Monday, February 17, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, A few months ago, I read a fascinating book:  KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON. Friends tell me that there is an even better, less well-known book about Native Americans that offers disturbing new insights into American history.  Are you familiar with this book?  In Quest of Knowledge

Dear In Quest of Knowledge, EMPIRE OF THE SUMMER MOON by S.C. Gwynne is indeed not to be missed.  It details the history of the fiercest of the American Indian tribes: the Comanches. Spanish colonialism, the Civil War, mass slaughter of the buffalo, construction of the railroads, formation of the Texas Rangers, westward expansion, and-above all - the human penchant for cruelty are covered. Interwoven with these topics are the stories of a mother and son: Cynthia Ann Parker and Quanah, last and greatest of the Comanche chiefs.  As a nine year old, Cynthia was kidnapped by the Comanches on a raid of her family’s homestead on the Texas frontier.  Her family was brutally massacred. She lived with her captors, married a powerful Comanche chief, and gave birth to three children one of whom was Quanah. After twenty-four years, she was forcibly removed from the tribe. Her husband was killed, and her son Quanah was to search for her for decades. She tried many times to return but always failed. Quanah fought the Americans but was finally defeated.  In defeat, however, he remained a powerful and wealthy leader of his people.  The book chronicles the many acts of violence committed by both sides, leaving the reader to question the inherent evil of humanity.  Highly recommended!

Monday, February 10, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, My friends and I attended an Oscar Awards party last weekend and someone there suggested a mesmerizing novel about a group of airline passengers that would be perfect for my book club. Any thoughts? Lover of Both Movies and Books

Dear Lover of Both Movies and Books, I recently read a short novel I will be suggesting to my book club: DEAR EDWARD by Ann Napolitano.  The story opens in Newark Airport as Edward - a twelve-year-old - boards a plane bound for California with his parents, older brother, and 187 other passengers. The plane crashes over Colorado and Edward is the only survivor. The book divides into alternating chapters as we follow the lives of Edward and some of these passengers.  Edward’s plight is the subject of intense scrutiny by a horrified public via social media and cable news. But for me, the book’s greatest achievement lies in the stories of the others as they live their last moments preparing for a future they think lies ahead. A young woman wonders if she and her awaiting boyfriend will marry, an elderly tycoon contemplates the latest medical treatment he is to undergo, Edward’s parents plan a menu for their newly vegan son….   Reminiscent of Thornton Wilder’s “Bridge of San Luis Rey”, this is a beautifully told tale of the sweetness and fragility of life. Highly recommended!    

Monday, January 27, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, Next week I’m planning on an early Valentine’s celebration: Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Storytelling Event at the Sea Cliff Yacht Club on Saturday, February 8 at 7:30pm.  It will be an evening of five impassioned love stories. There will be time -as usual- for a good book. Any suggestions? Love Story Searcher

Dear Love Story Searcher, The book I’m recommending does not qualify as a love story but it is one immersed in passion: DISAPPEARING EARTH by Julia Phillips. Set in the remote Russian city of Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka coast, the novel opens with the kidnapping of two young sisters. The remainder of the book is broken into monthly chapters describing the impact of this kidnapping on  twelve residents – all women and girls. The only witness to the abduction is Oksana whose credibility is ignored because the residents insist the kidnapper must be an outsider, a foreigner - certainly not the white man she saw.  Quickly we realize that the issues that confront this city are universal concerns. Racism, immigration, nostalgia for a “glorious” past, patriarchal oppression, and violence against women are all revealed as the story unfolds.  What is touted as protecting quickly is revealed to be another avenue to subjugate women.  Throughout, clues to the kidnapper’s identity are overlooked by a biased police, media, and citizenry. Both a mystery and political thriller…. highly recommended!

