July 8 - Reader's Choice

This is the place to report on any two books of your choice.

Please format your annotations like this:

Your Name
1 —
Author's name. Title of book. Year of publication. Number of pages.

Plot Summary: approx. 3-line plot summary.

Appeals: pacing, characterization, story line, frame
2 —
Author's name. Title of book. Year of publication. Number of pages.

Plot Summary: approx. 3-line plot summary.

Appeals: pacing, characterization, story line, frame

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Rachel Longaker
1 —
P.D. James. The Lighthouse. 2005. ~324 pages.

Plot Summary: Set on the fictional offshore island of Combe, near the coast of Cornwall, The Lighthouse is the latest installment in James' Inspector Adam Dalgliesh mysteries. An arrogant novelist with many enemies is murdered and Dalgliesh matches wits with the small group of assorted characters on the island, all of whom are suspects. While Dalgliesh uncovers the truth he must also wrestle with his personal demons and come to a more clear resolution regarding his ongoing love affair with Emma Lavenham.

Appeals: This is a great example of an English cozy, with a cast of characters/suspects that are on an exclusive offshore island instead of the traditional English village. Readers will enjoy following the ongoing story of the complicated, brilliant Dalgliesh who is an intellectual dreamboat as he is a poet AND a Commander at Scotland Yard. It also reads as highbrow fiction: James creates acute psychological portraits and the story actually seems plausible.

Oleg Kagan
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Bantock, Nick. Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence. 1991. ~22 pages.

Plot Summary: An epistolary exchange between a postcard maker from London named Griffin and philatelist from the South Pacific named Sabine. Sabine sends Griffin a postcard out of the blue, eventually admitting the she can see what he is drawing - this begins a relationship that blossoms into love. The book explores the nature of identity through "an extraordinary correspondence" filled with artifacts both textual and visual.

Appeals: Will be enjoyed by readers who enjoy love stories with a mystical leaning. The back-and-forth between Griffin and Sabin is often fast-paced (they exchange postcards with a few lines, or page-long letters), so this book can be easily read in one sitting. Despite its fast pace, Griffin & Sabine should be enjoyed by readers who are keen on character-development; this may require a little work, especially in reading the symbolism of the artwork. The book ends on a cliff-hanger, be sure to suggest that readers pick up the next two in the series, Sabine's Notebook and The Golden Mean as they will want to continue the story after reading the first book. Note: since the release of the first three Griffin and Sabine books, several newer titles have been released starting with The Gryphon in 2001.

Michael Habata
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Druckerman, Pamela. Lust in Translation: The Rules of Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee. 2007. 291 pages.

Plot Summary: Former journalist Druckerman travels to several countries around the world, trying to understand the different cultural rules of extra-marital relationships and how they contrast with American notions and cultural expectations.

Appeals: Fast pacing, journalistic writing, story unfolds like a mystery with author as main character, visits to various countries are mostly self-contained episodes, several unusual characters appear in descriptions. May appeal to those interested in cross-cultural studies and gender roles. May not appeal to those with a strong Puritanical ethic who disapprove of infidelity.

Elizabeth Guth
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Homes, A.M. This Book Will Save Your Life. 2006. 386 pages.

Plot Summary: Divorced middle aged Richard Novak has everything money can buy, a full time housekeeper, a nutritionist, and a mansion in the Hollywood Hills. But when he winds up in the ER due to inexplicable pain, Richard realizes he has no one to call who actually cares about him. This realization propels him on a journey to reconnect with the world, and ultimately with his 17-year-old son.

Appeals: Quirky secondary characters, off the wall subtle humor, comically apocalyptic, strong sense of place - modern day Los Angeles (movie stars, detox centers, traffic), told in the 3rd person but still get Richard's thoughts.

Sheila Purcell
Vonnegut, Kurt. Breakfast of Champions. 1973. 302 pages.

Plot Summary: A humorous examination of American culture and human nature, this illustrated novel follows two men, a mentally diseased Midwestern car salesman and an eccentric sci-fi author. They will cross paths with disastrous results. The story touches upon the themes of free will, racism, and capitalism, and is told in a way that anticipates the reader's unfamiliarity with life on Earth.

Appeals: leisurely paced but simple syntax and lots of pictures make it a fast read, quirky, archetypal characters, open-ended, layered, sexually explicit, thought-provoking, humorous, small town, distant narrator, series character expanded upon (Kilgore Trout), metaphysical, political

Simon Lee
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Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City. 2003. 447 pages.

