Tag: ARC

New Release: The Watanabe Name by Sakura Nobeyama

Title: The Watanabe Name
Author: Sakura Nobeyama
Release Date: July 18, 2019
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
My Rating: 4/5
Trigger Warning: violence, sexual assault
Find it on: Amazon Barnes & NobleGoodreads


My NetGalley review:

I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review through NetGalley.

This is a book that starts extremely sluggishly but picks up and goes full-throttle until the end, keeping you reading for more to figure out what happens next. I was really slogging through the first bit and was super close to DNF’ing it until a major event finally occurred. The rest of the novel makes up for the slow start.

The Watanabe Name is a thriller/historical fiction about a traditional Japanese family that has some notoriety due to the war. When the patriarch is found dead, the story really unfolds into a thrilling telling around the family itself and who might have wanted him gone.

Those who are familiar with the atrocities around the Japanese occupation will understand references in the book, especially to some heinous, problematic aspects of the occupation.


What I liked:

  • If you’re familiar with the Asian family hierarchy, you’ll find that the author does a very good job of illustrating the frustration of respect and the politics around handling traditional relatives. You can really feel yourself getting frustrated on behalf of the different family members (ok, maybe not everyone) for the way that the patriarch handles everything with an iron fist… just like in real life!
  • If you’re not familiar with Asian culture, the beginning of the book (albeit a bit slow paced) will be a good introduction and guide you right in to the mentality around decisions made throughout the story, which is incredibly important.
  • This book dives into Japanese/Chinese history around the time of the wars earlier in the 20th century. I felt that she did a good job of portraying the situation, including tidbits about some notorious parts of the occupation that were extremely problematic, and tied it into the mystery of who killed the general. I told Mr. Renzol that it was appreciated that she didn’t glaze over or trivialize the treatment of people during the occupation.
  • She also did a great job of humanizing all of the characters: most of the characters had reasons for acting the way they did, like being selfish or playing political games to get the desired outcome they’re looking for. I found myself sympathizing with different characters, especially as the mystery unfolded and the killer(s) became obvious.

What I disliked:

  • Trigger warning: this is a book that includes portrayal of the occupation by Japan and includes violence, sexual assault, and related topics.
  • The first part of the book was extremely slow to me, but it may be because I’m already familiar with the family hierarchy and Asian culture in general, so it was a lot of rehashing of previous knowledge. I felt that some of it could have been shortened, but for Western readers without that background it might be important.
  • The time-shifting between the past, near-past, and present was a bit confusing to me. There was a point where I was reading a chapter on the present but first thought it was the near-past and had to double-check what time period the chapter was set in. I would actually like if the author had grouped them together by time periods AND the date to make it easier to follow along.

Who should read this?

If you enjoy an Asian-style thriller mystery with adult content, take a peek at this book! I had a slight inkling of who the killer(s) might have been, but the story was interesting enough to keep me reading until it was confirmed.

Jade War Review

Jade war is rad.

That said, if you haven’t read Jade City, consider checking out my review on this site, and more importantly go read the book! I make it a point to remove as many spoilers as possible, but some things have changed a lot between the last book and this one, so some spoiling is inevitable. Jade War is in a nutshell, more Jade City with more of pretty much everything from before. This is a good thing.

It’s been a bit over a year since we last found ourselves in the Asian-inspired island country of Kekon, specifically in the capital city of Janloon. Much is the same from the previous book, the two largest guilds, No Peak and the Mountain, have fought to a stalemate after the events of the previous books. At this time, there’s an uneasy armistice, with the civilian population reeling along with the clans after the war, there’s been time to rebuild. Fighting still happens, but it’s nothing on the scale of the previous clan war. This, however, doesn’t mean the war is done by a long shot or that nothing has changed.

Unlike the first book, I have been well aware of this book from the word go. I have personally been incredibly hyped up to read this book. I’ve heard of similar buzz from the people I speak to, and I believe it’s delivered on that hype and more. Fonda Lee has somehow managed to not only improve in her general writing, but also improve on the believability and growth of the characters that make the move from Jade City to Jade War. It’s something I haven’t seen many authors pull off this successfully, and to me, it’s one of the best complements I could give an author.

