Thursday, December 25, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  As the holiday festivities continue into 2015, I would like to take a moment and think about the years behind and the years ahead.  Do you have something to recommend that is short but very, very  meaningful?                                Ponderer of the Past and Future

Dear Ponderer, I have just the thing for you: A LONG CHRISTMAS DINNER by Thornton Wilder.  His play “Our Town” has always been a favorite of mine and this one act play captures much of that same spirit. Time passes and people inevitably move on.  The set is a long table festooned with Christmas baubles and around this table sit the characters. Over forty minutes- the length of the play- ninety years of Christmas dinners are celebrated.  We meet characters as young people, sometimes infants, elderly relatives, thriving businessmen and women, fathers, mothers, aunts- with the only constant being the set. Deaths occur as characters exit through portals on stage and costumes are kept at a minimum with white wigs used to show characters aging. Throughout we sense a beautiful symmetry as time passes and life is renewed.  A wonderful, wonderful reading for anytime of year, but particularly as the year winds down. Highly recommended!

If you are in Sea Cliff on New Year’s Eve, join us on the Village Green a few minutes before midnight to welcome the new year in!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  This year is the 25th anniversary of Elizabeth Weinstein’s beloved Cookie Swap . There are many cookie swaps throughout the Village- in fact a group- the Sea  Cliff Moms-  had its first get together this year and it was a great success so the  tradition grows! While at the Cookie Swap, there is always talk of new books and old favorites.  Do you have something I might read - something with a holiday slant?  Long Time Cookie Swapper

Dear Long Time Cookie Swapper,  At this time of year,  I always find myself rereading  Oscar Hijuelos’s  MR. IVES’ CHRISTMAS. When we first meet Mr. Ives,   his life is perfect- after  beginning life as a foundling, he was adopted into a good home and now in 1954,   he is a successful New York businessman with a beautiful, loving wife and two adored children and buoyed by a deep  faith in the goodness of all things.  By the second chapter, with the murder of his young son on Christmas Eve, his faith has been destroyed.   The rest of the book deals with Ives’s struggle to make sense of his loss. While it might seem like an odd choice for holiday reading, there is something enormously uplifting about this book as we follow Ives on his journey from a hollow grieving man to a gloriously forgiving redemptive figure. In many ways, it is a contemporary version of Dickens’s CHRISTMAS CAROL as we travel back in time to joyful moments and then forward to moments of unspeakable horror and then forward again to Ives’s moment of ultimate salvation.   This beautifully written story of his journey through life will remain with you for a very long time. Highly recommended!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  Sea Cliff is filled with the holiday spirit- I just came back from the Tree Lighting on the Village Green and now I am looking forward to the Hanukkah Happening on Tuesday, December 16, 6:30pm at the Fire House. Friends and I will be getting together at a favorite spot- the Sea Cliff Bistro- known to all as Lily’s- this week to discuss books we have read over the last couple of weeks. The problem is I haven’t read anything in quite a while. Do you have something I could read quickly, but also worthy to bring " to the table" ?  Holiday Sprite

Dear Holiday Sprite, After years of looking forward to John Grisham’s newest legal thriller- I found myself losing interest and eventually I stopped reading them but in the last couple of years, I feel his books have improved.  His latest GRAY MOUNTAIN came out this fall and it is indeed an important work.    Samantha Kofer is a 29 year- old third year associate at a prestigious New York law firm, whose career takes an abrupt turn with the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers. The novel contrasts the excesses of her former privileged existence with her new position at Mountain Legal Aid Clinic in the ravaged town of Brady, Virginia in the heart of the Appalachian mountains- a town rife with poverty, illness,  and injustice.    Grisham’s characters – good and bad- are vividly described, but it is Big Coal that receives the most devastating indictment as we learn of its corruption of nature, community, and the legal system.  A hard but necessary book to read!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,
With temperatures in the 60’s, it certainly doesn’t feel like December, but the coming weeks will certainly be filled with winter fun, beginning with the Tree Lighting on Sunday, December 7 at 5pm on the Village Green. Last week I read a mystery you recommended – somehow winter nights cry out for a good mystery- and I would love to read another – something short but heavy into character. Any thoughts?  Mystery Maven

Dear Mystery Maven, One of the most revered mystery writers of the last fifty years, P.D. James died this week so I think it fitting to recommend one of her classic works: AN UNSUITABLE JOB FOR A WOMAN, featuring the indomitable Cordelia Gray. Gray, a young English woman, has  inherited a struggling detective agency  in a rather seedy part of London.   Her first case involves the death of a young Cambridge student Mark Callendar, son of a wealthy, aristocratic scientist. As in all James’s novels, it is the descriptions of place and character- not the plot or crime- that capture the reader’s attention. Gray’s struggles with class obsessed witnesses and sexist colleagues make this 264 page book so much more than a quick read, while  the intrigues of university life and village politics elegantly trump the details of the actual murder.  Recommended!  

