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!