Monday, December 16, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, All over Sea Cliff there are holiday parties and some of the most fun are cookie swaps, and the oldest and best of these is Elizabeth Weinstein’s. For 29 years, Elizabeth has been hosting her elegant celebration of friendship and sweets. Well, this year I have my cookies baked and ready to go, so I have time for a good book.  Do you have something in the spirit of the holidays? Cookie Swap Connoisseur

Dear Cookie Swap Connoisseur, Ah… a book about the spirit of the holidays? MARLEY by Jon Clinch is about one of history’s most maligned of spirits: Jacob Marley from Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” Here we get the back story of Scrooge’s long dead business partner. We meet him as a boy, teenager, and man - at all stages a cruel, deceptive conniver who preys on his schoolmate - the then innocent Scrooge.  As men, they form a business partnership that amasses fortunes many times over.  The British slave trade forms a large part of their business. The young women characters, Fan and Belle from A Christmas Carol, play important roles in the lives of both men. As the two partners become more and more enmeshed in a dark world of greed, deception, forgery, and theft, the hope for redemption seems illusory. Marley’s ghostly return takes on deeper meaning as he tries to share the lessons he has learned.  A chilling and fascinating take on this perennial holiday tale …  a very intriguing read!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, My book club meets every month and we are always looking for our next good book. We recently read the 1980’s classic THE HANDMAID’S TALE and some members mentioned there is a sequel. Do you think we would enjoy it?  Sequel Searchers

Dear Sequel Searchers, I just finished Margaret Atwood’s THE TESTAMENTS - the sequel to THE HANDMAID’S TALE – and I found it fascinating.  The novel begins fifteen years after the end of THE HANDMAID’S TALE. The Republic of Gilead maintains its tyrannical control and international politics is in chaos. Canada plays a pivotal role as the former United States of America continues its theocratic repression of women. The story is told from three viewpoints:  Aunt Lydia who might well be a totally unreliable narrator and two first-generation children of the Gilead - Daisy and Agnes. Of the three, Aunt Lydia is the most interesting. An accomplished, highly educated lawyer and judge before the coup, she became part of the new regime. The choices she recounts could be altruistic but there is always doubt as to her true motivations. With the younger girls, we see the effects of this cruel regime, but we also see their irrepressible spirit.  Your book club will have a lively discussion about the ending- is there cause for optimism or…pessimism?  Recommended!   

Monday, December 9, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, The month of December is filled with a myriad of Sea Cliff holiday events, and I attend them all - but my favorite is the Scrooge Stroll. Fred Stroppel creates a magnificent reimagining of Charles Dickens’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL with costumed characters walking the streets of Sea Cliff. I will have some free time afterwards,  so if you have a good book to recommend, I would be grateful.  Scrooge Stroller

Dear Scrooge Stroller, My book club recently read Edna O’Brien’s GIRL; we found it very compelling and very disturbing.  It is the story of one girl, but Maryam is a composite of many. It opens as men claiming to be soldiers invade the dormitory of a girls’ high school. They pretend to have come to save them but instead capture and enslave them - these are the Boko Haram girls. We follow the brutal history of the young Maryam as she endures horrific torture - physical and mental - at the hands of these religious zealots.  When she finally escapes, her family and community are far from welcoming.  O’Brien who is eighty-eight years-old has been writing about the subjugation of women and girls for over sixty years. Most of her novels have been set In Ireland, but for this latest book she traveled to Nigeria to underscore the universal oppression of women. This is a painful book to read, but very worthwhile. Highly recommended!

Monday, November 25, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, I recently read a book you recommended: RED AT THE BONE by Jacqueline Woodson. In it she mentions a defining moment in her family’s history: the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921.  I had never heard of this event and would like to learn more about it.  Searcher of Truth

Dear Searcher of Truth, I too was dismayed by my lack of knowledge about this event in our history. RIOT AND REMEMBRANCE by James Hirsch answered a lot of my questions.  Following the end of World War One, a thriving Black community grew up in Greenwood - a neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Greenwood, known as the “Black Wall Street” because of its wealth, successful businesses, and rich community life, was destroyed basically in one week. On May 31, 1921, a young black Tulsan had been  arrested for attacking a white woman. While the charges were later dismissed and deemed highly suspect from the beginning, a local newspaper and government officials fanned rumors of a possible lynching and insurrection. Over the next few days, possibly as many as three hundred people were killed (almost all African-Americans), six thousand (all African-Americans) were interned in holding camps, and over one thousand homes and businesses (again, all African-American) were destroyed.  Residents including the characters in Woodson’s novel, moved north and then there was…. silence.  For decades, this massacre was excised from history. It was not taught in schools, local newspaper accounts of that week were mysteriously removed from archives, and residents refused to discuss it. Hirsch tells the story of that horrific week in precise detail and then recounts  efforts to make the nation finally aware. A brutal story that will fill readers with outrage…. highly recommended!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru,  This weekend is my family’s annual Faux Thanksgiving celebration.  Siblings, cousins, children of all ages join in the fun. Always before the day is done, someone will ask, “ Have you read anything good lately?”  Of course, I would love to have an answer- do you have something I can read in the next few days?
Faux Thanksgiving Fan

