July 29 - Place-drive

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

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Cindy Mediavilla
1 —
Mervyn Peake. Titus Groan. 1946. 543 pp.

Plot Summary: This first volume of the "Gormenghast trilogy" focuses on the birth and early life of Titus, heir to the throne of Groan. His ultimate nemesis is Steerpike, a kitchen boy who aspires to command Gormenghast, the ritual-laiden castle/kingdom Titus was born to rule.

Appeals: Literary fantasy with a richly-drawn cast of extremely quirky characters, including Gormenghast itself, an oppressively detailed presence. Slow pace with bursts of humor and (especially in later volumes) violence. Some consider this one of the most brilliant fantasy trilogies ever written.

2 —
William Heat Least-Moon. Blue Highways: A Journey into America. 1982. 448 pp.

Plot Summary: When the author loses his job and marriage all on the same day, he decides to take a cross-country trip by car. But instead of visiting the major U.S. tourist attractions, he decides to take the lesser-known roads - the ones that appear as blue lines on the map - to find the real heart of America.

Appeals: Journey of discovery: both of self and of the country. Quirky characters. Nostalgia for small-town life that is rapidly disappearing in the U.S. Leisurely pace.

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Mary Menzel
1 — fiction
Hiaasen, Carl. Stormy Weather. 1996, 400 pp.
Southern Florida is transformed into a lawless frontier in the wake of a terrible tropical storm. In this hilarious tale of a motley crew of tourists and con men, Hiaasen delivers his trademark message against the despoiling of Florida's natural resources.

Appeals: humor, fast-paced action, eccentric cast of characters, environment turned topsy-turvy by nature, man battling nature and losing!

2 — nonfiction
Hughes, Robert. The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding. 1986, 603 pp.
A spell-binding narrative of the birth of the nation of Australia, from its unpromising beginning as the destination for hundreds of convicts forcibly transported from England.

Appeals: carefully researched history, detailed portraits of human characters and native species, strong evocation of a harsh, unspoiled landscape, sophisticated treatment of the politics of the era.

Oleg Kagan
1 —
Cather, Willa. Death Comes for the Archbishop. 1927. 297 pages.
Plot Summary: Loosely based on the true story of two French Missionaries, Willa Cather weaves a tale of Fathers jean Marie Latour and Joseph Vaillant struggles in creating a diocese in the recently-acquired wild west territory of New Mexico.

Appeals: beautiful religious(catholic) devotion, scenic descriptions of western frontier, leisurely pace, man vs. nature, inspiring characters, literary fiction, considered a modern classic.

2 —
Kapuściński, Ryszard. Another Day of Life. 1976. 144 pages.
Plot Summary: Personal narrative of Ryszard Kapuściński, a well-known polish foreign correspondent, in Angola during a period of civil strife.

Appeals: realistic account of tough times/war(some harsh scenes), suspenseful moments, set in africa, sharp characterizations, engaging narrative style, fast read.

Michael Habata
1 —
Revoyr, Nina. The Age of Dreaming. 2008. 329 pages.


Plot Summary: Former silent movie star Jun Nakayama, living in Los Angeles but forty years removed from his Hollywood career, is contacted by a journalist for an interview. He begins to reminisce about his career as he contacts executives and other actors who might disclose secrets he wishes to keep hidden, which might prevent his from securing a comeback film role. We witness his transition from working in stage, his sudden rise to fame and fortune, his status as a non-Western sex symbol, and the abrupt end to his film career.

Appeals: A vivid exploration of the early Hollywood film world and Los Angeles in the 1910s and 20s, somewhat deliberate and methodical pacing (as the book is written in the form of the narrator’s personal journal), complex main and secondary characters who are revealed gradually, a plot which involving celebrity, sex, murder, and scandal, and an examination how mainstream white views of Asians affected Japanese Americans socially and politically.

2 —
Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. 1996. 209 pages.


