Sunday, December 27, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, My friends and I have been watching and discussing lots of films over the last months and we all agree that Alfred Hitchcock’s are spellbinding.  We have decided to focus on his works on a weekly basis.  Do you have any books to suggest that will help us on our journey?                           Hooked on Hitchcock

Dear Hooked on Hitchcock, I have the perfect book for you: A YEAR OF HITCHCOCK by Jim McDeVitt and Eric San Juan.  The authors have organized this book into fifty-two chapters covering 68 works of Hitchcock.  Starting with his silent films (“The Lodger” and “The Farmer’s Wife”), they analyze his entire body of works, week by week, including some episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” which appeared on TV from 1958 through 1961.  Each week follows the same format: key film facts, a synopsis, trivia, recurring themes, things to look for, awards, and a critical appraisal/ranking.  “Rear Window” and “North By Northwest” are mentioned as standouts in a career of spectacular successes, but each week offers insight into yet another of Hitchcock’s films.  Because it is chronologically organized, you can see the progression and development of common themes which the authors define in the appendix.  Like you, my friends and I are planning a weekly virtual Hitchcock discussion group starting in January and working our way through 2021… with this book in hand!

Monday, December 14, 2020

 Dear Great Book Guru, I read in today’s paper that spy novelist John Le Carre died over the weekend. While a big fan of his books and movies over the years, I don’t think I have read his latest work. Are you familiar with it and - if so - would you recommend it?  Sanguine for Spies

Dear Sanguine for Spies, I too am a fan of John Carre and just recently read his last work: AGENT RUNNING IN THE FIELD.  It is set in 2018 and touches on many of the moral and political issues facing both the UK and the US. The hero of the novel is Nat, a forty-seven-year-old member of the British Secret Intelligence Service - MI6.  A British citizen, he grew up in France and is the son of a Scottish aristocrat and Russian exile.  While in Cambridge, he was recruited by MI6 where he met Prue, a young lawyer. When we meet him, the couple has been married for many years and his time as a double agent throughout Eastern Europe has badly damaged their relationship. His passion – outside of work - is badminton. When he is challenged by Ed, a young player, Nat quickly accepts only to find himself enmeshed in Ed’s obsessive preoccupation with the ravages of Brexit and British decline. When he is offered a shabby assignment in London, Nat reluctantly accepts, knowing his and Britain’s best days are long over. A stunning indictment of present-day politics and highly recommended!

Friday, December 11, 2020

 Dear Great Book Guru, We just watched the Sea Cliff-Glen Head Lions Club’s video of the Menorah and Christmas Tree Lighting.  It was spectacular and really put me in the holiday mood.  I am thinking of book gift giving.  Any ideas to start with?  In a Holiday Mood

 Dear In A Holiday Mood, I just finished a book you might enjoy reading yourself before giving as a gift: MONOGAMY by Sue Miller.  We are introduced to Graham and Annie in the opening pages - they had met thirty years before at the grand opening of Graham’s bookstore near Harvard Square in Cambridge. This bookstore plays an important role throughout their marriage. In the very first pages of the book, Graham dies and the rest of the novel explores the impact his life and death have on those around him.  The story is told over many decades and from many perspectives: mostly Annie’s but also their children Sarah and Lucas, Graham’s first wife Frieda, long time friends, an aging neighbor Karen, and Graham himself.  Annie and he seem an unlikely match: he is a bon vivant - large, exuberant, intensely social while she is a photographer - small, reserved and introspective.  Many aspects of their relationship are gradually revealed and, in the end, we are left with a feeling of bittersweet sorrow over the complexity of all human interaction. Highly recommended!

Monday, November 30, 2020

 Dear Great Book Guru, Now that we are into December, I really need a good book to help with the darkness of winter - something that will keep me distracted. I do love mysteries!                         Deep in December Doldrums

 Dear Deep in December Doldrums, The book I’m recommending this week is admittedly dark, but definitely distracting: THE ABSTAINER by Ian McGuire. The story opens in Manchester, England 1867 with the hanging of three Irish loyalists - members of the Fenian Brotherhood. The abstainer of the title is James O’Connor, a police official who has recently arrived from Ireland. He is getting over the death of his wife and a serious drinking problem. Manchester is an industrial powerhouse replete with pollution, corruption, and violence. O’Connor talks of the fog, bleak homes, and a downtrodden people that contrast with the bucolic land he left behind. What is not left behind is the hatred the Irish rebels feel for English oppression. As the only Irishman on the police force, he is trusted by neither side and his attempts at peacemaking are resented by all. When Fenian sympathizer Stephen Doyle arrives from America, O’Connor is confronted with an enemy he both fears and respects. The conflict between the two men becomes unbearably tense and the reader is hard-pressed not to see issues that resonate today: divided loyalties, political corruption, and police neutrality. Highly recommended!

