Tuesday, August 13, 2019


Dear Great Book Guru, I have been so enjoying Monday Movies at the Beach sponsored by the Beach Hut.  It’s a great place to catch up with friends and family and I always get there early to set up chairs for us.  And the Beach Hut food is so great! Do you have a book I might read while waiting for the show to start? 
Loving Monday Movies

Dear Loving Monday Movies, I just finished a great book to read before school starts: THE GIFTED SCHOOL by Bruce Holsinger.  Four women who met when their children were newborns have continued their friendship over eleven years. Now as the children approach middle school, a program for the gifted and talented is scheduled to open in their hometown Crystal City, an affluent community which bears a strong resemblance to Boulder, Colorado. All four women are mightily invested in having their children make the cut.  Lies, bribes, and deceit quickly color the process.  The grandchild of a woman who cleans the homes of two of the women is also a contender, and the grandchild’s plight adds another dimension to this tawdry tale.  While test scores play a role, it’s the special talent portfolios that bring a very dark but chillingly comical twist to this novel.  Each parent faces a moral quandary and no one fares well, especially the children.  A cautionary tale indeed and highly recommended!

Sunday, August 11, 2019


Dear Great Book Guru, Every morning, my friends and I meet at Sea Cliff Beach for breakfast.  It’s great fun and the food is delicious!  Yesterday one of the group mentioned a debut novel by a Peruvian woman about life as an undocumented immigrant in the 1990’s.  It sounded like a good book to read as the summer winds down.  Are you familiar with it?                    Lover of Sea Cliff Beach Hut

Dear Lover of Sea Cliff Beach Hut, I enjoyed Melissa Rivero’s THE AFFAIRS OF THE FALCONS very much.  Ana Falcon and her husband Lucho came to New York City from Lima, Peru with their two young children to escape economic and political turmoil.  Things are going well for the hardworking young couple until Lucho loses his job and they are forced to move in with his cousin and her family. The strain of living in one room with an increasingly reluctant host grows unbearable.  In desperation, Ana becomes involved with a sinister loan shark and her predatory husband.  Working ever longer shifts at a local factory, Ana realizes her family’s undocumented status may prevent them from ever climbing out of debt. When her husband talks of returning to Peru, she lashes out at him and when others suggest she send the children back, she becomes even more embittered.  Pervading the novel is her growing fear of being deported.  This is a tale of powerful love and quiet desperation. Highly recommended! 

Sunday, July 28, 2019


Dear Great Book Guru, Last week I attended an amazing event- the Great Gatsby Gala.  Lovers of this great American novel gathered to enjoy a dramatization of the book, participate in a detailed discussion of its main themes, and then tested their knowledge in an extended trivia contest. We all went home with prizes, favors, and dessert treats from Sleepy Jean’s.  While at the party, someone mentioned a fast-moving literary thriller set in a Florida courtroom.  Any thoughts?   Great Gatsby Gadfly

Dear Great Gatsby Gadfly, I just spent the afternoon reading THE BODY IN QUESTION by Jill Ciment. This short (200 pages) novel opens as a panel of jurors are being chosen for what they soon find out is a sensational murder trial. A teenage girl from a wealthy family is accused of murdering her toddler brother and her twin sister is testifying against her.  The jurors are sequestered for three weeks and we come to learn much about them all especially Juror C-2 (we do not learn their names until the last pages of the book).  She is a 52-year-old successful Prius-driving photographer married to an 86-year-old man in poor health. She and Juror F-17 – a forty-year-old medical school professor - begin an affair that is soon discovered by the rest of the jury. There are many questions posed: is the accused indeed guilty, what role did her domineering twin play in the death, how does C-2’s affair cloud her judgment, and finally what role does the media play in our justice system?  A very powerful and disturbing read - highly recommended!

