Thursday, July 30, 2015


In her Los Angeles Times obituary the late writer Harriet Doerr (1910-2002) is quoted as saying that the worst sin is the failure to use one’s talent. This would not be true for the extraordinary Ms. Doerr whose first book was published when she was 73-years-old. Although born into great privilege as the granddaughter of Henry Huntington, she seldom shared this fact with anyone and spent much of her life in Pasadena, attending schools, marrying and raising a family, working in her lovely garden and volunteering in the community. Encouraged by her son to return to college after the death of her husband, Ms. Doerr went to Stanford where she enrolled in the writing program and mined her own past to write fiction.

Based on her experience living with her husband in a small town in Mexico, Stones for Ibarra became a National Book Award winner and a critical and reader favorite.  This story of an American couple who live in rural Mexico while the husband tries to restart a copper mine that belonged to his father, is a gentle, sparely-told novel that focuses on the eccentric characters living in an almost mystical town. Without being sentimental, the book captures the joys and tragedies of the couple and the people they meet.

Harriet Doerr’s pristine writing style is front and center for her second novel, Consider This Senora, about expatriate Americans who live in rural Mexico. Although its setting is similar to Stones for Ibarra, the storyline is very different and the reactions of the locals to these visitors is marvelous.

Written when she was 85, Tiger in the Grass was Doerr’s final work. It is a collection of essays and memories about her life, family and people she knew. She called these short stories inventions as their source is autobiographical, but their content is fictional.

 Harriet Doerr’s wonderful books can be found on the shelves at the Monrovia Public Library.

Monday, July 27, 2015


One of the most popular and award winning books of 2014 and 2015 is Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. Set in France during World War II, this is the story of a teenage French girl who joins the Resistance and a young German soldier sent to France to track the opposition. Other terrific historical fiction has been written about this same period in history and can be found at the Monrovia Public Library.
New is Kristin Hannah’s Nightingale about two French sisters whose close relationship is challenged by their reaction to their country and town being occupied by the Germans. Rule-follower Vianne and rebel Isabelle each try to survive the war in different ways.

Always a favorite with book groups is Tatiana De Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key. A journalist who is researching the 60th anniversary of the round up and deportation of Paris Jews to Auschwitz tries to unravel the story of the Jewish family of deportees who once lived in her own apartment. Heartbreaking at many levels, Sarah’s Key is a remarkable and sensitive novel.

Among the Parisians fleeing after the German occupation was a writer named Irene Nemirovsky, a Jewish woman who eventually died in a Nazi death camp. Many years after the war her daughters revealed that they had found the notebooks with the book she wrote during her flight. Suite Francaise, a story about those French people trying to survive the invasion, captures both the history of the time and the insecure lives of the characters.

Another book that travels back in time is Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris. A woman returns to the French village where she grew up and where her family collaborated with the Nazis in the black market. Trying to discover the truth about the war’s impact, she unravels the town’s secrets that have been hidden for many years.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Sometimes the thing about a cliché is that it is true. The truth about summer books, whether read on the sand, in our backyards or on the den couch, is that they should be light page-turners.  Five-hundred-page classics need not apply. Romances, mysteries, family stories and comedies hit the spot with vacationers and staycationers and there are some terrific new ones on the shelves at the Monrovia Public Library. Beach-themed novels are always particular favorites.
Mary Kay Andrews, whose popular books are set in the South, has a new title called Beach Town. Combining show biz, romance and environmentalism, this is the story of a movie location scout who thinks she has found the perfect out-of-the-way community for a film, but the good-looking mayor wants to protect his unspoiled town.
New England is always popular beach book setting. In The Guest Cottage by Nancy Thayer, a woman puts some space between herself and her two-timing husband by renting a Nantucket beach house for herself and her kids. It turns out that someone else, naturally a handsome man, also has a lease on the same house. 

Also set in Nantucket is The Rumor about a group of friends whose lives, families and husbands are much admired until rumors start swirling about each woman. Author Elin Hilderbrand, called the queen of the summer novel, has written a fast-paced and enjoyable book.

The fictional crowd of characters in Nantucket soars with Summer Secrets by Jane Green. Moving back and forth in time, this novel tells the story of a recovering alcoholic who seeks forgiveness for the harm she caused one summer many years ago. Here the charm of the setting levels the seriousness of the issues.

