Monday, December 24, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  As the year comes to an end, there are parties galore throughout Sea Cliff: Winter Solstice celebrations, cookie swaps, Christmas Eve and Day dinners ,  New Year's Eve galas, and   holiday open houses. Such fun but I do yearn to read something that will help me understand a little better the  political world we  inhabit.  Am I asking too much of any book?  Baffled by Politics

Dear Baffled, Yes, you asking too much, but as we approach the new year I suggest you  start by reading  THE EVE OF DESTRUCTION: HOW 1965 TRANSFORMED AMERICA  by James Patterson- not the Patterson of crime fiction, but  the political scientist.  Patterson's book opens at the White House Christmas tree lighting in 1964. John F. Kennedy had been dead a year and Lyndon Johnson had just been elected in a landslide victory.  A buoyantly optimistic Johnson said as he switched on the tree lights, "These are the most hopeful times in all the years since Christ was born in Bethlehem."  In 1965, he was to oversee   sweeping changes in the country' s fabric-the Voting Rights Act, Medicare/Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act, and  a series of vast education and immigration reforms.  But by the end of 1965, the country would be mired in a deadly war in Vietnam, cities would be exploding with racial violence, and Johnson was being denounced as a pariah by both the Left and Right.   Patterson offers us clues, culturally and politically, as to how this reversal of fortune came about and we the readers are left mourning what could have been….

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  I just came home from Elizabeth Weinstein's lovely annual Cookie Swap. What a great party and, as you might expect at such a gathering, throughout the evening there was much talk of good books. Someone mentioned that her book group had chosen a very controversial novella - something about  biblical characters.  It sounded interesting. Are you familiar with this book? Book and Cookie Fan

Dear Book and Cookie,  The book you are interested in THE TESTAMENT OF MARY  by Colm Toibin is indeed controversial and a great choice for  group discussion.  Toibin who has written many award winning books- BROOKLYN, THE MASTER,  BLACKWATER LIGHTSHIP, MOTHER AND SONS- all of which have an underlying theme of  Irish alienation-  turns to a very different topic:  the last days of a grieving, angry, reproachful Mary, mother of Christ.  Toibin's Mary expresses disdain for her son's followers calling them "misfits," the evangelists, "inquisitors", and refuses to see her child as Son of God, turning instead to the Greek goddess Artemis for solace.  Toibin's  Mary guiltily flees her son's crucifixion before he dies- out of fear for her own safety . She refuses to share in his suffering because" one's own pain is more than enough."  In his Mary, Toibin offers a bleak but  strangely beautiful portrait of humankind.  She says of her sufferings and her son's: "it was not worth it. "  Yes, as I said- a controversial book, indeed.

On another note: this Saturday, Dec. 22 at 2pm after the Children's Library closes, we will be gathering there for our annual reading of Dickens's CHRISTMAS CAROL.  It takes about an hour and is appropriate for teenagers and adults. Hope you can join us!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  Last week I went to Fred Stroppel's  "Season's Readings-A Twisted Shorts  Christmas" at the Creative Arts Studio here in Sea Cliff.  It was a rollicking great time - and apparently there will be an encore presentation this Friday, December 15. Fred, Liz and the Sebetic, Reres, Marchese, Dawson , Plano  troupe are an unbelievably talented group.  During the intermission, many in the audience could be heard discussing the upcoming finale of "Homeland" the controversial series on  the CIA, counter terrorism,  and the Middle East.  There seems to be an increasing number of these well written, thought- provoking series on TV.  Has there been anything written about this phenomenon?                                        Book Reader and TV Watcher

Dear Reader-Watcher,  I too loved Fred's ""Season's Readings" and plan on seeing it again this weekend. Most of the material appears in his "Christmas Cocktails" which is available on Amazon Kindle- a great last minute holiday gift for the discerning readers on your list…  I have another great book for you: THE  REVOLUTION WAS TELEVISED: The Cops,  Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever by Alan Sepinwall.  Sepinwall's premise is that over the last decade a cadre of writers and producers have used the medium of TV to change people's perception of entertainment- iconoclastc,  morally ambiguous, cynical, literate, always intellectually challenging.  He analyzes in depth twelve  series including "The Sopranos", "24", "The Wire", "Oz", "Deadwood",  "Mad Men", "Breaking Bad", "Battleship Galactica" and "Lost," showing how each broke with tradition and mirrored/precipitated changes in our nation's culture.  Truly fascinating!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,   Last weekend was such fun here in Sea Cliff with all its holiday activities and this coming week looks equally fine. First, there is the St. Boniface  Tree Lighting  and Caroling on Saturday, Dec. 8 with the added attraction of a horse-drawn carriage taking the carolers around  the Village . Then we have the much beloved Hanukkah Happening at the Firehouse on Thursday, Dec. 13. What fun!  But let's talk books for a moment….friends have recommended I read a new book about a Cambodian youth who was part of the feared Khmer Rouge.  Are you familiar with it and, if so, would you recommend it? Celebrant of the  Season

Dear Celebrant,  Yes, these are two great events not to be missed and the book you have asked about   should not be missed either. NEVER FALL  DOWN by Patricia McCormick was a National Book Award finalist this year. It tells the story of Arn Chorn-Pond who is nine-years old when we first meet him. Life is certainly not easy in the Cambodia of 1976, but it quickly turns horrific when the Khmer Rouge  takes power and a bloody ethnic cleansing begins. Before it ends, one quarter of the population has been annihilated .Especially hard hit were the educated and literate, including almost all of Arn's family.  It is very difficult to read of the traumatic suffering  that haunts the boy's days and nights in Cambodia and then cruelly follows him to  America where he starts a new life, but one  marred by guilt and remorse . The book, while spotlighting humanity's evil instincts, it is also a tale of goodness and redemption as we witness myriad acts of generosity requiring the utmost bravery by so many.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  This weekend I will be attending the Holiday House tour on Saturday,  the Christmas Tree Lighting on Sunday,  and then celebrating my friends Tina Marchese and Jackie Warren's birthdays,  but I am sure I will have time to read a good book. Any suggestions? In the Holiday Spirit

Dear In the Holiday Spirit, What fun and yes, I think I have a good book to fill any free moment you have:  SWEET TOOTH by Ian McEwan.  McEwan is a prolific writer (Atonement, Amsterdam, Solar, Saturday, On Chesil Beach….) whose works are known for their clever twists.   Told in the first person by Serena Frome, the novel takes place  in 1970's England-  an England of IRA bombings, Cold War spying, labor unrest, and a dreary economy. Frome ("rhymes with plume")has just finished an idyllic summer  with an older man who is married, teaching at Cambridge, and a former spy. When he ends their romance abruptly, she finds herself courted by MI5- the British equivalent to our FBI.  Frome,  the beautiful daughter of an Anglican bishop, and a speed reader of novels, is assigned to recruit writers whose image of the West is known to be positive ; the operation is known as "Sweet Tooth". The novel is hilariously funny ,  occasionally bittersweet , and always intellectually stimulating. A great read and only 300 pages so it should be perfect for a busy weekend !