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru, 
We are busily enjoying this wonderful Thanksgiving weekend with family and friends, but I would love to read something compelling-a mystery would be great- perhaps with a foreign locale.  Any ideas??  Thanksgiving Celebrant

Dear Thanksgiving Celebrant,  I just finished a wonderful book- really a literary mystery- set in present day Dublin: THE SECRET PLACE  by Tana French.  In the opening chapter, Stephen Moran, a disgruntled Cold Case detective is visited by sixteen year old Holly Mackey who tells a strange story- she has found a photo posted on a bulletin board (the secret place) in her posh Dublin boarding school implicating classmates in the murder of a popular young student. The novel, while definitely a murder mystery, is also a story of adolescent friendship and Irish class warfare.  We meet eight young girls all with fascinating back stories -all of whom might be implicated in the murder of Chris Harper, the young man whose story differs widely depending on which of the girls is describing him. French’s take on  social media forays and language makes for a compelling read as we learn more and more of the tangled web that ensnares these young people.  Told over one day, this novel spotlights the  interrogating skills of the police as they delve into  each of the young people’s  stories of what really happened that night.  A great look into modern day social mores here and in Ireland 2014.  Recommended!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,   I have heard the Sea Cliff Civic Association is hosting  a toy  turkey hunt  in Geohagen  Park  (also known as Headless) this Sunday, November 23 from 2 to 3pm . Heidi Hunt of the famous Sea Cliff musical group the Milky Ways will be there with cookies and apple cider for turkey hunters of all ages. While I am waiting for the hunt to begin, I would love a fun book to read. Any suggestions?    Turkey Troubadour

Dear Turkey Troubadour, This should be a truly memorable event; in fact,  there is talk of the Great Turkey himself making an appearance, and I do have a very funny book for you to read: SO, ANYWAY –John Cleese’s autobiography.  Cleese is known best for his Monty Python series, movies, and our family favorite: Fawlty Towers.  In this book we hear in his very distinctive voice the stories of classmates, teachers, parents-  many of which he would later use in his comedy creations.   He also draws on his study of social psychology to explain to us what makes a joke work, an action funny,  a character likable. Even without ever having seen  Monty Python or Fawlty Towers, you can find much to enjoy in this book with its  vivid  portrayal  of middle class village life in post war England as we follow Cleese on his road to Cambridge and beyond. Recommended! 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  I had the most wonderful weekend…. We went to the Chill Out on Friday- much thanks go to Ed Lieberman and Kathleen DiResta for the fabulous music and entertainment throughout that very chilly  night.  I loved the exhibit at the Museum- Sara Reres did a great job welcoming the crowds into the very cozy, refreshment filled building. Then on Saturday we had the Progressive Dinner where I met so many old and new friends.  Tina Marchese and her committee worked their magic again with 170 guests happy  and well fed in 23 homes around the Village. Now please find me a good book to read over the darkening  days of November.   Weary Weekend Celebrant

Dear Weary Weekend Celebrant, I have a very interesting book for you: MOLLY FOX’S BIRTHDAY  by the Irish writer Deirdre Madden. Narrated by an unnamed playwright, this short novel (254 pages) takes place on one summer day in Molly Fox’s memorabilia filled Dublin home . Molly and the narrator had met twenty years before and over the years both have achieved great success in their  careers. Molly is a forty year-old well known actress with many, many friends that we meet as we move back and forth over the decades. An intellectual priest, an Oxford trained art historian, a rebel soldier with dubious loyalties- all figure in Molly’s story as we meet them and learn their stories over the course of the novel.  What roles  we assign ourselves during our lifetimes and how we choose to act on these choices form the basis of this intellectually stimulating tale. Recommended !

Monday, November 3, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru, With Sea Cliff’s Chill Out on Friday and the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Progressive Dinner Saturday night, I can hardly contain my excitement.  But by Sunday, I know I will want to relax with something interesting to read, but probably not a novel.  Any suggestions?  Chilling and Dining Out in Sea Cliff

Dear Chilling and Dining Out in Sea Cliff, I just read a fascinating book A SPY AMONG FRIENDS:  KIM PHILBY AND THE GREAT BETRAYAL by Ben Macintyre.  Philby was born shortly after the end of World War I into an eccentric, aristocratic British family.  His life’s trajectory began when, after expressing to family friends an interest in government, he was immediately offered a position in Britain’s elite spy service- MI6.  Thus began his  parallel existence as a double agent.   While there have been many books written about the Cambridge Five- the notorious post World War II spies who graduated from Cambridge University and rose through the ranks of England’s most prestigious establishments only to be revealed as long standing Soviet agents- this book focuses on Philby and his betrayal not only of his country but also of his friends. George Elliot was the closest of these friends-colleague, drinking partner, roommate, constant defender, and finally the person who likely arranged his escape to Moscow. E.M. Forester, the renowned British writer, has said “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friends, I hope I should betray my country.”  Philby betrayed both and his story is an amazing tale of intrigue and deception- strongly recommended! 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  First, the Halloween Party and Parade Friday at 1pm on the front lawn of the Children’s Library  and then the next day- the Pet and Puppet Parade  at 11am organized by Karen Kessler- what an exciting weekend here in Sea Cliff!  Will I have time to read -please something short but, of course, meaningful?  Lover of Pets, Puppets and Parties

Dear Pets, Puppets, and Party Lover,  I have a  beautifully written,  very disturbing  200 page book that I highly recommend: THE CHILDREN ACT  by Ian McEwan.  Fiona is a highly respected English Family Court judge who deals with troubling cases of parental rights. Her own life is comfortable, but she is beginning to rethink past decisions and life choices. Her latest case involves a young man with leukemia whose treatment requires blood transfusions. He and his parents are devout Jehovah Witnesses so transfusions are out of the question.   Because he is a few months short of his eighteenth birthday, the court can supersede his wishes and it does. The transfusions take place, he recovers, his parents are secretly jubilant, and all is well…..or so it seems. When he becomes estranged from both his religion and his parents, he reaches out to Fiona as a beacon of beauty and wisdom. While she tries to maintain a professional distance, she finds it more and more difficult as her affection grows. Yeats’s “ I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears” becomes the youth’s refrain, and Fiona, while neither young nor foolish, is indeed full of tears by the end of the novel.   Thought- provoking and highly recommended!  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru, Last weekend I attended an amazing Fred Stroppel production THE BLIND TRUTH- the story of the life and music of Vinny St. Marten.  During the intermission, we were marveling at  Vinny’s incredible story - when someone mentioned a book  about a young writer  who took the stories of Russian émigrés, picking and choosing details to create new life stories.    It sounded interesting…are you familiar with it?     Fan of THE  BLIND TRUTH

