July 22 - Setting/Historical period

This is the place to report on two historically-set books of your choice.

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Oleg Kagan
1 —
Osgood, Charles. Defending Baltimore Against Enemy Attack: A Boyhood Year During World War II. 2006. 3 discs / 160 pages(according to Amazon).

Plot Summary: A memoir that captures a year in the life of news anchor Charles Osgood as a boy on the home-front during WWII.

Appeals: length makes it a quick listen/read, includes reminiscences of bygone era(radio shows, victory gardens, community), good for nostalgic oldsters and curious youngsters, according to Amazon reviews some find Osgood's comparisons between then and now pedantic(I didn't). Listen-alike might be Tom Brokow's Greatest Generation series.

2 —
Doctorow, E.L. . Ragtime. 1974. 270 pages.

Plot Summary: The intertwined story of several families of different families at the turn-of-the-century.

Appeals: Ragtime is the novel to read for the turn-of-the-century zietgiest; it features racial themes, technology, social customs, and cameos by notables including J.P. Morgan, Sigmund Freud, Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit and more. Once the reader gets used to Doctorow's descriptive style, the short chapters go by quickly. There are moments in Ragtime that are not for our gentlest readers, but they do not make up a large part of the novel. Though, the intimate details of notable people are likely at least partly apocryphal, they may lead readers to consider biographies. Won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Michael Habata
1 —
Winspear, Jacqueline. Messenger of Truth. 2006. 323 pages.
Plot Summary: Private investigator Maisie Dobbs and her assistant Billy Beale take on a case investigating the death of Nicholas Bassington-Hope, an up-and-coming young artist and veteran of World War I who died mysteriously from a fall during the installation of a new exhibition. Working against the interference of police investigators, Maisie uncovers a diamond smuggling operation and local artists trying to preserve European art from wealthy American collectors.
Appeals: An intelligent, hard-working woman protagonist who was able to rise above her social status; a densely-written plot with details evocative of 1930s England; sympathetic portrayal of soldiers fighting in and attempting to recover from a war they do not understand; a mix of continuity of and further development of the primary characters; unambiguous ending to the mystery; psychological depth to various characters; strong sense of time and place of the setting of the novel, in the various neighborhoods of London, the coastal area of Dungeness, the art world of England of the time period.
2 —
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir. 1997. 263 pages.

Plot Summary: Biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin remembers growing up in 1950s Brooklyn, interweaving her memories of becoming a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers with her experiences in church, school, and the social life of the community of Rockville Centre.

Appeals: Nostalgia for a simpler time, greater sense of community, and the common bond of the city’s professional baseball team; straightforward narrative style; sense of listening to a favorite relative telling stories; gentle story line told from point of view of young girl who is learning to become a writer and storyteller; a fast read yet leisurely paced.

Elizabeth Guth
1 —
McCaig, Donald. Rhett Butler's People. 2007. 498 pages.

Plot Summary:Carefully researched, this authorized companion novel to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind follows Rhett Butler’s evolution from child the dangerously charming and clever husband of Scarlett O’Hara.

Appeals: Civil War and Reconstruction, Southern setting, already beloved literary characters, love story, 3rd person POV following multiple characters
2 —
King, Ross. Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture. 2000. 167 pages.

Plot Summary: While nonfiction, Brunelleschi’s Dome reads like a novel as it weaves Italian history in with the fascinating account of Brunelleschi's rise to become one of the greatest architects and engineers in history.

Appeals:Renaissance, Architecture, short chapters make it a quick read, tension between Brunelleschi and rival architect, view of daily life in 15th century Florence

Sarah Clark
1 —
Kanan Makiya. The Rock: a tale of seventh-century Jerusalem. 2001. 349 pages.
Plot Summary: Set in Jerusalem, this tale covers the momentous time from the death of the Prophet Muhammad to the rapid spread of Islam. Told through the eyes of Ishaq, son of a learned Yemeni Jew, this story traces the events that led to the building of Islam’s first monument, the Dome of the Rock, at a holy site for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

Appeals: Very scholarly account well grounded in both history and lore from multiple religions’ points of view. Good choice for someone with a solid understanding of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic theology and history. Focuses on the history and uses fiction to fill-in the gaps rather than exploring on the interior lives of characters.
2 —
Simon Winchester. The Professor and the Madman: a tale of murder, insanity, and the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. 1998. 242 pages.
Plot Summary: Sensational story of how a mad murderer became one of the most important contributors to the construction of the first great index to the English language.

Appeals: reads a bit like a thriller. inside scoop on individuals that reveals a bigger story of the work entailed in creating a dictionary. gruesome, gritty, and sure to improve your vocabulary. for word nerds and people interested in the dark depths of the human psyche.

