Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru, This holiday season I received so many book suggestions that I am not sure what to start reading- mysteries, spy thrillers, poetry, and biographies…. With the long weekend ahead, can you recommend something that you know I will love.  New Year Celebrating Bibliophile

Dear New Year Celebrating Bibliophile,  I just finished a wonderful book I  received as a  Christmas gift from Daniel DiPietro- it was a favorite of his and now  is a favorite of mine: EAT THE DOCUMENT by Dana Spiotta.  The story opens in 1972 with Mary Whittaker and Bobby Desoto going underground after a political protest that went very, very bad. Mary changes her name, her appearance, her very essence…. The question of identity creation is central to the book as we see both Mary and Bobby choose what aspects of their former lives to retain and what to  change.   The music of the 60’s and 70’s is as large a character as the young protesters. In fact the title of the book comes from a legendary film documentary about Bob Dylan’s 1966 tour of Europe where the schism between young and old took on revolutionary force. The story comes full circle when we meet Bobby and Mary twenty years later and view their lives through the eyes of Jason, Mary’s Beach Boys obsessed fifteen year-old son.   This is a lively, rich take on the music, politics, and personalities of an era that still confounds the nation and beyond. Recommended!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru, Last night I was at a wonderful Winter Solstice party here in Sea Cliff.  We all had great fun and as we were leaving, one of the partygoers mentioned a collection of plays by a local playwright.  She said they all had a dark but hilarious take on the holidays. I still have a long list of people to buy gifts for and this sounds like the perfect gift. What are your thoughts?  Procrastinating Present Purchaser

Dear Procrastinating , You truly have stumbled upon the perfect gift-  Fred Stroppel’s CHRISTMAS COCKTAILS-  a collection of six plays all with a holiday theme, all brutally funny. “O Christmas Tree” opens with a young couple gazing at the tree at Rockefeller Center. As he timidly tells her he loves her, she begins to berate him for not giving her a ring- “This is not about love; this is about a holiday tradition! You go into New York City to see the tree, you get engaged. It’s a no brainer,”says the lovely Jennifer. In “Epiphany” we meet the three kings who are more “wise guys” than wise men, while in “Jingle Bell Express” we get to meet the unhappy employees of the ever cheerful, very shabby Christmas Village. My favorite was “The Land of the Sweets” where Madam Irina, an aging, hard drinking, fast talking ballet teacher savagely critiques her students’ Nutcracker performances. There is nothing sentimental in any of the six plays- just some of the funniest dialogue you will hear this holiday season.   Available as a Kindle book for $2.95, it is indeed the perfect gift ! 

Friday, December 18, 2015

 Dear Great Book Guru, All over town there are holiday parties and some of the most fun are cookies swaps and the best and oldest of these is Elizabeth Weinstein’s.  For 26 years Elizabeth has been hosting  her elegant celebration of sweets and friendship.  Well, this year I have my cookies baked and ready to go, so I have time for a good book.  Do you have something short I could read before the party?  Cookie Swap Connoisseur

Dear Cookie Swap Connoisseur,  I just finished a very short , very touching semi-autobiographical novel (146 pages) by a young Italian  physicist Paolo Giordano: LIKE FAMILY.   A young husband and wife hire Mrs. A, a middle-aged widow as a  housekeeper, and eventually nanny for their young son. She quickly becomes the center of their family life with her quirky steadfast devotion to each of them. When she falls ill,  the couple are confronted with their own mortality, their commitment to one another, and their diminished expectations for themselves and their child.  The husband/narrator brings us effortlessly from past to present as we see Mrs. A cope with life’s  cruel challenges.  The four members of this “family” share much, defining themselves in relation to each other so when one is removed, everything must be reexamined.  Beautifully written and very compelling- recommended!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru, December is filled with such fun events and I particularly loved the Scrooge Stroll this past weekend- we are all hoping it will become an annual event here in Sea Cliff. But now I feel I have time to devote to a longer book, perhaps a political thriller.  Any ideas?  Delighted in December

Dear Delighted, I just finished a fascinating and very disturbing book: THE DEVIL’S CHESSBOARD by David Talbot. Its subtitle is “Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government.”  A few months ago I recommended THE BROTHERS by Stephen Kinzer – a biography that detailed the lives of Allen and John Foster Dulles, showing their nefarious roles in 20th century global politics.  This book focuses on Allen Dulles and his impact on the United States government and national psyche. As the longest-serving head of the CIA, he skillfully manipulated Congress, the FBI, and all three Presidents he worked for: Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy.  Richard Nixon himself rose to power as a result of Dulles’s coaching and financing.   His role in the Cold War -in particular the dark days of the McCarthy scourge- is highlighted.  His involvement with Nazi war criminals and the Mafia is revealed as is  terrifying evidence of his role in the Kennedy assassination. The book reads like a spy thriller, but it supported by extensive documentation. The 21st century world we live in now is in many ways the creation of Allen Dulles.  Recommended!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru, This looks like another fun-filled weekend in Sea Cliff. On Saturday, there is the Mutual Concerns Holiday House Tour followed on Sunday (December 6) by the first ever Sea Cliff Civic Association’s Scrooge Stroll directed by esteemed  playwright Fred Stroppel  and featuring a cast of 20 actors.  Starting across the street from the Children’s Library at 2pm and strolling through the Village, the cast will enact scenes from  Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.”  Then at 5pm, the annual Tree Lighting and Visit from St. Nick will take place on the Village Green.  Since I plan on being at all these events, I am looking for a short but worthwhile book to read.  Any thoughts?  Lover of the Holidays

Dear Lover of the Holidays,  I have just the book for you: THE BEAUTIFUL BUREAUCRAT by Helen Phillips.  Set in Brooklyn sometime in the near future …thriller, mystery, existential quest, theological study, cyber drama-  all in 192 pages! Josephine and Joseph are newly married and working at jobs that are bizarrely yet crushingly boring… or maybe not? Nothing is as it seems.  There is something very, very strange going on in their workplace, and their quest to find a decent home takes a sinister turn as they move  from one dingy apartment to another.  This is a beautifully written, very funny book that ends up asking and answering questions that define our very existence.  Recommended! 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  With all the Thanksgiving weekend festivities , I know it’s going to be hard to find time to read but winter is coming soon . So my question is- do you have a good series I can begin that will take me through the cold dark months ahead?  Thankful for a Good Book

