Friday, November 17, 2023

 Dear Great Book Guru, My family is having our annual Thanksgiving gathering - about 50 of us get together the Sunday before the big day. It’s lots of fun and someone always asks, “what have you read lately?”  I’d love to have a great book to recommend - any suggestions? Thankful Reader

Dear Thankful Reader, A few months ago, I reviewed Colson Whitehead’s HARLEM SHUTTLE – the first novel in a projected trilogy.  Recently I read CROOK MANIFESTO - second in the series. Ray Carney - furniture store owner/small time criminal - remains the hero of the novel but now we have moved from the 1960’s to the turbulent 1970’s.  Divided into three separate novella-like tales, the CROOK MANIFESTO tells a compelling tale of political corruption on many levels. New York City and Harlem, in particular, is ablaze with fiery destruction. Carney vows to leave his petty crime career behind as he becomes an established business and family man, but he is brought back into the fray as he tries to get Jackson 5 tickets for his teenage daughter.  Characters we met in his earlier novel reappear - older but many still deeply involved in arson, safecracking, and robbery. The elite Dumas Club – a social bastion for Harlem’s elite businessmen and politicians - that had earlier rejected Carney - now begrudgingly accepts him. His business is flourishing, and his wife’s travel agency attracts an array of colorful and affluent clients. All is going well but the neighborhood is still awash with corporate and local crime.  Will Carney and his city be able to survive and prosper? The novel beautifully captures the energy and fears of the times - highly recommended!

Saturday, November 11, 2023

 Dear Great Book Guru, I was at the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Progressive Dinner last week and we had such a great time.  We started out at one house for appetizers with about twenty-five people and then we moved on to dinner with eight people. Afterwards, we went to dessert at the Sea Cliff Yacht Club with all the participants, about one hundred forty.  While at dessert someone mentioned a favorite series of mysteries set in Ireland in the 1920’s.  Does it sound familiar?  A Delighted Diner

Dear Delighted Diner, Cora Harrison writes Irish historical mysteries, and my favorite is the Mother Aquinas series. Set in Cork, Ireland in the years immediately following the Irish war for independence, these books are a fascinating look into a world filled with violence, passion, and humor.   Mother Aquinas is the head of a convent school and the characters that inhabit her world are the children and their families, the nuns, the local police officers, and the rebel forces. In the first of the ten-book series, A SHAMEFUL MURDER, we meet the cast of recurring characters: Mother Aquinas; Carolyn, her wealthy cousin who represents the Cork elite; Patrick Cashman, a graduate of the school who is now a police inspector; Eileen Sheehy, another former student who is part of the rebel faction; and Dr. Scher, a friend and local physician. While there is usually a murder or two in each of the books, the main attraction is the gentle humor and detailed look into a locale and time, foreign but fascinating to many of us. A highly recommended piece of historical fiction!

Sunday, November 5, 2023

 Dear Great Book Guru, I have read lots about a movie released recently: KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON, apparently based on a book you recommended a few years ago. I was wondering if you have seen the movie and – if so- how would you compare it to the book .  Book to Movie Fan

Dear Book to Movie Fan,  A group of friends and I went to Martin Scorsese’s production of KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON’S  opening recently.  As you mentioned, I recommended David Grann’s book KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON  when it came out in 2017 and I am  equally as enthusiastic about the movie. Scorsese changes the emphasis somewhat from the politics of the times – the creation of the FBI and the rise in power of J. Edgar Hoover – to a more nuanced love story between Molly an Osage woman and Ernest nephew of a local white landowner, but the basic story remains horrifyingly the same.  In the early 1920’s, oil was discovered on land owned by the Osage people making them the wealthiest people in the world.  In short time, a surprising numbers of death of the Osage began to occur with the rights to the oil being passed on to non- Osages. Grann estimates that hundreds of murders probably occurred.  The movie covers all this but focuses in particular on the one couple,  and we are left wondering throughout the husband’s true motivation.  News reels from the times are interspersed to show how the Osage story was presented to the nation and we realize in horror how little outrage there was. Book and movie- highly recommended!

