Monday, December 31, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  At our usual New Year’s Eve celebration: movie (this year VICE the Dick Cheney story), dinner, dessert, and the ringing of the bell on the Village Green- we all vowed to read more books in 2019.  Do you have any suggestions to get us started?   Reading Reveler 2019

Dear  Reading Reveler 2019, Great idea and I have a list of ten favorite Great Book Guru recommendations from the past year.  My #1 choice would be HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE- a book whose ideas have reverberated with me throughout the year.  The others are listed here in no particular order, but all were great favorites and highly recommended.  You can read reviews of these by going to

5.      THE FRIEND
9.      BAD BLOOD

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,   I am completely enthralled with all the wonderful  holiday festivities beginning with the Winter Solstice-  but I  do think it is a good time to pause for a moment and consider the years ahead and the years behind. Do you have something to suggest- remembering it must be short, very short and very meaningful…  
Holiday Celebrant
Dear Holiday Celebrant,  Every year around this time,  I read Thornton Wilder’s play THE LONG CHRISTMAS DINNER.  It is in many ways reminiscent of his more famous “Our Town” but Wilder uses just one event – a Christmas dinner- to show the passage of time. The set is simple: a long table festooned with holiday baubles around which the characters are seated.  Over forty minutes- the length of the play- ninety years of Christmas dinners are celebrated.  We meet them as young people, sometimes infants, elderly relatives, thriving businessmen and women, fathers, mothers, aunts- with the table being the only constant.  Deaths occur as characters exit through portals on stage and costumes are kept at a minimum with white wigs used to show characters’ aging.  Throughout we sense a beautiful symmetry as time passes and life is renewed.  A wonderful reading anytime of year, but particularly this week- highly recommended!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, I am totally immersed in the holiday spirit, but I do feel the need for a good, thought-provoking novel.  Any ideas?   Enjoying the Holidays
Dear Enjoying the Holidays, I saw UPSTATE by James Wood on a list of the Best Books of 2018 and decided it would be a good choice for the waning days of December.  Upstate refers to a geographic location:  northern New York where the story is set, but also to an optimistic state of mind. Alan Querry lives in the north of England where he raised his two daughters. Vanessa is a philosophy professor in a small upstate New York college and Helen is a music executive in London.  Although a devoted parent, Alan has not seen Vanessa for many years. When he receives a disturbing call from her boyfriend that she is severely depressed, Alan and Helen fly to America to assess the situation. Told largely from Alan’s perspective, the novel asks the question- “what determines state of mind?”  Over six wintery days, the three characters look back on the daughters’ childhood, the bitter divorce of Alan and his wife, her early death- and each of them questions whether happiness is a learned skill or ultimately an unearned gift…  Highly recommended!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, The Scrooge Stroll is this Sunday, December 9 at 3pm starting across from the Children’s Library.  With playwright Frederick Stroppel as Charles Dickens and Dan DiPietro as Scrooge, the iconic “Christmas Carol” is retold with a cast of players, musicians, and revelers strolling through the streets of Sea Cliff. Earlier in the day, I think I will have time for a good book - something British, something dark, perhaps a psychological thriller?    Eager Scrooge Stroller

Dear Eager Scrooge Stroller, I too am very excited about this event. Last week was also amazing with the beautiful joint lighting of the Village Menorah and Christmas Tree plus the Mutual Concerns Holiday House Tour and the Introduction to “The Nutcracker” at the Children’s Library.     I do have a good book that meets your criteria: BITTER ORANGE by Claire Fuller.  The story opens in a hospital room in London where Frances Jellico thinks back on the summer of 1969.  Gradually we learn about the dark secrets that she has held for over twenty years.   Hired as a landscape researcher by an absentee American investor, Frances arrived at Lyntons - an ancient English country mansion- to find Peter and Cara, an attractive, ebullient couple who had been hired to record the house’s inventory.  They soon become fast friends - the first friends Frances has ever had. Her dead mother figures mightily in Frances’s mind as she struggles to keep up with the flamboyant, hard drinking, very mysterious couple.  The description of the decaying mansion is painfully beautiful as is the portrait of this very damaged but highly sympathetic woman.  A haunting tale and highly recommended!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, At our Thanksgiving dinner, we talked about the roles we assume with family, friends, and community. We concluded that we all belonged to many, many different groups but what was it ultimately that determined who we were?   One of the guests mentioned a new book about identity and suggested we read it before our next gathering.  Are you familiar with the book?
Thanksgiving Seeker of Truth

Dear Thanksgiving Seeker of Truth, IDENTITY CRISIS by authors Sides, Tesler, and Vavreck is a fascinating study of the 2016 presidential campaign and what it revealed about America and each of us. Their most startling conclusion was that we possess many identities that lie dormant until activated by outside forces.  Sometimes it is economics which causes us to identify with one group; sometimes, it’s religious beliefs.  Frequently it’s racial in origin.  Many politicians use these “hot buttons” to prompt a response at the voting booth almost without our consciously being aware of what’s going on. Elections rely on the need for a tribal identity - an “us against them” mentality.  What we saw and continue to witness is an iconic battle for who and what kind of people we want to be.  A very disturbing but worthwhile book - highly recommended!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, My family will be coming to Sea Cliff for our annual Thanksgiving celebration. Many of my cousins are great readers and always have some interesting books to share. I would like to have one too - something topical, fast moving, and with far-reaching appeal.  Any recommendations?
 Book and Turkey Lover