Monday, July 22, 2019


Dear Great Book Guru, Last week I was at an Aloha Farewell Party for the Kessler family, Karen, Scott and their children are moving to Hawaii in the next few days and their many, many Sea Cliff friends will miss them terribly. At the party there was much talk about good books to read on their long flight.  Someone mentioned a new book by the author of the prize-winning UNDERGROUND RAILROAD. What are your thoughts?  Missing the Kesslers Already

Dear Missing…, What a great suggestion - THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead is a short, very powerful historical novel based on a real-life reform school: the Dozier School for Boys. Opened in 1900 and finally closed in 2011, the school was the site of brutality, torture, and murder. Whitehead tells the story from the perspective of two young boys: Elwood Curtis and his friend Turner. Elwood is an idealistic follower of Martin Luther King and believes that by following rules and loving his oppressors, justice will triumph.  On the way to his first day of college, he accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is arrested. Nickel Academy is offered as a supposedly good alternative to prison. Turner is much more cynical and is soon proven the wiser of the two.  The Jim Crow laws of the 1960’s prevail, and Elwood’s innocence is destroyed.  A startlingly pessimistic take on the American dream - highly recommended!

Monday, July 15, 2019


Dear Great Book Guru, This September, the Sea Cliff Civic Association is planning to celebrate the passage of the 19th amendment - the amendment that ensured women’s right to vote. In preparation, my book club would like to read a book that tells the story of that exciting time. Any suggestions?                     Keen on the Suffragists

Dear Keen on the Suffragists, I have just the book for you: THE WOMAN’S HOUR by Elaine Weiss. Weiss focuses on the final battle in the seventy plus-year struggle to win women the right to vote. This spirited tale which reads like a political thriller opens in July 1920 as the friends and foes of the suffragist movement gather in Nashville, Tennessee.  Only one more state is needed to ratify the amendment, and several states have flatly rejected it - Tennessee could go either way.  Weiss focuses on three major players: Carrie Chapman Catt - a gifted, aristocratic strategist; Sue White - a militant native Tennessean who scorns the genteel ways of Catt; and Josephine Pearson - a staunch advocate of states rights and female domesticity.  All three and their supporters gather in the luxurious Hermitage Hotel where lobbyists, legislators, and politicians vie for crucial votes. Anti-prohibitionists ply lawmakers in “Jack Daniel” suites and railroad tycoons whisper loudly that a woman’s vote is a vote for those ‘Bolshevik’ unions.  Above all, race is on the minds of everyone.  As the final vote is taken, Weiss records the cheers and tears and a surprising climax. An amazing story vividly told…. highly recommended! 

Saturday, July 13, 2019


Dear Great Book Guru, Now that the Fourth of July week of celebrations has ended, I am concentrating on the music scene   here in Sea Cliff.  Last night, the acclaimed Roger Street Friedman and Friends performed at Sea Cliff Beach.  My friends and I had a delicious dinner there at Jennifer Angliss DeSane’s Beach Hut - love that turkey brie pear wrap! Next week will be Broadway at the Beach and I know there will be time for a good book before the music begins.  Any recommendations?  Beach and  Music Lover

Dear Beach and Music Lover, I just finished A NEARLY NORMAL FAMILY by M.T. Edvardsson - a fascinating psychological thriller set near Stockholm, Sweden.  Stella - eighteen-year old - has been accused of the violent murder of a corrupt businessman and is awaiting trial.  Her parents - Adam, pastor of a large Christian congregation, and Ulrika, a criminal defense lawyer - are horribly afraid she might be guilty and must decide how far they will go to protect her,  The story is told from the perspectives of the three family members  and we gradually  learn many disturbing facts about this so very normal family.  Cell phones, encrypted messages, surveillance cameras all come into play as the parents are confronted with information, they find both shocking and confusing.  What is justice ….and can it be served?  A chilling tale presenting us with an aching moral dilemma - highly recommended!