Since this is the 2nd book in the series, there’s less world building active for Kekon. It’s still the steamy, Asian-inspired island country that I remember fondly from the first book, alive with the people of Kekon. We even learn a bit more about the less-clan influenced side of the country. More importantly though, we get a look at other countries in the world. By now it’s obvious that the world feels similar to ours, except their many nations war puts them in a situation to our world post WWII. First, Espenia, a country one could say is an equivalent to the United States. This country is a melting pot, gets much colder, and is full of a different kind of underworld than Kekon. One far less honorable. We get introduced to two more countries, Uwiwa and Stepenland. Both countries have smaller roles in the story compared to the other two but play no less of a role in how the world changes for No Peak. Also, in her signature descriptive yet smooth writing style Fonda Lee builds these two countries, Uwiwa another island country very similar to my father’s homeland, the Philippines, and Stepenland an obviously Nordic country. The small window that Lee gives to us of these countries acted like a seed that used the information I know of these countries’ real world equivalents to sprout into much larger mental images of the world. While the description of Uwiwa was a bit of an oof, it was something very real to me.

The Uwiwans, Hilo thought, had the cunning look of a race that knew they were dependent on the might and wealth of outsiders and hated themselves for it. They could be the friendliest sort of people during the day, then steal your wallet cut your throat in the middle of the night.

“Kaul Hiloshudon” in the novel Jade City by Fonda Lee

I don’t want to get into the minute details of the countries as I find that’s something that is a unique experience that should be experienced for the first time by a reader and then cherished as these details influence the characters through the rest of the book. All countries above play an important role in the story and lives of the characters in the book, even Ygutan (a version the USSR in my opinion) plays an important role. I will however talk a bit about the characters we’re familiar in the book, introduce a few more important ones, but like always I will try to keep it clean.

It’s still a Kaul story, but this time we delve into a few more people in the family now. At this point, Hilo is the Pillar, and has grown into his role much more than we had last met him. He’s still a different kind of leader from Lan, but he’s much more comfortable in leaving responsibilities to those around and under him. He’s still the fire at the center of No Peak, but instead of being a raging flame that threatens to hurt those around him, he is more akin to a smoldering flame: he is much calmer, in many ways much more useful to the clan while still being capable of flaring into an inferno with the right kind and amount of kindling… Shae has gotten used to her role as Weather Man, she has far less issues with the senior Lantern Men and Luckbringers under her, and she has been able to hone her sharp intellect from the previous book into a dangerous weapon to use in the defense of No Peak. This is a tiny bit of a spoiler, but we also get a look at the softer side of both of these characters. Hilo and Shae have both evolved from the last time we saw them while still retaining who they are. Things in the story, however, find a way to change them into something much different than we are familiar with. Speaking of change, Anden plays a much larger role in this story. He’s back from his exile, but then he gets exiled again, this time to Espenia. He still refuses to use jade due to the fear of what kind of monster it will make him and he’s still relatively unsure of himself. The move to Espenia forces a change out of him, and by the time the story ends, he has found who he wants to be, but not without great cost.

This brings me to what I believe one of the largest themes of this book is: change. The last book had plenty of change, from clan leadership to characters coming and going things changed quite a bit by the end of Jady City. That said, much more changes during Jade War. There are quite frankly shocking events that effect almost every main character in the story, and the best part about this is nothing feels forced or fake. Every character has a reason to act the way they do; every situation plays out in a way that is reasonable, believable, and based firmly in reality. It’s no small praise to say that this is largely possible due to Fonda Lee’s incredibly weaving of characters, countries, and clans. It’s not quite a line of dominos, more akin to a game of pachinko, where one event sets off other events but often not in the way people think. The characters can try to change the direction of their lives, but sometimes fate doesn’t give a shit and does what it wants. There is one event that focuses on Shae that made me step back and think for a second, but upon putting myself into the shoes of a Kekonese leader, it makes some sense. Perhaps a special kind of Hilo sense, but still reasonable. Needless to say, every character radically changes from the beginning of the book, and it’s something anyone who loves character development should enjoy.

The themes of family and interdependence from the previous book are still here and very important but as we get introduced to the other countries and the story shifts there, specifically Espenia, we start to see another theme. The theme of community when you’re in a country as a minority. This theme is right up my alley for obvious reasons, and it’s lovingly portrayed in the book. There’s a fantastic sense of community among the Kekonese in Espenia, and I’m saddened to also say that there’s a very real feeling of being discriminated against and outright racism as well. The Kekonese are new to Espenia and like many cultural groups in a melting pot like the US or Espenia, they’ve carved out their own worlds that both interact at the same time and somehow stay mostly insular.