Monday, July 20, 2015


Those of us who grew up locally may remember when Tom Brokaw was on a local news channel. He went on to do national news and became a trustworthy network anchor. In 1998 Mr. Brokaw proved his talent was not just for television when he wrote a history called The Greatest Generation. His book lent a name to an entire generation of Americans and started a literary career of writing bestsellers, all of which the Monrovia Public Library owns. 
The Greatest Generation is about the men and women who fought abroad and served on the home front during World War II. With separate chapters devoted to different vets, spouses and workers, Brokaw shows how these war heroes who performed with such bravery and skill did the job they were assigned without drama or complaint and in the process helped win the war. Also fascinating is how Brokaw shows the heroes to be ordinary citizens, living private lives, before and after the war. Follow up books include The Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflections and An Album of Memories: Personal Histories from the Greatest Generation.

Tom Brokaw wrote his own story in A Long Way From Home: Growing Up in the American Heartland in the Forties and Fifties.  Although he left his small town in South Dakota he writes about what it meant to grow up there and how it and the influence of his parents always affected his life. 

Brokaw’s newest book is A Lucky Life Interrupted, a memoir which tracks his diagnosis, and treatment and remission for multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood. Ever the great newsman, he explores the cancer in detail, but he also shares his frustrations and reluctance to think about his own mortality. All Tom Brokaw’s books are easy-to-read and understand. They are great for individuals and book groups.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


The most anticipated new book of 2015 debuted this week. Libraries and book stores have been gearing up for the many requests for Go Set a Watchman, the only other book written by Harper Lee, the author of the magnificent and much loved 1960 classic To Kill a Mockingbird.
The classic is set in small Alabama town and narrated by 10-year-old Scout who tells a story of racial injustice and the moral role model her attorney father Atticus Finch plays in defending an unjustly accused African American man.  Mockingbird is one of the most read books in America and retains its literary power and page-turning pull on readers.

In the last few weeks the anticipation for Go Set a Watchman, which is set 20 years after Mockingbird, has turned a bit to unease as the history of this book and its contents have unraveled. The book was written prior to Mockingbird and appears to be a draft for the classic, rather than a stand-alone novel. Literary historians have uncovered publishing notes written by Ms. Lee’s editor that encourage Lee to disregard the story and concentrate on the flashback to when Scout was 10-years-old. The big bombshell about Watchman is that the new book portrays Atticus Finch not as a man of conscience and fairness, but as a racist whose language belies what readers have come to know about him. 
To read Go Set a Watchman or not? The now 89-year-old Harper Lee no longer gives interviews so she cannot encourage or discourage us with her motivation. Why not read both? Read To Kill a Mockingbird if you have never read it or not read it in years. Read Go Set a Watchman and share a provocative conversation with other readers.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


The arrival of summer signals it's time to check out the barbecue and make sure you have all your grilling supplies. Whether you use charcoal or propane, have you ever pondered if you are using the words barbecue and grill correctly? Barbecue seems to apply to slow cooking at low temperatures and grilling appears to be hot and fast cookery, but this difference may matter only to purists. One way to get best results—great tasting food cooked in the backyard—is to check out the barbecue and grilling books at the Monrovia Public Library. 
Books by chefs from the Food Network are always popular.  Bobby Flay’s Grill It and Down Home with the Neelys by Patrick and Gina Neely, show off the unique styles of celebrity cooks. They include recipes for sauces and marinades and some twists on traditional dishes, including a barbecue sauce spaghetti from the Neelys.

Meat plays the starring role in many cookbooks, but healthier attitudes about eating mean that there are also titles that promote grilling vegetables and fish. Vegetables on the Grill by Kelly McCune is illustrated with color photos of easy-to-follow techniques. And, speaking of cooking techniques, Stephen Raichlen’s How to Grill calls itself a barbecue bible. Aimed at both new and accomplished grill masters, this cookbook includes great recipes and step-by-step instructions. 

If you are looking for an interesting cookbook that includes traditional recipes but still goes outside the grilling comfort zone by addressing foods like grilled sandwiches and breakfast fare, try the Culinary Institute’s Grilling.