Plot Summary: Journalist and writer Krakauer follows the clues left by Chris McCandless, a young man who rebelled against his family and social norms and tried to embrace a solitary and self-reliant life in the model of Thoreau and the works of Tolstoy and Jack London. McCandless lived out his dream of living in the Alaskan wilderness, but his idealism and lack of preparedness led to his starving to death. Krakauer explores the mind of the idealistic young person rebelling against society and embracing the world of nature.

Appeals: Journalistic writing style, a detective story as Krakauer interviews those who McCandless met and encountered and discovers more about who McCandless was, a vicarious ability to see how one idealistic person escaped the bounds of social norms and survived an Odyssey-like yet fatal adventure, an exploration of the psyche of a person who appears to outsiders as foolhardy and reckless.

Elizabeth Guth
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McMurtry, Larry. The Last Picture Show. 1951. 270 pages.

Plot Summary: There’s not too much to do in Thalia Texas – a depressing dusty one-stop light town- for Sonny, Duane and Jacy but go high school and the Saturday night picture show. But life gets more complicated as they approach graduation and each of them gets entangled in affairs and relationships that may not end as planned.

Appeals:Small town America, Texas, 1950’s America, coming of age, sexual awakening, powerful poetic writing , memorable characters, NOT a gentle read – a lot of the plot is based on sex and the writing is very frank.
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Reichl, Ruth, ed. Remembrance of Things Paris: Sixty Years of Writing from Gourmet. 2004. 342 pages.

Plot Summary: This anthology of essays about the famous city of lights is not only about the food, chefs and iconic restaurants of Paris – though there are several essays that will make your mouth water, but also the culture: couture, auction houses, flower shops, and jewelry.

Appeals: snapshots of Paris – both from modern day and from after WWII on, Armchair traveling, can skip around the book – don’t have to read every single essay, short essays, good for francophiles and/or foodies.

Marita Klements
1 —
Terry Pratchett. Illustrated by Paul Kidby. The Last Hero. 2001. 159.

Cohen the Barbarian, the greatest hero of the Discworld, has looted, ravaged, pillaged, slayed monsters and rescued maidens for decades. At last he is an emperor with everything an octogenarian can dream of, but he and his silver hoard take off on one last adventure. They will go down fighting or die trying.

A classic novel of the Discworld, including many of its most popular places and characters. A mythic story line, beautiful full page illustrations.
2 —
Sandra Tsing Loh. A Year in Van Nuys. 2001. 234.

At the age of 36 Sandra suddenly comes to the realization that she is not a renowned literary novelist living in Provence. In fact, her first novel has been half finished for years, and she doesn't even live in a nice part of Los Angeles. In this hilarious memoir Sandra narrates the ups and downs of one depressing year of her life.

Appeals: A portrait of the lower middle class in Los Angeles, quirky characters, sarcastic cosmopolitan humor.

Cathy McGowan
1 —
Mortenson, Greg and Relin, David Oliver. Three Cups of Tea. 2006. 331 pages.

Plot Summary: Mountain climber Greg Mortenson's story begins with his failed attempt to climb K2, when he finds himself lost in a remote Pakistani village, befriending the people there, and promising to build them a school. He proceeds to begin the Central Asia Institute despite the many road blocks both figurative and literal that he encounters, and not only acheives his dream of building the school for the village of Korphe, but goes on to build many more in the poorest areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Appeals:a real-life hero, a truly inspiring tale of one person making a difference in the world, photos of the remote places travelled to as the reader, and suspenseful tales of "Dr. Greg's" dangerous journies

2 —
Brennert, Alan. Moloka'i. 2003. 375 pages.

Plot Summary: Rachel Kalama is sent to Moloka'i with leprosy (now called Hansen's Disease) in 1892 at the age of six, and although she has been torn from her family, her eventually resilient spirit finds happiness where her life now is, and among people who are her new family.

Appeals: courageous characters, a sense of what this island was really like in the early 20th century, an intersection with real historical figures and events, an emotional and life-affirming story

Kim Tocco
1 —
Laurence Shames. Florida Straits. 1992. 365 pages.

