Monday, December 26, 2022


Dear Great Book Guru, I am looking forward to the New Year celebrations this weekend- the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Holiday Duck Hunt, the Children’s Library noon time ringing of the bells, and the Polar Bear plunge -   but I certainly would like to end the year with a good book to read. Any recommendations?  New Year’s Reveler

Dear New Year’s Reveler,  TRUST by Hernan Diaz has appeared on many best books list for 2022, so I rushed to read it before the end of the year. It truly is a winner !  TRUST is actually four stories or really versions of the same story so the reader is left “trusting” no one. The first hundred pages are a novel within a novel  “Bonds ”featuring  1920’s Wall Street mogul  Benjamin Rask and his wife Helen.  This book was supposedly a vastly successful 1937 bestseller that  mysteriously disappeared from book stores and libraries shortly after publication.  The next section appears to be notes about the story we have just finished – quickly followed by apparently a  biography commissioned by Andrew Bevel- purporting to be the trustworthy version of the “Bonds” tale.  The final piece brings us to the  1980’s where the biographer Ida Partenza discovers a memoir revealing yet another set of facts.  What is the reader to believe or trust ?  An amazing book and highly recommended!

Another book perfect for this time of year is local author Anne Dupre’s WHERE DREAMS LIVE which opens with a hauntingly beautiful description of the Nutcracker ballet and young Sarah’s fascination with the world of dance. 

Here’s to  2023 and a year filled with many  good books!

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Dear Great Book Guru, December in Sea Cliff is always great, great fun. This week is the iconic Hanukah Happening at the Fire House. And at St. Luke’s - a lively Christmas tale presentation by Fred Stroppel with musical accompaniment by Joe Stroppel. Do you have any novels set in the holiday season to get me even more in the mood for celebrating?   Enjoying the Holidays

Dear Enjoying the Holidays, There’s a great new book FLIGHT by Lynn Steger Strong that opens on December 22 as three siblings and their families gather for their first Christmas after the death of the family matriarch Helen.  They are gathering in a drafty, shabby home in upstate New York - probably for the last time.  Each of the couples faces the event with great trepidation. Martin is the eldest - a professor who has been placed on leave because of a harassment charge brought by one of his students. Henry, the younger son, and his wife Alice are struggling emotionally and financially while Kate, their sister, is desperately hoping to continue to live in the family home that is about to be put on the market. In addition, there are numerous children all with back stories that add to the richness of this tale.  The coming together of families in one place always makes for drama, tension, and reflection.  Past hurts and present jealousies make for a potent brew indeed, and these siblings experience it all. Highly recommended!

Sunday, November 27, 2022

 Dear Great Book Guru, Help!  This coming weekend is filled with so many fun events, among them the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s  Scrooge Stroll  through the Village at 2pm on Sunday starting in front of the Children’s Library,  followed by the Village Holiday Lighting event at 3:45 at Clifton Park. I need a short, very short novel to read if I am to keep my 2022 resolution to read a book a week.  Any suggestions?  Holiday Reveler

Dear Holiday Reveler, I have just the book for you: THE POSSESSION by Annie Ernaux, the 2022 Nobel Prize winner for literature. She has written many novels, most of which are autobiographical, so the line of novel and memoir is often blurred.  In this 68-page book, we are in the mind of a woman who is possessed.  She has recently broken up with her lover of many years and has become obsessed with finding out about his current partner.  We follow her as she google searches, spies on the woman’s workplace, and attempts to meet up with her.   We come to realize this obsession is more passionate than her relationship with the former lover ever was.  Jealousy certainly plays a role, but it is more than that.  Ernaux captures the relentless pursuit of someone or something that embodies all previous losses - so much easier to concentrate on one thing rather than a lifetime of losses.  As the narrator says in the opening sentence “I always wanted to write as if I would be gone when the book was published - to write as if I was about to die.” This embarrassment over caring so much is the book’s underlying theme and one that readers will share ….recommended!

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Dear Great Book Guru,  My friends and I are having great fun with our film discussion group and your suggestions for book/movie combinations have been very helpful. Now we are thinking of reading something about present time movie production.  Any thoughts?   Film Fan

Dear Film Fan,  I recently read COMPLICIT by Winnie M Li - a fascinating look at the underbelly of the Hollywood moving making industry.  Sarah is a thirty-seven-year-old teacher of screenwriting at an obscure college in New York City and we meet her as she is preparing for an interview with New York Times reporter Tom Gallagher to discuss her past career as a film producer. We immediately sense that things had not ended well in Hollywood and the series of interviews that follow confirm this. The daughter of Chinese immigrant parents who own a successful restaurant in Queens, Sarah was a cinephile since childhood and after graduating with honors from Columbia University,   was eager to work in the film industry, much to her parents’ dismay. A lawyer, doctor, accountant… these would please her family. When she gets an internship with a small production company, she quickly makes herself indispensable. So, when billionaire investor Hugo North becomes part owner, she inexorably moves into the Hollywood world of glitter and greed. Sarah sees the newspaper interviews as a way to right the wrongs she has endured, but she slowly begins to question her role in the downfall of many of her colleagues.  A very thought-provoking study of personal responsibility - highly recommended! 