Sunday, June 23, 2019


Dear Great Book Guru,  This coming Saturday (June 29) begins the Fourth of July week of celebration with the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s Bicycle and Stroller Parade. On Wednesday, it is followed by Happy Birthday USA at the Children’s Library and a Sunset Serenade at Memorial Park. The culminating event, of course, is the Reading of the Declaration of Independence on the Village Green on the Fourth. Each of these events is wonderful but taken together they form a magnificent glimpse into life in the Village of Sea Cliff. While involved in all this, I would like something wonderful to read.  Any recommendations?  Sunshine Patriot

Dear Sunshine Patriot,  You could read a favorite of mine: JOHN ADAMS by David McCullough This is an amazing biography which presents parallel tales of Adams and his wife Abigail, Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and, yes, most interestingly, Adams and the new nation. McCullough uses original diaries and letters in such a skillful manner that you feel as if you are reading a fast-moving novel. Because of its length (726 pages) this could be a summer project for you but definitely a worthwhile one.

A family ritual of ours is the watching/reading of Peter Stone’s 1776 every Fourth. There is nothing that makes the heart swell more with patriotic fervor than listening, watching, and reading that great musical play that recreates the drama surrounding the creation of the Declaration of Independence, except, of course, hearing the Declaration read on Sea Cliff’s Village Green. 1776 is available in book form and streaming.

Happy Fourth!!!

Friday, June 21, 2019


Dear Great Book Guru, I am looking forward to this these last days of June. There is such a feeling of anticipation and excitement with summer’s fun and freedom lying ahead. School will be closing, Story Time at Sea Cliff Beach begins, and Sunset Serenades start. Of course, in the midst of all this, I always find time to read.  Do you have a good book to recommend?
Swooning Over the Start of Summer

Dear Swooning, My book club just read TRUST EXERCISE by Susan Choi. This is a perfect start for your summer reading. Beautifully written with a complex storyline, the novel begins in July, the early 1980’s.  David and Sarah are fifteen and about to fall in love. They attend an elite school for the performing arts.   From radically different backgrounds, the two students find themselves in a life-changing situation as friends and faculty look on.  Their instructor suggests a series of trust exercises for the students, but we are also asked to exercise trust in what we see and hear.    As the timeline moves forward to the present, we realize there is much we do not know.  In fact, we may have been manipulated or misled, and it becomes obvious the identity of the narrator is crucial to our understanding.   A challenging book, but well worth the time and energy - recommended!


Dear Great Book Guru, Next Sunday is Father’s Day and we are planning a lovely day at Sea Cliff Beach, starting with a delicious breakfast at the Beach CafĂ©. Jennifer Angliss Desane is doing a spectacular job with a great menu, scrumptious food, and enthusiastic staff. Afterwards, we will all sit under those striped umbrellas and read the afternoon away! Looking for a short novel with a complex moral dilemma - any thoughts? Father’s Day Fan

Dear Father’s Day Fan, My book club is reading INCENDIARIES by R.O. Kwon and it is truly an outstanding debut novel.  Written from the perspectives of three Korean Americans, this 224-page book studies the impact of religious fervor on the lives of three young people.  Will is a scholarship student at a prestigious university (perhaps Yale?) where he meets Phoebe, also a student who is in mourning for her mother who died in a car accident caused by Phoebe.  John Leal, a former student, has returned to campus after having been jailed by the North Korean government while leading a humanitarian rescue mission. Their lives intersect when Leal forms a revolutionary group and recruits Phoebe, despite Will’s misgivings.   Soon we begin to question who is the narrator and - most importantly –
can we believe him/her?  Ultimately, we are left doubting everything we have read.  Recommended!

Friday, June 7, 2019


Dear Great Book Guru, I just checked my calendar of special events and noticed next week is Bloomsday.  Do you know of any local celebrations of this Joycean wonder?                    Bloomsday Bon Vivant

Dear Bloomsday Bon Vivant, The James Joyce Jaunt is the event for you! As most of my readers know, Bloomsday is celebrated every year to commemorate the day James Joyce’s ULYSSES takes place: June 16, 1904.  Joyce spent most his life in self-imposed exile, but he wrote obsessively about one place and one place only - his birthplace: Dublin, Ireland.  In ULYSSES, we follow three main characters through day into night- seeing and experiencing Dublin as they did. But ULYSSES is more than the portrait of one city on one day - it is also a study of the epic wanderings of the Greek hero Odysseus (Ulysses) - mocking the wanderings of the most unlikely of heroes: Leopold Bloom.  On Wednesday, June 12 at 7pm the James Joyce Society of Sea Cliff led by Fred Stroppel and Dan DiPietro will walk the streets of Sea Cliff/Dublin stopping at parallel locations along the way. Beginning at the Sea Cliff Water Tower/Martello Tower, the group will stop among other places: Still Partners/Davey Byrnes Pub, Headless Park/Nelson’s Pillar, Memorial Park/Sandymount Strand and finish up 76 Main Avenue/7 Eccles Street. There will be dramatized readings by costumed actors at each of the stops with period music throughout.  If you are planning on attending the James Joyce Jaunt, stop by 76 Main Avenue to pick up a handy guide to this iconic event. Copies will be in a basket on the porch.  Highly recommended!