Monday, November 23, 2020


Dear Great Book Guru, With our Thanksgiving weekend plans pretty much limited to long walks and time at home, there is lots of time for a good book.  I would love a mystery – one with an interesting locale and characters - always a number one choice of mine.  Any recommendations? Holiday Weekender

 Dear Holiday Weekender, One of my favorite mystery writers, Tana French, just came out with a new book: THE SEARCHER. As usual, French sets the story in present-day Ireland.  Cal Hooper has moved into a farmhouse that has been abandoned for over twenty years. Cal is a retired Chicago police detective who is trying to build a new life far from the tensions of his job and ex-wife Donna.  His daughter Alyssa is his only connection to his former life and theirs is a troubled relationship.  Shortly after moving in, Cal finds the quiet serenity of his rural homestead disrupted by a young child. Trey is in desperate search of a missing brother Brendan - a charismatic nineteen-year-old who left home a few weeks before.  Everyone assures Cal there is nothing mysterious about this disappearance. As so many before Brendan, he has left home  to escape the boredom of small village life. Cal soon finds there is much more about life in this village than he thought, and his detective skills prove very, very useful.  A captivating look into life in the Irish countryside replete with colorful characters - sinister and otherwise…. Recommended!

Saturday, November 14, 2020


Dear Great Book Guru, With the election over, I find myself less distracted by cable news and political updates so now I have lots of time to read a good book. I would like something historical and fast reading - I’m still a bit distracted.  Recommendations?  Energized Following Election

 Dear Energized Following Election, I recently reread an engrossing book, A SPY AMONG FRIENDS: KIM PHILBY AND THE GREAT BETRAYAL by Ben Macintyre. I have always been fascinated by the Cambridge Five - a group of notorious post World War II spies who all graduated from Cambridge University, and this book is an amazing account of one of the most nefarious of the Five.  Kim Philby was born shortly after the end of World War I into an eccentric, aristocratic British family. His life’s trajectory began when, after expressing to family friends an interest in government service, he was immediately offered a position in Britain’s elite spy service - MI6. Thus began his parallel existence as a double agent. While there have been many books written about Philby and his Cambridge Five cohorts, this book focuses on Philby’s betrayal of not only his country but also his friends. George Elliot was the closest of these friends - colleague, drinking partner, roommate, constant defender, and finally the person who most likely arranged his escape to Moscow. E.M. Forester, renowned British writer, has said “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friends, I hope I should betray my country.” Philby betrayed both and his story is an amazing tale of intrigue and deception - highly recommended!

Monday, October 26, 2020


Dear Great Book Guru, Halloween has certainly come to Sea Cliff - every house on every street seems to house a ghost, goblin, or ghoul! The Sea Cliff Civic Association is hosting a contest as to which is the most fantastically decorated. Photos are sent to and a video is being compiled to be featured on Facebook.  Of course, as always I need a good book while taking in all those Halloween Houses.  Any recommendations? Fixated by Halloween

Dear Fixated by Halloween, I recently read a very disturbing albeit fascinating debut novel: AMERICAN WAR by Omar El Akkad.  Set in the not-too-distant future, the book describes an America beset by wildly damaging climate change, severe political unrest, biological calamity, and a civil war raging for over twenty years - from 2074 to 2095. The story is told from two perspectives and over many years. Sarat Chestnut, a young girl we meet just as the war breaks out is the main character and her young nephew continues her story many decades later. Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, and South Carolina secede from the Union when the government bans the use of fossil fuels anywhere in the United States. The book captures the horror of war as loyalties splinter and families turn on one another. Interestingly, a new book just came out BREAK IT UP by Richard Kreitner whose thesis is that the United States has had to deal with disunion threats throughout its history. AMERICAN WAR is definitely a timely read and recommended!

Monday, October 12, 2020


Dear Great Book Guru, We just had a lovely dinner on our porch with friends where we all wondered how many more nights we would be able to be together outdoors. Before the evening was over, we pledged to continue our book discussions even if only virtually…. but what to read?  We all agreed the Halloween season demanded an eerie sort of novel.  Any thoughts? Harbinger of Halloween

 Dear Harbinger of Halloween, I just finished a short, very compelling novel you and your friends might enjoy: SISTERS by Daisy Johnson.  The story begins as September and July - two teenage sisters - arrive at their dilapidated ancient family home in the English countryside. Their mother Sheela has moved the family from Oxford because of some unspeakable tragedy that haunts the family. The house itself is very threatening, containing strange artifacts of their dead father’s boyhood.  The sisters have a symbiotic relationship, sharing food, experiences, a cell phone, and diary.  September – the older by ten months - prods her sister July to commit acts of bizarre cruelty and wanton misbehavior. Throughout we are given hints of some horrific occurrence that has shattered their lives. July is the principal narrator but Sheela - the mother - at times offers her observations which are often at odds with July’s. Who is to be believed and what really did happen back in Oxford?  A compelling, psychological mystery that leaves us terrified and wondering what is truth?  Recommended!