Sunday, October 9, 2022

 Dear Great Book Guru,  There is a fun-filled Sea Cliff weekend coming up - the rained out, much beloved Mini Mart has been reinvented  on a smaller, more intimate scale for Saturday October 15 at Roslyn Park in conjunction with St Luke’s Fall Bazaar.  What fun…but I am always looking for something good to read even during the busiest of times!  Any suggestions?  Fall Festival Fan

Dear Fall Festival Fan, I just finished a compelling, albeit terrifying, novel by Celeste Ng: OUR MISSING HEARTS.  Unlike Ng’s earlier, very popular novel LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE, this is a truly dystopian tale. Narrated in part by a twelve-year old boy Noah - or as he is sometimes called, “Bird” - and by his mother Margaret, the novel is set slightly in the future after a “Crisis” – an economic and societal breakdown - has occurred. To keep peace and end the violence, a common enemy is identified, families are cautioned to educate their children in the new ways, books are banned, and those that question the draconian laws are mysteriously sent away.  Bird’s mother had been identified as a dissident because of her poetry, and to protect her family, she flees their Boston home leaving behind Bird and his father, Ethan, a linguistics teacher at Harvard. Much of the novel recounts Bird and Margaret’s quest to reunite, but the most disturbing part of the story is the indifference shown by much of the population to the extreme injustices that abound. Interestingly, libraries are shown as beacons of enlightenment and a continuing means to right society’s wrongs.  Highly recommended!

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Dear Great Book Guru,  Last week I read that the six finalists for the annual Booker Prize for Literature have been chosen. The criteria seem simple – the author could be any nationality but the book must have been written in English and published in the UK or Ireland.  They all looked interesting, but one stood out… a very short tale set around Christmas time.  Too early for holiday reading?  Fall Reader

Dear Fall Reader, SMALL THINGS LIKE THESE by Claire Keegan is a wonderful book with year-wide appeal. Set in a small town in Ireland in 1985, this short novel describes the daily life and musings of Bill Furlong. Bill was born to a young unmarried girl employed as a live-in maid. Her employer was a wealthy elderly woman with progressive ideas and a generous spirit.  Bill and his mother lived comfortably but his illegitimacy was always an issue with the townspeople. Over the years, his hard work earned him a good job as a coal merchant, he married a woman from the middle class, and they ha five daughters. Always however Bill feels an outsider - precariously holding on to economic and social stability.  When he is confronted with a grave injustice, he must decide whether he should endanger his livelihood and his daughters’ future well-being. Bill knows the pain of being the outlier but is he willing to have his family share this fate?  The coal business that provides warmth and security for them is shown to be ephemeral as Bill attempts to be a good man in a corrupt system. Highly recommended!


Dear Great Book Guru,  I belong to a film discussion group and we focus on older, classic noir movies.  One of our members mentioned that there is a new novel out that covers a myriad of subjects, but the focus is on Hollywood in the 1960’s. Does it sound familiar?  Movie Maven

Dear Movie Maven, Chris Bohjalian’s latest novel is THE LIONESS and it is a great piece of historical fiction and a suspense thriller.  Set for the most part in 1964 on the plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania, Hollywood super star Katie Barstow has just married David Hill and the couple has planned an iconic safari honeymoon with seven guests accompanying them. A luxurious trip has been arranged with all the comforts of home mixed with the wonders of African flora and fauna - giraffes nibbling outside their exquisite tents, zebras singing them to sleep, gourmet meals served by attentive natives.  Very soon into the trip, our group of Hollywood denizens is caught up in a political kidnapping gone awry. Each of the party and their tour guides has a story that unfolds in alternating chapters.  Their glittering lives back home have done little to prepare them for the nightmarish adventure to come.  The events of that time in that part of the world seem far away but reminiscent of an era where movies colored the lives of all. The racism of 1960’s Hollywood and the political upheaval in Tanzania eerily mirror each other and the reader is left to reflect on what “civilized” truly means. Recommended!

Monday, September 5, 2022

 Dear Great Book Guru, What an amazing end to Summer - Joe Stroppel singing an array of Broadway songs on a porch in Sea Cliff with an audience of forty enthusiasts seated on lawn chairs and spilling over onto the street! While at the concert, someone mentioned the latest Liane Moriarty novel. I am a big fan of her novels, but reactions to this one were mixed. What are your thoughts?  Missing Summer

Dear Missing Summer, I read APPLES NEVER FALL by Moriarty while on vacation and I did enjoy it.  The novel opens with a mystery: Joy Delaney is missing, having left garbled text messages about going off the grid.  Quickly, suspicion falls on her husband of many years. Stan and Joy recently had sold the Delaney Tennis Academy and were finding retirement difficult.  A few pages in, a stranger knocks at their door – Savannah, a waif like girl with a troubled albeit mysterious past.  The story line shifts back and forth in time as we learn about her and the Delaney siblings - each with grievances going back to childhood.  Tennis was a family obsession, and the sport plays a huge role throughout.  While the book can be viewed as a mystery, it is more a tale of obsessions touching on sexism, male violence, eating disorders, pathological lying, and sibling rivalry. There are clues from the beginning, but the reader is still amazed when all parts of this intense family drama come together, proving the axiom “the apple never fall far from the tree.” Recommended!