Dear Faux Thanksgiving Fan, My good friend Rosie recently left a wonderful book on my porch: OLIVE, AGAIN by Elizabeth Strout. This is Strout’s seventh novel and a sequel to her 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner OLIVE KITTERIDGE.  Here we pick up Olive’s story a few weeks after the earlier novel closes.  The setting is the same: a small coastal village in Maine, and each of the thirteen chapters is a short story that can easily stand alone.   Many characters reappear and we get new insights into their original stories, with time moving relentlessly on. Olive starts out as a seventy-year-old and by the end of the book, she is eighty-six.  In the opening story, we meet her second husband - a brash academic from Harvard who gradually reveals the details of his fall from grace and glory; later in the novel, he meets up with his past at a local fast food restaurant.   In another chapter, Olive spends Christmas holidays with her son and his family only to realize as the visit ends, she has always been a bad mother. When we last meet Olive, she is still prickly, but more aware and less judgmental, yet someone to be feared, respected, and…yes, loved. Highly recommended!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, Next week is the Great Turkey Hunt – Saturday, November 23 at 3pm and the Great Turkey Himself will be making an appearance at Geohegan Park- also known ominously as Headless Park.  While waiting for the Hunt to begin, do you have a book I can read ? 
Fan of the Great Turkey Himself

Dear Fan of the Great Turkey Himself,  My friends and I recently discussed Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE. While many of us had read the book when it first came out in 1985, it was fascinating and horrifying to reread it in 2019.  Set in the near future in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the novel describes the life of one woman Offred (Of Fred- women no longer allowed to have their own names) and the world she lives in.  The President of the United States has been assassinated as have most Congressmen and Senators. A second Civil War rages and a theocratic government has come to power- the Republic of Gilead. Because of vast climatic and environmental disasters, the birthrate has plummeted. The few women who are still fertile are enslaved and forced to produce children. These “handmaids” are assigned to the male generals or commanders. Many aspects of a patriarchal society are explored.   When the possibility of escape arises, Offred realizes she must act, but is there anyone- man or woman- she can trust?  In the epilogue set one hundred years later, we come to see times have changed, but an underlying misogyny prevails.  A classic that can and should be reread….highly recommended!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, I attended the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Progressive Dinner this weekend and had a really great time. Tina Marchese does an amazing job each year organizing this iconic event. At the dessert portion of the evening someone mentioned a novel his book club had just read. It was set in present-day Ireland and sounded very interesting but…I forgot the title. Any thoughts?  Very Satisfied Diner

Dear Very Satisfied…. A few weeks ago, I read Sally Rooney’s CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS with my book club.  Set in Dublin, this award-winning novel traces the lives and loves of Frances and Bobbi, two 21 year-old friends who were once lovers.  Frances is the daughter of struggling middle class parents, while Bobbie’s family is wealthy and indulgent.  Bobbi is beautiful and outspoken; Frances is brilliant and introspective. Both are ardent anti-capitalists and strong feminists.  In the opening pages, they meet Melissa – a successful thirtyish journalist and her handsome actor husband Nick.  The young women are quickly welcomed into their glamorous world. Melissa and Bobbi form a strong friendship, while Nick and Frances become lovers. It is Frances who plays the leading role, and we follow her increasingly complicated relationships with her abusive alcoholic father as well as Nick, Melissa, and finally Bobbi. Much of this is recounted in a series of email and text conversations.  In the end, we feel we know a great deal about these women, but do we really? Recommended!  

Monday, October 21, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, I was so disappointed  “Starry, Starry Night” was cancelled because of rain, but I am looking forward to the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s next iconic event: the Progressive Dinner on Saturday, November 2.  I’m looking for a book  that I might bring up during the evening's festivities. Recommendation?
 Progressive Dinner Devotee

Dear Progressive Dinner Devotee, I just finished reading CATCH AND KILL by Ronan Farrow and what a story he tells. It is a meticulously researched report that reads like a Grisham legal thriller or high-tech spy novel. It begins in 2017, when Farrow is given a routine investigative assignment about a story that had been whispered about for years - movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s reputation as a bullying predator protected by wealth, influence, and powerful friends. As Farrow goes deeper into the story, high end lawyers, a mysterious international security firm, and network news executives all begin a secret campaign of intimidation.  From London to New York and beyond, forces mobilize to prevent the story from going forward, but Farrow is unrelenting. The tangled web of personal and corporate corruption he uncovers is both shocking and frightening – that so many had so much hide.  A disturbing read but highly recommended!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, I am looking forward to a favorite event of mine:  Sea Cliff Civic Association’s “Starry, Starry Night.” Local astronomers gather at Clifton Park to share their knowledge of the skies and the celestial musical group, The Milky Ways (Heidi Hunt and Joe Hughes) sing a series of star-studded selections.  Stellar sweet treats abound throughout the evening starting Sunday at 7pm.  While waiting for the fun to begin, I will have time for a good book.  Any recommendations? Sea Cliff Star Gazer

Dear Sea Cliff Star Gazer, Amy Waldman’s A DOOR IN THE EARTH is a book that will make you look at the world of international aid with new and cynical insight.  It is 2010 and Parveen Shams has recently graduated from Berkley. She was born in Afghanistan and moved to California as an infant with her parents.  After reading the bestselling book “Mother Afghanistan,” by an American physician, Gideon Crane, Parveen is inspired to return to her native land.  Crane had created a multimillion dollar foundation dedicated to the medical needs of the women in a small rural Afghan village. It was to honor a patient of his who had died there in childbirth.  Soon after arriving, Parveen realizes much of what Crane had written was self-serving and filled with lies. Tragically, the American military was basing strategic decisions on these falsehoods.  As one of the few people involved who speaks both English and Dari, she must decide whether to reveal the truth and endanger the lives of many or go along with Crane’s false narrative.  A difficult book to read, it is nevertheless an enlightening journey and highly recommended.   

