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!