Monthly Archives: August 2016

Review of Toru: Wayfarer Returns (Sakura Steam #1), by Stephanie R. Sorensen

ToruI received a copy of Toru: Wayfarer Returns, by Stephanie R. Sorensen, from Netgalley.

Description from Goodreads:
Revolutionary young samurai with dirigibles take on Commodore Perry and his Black Ships in this alternate history steampunk technofantasy set in 1850s samurai-era Japan. 

In Japan of 1852, the peace imposed by the Tokugawa Shoguns has lasted 250 years. Peace has turned to stagnation, however, as the commoners grow impoverished and their lords restless. Swords rust. Martial values decay. Foreign barbarians circle the island nation’s closed borders like vultures, growing ever more demanding. 

Tōru, a shipwrecked young fisherman rescued by American traders and taken to America, defies the Shogun’s ban on returning to Japan, determined to save his homeland from foreign invasion. Can he rouse his countrymen in time? Or will the cruel Shogun carry out his vow to execute all who set foot in Japan after traveling abroad? Armed only with his will, a few books, dirigible plans and dangerous ideas, Tōru must transform the Emperor’s realm before the Black Ships come. 

Review:     Slightly spoilerish
I was totally let down by this one. Even when I tried to give it leeway as a YA book, I was disappointed. I honestly don’t know what all the rave reviews and awards are based on.

That cover is awesome and I love both steampunk and stories of feudal Japan. Unfortunately, this book failed on both fronts. It’s not really steampunk, despite a couple dirigibles and it’s only Japanese in title.

While it’s set in Japan and uses Japanese words and talks about Japanese society, all of the characters are essentially westernized. For example, Toru talks about being uncomfortable with the loud brash American women. However, the only prominent female character we’re given is…you guessed it, loud and brash. She troops around in men’s clothing, often found signing bawdy drinking songs with the blacksmith and fighting with a naginata. Hardly the paragon of demureness we’re told to expect. People talk outside their station, are more direct than should be, etc. We’re told about Japan, but not provided a Japanese story.

Further, the books presents as if in praise Japanese culture, but the whole plot hinges on the westernization of the country and destruction of their age-old way of life. Everything from the environment, to the social hierarchy, to women’s place in society is challenged and discarded in exchange for a western style. They even chose western uniform styles for their military. This basically subtly shows the old to be it to be less ideal than what it is becoming, therefore the East is shown to pale in comparison to the West, which I believe goes against everything the book claims to be trying to do.

Outside of the heavy ethnocentrism of it, the plot simply stretches believability and credulity too far. Toru spent two years as a castaway in America. Somehow without connections he was a guest of the rich and powerful, giving him access to military information, schools, businesses, apparently everything. Plus, he learned and perfected accentless English. Then he returned home and engineered a total industrial revolution in less than a year. Again, as a nobody with less than no connections; he was condemned to die. But he still convinced an entire nation to commit treason. And everyone just basically decides to go along with it, at the risk of death, all like, “Hmm, sure, sounds like fun. Here is access to all my money and resources, have at it.” Then, despite his lack of station and being one among many on a battlefield, he disobeys direct orders, acts on his own and of course saves the day with no repercussions. Apparently he’s the only intelligent, forward thinking person in all Japan. Gah, irritating.

The writing suffers from classic show vs tell problems, its repetitive and predictable, the language is painfully anachronistic and the characters are flat. In the end, I had to force myself to finish it.


Review of Knight after Night (Vampire Assassin League #1), by Jackie Ivie

Knight After NightI downloaded a copy of Jackie Ivie‘s Knight After Night from Amazon. It’s a perma-freebie.

Description from goodreads:
Highland Vampire Thoran MacKettryck’s lonely. Bitter. Vengeful. For centuries now, he’s taken lives for profit and drained blood for free. Just like always. But then he’s gifted what every immortal craves: his mate. He just can’t believe his eyes when he finally hunts her down. 

Jolie Pritchard’s young. Studious. Driven. Studying Medieval Literature is her life and this scholarship – her dream. She’s the last thing an arrogant, gorgeous, world-class playboy should be pursuing and she knows it. If only he wasn’t the most thrilling male she’s ever imagined…

She was warned. She didn’t listen.

Man, what a waste! Ivie can write. There’s witty dialogue. There’s a cute, kind of clueless alpha male who begs. (I love me some begging man.) There’s smart female lead. There’s vampires. Really, this should have been a slam dunk for me. But no. No. No. No. NO. NO!

It’s not even half as long as it needs to be to allow for a believable plot. So it’s incredibly rushed and almost every aspect of it is underdeveloped. Thornan is apparently some sort of vampire assassin (the series is even called Vampire Assassin League) but that’s not addressed anywhere in the book.

Jolie is unnecessarily rude to Thornan from the moment they meet. Really, people usually present a little social grace when confronted with new people before turning mean. He bullies her into a date by threatening violence against anyone she tries to call for help and ignores all her attempts at agency. Then, despite the author trying to show Jolie angry at the idea of being materialistic, a full on third of the book seems to be dedicated to describing his wealth and Jolie’s response to it.

There is slut shaming and the requisite naive virgin whining about how his big penis will tear her. WTF? Jolie just accepts everything with ease by deciding not to think about it (what happened to the smart girl in the beginning) and seems to have some sort of personality transplant about halfway through the book. Then they declare ever-lasting love after one night together.

I am so disappointed!


Review of Dysconnected, by Anton Scamvougeras


I won a copy of Dysconnected, by Anton Scamvougeras through Goodreads.


Isolated By Our Mobile Devices’ features striking images alongside thought provoking quotes that together encourage us to be mindful of the ways in which our mobile devices are changing our lives.

We all know how useful, powerful, and delightful our cell phones or tablets can be, but a growing number of us also have a sense that there’s something potentially disturbing about the way they have so rapidly taken up such a large and central space in our lives. Smartphones have been shown to interfere with our ability to concentrate on a lecture, drive a car, empathize with a stranger, respond to a family member, or get a good night’s sleep.

Are we losing the capacity for quiet solitude? Are we filling all previously-empty spaces in our days with electronic ‘busy-ness’? Have online ‘friends’ taken the place of the other sort? Have second lives replaced our first? And, if this is the case, should it be cause for any concern?

‘Dysconnected’ is a series of over 75 striking pen and ink illustrations depicting humans isolated by their personal technology. Accompanying quotes, opinions, ideas, and facts all encourage reflection.

The book also includes two dense pages of ‘Phone Facts’. The images show the effects that mobile devices are having on friendships, couples, families, work, play, study, life, and our capacity for solitude. In all, a thought provoking visual essay with brief passages of interwoven text. Designed to be read through, or dipped into time and again.


I have to admit I’m not all together sure how one goes about reviewing a socially commentative art book. But I’m gonna give it a go. I read this in one sitting and it took half an hour or so. I could have read it faster, but I pondered over some of the pictures. They are a collection of familiar scene, some from real life, some from famous art pieces. All altered to highlight the isolating tendencies of modern mobile technologies. The image on the cover is pretty indicative of what you’ll find inside, just loosely drawn images instead of a photographed backdrop.

Honestly,  I didn’t find anything new or exciting in this. I’ve seen several artist address this subject in much the same manner recently. But is was thought provoking to see it collated in an actual book and I think it’s a great conversation starter. I’ve left out on the coffee table and several people have flipped through it.

It’s also probably worth noting that while I read it, both of my children were playing on their tablets and I received a text from my husband that I put the book down and checked. So, there are real, relatable points to be made around human technology usage.

What I’m drinking:  Oh, this is a bit embarrassing, but it’s Bota Box red wine, from Costco.