Dear Book and Turkey Lover, I have just the book for you: GHOSTED by Rosie Walsh.  This novel uses the rules and rubrics of Facebook to present a romance gone awry, a horrifying tragedy, and a tantalizing mystery.   When Sarah meets Eddie in a small English village, they immediately connect and plans are made to meet again.  A few days later, he disappears and Sarah begins to search Facebook for him only to find herself “ghosted” (when someone disappears from your life without any explanation.)  Where is Eddie, why has he cut off contact, when will he reappear, if ever?   We watch as Sarah tries desperately to communicate on social media with him, his family, his friends, but he has become…. a virtual ghost. Just when you think you understand what is happening, new information turns the mystery around and around again.  In a series of short chapters, we meet many colorful characters who give us varying insights into Sarah’s quest, and surprises abound.   Recommended! 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, Next Saturday (November 17 @ 3pm) is the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Turkey Hunt at Geohegan (aka Headless) Park chaired by Heidi Hunt. I plan on attending with my family but earlier in the day I would like to read something that will explain this week’s electoral results. Any thoughts?
Toy Turkey Troubadour

Dear Toy Turkey Troubadour, On Election Day, a movie opened based on Matt Bai’s book THE FRONT RUNNER (previously titled ALL THE TRUTH IS OUT) that reveals a lot about today’s political climate. Bai’s story begins in May 1987 when Gary Hart, a young reform-minded Democrat Senator from Colorado, is set to win his party’s presidential nomination. He was leading George H.W. Bush by double digits. Then, a media blitz exploded with salacious photos of Hart and a beautiful model, Donna Rice, on board a leased yacht unfortunately named “Monkey Business.” The newly launched 24-hour cable news stations seized on this story and ran it with unrelenting glee. Never before had a candidate’s personal life received such prurient attention and Hart found it impossible to continue his run for the presidency. Recent information suggests the entire scandal had been orchestrated by his political opponents. Bai recounts in meticulous detail the virtues and vices of this flawed man and concludes that the tabloids and cable news brought Hart down.  The question that haunts the reader is… what have we  wrought. Highly recommended!   

Monday, October 29, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, This Saturday is the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Progressive Dinner.  It is my first time attending and I am very excited and a little anxious. I would feel more comfortable if I have a book to mention. Any thoughts? Progressive Dinner Diner

Dear Progressive Dinner Diner, Tina Marchese does an amazing job each year organizing this iconic event so you have nothing to fear- but I do have a great conversation starter: ALTERNATE SIDE by Anna Quindlen.  This is a tale of New York City life told from the perspective of Nora Nolan, director of a small museum and owner of a brownstone in the rarest of locations: a Manhattan cul-de-sac with even more remarkably… an adjacent parking lot - hence no need for the dreaded NYC alternate side of the street parking. But in this novel, alternate side also stands for the social and economic divide that exists in Nora’s world with its many - as she calls them - “first world problems” that are outsourced to a cadre of nannies, housekeepers, and handymen. When a resident with anger management issues attacks one of these workers with a golf club, the underbelly of class, race, and gender inequalities is revealed.  Marriages, friendships, careers, fortunes… all shift as “alternate sides” are chosen.  A wonderfully perceptive look into a world we can all recognize.  Highly recommended!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, Sea Cliff Civic Association’s Cider Social will be this Sunday, October 28 from 3 to 4pm.  Heidi Hunt is the founder of the feast so it will surely be a costumed, crafty, culinary delight! As always, I’d like a good book to read earlier in the  day.  Cider Socialite

Dear Cider Socialite, This past weekend, I read a most anticipated novel by a favorite author of mine -Kate Atkinson. TRANSCRIPTION tells the story of Juliet Armstrong in three time periods.  It opens in 1981 as she lies dying after a car accident in Canada.  The rest of the novel shifts back and forth between 1940 and 1950. As a naïve, orphaned eighteen-year-old, she is recruited by MI5- the British intelligence agency- to transcribe wartime conversations but she soon finds herself entangled in a bizarre world of spying, murder and mayhem.  We meet a multitude of colorful characters none of whom are as they seem.  By 1950, Juliet has left MI5 to work for the BBC as a producer of children’s educational shows only to discover “once a spy, always a spy.” There are so many ambiguous relationships throughout, that the reader is as confused as Juliet about who are the heroes and who are the villains. Only at the very end do we realize there are no villains and certainly no heroes.  An extraordinarily clever book- highly recommended!     

