Friday, May 26, 2023

 Dear Great Book Guru, Many of my friends have been praising a book that came out last year - a book they say is very, very funny, very sad, and a book for our times. Any thoughts?   A Fan of Friends’ Recommendations

Dear Fan of Friends’ Recommendations, The book undoubtably is Bonnie Garmus’s LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY - a great favorite of mine and many! This debut novel opens in 1952 as a brilliant doctoral student Elizabeth Zott is ousted from UCLA because her advisor Dr. Meyers has sexually assaulted her and - in defending herself - she has stabbed him with a pen. Shortly after, at her first job at a  research institute, she meets Calvin Evans who - alone of all the scientists there - recognizes her brilliance and falls in love with her and her mind.  Soon into the book Evans dies and Elizabeth finds herself alone, jobless, and pregnant. Throughout the novel, she meets an array of characters - most sinister and craven but some extraordinarily supportive. At one point Amanda, daughter of a TV producer, steals the gourmet lunches Elizabeth has lovingly and painstakingly prepared for her young daughter Madeline.  Outraged, Elizabeth confronts Amanda’s father who is immediately taken with her brilliance and beauty - so much so that he offers her a job as a TVs celebrity chef. The show becomes enormously popular as viewers feel empowered by her strength and talent.  There is a Dickens-like feel to much of the book as Elizabeth learns of early abandonments and lost parents who reappear with large fortunes. Overall, however, this is a tale of women’s struggles in the workplace then and now. Highly recommended!

Saturday, May 13, 2023


Dear Great Book Guru, Some of my book group members have asked for nonfiction, but many of us would rather a novel.  Can you think of a nonfiction choice that might read like a novel?  Battling Book Clubbers

Dear Battling Book Clubbers, I have the perfect book for you - THERE WILL BE FIRE by Rory Carroll.  The subtitle reads “Margaret Thatcher, the IRA, and Two Minutes That Changed History.”  Now this certainly does not seem like an interest-grabbing topic but…. this is a fascinating tale of terror, politics, and passionate loyalties. On October 12, 1984, an IRA bomb exploded at the iconic Grand Hotel in the resort city of Brighton, England. The goal was to assassinate the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, in hopes of toppling the British government and bringing justice to a divided Ireland. The first part of the book introduces us to the men and women involved in the plot plus background on the harrowing conditions which motivated them. Then we are brought to the hotel where we meet the many British officials gathered for an annual political convention – the luxurious quarters, elaborate meals, and fine dress are all described.  The tension builds as we wonder who will die, who will be gravely injured, who will escape harm.  The carnage that results is horrific, and our sympathies shift from the rebels to their victims. In the epilogue we move to the present and learn of the unforeseen consequences of the bombing that still reverberate throughout Europe.  A fascinating and troubling tale - highly recommended!

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at Sea Cliff Bistro last week with friends and our conversation turned to the sea and sailing.  Someone mentioned a new book that sounded very exciting - about a shipwreck, mutiny, and murder.  Any thoughts?   Fan of the Sea

Dear Fan of the Sea, David Grann’s latest book is THE WAGER and what a story he tells! The Wager was a British warship built in the grandest of styles and outfitted for a secret mission to plunder a Spanish vessel purportedly filled with gold and other treasures. The Wager left England in September of 1740 and was not heard from again for 283 days when a flimsy craft arrived in Brazil with a small crew of very ill and disoriented men. They told an amazing tale of suffering and survival against all odds. The British public immediately proclaimed them heroes and rewarded them with honors and cash.  It seemed like a wonderful ending…. until six months later another boat of survivors arrived in Chile and accused the original mariners of mutiny, murder, and cannibalism.  Who is to be believed? The British courts convene a court martial to determine who is telling the truth - the sailors found guilty would be hanged. Grann describes in detail the crew and officers involved and the suffering they endured and the secrets they hid. He also skillfully analyzes the public’s reaction to this strange turnabout in fortune, Ultimately we are all left to question what would we have done if we had been aboard the Wager…. highly recommended!