Friday, October 11, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru,  The upcoming long weekend is a good time to relax, reflect, and- yes as always- read a good book!  A favorite author of mine-Jacqueline Woodson whose picture books, poetry, YA and adult novels have won much praise- has just come out with a new novel. I’m very excited and can’t wait to get my copy.  Have you read it and if so… your thoughts?  Autumn Reader

Dear Autumn Reader,  I too am a great fan of Jacqueline Woodson and her newest RED AT THE BONE  is truly wonderful. A quick read (about 200 pages), this novel is set largely in Brooklyn and spans over eighty years, tracing the impact place, class, gender, and race have on its characters.  The story opens at the sixteenth birthday party of Melody in her family’s brownstone.  Iris -her young mother- and she are quarrelling over music, but the reader quickly realizes their dispute has little to do with Prince lyrics.  Melody’s grandparents, who have raised her, shift back and forth in time as they recall all that has brought them to this moment, while Aubrey – Melody’s father- questions decisions made long ago.   But this is not a melancholy look at the past but instead a tribute to the enduring power of family and community. As the book’s epigraph quotes “One day chicken. Next day bone,” the lives of these characters are touched by discord, pain, kindness, disappointment, and joy.  A lyrical look at family life over generations and highly recommended!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, This coming weekend is a major iconic Sea Cliff event - Mini Mart ! This is its fiftieth anniversary so it will be particularly festive with many families staging reunions. My favorite spot is the Children’s Library where amazing “pre-owned” toys and children’s books sell for almost nothing - it is the ultimate in recycling. But, as always, I love to have a good book to read when things get quiet. I am yearning for a good mystery.  Any suggestions? 
Mini Mart Maven

Dear Mini Mart Maven, A favorite author of mine, Kate Atkinson, just came out with her latest Jackson Brodie literary mystery:  BIG SKY.  Atkinson is famous for the wide variety of books she has written - all beautifully constructed and intellectually stimulating. There are five novels in her Brodie series and each can be read on its own. This latest, set in 2019, has references to Brexit, Harvey Weinstein, and cyber surveillance. Brodie is a former British police officer turned private investigator who is world weary with a young teenage son and an estranged daughter about to marry. In the novel’s opening pages we meet a pair of young Polish sisters who are embarking on an exciting, life-transforming journey to England. In subsequent chapters we meet a trio of businessmen, a series of troubled wives, and two dynamic detectives. Atkinson brings together the many stories these characters have to tell us – some sordid, some brutal, some tender and always fascinating. Highly recommended!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, I am looking forward to the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Back to School gift to the Village: Movie Madness, featuring the original “Aladdin.”  It will be at Roslyn Park on September 28, Friday night, starting at sunset around 6:45. Afterwards, I’ll have time for a short novel - interesting and unusual. Ideas?
  Movie Madness Goer

Dear Movie Madness Goer - I just finished a new novel by a favorite author and I loved it:  THE GRAMMARIANS by Cathleen Schine. The grammarians are Laurel and Daphne, identical red-haired twins who are obsessed with language - puns, derivations, definitions, rhymes – and their twinness.  Much to their parents’ confusion and consternation, the girls share a secret language. As we follow their lives through babyhood to middle age, we share in the sorrow and pain they experience as they are forced to create separate existences. Their family - parents, spouses, aunt, uncle, and cousin - all add to the depth and humor of the novel as they reflect on the mystery of twin-ship.  Especially poignant was their mother’s evolving relationship with them. For many years she felt the outsider and only when the girls become estranged does she begin to feel part of their lives. A very funny and complex story of love and language - highly recommended!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, This weekend I am going the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Newcomers Welcoming Party. I can’t wait to meet the other forty or so new families that have moved to Sea Cliff over the last year. A friend suggested I read a book I might want to bring up if things get quiet- what do you think? Eager but Nervous Newcomer

Dear Eager Newcomer, No need to be nervous - this party is always so, so much fun! But I do have a fine book to recommend this week: A PURE HEART by Rajia Hassib. Set in the present time here and in Egypt, this novel tells the tale of two sisters and the conflicts faced by them as they try to live moral lives in an ancient and changing world.  Rose is a curator of Egyptian antiquities at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and married to a New York Times correspondent she met in Cairo. Gameela is her younger sister - a twenty-eight-year-old engineer living with her parents in an affluent section of Cairo.  Rose struggles with guilt and grief at having left her homeland but is delighted with her new life in America. Gameela has become very religious and scorns her sister’s new life. As the story opens, we learn that Gameela has died in a terrorist attack. When Rose returns home to learn what motivated her sister, she uncovers a bevy of secrets that haunt the family and the reader. Highly recommended!

Monday, September 9, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, At the end of August, family and friends spent two weeks on Martha’s Vineyard. It was great fun. Two of our favorite guests mentioned a book set in Martha’s Vineyard about three friends visiting the Island. Now that we are back home, I would indeed love to extend summer a bit, but I forgot the title. Thoughts?  Summer Lingerer

Dear Summer Lingerer, I just finished Richard Russo’s ‘CHANCES ARE….’ – a great end of summer read!  Three men - college friends from the late sixties who are now in their sixties - gather on Martha’s Vineyard for a nostalgic reunion.  The men’s lives have had dramatically different outcomes: Lincoln (whose family house they are visiting} is a very successful real estate developer; Teddy is an impoverished and very depressed editor of a small religious press; and Mickey is a hard-living, voice-fading musician.  All three were once in love with a college sweetheart who mysteriously disappeared on a visit to Martha’s Vineyard decades ago. A compelling tale in a beautiful setting - highly recommended!