Monday, October 15, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, My friends and I have a monthly book club and this year we would like to read something special for Halloween - something frightening but also worthwhile - with social commentary perhaps?
Gravitating towards the Ghoulish

Dear Ghoulish Gravitator, I recently reread the 1990’s horror novel ROSEMARY’S BABY by Ira Levin.  While it can be read as a terrifying tale of urban bliss gone bad, I found it much more socially relevant this time around.  Rosemary, a young wife has left her mid-western family home, the religion of her youth, her conservative-minded parents and her many siblings to live in New York City with her aspiring actor husband Guy.  We meet the couple as they navigate the urban real estate market with the prize being the apartment of their dreams, but one with shadowy hints of cannibalism, devil worship, and murderous wizardry.   Rosemary’s eagerness to please everyone: her husband, her doctors, her neighbors, and her friends can be seen as commentary on a woman’s place in society. Faustian bargains to advance careers are casually made and complaints are dismissed as hysteria.  Soon we come to realize these characters are outsized versions of ourselves set in a wildly fantastical world of evil improbabilities but mirroring much of what we know to be true. You will be very surprised at how topical this novel is….highly recommended!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,   Next Saturday, October 20, at 11am in Clifton Park, the Sea Cliff Civic Association will be hosting the much beloved Pet Parade- once again chaired by Karen Kessler.  While I don’t have a pet to enter, I will be there to watch and enjoy the festivities.  Before the fun begins, I will have some time to read a good book- do you have something fast-moving and topical?
Pet Parade Enthusiast
Dear Pet Parade Enthusiast, A few weeks ago I read a financial thriller with a strong feminist message: THE BANKER’S WIFE by Cristina Alger. Annabel is living a luxurious expat life in Geneva, Switzerland with her banker husband. The story opens as he and a wealthy woman client board a plane which crashes in the Alps under very suspicious circumstances.  Shortly after, bank officials arrive at Annabel’s apartment to retrieve his laptop. Meanwhile, back in the United States, a young journalist is assigned a story by her editor involving a series of off shore banking schemes. When her editor is murdered on the same day as Annabel’s husband dies, the two stories begin to merge. The women - in alternating chapters and unknown to one another - delve into the corrupt underbelly of international politics and banking. No one is to be trusted and nothing is as it seems… a fast-moving novel and highly recommended!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, Every year people gather at Clifton Park to search the skies for constellations, planets, and shooting stars accompanied by the magnificent music of the Milky Ways aka Heidi Hunt and Joe Hughes.  Starry Starry Night will be on Sunday, October 14 at 6:30pm.  This Sea Cliff Civic Association event is a favorite of mine but I will have time early on to read a good book. Anything worthwhile to recommend? 
Sea Cliff Star Gazer

Dear Sea Cliff Star Gazer, I just read a very important, very disturbing bestseller: ONE PERSON-NO VOTE by Carol Anderson.  In this short (220 pages) book, Anderson tells the story of how voter suppression is destroying our democracy.  Tracing the history of voting from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to 2018, she sees a chilling turn in state governments’ approach to voting laws.  With photo ID requirements, poll closures, legal intimidation, faulty ballots, confusing directives, and lies about voter fraud, huge segments of the black and Hispanic populations are being prevented from voting.  It was the Civil Rights Movement that finally forced Congress and the White House under LBJ to pass fair voting rights which prevailed from 1965 until 2013 when the stark reality of changing demographics demanded these new voters of color be courted or…. not counted. The choice was easy and thirty-one states quickly passed  laws that today prevent millions from exercising their right to vote.  A must read!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  Next week is the Sea Cliff MiniMart (Sunday, October 7) and I am very excited.  There are so many wonderful booths to visit that day, but my favorite stop is the Children’s Library.  They have an amazing array of pre-used books and toys- most of which sell for one dollar! While I am waiting for the fun to begin, I would love to have a fast-moving novel on hand.  Any recommendations? MiniMart Maven
Dear MiniMart Maven,  I have a book I am quite sure you will enjoy: A DOUBLE LIFE by Flynn Berry. Claire is a physician practicing in London- she lives an orderly, uneventful life with friends, pets, and family… but we soon learn this is not her only life. She was daughter of a charismatic British lord , who accused of murder, had disappeared twenty years ago.  Now as an adult, Claire is obsessed with finding her father and learning what happened that night when her nanny was brutally murdered and her mother viciously attacked.  Shifting back and forth from past to present, Claire follows the most improbable of leads to finally discover the truth.  This novel is based on the actual story of Lord “Lucky” Lucan - a British peer whose disappearance forty years ago still remains shrouded in mystery.  Highly recommended!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, Last week I received an invitation to the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Newcomers Welcoming Party.  I am so excited to be meeting my fellow newcomers – apparently there will be at least thirty of us attending. Of course, we will all be sharing Sea Cliff origin tales, but if I need an additional conversation starter, do you have a good book I can bring up to discuss?  Newcomer to Sea Cliff
Dear Newcomer, You will have a wonderful time at the party, but you are wise to have a good book in your repertoire.  I recently read Ronan Farrow’s WAR ON PEACE- a fascinating account of how the United States has abandoned its peace-makers.   His main focus is his former boss, Richard Holbrooke, a much praised, much reviled diplomat who served under many presidents.  Ironically, for such a master diplomat, Holbrooke was viewed by many as acerbic and unrelenting.  Farrow presents this incredibly gifted yet flawed man as a metaphor for the state of diplomacy in Washington today. Another figure he includes is Robin Raphel, a classic diplomat who did her job so well she was brought up on charges of espionage.  She was eventually cleared but was left with huge legal bills and no job.   The book ends on a pessimistic note- when diplomacy is shunned, war is the outcome.  Highly recommended!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, This week a group of friends and I saw a fascinating movie “The Wife” starring Glenn Close.  When the credits began to roll, we realized that the movie was based on a recent novel.  My book group plans on reading and comparing it to the film.  Any thoughts on this plan? 
Movie Maven

