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! 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, Next Saturday (November 17 @ 3pm) is the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Turkey Hunt at Geohegan (aka Headless) Park chaired by Heidi Hunt. I plan on attending with my family but earlier in the day I would like to read something that will explain this week’s electoral results. Any thoughts?
Toy Turkey Troubadour

Dear Toy Turkey Troubadour, On Election Day, a movie opened based on Matt Bai’s book THE FRONT RUNNER (previously titled ALL THE TRUTH IS OUT) that reveals a lot about today’s political climate. Bai’s story begins in May 1987 when Gary Hart, a young reform-minded Democrat Senator from Colorado, is set to win his party’s presidential nomination. He was leading George H.W. Bush by double digits. Then, a media blitz exploded with salacious photos of Hart and a beautiful model, Donna Rice, on board a leased yacht unfortunately named “Monkey Business.” The newly launched 24-hour cable news stations seized on this story and ran it with unrelenting glee. Never before had a candidate’s personal life received such prurient attention and Hart found it impossible to continue his run for the presidency. Recent information suggests the entire scandal had been orchestrated by his political opponents. Bai recounts in meticulous detail the virtues and vices of this flawed man and concludes that the tabloids and cable news brought Hart down.  The question that haunts the reader is… what have we  wrought. Highly recommended!   

Monday, October 29, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, This Saturday is the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Progressive Dinner.  It is my first time attending and I am very excited and a little anxious. I would feel more comfortable if I have a book to mention. Any thoughts? Progressive Dinner Diner

Dear Progressive Dinner Diner, Tina Marchese does an amazing job each year organizing this iconic event so you have nothing to fear- but I do have a great conversation starter: ALTERNATE SIDE by Anna Quindlen.  This is a tale of New York City life told from the perspective of Nora Nolan, director of a small museum and owner of a brownstone in the rarest of locations: a Manhattan cul-de-sac with even more remarkably… an adjacent parking lot - hence no need for the dreaded NYC alternate side of the street parking. But in this novel, alternate side also stands for the social and economic divide that exists in Nora’s world with its many - as she calls them - “first world problems” that are outsourced to a cadre of nannies, housekeepers, and handymen. When a resident with anger management issues attacks one of these workers with a golf club, the underbelly of class, race, and gender inequalities is revealed.  Marriages, friendships, careers, fortunes… all shift as “alternate sides” are chosen.  A wonderfully perceptive look into a world we can all recognize.  Highly recommended!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, Sea Cliff Civic Association’s Cider Social will be this Sunday, October 28 from 3 to 4pm.  Heidi Hunt is the founder of the feast so it will surely be a costumed, crafty, culinary delight! As always, I’d like a good book to read earlier in the  day.  Cider Socialite

Dear Cider Socialite, This past weekend, I read a most anticipated novel by a favorite author of mine -Kate Atkinson. TRANSCRIPTION tells the story of Juliet Armstrong in three time periods.  It opens in 1981 as she lies dying after a car accident in Canada.  The rest of the novel shifts back and forth between 1940 and 1950. As a na├»ve, orphaned eighteen-year-old, she is recruited by MI5- the British intelligence agency- to transcribe wartime conversations but she soon finds herself entangled in a bizarre world of spying, murder and mayhem.  We meet a multitude of colorful characters none of whom are as they seem.  By 1950, Juliet has left MI5 to work for the BBC as a producer of children’s educational shows only to discover “once a spy, always a spy.” There are so many ambiguous relationships throughout, that the reader is as confused as Juliet about who are the heroes and who are the villains. Only at the very end do we realize there are no villains and certainly no heroes.  An extraordinarily clever book- highly recommended!