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  What a beautiful weekend  we had here in Sea Cliff! There were parties and family gatherings galore.  In fact, we had a family reunion, a  turkey hunt, and  a bocce tournament  all on a Saturday afternoon.  Despite the great weather and everything that was going on, I really wanted to see the new Spielberg LINCOLN movie so on Sunday we joined with friends for dinner and the movie. While I loved the movie, I was confused at times and would like to learn more.  Do you have a book to recommend that will sort out all the historical figures we met? Loving Lincoln

Dear Loving Lincoln, We too saw LINCOLN  this weekend and I was very happy to have a copy of Doris Kearns Goodwin's TEAM OF RIVALS on hand to clarify many points brought up in the movie. Our friends and fellow moviegoers Vic Ambrose and Linda Halliday had read the book too, so it made for great dinner discussion.  The book's thesis is that Lincoln's genius lay in his ability to take his fiercest opponents and make them his greatest supporters. The book is really a series of multiple biographies: in addition to Lincoln, Attorney General Bates, Secretary of Treasury Chase, Secretary of State Seward, and Secretary of War Stanton.  These men were dismissive of Lincoln and angry at losing to this underwhelming, unattractive opponent. By the end of his life, Lincoln had won them all over with his sensitivity, intelligence, and good will. The book is long (700 plus pages) but a compelling study of power and personality.

P.S. This is the third anniversary of the Great Book Guru Blog. Special thanks to Ricky Silver who three years ago early on a Thanksgiving morning  helped launch this blog. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  I attended a very moving Veterans' Day celebration at the Sea Cliff Fire House this week.  The Brengel family, who had lost both a father and son in two long ago wars, was honored with a plaque in the garden outside the firehouse. Mayor Kennedy spoke as did our new Congressman Steve Israel  and Phil Como,  organizer of the event .  After the storm travails of the last few weeks, it was great to gather together on a warm sunny day to honor our past losses and rejoice in our present good fortune. While there I heard someone mention a book set in northern California about two families dealing with issues of parenting, job loss, friendship, and nostalgia. Does the book sound familiar?             Book Seeker

Dear Book Seeker,  The  Brengel dedication was very touching, indeed and I too overheard that conversation. The book is Michael Chabon's TELEGRAPH AVENUE.  Chabon and his wife Aylett Waldman are favorite authors of mine. This novel takes place in 2004 but it is an homage to an earlier time- the 1960's.  Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are partners in a viny record store; their shared love of the "60's-its music, movies, clothes, celebrities- gives focus to their lives. There are many concentric subplots- their wives who are partners in an upscale midwifery practice face a racist hospital board, their sons are mirror images of each other, both with  adolescent identity angst, and their  elderly parents are colorful artifacts of Oakland and Berkeley's   uneasy  shared history.  Chabon's love of the 1960's is evident throughout the novel and certainly gives the reader an appreciation for a fading moment of our history. Recommended!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  Throughout this surrealistic week, one of my main sources of comfort was- you guessed it- reading.  I had just gotten a copy of the book you  recommended the week before: HOW TO BE A WOMAN. It was so good to laugh, think, ponder  about something other than the cold and darkness.  Well, now I am ready for another good book to get me through the psychic aftermath of the storm.  Any suggestions?      Harried by the Hurricane

Dear Hurricane Harried,   Many people told me that, like you, they were reading HOW TO BE A WOMAN  last week and  that it prompted spirited discussion.  We have Gillian DiPietro to thank for that suggestion and, yes, I have a good book to recommend for this upcoming week: THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Fris, two Danish women writing together for the first time. Their heroine is Nina Borg,  a Red Cross nurse who has worked in  many war torn areas of the world but , as the book opens, has just returned to her husband and children in orderly, civilized,  peaceful Denmark. She quickly finds herself embroiled in a crime of astonishing cruelty because Nina's Denmark turns out to have an underbelly of corruption with widespread mistreatment of  immigrant women  and  children.   In short biographical  chapters, the authors introduce us to characters that seem to have nothing to do with one another until gradually we see the links that bind them together. From Lithuania to Denmark to Somalia, we meet women of all ages and classes, fighting oppression - all involved in a fascinating mystery which keeps the reader's attention throughout. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, I am looking forward to a great Fall weekend in Sea Cliff filled with Halloween happenings.  On Sunday from 3 to 4pm we will be at Central Park for the Cider Social, an annual Sea Cliff Civic Association event, hosted this year by Heidi Hunt and the her Girl Scout Troop #22. There will be music, crafts, and treats and hopefully everyone will come in costume.  Time for reading will be limited but do you have something that would make me laugh but make me think ?    Halloween Reveler

Dear Halloween Reveler,  This is indeed a fun weekend in Sea Cliff- don't forget the Fire Department's Halloween Costume party on Saturday night, Oct. 27.   I just finished a very funny, very provocative book:  HOW TO BE A WOMAN by Caitlin Moran, a columnist for the Times of London. She writes about growing up as one of eight children in an impoverished English suburb in the1980's but this is not simply an autobiographical sketch .Rather the author's well met goal is to humanize and universalize feminism. She talks frankly about body image, motherhood, celebrity worship, weddings, pornography, and overpriced purses. I laughed aloud throughout the book but also found what she said disturbing and certainly thought-provoking.  She fiercely denounces sexism in its many subtle and not so subtle forms and always with great wit.     Highly recommended!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,   Last week I attended the Sea Cliff Civic Association's Newcomers'  Party . I had a great time meeting over forty fellow newcomers  and learning how we all found our way here to Sea Cliff.  As the evening went on, some of us started discussing favorite novels and one couple mentioned a book about a lost girl who reluctantly returns to her family after a four-year absence. It sounded like an interesting take on parenting, marriage, and the adolescent psyche. Does this  book sound familiar and, if so, would you recommend it?    Newcomer to Sea Cliff

