Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dear Great Book Guru,  I have received an invitation the Sea Cliff Civic Association's annual Newcomers Party for this Sunday.  I am so excited- I heard that over thirty fellow newcomers will be attending.  I would like to make sure I have something to talk about- other than tales of Sea Cliff, which, of course, is my favorite topic.   Please recommend a book that will be a good conversation starter.           Nervous Newcomer

Dear Newcomer, Don't be nervous- this party is such fun and marks the first of many, many exciting Sea Cliff events for you. But I do have a very good book you might enjoy: THE O'BRIENS by Peter Behrens.  Set in the wilds of Quebec in 1900, the novel  quickly moves to Venice, California to Kennebunkport, Maine , then on to  Montreal  and New York City . Over the years and miles, we come to know the O'Briens, especially Joe O'Brien who is fifteen when we first meet him and the head of a recently orphaned family.  He is a dynamic force propelling his siblings out of backwoods misery  into lives not necessarily of their choosing.  Mistakes are made but Joe's concern is always for his family. When he marries Iseult,  he vows to do better by his new family and he does , but again mistakes are made. The book studies the effects of family, fate, and geography over a span of sixty years, two world wars, and many  triumphs and tragedies.  Highly recommended!

Literary Event Reminder:  Dan Fagin - illustrious Sea Cliff resident and author of the much acclaimed TOMS  RIVER- will be discussing his book this Thursday, September 26 at 7pm at the Sea Cliff Library.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dear Great Book Guru,  I have noticed that many former Brooklynites are  moving here to Sea Cliff.  In fact, many say that Sea Cliff has a Brooklyn feel.  Do you have a book to recommend that is set in Brooklyn so I can judge this for myself?  Burgeoning Interest in Brooklyn

Dear Burgeoning,  At last year's Newcomers' Party, we noted that the majority of newcomers were indeed from Brooklyn .  I just recently read VISITATION STREET  by Ivy Pochoda ,but the Brooklyn she writes about bears little resemblance to Sea Cliff or the Brooklyn most of us have experienced .   In many ways it is closer to the communities described by Dennis Lehane in "Mystic River" and "Gone Baby Gone." Set on Visitation Street in  Red Hook, a neighborhood devastated by the Balkanization tactics of city planner Robert Moses,  the novel opens with two young teenage girls floating in the murky waters of the Gowanus Canal. Val is rescued  but June  remains missing.  We meet an interesting array of characters all of whom are marginally connected to the missing girl: Fadi, the enterprising Lebanese bodega owner who loves his adopted community and tries to bridge the gap between old time residents and the affluent newcomers;  Jonathan, a local musician- teacher whose life is being destroyed by grief and guilt; Cree, a boy from the projects, whose father was murdered years before; Ren, a young graffiti artist recently released from prison; and Lil, the alcoholic bartender whose bar attracts new and old residents, all troubled. While the author describes these damaged characters in exquisite detail,  the most vivid portrait is that of Red Hook.  Recommended!
Reminder:  Silly Shakespeare Company's  THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF HENRY VIII is this Saturday, September 21 at 6pm at the Sea Cliff Beach Pavilion.  The Great Book Guru has a small but meaningful role in this production

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Dear Great Book Guru,  The village is abuzz with talk of the latest production of the Silly Shakespeare Company- "The Real Housewives of King Henry the Eighth" which will be performed  at Sea Cliff Beach on Saturday, September 21.  I have never been able to keep  Henry's wives straight and I'm sure I will be totally confused that night .  Can you think of a book I could read in preparation for this play?  Simply Not a Shakespeare Scholar

Dear Simply Not,  I have just the book for you: BRING UP THE BODIES by Hilary Mantel. This prize-winning  historical novel tells the story of Thomas Cromwell,  a relatively obscure figure in the court of Henry the Eighth, but a man who wielded immense power and influence. It was Cromwell that arranged and help ended many of Henry's marriages.  Mantel presents us with a fascinating study of one year  1535- a year in which Cromwell conspires with Henry to end the king's marriage to the lovely Anne Boleyn. Anne and Cromwell are both commoners who have reached enormous positions of importance in this world of royal pedigree but neither -rightfully- trusts the other.  We witness the gradual ruination of Anne as Henry turns from her to Jane Seymour- aided of course by the politically astute Cromwell.  While told from the perspective of Cromwell ,   the novel presents us with  a stark portrait  of sixteenth century England,  filled with conspiracies, hypocrisies, scandals, and devastatingly brutal reversals of fortunes- somehow strangely reminiscent of our present time.  Highly recommended!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dear Great Book Guru, Now that summer is almost a distant memory, my thoughts turn to  the many upcoming events here in Sea Cliff, starting with the Good of the Village's Antique Fair this Saturday, September 7 from 9 to 4 at the Saint Boniface Field followed by Sea Cliff Fire Department's  Music by the Harbor at 5:30 at Sea Cliff Beach. What fun!   Do have a good book that I can read between events? Enjoying September in Sea Cliff

Dear Enjoying September,  I just finished a very moving book- some might call it a coming of age piece but it is much more than that .  BREWSTER  by Mark Slouka is set in 1968, in  Brewster, New York,  a sleepy town near the Connecticut border, an hour or two from Woodstock . The novel focuses on two young people who particularly need to move on: Jon whose  immigrant  parents have shut down emotionally, and Ray whose family life is suffused with violence.  Both families are suffering from the  after effects of World War II but the  country has little sympathy, as it is  enmeshed in another war.  Vietnam,  the Beatles, the draft, Charles Manson - all color the lives of these teenagers . The tragedy that finally allows the boys to leave is long in coming but shocking nevertheless.  This is not an easy book to read, but  worthwhile.