Friday, November 17, 2023

 Dear Great Book Guru, My family is having our annual Thanksgiving gathering - about 50 of us get together the Sunday before the big day. It’s lots of fun and someone always asks, “what have you read lately?”  I’d love to have a great book to recommend - any suggestions? Thankful Reader

Dear Thankful Reader, A few months ago, I reviewed Colson Whitehead’s HARLEM SHUTTLE – the first novel in a projected trilogy.  Recently I read CROOK MANIFESTO - second in the series. Ray Carney - furniture store owner/small time criminal - remains the hero of the novel but now we have moved from the 1960’s to the turbulent 1970’s.  Divided into three separate novella-like tales, the CROOK MANIFESTO tells a compelling tale of political corruption on many levels. New York City and Harlem, in particular, is ablaze with fiery destruction. Carney vows to leave his petty crime career behind as he becomes an established business and family man, but he is brought back into the fray as he tries to get Jackson 5 tickets for his teenage daughter.  Characters we met in his earlier novel reappear - older but many still deeply involved in arson, safecracking, and robbery. The elite Dumas Club – a social bastion for Harlem’s elite businessmen and politicians - that had earlier rejected Carney - now begrudgingly accepts him. His business is flourishing, and his wife’s travel agency attracts an array of colorful and affluent clients. All is going well but the neighborhood is still awash with corporate and local crime.  Will Carney and his city be able to survive and prosper? The novel beautifully captures the energy and fears of the times - highly recommended!

Saturday, November 11, 2023

 Dear Great Book Guru, I was at the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Progressive Dinner last week and we had such a great time.  We started out at one house for appetizers with about twenty-five people and then we moved on to dinner with eight people. Afterwards, we went to dessert at the Sea Cliff Yacht Club with all the participants, about one hundred forty.  While at dessert someone mentioned a favorite series of mysteries set in Ireland in the 1920’s.  Does it sound familiar?  A Delighted Diner

Dear Delighted Diner, Cora Harrison writes Irish historical mysteries, and my favorite is the Mother Aquinas series. Set in Cork, Ireland in the years immediately following the Irish war for independence, these books are a fascinating look into a world filled with violence, passion, and humor.   Mother Aquinas is the head of a convent school and the characters that inhabit her world are the children and their families, the nuns, the local police officers, and the rebel forces. In the first of the ten-book series, A SHAMEFUL MURDER, we meet the cast of recurring characters: Mother Aquinas; Carolyn, her wealthy cousin who represents the Cork elite; Patrick Cashman, a graduate of the school who is now a police inspector; Eileen Sheehy, another former student who is part of the rebel faction; and Dr. Scher, a friend and local physician. While there is usually a murder or two in each of the books, the main attraction is the gentle humor and detailed look into a locale and time, foreign but fascinating to many of us. A highly recommended piece of historical fiction!

Sunday, November 5, 2023

 Dear Great Book Guru, I have read lots about a movie released recently: KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON, apparently based on a book you recommended a few years ago. I was wondering if you have seen the movie and – if so- how would you compare it to the book .  Book to Movie Fan

Dear Book to Movie Fan,  A group of friends and I went to Martin Scorsese’s production of KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON’S  opening recently.  As you mentioned, I recommended David Grann’s book KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON  when it came out in 2017 and I am  equally as enthusiastic about the movie. Scorsese changes the emphasis somewhat from the politics of the times – the creation of the FBI and the rise in power of J. Edgar Hoover – to a more nuanced love story between Molly an Osage woman and Ernest nephew of a local white landowner, but the basic story remains horrifyingly the same.  In the early 1920’s, oil was discovered on land owned by the Osage people making them the wealthiest people in the world.  In short time, a surprising numbers of death of the Osage began to occur with the rights to the oil being passed on to non- Osages. Grann estimates that hundreds of murders probably occurred.  The movie covers all this but focuses in particular on the one couple,  and we are left wondering throughout the husband’s true motivation.  News reels from the times are interspersed to show how the Osage story was presented to the nation and we realize in horror how little outrage there was. Book and movie- highly recommended!