Saturday, June 1, 2019


Dear Great Book Guru,  Saturday, June 1 is the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Village-wide Garage Sale and I always find such great things especially at the Friends of the Library sale on the Village Green. After the sale is over, I’m sure I’ll have time for a good book.  Could you recommend a recent favorite of yours?   Garage Sale Guru

Dear Garage Sale Guru, Years ago I read a wonderful book WISH YOU WERE HERE by Stewart O’Nan. Last month its prequel HENRY, HIMSELF was published and it is as wonderful as its predecessor. In HENRY,  HIMSELF, O’Nan captures the tiny, seemingly insignificant moments that make up a life.  In many ways O’Nan reminds me of the author Barbara Pym - their characters take comfort in the daily distractions which both authors describe in precise and poetic detail. In a series of vignettes, we follow Henry as he shops (on double coupon days), trains his dog, arranges a Valentine’s Day celebration for Emily - his wife of many years - frets over holiday plans with his grown children, and  mournfully attends the funeral of his longtime physician.  We trace Henry through one year and by its end, we have grown to know and love him for all his pettiness, insecurities, and gentle kindness. Henry is indeed Everyman… highly recommended!     

Saturday, May 25, 2019

 
Dear Great Book Guru, Sea Cliff is special all seasons of the year, but late Spring is particularly wondrous. This Monday is Memorial Day with its early breakfast on the front lawn of the Children’s Library, followed by a spirited parade through the streets of Sea Cliff and ending with a bittersweet, poignantly beautiful ceremony at Clifton Park. Over this long weekend, I am sure there will be time for a good book. Any thoughts? Memorial Day Observer

Dear Memorial Day Observer, I recently reread a very compelling book: CITY OF FALLING ANGELS by John Berendt.  Berendt is best known for his book about Savannah, Georgia - MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL. Using a similar format, he writes about Venice, Italy.  Arriving three days after a massive fire that destroyed La Fenice - Venice’s iconic opera house - Berendt delves into the many forces that contribute to the beauty, magic, and mystery of this city.  In alternating chapters, we meet a master glassblower whose people have lived in Venice for over five hundred years and we learn of a feud that has been consuming his children for decades. Later we meet a poet who is being blackmailed and is found dead. Was he murdered? An internationally renowned Rat Poisoner is another character we meet and come to love. Somehow the twenty or so characters come together, but ultimately the most colorful character is Venice – such a strange and beautiful city.  Highly recommended!  

Saturday, May 18, 2019


 Dear Great Book Guru, Flowers are blooming and spirits are shining in Sea Cliff throughout the merry month of May.  Now I must have a book to match this beautiful time of year.  I’m looking for a novel – under 300 pages set in a lovely time and place.  Any thoughts?   Marveling in May

Dear Marveling in May, NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney is the book for you…. Set in present day Ireland shifting between Dublin and Carricklea - a small town in County Sligo - this beautifully written,  thought-provoking novel traces the relationship of Marianne and Connell. When we first meet them as sixteen year-olds, Marianne is a social misfit of sorts, scorned by her schoolmates, while Connell is a hugely popular athlete and academic star. His mother is a domestic worker and Marianne’s a prominent attorney.   While the teens become close friends, Connell is ever fearful his schoolmates will learn of their relationship.  When they enter Trinity College in Dublin, the nexus changes. Connell is the misfit and Marianne the star - largely because of class and privilege.  For the next four years, they consistently misread each other’s actions and their friendship falters. Throughout, Rooney presents her characters’ insecurities and vulnerabilities as a mirror of today’s economic and societal failings.   Recommended!