… he imagined it would be possible to survive in Port Massy without actually learning Espenian, by sticking closely with one’s own people.

“Emery Anden” in the novel Jade City by Fonda Lee

Anden is my favorite character this time around. As the adopted and then exiled black sheep of the Kaul family, he has arguably the hardest time adjusting to his new role in life. His development is arguably one of the most real I’ve felt this year. He must make a lot of huge changes to adapt to a new culture and eventually to a new way of feeling. The way he ends up feels a tiny bit forced but to be honest the event that pushes his final major decision and change makes perfect sense. Bero is an important who also has a big change in his personality but personally, I think he’s still a dick. He gets to lower lows than he did in Jade City, both in terms of what he does and how he feels about himself as a person. One of these changes largely hints at what’s coming next in Kekon.

Honestly this book is so dense and well written that it’s incredibly difficult to get everything into a review without it becoming a novella itself. I’ve been told that my reviews are bit too long-winded for most (if you agree do let me know) but with a book that is his packed with information it’s hard not to write for days. Like the previous book, Jade War is an Asian Urban/Modern fantasy about family values, loyalty, and finding how live with danger constantly at your throat. Oh, and don’t worry, there’s plenty of fantastically written fight scenes. It feels like they’re much more tragedy and shocking experiences in this book, with a deeper and perhaps more mature expression of love and belonging than in Jade City. That isn’t to say that there isn’t explicit erotic content (so it’s still not for kids) because it’s definitely there. This book is easily my top read so far this year. The book delivered on all my hopes for a sequel to Jade City, and more. Fonda Lee seems to be improving as a writer (or at least I am improving as a reader) and truly look forward to reading the next book in the series.

To put it sweet and simply: read this book. I’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t enjoy something about this book. Perhaps if you have a complete aversion to violence, but that’s most likely it. Five out of Five stars, 100% great reading for nearly anyone. An excellent example of a sequel, fiction title, and character growth across a series.

Jade War comes out July 23rd. I’ve got it pre-ordered and if you’d like to support this blog, consider doing the same by grabbing it here. https://amzn.to/2lrS0fF

Jade City Review

This review is a long time coming, but I got to Jade City a bit late. I was introduced to the book by a cousin after talking about how I wanted to see a more Asian take on the modern/urban fantasy setting, as well everything I had seen up to that point hadn’t scratched an itch I was looking for. Jade City scratches those itches and opened a wonderful and deep world to me by introducing No Peak and the Kauls. 

I’ll admit that I am largely ignorant of hype and buzz around a book’s release, I generally use the same cousin to learn this information from. I’m the kind of person that reads what they like when they like it with disdain towards marketing pushes or general buzz. I blame it on almost a decade of community manager experience and seeing how the sausage is made. That said, I do regret not experiencing Jade City when it was first released. The unique universe and people of Kekon are both familiar and warm to me, while still being foreign enough that I was able to learn many things that surprised me. It’s the first book in a long while to actively get me truly emotionally invested, I’ll go into why in a bit.

Fonda Lee’s writing style is a great, modern, smooth style of writing. Her writing flows cleanly from paragraph to paragraph, with entire pages passing in a matter of moments if you’re not paying close attention. She includes excellent examples of the feeling a scene or situation can give you, from an extra humid night that makes you feel how sticky the air is, to the deep seated fear someone feels when they are forced to encounter something they’ve been fearing all of their lives. Somehow, despite all this excellent detail, things never feel like they’re becoming bogged down. There were points where I would sometimes absorb the more minute details and not actively remember reading them until I would go back and review the page or chapter. The fights were written just as we, Fonda Lee’s experience with martial arts shows through her clean and concise fight scenes. It just built a scene in my mind that stuck with me until the end of the scene. I might have the benefit of being part-Asian and as such having a close familiarity with the situations, people, and locations in the book, but I feel like anyone can appreciate this level of detail.