Dear Newcomer,  Welcome to Sea Cliff and yes, you belong to a wonderfully enthusiastic group- the Newcomers' Class of 2012!  The book you are thinking of is a dark tale indeed but a worthwhile and compelling read: THE CEMETERY GIRL by David Bell.  Tom Stuart and his wife Abby have one child-  the mysterious, beautiful twelve-year old Caitlin who disappears one beautiful spring day with only the family dog Frosty as witness to her departure.  As the years go by, Abby turns to religion to offer her solace while Tom obsessively follows  every possible lead an attempt to make sense of this eerie mystery. The novel opens as Abby is planning a memorial for Caitlin despite Tom's angry refusal to admit she is truly gone .  The story that unfolds is a complicated tale of deceit, anger, false steps, and redemption ; yes, nothing is as it seems at first.  Be prepared to read straight through the almost 400 hundred pages- this is the proverbial page-turner!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,   I was at a great debate party this week in Sea Cliff and, between politically charged outbursts and shouts, someone mentioned a recently published collection of biographies. I am looking for a something for a rather difficult- to- please book group and this sounds like it might work. What do you think?         Avid Debate Partygoer

Dear Avid, I too have attended some merry and some not so merry debate parties lately . But yes, indeed, I do know the book mentioned. And you are right- it would work beautifully for a group with divergent interests and limited time.  Joseph Epstein's ESSAYS IN BIOGRAPHY is made up of forty short (15 to 20 page) character sketches of 19th and 20th century icons with a quick dip into the 18th century (George Washington) and the   5th Century BCE (Xenophon).  Politicians form one category- Adlai Stevenson's story titled "the Man Who Couldn't Say Yes" was particularly memorable, showing a man in constant conflict with his strong moral compass and weak political skills.  Literary figures are treated  less kindly- Gore Vidal is pummeled  with "his essays are the intellectual equivalent of the comics."  Athletes fare much better-Michael Jordan's piece is particularly adulatory. Epstein calls him "the reincarnation of Achilles without the sulking and without the heel."   Start with any one of the forty and you will quickly become enmeshed in a sometimes brutally critical, sometimes outrageously funny , but always fascinating take on a life. Very good read!  

Monday, October 1, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  This Sunday is the Sea Cliff Mini Mart and I hear that the Friends of the Library will be having a huge book sale on the Village Green .  While I have scores of books on my Kindle, I always like to buy some interesting  hardcovers to read and enjoy. Should I be looking out for anything special?    Mini Mart Maven

Dear Mini Mart Maven,   While many of my friends  have lost their enthusiasm for the Mini Mart, it is still one of my favorite Sea Cliff events. My friend and neighbor Lou Ciampi agrees with me; in fact, he goes so far as to say after Christmas, it is probably his favorite holiday. But as you are looking over the huge selection of books Carol Poll and her Friends committee have amassed, you might want to look for HOUSE OF STONE  by Anthony Shadid.   Shadid chronicles the restoration of  his family's abandoned home on the outskirts of Beirut, Lebanon.  Much more than a story of bricks and tiles, plumbing and landscaping, the book tells of the family who left this house to find lives in other countries but always carried with them a combined sense of loss for their past and gratitude for the present. He meticulously records the turmoil the village underwent as the landscape of the Middle East changed with  the rise of new governments and old religions.  As  the book ends, Shadid predicts that the house will endure and be a source of joy for decades to come; however, we the readers know that while covering the Afghanistan war for the New York Times,  Shadid died - just weeks before the book was published.   He was forty-three years old.   A disturbing read…. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  I had such fun at the Silly Shakespeare Company's production of Julius Caesar at Sea Cliff Beach and I heard the cast party back at Billy Long's Metro Bistro was spectacular.  The Sea Cliff Civic Association is to be commended for sponsoring yet another event which so enriches the life of the Village.   While at the performance, I overheard someone mention a prolific Norwegian author who writes psychological thrillers of high literary quality. Do you know who she is ?   Seeker of Literary Thrills

Dear Seeker,  I am glad you mentioned Metro Bistro- next Tuesday, October 2  at 7pm- Billy is hosting  a Sea Cliff first: Trivia Night, and apparently there will be great prizes. But back to Karin Fossum- yes, she is the author you heard being discussed.  I just finished her latest: THE CALLER.  We find out quickly that the caller/prankster is Johnny Beskow , a young boy damaged by  a troubled alcoholic mother. More compelling are the stories of his victims- a young couple with an adored baby daughter who end up rethinking their marriage, a middle-aged couple  valiantly coping with Illness who give into despair, a spry older woman whose  premature obituary steals her joy in life.  The book underscores how a small act of cruelty can easily destroy our sense of  security, and the devastating impact this has on our lives. A good but troubling read!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,   I will be at Sea Cliff Beach this weekend for the Silly Shakespeare Company's encore performance of "Julius Caesar" (Saturday, 6pm). I plan to get there early because this performance should attract a huge audience.  While I 'm waiting for the show to start, I'll need something good to read. Any ideas- I'm thinking non-fiction….?   Shakespearean Scholar Sitting by the Sea

Dear Sitting by the Sea,   What fun! Spooky Park's Shakespeare was great but I think Sea Cliff Beach might be even a better venue. I do have a good book for you: THE VIOLINIST'S THUMB by Sam Kean.  It starts out with an interesting history of DNA research from 1860 to the present with mini bios of Gregor Mendel, LI's own Barbara McClintock, and Charles Darwin  among many others, but then takes a spectacular turn with each subsequent chapter telling a DNA story, beginning with as Kean calls him "perhaps the most unlucky man of the twentieth century" Tsutomu Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi rushed out of his apartment in Hiroshima, on August 6, 1945, was struck down by the atomic bomb blast, struggled mightily against horrendous odds to get home to his wife and children, arriving  in Nagasaki on August  8 to be once again struck down by an atomic bomb blast.  Despite extensive radiation exposure, he lived a long life, dying in 2010. What was it about his DNA that he survived and others did not?  From cat hoarders to Egyptian royalty,  the book is filled with  interesting case histories - all of which illuminate our understanding of life.  A good read!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  I have heard that we have a famous author living here in Sea Cliff with a much acclaimed first novel coming out this month. Do you know anything about this?                                 Sea Cliff Author Stalker

Dear Author Stalker,  Yes,  Michael Sears, a renowned Sea Cliff resident, has his first novel coming out Sept. 18.  Lucky me- I was able to read an advance copy of BLACK FRIDAYS and I loved, loved, loved it!  Sears's hero, Jason Strafford had it all: fabulous Wall Street job, seven figure salary, beautiful wife, perfect baby boy… then it all came to an end. Jason was arrested for financial malfeasance, his alcoholic wife leaves him, his son is diagnosed as severely autistic.  We meet him as he is being released from prison after serving a two year sentence.   Jason quickly becomes mired in dangerous business. Hired by an investment firm  to clean out the files of a young stock trader who has died in a drowning accident, he soon finds there is much awry in the files and the firm. While this piece of the novel is riveting, the even more fascinating story is Jason’s quest to reclaim his son and provide him with a good life. His love for the boy- who he  affectionately refers to as The Kid- adds much depth to the novel and, as he unravels the intricacies of his son’s psyche, he gets a clearer look into the human condition- both good and evil.  Highly recommended!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  My friends and I are planning on attending the annual Good of the Village Antiques Fair this Saturday, September 8  right here on  Sea Cliff Avenue near St. Boniface's.  I always find such great things at this fair but I did promise myself that before I bought a single item, I would check with you about a new mystery series for the fall and winter months.  My criteria?  An interesting location,  well developed characters, and a  complicated plot.  Any ideas?           Seeking Mysteries                                                        