Plot Summary: An exploration of American history and the establishment of the World’s Fair of 1893. Two men, both blue eyed, handsome, and adept in their favored skill. An architect’s (Burnham) creation attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to the fair, while the vulnerable fall victim to the manipulative and cunning murderer (Holmes). Although the two never meet, their undertakings — magnificent or gruesome — mark a place in history.

Appeals: Vivid descriptions; moderate pacing (Burnham’s) with an alternate touch of adrenaline (Holmes’s); third-person perspective with main characters both intelligent and inspired; large cast of secondary characters/victims, psychological suspense; madness; unsettling; disturbing; grotesque; macabre; dark urban setting.

Danica Sheridan

Brandt, Charles. I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank "the Irishman" Sheeran and Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa. New York: Steerforth Press, 2004. 304 pages.

Plot Summary: Alternating between a first person account of Sheeran's life in the mob and a detailed history of Jimmy Hoffa's legal troubles, I Heard You Paint Houses is a gripping novel that takes the reader deep into the mind of a real life hitman. Surprisingly emotional, we learn how Hoffa & Sheeran were involve in the Kennedy assassination, the Cuban Missile crisis, and ultimately how Sheeran came to murder one of his closest friend and mentor Jimmy Hoffa.

Appeals: First person account allows the reader to really get to know the protagonist inside & out. Pacing is unhurried with many specific details. Set in the mid-twentieth century it draws the reader into a "simpler" time. Framed within the east-coast, urban underworld, there is quite a lot of intrigue tinged just a bit of a voyeurism.

Cathy McGowan
Lahiri, Jhumpa. Unaccustomed Earth. 2008. 352 pages.

Plot Summary: This is a book of short stories with a very rich, emotional under current to everyday events to which many readers could relate. There are also instances of highly dramatic occurrences that by necessity must fit into the everyday lives of the characters. The collection is divided into two sections - first five individual stories written in third person, then two written by two different characters in first person as they reflect on the same period of time, with the last written about the same two characters at a later time in third person.

Appeals: The pacing is unhurried, the characterizations are well developed and recognizable, and the storyline is domestic and layered. The frame and tone are contemporary (setting) and timeless (situations), and the style is natural and thoughtful. Being an outsider is a theme that runs through the collection, and while in these stories this has to do with culture and ethnicity, it is something that readers can relate to from any experience of not being fully integrated into any particular group. Jhumpa Lahiri is a Pulitzer Prize winning author, so those who are drawn to literary works would probably enjoy this book.

Kim Tocco
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Daswani, Kavita The Village Bride of Beverly Hills. 2004. 271.

Plot Summary: Priya's family in India arranges her marriage to Sanjay, and she dutifully moves to Los Angeles to take care of him, his parents, and his spoiled sister. Once there, she must get used to a radically different culture, her new family, and her list of seemingly endless chores. When she fails to get pregnant, her mother-in-law announces that Priya must go out and get a job. With trepidation, Priya embarks on a career in entertainment journalism, which ends up being her ticket out of drudgery and helps, ultimately, to save her marriage.

Appeals: This fast-paced book reads like a modern-day Cinderella story with an ethnic twist. Humorous, insightful, with a light tone, this book appeals to those who root for the underdog against certain people, like demanding mother-in-laws, lazy and indifferent husbands, bitchy bosses, and back-stabbing colleagues.

Glenda Gamboa

1 —
Dan Simmons. Ilium. 2003. 725 pages.

Plot Summary: Dr. Hockenberry records the unfolding of the events of the Iliad on what we discover later to be Mars; he reports to the Olympian gods. On Earth, there are purportedly one million people who have no culture, no understanding of technology, and all they do is PARTY! In Jupiter, moravecs discover a disturbance in the space/time continuum around Earth and Mars, and if they do not travel to that part of the universe, then there will be a cosmic disaster that will destroy the universe.

Appeals: This novel is what is called literary science fiction that intersperses Shakespeare, Proust, Homer, among many literary works. It follows three storylines that seem distinctly different yet are somehow interrelated.
It is personal in that one of the storylines is told in first-person. Its introspective characters also add to the more personal understanding of the underlying motivation that shape events.

Sarah Clark
April Sinclair. Coffee Will Make You Black. 1995. 256 pages.
Plot Summary: It's Chicago in the late 1960s, and Jean "Stevie" Stevenson is figuring out her life and her world. Covering her life from age 11 to 16, Stevie deals with peer pressure, must decide if blacks and whites can really be friends, and struggles to figure out her own sexuality, from necking with her boyfriend to having a crush on the white school nurse.

Appeals: strong, female, African-American protagonist, first person point of view, historical setting in Chicago at a time of social change, fast-paced, coming of age story that also deals with race, sexuality and identity.

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