Friday, October 20, 2023

 Dear Great Book Guru,  So many great events are coming up in the next few weeks- the Halloween Parade, the Cemetery Walk, the Cider Social, and the Progressive Dinner!  So much fun but always time for a good book so if you have a recommendation…  Looking for Books in All the Right Places

Dear Looking for Books… I have the perfect book for you: Lawrence Wright’s MR. TEXAS.  Wright is a well known writer of non-fiction and his latest novel is based on his humorous albeit  caustic take on the game of politics.  Sonny Lamb has had a hard life and things are not getting better. A small town rancher, he can’t seem to get anything right- his farm is floundering, his in-laws view him as a joke, his wife Lola feels she could have done better, the townspeople barely acknowledge him.  Everything changes when a  fire breaks out and Sonny rushes into a burning building on his prized bull, rescuing a child and her beloved pony.  His story is told on major news outlets and within a day, he is visited by the well-dressed, well- spoken L.D. Sparks- a lobbyist from Austen. Sparks offers him the chance to run for a seat in the Texas Legislature- a position Sonny has no experience or apparent talent for, but nevertheless he accepts seeing this as a way to change his life’s trajectory.  Lola is less than enthusiastic but finally agrees to support him.  We follow Sonny as he confronts the many ethical dilemmas his new role presents.  A darkly humorous take on politics and highly recommended!

Saturday, October 14, 2023

 Dear Great Book Guru,  I love a Sea Cliff autumn- the leaves are falling and we can see the many beautiful houses that line the streets, restaurants are filled with excited diners, and Halloween decorations are going up all around  the Village. Do you have a good book to match this time of year?     A Fan of Fall in Sea Cliff

Dear Fan of Fall in Sea Cliff, I just finished a wonderful novel I couldn’t put down: THE WOMAN INSIDE, by M.T. Edvardsson.  This mystery is set in present-day Sweden and is told from the perspectives of three characters. Bill Olsson is a young, recently widowed father whose overwhelming concern is providing for his young daughter, Sally.  Struggling under huge financial debt, he takes in a boarder, Karla, a law student from a local university who is working for a cleaning service to pay her tuition. The third person is Jennica who is involved with a sophisticated older physician she has met online.  Each of these characters has many secrets that are gradually revealed through newspaper postings, police interrogations, and interior monologues.  The story opens in a beautiful part of town, in an impeccable, many-roomed mansion where the owners, Regina and Steven Rytters, have been murdered. How are these characters connected and will their pasts be their undoing?  A fascinating tale of deceit and good intentions gone awry - highly recommended!

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru,  With summer ending, I’ll so miss Sunset Serenades, breakfasts at Sea Cliff Beach, and meeting up with friends for outdoor dining throughout the Village. But now is the time to turn to some extensive reading- I have a 50 book challenge and have only read 18.  Help me, please !  Hopeful Fall Reader

Dear Hopeful Fall Reader,  I recently read a great book by a favorite author of mine: Colson Whitehead. HARLEM SHUFFLE is the first in a proposed trilogy – all to be set in Harlem over the  turbulent decades of the late twentieth century. We first meet Ray Carney in 1959. Owner of a flourishing furniture store in Harlem, Ray is confronted daily with ethical choices. As a side business he also sells jewelry and appliances  of very questionable provenance, but even his legitimate business requires payoffs to corrupt politicians and violent criminals. Always hoping to better his situation, Ray gets involved in a jewelry heist at the iconic Hotel Theresa- Harlem’s Plaza Hotel .  He realizes quickly that he has become entangled in a world of high finance and political malfeasance.  Throughout we see that Ray’s misdeeds barely register on the scales of justice with the race riots of the early 1960’s serving as a backdrop to Ray’s story. By the end of the book,  Ray is living a double life – middle class aspiring homeowner/businessman by day  and an avenging Robin Hood- like defender of his community after hours.   A very funny read and on the other hand- a complex look at what exactly  is a crime. Highly recommended!   