Sunday, August 28, 2022

 Dear Great Book Guru,  I recently attended an incredible concert here in Sea Cliff. Jimmy Moore was scheduled to perform at Roslyn Park but weather forecasts were dire, so he moved the concert to his studio.  He was magnificent!   Afterwards, we stayed around chatting and someone mentioned a new book about a family of restaurateurs. It sounded interesting - any thoughts?  Music Maven

Dear Music Maven, I’m a big fan of Jimmy Moore’s music too and I think I know the book that was  mentioned: MARRYING THE KETCHUPS by Jennifer Close.  This is the story of three generations of Sullivans – a Chicago family whose lives center around JP Sullivan’s Bar and Restaurant. The story opens as the Cubs win the World Series, Donald Trump is elected president, and Bud - the family patriarch - dies unexpectedly. The reactions of the family to these events make for a great comic novel both tender and shocking. Each of the grandchildren has a story - starting with Gretchen, a lead singer in a band who wonders if she will ever really make it. Her grandfather’s death makes her reconsider many of her choices. Her older sister Jane begins to suspect her marriage is not as stable as she thought while their cousin Teddy - longstanding bartender - finds himself being stalked by a mysterious customer. Each of the family reacts to the changes that time and mortality bring in startlingly different and sometimes hilarious ways. This is a quick read with a subtle message – recommended!

 Dear Great Book Guru, Well September has arrived… and with it all the great Fall events that fill up the Sea Cliff calendar. Next week is the iconic Newcomers’ Welcoming Party hosted by the Sea Cliff Civic Association. Having moved to the Village a few months ago, I plan to attend. I’m wondering if you have a great book suggestion for me - I’d love to have something to talk about if things get a little quiet. Nervous Newcomer

Dear Nervous Newcomer, Never fear - the Newcomers Party is a delight and there will not be a single awkward moment! However, I do have a good book you might want to read just for pleasure: WE RUN THE TIDES by Vendela Vida. Part mystery, part coming-of-age novel, part travelogue, this book takes us on a fascinating journey back in time to another Sea Cliff (yes!) - a waterfront San Francisco community circa 1984. Pre-tech wealth, San Francisco is a bit shabby - enclaves of wealth and privilege, but also very much counter-culture. The novel’s narrator is Eulabee, a teenager whose artist/nurse parents bought their home as a fixer-upper but feel it necessary to send her to an exclusive girls’ school where she meets up with the very wealthy Maria Fabiola. The girls form a deep friendship based on a shared desire to defy authority and embrace danger.  When they find themselves enmeshed in a mystery even the adults can’t unravel, the girls question what is true, what is real and …most importantly, whether they can trust one another? Recommended!

Friday, August 19, 2022

 Dear Great Book Guru, The streets of Sea Cliff always grow a little quieter in August with people going off on vacation.  Where do they go when we all know Sea Cliff is the perfect vacation spot? Oh well… do you have a good novel for me to read during these lazy, hazy August days and nights? Summer Sea Cliff Sojourner

Dear Sea Cliff Summer Sojourner, Yes, it would be interesting to do a survey of our fellow citizens’ vacation whereabouts, but first I have a great book to recommend: THE MURDER RULE by Dervla McTiernan.  The story opens with Hannah Rokeby transferring to the University of Virginia from Maine where she lives with her mother Laura. Her goal is to join the university’s prestigious Innocence Project program which is currently trying to exonerate convicted killer Michael Dandridge. We soon realize Hannah’s object is to sabotage his chance to be freed. She quickly develops strong friendships with her fellow law students who are totally unaware of her subterfuge. As the group investigates other cases, Hannah begins to see patterns of guilt and -yes - innocence she had refused to acknowledge, while we begin to wonder if she has been a reliable narrator.  Who should be punished and who should be forgiven are questions that loom throughout this compelling book - highly recommended!

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Dear Great Book Guru,  We Were in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens for a great birthday party with delicious treats and a fabulous pirate theme. Many of the partygoers were talking about a new book they had read recently.  It was about three sets of families that come together over the years for holidays, birthdays, vacations with varying outcomes.  Have you heard of it?  Brooklyn Birthday Party Fan

Dear Brooklyn Birthday Party Fan,  I just finished reading Eleanor Brown’s latest book ANY OTHER FAMILY . When their grandmother dies, Phoebe and her siblings are adopted by three sets of parents. The adults decide on a novel arrangement - they will form a super family so that the children will continue to see each other regularly. They will live near each other and be together for holidays - large and small - throughout the year.  We meet them as they begin on their first vacation together and we soon see the challenges that arise. The mothers have very different parenting styles and expectations.  Tabita is a perfectionist who enjoys controlling all aspects of this family adventure.  Ginger is an older single woman who prizes her privacy and has strong feelings about how she wants to raise her daughter.  Elizabeth finds coping with an infant overwhelmingly difficult but is reluctant to let the others know of her struggles.  The book is told in alternating chapters that allow each of the women to voice her thoughts to events in a Rashomon fashion, offering us a fascinating look into parenting and the myriad meanings of family.  A quick read and highly recommended! 