Monday, October 5, 2020


Dear Great Book Guru, With a beautiful weekend behind us and a spectacular weather week ahead, it might seem strange…. but I have decided to gather my friends virtually to discuss a good book - a novel with a strong story line and preferably featuring a moral dilemma.  A woman author would be an added attraction.  Falling into Fall

 Dear Falling into Fall, One of my favorite authors just came out with a new book: PAYBACK by Mary Gordon.  From her very first book FINAL PAYMENTS in 1978, Gordon has been a chronicler of our times.  This latest work opens on the set of an Arizona-based reality show where the host Quin Archer helps victims track down the people who have wronged them and demand “payback.” Lately the show has been suffering from plummeting ratings so Quin decides to liven things up by going after someone who has wronged her decades ago: Agnes Vaughan, her former high school art teacher.  Agnes had taken an interest in the very unlikable, shunned girl. After arranging for a museum visit that had a horrific outcome, Agnes responded with a chastising rebuke.  Forty years later, the two women still bear the emotional scars of that moment. Gordon writes of the years in between - Agnes’s life in Rome where she marries, has a child, and a fulfilling career as a restoration artist. Quin’s life appears to have centered on “the satisfaction of a cherished bitterness.”  When the two meet, we are prepared for “payback” but will it be enough to justify the years of pain each woman has endured?  Highly recommended!

Monday, September 28, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, There are many things I miss during the pandemic, but I especially miss traveling.  We had many trips planned for 2020 and all have been cancelled.  Could you recommend a book that will transport me to a faraway place at least in my imagination?  A Wishful Traveler

Dear Wishful Traveler, I know the feeling – we keep wondering if we will ever revisit one of our favorite destinations - magical, magnificent Venice - but  I do have a vicarious literary alternative: TRACE ELEMENTS by Donna Leon.  This is Leon’s 29th Guido Brunetti mystery set as always in Venice, and once again offering us a glimpse into the many facets of life in this most beautiful of cities. Her mysteries are always more about moral dilemmas than actual crimes. There is little overt violence and often a morally ambiguous ending. Leon calls herself an eco- detective because she writes about ecologically damaging crimes. In this novel, a young widow asks Brunetti to investigate the death of her husband. The husband had been employed by a testing company that measured the cleanliness of Venice’s water supply. Shortly after submitting questionable results, he died in a mysterious motorcycle accident. What seemed like a private tragedy, is soon revealed to have much wider implications. All of Venice is endangered and Brunetti wonders what a good man can do in the face of a global catastrophe. A disturbing call to action and highly recommended!


Monday, September 21, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, With cold nights and chilly days upon us, my thoughts turn to a good read - a novel with a message…  Any thoughts?     A Chilled Reader

 Dear Chilled Reader, I recently read a short, widely admired novel you might enjoy: A CHILDREN’S BIBLE by Lydia Millet. We follow a group of twelve children - mostly teenagers - who are spending the summer together with their parents in a sprawling lakeside house on the East Coast of the United States. The children are contemptuous of their parents’ languid lifestyle. When a spectacularly destructive storm hits, the children leave the adults behind and head out on what looks like a merry adventure. They soon realize the storm is not a local phenomenon but is impacting the entire world…. the apocalypse has begun. Eva the narrator takes charge and tries to save the children particularly Jack - her young brother - who has brought along a children’s version of the Bible - a castaway from one of the adults. Jack is obsessed with the book and begins to see biblical allusions to the events around them. The children come to believe Jack’s Bible is coded to help them understand the cataclysm the world is experiencing, and we come to see this novel as a prophetic testament to the unraveling of the cosmos because of eons of neglect and malfeasance.  Frightening yet highly recommended!


Monday, September 14, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, With the coming of Fall and the start of school, I feel I should add some non-fiction to my reading list.  Present day politics is always fascinating but there are so many new books coming out, I find it hard to choose.  A recommendation?  Seeking Knowledge

Dear Seeking Knowledge, Last week I read an enlightening albeit very disturbing book: CASTE by Isabel Wilkerson. Her premise is that strict, often hidden lines divide and keep us apart. Caste can be seen as casting roles in a huge production with society being the producer. Because of your role, you are assumed to have certain qualities, personality traits, deficiencies, virtues, and vices. Whatever you do, your role or caste determines the outcome. Wilkerson traces the American caste system to colonial times and the human need to have an underclass. The concept of scapegoat which goes back to the earliest stages of human history is also addressed. She spends a large portion of the book linking the caste systems of America, Nazi Germany, and India, seeing a common thread based on bloodlines, stigma, and divine will with the cruel logic of casteism requiring a bottom class for those in the middle  to measure themselves. The book abounds in anecdotes that exemplify her observations. In the end, she offers some optimism that our society will be able to move beyond present divisions to a shared humanity. Highly recommended!


