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 CafĂ©- 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!