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, This Saturday September 7 is the Village’s 100th Year Anniversary of the celebration of the return of Sea Cliff’s World War I soldiers.  There will be a parade from Memorial Park to Clifton Park where there will be a picnic dinner, much music, and scrumptious desserts.  I would love to read a book on World War I before I head over for the festivities. Seeker of Knowledge

Dear Seeker of Knowledge, Recently I read a short history (240 pages) of what is ironically called The Great War.  WORLD WAR I by Norman Stone tells the story of this horrific disaster. Fourteen million people died, four empires fell, and the victorious nations were badly damaged.  Stone shows how Europe and eventually the United States were dragged from the world of the nineteenth century to the brutality of the twentieth.  He captures the harshness of trench wars, poison gas, and lasting psychological trauma.  Another book I found very informative was Diana Preston’s A HIGHER FORM OF KILLING. She describes a six-week period that changed modern warfare forever and continues to plague us.  First was the use of poison gas – a scourge still used in attacks today. Then came the sinking of the Lusitania where civilians were targeted, and finally aerial bombing which preceded the destruction of much of Europe during World War II.  All in all, these two books show the incredible cruelty and far reaching effects of this War to End All Wars.  Highly recommended!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, Friends of mine are members of the Barbara Pym Society of Sea Cliff, and this weekend they are headed to the annual Pym convocation at St Hilda’s College at Oxford University.  They are presenting a paper on one of her novels about two women whose lives intersect. They’ll focus on the changing views of marriage that Pym offers.  I’d like to read this novel before they return.  Any thoughts? Potential Pymite

Dear Potential Pymite, JANE AND PRUDENCE is one of Pym’s earlier novels and a great favorite of mine. Set in both 1950’s London and a small, unnamed village (strangely reminiscent of Sea Cliff), the novel tells the parallel stories of forty-one year old Jane, the kindhearted, brilliant but scattered wife of the clergyman Nicholas Cleveland, and Prudence, a twenty-nine year-old beautifully elegant single woman with a penchant for unfulfilling infatuations with married academicians.  Throughout the novel each woman weighs the joys and intricacies of her “lot in life.”  As in all Pym’s novels, the plot line is secondary to the character development and we soon become intimately involved in the lives of these two women.  There is much humor and insight in this novel - highly recommended!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, I have been so enjoying Monday Movies at the Beach sponsored by the Beach Hut.  It’s a great place to catch up with friends and family and I always get there early to set up chairs for us.  And the Beach Hut food is so great! Do you have a book I might read while waiting for the show to start? 
Loving Monday Movies

Dear Loving Monday Movies, I just finished a great book to read before school starts: THE GIFTED SCHOOL by Bruce Holsinger.  Four women who met when their children were newborns have continued their friendship over eleven years. Now as the children approach middle school, a program for the gifted and talented is scheduled to open in their hometown Crystal City, an affluent community which bears a strong resemblance to Boulder, Colorado. All four women are mightily invested in having their children make the cut.  Lies, bribes, and deceit quickly color the process.  The grandchild of a woman who cleans the homes of two of the women is also a contender, and the grandchild’s plight adds another dimension to this tawdry tale.  While test scores play a role, it’s the special talent portfolios that bring a very dark but chillingly comical twist to this novel.  Each parent faces a moral quandary and no one fares well, especially the children.  A cautionary tale indeed and highly recommended!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, Every morning, my friends and I meet at Sea Cliff Beach for breakfast.  It’s great fun and the food is delicious!  Yesterday one of the group mentioned a debut novel by a Peruvian woman about life as an undocumented immigrant in the 1990’s.  It sounded like a good book to read as the summer winds down.  Are you familiar with it?                    Lover of Sea Cliff Beach Hut

Dear Lover of Sea Cliff Beach Hut, I enjoyed Melissa Rivero’s THE AFFAIRS OF THE FALCONS very much.  Ana Falcon and her husband Lucho came to New York City from Lima, Peru with their two young children to escape economic and political turmoil.  Things are going well for the hardworking young couple until Lucho loses his job and they are forced to move in with his cousin and her family. The strain of living in one room with an increasingly reluctant host grows unbearable.  In desperation, Ana becomes involved with a sinister loan shark and her predatory husband.  Working ever longer shifts at a local factory, Ana realizes her family’s undocumented status may prevent them from ever climbing out of debt. When her husband talks of returning to Peru, she lashes out at him and when others suggest she send the children back, she becomes even more embittered.  Pervading the novel is her growing fear of being deported.  This is a tale of powerful love and quiet desperation. Highly recommended! 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, Last week I attended an amazing event- the Great Gatsby Gala.  Lovers of this great American novel gathered to enjoy a dramatization of the book, participate in a detailed discussion of its main themes, and then tested their knowledge in an extended trivia contest. We all went home with prizes, favors, and dessert treats from Sleepy Jean’s.  While at the party, someone mentioned a fast-moving literary thriller set in a Florida courtroom.  Any thoughts?   Great Gatsby Gadfly