Friday, September 8, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru,  My friends and I are planning on starting a monthly book club and we need direction.  Some want to stick to fiction, but others want to stick to non-fiction.  Can you help us resolve the problem before our club ends before it begins!  Lover of Books

Dear Lover of Books, I recently read a great novel that has many aspects of non-fiction woven throughout: THE HEAVEN AND EARTH GROCERY STORE by James McBride. McBride is a longtime favorite of mine and most of his novels do  have a historical background. His THE GOOD LORD BIRD is a fictionalized account of John Brown’s Raid, and his earlier COLOR OF WATER was a memoir.  This latest book opens in 1972, in Pottstown, Pennsylvania where a construction crew has just uncovered a skeleton with no identifying signs except a mezuza, a belt buckle, and a pendant.  The mezuza leads the investigators to question the town’s only remaining Jewish resident. But shortly after, Hurricane Agnes washes away all evidence so the case is dropped, and we are quickly brought back in time to the 1920’s where the story begins.  This a tale of Jewish, Black, and East European men and women living in an impoverished section of Pottstown, Chicken Hill, and the racist and anti-Semitic trials they endure. The title comes from the store run by Chona, wife of Moshe who owns a theater and dance hall. Her generosity and goodness to everyone is acknowledged by all and becomes a force that unites the community despite the many tensions that exist. This is an epic tale with many heroic figures and McBride masterfully brings them together for a dazzling conclusion.  Highly recommended!  


Friday, August 25, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru,  My friends and I take our children every week to Storytime at Sea Cliff Beach and we stay afterwards for lunch on the pavilion. Last week one of the parents mentioned a new book about a cruise gone terribly bad - she called it a psychological thriller and recommended it to us. Any thoughts?  Fan of Sea Cliff Beach.

Dear Fan of Sea Cliff Beach, I just finished reading THE ANNIVERSARY by Stephanie Bishop and it is quite the thriller. The novel opens with J.B.Blackwood, a forty year old Australian author receiving news that she has received a major literary award – think the Booker - but she is cautioned not to tell her much older husband Patrick, a famous filmmaker because Blackwood tells us “he can’t be trusted to keep secrets.”  J.B. has planned a luxurious cruise to celebrate their wedding anniversary and its final destination will be the award ceremony. The couple had met years before when she was his student at a prestigious university while he was married with an infant son. The opening chapters recount their blissful courtship and travels around the world. A few pages in we learn that a storm breaks out onboard the ship and Patrick is thrown overboard. Gradually, we begin to suspect there is more going on in the marriage than our narrator has suggested. Ultimately, we realize that nothing we have been told – from childhood memories to present day events - is to be trusted. A disturbing albeit compelling tale….recommended!


Friday, August 11, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru, Last weekend I was at a Midsummer’s Night Dream party and there was lots of talk about what to read for the rest of the summer.  Someone suggested reading a biography of Robert Oppenheimer- the subject of the much-acclaimed movie recently released.  Is there one you would recommend?  Midsummer Reader

Dear Midsummer Reader, Last month in anticipation of the opening of one of summer’s most touted movies, OPPENHEIMER, I read the book the movie is based on: AMERICAN PROMETHEUS by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin.  What an amazing tale! While over 500 pages, this book reads like a fast-paced novel.  Oppenheimer’s early years in New York City are colorfully presented with many anecdotes about his parents, school mates, and teachers and their influence on the young boy. The family’s history in Europe also adds to an understanding of where many of his beliefs and -yes - quirky behavior originated. His college years at Harvard and later in Germany present a colorful picture of his developing interest in the world of quantum mechanics and nuclear physics leading to his now famous appointment as head of the Manhattan Project and move to Los Alamos to oversee the making of the atomic bomb.  Throughout, we meet his many friends, enemies, lovers, and relatives – all of whom are described in exacting detail. The final half of the book deals with his spectacular fall from grace in the Cold War era with special attention paid to his chief nemesis, Lewis Strauss. The book presents us with a somber appraisal of a complicated man living in a complicated time.  Highly recommended!


Sunday, August 6, 2023

 Dear Great Book Guru,  We just came back from Sea Cliff Beach where we had a great lunch at the Potters’ Cliffside Café. Everything was delicious but the lobster roll and turkey wrap were particularly wonderful!  While there, I listened in on a couple’s conversation nearby (always a fun Sea Cliff thing to do) and they were discussing a new book - a noir mystery set in 1970’s Boston.  Sound familiar?  Loving the Cliffside Café

