Friday, February 26, 2016

Dear Great Book Guru,  As we face the last few days of February, it really feels that Spring is near. Soon we will be dining outdoors at Sea Cliff’s great restaurants and bars.  Speaking about bars, a friend of mine told me about a great book she had read about the rise and fall of  Prohibition.  Are you familiar with it? Cocktail Connoisseur

Dear Cocktail Connoisseur,  LAST CALL  by Daniel Okrent is the book for you. It’s the story of probably the most puzzling period in American history.  How could a freedom-loving people willingly give up something that been part of their lives since the 1600’s,  consumed by rich and poor, men and women, something cheaper than tea, safer than water? Indeed, how could Prohibition have ever worked? Well, Okrent maintains it didn’t- that  Prohibition was a disastrous failure from its inception.  He presents us with a colorful cast of  strange bedfellows: women suffragettes, Klu Klux Klansmen, rural sharecroppers, judges, pharmacists, smugglers, bootleggers…a movement strongly fueled by  anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism .   Susan B. Anthony, Billy Sunday, Charles Walgreen, Samuel Bronfman,  Meyer Lansky, August Busch and a myriad of others are  spotlighted for the roles they played in this drama. Although repealed after less than fourteen years, Prohibition was to change American society forever. Highly recommended!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Dear Great Book Guru,  The winds are howling, the rains are torrential, the schools are closed- a perfect day for a good mystery…Can you recommend one?  Mystery Maven

Dear Mystery Maven,  I just finished  Donna Leon’s  FALLING IN LOVE. This is Leon’s 24th “Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery and while not as fine as some of her others, it is always great fun to be back in majestic, magical Venice with Guido Brunetti.  All twenty four of these novels are set in present day Venice and while there is usually an attempted murder or two, their appeal lies largely in the  characters of Brunetti, a world weary lover of opera, fine food and  wines, and the Greek philosophers-  his  university professor wife who is an expert on the novels of   Henry James- and his colorfully described co-workers at police headquarters: the Questura  This latest in the series brings back  Diva Flavia Petrelli whom we first met in Leon’s earliest novel DEATH AT LA FENICE  . The opera star comes to her old friend Brunetti, bewildered by an outpouring of lavishly excessive gifts  of flowers and jewels from an unknown admirer.     If you haven’t read Leon before, start with her first and work your way through the series so you can see her characters develop and her dismay with Venetian politics grow.  Recommended!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Dear Great Book Guru,  My family and I are going away for a Presidents’ week vacation and I am looking for a book to bring along.  With the primary elections so much in the news, I would like to read something with a political twist- preferably non-fiction.  Any recommendation? Obsessed with Presidential Politics

Dear Obsessed,  Daniel DiPietro gave me a fascinating book for my birthday: DARK MONEY by Jane Mayer.   Dark money is the term used to describe political spending by groups whose funding does not have to be revealed. Mayer details the enormous power and animus of these American billionaire donors and the subsequent rise of the radical right. She begins with a richly detailed history of the Koch brothers, tracing the family’s enormous wealth back to Fred Koch’s alliances with Stalin and Hitler in the 1930’s.  His sons Charles and David have gone on in a myriad of ways to control not just who rules the country but how the country thinks. In this highly readable account, Mayer underscores the means  these brothers and their billionaire allies have used to  to achieve their goals- whether it be climate change denial, the secret creation of the Tea Party, or the systematic takeover of local and state governments.  DARK MONEY  is ultimately a horrifying look at how the United States has been  fundamentally and probably irrevocably changed by this billionaire cabal.   Highly recommended! 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Dear Great Book Guru, With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I am looking for the perfect gift … and, of course, that means a book.  Do you have something special to recommend?  Valentine Gift Seeker

Dear Valentine Gift Seeker,  How lucky are you?   Just this week the latest in the Jason Stafford mystery series has been released: SAVING JASON by esteemed Sea Cliff author Michael Sears. While  I have loved all the books in the series: BLACK FRIDAYS, MORTAL BONDS, and LONG WAY DOWN,  this latest is the best yet. Jason Stafford is a talented former Wall Street trader who was sent to prison for insider trading. After being released, he began a new, very lucrative career as a financial investigator. The novels all involve fiscal malfeasance of some sort with this latest focusing on a hostile takeover, but they are more than just financial thrillers.   Sears has created a colorfully diverse community of villains, friends, and relatives- with special focus on Stafford’s young autistic son Jason( aka the Kid).  Much of the storyline deals with the joys and challenges of parenting, and when Stafford and the Kid are placed in a witness protection program, these challenges multiply. Sears’s writing is always dynamic and the plot, while intricate, is always believable.  Highly recommended!