Dear Fan of THE BLIND TRUTH,  What a great show and I just heard it will be performed again  in November.    Daniel DiPietro recommended A REPLACEMENT LIFE by Boris Fishman last month and I enjoyed it immensely. It is the slyly humorous and moving story of young Slava Gelman, an undervalued junior editor for a New York magazine who is convinced by his grandfather to write a restitution request for World War II reparations from the German government. Huge problem-  the old man has no basis for the claim, so Slava must use details from his decreased grandmother’s horrific wartime experiences. Soon he finds himself writing dozens of these life stories for neighbors and friends. The lines between truth and fiction cross while Slava struggles to reconcile loyalty to family,  aversion to fraud, fear of deportation, and a growing  pride in his writing.    Colorful characters and love interests abound but the novel’s greatest attraction for me lay in its portrayal of South Brooklyn’s Soviet émigré community.  Highly recommended!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am very excited… I just moved to Sea Cliff this summer and I will be attending the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Party for Newcomers this Sunday. I would like to have a book to talk about if there are any awkward moments at the event. Any suggestions?  Newcomer to Sea Cliff

Dear Newcomer to Sea Cliff, The Newcomers’ Party is a wonderful tradition and-  don’t worry- I promise  there will be no time for awkward moments! But I will recommend a book that just about everyone I know has read or is reading: BIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty.  While on the surface a breezy look at life in a seaside community, this novel offers a stinging attack on many of the petty concerns of upper middle class parents. Throughout, a Greek chorus of these parents offers insights both true and false. Playground bullying, birthday party politics, kindergarten art projects, nutrition fanatics, and finally a murder- feature in this cynical look at suburban school life.  But at its core is the issue of violence against women; so while there is a cozy domestic feel to the book and one may smile and smirk at the antics of its characters, this is a serious look into our society where lies big and little entrap so many. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  I was at Metro Bistro after Mini Mart with Kathy Calzonetti and Maris Geist when our conversation turned to Time- where it goes, what does it mean, how fast and slow it moves. As we were talking, someone at a nearby table mentioned a novel by an Irish writer that touched on just these questions. Are you familiar with it?  Tricked by Time

Dear Tricked by Time,  I loved the book TIME PRESENT AND  TIME PAST  by Deirdre Madden and it does, indeed touch on “timely” topics.  Fintan Buckley is a happy man- a successful Dublin  attorney with a loving extended family - who suddenly questions his understanding of time – what does past mean- can we see the future while living in the present - does time change everything or nothing?  In what seems on the surface to be a cozy domestic tale, we are presented with questions that defy explanation .  While Madden gives us many colorful details about Fintan, his wife Colette, mother Joan, sister Martina and his three children, we soon realize these people who all love one another, know very little about each other.  Memories of the past have been corrupted by time and premonitions of the  future are limiting their pleasures of the present. Set in 2007, the characters are burdened by Ireland’s past Troubles and we the readers by our knowledge of what lies ahead for the doomed Celtic Tiger. This is a short, beautifully written novel that has at its core the most difficult of questions. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am very excited about MiniMart Sunday, October 5.  I love walking around town and meeting up with neighbors and friends- old and new-  but late in the day when the crowds are heading home, I like to sit with a good book and read for a few hours.  Do you have something short but challenging?  Mini Mart Maven

Dear Mini Mart Maven,  Mini Mart is  also one of my favorite Sea Cliff holidays; in fact, my neighbor Lou Campi  and I agree it might be up there with Christmas and Thanksgiving! This week my book group finished a short novel that just might fill the bill for you: BORDER CROSSING by Pat Barker. Tom Seymour is a child psychologist who, thirteen years before, had served as an expert witness at the trial of Danny Miller, a ten year old accused of murdering an elderly neighbor. Danny has just been released from prison and has begun a new life with an apartment, a job , and a new name- all provided by the British social services system. Danny tracks down Tom in an attempt to understand what happened those thirteen years ago.  More a psychological study than a mystery, the book gradually reveals the imperfect borders that exist  between good and evil and we are left to wonder what is innocence, what is guilt?   Highly recommended!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  After the last couple of fun-filled weekends here in Sea Cliff, it is sad to realize Summer is really over and Fall is about to begin, but I can seek comfort in a good book, right? Any suggestions?   Adjusting to Autumn

Dear Adjusting to Autumn, I just finished a very interesting book- a book that reminded me in some ways of Sea Cliff: PERFECTLY MISERABLE: GUILT, GOD, AND REAL ESTATE IN A SMALL TOWN  by Sarah Payne Stuart.  Having left her childhood hometown of Concord, Massachusetts when she was eighteen, Payne returns fifteen years later, married and pregnant with her third child. Her goal is to gain her parents’ approval, show them have bad they were at parenting, and, yes, give her children the childhood she thought she’d had.  Needless to say, a recipe for disaster.   Real estate agents, home renovators, and PTA officials are all described in humorously biting detail as are the Alcotts, Thoreaus, and Emersons of 19th century Concord fame. But Payne’s most humorous and painful descriptions are saved for her mother.  A descendent of a wealthy, literary family, now married to a mattress salesman, she never had the money or grace to live as she wanted.   But the book is much more than a family memoir- it is also a story of zoning battles, architectural review boards, tear downs, landmarks, preservationists versus modernists…  Sound familiar?  