Dear Great Gatsby Gadfly, I just spent the afternoon reading THE BODY IN QUESTION by Jill Ciment. This short (200 pages) novel opens as a panel of jurors are being chosen for what they soon find out is a sensational murder trial. A teenage girl from a wealthy family is accused of murdering her toddler brother and her twin sister is testifying against her.  The jurors are sequestered for three weeks and we come to learn much about them all especially Juror C-2 (we do not learn their names until the last pages of the book).  She is a 52-year-old successful Prius-driving photographer married to an 86-year-old man in poor health. She and Juror F-17 – a forty-year-old medical school professor - begin an affair that is soon discovered by the rest of the jury. There are many questions posed: is the accused indeed guilty, what role did her domineering twin play in the death, how does C-2’s affair cloud her judgment, and finally what role does the media play in our justice system?  A very powerful and disturbing read - highly recommended!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, Last week I was at an Aloha Farewell Party for the Kessler family, Karen, Scott and their children are moving to Hawaii in the next few days and their many, many Sea Cliff friends will miss them terribly. At the party there was much talk about good books to read on their long flight.  Someone mentioned a new book by the author of the prize-winning UNDERGROUND RAILROAD. What are your thoughts?  Missing the Kesslers Already

Dear Missing…, What a great suggestion - THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead is a short, very powerful historical novel based on a real-life reform school: the Dozier School for Boys. Opened in 1900 and finally closed in 2011, the school was the site of brutality, torture, and murder. Whitehead tells the story from the perspective of two young boys: Elwood Curtis and his friend Turner. Elwood is an idealistic follower of Martin Luther King and believes that by following rules and loving his oppressors, justice will triumph.  On the way to his first day of college, he accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is arrested. Nickel Academy is offered as a supposedly good alternative to prison. Turner is much more cynical and is soon proven the wiser of the two.  The Jim Crow laws of the 1960’s prevail, and Elwood’s innocence is destroyed.  A startlingly pessimistic take on the American dream - highly recommended!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, This September, the Sea Cliff Civic Association is planning to celebrate the passage of the 19th amendment - the amendment that ensured women’s right to vote. In preparation, my book club would like to read a book that tells the story of that exciting time. Any suggestions?                     Keen on the Suffragists

Dear Keen on the Suffragists, I have just the book for you: THE WOMAN’S HOUR by Elaine Weiss. Weiss focuses on the final battle in the seventy plus-year struggle to win women the right to vote. This spirited tale which reads like a political thriller opens in July 1920 as the friends and foes of the suffragist movement gather in Nashville, Tennessee.  Only one more state is needed to ratify the amendment, and several states have flatly rejected it - Tennessee could go either way.  Weiss focuses on three major players: Carrie Chapman Catt - a gifted, aristocratic strategist; Sue White - a militant native Tennessean who scorns the genteel ways of Catt; and Josephine Pearson - a staunch advocate of states rights and female domesticity.  All three and their supporters gather in the luxurious Hermitage Hotel where lobbyists, legislators, and politicians vie for crucial votes. Anti-prohibitionists ply lawmakers in “Jack Daniel” suites and railroad tycoons whisper loudly that a woman’s vote is a vote for those ‘Bolshevik’ unions.  Above all, race is on the minds of everyone.  As the final vote is taken, Weiss records the cheers and tears and a surprising climax. An amazing story vividly told…. highly recommended! 

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, Now that the Fourth of July week of celebrations has ended, I am concentrating on the music scene   here in Sea Cliff.  Last night, the acclaimed Roger Street Friedman and Friends performed at Sea Cliff Beach.  My friends and I had a delicious dinner there at Jennifer Angliss DeSane’s Beach Hut - love that turkey brie pear wrap! Next week will be Broadway at the Beach and I know there will be time for a good book before the music begins.  Any recommendations?  Beach and  Music Lover

Dear Beach and Music Lover, I just finished A NEARLY NORMAL FAMILY by M.T. Edvardsson - a fascinating psychological thriller set near Stockholm, Sweden.  Stella - eighteen-year old - has been accused of the violent murder of a corrupt businessman and is awaiting trial.  Her parents - Adam, pastor of a large Christian congregation, and Ulrika, a criminal defense lawyer - are horribly afraid she might be guilty and must decide how far they will go to protect her,  The story is told from the perspectives of the three family members  and we gradually  learn many disturbing facts about this so very normal family.  Cell phones, encrypted messages, surveillance cameras all come into play as the parents are confronted with information, they find both shocking and confusing.  What is justice ….and can it be served?  A chilling tale presenting us with an aching moral dilemma - highly recommended!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru,  This coming Saturday (June 29) begins the Fourth of July week of celebration with the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s Bicycle and Stroller Parade. On Wednesday, it is followed by Happy Birthday USA at the Children’s Library and a Sunset Serenade at Memorial Park. The culminating event, of course, is the Reading of the Declaration of Independence on the Village Green on the Fourth. Each of these events is wonderful but taken together they form a magnificent glimpse into life in the Village of Sea Cliff. While involved in all this, I would like something wonderful to read.  Any recommendations?  Sunshine Patriot

Dear Sunshine Patriot,  You could read a favorite of mine: JOHN ADAMS by David McCullough This is an amazing biography which presents parallel tales of Adams and his wife Abigail, Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and, yes, most interestingly, Adams and the new nation. McCullough uses original diaries and letters in such a skillful manner that you feel as if you are reading a fast-moving novel. Because of its length (726 pages) this could be a summer project for you but definitely a worthwhile one.

A family ritual of ours is the watching/reading of Peter Stone’s 1776 every Fourth. There is nothing that makes the heart swell more with patriotic fervor than listening, watching, and reading that great musical play that recreates the drama surrounding the creation of the Declaration of Independence, except, of course, hearing the Declaration read on Sea Cliff’s Village Green. 1776 is available in book form and streaming.

Happy Fourth!!!

