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: “The Raven’s Warrior” By Vincent Pratchett


YMAA Publication Center was kind enough to provide me with a copy of this eGalley through NetGalley for the purposes of reading and reviewing it. Although I received it at no cost to myself, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

Vincent is a Celtic warrior severely wounded in battle in the tenth century. He is then taken by Norse warriors on a long journey to the Middle East where he is sold as a slave. Near death, he is claimed by the Chinese monk Mah Lin and his daughter Selah. Vincent grows with them as he learns the way of the warrior-scholar, finding a new name, Arkthar, a new destiny, and even a new love.

The story shifts between the Arkthar’s story and the story of the Chinese Supreme Commander who, for whatever reason, goes unnamed in this book, as do several other non-incidental characters. The Supreme Commander has a grudge against Mah Lin as the latter was chosen to enter a monastery, when both were young boys, instead of the Supreme Commander. The destruction of Mah Lin and all he holds dear becomes a focal point of the Supreme Commander’s life.

The story builds as the parallel story lines eventually converge and then run concurrently to the climax. Along the way we have a year-long siege of a rebel outpost, Arkthar developing into a determined warrior-scholar, a countrywide outbreak of smallpox, and other smaller plot twists.

This book is a thinly veiled retelling or furthering of the Arthurian legends. Even the blurb on NetGalley says as much. In case you don’t get the similarities, Vincent, prior to his name change to Arkthar, refers to Mah Lin as Merlin. Of course, Arkthar is not coincidentally very similar to Arthur.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. The pacing could have been a bit better, but I like the creative spin on the Arthurian legends. Of course, as a lover of Asian culture, the majority of the book takes place in a realm I’m destined to enjoy, if done well. There were a fair amount grammatical or spelling mistakes, but I’m as apt to blame the editor for that as the author. Bottom line, it was a fun, easy read.

Rating: 4 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: “Dukkha: The Suffering” By Loren W. Christensen


YMAA Publication Center was kind enough to provide me with a copy of this book 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.

It’s always interesting when you take an author who is well-known in his specific industry for his non-fiction output, as well as his knowledge of his particular bailiwick, and have him put out a novel. Just because the author knows his business, so to speak, doesn’t mean he can write fiction.

That said, I really enjoyed this book by Loren Christensen. He has created a character, Sam Reeves, that you care about, you sympathize with, want to do well, all the levels you want. Reeves is strong and yet not superhuman. He’s very human and fallible, and yet manages to somehow do what needs to be done. Of course, as you would expect from someone with Christensen’s real-world credentials, the police and martial arts details are spot-on and very believable, with just a hint of mysticism to keep it interesting.

I also like Samuel and Mai, and can’t wait to see where Christensen takes them all in future novels. At least I hope there will be future novels, as I will certainly be reading them.

My only quibble, even though the title itself should reflect the bad week that Reeves was having, is that it almost seemed like there was too much going on at times. It also reflects the downside of the first person narrative, as some loose ends get tied up without the protagonist’s first-hand knowledge, so those have to be explained by other characters.

That said, this is highly recommended for fans of martial arts, law enforcement or thrillers in general. You won’t be disappointed.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “From Creation To Unification” By Stuart Anslow


First, a note for the sake of full disclosure. As the author worked on finalizing this book, I shared with him a similar report I had written as my thesis when testing for 1st degree black belt. We Battleshipped back and forth about various factual and stylistic questions after he had read my report. He was even so kind to include me in the acknowledgements and bibliography.

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While I consider Mr. Anslow a friend, and I might have contributed in this book in some small way, I am not obligated to give the book a positive review. Just as I would expect him to provide constructive criticism of my writing or taekwon-do technique, I will do the same for this book. I certainly can’t be critical of his taekwon-do technique since he outranks me. 🙂

That said, let’s get to the brass tacks of this review.

Taekwon-do practitioners who perform the Ch’ang Hon patterns or, as is the case with my school, a derivation of them due to various splits over the years will be familiar with the pattern set that goes from Chon-Ji through Tong-Il. As students, we are expected to learn the meanings as put forth by General Choi Hong-Hi in the ITF Encyclopedia. Often after a student gives a correct meaning during class or testing, I will ask them, “Correct, but what does that mean?” This is my way of telling the students they need to do more than just rote memorization of the meanings. It’s no different than learning how to perform a pattern correctly but not understand the applications of the various techniques.

As noted at the outset, when I tested for 1st degree black belt in 2002, my thesis was a 97 page (what, you complain about a two page report for your belt testings? :)) history of the patterns from Chon-Ji through Kwang-Gae (at that time the highest pattern I knew). I had started at blue belt with Joong-Gun, as I found his life and patriotism fascinating. It continued until black belt, when I went back and did histories for the patterns prior to blue belt.

That said, I might have more insight than the average person when it comes to analyzing this book my Mr. Anslow. And, without a doubt, I was not disappointed.

