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!