Friday, June 21, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, I am looking forward to this these last days of June. There is such a feeling of anticipation and excitement with summer’s fun and freedom lying ahead. School will be closing, Story Time at Sea Cliff Beach begins, and Sunset Serenades start. Of course, in the midst of all this, I always find time to read.  Do you have a good book to recommend?
Swooning Over the Start of Summer

Dear Swooning, My book club just read TRUST EXERCISE by Susan Choi. This is a perfect start for your summer reading. Beautifully written with a complex storyline, the novel begins in July, the early 1980’s.  David and Sarah are fifteen and about to fall in love. They attend an elite school for the performing arts.   From radically different backgrounds, the two students find themselves in a life-changing situation as friends and faculty look on.  Their instructor suggests a series of trust exercises for the students, but we are also asked to exercise trust in what we see and hear.    As the timeline moves forward to the present, we realize there is much we do not know.  In fact, we may have been manipulated or misled, and it becomes obvious the identity of the narrator is crucial to our understanding.   A challenging book, but well worth the time and energy - recommended!

Dear Great Book Guru, Next Sunday is Father’s Day and we are planning a lovely day at Sea Cliff Beach, starting with a delicious breakfast at the Beach CafĂ©. Jennifer Angliss Desane is doing a spectacular job with a great menu, scrumptious food, and enthusiastic staff. Afterwards, we will all sit under those striped umbrellas and read the afternoon away! Looking for a short novel with a complex moral dilemma - any thoughts? Father’s Day Fan

Dear Father’s Day Fan, My book club is reading INCENDIARIES by R.O. Kwon and it is truly an outstanding debut novel.  Written from the perspectives of three Korean Americans, this 224-page book studies the impact of religious fervor on the lives of three young people.  Will is a scholarship student at a prestigious university (perhaps Yale?) where he meets Phoebe, also a student who is in mourning for her mother who died in a car accident caused by Phoebe.  John Leal, a former student, has returned to campus after having been jailed by the North Korean government while leading a humanitarian rescue mission. Their lives intersect when Leal forms a revolutionary group and recruits Phoebe, despite Will’s misgivings.   Soon we begin to question who is the narrator and - most importantly –
can we believe him/her?  Ultimately, we are left doubting everything we have read.  Recommended!

Friday, June 7, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, I just checked my calendar of special events and noticed next week is Bloomsday.  Do you know of any local celebrations of this Joycean wonder?                    Bloomsday Bon Vivant

Dear Bloomsday Bon Vivant, The James Joyce Jaunt is the event for you! As most of my readers know, Bloomsday is celebrated every year to commemorate the day James Joyce’s ULYSSES takes place: June 16, 1904.  Joyce spent most his life in self-imposed exile, but he wrote obsessively about one place and one place only - his birthplace: Dublin, Ireland.  In ULYSSES, we follow three main characters through day into night- seeing and experiencing Dublin as they did. But ULYSSES is more than the portrait of one city on one day - it is also a study of the epic wanderings of the Greek hero Odysseus (Ulysses) - mocking the wanderings of the most unlikely of heroes: Leopold Bloom.  On Wednesday, June 12 at 7pm the James Joyce Society of Sea Cliff led by Fred Stroppel and Dan DiPietro will walk the streets of Sea Cliff/Dublin stopping at parallel locations along the way. Beginning at the Sea Cliff Water Tower/Martello Tower, the group will stop among other places: Still Partners/Davey Byrnes Pub, Headless Park/Nelson’s Pillar, Memorial Park/Sandymount Strand and finish up 76 Main Avenue/7 Eccles Street. There will be dramatized readings by costumed actors at each of the stops with period music throughout.  If you are planning on attending the James Joyce Jaunt, stop by 76 Main Avenue to pick up a handy guide to this iconic event. Copies will be in a basket on the porch.  Highly recommended!

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru,  Saturday, June 1 is the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Village-wide Garage Sale and I always find such great things especially at the Friends of the Library sale on the Village Green. After the sale is over, I’m sure I’ll have time for a good book.  Could you recommend a recent favorite of yours?   Garage Sale Guru

Dear Garage Sale Guru, Years ago I read a wonderful book WISH YOU WERE HERE by Stewart O’Nan. Last month its prequel HENRY, HIMSELF was published and it is as wonderful as its predecessor. In HENRY,  HIMSELF, O’Nan captures the tiny, seemingly insignificant moments that make up a life.  In many ways O’Nan reminds me of the author Barbara Pym - their characters take comfort in the daily distractions which both authors describe in precise and poetic detail. In a series of vignettes, we follow Henry as he shops (on double coupon days), trains his dog, arranges a Valentine’s Day celebration for Emily - his wife of many years - frets over holiday plans with his grown children, and  mournfully attends the funeral of his longtime physician.  We trace Henry through one year and by its end, we have grown to know and love him for all his pettiness, insecurities, and gentle kindness. Henry is indeed Everyman… highly recommended!     

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, Sea Cliff is special all seasons of the year, but late Spring is particularly wondrous. This Monday is Memorial Day with its early breakfast on the front lawn of the Children’s Library, followed by a spirited parade through the streets of Sea Cliff and ending with a bittersweet, poignantly beautiful ceremony at Clifton Park. Over this long weekend, I am sure there will be time for a good book. Any thoughts? Memorial Day Observer

Dear Memorial Day Observer, I recently reread a very compelling book: CITY OF FALLING ANGELS by John Berendt.  Berendt is best known for his book about Savannah, Georgia - MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL. Using a similar format, he writes about Venice, Italy.  Arriving three days after a massive fire that destroyed La Fenice - Venice’s iconic opera house - Berendt delves into the many forces that contribute to the beauty, magic, and mystery of this city.  In alternating chapters, we meet a master glassblower whose people have lived in Venice for over five hundred years and we learn of a feud that has been consuming his children for decades. Later we meet a poet who is being blackmailed and is found dead. Was he murdered? An internationally renowned Rat Poisoner is another character we meet and come to love. Somehow the twenty or so characters come together, but ultimately the most colorful character is Venice – such a strange and beautiful city.  Highly recommended!  

