Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, How I love this week after Christmas- everyone is still in the holiday spirit, but with none of the stress that precedes the big day- a perfect time to catch up on some good reading! I am an excited new Kindle owner so just give me a title and I'll be reading in moments…. E-Reader Enthusiast

Dear Enthusiast, A few years ago I read a beautiful novel by Elizabeth Strout: OLIVE KITTERIDGE and I have thought about it many, many times since. Set in a coastal town in Maine, the book captures the joys and sorrows of life in a small community- so of course, (as so many things do) it reminded me of Sea Cliff. While billed as a novel, it is really a collection of thirteen short stories with an enormous number of characters- I stopped counting at eighty-five- and Olive appears in each story, sometimes as the focal point, other times making only the most shadowy of appearances, and frequently playing a rather minor role. When we come to the end, however, we realize we have read the story of Olive's life. Depending on the situation, she is cruel, demanding, and insensitive, but she can also be loving, compassionate, and insightful. Olive is like all of us- very complicated. Highly recommended…
Happy New Year to all of you, especially to Justin DiPietro and Jenna Fendt who became engaged over the holidays and are planning an August wedding!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I attended a fabulous party this weekend at Deborah and Jay Fossett's; the food, the wine, and the company were extraordinary. During the evening someone mentioned that she had found the perfect holiday gift for everyone on her list: a collection of seasonal plays by a local playwright. Would you know the title and would you too recommend it? Last Minute Gift Giver

Dear Last Minute Gift Giver, What a lucky person you are… first, to be a guest of the Fossetts and then to receive such a fabulous gift suggestion! CHRISTMAS COCKTAILS by the renowned playwright Fred Stroppel is a collection of Fred's plays all with holiday themes, all with a sharp edge, all hysterically funny. In the first entry- "O Christmas Tree"- a couple stands in front of the Rockefeller Center tree where he timidly professes his love and she harshly berates him for not sealing the deal with a ring. The dialogue rings so true you imagine yourself standing at the tree next to the hilariously mismatched couple. In "the Land of Sweets" an aging, far from sweet ballet teacher prepares her young students for a performance of "The Nutcracker" while in "Epiphany", we get a version the Three Wise Men and their journey that left me laughing aloud. There is nothing saccharine about any of these plays; rather, all are bitingly on target. This collection is available on Amazon's Kindle for $2.95. Highly recommended!

If you are in Sea Cliff on Saturday, Christmas Eve morning from 10:30 to 11:30am, stop by the Children's Library where local luminaries will take turns reading from Charles Dickens's CHRISTMAS CAROL. Sounds like great fun, doesn't it? Hope you can join us!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, This week I am going to the renowned Weinstein Cookie Swap and amidst all the delicious treats and toasts, I'm sure there will be some good book talk. Can you recommend something for me to read in anticipation of this wonderful event? Consummate Cookie Swapper

Dear Consummate Cookie Swapper, I too love the annual Cookie Swap and while the book I am about to recommend is more bittersweet than sweet, it is a winner indeed: THEN EVERYTHING CHANGED by Jeff Greenfield. The book is divided into the presidential administrations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Gary Hart. Yes, I did say RFK and Hart because these are alternative histories- the "what if's" that plague the mind in the early morning hours. Greenfield has been involved in politics as a speech writer, commentator, and news reporter for forty years and his knowledge of the inner workings of campaigns and elections is vast. In the JFK section, the president-elect is assassinated before being sworn in so LBJ's term is his alone with shocking consequences. In the second piece, Robert Kennedy escapes the assassin's bullet, snatches the presidency from Hubert Humphrey, and leads the United States to a far different place. In the last scenario, Gary Hart debates and defeats Ronald Reagan, again resulting in a very different world. Missed meetings, menu changes, verbal missteps - all contribute to the realization that it takes very, very little for "everything to change…"
PS- This Tuesday, Dec. 20 from 6:30 to 8pm, the Hanukkah Happening is happening at the Sea Cliff Fire House. It sounds like great fun for all ages with food, treats, games, and much merrymaking; the entire Sea Cliff community is invited.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I am in such a frenzy- for the next two weeks, I have to prepare for my law school exams, but what I really want to do is read some good books. Do you have a fun novel I can reward myself with when this is all over? Desperate to Read for Pleasure

Dear Desperate, Good luck on your exams and remember in a few short weeks, you'll have a wonderful block of time to devote to those books you are so eager to read. I recommend you put the latest John Grisham at the top of your list: THE LITIGATORS. A young associate at a hugely prestigious Chicago law firm has had it- the long hours, the grueling work, and the impersonal atmosphere- so he walks out into the sunlight and enters the strange world of Finley and Figg- a self-described "boutique" law firm. Located in a shabby southwest Chicago strip mall, it is a two- man operation whose cases result largely from ambulance chasing and visits to local funeral homes, which is where Figg has stumbled onto the case of a lifetime: a huge suit against an international pharmaceutical company. Unprepared and unaware, the bumbling trio finds themselves in federal court facing an array of very, very smart lawyers and a very stern judge. Grisham has been criticized in the past for his formulaic approach, predictable plots, and shallow characters, but there are none of these flaws in this novel. The characters -the grouchy Oscar Finley, the scheming, irrepressible Walter Figg, and the earnest, Harvard educated David Zinc- are richly developed and there are many surprise plot twists. Highly recommended!

PS Looking for a great gift or stocking stuffer? Check out the newest book of poetry LADYBUG ON THE ODOMETER by Sea Cliff Poet Laureate Charles Hansmann. I wept as I read these poems with their stark beauty and exuberant sensuality. Autographed copies are available by contacting the author at

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, What a fun Sea Cliff Thanksgiving weekend just passed and so many exciting things coming up: the Holiday House Tour and Crafts Sale on Saturday, Dec 3 and then the Tree Lighting on the Village Green the next day at 5pm! While I always try to have a good book waiting for me at home or on my Kindle, when will I find time to read? Perhaps you have something good that I can get into quickly? Holiday Reveler

Dear Holiday Reveler, Perfect timing- my dear friend and fellow literary enthusiast Tina Marchese just stopped by bearing culinary treats from Martha's Vineyard and a wonderful book recommendation: MRS. KIMBLE by Jennifer Haigh. You might remember another Haigh novel many of us loved : FAITH. While the topic and format is strikingly different, this too is a real winner . It is told from the perspective of Charlie, son of the first Mrs. Kimble, a troubled coed from the 1950's . As the novel and time go on, we meet Joan, a wealthy journalist, and finally Dinah, the youngest and last of the Ken Kimble's wives. Through the lives of each of these women, we get a glimpse of the changing religious, social and political mores of the country .We are well into the novel before we meet Ken and then we only know him through the women he marries and his son . While Ken is an interesting character- charismatic, devious, selfish , duplicitous -another tale of "smart women, foolish choices" it is the wives' stories that are most compelling. .A really enjoyable and thought-provoking read !