Dear Thankful,  I have begun a great fifteen book series that Dan DiPietro introduced me to a few weeks ago: Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon .  Gabriel Allon is an Israeli art restorer who travels around the world- quite reluctantly as a spy and sometime assassin.    Each novel deals with a work of art that Gabriel is painstakingly restoring while involved in deadly subterfuge in a brutally unforgiving world.  The series’ recurring  characters are Allon’s  fellow spies all connected to  “The Office”- the Israeli secret intelligence agency. His assignments take him to the capitals of Europe,  and frequently involve Russian counter espionage and Islamic terrorism.  The most fascinating thing I have found about this series is how prescient Silva is about world politics. Events presently unfolding in   Paris, Turkey, Egypt, and Russia have all been foretold in Silva’s novels.   His first book is THE KILL ARTIST and is set in England where the brooding Allon is restoring a Renaissance masterpiece.  He is brought into a deadly fray by his spymaster who reminds him of evils that must be revenged.  A thriller but so much more-  highly recommended!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  What an exciting weekend awaits us- the Great Turkey Himself will be making a return visit to the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Turkey Hunt this Sunday, November 22 at 2pm at Headless Park.  Last year close to 300 turkeys were tracked down and this year it is reported the Amazon delivery included 400 of the little birds.  Before the fun begins, I would like to read a good book that will take me through the upcoming holiday week. Any thoughts?         Great Fan of the Great Turkey

Dear Great Fan of the Great Turkey,  I just finished a truly epic work by the young author Garth Risk Hallberg:  CITY ON FIRE. From the  July 4th celebration of the Bicentennial to  the July 13, 1977 NYC Blackout, we are taken on an affectionate, obsessively  detailed journey through a gritty, crime besieged and drug ridden New York City. At its core this is an old fashioned novel of families: the wealthy Hamilton Sweeneys, the Californian- Vietnamese transplant and her journalist neighbor, the East Village anarchist study group, a punk band, the heroin addicted artist and his young lover from rural Georgia, an aging police inspector and his wife, and finally, Samantha and Charlie, teenagers from Long Island who seek excitement and enlightenment in a city literally on fire.   The story finds its focus early on when Samantha is found near death in Central Park.  The thirty nine characters we meet are all connected in some way to her and to one another and to the City- which is the most colorful and important of this novel’s characters.  Recommended!     

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  I have been enjoying the beautiful weather and colorful landscape all this month, but I know winter is on its way. Do you have a book I should have on hand when cold and darkness finally arrive? So Enjoying Autumn

Dear So Enjoying Autumn,  Come every autumn, I begin looking for the latest Grisham novel and this year was no different- right on schedule appeared THE ROGUE LAWYER. Over the years, I have read the thirty or so books John Grisham has written,  and I have enjoyed them all- some more than others.  His last few have been particular favorites of mine.  This latest incorporates many of the same elements of the standard Grisham but with a new twist that works well.  Sebastian Rudd, our rogue lawyer, has no office- his was firebombed earlier so he operates out of a tank like van and his assistant is more a bodyguard than a paralegal. Many of the clients he takes on are guilty of repulsive crimes.  The change from Grisham’s earlier novels is that he presents us with a series of cases covered in short chapters; some are connected, some not- but the result is a fast paced collection of  stories focusing on different legal injustices.  Police brutality, political corruption, jury tampering are just a few of the topics Grisham takes on.  All in all- this novel is a credible entry in the Grisham canon.  Recommended!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am looking forward to Friday night’s Chill Out event here in Sea Cliff- great music, restaurants, and shops- sounds like the perfect event!  I will have time for some serious reading, and with  the elections just over, I feel inspired to tackle a good political biography.  Any ideas? Chilling Out in Sea Cliff

Dear Chilling Out,  I recently read a fascinating biography: ONE MAN AGAINST THE WORLD –The Tragedy of Richard Nixon- by Tim Weiner.  Weiner has written award winning histories of the FBI and the CIA, and this is another well documented, well written story of paranoia, deception, and loyalty gone awry.  Using recently declassified information, Weiner paints a portrait of a man riddled with insecurities and abated by a cadre of sycophants who undermined our country in a myriad of ways.  The sabotaging of peace talks to defame Lyndon Johnson and prevent Hubert Humphrey’s election, the bombing of civilians in Hanoi, the attacks on neutral Cambodia, the sale of ambassadorships, and his original  claims that the CIA had masterminded the Watergate break-ins are all described in compelling detail and substantiated by oral recordings from the State Department, journalists, memoirists, and-  most damningly- Nixon himself.   For many, Nixon is seen as a complicated, tragic figure whose greatest crime was the botched Watergate break-in.  Weiner refutes this by showing us a man whose crimes were far, far worse than imagined. The lives ruined, the lives lost, the lasting damage to our democracy are presented here, and the lasting tragedy as it turns out  is not Nixon’s, but ours. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  We have had  a great couple of weeks here in Sea Cliff-  Starry Starry Night, the Progressive Dinner, Cider Social, - all organized by the Sea Cliff Civic Association- and now the Pet and Puppet Parade at noon on Halloween - what fun! Do you have a serious but short book for me to read this busy holiday weekend?    Halloween Happening Enthusiast

Dear Halloween Happening Enthusiast,   I met recently with  Eileen Heneghan, a  voracious and discriminating  reader, and we both agreed THE THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING by Colum McCann is one of the finest books either of us has read this year.   A collection of short fiction- a novella and three short stories, this book delves into the inner lives of its characters in a manner reminiscent of James Joyce.  In the 143 page novella, an elderly judge goes about his day contemplating the indignities of aging, mourning his  late wife, planning the rituals of a good meal,  while in alternating chapters the police are scanning a myriad of  surveillance videos that have recorded his actions up to and including his murder.  We see what he sees but we also see what the videos have recorded and there are huge discrepancies. What really did happen? The three short stories while wonderful, do not have the sharp impact of the opening novella.  An elderly nun catches a glimpse on camera of a man who had kidnapped and brutalized her decades ago, a middle-aged woman fears her autistic son has drowned because of her carelessness, and a young writer struggles to complete an assignment.  All are excellent, but if time is short, make sure you  read the opening tale.  Highly, highly recommended!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  This weekend I will be attending my first Sea Cliff Civic Association Progressive Dinner and I would love to have a good book to bring up if conversation lags.  Any thoughts? Pensive Progressive Diner

