What Kind of Day: Resistance romance gone global

Resistance romance has gone global. It makes sense: idealists everywhere are being squashed under the steamroller of corporate and government interests. Women suffer silently in “toxic workplaces that reward mediocre men,” to quote Naya Llamas, the heroine of What Kind of Day. These women need their HEA, too.

Blurb-What-Kind-of-Day-Mina-V-Esguerra

Take note, though: there will be no alpha billionaire to save the damsel in distress here. The “damsel” in question, Naya, is not in distress. In outrage? In frustration? Those are closer to the mark. Naya would tell Mr. Billionaire to fuck right off, thank you very much. In fact, her “rage-quit” speech to her former boss (which she recycles on a sitting Philippine senator!) would send a lesser man spiraling into his own mid-life crisis. Naya needs a fellow idealist hero with a hot bod and a quick mind. Enter Ben Chaco, Esquire: a former speechwriter for the aforementioned senator. Ben is in a mid-career crisis somewhat of his own making, but mostly not. And he has hot abs.

Naya has an “income-generating hobby” running boutique culture tours under the name of See This Manila. Naya’s video background has helped her carve out a presence online, and her customers pay a premium to be shown her favorite exhibits, the best sunsets, and the most unlikely ice skating shows. When stuck in Manila’s notorious traffic—which, yes, is really that bad—she dispenses “mentory” advice to her younger admirers (and to Ben, who has literally jumped into her van).

Intramuros Manila location in steamy historical romance Sugar Sun series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

I loved the tour guide (and trip fling) theme of the book, and you do not even have to know Manila to appreciate the places she takes her customers. And, if you do know Manila, the book forces you to reconsider your view on the city.

Manila Walled City Intramuros Destruction 1945
The destruction of the old Spanish walled city of Manila, or Intramuros, after the Battle of Manila, 1945. Uncredited photographer from the Office of the Surgeon General.

Remember that Manila was once the “Pearl of the Orient,” and what has happened to it since is not entirely its fault. You knew there would be a historical aside to this review, didn’t you? Well, this is my blog, and I am a historian so deal with it. The Americans bombed the city to bits in 1945—the necessity of which is still debated—and they did not stick around long enough to rebuild it. Instead, they gave the Philippines its independence in 1946, on schedule, and left.

Roxas-Boulevard-Manila-sunset
Sunset along Roxas Boulevard in downtown Manila. Photograph by Rolandave Bola used under Creative Commons License 2.0

Mismanagement since 1946 is a long and political story, and this part of Naya’s struggle. She rage-quits her job in official tourism because she wants to show the real Manila to foreign heads-of-state:

“So I quit because I was deployed to do touristy videos during one of the summits. And I wanted to be assigned to Manila, because I thought it would be a good chance to show the inequality, what life is really like even on the days when they don’t hide the shit from delegates traveling from the airport to wherever. I thought if I did it with some compassion, and with help from the communities themselves, I’d be able to create something and the summit would be the right platform for it. Because that’s what it’s for, right?”

“Oh, God,” Ben said, realizing where this was going. “You had a dream, too.”

Yep, What Kind of Day is the story of two dreamers. It is quintessential Mina V. Esguerra—and yet it is also enough of a departure to justify a new series. Let’s start with the latter. According to the author’s website, Ms. Esguerra did not wish to redeem the anti-hero anymore. (But she does it so well! Love Your Frenemies is one of my absolute favorites of the Chic Manila series.) True to the author’s intentions, Naya and Ben are both uncompromisingly honest, good people throughout the book—and what a relief!

Of course, this is also exactly what makes the book fit into the MVE opus so well. Ms. Esguerra takes two people who have been burned—and burned by a similarly cruel aspect of the world—and helps them find each other. To me, this has the same feel as Iris After the Incident, which you probably know I loved. (Also, Iris is going to be released as an audiobook sometime in the near future. Yay!)

Chic-Manila-Mina-V-Esguerra
Featured image is a trilogy of sorts: Iris After the Incident builds upon characters introduced in Love Your Frenemies, which redeems a woman you love to hate in My Imaginary Ex.