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, There has been much talk of pre or faux Thanksgivings around Sea Cliff and beyond : the D'Amicos, the DiPietros, and the Halliday-Ambroses all began their celebrations this past weekend and great times were had by all! Now we have the actual Thanksgiving coming up and I would love a short but meaningful book to read this holiday weekend. Any suggestions? Turkey Troubadour

Dear Turkey Troubadour, I so love Thanksgiving with its variety of celebrations , and you are certainly to be commended for your desire to find some good reading material despite a hectic holiday schedule. I would recommend Ruth Reichl's NOT BECOMING MY MOTHER AND OTHER THINGS SHE TAUGHT ME ALONG THE WAY. Reichl was the food critic for the New York Times for many years and has written many books; most recently, she has concentrated on memoirs of her personal and professional life. In Reichl's earlier works she playfully recounted stories of her mother's less than stellar food adventures which she referred to as Mim's tales. Well, after her mother's death, Reichl began to regret her flippant dismissal of Mim and her life . After finding a trove of letters written by her over a sixty year period, Reich takes a far different, more admiring view of her mother. The lesson we all can learn from this book is that things are seldom as they seem and people's lives are far more complicated than any of us might guess. Talking about complicated- all you followers of the quiz show JEOPARDY, gather round your TVs at 7pm, Thursday, Dec.1- Gillian DiPietro will be appearing!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, While enjoying a delightful evening at the Civic Association's annual Progressive Dinner, I was surprised to hear one of the partygoers say that this would be the Great Book Guru's 100th posting. Is it true and, if so, do you have a recommendation to celebrate this milestone? Keeping Count

Dear Keeping Count, Yes, indeed: began on Thanksgiving morning 2009 and here we are 100 books later. Dan DiPietro receives the award for Most Faithful Fan, having read more than 90 of my recommendations and is working on the remaining entries with great zest. Thanks, Dan, for your literary insights and enthusiastic support! My suggestion for the week is BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by S.J. Watson. This was an emotionally exhausting read- it took me about two hours but my heart was beating wildly and my fingers furiously flipping pages: truly a page-turner. Christine wakes up each morning with no memory of what has gone on the day before, the month before, or the last ten years. She has slight glimmers of past events but these are very elusive and confused. Her husband Ben lovingly cares for her and each day recounts his version of their life together. When a young researcher takes an interest in her case and suggests she keep a journal, fear trumps frustration in Christine's life. Can one be truly human without memory- is the question we ask ourselves throughout this book, and the answer is very disturbing. Recommended!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, This weekend I will be attending my first Progressive Dinner here in Sea Cliff. I would like to bring "something to the table" in the form of a good book to discuss- something many people will have read. Any recommendations? Novice Diner

Dear Novice, How I love the Civic Association's annual Progressive Dinner and I am truly impressed that you would wish to discuss a book at dinner! Many people have read and enjoyed CUTTING FOR STONE by Abraham Verghese. Since I was traveling and wanted to read it on my Kindle, I used the Sea Cliff Library's new service: Overdrive. So easy to use, completely free, and done from home! Check at the library's website for details. But back to the book- while I enjoyed learning about Ethiopia, its history, its geography, and the politics of medicine here and abroad, I was disappointed in the novel itself. It is a fictionalized autobiography of Marion Stone, who with his twin brother Shiva, is born in 1950's Ethiopia. When their beautiful Indian mother dies and their surgeon father Thomas Stone flees Africa in despair, they are adopted by a loving couple who share with the boys their fascination with medicine and surgery. The book is filled with details of diseases, cures, and surgical interventions while the revolution that toppled the Ethiopian government forms the ongoing backdrop for the story. The brothers end up in America where coincidence after coincidence brings the story to a neat, perhaps too neat, conclusion. A flawed work but excellent for a good dinner discussion!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, My friends and I meet every week at B. Brown's for breakfast and a delicious breakfast it is! Well, last week someone mentioned a new book by the author Joan Didion that she said was very, very sad but very worth reading. Have you heard of it and would you recommend it -remembering that November is probably one of the darkest months of the year? Melancholy Reader

Dear Melancholy, My friends and I too have a weekly breakfast at B's and the discussions range from favorite books, to local politics, to the latest real estate deals. I'm sure before the month is over we will discuss Didion's memoir BLUE LIGHTS. The author writes about her daughter Quintana: her childhood, her adolescence, her early adulthood, and finally her much too early death. She looks back and in painful detail questions the many choices she made as a parent and wonders how she could have done things differently. Six years ago Didion wrote another memoir -THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING- which recounted the death of her husband author John Gregory Dunne and the year of mourning that followed. This newest book too is stark in its description of her grief, but there is a beauty, almost poetic, in her quest for forgiveness- forgiveness for being, in the end, only human. A hard read but worthwhile!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and Sea Cliff in many ways is the perfect Halloween village- spooky houses, winding streets, falling leaves, even an ancient cemetery. I'm definitely in the mood for something dark and compelling to read. Any thoughts? Halloween Reveler

Dear Halloween Reveler, Minutes ago I finished a wonderful book that might be just what you are looking for: CASE HISTORIES by Kate Atkinson. Set in 2005 in suburban London, this literary thriller presents us with three unsolved murders, spanning twenty-five years. The opening chapters describe the events in real time as they occurred from the perspectives of various family members. In the first case, we hear four sisters describe a brutally hot summer's day that ends with the disappearance of the youngest sibling. The next case is told from the perspective of a young woman having a difficult time adjusting to life as a wife and mother on a small farm just outside of the city. The last case involves a young college student working in her father's law office. Later we meet the character that will tie all three cases together- Jackson Brodie, an ex-policeman with a strong desire to learn French and relocate to the south of France as soon as possible. While the unraveling of the various mysteries makes for a compelling read, the finest aspect of the book is the realization expressed by the poet Phillip Larkin- "...what will survive of us is love."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, Is it true- you have strayed from sacred Sea Cliff soil? Why would you leave Sea Cliff when there are so many exciting things going on here- the Newcomers' Party, the Cider Social, the Halloween Parade ? Well, at least, suggest a book I will enjoy reading at this beautiful time of year. Shocked in Sea Cliff