Dear Loving…. Dennis Lehane’s SMALL MERCIES is a newly published bestseller and well worth the read.  Set in the racially charged summer of 1974, the book deals with crime, race, and class - in and about an Irish American housing project.  Mary Pat Fennessy has lived there all her forty or so years, raised two children, married twice, and is struggling desperately to get out of debt. Her childhood friends are involved with the mob so when her daughter does not return home one evening, she turns to them for help.  She soon finds herself enmeshed in a world where violence is the norm and she is both victim and perpetrator. A young black man is found dead on the subway tracks nearby and we learn that his murder is connected to her missing daughter, the upcoming school desegregation rally, and a widespread drug operation. Mary Pat has a moment of epiphany when she realizes her long held beliefs have little basis in reality. The grief and contrition she feels is described in exquisite detail, but few of the other characters share her moral awakening. The reader is left to question if goodness will ever triumph.  Highly recommended!  

Sunday, July 30, 2023


Dear Great Book Guru, Last week I was at Clifton Park for the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s Sunset Serenade ….what a night it was! LOVEPEACE was the band, and the music and mood were rhapsodic.  While there, I overheard a group of people talking about a new book that was quite a compelling read. It was about a murder trial, but it hit on so much more. Ideas?  Sunset Serenade Fan

Dear Sunset Serenade Fan,  TRIAL by Richard North Patterson is a much talked about legal thriller that came out a few weeks ago.  The story opens in the present as a wealthy, Harvard educated politician, Chase Brevard, is planning his next career move. A Congressman from Massachusetts, he is considering running for the Senate when he sees on CNN a breaking story about a black teenager accused of murdering a deputy sheriff in Georgia. The case is receiving national attention because the boy’s mother is a prominent political activist who has championed voter rights and her son was canvassing when the murder took place. They insist that he was targeted by the sheriff and the death was an accident. Brevard realizes the boy is his son and the mother a woman he knew from college. The novel then traces the lives of the couple from their first meeting up to the present showing how wealth, race, and privilege brought them all to this moment.  The actual trial is a tense exposition of the effects of media and legal maneuvering with a shocking outcome.   Highly recommended!

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at Sea Cliff Beach for breakfast the other day (amazing avocado toast by Foster’s Javier!} when the question of parking came up.  Most people would prefer to walk to the beach but that walk back up the hill discourages even the most fit… so many drive leaving everyone with the search for parking and it can be quite a search. Someone mentioned a book which deals with parking  and its ramifications. Does this sound familiar?  Seaside Parker

Dear Seaside Parker, I recently read a quirky albeit fascinating book by Henry Graber: PAVED PARADISE- How Parking Explains the World. Graber’s contention is that parking has had a crushing effect on multiple aspects of American life. Since the advent of the car, we have spent precious resources and demolished our homes and cities in a quest for increased car storage.  Our most valuable real estate is handed over for largely free car storage, while curbside parking changes businesses, residences, and our very image of self. Public transit is sacrificed to the gods of car storage, zoning laws are predicated on it,   and public space is curtailed – all so that there are “homes” for cars. Graber travels across the country from New York City to Los Angeles and every major city in between to show the impact of car parking. He goes so far as to blame the present housing shortage and rise in homelessness to this obsession with parking. His goal is to show us the folly of our present day thinking and to offer us solutions for this perceived madness. Recommended!


 Dear Great Book Guru, The Fourth of July weekend here in Sea Cliff is filled with great events: the Patriotic Bike Parade, Happy Birthday USA, and the Reading of the Declaration of Independence on Village Green. So much to do …but I am always ready for a new book - perhaps a mystery?  Summer Mystery Maven

Dear Summer Mystery Maven, Every summer I look forward to reading a new Donna Leon novel and I was not disappointed with her latest, SO SHALL YOU REAP, her 32nd in the series. And what a treat it is!  All 32 books feature Guido Brunetti, a world weary, very wise Venetian police commissioner. These novels are gentle literary mysteries with many references to opera, Henry James (Brunetti’s wife Paola is a professor of American literature), Proust, and the ancient Roman philosophers. Food and drink are described in great detail, as are the canals and neighborhoods of Venice - often little known to tourists. In this latest book, Brunetti investigates the murder of a Sri Lankan  man who has been living illegally in the country for many years. A Buddhist who has lived a circumspect life, the man seems a most unlikely victim of violence. When Brunetti discovers a trove of books and pamphlets dating back to Italy’s 1970’s  political unrest, he struggles to connect the present to the past - and wonders where his own youthful revolutionary beliefs might have led him.  As usual the crime is overshadowed by the intellectual musings of this complex man. Highly recommended!

