Review: “Dukkha: Unloaded” By Loren W. Christensen


I received a copy of this book from YMAA Publishing Center in exchange for an honest read and review. Although it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to provide a positive review.

That said, YMAA is essentially just keeping a junkie addicted with what they’re giving me. Here I am, a martial artist, who respects the author for his real-world martial arts training advice, and they are offering me the third book in this series, having already provided me with the first two books? Yeah, please!

As noted in previous reviews of “Dukkha: The Suffering” and “Dukkha: Reverb”, I am a fan of the characters Christensen has created, especially Sam Reeves. Authors are always told “Write what you know.”, and Christensen takes this advice literally. He is a martial arts instructor, Vietnam veteran (Tip of the cap to all vets), and a retired law enforcement officer. Not surprisingly, Reeves takes on all those roles, although his LEO career is still active. This allows Christensen to breathe life and depth into his protagonist in a way that many authors can only dream of.

But it doesn’t stop there. Christensen has also created believable characters in Reeves’s and “sister” Mai as well as their father Samuel. Granted, a lot of what Samuel does can be perceived as superhuman, but hey, we all have to have goals, right?

OK, enough about all that, let’s get to the book.

As if you can’t already tell, I loved this book. It’s great to see the author still has some new ideas and circumstances to throw his protagonists into. He’s certainly not a one trick pony. While Sam was in Vietnam visiting family and making a dent in the human trafficking there, some hate crimes started cropping up around Portland. Just as Sam returns, the victims are Mark, Sam’s boss who also happens to be gay, and Mark’s partner. While Sam certainly would have wanted to stop the crimes, it suddenly became very personal.

Things are complicated enough for Sam without one minor detail: while in Vietnam he realized he never wanted to carry or fire a gun again. So now he has to track down the people responsible for these violent hate crimes, and he only has his bare hands, and whatever improvised weapon he can find, to assist him.

Of course, every well-rounded novel needs a little romance, and Christensen doesn’t disappoint. Naturally the biggest emotional tension is between Sam and Mai, the latter beginning the novel still in Vietnam. Will they continue to grow together, or will the distance make them drift?

So yeah, I really enjoyed this novel. Hearing even more books are in the works makes me nearly, yeah, I’ll admit it, giddy. It’s so refreshing to read a novel with genuine action scenes that I can picture while still maintaining the realism only a season veteran of violence can bring to the page.

If you haven’t read the first two books in the series, stop now, go get them, and read them. Then read this one. You won’t regret it.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Dukkha: Reverb” By Loren W. Christensen


Through NetGalley, YMAA Publishing Center was nice enough to provide me with a copy of this eGalley for the purposes of reading and reviewing it. Although it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

If you are unfamiliar with the Sam Reeves series, as this is the second book, please check out my review of “Dukkha: The Suffering” here.

Sam Reeves is a police officer who also happens to be a martial arts instructor. In the first book, he found his long lost father Samuel, who he thought had died during the Vietnam War. He also was introduced to Mai, who he was strongly attracted to, eventually and thankfully finding out she is indeed not his sister. Both are well-versed in martial arts like Sam, which comes in handy throughout the book.

Much mayhem and violence ensues, much of it instigated by Lai Van Tan, a Vietnamese crime lord who heavy-hands all those around him, including Samuel’s jewelry shops in Saigon. Lai Van Tan’s son dies during a conflict with Samuel, and this sets the obviously unstable criminal off even more. The book ends following some horrific events at Portland State University, with Samuel and Mai returning to Vietnam.

This book takes off with Sam heading to Vietnam to meet his family several months after the events of the first book. On the flight he encounters Bobby, a sixteen year-old Vietnamese-American travelling alone, presumably under the auspices of meeting his family in Vietnam. Bobby happens to be a black belt in taekwon-do and looks up to Sam for his martial arts experience, once he realizes who Sam is.

Once in Vietnam, things really pick up for Sam. He meets Mai’s mother Kim, who is ill with tuberculosis, Mai’s sisters, and a whole bevy of Vietnam vets who fought for either North or South Vietnam. Samuel has taken them under his wing and even provided a home for them, for reasons that are revealed throughout the book.