Okay, Jen, but what about the sex? The sex is also classically MVE: hot, memorable, and perfectly suited to the characters. It is a little odd to say “classically MVE” since Ms. Esguerra began by writing closed-door romance, but her recent books have all had very sensual, very imaginative love scenes. Naya and Ben’s first time could be a workshop in making consent and sex-positivity zing—which, frankly, I think is just the point in a book that is about fighting the Old Boys Network. It is perfect.

Finally, as with all the #romanceclass books I have read, What Kind of Day is a smart, fast-paced, beautifully-crafted novel. This book is both on brand and a trend-setter at the same time. I would recommend it to romance readers (M/F dual-POV with strong HFN), women’s fiction readers (strong growth arc in take-charge heroine), and general fiction readers (because, honestly, it’s just a freaking good book, no matter what you like to read). Enjoy!

Review and blurb of What Kind of Day by Mina V. Esguerra

Japan’s Warm Welcome: Suzuki-San

America warm welcome Kyoto Japan by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Our warmest welcome—and our biggest find—was the Kyoto Suzuki Furudouguten. Welcome to Mr. Hallock’s childhood in 1970s Japan.

America warm welcome Kyoto Japan by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Mr. H grew up in toy stores—not the mall kind, nor the department store kind, but the small neighborhood kind with action figures and trading cards and stuff. The whole time we were in Kyoto, he complained that they didn’t exist anymore.

America warm welcome Kyoto Japan by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Guess what we found? Suzuki-san! We met the nicest man who owned a great store with everything Mr. H wanted. Man, I did not know so many action figures existed! Well, the scantily-clad women, I knew they existed.

America warm welcome Kyoto Japan by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

We left with some very special souvenirs, too. See those two signs in the middle picture below? One is of chocolate cigarettes and the other shows a Japanese housewife preparing fast food. We checked both in repurposed cardboard boxes as our luggage allowance because that’s how we roll.

America warm welcome Kyoto Japan by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

And didn’t we find just the place for both signs? From a corner store in Kyoto to a country kitchen in New England.

America warm welcome Kyoto Japan by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

I do not think the model for this beautiful woman would really have poured mystery meat out of a package, but I gotta say she looks good on our pantry door.

America warm welcome Kyoto Japan by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Now I have a reminder of our amazing trip every time I walk into the kitchen. I judge my voyages by my souvenirs, and this trip was a winner.

Young Love in Japan

If you believe Mr. Hallock, the Japanese celebrate Christmas like Valentine’s Day. You still have to go to work, but you get to eat chocolate—and celebrate young love! As a romance author, I felt right at home.

young love japan photo by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Couples making a wish at Yasaka Koshin-Do in Kyoto, Japan. Sewn pouches called “good faith monkeys” have their hands and feet bound together outside a statue of the guardian warrior, Shomen Kongo. This restraint reflects the binding of a single desire in order to have the guardian grant your other wishes. On Christmas Eve, the temple was full of couples binding their desires together. It may not be your idea of a romantic date, but there are plenty of Japanese who would disagree with you.
young love japan photo by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
A couple getting a photo in underneath Himeji Castle in the Kokoen Garden.
young love japan photo by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Carriages take lovers through the Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama on Christmas Day.
young love japan photo by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
On the streets in Gion, tradition mixes with modernity. I did not want to be that person foisting my camera lens in people’s faces, but I could not help it.

A few years ago, it was reported that record numbers of Japanese are forgoing marriage for career and lifestyle. They may have chosen “happy for now” over “happily ever after,” but they are still living and loving.

Naughty Hello Kitty

It is time for most of us to go back to work after the holiday, so here’s a little fun to start your new year right. This is part three of my Hallocks in Japan series. (Part one was Christmas in Japan and part two was Will Travel for Food.) But now I have a special treat for you: Hello Kitty!

Hello Kitty in Japan with Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious sex. Serious history. Happily ever after.
Samurai Hello Kitty (but cute, of course), and Hello Kitty at Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto.

Hello Kitty is a 1970s Japanese cartoon character that exemplifies kawaii, or cute culture, in Japan. And she is everywhere. I mean everywhere.

