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.