Dear Movie Maven, I think this is a great idea.  After seeing the film, I read the book THE WIFE by Meg Wolitzer and thoroughly enjoyed both: the differences, the similarities, the overall theme.  The book is narrated by Joan Castleman, the wife in question; it opens as she and her husband, a world renowned author, are headed to Helsinki where he will receive yet another prestigious literary award. We learn in the opening paragraphs that Joan plans to end the marriage when they return home. The novel then shifts back to the couple’s first meeting in the 1950’s when Joan was a freshman at Smith College and Joe, a young instructor- husband to Carol and father of an infant daughter. Joe and Joan leave Smith in disgrace, moving to Greenwich Village where he begins his writing career with a hugely popular, autobiographical novel. Wolitzer shifts back and forth over forty-five years- from their courtship and marriage and then back to the present. What we learn about them and the world we all share is shockingly familiar, especially with recent revelations of women’s struggles in multiple arenas.  Highly recommended!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, This Saturday September 8 will be the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Movie Madness at Roslyn Park. The fun will start around 7pm and everyone is invited.   I’m getting there early to set up my blanket and picnic dinner, but I would like something exciting to read while I’m waiting for the show to begin.  Any ideas?  
Movie Madness Maven.
Dear MMM, I just finished a crime noir novel with a strong feminist bent that I think you will enjoy: GIVE ME YOUR HAND by Megan Abbott.  Abbott has written a number of books using different milieus but always featuring strong women and intricate female friendships.  This latest novel probes the internecine conflict in a research lab where post docs vie for positions in a project headed by the formidable Dr. Servin, a woman of great fame and much mystery.  Into this volatile mix comes Diane Fleming a childhood friend and adversary of Kit Owens, long standing member of the lab. Years before the two women had shared a secret that now returns to haunt them both as they compete in this politically charged arena. An explosive tale of passion, obsession, and deceit- recommended!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  My family and I are planning a vacation on Martha’s Vineyard next week and I would like to suggest a book we could all read and then discuss.  I think non-fiction might work best.  Any ideas? 
Family Book Discussion Devotee
Dear Family Book Devotee,  I have a wonderful book your will love and enjoying discussing: FANTASYLAND by  Kurt Anderson.  Anderson gives us a sweeping history of America from the 1500’s until the present time- coming to the startling conclusion that Americans have always been drawn  to fantasy. Starting with our reverence for our Puritan forefathers who pledged to take down Quakers, Catholics, and most other Protestants, followed quickly by the myth- making of George Washington’s cherry tree escapades, our fellow countrymen and women have reveled in the magical, the pseudoscience, the great con.  Having been founded by dissident zealots, America became home to many fantastical religions, conspiracy theorists, and truth benders.  Anderson names Buffalo Bill Cody as the exemplar of this credo.  Cody toured the country fake-scalping actors playing warrior chiefs and then actually began killing real warrior chiefs while in costume.   Later generations were taken with UFO sightings and diabolical interventions.  He also questions the increasing infantilization of Americans  and the increased interest in fantasy versus reality.   Finally, we have to ask ourselves, what will the American people accept as truth?   Recommended!   

Monday, August 13, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, I have been invited to a “Great Gatsby Gala.”  It has been many, many years since I read THE GREAT GATSBY.  Any suggestions as to how I should prepare?  
Gatsby Gala Guest
Dear Gatsby Gala Guest, What fun awaits you! First, of course, reread THE GREAT GATSBY.  You will be astonished how much you missed your first time.   Next, I would read Maureen Corrigan’s SO WE READ ON: HOW THE GREAT GATSBY CAME TO BE…. A long time book reviewer for NPR’s Fresh Air show, Corrigan examines the novel with great enthusiasm and personal affection.  She believes it to be indeed the greatest of the Great American Novels with prescient commentary on race, class, and gender.  When first published, it was viewed as a crime noir with its violent deaths, femme fatales, and mobster connections.   Later it was appreciated for its commentary on the quixotic American dream of redemption.  Then for many years, it was seen as a cautionary tale of the danger of passions pursued. Today many readers admire it for its lyrical prose and profound metaphors.  Corrigan traces all of these reactions and then brings us back to her high school in Astoria, Queens where she first read GATSBY. And as Fitzgerald wrote, “so we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.”  Highly recommended!  

Monday, August 6, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, I love August in Sea Cliff- it is as if time has stopped.  Everything and everyone moves more slowly, voices are lower, music is softer. There is a magical Brigadoon quality to the entire Village- a perfect time to read a new book- something a little unusual. Any ideas?   August Acolyte

Dear August Acolyte, A few weeks ago, I read an unusual book with an equally unusual title: THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP by Joanna Cannon.  The title relates to a biblical parable about judgment day when the good and the bad will be recognized for their deeds.  But the trouble for the young narrator of this novel, Grace and her friend Tillie, is that the goats and sheep seem one and the same. Set in an English suburb first in the summer of 1976 and then back in time to 1967, the book centers on two mysteries: the recent disappearance of a neighborhood woman Mrs. Creasy and that of  a baby girl ten years earlier.  How are the two time periods and the two missing characters connected?  Grace is an amusing, perceptive, but ultimately unreliable narrator. The dynamism of the book rests in its six main characters - each with a backstory that ultimately explains the strange happenings on this one very British block.  When the mystery is finally solved, we realize there have been many goats in sheep’s clothing and none should be judged.    Recommended!