Sunday, July 31, 2022

 Dear Great Book Guru, Last week I went to a great celebration at the Metropolitan Bistro. After being closed for over two months, Billy and Anita Long hosted a reunion of staff and devoted customers and what a wonderful night it was! While there, someone mentioned a new thriller about two women with an ingenious scheme involving…counterfeit handbags! Have you heard of it?  Happy to be Back

Dear Happy to be Back, I just finished Kristin Chen’s COUNTERFEIT and it is a winner on many levels.  The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Ava Wong and Winnie Fang. The women had met as students at Stanford twenty years before. Winnie dropped out mysteriously after only a few months while Ava graduated with honors, went on to Harvard Law School and was hired by a prestigious law firm.  When we meet the women, Ava is married to a successful surgeon, has a young toddler, and is on maternity leave.  A now very glamorous Winnie reconnects. She is a spectacularly successful entrepreneur running a luxury handbag company (think Hermes, Prada, Marc Jacobs…) and she needs a partner with an American passport and a circumspect life. The novel takes us to multiple Chinese cities where we meet an assortment of characters - some comic, some threatening, but all fascinating. While a compelling adventure story, this is also a feminist tale upending the myth of mild mannered, compliant women plus a dissection of what is real and what is fake…. and we are not just talking about handbags - highly recommended

Sunday, July 24, 2022

 Dear Great Book Guru,  We were at Sunset Serenade last week and despite a horrific storm earlier in the day,  the band LOVEPEACE performed to a delighted audience. It was a magical evening, and as is often the case in Sea Cliff - after the music ended - talk turned literary! Someone mentioned a mystery series set in Cambridge University with a formidable lead detective.  Any thoughts?  Lover of LOVEPEACE

Dear Lover of LOVEPEACE, I just finished the first in the series: MISSING, PRESUMED by Susie Steiner and it is terrific. Manon Bradshaw is a thirty-nine year old detective, incredibly skilled in her professional life but very lonely and struggling to find meaning outside of work. The novel opens with her recounting a series of disappointing online dating encounters. In alternating chapters, we also meet the parents of the missing person, Edith Hind, Helena -her best friend - and Davy, Manon’s colleague. Each of these people brings a different take to the case.  Who was Edith? Her mother presents a picture quite different from the facts that the police uncover while her friend offers yet another side. The more we learn the more confused this picture becomes.  The various suspects are described in such sympathetic detail, we find ourselves hoping no one is guilty.  Because of Steiner’s colorful description, the University itself becomes a cherished character. A wonderful literary mystery and a sizzling summer read - highly recommended!

Sunday, July 10, 2022

 Dear Great Book Guru, This past weekend, I attended my first Progressive Dinner - what fun! Every Fall the Sea Cliff Civic Association hosted this event… until 2020 when the world changed, but with the idea of an all-outdoor event, Progressive Dinner BBQ came into being. With over eighty people participating, an array of beautiful gardens and patios and perfect weather, the event was a spectacular success. While at dessert, someone mentioned a short, very funny book about the art world - are you familiar with it?  Progressive Dinner Devotee

Dear Progressive Dinner Devotee, I am still laughing days after having read ST. SEBASTIAN’S ABYSS by Mark Haber. This very short (150 pages) novel deals with obsessions, friendship, and art in a hugely comic manner. We meet our unnamed narrator as he is flying to Berlin to meet up with his dying friend, Schmidt. The two men had met as students at Oxford while studying art history. They had noticed a cheap reproduction of a 16th century forgotten masterpiece, St. Sebastian’s Abyss, in a textbook.  Both men were transfixed by this fictional painting of the apocalypse.  Their careers (20 plus books on the subject) were based entirely on this one painting.  The narrator attributes his two divorces to disagreements over the worth of the work and his wives’ inability to share his passion. Schmidt and himself have also been estranged because of the painting. As the two men meet and have their final debate, the reader is caught up in this comically passionate absurdity.  Highly Recommended!  

Sunday, June 26, 2022


Dear Great Book Guru, We just came back from a great Juneteenth celebration at the Children’s Library. Families enjoyed stories, music, a craft, and a parade on a beautiful afternoon. Now I have the rest of this holiday weekend to get into a good book. A novel set in the present and not too long, please. Juneteenth Celebrant

Dear Juneteenth Celebrant, I just finished Tom Perrotta’s latest novel, TRACY FLICK CAN’T WIN, and I loved it! Tracy is a forty-one year-old assistant principal in a suburban high school and she is vying to take over for the retiring principal, Jack Weed. In alternating chapters, we hear from ten characters - all of whom are part of this school saga. Kyle Dorfman is a wealthy former tech developer and now school board president with ambitious to make his mark by creating a Hall of Fame for the high school. He is intent on having Vito Falcone – a retired football player and recovering alcoholic – as the first honoree. Principal Weed has been having an affair with the school secretary Front Desk Doris who he nominates as the other Hall of Famer. Doris gives her version of the relationship, quite different from Weed’s.  Students Lily Chu and Nate Cleary tell their stories of teenage angst while we learn the back story of Tracy and her derailed ambitions going back to her teenage years. Questions of power, politics, and memory are addressed with a dramatic conclusion. Highly recommended!


