Kumite for Love is a compelling story about Aiyana Amari. A Japanese-American that learned martial arts from her father before he died in a tragic accident. Aiyana is obsessed with winning an international Kumite, a type of Japanese martial arts, tournament in Japan to save their families gym. Once she arrives in Japan, she encounters genuine artifacts in the back of a souvenir shop. She leaves the shop with a beautiful comb at the insistence of the shop owner, and after placing it in her hair, finds herself transported to 1850’s Japan. Aiyana meets an intriguing ship Captain, has a hand in a few historical events, and struggles to find her way back to the present, while wondering if she’d rather stay in the past.
Kumite for Love by Judy Malcom is a very well written romance novel with a lot of depth and historical intrigue. The book had a background setting that is more interesting than you’ll find in a lot of romance novels. It was really interesting to read about Japanese culture and historical events and to journey with Aiyana as she is mistaken and subsequently becomes a geisha in the 1850’s. Captain Blackburn is an American ship captain posing under a Dutch flag in 1853 Japan where American traders are not welcome. He seeks out a geisha at a local establishment and there he finds Aiyana. The romance and building of the two main characters is done really well and I was rooting for, and very attached to, their love by the end of the book. Not to mention, the love scenes are hot.
The beginning of the book starts off with Aiyana and her friend Peter at the gym practicing karate. There are only a few pages of discussion about Aiyana’s present-day life before she flies to Japan and ends up thrust back in time. I wish there had been a little more build up and description of her current life and background before she flies to Japan and jumps into the story line from the past. I think it would have helped tie the book together better and would help you become more invested in Aiyana’s struggle when she is stuck in the past with no way out.
Throughout the book, Aiyana struggles with indecision as she becomes more entrenched in the world of Edo (present-day Tokyo) and Captain Blackburn. She wants to get back home, so she can compete in the Kumite tournament and win the money her family needs to save their gym. She also worries about never seeing her mother again, whom she had a fight with and left on a sour note before she flew to Japan. At the same time, she is enjoying this new life, the time she gets with Captain Blackburn, and sharing her knowledge of history as its occurring. She doesn’t know what the right answer is or what to do. Should she keep fighting to return to the present? Or embrace this new life in the past?
Pages: 179 | ASIN: B073YKFCZV
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The Moving Blade follows detective Hiroshi as he navigates street level politics to solve the murder of an American diplomat. What was the direction that you wanted to take book two in the series that was different from book one?
The direction I wanted to take it is not the direction it ended up going. So, I headed more into the characters, who became more and more interesting. I focused on the roiling tumble of conflicts inside them, and what that might reflect of social, political and historical conflicts outside. I think that’s similar to book one, but because the characters are embedded into a larger framework of political pressures and international relations, their actions resonate differently. The canvas is broader in this second book, and I go deeper into Tokyo, to see the background of the characters and their choices, good and bad.
I enjoyed the mix of interesting characters throughout the novel. Who was your favorite character to write for?
I like all of them. Well, I don’t like the bad guys, but I like hating them. My favorites were maybe the bookstore owner twins and the radical leftist. They were fun to write and to put in scenes together, the twins steady and demure and the leftist stridently angry. Sakaguchi, the ex-sumo wrestler, is always fun to write for. He has this core set of values that is rock solid Japanese. When he explodes, he really explodes. And of course, Hiroshi developed and grew as a person and as a detective, in perhaps meandering ways, but human ways. The women characters are great to write for, too, as they pull the story in their direction.
It quickly unfolds that the missing manuscript was the driving factor behind the diplomat’s death. How do you balance storytelling with mystery and action to ensure readers are engaged to the very last page?
Among all the different types of mysteries, whodunnits, whydunnits, I-dunnits, I didn’t-do-its, I tend towards the why. Maybe because I was a philosophy major? Not-knowing who creates a different kind of curiosity than not-knowing why. Withholding certain pieces of information is essential. As Alfred Hitchcock pointed out, if you know there’s a bomb under the table, but the characters don’t…well, that’s suspense. And if you don’t know why the bomb is under the table in the first place, it’s really intriguing. As jazz musicians often say, and I think Mozart said it originally, the music is not in the notes, but in the silence between. I think writing should be aware of what’s not spoken, what’s not known. The unknowns make you lean in and pay attention.
