Sunday, January 13, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at a Family Holiday Party in Point Lookout last week and one of my cousins mentioned a novel her book club was reading. It sounded interesting but also disturbing; the author was Christopher Yates but she couldn’t remember the title.  Any thoughts?  Point Lookout Partygoer

Dear Point Lookout Partygoer, GRIST MILL ROAD by Yates is indeed a disturbing book and a great book club selection.  The novel opens in 1982 as a twelve year-old boy watches his best friend tie up and shoot a thirteen year old classmate. His description of the girl’s injuries is horrific and his guilt ridden inertia and cool fascination startling.  The book quickly shifts to 2008 where we meet the three characters now grown and bizarrely connected.  The remainder of this literary mystery shifts back and forth between 1982 and 2008 as each of them tells the story of that devastating moment from a different perspective.  We soon realize that things were not as we first thought and there is much shared guilt.   We see how the shooting has impacted their lives especially that of the onlooker, and our sympathy shifts from one character to the next as we learn about their early years and the painful adversities that shaped each of them.  Highly recommended!    

Monday, December 31, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  At our usual New Year’s Eve celebration: movie (this year VICE the Dick Cheney story), dinner, dessert, and the ringing of the bell on the Village Green- we all vowed to read more books in 2019.  Do you have any suggestions to get us started?   Reading Reveler 2019

Dear  Reading Reveler 2019, Great idea and I have a list of ten favorite Great Book Guru recommendations from the past year.  My #1 choice would be HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE- a book whose ideas have reverberated with me throughout the year.  The others are listed here in no particular order, but all were great favorites and highly recommended.  You can read reviews of these by going to

5.      THE FRIEND
9.      BAD BLOOD

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,   I am completely enthralled with all the wonderful  holiday festivities beginning with the Winter Solstice-  but I  do think it is a good time to pause for a moment and consider the years ahead and the years behind. Do you have something to suggest- remembering it must be short, very short and very meaningful…  
Holiday Celebrant
Dear Holiday Celebrant,  Every year around this time,  I read Thornton Wilder’s play THE LONG CHRISTMAS DINNER.  It is in many ways reminiscent of his more famous “Our Town” but Wilder uses just one event – a Christmas dinner- to show the passage of time. The set is simple: a long table festooned with holiday baubles around which the characters are seated.  Over forty minutes- the length of the play- ninety years of Christmas dinners are celebrated.  We meet them as young people, sometimes infants, elderly relatives, thriving businessmen and women, fathers, mothers, aunts- with the table being the only constant.  Deaths occur as characters exit through portals on stage and costumes are kept at a minimum with white wigs used to show characters’ aging.  Throughout we sense a beautiful symmetry as time passes and life is renewed.  A wonderful reading anytime of year, but particularly this week- highly recommended!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, I am totally immersed in the holiday spirit, but I do feel the need for a good, thought-provoking novel.  Any ideas?   Enjoying the Holidays
Dear Enjoying the Holidays, I saw UPSTATE by James Wood on a list of the Best Books of 2018 and decided it would be a good choice for the waning days of December.  Upstate refers to a geographic location:  northern New York where the story is set, but also to an optimistic state of mind. Alan Querry lives in the north of England where he raised his two daughters. Vanessa is a philosophy professor in a small upstate New York college and Helen is a music executive in London.  Although a devoted parent, Alan has not seen Vanessa for many years. When he receives a disturbing call from her boyfriend that she is severely depressed, Alan and Helen fly to America to assess the situation. Told largely from Alan’s perspective, the novel asks the question- “what determines state of mind?”  Over six wintery days, the three characters look back on the daughters’ childhood, the bitter divorce of Alan and his wife, her early death- and each of them questions whether happiness is a learned skill or ultimately an unearned gift…  Highly recommended!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, The Scrooge Stroll is this Sunday, December 9 at 3pm starting across from the Children’s Library.  With playwright Frederick Stroppel as Charles Dickens and Dan DiPietro as Scrooge, the iconic “Christmas Carol” is retold with a cast of players, musicians, and revelers strolling through the streets of Sea Cliff. Earlier in the day, I think I will have time for a good book - something British, something dark, perhaps a psychological thriller?    Eager Scrooge Stroller

Dear Eager Scrooge Stroller, I too am very excited about this event. Last week was also amazing with the beautiful joint lighting of the Village Menorah and Christmas Tree plus the Mutual Concerns Holiday House Tour and the Introduction to “The Nutcracker” at the Children’s Library.     I do have a good book that meets your criteria: BITTER ORANGE by Claire Fuller.  The story opens in a hospital room in London where Frances Jellico thinks back on the summer of 1969.  Gradually we learn about the dark secrets that she has held for over twenty years.   Hired as a landscape researcher by an absentee American investor, Frances arrived at Lyntons - an ancient English country mansion- to find Peter and Cara, an attractive, ebullient couple who had been hired to record the house’s inventory.  They soon become fast friends - the first friends Frances has ever had. Her dead mother figures mightily in Frances’s mind as she struggles to keep up with the flamboyant, hard drinking, very mysterious couple.  The description of the decaying mansion is painfully beautiful as is the portrait of this very damaged but highly sympathetic woman.  A haunting tale and highly recommended!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, At our Thanksgiving dinner, we talked about the roles we assume with family, friends, and community. We concluded that we all belonged to many, many different groups but what was it ultimately that determined who we were?   One of the guests mentioned a new book about identity and suggested we read it before our next gathering.  Are you familiar with the book?
Thanksgiving Seeker of Truth

Dear Thanksgiving Seeker of Truth, IDENTITY CRISIS by authors Sides, Tesler, and Vavreck is a fascinating study of the 2016 presidential campaign and what it revealed about America and each of us. Their most startling conclusion was that we possess many identities that lie dormant until activated by outside forces.  Sometimes it is economics which causes us to identify with one group; sometimes, it’s religious beliefs.  Frequently it’s racial in origin.  Many politicians use these “hot buttons” to prompt a response at the voting booth almost without our consciously being aware of what’s going on. Elections rely on the need for a tribal identity - an “us against them” mentality.  What we saw and continue to witness is an iconic battle for who and what kind of people we want to be.  A very disturbing but worthwhile book - highly recommended!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, My family will be coming to Sea Cliff for our annual Thanksgiving celebration. Many of my cousins are great readers and always have some interesting books to share. I would like to have one too - something topical, fast moving, and with far-reaching appeal.  Any recommendations?
 Book and Turkey Lover

Dear Book and Turkey Lover, I have just the book for you: GHOSTED by Rosie Walsh.  This novel uses the rules and rubrics of Facebook to present a romance gone awry, a horrifying tragedy, and a tantalizing mystery.   When Sarah meets Eddie in a small English village, they immediately connect and plans are made to meet again.  A few days later, he disappears and Sarah begins to search Facebook for him only to find herself “ghosted” (when someone disappears from your life without any explanation.)  Where is Eddie, why has he cut off contact, when will he reappear, if ever?   We watch as Sarah tries desperately to communicate on social media with him, his family, his friends, but he has become…. a virtual ghost. Just when you think you understand what is happening, new information turns the mystery around and around again.  In a series of short chapters, we meet many colorful characters who give us varying insights into Sarah’s quest, and surprises abound.   Recommended!