Friday, June 23, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru, July is one of my favorite Sea Cliff months - so many great events plus all those Sunset Serenades to enjoy! I would love to read a book set on Long Island that captures some of the summer vibe. Any suggestions?  Fan of Sea Cliff Summers

Dear Fan of Sea Cliff Summers, Emma Cline’s THE GUEST is set entirely on Long Island’s East End and covers one summer week.   Alex is a twenty-two-year-old - bright, beautiful, and …homeless - thrown out by her New York City roommates for not paying rent, drug use, and stealing from them. She has been banned from local restaurants and bars, and is being stalked by Dom - a mysterious, threatening character from whom she has stolen a large amount of money.   But in a “lucky” move she meets Simon a much older, very wealthy man who has a home in the Hamptons - where we first meet Alex. A few weeks into her stay, she angers him and she is once again looking for shelter. The rest of the book is a Homeric-like odyssey; she travels throughout the Hamptons meeting an assortment of mostly very wealthy, unscrupulous characters who she beguiles, bewitches, and betrays only to be trapped by her own missteps. The novel is a suspenseful tale of one woman’s misguided attempts to survive, but it is also a harsh indictment of a money-driven society that treats people with shameful disregard. Alex is not blameless, but it is hard not to see her as a victim.  Highly recommended!


Saturday, June 17, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am  very excited about all the wonderful things going on in Sea Cliff this summer - from the Village-wide Garage Sale, to Sunset Serenades, to the James Joyce Jaunt… and so much more!  Of course, I am always looking for a good book to read - perhaps a mystery.  Any suggestions?  Sea Cliff Summer Swooner

Dear Sea Cliff Summer Swooner, Last week I read a captivating mystery you might enjoy: THE EDEN TEST by Adam Sternbergh.  The prologue opens with two bodies being removed from a wooded upstate New York retreat, so we know the ending (or we think we know), but who are the victims, how did they die, and what about the other ten characters that we meet up – what role did they play?  We are transported back a week as Daisy - an aspiring actress and wife of Craig - is planning to attend a couples’ retreat week in an attempt to salvage her marriage.  Craig – her husband of three years - has a plan for the week too - to tell Daisy he is leaving her for another woman.  His bags are packed and are in the trunk of his car with a Caribbean getaway in mind.  Things change rapidly when the couple begin to reveal secrets about themselves. A series of strange encounters and flashbacks make for a terror-filled read.  Soon we realize that none of the characters we meet are who they seem and instead we have stumbled into a bizarre version of Eden…. Recommended!


Friday, May 26, 2023

 Dear Great Book Guru, Many of my friends have been praising a book that came out last year - a book they say is very, very funny, very sad, and a book for our times. Any thoughts?   A Fan of Friends’ Recommendations

Dear Fan of Friends’ Recommendations, The book undoubtably is Bonnie Garmus’s LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY - a great favorite of mine and many! This debut novel opens in 1952 as a brilliant doctoral student Elizabeth Zott is ousted from UCLA because her advisor Dr. Meyers has sexually assaulted her and - in defending herself - she has stabbed him with a pen. Shortly after, at her first job at a  research institute, she meets Calvin Evans who - alone of all the scientists there - recognizes her brilliance and falls in love with her and her mind.  Soon into the book Evans dies and Elizabeth finds herself alone, jobless, and pregnant. Throughout the novel, she meets an array of characters - most sinister and craven but some extraordinarily supportive. At one point Amanda, daughter of a TV producer, steals the gourmet lunches Elizabeth has lovingly and painstakingly prepared for her young daughter Madeline.  Outraged, Elizabeth confronts Amanda’s father who is immediately taken with her brilliance and beauty - so much so that he offers her a job as a TVs celebrity chef. The show becomes enormously popular as viewers feel empowered by her strength and talent.  There is a Dickens-like feel to much of the book as Elizabeth learns of early abandonments and lost parents who reappear with large fortunes. Overall, however, this is a tale of women’s struggles in the workplace then and now. Highly recommended!