Where will book three in the Detective Hiroshi series take readers?
Book three is called Tokyo Traffic. The story revolves around a young Thai girl who gets lost in Tokyo, after running away from some horrible people. She is rescued by a young Japanese woman who lives in an internet café and plays in a rock band. Most of the story takes place in the nighttime youth hangouts in Shibuya and Shimokitazawa, another side of Tokyo. The detectives are the same, though Hiroshi has moved in with his college girlfriend and Takamatsu is off suspension. It goes deeper into the characters and deeper into Tokyo.
When the top American diplomat in Tokyo, Bernard Mattson, is killed, he leaves more than a lifetime of successful Japan-American negotiations. He leaves a missing manuscript, boxes of research, a lost keynote speech and a tangled web of relations.
When his alluring daughter, Jamie, returns from America wanting answers, finding only threats, Detective Hiroshi Shimizu is dragged from the safe confines of his office into the street-level realities of Pacific Rim politics.
With help from ex-sumo wrestler Sakaguchi, Hiroshi searches for the killer from back alley bars to government offices, through anti-nuke protests to military conspiracies. When two more bodies turn up, Hiroshi must choose between desire and duty, violence or procedure, before the killer silences his next victim.
THE MOVING BLADE is the second in the Tokyo-based Detective Hiroshi series by award-winning author Michael Pronko.
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This book made it to my favorites list before I even finished reading it. I am a sucker for a good mystery and The Moving Blade provides suspense and intrigue from the very first chapter. In fact, the first chapter is what kept me going through the next several chapters which do get a bit dry as far as action goes. However, I love the authors style of writing which is very descriptive without being overly wordy and this keeps the reader interested even when nothing spectacularly interesting is happening.
The characters are effortlessly interesting which I think is pretty hard to accomplish, so kudos to the author there as well. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Shibata, who was an old friend of Jamie’s recently deceased father. Shibata is eager to meet with Jamie after her father’s (Bernard Mattson) funeral and while his demeanor is calm and kind and heartwarming you can tell there is something more to him than he lets on to. It’s also clear early on that Jamie is in for more than she bargained for and that staying in Tokyo to settle her father’s affairs will not be as simple as expected.
The main intrigue of the story surrounds Bernard Mattson’s writings, which are unpublished but well sought after at the time of his death. In fact, Jamie immediately finds herself bombarded by those who wish to obtain them. The detectives on the case of Mattson’s murder are unsure that his death was politically motivated, but it quickly unfolds that the missing manuscript was probably the driving factor behind his death.
The book is a good mix of drama between its many likeable characters and the action that can be expected from a murder mystery. I love the imagery that the author invokes with his good use of descriptions. For instance, reading about the book shop owned by the Endo brothers (maybe because I love books!) gave me such a great image of the shop. I find that in a lot of newer books that I pick up these types of small details are left out and they really make or break a book in my opinion. I also loved the description of Shibata’s home. When Jamie mentioned that she somewhat remembered his house, he told her that it was actually a completely different house and only looked the same on the inside. These little details are a great addition to the literary quality of the book and I found them throughout the story.
These are the types of things that really stand out to me and give the author distinction as a great writer. Some books you read because they’re quick and fun, but like I said, this one ended up on my favorite’s list because of the great writing.
Pages: 339 | ASIN: B07GCYRY61
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Thrust back to feudal Japan, martial arts expert Aiyana Amari’s most challenging battle is the choice to either return home or leave the love of her life behind.
To save her family’s dojo and keep her father’s legacy alive, Aiyana Amari travels to Japan to compete in the Meiji martial arts tournament. But on the eve of the competition, Aiyana is thrust back to 1853 into the life of a geisha.
Captain Derek Blackburn, a sailor for the Dutch, returns to Japan to avenge his brother’s murder and secretly plans to assassinate the one ultimately responsible–Shogun Ieyoshi.
