Sunday, February 2, 2014

SJ Pajonas Blog Tour + Guest Post

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Hi all! This post is part of the blog tour for the Nogiku Series by S.J. Pajonas, organized by Lola's Blog Tours! The tour runs from January 20 till February 2, and you can view the complete tour schedule on the Nogiku Series blog tour page on the website of Lola's Blog Tours.

***BE SURE TO SCROLL DOWN, as I have included an AWESOME guest post from the author that is all about something I love: SAKE!***

(Nogiku series #1)
By SJ Pajonas
removedDuty knows no family. Love has no price. Secrets can cost you everything. Twenty-year-old Sanaa Griffin, a sweet and smart half-Japanese girl, is about to get more than she bargained for when she wishes for love and excitement on New Year’s Eve 3103. Mark Sakai, who knows more about her than any stranger should, thinks Sanaa is the perfect person to spy on the heads of the three biggest Japanese clan leaders in Nishikyo. He wants her to gather enough evidence to keep them from going to war when they land on Earth’s colonization planet, Yusei. Nishikyo, built by the Japanese 300 years ago to house the rest of mankind, is failing and everyone is preparing to leave. Sakai has known Sanaa’s family all her life but she knows nothing of him! And despite all the time they spend together, he keeps his distance from her. Then one day, he brings her to Jiro, his nephew, to learn sword fighting, and it changes her life irrevocably. Between falling in love with Jiro and the information she is gathering on the clans, Sanaa realizes Sakai is holding back secrets about her family and her deceased parents, secrets as to why she was chosen for this job, and learning the truth puts her and all of Nishikyo in danger.

(Nogiku series #2)

by SJ Pajonas

released**Contains spoilers for those who have not read REMOVED (Book 1)** 
Left in the desert to recuperate from her injuries, Sanaa Itami paces the floors and contemplates her mistakes. She trusted too easily, and now people she loved are dead, killed at the hands of men coming to assassinate her. Sanaa feels beaten, but life awaits her at home. While Nishikyo recovers from the earthquake, negotiations for Sanaa's eventual rule on Yusei continue. New allies must be made, new friendships brokered, new skills acquired -- at all costs. Life at the top of the chain is complicated and lonely, though. With relations in Sakai clan rocky and uncertain, Sanaa must learn to trust others again more than she's willing. Who amongst the clans is left holding a grudge? And will the new family Sanaa has found with Jiro support or betray her? From Nishikyo to Yusei, RELEASED, Book TWO of the Nogiku Series, is the second book in a captivating New Adult post-apocalyptic romance series that harnesses the cultures and traditions of Japan and sweeps them into the future between Earth and a faraway land.
RELEASED on Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

About the Author:
sj pajonasS. J. Pajonas loves all things Asian and has been in love with Japan for as long as she can remember. Writing about Asia and Japan came naturally after studying the culture and language for over fifteen years. She studied film and screenwriting first and eventually segued into fiction once she was no longer working a full-time job.

Released is S. J. Pajonas’s second work, book two of four in the Nogiku Series. The first book in the series, Removed, is described as “a wonderful story” with “engaging characters, seamless world building, and an action packed plot.” It’s an “up-til-3am-because-I-read-it-in-one-sitting book.” She also writes contemporary romance and her upcoming first book in the Love in the Digital Age series will be published in 2014.

S. J. lives with her husband and two children just outside of New York City. She loves reading, writing, film, J- and K-dramas, knitting, and astrology. Her favorite author is Haruki Murakami and favorite book is The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.
You can follow her here: - Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Pinterest | Flickr Instagram Tumblr

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for . . . . .  

A Guest Post by S.J. Pajonas

Sake is very misunderstood outside of Japan so I’m glad I get to write about it today for the Nogiku Blog Tour. Sake is the drink of choice in both REMOVED and RELEASED, and Sanaa and Jiro always have a bottle or two in the fridge. In Japan, it’s considered the life-blood of the country and there’s even a song for it!
 Here in the U.S., I hear, “What’s the deal with hot sake? Is that an actual thing in Japan or just the way we serve it in America?” all the time. This is a very common question for Americans who know nothing about Japanese food besides sushi. They think sake is always served hot and there may be only a few varieties, and this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Let’s start with the basics. First of all, please do not call sake “SAH-KEY.” Saki is an entirely different word in Japanese, and you will get stares of incomprehension if you don’t pronounce it right. The word is pronounced “sah-kay” and sometimes in English we put an accent over the e to help you pronounce it correctly.

Okay, now that you know how to ask for it properly, you’re wondering, “Don’t I just ask for sake and take what they give me?” Depends. If you’re eating sushi at a little place not well-known for being authentic, probably. But if you’re lucky to happen upon a sushi restaurant or even an izakaya that serves a variety, this is where it gets fun!

What is sake?

Sake is not the same as vodka or other similar clear alcohols, but it’s actually more like beer, and comes in just as many artisanal varieties and from many different regions just like beer in America. Sake is brewed, as beer is, but the main component is rice. (If you’re looking for a hard alcohol made from rice, you should try shochu). Sake is usually clear but can range in color, from cloudy, milky white or even taking on a caramel hue. It comes filtered and unfiltered, in big bottles and small, and is available in small handcrafted batches and from big distributors. Sounds familiar, right? And although beer is its own thing with many ingredients (and there are many different Japanese beers that are amazing too!), sake is its Japanese cousin. So, for this blog post and making sake easier to understand, I’ll use American beer comparisons.