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru, What a wonderful weekend we just had….the Antigone Rising concert was a spectacular event with the most amazing music.  The verve, the crowds , the delicious food and drink all added to a great night and guess what….we will all have one more time to celebrate before Sea Cliff Beach’s Summer 2014 comes to an end. Saturday, September 20 at 6pm the Sea Cliff Civic Association will present Silly Shakespeare Company’s Mac…Nooo…or “the Scottish Play” as the superstitious among us call it. How I would love to spend one more afternoon down at the beach reading a good book and waiting for the fun to begin!  Any suggestions?   Fan of the Bard

Dear Fan of the Bard, You are so right…..  Sea Cliff’s own Kristen Henderson and Nini Camps and the rest of the band gave an unforgettable performance at Sea Cliff Beach and I do have a great book for you to read while waiting for Silly Shakespeare to begin:  THE LIAR’S WIFE by Mary Gordon.    This- her latest work- is a collection of four novellas each about seventy pages long, all connected by a search for truth. In “The Liar’s Wife” an older, affluent woman meets her ex-husband after fifty years and learns about the person she has become; in “Simone Weil in New York” a young mother meets her teacher, the legendary mystic, and questions her earlier devotion to the woman. In “Thomas Mann in Gary, Indiana” a ninety year-old man looks back on the finest day of his life- the day in 1939 he was chosen to introduce the famed writer Mann to his high school class- the day in which he began to question the truths his family and community lived by.   In the final piece “Fine Arts” a young woman travels to Europe to study the artist Civatali’s sculpture and discovers the depth of her passion for truth. Beautifully written, each of these novellas leaves the reader with many unanswered questions about one’s own need for truth.  Highly recommended!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am very excited about the coming weekend performance of my favorite group Antigone Rising at the Sea Cliff Beach Pavilion- Saturday, September 13 at 6pm.  I plan on getting there early and reading on the beach while waiting for the concert to start. Can you think of a book I might enjoy?  Fan of Antigone Rising

Dear Fan, I am sure most of Sea Cliff will be joining you at the concert, including myself.  I read an interesting autobiographical novel a few weeks ago that has remained with me: FLYING SHOES  by Lisa Howorth.  The story opens as Mary Byrd Thornton is listening to an NPR newscast in her Oxford, Mississippi home as she waits for her children to come from school. The phone rings – the caller is a detective who has been studying cold cases and has just discovered who had killed Mary’s nine- year old brother over thirty years ago. Mary must appear in Virginia with other family members, but he will not reveal the killer’s identity until they are all present.  Mary has a paralyzing fear of flying so she embarks on a road trip to Richmond with a colorful array of friends. The novel takes place over one week and we soon realize this is not a murder mystery but a more a study of how people’s lives are shaped by tragedy. Zany eccentrics, a vivid description of life in the Deep South in the 1990’s, and a beautifully poetic voice all come together to give the reader an unexpected treat.  Recommended!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am headed over to the Antiques Fair this Saturday, Sept. 6 at the St. Boniface Field.  It is always great fun and I love to support its sponsor: the Good of the Village Association.  My children attend those wonderful science workshops at the Children’s Library that are funded every summer by the GVA. Do you have a good book for me to read afterwards?  Go GVA!

Dear Go GVA,  I just got back from the annual Barbara Pym Society in Oxford, England and one of my first stops will be the Fair. While we were away, with the long plane ride back, I began  Rick Perlstein’s book: THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE.  Over 800 pages, this book chronicles the years 1973- 1976 when Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace and Ronald Reagan began his run for the presidency.  It is the third  book in a proposed quartet: BEFORE THE STORM and NIXONLAND are the earlier works.  Together they offer a fascinating account of the political and cultural history of America in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s.  What do Patty Hearst, The Exorcist, long gas lines, and Watergate have to do with America in 2014?  Perlstein brings these and much, much more together as he takes us through the  years  to show  the remarkable impact they have had on our nation.  A chilling reminder that seemingly innocuous events  can have devastating consequences.  Recommended!

PS.  Don't forget Sea Cliff Fire Dept.'s Music on the Harbor at Sea Cliff Beach on Saturday, Sept. 6  from 6pm on....  great music with Chicken Head and Kris Rice & Company plus food and drinks. Sounds like a fabulous night !

Monday, August 25, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  I was at Amy Peters’  Farmers’ Market last Saturday morning in front of the Sea Cliff Library buying some wonderful produce when I overheard a conversation about a new book- set in Woodside, Queens- that was “hauntingly beautiful.” Any thoughts? Labor Day Lounger

Dear Labor Day Lounger,  Labor Day weekend might be the perfect time to read WE ARE NOT OURSELVES  by Matthew Thomas in that work so defines its characters’ lives.  We meet Eileen Tumulty Leary in 1951 who as a young fourth grader is caretaker to her immigrant parents.  Before this 600 page novel is over, Eileen has become her husband’s caretaker also, but under very different circumstances. In between we witness the changes that America undergoes from the Eisenhower to the Obama presidencies.    Eileen’s life embodies much of the American dream and yes, nightmare, as she copes with economic, spiritual, and cultural changes that gnaw away at many of her beliefs and dreams. While told mostly from her perspective, the book midway introduces the voice of her son Connell who tries to come to terms with his complicated feelings towards his mother and father while struggling to find meaning in his work.  Indeed- a Labor Day gem and highly, highly recommended!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  With Labor Day weekend fast approaching, I feel I have to enjoy all those  Sea Cliff special summer moments: breakfasts and lunches at the beach, the Civic Association’s Thursday Sunset Serenades, Friday beach pavilion concerts….and, of course, reading a good book while looking out on the harbor. Do you have something to recommend?  Lover of Summer in Sea Cliff

