Sunday, October 18, 2009

Synopses of Books for Poll # 1

Okay, it's time to start all over with new titles and mostly new authors for the new year. Be sure and head to the Meetup poll page: to vote for any and all titles in which these summaries have sparked an interest. All are copied from the publisher's comments off Powell unless otherwise indicated. If I'm missing titles you've suggested, send them my way and we'll make a second poll to add to this one :-)

1-In the Woods by Tana French

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As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children, gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled shoes, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox – his partner and closest friend – find themselves investigating a case with chilling links to that long-ago disappearance. Now, with only snippets of buried memories to guide him, Rob has the chance to unravel both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

2- Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

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In 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, a city of great wealth and glamor, the home of millionaires and beggars, gangsters and gamblers, patriots and revolutionaries, artists and warlords. Thanks to the financial security and material comforts provided by their father's prosperous rickshaw business, twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives.

Though both sisters wave off authority and tradition, they couldn't be more different: Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree . . . until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from California to find Chinese brides.

As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the Chinese countryside, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the shores of America. In Los Angeles they begin a fresh chapter, trying to find love with the strangers they have married, brushing against the seduction of Hollywood, and striving to embrace American life even as they fight against discrimination, brave Communist witch hunts, and find themselves hemmed in by Chinatown's old ways and rules.

At its heart, Shanghai Girls is a story of sisters: Pearl and May are inseparable best friends who share hopes, dreams, and a deep connection, but like sisters everywhere they also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. They love each other, but each knows exactly where to drive the knife to hurt the other the most. Along the way they face terrible sacrifices, make impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are — Shanghai girls.

- Death with Interruptions by José Saramago

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On the first day of the new year, no one dies. This of course causes consternation among politicians, religious leaders, morticians, and doctors. Among the general public, on the other hand, there is initially celebration& — flags are hung out on balconies, people dance in the streets. They have achieved the great goal of humanity: eternal life. Then reality hits home — families are left to care for the permanently dying, life-insurance policies become meaningless, and funeral parlors are reduced to arranging burials for pet dogs, cats, hamsters, and parrots.

Death sits in her chilly apartment, where she lives alone with scythe and filing cabinets, and contemplates her experiment: What if no one ever died again? What if she, death with a small d, became human and were to fall in love?

4-Guns, Germs and Steel: a Short history of Everybody for the Last 13000 Years by Jared M. Diamond

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Publisher Comments:
A study of how Europe and the Near East became the cradles of modern society, eventually giving rise to capitalism and science, the dominant forces in today's world - and why, until more recent times, Africa, Australasia and the Americas lagged behind in both technological sophistication and political and military power. 32 illus.
This work abandons the conventional distinctions between history and science. Diamond focuses on what ancient people were endowed with in the way of land, animals and plants, and on the confrontations between less and more advanced people to see how this led to today's inequalities.

5- A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by David Eggers

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The literary sensation of the year, a book that redefines both family and narrative for the twenty-first century. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is the moving memoir of a college senior who, in the space of five weeks, loses both of his parents to cancer and inherits his eight-year-old brother. Here is an exhilarating debut that manages to be simultaneously hilarious and wildly inventive as well as a deeply heartfelt story of the love that holds a family together.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is an instant classic that will be read in paperback for decades to come. The Vintage edition includes a new appendix by the author.

This looks far less depressing than our prior Eggers selection, "What is the What", although not so much in the topic, as the promise of hilarity, which, as some may remember, was somewhat lacking in our former read :-)

6- The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery

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The story of two women whose lives intersect in late nineteenth century Japan, The Teahouse Fire is also a portrait of one of the most fascinating places and times in all of history-Japan as it opens its doors to the West. Told through the enchanting and unforgettable voice of Aurelia, an American orphan adopted by proprietors of a tea ceremony school, this is "a magisterial novel that is equal parts love story, imaginative history and bildungsroman, a story as alluring as it is powerful" (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

7-Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

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The narrator of Atwood's riveting novel calls himself Snowman. When the story opens, he is sleeping in a tree, wearing an old bedsheet, mourning the loss of his beloved Oryx and his best friend Crake, and slowly starving to death. He searches for supplies in a wasteland where insects proliferate and pigoons and wolvogs ravage the pleeblands, where ordinary people once lived, and the Compounds that sheltered the extraordinary. As he tries to piece together what has taken place, the narrative shifts to decades earlier. How did everything fall apart so quickly? Why is he left with nothing but his haunting memories? Alone except for the green-eyed Children of Crake, who think of him as a kind of monster, he explores the answers to these questions in the double journey he takes - into his own past, and back to Crake's high-tech bubble-dome, where the Paradice Project unfolded and the world came to grief.