Plot Summary: Joey Goldman is a mobster's illegitimate son, born and bred in Queens, NY. He figures the only way to make his mark on the world is to move to the Keys in Florida and rustle up a hustle there, hoping to earn his old man's respect. He finds mayhem and murder in Florida, with the involvement of the Colombian drug cartel and stolen emeralds, but in the process, finds himself.

Appeals: Humor, dictomy of old and new (NY/Florida, old life/new life), quirky coming of age story, goofy anti-hero with a good heart, Mafia appeal.
2 —
Robyn Meredith. The Elephant and the Dragon. 2007. 252 pages.

Plot Summary: India and China have entered the world stage of the globalized economy and the West will never be the same. The history of the old India and China is compared with their new identities, and then further compared with the United States as the themes of offshoring, capitalism, and global economic politics are dissected and examined. Extremely interesting, at times drily didactic, the book juxtaposes the emergence of these two countries as economic powerhouses with the capacity to someday dwarf the U.S. economically in the long run.

Appeals: Educational, eye-opening, topical theme with far-reaching implications, will interest those with an eye to economics, globalism, the divergence of East/West, capitalism, and the future of the world and its poor in the 21st century.

Danica Sheridan
1 —
Flagg, Fannie. Can't Wait to Get to Heaven. Westminster, MD: Books on Tape. 2006. Audio Book. 9 hrs 48min, 8 discs.

Plot Summary: Beloved aunt, neighbor & friend, Elner Shimfizzle falls from her fig tree and starts a chain reaction of introspection throughout her small, Missouri town.

Appeals: Gentle Read. LARGE cast of quirky characters. Faith vs. Fact. Read simply with warmth and good humor by veteran narrator Cassandra Campbell.

2 —
Bryson, Bill. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. New York: Broadway Books. 2006. 288 pages.

Plot Summary: Life was simple, unhurried, boring, fascinating, and just a bit frightening in the 1950's mid-western United States. Alternating between the author's perception as a child and as an adult, the reader is treated to a slice-of-life tale moving through such subjects as food, toys, nuclear arms, sex, and baseball.

Appeals: Memoir. 1950's history. Fast-paced. At times, so funny you may have trouble breathing.

Sheila Purcell
1 —
Martell, Yann. Life of Pi. 2001. 319.

Plot Summary: After his ship sinks, boy is stuck on a lifeboat with a tiger in the middle of the Pacific for the better part of a year. This book is a thinly veiled allegory about having faith despite overwhelming odds. The sea takes on a heavy symbolic role by being the provider and keeping the boy isolated.

Appeals: Details about zoology and zoos may appeal to those who liked Water for Elephants. Spiritual, didactic tone, layered storytelling, survival, wild animals make for intriguing secondary characters
Note: Animal cruelty. Cannibalism. Narrator mocks agnostics.

2 —
Smith, John L.. Sharks in the Desert. 2005. 400.

Plot Summary: A series of fractured tales and biographies that relate the histories of some famous casinos and the men behind Las Vegas before and after it became family friendly.

Appeals: non-linear storytelling, informal journalistic style, dry and ironic tone, some graphic scenes, details to satisfy any Vegas history buff

Sarah Clark
1 —
Daphne Du Maurier. Rebecca. 1938. 376 pages.
Plot Summary: When a young woman meets and marries Maxim de Winter, the owner of the famous Manderlay estate in Corwall, she becomes haunted by the memory of her husband's deceased wife, Rebecca.

Appeals: elements of romance, suspense, mystery, horror. Feels like a ghost story even if Rebecca does not actually appear as a ghost. Many details and descriptions of the estate bring it to life, making the estate one of the main characters.

2 —
Tracy Kidder. Hometown. 1998. 349 pages.
Plot Summary: Does small town America exist? Yest, but it may surprise you. Kidder brings Northampton, Massachusetts to life in this story told through the eyes of a local cop, the mayor, the judge, an obsessive compulsive former lawyer, and a student at Smith College who has a son and collects welfare.

Appeals: Multiple viewpoints, crime and punishment, character-driven, peppered with history, small-town politics, drugs and homelessness.

Rachel Longaker
1 — Fiction
Sarah Caudwell. Thus Was Adonis Murdered. 1981. 320 pages.