Sunday, April 23, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru, Sea Cliff is  beautiful every month of the year but especially in  April.  The baseball fields are ready for opening day on the 22nd with the parade set to lead off at 9am.  The parks are magnificent, the gardens are blooming and yes… I am in search of a good book to read while I enjoy all this beauty.  Any suggestions!  Loving April in Sea Cliff

Dear Loving April in Sea Cliff, I just finished a wonderful, albeit troubling, first novel, TRESPASSES by Louise Kennedy.  Set in Northern Ireland just outside of Belfast in the 1970’s, the book is told from the viewpoint of Cushla, a twenty-four-year-old who teaches at a primary school during the day and helps out at her family’s pub at night. It is a terrible time in Ireland’s history- known as “The Troubles’” when Protestant and Irish forces brutally fought, and civilians were frequently the target. While she and her family try to avoid trouble, trouble finds Cushla in the person of Michael Agnew. Agnew is a sophisticated fifty-year-old married Protestant lawyer who defends Catholic men unjustly accused of insurrection. The two fall in love and soon Cushla’s life is filled with intrigue and danger as she must decide where her loyalties lie.  This is a book filled with moral dilemmas and readers will find themselves uncertain as to what is right or wrong.  Highly recommended!

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru,  Last night I was at a party and many of the guests were talking about a recently published book by a Sea Cliff resident.  It sounded fascinating- covering local history, the world of sports… and the healing powers of poetry!  I can’t wait to read it.  Are you familiar with this book?  Amazed and Eager

Dear Amazed and Eager,  Hank Bjorklund’s latest work HEAD HITS I REMEMBER is indeed a fascinating look at so many aspects of a world  we think we know.  Former New York Jet, Bjorklund writes about his early childhood sports adventures followed by his time here at North Shore High School as he catapulted to fame. His years at Princeton and his marriage to fellow student Victoria are all chronicled here in beautiful detail. We also learn of the toll that head hits and concussions take on the brains of young athletes and on Bjorklund himself.  The latter part of the book includes selections of his poetry and prose which grew out of coping with the pain and life-altering conditions - brought on by a sport that brought much but at a terrible price. Throughout, we bear witness to a remarkable man who has endured and chooses to share his experiences for the betterment of many. An immensely rewarding book and highly recommended! 

PS Bjorklund will be discussing and reading from HEAD HITS I REMEMBER at the Sea Cliff Library on Saturday, April 29 from 2 to 3:30 pm. 


Sunday, March 26, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at the annual Barbara Pym conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts on St Patrick’s Day weekend. While there was much talk of Pym, some the attendees spoke of an Irish writer who had just written a new book set in rural Ireland that was highly acclaimed.  Are you familiar with this book?    Lover of All Things Pym and Irish

Dear Lover of All Things Pym and Irish,  Donal Ryan’s latest novel THE QUEEN OF DIRT ISLAND is a wonderful book to read as March comes to an end - the month of the Irish!  It is the tale of three women and three generations living in a small rural village in Tipperary. Mary, the grandmother, is a spinner of fantastical yarns. Eileen is her bookmaker daughter-in-law and the widowed mother of Saoirse (meaning freedom in Irish).  Most of the novel is told from the perspective of Saoirse who we meet as a newborn and follow throughout her life to adulthood.  The travails of all three are met with bravery and laughter while the men in their lives seem only to add to their daily trials. Within each short chapter, there lie tales of betrayal and cruelty, but also tales of great love and  redemption.  When mother and daughter are confronted with the truth of Dirt Island, we see the enormous strength each possesses.  A truly remarkable book and highly recommended! 


Sunday, March 5, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru, Next Wednesday, March 15 at 8pm the Sea Cliff Civic Association will host its annual Meet the Candidates forum at St. Luke’s Parish / Community Center.  While it is an uncontested election, the forum gives residents an opportunity to hear candidates’ governmental philosophies and question them about ongoing Village issues. Before the event I’ll have time for a good book - perhaps a fast-moving mystery?  Fan of Village Politics

Dear Fan of Village Politics, I just finished a great book I’m sure you too will enjoy: I HAVE SOME QUESTIONS FOR YOU by Rebecca Makkai.  Mystery, psychological thriller, character study - this novel is all of these and more!  The narrator, Bodie Kane, is an academic at UCLA and, on a whim, agrees to teach a mini course on podcasting at Granby, the New Hampshire boarding school she attended.  Bodie is drawn back by her interest in a murder that took place there thirty years ago, when she was a senior. A young athletic trainer, Omar Evans, was found guilty of the crime and is serving a lengthy prison sentence.  Bodie suspects he has been falsely accused and works with her students to exonerate him using podcast techniques. Throughout, she addresses a person from her past who she feels is the likely murderer. Makkai intertwines real time stories of sexism, racism, bullying, and false confessions as we move back and forth starting in the 1990’s up until the present. Her accumulated facts are horrifying on many levels with the reader wondering if justice can ever prevail. This is a book whose powerful message will resonate with the reader for a very long time – highly recommended!