Dear Great Book Guru, I am planning a long weekend in Venice next week and I have prepared mightily with a very ambitious itinerary. But before we leave,  I would love to read a novel set in this magical city.  Any recommendation? Eager Visitor to Venice

Dear Eager Visitor to Venice, What a beautiful time of year to be in Venice and I have a wonderful book for you:  Donna Leon’s UNTO US A SON IS GIVEN. Her protagonist, Police Inspector Guido Brunetti, is a lover of opera, fine food and wine, and the Greek classics.  He is devoted to work and family - his wife Paola, a university professor, a teenage son and daughter, and his wealthy in-laws Count and Countess Falier. When the Count askes him to investigate an elderly friend who is acting mysteriously, Brunetti is reluctant to interfere, but when the friend dies unexpectedly, he finds himself deeply involved.  What is the nature of love, of fatherhood, of friendship? All these are questions Brunetti considers against the backdrop of the majestic beauty of Venice. Throughout, tender concerns of everyday life mingle seamlessly with larger issues of morality and mortality. This is Leon’s 28th novel and her hero continues to face life’s challenges with his characteristic humor, insight, and stoicism.  Highly recommended!

Friday, May 3, 2019


 Dear Great Book Guru,  This Saturday, May 4 from 9am to 2pm, Sea Cliff’s Beautification Committee will be hosting its annual Plant Sale at St. Luke’s Church on Glen Avenue.  I always get the most beautiful plants there and all the proceeds go to making Sea Cliff’s parks even more beautiful. After the sale, I’ll have time for a good book- perhaps something about the environment?  SCBC Booster

Dear SCBC Booster,  I recently read AMITY AND PROSPERITY  by Eliza Griswold- winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction.   Amity and Prosperity are neighboring Pennsylvania towns,   bordering Appalachia.  Amity is a former steel mill town while Prosperity is a village long polluted by coal mining. Griswold uses the story of Stacey Hanley and her family to tell a tragic tale of industrial pollution, government neglect, and political corruption.  Hanley grew up in Amity and returned there to raise her two children.  Her home sat on top a mountain and the water was clean and wildlife and vegetation plentiful.  She needed money to build a barn so when a local energy company approached her with offers of bonuses and royalties if she were to lease her land for fracking, she quickly agreed. Shortly afterwards, her son became mysteriously ill, pets began to die, and black sludge spew from her water faucets.  The company denied responsibility, local officials refused to help, and the family had to abandon their home. A local husband wife law team took up her battle in the courts, but the outcome is far from satisfying. While this is the story of one family’s horrific misfortune, it is a cautionary tale for all of us.  Highly recommended!

Sunday, April 28, 2019


Dear Great Book Guru, The Friends of the Sea Cliff Library are hosting a tea party this Sunday, April 28 from 3 to 5pm in Jackie’s Secret Garden to thank all their supporters. Afterwards, I have my Sunday book group, and it’s my turn to choose next month’s selection.  Any ideas?  Fan of the Friends

Dear Fan of the Friends, My group just read a quirky, very funny novel: LESS by Andrew Sean Greer. The opening sentence is both puzzling and revealing: “From where I sit, the story of Arthur Less is not so bad.” Who is Arthur Less, what is his story, why such a tepid evaluation of this story and who indeed is speaking?  All is answered by the end of this 250-page Pulitzer Prize winner.  Less is a writer of modest fame whose lover is about to marry someone else. Rather than endure the pain and embarrassment of attending the wedding, Less decides to travel around the world. Looming over all of this is his impending fiftieth birthday. First stop, Mexico, then Italy, Germany, France, Morocco, India, ending up in Japan. In each of these countries, Less is confused, humiliated, feted, and forced to confront his sense of failure and fear of aging. The journey combines elements of Homer’s “Odyssey”, Joyce’s “Ulysses,” and Twain’s “Innocents Abroad.”   This is a very funny, very poignant take on romance, aging, narcissism …and ultimately the human condition. Recommended!