Dear Shocked, Never fear- I was in Venice for a long weekend and I am now back where we all belong- Sea Cliff! We had a great time and I have just the book for you: DRAWING CONCLUSIONS by Donna Leon. This is the twentieth mystery in a remarkable series set in Venice featuring Police Inspector Guido Brunetti, lover of Latin and Greek poetry, fine wines, and gourmet meals. His wife Paola is a Henry James specialist, so their dinner conversations always have a strong literary bent. He is a compassionate, just man in an often corrupt society. This book focuses on violence against women and abuse of the elderly- heavy topics indeed but Leon treats them with great sensitivity while giving us a spectacular tour of Venice with all its beauty and intrigue! Even if you are not a fan of mysteries, you will enjoy this book and if you are a fan, it will totally delight you. Leon, American born, has spent the last thirty years living in Venice. While I have enjoyed all twenty of her books, this is probably her best. Highly recommended!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, My family celebrates a multitude of October birthdays so I will be seeing a lot of my siblings over the next few weeks. We love getting together and I thought I would discuss with them a new book on siblings I heard discussed on NPR. Do you know about it and, if so, would you recommend it? Sentimental Sibling

Dear Sentimental, The book you heard reviewed has received a great deal of publicity: THE SIBLING EFFECT by Jeffrey Kluger. The subtitle is "What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us." Kluger is the science editor of Time magazine but this book is more biographical than scientific; in fact, it might be considered "science lite." Kluger uses his own family to showcase new findings on the effects siblings have on one another. He delves into birth order, parental favoritism, blended families, the role gender plays , twin bonding, the only child, and growing old with siblings. As it turns out, Kluger's family has examples of all these topics. The middle child of four boys, Kleger also has twin half siblings- his parents' marriage and breakups form a large piece of the family history he recounts. The book is filled with tales of affection, jealousy, greed, parental infractions- the brothers experienced them all- and we meet them finally as middle-aged men reminiscing over dinner at Joe Allen's in New York City. While not a particularly informative book, it was surprisingly touching. Oh, and yes- Happy Birthday to Big Jim, Ria, and Dan- my October birthday celebrants!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I'm spending the upcoming Columbus Day weekend in Vermont with a group of friends. There will be plenty of time for reading so please recommend a good book for me- something that will keep my interest, stimulate my mind- and, yes, be available on my Kindle. Point Lookout Reader Extraordinaire

Dear Point Lookout Reader, I have just the book for you- YOU DESERVE NOTHING by Alexander Maksik. The topic is a familiar one: a beloved high school teacher is betrayed by his students, but Maksik offers us so much more than this. Set in Paris in the International School of France, the novel begins six years after graduation and we learn about the past from the alternating perspectives of Will Silver, the charismatic teacher; Gilad, a young boy with an abusive father; and Marie, the daughter of a wealthy Parisian family. Moral questions about good and evil, desire versus action, the definition of a good life, and the quest for social justice are all discussed in Will's literature class. While he transforms his students' lives with these questions, it is his life that is most irrevocably altered. Will is a good man trying to live a moral life, but his flaws become all too apparent to the school administrators, the students, and yes, the reader. The title comes from a point he makes in class: existence does not confer rewards or punishments- a moral life is no guarantee of happiness. The city of Paris plays an important role here as does the year: 2002- when Europe first confronted its role in the Iraq War. Indeed, Will's moral lapses seem slight compared to the evil he observes in the world. This is a difficult but worthwhile read.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, It is hard to believe this weekend is already Mini Mart Sunday! I'll be spending the day with the Friends of the Library- they are having spectacular book sale on the Village Green right in front of the Adult Library. Surrounded by all those books, I know I am going to crave something really good to read. Any thoughts? MiniMart Maven

Dear MiniMart Maven, Mini Mart Sunday ranks up there with Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween as a favorite holiday for me; our streets are filled with friends and strangers alike all enjoying our beautiful Village . But let me suggest a book I just finished and enjoyed tremendously: FAITH by Jennifer Haigh. Pat Guy who is a dear friend to all of Sea Cliff recommended this book to me a few weeks ago and I'm not sure why I resisted reading it. Perhaps I thought it would be a retelling of the play/movie DOUBT with its disturbing tale of clerical misconduct and bureaucratic cover-ups, but -no -this is a story of family: parents and children, in-laws and grandchildren, brothers and sisters. Whether it is Shelia, the younger sister who champions her brother Art, the priest with so many secrets, or their younger brother Mike who angrily tries to remove himself from the growing scandal, the pain and, yes, comfort offered by each of these relationships is captured in exquisite detail by the author. The characters' faith in religion, community, and friends is shown as slight when compared to the powerful influence family has had on their lives. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at a great Autumnal Equinox barbecue in Sea Cliff this weekend and two of the partygoers- Justin DiPietro and Jenna Fendt- were discussing a book some of their friends had recommended - it was set in Rome and many of the city's artworks were spotlighted. It was a tricky title but I think the author was Mary Gordon. Do you know the book? Autumnal Celebrant

Dear Autumnal, Justin and Jenna's friends have excellent taste- LOVE OF MY YOUTH is a wonderful book written by one of my favorite authors: Mary Gordon. This is her latest and it is definitely a worthwhile read. Miranda and Adam meet accidentally in Rome after not having seen each other for almost forty years; both are happily married with spouses back in the States. When Adam offers to give Miranda a tour of his favorite Roman pieces of art, she reluctantly agrees. To add to our enjoyment and understanding, Gordon includes a map of their walking tour. As the couple goes from site to site, we learn more about their early lives and the more they reveal about each other, the more tantalizing is the question: what was it that caused their breakup? It is fascinating to look back in time and see how choices made long ago define and determine the present. As usual, Gordon uses art, global politics, feminism, family conflicts, and philosophical debates to make a simple story rich with meaning.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, Now that school year has begun, I feel the urge to learn, learn, and learn! I have always been interested in English history, especially the Tudors. While I was at the Sea Cliff Antiques Fair last week, someone mentioned a new take on Henry and his wives. Any thoughts? Youthful Antiquarian

Dear Youthful, The Antiques Fair was such fun! The Good of the Village Association did a fabulous job- I spent hours at the Kennedy-Biolsi-Marchese-DeMaio booth- their offerings were beautiful, well priced and artfully arranged- I can't wait for a reprise of this event. But let's get you started on your commendable pursuit of knowledge. WOLF HALL by Hilary Mantel is just the book for you. Winner of a multitude of historical and literary awards, it offers a fascinating look at Henry VIII's life from the perspective of his brilliant commoner- assistant Thomas Cromwell. The intrigues of court life, the harshness of everyday existence- the deprivations, the illnesses , and, yes, the decadent luxuries enjoyed by the very few- are all captured here. The saints (Thomas More most strikingly) are toppled from their pedestals while history's villains (Cardinal Wolsey and yes, even Henry himself) are shown as flawed but appealing human beings. The book is long and the family trees are formidable, but you will quickly find yourself transported to a long ago time with strange echoes of the present.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, This is such a somber week with its many memorials and programs about 9/11. While I am planning on attending the service in front of the Children's Library this Sunday at 7pm, I would also like to read something that would help me understand what happened then and what is happening now. Do you have suggestions? A Concerned Citizen