Friday, October 20, 2023

 Dear Great Book Guru,  So many great events are coming up in the next few weeks- the Halloween Parade, the Cemetery Walk, the Cider Social, and the Progressive Dinner!  So much fun but always time for a good book so if you have a recommendation…  Looking for Books in All the Right Places

Dear Looking for Books… I have the perfect book for you: Lawrence Wright’s MR. TEXAS.  Wright is a well known writer of non-fiction and his latest novel is based on his humorous albeit  caustic take on the game of politics.  Sonny Lamb has had a hard life and things are not getting better. A small town rancher, he can’t seem to get anything right- his farm is floundering, his in-laws view him as a joke, his wife Lola feels she could have done better, the townspeople barely acknowledge him.  Everything changes when a  fire breaks out and Sonny rushes into a burning building on his prized bull, rescuing a child and her beloved pony.  His story is told on major news outlets and within a day, he is visited by the well-dressed, well- spoken L.D. Sparks- a lobbyist from Austen. Sparks offers him the chance to run for a seat in the Texas Legislature- a position Sonny has no experience or apparent talent for, but nevertheless he accepts seeing this as a way to change his life’s trajectory.  Lola is less than enthusiastic but finally agrees to support him.  We follow Sonny as he confronts the many ethical dilemmas his new role presents.  A darkly humorous take on politics and highly recommended!

Saturday, October 14, 2023

 Dear Great Book Guru,  I love a Sea Cliff autumn- the leaves are falling and we can see the many beautiful houses that line the streets, restaurants are filled with excited diners, and Halloween decorations are going up all around  the Village. Do you have a good book to match this time of year?     A Fan of Fall in Sea Cliff

Dear Fan of Fall in Sea Cliff, I just finished a wonderful novel I couldn’t put down: THE WOMAN INSIDE, by M.T. Edvardsson.  This mystery is set in present-day Sweden and is told from the perspectives of three characters. Bill Olsson is a young, recently widowed father whose overwhelming concern is providing for his young daughter, Sally.  Struggling under huge financial debt, he takes in a boarder, Karla, a law student from a local university who is working for a cleaning service to pay her tuition. The third person is Jennica who is involved with a sophisticated older physician she has met online.  Each of these characters has many secrets that are gradually revealed through newspaper postings, police interrogations, and interior monologues.  The story opens in a beautiful part of town, in an impeccable, many-roomed mansion where the owners, Regina and Steven Rytters, have been murdered. How are these characters connected and will their pasts be their undoing?  A fascinating tale of deceit and good intentions gone awry - highly recommended!

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru,  With summer ending, I’ll so miss Sunset Serenades, breakfasts at Sea Cliff Beach, and meeting up with friends for outdoor dining throughout the Village. But now is the time to turn to some extensive reading- I have a 50 book challenge and have only read 18.  Help me, please !  Hopeful Fall Reader

Dear Hopeful Fall Reader,  I recently read a great book by a favorite author of mine: Colson Whitehead. HARLEM SHUFFLE is the first in a proposed trilogy – all to be set in Harlem over the  turbulent decades of the late twentieth century. We first meet Ray Carney in 1959. Owner of a flourishing furniture store in Harlem, Ray is confronted daily with ethical choices. As a side business he also sells jewelry and appliances  of very questionable provenance, but even his legitimate business requires payoffs to corrupt politicians and violent criminals. Always hoping to better his situation, Ray gets involved in a jewelry heist at the iconic Hotel Theresa- Harlem’s Plaza Hotel .  He realizes quickly that he has become entangled in a world of high finance and political malfeasance.  Throughout we see that Ray’s misdeeds barely register on the scales of justice with the race riots of the early 1960’s serving as a backdrop to Ray’s story. By the end of the book,  Ray is living a double life – middle class aspiring homeowner/businessman by day  and an avenging Robin Hood- like defender of his community after hours.   A very funny read and on the other hand- a complex look at what exactly  is a crime. Highly recommended!   

Friday, September 8, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru,  My friends and I are planning on starting a monthly book club and we need direction.  Some want to stick to fiction, but others want to stick to non-fiction.  Can you help us resolve the problem before our club ends before it begins!  Lover of Books

Dear Lover of Books, I recently read a great novel that has many aspects of non-fiction woven throughout: THE HEAVEN AND EARTH GROCERY STORE by James McBride. McBride is a longtime favorite of mine and most of his novels do  have a historical background. His THE GOOD LORD BIRD is a fictionalized account of John Brown’s Raid, and his earlier COLOR OF WATER was a memoir.  This latest book opens in 1972, in Pottstown, Pennsylvania where a construction crew has just uncovered a skeleton with no identifying signs except a mezuza, a belt buckle, and a pendant.  The mezuza leads the investigators to question the town’s only remaining Jewish resident. But shortly after, Hurricane Agnes washes away all evidence so the case is dropped, and we are quickly brought back in time to the 1920’s where the story begins.  This a tale of Jewish, Black, and East European men and women living in an impoverished section of Pottstown, Chicken Hill, and the racist and anti-Semitic trials they endure. The title comes from the store run by Chona, wife of Moshe who owns a theater and dance hall. Her generosity and goodness to everyone is acknowledged by all and becomes a force that unites the community despite the many tensions that exist. This is an epic tale with many heroic figures and McBride masterfully brings them together for a dazzling conclusion.  Highly recommended!