Friday, April 5, 2019



Dear Great Book Guru, Spring is surely in the air with the beautiful month of April upon us!  Do you have a good book to start off the month - I’d love a thriller with historical background. April Admirer

Dear April Admirer, Every year, I look forward to the newest John Grisham and this year’s is a particularly fine addition to his collection: THE RECKONING.  Pete Banning, a Mississippi landowner, is a returning World War II veteran when the novel opens. Shortly into the book, he murders the young pastor of his family’s church. No explanation is given and Pete is stoic throughout his trial and the verdict. Throughout the book, we wonder what could have caused this supposedly good man to have done this.  His children, his sister, his wife - are all collateral damage as they struggle with the aftermath of Pete’s crime.  Time shifts and we are cast back to his childhood, courtship, and then in the most graphic part of the story, we learn of his suffering and bravery in the Phillipines during the war. Again there is a time shift forward and we see to our horror the racism underlying all we have seen.  This is perhaps Grisham’s starkest commentary on the banality of evil. Highly recommended!

Monday, April 1, 2019


Dear Great Book Guru, Last weekend we attended the annual North American Barbara Pym Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As always, it was a great time to catch up on all things Pym with dinners, lectures, and - of course - catching up with fellow Pymians from around the world. This year the featured novel was CRAMPTON HODNET. I know you’re a longtime fan of Barbara Pym. Where would you rank this novel? A Passionate Reader of Pym

Dear Passionate Reader of Pym,  Barbara Pym (1913-1980) wrote twelve books - any of which I would heartily recommend - but I must admit CRAMPTON HODNET is a huge favorite of mine. Set in Oxford with its ancient colleges and medieval rituals and written decades ago, the novel has a surprisingly modern tone. It is a very funny take on village life - a village peopled by quirky characters including pretentious professors, young romantics, philandering spouses, and interfering relatives. There are three intersecting plot lines: the middle-aged Frances Cleveland’s dalliance, the young Cleveland daughter's tryst with an insufferable future politician, and the lonely but very witty Jessie Morrow's passionless affair with a local clergyman (he forgets her name as he is proposing). Misread moments, tangled romances, and furtive escapades all make for a hilarious read. And yes… I see much of Sea Cliff Village life in this tale. Highly recommended!

Thursday, March 14, 2019


Dear Great Book Guru, I am making plans for the upcoming Saint Patrick’s Day weekend.  Top on my list will be a traditional Irish dinner at the Metropolitan Bistro while listening to my favorite band of Irish troubadours - The Winfield Irregulars - featuring Sea Cliff’s own Joe Hughes.  During the week I would like to read some Irish history. Anything new you would recommend? 
Fan of All Things Irish

Dear Fan of All Things Irish, I have just finished a remarkable book - my #1 favorite this year- SAY NOTHING by Patrick Radden Keefe.  A mystery, a true crime tale, a study of Irish-Anglo history, a biography of three unforgettable characters, this is ultimately a depiction of the horrors, banality, and futility of war. Keefe opens in 1972 with the kidnaping and murder of a young widowed mother of ten: Jean McConville. Quickly the story turns to three young Irish rebel s- Dolours Price, Bernard Hughes, and Gerry Adams = who are all shown to have played a role in her disappearance and death. Price is a beautiful, charismatic woman who later marries the actor Stephen Rea after years of her imprisonment and torture in British prisons. Hughes is a thoughtful, skillful tactician who also spent many years in jail for his activism. Gerry Adams - the only one of the three still alive - is portrayed as a cunning master of politics who eventually is instrumental in bringing the ”troubles” to a close. This is an unforgettable story of lives destroyed and lives redeemed played out in the ultimate patriot game. Highly, highly recommended!