Dear Pensive Progressive Diner,  You will  surely have a wonderful time , but  I do have a great book to jumpstart any conversation:  AMONG THE TEN THOUSAND THINGS by Julia Pierpont, an author we learned about from Gillian DiPietro.  The book opens with eleven-year old Kay in the lobby of her family’s Upper Eastside apartment building about to accept a large package from a friendly doorman. Kay fantasizes that it is an early birthday present but then again why is it addressed to her mother?  Well, it is indeed quite a present- the box contains the printouts of her father and his ex- lover’s sexually explicit emails.  When Kay shares them with her fifteen year-old brother Simon and then her mother, the family is destroyed.  As each family member begins to deal with this new reality, we learn about the   details of their lives. Half way through the book , the  author  gives us in one chapter  a panoramic view of the next ten years, only to bring us back to the past  again. What was important – apparently nothing much as we watch dust gather in the abandoned family home, beloved  pets and grandparents die, and the family fade away.  The question remains- could any one of ten thousand things have changed this story?  A remarkably memorable book and highly recommended!    

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,
This weekend is the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s  great astronomy event Starry Starry Night at Clifton Park on Sunday, October 18 from 7 to 8pm. There will be music by The Milky Ways (Heidi Hunt and Joe Hughes), seven telescopes- people are also encouraged to bring their own- and a team of instructors to guide us.  I can’t wait but please suggest something good to read before this all begins…. Fan of the Milky Way and The Milky Ways

Dear Milky Way/s Fan,  I hope the stars will be shining brightly, but if not… I have a great book to light up the weekend for you: MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by Elena Ferrante.  This is the first of a quartet that follows the lives of two friends Lili and Lenu  over a fifty year period. The first book- focusing on childhood and adolescence- introduces us to the highly intelligent, ambitious, very competitive Lili and the  narrator-friend Lenu-  young Neapolitans born at the end of World War II.  The violence, brutality, and deprivations of the city and the times are vivdly recounted but there is also a universal quality about the girls’ experiences that captures our attention from the beginning.  As we follow the characters through the days of their lives, we realize that nothing and everything is happening- reminiscent of a  Seinfeld episode or a Barbara Pym novel. Skillfully crafted, beautifully worded, and highly recommended!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  With the upcoming Columbus Day weekend, I am looking for a good novel to read. First , of course, I will attending the Sea Cliff Museum’s opening of its 1960’s retrospective that curator Sara Reres has so smartly organized.  It sounds like great fun especially with everyone being encouraged to come in 1960’s attire.  But back to that novel, any recommendations?  Sea Cliff Museum Supporter

Dear Museum Supporter,   I am certainly looking forward to Friday night’s Museum reception and I do have a fast moving, topical novel to recommend: A WINDOW OPENS by Elisabeth Egan.  Alice Pearse is happily living in an affluent suburban community,  her husband is on the partner track at a prestigious New York law firm, she works a few days a week as a magazine book reviewer while helping her best friend run a local bookstore, her three young children are well adjusted, her devoted parents live nearby, and she has Jessie, the perfect babysitter. Shortly into the book, everything changes and there is one major villain (other than the vagaries of life): Scroll-her new employer- a fictional combination of Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple.  Scroll is developing plans “to reinvent reading as Starbucks reinvented coffee” with lounges featuring leather chairs, e-reader terminals, foot massages, plastic-encased first editions,  and artisanal refreshments.  Midway through the story, the company decides to shift its focus from books to video games, but meanwhile Alice finds herself caught in a nightmarish trap of  electronic servitude reminiscent of Dave Eggers’s THE CIRCLE.   This  book, while predictable in many ways, was surprisingly poignant in its depiction of family and work relationships. Recommended!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

 Dear Great Book Guru, The first Sunday in October is always Sea Cliff’s Mini Mart and this weekend I plan an early start before the crowds arrive on the scene. Of course, my first stop will be the Children’s Library with its great “pre-owned” books and toy sale. But that leaves the rest of the day for a good book- any recommendations?  Mini Mart Maven

Dear Mini Mart Maven, Let’s hope the sun shines all day Sunday because there is no rain date… But rain or not, I have a wonderful book for you to read this weekend: DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY by Bill Clegg. In the opening pages we learn that June Reid has lost her entire family- her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, June’s charismatic boyfriend, and her ex-husband- all in a fiery gas explosion on the eve of her daughter’s wedding.  Set in a lovely old Connecticut town, the story is told by the sundry people impacted by this tragedy: the caterer, the florist, the parents of the bridegroom, the mother of the boyfriend, the owners of the motel where the young couple had stayed, and of course June, herself.   As secrets are told and motives revealed, we come to understand how each of these characters played a role that night.   Beautifully written, the story offers a profound insight into the nature of grief.   A National Book Award and Booker Prize nominee – and highly recommended!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  I have waiting all year for this weekend- yes, it is the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s Silly Shakespeare performance of “The Tempest” well -actually the company’s very own hilarious version: “The Tem-Pissed” with a strong “ Love Boat” overlay. It’s this week Saturday, September 26 at 5 pm at Sea Cliff Beach with a raindate of Sunday. But wait, I will need something to read while I wait for the show to begin- do you have a recommendation?   A Besotted Silly Shakespeare Fan

Dear Besotted,  I can appreciate your excitement and I do have an interesting book to fill the hours before “The Tem-Pissed” begins:  HOLD STILL by Sally Mann.  Miranda Best, who has a beautiful exhibit of her paintings this month at the Sea Cliff Library, recommended Mann’s book and it is quite wonderful, indeed.   Sally Mann is a world renowned photographer and this  autobiography  touches on her family, her art, and  her views on the South,  racism, death, memory, technique and more. . She writes about colorfully eccentric family members who traced their roots back to the Mayflower.  Texas billionaires, Connecticut drug dealing in-laws, and Virginia philandering philanthropists are all described in rich detail.   While Mann’s treatment of her mother is brutally frank and unsentimental, she is unflinchingly admiring of her father.  She also addresses the controversy surrounding the photos she took of her three young children that prompted wide criticism. Most startling is her assertion that photographs have destroyed our memories- when we look at a photograph we no longer  remember the actual event;  in fact,  seeing the photo alters our perception of the event.  A very entertaining and ultimately thought-provoking book- highly recommended!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru, This weekend  Sea Cliff is filled with a myriad of activities.  Saturday morning is the Good of the Village’s  golf outing through the streets and gardens of the Village, followed in the early evening by the world famous Antigone Rising’s performance at Sea Cliff Beach. Then on Sunday afternoon, is the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Newcomers’ Party.  Busy weekend, indeed! Do you have a good book that I can read in between these wonderful events?  Enjoying September in Sea Cliff

