Tag Archives: gay thriller

Book Review of Blood Stained Tea (The Yakuza Path #1), by Amy Tasukada

I was sent a copy of Amy Tasukada‘s Blood Stained Tea for review.

Description from Goodreads:
A bloody past haunts him. A devastating present calls him back…

Nao hides from his violent past in the Japanese mob by opening a teahouse in Japan’s cultural center, Kyoto. His past comes flooding back when he discovers a gravely injured man with a tattooed chest, a bloody knife, and a Korean business card.

Saehyun would’ve died if not for Nao’s help. He knows nothing of his savior’s connection with the local mafia, but Saehyun has his own secrets. He commands the Korean mafia, the mortal enemy of Nao’s former syndicate.

As Nao and Saehyun grow closer, so does the strength of the Korean mob. A shocking murder pulls Nao back into a past he’d all but abandoned. War is looming, and Nao must choose between protecting Saehyun or avenging the honor of his old mafia family.

Blood Stained Tea was a fun book to start the year with. I really appreciated that it contains a romance featuring a Japanese and Korean man, one of which is bi-sexual. Plus, being set in Kyoto, Japan is a nice change. Overall, I quite enjoyed it. I liked both the main characters, appreciated the difficult positions they found themselves in and was left wanting more when it ended.

However, Nao’s logic often made no sense to me, nor did his constant assumptions about Saehyun. In fact, they were made so frequently and asserted so firmly that I felt very much like the author was trying to convince me of something I should be able to sense without being told (repeatedly). It was like they were both keeping themselves willfully ignorant and I’m afraid that just wasn’t something I could buy into, considering how much both of them had at stake. Even when all but incontrovertible proof was presented, the two of them (Nao especially) somehow remained clueless. I just couldn’t believe it, which meant a lot of the plot felt contrived.

Similarly, the decision and twist at the end was utterly unbelievable for me.  When the book was presented to me for review it came with this note: “…this is a m/m thriller. Though there is a love story throughout the novel it’s NOT a romance, nor is it for the faint of heart. Lots of bloody violence and death.” So I get that this event at the end is what makes the book a thriller rather than a romance. But I think the story tried too hard to straddle the genres and compromised itself. It would have been stronger, in my opinion, to pick one or the other. Especially since so many readers will be disappointed. Romance lover will be let down by the ending and thriller fanatics will likely be put off by the romance. Because for 99% of the book the romance is front and centre, even if it is practically an insta-lust.

Honestly, if not for the ending, I would call it an M/M romance using the Yakuza and Jo-pok for plot. Admittedly, a romance of the tragic, Shakespearean sort—very Romeo and Juliet—but a romance all the same. In fact, I’d call this a mix of Romeo and Juliet and The Godfather. Nao makes a very convincing Michael Corleone.

The writing is pretty good. The first chapter or so is a bit rough, but it smooths out fairly quickly. The editing also never grabbed my attention, which is what editing should do, and it was well-paced. All sex is off-page, so it’s not particularly steamy, and the book has an awesome cover. Lastly, I totally agree with Nao about Oolong tea. It’s my favorite too, especially the darker, heavily oxidized ones. Yum. I look forward to reading more of Tasukada’s work.

Book Review of Calvin’s Head, by David Swatling

Calvin's HeadI received a copy of David Swatling‘s novel, Calvin’s Head, from Netgalley.

Description from Goodreads:
Life in Amsterdam isn’t all windmills and tulips when you’re homeless. Jason Dekker lives in a jeep with his dog, Calvin, on the outskirts of the city. A thesis on Van Gogh brought him to the Netherlands, and the love of Dutch artist Willy Hart convinced him to stay. But Willy is gone and Dekker is on the brink of a total meltdown. On a summer morning in the park, Calvin sniffs out the victim of a grisly murder. Dekker sees the opportunity for a risky strategy that might solve their problems. Unfortunately, it puts them directly in the sights of the calculating stone-cold killer, Gadget. Their paths are destined to collide, but nothing goes according to plan when they end up together in an attic sex-dungeon. Identities shift and events careen out of control, much to the bewilderment of one ever-watchful canine. Oscar Wilde wrote that each man kills the thing he loves. He didn’t mean it literally. Or did he?

Well, this book starts off with a bang, before tapering off to a much more manageable, pleasant pace. It’s told predominantly from the POV of down-on-his-luck Dekker, but also occasionally from that of psycho, Gadget, and the unusually smart dog, Calvin. Yes, the dog has his own POV. Calvin’s contributions feel a bit scattered and pointless for a while (He is a dog after all, how cognisant would you expect his POV to be?), but it really does contribute to the story and he’s incredibly important.

I did wonder why it never seemed to even occur to Dekker to return home to the States, as opposed to remain homeless in Amsterdam. (I imagine the embassy would help.) Seems it would have simplified his situation. I suspect this was supposed to be because he had been in Amsterdam so long he considered it home. But it’s never made clear exactly how long he’s been there or even how old he is, to approximate it based on how long ago he finished the thesis that brought him there in the first place, assuming he did at some point. This lack of age was only exacerbated when he gave Gadget the moniker, The Kid, while guessing he was in his early 20s. This inability to anchor the story in time bothered me, but not enough to put me off reading it.

I also think the interspersed Valentine stories felt gratuitous. I understand why they were included and what they were meant to be providing the book, but it mostly just felt like an easy plot device to add the little bit of extra sex that the plot appeared to be missing. Meh.

While the story had a fair-handed (if anti-climactic) ending, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a happy one. I appreciate this. One of my pet peeves is books that can’t bear to let stories end in realistic languishment. Granted, Dekker is on the upswing, but he’s still uncertain where to go from where is it. It feels much more real than if he’d found his sudden happily ever after.  It’s a thriller after all, not a romance.

Final thoughts: this one had almost everything you could want…a little action, a little romance (of sorts, though I don’t think the word fits well), some feelz, an interesting setting or two, some art history, a cute dog (I’m a dog person, so this tickled me), a bad-bad man, a relatable nice-guy, good writing, etc. I’ll be looking for Mr. Swatling’s next book.