He provides detailed information about each of the 25 patterns from the ITF curriculum (including both Juche and Ko-Dang, for those expecting 24) as well as the six GTF patterns created by Grandmaster Park Jung-Tae prior to his death in 2002. Included as part of of each pattern is a listing of the definition as put forth by Gen. Choi, even if it is incorrect (such as the birth year of Do-San Ahn Chang-Ho), then Mr. Anslow proceeds to dissect and analyze the meaning, determining, if possible, the reason behind the number of moves in the pattern.

Mr. Anslow also provides much detail about the history behind the person or concept for which the pattern was named, supplying many pictures about the people involved and giving very detail footnotes. These footnotes naturally tie to an extensive bibliography at the end of the book.

The author is also not shy about pointing out errors in the original meanings, not in an effort to discredit or demean Gen. Choi, but rather point out that Gen. Choi was first and foremost a solider and martial artist, not a historian. Consequently, it’s not unheard of that some facts may not be as accurate as at first glance.

Overall, I am very impressed with this book. Mr. Anslow has been doing research on this for decades, and it shows. I can also know from personal interactions with him that if he was not able to validate as factual something he ran across, he excluded it from the book rather than risking the integrity of the book. There are some stylistic things that annoyed me, but those have no bearing on the overall quality of the book. Naturally, I did find a couple of items that I believe are factually incorrect, which is inevitable in a first edition. If those due bear out to be inaccuracies, I have no doubt the author will make every effort to correct them prior to the next edition.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “The Raven’s Warrior” By Vincent Pratchett


YMAA Publication Center was kind enough to provide me with a copy of this eGalley through NetGalley for the purposes of reading and reviewing it. Although I received it at no cost to myself, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

Vincent is a Celtic warrior severely wounded in battle in the tenth century. He is then taken by Norse warriors on a long journey to the Middle East where he is sold as a slave. Near death, he is claimed by the Chinese monk Mah Lin and his daughter Selah. Vincent grows with them as he learns the way of the warrior-scholar, finding a new name, Arkthar, a new destiny, and even a new love.

The story shifts between the Arkthar’s story and the story of the Chinese Supreme Commander who, for whatever reason, goes unnamed in this book, as do several other non-incidental characters. The Supreme Commander has a grudge against Mah Lin as the latter was chosen to enter a monastery, when both were young boys, instead of the Supreme Commander. The destruction of Mah Lin and all he holds dear becomes a focal point of the Supreme Commander’s life.

The story builds as the parallel story lines eventually converge and then run concurrently to the climax. Along the way we have a year-long siege of a rebel outpost, Arkthar developing into a determined warrior-scholar, a countrywide outbreak of smallpox, and other smaller plot twists.

This book is a thinly veiled retelling or furthering of the Arthurian legends. Even the blurb on NetGalley says as much. In case you don’t get the similarities, Vincent, prior to his name change to Arkthar, refers to Mah Lin as Merlin. Of course, Arkthar is not coincidentally very similar to Arthur.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. The pacing could have been a bit better, but I like the creative spin on the Arthurian legends. Of course, as a lover of Asian culture, the majority of the book takes place in a realm I’m destined to enjoy, if done well. There were a fair amount grammatical or spelling mistakes, but I’m as apt to blame the editor for that as the author. Bottom line, it was a fun, easy read.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Taekwondo Black Belt Poomsae: Original Koryo & Koryo” By Richard Chun & Doug Cook


YMAA Publication Center provided me with this book, via NetGalley, for the purposes of reading and reviewing it. Even though it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to provide a positive review.

In many ways, I may be one of the perfect people to review this book. As a third degree black belt in taekwon-do, I have the foundation in the art to perform the techniques required for these two poomsae. But as my black belt is in another style of taekwon-do, where we perform the Ch’ang-Hon patterns instead of the Taegeuk / Palgwe / Yudanja sets, I don’t already know these poomsae, so they would be completely new for me.

Overall, I liked the way the authors demonstrated the patterns. For each move, a diagram was shown giving foot position before and after the move. Also included was a picture of the technique being performed by Grandmaster Chun. If appropriate, an inset photo from a different angle is shown for clarification of hand positioning, etc. Each move is also described in detailed steps, showing what stance transitions and techniques need to be performed.

Having only seen Koryo pattern in passing on video, and having not seen Original Koryo at all, I was able to take this text and learn both patterns to memorization in under an hour. Certainly, that’s not a level of proficiency required to advance to the next rank, but I believe it’s a tribute to the quality of the book that I was able to teach myself the patterns. While a book should never be used as a substitute for a qualified instructor, it can certainly be a valid complementary tool.

My only beef with the book is the description and demonstration of the patterns do not start until Page 73. All the pages up to that point are filled with a history of taekwond-do from its origins prior to its naming, as well as photos and descriptions of various taekwon-do techniques. As the target audience for this book is, by definition and title, black belts, why spend so much time on this subject matter? On the history of the art, perhaps, although I would hope any black belt worth his or her salt would have that familiarity already. But photos and descriptions of techniques learn at white belt or soon after? I’m sorry, but it comes across as fluff and an attempt to pad the book to a particular length.

That said, it’s definitely worth it as a supplemental resource for black belts wanting to learn Original Koryo or brush up on Koryo.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)