Sunday, June 5, 2022

 Dear Great Book Guru,  I just got back from the Village-wide Garage Sale-always a favorite event of mine! The Sea Cliff Civic Association does such a great job and I found some wonderful books including a huge number of Grisham novels.  Do you have a favorite I should begin with? Fan of Village Garage Sale

Dear Fan of the Village Garage Sale, I recently reviewed SOOLEY which was not in the Grisham legal thriller tradition, but this week I read THE GUARDIANS, definitely a return to the courtroom and a spectacular return, indeed! Set in a small town in Florida, the story is told in the first person by Cullen Post, an Episcopalian priest and lawyer who left his law practice years before, after defending a criminal in a horrific case. Drawn back to the law, he works for the Guardians, a small group of people dedicated to freeing the wrongfully imprisoned.  They have succeeded in eight cases and Post has now taken on their next innocent - Quincey Miller. Miller has been imprisoned for twenty-two years for the murder of a young lawyer who had represented him badly in a divorce suit. All these years, Miller has maintained his innocence and there seems to be much evidence of political interference and judicial malfeasance. Post works hard to gather witnesses - all of whom have much to fear. Throughout we sense the passion Post feels and the injustices faced by many in our prisons. This is a thought-provoking book and highly recommended.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Dear Great Book Guru, We have a favorite book store in Brooklyn called Books Are Magic. There is a great staff and a wonderful selection of new and old favorites. The owner of the store has written a new novel and I wondered if you know about it.    Brooklyn BookStore Browser

Dear Brooklyn Bookstore Browser, I spent the Memorial Day weekend reading THIS TIME TOMORROW by Emma Straub, owner of Books Are Magic, and it was a delight! The novel opens as Alice is celebrating her fortieth birthday. Her life is good - she enjoys her job as an admissions counselor at an elite private school in Manhattan that she had attended, her Brooklyn apartment is comfortable and cozy, her boyfriend is likeable, and she has a dear childhood friend she sees regularly. All seems fine but when she wakes the next morning it is 1996 and she is sixteen years old.  What things in her life would she change if she can?  An important piece of her life is her father, a famous author who has written one hugely successful back to the future novel that has attained cult status.  When she realizes she has stumbled into this world of time travel, she decides to do what she can to change his and her lives.  After many mistakes and wrong turns, she finds a solution and it is a surprise indeed.  “This time tomorrow, where will we be?” Alice asks and the answer resounds through this very satisfying novel. Highly recommended!

Sunday, May 22, 2022

 Dear Great Book Guru, I had such a wonderful time at the Porchfest this weekend and I met many new and old friends. It got me thinking that there’s a whole wide world out there and perhaps I should  get out of my reading comfort zone – mysteries - and try a new genre.  Any suggestions?  Porchfest Reveler

Dear Porchfest Reveler, I loved Emily St. John’s latest novel: SEA OF TRANQUILITY.  This short novel spans four centuries and we visit each through time travel. The book opens in 1912 with a young aristocrat Edward St. Andrew banished from his English ancestral home to the Canadian wilderness for a minor infraction. While wandering in the woods, he hears a haunting melody and glimpses a visitor from another time: Gaspery Roberts. Gaspery will reappear in the 21st, the 23rd, and 25th centuries and while there is much different about these times, there is much the same.  Pandemics decimate countries, book tours take place, and hotels employ security guards.  It’s a strange mixture of future and present as characters appear, disappear, and then reappear century after century.  The Sea of Tranquility is home to moon colonists who escape the travails of earth living only to find themselves living the very lives they were trying to escape.  This a beautifully written albeit challenging read that takes us through time in search of clues as to what the future holds for humanity. Highly recommended!

Sunday, May 15, 2022

 Dear Great Book Guru, I am a great fan of John Grisham and his legal thrillers, but apparently, last year,  he wrote an amazing book about a basketball player from Africa.  I love basketball so this seems like a perfect choice for me. Are you familiar with the book?  Lover of Hoops and Books

Dear Lover of Hoops and Books, I too was unaware of this outstanding book: SOOLEY by John Grisham, until recently.  The story line is as exciting as any of Grisham’s more typical legal mysteries, but, as always, his characters are vividly described, especially the lead, Sooley – a nickname given Samuel Sooleyman, a seventeen year-old boy from South Sudan. The story starts optimistically with Sooley leaving his small rural village to tryout for a traveling international basketball team.  His family and fellow villagers are ecstatic when he wins a coveted spot, but immediately joy turns to horror as the village is attacked by rebels and destroyed.  For the remainder of the novel, the chapters alternate between Sooley’s life in the United States and his family’s perilous existence in horrific refugee camps. The banal intricacies of the professional world of basketball contrast bizarrely with the horrors of daily life in war-torn Sudan. Throughout, Sooley tries to reconcile his good fortune with the tribulations of his family.  American immigration policies and a multitude of societal missteps make Sooley’s story much larger than that of one young man.  A long (489 pages) but worthwhile read and highly recommended!

Saturday, May 7, 2022

 Dear Great Book Guru, One of my favorite pastimes (after reading, of course!) is swimming. My friends and I meet regularly at a local pool, and one of them mentioned a book about swimming - a novel that she said reminded her of us.  Do you know the book she is talking about, and would you recommend it?   Pool and Book Fan

Dear Pool and Book Fan, THE SWIMMERS by Judith Otsuka is a beautifully written short novel (192 pages) that can be enjoyed on many levels.  The story opens with a group narrator – a Greek chorus of sorts - who briefly recounts the stories of a group of men and women who have been swimming together for many years. The pleasure each experiences, regardless of age or skill, is exquisitely described. The story shifts as a crack in the pool is discovered and then another and then another.  It becomes clear that the pool must be closed for repair but soon it is announced that it will be closed permanently.  The damage is irreparable … and the damage to the swimmers is also catastrophic. The story shifts once again, focusing on one of the swimmers whose decline is as rapid and irreversible as the fate of the pool.  The reader is left wondering whether the pool is a metaphor for our world - is the crack political or perhaps a symbol of the pandemic?  Does change inevitably bring an end to the things that give comfort and security?  The author leaves us with much to ponder. Highly recommended!