Marita Klements
1 —
Anita Diamant. The Last Days of Dogtown. 2005. 263 pages.

In the early 1800s Commons Settlement, Massachusetts - only 50 miles north of Boston - was all but abandoned by everyone but elderly widows, runaway servants and freed slaves. The novel begins at the funeral of the last white male in Commons Settlement, better known as Dogtown for the packs of wild dogs who now out number the downtrodden residents. This novel traces the story of a mixed group of misfits living a spartan existence in a town the world forgot.

Appeals: New England history, women's history, diverse quirky characters, survival against the odds, bi-racial romance, popular author.
2 —
Liza Picard. Victorian London. 2007. 368 pages including notes and index.

A thoroughly researched cultural history of London from approximately 1840-1870. This meticulous history details every facet of Victorian life in London in a witty easy to read style. It is organized in short chapters by subject.

Thorough well researched historical detail, information on all walks of life from schools for naked starving street children to the popularity of Prince Albert.

Danica Sheridan
1 —
Cahill, Thomas. The Gift of The Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels. New York: Doubleday, 1998. 289 pages.

Plot Summary: Historical account of the written word, monotheistic thought, and personal relationships with God. Cahill makes the case that it was the ancient Isrealites (those who would become the Jews) who brought civilization from a cyclical world view to a linear one where the past & present influences the future.

Appeals: Judaica, Ancient History, Middle-Eastern History, Religion. A fast read with a smattering of diagrams and a few rich appendices.

2 —
Auel, Jean. Clan of the Cave Bear. New York: Bantam Books, 1984. 528 pages.

Plot Summary: Emotionally stirring and fierce saga following the life of a girl raised during the European ice age. Rescued from certain death by a clan more ancient than her own, Ayla's struggle to survive and flourish will enthrall.

Appeals: Pre-history, slow-paced, interpersonal relationships, outdoor adventure, coming-of-age, ugly duckling/an "other" within the group story. The gripping first book of an intriately detailed series of five.

Sheila Purcell
1 —
Jager, Eric. The Last Duel. 2004. 226 pages.

Plot Summary: A meticulously researched true account of a rape, trial and the last court-sanctioned duel that took place in late-medieval France between two men: the victim’s husband and the alleged rapist. The reasoning at the time was that if the husband loses, then the accused was innocent all along and the wife would be executed for lying.

Appeals: medieval France, gore, fast-paced, dramatic, details of fourteenth century judicial system, sympathetic narration, social commentary fuses well with plot-centeredness
2 —
Graves, Robert. I, Claudius. 1989. 468 pages.

Plot Summary: The fake autobiography of the stuttering, limping fourth Roman emperor, based on the accounts of other historians, traces the reigns of the preceding emperors and Claudius’ victimization at the hands of his incestuous, conniving family.

Appeals: marginalized narrator reacts to events, leisurely paced, detailed saga remains readable with intriguing secondary characters including one of the most demented figures in history, violent, virtuous and likeable but bitter narrator, political

Cathy McGowan
1 —
Naslund, Sena Jeter. Abundance. 2006. 539 pages.

Plot Summary: Set in France at the end of the 18th century, this riveting narrative of the life of Marie Antoinette is the story not of a decadent adult, but of an indulged youth who becomes a woman with problems both personal, and as a figure always in the public eye. It is a great social commentary parallel to today's obsession with, and then turning on the famous.

Appeals: This is a suspenseful telling of a well-known story full of wonderful historical detail that lets us know more deeply these familiar characters as we have a look into what their lives must really have been like.
2 —
Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish Saved Civilization. 1995. 218 pages.

Plot Summary: This is an intellectual and interesting analysis of the period of time leading up to the fall of Rome and before the rise of medieval Europe, with Ireland being the untold hero as the savior of literacy and ancient texts.

Appeals: Periods of Irish history are brought to light in this informative book that pieces together the path of literature from the ancient Greeks through the 8th century.

Cindy Mediavilla
1 —
McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. 2006. 287 pages

Plot summary: A father and son try to survive the horrors of a post-apocalyptic world by heading south, on foot, to a warmer climate.

Appeals: Short vignettes create a riveting, fast-paced read. Horrific view of post-nuclear holocaust. Father-son relationship.

Notes: Cannibalism.

Strieber, Whitley & James W. Kunetka. Warday. 1984. 375 pages

Plot summary: Five years after nuclear war wipes out three major U.S. cities and disables most of the country, journalists Strieber and Kunetka decide to chronicle the devastation by traveling cross-country by any means available.

