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!