Sunday, March 10, 2019


Dear Great Book Guru, We just came back from a night of amazing Irish music performed by a local band: The Winfield Irregulars.   While we were all enjoying ourselves, one of the musicians mentioned a new comic novel about life in New York City that had many hilarious twists and turns.  Have you heard of it?  Lover of All Things Irish

Dear Lover of All Things Irish, I recently read Elinor Lipman’s GOOD RIDDANCE and it was indeed delightfully funny.  A recently divorced Daphne Marich moves into a new, very tiny Manhattan apartment (a result of a despicable ex-husband and a very bad pre-nup agreement). She quickly realizes she must do some major decluttering ala Marie Kondo and the first thing to go is an old, heavily annotated high school yearbook left to her by recently deceased mother. Before the day is over, a very strange woman appears at her door with the book - retrieved from the recycling bin. The woman insists that she is going to write a novel based on the stories she imagines are behind the notes Daphne’s mother had written.  Before long we are back at a fifty-year high school reunion where a series of revelations cause Daphne to rethink her entire life.  It soon becomes apparent that her school teacher mother and high school principal father had many secrets that Daphne discovers in a wildly funny set of escapades.  A light read but well done!

Monday, February 25, 2019



Dear Great Book Guru, Last Sunday I hosted an Oscar party and what fun we had! There were Oscars for all and a grand prize for the guest who guessed best – a vintage salad spinner.  Well, during the awards, someone mentioned a book she had recently read about a British family, sharing secrets, silences, and a summer together; she thought it would make a great film. Sound familiar? An Academy Awards Aficionado

Dear Academy Awards Aficionado, How wonderful that books were on everyone’s mind in the midst of this annual Hollywood extravaganza!  THE PAST by Tessa Hadley is a memorable novel set around 2015.  Four middle-aged siblings agree to spend three weeks together in their decrepit family vacation home - perhaps for the last time. The three sisters and their brother bring a history that begins in the 1960’s with their parents’ marriage and covers the years, deaths, and rivalries that followed.  As Hadley says “They knew one another well, all too well, and yet they were continually surprised…”  The novel spans generations as we hear Jill their mother - long dead - muse on her disappointing marriage and fifty years later her children wondering where their relationships have gone awry. The beauty of this book lies in its ability to make the ordinary moments of that summer so alive with each of the characters sharing stories that underlie the beauty and uncertainties of life. A book with quiet but lasting appeal - highly recommended!

Sunday, February 24, 2019




Dear Great Book Guru, With so many families away for Presidents Week, Sea Cliff was rather quiet but there was a rousing celebration at my friends’ home with great food and lively conversation.  One of the guests mentioned a recent novel about the horrors of war from a feminist perspective; many of us were interested in reading it for our book club.  Any thoughts?  Presidential Supper Scholar

Dear Presidential Supper Scholar, Great idea! Pat Barker’s THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS is a perfect choice for a book group. This retelling of the story of “The Iliad” focuses on a briefly mentioned character: Briseis - a young Trojan princess - whose brothers and husband have been killed by Achilles and his men. She is taken as a trophy of war as are the other women and girls of Troy.  In “The Iliad” we hear little to nothing of their stories, but Barker breaks their silence.  With an astonishing voice, Briseis destroys the tales of war’s glory and men’s valor.  Instead, we hear of women’s pain, terror, and subjugation.  Told through the ages of the “glorious Achilles, godlike Achilles, brilliant Achilles," we hear instead Briseis call him “the butcher.” Barker, who has written the award-winning “Regeneration” trilogy about the horrors of World War I, attempts to correct ancient wrongs- wrongs found throughout literature and life. She has given these women voices, but many silences still abound. Highly recommended!

Sunday, February 17, 2019


Dear Great Book Guru, Friends and I gathered for a pre-Valentine dinner last weekend. Over a fabulous winter soup, we discussed at length the state of the republic and many people mentioned a favorite of yours, HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE, but someone said there was a new book out with a similar theme. Are you familiar with it?   Valentine Politico

Dear Valentine Politico, MORTAL REPUBLIC by Edward J. Watts is a fascinating look into the fall of Rome and the parallels that exist in the United States today. What brought down the Roman Republic? Corrupt leaders, pestilence, civil war, and foreign interference all played a role in its end, but Watts believes it was the Roman people - who ultimately chose the comfort of living under the power of one man rather than the arduous task of maintaining a representative government.  Income inequality, bribe-taking, voter suppression, condoning of violence, the breakdown of norms - all contributed to the gradual downfall of the Republic.  The Roman system of governance lasted for centuries but it was not immortal – a fact Romans refused to accept.  There was an overriding belief that its strength would prevail because it had endured so well for so long.  When a series of natural disasters - massive flooding, fires, famine and a series of bizarre storms – beset Rome, the citizens were primed to give up their freedom to a charismatic dictator who promised them deliverance… and thus ended the Roman Republic. Highly recommended!