Dear Concerned Citizen, Yes, an air of sadness permeates this week and while there are many, many books and documentaries to help us understand and remember, I was particularly moved by a novel that came out last month: THE SUBMISSION by Amy Waldman. Waldman tells a riveting tale: two years after the 9/11 attacks, New York City has commissioned a jury to choose a design for a memorial and from 5000 anonymous entries, the architect chosen is a young, urbane American whose name is Mohammad Khan, a Muslim. Islam, art, grief, politics, guilt, greed, and media all play roles in the unfolding story, but the author 's storytelling talent reaches its zenith in the development of her main characters: Mo, the architect, Claire, the widow panelist who represents the families of the victims, Geraldine Bitman, the first woman governor of New York who sees her political aspirations riding on this issue, Paul Rubin, a wealthy financier who wants to do the right thing as long as he is not inconvenienced, Asma, a young Bangladeshi woman whose husband was a 9/11 victim, illegally in this country, Laila, an attractive Pakistani lawyer who represents Mo, and Sean Gallagher, a young man filled with anger and guilt over his brother's death in the Twin Towers. The picture Waldman paints of the media frenzy and machinations of a multitude of special interest groups is not pretty but one senses it is very accurate. Highly recommended!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I know you have been traveling in Europe this past week but do you have something good to recommend to your loyal readers to distract us from electric outages, falling trees, and flooded basements? Harassed by the Hurricane

Dear Harassed, Yes, while the Sea Cliff Chapter of the Barbara Pym Society weathered Hurricane Irene in cozy comfort at Oxford University, our thoughts were with our friends and family back home. Recognizing the furious force that weather can play in our lives, I suggest the 1997 classic - THE PERFECT STORM by Sebastian Junger. Based on a true story, this book tells of six men who go out on a fishing ship the Andrea Gail never to return. Each man's life is described in great detail as is the village they lived in, the bars they frequented, the families and friends they left behind. The author recreates the drama that worked its way out during the storm and the harrowing rescue attempts that only added to the tragic dimensions of this tale. While a short book (240 pages), it is an emotionally exhausting read but definitely worthwhile

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, We were at the Children's Library in Sea Cliff last week, waiting for our children to finish up with Chess Club when my friend Jen Sebetic told me about an author she had recently discovered- Barbara Pym. Well, I remember that Pym is a big favorite of yours also, so do you have a particular novel of hers that I might enjoy? Potential Pymite

Dear Potential , Your friend Jen has exquisite taste- Barbara Pym (1913-1980) wrote twelve books ,any of which I would heartily recommend . However, since this week is the annual Pym conference in Oxford, England (which of course myself and the entire Sea Cliff chapter of the Pym Society will be attending), I recommend you read CRAMPTON HODNET , this year's featured novel . 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 Cleveland's dalliances , 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.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, Last week I was at Sea Cliff Beach for Story Time . It was such fun- I loved the version of Red Riding Hood that was presented, especially when it turned out that the Wolf did not want to devour anyone- all he wanted was an invitation to the Anzalone/DiPietro wedding, which he received to cheers and great applause from the audience. Well, while we were all marveling at this unusual turn of events, someone mentioned a novel that also took liberties with a traditional story line. I think the title was DECEPTIONS but I'm not sure . Have you read it and if so would you recommend it? Fan of the Fractured Fairy Tale

Dear Fan of the Fractured Fairy Tale, That was a particularly clever retelling of Red Riding Hood and, yes, I have read DECEPTIONS by Rebecca Frayn, a celebrated British filmmaker and first time novelist. Set outside of London in the present time, the novel is narrated by Julian who is living with a young widow and her two children. Julian has just told the children that he and their mother are planning to marry in a few months. The twelve-year-old boy seems resentful but says little. The next day, he leaves for school and does not return; an extensive police search ensues. His whereabouts remain unknown until…… The title comes from the many truths about the boy, his friends, and his family that gradually unfold. Apparently, there have been multiple deceptions. The plot is riveting and the characters richly developed, especially Julian and Annie, the boy's mother. A real page turner!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, Wow- is Sea Cliff abuzz with excitement! This is the weekend of Gillian DiPietro and Joseph Anzalone's wedding ; myself and many of my friends will be attending so my time for reading will be somewhat limited , but do you have something wedding- related to recommend ? Wedding Well Wisher

Dear Wedding Well Wisher, Yes, I will be at the wedding too, and while I can barely contain my excitement, I think it is always wise at any time to do a little reading. With that in mind, I recommend THE SATURDAY BIG TENT WEDDING PARTY by Alexander McCall Smith. This is the latest installment in the very popular Ladies #1 Detective Agency series. Set in Botswana, these mysteries feature Precious Ramotswe as the founder and head of a detective agency whose cases involve the daily lives and transgressions of Precious's family and neighbors. While these novels are all sweetly satisfying, this one is a particular favorite of mine. Precious's assistant Ms. Makutsi is preparing to marry Mr. Radiphuti, the love of her life, and their wedding plans serve as the backdrop for three subplots: a cattle robbery, a runaway teenager, and an abusive employer. All works out in a clever and satisfying manner, and along the way we learn much about the culture of Botswana and the universal appeal of …weddings! Dearest wishes to Joe and Gillian on their special day!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, The streets of Sea Cliff always grow a little quieter in August with people going off on vacation, I guess. Where do they go when we all know Sea Cliff is the perfect vacation spot? Oh well, do you have a good novel for me to read during these hazy, lazy August days and nights? Summer Sea Cliff Sojourner

Dear SC Sojourner, Yes, it would be interesting to do a survey of our fellow citizens' whereabouts, but first I have an interesting book to recommend to you :THE BORROWER by Rebecca Makkai. It is a light but clever novel that delves into gender identity, religious fundamentalism, kid lit, anorexia, kidnapping, extortion, and Russian revolutionaries -with a children's librarian as its protagonist. Lucy Hull, a twenty-six year-old recent grad, finds herself as head of Hannibal Children's Library. Newly immersed in the books of her childhood, she finds herself empathizing with ten-year old Ian Hatch whose reading choices are severely limited by his dogmatic parents: no wizardry, no weaponry, no magic, no Roald Dahl and definitely no Harry Potter. Becoming fugitives of sorts, Ian and Lucy motor across the country from Missouri to Vermont with interesting stops and insights along the way. This is a sweet book that has a surprise ending.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I love the summer; there is so much time for lounging and reading- my two favorite activities. And, of course, there is nothing better than sitting on Sea Cliff Beach under one of those beautiful blue stripped umbrellas, sipping an iced tea, and reading a great book. Do you have any suggestions: I'm thinking non-fiction for a change… Devoted Beach Goer- Book Reader

