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.