Dear Enjoying September in Sea Cliff,   Sounds like great fun and I do have a disturbingly powerful book for you: IN THE LANGUAGE OF MIRACLES by Rajiah Hassib.  The Al-Menshawry family migrated from Egypt twenty years before the story opens and has been extraordinarily successful in assimilating into the community.  They live in the affluent New Jersey  suburb of Summerville where the husband is a well-respected physician with a thriving practice , his wife is active in community affairs, and their three children are good students with many friends. Then the unimaginable happens- the eldest son murders his high school girl friend and then kills himself.  The book begins a year after this tragedy as the townspeople and the girl’s family prepare for her memorial service.  The boy’s father insists he must be allowed to speak at this service. Everyone is outraged especially his wife and children who want only to move on, to find anonymity, and to build new lives. The story touches on religious bigotry, familial discord, cultural disconnects, the quest for forgiveness, and ultimately the need for redemption. Beautifully written and highly recommended!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  I just arrived back in  Sea Cliff from the annual Barbara Pym conference in England and I am eager to read another Pym novel .  Is there one you would especially recommend? A Faithful Pymian

Dear Faithful Pymian,  The Pym conference is always a highlight of the year for the many Sea Cliff Pymians and this year was no exception.  Meeting up amidst the spires of Oxford with friends from around the world and listening as scholars and fans discuss the finer points of a beloved author’s works- what can be better than this? Today I am going to recommend one of her lesser known novels: NO FOND RETURN OF LOVE.  Set in post World War II London, the book tells the story of Dulcie Mainwaring, a thirty year-old woman working for the pompous albeit handsome  academician Alywin Forbes.  While she is gently obsessed with him, we the readers quickly realize he is a tediously arrogant philanderer - certainly not worthy of the lovely Dulcie.  As in all Pym’s novels, the plot is secondary to her cleverly humorous descriptions of people, places, and custom.  Those wonderful distractions that fill our lives are presented here in exquisite detail.  As the noted attorney Paul Marchese remarked- this is a perfect title for a perfect Pym piece.   Highly recommended as are all twelve Pym novels!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  School has opened and we are looking at Labor Day weekend- last chance for breakfast at Sea Cliff Beach Café- a favorite activity of so many of us.  I wonder if you have a really compelling book for me to read as the sun sets on another beautiful Sea Cliff summer?  Labor Day Beach Lounger

Dear Labor Day Beach Lounger, I have spent the last days of August reading a fascinating book: THE BROTHERS by Stephen Kinzer.  He asks the question  ”Why is America so hated in so many parts of the world?” and he answers “ The Dulles Brothers.”  John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles were major players on the world stage throughout most of the twentieth century culminating in the 1950’s when John  Foster served as U.S.Secretary of State and Allen was head of the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency. The brothers plotted assassinations, overthrew governments, and saw themselves as singlehandedly  fighting the Cold War.  Cuba, Vietnam, Indonesia, Guatemala, Korea, most of Africa, and Eastern Europe are just some of the places that felt their wrath -a wrath that at times took on biblical proportions becoming for them truly a battle between good and evil.    Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, Winston Churchill,  Nikita Khrushchev, Patrice Lumumba and Fidel Castro all come in for deft  scrutiny and vivid characterization. Interestingly, his concluding chapter tempers all that came before by placing some of the blame on the American ethos- that the story of the Dulles brothers is really the story of the American people.    Highly recommended! 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  Well,  the time has come to bid a fond farewell to Summer 2015 and I will be doing just that at Roslyn Park this Sunday, August 30 at 6:30pm where my friends and I will gather for a family social and music by that great new band  Bittersweet; at sunset we will watch the beloved classic  “Muppets Take Manhattan” – all presented by the Sea Cliff Civic Association.  Before this great event, I would love to read a summer’s end book.           Sad to See  Summer End

Dear Sad to See Summer End, Yes- it has been a beautiful Sea Cliff summer, but I am sure fall will bring its own glorious events. For now, I suggest you read a very interesting and unusual novel- PRETTY IS by Maggie Mitchell.  This is a literary thriller that studies the changing nature of truth over time.  Seventeen years before the story opens, two twelve-year-old girls were kidnapped and spent six blissful  summer weeks  in a cabin in rural Connecticut with an abductor whom they  came to genuinely like. Zed chose Chloe, a child beauty pageant queen, and Lois, a national spelling bee champion, for reasons neither of the girls can understand, but both seemed to find in that infamous summer a reprieve from unhappy childhoods.   Memories of their captivity change as each in turn recounts those weeks’ events to the reader.  The Kraft macaroni dinners, the Nancy Drew mysteries they read, the advice Zed dispensed- all make for a cozy tale of sorts,  but what was it really all about?   A very interesting study of memory- recommended!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru, With just a few weeks until school reopens, I’d like to get some serious reading time in, but there are two great concerts coming up in the next few days: Chicken Head at Memorial Park on Thursday and The Rusty String Band opened by Boehm and Barker at the Beach on Friday. Do you have a fast moving, thought-provoking novel I can get into over the next week?       Not Wanting Summer to End

