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Toru

WAYFARER RETURNS

From the Sakura Steam Series series , Vol. 1

Cool alternative-history yarn of yester-century Nippon, a promising steampunk-energized start.

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Defying his shogun’s ban on contact with the Western world, a young Japanese in 1852 uses smuggled blueprints and technology to create a hyperindustrial movement to thrust the nation forward into the modern age.

First-time author Sorensen launches her Sakura Steam series with a well-told what-if story that brings a steampunk aesthetic to real-life 1800s Japan. Tōru Himasaki, illegitimate son of a noble lord, arrives on the shores of southeastern Japan in 1852, having completed the first phase of a dangerous mission for which he was raised. Masquerading as a fisherman, Tōru pretended to be lost at sea and allowed himself to be rescued by passing Americans and taken on a grand tour of their country. Now, with two years of careful notes, books, factory blueprints, gadgets, and intel, Tōru comes home—facing execution as a traitor for violating Japan’s centuries-old policy of sokoku, or isolation, that has time-frozen the island nation into a feudal condition. Fortunately, Tōru manages to convince a few local lords of the desperate need to drive Japan forward into industrialization before the inevitable invasion by America and other foreign imperialists. In just a few seasons, Japanese facsimiles of guns, telegraphs, railways, early computers (Charles Babbage’s “difference engine”), submarines, and airships are under feverish construction—but with as much secrecy as possible due to the iron rule of the myopic, dictatorial Tokugawa Shogun, who may view such progress as a threat to his own power. Sorenson cunningly blends far-out fiction with actual historical personages (many of whom may be unfamiliar to round-eyed barbarian readers) and a Meiji Restoration–era mindset. If there seem to be a few stereotypes reinforced here (math-crazed, sword-swinging Asians, as industrious as ants as they vastly overhaul their whole culture nearly overnight), the urgency and echoes of real-life drama can still resonate. It’s no accident that the author name-checks Hiroshima and Nagasaki as historically vital port cities of old. Young adults as well as older readers can partake of the delicious genre-blending bento.

Cool alternative-history yarn of yester-century Nippon, a promising steampunk-energized start.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9969323-1-8

Page Count: 274

Publisher: Palantir Press

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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MAGIC HOUR

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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