Tag Archives: japan

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.

Review:
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 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, Shakespearian 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.

Review of Year of the Demon (Fated Blades, #2), by Steve Bein

Year of the DemonI borrowed Steve Bein‘s Year of the Demon from my local library. I have thousands of books on my Kindle and I still can’t help going out and finding more.

Description from Goodreads:
Detective Sergeant Mariko Oshiro has been promoted to Japan’s elite Narcotics unit—and with this promotion comes a new partner, a new case, and new danger. The underboss of a powerful yakuza crime syndicate has put a price on her head, and he’ll lift the bounty only if she retrieves an ancient iron demon mask that was stolen from him in a daring raid. However, Mariko has no idea of the tumultuous past carried within the mask—or of its deadly link with the famed Inazuma blade she wields.

The secret of this mask originated hundreds of years before Mariko was born, and over time the mask’s power has evolved to bend its owner toward destruction, stopping at nothing to obtain Inazuma steel. Mariko’s fallen sensei knew much of the mask’s hypnotic power and of its mysterious link to a murderous cult. Now Mariko must use his notes to find the mask before the cult can bring Tokyo to its knees—and before the underboss decides her time is up….

Review:
This is a hard one for me to rate because I didn’t read the first (Daughter of the Sword) and I don’t know how many of my complaints are the result of that. For example, I knew Mariko carried over from book one, but until I finished this book and glanced at some other reviews, I didn’t realize one of the historical characters does too. Certainly, I followed and enjoyed it, but my largest issue was that I didn’t feel like the three plot lines converged in any way, such that I felt like I’d read three partial stories instead on one cohesive whole.

Sure, they all involved the sword and mask, but that’s the only connection and surely in the 500 or so years between the events, other people held them too. So, why these particular stories? Kaida’s arc seemed especially anchorless. Would this have been different if I’d read book one? Maybe. But since the two books are apparently in the same style, jumping between the past and present, I’m thinking not. I just might have more faith that the plot lines will connect in some future book.

I very much liked the characters. There is some parallels between Mariko and Daigoro’s situations and the difficulty of doing the honorable thing. I liked that sex was dealt with very matter-of-factly. The writing is lovely, though a bit repetitive, with some editing mistakes (most notably, I think in some of the dates, as they made no sense). Despite being set in Japan, having a few Japanese words thrown in here and there and people bowing, the narration and dialogue didn’t sound particularly Japanese. This was especially notable in the historical dialogue. I liked it and its obvious the author did a ton of research, but it felt very American.

All in all, I suppose I liked but didn’t love this book. But I feel like I really aught to have.


What I’m drinking: Tea of Life Black Chai. I’ve been drinking it plain, not milky, which is my preference. But I find chai from a tea bag is never strong enough to make a nice milky version.

Review of Stormdancer (The Lotus War, #1), by Jay Kristoff

StormdancerI picked up a copy of Stormdancer, by Jay Kristoff at my local library. (With that cover, how could I not?)

Description from Goodreads:
A DYING LAND
The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, the land is choked with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed its wilds have departed forever.

AN IMPOSSIBLE QUEST 
The hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger – a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.

A HIDDEN GIFT 
Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her.

But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire.

Review:
This is probably a must-read for all Anime and Manga fans out there. You’ll definitely recognize the feel of it. Not to mention it’d be really helpful to already understand what a yokai and oni are, as well as any number of other recognizable Japanese words (clothing items, ranks, weaponry, etc).

I basically enjoyed it after a really slow start. I enjoyed Yukiko and Buruu, as well as some of the side characters. I probably could have done without the teenage romance, but this is a YA book so I don’t know that I can really complain about it.

Like so many YA books it is essentially an allegory. Shima’s Chi dependence mirroring the modern world’s dependence on oil and it’s destructive self-perpetuation. The maniac Shogun could easily be the greedy 1% crushing the common man, while placating him with lies and base entertainments.

All in all, well worth picking up.