Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Full of film premieres, December is a movie-going month. This is so the films will qualify for the Academy Awards the following year and because sitting in a dark theater seems to be just the antidote to all that holiday shopping, eating and celebrating.  But, before you rush out and buy those movie tickets, remember that December is also a great month to sit and read the Monrovia Public Library books on which some of these blockbusting films are based.

Unbroken, the story of Louis Zamperini and soon to debut as a film directed by Angelina Jolie, is a terrific biography of a local (Torrance) boy who not only competes in track and field in the 1936 Olympics, but becomes a prisoner of war during World War II.  Author Laura Hillenbrand, who wrote the spectacular Seabiscuit delivers a page-turning and memorable story of survival and triumph.

Wild, by Cheryl Stayed, is a memoir of a woman trying to overcome her past by hiking the 1,100 mile long Pacific Crest Trail that leads from the Mojave Desert to the Oregon border. Battling both the elements and an exasperating lack of preparation and expertise for such a hike, the book captures readers in both positive and negative ways. Read the book to see how you feel about the author and story. The movie of Wild stars Reese Witherspoon.

What happens to a dynamic 50-year-old Harvard professor when her memory starts failing and she is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease? Still Alice by neuroscientist Lisa Genova is a novel about this struggling woman. As Alice quickly declines she and her family try to find everything they can about this heartbreaking illness that radically changes their lives. The book is realistic and touching. The movie stars Julianne Moore.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Hats off to Oprah Winfrey. Beginning her career as a Nashville news anchor in 1978, she moved to Chicago to be a talk show host and began a meteoric rise that would be notable for anyone, but particularly for a poor African American girl from Mississippi. Her talk show included interviews, put a greater emphasis on the spiritual and self-motivation, and started an on-the-air book club. You can find Oprah’s own books and movies, as well as her many book club titles, on the Monrovia Public Library shelves. For the book club list click: http://static.oprah.com/pdf/obc-complete-list.pdf

Starting a magazine is always risky business, but O: The Oprah Magazine was an immediate success. Oprah’s newest bestseller is taken from the back pages of O. What I Know for Sure is an inspiring collection of Oprah’s observations and life lessons. Touching on personal and practical topics and filled with empathy and humor, this is a book for readers who want to slow down and reflect.

Oprah’s Big Book of Happiness, the Best of O is also taken from the magazine. This coffee table sized book is a terrific collection of stories on self-improvement and learning to appreciate and better your life. The accomplished, like Barack Obama, as well as experts in various fields, offer advice for readers.

Oprah does seem to have it all, plus more. However, she keeps stretching as she displays some wonderful acting skills in movies that can be found on the DVD shelves.  Her first acting job was in The Color Purple, Alice Walker’s classic story of two sisters whose lives diverge, but who remain connected. In The Butler Oprah plays the wife of a White House servant. She is a stand-out in an all-star cast.

Monday, December 8, 2014


The author Hillary Mantel burst forth on the literary scene with the historical fiction blockbuster Wolf Hall. This bestselling book won literary prizes and is soon to be seen on PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre. The now Dame Mantel was not an overnight sensation. Born in England, she graduated from British colleges, worked as a clerk in a department store and lived in Botswana and Saudi Arabia. She wrote a variety of well-received historical novels, none bringing great attention until Wolf Hall. The Monrovia Public Library owns some of her earlier and all her recent works. 

Brilliantly written, historically accurate but not overwhelmed by facts, Wolf Hall is the epic story of Henry VIII during the time he wanted to divorce his first wife Catherine and  marry Anne Boleyn. Highlighting Henry’s closest adviser Thomas Cromwell, the book relates the rise of Cromwell from a blacksmith’s son to a political insider. It captures the dysfunctional Tudor family in all its royal glory, and the scheming and intrigue that went on at the royal court. Consider looking at the family tree as you begin the novel, as keeping track of all the relations can be a daunting task.  

Intended as a trilogy, the story continues with Bring Up the Bodies. Anne Boleyn has been married to Henry for 3 years and is the mother to Elizabeth, but she has not delivered a male heir and she is suspected of adultery. Cromwell has the task of getting rid of the well-connected Anne so Henry can marry his next bride, Jane Seymour. Once again the focus is on the advisor as he schemes to give Henry, and himself, what they want. The third in the trilogy is coming soon.

In the meantime Dame Mantel has written a new best seller, a collection of short stories called The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. A bit highbrow, this work is not as approachable as her novels. The title story is about the imagined murder of the former prime minister of England. Fans of literary fiction might enjoy this latest book while many readers will enjoy Mantel’s historic fiction.

Friday, December 5, 2014


Some of our very favorite authors have delivered, just in time for the holidays, new bestselling books, and they are on the shelves at the Monrovia Public Library.

The fictional LAPD detective Harry Bosch returns in his 21st mystery The Burning Room. Michael Connelly’s debut novel about Harry was The Black Echo published in 1992. Now nearing retirement and working on cold cases, the detective is teamed with a young police woman on the case of a Mariachi musician who was shot 10 years before, but just died from the injury. Particularly outstanding is how author makes the city of Los Angeles a character and the way he unfolds the clues. 

It’s been a while since Jan Karon has written a new novel from her Mitford series. This 10th Mitford story is Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good and includes old favorite and characters. Gentle, comfortable and for readers who like spiritual books. 
On the other end of the spectrum is Patricia Cornwell whose newest mystery about medical examiner Kay Scarpetta is Flesh and Blood.  Scarpetta investigates a serial sniper whose only clue left at the murder scenes are copper pennies. This 22nd Scarpetta novel is a thrilling read.

Alexander McCall Smith, that wondrous Scots writer, has given fans of the No. One Ladies Detective Agency series, a new reason to be grateful. The Handsome Man’s De Luxe CafĂ© continues the story of Precious Ramotswe as she tries to solve the mystery of a woman who cannot remember her own identity. Along for the ride in this warm and amusing story is Ms. Ramotswe’s assistant who, in addition to her detecting duties, has opened a restaurant where everything goes wrong. For those who have not dipped into these wonderful books, now is your chance.