Not just on fancy, branded items, either—but there, for sure. As the photos below show, you can find (clockwise from top left) a Hello Kitty purse (which I did not buy), a Hello Kitty chopsticks trainer for children (which we got as a gift because how awesome?), a Hello Kitty Inoda Coffee store mug (normally I buy a Starbucks city mug, but not this time!), and a series of sake glasses (which I very much regret not buying at the Kyoto airport).

Hello Kitty in Japan with Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious sex. Serious history. Happily ever after.

But that’s not all, folks. You can have Hello Kitty all throughout your home—even your medicine cabinet. Want Hello Kitty nail clippers? Yep, they’ve got ’em. Hello Kitty cutting board and placemat? Check out the bottom right corner. What about a Hello Kitty air mask to protect you in flu season? (About 10% of people I saw in public transportation wore such masks. Plain white ones, though, not cool Hello Kitty models.) Finally, don’t forget the fresh-butt-feeling you will get from Hello Kitty fruit-scented cleaning wipes. Butterfly approved!

Hello Kitty in Japan with Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious sex. Serious history. Happily ever after.

Wait a second, Jen. Butt wipes? Let’s go down this My-Melody-rabbit hole for a moment. One of the most innuendo-laden promotions I saw in Japan was Lawson convenience mart’s soup bowl giveaway. Check it out:

Hello Kitty in Japan with Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious sex. Serious history. Happily ever after.

Check out Hello Kitty and My Melody. Do they look a little, um, surprised? Maybe a touch . . . debauched? Compare this look to erotic Japanese manga, if you do not believe me.

Hello Kitty in Japan with Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious sex. Serious history. Happily ever after.

What do these not-so-innocent cartoon characters have to do with miso soup bowls (the product being given away)? I have to chalk it up to being one of Japan’s fascinating contrasts: sappy, childish cuteness with an adults-only subliminal message.

Okay, okay, you want more soup, less sex? Then you want to go to the Hello Kitty tea house in the Ninenzaka and Sannen-zaka preserved districts of Kyoto. There you can get Japanese curry and vegetables, served on rice shaped like Hello Kitty’s head! Or a Hello Kitty pancake. Or a Hello Kitty matcha green tea sundae. If gobbling up your cartoon hero does not sound delicious, then you are not a true fan!

Hello Kitty in Japan with Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious sex. Serious history. Happily ever after.

I am being a little unfair since my own favorite, Snoopy, is almost as popular in Japan as Hello Kitty. It also has its own branded store and cafe in Nishiki Market, Kyoto. Only great restraint (and fiscal prudence) kept me from buying up the entire shop. Look at those adorable Charlie Brown mochi!

Snoopy in Japan with Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious sex. Serious history. Happily ever after.

Soon, I will take a deeper look into Japanese history and show you around a few of my favorite places. And also sewer drains! Don’t forget the sewer drains. See you soon!

Will Travel for Food

Mr. Hallock and I went to Japan for the food. I mean, yes, as mentioned before, Mr. H grew up in Kobe, so there was an emotional pull. But it was really all about the food. We eat a lot of Japanese cuisine at home: sushi (when we are feeling flush), miso ramen (the real stuff, not instant!), and tonkatsu (deep-fried pork loin on rice). Our goal for this trip was to expand our culinary horizons and stuff our faces. Mission accomplished.


Japan izakaya food Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Saloon. Gastropub. Tavern. Izakaya. This is the stuff! One small problem, though: we don’t speak Japanese. To be fair, Stephen recalled a surprising amount from his childhood, which helped in a pinch, but neither of us could read a menu.

Japan izakaya Himeji Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Fortunately, our first real izakaya—Gassai Ekinan (above) in Himeji—had an English menu, allowing us to try some local specialties, like lotus root tempura. Yum! Emboldened, we searched for the best izakaya in Kyoto once we got there. And we saw one that looked amazing, but we could find nothing about it in English, either in front of the shop or on the web. Most places we ate at in Kyoto had at least a small sign that announced if an English menu was available. Not here.

Japan izakaya Kyoto Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Mr. H and I stared into the window wistfully for a few minutes, but then we chickened out and walked down the road to the Spring Valley Brewery. This was not a bad move, as the brewery had very good craft beer, but we knew we had missed out on something special with the izakaya, so we vowed to go back.