Saturday, May 18, 2019

 Dear Great Book Guru, Flowers are blooming and spirits are shining in Sea Cliff throughout the merry month of May.  Now I must have a book to match this beautiful time of year.  I’m looking for a novel – under 300 pages set in a lovely time and place.  Any thoughts?   Marveling in May

Dear Marveling in May, NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney is the book for you…. Set in present day Ireland shifting between Dublin and Carricklea - a small town in County Sligo - this beautifully written,  thought-provoking novel traces the relationship of Marianne and Connell. When we first meet them as sixteen year-olds, Marianne is a social misfit of sorts, scorned by her schoolmates, while Connell is a hugely popular athlete and academic star. His mother is a domestic worker and Marianne’s a prominent attorney.   While the teens become close friends, Connell is ever fearful his schoolmates will learn of their relationship.  When they enter Trinity College in Dublin, the nexus changes. Connell is the misfit and Marianne the star - largely because of class and privilege.  For the next four years, they consistently misread each other’s actions and their friendship falters. Throughout, Rooney presents her characters’ insecurities and vulnerabilities as a mirror of today’s economic and societal failings.   Recommended!

Dear Great Book Guru, I am planning a long weekend in Venice next week and I have prepared mightily with a very ambitious itinerary. But before we leave,  I would love to read a novel set in this magical city.  Any recommendation? Eager Visitor to Venice

Dear Eager Visitor to Venice, What a beautiful time of year to be in Venice and I have a wonderful book for you:  Donna Leon’s UNTO US A SON IS GIVEN. Her protagonist, Police Inspector Guido Brunetti, is a lover of opera, fine food and wine, and the Greek classics.  He is devoted to work and family - his wife Paola, a university professor, a teenage son and daughter, and his wealthy in-laws Count and Countess Falier. When the Count askes him to investigate an elderly friend who is acting mysteriously, Brunetti is reluctant to interfere, but when the friend dies unexpectedly, he finds himself deeply involved.  What is the nature of love, of fatherhood, of friendship? All these are questions Brunetti considers against the backdrop of the majestic beauty of Venice. Throughout, tender concerns of everyday life mingle seamlessly with larger issues of morality and mortality. This is Leon’s 28th novel and her hero continues to face life’s challenges with his characteristic humor, insight, and stoicism.  Highly recommended!

Friday, May 3, 2019

 Dear Great Book Guru,  This Saturday, May 4 from 9am to 2pm, Sea Cliff’s Beautification Committee will be hosting its annual Plant Sale at St. Luke’s Church on Glen Avenue.  I always get the most beautiful plants there and all the proceeds go to making Sea Cliff’s parks even more beautiful. After the sale, I’ll have time for a good book- perhaps something about the environment?  SCBC Booster

Dear SCBC Booster,  I recently read AMITY AND PROSPERITY  by Eliza Griswold- winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction.   Amity and Prosperity are neighboring Pennsylvania towns,   bordering Appalachia.  Amity is a former steel mill town while Prosperity is a village long polluted by coal mining. Griswold uses the story of Stacey Hanley and her family to tell a tragic tale of industrial pollution, government neglect, and political corruption.  Hanley grew up in Amity and returned there to raise her two children.  Her home sat on top a mountain and the water was clean and wildlife and vegetation plentiful.  She needed money to build a barn so when a local energy company approached her with offers of bonuses and royalties if she were to lease her land for fracking, she quickly agreed. Shortly afterwards, her son became mysteriously ill, pets began to die, and black sludge spew from her water faucets.  The company denied responsibility, local officials refused to help, and the family had to abandon their home. A local husband wife law team took up her battle in the courts, but the outcome is far from satisfying. While this is the story of one family’s horrific misfortune, it is a cautionary tale for all of us.  Highly recommended!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, The Friends of the Sea Cliff Library are hosting a tea party this Sunday, April 28 from 3 to 5pm in Jackie’s Secret Garden to thank all their supporters. Afterwards, I have my Sunday book group, and it’s my turn to choose next month’s selection.  Any ideas?  Fan of the Friends

Dear Fan of the Friends, My group just read a quirky, very funny novel: LESS by Andrew Sean Greer. The opening sentence is both puzzling and revealing: “From where I sit, the story of Arthur Less is not so bad.” Who is Arthur Less, what is his story, why such a tepid evaluation of this story and who indeed is speaking?  All is answered by the end of this 250-page Pulitzer Prize winner.  Less is a writer of modest fame whose lover is about to marry someone else. Rather than endure the pain and embarrassment of attending the wedding, Less decides to travel around the world. Looming over all of this is his impending fiftieth birthday. First stop, Mexico, then Italy, Germany, France, Morocco, India, ending up in Japan. In each of these countries, Less is confused, humiliated, feted, and forced to confront his sense of failure and fear of aging. The journey combines elements of Homer’s “Odyssey”, Joyce’s “Ulysses,” and Twain’s “Innocents Abroad.”   This is a very funny, very poignant take on romance, aging, narcissism …and ultimately the human condition. Recommended!