Dear Devoted, Summer is a wonderful time to experiment with different reading genres, and I have just the book for you. In the last month, both my son Daniel DiPietro and friend Barbara Murray sang the praises of IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS by Erik Larson. How right they were! This narrative non-fiction take on pre-World War II Germany is subtitled: " Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin." Told in real time, the book recounts the story of a mild mannered academic William Dodd who has just been appointed U.S. Ambassador to Germany (he was F.D.R.'s fifteenth choice- everyone else refused) and his beautiful, flirtatious daughter Martha. When they arrive in Berlin, they are both naïve and casually anti-Semitic; the elder Dodd is cautious and tries to overlook the growing violence which lies just below the surface in sophisticated, robust Berlin ("let these men work on their schemes") while his daughter is enamored of all things German and refuses to see the brutality that surrounds her magical daily existence ("we don't know the whole story"). As the year unfolds, we share the family's excitement, romantic intrigues, and finally their horror at the tragedies that befall their friends, neighbors, and colleagues. A compelling read!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru,

This Saturday at 7pm in Spooky Park, the Sea Cliff Silly Shakespeare Company presents its hilarious production of The Merry Stepford Wives of Windsor. I am so excited- Elizabeth Sehring and her merry troupe always do such a great job, and I hear this year’s play might be the best yet. But that leaves me with the rest of the weekend- I will definitely be looking for something to read. Do you have a recommendation? Lover of the Bard

Dear Lover of the Bard, Yes, indeed, Spooky Park is the place to be this weekend. In fact, many people attend the Friday night 7 pm full dress rehearsal and the Saturday night performance. I’ll certainly be at both! For the rest of the weekend, I suggest you read a light but fascinating book about memory, friendship, and marriage: WHAT ALICE FORGOT by Liane Moriarty. My friend Eileen Kunkel, who is a very discerning reader, recommended it, and I enjoyed it tremendously. The story opens with Alice, unconscious on the gym floor, having fallen off her bicycle during a particularly strenuous spin class. As she regains consciousness, we realize she has lost her memory of the last ten years: her children, numerous deaths and marriages, and her own impending divorce- all obliterated-instead she is a young newlywed, expecting her first child, deliriously in love and, well- very casual about most things. Apparently the missing ten years have changed her considerably and friends, enemies, and family alike are all bewildered by the new/old Alice. We are left to ponder what was important to us ten years ago and what changes, if any, we might want to make in our lives A very thought-provoking book!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, Every Thursday at 7pm you can find me at the Sea Cliff Civic Association's Sunset Serenades at Memorial Park- last week it was the Corda Family- they were great and this week- Kris Rice- what fun! Well, while I was there someone told me that Heather and John Kenny were going on and on about a wonderful author you had recommended. Do you remember who it is and is there a particular book of his/hers I might enjoy? Sunset Serenade Super Fan

Dear Super Fan, Yes, those Sunset Serenades epitomize a Sea Cliff summer for me too. The last time I spoke with Heather Kenny we discussed Stewart O'Nan at great length so I am confident this is the author you are searching for - I have recommended three of his books: WISH YOU WERE HERE, EMILY ALONE, and LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER. Today I would like to suggest a fourth: SNOW ANGELS. This novel (330 pages but a very quick read) traces two families' intersecting lives: Annie, her parents, young daughter Tara, and her estranged husband Glenn; and Arthur Parkinson, his sister Astrid and his parents Louise and Don who are in the midst of a bitter divorce.When the story opens , Arthur is fourteen, living a life of quiet desperation - smoking marijuana, skipping class and hanging out with his classmate- Warren is Sancho Panza to Arthur's Don Quixote and there are many windmills tilted before the book closes. Annie, Arthur's beloved babysitter now a grown woman with her own child, has just been found murdered and it is not until the end of the book that we learn who the killer is. But the story is not a crime novel but instead a detailed examination of families who love each other but who hurt one another over and over in the most cruel and banal of ways. You will remember these characters long after you have finished the book.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru,
I am so excited- the annual Summer Stroll is set for this weekend- to tour the porches and patios of Sea Cliff while feasting on delicious appetizers and drinks all on a lovely summer evening - perfection! Well, I know what I am doing this Saturday night- but what will I be reading on a lazy Sunday summer morning? Can you recommend something chillingly suspenseful but rich in characterization and plot? Summer Stroller

Dear Summer Stroller, I just finished reading a book which fits your criteria perfectly- SISTER by Rosemary Lupton. Set in present-day London, this first novel is written in the form of an extended letter from a 26 year-old woman to her sister. There are so many twists and turns that you are left literally breathless. As each piece of new information is revealed you are forced to reconsider your past assumptions. First, we discover that missing Tess is a twenty-one year-old art student; then we learn she is pregnant; finally, we learn she has already had the baby; also, she has been part of an experiment involving gene therapy to cure her unborn child of cystic fibrosis, but...there is much, much more. Possible suspects range from her art professor lover to a student stalker, to sinister scientists, physicians, and Big Pharma executives. Throughout, the story is told from the perspective of Bee, the older sister who is the conservative, uptight counterpart to her younger, more beautiful Bohemian sibling. While all the characters we meet are colorful, interestingly, one of the most vivid is London itself. The descriptions of its parks, neighborhoods, and institutions as we move from season to season make this novel all the more compelling. I could not turn the pages fast enough to unravel the mystery. A great summer read!

If you are interested in attending the Sea Cliff Civic Association's Summer Stroll this Saturday, July 9 from 6:30 to 8:30 (ticket is $25), act quickly. Email or stop by the Children's Library.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, What a weekend I just had! First, an amazing Summer Solstice party with a bevy of Sea Cliff luminaries in attendance and then followed the next day by the loveliest of bridal showers for Gillian DiPietro and Joseph Anzalone hosted by Emily Gordon. The tasty treats were prepared by Ricky Silver ( During the Solstice party , news came of the passing of the New York State Marriage Equality Act and one of the first people to be interviewed by the media was Sea Cliff resident and author Sarah Ellis. Many of the partygoers had read her book but no one could remember its title. Do you know the book and have you read it? Weekend Partygoer

Dear Weekend Partygoer, I was at both events too and enjoyed them immensely. Yes, I have read Sarah's book that she co-authored with her partner Kristen Henderson: TIMES X TWO. I finished it in one evening and loved it. Funny, compassionate, suspenseful, and with multiple references to Sea Cliff- you can't get better than that! Sarah and Kristen are the parents of a beautiful boy and girl- weeks apart- twins of sort. The book traces the lives of the two women- Sarah, a highly successful executive at REAL SIMPLE magazine and Kristen, founder, songwriter, and lead guitarist of the famed ANTIGONE RISING band- their childhoods, their college years, their initial meeting and courtship, and finally the births of their children. The book is a beautiful tribute to Sarah and Kristen and all the people in their lives. Highly recommended!