Dear Seeking Mysteries,  How lucky are you!   I just discovered a great, great series that I know you will love. The first book in the series (the fifth was just published)is CHRISTINE FALLS by Benjamin Black who is a pseudonym for the literary award winner John Banville. Set in 1950's Dublin, the novel features Quirk, a fiftyish agnostic pathologist who has a complicated back story-abandoned by churlish parents, and raised by a wealthy Dublin politician whose son Mal is Quirk's rival in many arenas.  Christine Falls is a young woman who has  fallen from grace but then most of  Black/Banville's characters  could share that description.   As you can see, Black/Banville uses the Dickensian technique of naming characters based on their personality traits. His writing is startlingly lyrical, but the mood is definitely fifties noir with clouds of cigarette smoke, vats of whiskey,  rain soaked nights, and a cadre of corrupt politicians and clerics. When asked if he is lonely, Quirk answers, "Of course-isn't everyone?"  Highly recommended!

P.S. Dan and I attended the annual Barbara Pym Conference in Oxford, England last weekend . As usual it was fabulous with wonderful speakers, fascinating participants, and entertaining dramatizations-  with the lovely setting of St. Hilda's College. Next year will be Pym's centenary so you might consider joining the Sea Cliff Pym Society in Boston, March 16 and 17 for a gala conference and celebration.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  After having had a wonderful June, July, and August filled with joyous events and wonderful books, I would like  something that will get me through these last bittersweet days of summer- I think I need a real page turner.                        Approaching September with Trepidation

Dear Approaching,  I know just what you mean- we arrived back today from a perfect weekend in Martha's Vineyard with the Marcheses and many DiPietros - what fun - but  now there is definitely a sense that fall is in the air. However,no problem: I have just the book to guide you into September. Knowing we had a five hour ferry trip from Manhattan to Martha's Vineyard , Gillian, Dan, and I decided to read BROKEN HARBOR  by Tana French  (the joys of a family Kindle account!).  Set in present day Dublin, the novel is both a compelling murder mystery and a fascinating sociological study of Ireland's crippled economy with its devastating impact on everyone- rich, poor, young , old.  Pat and Jenny Spain are a loving, successful, industrious couple with two adorable children, two great jobs,  and a heavily mortgaged new home in a planned community(a "ghost estate" as they are now called) about two  hours outside of Dublin. All of this ends tragically when Pat loses his job; in addition, the developers have abandoned the housing project. The shoddily constructed homes are deserted, half finished shells where animals and vagrants have taken shelter.  The story opens with three of the Spains dead and one savagely wounded;  the reader is led from one suspect to the next by  Detective Mickey Kennedy who has a myriad of his own problems in this new, economically doomed Ireland.    Recommended!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  On Friday,  I will be leaving Sea Cliff  for a vacation weekend with friends and family, and we will be staying near the Edgartown Lighthouse in Martha's Vineyard. Lighthouses have always intrigued me with their sense of mystery and isolation;  just recently, someone told me there is a new novel set at a lighthouse in Australia, always a fascinating location. Do you know anything about this book?   Lighthouse Lover

Dear Lighthouse Lover,   While on my beautiful  porch this weekend,  I saw my friends Bill and Kathy Vitale walking by;  I could barely stop reading to chat with them because I was so engrossed in just the book you are asking about: THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS by M. L. Stedman. I recommended it to Bill and Kathy and I recommend it to you too. The book opens as a young Tom Shelbourne, after a harrowing four years as a much decorated  World War I officer , begins his career as master of the Janus Lighthouse, located on a remote island between the Indian and Arctic oceans . We follow his courting of the lovely, spirited Isabel  and their married life on this isolated rocky island. When a healthy newborn and a dead man wash up on their shore, they begin to make a series of decisions that will impact the rest of their lives and the lives of countless others.  Throughout we are challenged to see the morality of their choices and we are left to wonder over and over what would we do in their situation. A wonderfully thought-provoking book!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,   I have really enjoyed the Civic Association's Sunset Serenades every Thursday night this summer at Memorial Park. The music has been great and the setting amazingly beautiful. I know Chris Schatz is responsible for the lovely lights we have this year, Petrice and Walter Kaider see that everything is in place, and each week someone from the Civic Association provides delicious refreshments. So what is missing from this idyllic picture? Yes, a good book to read while waiting  for the music to begin….any ideas?  Sunset Serenade Swooner

Dear Swooner,  I do admire your desire to always have a good book at hand and I certainly have one to recommend: DARK PLACES  by Gillian Flynn, author of the current bestseller GONE GIRL.   This  earlier  novel is indeed a dark tale- told from the perspectives of three characters-Libby, Patty, and Ben Day and told in alternating  time periods- the present and  January 2, 1985, the day on which Patty and her two daughters were murdered. Libby survived and Ben has spent the last 22  years in prison for the murders. The crushing poverty the family endures while trying to eek out a living on their failing Kansas  farm permeates the whole novel. Domestic abuse and community disdain for this family  add to the pain the children and mother endure until the brutal finality of the murders . Libby is a memorable character who although damaged by her past is willing to rethink her history for the right price and what she discovers brings this novel to a shocking conclusion.  A good read!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,   I am looking forward to spending my vacation week at the loveliest of spots: Sea Cliff Beach.  I see myself lounging on one of those comfortable blue canvas chairs underneath a blue and white stripped umbrella  set up by the gracious beach staff and reading for hours. What is missing from this picture? Yes, a good book!   Do you have something to recommend?                         Summering in Sea Cliff