Big problem: we could not find it again. We walked the area around the Nishiki Market a lot, gradually expanding our route in concentric circles, searching for a place that we did not even know the name of. There is a famous documentary on Japanese Zen Buddhism called The Land of the Disappearing Buddha, referring to how the Buddha would give a talk to an audience and then vanish. Hence, we referred to our mysterious izakaya as the “Disappearing Buddha Bar.”

Our very last day in Kyoto, we tried one last time—and Buddha smiled on us! Not only did we find it the next afternoon, but it was empty. Usually, that is not considered a good sign, but we figured that the staff would be more likely to help out clueless foreigners when they weren’t swamped. We stood outside the place again for a minute, our nerve wavering, but then we thought: what the hell, let’s try it! Lo and behold, they did have a (limited) English menu!

Japan izakaya Kyoto Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

The Disappearing Buddha Bar has a real name: Kokoraya Iseyacho, orここら屋伊勢屋町 in Japanese. The decor inside is full of traditional Japanese handwritten menu pages and vintage Japanese celebrity posters. For all its tradition, though, the music was totally unexpected: American 80s rock-n-roll, including Blondie, John Mellencamp, and more. A sign from the Amitabha Buddha in heaven?

Japan izakaya Kyoto Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

The food was amazing, including the best tempura of the whole trip. We had earlier skipped the touristy place that charged $80 a seat for overrated tempura, so this find felt like cosmic timing. Sweet potato tempura is now one of my favorite foods in the whole world. They also had a “recommended sake” feature (for a set price), and we were totally game—times four! I have a new appreciation for a variety of Japanese rice and vegetable wines. Yum.

We left happy—nay, giddy. Our only regret is that we had to catch a plane too early the next day, and we could not return. Not yet.


Japan street food Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

If you want to really enjoy eating in a country, you must eat on the street. Or, when in Japan, in the basement of a supermarket. That is where all the food is, even prize fruits:

Japan melons Daimaru Kyoto Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Nice melons. And cheaper than implants (at $150).

There are also take-home foods, from avocado salad to tofu-wrapped-rice (our favorite breakfast), to fresh-grilled meats, to sushi (yay!). The only drawback is a lack of a place to sit. Had there been open seating, we might have eaten in Daimaru and Sogo the whole trip. The quality of food was amazing.

Japan street food Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

And then there is old-fashioned fast food, like the seafood munchies available in Nishiki Market. Octopus on a stick? Yep, we’ve got that.

While our focus was mostly on Japanese cuisine, we happened to stay next door to Kobe’s Chinatown our first night, and we craved takeaway Peking duck pockets. Because why not? We also watched talented chefs hand-make soup dumplings, a specialty I remember from lunch with my sister-in-law in Shanghai. A good dumpling should actually burst with soup in every bite. Yum!

Three of our other favorite places in Kyoto were: a spicy ramen shop that we never got the name of but is right across the street from the Hotel Vista Premio where we stayed; an amazing gyoza shop; and Kura kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) next to the Golden Temple. Nom nom nom . . .


Japan vending machine coffee beer food Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

And there were always vending machines for when we could not be bothered to stop for coffee or beer or . . . farm-fresh vegetables? We only saw a veggie machine once, but it seemed like a great idea for food deserts in the United States. I don’t think the alcohol machines would be helpful in the same way, but they were convenient.

Japan vending machine coffee beer food Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

My favorite treat was hot coffee in a can. Japan has been coffee savvy since the post-war period, and Starbucks outlets are about as ubiquitous as Hello Kitty. But who wants to spend $6 on a coffee when, for less than a dollar, you can get a nice, hot coffee (or hot cocoa) at your convenience from a vending machine on every street corner—literally.

Japan Starbucks Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Starbucks is on brand in most of Japan, with big signs in green lettering. But in the Sannen-Zaka preserved district they have to be a little more subtle.

It was good that Mr. Hallock and I hoofed it five miles a day, maybe more, throughout each city on our itinerary. Not only did this allow us to discover the best stuff, but it was also necessary to burn off each meal in time for the next one. A perfect vacation.