Dear Not Wanting Summer to End,   I have just the thing to cap off your summer:  the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s newest event : Muppets Movie, Music, and More- a family social on Sunday, August 30 from 6:30 to 9:30pm at Roslyn Park- but make sure you give yourself enough time to finish THE NEW NEIGHBOR  by Leah Stewart, this week’s recommendation. Ninety-year-old Margaret  Riley lives on a mountaintop in Sewanee, Tennessee- lonely, angry, and  reclusive-  when a new neighbor moves in across the way.  This new neighbor is Jennifer- also lonely and angry- and guarding a dangerous secret.  In alternating chapters, the women begin to reveal intimate details of their lives  - from Margaret’s World War II  horrific battlefield memories as an army nurse to Jennifer’s painful years with an abusive addict husband. The local librarian whom Margaret finds intrusive, the helicopter parent Jennifer befriends, Milo her young son, Margaret’s aggrieved niece… all make for wonderful background stories, but the book’s greatest strength lies in its ability to create an aura of darkening suspense. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  Another great weekend of music here in Sea Cliff-  Retro Woodstock at Sunset Serenade on Thursday, Music at Seacliff Beach, Friday, and on Saturday night Crash the Beach – a fundraiser for Mutual Concerns- featuring among others, my favorite  Jenn Gerrity. But I do have to have a book in hand and I would love something fun and laugh-filled. Any suggestions? A Sea Cliff Musical Maven

Dear Sea Cliff Musical Maven, A few months ago Karen Boehm, a very astute reader and scholar, suggested I read the novels of Dawn Powell, an author unknown to me.  Well, I just finished her most popular work A TIME TO BE BORN and thanks, Karen- it was indeed wonderful!   Set in 1940’s New York City, the book follows the escapades of Amanda Keeler Evans and her childhood friend  Vicky Haven. Evans is a highly successful novelist married to an all- powerful, extraordinarily wealthy publisher. Vicky serves as a cover for Amanda’s affair with a struggling journalist but we soon discover that nothing is as it seems.  The book is a hilariously biting take on the publishing world, the fashion industry, and the social politics of the New York City just  as America is  about to enter World War II.  The blatant cynicism of its many colorful characters is recorded in exquisite detail by Powell.  I found it impossible to read more than a few paragraphs without laughing aloud. A very enjoyable read and highly recommended!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  Last week you wrote about a family touring Ireland and we too will be vacationing there. With all your recommendations, I don’t need any more books on Ireland, but I am interested in the controversial, newly released Harper Lee novel.  What did you think of it and should I download it to bring on our journey?  Curious Reader

Dear Curious Reader,   I feel similarly about GO SET A WATCHMAN by Harper Lee and  Woody Allen’s latest film IRRATIONAL MAN .  Both were so roundly dismissed by critics, I had very low expectations but was happily surprised to find each quite wonderful. Written before TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, this novel is set almost 20 years after with Scout returning to Maycomb as a visiting 26 year-old New Yorker.   While Jean Louise is no longer known as Scout, much of her earlier robust, colorful character remains.  However, she no longer sees her town, her home, and especially her father through the magical prism of childhood.  Instead she finds racism and sexism all around her.   The 1950’s South is an uncomfortable place for  Jean Louise and the reader. Much of the book- while at times offering a nostalgic description of small town life- deals with her horror at discovering things were perhaps never as she remembered.  The title refers to the biblical quotation that demands someone  rise up and become a moral compass; here it is Scout not Atticus who serves as that compass.  Recommended! 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am headed off with my family on a tour of Ireland and I am bringing along books by Colm Toibin,  Mary Costello, and  Deirdre Madden- Irish novelists you have recommended in the past.  I would also love to read something about Irish history- any suggestions?  Emerald Isle Enthusiast

Dear Emerald Isle Enthusiast, I have two books to recommend: MODERN IRELAND: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION by Senia Paseta and THE FAMINE PLOT by Tim Pat Coogan- both I think you will find useful during your visit. The first is part of a series of over 100 books with topics ranging from Astronomy to Zen Buddhism- all are about 150 pages, concise and easy to understand. MODERN IRELAND gives you a great overview of the characters, events, and locations that will make  your journey all the more enjoyable. THE FAMINE PLOT is an in- depth, fascinating, and horrifying look at a piece of history many of us know superficially. Coogan lays out in meticulous detail the suffering the Irish endured in the 1840's when the potato crop failed catastrophically. He strongly believes that this was a plot on the part of British politicians to reduce the population of rural Ireland- in fact, he stops just short of accusing England of genocide.  While the Ireland he describes is far different from the Ireland of today, much of its politics, customs, and world-view have their origins in that horrific time.  Recommended!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am one excited music lover- two of my absolute favorite groups will be performing over the next week: The Roger Street Friedman Band on Friday, July 24at 7pm at Sea Cliff Beach and then Hunt and Hughes (Heidi Hunt and Joe Hughes) on Thursday, July 30 at  Sunset Serenade at Memorial Park-  also at 7pm. What an exciting lineup of musical talent! I would like to have a good book to read between these two performances… any suggestions?  Lover of Great Music

Dear Lover of Great Music,  How lucky are we to have such a week of musical delights, and yes- I have a very fine book for you to read: I SAW A MAN  by Owen Sheers- a Welsh author, poet, and playwright.   The novel opens with the recently widowed Michael Turner entering his neighbors’ home- curious as to why the back door is open.  As he walks from room to room, deeper and deeper into the house, we learn  about his life, his wife, the man responsible for her death, and the family that has helped him begin to heal. When we finally realize the horrific burden he carries, all the pieces come together in a chilling but satisfying conclusion.  What responsibility we bear for the unintended consequences of our actions is the underlying question that resonates throughout this book.  Highly recommended!  

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  This weekend  I plan to spend Saturday morning at the Beach Café- I love their omelets and there is nothing more fun than meeting up with friends, chatting,  and looking out on Hempstead Harbor.  Of course, that leaves the rest of the day to settle down with a good book….do you have one in mind?  Summering in Sea Cliff

Dear Summering in Sea Cliff, I just finished a really good book about vacationing- actually a vacationer’s nightmare- so much so that I may never leave Sea Cliff again…. THE DIVER’S CLOTHES LIE EMPTY by Vendela Vida.  The novel opens with our narrator on a flight to Casablanca. We don’t know the purpose of her trip, but from the start there are mysterious clues that all is not as it seems.  When she arrives at the Golden Tulip - after passing up some lovely, luxurious hotels - her backpack containing passport, credit cards, and cash is stolen- apparently in full view of the hotel staff. Every traveler’s nightmare!   But wait… the police chief finds someone else’s backpack with passport, credit cards, etc.  and insists she take it;  so begins a mesmerizing  tale of intrigue, humor, and deceit.  This is a psychological thriller, a lush travelogue, and a literary puzzle- best read in one sitting so put aside three or four hours this weekend for a real treat.  Highly recommended!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  This Friday, Music at Sea Cliff Beach 2015 begins and I am very excited. First, I love the setting: the beautiful band shell right on the shore, the setting sun, a beach filled with enthusiastic music lovers… and then the added attraction of one of my favorite singers opening the season: Jenn Gerrity. The only thing I need now is a good book  for the rest of the weekend.  Do you have a recommendation?                          Great Fan of Music on the Beach