Dear Summering,   What an idyllic scene… and I do have a good book for you: SKIOS by Michael Frayn.  Frayn is a favorite of mine; he has written many novels and plays over the years and all are literary gems of one kind or another.    His latest work SKIOS is an hilarious novel of mistaken identity that punctures  the pretentious worlds of academia, philanthropy, and public relations.    Wealthy guests from around the world converge on a private Greek island Skios to hear a world renowned , middle-aged, pompous academic  Dr. Norman Wilfred give the keynote address for the   Fred Toppler Foundation's  annual conference. When Wilfred arrives everyone is shocked to find him  young, attractive, and charming. Of course, he is not Wilfred, but an irrepressible con artist Oliver Fox who has mistakenly picked up the renowned doctor's luggage, passport, and,yes, his identity. Meanwhile, the not  so young, not so attractive, and certainly not so charming Wilfred finds himself at a remote villa without cell phone or luggage but with a beautiful  woman who was meeting  Fox for the first time.  The story takes many zany twists and turns but Frayn's genius lies in his ability to keep it all going while allowing us to ponder the deeper questions of who we really are and how do we know what we know.  Great fun!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  Last week I read in the New YorkTimes about a book that had been published here in Sea Cliff that focuses on Middle East espionage.  Are you familiar with the book and if so, would you recommend it?   Intrigued by Intrigue

Dear Intrigued, This book: SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman has been much discussed on TV, radio, in the print and online media , and, yes, on the streets of Sea Cliff;  I definitely found it fascinating. Raviv and Melman trace the history of the Mossad,  Israel's  elite secret service, from its inception in the late1940's until the present time. Much of the book deals with fascinating stories of Mossad  past successes and some of its notable disasters. The authors' most startling revelation is that the intelligence agency has changed its focus  from a myriad of countries  to one : Iran. Anything and everything is being done  to prevent  nuclear warhead development by Iran with assassinations and cyberattacks  the chief means used.  An illuminating book and one that reads like a novel!

On another completely different note- best wishes to Jenna Fendt and Justin DiPietro on their wedding this weekend.  May you have a life filled with joy and, of course, much good reading… Love to you both!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, I have just taken the New York State law boards and after months of arduous study, I have an overwhelming desire to read for pleasure and excitement.  I plan on checking out your past recommendations but is there something this week you would particularly recommend?                                                         Law School 2012 Grad Seeking Literary Pleasure

Dear Law School Grad,  What a relief to have that exam completed and now to a summer of reading delights!  I just finished  a first novel that you might enjoy:  THE AGE OF MIRACLES  BY Karen Thompson Walker.   Set in present day California, the novel opens on the most ordinary of days: eleven-year old Julia is having typical middle school problems: her best friend seems distant, her parents are irritating, her teachers unreasonably demanding, the school bus is late… and then the world begins to slow down- literally. The day is no longer  24 hours- it is 24 hours 36 minutes and this is only the beginning. Quickly the world is coping with 6 weeks of daylight followed by 6 weeks of darkness. Life on earth changes completely and yet Julia’s life, dominated by concerns of parents, friends, and school, remains  much the same in this eerily apocalyptically transformed world.  We see what little control humans have when the physics that control the earth go awry, but there is also a sense of joy in the small miracles that continue to color people’s lives.  A quick read but one that you will remember for a long time!

In Memoriam:  Donald Sobel- author of the Encyclopedia Brown series of mysteries- a favorite of many, many children and adults and a special favorite of Daniel and Justin DiPietro.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  You mentioned a few weeks ago that you were starring in a performance of “Julius Caesar” to be performed here in Sea Cliff. When will it be since I certainly want to attend?  And,  is there a book you would recommend I read in preparation?  Smitten with Shakespeare

Dear Smitten,  Yes, the Silly Shakespeare Company under the very able direction of Elizabeth Sehring will be celebrating its tenth anniversary this summer with a performance of “Julius Caesar”  Saturday, July 21 at 7pm with a dress rehearsal on Friday also at 7pm both in Spooky (Elm) Park on Dayton and Elm Streets. While my role is small, yet meaningful, the play itself is an amazing visual  spectacle  with a very talented cast.  Definitely attend and bring a blanket or beach chair and be prepared for a evening of  great fun and much pathos! The book I recommend you read is Robert Caro’s THE PASSAGE OF POWER.   Just as Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is a study in the  passage of power from one leader to another, so too is Caro’s biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson- a detailed study of the days and months that followed the assassination of JFK and how LBJ transformed the country with his power to control the minds and actions of his fellow politicians. Caro devotes much time to the bitter feud of Johnson and Robert F. Kennedy, both powerful figures with long standing grievances who are brought together by a brutal  assassination.  Julius Caesar, Brutus, Marc Antony, and Cassius all can be seen as prototypical characters in  Caro’s modern day tragedy. A chilling, informative read!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  I had such a wonderful time at the Beach Palapalooza this weekend. The Beach Committee deserves a round of applause for orchestrating this great event. While listening to the beautiful music of Rich Boehm, one of the event’s many, many talented performers, I overheard someone mentioning a book she was reading for a book club; it was a mystery set in New York City in the 1850’s based on an actual murder trial. I love that time period in NYC history. Do you know this book?  Fixated on the 1850’s

Dear Fixated,  I too enjoyed the Palapalooza tremendously. I was there off and on from morning until the 11pm closing…great fun!  The book you are interested in is a favorite of mine: 31 BOND STREET by Ellen Horan. Based on a sensational murder case,  this historical novel  explores a time of enormous wealth and crushing poverty,  the tensions brought about by the recently passed Fugitive Slave Act which seemed posed to undo the successes  of the Underground Railroad, the dubious ethics of sensational journalists, and the massive corruption of city police and politicians.  New York City is described in such detail that you quickly come to realize the city is a major character in this  novel.  While our sympathies lie with the defendant, the mysterious Emma Cunningham and her  idealistic attorney Henry Clinton,  we are still shaken by the brutality of the dentist Harvey Burdell’s murder. Although the story takes place 150 years ago, there is a strange sense of the familiar throughout. A compelling read!  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,   I hope you can help me- everywhere I go in the beautiful village of Sea Cliff I am assaulted by visual spam.  Our streets and sidewalks are cluttered with signs advertising services, events, real estate, politicians, garage sales….on and on and growing in number every day. Is there anything we can do to stop this scourge on our landscape and, if not, can you at least recommend a good book to distract me?    Down on Signs

Dear Down on Signs,   Oh, how I agree with you and let us hope the populace will rise up against these intrusive blemishes but until this happens, I do have a wonderfully distracting book to recommend- GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn. A psychological thriller of high literary caliber, this book is the story of a marriage gone really, really bad  in an economy gone really, really bad. With lost jobs, foreclosed McMansions, failing industries and empty storefronts as  backdrop, former Brooklynites Nick and Amy Dunne prepare to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary in Nick’s hometown of North Carthage, Missouri.  The day’s festivities take a dark turn when Nick returns home to find Amy missing, the house in disarray, and a life built on lies beginning to implode . The reader is cleverly manipulated throughout as the story shifts in time and perspective until a shocking but very satisfying conclusion.  A good read, indeed!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  This weekend is the start of the Fourth of July week celebration here in Sea Cliff. I am so looking forward to the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence on the Village Green  and I would very much like to read something that will be in keeping with the day's celebration. Any suggestions?                     Fan of the Fourth