Like the two stars celebrated in the Tanabata Festival, Aiyana and Derek meet on the seventh day of the seventh month. Their wills clash. Aiyana is desperate to get home, but Derek needs her for his scheme of revenge. After falling in love a decision tougher than a sparring match must be made. Will Aiyana return home or stay with her one true love in the past?
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Forgotten Letters follows Robert and Makiko as they overcome many obstacles for family, love, and faith, during a tumultuous time in history. What was the inspiration for this heartfelt novel?
The inspiration for my story was a dream that I had 15 years ago. The entire story was in my dream. I did not have a recurrent dream ever again but the story was always on my mind. I would think about the story frequently but told no one about the dream for years. I then told my wife and several good friends my dream. They were spellbound and when I finished they said I should write a book. I put the project on hold for over 10 years and started to put the story on paper 4 years ago.
Robert and Makiko deep and well developed relationship. Was there relationship planned or did it develop organically while writing?
Robert and Makiko’s relationship was always part of my dream. As the book developed so did their relationship change. I had several beta readers help make very good suggestions during to project. In fact we added a few sentences to the book just before printing that solidified their relationship.
You wrote this book with Mario Acevedo. What was the writing collaboration like?
Mario Acevedo is a very talented and professional author who has produced a number of very good books. To name a few “Werewolf Smackdown, Blood Business, Rescue From Planet Pleasure” and many more. Mario was very easy to work with and has a wonderful imagination. Mario and I worked very well together and I thank him so much for all his input.
This book was able to get many historical and biblical details correct. What kind of research did you undertake for this book?
The research we did was a great deal of fun and good learning experience. For a majority of the facts we used Google but we each relied on our military backgrounds to help with those facts. In the beginning of my dream there was a big earthquake in Japan early 1900’s. I thought Japan always has earthquakes so I did research for that time period . I found that in 1923 the “Great Kanto“ earthquake destroyed both Tokyo and Yokohama with shaking and fires. The fires were started by the open hibachi stoves in most houses at that time.
Remember three things when reading Forgotten Letters a spider, baseball and birthmark. These three items will be introduced at the beginning of the story and again introduced later on. I think the reader will smile at reading each of the words again.
A trove of forgotten letters reveals a love that defied a world war.
In 1924, eight-year old Robert Campbell accompanies his missionary parents to Japan where he befriends a young Makiko Asakawa. Robert enjoys his life there, but the dark tides of war are rising, and it won’t be long before foreigners are forced to leave Japan.
Torn from the people Robert has come to think of as family, he stays in contact by exchanging letters with Makiko, letters that soon show their relationship is blossoming into something much more than friendship.
The outbreak of total war sweeps all before it, and when correspondence ends with no explanation, Robert fears the worst. He will do anything to find Makiko, even launch himself headfirst into a conflict that is consuming the world. Turmoil and tragedy threaten his every step, but no risk is too great to prove that love conquers all.
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Forgotten Letters is a beautifully told story of family, love, faith, and war that focuses on Robert Campbell, an American and his love interest, Makiko Asakawa, who is of Japanese descent. The two meet as children when Robert’s family stay with Makiko’s family in Yokohama during the 1920s to 1930s. It’s during this time that a relationship is formed between the two. Robert’s family eventually moves back to the United States while he is still in school, but Robert and Makiko vow to see each other again and maintain their bond by writing letters to each other. It is not until the 1940s, with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the outbreak of World War II that the two are reunited. The novel delicately pieces together the story of these two individuals living through death and devastation as they fight to get back to each other.
Kirk Raeber does an excellent job of handling the intricate details of the novel. There are a lot of historical components to this piece, and the author weaves his fictional story into American and Japanese history among other components of the novel flawlessly. Firstly, Robert’s father is a preacher; therefore, a lot of his lessons for a young Robert are based on scripture and particular Bible verses. Robert often returns to these Bible verses during trying moments in his life. It’s clear that the author had some knowledge of the Bible and took great care in picking out the right verse during difficult moments in Robert’s life. Secondly, the author seems to be aware of American and Japanese culture during the time period that the novel spans. Also, even though this is a fictional story, there are historical elements weaved into it, such as the attack on Pearl Harbor and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Raeber does not skip over these aspects of history, but rather he weaves them into Robert and Makiko’s story, illustrating not only how these unfortunate events impacted these two fictional characters, but it can also be reasoned that his telling of their story resonates the mood and despair of those that actually lived through the experience. It’s clear that Raeber took care while writing these events to make sure that he handled them with accuracy.