Dear LOSISC, I share your love of summer in Sea Cliff, but remember a good book can bring you joy all seasons of the year!  Here’s a good one to start off the weekend:  Emma Healey’s ELIZABETH IS MISSING, a literary novel with two mysteries at its core.  Maud, the 82 year-old narrator/heroine, has just found a compact mirror that she hasn't seen in over seventy years in her friend Elizabeth’s garden. It belonged to her adored elder sister Sukey who has been missing all these years. The sweet, exquisite details Maud remembers of her early years in postwar England and the sadness that permeated the years after Sukey’s disappearance make for a good book,  but it is  Maud’s faulty memory- whether from Alzheimer’s or old-age dementia- that makes this book so unusual.  We are not sure if she has forgotten important clues or is she being purposely misled by those around her. The two missing persons in her life- her sister and her friend Elizabeth- come together in her mind and ours, as we try to understand what really happened long ago.  An unreliable narrator but a very rewarding read- highly recommended!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  I feel summer is slipping through my fingers and there is so much I want to do before Labor Day and top on my list is reading a great book down on Sea Cliff Beach under one of those beautiful blue striped umbrellas. Any suggestions?   Anxious in August

Dear Anxious,  I will be joining you down at Sea Cliff Beach this Saturday from 5 to 10 pm listening to Crash the Beach- a fundraiser for Mutual Concerns and featuring many of Sea Cliff’s finest performers. Get there early and start reading a beautiful and disturbing classic ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT by Erich Maria Remarque.  With the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, there have been many books and articles published this year about the so called Great War but this short novel (258 pages) written in 1929 by a young German soldier  stands out as the most devastating account of the futility and brutality of war.  The book follows six German soldiers fighting on the western front .  The suffering- physical and emotional- that these young men endure and inflict is recounted in painstaking detail. Told by eighteen year-old Paul Baumer, the novel depicts how the lives of all those who fought were changed forever. He questions over and over the morality of killing other young men who are not his enemy, but rather the declared enemy of statesmen and politicians who rule far from the dangers of battle.  An astonishingly relevant book written over eighty years ago- highly recommended!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,   Last weekend, I went to a really lovely exhibit of Sea Cliff landscapes sponsored by the Sea Cliff Arts Council at the Sea Cliff Library. Photos, oils, pastels, and watercolors were all represented and the unique beauty that is Sea Cliff was captured in each one of the entries. A local book group was there to support some of its members who were exhibiting and one of them mentioned a new book they planned on discussing- it was set in the 1940’s and featured two sisters’ adventures here and in Europe. Any thoughts?  Sea Cliff Landscape Lover

Dear Sea Cliff Landscape Lover,  I loved the exhibit too- Kathleen DiResta did a great job gathering the works of over twenty very talented local artists.  And, yes, I recently read Amy Bloom’s LUCKY US and enjoyed it immensely.  This is an unconventional story of luck- good and bad and the reader is never sure which is which. Tragedy, triumph, disaster, success- all intermingle.  Nothing is as it seems: forged college transcripts and birth certificates, betraying mothers and lovers, clever fortune tellers and makeup artists create a world where truth is completely elusive. The characters are funny, star-crossed plucky victims of fate.  Their improbable journey takes them from Ohio to Dresden, London, Hollywood, Brooklyn and Great Neck – with each stop along the way portrayed in rich, colorful detail.   A hard book to summarize and even harder to forget- highly recommended!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  I was at a wonderful concert last week at the Bitter End in Manhattan: Antigone Rising with Sea Cliff’s own Kristen Henderson and  Nini Camps. Much of Sea Cliff was there to join in the fun and, sure enough, during a break in the music, a group next to me started discussing their book club’s latest pick- a collection of linked short stories that spanned eleven centuries. It sounded intriguing…any thoughts?                                  Fan of Antigone Rising

Dear Fan,   I too am a great fan of Antigone Rising and so enjoyed that sense of the moveable feast that is Sea Cliff.  IDEAS OF HEAVEN: A RING OF STORIES by Joan Silber is indeed a perfect choice for a book group.  Each story stands alone but minor characters in one emerge as major players in the next with many fascinating linkages and all told from a different character’s point of view.  We meet Alice in the opening story as a teenager and follow her over forty years to meet her again in the closing story which is her husband’s.  In between we read of a sadistic dance instructor, an Italian poet from the sixteenth century, an American missionary caught up in the Boxer Rebellion of 1906, and a French widower living through the tumultuous 1960’s. Each so different but all sharing  a common longing:  the longing to be complete- an idea of heaven.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  I had a great meal the other night at Still Partners-Chef John Doran prepared a delicious array of fish, chicken, and pasta dishes that we all enjoyed.  At a nearby table,  I heard someone mention a popular summer novel she had enjoyed. It was about a family and their friends renting a home together and the problems that arose.  Any thoughts? Enjoying the Summer

Dear Enjoying the Summer,  I agree- we  are really lucky in Sea Cliff with our great dining choices and I do especially love listening in on literary conversations.  My guess is your fellow diner was referring to the very popular New York Times bestseller THE VACATIONERS  by Emma Straub. Set in Majorca (seems like a popular spot this summer), the novel is told from the  viewpoints of its seven characters: Franny, matriarch and food critic; Jim, her husband who has been forced out of his job because of brief romance with the daughter of one of his bosses; Bobby, their 28 year-old son and his much older personal trainer girlfriend Carmen; Sylvia,their 18 year-old daughter who is looking ahead to college and her reinvention; and, finally, Charles and Lawrence, friends of Franny’s.  All these characters arrive at the vacation home with secrets and sorrows. Living in close proximity doesn’t make any of these go away and before the two weeks of vacation has ended, the reader is left wondering why anyone would want to leave home.  A quick, breezy read!