Monday, September 7, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru,  With the coming of Fall, my friends and I  have resolved to broaden our reading- We want to explore other lands, other cultures in fast paced novels.  Where shall we begin? Eager Learners

Dear Eager Readers,  Last week I  read a book I think you will find just right: BEIJING PAYBACK by Daniel Nieh. The novel opens with Victor Li and his sister Jules meeting with their father’s attorney to discuss his estate. College student Victor has led a very comfortable life in the suburbs of Los Angeles - a basketball player with many good friends, a beautiful home, and a devoted sister. But all this changes when his father is found murdered and Victor discovers he was not a simple restaurateur but a smuggler and part of a vast international crime syndicate. He is left with enigmatic instructions to return to Beijing where he quickly becomes embroiled in a glamorous world of glitz, intrigue, and incredible violence. We go back in time to China’s leanest Communist years and the horrors of his father’s childhood. As a way to escape, he and his friends joined together to form this criminal enterprise which continues to the present, resulting in his murder.  Throughout the novel, Victor reminds himself of advice his father gave him - now all the more important - as he travels in both worlds his father inhabited.   He (and the reader) is faced with moral quandaries as he confronts the roots of his privileged immigrant experience. Highly recommended! 


Monday, August 10, 2020


 Dear Mystery Maven, I recently read a strange albeit compelling mystery by a favorite author of mine - Ottessa Moshfegh’ s DEATH IN HER HANDS.    The novel seems in the beginning a traditional mystery.  A lonely seventy-two-year-old widow, Vesta Gul, finds a neatly written note on the ground near her home - an abandoned Girl Scout campsite.  “Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her body.”  But there is no body, no evidence of a murder.  Vesta decides to solve the “crime” and goes to her local library to find out how one goes about solving mysteries.  We soon learn more about Vesta than we ever learn about Magda.  At first, she tells us in glowing terms about her husband Walter, an older academic who has recently died.  As the novel progresses, we realize he was domineering, unfaithful, and cruel to Vesta.  With each presumption she makes about Magda, we learn something of Vesta’s life.  Her interactions with neighbors and even her dog show us a woman of great curiosity and kindness, but also someone who has lived an unexamined life.  Throughout we wonder how reliable a narrator Vesta is… but we always feel genuine affection for her.  Recommended!

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, My book group is looking for a meaningful novel to discuss - something topical but also with a strong story line.  We will be meeting virtually and people have confessed to finding themselves easily distracted so we really need a compelling read.  Help!  Determined but Distracted

Dear Determined but Distracted, I have just the book for your group: SAINT X by Alexis Schaitkin. This debut novel opens in 1995 on an unnamed Caribbean Island. An affluent American family is taking their yearly island vacation to “beat the winter blues.”  It is a familiar story of leisure-seeking, racism, poverty, wealth, and elitism… but a few pages into the book the teenage daughter is found dead on the beach. The remaining 335 pages detail the impact this death has on her parents, the resort workers, their families, the aging movie star who finds her, the girl’s college classmate,  boyfriend,  teacher, and especially her seven-year-old sister.  The story jumps eighteen years and this young sister is now a fledgling book editor living in Brooklyn.  As she is about to alight from a taxi, she notices the driver’s name - it is that of one of the men originally suspected to have been involved in her sister’s death.  For the next six months, she obsessively insinuates herself into his life as she tries to learn the truth about the tragedy that shaped her life and the lives of so many.  Highly recommended!

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, My book group has included films of interest for some of our virtual meetings, and we recently discussed Spike Lee’s DO THE RIGHT THING.  We all had so much to say about this 1989 film that I was wondering if there was a book that might stimulate a similar spirited discussion.  Any thoughts?   A Summer to Remember

Dear Summer to Remember, I just read a book that covers many of the topics your movie probably discussed, especially the sense of neighborhood and the part that it plays in our lives. James McBride’s DEACON KING KONG opens in September 1969 with the killing of a young drug dealer in Brooklyn. The highly unlikely assailant is an elderly deacon from Five Ends Baptist Church - a man known as Sportscoat.  The novel analyzes the impact the murder has on the African-American and Latino residents who witnessed it, members of the church where Sportscoat had served as deacon for many years,  the local  police, the neighborhood’s Italian mobsters, and Sportscoat himself. We also learn about the victim and his family… and most vividly this South Brooklyn neighborhood and the Causeway Housing Projects where the story unfolds. We see that the lives of all these people overlap in many, many ways and truth is hard to define.  McBride’s compassion for his characters is evident throughout making this a highly recommended choice!