Plot Summary: Professor Hillary Tamar (it is never disclosed if Hillary is a man or a woman) specializes in law at Oxford University and decides to spend a few weeks during the summer in London. Hillary's social life there is not dull as a few former pupils are practicing London barristers who are all decidedly witty and sophisticated. One of them, Julia, goes on holiday to Venice but her brief fling with a fellow tourist on an Art Lover's tour is complicated when the young man is found murdered. From London, Julia's barrister friends and Hillary apply their wits and knowledge of the law to exonerate Julia and find the real murderer.

Appeals: pacing: the story moves fairly quickly because the narrative style is witty and good-humored, and much of the story is told from Julia's letters from Venice which are supposedly written while she is in the midst of her adventure and have an urgency to them; characterization: Hillary Tamar's character is a wonderful twist on the classical English cozy detective. Tamar is eccentric and highly intelligent as are the supporting characters; story line: charactered centered and a fun romp because of the cross-cutting between London and the adventure in exotic Venice; frame: sophisticated and humorous.

2 — Non-fiction
Jon Krakauer. Into Thin Air. 1997. 288 pages.

Plot Summary: Journalist Krakauer was hired by Outside magazine to write about the increasing commercialization of expeditions to Mt. Everest and the possible risks posed because of it. Krakauer's journalistic mission and his adventure of going to the summit of Everest became a survival story as an unexpected storm took the lives of five members in his group and four people in another expedition.

Appeals: Pacing: while there are a lot details and background history about the reality and legend of Mt. Everest, mountaineering in general and a large cast of characters on the various expeditions, the book moves at a good pace because it reads as an adventure thriller/survival story; characterization: as the first-person narrator and main protagonist, Krakauer gives an candid account of himself and his thoughts as the story takes place, his characterizations of others are adept and sympathetic; story line: complex, multiple plotlines; frame: suspenseful and thoughtful, an adventure story with a message.

Simon Lee
1 —
Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. 1996. 209 pages.

Plot Summary: A young college graduate, intelligent but stubborn and idealistic, disconnects himself from family, friends, and societal establishments to live and experience life in the wilderness of Alaska. The ill-prepared adventurer would meet his untimely fate at the age of 24. The author weaves together McCandless’s yearning through personal journal evidence and interviews with friends and family with which he left immense pain and grief.

Appeals: May appeal to readers with interest in a gloomy, foreboding, heartrending, or sad-ending story.

2 —
Forrest, Katherine V. Sleeping Bones. 1999. 276 pages.

Plot Summary: Kate Delafield is a lead homicide detective for LAPD in a murder investigation that unfolds from the corpse of an elderly man discovered in the La Brea Tar Pits. Clues and evidence are fed to readers and spread beyond the scene of the crime to the aptly described West Hollywood and other LA settings.

Appeals: Fast-paced as readers are immediately introduced to the murder and scene of the crime. The characterizations are well-developed, quick-witted, and vigilant. A modern, present-day, and contemporary sense of place in Los Angeles.>

Glenda Gamboa
1 —
Jose, F. Sionil. Dusk. 1984. 323 pages.

Plot Summary: approx. Istak and his family are Ilocanos from the north of the Philippines. Through their family's struggle, we see the ravages of the Spanish and the subsequent United States occupation. Istak and his family show us how ordinary Pilipinos weathered, joined, or fermented the storm of Philippine revolution in the late 1800s.

Appeals: The pacing is unhurried but with insistence. The place is vivid where the reader can feel as though the setting of the story comes alive.

2 —
Greenfield, Amy Butler. A Perfect Red. 2005. 352 pages.

Plot Summary: The color red during the time of the Spanish conquest of the Americas was highly desired by Europeans but expensive and hard to come by. The Spanish find cochineal, an organic red color from the Oaxaca region of what is now Mexico. Many risk their lives to steal this valuable resource from Spain.

Appeals: This is a quick read that contains mainting interesting information on the color red. It is filled with intrigue and espionage that will leave the reader with valuable information.

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