Friday, April 5, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, Spring is surely in the air with the beautiful month of April upon us!  Do you have a good book to start off the month - I’d love a thriller with historical background. April Admirer

Dear April Admirer, Every year, I look forward to the newest John Grisham and this year’s is a particularly fine addition to his collection: THE RECKONING.  Pete Banning, a Mississippi landowner, is a returning World War II veteran when the novel opens. Shortly into the book, he murders the young pastor of his family’s church. No explanation is given and Pete is stoic throughout his trial and the verdict. Throughout the book, we wonder what could have caused this supposedly good man to have done this.  His children, his sister, his wife - are all collateral damage as they struggle with the aftermath of Pete’s crime.  Time shifts and we are cast back to his childhood, courtship, and then in the most graphic part of the story, we learn of his suffering and bravery in the Phillipines during the war. Again there is a time shift forward and we see to our horror the racism underlying all we have seen.  This is perhaps Grisham’s starkest commentary on the banality of evil. Highly recommended!

Monday, April 1, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, Last weekend we attended the annual North American Barbara Pym Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As always, it was a great time to catch up on all things Pym with dinners, lectures, and - of course - catching up with fellow Pymians from around the world. This year the featured novel was CRAMPTON HODNET. I know you’re a longtime fan of Barbara Pym. Where would you rank this novel? A Passionate Reader of Pym

Dear Passionate Reader of Pym,  Barbara Pym (1913-1980) wrote twelve books - any of which I would heartily recommend - but I must admit CRAMPTON HODNET is a huge favorite of mine. Set in Oxford with its ancient colleges and medieval rituals and written decades ago, the novel has a surprisingly modern tone. It is a very funny take on village life - a village peopled by quirky characters including pretentious professors, young romantics, philandering spouses, and interfering relatives. There are three intersecting plot lines: the middle-aged Frances Cleveland’s dalliance, the young Cleveland daughter's tryst with an insufferable future politician, and the lonely but very witty Jessie Morrow's passionless affair with a local clergyman (he forgets her name as he is proposing). Misread moments, tangled romances, and furtive escapades all make for a hilarious read. And yes… I see much of Sea Cliff Village life in this tale. Highly recommended!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, I am making plans for the upcoming Saint Patrick’s Day weekend.  Top on my list will be a traditional Irish dinner at the Metropolitan Bistro while listening to my favorite band of Irish troubadours - The Winfield Irregulars - featuring Sea Cliff’s own Joe Hughes.  During the week I would like to read some Irish history. Anything new you would recommend? 
Fan of All Things Irish

Dear Fan of All Things Irish, I have just finished a remarkable book - my #1 favorite this year- SAY NOTHING by Patrick Radden Keefe.  A mystery, a true crime tale, a study of Irish-Anglo history, a biography of three unforgettable characters, this is ultimately a depiction of the horrors, banality, and futility of war. Keefe opens in 1972 with the kidnaping and murder of a young widowed mother of ten: Jean McConville. Quickly the story turns to three young Irish rebel s- Dolours Price, Bernard Hughes, and Gerry Adams = who are all shown to have played a role in her disappearance and death. Price is a beautiful, charismatic woman who later marries the actor Stephen Rea after years of her imprisonment and torture in British prisons. Hughes is a thoughtful, skillful tactician who also spent many years in jail for his activism. Gerry Adams - the only one of the three still alive - is portrayed as a cunning master of politics who eventually is instrumental in bringing the ”troubles” to a close. This is an unforgettable story of lives destroyed and lives redeemed played out in the ultimate patriot game. Highly, highly recommended!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, We just came back from a night of amazing Irish music performed by a local band: The Winfield Irregulars.   While we were all enjoying ourselves, one of the musicians mentioned a new comic novel about life in New York City that had many hilarious twists and turns.  Have you heard of it?  Lover of All Things Irish

Dear Lover of All Things Irish, I recently read Elinor Lipman’s GOOD RIDDANCE and it was indeed delightfully funny.  A recently divorced Daphne Marich moves into a new, very tiny Manhattan apartment (a result of a despicable ex-husband and a very bad pre-nup agreement). She quickly realizes she must do some major decluttering ala Marie Kondo and the first thing to go is an old, heavily annotated high school yearbook left to her by recently deceased mother. Before the day is over, a very strange woman appears at her door with the book - retrieved from the recycling bin. The woman insists that she is going to write a novel based on the stories she imagines are behind the notes Daphne’s mother had written.  Before long we are back at a fifty-year high school reunion where a series of revelations cause Daphne to rethink her entire life.  It soon becomes apparent that her school teacher mother and high school principal father had many secrets that Daphne discovers in a wildly funny set of escapades.  A light read but well done!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, Last Sunday I hosted an Oscar party and what fun we had! There were Oscars for all and a grand prize for the guest who guessed best – a vintage salad spinner.  Well, during the awards, someone mentioned a book she had recently read about a British family, sharing secrets, silences, and a summer together; she thought it would make a great film. Sound familiar? An Academy Awards Aficionado

Dear Academy Awards Aficionado, How wonderful that books were on everyone’s mind in the midst of this annual Hollywood extravaganza!  THE PAST by Tessa Hadley is a memorable novel set around 2015.  Four middle-aged siblings agree to spend three weeks together in their decrepit family vacation home - perhaps for the last time. The three sisters and their brother bring a history that begins in the 1960’s with their parents’ marriage and covers the years, deaths, and rivalries that followed.  As Hadley says “They knew one another well, all too well, and yet they were continually surprised…”  The novel spans generations as we hear Jill their mother - long dead - muse on her disappointing marriage and fifty years later her children wondering where their relationships have gone awry. The beauty of this book lies in its ability to make the ordinary moments of that summer so alive with each of the characters sharing stories that underlie the beauty and uncertainties of life. A book with quiet but lasting appeal - highly recommended!