A small note of criticism lies within the secondary characters of the novel, Robert and Makiko’s son and daughter. The whole story begins when the adult children are going through their deceased parents’ belongings and stumble upon the letters that the two lovers exchanged long ago. This then leads into Robert and Makiko’s storyline, and the reader isn’t returned to the characters of the adult children until the end of the novel. While Robert and Makiko’s story is obviously the focus of the novel, it would have been nice to be returned to the adult children periodically throughout the novel. The placing of these two characters at the very beginning and very end of the novel creates a disconnect with them, and it leaves one questioning their purpose overall. It’s very possible that Robert and Makiko’s story can be told without the mention and inclusion of their children as characters.
Overall, Raeber’s Forgotten Letters is a beautifully told story of love’s triumph over distance, death, and war. This novel is highly recommended to those that might have an interest in World War II, 1940s Japanese culture, or anyone who just enjoys a good love story.
Pages: 406 | ASIN: B01HQFFXYY
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In 17th century Japan, a battle between the shoguns and the Lees raged for a lengthy period of time. The shoguns wanted the Lees to come join their elite army, but the Lees remained neutral and peaceful people. After much harassing, the husband and wife became supreme warriors. The Lees began killing whatever shoguns threatened them. After a particularly violent, gruesome battle with the shoguns, the Lees disappeared into the Oakla Mountains for about twenty years . The mastermind, an ancient wizard siding with the shoguns, commanded what was left of the shoguns to patrol the mountains of Oakla trying to find the Lees. Decades would pass.
In those twenty long years, the Lees raised a son who would become known as “the Master.” Phenomenal genetics would breed an individual who became a far better warrior and stronger fighter then both of his parents put together. In the Master’s infantile years, the mother and father went up on the mountains of Oakla, similar to Moses’ summoning of God, where they asked their God for a sacrifice. He answered, and in return of this sacrifice, he would give their extraordinary son, the Master, the power of immortality in the form of Five Scrolls of Terror. Their God asked for the skin from their baby’s head, a threatening request, but would ultimately create a child who would grow into that of the Master: the Skulled Warrior.
As the Lees returned from Oakla on that twentieth or so year, they got ambushed and killed—an attack decades in the making. When the Master found the bodies of his parents, he naturally flew into a blind rage and killed many shoguns, slaughtering anyone who stood in his way. As he battled on Oakla Mountain, his scrolls disappeared off the mountain and were never seen again. As the Master went to the end of Oakla searching for the ancient wizard for retribution, he came across an ancient hut, and inevitably the wizard and the Master did battle. The Master would ultimately kill the wizard, but he would put a curse on the Master that would remain with the Master for nearly four hundred years. As the Master’s statue, which in reality was the curse turning him to stone, was moved by cult followers and believers, it eventually found its way to New Amsterdam, which as we know, would evolve into present-day New York City.
An adventure unfolds as the Master awakens after a four-hundred-year slumber, masked as a mysterious piece of art, to deal with our current world as we know it. And so begins The Dark Legend of The Foreigner.
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The Last Train revolves around Michiko Suzuki and the team of detectives that are investigating the train murders. What was the inspiration to the setup to this thrilling novel?
For quite a few years I was writing about jazz every week, so I was always going to Roppongi and Shinjuku and Shibuya, nightlife parts of the city. I’d see the hostesses who work in all the clubs there, and they would often be in the jazz clubs. They were almost always strikingly attractive, but underneath that seemed some sadness. Whatever one thinks of their work, the women seemed smart. What impressed me most, though, was the great personal dignity with which they carried themselves. So, I started wondering what kind of life those women lived, and what if they turned the tables. What if one of those people-savvy women took things into her own hands to do things men usually do? And what was this odd dynamic between men and women that seemed so unfair to women, but then again, was something else, too. Many Japanese women might not even say Japanese society is unfair exactly, perhaps because Tokyo is home to a vibrant urban culture where women are incredibly free to do what they want and live how they like. But, what would that freedom turn into if taken to an extreme? Michiko is that extreme. The men struggle to catch up.