Dear Great Fan, I too can’t wait to hear Jenn perform Friday, and I do have a book to recommend- a fascinating historical/literary mystery set in 1840’s Dublin: THE CONVICTIONS OF JOHN DELAHUNT by Andrew Hughes.  Hughes is a social historian and archivist who became intrigued with the story of John Delahunt, a convicted murderer who was hanged before a mob of 10,000 angry Dubliners in 1842.  The novel is written in the first person voice of Delahunt, a poor young Trinity College student who became a paid informant for the brutal  secret police of the time known as “the Castle.” Hughes paints a shockingly vivid portrait of Victorian Dublin with its teeming tenements,  squalid public houses, corrupt police officials, and  perennially doomed politicians- all  presented through the eyes of the sociopath Delahunt.  The book opens as he is about to be hanged  for a horrific murder and we begin to learn of the events that led up to this moment. Recommended and, yes- highly recommended- if you are as intrigued by Irish history as I am!    

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru, The Fourth of July has always been a favorite holiday of mine and its celebration in Sea Cliff is especially grand.  Every year Carol Vogt and her merry band of Sea Cliff Civic Association folk present a rousing reading of the Declaration of Independence, a short play, songs, and refreshments-  all on the Village Green. At 10am the bell rings and it all begins… Do you have something to keep me in the patriotic mood for the day?  Lover of the Red, White, and Blue

Dear Lover of the Red, White, and Blue,  I too love this iconic Sea Cliff event and would like to suggest something that will add to your enjoyment of the celebration: a reading and watching of  1776.  Written in 1969, this play retains an enthusiastic freshness that draws me back each year.  We find ourselves magically transported to “foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy Philadelphia” throughout those momentous weeks leading up to the Fourth.  I love to read  the book because it includes a valuable addendum that points out just where the play veers from the total truth (and, of course, is there ever such a thing?).  While affirming its basic historical accuracy, the authors show why for dramatic and aesthetic reasons, there were additions, deletions, suppositions, and rearrangements. Later in the day, check out Amazon Video for a glorious streaming of the film.  See you on the Village Green! 

A fascinating perspective on the reasons for the   American War for Independence ! 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru, With the summer months comes one of my favorite Sea Cliff traditions: the Sunset Serenades in Memorial Park- music every Thursday at 7pm from now through August. The brain child of Petrice Kaider, these concerts are such fun for everyone from our youngest to our oldest residents. I like to get there early, find a  shady spot, and read for an hour or so before the music begins. Do you have a good book to recommend?  Sunset Serenade Supporter

Dear Sunset Serenade Supporter, I too love those concerts and I am going to recommend a book I read a few months ago: THE ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline.  Kline writes about an almost forgotten piece of American history: from 1853 until 1929, over 250.000 orphaned, abandoned or homeless   children were placed on trains from crowded East coast cities and taken to rural towns in the Midwest where they were placed with farm families. The lives of these children were sometimes improved,  frequently  not…. and this is where Kline’s story begins. Vivian Daly is a ninety-one year-old Irish immigrant who rode the Orphan Train and found hardship, pain, and some kindness along the way.  Her counterpart is Molly Ayres, a rebellious unhappy seventeen year-old who is aging out of foster care. The novel traces the parallel histories of these two women, and while we see the damage inflicted on both we also learn that lives can be recast.  This book is a favorite with book clubs across the country for its sociological, historical and mutigenerational appeal.  Highly recommended!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,
We will be celebrating the Summer Solstice this Saturday followed by a Father’s Day gathering on Sunday. Of course, I will want to have a good book on hand –can you suggest something that reflects the shared events of this weekend ?                   Celebrating in Sea Cliff

Dear Celebrating,  Amazingly, I do have a book to combine your weekend pursuits: H IS FOR HAWK  by Helen Macdonald. I heard about this book from Daniel DiPietro who highly recommended it.  Part memoir, part nature study, part autobiography, and part biography, the book is hard to classify but a joy to read.  Macdonald decided to purchase and train a goshawk falcon to help her cope with the sudden death of her father, a world famous British photographer. She had adored her father and fell into a deep, paralyzing grief with his death.  She had always been fascinated by raptors and the goshawk is the fiercest of the fierce- a stealth, highly intelligent killer of prey.  She saw in this bird a way to unravel the mysteries of life and death. But this is much more than a grief memoir- at one point she writes touchingly of T.H. White- author  most famously of “The Once and Future King”- the story of King Arthur and Merlin,  and then she goes on to illuminate  the role falconry has played throughout history.   Macdonald’s book is hard to tag… beautifully written, it gives us insight into the shared nature of living creatures, human and otherwise.  Highly recommended!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  Another great weekend coming up in Sea Cliff- the Springfest- Ed Lieberman and Kathleen DiResta’s creation- a full day of music and activities to showcase the many faces of Sea Cliff- its volunteer organizations, its crafts people, its businesses. It runs from 11am to 5pm along Sea Cliff Avenue and is immediately followed by the Northwinds Community Concert at Clifton Park. But before all of this, early on Saturday morning the streets will be filled  chatter and song as a merry band of James Joyceans recreate his famous ULYSSES Bloomsday walk through not Dublin but, yes- Sea Cliff ! The group will meet at 8am by the Water Tower for the hour odyssey. I would like to prepare a bit- any suggestions? Bloomsday Bon Vivant

Dear Bloomsday Bon Vivant,  I will certainly be attending  all these fun-filled events and, yes,  I do have a great book for you to read: THE MOST DANGEROUS BOOK- THE BATTLE FOR JAMES JOYCE’S ULYSSES by Kevin Birmingham.  Birmingham traces Joyce’s early years as he experiences the people and events that will populate his masterpiece:  Nora Barnacle his Molly Bloom, Alfred H. Hunter his Leopold Bloom,  plus a myriad of colorful Dubliners. We are in and out of New York and British courts as jurists struggle with the question of what constitutes obscene literature.  We learn of the pivotal role that the United States Postal Service played and the enormous influence the women’s suffragette movement had on Joyce’s fate. From 1904 when he began the novel until the final court case in 1933, we are on an emotional, educational, evocative odyssey equal indeed to Homer’s .  Highly recommended!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  With over 100 families participating in the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s Village-wide Garage Sale this Saturday, June 6,   I am sure to find some great treasures, but- of course- the greatest treasure is always a good book. Do you have something to recommend- I feel a mystery is in order…..   Garage Sale Shopper Extraordinaire