The most engaging and comical vet is Tex Nyugen, a legless student of Samuel’s, as well as part of his security staff. Tex is a fan of American western movies, thus his nickname. He also provides much of the comic relief, often in a deadpan manner. Once while talking to Bobby, he comments that he saw Bobby practicing his kicks, and he was much better at it than Tex. 🙂

We are also introduced to Samuel’s sifu, an elderly man with almost mystical abilities, including the ability to feel disruptions in someone’s chi and tweak it to help them rest or feel better. Of course, his speed is incredible, as you would expect, putting even Samuel and Sam to shame.

Our heroes eventually learn Lai Van Tan is involved in a sex-trafficking business with young girls, and our heroes set out to put an end to it. Along the way, they are hampered by Vietnamese police and politics as well as Lai Van Tan’s power and influence among those in power. It’s also revealed that Bobby is in fact a runaway from his parents in California, contrary to what he told Sam on the airplane.

Will Sam, Samuel, Mai and friends be able to stop or even slow down Lai Van Tan? Can they help out some of the girls being held in preparation for their introduction into the sex trade? Will Bobby sort out the conflicts with his parents? Will Sam and Mai ever get a chance to further their budding romance?

Much like the first book in the series, this one keeps up a pace that makes the Energizer Bunny want to take a siesta. There’s always something going on, and it keeps the book moving along, making it a fast read for the size of the book.

Christensen kept true to his characters in the book, showing Sam continuing to fight his demons while also growing as a character. It’s also nice to see Samuel and Mai as fallible characters, even with all their upsides.

My favorite part of the book had to be the fight in a collapsing tunnel near the climax of the book. Christensen noted on his Facebook page that he had to keep stepping outside for fresh air while writing it, and I can see why. I could feel my heart rate quickening while reading it, and I was just the reader. It was very well done by the author, bringing forth the tension of the moment and the emotions of the characters outstandingly.

I am hoping Christensen continues with this series for some time. I can see lots of potential with it, as much of it so far has been about the past, and there are lots of possibilities in the future, with Samuel and his relationship with Sam, Sam’s relationship with Mai, and even possibly Bobby as a future student of Sam’s.

This book is perfect for anyone who loves fact-paced action thrillers, even moreso if you have an interest in LEOs, veterans or martial arts. The author is all of the above, which leads to a level of depth and authenticity that can’t be brought by someone just doing research.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader” Edited By Robert Ji-Song Ku, Martin F. Manalansan IV & Anita Mannur


This book was received from NYU Press, via NetGalley, for the purposes of reading and providing a review. The book is scheduled for publication on September 3, 2013, so note this review is on an advance copy of the book, not the final product.

Before I begin the review proper, let me run through a checklist identifying why I was looking forward to this read:

  1. I love Asian food: Check
  2. I love history: Check
  3. The book was provided at no cost: Check

With that in mind, I certainly dug into, pun intended, this offering. Many facets of cuisine in America and how it has been influenced by different Asian cultures were covered in this book. Everything from food trucks in Los Angeles and Austin to Cambodian Donut Shops In Los Angeles to Mess Halls in World War II Japanese Internment Camps to the Transnational Queer Kitchen as well as many other topics

My favorite likely was the mess halls of World War II Japanese Internment camps and how they affected core family life of the Japanese families, who were accustomed to eating meals around a single table as a single family. Mess halls certainly changed that, and the article certainly addresses how this change in dining habits affected the families, and youths in particular, not only during but after the war.

Another favorite was how the Kogi BBQ Truck altered the landscape and perception of food trucks in Los Angeles. The article not only discusses how the cuisine offered by the trucks are a mirror image of the mixed cultures of the Los Angeles area, it also addresses the history of where the truck has appeared and, possibly as telling, where it hasn’t.

Overall, I found the book very fascinating. I did find it a bit heavy on Japanese and Chinese cuisine, but seeing as how they are certainly the two most common Asian cuisines in America, that’s not surprising. However, it also had several articles on Filipino cuisine, which is not as common as those that were not covered as heavily, such as Thai and Vietnamese. That said, it was a great collection of scholarly articles, well-documented with footnotes and a bibliography.  I will probably spend more time hunting down referenced books and articles than what I actually spent on this book itself.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)