Friday, July 3, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, The Fourth of July has always been a favorite holiday of mine and its celebration in Sea Cliff is always grand. This year Carol Vogt and Christine Abbenda are presenting a rousing virtual celebration: a reading of the Declaration of Independence, two short playlets, songs and much more with over forty Villagers participating.  To watch, search Sea Cliff Civic Association on YouTube.  The link will also be available on the Sea Cliff Civic Association Facebook page. This event is followed at 11:30am by a car parade up and down the streets of Sea Cliff. While waiting for the festivities to begin, I would love a good book to read. Recommendations?  
Lover of the Red, White, and Blue

Dear Lover of the Red, White, and Blue, I just finished a wonderful political thriller AMERICAN SPY by Lauren Wilkinson. The story opens late at night in rural Connecticut. Marie, a young black former FBI agent, hears an intruder who is intent on assassinating her; she is able to overcome and kill him – all while her four-year old twin sons are sleeping in the next room.  We soon learn Marie is working for the CIA. Growing up in Queens with her sister and police officer father, she had always been attracted to law enforcement.  While working for the FBI, she was recruited by the CIA for a particular mission: to romantically entrap the Marxist leader of the West African country Burkina Faso.  Despite a myriad of misgivings, Marie agrees to the assignment, knowing she has been chosen only because of her race and gender.  Throughout the book, she questions her continuing loyalty to organizations that have so little regard for her.  A thoughtful look at the plight of marginalized women…. highly recommended!

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, I just read a wonderful article about Spike Lee and his long career in controversial movie-making.  He has a new movie coming out next week “Da Five Bloods”, a story of veterans of the Vietnam War, but my all-time favorite of his was “Malcolm X….” such a fascinating subject!  Even now years later, I would love to learn more about Malcolm X.  Thoughts? A Fan of Spike Lee

Dear Fan of Spike Lee, Like you, I have always wanted to learn more about Malcolm X so I was very happy to discover Manning Marable’s MALCOLM X: A LIFE OF REINVENTION.  Marable researched the recorded facts of Malcom’s life for over twenty years and the picture he draws is quite different from  that of the poor, uneducated convict who found redemption through religion and the love of a good woman and, at the end of his life, gave up his racist views in a burst of universal love.  No- Marable tells us a far different story: a man who created a tawdry persona and exaggerated his criminal past to make his message more powerful - a man whose marriage was painfully unhappy - a man whose friends and family betrayed him at every turn - a brilliant international diplomat who walked and talked with kings and princes.  His assassination at age thirty-nine remains clouded by mystery with suggestions of police, FBI, CIA, religious and gang involvement. This is a great read and highly recommended for its portrait of an iconic figure and a chaotic time in American history. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, My book group has been gathering  for over twenty-five years and is now meeting virtually. We are all distracted and a bit uneasy about our first cyber meet-up.  Do you have a good book we could begin with?  Cyber Newbie

Dear Cyber Newbie, I have the perfect book for your group: Anne Tyler’s REDHEAD BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD.   This is the bittersweet story of Micah Mortimer - a forty-two year-old man who lives alone - a self-employed tech expert, a superintendent of his small apartment building in Baltimore - a creature of habit as people would say.  We follow him through his days and nights as he consistently misreads people and situations (and, in fact, some inanimate objects!).  Of course, it is hard not to see ourselves in his bewildered customers as they struggle to explain to him their computer travails.  When his well-ordered albeit colorless life is upended by a series of encounters with an errant college student, an aggrieved woman friend, and an old college lover, we wonder if he will be able to see how his life could be much, much happier.  What we have in Micah is a good man who finds comfort in the distractions of ritual and routine…. until he doesn’t.  As in all Tyler’s twenty or so novels, the characters are funny, touching, and sometimes uncomfortably familiar.  Highly recommended!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, Last week you gave me a suggestion for my virtual book group which worked out very well - a combination book and movie.  We enjoyed comparing the two and those who are finding it hard to read during these stressful times were able to watch and discuss the movie. Do you have another combo we could use for next week?  Reader Viewer

Dear Reader Viewer, My virtual book group just finished a stimulating, rewarding discussion of Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel A SINGLE MAN and its 2009 movie adaptation.  Over twenty-four hours, we follow George - an Englishman living in Los Angeles - a gay man in his late fifties who is dealing with the death of his long-time partner Jim who was killed in an automobile accident eight months earlier.  The story opens as he wakes from sleep and immediately thinks of Jim.  He is indeed a grieving widower - a fact unacknowledged by society or himself.  We are with him throughout the day as he fights with his neighbors, teaches his classes, works out at his gym, watches a tennis match, shops at the supermarket, dines with a woman friend from England, flirts intellectually with a student who has followed him home, and finally drifts off to sleep. It is a beautiful story of love, grief, and eventual solace.   George - a single man in many interpretations of the phrase - is Everyman.  The movie follows George’s day in a completely different manner but both are highly recommended!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, For the last ten years, we have spent April in Venice. We love the city, its museums, its churches, its restaurants, its amazing light and its canals.  Well, this year, of course, we will not be in Venice, but we will be at home with lots of time to read.  Can you think of a book that is fast moving (so hard to concentrate) and evocative of our beloved “La Serenissima?”
Vicarious Venetian Voyager