Dear Fan of the Fourth, My friend Bob Haim who is a great student of history  told me about a wonderful book that might be just what you are looking for….FOUNDING BROTHERS by Joseph Ellis. I enjoyed it immensely and I am sure you will too. The Founding Brothers were the  intellectual and political giants  of the American Revolution.  Ellis takes six events that he sees as defining moments for the new nation. Beginning with the famous Burr/Hamilton duel, he shows the underlying tensions and tenets that bound these men together but also tore them asunder. He describes in exquisite detail the secret  dinner  hosted by Jefferson and attended by Madison and Hamilton that determined Washington, D.C. as the  nation's capital . Benjamin Franklin stars in the chapter entitled "The Silence" in which the question of slavery's place in the new nation is quietly put aside- and Franklin silenced because of his abolitionist views.  The complex relationship of Adams and Jefferson is analyzed in the final chapter  where the two are reunited after years of  brutal hostility  and see each other once again as "brothers."  Highly readable and very informative, this book is a perfect choice for the Fourth of July week.

P.S. So many exciting things are happening over the next few days I am hard pressed to choose which to recommend but….  Thursday, June 28 at 7pm the beloved Sunset Serenade concerts begin and will continue every week through the summer. Sunday, July 1 at 11am is the First Annual Sea Cliff Pet Parade. Bring your pet and yourself to Memorial (Sunset) Park for a march down Sea Cliff Avenue. "Happy Birthday USA" will be celebrated Tuesday, July 3 at 6pm at the Children's Library with cake, song, and treats for all ages. And, of course, on the Fourth of July at 10am on the Village Green-outside the Library- the Reading of the Declaration of Independence with music, toys, drama,  and refreshments!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, Sea Cliff Beach goes into its full seven day schedule this weekend and I am thrilled. There is no more beautiful place with its blue umbrellas, new pavilion, and sparkling sands-and I plan on spending many a day there reading and enjoying the sights. Do you have an exciting book to get me started?     #1 Fan of Sea Cliff Beach

Dear #1 Fan, I agree- Sea Cliff Beach has never looked better- thanks in no small part to Ann Koppel- Beach Manager Extraordinaire and Mayor Bruce Kennedy with his enthusiastic support of all things Beach!  And, yes, I do have a suggestion for your first beach read of the season: THE EXPATS by Chris Pavone. When Kate Moore and her husband Dexter decide to change the direction of their lives, they choose Luxembourg as their new home. Kate and Dexter both have been living lives of quiet duplicity and desperation. Unbeknownst to her husband and children, Kate has been a CIA operative for the last fifteen years, and Dexter's life too is steeped in mystery.   When the  Moores become part of a community of expats, all their secrets come back to haunt them especially when they are befriended by a rather imposing couple from the States who seem to have secrets of their own and a great deal of interest in  Kate and Dexter.  The book takes us for quick, scenic forays to Paris, the Swiss Alps, Austria, London, and Amsterdam with colorful details of shops, restaurants, and delicious meals abounding. While certainly a spy novel, EXPATS with its many plot twists, clever character development, and insights into the life of Americans abroad, is so much more.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  I was at the great Red, White and Brass Concert sponsored by the Sea Cliff Civic Association and the Village of Sea Cliff last Sunday in Clifton Park. It was beautiful and while I was chatting with my friends Cee Wheeler  and Dennis Buckley,  someone said the next big Village event is the First Annual  Sea Cliff Bloomsday Walk. I had also heard this mentioned while I was on the Secret Garden Tour the day before.  Do you know any of the details and is there something I can do to prepare myself?                       Bloomsday Bon Vivant

Dear Bloomsday Bon Vivant,  I agree- it was a lovely concert- Phil Como  was the visionary that made it all happen- and yes, there will be a  Sea Cliff Bloomsday celebration this Saturday, June 16 at 8:30am (details are below).  Every  year around the world, Bloomsday is celebrated to commemorate James Joyce's novel ULYSSES which recounts in minute detail the events of June 16, 1904 as experienced by three Dubliners: Stephen Daedalus, Leopold Bloom, and Molly Bloom.  Joyce said " I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if one day the city suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book." It is not an easy book but certainly not as difficult as many would insist.  My favorite approach is to listen to it being read; Joyce was a talented musician and his prose is truly lyrical.  You can download it from Sea Cliff Library's website or borrow it on CD. Another approach is to follow a simple guide such as THE NEW BLOOMSDAY BOOK by Harry Blamires or ULYSSES AND US by Declan Kieberd.  Of course, Saturday's walk will be very illuminating and not to be missed!

First Annual Sea Cliff Bloomsday Celebration- meet at the Sea Cliff Water Tower aka Martello Tower on Saturday, June 16 at 8:30am for a walk through the pages of James Joyce's ULYSSES. There will be brief readings at each stop along  this Joycean jaunt which will end at Sea Cliff Beach aka Dublin Bay.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  While jogging through our lovely Village, my  good friend John Kenny came upon a troupe of actors rehearsing at Spooky Park.  The play was Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and John  said it looked like a fine production.  Well, I am very excited  because Julius Caesar has always been a favorite  of mine. That the populace can so easily be swayed by  powerful oratory continues to fascinate me. Can you recommend a book that analyzes this phenomenon?   Piqued by Politics

Dear Piqued, Yes, I too find the politics of persuasion most interesting and I just finished a book that delves into that very topic. It is THE CANDIDATE by Samuel Popkin and  while he broadly addresses crowd manipulation, he focuses on  three presidential candidates: George H.W.Bush Sr., Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton and why all three lost public support.  Popkin  begins by spotlighting candidates who seemed surefire winners at the outset  (Thomas Dewey, Rudy Giuliani, Gary Hart) and then stumbled badly. He contrasts them with Ronald Reagan and his  amazing ability to win  the "hearts and souls" of the electorate. He compares challengers to speedboats that can navigate quickly with little or no waves and incumbents to battleships that must proceed slowly and cautiously but produce huge waves. From incumbents, the public looks for promises fulfilled  while challengers can get by simply with  promises of a rosy future.  For me, the most interesting  chapter  was on the public's seeming inability to vote in its own best interest when confronted with powerful, conflicting rhetoric. A very good primer for the upcoming November election!

