Great Reads

Dee, Jonathan. The Privileges

The Privileges is a satirical portrayal of Adam and Cynthia—a  charmed New York couple blessed with a great love for each other, beautiful children, and all of the privileges of increasing wealth—who find themselves desiring more.  Because of this greed, Adam, who works in the world of private equity, makes a decision that sends him down the path of the immoral and corrupt.  If you want a personal glimpse into one reason why the nation’s financial crisis occurred, this is the book for you.  The Privileges is a highly readable novel with well-drawn characters whom you both empathize with and despise.

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Smith, Patti. Just Kids

Just Kids is about Patti Smith’s relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe with a focus on their early years, when Smith was in her early twenties and fresh to New York City. But it is also so much more.   It is a story of love and friendship.  It is a story of the New York artist community during the 1970s.  And it is a meditation on what makes an artist, as well as a meditation on life and loss.  Even if you are primarily a fiction reader, you will adore this book because it contains all the elements of great fiction.  Patti Smith’s writing is eloquent and insightful, and the 2010 nonfiction National Book Award she received for Just Kids is well-deserved.  

Byatt, A. S. Ragnarok: the End of the Gods


In Byatt’s slender, slender, semi-autobiographical novella, an unnamed young girl who has fled to the countryside during the Blitz attempts to make sense of the war-torn world around her. Her father is a flier in the war so far away and the girl is convinced he will never return. The darkness and violence that the adults speak of in hushed tones does not match the brightly optimistic emptiness of the words mouthed at church each week. It isn’t until a copy of “Asgard and the Gods” comes into the girl’s possession that the world around her begins to make sense as seen through the lens of the much darker and more violent Norse mythology contained in her book.

Interspersing scenes from the daily life of the girl with retellings and reinterpretations of the mythology she is reading, “Ragnarok: the End of the Gods” serves as an able allegory for our times as well.

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Groff, Lauren. Arcadia

In the 1970s, a group of idealistic hippies come together with a vision of utopia, following their charismatic leader, Handy, on a cross-country trek which ends in western New York state at a decaying mansion known as Arcadia House. Bit (the littlest bit of a hippie) is the first child born to the new Arcadians and he grows up in the commune among the optimistic, romantic, and ultimately all-too-human adult founders. We see through his eyes as his mother struggles with a deep and abiding clinical depression, as his father challenges the increasingly haphazard “leadership” of Handy, as the commune grows from a tightly-knit core of like-minded individuals with a vision of cooperation into a sprawling morass of the lazy and the criminal and the insane, as the commune eventually dissolves away into nothing after Handy’s arrest. Having never lived “Outside,” young Bit is thrust into a whole new world and must make sense of it as well as he can until, as an adult, circumstances return him to an Arcadia very much changed, but still a place of refuge.

A plot summary cannot do justice to the lyrical and poignant power of this novel. Bit is a thoughtful, sensitive, and entirely sympathetic narrator and it is a pleasure to grow up alongside him, watching as his perceptions and understandings change with time. Highly recommended.

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Winspear, Jacqueline. Maisie Dobbs.

Maisie Dobbs has a truly impressive history: housemaid, Cambridge student, wartime nurse and now, a private detective. With help from her former employer, Lady Rowan, Maisie's natural ambition, intelligence and empathy aid her in solving some complex mysteries.

In the first book of the series (the ninth book in the series will be released this Spring), Maisie is faced with the strange task of investigating a retreat for traumatized war veterans which turns out to be very close to home. She must draw upon her unique detective training, going beyond the facts in a case, using psychology instead, to come to conclusions; a truly new and fascinating method. What she discovers is closely linked to England's post-war culture; why society shuns the emotionally and phycially damaged and how those in power take advantage of these poor souls.

Maisie is a wonderful heroine who is sure to grab historical fiction and mystery fans alike.