Dear Vicarious Venetian Voyager, 
While there are always the Donna Leon novels with her unforgettable Brunetti, recently I read a wonderful psychological mystery set on the upper Eastside of New York City, Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn, and finally - and largely – Venice: A BEAUTIFUL CRIME by Christopher Bollen.  Two young men meet in Manhattan and quickly fall in love.  Nick Brink has moved here from a repressive family situation in the Midwest. Clay Guillory was raised in Harlem and is still grieving the deaths of his mother and his elderly mentor.  When they meet, Nick is in a relationship with an older, sophisticated antiques dealer. The story quickly moves to Venice where the two young men plot an elaborate con involving a wealthy American, counterfeit silverware, and decaying real estate.  The storyline is clever and complicated with many surprise turns. The best part of the book for me - and I think for you - is how beautifully and accurately the mysterious allure of Venice is captured.  The perfect book to read in these times!

Monday, March 30, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, In these troubling times, I find it very hard to concentrate when I read.  There is so much time and I would like to spend some of it with a good book.  Do you have any thoughts on this? Anxiously Distracted

Dear Anxiously Distracted, I very well know what you mean. I have found myself going for comfort foods and comfort books this last week.  I’m going suggest you consider John Grisham’s oeuvre.  He has written over 35 novels and - interestingly- in rereading some of them, I found there was still a strong surprise ending.  From the first A TIME TO KILL to the latest THE GUARDIANS, these legal thrillers share a common theme. The lead characters are usually young, vulnerable people - frequently new lawyers -  who find themselves in perilous situations where they should fail but somehow triumph: over mega institutions, the health insurance behemoths, the FBI, organized crime, corrupt politicians…. The endings are seldom predictable and not always happy, but the reader’s attention is kept throughout. Most are set in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Louisiana with richly colorful local details. At their core these novels reflect Grisham’s interest in social justice, particularly capital punishment and racial profiling. Another strong plus for his novels, Nassau Library System’s eBook platform LIBBY lists 48 books and 31 audiobooks  for Grisham - all available to borrow (except the latest  THE GUARDIANS).   

Monday, March 9, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, My friends and I are thinking of starting a small book group. Do you have any suggestions about how to go about this? Also, any books that might work really well for us?  Fledgling Book Clubber

Dear Fledging Book Clubber, I have belonged to many book groups over the years - in fact, there is one I have been attending monthly for 28 years.  My first suggestion is to choose short books - I know that sounds like trite advice but if you want consistent attendance, short is the way to go. A single venue also helps a great deal - the same home or restaurant. Thirdly, don’t get caught up in elaborate refreshments - wine and seltzer, maybe cookies are all that are necessary.  Of course, this is if you want your primary focus to be books - many prefer more of a social event. One of my groups just read a very good book that might be a fine first choice for yours: PASSING by Nella Larsen. The title comes from the practice of choosing to pass for a different race.   Written in 1929 and coming in under 200 pages, this novel - set in 1920’s Chicago and Harlem - tells the story of two biracial women Irene and Claire who were childhood friends. When they meet twelve years later, Claire confides she has been passing as white and has married a wealthy, virulently racist Chicagoan.  Drawn to Irene, Claire follows her to Harlem where - for a moment - she enjoys a double life filled with passion and danger. This book touches on questions of race, class, and gender all in the form of a fast-moving story.  Highly recommended!   

Monday, March 2, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, Next week the Winfield Irregulars - with Sea Cliff’s own Joe Hughes - will be performing at the Metropolitan Bistro on Sunday, March 15 at 4pm. It will be agrand afternoon of Irish folk music plus good food and drink.  I am very excited, but there will be plenty of time for a challenging mystery. Any thoughts? Lover of Irish Music and Mysteries

Dear Lover of Irish Music and Mysteries, I am a great fan of Tana French - a writer of mysteries - all set in and around Dublin.  An exciting new TV series DUBLIN MURDERS is based on some of these novels. FAITHFUL PLACE is a favorite of mine. Faithful Place is the name of a gritty, crime riddenDublin housing project where Frank Mackay grew up. He left there as a teenager for many reasons: an abusive father, detached mother, damaged siblings, and most of all - a broken heart. Frank had planned a midnight elopement to England with his girlfriend Rosie Daly. Rosie never showed up that evening but left him a note saying she had changed her mind. Neither Frank nor her family ever heard from her again. The next twenty-two years saw Frank marry, have a child, divorce, and eventually become a highly decorated undercover police officer, but he remained tortured by what he saw as Rosie’s rejection. Estranged from family and friends, hnever returned to Faithful PlaceThen during a building demolition, Rosie’s suitcase is unearthed and shortly afterwards her body is found. Frank is forced to revisit people, places, and beliefs he had long ago abandoned. We soon realize a terrible crime has been committed. This is a tale of Irish despair, decay, and eventual redemption.  Highly recommended!