Choosing your first sake

The most prevalent brand of sake in the U.S. is definitely Gekkeikan. I’m sure most people have seen it because it comes in small and REALLY large bottles. It’s what I would term as the Budweiser of sake, and I call it “The Gek” at home, as in, “Honey, bring a bottle of the Gek up from the basement, please!” I mainly use Gekkeikan for cooking, to be honest. It’s lower quality sake, in my opinion, but perfectly drinkable, if you drink it warm! The majority of lower quality sake is served warm to mellow out the harsh tones, and once it’s warm, I can put away a ridiculous amount of Gekkeikan. But, oh my god, the hangover!

So, in general, if this is the sake available to you, I highly recommend using it for cooking or drinking it hot on a night before you have a morning to recover. You have been warned. You can heat sake in a carafe by placing the carafe in a hot pot of water. If you’re short on time you can microwave it! Just make sure to stir it before serving to get rid of hot spots. I have just learned there are Japanese microwaves that have a sake button, like we have a popcorn button in the States. I love the Japanese.

If you have a liquor store that stocks other brands of sake, you’re in luck! There are a lot of decent sakes sitting on liquor store shelves to choose from. This is where I, as a sake novice, have the most fun. The first thing I do when confronted with new sake is look at two things: the label and the price.

Here’s the label of my favorite “everyday” sake, Tozai “Living Jewel.” I find this at my local liquor store and it runs about $15 per bottle. $15 per bottle is what I consider to be the equivalent of buying Blue Moon beer over Budweiser, great for a small gathering of people sipping sake with a meal. There’s a lot you can learn from this label: grade, profile, prefecture (where it’s made), and the kind of rice used.

I always look at grade first. When I want a good, drinkable sake that’s served cold, I go with junmai grade or better. In general, the better the grade, the colder its served. When I drink Living Jewel, I pull it from the fridge and pour it into a double old-fashioned. No fancy sake cups. No pretensions. Just drink and enjoy.

So look at the label! Buy something in the junmai, tokubetsu (special) junmai, ginjo, or daiginjo (daiginjo being the best) grade.

Once you have a real interest and taste for sake and want more, try experimenting with sake from different regions. Recently, I’ve been buying from Iwate prefecture which was hit by the earthquake and tsunami. If you’re interested, here’s a great article from The Japan Times Online about Tohoku’s brewery one year on from the tsunami. When I’m out at a sake bar in NYC, I buy Nanbu Bijin. It’s my favorite upscale sake from the Iwate prefecture.

I’ve used my sake knowledge in Book 1, REMOVED, of course. The story starts out with Sanaa celebrating her 20th birthday. In NishikyŨ, the city in which she lives, the legal drinking age is 20 so when she shows up at the izakaya to celebrate, her bartender friend immediately pulls out a bottle of daiginjo sake and serves her. He doesn’t heat it because daiginjo is the best grade of sake, and it’s served cold. I’m sure if you know nothing about sake, you would probably read that and thinking something was wrong with my story! Hopefully now you know.

Storing your sake

Rule of thumb: store sake how you bought it. If you bought it from the shelf, store it on the shelf. If you bought it from the cooler, store it in the fridge. If it’s served chilled, put it in the fridge ahead of time and then keep it there. Sake never goes bad! Seriously. I’ve bought sake, drank half the bottle, and then let it sit for up to three weeks before drinking more. It DOES change in flavor, though. Sake, as the brewer intended for it to taste, should be consumed within 24-48 hours of opening. When I’ve had a bottle in the fridge for a long time, I tend to use it for cooking and then move onto a fresh bottle.

Feeling adventurous?

You’re out at a nice Japanese restaurant, one that offers a wide variety of sakes, and are totally confused by the menu? Do yourself a favor, put on a smile and ask for a recommendation. I bet the waitstaff or bartender would be more than happy to help! In fact, if you can, ask for a tasting flight of sake. This is a great place to start. Try a few and figure out what you like best, then ask to see the bottle. I have been to many bars in NYC and done this. It’s not uncommon to find me taking out my iPhone and snapping a pic of the label so I won’t forget! It always makes the bartender smile.

Want more info?

I have three favorite sake books to recommend!
     The Book of Sake: A Connoisseur’s Guide – This is great starter information with thorough background on types of sakes, how to read the labels, how to pair sake with food, the regions and their styles.
     Sake: A Modern Guide – Also great starter information but has a fun section full of sake cocktails and food to pair with sake.
     The Sake Handbook – I use this to find common sake and learn more about it. It contains information on the top 100 brands and gives good tips for choosing a sake.

I have also prepared this Japanese Sake Pinterest board for you to look at. Enjoy and Kanpai!


  1. Jessa, thanks so much for hosting me on my blog tour today! I love writing about and drinking sake so this was a great post to put together. Hopefully others will see it and give it a shot too! :)

  2. I love the 'Released' cover. It should be a painting. I wish S Pajonas well with her books. I've learnt so much about sake, too. Now I know how to pronounce it I really must try some. Very interesting blog.