Appeals: Fiction written as nonfiction reports and interviews with people experiencing the aftermath firsthand. Journalistic style. Short chapters create a fast read. Interesting depiction of California, which has survived the holocaust. Strong theme of love of family and friends.

Kim Tocco
1 —
Nagai Kafu. Rivalry. 2007. 165 pages.

Plot Summary: Set in 1912, this is the story of geisha competition in Japan for love, power, and money. Centered on Komayo, a geisha who has reentered this life after being widowed, it illustrates the struggle between balancing the affections of many patrons with the need to rise to the top of the pack through deceit, cunning, and subterfuge. Very slow-paced with strains of melancholy throughout.

Appeals: Third person story with in-depth characterization, Japanese customs and mores at the turn of the 20th century, geisha life and protocols, themes of lost loves and the historic reality of women with few options.
2 —
Margaret Mitchell. Gone with the Wind. 1999. 1037 pages.

Plot Summary: Sweeping Civil War saga that depicts the famous love story between Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara. Extremely detailed, this novel features the lavish, colorful, and detailed backdrop of the Civil War in the South against which Rhett and Scarlett play out their love/hate relationship. Much more in-depth than the movie, with insight in her Scarlett's relationships with her first two husbands and her mother.

Appeals: Slow-paced, atmospheric, historical detail, rich character development, with the theme of unrequited love and featuring many twists and turns.

Simon Lee
1 —
McCunn, RuthAnne Lum. Thousand Pieces of Gold. 1981. 308 pages.

Plot Summary: Based on a true story of Polly Bemis, a young Chinese girl (in late 19th and early 20th century) of Northern China was taken from her family, sold to a brothel, auctioned to an American saloonkeeper, and prized in a poker game. The story follows her life and struggle for freedom, independence, and respect in the early American West.

Appeals: Chinese customs and history; early 20th century America; straight-line plot; rustic.
2 —
Ambrose, Stephen E. Band of Brothers. 2001. 331 pages.

Plot Summary: An in-depth, researched account of Easy Company (506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, US Army), from training day, to D-Day, and the eventual capture of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest in World War II.

Appeals: warfare; military; World War II, weapons of war; fast-moving back-to-back battles; captures the essence of combat and death in war.

Rachel Longaker
1 —
Tracy Chevalier. Girl with a Pearl Earring. 2001. 233 pages.

Plot Summary: This historical novel presents an account of life in seventeenth century Holland, from the point of view of a young woman, Griet, who serves as a maid in painter Johannes Vermeer's home and studio. While they are separated by class and circumstances, Griet and Vermeer form an intense emotional bond that is born from her appreciation of his art. The drama of the story culminates around the imagined event of her posing for Vermeer and being the subject of his legendary portrait, Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Appeals: Pacing: The past is brought to life by compelling first-person narration which allows the story to flow very easily;the characterizations are detailed, subtle and introspective; exploring the nature of art and romantic attraction, the storyline is character centered; the frame of the novel is psychologically complex and emotionally haunting.
2 —
Laura Hillenbrand. Seabiscuit: An American Legend. 2001. 399 pages.

Plot Summary: Hillenbrand's book is about the remarkable career of the racehorse Seabiscuit, focusing specifically on the events and races that took place between 1936 and 1940, during the Depression in America. Seabiscuit was a small horse who didn't look or act like a grand racehorse and his underdog appeal captivated and uplifted people, giving them hope and inspiration.

Appeals: Engrossing and fast-paced because of Hillenbrand's short sentences and conversational tone; characterizations are vivid, allowing the reader to quickly grasp characters' personalities, intriguing secondary characters; story line is action oriented, enhanced by the dramatic appeal of learning how the underdog characters overcome setbacks; the frame is unaffected and heartwarming.

Glenda Gamboa
1 —
Veloso, Caetano. Tropical Truth: A Story of Music & Revolution in Brazil. 2002. 354 pages.

Plot Summary: This memoir follows Caetano Veloso, one of the leaders of the Tropicalia movement in Brazil, as he leads his life through the movement.

Appeals: There is insider information that readers would enjoy. Veloso tells of his life, sharing it with influential artists of all media in the Tropicalismo movement. It is a personal telling filled with details that will take the reader inside Tropicalia.

2 —
Kushner, Rachel. Telex from Cuba. 2008. 322 pages.

Plot Summary:Through the lives of United Fruit Company employees and their families, a French ex-Nazi, and a cabaret singer, we see how the Cuban revolution came to be.

Appeals: Intricate characterization lends depth to this telling. The era comes alive through their mistakes, their interactions among their compatriots, and the way they react to the events and the Cubans surrounding them.

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