An engaging historical study, rendered as dramatic fiction.

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The Search

A naval thriller set during the Civil War that dramatizes internecine conflicts in both Japan and the United States.

In 1863, in the midst of global upheaval, the USS Wyoming sets sail for Japan under the direction of Cmdr. David S. McDougal. His mission is to scour the Pacific for threats to American interests—in particular, a Confederate ship, the CSS Alabama, led by the charismatic Capt. Rafael Semmes. When McDougal finally arrives in Japan, he discovers that that country, too, is roiled by internal discord: while the Shogunate favors modernization and an opening of diplomatic relations with the Western world, the emperor disdains the corrupting influence of foreign powers and encourages his loyalists to rebel against their presence. Lord Mori Takachika, a powerful, wealthy clan head, throws his lot in with the emperor, and conspires to repel the Americans by force, eventually taking over the Shogunate. However, his designs are not merely countered by governmental resistance but also by the irrepressible tide of modernity itself: “The Choshu are overcome by modern military technology and tactics but most of all by changing times.” Japan struggles to balance the preservation of an ancient culture with progress, which is beautifully depicted in the plight of women seeking equality. Likewise, the United States looks to propel itself away from the vestiges of a less progressive version of itself, built upon slavery. In his debut effort, author LaBute impressively captures not only the spirit of the age but also the most minute historical details. The naval battles are electrifying, captured in all their horror and valor. The situations in Japan and the United States offer timely case studies of the sometimes-blurry lines that distinguish patriotic freedom-fighting from subversive terrorism; one could argue that Mori Takachika and Raphael Semmes both interpret their civil disobedience as justified by their ends. The plot proceeds briskly, intermingling complex storylines of bureaucratic intrigue with paroxysms of spectacular violence.

An engaging historical study, rendered as dramatic fiction.

Pub Date: May 30, 2015

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 153

Publisher: Dorrance Publishing Co.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2015

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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