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.