Wednesday, April 29, 2015


The English started to use the word novel in about the 14th century and that word came from the Italian word for a short story, novella. That Italian word had its roots in the Latin word for new, novus. Although the term may seem repetitive, we are celebrating new novels on the shelves at the Monrovia Public Library.

The German word Hausfrau also takes on new meaning in the debut book of the same name by Jill Alexander. Instead of a wife whose main focus is domestic chores, this story is about a woman named Jill Essbaum who seeks out new experiences while trying to find meaning in her boring life. Isolated and living in Switzerland with her husband, children and difficult mother-in-law, Ms. Essbaum becomes involved in extra-marital affairs. Called both a modern Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, this novel has attracted much discussion about the choices women make.

Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson is a sophisticated satire about a young college student from the South who comes to UC Berkeley and finds life to be an almost parallel universe. Everything and everyone is different, but our main characters finds himself at home with an odd assortment of new college friends. When he lets slip that his hometown has a Civil War reenactment, the new set of friends descend upon his hometown to pompously and self-righteously protest the annual event.

A huge bestseller in his native country of Norway, author Per Petterson’s novel I Refuse is the story of two boys, once friends, who meet as middle-aged men.  The story shifts back and forth in time and relates how Jimmy and Tommy, through family circumstances and a tragic event, are forever changed. Their chance meeting allows them to go back and look what happened in childhood. Petterson’s simple and often stark prose highlight this story of friendship gone awry.

Monday, April 27, 2015


Mona Simpson came on the literary scene with her novel Anywhere But Here almost 30 years ago. This graduate of UCLA who still teaches creative writing there has had a sparkling career as the author of six novels and an interesting family life. When Ms. Simpson was young her parents divorced and she lost track of her father and later learned that she had a biological brother, whom she finally met when she was 25. That brother was Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple. One other twist: Mona Simpson’s ex-husband named a character after her for the television program for which he writes, The Simpsons.

Anywhere But Here is a highly original novel with two outstanding characters. Mother Adele and her daughter Ann, the narrator of the story, are fleeing small town Wisconsin life to go to California, where they hope Ann will break into Hollywood. The eccentric, manipulative and charming Adele may not be a realist and may be the bane of Ann’s life, but their relationship is solid and they share a deep love.

Ms. Simpson takes an autobiographical inspiration for her next novel, The Lost Father. A medical student obsessively tries to track the father who left her and in the process spends all her money on an ineffective detective, loses her friends and harms her school work. 

Simpson’s next book provides more humor, but is just as deep. My Hollywood is about a woman who hires a nanny to care for her child while she strives for success as a musician. The nanny not only stabilizes the family with order and love, but the story itself is a pointed look at motherly love and  who provides it.
The Casebook, the most recent Simpson novel, received high praise from reviewers. When 16-year-old Miles finds out that his divorced mother has a new boyfriend he worries about his nice life with his mom and does what any teen would do—he hires a detective to investigate the beau. This wonderful coming of age book is another exploration of a mother/child relationship.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


One of the more fascinating books on the bestseller lists is about the relationship between an animal and a human. H is for Hawk mixes what seems like two totally different subjects—bereavement and falconry. This is the true story by Helen MacDonald who found solace when her father died by trying to train a goshawk, a fierce variety of hawk. Although Ms. MacDonald had learned the ancient art of falconry from her dad, she had never contemplated working with such a wild predator. Vividly written with depth and humor, this is an exceptional example of nature writing. Mabel the goshawk is an unforgettable character and Ms. MacDonald makes this memoir both inspirational and exciting.

There are other bird books on the shelves of the Monrovia Public Library and they will appeal to both avian fans and readers who just enjoy good books.

In Condor, author John Nielsen tells the story of how the California bird was brought back from near extinction. An admittedly ugly bird that resembles a big vulture, this ancient member of the hawk family with a 10 foot wing span has roots in the Pleistocene era. Nielsen’s book examines the history of the condor and the sometimes controversial efforts to protect it and expand its numbers in California.