Some of my readers might be interested in another book I read this week: A GREAT AND HOLY WAR  by Philip Jenkins.  The author show how religion and spiritualism fueled the First World War and created our modern day world with its never-ending clashes of Christians, Jews, and Muslims.   Armageddon, Our Lady of Fatima, and the Armenian genocide are just a few of the topics this fascinating book discusses. From Africa to North America, Jenkins shows his readers how religion determined the outcome of World War I. Highly recommended!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru, Last weekend I had a fabulous time at Sea Cliff Beach’s Friday Night Music. Sue Giordano has been organizing these evenings for many years and this opening night was  spectacular with both the Roger Friedman Band and Joe Ciampa’s band RiDe performing- truly  double the pleasure! While there, I heard a group of fellow music lovers talking about a new book they had all recently read- a psychological thriller whose lead character was particularly loathsome. Any ideas?                                       Fan of Sand and Music

Dear Fan of Sand and Music, Listening to the amazing music at Sea Cliff Beach this weekend, I too vowed to return every Friday. Also, this weekend, I read the SUMMER HOUSE WITH SWIMMING POOL by Herman Koch who wrote the widely acclaimed: THE DINNER. The title SUMMER HOUSE … is a play on fatuous vacation real estate offerings, but there is little playful about this novel.  Marc Schlosser is a successful physician to a star filled roster of actors, producers, singers, and models.  His practice is based on keeping these celebrity patients happy by accepting- no, actively encouraging- their less than healthy lifestyles, in addition to offering a steady supply of drugs.  In the first chapter Marc is accused of murdering one of his well-known patients and for the rest of the book we travel back and forth over the previous year to learn how these charges came about.   He is a despicable character, but the story is compelling and cries out to be read in one sitting. Not as good as THE DINNER but recommended, nevertheless.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  This past weekend was such great fun that I did not want it to end. With Happy Birthday USA, Sunset Serenade,  the Fourth of July celebration on the Village Green, the Patriots’ Parade down Sea Cliff  Avenue, the dedication of Lincoln Plaza, the Beach Palooza, fireworks,  parties all over town…. there was little time for reading but now I see some lazy, hazy summer days lying ahead. Do you have something good to suggest?  Lover of Summer and Books

Dear Lover of Summer and Books,  I too wished this Sea Cliff week of wonders would not end. While I loved every minute of every event, I did find time to read a short, perfect vacation novel- THE LEMON GROVE by Helen Walsh.  The book details one week in the life of Greg, Jenn and their daughter Emma as they finish up their annual vacation in a lovely seaside villa in Majorca, an island off the coast of Spain. Sun filled days at the beach, local wines, delicious lunches and dinners in tiny romantic inns are all  lovingly described- truly an idyllic summer.  Everything changes with the arrival of Emma’s new boyfriend Nathan, and gradually we realize that change is indeed the theme of this book.  A career ends, a beloved restaurant is demolished,  parent-child relationships shift- all in the waning days of this most memorable of vacations. A truly thought-provoking book!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru, What an exciting weekend awaits us here in Sea Cliff!  The Civic Association’s 4th of July celebration on the Village Green at 10am this year will be followed by a parade down Sea Cliff Avenue led by world acclaimed bagpiper Paul Haining. The parade’s destination…  Sea Cliff‘s newest park: Lincoln Plaza!  Native son Donald Mullen will return in his role as Abraham Lincoln for the Plaza’s dedication.  Then, of course, there is the Beach Committee’s iconic event: the Palooza- all day Saturday there will be music, games, prizes, great food and drink!  But when will I get time to read?   Loving the Red, White, and Blue

Dear Loving…..This is indeed a spectacular weekend ahead and I do have a great book for you to read –David McCullough’s 1776, a rousing, fresh look at the year that changed the course of American history.  McCullough’s approach is fascinating. Throughout, he pairs the two George’s- King and General- and shows their common humanity. He introduces us to shopkeepers, lawyers, farmers who changed history. He shows how disease, horrific weather- and most of all luck- good and bad- all   played crucial roles throughout that tumultuous year. While carefully documented, the book reads like an exciting adventure novel, so much so that we almost forget we know the ending, but no spoiler alerts needed. Happy 4th and see you on the Village Green!    


Monday, June 23, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  I was with my friends Vic Ambrose and Linda Halliday at a great Solstice party over the past weekend and we were discussing  how we were going to spend the long, lazy days of summer.  We agreed reading a book a week would be one of our  goals.  Where shall we start?                    Summer Goal Setter

Dear Summer Goal  Setter,  I just finished the novel HOME LEAVE by Brittani Sonnenberg that I think you might enjoy.  Relatively short (257 pages), this book offers an interesting study of home- what does home mean when you and your family are “expats” Americans living and working abroad . The Kriegsteins –Chris and Elise and their two daughters Sophia and Leah- have lived in Germany, China, Singapore, England, Thailand, Mississippi, Indiana, Georgia and Wisconsin- all because of Chris’s business ventures. The story begins rather oddly but interestingly with the family home as the narrator- but only for the first chapter. Later we hear from each of the family members as they describe their feelings of alienation, reinvention, and excitement, as they move from place to place as a family. In the opening chapter we learn of the tragedy that leaves each of the family in a permanent state of grief exacerbated by their “homelessness.”  The colorful descriptions of the schools, homes, food, friends they encounter abroad and at “ home” add to the richness of this novel. Recommended!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  Last weekend, I was at a Father’s Day /Bloomsday celebration at Sea Cliff Beach with the Stroppels, the Abbenda-Hughes, and the DiPietros, when the conversation turned to books and parenting. Someone mentioned having read an horrific account of really bad parenting that was on the best sellers list for years. No one could remember the title but I would love to read it.  Any thoughts?                        Book Enthusiast