Michiko is the daughter of a factory owner whose mother died when she was young. Her character continues to get deeper as the story progresses. What did you use as a starting point for the character and what was your guidance as you built the character?
I think the way Michiko grew as a character was based on my observation of women, and men, in Tokyo, but all kinds of women, not just hostesses. There’s a lot of people TO observe in Tokyo, for one thing, but I like to talk and interact with people as much as I can. Michiko is a “typical” character in that her experience parallels the shift in Japan from a manufacturing society, which is where Michiko grew up, to an information and service society, which is how she makes money. I wondered how that shift affected women? Is it easier for women to adapt to economic changes than men, or harder? Michiko is working class in origin, growing up above a factory, but she turns herself into something else altogether through her own efforts. She’s tough and resilient, which is how I see most Japanese women, and yet still very feminine in traditional ways. She has no hesitation to compete in a man’s world, and to do it on her own terms. Like many characters, once she was created, everything followed from that.
The novel takes place in Tokyo. Why did you choose a train station in Japan as the setting to your novel?
Trains are one of the things I love most about Tokyo, but they are also these huge masses of steel shooting through a very densely populated city. Just as America is built around the car, Tokyo is built around trains. Suicides on the train lines, sadly, happen all too often.
I came upon the clean-up after a suicide one time years ago, and the image stayed with me.
Like every other commuter, I have been stuck waiting on a train or a platform when a suicide shuts down the entire train system. It’s so shocking because usually everything runs on time. So, I guess, if you transplant the American car chase to Tokyo, it becomes a train chase, or a chase on a train. I also like that as a setting because trains and train stations are great levelers. Everyone takes the train, together, equally. I also love trains and train stations because I can completely indulge in people-watching. It’s startling how many people you see in a day. Still, it’s never so lonely as in a crowd, and there’s always a crowd in Tokyo.
What is the next story that you are working on and when will it be available?
The next novel is called Japan Hand and Detective Hiroshi is again in the lead, together with Sakaguchi. They investigate the death of a long-time Japan specialist who helped negotiate the complicated relations between Japan and America, including the US military bases in Japan. That novel should be out by December of this year or early 2018. The next one after that is called Thai Girl in Tokyo and will be out in spring of 2018. I’ve finished writing those both, so they’re now being edited and polished.
Pages: 348 | ASIN: B071DPXP7M
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Michael Pronko is a scholar and an on Japanese culture. He is also an excellent story teller that captivates readers and takes them on an adventure through his words. The Last Train is set in Tokyo, and even if you have never been to Tokyo, don’t worry, Pronko draws you into the life there. His attention to detail is not limited to the scenery, but the customs and mannerisms that make up the Japanese’s culture. There is extensive time devoted explaining the life and world revolving around the hostess clubs, not sex clubs, rather clubs where men go to find a woman to entertain them for a period of time, while drinking and getting their ego stroked. It is within this society of hostess clubs that murder mystery is flushed out. A killer, targeting foreign investors is using the trains as her weapon of choice.
The story revolves around Michiko Suzuki and the team of detectives that are investigating the train murders. Michiko is the daughter of a factory owner whose mother died when she was young. She was raised by her father and his workers. She learned early that business is not always neat and clean, and that sometimes getting their hands dirty and making backdoor deals is the norm there. As Pronko tells Suzuki’s story he alternates between current events and her memories of the past, telling how she got to where she is, and how she has picked her victims. The main detectives investigating are Hiroshi and Takamatsu. Hiroshi is an accountant that due to spending part of his life in America is fluent in English so he works white collar crimes for the police. Takamatsu is a homicide detective that pulls together his own dream team to work on this case. Their case takes a high profile turn and soon they’re dodging politics as well the cultural need to keep everything neat and tidy. Michiko tries to keep her activities low key but when several of her victims survive her plot, things get messy for her and the police.