Monday, July 30, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,   This is the half way mark for my favorite summer event: Sunset Serenades. With five concerts completed and five more to go, this is a good time to acknowledge the people that make these wonderful evenings possible.  Petrice Kaider proposed this concert concept sixteen years ago to the Sea Cliff Civic Association. The idea was quickly embraced, and every year since she has lined up an amazing group of musicians.  In addition, she and her husband Walter Kaider see that the lights are shining for every Serenade,  Civic Association Board members provide the refreshments, and all of Sea Cliff gets to enjoy a summer of beautiful music.  Now, please recommend a good book for an early August read.  
Grateful in Sea Cliff
Dear Grateful in Sea Cliff, Recently,  I read J. Courtney Sullivan’s SAINTS FOR ALL OCCASIONS.   Reminiscent of Mary Gordon’s early works and Colum Toibin’s BROOKLYN, this novel is a family saga set  over  fifty years,  two continents,  and  told from the perspectives of  sisters Nora and Theresa.  We meet these women as young girls in rural Ireland as they prepare to emigrate to America.  Much of the story is set in Boston from 1967 to 2009 as the two women carve out very different lives in their new home.   Secrets are gradually revealed and we come to realize there are few villains and some unlikely saints in this story.  Highly recommended!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, Friday nights in the summer here in Sea Cliff are truly magical.  From 7 to 10pm music fills the sandy shores of Sea Cliff Beach, the sun begins to set, and the crowd grows mellow.  I get there early, have dinner at the Beach Café, and settle down with a good book as I wait for the music to begin.  I haven’t read a mystery this entire summer - do you have one you would recommend?  
Friday Night Music Lover
Dear Friday Night Music Lover, I just read a very unusual and compelling mystery noir: OUR KIND OF CRUELTY by Araminta Hall.  Told from the unreliable perspective of Mike Hall, a young banker driven mad by his obsessive love for Verity or V as he calls her.  The two met in college – she the daughter of a wealthy family while he is the son of an abusive, alcoholic single mother. When the book opens, Mike is in prison for having killed someone and is discussing his defense.  Nothing is as it seems as he recounts the details of his relationship with V over an eight year period and its recent unraveling.  Who is telling the truth, who has the most to lose, who are these people ???  Set in present day London, this novel is a beautifully written but devastating description of love gone mad…. Recommended!    

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  Every Saturday and Sunday my friends and family meet up at Sea Cliff Beach to share a scrumptious Beach Café breakfast.  Afterwards, we all linger reading our books, magazines, and newspapers.  I am looking for something to suggest to the group that we all might enjoy.  Any suggestions?   Fan of Breakfast at the Beach
Dear Fan of Breakfast at the Beach,  One of my all-time favorite authors Anne Tyler has just come out with a new book- her 22nd novel: CLOCK DANCE.  We first meet Willa in 1967 as she tries to find the courage to sell candy bars door to door while  dealing with a cruel,  charismatic mother and a gentle, ineffectual father.  We quickly move to 1977 when she brings her self- assured, explosive boyfriend home to meet her parents.  Things don’t go well and soon it is 1997. Now she is dealing with an angry, explosive husband, and again things do not go well. Our next encounter with Willa is 2017, she is in her sixties and finds herself in a strange city, caring for a nine-year old girl, an angry shooting victim, a dog named Airplane and a bevy of eccentric neighbors. Is this her chance for happiness, her chance to make things right, her chance to dance the clock?  A beautifully told story of choices made and unmade- highly recommended!

Dear Great Book Guru,  Every Thursday during July and August, you will find me at Sea Cliff’s Memorial Park enjoying the Civic Association’s Sunset Serenades.  The music is lovely and the setting extraordinary.  While waiting for the musicians to arrive, I always look out at the Harbor with a good book in hand. Do you have a recommendation for this week?   Sunset Serenader

