Thursday, January 28, 2016

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am leaving Sea Cliff for a week in sunny Miami- of course, I am bereft- there is no place I would rather be than Sea Cliff- snowy or sunny . So can you recommend a good book, something so compelling to read that it will get me through my time in the wildness?  Dreading to Leave

Dear Dreading to Leave,  I understand your feelings completely and I just read a rather long, very engrossing legal thriller by Nick Stone: THE VERDICT. Stone is an English citizen with a French-Haitian background who has won numerous literary awards in England but is relatively unknown here in the States.  Set in London over the last twenty years, THE VERDICT is reminiscent of a John Grisham work at its best: great dialogue, cleverly unfolding story line, colorfully rogue characters, and a morally flawed hero.  The story opens with Vernon Jackson, a billionaire financier, in a lush hotel suite, preparing his acceptance speech for “ The Ethical Person of the Year” award;  as Jackson’s sordid history is revealed, we are equally horrified and amused at the irony of his  having been considered for this honor. The hero narrator of the tale is Terry Flynt, a law clerk with a history of “bad moments,” who has the unenviable task of proving Jackson innocent of a particularly violent murder. Israeli operatives, South African assassins, Quaker missionaries, and real estate moguls all join in to make for a story that is fascinating from beginning to end. Recommended! 

Another interesting I read recently was Elizabeth Kolbert's THE SIXTH EXTINCTION

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dear Great Book Guru,   My childhood friends Julia and Claire  are celebrating their birthday in the next few days so I think a book  about twins might be great fun to read and discuss when we get together to celebrate. Any thoughts? Toasting with Twins

Dear Toasting with Twins,  I recently read  Daniel Sada’s ONE OUT OF TWO, a very short, very funny, very thought-provoking book about the Gamal sisters.  Set in mid twentieth century rural Mexico, the novel introduces us to Constitucion and Gloria, identical twins who share a home, a business, and eventually a fiancĂ©.  In a storyline reminiscent of Charles Dickens, the girls are orphaned at a young age and left in the care of a distant relative who withholds their inheritance for many years.  When they are finally able to claim this money, the sisters create a very rich, very satisfying life for themselves – one out of two… until Oscar Segura arrives.   We are party to the sisters’ sometimes comic, sometimes dramatic interludes with him as a colorful bevy of friends and neighbors look on. We see their lives come together and then pull apart and then come together again.  It is this raveling and unraveling of their union that makes Sada’s novella such a fascinating read.  Recommended!

HUBRIS- another good book I read this week that some of you might be interested in reading....

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Dear Great Book Guru,  This weekend celebrates the birthday of Martin Luther King and I feel inspired to learn more about world events. The problem is that  I have a short attention span and the world is so, so complicated. Can you think of a book that will help me understand it all…? Weary of Wondering

Dear Weary,  I just finished a  very enlightening book with a bold title: PRISONERS OF GEOGRAPHY- Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World- by Tim Marshall.  Marshall carefully lays out his thesis that all past history and present  politics can be explained by studying the geography of the world powers. Each chapter is preceded by a detailed map that shows how each of  ten regions-  Russia, China, the United States, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Western Europe, India and Pakistan, Japan and Korea,  and the Arctic- is subject to the vagaries of geography.   For example, he strongly links  Putin’s annexation of Crimea  to his lack of a warm water port, while the United States’ coastal borders  make it an impenetrable paradise .  Mountain ranges and waterways are far more important in Marshall’s view than leaders and ideologies when it comes to having a lasting effect on history.  This is a short (265 pages), highly readable, very informative take on the world….highly recommended!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Dear Great Book Guru,  With every new year comes the  resolve to improve oneself .   My goal in 2016 is to read a book a week- so help me, please…  I need something riveting and not very long- and, yes, fiction!  Determined 2016 Reader

Dear Determined,  I admire your resolve and indeed I have a compelling book to begin your odyssey : THE GOOD WIFE by Stewart O’Nan.   First, let’s make it clear this book has nothing to do with the very popular TV series of the same name- no, ours is a story of a blue collar, hard scrabble existence, a tale of a life and a love observed over 28 years. We first meet Patty as she waits in bed on a snowy evening for her husband Tommy to return home from a local bar. She is 25 years old, pregnant, and unaware of her husband’s shadowy life of petty crimes. Then the call comes- there has been a break-in, an elderly woman has been killed, her house set on fire, and Tommy has been arrested. We accompany Patty as she sits through the trial, the sentencing, the birth of her son, the appeals, the weekly trips upstate to a series of prisons - each further, each more dehumanizing than the last.  The cruel banality of her life as she tries to hold things together over the years is recorded in stark detail, and we to are left question who has been punished more- the good wife or the errant husband? Recommended!