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