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 .