Dear Enthusiast, My book group just read THE GLASS CASTLE  by Jeanette Wallis and I am sure it is  the book your friends were trying to remember.  On the  New York Times Best Sellers list for five years, THE GLASS CASTLE tells the story of the Wallis family from the perspective of the middle daughter Jeanette who is now a  renowned journalist and novelist.  Her parents were eccentric to put it mildly- deeply disturbed would be a more accurate description.  Charismatic, handsome, flawed, the couple led a nomadic life- 27 homes in five years until finally settling in a small town in West Virginia where their family of six lived in a three room house with no electricity or indoor plumbing. The deprivations the children endured- little food, tattered, unwashed clothing, the barest of supervision- were interspersed with occasional moments of tremendous love, affection, and approval. The question which goes unanswered is how could the children survive and, in some cases prosper with such bizarre, erratic parenting.   A thought-provoking read!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  I just checked my calendar and sure enough Monday is Bloomsday.  I usually celebrate with friends reading excepts of ULYSSES but this year I want to do something a little more special.  Any thoughts?  Bloomsday Celebrant

Dear Bloomsday Celebrant , I have a wonderful plan for you which will begin on the eve of Bloomsday.    As most of my readers know, Bloomsday is celebrated every year to commemorate  the day James Joyce’s ULYSSES takes place: June 16, 1904.   Joyce spent most of his adult life in exile  but he wrote obsessively about one place and one place only: his birthplace - Dublin. In ULYSSES, we follow  three main characters through the day into the night- seeing and experiencing Dublin as they did.    But ULYSSES is more than the portrait of one city on one day- it is also a study of the epic wanderings of the Greek hero Odysseus (Ulysses)- mocking the wanderings of the most unlikely of heroes: Leopold Bloom. On Sunday, June 15 at 8am, the James Joyce Society of Sea Cliff will lead a tour of Sea Cliff/Dublin stopping at parallel locations along the way. The tour will begin at the Sea Cliff Water Tower ( Martello Tower). Other places will include Still Partners ( Davey Byrne’s Pub), Headless Park (Nelson’s Pillar),  Memorial Park (Dublin Cemetery), K.C. Gallagher’s (Barney Kiernan’s Bar) and Sea Cliff Beach (Sandymount Strand). Dan and Ann DiPietro will lead the tour which will take about one hour.  In preparation you might want to read ULYSSES AND US by Declan Kieberd, FOUR DUBLINERS  by Richard Ellmann, or the recently released THE MOST DANGEROUS BOOK by Kevin Birmingham. Happy Reading and Happy Bloomsday!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  This is an amazing few days  here in Sea Cliff- first, on Saturday, the Village-Wide Garage Sale sponsored by the Sea Cliff Civic Association; then on Sunday,  Springfest, a creation of Kathleen DiResta and Trustee Ed Lieberman, in which local organizations, artists, and musicians gather together to celebrate the spirit of Sea Cliff. Later in the day everyone will meet at Clifton Park to hear the eighty piece Northwinds Band perform from 5 to 6pm.  Phil Como, the organizer of the event, suggests everyone bring blankets, chairs, and a picnic dinner.  When will I find time to read? Do you have something relatively short but definitely worthwhile?  Enjoying June in Sea Cliff

Dear Enjoying June…, A great, great weekend awaits us, indeed!  I just finished a wonderful book that I would like to share: REGENERATION by Pat Barker.  This novel is set in an English convalescent home for officers damaged in combat during World War I.  It is peopled by historical figures such as Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owens, and W.H.R.Rivers ( who pioneered the treatment of post traumatic shock) plus fictional characters who represent various classes of English society. Those of you who enjoy “Downton Abbey” may find this a disturbing but revealing sidebar to the series. And as we approach the 100th anniversary of the Great War- as it was called,  this novel reminds us of how truly little we have learned. Highly recommended!

Reminder: Who will be this year’s recipients of the prestigious White Caps awarded by the Sea Cliff Civic Association to those who have shown extraordinary community spirit?  Come to the Metro Bistro on Tuesday, June 10 at 8pm to find out….

Another book I enjoyed  and might appeal to some of my readers: FROM POMPEII by Ingrid Rowland. Rowland traces the history of the ill-fated city of Pompeii. Renoir, Mozart, Freud, Dickens, and Mark Twain among countless others,  found inspiration in this Roman city, where in 79 CE,  time did stop.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  Sea Cliff Beach was definitely the place to be this weekend.  Early Sunday,  we headed down to have “ breakfast by the sea” and what a delicious breakfast it was and the lunch menu looked great, too!  While waiting on line, I overheard a couple discussing a new book set in the near future. One loved it and other said it was terrifying- something about New China and Baltimore???   Sea Cliff Beach Fan

Dear Sea Cliff Beach Fan,  I was there with my family everyday of the weekend and I agree totally with you – Carol Vogt, the Beach Committee, and Ann Koppel and her staff all deserve our thanks. ON SUCH A FULL SEA  by Chang-Rae Lee is a dystopian novel that  describes a future where disease, pollution, and financial collapse have left  the world a very grim place.  China’s population  has been  decimated by  industrial pollution and a group of its survivors have been resettled in Baltimore, a city Americans have abandoned because of civil unrest. These survivors live a constrained life- albeit safe and comfortable- where their sole function is to provide food and delicacies for an elite population of scientists, financiers, and technocrats who live in lavishly affluent gated communities. Between these two worlds, is open space where violence, anarchy and pandemics reign. The novel’s protagonist is Fan, a young girl whose  adventures  we follow as she travels in search of a missing friend. There is an uncomfortable recognition of many of our own concerns:   global warming, bird flu, swine flu, cancer epidemics, social inequality,  service economies,  outsourcing….  As a chilling commentary on our present ills and a despairing prediction for our future, this novel is not for the fainthearted. 
Reminder: Sea Cliff Civic Association's Annual Village-Wide Garage Sale is Saturday, June 7. Deadline to register is May 31. Need a form?  Available at Village Hall or Children's Library.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,   I am so looking forward to the Memorial Day ….. the spirited parade through the streets of Sea Cliff, the bittersweet ceremony at Clifton Park,  breakfast on the front lawn of the Children’s Library, the opening of the Beach- all make for an iconic  day.  As usual I am looking for a good book to read when there is quiet moment.  Do you have any suggestions?   Eager Reader