Monday, February 24, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, This weekend I will be at Dinner & THE DEAD at the Metropolitan Bistro. I had tried to attend last month, but it was quickly sold out. Well, it sold out again, but I learned my lesson and got my tickets early on. I’ve read “The Dead” by James Joyce many times, so now I would like to read a contemporary Irish writer to get me in the spirit of things. Any recommendations? Interested in All Things Irish

Dear Interested…. I recently read Kevin Barry’s NIGHT BOAT TO TANGIER - a New York Times choice as one of the ten top books of 2019. Two longtime friends, Maurice and Charlie - aging Irish gangsters - spend the night in a seamy ferry terminal awaiting the arrival of young Dilly - the estranged daughter of Maurice. The men have shared much - a sordid drug operation spanning many years, a failed real estate scheme, and…. Cynthia, Maurice’s wife. The hollow grimness of their existence, their menacing overtures throughout the evening, and the futility of their mission are all couched in horrifying albeit beautiful prose. Is it love these men share or is it simply a painful history? As chapters alternate between the past and present - between Ireland and Spain - we come to see how their dreams unraveled.  Highly recommended!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, A few months ago, I read a fascinating book:  KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON. Friends tell me that there is an even better, less well-known book about Native Americans that offers disturbing new insights into American history.  Are you familiar with this book?  In Quest of Knowledge

Dear In Quest of Knowledge, EMPIRE OF THE SUMMER MOON by S.C. Gwynne is indeed not to be missed.  It details the history of the fiercest of the American Indian tribes: the Comanches. Spanish colonialism, the Civil War, mass slaughter of the buffalo, construction of the railroads, formation of the Texas Rangers, westward expansion, and-above all - the human penchant for cruelty are covered. Interwoven with these topics are the stories of a mother and son: Cynthia Ann Parker and Quanah, last and greatest of the Comanche chiefs.  As a nine year old, Cynthia was kidnapped by the Comanches on a raid of her family’s homestead on the Texas frontier.  Her family was brutally massacred. She lived with her captors, married a powerful Comanche chief, and gave birth to three children one of whom was Quanah. After twenty-four years, she was forcibly removed from the tribe. Her husband was killed, and her son Quanah was to search for her for decades. She tried many times to return but always failed. Quanah fought the Americans but was finally defeated.  In defeat, however, he remained a powerful and wealthy leader of his people.  The book chronicles the many acts of violence committed by both sides, leaving the reader to question the inherent evil of humanity.  Highly recommended!

Monday, February 10, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, My friends and I attended an Oscar Awards party last weekend and someone there suggested a mesmerizing novel about a group of airline passengers that would be perfect for my book club. Any thoughts? Lover of Both Movies and Books

Dear Lover of Both Movies and Books, I recently read a short novel I will be suggesting to my book club: DEAR EDWARD by Ann Napolitano.  The story opens in Newark Airport as Edward - a twelve-year-old - boards a plane bound for California with his parents, older brother, and 187 other passengers. The plane crashes over Colorado and Edward is the only survivor. The book divides into alternating chapters as we follow the lives of Edward and some of these passengers.  Edward’s plight is the subject of intense scrutiny by a horrified public via social media and cable news. But for me, the book’s greatest achievement lies in the stories of the others as they live their last moments preparing for a future they think lies ahead. A young woman wonders if she and her awaiting boyfriend will marry, an elderly tycoon contemplates the latest medical treatment he is to undergo, Edward’s parents plan a menu for their newly vegan son….   Reminiscent of Thornton Wilder’s “Bridge of San Luis Rey”, this is a beautifully told tale of the sweetness and fragility of life. Highly recommended!    

Monday, January 27, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, Next week I’m planning on an early Valentine’s celebration: Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Storytelling Event at the Sea Cliff Yacht Club on Saturday, February 8 at 7:30pm.  It will be an evening of five impassioned love stories. There will be time -as usual- for a good book. Any suggestions? Love Story Searcher

Dear Love Story Searcher, The book I’m recommending does not qualify as a love story but it is one immersed in passion: DISAPPEARING EARTH by Julia Phillips. Set in the remote Russian city of Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka coast, the novel opens with the kidnapping of two young sisters. The remainder of the book is broken into monthly chapters describing the impact of this kidnapping on  twelve residents – all women and girls. The only witness to the abduction is Oksana whose credibility is ignored because the residents insist the kidnapper must be an outsider, a foreigner - certainly not the white man she saw.  Quickly we realize that the issues that confront this city are universal concerns. Racism, immigration, nostalgia for a “glorious” past, patriarchal oppression, and violence against women are all revealed as the story unfolds.  What is touted as protecting quickly is revealed to be another avenue to subjugate women.  Throughout, clues to the kidnapper’s identity are overlooked by a biased police, media, and citizenry. Both a mystery and political thriller…. highly recommended!