Saturday, May 13, 2023


Dear Great Book Guru, Some of my book group members have asked for nonfiction, but many of us would rather a novel.  Can you think of a nonfiction choice that might read like a novel?  Battling Book Clubbers

Dear Battling Book Clubbers, I have the perfect book for you - THERE WILL BE FIRE by Rory Carroll.  The subtitle reads “Margaret Thatcher, the IRA, and Two Minutes That Changed History.”  Now this certainly does not seem like an interest-grabbing topic but…. this is a fascinating tale of terror, politics, and passionate loyalties. On October 12, 1984, an IRA bomb exploded at the iconic Grand Hotel in the resort city of Brighton, England. The goal was to assassinate the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, in hopes of toppling the British government and bringing justice to a divided Ireland. The first part of the book introduces us to the men and women involved in the plot plus background on the harrowing conditions which motivated them. Then we are brought to the hotel where we meet the many British officials gathered for an annual political convention – the luxurious quarters, elaborate meals, and fine dress are all described.  The tension builds as we wonder who will die, who will be gravely injured, who will escape harm.  The carnage that results is horrific, and our sympathies shift from the rebels to their victims. In the epilogue we move to the present and learn of the unforeseen consequences of the bombing that still reverberate throughout Europe.  A fascinating and troubling tale - highly recommended!

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at Sea Cliff Bistro last week with friends and our conversation turned to the sea and sailing.  Someone mentioned a new book that sounded very exciting - about a shipwreck, mutiny, and murder.  Any thoughts?   Fan of the Sea

Dear Fan of the Sea, David Grann’s latest book is THE WAGER and what a story he tells! The Wager was a British warship built in the grandest of styles and outfitted for a secret mission to plunder a Spanish vessel purportedly filled with gold and other treasures. The Wager left England in September of 1740 and was not heard from again for 283 days when a flimsy craft arrived in Brazil with a small crew of very ill and disoriented men. They told an amazing tale of suffering and survival against all odds. The British public immediately proclaimed them heroes and rewarded them with honors and cash.  It seemed like a wonderful ending…. until six months later another boat of survivors arrived in Chile and accused the original mariners of mutiny, murder, and cannibalism.  Who is to be believed? The British courts convene a court martial to determine who is telling the truth - the sailors found guilty would be hanged. Grann describes in detail the crew and officers involved and the suffering they endured and the secrets they hid. He also skillfully analyzes the public’s reaction to this strange turnabout in fortune, Ultimately we are all left to question what would we have done if we had been aboard the Wager…. highly recommended!


Sunday, April 23, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru, Sea Cliff is  beautiful every month of the year but especially in  April.  The baseball fields are ready for opening day on the 22nd with the parade set to lead off at 9am.  The parks are magnificent, the gardens are blooming and yes… I am in search of a good book to read while I enjoy all this beauty.  Any suggestions!  Loving April in Sea Cliff

Dear Loving April in Sea Cliff, I just finished a wonderful, albeit troubling, first novel, TRESPASSES by Louise Kennedy.  Set in Northern Ireland just outside of Belfast in the 1970’s, the book is told from the viewpoint of Cushla, a twenty-four-year-old who teaches at a primary school during the day and helps out at her family’s pub at night. It is a terrible time in Ireland’s history- known as “The Troubles’” when Protestant and Irish forces brutally fought, and civilians were frequently the target. While she and her family try to avoid trouble, trouble finds Cushla in the person of Michael Agnew. Agnew is a sophisticated fifty-year-old married Protestant lawyer who defends Catholic men unjustly accused of insurrection. The two fall in love and soon Cushla’s life is filled with intrigue and danger as she must decide where her loyalties lie.  This is a book filled with moral dilemmas and readers will find themselves uncertain as to what is right or wrong.  Highly recommended!

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru,  Last night I was at a party and many of the guests were talking about a recently published book by a Sea Cliff resident.  It sounded fascinating- covering local history, the world of sports… and the healing powers of poetry!  I can’t wait to read it.  Are you familiar with this book?  Amazed and Eager

Dear Amazed and Eager,  Hank Bjorklund’s latest work HEAD HITS I REMEMBER is indeed a fascinating look at so many aspects of a world  we think we know.  Former New York Jet, Bjorklund writes about his early childhood sports adventures followed by his time here at North Shore High School as he catapulted to fame. His years at Princeton and his marriage to fellow student Victoria are all chronicled here in beautiful detail. We also learn of the toll that head hits and concussions take on the brains of young athletes and on Bjorklund himself.  The latter part of the book includes selections of his poetry and prose which grew out of coping with the pain and life-altering conditions - brought on by a sport that brought much but at a terrible price. Throughout, we bear witness to a remarkable man who has endured and chooses to share his experiences for the betterment of many. An immensely rewarding book and highly recommended! 