Monday, January 20, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, Next Sunday, January 26 from 3 to 4pm at the Sea Cliff Children’s Library, parents and next year’s kindergartners will gather to get together and share thoughts about the upcoming school year.  Sara Jones – president of the North Shore School Board - will be there to answer questions about the school experience.  I’m planning on being there and wondered if you had a book I might enjoy while waiting for the program to begin.  New Kindergarten Parent

Dear New Kindergarten Parent, I just finished a debut novel: SUCH A FUN AGE by Kiley Reid. The title could refer to the young preschooler Emira babysits ….or it could be Emira herself - a twenty-six year-old black woman trying to navigate her post-graduate life and find a “real” job….one  with benefits as she approaches the moment when she is no longer covered by her parents’ insurance. A fun age indeed! The novel opens with Emira and the child in a high-end grocery store where the security guard accuses her of kidnapping the child. The blatant racism is caught on camera by an onlooker who wants to share it on social media. Emira is horrified while her employer Alix awkwardly attempts to make amends. What we see is a detailed study of class and race, affluence and arrogance as Emira and Alix see their lives intersect in many surprising ways. Questions of privacy, parenting, morality, friendship, memory, and racism are but a few of the topics the author addresses.  Recommended!

Friday, January 17, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, While attending the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s first event of 2020 - Dinner & THE DEAD - last weekend at the Metropolitan Bistro, friends at our table mentioned a recent novel they had all read. It was set in the future but had strange medieval overtones. Any thoughts?                  Reader at the Feast

Dear Reader at the Feast, I was at Dinner & THE DEAD too and it was a magnificent evening. Kudos to Fred Stroppel and Dan DiPietro, the fine cast of actors and singers, Billy and Anita Long of the Metropolitan Bistro and Sleepy Jean’s delectable desserts.  Robert Harris’s THE SECOND SLEEP is a strange tale of life in England set eight hundred years in the future, but in its very first pages we are led to believe we are in the Middle Ages. The church rules every aspect of life… and life is very harsh. There is no electricity, food is scarce, and the life span is short with people typically dying in their fifties.  We soon realize an apocalyptic event or series of events has ended civilization as we know it. In the story, young priest Christopher Fairfax travels to a remote rural village in Britain to preside over the burial of the local pastor. He soon unearths a collection of artifacts the man had hidden - lots of plastic, an iPhone, smashed TVs, human bones.  He is baffled by this assortment and sets out to unravel the mystery of humankind’s past and present. A terrifying take on how fragile the veneers of civilization are - recommended!  

Monday, January 6, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, This coming weekend my friends and I are attending the sold out, first ever event: the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s “Dinner & THE DEAD “ a dramatization  of James Joyce’s iconic short story followed by a sumptuous dinner Joyce so wonderfully described.  Talking about the dead, I just read one of my favorite mystery writers M.C. Beaton died this week.  Have you enjoyed her works as much as I have?  Mystery Maven

Dear Mystery Maven, I had just finished her latest: BEATING ABOUT THE BUSH - the 30th in the series - when M.C. Beaton’s death was announced.  Over the years my feelings for her Agatha Raisin series have varied.  The early books were wonderful, but then there were some that were mediocre. However, I truly enjoyed this last adventure. Agatha Raisin is the antithetical Agatha Christie detective - brash, politically incorrect, self-absorbed, insecure, jealous of her friends and colleagues, but oh so very clever!  After selling her successful public relations firm in London on her 53rd birthday, Agatha fulfills a longstanding dream of moving to a small village in the Cotswolds.  She quickly develops a reputation for attracting trouble - a poisoned quiche she accidentally enters in the local pie contest is her first foray into village life.   All her novels are filled with humor, local color, and outrageous coincidences. In BEATING ABOUT THE BUSH, she is hired to investigate an industrial espionage incident. Soon murder and mayhem follow.  A light, clever series that is a perfect antidote for long dark winter months…. M.C. Beaton will be missed.  Recommended!

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, We celebrated New Year’s Eve in our traditional manner: a movie (this year it was the highly acclaimed LITTLE WOMEN) followed by dinner, dessert, and the ringing of the bell on the Village Green. One of our New Year’s resolutions was to read more in 2020.  Do you have any recommendations to get us started?
Reading Reveler

Dear Reading Reveler, A great idea and I have a list of ten favorite Great Book Guru recommendations from 2019.  My #1 choice would be SAY NOTHING by Patrick Radden Keefe. This remarkable book chronicles the Troubles in Ireland - from 1972 until now.  It is a mystery, a true crime tale, a study of Anglo-Irish history, a biography of three unforgettable characters but it is ultimately a depiction of the horrors, futility, and banality of war. The others are listed in no particular order but were all great favorites and highly recommended. For more information check out