Monday, January 20, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, Next Sunday, January 26 from 3 to 4pm at the Sea Cliff Children’s Library, parents and next year’s kindergartners will gather to get together and share thoughts about the upcoming school year.  Sara Jones – president of the North Shore School Board - will be there to answer questions about the school experience.  I’m planning on being there and wondered if you had a book I might enjoy while waiting for the program to begin.  New Kindergarten Parent

Dear New Kindergarten Parent, I just finished a debut novel: SUCH A FUN AGE by Kiley Reid. The title could refer to the young preschooler Emira babysits ….or it could be Emira herself - a twenty-six year-old black woman trying to navigate her post-graduate life and find a “real” job….one  with benefits as she approaches the moment when she is no longer covered by her parents’ insurance. A fun age indeed! The novel opens with Emira and the child in a high-end grocery store where the security guard accuses her of kidnapping the child. The blatant racism is caught on camera by an onlooker who wants to share it on social media. Emira is horrified while her employer Alix awkwardly attempts to make amends. What we see is a detailed study of class and race, affluence and arrogance as Emira and Alix see their lives intersect in many surprising ways. Questions of privacy, parenting, morality, friendship, memory, and racism are but a few of the topics the author addresses.  Recommended!

Friday, January 17, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, While attending the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s first event of 2020 - Dinner & THE DEAD - last weekend at the Metropolitan Bistro, friends at our table mentioned a recent novel they had all read. It was set in the future but had strange medieval overtones. Any thoughts?                  Reader at the Feast

Dear Reader at the Feast, I was at Dinner & THE DEAD too and it was a magnificent evening. Kudos to Fred Stroppel and Dan DiPietro, the fine cast of actors and singers, Billy and Anita Long of the Metropolitan Bistro and Sleepy Jean’s delectable desserts.  Robert Harris’s THE SECOND SLEEP is a strange tale of life in England set eight hundred years in the future, but in its very first pages we are led to believe we are in the Middle Ages. The church rules every aspect of life… and life is very harsh. There is no electricity, food is scarce, and the life span is short with people typically dying in their fifties.  We soon realize an apocalyptic event or series of events has ended civilization as we know it. In the story, young priest Christopher Fairfax travels to a remote rural village in Britain to preside over the burial of the local pastor. He soon unearths a collection of artifacts the man had hidden - lots of plastic, an iPhone, smashed TVs, human bones.  He is baffled by this assortment and sets out to unravel the mystery of humankind’s past and present. A terrifying take on how fragile the veneers of civilization are - recommended!  

Monday, January 6, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, This coming weekend my friends and I are attending the sold out, first ever event: the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s “Dinner & THE DEAD “ a dramatization  of James Joyce’s iconic short story followed by a sumptuous dinner Joyce so wonderfully described.  Talking about the dead, I just read one of my favorite mystery writers M.C. Beaton died this week.  Have you enjoyed her works as much as I have?  Mystery Maven

Dear Mystery Maven, I had just finished her latest: BEATING ABOUT THE BUSH - the 30th in the series - when M.C. Beaton’s death was announced.  Over the years my feelings for her Agatha Raisin series have varied.  The early books were wonderful, but then there were some that were mediocre. However, I truly enjoyed this last adventure. Agatha Raisin is the antithetical Agatha Christie detective - brash, politically incorrect, self-absorbed, insecure, jealous of her friends and colleagues, but oh so very clever!  After selling her successful public relations firm in London on her 53rd birthday, Agatha fulfills a longstanding dream of moving to a small village in the Cotswolds.  She quickly develops a reputation for attracting trouble - a poisoned quiche she accidentally enters in the local pie contest is her first foray into village life.   All her novels are filled with humor, local color, and outrageous coincidences. In BEATING ABOUT THE BUSH, she is hired to investigate an industrial espionage incident. Soon murder and mayhem follow.  A light, clever series that is a perfect antidote for long dark winter months…. M.C. Beaton will be missed.  Recommended!

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, We celebrated New Year’s Eve in our traditional manner: a movie (this year it was the highly acclaimed LITTLE WOMEN) followed by dinner, dessert, and the ringing of the bell on the Village Green. One of our New Year’s resolutions was to read more in 2020.  Do you have any recommendations to get us started?
Reading Reveler

Dear Reading Reveler, A great idea and I have a list of ten favorite Great Book Guru recommendations from 2019.  My #1 choice would be SAY NOTHING by Patrick Radden Keefe. This remarkable book chronicles the Troubles in Ireland - from 1972 until now.  It is a mystery, a true crime tale, a study of Anglo-Irish history, a biography of three unforgettable characters but it is ultimately a depiction of the horrors, futility, and banality of war. The others are listed in no particular order but were all great favorites and highly recommended. For more information check out