Dear Eager Reader, Wherever I am, whatever I am doing, I make sure I am back in town for Memorial Day so, yes, I can certainly understand your excitement. I am going to recommend a book that might surprise you: CRESCENT AND STAR: TURKEY BETWEEN TWO WORLDS by Stephen Kinzer.  Why this book for this American holiday weekend? Well, Kinzer tells  the story of a country most of us know very little about, but one that is a valuable and fascinating ally. Largely Islamic, it has been a democracy of sorts since 1923. Kinzer describes in colorful detail  the food and drink , the poets and novelists, and the generals and politicians of modern day Turkey.   Reading about the missteps, the triumphs, and the potential of this ancient country, we can see vestiges of our own history. Recommended!

Remember to get your treasures together for the Civic Association’s annual Garage Sale- Saturday,  June 7. If you need an application form, pick one up at Village Hall.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,   What a beautiful weekend we just had!  There were Mother’s Day celebrations throughout Sea Cliff- in its homes, restaurants, parks with blossoming trees and flowers everywhere. While at a lovely porch party, I overheard a conversation about a new novel recently reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review about an Indian American family. The review was very positive. Have you read it and, if so, would you recommend it?  Sea Cliff Spring Sojourner

Dear  SCS Sojourner,  I spent part of this lovely weekend reading  FAMILY LIFE by Akhil Sharma.   While a quick read (only 220 pages long), this semi-autobiographical  novel was deeply moving. It is 1979 and Ajay  (our narrator), his older brother Birju, and their mother are preparing to leave India to join the boys’ father in America.  The excitement of this move is vividly captured as is young Ajay’s realization that everything- good and bad- is about to change.  The small apartment in Queens, the unaccustomed luxuries of libraries and the unending supply of hot water, the pain of playground bullying, new foods- all are described in exquisite detail. Shortly into the book, fourteen year-old Birju is accepted into the prestigious Bronx High School of Science, and the family feels their future is secured, their highest hopes realized.  Within weeks their dreams and lives are shattered.  Birju suffers a terrible accident that leaves him in a permanent vegetative state.  The rest of the book describes the anger, pain,  remorse, and, yes, guilt each family member feels. The Indian community is presented as yet another character as it  too struggles to deal with this tragedy in its midst.   An extraordinary book – highly recommended!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  I just finished reading  Sea Cliff author Charles Hansmann’s latest collection of poems- APOSTASY OF THE WAYLESS POET.  I enjoyed it very much and friends have told me that Alice Munro’s short stories have a similar appeal. Have you read either of these authors ?  Poet Partisan

Dear Poet Partisan,  I too am a great fan of Hansmann’s poetry  and actually I just finished an early short story  collection of the 2013 Nobel Prize Winner Alice Munro’s – THE MOONS OF JUPITER but I don’t see a strong connection  between these two authors.  In almost all of Munro’s stories, the main character is a woman approaching forty, well educated, self-aware, and struggling with memories long buried.  Frequently these memories appear to be faulty causing her to reconsider decisions made and judgments rendered. In the last of twelve stories from which the collection gets its title, the woman reminisces with her elderly dying father and she sees in their troubled relationship startling similarities to problems she has with her daughters.  The stories are told in a circular format rather than linear- just as its many moons all circle Jupiter.   Set in rural Canada, the stories are beautifully written in streams of consciousness with characters’ lives coming into focus as they move back in forth through time.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  We had a wonderful Easter  with our annual rubber ducky hunt followed by a record breaking bocce tournament. At the party,  Joan Neuhoff, a voracious reader, suggested I read Anna Quindlen’s latest book.  Are you a fan of Quindlen’s and would you recommend her newest novel?                   Bocce by the Book
Dear Bocce by the Book, I just finished STILL LIFE WITH BREAD CRUMBS and yes, I am a fan of Quindlen’s.   The title refers to a very successful series of photographs by artist Rebecca Winter, sixty and divorced, facing a rather dismal financial future. A well known photographer, Winter’s works no longer command the high prices of the past and her expenses keep mounting so she decides to live a cheaper, simple life in rural Connecticut. There she meets an array of interesting characters- characters who reminded me a lot of Sea Cliff’s own- and everything gradually changes for the better. The contrast between her life in a New York City penthouse and her cottage in this small village is humorously drawn.  There were some plot lapses but for the most, we see an older woman, still attractive, still talented, beset with doubts and financial woes who ultimately triumphs. An enjoyable read!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am so excited- I just heard that Sea Cliff’s very own Dan Fagin has received the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for his book TOMS RIVER. I believe you have already reviewed it but with this great honor, could we all have a second look?  Fan of Fagin

Dear Fan of Fagin, A Pulitzer- what great news!!!!  I too am a huge fan of Dan’s and I would love to look at TOMS RIVER again. Toms River is a town in southern New Jersey, a town whose name over the years has become synonymous with tainted water, industrial pollution, and childhood cancers.  Dan’s book is an amalgam of science, politics, history, and biography and reads like an epic novel. He weaves a story of valor and cowardice, virtue and corruption, moving up and down the coast, across the state, and from Basel, Switzerland to a factory town in central China. Always, however, at the heart of the book are the parents and children of Toms River who suffered so much and fought so hard to find out how this could have happened in their town.  TOMS RIVER is a remarkable achievement by an extraordinarily talented author.  Highly recommended!