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Dear Great Book Guru, Spring has arrived and I am one happy reader!  The light is great, the days are longer, and winter is over so now I am inspired to read, read, read.  Do you have something good to suggest- preferably a novel.  Springing Into Spring

Dear Springing Into Spring, In light of your enthusiastic response to Spring, you are going to think my suggestion very strange: VERY COLD PEOPLE by Sarah Manguso.  This is a debut novel - some have called it a novella because it is only 192 pages with lots of white space. It is set in a small New England village where snow starts early and lasts through the Spring. But it is not the snow that gives us the title - it is the villagers, their secrets, their cruelties. The story is told from the perspective of Ruthie, a young girl whose family moves to this village where everyone seems to have arrived on the Mayflower. Wealth and family connections give a veneer of respectability and moral certitude to everyone from the local politicians to its store owners.  Ruthie sees herself as the ultimate outsider but she valiantly attempts to fit in only to be rebuffed. Her parents are enmeshed in their own troubles and can offer her little comfort. Only looking back as an adult can she see the complicated forces that ruled her childhood.  While this might be seen as a coming-of-age tale, it is much more sinister than it appears at first. By the book’s conclusion, the reader is left appalled at a world that can contain so much evil.  


Dear Great Book Guru, With Spring, always comes the publication of one of my favorite authors’ latest book. I have been reading Donna Leon for over twenty-five years and she never disappoints, and I am looking forward to reading her latest Brunetti tale.  Have you read yet and -if so- is it as wonderful as usual? Fan of Leon

Dear Fan of Leon, Donna Leon’s GIVE UNTO OTHERS came out a few weeks ago and was a joy to read.  As usual the crime is difficult to unravel and the resolution is never simple. The beauty of her novels lies in the complex moral dilemmas her erudite, ever compassionate protagonist faces. Approached by a childhood acquaintance whose mother had shown his mother kindnesses in difficult times, Brunetti agrees to do her a favor by checking out some threatening conversations she has overheard.  When he begins to check out a hospital foundation the woman’s family has created in Belize, he soon realizes there is corruption and malice afoot, but not necessarily a crime. When the woman’s daughter finds her veterinary hospital destroyed and her pets tortured, Brunetti is forced to confront the criminals behind this bizarre plot.  Throughout, we are in the mind of Brunetti as he sees the damage the pandemic has done to his beloved Venice and its citizens. Despite his belief in the innate goodness of most of humanity, by the novel’s end, he is convinced that evil is not always a crime and more assuredly…. a crime is not always evil.  Highly recommended!


 Dear Great Book Guru, With this beautiful weather, I am determined to find a good book and head for one of Sea Cliff’s beautiful parks - maybe Memorial Park.  There is no better reading experience than looking out over the Harbor with a compelling book.  Any suggestions?  Devoted Parkside Reader

Dear Parkside Reader, Remember - Sea Cliff has at least 17 designated parks so plenty of places and plenty of reading pleasure await you!  Let’s start with a literary thriller - a spy novel in the style of Graham Greene or John le Carre:  THE MATCHMAKER by Paul Vidich, set in Berlin 1989 as protests throughout East Germany portend the collapse of the Wall.   Ann Simpson, an American working with a refugee agency, is married to Stefan - a charming, bon vivant piano tuner who travels throughout Europe serving major orchestras. Luxurious hotels and lavish meals fill their days until the morning he does not return.  The life she had lived, the marriage she shared, the man she loved - none was as it seemed.  Instead, she learns he was happily married to another woman, father to a beloved son, and… a master spy.  She had been chosen by the “matchmaker” to be a cover for Stefan’s espionage.  The CIA, the Stasi, and MI6 are all involved in this subterfuge.  The story is fast-moving, but it is the character development, the  history of this strange time, and the moral quandary spying presents that make this a standout novel.  Highly recommended!

Dear Great Book Guru, My friends and I have a book group that has been meeting for many years, but we really need a good book to get our excitement level up.  We like literary thrillers and a setting away from home would be a plus - vicarious travel! Any recommendations?  In Need of a Change

Dear In Need of a Change, A few months ago I read 56 DAYS by Catherine Ryan Howard. Set in Dublin, Ireland in the Spring of 2020 as the city goes into lockdown, it opens with something very much amiss in an upscale apartment complex - a dead, decomposing body! This is Day 56 and the next chapter opens with Day 1 - a young couple Oliver and Ciara meet serendipitously on the checkout line of a supermarket. He notices her canvas shopping bag and they begin talking.  Both are new to the city and very lonely so when the city closes down a few days later, it seems a good idea to move in together.  All the angst and uncertainty we felt during those first months is captured in the 56 days that unfold.  Secrets are shared and their relationship grows quickly. The timeline shifts back and forth, and we begin to see strange inconsistencies in the stories they tell each other and - of course - we keep wondering about Day 56 and how this story will come together. It does in a most satisfying if horrifying way.  Highly recommended and a great novel to share with a group!