Saturday, February 9, 2019


Dear Great Book Guru, My friends and I had a fun NOT Super Bowl party last Sunday with  great food and even greater conversation… about books seemingly overlooked by the critics.  My choice was Mona Simpson’s MY HOLLYWOOD – a novel I read many years ago that deals with the complex, often painful relationship between parents and the women who care for their children. Has Simpson written anything else you would recommend? 
Not a Fan of Football
Dear Not a Fan of Football, Recently I read CASEBOOK by Mona Simpson. In this novel, we meet Miles as a precocious nine year-old in 2000 who is curious about the comings and goings of the adults in his life. Using the primitive tools of the time, he is able to monitor his parents’ conversations – often with humorous misinterpretation. But soon he realizes things are not as he thought, and their divorce is imminent. Over the next ten years he continues his sleuthing – using the ever more sophisticated technology we all have at our disposal. There is a prevailing sense of mystery, drama, and comedy as we follow the lives of his parents, their new mates, his siblings and his friends - all set within the glitzy, grubby world of southern California.  An interesting look into family dynamics and dysfunction from a not always reliable but always sympathetic narrator….recommended!

Sunday, February 3, 2019


Dear Great Book Guru, The Sea Cliff Civic Association is hosting a wonderful Valentine’s event on Friday, February 8 from 7:30 to 9:30pm at the SC Yacht Club. It will be Love Stories from folks who have appeared on NPR. Last year, it was sold out so I am getting my $15 in this weekend, but first I am looking forward to reading a “can’t put down” novel.  Any recommendation?  
Valentine Gala Goer
Dear Valentine Gala Goer, My book club just read a horrifying yet fascinating novel by Leila Slimani: THE PERFECT NANNY.  The story opens with the words “the baby is dead.”  The rest of this 220 page book tells the story of two women: Myriam the mother of two children and Louise the children’s nanny.  Louise is a magical addition to the household - the chaos of daily life is transformed to immaculate, peaceful orderliness.  The children are well behaved, meals are delightful, and Myriam finds a calm that has eluded her since becoming a mother. Louise takes pleasure in her duties and all seems idyllic until the unthinkable occurs. The complex relationship that exists between a mother and her nanny is brutally described. At times Myriam is in control but then we see Louise move to a position of power; ultimately the economics of worker and employer prevail. Louise lashes out in the only way she sees possible.  This is a very difficult book to read and one you will not forget. Highly recommended!

Monday, January 21, 2019


Dear Great Book Guru,  Last weekend I was at a delightful dinner with friends (most delicious butternut squash soup ever!) where someone mentioned a new book about Lake Success -a neighborhood bordering Queens and Nassau- a place many of us knew. Are you familiar with this novel?
Dining with Delight

Dear Dining with Delight, LAKE SUCCESS by Gary Shteyngart is the story of one man’s search for the perfect life. Barry Cohen is a forty-five year-old Princeton grad who manages a billion dollar hedge fund and lives a life of incredible wealth and good fortune with $20, 000 glasses of whiskey and an extensive collection of million dollar watches. When we first meet Barry in 2016, his fortunes have just taken a hit - his perfect wife despises him, his perfect child has been diagnosed as severely autistic, his perfect hedge fund is collapsing, and Barry himself is being pursued by the FBI for insider trading. His solution is to board a Greyhound bus and travel cross country in search of a long-lost college girlfriend who will make his life perfect again. Barry is a supremely narcissistic character that both horrifies and fascinates us. This Master of the Universe offers us a glimpse into a world in which most of us are outsiders looking on from the shores of a mythical Lake Success.  Recommended!   

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!