Dear Sunset Serenader,  This weekend, I finished a very short, very moving book: THE ONLY STORY by Julian Barnes.  When the story opens, Paul is a nineteen year-old British undergraduate spending the  summer of 1963 with his parents in their London suburb home.   To keep him amused and “out of trouble” his mother gifts him a membership in a local tennis club.  There he meets Susan Macleod- a forty-nine year old married woman with two grown daughters.   Susan and Paul fall in love and their story becomes for Paul  “the only story”- the story that is central to his identity.  The novel traces Paul’s feeling over a fifty year period as he questions the depth of friendship, of passion, of love.  We suspect from the beginning that love will not conquer all, but along the way we meet characters that hint at its redemptive powers. At the end, Paul leaves himself and the reader with the question: “Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more, or love the less and suffer the less?”  Highly recommended!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  Fourth of July in Sea Cliff is one of my favorite times: it starts on the Eve at the Children’s Library.  First there is the decorating of bikes, trikes, strollers, and carriages followed by the iconic “Happy Birthday, USA” with songs and music for and by all ages.  On the Fourth itself there is the reading of the Declaration on the Village Green and a parade down Sea Cliff Avenue.  When all this is done, I would like to throw myself into a good book.  Any suggestions?   Fervent Fan of the Fourth
Dear Fervent Fan of the Fourth,   I just finished a fascinating book about one of America’s most hated historical figures: Benedict Arnold.  In Stephen Brumwell’s TURNCOAT, we learn that Arnold  was one of the bravest and most revered of Washington’s generals.  Historians have posited that he was overcome with greed while others suggest he had come to resent the recognition others were receiving.  The book traces his enthusiastic support of the ideals of the Revolution to his villainous betrayal of the cause.  Brumwell comes to the radical conclusion that Arnold was the ultimate patriot: he believed America’s best interests would be served by ending the war, halting the bloodshed,  and remaining part of the British Empire. To accomplish this, he was willing to sacrifice everything.  A very interesting and controversial look at a man who has come to define evil itself. Recommended!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  Sea Cliff Beautification Committee will hold its Secret Garden Tour on Saturday, June 30 from 10 to 3 and I will be stationed at a friend’s beautiful backyard.   There will be time I’m sure for some good reading before and after…any suggestions?  Secret Garden Sojourner
Dear Secret Garden Sojourner,  I just finished one of the best books I have read this year: BAD BLOOD by Wall Street Journal investigative reporter John Carreyrou.  This book has it all-  intrigue, corruption, jealousy, paranoia, lies, romance,  redemption, and a cast of unbelievably colorful characters. Elizabeth Holmes began Theranos- a company based on a revolutionary blood testing concept- in 2004 when she was nineteen years-old. By 2015 she was declared the youngest female billionaire with a paper fortune of nine billion dollars. This past weekend she was indicted for fraud and her fortune devalued to zero.  Carreyrou’s book underscores the power of lies, charisma, and greed. Backed by powerful but smitten men including Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, General Mattis, Rupert Murdoch, corporate CEO’s of Walgreens and  Safeway, and a bevy of world famous scientists,  Holmes carried off this  billion dollar scam.  It is an  incredible story- a cautionary tale indeed but more over a great read- not to be missed…highly recommended!      

Monday, June 11, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, This Sunday June 17 is Father’s Day and I am planning a family get together. We will also be celebrating  Bloomsday- the annual tribute to James Joyce’s “Ulysses”- definitely two reasons for a great book gift for the fathers in my life.  Any suggestions?  Father’s Day Frantic
Dear Frantic,   Consider Michael Chabon’s newest book POPS: a short collection of provocative essays about fatherhood.  He opens up with advice he received from a famous albeit unidentified author: if you want to be a great writer don’t have children- too much of a distraction. Chabon went on to have four children and  has written eighteen books,  but he still wonders if he could have been a better writer or better father if only … .In the other essays he talks about moral dilemmas he has faced as a father, ranging from a racially aware  reading of Huckleberry Finn, discouraging his son from playing Little League baseball although he himself loves the game, encouraging another young son in his  fashion- based consumerism, addressing the social repression of junior high students, all culminating in the last piece: a reflection of his own father’s  very different parenting style and what he learned from him.  Definitely an interesting take on raising children from a thoughtful, talented writer…. Recommended!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, Another busy Sea Cliff weekend- on Saturday, June 9 at 6pm there will be the annual Fire Departmental Inspection in front of the Fire House and then on Sunday there will be music and fun events from Noon to 4:00 along Sea Cliff Avenue with SpringFest 2018. As summer begins,   I am looking for something a little different to read, and I do always like short…    
Loving June in Sea Cliff
Dear Loving June…., I read a very unusual, very enjoyable, very short book this weekend: CIRCE by Madeline Miller.  It is told from the perspective of the Circe, a minor Greek goddess who has been hailed and reviled throughout literature.  We probably know her best from the “Odyssey” where she turns Odysseus’s men into swine, but is able to seduce him with her magical charms.   She also features in the myths of Scylla and Charybdis, the Minotaur, Jason and Medea, Prometheus, Daedalus, and the Fall of Icarus.   Miller reinvents and expands these stories to reveal a world not unlike our own.  In this strongly feminist interpretation, we  come to see ourselves as Circe stumbles through history in her search for enlightenment and redemption.  Highly recommended!  