Just a reminder- the Sea Cliff Civic Association's annual Fourth of July Celebration and Reading of the Declaration of Independence will be held on the Village Green outside the Sea Cliff Library at 10am on Monday, the 4th. This is a beautiful event -appropriate for both children and adults .

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru Tonight is the Ice Cream Social that the Sea Cliff Civic Association hosts on the last day of school. Matthew and Lorraine Garry, Deidre Mannix, Julie Gordon, and Laura Parker always do such a great job. My children and I love this event and I especially love that it is held in Spooky Park. There is something mysterious and magical about that park. Talking about mysterious…. I am a great lover of mysteries and am always looking for a new series to throw myself into. Do you have anything to recommend? Mystery Maven

Dear Mystery Maven, I too love a good mystery and just this weekend I discovered a new series- well, new to me -but the author Hazel Holt has written nineteen books over the last twenty five years, always with Shelia Malory as her heroine. I read GONE AWAY (first of the nineteen)) and then THE CRUELLEST MONTH. I so loved both that I plan on reading the entire series. Shelia Malory is a fiftyish widow living in a small town outside of London. She has a strong academic bent so the books contain many literary references; the title CRUELLEST MONTH refers to T.S. Eliot's "April is the cruelest month." Malory visits the Oxford home of old friends and spends part of each beautiful spring day in the Bodleian Library where a particularly unpleasant researcher has been found dead under a pile of ancient books. Was this an accident or was it murder? Old diaries, World War II crimes, forged coins and much more come into play before the mystery is solved. Of course, the beauty of these novels lies in their character and set development with the resolution almost an afterthought. Very enjoyable!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at the fabulous Flag Day Concert this weekend sponsored by the Sea Cliff Civic Association and organized by Phil Como. The people I was sitting near were trying to come with a great book for Father's Day. Do you have any suggestions? Devoted Son

Dear Devoted, I thought that concert was wonderful, too. I was sitting next to the Mayor and First Lady of Sea Cliff Bruce and Robyn Kennedy and we all agreed it was a great afternoon, and interestingly, we did talk about a book that would make the perfect Father's Day gift: MY FATHER'S FORTUNE by Michael Frayn. Frayn was a young boy in England during World War II and in this biography of his father we learn much about that time in history and also the complicated relationship many if not all men have with their fathers. Frayn writes, “my father moved lightly over the earth, scarcely leaving a footprint, scarcely a shadow.” And herein lies the quiet beauty of the book- we become fascinated by a rather ordinary man as we see him through the eyes of his son- an extraordinarily successful novelist and playwright. Early on Frayn feels unable to live up to his father's rather mundane expectations and then as time goes on he eclipses his father's achievements. The guilt that accompanied both of these periods is finally resolved at the conclusion of the book when Frayn recognizes his father in himself and is left to wonder why it was so hard to express love and yes, gratitude.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I am so, so sad today. My good friend Evie Haim died this past weekend. Can you think of something I could read that would offer me some comfort. Grieving Friend

Dear Grieving Friend, You and all of Sea Cliff lost a great friend- Evie touched the lives of so many people from the youngest to the eldest among us. Her work with Landmarks is an enduring legacy, but her spirit also lives on in the hearts of so many of us who called her friend. Bob and the children are in everyone's thoughts and, yes, there is comfort to be found in books- small comfort, but comfort nevertheless. NECESSARY LOSSES by Judith Viorst was written almost fifteen years ago but is still wildly available. Viorst takes us gingerly through the losses one endures over a lifetime and helps us to see each loss as part of large, encompassing canvas. Whether it is a friend, your youth, a parent-Viorst sees all loss sharing an underlying sameness ; the book starts when we are young children and takes us up until the final loss: our own death- the loss of self. While this book may sound grim, it is actually very uplifting. Poems abound throughout and set an inspiring tone. Viorst leaves us with a feeling of peace despite the pain that these necessary losses bring to us.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru,
I am so excited about the Village-wide Garage Sale this weekend in Sea Cliff and especially the Friends of the Library's sale on the Village Green- there will be hundreds and hundreds of books at bargain prices and even a crafts table for children. But I have a mission: it is my friend Paul's birthday and I'd like to get him a great book- he loves music from the "80's and an interesting plot line. Any thoughts? Frugal Gift Giver

Dear Frugal, I have a great idea for your friend and if you are lucky you will find it at the sale: A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan. The goon squad is Time and we are all its victims - a rather sobering theme for a birthday gift…. Egan's novel is a series of sketches in which we meet thirteen characters whose lives are interconnected. It spans from the 1960's through 2019 and takes place largely in New York City but there are scenes set in Africa, Italy, and California. Each person impacts others-some in minor ways, some in major ways - but it is Time that always triumphs. We meet Benny as a forty year old and then as a teenager and finally as a man in his sixties. When we meet Sasha in the opening pages, she is a thirty-five year old kleptomaniac and then a tortured young girl in Italy, and finally a settled sixty -year old. The young man Alex whose wallet she steals in 2003 reappears in 2019 as internet scammer of sorts working for Benny in a world that is experiencing a baby boom after fifteen years of war. As you can tell, we bounce back and forth over countries and decades; it's a wild ride and read - very worthwhile!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru,
Sea Cliff is such a wonderful place any time of year, but May is a particularly special time. I just came home from the Landmarks House Tour. It was amazing: there were so many homes- from tiny jewel boxes to majestic castles- and so much in between. But next Monday is Memorial Day with its spirited parade through the Village and its bittersweet conclusion at Clifton Park; I would like to read something befitting this day. Do you have a suggestion? Memorial Day Observer

Dear Memorial Day Observer, I agree with you- the House Tour was the best ever- Tina Marchese and Leslie Guerci and all their committee members are to be congratulated on a job well done! Of course, Memorial Day evokes another side of life in Sea Cliff and I admire your desire to set the tone with a tome…. I would recommend A PEACE TO END ALL PEACE by David Fromkin. The title comes a British commander's comment at the end of World War I, " After the war to end all war, they have been pretty successful in making a peace to end all peace" referring to the decisions by the British and to a smaller extent the Americans and the French that created new borders, new countries, and new hostilities. The book delves into the many missteps and misconceptions whose repercussions continue to plague the world today. Can we learn from the mistakes of those who came before? The book suggests probably not, and this makes Memorial Day all the more poignant an observance.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I have been reading that an award-winning, recently published poet is doing a reading of his work this weekend at the Sea Cliff Library. I don't like much of modern poetry, but I am intrigued at the thought of a local Sea Cliff writer sharing his work with us. Do you think I would enjoy the event and is there any way I could prepare myself for the experience? Fearful Fan