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Dear Great Book Guru, With the upcoming holidays, I will have lots of time to get into a good novel.  Do you have a suggestion - I’m thinking something with an international flavor.  Hopeful Holiday Reader

Dear Hopeful Holiday Reader, I just read an interesting book suggested by a GBG follower: THE MARGOT AFFAIR by Sanae Lemoine.  Set in present-day Paris, the novel tells the story of a family and the secrets that can very well destroy it. Margot is the daughter of a famous actress and an influential politician with presidential ambitions and… another family.  Margot has always known that her father - who is very involved in her life - has a wife and children and she is not to share this information with anyone. The summer of her seventeenth birthday she is befriended by an attractive journalist and his wife who become very important to her - dinners, concerts, overnight visits. Soon she tells them her secret and a story appears in the newspaper much to her parents’ horror.  No one seems to know where the information came from, but political and theatrical worlds are a clamor with speculation.  The story then takes a surprising twist that will shock the reader.  Throughout the novel we see this adolescent’s need for parental love and approval and the means she uses to attain them. Highly recommended!


Sunday, April 3, 2022

 Dear Great Book Guru,  I was at an Oscars party and the talk of the night was not the winning films but…. Anne Tyler’s latest novel!  Everyone was very positive. Your thoughts? Oscar Partygoer

Dear Oscar Partygoer,  Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of Anne Tyler and have read all  24 of her novels – some more than once.  FRENCH BRAID is her latest and one of my favorites. Tyler tells the story of the Garrett family over many generations. The novel opens in  2010 as two cousins meet in a train station and are not sure they know each other. When did the family seem to lose touch with each other? Quickly we are transported back to 1959 as the Garretts take their first and last family vacation. We learn that the parents Robin and Mercy and children Alice, Lily, and David are having a pretty miserable time. We come to realize the events of this vacation will reverberate for decades to come. Each chapter brings new insights into the complex relationships of the parents and siblings. The details of their lives are both humorous and heartbreaking. Tyler uses small, intimate vignettes to capture each of the character’s role in this family saga. It is only in the closing pages in 2021, do we see the depth and complexity of their love and the importance of the book’s title. Not to be missed- highly recommended!


Sunday, March 6, 2022

 Dear Great Book Guru,  We were at the Metropolitan Bistro last Friday for the Coalition To Save Hempstead Harbor’s annual Pub Crawl.  What fun it was seeing so many friends enjoying the evening! While we were there, someone mentioned a new novel set in medieval times about a revolutionary, semi-historical woman who was a remarkable force for good. Any thoughts?  Enthusiastic Coalition Supporter

Dear Enthusiastic Coalition Supporter, Yes, indeed! MATRIX by Lauren Groff is a National Book prize finalist and was on Barak Obama’s top ten book list of 2021. Set in 12th century France and England, this short novel (272 pages) tells the story of Marie de France – half-sister to Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. Little is known of the life of this mystic/poet so Groff is free to embellish…  and embellish she does. Very tall and physically unattractive, Marie is deemed unmarriageable and assigned by Eleanor to an abbey where she is to become a nun and eventually its prioress.  When she arrives at the convent, she finds a handful of impoverished, starving nuns who have been left to live in squalor.  After a short time lamenting her fate, she begins a campaign to enrich the lives of these women in her care. Her talents are extraordinary and soon the abbey is a bustling, thriving place where men are banned. There is a strong feminist message throughout the novel as we watch this young woman grow in strength and reputation.  By the book’s conclusion, Marie has lived a long life – “not of goodness but of greatness.” A powerful story and recommended!

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Dear Great Book Guru, This past weekend, at breakfast with friends, we all agreed we were looking for a good suspenseful book that we could read in a day and then get back together to discuss.  Any recommendation?  Breakfast Banterers

Dear Breakfast Banterers, I was back and forth to Brooklyn on the LIRR this weekend and read just the book you are looking for: MOUTH TO MOUTH by Antoine Wilson.  This short novel (192 pages) opens in a JFK airport ticket booth as our narrator learns his flight has been delayed.   Over the loudspeaker he hears the name Jeff Wood being called. A Jeff Wood had been a casual acquaintance twenty years before at UCLA but what were the chances it was the same person? So begins a mystery thriller where chance plays a pivotal role. Jeff invites our narrator to join him in the first-class lounge where he tells him a story that he has supposedly never shared with anyone. Years before - shortly after graduation - Jeff was housesitting near the ocean when he saw a man drowning. After bringing him to shore and giving him CPR, the man began breathing on his own. Afterwards, Jeff became obsessed with finding out more about this man he had saved and - more importantly - was he worthy of having been saved.  He learns he is a very wealthy art collector and soon stealthy infiltrates his life. Throughout, the reliability of both the narrator and Jeff is in doubt with the truth constantly shifting until the final terrifying sentence. Highly recommended!  