Another threatened bird species is the songbird. The Silence of the Songbird is about those magical and musical birds who are disappearing from American skies. Written by biologist Brigid Stutchbury in an easy-to-understand way, this is a compelling look at how pesticides, development, and loss of habitat are killing singing birds. The book has been named a wake-up call to all those who worry that birds are becoming extinct.

YBirds of the Pacific States by Ralph Hoffman and Familiar Birds of the Pacific Southwest by Florence Dickey will get you started in identifying the birds in your neighborhood. You don’t to be an experienced bird watcher to enjoy the birds in your backyard.

Monday, April 20, 2015


Large Print books are a life saver to those readers who need and enjoy them, either because of vision issues or because they simply enjoy reading bigger and darker word fonts. The first large print books appeared in England in 1964 and were created by a book distributor named Frederick Thorp who wanted to help his elderly clients who had low vision. Soon after public libraries began to collect Large Print books, which were an immediate hit with patrons. The Monrovia Public Library has a substantial collection of these easier-on-the-eyes books. Fiction, non-fiction, classics and new bestsellers are available for check out. 

One popular author, Carla Neggers, can only be found on Monrovia’s Large Print shelves. Ms. Neggers, a Massachusetts native who began writing as a small child, is known for her romantic suspense novels whose characters are engaging.  She is a bestselling author whose books have been translated into 24 languages. Why can her books only be found on the Large Print shelves?  It's because her books are paperback originals and are not printed in hardback, so  one publisher specifically generates Large Print versions of Ms. Naggers’ titles.

Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan are two FBI agents who investigate crimes in the Sharp and Donovan series by Ms. Neggers. This granddaughter of a detective and her fiancĂ©, an undercover officer, provide the romantic sparks as a background to suspenseful storylines in such books as Harbor Island and Declan’s Cove

Ms. Neggers says that she gets her ideas from everywhere and most of her books, including the series, do not need to be read in any order. Setting is very important. Her Swift River Valley series, including That Night on Thistle Cove and Cider Brook, take place in rural New England and highlight its magnificent scenery.
If you want to get started on reading Negger novels, but don’t want to invest your time in a series right away, try some of the stand-alone novels. The Cabin and The Mist are just two titles from which to choose.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.

Poet Joyce Kilmer is best remembered for his poem Trees whose first two lines are frequently quoted. Trees are on our minds not only because we are experiencing all the lovely spring blossoms, but also because it is almost Arbor Day, which falls on April 24. Arbor is the Latin word for tree, and the holiday celebrates caring for and planting trees, revered as the lungs of the planet. To get you in the holiday mood, there are some wonderful books on trees in the Monrovia Public Library collection.

Sunset, the magazine of the west and publisher of many books about home and garden, has the favorite standby The New Sunset Western Garden Book. This excellent illustrated guide is easy-to-use, discusses the pluses and minuses of the many trees that you might consider for your yard, and very importantly talks about water needs. Use this book for all your garden needs and take it to the nursery when selecting new trees.

Flowering Shrubs and Small Trees by Isabel Zucker and Trees and Shrubs of Southern California by John Stuart will both help you identify local trees and select appropriate trees for your garden. The Stuart book has line drawings and a geographical map that shows where the trees grow best.

In addition, trees need to be trimmed. The American Horticultural Society Pruning and Training Handbook is a terrific go-to book that gives step-by-step advice and illustrations on how to prune trees. The before and after pictures are particularly helpful.  Maybe just pruning is not on your mind, but topiary—the art of sculpting plants into shapes. Both The Art of Shaping Shrubs, Trees and Other Plants by Tatsuo Isimoto and Topiary and Ornamental Hedges by Miles Hadfield will get you started towards turning your garden into a work of art.

For those curious enough to read the entire text of Trees by Joyce Kilmer, go to the Poetry Foundation website: enjoy the full poem.