Monday, December 29, 2014


With this blog post we wave goodbye, bid adieu, say adios, give an auf wiedersehen, and take leave of 2014 by completing our look at the best books of the year chosen by the editors of the New York Times Book Review.  All the books mentioned can be found on the shelves of the Monrovia Public Library. 

Scientific study finds that there have been 5 prior extinctions on earth when mass numbers of animal species have died out. The most famous was when an asteroid hit the earth and wiped out the dinosaurs. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History is an examination of the current die off, the one in which 20-50% of fauna on earth will disappear by the end of this century. The cause: climate change produced by humans. Author Elizabeth Kolbert, primarily a magazine writer, travels with scientists around the world and records their research on dead and dying species. The Sixth Extinction is written in an engaging way and facts are presented in a lively manner. This is a thought-provoking book on a subject very much in the news.

Eula Biss is an essayist, Northwestern University teacher and a new mother.  In her book On Immunity: An Inoculation she takes a probing view into the world of vaccinations. Not just content to look at the science and history of being inoculated against disease, she looks at how culture, philosophy and fear affect parents’ choices to have their children vaccinated. Her exploration of the subject of immunization includes her pursuit of whether to vaccinate her new baby. This really interesting book comes at a time when so many other parents are contemplating the same question and so many doctors are encouraging them to do so.

Friday, December 26, 2014


Past blogs have been visiting the New York Times Sunday Book Review best books fiction books of 2014. Now let’s visit the editors’ selections for the best non-fiction.

Anyone who has taken care of a parent, older friend or relative will identify with Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? New Yorker magazine cartoonist Roz Chast, known for her urban characters who quake while they deal with life’s ups and downs, has created a graphic non-fiction work about caring for her parents. Illustrations and captions are the heart of this memoir. Having lived in their cluttered apartment for more than 50 years, mother and father can no longer care for themselves. Then, aided by their daughter, they must make the journey from home to assisted living facilities to convalescent care to death. Readers won’t know whether to laugh, cry or cringe at the daily minutia that the author/artist and her parents celebrate and endure. Somebody observed that old age is not for sissies; neither is caregiving. This is absolutely the best book on aging and family.

One of our most admired American presidents is Jimmy Carter, whose good works in his retirement serve as an example to all. During his time in office President Carter’s greatest achievement may be the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David is a historical look at the backgrounds, motivations, conversations and negotiations between these 3 leaders. Author Lawrence Wright is another New Yorker writer and he deftly captures the behind-the-scenes events of the meeting and President Carter’s laser focus on getting the treaty done.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Let’s continue taking a look at the New York Times best fiction books of 2014. Two weeks ago the most notable 100 titles of the year were selected, and the 10 top titles were chosen from it. You can click below to see that original list

Back to our overview of the best novels selected by the New York Times Book Review editors:
Author and creative writing professor Lily King has written a totally original fiction title that is based on a true story. Euphoria is a novel about the anthropologist Margaret Mead who went to New Guinea in the 1930’s to study indigenous tribes. Renamed Nell Stone in the novel, the character arrives in the South Pacific with her second husband, only to meet the man who will be her third husband. More than a book about a romantic triangle, this is a fascinating dip into culture, philosophy and into the story of a woman who is not reluctant to let intellect outshine that of her current husband. Eurphoria will have you turning to your favorite reference resources to look up the real personalities on which this book is based.

South Asian authors from India have recently written some hugely creative and celebrated novels. Akhil Sharma focuses on characters that emigrate from India and settle in the United States. Family Life is the story of mother, father and two sons whose appreciation of life and love is stunted by a terrible accident. When the oldest son becomes brain damaged while swimming, the joy drains from the family. Heartbreaking and page-turning.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


Noted for its longevity (founded in 1951) and motto (All the News Fit to Print), the New York Times is also well known for its best seller lists and book reviews. Every December the editors of its Sunday Book Review section select 10 top books of the year. The Monrovia Public Library owns the majority of the list and here are some of the outstanding novels. 

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr takes place before and during World War II and is the story of two people from very different backgrounds whose lives converge.  Marie Louise is a blind teenage French girl whose family flees Paris when the Nazis invade. Werner is a young man whose skill with radios requires him to join the German army and he is sent to the village where Marie Louise lives. His job is to track the resistance, to which the girl belongs. The book has been feted for its beautiful language and superior storytelling. 
Accenting greater attention to writers who are veterans of recent wars, Redeployment is a collection of stories by former Marine Phil Klay. Trained to go to war, but unprepared for the extreme cultural differences, bouts of violence and descent into unknown emotions, the author describes daily life for those fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Deeply compelling, this is a book from which you cannot look away.

Narrated by the wife, Department of Speculation is about a marriage that begins in the most star-sprinkled way, full of high notes and romance. The title refers to the wonderful possibilities that lay ahead, but the marriage falters as husband and wife go different directions. Author Jenny Offill has written a slim and powerful novel that bares the truths of relationships.

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.