Dear Garage Sale Shopper Extraordinaire,  My first stop Saturday will be the Village Green where the remarkably energetic Friends of the Library will be holding their book sale and if I am lucky, I might find a copy or two of my new favorite mystery writer’s works : Louise Penny.  Definitely start with her first  STILL LIFE   and  if you enjoy it, you can work your way through  the ten or so books in the series.  Set in the fictional village of Three Pines ( which reminded me  very much of Sea Cliff), the novel opens with the death of beloved artist and long time resident, Jane Neal, who was about to have her first  gallery show.  Much of the mystery involves one of her paintings and its connection to family feuds going back generations.  Inspector Armand Gamache is a man of great integrity and intelligence who approaches this case with  respect for  the many colorful residents of Three Pines. So much more than the traditional murder mystery, STILL LIFE  offers an interesting take on village life, art appreciation, and the psychology involved in police investigations.  A very good read!  

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  Last weekend was the perfect start of Summer 2015…. Sea Cliff Beach was beautiful, the Beach Café’s meals were delicious, and of, course, all Sea Cliff seemed filled with music and laughter!  While I was enjoying the beach with friends and family, a fellow beachgoer recommended a new psychological thriller about parenting, friendship, and betrayal. Any thoughts? Lover of Sea Cliff Summers

Dear Lover of Sea Cliff Summers, Yes,  Ann Koppel and her team do a great job keeping Sea Cliff Beach just about perfect, and yes- I have read that just about perfect book for a summer day: HER by Harriet Lane. Emma and Nina are two women in their mid forties at opposite ends of mothering.  Nina’s daughter is a teenager about to leave home while Emma’s children are infants .  Lane exquisitely  captures the tedium, the exhaustion, the drudgery of parenting young children, leaving the reader confused as to why Nina is so generously including   Emma in her glamorously sophisticated life .  As the two women describe the same events in alternating chapters, we come to realize there is much more going on here than the book’s attention to domestic details would indicate. With mounting horror, we await an explanation and the startling conclusion is well worth the wait.  Recommended!

 P.S.  A reminder- Saturday, May 30 at 1pm on the front lawn of the Children's Library,  there will be a celebration of Sea Cliff Library's Centennial . Stop by for refreshments and a tour of the newly renovated building!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  This weekend Sea Cliff Beach opens- what fun! And then on Monday, we have the annual Memorial Day Parade starting at 9am at Memorial Park and ending up at Clifton Park. As usual, Phil Como will organize and host this bittersweet event. Do you have something short for me to read since there will be little time with all that’s going on in the Village?   Parade Enthusiast

Dear Parade Enthusiast,  I just finished a lovely, very short book about a woman  we meet as a young girl in rural Ireland in 1944 and follow for sixty years: ACADEMY STREET by Mary Costello. We travel with Tess to America and watch as her life plays out in New York City. Throughout we hear her voice and it is singularly lyrical and haunting. Was it the early death of her mother, her father’s stoic harshness, her life as an outsider, an immigrant- what was it that made her so introspective, so detached, so seemingly unlucky in life? Her son at one point coldly asks “Do you ever think you might be beyond people?”   The Vietnam War, the Kennedy assassination, New York City’s changing landscape, 9/11- all serve as backdrop to Tess’s  story ;  we are touched by her noble spirit- a spirit that endures despite astonishing misfortune.  Tess is the person we pass on the street and never really see but whose life is incredibly rich in emotion and insight. A truly beautiful book- highly recommended!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  I was at the Beach Cleanup this week and met so many great new people. One of them mentioned a book which was about beautiful little animal figurines but was really the history of an extraordinary family. Sounds strange, I know, but she said it was fascinating… Any thoughts? Lover of Sea Cliff Beach

Dear Lover of Sea Cliff Beach,  The beach looks spectacular and thanks to all of those who came out on Saturday to take part in the cleanup! THE HARE WITH AMBER EYES by Edmund De Waal is a story of gains and losses, triumph and defeat, things large and small…   spread over many years and many countries. The book begins in Paris 1871.  Charles Ephrussi, the fabulously wealthy son of a fabulously wealthy family amasses a large collection of netsuke- tiny Japanese  animal carvings- none bigger than a matchbook. We travel across Europe into the lavish, art-filled homes of the Ephrussis with the book ending in Tokyo 2007 where one of the remaining family members has settled;  much has gone on in between.   The Ephrussis were Russian Jews who began a grain business in the early 1800’s and then branched out over Europe making fortunes in a myriad of fields. However, their wealth could not shield them from the virulent anti-Semitism of twentieth century Europe.   Eventually, the family is disbursed over three continents, possessions gone, and lives destroyed.  Throughout, we follow the netsuke collection as it comes to represent the Ephrussis’s strength and vulnerability.   Highly recommended!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  I was on a wonderful  family vacation in Spain last week- we visited Granada, Madrid, and Barcelona. Now I would like to read some fiction with a Barcelona setting so that I can prolong the experience.  Any suggestions?  Basking in Barcelona Glow

Dear Basking,  I read a fascinating book set in 1950’s  Barcelona- THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafron – this novel has been a bestseller in Spain for many years and was recently translated into English.  Some critics have compared it to works by Dickens, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Stephen King, and Jorge Luis Borges and it does indeed contain elements of all these. Young Daniel Sempere is the ten- year- old son of a widowed book seller. His father as a birthday treat brings him to the Cemetery of Dead Books – a used bookstore- where he instructs him to pick one book as a gift;  legend holds that book  will decide his destiny.  Daniel chooses “The Shadow of the Wind” by a little known author Julian Carax and indeed, this choice determines his life’s course.  We follow Daniel as he matures, falls in love, and meets a colorful array of characters, while his fortunes ebb and flow in a truly Dickensian manner. There is magic, there is bawdy humor, there is mystery- all spread over 500 pages, but so beautifully written that the reader yearns for more.  Recommended!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am looking forward to Sea Cliff’s Warm Up  on Friday night May 1.  I hear there will be restaurant specials, great street music, and  many shops will be staying open late.  For the rest of the weekend, I would like to settle down with  good book.  Any thoughts?  Swinging into Spring

