A Wynter Review: Kaminishi (Bittersweet Dreams) by Jan Suzukawa


Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Kaminishi coverCollege student Michael Holden wakes up in an impossible reality: mid-nineteenth century Japan, face to face with Shinjaro Kaminishi, a living, breathing samurai warlord Michael has seen in a dream. Imprisoned by the warlord and interrogated about the future, Michael has no idea if what he’s experiencing is real… and then he finds himself back in present-day America.

Shinjaro’s commanding presence and smoldering sexuality draw Michael again and again to the past, where dangerous information is revealed and Shinjaro’s life is threatened. Through the mists of time and in the reality of modern Japan, Michael searches for the truth—and for the man who now owns his heart—Shinjaro Kaminishi.

It is a rare thing, coming across stories that blended the East and the West, even more so when stories take place in the past during a time period where such things weren’t ever heard of. So when I came across Kaminishi and its blurb, I was fascinated. Modern day America crossing with Samurai Japan. Two worlds with ideals as far apart from one another as it could be. I was interested in how the author handled the historical elements in her story and the conflict that was sure to come about.

The story had a great start. The premise was familiar – time travel. Suzukawa did a good job describing the mannerisms of her characters in such a way that I could hear the characters’ voices differently for each one, and I found myself liking our two MCs – Michael Holden and Shinjirō Kaminishi from the get-go. After chapter five, however, the journey started feeling long despite the history being enlightening. I think it was great that the author included as much of her research into her novel as she did and tried to show through Michael just how much of a culture-and-time-period-shock any one of us would experience if we were to find ourselves in Michael’s shoes. However, one of the hardest things about writing history or working within it was preventing it from becoming as dry as a history textbook. This wasn’t quite there, but it ventured pretty close in some parts.

This story made me think of the setting in The Last Samurai (movie edition), and straight from the introduction of Shinjirō, I read his character with the voice of Ken Watanabe, which just sent all manners of thrills for me through the intimate parts, I might add. The differences lie in that The Last Samurai takes place during the Meiji Period whereas this novel takes place during the Edo Period (with 20 years between them during which the Bakumatsu took place for about 15 of those years).

As I mentioned before, the story did drag through some parts, but it was also easy to follow and guess where the author was taking it. The context of the story, if one understood the history and how the way of the samurai operated, prevented this story from having a Happily-Ever-After (HEA) or a Happily-For-Now (HFN) ending. At least, that was my expectations as I read along.

I hadn’t realized that this novel came with 2 books, silly me. There wasn’t a table of contents, and the author never actually used any version of “the end” to tell where the story may have ended. So when I came upon the last page of Book 1, I thought the story was over, and that “final” chapter left me intrigued. I read there was supposed to be a sequel to this novel, and I figured Jan Suzukawa was going to write the journey of our characters finding each other in that book with the hope that there may be a happy ending there.

It made me think “Book 2” of the novel was an excerpt for the next novel. So when I realized there were a few more chapters to the story, I finished reading it and walked away with the feeling of disappointment. Book 2 stripped that sense of intrigue and build up I finally got at the final chapter of Book 1. It covered too much all at once, but it did give the men a happy ending of sorts.

I feel that Book 2 had the potential to be its own novel, and a very good one at that.

Some will love the story. Others will not. Whichever is the case, I think the story is worth reading. Despite some shortfalls, it managed to keep my attention though many parts. I do feel it necessary to inform readers that there are dark parts to this story involving suicide and beheading as per the custom of a time period, as well as an event that involved rape.

Give it a chance. Pick it up. It’s a stand alone if you don’t like it and choose not to continue.

The cover art was illustrated by Anne Cain (annecain.art@gmail.com). I think the simplicity in it and drawing it to resemble Japanese manga/Japanese art actually caught my attention faster than a more modern approach.

Personally, I think having a reference to how the characters looks like right there on the cover makes the book even more intriguing from the start. A samurai in the background paired with a modern looking man.

It seems to beg the question, “What’s their story?”

Sales Links:  DSP Publications | Amazon | Buy It Here

Book Details:

  • Author: Jan Suzukawa
  • Length: paperback, 270 pages
  • Language: English
  • Series: Bittersweet Dreams
  • Published: 1st edition published by Dreamspinner Press, 2011; 2nd edition September 2015
  • ISBN-13: 9781615818501
  • Digital ISBN: 978-1-63476-111-6
  • ISBN: 1615818502

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