One of the most fascinating things about this novel is not the mystery aspect. The murder is not a secret from the beginning. What is a mystery is why she is killing people, figuring out what drove her to this life. Hiroshi is a complex character as well, and his dynamic interactions throughout the investigations add to the plot as well as provide an unique look at the culture. Even though he is from Tokyo, spending time in America gave him a different perspective on the way things are done; whereas Takamatsu comes off as the typical Japanese man. They make an interesting and effective partnership. Having the diverse views interacting with witnesses and other characters makes for a dynamic story line, it is diverse and provides multiple views from different cultural perspectives. Much of the story takes place in Roppongi, here you see all the varieties of hostess clubs, the basic lounge style, mud wrestling, nude women, and the high-end invite only David’s Lounge. Each club gives readers a different taste of the culture.
Overall The Last Train by Michael Pronko is a well written and enticing look into the culture of Tokyo. The story behind Michiko Suzuki is compelling and engaging, you can’t help flipping the pages to see what she is going to do next and find out why her victims were chosen. Hiroshi connects well with everyone he interacts with so there is an emotional response from the reader. Pronko uses emotion, mystery and attention to detail to keep the reader engaged and wanting more. I look forward to seeing more from Pronko and hope he has more stories to tell with Hiroshi.
Pages: 348 | ASIN: B071DPXP7M
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A Tangled Web is set against the backdrop of one of the most devastating tsunamis in Japan and follows three children as they navigate their new lives. Why was this an important story for you to write?
When I first heard about the tsunami in 2011, it was a huge thing and I remember being really intrigued by it, however, I was only a teenager and newspapers didn’t particularly interest me, though I loved reading. For some reason, what I head heard about the events stayed with me for years and when I traveled to Japan for the first time several years ago I started developing a story line – though I didn’t start writing it until my second visit at the beginning of 2016. It was important for me to write because, although there are many factual sources and several non-fiction books, in all my research I only found one fiction story about the Japan tsunami in 2011 which I think is a shame because I believe most people prefer fiction and can learn so much through it, yet it is a relatively unexplored subject. Therefore, my aim was to provide a book for YA which is both interesting and explores what happened in 2011 and afterwards, hopefully encouraging people to then go and do their own research.
The three children in this beautiful coming of age story have a lot of depth. What were some obstacles you felt were important to develop the characters?
I think it was important that at the beginning Taiyo was quite naive and selfish, a little unlikable if I’m being honest, but that gave her the opportunity to grow and develop as a character so that in the end she had the strength to deal with the catastrophe that happens. To me it was also important that Ryuu and Kairi be total opposites and yet both be likeable and relatable characters.
What were some themes you felt were important to highlight in this story?
I think friendship is a very important theme in this book; before Ryuu and Taiyo develop feelings for each other, they are first and foremost friends, as are she and Kairi. Another important theme is the value of telling the truth. Taiyo tells a lot of lies in this story and ends up so tangled in them that she can’t see a way out, hence the title. Though told for good reasons, those little lies mount up and ultimately lead to her and Ryuu being at the coast when the tsunami hits, while their friends and family are completely unaware of the peril they’re in.
What is the next story that you’re working on and when will it be available?
I’m currently working on another novella set in Japan, however, this one follows the Taiji dolphin hunt. Starting in 2009 when the documentary The Cove was released and ending in future 2018, Red Days follows and English reporter with Japanese roots who finds herself drawn to the cause and ends up fighting to save them.
Red Days is still a work in progress; I recently finished the first draft, however, it needs to undergo several rounds of editing before it will be ready for release, which will hopefully be around September this year.
Taiyo is a normal high-school girl living with her Grandmother in Sendai. She goes to school, partakes in club activities and hangs out with her two best friends, twin brothers Ryuu and Kairi. However, her perfect world is shattered when she begins dating Kairi but quickly discovers she’s already in love with Ryuu.
A tangled web of lies surrounds the pair, but everything is suddenly knocked into perspective on March 11th when they are caught up in a natural disaster that devastates the country and robs thousands of their homes, their possessions and their lives…”
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