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Sakura is dying. A soft hearted girl but extremely strong she does not want to burden others with her friendship when she will be dead by the end of the year. She stays true to this philosophy until a yokai drops in her garden with several stab wounds. By befriending Kasuki it opens her up to other overtures in the form of two of her classmates. These friends won’t change her fate but as she falls in love and learns to rely on them Sakura finds she isn’t so accepting of her death after all.
I’m a total fan of Japanese culture and folklore, in fact I love most Asian based stories or at least am willing to try them. I knew what a yokai was and yet haven’t read many books about them, mostly they are featured in manga (which is cool because it comes with drawings…) I loved the explanation of the honorifics and any Japanese terms she used through the story. So I was super excited for this book! And in the end I was not disappointed. My review may sound as if it is a troupe hell and you may agree but I cried several times through the book and that NEVER happens! It was quite inexplicable but also wonderful how these characters struck me so…
Sakura and Kasuki are perhaps exactly what you expect from a girl dying and a yokai who falls in love. It wasn’t the extreme specialness of these two characters that wowed me so much as their quiet, regular lives and how they chose to go about living. Some might call this book slow but I really was totally into the story every page. Sakura really sucked me in with her hardships and how she was making the life she had left so much harder on herself than she needed to. I wanted to see her loosen up and get a chance at life. Kasuki was not the sharpest tool in the shed but he had people he cared about and even though he didn’t want the kingdom he was willing to do what was needed until the situation could be resolved. You might call these two special snowflakes or Mary Sues and while they might rightly fit in either of those categories I wanted to see them be happy. There was a rough transition between the setup and when other events start happening (i.e. the plot starts) that smacks of insta-love. Really there needed another couple weeks to pass before their thoughts go from friends to lovers. (This is minor but it is my major problem with the book!)
Here is what I said when they first met: “There is something delightful about their first interactions. Simple but peaceful and understanding. I like that she dragged him inside thought it could kill her… I thought it very cute how he teased her about the bed. Loved how important she thought it was to tell him of Hiro’s death before they eat. He’s so excited at the books and tv she left for him.”
Here is what I said at 25%: “I’m loving this book though it’s slower than some might like. I had the feeling at 22% of the story just now starting. I think most writers would not have such a slow beginning but I like that the status quo was setup well. They shop for his clothes and he’s so cute looking around and fearing cars. I like he got her to buy herself a dress…”
My thoughts once the setup was complete: “We get the whole story of why her body is failing her…it is terribly sad and all due to a mental illness. Her poor mother! Kazuki doesn’t want to leave her now but also wants to find a cure for her in his world. It smacks a bit of insta-love the way he is acting… I like it anyway. This author has thought out everything so far…”
Akari, Hina, her two friends and Karasu, Kasuki’s young servant were such a great addition to this relationship. I loved Karasu’s problem with Sakura. I loved Akari’s reservations. I loved Hina’s curiosity. For a relatively small group of characters they were used well to add dimension to Sakura’s plight without feeling like accessory characters. Karasu’s transformation from a hater to a little brother particularly touched my heart!
The plot once we hit 40% really hits its stride. It’s a long buildup to this point but if you hang in there you are so invested in them all. I loved the bucket list, the dohame and Kasuki’s problems with Yuji his little brother. The villain is a silent threat that I enjoyed as I wondered about the little details dropped through the whole book. The stories within the stories really worked for me too, they really added the yokai kingdom aspect to this human world story.
This at its heart is a romance novel set in Japan. It’s a touch supernatural and quite heartbreaking at times. The end was super exciting and while the twist is quite obvious it was also unexpected! You’ll have to read it to see what I mean…
BOTTOM LINE: An incredible glimpse of Japanese Folklore.
On a side note, my only other problem is the next book in the Hakodate Hearts series is not about yokai! Why spend all that time setting up that world and not explore it more? (I was hoping for a book about Yuji or Reito or even the father’s romance with Kasuki’s mother!) I have zero interest in this very modern turn, which is so disappointing!!
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.