Dear Swinging into Spring,  I read a very good book a few weeks ago : THE PAYING GUESTS  by Sarah Waters.  Set in London shortly after the end of World War I, this novel transforms from a 1920’s period piece, to a  sensual romance, to a crime thriller,to a murder mystery, and finally culminating in a tension packed courtroom drama – all in less than 400 pages.  “Paying guests” is a euphemism for lodgers- the Wray family have fallen on hard times and taking in  boarders is the only way they can survive.   The young couple Lily and Len Barber are slightly below the Wrays in  very class conscious British society, but then again Frances Wray is scrubbing floors in her family’s large ancestral home- the home which a short time ago  was  staffed with a cook, servants, and driver. When the two women fall in love, everything changes – romance, intrigue,  mystery, and suspense  fill the pages. In the final quarter of the book, Frances faces a huge moral dilemma that works its way out in the British court systems with an unexpected but  satisfying  resolution. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at a wonderful Family Reunion Party this past weekend and one of my cousins mentioned a book that she really enjoyed- she said she was finally able to understand  the infamous Dreyfus Affair- so often the mentioned today although having taken place well over a hundred years ago. I think it was fictionalized but historically accurate.  Interested in Divining the Dreyfus Affair

Dear Interested,   The Dreyfus Affair has always been one of those events in history that was murky to me.  I knew it was important, it took place in France, and it was a benchmark  of European anti-Semitism, but that was about it- that is, until I read AN OFFICER AND A SPY by Robert Harris.  Harris wrote a wonderful award-winning historical novel about Pompeii a few years ago, and he has another winner with this one. The book opens in Paris 1895 as a Jewish army officer Albert Dreyfus has just been found guilty of espionage  and is about to be sent to solitary confinement on Devil’s Island.  George Picquart, a highly ambitious military officer and attorney, believes him guilty as does all of France, but soon, as the newly appointed head of counter-espionage, he realizes Dreyfus is innocent and the spy is still at large. The emerging anti-Semitism of Belle Époque Paris is evident with its psychological and physical repercussions clearly delineated, and Harris uses the letters of both Picquart and Dreyfus to strengthen the book’s historical accuracy. Truly a great spy story, an elegant historical piece, and a chillingly prescient tale - highly recommended!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru, My book/film group is looking for something exciting and topical to read for May. Hint: we just watched the HBO series THE WIRE and everyone loved it.   Any recommendations?  Lover of Books and TV

Dear Lover of Books and TV, I recently finished a novel Daniel DiPietro recommended to me a few months ago. My book group really enjoyed it and I bet your friends will too: THE WHITES by Richard Price (writing as Harry Brandt).  Price has written many police/crime novels, but THE WHITES is something more… a morality play based on the human need for retribution.     Five young New York City police officers working together in the late 1990s became known as the Wild Geese, largely because of their strong sense of camaraderie and frequent use of unconventional tactics.  Billy Graves, the protagonist and  the only one of the Wild Geese still on the police force, heads the Night Watch  (10pm-6am), a brutal shift that wreaks havoc on body and spirit.   The others-  a funeral director, a real estate mogul, an apartment building super, and  a campus security chief- are long retired.  But the Wild Geese all have their “whites”, a case that continues to haunts them- the one in which someone  literally got away with murder. It is Ahab’s Moby Dick- the Great White Whale that must be hunted forever.    Price shows in great detail how each of these modern Ahabs’ lives has been formed and malformed by the pursuit.   Compromises are made, lines are crossed and we watch with horrified fascination as their stories unfold.  Highly recommended!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  With  beautiful weather coming upon us and the sound of music filling the air throughout Sea Cliff,  I feel inspired to cast off winter’s shackles and find a lovely book to read. Do you have something wonderful to recommend?   Sauntering into Spring

Dear Sauntering into Spring,  After a delicious, fun-filled  Easter dinner shared with the Dohertys, DiPietros and Calzonettis, conversation turned to favorite books. Someone mentioned a novel based on a the history of two siblings who formed the heart of the famous  literary salon known as the Bloomsbury Group: VANESSA AND HER SISTER by  Pryia Parmaria. Since Virginia Woolf is so much better known than her sister Vanessa Bell, it is fascinating to hear their story from Vanessa’s point of view.  With snippets from diaries, household memorabilia, and photos, we come to know both Vanessa and Virginia as siblings vying first for parental affection and then later for the affection of  husbands, lovers, and friends. Vanessa, the painter and Virginia, the writer are highlighted against the backdrop of other notables  including Clive Bell, Leonard Woolf, Roger Fry, E.M. Forester, Rupert Brooke, and John Maynard Keynes.  The powerful, almost diabolical rivalry between the sisters was to color both their lives and, with this meticulously researched book, we are given a glimpse into this strangest of  sibling relationships.  Recommended!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru, With the Passover and Easter holidays this weekend, I will be seeing friends and family and- as always- someone will ask “What have you read lately?” I would love to have a title to offer so my question is:  do you have something short and compelling that I could read over the next few  days?Looking for Something Short and But Definitely Not Sweet

Dear Looking…… I have just the book for you: ALL THE OLD KNIVES by Olen Steinhauer- a wonderful foray into the morally ambiguous world of the CIA.  Told from the perspectives of two agents- Henry and Celia- who had been stationed in Vienna six years before, this psychological thriller takes place almost entirely over one evening in an upscale Carmel restaurant.  The novel is in many ways reminiscent of Herman Koch's "The Dinner” with its elaborate descriptions of food and wine and the inevitable unraveling of the diners’ psyches. In alternating chapters, the two former lovers recount the events leading up to a tragically botched rescue attempt at a Viennese airport in which 120 passengers were killed. New intelligence points to a CIA mole who- in all likelihood- is either Celia or Henry.   The outcome of their dinner tonight  will be swift, annihilating justice.  While tension builds throughout and there are clues aplenty, the ending is nevertheless shocking, and we find ourselves caught up in a disturbing moral quandary. Highly recommended!