Dear Fearful Fan, Fear not…. you are going to have a wonderful, wonderful afternoon. On Saturday, May 21, 1pm at the Sea Cliff Library, Charles Hansmann will be reading from his latest work -LONELINESS JACKET- a majestic collection of his poetry. "Some lines I know by heart as soon as I read them" is a passage from one of Hansmann's poems, but it could be said of much of his work. There is a simple elegance in his descriptions of life's tiny shared moments, and while he writes of loneliness, his tenacious connection to the world and his loved ones pervades each of his poems. You will soon realize you understand far more than you thought, but if you still would like to do a little preparation there is a new guide to modern poetry that might give you the confidence you seek- BEAUTIFUL AND POINTLESS by David Orr. As Orr says, "poetry matters to people for the same reason anything appeals to anyone: because they love it" and I am certain you will love Hansmann's poetry. In fact, there is talk of naming him the Poet Laureate of Sea Cliff. He has my vote…

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, Last weekend, a group of us were enjoying a lovely Mother's Day walk around Sea Cliff when we met our friend Charlie Weinstein . After talking about books, real estate, and restaurants- three top favorite Sea Cliff topics- someone mentioned having read a book about the closing of a restaurant. Charlie thought his book group might be interested but no one knew the name of the book. Any ideas? Book Stalker

Dear Book Stalker, I just finished reading LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER by Stewart O'Nan- a new favorite author of mine- and yes, it would be a fine choice for a book club. The novel (a quick 146 pages) is set in a Red Lobster chain restaurant in a Connecticut mall during a blizzard a few days before Christmas. The corporate owners have told the long time manager Manny Deleon that they are closing his restaurant. O'Nan creates in fine detail a portrait of this workplace: the cooks, wait staff, hostess, line people and the customers -from cranky toddlers, to coupon-bearing retirees, boisterous party goers, and predictable regulars; all come under the loving eye of the flawed but decent and indeed noble Manny. The novel recounts the last day from his unlocking of its doors to its final closing that night. His workers will all have to find new jobs- Manny himself will be an assistant manager at an Olive Garden. Since his customers have no idea that it is the restaurant's last day, Manny's dealings with petty squabbles, half price coupons, irritable waitresses, comment cards, and a mutinous kitchen staff take on a hellish, tragic-comedic quality. At the end, we are left with a strange respect for a man who has given his love and loyalty to, yes, a Red Lobster restaurant, and sadness that this love and loyalty goes unrequited.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru,
Growing up in the '60's, I have always been fascinated by the story of Malcolm X. I read his autobiography and I've seen the Spike Lee movie" Malcolm X"; now I hear there is a controversial book that challenges many of the facts surrounding his life. Have you read this book and, if so, would you recommend it? Truth Seeker

Dear Truth Seeker, Like you, I have been fascinated by the story of Malcolm X. This weekend I was at a conference in San Diego so I had a long plane ride and many hours by the pool to read the book you mention : MALCOLM X: A LIFE OF REINVENTION. The author Manning Marable, a noted historian from Columbia University, worked for over twenty years sorting out the recorded facts of Malcolm X's life; tragically Marable died a few days before the book's publication. The picture he draws is quite different from that of the poor, uneducated ex- convict who found redemption through religion and the love of a good woman and, at the end of his life, gave up his racist views in a burst of universal love. No- Marable tells us a far different story: a man who created a tawdry persona and exaggerated his criminal past to make his message more powerful- a man whose marriage was painfully unhappy- a man whose friends and family betrayed him at every turn- a brilliant international diplomat who walked and talked with kings and princes. His assassination at age thirty-nine remains clouded by mystery with suggestions of police, FBI, CIA, religious, and gang involvement. This is definitely a great read and highly recommended for its portrait of an iconic figure and a chaotic time in American history.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, Last weekend, I was at a great Easter party here in Sea Cliff and a fellow partygoer asked what I was reading. Well, when I answered " nothing", he suggested I go to you for advice. I do love mysteries- any recommendations?
Bookless in Sea Cliff

Dear Bookless, I too was at a wonderful party this weekend- the Dohertys, the Calzonettis, the DiPietros, and a new friend- Matteo Gallo- all gathered for a festive afternoon of fabulous food and conversation, and, yes, there was much talk of good books. LEARNING TO SWIM by first time novelist Sara Henry was mentioned as a must-read mystery. I enjoyed it, but I will confess I didn't love it. The story has a great opening line: "If I blinked, I would have missed it." The" it" is a six-year old boy who has been tossed from a ferry into the icy waters of Lake Champlain. Troy Chance, the narrator, dives into the water and into a darkly menacing mystery. Why does no one report the child missing, who are his parents, where did he come from? The answers to these questions unfold in an unpredictable and unbelievable fashion. At its best, this novel is an interesting character study of Troy and how she had blinked her way through life - neither seeing nor taking action- until this chance encounter causes her to rethink many of her past decisions. I read without stopping- about two hours; it was a very compelling story . I was surprised at the mystery's resolution although looking back, I realize the clues were all neatly laid out. Still, while it was well crafted, there was something unsatisfying about this book, so I recommend it with some reservation

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, What a beautiful April week we have had here in Sea Cliff! Last week when it was colder and drearier, I was at a wonderful event- the annual LI Reads Gala; this year it was at Billy Long's Metropolitan Club with John Canning as the ever- poised, erudite facilitator and master of ceremonies. While there, I heard someone mention a life-altering novel she had just finished reading. I think the title was WISH YOU WERE HERE. Are you familiar with this book and if so, would you recommend it? Searching for a Good Book

Dear Searching, John, as usual, did a fabulous job. Camille Purcell was the leader at the Sea Cliff table, and her insights made the book- SAG HARBOR- come alive for all of us there. And, yes, your search for a good book is over- WISH YOU WERE HERE by Stewart O'Nan is one of my favorites. It traces three generations of the Maxwell family over a rainy week in August 2000. The recently widowed Emily Maxwell has decided to sell her family vacation home and her children, grandchildren, and sister-in-law gather there for one last time. The painful slights, the unintended hurts, the lingering resentments that figure in every family's collective memory are starkly recounted. The book is divided into seven days and each day contains various family members' stories and observations. Early in the novel, Emily insists that everyone make up a list of what he or she wants to keep from the house; soon, we realize that what they all really want is to be able to relive their lives, undo their mistakes, and change their present situations. No trinket will do this and therein lies the horror and the beauty of this book.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I have heard that the Sea Cliff Library will be hosting an author visit and book signing this Saturday, April 16 from 1 to 3pm. I know the author Marilyn Martone, but I don't know anything about the book. Have you read it and, if so, would you recommend it? Cautious Reader