PS Bjorklund will be discussing and reading from HEAD HITS I REMEMBER at the Sea Cliff Library on Saturday, April 29 from 2 to 3:30 pm. 


Sunday, March 26, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at the annual Barbara Pym conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts on St Patrick’s Day weekend. While there was much talk of Pym, some the attendees spoke of an Irish writer who had just written a new book set in rural Ireland that was highly acclaimed.  Are you familiar with this book?    Lover of All Things Pym and Irish

Dear Lover of All Things Pym and Irish,  Donal Ryan’s latest novel THE QUEEN OF DIRT ISLAND is a wonderful book to read as March comes to an end - the month of the Irish!  It is the tale of three women and three generations living in a small rural village in Tipperary. Mary, the grandmother, is a spinner of fantastical yarns. Eileen is her bookmaker daughter-in-law and the widowed mother of Saoirse (meaning freedom in Irish).  Most of the novel is told from the perspective of Saoirse who we meet as a newborn and follow throughout her life to adulthood.  The travails of all three are met with bravery and laughter while the men in their lives seem only to add to their daily trials. Within each short chapter, there lie tales of betrayal and cruelty, but also tales of great love and  redemption.  When mother and daughter are confronted with the truth of Dirt Island, we see the enormous strength each possesses.  A truly remarkable book and highly recommended! 


Sunday, March 5, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru, Next Wednesday, March 15 at 8pm the Sea Cliff Civic Association will host its annual Meet the Candidates forum at St. Luke’s Parish / Community Center.  While it is an uncontested election, the forum gives residents an opportunity to hear candidates’ governmental philosophies and question them about ongoing Village issues. Before the event I’ll have time for a good book - perhaps a fast-moving mystery?  Fan of Village Politics

Dear Fan of Village Politics, I just finished a great book I’m sure you too will enjoy: I HAVE SOME QUESTIONS FOR YOU by Rebecca Makkai.  Mystery, psychological thriller, character study - this novel is all of these and more!  The narrator, Bodie Kane, is an academic at UCLA and, on a whim, agrees to teach a mini course on podcasting at Granby, the New Hampshire boarding school she attended.  Bodie is drawn back by her interest in a murder that took place there thirty years ago, when she was a senior. A young athletic trainer, Omar Evans, was found guilty of the crime and is serving a lengthy prison sentence.  Bodie suspects he has been falsely accused and works with her students to exonerate him using podcast techniques. Throughout, she addresses a person from her past who she feels is the likely murderer. Makkai intertwines real time stories of sexism, racism, bullying, and false confessions as we move back and forth starting in the 1990’s up until the present. Her accumulated facts are horrifying on many levels with the reader wondering if justice can ever prevail. This is a book whose powerful message will resonate with the reader for a very long time – highly recommended!


Sunday, February 12, 2023

 Dear Great Book Guru,  Next week I’m planning on going to the Mardi Gras Pancake Dinner at St. Luke’s. Sea Cliff has so many great events like this  throughout the year, so I was intrigued when a  friend mentioned a book about a community where events go very much awry.  Any thoughts?  Lover of a Good Story

 Dear Lover of a Good Story,  THE APPEAL by Janice Hallett is a wonderfully compelling read about a small  village  outside of London where things are not as they seem. The Fairway Players is a local theater group about to put on  Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” – a play in which a family is bound together by a dark secret.   In the opening pages of this novel, we learn that a murder has occurred on the night of the final rehearsal and there are fifteen possible suspects - all members of the troupe. The lead attorney on the case instructs his two young assistants to examine all the material he has gathered (emails, texts, recorded phone calls) and decide who is the murderer. We are introduced to each of the suspects through this correspondence - leading to a plethora of information but we are never sure if what we are presented is accurate. In effect we have fifteen unreliable narrators. There is a mingling of humor and horror as the story unfolds with a shocking albeit very satisfying conclusion. Highly recommended!