Monday, May 28, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, With Memorial Day quickly coming  upon us, I am making my plans.  At 8am Monday we will be hosting a breakfast on the front lawn of the Children’s Library after which we will march in the Village’s iconic parade - again organized by Phil Como.  Following the beautiful, bittersweet ceremony at Clifton Park, we will head down to Sea Cliff Beach for lunch.  Any suggestions for a good book to bring along?  Memorial Day Observer

Dear Memorial Day Observer, Sounds like you have a fine plan and I have an interesting, thought-provoking book to complete your weekend:  THE PERFECT MOTHER  by Aimee Molloy.  This psychological thriller can be read on two levels.  The obvious one is that of a crime novel- a child is kidnapped and there are many colorful suspects and leads. The other is a disturbing social commentary:  our harsh judgment of women- and mothers in particular.  The May Mothers is a group of Brooklyn women whose babies were born in May and have met up through an online parenting group.  They gather weekly at Prospect Park with their children to share, advise and- yes- judge.  The women decide to meet at a popular local bar for a night out without children or husbands. During the evening, one of the babies is kidnapped and for the next thirteen days, we follow the stories of four of these women as the media, their families, and their peers turn on them for what are perceived as failings.  While the resolution is farfetched, the story of societal demands on mothers is right on.  Highly recommended!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am decluttering my house in anticipation of the annual Village-wide Garage Sale here in Sea Cliff on Saturday, June 2.  I’ll be dropping my used books off at the Main Library after May 21 but I would love to have something to read now- perhaps a short novel on a current topic…
Avid Declutterer                   
Dear Avid Declutter, Congratulations on your determination and I do have a good book for you: THE PARKING LOT ATTENDANT by Nafkote Tamirat.  This debut novel opens in a utopian community where our unnamed narrator is living with her father. Neither father nor daughter is welcome and quickly the story line switches back to Boston where they had been living until forced to flee under mysterious circumstances.  The narrator had immigrated to Boston as a fifteen year old. To her father’s dismay, she is drawn to the charismatic Ayale, a parking lot attendant who is the unofficial king of Boston’s close knit Ethiopian community.  Soon it becomes evident that Ayale is a sinister force but this makes him all the more attractive to the young girl.  By the time she realizes the full extent of his plans, she has become totally complicit. This is a coming of age novel, a look into the loneliness of the immigrant, a study of fatherhood, and ultimately a darkly compelling mystery…..highly recommended!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  We are planning a family celebration for Mother’s Day this Sunday.  It will be brunch, a play, and then dessert at our favorite local restaurant.  Whenever we get together, conversations always turn to books we are reading.  I have time this week to begin something good for discussion- preferably non-fiction.  Any recommendations?  
Mother’s Day Celebrant
Dear Mother’s Day Celebrant,  I just finished reading a wonderful book: AFTER LINCOLN  by A.J. Langguth I think you will enjoy and find much in it to discuss.  The book is divided into twenty chapters each devoted to one character ( Charles Sumner, Rutherford B. Hayes…)  or topic (Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow….) all of which come together to  show the tragic and avoidable aftermath of the American Civil War- when the rights of freed black men and women were taken away by greed, cowardice, and malfeasance.   After Lincoln’s assassination, efforts were made by some to right the wrongs of slavery but to little avail.  It was not until 1964 when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act did the protections purposed one hundred years before came into effect.   The individual tales of the heroes and villains that made up the famous “team of rivals” make for a fascinating albeit troubling read. Highly recommended!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  One of my favorite Spring event is coming up this weekend:  the Sea Cliff Beautification Committee Plant Sale at St. Luke’s, Saturday, May 5 .  SCBC does so much to beautify the Village and their plants are always the best!  Afterwards, I’ll have time for a good book.  Do you have something fun – a novel, please ...   
Fan of Flowers

