriller. The outline of a story began to take shape the week Kim Jong-il died in 2011. I watched the footage of those vast crowds grieving in Pyongyang, and behind the crying I saw fear. Everyone, even the children, knew what awaited those who shed too few tears. I visited the country four months later, in April 2012. The whole trip had an air of unreality about it, from the silence I stepped into as I left the plane—imagine a land with no traffic, no planes overhead, no bird song—to the daily rituals in the cult of Kim. My small tour group was obliged to demonstrate our respect by lining up and bowing before the Great Leader’s statue. And wherever we went there was a statue. “North Korea is a violent tyranny led by a single family. One mistake, one word out of line… and a person can be taken away in a truck at night, along with their children and parents, and not seen again. My challenge as a writer was to convey something that’s hard for us, who take our freedoms and personal liberties for granted, to imagine: how life carries on under pervasive surveillance and extreme political control. This thriller stemmed partly from my curiosity about people who forever have to hide their thoughts and feelings. What are the private cares and aspirations of people living under the most oppressive regime the world has ever seen?” To read the newly published Parade interview with D.B. John, click here. To view D.B. John's fascinating visual diary of his research trip to North Korea for STAR OF THE NORTH, posted on, click here. STAR OF THE NORTH has generated a wide range of advance praise. Here is a sampling:
  • “[a] multistranded espionage thriller…told with drama and flair.” – Wall Street Journal
  • “A thrilling tale of abduction and escape in North Korea....highly entertaining.” – The Washington Post
  • “An outstanding thriller . . . Those seeking a realistic, highly readable look at North Korea will be rewarded.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • “Well-researched, fast-paced, and pertinent . . . a fantastic read.” —Library Journal (starred review)
  • “A remarkable story about the most opaque country on Earth . . . STAR OF THE NORTH would be a superior thriller even if it was pure fiction.” —Booklist (starred review)
  • “Extraordinary. Smart, sophisticated, suspenseful—and important. If you try one new thing this year, make it STAR OF THE NORTH.” —Lee Child

Former First Lady Michelle Obama to Open 2018 ALA Annual Conference

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama is a lawyer, author, and the wife of the 44th President, Barack Obama. Through her initiatives as First Lady, she has become a role model for women and girls, and an advocate for healthy families, service members and their families, higher education, and international adolescent girls’ education. She will appear at the opening general session of the 2018 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference and Exhibition on Friday, June 22, 4:00—5:30 pm, at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. Her appearance at the conference is sponsored by Penguin Random House.

[caption id="attachment_112390" align="alignright" width="214"] Michelle Obama, Credit David Slijper[/caption] Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s much-anticipated memoir, BECOMING, will be published in the U.S. and Canada on November 13, 2018, by Crown, and will be released simultaneously in 24 languages. Considered one of the most popular First Ladies of recent times, Mrs. Obama in her book invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. Warm, wise, and revelatory, BECOMING is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same. Michelle Obama has described writing BECOMING as “a deeply personal experience. It has allowed me, for the very first time, the space to honestly reflect on the unexpected trajectory of my life. I hope my journey inspires readers to find the courage to become whoever they aspire to be. I can’t wait to share my story.” A product of Chicago public schools, Obama studied sociology and African-American studies at Princeton University and is a graduate of Harvard Law School. Mrs. Obama started her career as an attorney at the Chicago law firm Sidley & Austin, where she met her future husband, Barack Obama. She later worked in the Chicago mayor’s office, at the University of Chicago, and at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Mrs. Obama also founded the Chicago chapter of Public Allies, an organization that prepares young people for careers in public service. For more information, visit the ALA Conference website.

Our 15 L.A. Times Book Prize Finalists

The Los Angeles Times  has announced the finalists for its 2017 Book Prize Awards, which annually honors outstanding books in 10 categories. Below are our 15 Penguin Random House imprint nominations, and our winners of two of their non-competitive prizes. The winners in the literary categories will revealed on April 20.