Saturday, February 4, 2023

 Dear Great Book Guru,  Now that February has arrived,  we are well into the new year and I have already broken my #1 resolution- read  at least two books a month. Do you have a short, compelling read for me to get me back on track? Desperate Reader

Dear Desperate Reader, I have a truly wonderful, 128 page book for you - FOSTER  by Claire Keegan. The story is set in rural Ireland in 1981.  A young child – eight years old - is brought to live indefinitely with distant relatives while her overworked pregnant mother and hapless father try to get their lives together.  She and her many siblings - while not abused - are certainly neglected. So, when she arrives at the Kinsellas’ farm, she feels like she has entered Paradise.  The couple dote on her with new clothes, warm baths, and delicious meals.  She observes the Kinsellas’ loving, equal relationship, their orderly home and many friends. There is a sadness about the couple that she senses. but as time goes on that too seems to lift as the three of them form a close family unit.  Throughout there is a sense of foreboding – can this idyllic existence last?  This is a beautifully written story that captures the joys and sorrows of reinvention.  Highly recommended!


Dear Great Book Guru, My friends and I are looking for some good books to read over the next few months- preferably novels that will help us learn something about the world beyond our borders.  February seems like a good month to start on this project - any thoughts?  Eager to Learn

Dear Eager to Learn, I recently read a book  that I found both moving and enlightening: AMERICAN DIRT  by Jeanine Cummins. The narrator Lydia Perez owns a small bookstore in Acapulco, Mexico. She is married to Sebastian - a journalist - and they have a young son, Luca. Her life takes on a level of danger when she discovers that this new friend is a notorious and violent drug cartel leader.  Moments later we are witness to a horrific massacre at a birthday party Lydia is hosting - the only survivors are Lydia and her son. Sixteen family members are killed including her husband, and it is clear she and Luca are in mortal danger.  Thus begins her terror-filled journey north to the United States. Along the way we meet an array of characters – some extraordinarily kind, some craven and evil - all colorfully described.  Each new encounter is filled with dread as we wonder will she be able to survive and hopefully prosper.  The plight of the migrant is portrayed in excruciating detail, and we are confronted with the thought throughout: “there but for fortune go you or I.” Highly recommended!

Sunday, January 29, 2023

 Dear Great Book Guru, I was at a family reunion in Point Lookout last weekend and lots of my cousins were talking about a novel set on Long Island and particularly Garden City.  Are you familiar with the book and-if so- would you recommend it?  Fan of Local Locales

Dear Friend of Local Locales, GOOD NEIGHBORS by Sarah Langan, was a delightful find, indeed.  It opens on Maple Avenue in Garden City, in a kind of cul-de-sac where all the neighbors know all there is to know about each other…or so it seems. Block parties, cookie swaps, baseball pickup games - all these things and more unite the families.  When Arlo and Gertie Wilde move from Brooklyn, they are embraced by all, especially Rhea Schroeder – the acknowledged neighborhood leader.  A few months after their move, the newcomers are suddenly shunned, first by Rhea and then eventually all the residents of Maple Avenue. Mysteriously a sinkhole then develops in a nearby park; a sense of dread envelops all the families and reaches a climax when Rhea’s daughter Shelly falls into this muddy abyss.  We know from the opening pages set twenty years in the future that a murder has occurred but who and how is not revealed until the closing pages. Throughout, we see this veneer of utopian, civilized life gradually stripped away to reveal an underbelly of hypocrisy, greed, and hatred in wildly improbable ways. Definitely a page-turner and a great start to the new year - highly recommended!

Dear Great Book Guru,  Now that we are into 2023, I was wondering if you have compiled a list of your favorite books from 2022?  It’s been a busy year and I’m afraid I might have missed some good books. Looking Back on 2022

 Dear Looking Back on 2022,  So happy you asked-  I just made up my annual list of ten favorite books.  It was hard to choose because I had so many I really liked, but here goes (in no particular order):

TRUST by Herman Diaz


THE LIONESS by Chris Bohjalian

APPLES NEVER FALL by Lianne Moriarty


FRENCH BRAID by Anne Tyler

COUNTERFEIT by Kristen Chen


SOOLEY by John Grisham

56 DAYS by Catherine Ryan Howard