If you want to know more about the story, well it’s mostly a Kaul story, bro. The story is set slightly before our current modern time and centers around Kekon, an island country with Asian influences that was recently occupied by a foreign power and modernized seemingly against its will. I know, sounds like any number of island Asian countries in our current world. The difference is this country, while ostensibly being governed by a publicly elected government complete with a non-legislative royal family, is actually controlled by the clans. No Peak and the Mountain are the two largest clans that rule over the country and were once allies during their foreign occupation. However, many years have passed and now the original clans two generations removed, and hostility is flickering at the edges of clan society. 

The clan is my blood, and the Pillar its master.

Fonda Lee, Jade City

The clans operate by and large like a modern large Asian mafia organization, with one head that controls everything with the support of a few key individuals that then filter down to the foot soldiers. The heads are known as Pillars, their two close advisors are the Weather Man, in control of the finances and day to day dealings of the clan with their army of Luckbringers, and the Horn, which is the clan’s military leader who in turn lead Fists who then in turn lead the Fingers. The focus of the story is on the No Peak clan, lead by the Kaul family. This family has three children, Lan, Hilo, and Shae. At the start of the book, Lan is the Pillar, Hilo is the Horn, and Shae, having gone against her family’s wishes, has left the country with a foreign lover. Through several events that happen through the book, we’re introduced to more characters like Anden and Bero, the thief. Without giving anything away, we see the relationships within and without the clan and the dynamic of the world that was originally presented to use change radically. By the end of the book so much has radically changed that it leaves you wanting to know what’s going to happen in the future of No Peak and Kekon at large.

The key point of interest in this book and country is jade, a unique mineral only found on Kekon. While similar in color and shape to the jade that we know, the jade in Kekon allows people who are properly trained and of the right bloodlines to call upon supernatural powers to do things like deflect thrown knives or bullets, steel against blows, or gain lightness that allows one to move with unnatural speed. The country exports a small amount of its overall mined jade with the clans controlling most of the jade in the world. Jade, family fealty, and personal honor are the key themes in this story with all characters, be they No Peak, Mountain, or other working around the rules set within this warrior society in order to pursue their own interests. Sometimes these cultural norms are violated by certain characters, often with disastrous results. These themes are explored in detail and are well portrayed with character’s motivations clearly influencing their actions, and in some cases real human emotion can be felt when a character does something that isn’t strictly logical but it’s the best they can think of at the time.

The largest reoccurring theme in the book to me is the theme of family, and interdependence. Since this is an Asian story written by an Asian person in a fictional Asian country about Asian people, this makes sense. Collectivity is a core feature in many Asian countries and fealty and loyalty to one’s family (or clan, as it were) is something that is still felt today.

Each of the main character is wonderfully fleshed out and realized, with real growth coming to each character through the course of the story. My favorite character is probably Hilo, the hot-headed younger brother of the Pillar, Lan, and Horn of No Peak. As the world forcibly changes around him, he realizes that he must learn how to be less of a fighter and more of a thinker lest he and his clan crumble to ruins. His evolution as a person is incredibly believable and comes from such a realistic and grounded place that I swear I know someone who has been forced in to similar (albeit less dangerous) situations that have caused similar results to occur. His dynamic with this younger sister, Shae, is something that is very real to me, having a younger sister of my own. There is one character, Bero, that doesn’t get as fleshed out as the others, but his actions are an important turning point for the story, especially regarding the Kaul family. Since this is the first in a trilogy, I know that we’ll be seeing more of him, as he’s left in as much of a cliffhanger as everyone else is by the end of the book.

I’ve left a lot out of this review both because I don’t want to spoil anything because this book has so much going for it that it’s difficult to jam in here. So, taking things down to brass tacks, Jade City is an Asian Urban/Modern Fantasy about family values and martial arts anime magic. If you like thrilling plotlines, intriguing mystery, raw action, and a bit of tragedy, this book is for you. Even if you aren’t really a huge fan of these things, I’d encourage you to give an excerpt of preview of the book a try. One note though is that this book is absolutely not for kids as it’s got some graphic and well-written erotic content in there. To nearly anyone else though, I recommend this book. If it was my top read of 2018 and its sequel is coming out very soon this year and I can’t explain to you how much I was looking forward to reading it (past tense because well, I have already read it. It’s better than I had thought.)

Five outta five, 100% stars. An excellent example of fiction title.