Dear Fan of Flowers, I just finished BIG GUNS by former U.S. Congressman Steve Israel.  The story opens in Chicago where a massive, out of control citywide gunfight has erupted.  The scene quickly changes to a small village on Long Island where a well-known billionaire gun manufacturer has a summer home.  The politics of national and local governments converge when an ambitious young congressman introduces legislature to make gun ownership mandatory for every citizen over the age of four.  The  Village mayor takes up her own  fight and the battle lines are drawn.  The premise is of course absurd but the politics of lobbying, special interests, and tribalism are certainly not. Israel brings his government experience to the scene which is alternately horrifying and hilarious.  Clearly a biting satire, this tale of politics gone awry is a fun read and will resonate even more with those of us living in New York on Long Island in a small village.  Highly recommended!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  April is coming to an end and I have lots of plans for the coming months.   High on my list is to read a worthwhile book every week.  I do love a good novel especially with contemporary overtones.  Any suggestions? 
A Resolute Reader
Dear Resolute Reader,  AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE by Tayari Jones is an excellent book to begin your regimen.  Celestial and Roy are a newly married African-American couple living the American Dream. He is the child of the Old South – he grew up in a small Louisiana town that he left the day he graduated from high school. Armed with his “first generation” scholarship to Morehouse College, Roy saw himself headed for success on all fronts. Celestial was a city girl from Atlanta with highly educated urbane parents. Together they see a future of unlimited potential until…. Roy is arrested and imprisoned for a crime they both know he did not commit.  The rest of the book recounts the damage done to them by a justice system weighed heavily against black men and their families.  Told partly in letters from  Roy and Celestial, the novel reveals the disbelief,  pain, and anger the couple  feel as they come to realize the empty promise for them of the American Dream.  Highly recommended!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  This weekend I will be attending my family’s annual Duck Hunt- rubber duckys, of course…. It will be great fun and I will see my siblings and lots of cousins,  all of whom are avid readers. The question of the day will be what have you read lately? Do you have a book I can offer to the group? From A Family of Readers
Dear From A Family of Readers,  It’s April so that means the latest Donna Leon novel has arrived.   Her TEMPTATION OF FORGIVENESS is the newest in her Venice literary mysteries. As in the past,  Inspector Brunetti faces a series of dilemmas that often have little to do with real criminality.  Rather his is the struggle of a moral man living in a world of great moral complexity.  There are few villains in Leon’s books but instead men and women who are dealing with issues that refuse to have simple outcomes. In this latest novel, it is the terrible consequences of the too kind heart that Leon presents to us - set against the ever beautiful, ever mysterious Venice.   Highly recommended!
Another work you might consider is Sea Cliff author Margaret Gay Malone’s recently published CHOICES OF THE HEART. Malone writes a multi-generational novel set over two continents and many decades with many fascinating plot developments.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, Saturday April 14 is opening day for Sea Cliff Baseball and Softball with its traditional parade down Sea Cliff Avenue.  We are great fans of the Artful Dodgers and will be cheering them on all season. When the parade is over, I would like to read a book that will help me understand some of the pressing issues of the day.  I am up for a challenge. 
Fan of the Artful Dodgers
Dear Fan of the Artful Dodgers,  This weekend I read a lengthy, disturbing history of racist ideas in American: STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING  by Ibram X.  Kendi. This National Book Award Winner traces racism in America by focusing on  five  intellectuals whose lives span colonial times  up through the present: the Puritan minister Cotton Mather; Thomas Jefferson;  fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison;  philosopher W.E.B. DuBois; and anti- prison activist Angela Davis. Kendi maintains that racist ideas were and continue to be manufactured to justify racist policy.   The title comes from a speech Jefferson Davis- future president of the Confederacy- made before the US Senate claiming that “the inequality of the races was stamped from the beginning.” A most readable and rewarding book- highly recommended!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  Looking out the window on this snowy day, I wonder if spring is really in the air, but with schools closed and so many fellow Sea Cliffers out of town, I do have time to get into a good book. Any thoughts? 
Springing into a Good Book
Dear Springing into….,  I just finished an interesting novel we will be discussing at my  April book club meeting: THE FRIEND by Sigrid Nunez.  The unnamed narrator is a writer who has recently lost her best friend and mentor and- unexpectedly- inherits his enormous Great Dane.  At two hundred pounds and a standing height of seven feet, Apollo moves into the woman’s tiny rent-controlled apartment despite a very strong no-pet clause in her lease. Suspense builds as she navigates the world of New York City real estate with a very clever outcome.   The narrator recounts in beautiful prose her thoughts on mourning, loyalty, solitude, and death.  At times she seems dangerously obsessed with the dog’s well-being, but we soon see the redemptive powers of this human- canine relationship. The book opens with a Nicholson Baker quote “The question any novel is really trying to answer is, ‘Is life worth living?’ ” - our narrator attempts throughout to do just this. Highly recommended!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  I have just been invited to a ceilidh by a friend- apparently it’s a party with  Irish dancing, music, and storytelling. It sounds like great fun and- as usual- I’d like to have a good book to read beforehand- perhaps something about the creative process. 
Ceilidh Celebrant
Dear Ceilidh Celebrant,  I just finished a widely praised book about writers and the writing process: ASYMMETRY by Lisa Halliday. It is divided into three distinct but overlapping stories. In the first, we meet Alice- a young junior editor for a publishing house- and Ezra Blazer- a famous author who is much older than Alice. Set in the 1990’s in Manhattan and Long Island’s East End, the novel humorously and touchingly chronicles their love affair.  The second story opens in 2008 at Heathrow  Airport where Amar, a Brooklyn economist, is being detained by immigration police as he attempts to visit his brother in Kurdistan.   In the final piece it is 2011 and Ezra Blazer is being interviewed  on the BBC  about his award winning career, exquisitely capturing his thoughts on love, life, and  legacy. How can the three pieces come together?  Halliday does a remarkable job of capturing the creative forces that unite these disparate stories in this -her semi-autobiographical debut novel.    Recommended!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  This weekend, a number of my friends and I will be attending a literary conference at Harvard’s Law School on the British author Barbara Pym.  They are huge fans of hers, but I have never read any of her novels.  Would you suggest one to start my Pymian adventure?
Preparing for Pym
Dear Preparing for Pym,  Like your friends, I too am a huge Pym fan.  She has written about a dozen books  - each  a jewel to be read and reread many times.  Her novels are about the exquisite loveliness of everyday life with each word, each gesture, each character treated with humor, care, and respect-  offering gentle but frequently biting insights into the human condition.  Her descriptions of food, clothing, and those daily rituals which consume and distract us, envelope her readers in a familiar yet unique world.   This weekend’s conference at Harvard will be focusing on one novel in particular: THE SWEET DOVE DIED.   Lenora, the central character, is a middle-aged, rather self-absorbed woman who spurns the devoted Humphrey for his twenty-four year-old nephew James. Lenore’s romantic overtures are thwarted when James turns first to Phoebe- a young woman his own age- and then to Ned, a visiting scholar from America.  We watch in growing dismay as Lenore tries time and again to win James’s affection.   A wonderful look into the mysteries of attraction and love- highly recommended!