Monday, September 29, 2014


Born in North Carolina, author Sharyn McCrumb sets her stories in the mountains of Appalachia. The themes and characters of her mysteries, short stories and historical fiction always have a connection to the land, which always plays a central role in McCrumb’s books. Her titles can be found on the shelves of the Monrovia Public Library.
McCrumb’s storytelling skills and ability to mix history and fictional characters shine in her Ballad stories, whose plots span American history. Her latest is King’s Mountain about a 1780 battle of the American Revolution. Devil Amongst the Lawyers is based on the true case of a school teacher who is accused of murdering her father. In Songcatcher a young woman explores the origins and secrets of a family song that has been passed down through generations. Mountain legends mingle with the present in The Rosewood Casket as a family gathers to build a coffin for a father who is about to die. 

Another McCrumb series is the Elizabeth McPherson novels, which star a forensic anthropologist and include some impish humor.

Fans of Patricia Cornwell and Tess Gerritsen will enjoy these mysteries. Some of the titles are Missing Susan, The Windsor Knot and MacPherson’s Lamen. 

And, for readers who enjoy short stories, McCrumb’s Foggy Mountain Breakdown is a collection of stories that not only captures the ambiance of the author’s beloved Appalachians, but also mixes themes and genres. Mystery, suspense, and comical tales will keep readers enthralled.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Despite the heat, summer is officially over and it is now autumn. How about kicking off the season with the latest books on the new shelves at the Monrovia Public Library. This is a group of totally different books by well-known and new authors.

Sisterhood is the topic in Empire Girls by Suzanne Hayes, about two sisters in the 1920’s who discover that that their father’s will leaves their house, their only possession, to a brother they do not know. With a clue that he lives in New York City, the women leave for the unknown world of the big city, flappers and boarding houses. You will race through this delightful novel.

New York City is also the setting for a new novel by Michael Cunningham, who writes about a pair of brothers in The Snow Queen. The two, who have survived a difficult childhood, are looking for inspiration to turn their lives around. More challenging than the average novel, this is beautifully written and thought-provoking.

Joseph O’Neill has written a modern day fable in The Dog. After a break up, a lawyer leaves New York and takes a job in Dubai where he thinks about his past and present. This disconnected story is for readers who enjoy modern fiction without a straightforward plot. 

Tricking her parents into buying tickets for America when they flee Russian, young Malka arrives in New York City only to lose her parents and be injured in a car accident. Taken in by an ice cream vender who gives her a new name and teaches her the business, she becomes The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street. This debut novel by Susan Jane Gilman is terrific historical-fiction with a grand story to tell.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Barbara Kingsolver is a popular and stimulating writer who has won such varied awards as the Dayton Literary Peace and the James Beard awards for food writing. For more than 20 years every book the prolific author has written has been on the New York Times Bestseller List.

Motivated by the places she has lived and interests in women, the environment, social justice, the sites and themes of her works vary. Kingsolver’s many books can be found on the shelves of the Monrovia Public Library.

Early works The Bean Trees, its sequel Pigs in Heaven and Animal Dreams all take place in Arizona and capture women on journeys to find their places in the world.

The Poisonwood Bible is a book group favorite. Set in Congo and told by the females in a family, this is the story of a fundamentalist and mean-spirited missionary, a husband and father, whose self-righteous and destructive effort to convert an indigenous community results in calamity. Great characterizations color this riveting work.

Like the Poisonwood Bible, Prodigal Summer is narrated from different points of view. Set in Appalachia this is the story of 3 different people whose lives interrelate. Nature plays a central role and Kingsolver’s grasp of the natural world, in all its glory and danger, is amazing. Kingsolver returns to Appalachia in her most recent novel Flight Behavior, a story centered on global warming and its impact on a small town. 

Kingsolver’s most popular non-fiction work is Animal, Vegetable Mineral, in which she and her family devote a year to avoiding commercial foods and growing their own or buying locally produced edibles. This memoir is as much about food as it about family life and moral dilemmas.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


The newest series by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns premiered this month on PBS television and at The Roosevelts: An Intimate History is about fifth cousins Theodore (TR), Franklin (FDR) and Eleanor (ER) Roosevelt. After watching, why not delve deeper into the lives of these three by checking out some books from the Monrovia Public Library.  

Although the 26th president, the very productive Theodore (1858-1919) was much more: a governor, a historian, an outdoorsman, an early environmentalist, an explorer and a warrior. Edmund Morris’ trilogy covers his whole life: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, about his early days, Theodore Rex about his time as the youngest president in history and the legacy he left-the national park system and Colonel Roosevelt, which examines his jam-packed post-presidential life. 

Like his cousin TR, Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945) was also the governor of New York and the president of the United States. Enormously influential in his four terms as president, he is best known for leading America out of economic depression and for his participation in winning World War II. Kenneth Davis' multivolume FDR: The Beckoning of Destiny, The New York Years, The New Deal Years, Into the Firestorm FDR’s Last Year trace his personal and political life.  FDR’s Splendid Deception by Hugh Gallagher offers another view of this powerful man as a person with polio who hid is ailment from the public. 

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), like the other Roosevelts, came from money, but devoted herself to public service. Her marriage to FDR was a political partnership and she was an active first lady who supported civil rights. She once went into a coal mine to show her support of American workers. Blanche Weisen Cook’s 2 volume Eleanor Roosevelt is an engrossing look at a woman who defined herself as an independent woman. Sometimes the best view into a life is through the person’s own words. Joseph Lash’s A World of Love: Eleanor Roosevelt and Her Friends is a collection of ER’s letters.