With breathtaking command of her shocking material, and with her customary sharp wit and dark humour, Atwood projects us into an outlandish yet wholly believable realm populated by characters who will continue to inhabit our dreams long after the last chapter. This is Margaret Atwood at the absolute peak of her powers.

8-Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell

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An Atlantic correspondent uncovers the true cost-in economic, political, and psychic terms-of our penchant for making and buying things as cheaply as possible

From the shuttered factories of the rust belt to the look-alike strip malls of the sun belt-and almost everywhere in between-America has been transformed by its relentless fixation on low price. This pervasive yet little examined obsession is arguably the most powerful and devastating market force of our time-the engine of globalization, outsourcing, planned obsolescence, and economic instability in an increasingly unsettled world.

Low price is so alluring that we may have forgotten how thoroughly we once distrusted it. Ellen Ruppel Shell traces the birth of the bargain as we know it from the Industrial Revolution to the assembly line and beyond, homing in on a number of colorful characters, such as Gene Verkauf (his name is Yiddish for to sell), founder of E. J. Korvette, the discount chain that helped wean customers off traditional notions of value. The rise of the chain store in post-Depression America led to the extolling of convenience over quality, and big-box retailers completed the reeducation of the American consumer by making them prize low price in the way they once prized durability and craftsmanship.

The effects of this insidious perceptual shift are vast: a blighted landscape, escalating debt (both personal and national), stagnating incomes, fraying communities, and a host of other socioeconomic ills. That's a long list of charges, and it runs counter to orthodox economics which argues that low price powers productivity by stimulating a brisk free market. But Shell marshals evidence from a wide range of fields-history, sociology, marketing, psychology, even economics itself-to upend the conventional wisdom. Cheap also unveils the fascinating and unsettling illogic that underpins our bargain-hunting reflex and explains how our deep-rooted need for bargains colors every aspect of our psyches and social lives. In this myth-shattering, closely reasoned, and exhaustively reported investigation, Shell exposes the astronomically high cost of cheap

9- Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

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Set in L.A. in the early 1980s, this bestselling and coolly mesmerizing novel established its young author as the E Scott Fitzgerald for a generation so irretrievably lost that its motto might be "Disappear here."

Clay comes home for Christmas vacation from his Eastern college and re-enters a landscape of limitless privilege and absolute moral entropy, where everyone drives Porches, dines at Spago, and snorts mountains of cocaine. He tries to renew feelings for his girlfriend, Blair, and for his best friend from high school, Julian, who is careering into hustling and heroin. Clay's holiday turns into a dizzying spiral of desperation that takes him through the relentless parties in glitzy mansions, seedy bars, and underground rock clubs and also into the seamy world of L.A. after dark.

10-Dune by Frank Herbert

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Publisher Comments:
Set on the desert planet Arakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Muad'Dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family — and would bring to fruition humankind's most ancient and unattainable dream. A blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.
Paul Atreides moves with his family to the planet Dune and is forced into exile when his father's government is overthrown. The first book in the series.

11- Fool on the Hill by Matt Ruff

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It is a literary event when a genuinely new fictional voice comes along. When that voice achieves its newness not through a certain formal facility but through the freshness of its vision, there is truly something to celebrate. Matt Ruff was only twenty-two when Fool on the Hill was first published, but with his novel he gave us a story that won over readers of every persuasion. Not your usual first effort, Fool on the Hill is a full-blown epic of life and death, good and evil, magic and love.

Think of the imaginative daring of Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale. The zany popism of Tom Robbins's Another Roadside Attraction. The gnomish fantasies of J.R.R. Tolkien. Think of these and you begin to get some idea of one of the most remarkable first novels to come along in years.

In the world of Fool on the Hill dogs and cats can talk, a subculture of sprites lives in the shadows and underfoot (if you're the sensitive type, or drunk enough, you might see them cavorting across the lawn), and the Bohemians, a group of Harley- and horseback-riding students dedicated to all things unconventional, hold all-night revels for the glory of their cause.

Then there is Stephen Titus George, the novel's youthful hero, who somehow finds himself the main player in a story that began well over a century ago. George is a mild-mannered flier of kites, a sometimes writer of bestselling fiction, and would-be knight looking for a maiden. George will find his girl and the century-old story will provide the proverbial dragon whose slaying will sanctify their love. But it will not be a sword that fells the foe but the transforming power of the imagination.

12- Villette by Charlotte Bronte

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Publisher Comments:
This powerfully moving psychological study was acclaimed by George Eliot as "a still more wonderful book than Jane Eyre," and by Virginia Woolf as "Brontë's finest novel." Its remarkably modern heroine abandons her native England for the freedom and independence -- and insecurity -- of life as a schoolteacher in Belgium.
Acclaimed by Virginia Woolf as "Bronte's finest novel," this moving psychological study features a remarkably modern heroine who abandons her native England for a new life as a schoolteacher in Belgium.

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