Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Growing up as the daughter of Chinese immigrants author Tess Gerritsen was a Nancy Drew fan who dreamed of writing books but was encouraged to have a real profession. She went to medical school, started a physician career in Hawaii and soon found herself the winner of a writing contest. Several published paperback romances later she started writing medical mysteries and that is when she hit the literary jackpot.

Gerritsen’s recent works can be divided into two realms: stand alone thrillers and her Rizzoli & Isles series, the latter of which became a popular television series. Many Gerritsen titles can be found on the shelves at the Monrovia Public Library in the fiction, mystery, Large Print, CD and Spanish sections.

Exploring epidemics in Life Support, an unusual illness that results in teenage violence in Bloodstream and skeletal remains found at a home in The Bone Garden, the author has a real knack for writing fast-paced thrillers that take advantage of her knowledge of medicine and forensics. The most recent title,  Playing with Fire, is a departure for Gerritsen as it takes its mystery storyline from a piece of music that relates to the events in Venice’s 1930’s Jewish ghetto.

In 2001 Gerritsen introduced Boston police detective Jane Rizzoli in The Surgeon and in 2002 medical examiner Maura Isles in The Apprentice. Since then the two have anchored such titles as The Sinner, Body Double and Ice Cold. The most recent is Last to Die about some orphans who are the victims of violence. What makes the Rizzoli & Isles series popular are compelling plots, realism and the great relationship between the homicide cop and the doctor.

Thursday, February 4, 2016


Time to celebrate the great outdoors! This year is the centennial of the National Park Service. Founded in 1916 “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations," there are currently 401 kinds of parks, including National Parks and Monuments.

The top 10 most visited parks, in order, are: The Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Olympic, Zion, Grand Teton, Acadia and Glacier.
One goal of the National Park Service is to reintroduce the parks to a new generation of Americans. Let’s look to the Monrovia Public Library for materials that will inspire and prepare readers to become park visitors. 

Horace Albright was present during the creation of the national park system and was its acting director. His classic 1934 Oh Ranger is the story of the development of park rangers and how their jobs included not just the protection of parks, but also the interpretation of their beauty. Another classic is This is the American Earth with park photographs by Ansel Adams. 

Monrovians are lucky to be geographically close to so many outdoor treasures. Frommer’s Easy Guide to National Parks of the West is a great introduction to what is available in California and nearby. 

National Parks: America’s Best Idea is the title of both a documentary film and an accompanying book. The DVD set is by Ken Burns and captures not only the uniquely American idea of conserving the outdoors for its people, but also the political fight to make it happen. Viewers and readers will be enchanted by gorgeous photography in both film and book.

Friday, January 29, 2016


She is the world-wide bestselling author whose identity is unknown. Her pen name is Elena Ferrante and she appears to be Italian, but because she gives no interviews and refrains from any exposure on social media, her true name has not been discovered. Ferrante has remained anonymous since the publication of her first work in 1992. She once said, “I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors.” Her books about women and their struggles and interior lives have been critically praised for deep characterizations and originality.

Ferrante’s best known books can be found in her Neapolitan series, four titles that compose a single book. These four novels, all centered in the Italian city of Naples, are owned by the Monrovia Public Library. These are complex and thoughtful books for those who like a reading challenge.

My Brilliant Friend begins the series about two best friends, Lila and Elena, who meet as children after World War II and continue a lifelong friendship, although their lives will take different paths.  This first book has a high degree of reality and shows the difficult lives of children growing up in a working class neighborhood. Book two is The Story of a New Name and covers the friends’ lives in their twenties, one entering an unhappy marriage and the other pursuing an education.

Next is Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay with Lila having taken her child and left her husband and Elena rising in her career and publishing a book. This volume studies their friendship and how it waxes and wanes and focuses on the choices, good and bad, these women make. The New York Times chose book four The Story of the Lost Child as one of the best reads of 2015. Both Lila and Elena have returned to their home in Naples, which they originally had tried to escape.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


One of the best places to explore diversity at the Monrovia Public Library is in the cooking section. You can find cookbooks that cover the globe in terms of geography, technique and style.

Two of Monrovia’s newest cookbooks are written by favorite chefs. Originally from France and now living in the U.S., Jacques Pepin, who starred on PBS cooking programs with Julia Child, is known for teaching the fundamentals of French cuisine. The Library owns Happy Cooking and Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home and his newest is Jacques Pepin: Heart and Soul in the Kitchen. Here Pepin shares some of his favorite recipes when guests come over and offers reflections on not only trendy foods, but also on how to raise children to eat everything. 

Mark Bittman, long time New York Times food columnist has always advocated common sense nutrition, part-time vegetarianism and cookbooks that don’t require the latest and greatest devices, has a new book called Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix. Here he presents master recipes that can be changed and improvised using different ingredients. This easy-to-use cookbook will inspire meals that are tasty and will keep you from getting bored in the kitchen. 

Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov highlights how the food of Israel comes from so many different countries and cultures. Recipes whose inspiration came from Northern Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe are included.
Cook for Life: Delicious Nourishing Recipes for Before, During and After Cancer Treatment by Ann Ogden Gaffney is a specialty cookbook that addresses particular nutritional needs. The recipes are easy and the emphasis is fresh food prepared in inviting ways.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


If you’re  thinking about a second career, look no further than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for inspiration. Born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, the champion high school and college basketball champ went on to become one of the greatest National Basketball Association players. A Milwaukee Buck and LA Laker, he earned fans and kudos for his magnificent skills on the court. Off the court, he was a UCLA graduate and an articulate speaker on social and racial issues. Less interested in celebrity than in the world at large, he has become a writer and historian who has earned critical and popular praise for his books, several which are available at the Monrovia Public Library.

Less an autobiography than a diary of his last year as a professional basketball player, Kareem is Abdul-Jabbar’s insightful book that looks not only at his present but also his past. His memories of childhood and his comments about coaches and players make this a very readable sports book.
With a degree in history and an interest in the lives of African-Americans he wrote Brothers-In-Arms: The Epic Story of the 671st Tank Battalion. This is an engaging book, particularly for World War II fans, full of facts and anecdotes about the all Black armored unit that fought at the Battle of the Bulge, but also fought racism at home and in the military. Abdul-Jabbar continued his interest in history with On the Shoulders of Giants, his personal journey through the Harlem Renaissance, when African Americans burst forth with rich cultural offerings. Highlighting not only the lives and output of musicians, writers, artists and athletes, he also presents the personalities as worthy of emulation.
Also look to Abdul-Jabbar for some marvelous books for youth. What Color Is My World is about African American inventors. The author takes up fan fiction in Mycroft Holmes, about Sherlock Holmes’s brother, who journeys to Trinidad to solve some mysteries. That the author has written a suspenseful adventure should come as no surprise to readers who admire the continually reinventing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.