Dear Cautious, Marilyn's book OVER THE WATERFALL tells an amazing story that was so riveting I read it in one sitting. The book opens with a phone call: her 21 year- old daughter Michelle, a Phi Beta Kappa student at the University of Chicago has been hit by a car. She is near death. The family rushes to Chicago but it is only when they see Michelle does the full horror of her situation become apparent. She is severely brain damaged and their journey- Marilyn's, Michelle's, and their entire family's- begins. Marilyn who is a medical ethicist and theology professor writes with exquisite, compelling detail about the myriad of decisions that had to be made, the loving care that so many people showed to Michelle and the family, and the brutal callousness of a financially strapped medical system. Throughout, the author shows her compassion for those families who while suffering similar tragedies, do not have the support- financial, educational, and emotional - hers does. The book chronicles the unbelievable hurdles that had to be overcome to bring her daughter home. I kept thinking of the myth of Persephone and her mother Demeter. When Persephone is taken by Hades to the Land of the Dead, it is only through her mother's wit and suffering that she is allowed to return to the Land of the Living for part of each year. In this book, her mother and family and community and Michelle herself wage an awe-inspiring battle that culminates in her return .

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at the Sea Cliff Village Swearing-In ceremony last Monday. What a turnout! People say it takes a village to raise a child- well , it looks like it takes scores of people (almost all volunteers) to run this village. It was great fun and the refreshments were spectacular, but I overheard someone talking about what seemed like a very strange book- something about radioactive revenge. Have you heard of it? Citizen Observer

Dear Citizen, Yes, that was quite an event. Sea Cliff is filled with citizen-volunteers who find their niches in so many different areas. The characters in REVENGE OF THE RADIOACTIVE LADY by Elizabeth Stuckey-French too are seeking to find useful roles in society, but the past weighs heavily upon them . The lady in the novel's title is seventy-seven year-old Marylou Ahern, who in 1953 while pregnant, was given an experimental radioactive "cocktail" supposedly to ensure the health of her child. Actually it was to test whether radioactive substances were harmful to fetuses. Dr. Wilson Spriggs, her obstetrician, was the mastermind of this experiment. Marylou suffered from its aftereffects for decades but her most grievous suffering was the loss of her young daughter to leukemia, a direct result of ingesting this cocktail. Now after years of plotting and planning, she is about to get her revenge, but she is confronted with a wizened old man suffering from dementia, and his family- children and grandchildren, too- are struggling with a myriad of problems: physical and spiritual. What is left for Marylou to do? Her attempts to find peace make for a poignant and, yes, adventure-filled tale .

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I feel there is so much I don't know about huge parts of the world that are mentioned in the news every day. Could you recommend a book that might help me, but is also entertaining? Searching for Knowledge in All the Right Places

Dear Searching, I know just what you mean- it seems the more I read, the more I realize how little I know about so much. Last month I read a wonderful book that helped me understand the world a little better: MONSOON by Robert D. Kaplan. The title has multiple meanings in that, while it is a type of storm, it is also a life-changing force that expedites travel and trade. Its secondary title is "The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power." Kaplan skillfully introduces us to the countries and major cities that border the Indian Ocean- yes, there are oceans other than the Atlantic and Pacific. We learn the long history of Kolkata (Calcutta) and its dynamic present; we visit Oman whose ruling family has been in power since before the founding of the United States; we learn about Somalia's centuries' old history of piracy, and the multiculturalism of the gritty, colorful island of Zanzibar. Sometimes Kaplan focuses on a literary figure to illuminate a country's history; other times he details a piece of history to explain a country's present political affiliation. Often we feel as if we are being taken on a Grand Tour by an accomplished guide and storyteller. We come away with a warm affection for the subject matter and, yes, knowing far more about this part of the world than we imagined possible.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I have read many of the books you have recommended and have been pretty happy with your choices. Now I am looking for something to suggest to my book club. We are a group of women who meet every month or so. We prefer something under 300 pages, written by a woman, and dealing with issues that will make for a good discussion. Any thoughts? Book Club Booster

Dear Booster, I am always amazed at the number of book clubs in Sea Cliff- it truly is a book lovers' paradise. At the Children's Library alone we have six, all with cleverly alliterative names: two Pizza and Picture Books, Pizza and Paperbacks, Tacos and Tales, Novels and Nachos, and one for adults: Books and Bagels. I just finished a book I would strongly recommend for your group: SO MUCH PRETTY by a first time author Cara Hoffman and it meets all the criteria you set out. The book is told from the perspectives of twelve characters presented in short chapters, over a fifteen -year time period. The story opens with a missing twenty year old girl from a small, rural upstate New York dairy town. We learn about the many people who touched her life; the lead characters are a couple who, having turned away from their medical careers, have chosen to live a simpler, back to nature life with their young daughter. They gradually come to see the violence that underlies the community, violence particularly against women. A young investigative reporter serves as a Greek chorus as we see this unfolding story through her eyes. The characters' complex moral decisions will make for much discussion... This is not an easy book to read but one that will remain with you for a very long time.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, What a busy week in Sea Cliff! First, Election Day on Tuesday followed by a celebration of civic virtue at the Metropolitan Bistro and then St. Patrick's Day with parties all over town- from a festive lunch at B. Brown's to dinner and drinks through the night at Roots, Partners, and of course our very own Irish pub- K.C. Gallagher's. Now I would like to get into a good "welcome to spring" novel. Any thoughts? Spring Celebrant

Dear Spring Celebrant, Yes, this was a wonderful week to be in Sea Cliff. I was at a lovely St. Patrick's Gala myself where the talk quickly turned to an upcoming literary event: the annual Barbara Pym Conference at Harvard University this weekend. You probably know that Pym is a favorite of many Sea Cliff literati. Aside from her great skills as a writer, so many of her novels are set in Sea Cliff-like English villages and peopled by characters that strongly resemble our very own friends and neighbors. The Hansmann-Kennedys and the DiPietros will be there representing the Pym Society of Sea Cliff; the books to be discussed are EXCELLENT WOMEN and NO FOND RETURN OF LOVE. Either book will make you sing of spring. NO FOND RETURN… opens with the heroine Dulcie Mainwaring's odd but wise decision to attend a literary conference to get over a broken heart and a broken engagement. Her curiosity about the lives of others makes for many an interesting adventure- from parish halls to seaside resorts all accompanied by a bevy of familiar Sea Cliff-like characters. Pym's novels are touching and light-hearted at same time- the perfect introduction to spring.