Reminder: Sunday, June 10 at 3pm is the Flag Day Concert and Picnic at Clifton Park. This event is sponsored by the Village of Sea Cliff and the Sea Cliff Civic Association. Bring blankets, chairs, and lunch for a great afternoon!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,   I am headed this weekend for the Sea Cliff Civic Association's Village-Wide Garage Sale and my first stop will be the Friends of the Library Book Sale right outside the library. Do you have a suggestion as to what I might keep an eye out for?             Book Browser/ Buyer

Dear Browser/Buyer,  What fun this weekend will be and I too will be right there with you at the Library sale. Carol Poll and her fabulous team have been gathering and sorting for weeks so I'm sure you will find some literary jewels . My recommendation to you is AFTERWARDS  by Rosamund Lupton. A mystery surely but much more, this novel is set in present day England at a very expensive private school- Sidley House. Eighteen year old Jenny , recently graduated from Sidley, is working there as a nurse's assistant for the summer. She and  her brother Adam, an eight-year old student at the school, are trapped in a terrible fire which turns out to have been deliberately set. Their mother Nancy races into the building to save them and eventually discovers that her children are not random victims but instead the chosen objects of this terrible crime. As the mystery unfolds we learn about class warfare, school  finances, overachieving teens and underachieving parents, all from the perspective of  comatose Nancy who tries to solve this mystery . While some readers might be put off by this device, it does offer an interesting way to get into the minds of so many characters.  Grace discovers that people are seldom who they appear to be and situations are never as simple as we would like. An exciting and worthwhile read!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  Memorial Day weekend in Sea Cliff with its  sweet parade and lovely ceremony at Clifton Park always fills me patriotic fervor. Also, of course, Sea Cliff Beach officially opens, so I would love to lie  on the sand with a good book about American history, but with a  somewhat different twist.Any thoughts?   Sunshine Patriot                                                                                                                                                 

Dear Sunshine,   I have just the book for you:  ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER  by Seth Grahame- Smith. My erudite friends Jim and Chris Schatz both recommended this book to me a few weeks ago. In fact, Jim specifically recommended it as a beach read, but I disagree: it is much more than that. The book, after you get past the title, is really a fascinating study of good and evil using the vampire myth as metaphor. Grahame-Smith traces the struggle between these Miltonic forces, beginning with the mysterious disappearance of the lost colony of Roanoke, through the French and Indian Wars, the American Revolution, the conflicts leading up to and including the Civil War, culminating in the Civil Rights marches of the 1960's. Using actual letters and newspaper accounts, the author traces the violence that permeated our culture to a longstanding clash between good and evil with Abraham Lincoln as the pivotal  player in this drama.  While farfetched at times, the novel is always entertaining and its treatment of  actual history illuminating . Lincoln emerges as an even more complex and admirable figure than our history books have portrayed him. A good read!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am so excited. .. my husband and I and two other couples have decided to start a monthly book club and we will be meeting this week to discuss what to read and some basic logistics. Do you have any suggestions to help us get started?         Eager to Discuss                                                                                   

Dear Eager,  What a great idea and interestingly, this weekend the DiPietros, the Marcheses, and the Hansmann-Kennedys  have formed just such a group. They met at Diane's in Roslyn for a delicious dinner followed by an even more delicious discussion of  the opening book of THE FORSYTE SAGA  by John Galsworthy- an excellent choice- one you and your friends might consider. Set in  the early twentieth century, the novel chronicles a time, a class, a world long over but shockingly contemporary in many ways.  Soames Forsyte is "a man of property" who values money, real estate, and power. He sees  all of life through this dark prism and is deeply frustrated when  his wife -the beautiful  Irene (arguably his most valued "property")- is repulsed by him and all he treasures. Her love affair with the architect Bosinnery  forms the dramatic heart of the novel but the larger story is that of the Forsyte family- a cast of over thirty; these people despise and distrust each other, covet one another's possessions and good fortunes, but are curiously drawn to the idea of family, spending countless hours together. Oh, yes- back to your group: I would suggest choosing a restaurant you all enjoy,  a time where you won't be rushed (Sundays are a good choice), and, of course,  when it comes to selecting a book- the Great Book Guru is always here for you!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  I just received a mailing from the Sea Cliff Civic Association and I am so excited about all the events that are coming up over the next few months. I am definitely planning on taking part in their  village-wide Garage Sale on June 2 and, yes, that very weekend will be my twenty-five year high school reunion. When will I find time to read? Help!!!   A Busy Bibliophile

Dear Busy Bibliophile,  How funny you should mention your class reunion because last night, I finished a novel that deals with just that subject.  THE RED BOOK by Deborah C. Kogan takes its title from the red book that Harvard publishes for its alumni every five years. Made up of autobiographical sketches each graduate submits, the red book is eagerly awaited and serves as an informative prelude to the reunion weekend. Kogan focusues on four alumni, contrasting the brief facts each writes with the real life each is living.  We follow the four across the country to a world they had inhabited twenty years ago. Good and bad decisions, illnesses, financial triumphs and disasters, 9/11, the  collapse of the newspaper industry -all play roles in this novel.  The characters are cleverly described in alternating chapters so we come to feel we really know them; then we are catapulted another five years to their twenty-fifth anniversary where much has changed once again. This book is easy to dismiss with its simple plot and chatty style, but the overall effect is quite moving.  I hope your reunion has less drama than this one but you never know….

PS  If you are in Sea Cliff this Friday, May 11 at 3pm, stop by the Children's Library for the annual Maypole Dance/ Founders' Day celebration. As in past years,  Walter and Petrice Kaider will graciously "plant" the Maypole for all of us to enjoy.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, I would like to buy my mother a book next week for Mother's Day- something she would really enjoy. She loved the Woody Allen movie MIDNIGHT IN PARIS which detailed the 1920's in Paris with cameo appearances by Flapper Age luminaries.  Can you recommend a surefire winner?           Devoted Daughter

Dear Devoted, I just had this same conversation with my friend Deb Pierce; her mother, like Deb, is  a voracious reader so a good book is always the perfect gift for her. I suggested PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain and this would be a particularly fine choice for you too.  Set largely in 1920's Paris, the novel is told from the perspective of Ernest Hemingway's first wife Hadley Richardson. When we first meet Hadley, she is twenty-eight years-old, living unhappily with her sister and brother-in-law outside of Chicago. Her career as a pianist is going nowhere and her marriage prospects seem dim, when she meets the twenty- year-old Hemingway. Both have had strained relationships with powerful families and find themselves  instantly drawn to each other. Within weeks, they have married and are headed off for Paris where Hemingway hopes to launch his literary career. Once there,  the couple finds the dazzling lifestyle of the Lost Generation to be in stark contrast to the horrific devastation brought about by the Great War. Detailed  descriptions of  Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce , Ezra Pound , John Dos Passos and many other familiar names form a fascinating backdrop to the story of this most conventional of Hemingway's many marriages. A good read!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, Last week I was at a party where the Sea Cliff Civic Association honored Lorraine Garry on her new baby and Laura Parker Russo on her recent marriage. Amidst all the toasting and gaiety, someone mentioned having just read a much acclaimed new novel by a first time author. The theme reminded me of the Titanic but I can't remember the title. Have you read it and if so, would you recommend it? Nautical Enthusiast

