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Book Reviews: Historical Landmarks, Day-Glo California

Ask 100 people to name their favorite place, and you'll get 100 different answers. Ask 28 prominent U.S. historians, and you'll get American Places (Oxford University Press, $30). The engaging compilation details well-known historical landmarks and locales—Gettysburg, the Grand Canyon, Monticello—alongside surprising gems like the old Illinois capitol of Lincoln's legendary "a house divided" speech and even Fenway Park, where generations of Bostonians have learned how to lose gracefully.

Set in the loopy, Day-Glo world of California in the 1960's and 70's, Leslie Brenner's satirical Greetings from the Golden State (Henry Holt & Co., $23) is a hoot from start to finish. Originally published to great acclaim in France, this T+L contributor's novel follows the Kelbows, a family that put the "fun" in "dysfunctional," through 30 years of inspired lunacy.

With its beautiful vintage maps, the glossy This Land Is Your Land (Abrams, $75) charts the geographic evolution of the United States from colonies in an undiscovered country to 50 distinct regions. Author Seymour I. Schwartz delves into the creation of state names (Ohio is Iroquois for "fine river") and borders (the dividing line between North and South Carolina remained in dispute until the early 1800's).

Take Me with You (Travelers' Tales, $24) is an around-the-world trip with a twist: Brad Newsham explores Africa, India, and Southeast Asia in hopes of finding the perfect companion to invite back to America. In Egypt, he meets young Mahmoud, who challenges him to a donkey race; on Mount Kilimanjaro, he visits Honest George's tiny sundries shop. Saving his selection until the very end, Newsham keeps you riveted.

San Francisco in the gold-rush years was a heady place, full of glittering dreams, harsh realities, and outsized personalities. One such vivid character in Geling Yan's Lost Daughter of Happiness (Hyperion East, $22.95) is Fusang, an ethereal Chinese prostitute who braves the frenzy of the fortune-seeking city in an attempt to regain her own humanity. At turns poignant and brutal, the novel captures both the era's intense desire for a better life and the atrocities against outsiders who dared to break the rules.

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