Sunday, February 20, 2022


Dear Great Book Guru, I was at a wonderful Birthday/Anniversary party this past Presidential weekend at the Metropolitan Bistro – the food was delicious and the hosts and guests fascinating. There was talk about a new book that touched on the pandemic but was more about the hero’s quest to know herself.  Sound familiar?  Presidential Partygoer

Dear Presidential Partygoer,The book is JOAN IS OKAY by Weike Wang.  Joan is, at thirty-six years of age, a very skilled physician at a prestigious New York City hospital.  Her parents had moved from China so her brother Fang and she could attend schools in America. When both children finished their educations in elite universities, the parents returned to China to live out their lives in the comfort and security of their native land.  When the father dies, the mother returns to America for a visit but is soon caught up in the politics and restrictions of the pandemic as flights are cancelled and lives placed on hold.  Joan is comfortable in her circumscribed life at the hospital where she excels and finds her brother’s lavish lifestyle off-putting and her mother’s demands irritating. When a new neighbor attempts to draw her into his social orb, she recoils. Everyone around her seems to see her shortcomings while Joan herself sees herself as “okay.”   When the pandemic calls her back to work after a forced bereavement leave, she realizes that she is indeed more than okay - she’s just about perfect!  A short novel and highly recommended….

Sunday, February 13, 2022

 Dear Great Book Guru, Last weekend, we had friends over for a Valentine’s celebration and one of the guests mentioned a book that is part of the Together We Read program - unlimited quantities available online with your local library card. She didn’t know the name of the book being discussed this month.  Are you familiar with it?  Post Valentine Reader

Dear Post Valentine Reader, Together We Read is a great program and the name of the book chosen is FIVE WOUNDS by Kirstin Valdez Quade.  It’s a beautifully told story of four generations of the Padilla family living in a small village near Espanola, New Mexico. Their story is told in alternating chapters by three family members: Amadeo, an unemployed thirty-three year old man about to become a grandfather; Yolanda, his mother who is the family breadwinner working for a local legislator; and Angel, her pregnant granddaughter, who has just moved in with them.  The five wounds refer to a religious ritual in which a local man is chosen to portray Christ in a procession through the village at Easter time.  When the story opens, Amadeo has just discovered he has been chosen, and he immediately sees this as a sign that he should change his ways. At the same time his mother is diagnosed with a terminal illness and a difficult life becomes infinitely more difficult. Throughout, decisions are made that seem only to add chaos to already tumultuous lives, but as our affection for the characters grows,  we realize that redemption is always possible. Highly recommended!

Sunday, February 6, 2022


Dear Great Book Guru,  I am looking for a book to throw myself into for this Valentine weekend.  I love courtroom dramas, but I would also like a story about family.  Any thoughts? Weekend Reader

Dear Weekend Reader, I just finished a short novel you could easily read over the weekend. THE FINAL CASE by David Guterson is about a father and son and is set within the justice system.  The unnamed narrator is a renowned writer who has stopped writing. It is not so much a case of writer’s block but more a case of world weariness so when his elderly attorney father, Royal, crashes his car and need a ride to his office and courthouse, our narrator is more than willing to help. He soon finds himself enmeshed in his father’s latest pro bono defense of a woman accused of murdering her young, adopted daughter. We learn of the child’s early life in war-torn Ethiopia, her time in an orphanage there, and her hopes for a “good life” in America.  She is adopted into a large family with a very strict code of behavior and sadistic punishments abounding. When the child dies, the court assigns Royal to represent the adoptive mother. The trial uncovers few surprises and we come to realize this novel is not so much about the crime but more about Royal’s respect for the law and his ability to see past human faults. By the end, our narrator sees his father as a truly heroic figure.  This is, at times, a hard book to read but ultimately worthwhile- recommended.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

 Dear Great Book Guru,  As we are completing the second year of the pandemic, we all wonder how long will it last… and then I heard about a book written years ago that tells the story of a pandemic that lasted decades.  Do you know anything about it and- if so- worth reading?  Pandemic Weary

Dear Pandemic Weary,  Yes, the book is STATION ELEVEN  by Emily St. John Mandel and a TV series based on it has recently aired.   The story begins in Canada during a performance of “King Lear” and the actors we meet will reappear throughout the novel. As the play ends, a devastating virus attacks and millions of people quickly succumb – some whom we have just met. The survivors spread out over the United States and form unlikely communities- some live for decades in an airport, others form a religious cult, while actors from the original Shakespeare group band together in a “traveling symphony” that attempts to bring a touch of civilization in the midst of enormous despair.  There is a mystery that works its way throughout – a set of comic books that connects many of the survivors.  While the novel is terrifying on many levels, there is a sense that humanity prevails with the opening tragedy of “King Lear” giving way to the comedy of “Midsummer Night’s Dream. “ A difficult topic in difficult times but recommended!

Monday, January 17, 2022


Dear Great Book Guru, My friends and I would like to start a film/book discussion group and wondered if you had some suggestions as to where we could start.   Film/Book Buffs

 Dear Film/Book Buffs, What a great idea and I do have a pairing your group might want to begin with: THE LOST DAUGHTER. The novel was written by Elena Ferrante and the movie was just recently released to theaters and TV.   The novel opens with Leda, a middle-aged college professor vacationing in an Italian resort where she encounters a large, boisterous Neapolitan family.  Mother of two grown daughters, Leda is fascinated by Nina and her young child, Elena.  As Leda learns more and more about the family, we learn about Leda and her struggles as a young mother. Much of the time we are inside her mind, listening to her voice and observations, so we have to ask ourselves how reliable are these “facts.”   There is a prevailing sense of dread throughout as Leda struggles with her feelings about the past and the present.  While definitely a psychological mystery, the story is also a study of what it means to be a parent, particularly a mother.  The novel and movie follow one another closely but there are enough differences to spark lots of great discussion.