 Dear Nautical, You might want to curb your enthusiasm for the sea after reading this novel: THE LIFEBOAT by Charlotte Rogan. Set in 1914 , two years after the sinking of the Titanic, the story opens with the trial of a young survivor of another shipping disaster. Grace Winter, recently married to a wealthy banker, had been returning to New York aboard the ocean liner Empress Alexandra to meet his family when a huge explosion destroyed the ship and left only a handful of survivors, forty of whom end up in Lifeboat 14. It soon becomes apparent that some will have to die for the rest to survive. The power struggle that ensues pits the formidable crewman Hardie against the equally formidable matron Mrs. Grant. Gender, class, money, history, personality…. all play roles in determining the outcome, but the most fascinating aspect of the story is Grace's changing version of what actually happened before, during, and after their three weeks lost at sea. While we are never sure of the truth of any of her testimony, the question that truly confounds us is "does Grace herself know the truth?" While short (267 pages), this is an emotionally exhausting book to read but also strangely enjoyable as we delve into the psyche of a genuine survivor.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, I just finished a book you recommended a few weeks ago: THE GOOD FATHER and I really enjoyed it. In fact, I suggested my book club read it next month. Do you have another book with a father-son theme that I might read? Fan of Father/Son Novels

Dear Fan, Yes,I have the book for you: DEFENDING JACOB by William Landay. Again we meet a father faced with the possibility his beloved son is a murderer or... perhaps just an innocent teenager caught up in a hellish web of intrigue and circumstantial evidence. Andy Barber is a highly respected assistant DA living a very good life- happy marriage, cherished son, lovely home in a tranquil community when tragedy strikes: Ben, a classmate of Jacob, Andy's son, is found murdered. Andy takes charge of the case until mounting evidence points to Jacob's involvement. Andy struggles between doubt and certainty throughout the book and, to our confusion, he appears in chapter openings to be addressing a jury. Who is on trial, who is the victim, who is Jacob? We are kept in suspense throughout as we watch Andy and his wife despair as they come to realize they know very little about this son they love so dearly. The author brings all the pieces of this intricate family/court room drama together in a truly unforgettable conclusion which will leave you marveling at the author's skill and, yes, at a parent's love and loyalty in the most dire of situations.

PS This Saturday, April 21 at 3pm the Sea Cliff community that so loved Evie Haim will gather at Central Park to honor her memory. Evie was a dear friend to many of us and she continues to be greatly missed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, Last weekend I was at a great Easter Gala with friends and family- the Dohertys, the DiPietros, the Calzonettis, and the Fossetts all were there when someone mentioned that she had just read a new book by Anne Tyler. Well, I love her- she's probably my favorite author but I have heard nothing about this latest work. Have you read it and if so would you recommend it? Devoted Fan of Anne

Dear Devoted, Anne Tyler is a huge favorite of mine too and this novel- BEGINNER'S GOODBYE- will not disappoint you. Set again in Baltimore with a grieving, damaged man as its hero, this latest work reminded me of so many of her previous books but as always there is interesting twist. Aaron is mourning his wife Dorothy who died suddenly when an ancient oak fell on their house crushing her. Looking back, he realizes their marriage was not particularly happy or rewarding but still he misses her desperately or… if not Dorothy, at least her presence. Well, he soon has that back because she begins appearing to him and questioning him about some of the truths that formed their marriage. As a publisher of a series of books for beginners such The Beginner's Guide to Surgery, The Beginner's Guide to Income Tax, and The Beginner's Guide to Gifts, Aaron wonders if he what he needs is a beginner's guide to goodbyes- learning to say goodbye to not just his wife but to the life he shared with her. There are many wonderful surprises in this book and, you are left to marvel at Tyler's ability in less than 200 pages to capture the ultimate grandeur of such flawed, quirky, but endearing characters.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, With the holiday weekend coming up, it will be difficult to get to my regular reading but if you have something compelling, not too long, and fast moving, I could devote some time to it. Any thoughts? Harried Holiday Reader

Dear Harried, Yes, I have just the book for you-THE GOOD FATHER by Noah Hawley. My friend Camille Purcell had spoken highly of it and, as I always value her recommendations, I began reading it immediately, finishing it three hours later. Camille was right once again. In the opening chapter we meet Paul Allen, a respected rheumatologist at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, his wife, and young sons as they follow on TV news of the assassination of a very popular U.S. Presidential candidate. Minutes later Paul gets the grim news that the alleged assassin in custody is Paul's son from a previous marriage, a popular, somewhat detached nineteen year-old who has dropped out of college and been traveling across country for the last year. The divorce many years earlier had put Paul and the boy on opposite coasts with little sustained contact. .Experiencing guilt and remorse, he begins to question decisions made long ago as he tries to defend a son the world clearly sees as a pariah. Using an interesting device, the author takes us into the minds of Lee Harvey Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan, Squeaky Fromme, and John Hinckley, Jr. in an attempt to explain the thought process of a political assassin. Whether it is nature, nurture, chance- we are left with an overwhelming sense of pity for this good father who loves a son he cannot truly know or understand.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru. Many of my friends have read the first book in the "Hunger Games" series, and I wonder if I would enjoy it. I know it is written for a teenage audience, it is violent, and is fantasy- none of which makes it very appealing to me, but I am intrigued because of all the publicity it has gotten. Have you read the book and if so, would you recommend it? Hungry for a New Genre

Dear Hungry, Yes, I have read THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins and while I had many of the same reservations you have, I did enjoy it and would recommend reading it and also seeing the movie. Last weekend, we were at breakfast with the Merediths (formerly of Sea Cliff and now of Rhode Island) and the Kennedy-Hansmanns when the topic came up of why adults would be attracted to novels whose target audience is middle school and teen readers .What do so many sophisticated, educated adults find interesting in these books ? Well, I think the best of YAs (as these books are called) are clever, fast moving, and offer glimpses into worlds we want to learn more about .To be able to be transported into another universe and back all in a day's reading is very compelling for the time-strapped reader of whatever age. HUNGER GAMES offers even more with its carefully developed plot and memorable main character: a young woman who is angry, fierce, competent, and at times touchingly compassionate. Her ethical dilemmas while set in a futuristic , post-apocalyptical world are familiar to all of us and, yes, there are chilling hints of the barbarism that lies below the veneer of our civilized present day world. A good read!