Art Seidenbaum Award For First Fiction THE IDIOT by Elif Batuman (Penguin Books) MY ABSOLUTE DARLING by Gabriel Tallent (Riverhead Books) SOUR HEART by Jenny Zhang (Lenny) Biography GRANT by Ron Chernow (Penguin Press) RICHARD NIXON: THE LIFE by John A. Farrell (Vintage) 2017 Innovator’s Award - Winner WELL-READ BLACK GIRL by Glory Edim (Ballantine Books) 2017 Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose - Winner THE HUE AND CRY AT OUR HOUSE: A YEAR REMEMBERED by Benjamin Taylor (Penguin Books) Current Interest WE WERE EIGHT YEARS IN POWER: AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY  by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World) DEMOCRACY IN CHAINS: THE DEEP HISTORY OF THE RADICAL RIGHT'S STEALTH PLAN FOR AMERICA By Nancy MacLean (Viking) THE FAR AWAY BROTHERS: TWO YOUNG MIGRANTS AND THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN LIFE by Lauren Markham (Crown) Fiction EXIT WEST by Mohsin Hamid (Riverhead Books) THE CHANGELING by Victor LaValle (Spiegel & Grau) GHACHAR GHOCHAR Vivek Shanbhag (Penguin Books)

Mystery / Thriller

THE NIGHT OCEAN by Paul La Farge (Penguin Press) Science & Technology BEHAVE: THE BIOLOGY OF HUMANS AT OUR BEST AND WORST by Robert M. Sapolsky (Penguin Press) LIFE 3.0: BEING HUMAN IN THE AGE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE by Max Tegmark (Knopf) Young Adult Literature GENUINE FRAUD by E. Lockhart (Delacorte Press)    

Our 5 Nominees for 2018 Edgar Awards

Mystery Writers of America (MWA) has announced its nominees for the 2018 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction, and television published or produced in 2017.  Five books published by Penguin Random House imprints earned nominations in the following categories: 

  Best Novel PRUSSIAN BLUE by Philip Kerr (Marian Wood Books/G.P.Putnam’s Sons) THE TWELVE LIVES OF SAMUEL HAWLEY by Hannah Tinti (The Dial Press)   Best First Novel LOLA by Melissa Scrivner Love (Crown) IDAHO by Emily Ruskovich (Random House)     Best Fact Crime KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (Doubleday) View the complete list of nominees here. This year’s Edgar Awards will be presented to the winners at MWA’s 72nd Gala Banquet on April 26 in Manhattan.

Three Crown Titles Barnes & Noble Discover Fall 2017 Selections

Barnes & Noble has announced their selections for Discover’s Fall 2017 season and they have chosen three forethcoming Crown titles. The B&N Discover Great New Writers program connects readers with books from up-and-coming authors from around the world.


Fall 2017 Discover Great New Writers Selections

BarnesandNoble AMERICAN WOLF by Nate Blakeslee (Crown, October 17) THE FAR AWAY BROTHERS by Lauren Markham (Crown, September 12) FIRE ON THE TRACK by Roseanne Montillo (Crown, October 17)
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Watch the HBO Trailer for TV Adaptation of THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

henriettalacks2Oprah Winfrey, Rose Byrne and Renée Elise Goldsberry star in the HBO adaptation of the Crown/Broadway Books New York Times bestseller, THE IMMORTAl LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS by Rebecca Skloot. A trailer has been released to promote the HBO Films’ April 22 premiere. 

The biopic tells the story of Henrietta Lacks (played by Ms. Goldsberry of Hamilton fame), the black woman whose cells — which were harvested without her permission as she lay dying from cancer in 1951 — led to the discovery of the polio vaccine, in vitro fertilization, and gene mapping. The story is told through the eyes of her daughter Deborah (Winfrey), who teams up with Ms. Skloot (Byrne) to learn about the mother she never knew. George C. Wolfe, who adapted and directed the film, told Entertainment Weekly: “The book connects the epic with the intimate, and that’s the movie’s ambition. This woman’s cells helped heal the planet, yet her children were suffering. They didn’t know their mother’s story, even though they were living in the shadows of Johns Hopkins. I found that dichotomy incredibly moving.” Watch the trailer here. Last fall, Ms. Skloot’s book also sparked a group of Oakland, California middle school students to produce and star in a rap video that took social media by storm. Read about the phenomenon in our story: Must-Watch Rap Video by Middle Schoolers Inspired by Rebecca Skloot’s Bestseller