Friday, September 25, 2015


We are continuing to take a look at the National Book Award fiction nominees for 2015. Celebrating great writing and readers who love to be engaged by great books, the following novels were nominated for their creativity, originality and appeal. Readers can find these books on the shelves at the Monrovia Public Library. 

For more than 35 years Edith Pearlman has been writing short stories and essays for magazines and anthologies. Her newest book Honeydew is a collection of 20 stories that highlight average people in situations, average and serious, that often bring special meaning to their lives. The gifted author, often called a master of her art and craft, is able to observe people without passing judgement. The book is notable also for its pristine writing style which does not waste one word. When was the last time you read a book of short stories?

There is so much in the news about the state of Detroit and its abandoned industries and neighborhoods. The Turner House by Angela Flournoy is about a woman in Detroit who has lived and raised her children for many generations in the same house, now bordered by decaying structures and vacant lots. She wants to move, but discovers that the house is worth much less than her mortgage. The novel’s tracking of how the family arrived at this point makes for an epic story filled with fabulous characters and great humor. 

 What makes a relationship work or go haywire? Lauren Goff’s novel Fates and Furies takes a look at the ups and downs of marriage. Lotto and Mathilde come together with the electricity that only a new relationship can generate, but 24 years can change a lot.  The book is told from various perspectives and critics have called the writing dazzling.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Every year the National Book Foundation announces 10 nominees each for best fiction and non-fiction. The Foundation, founded in 1950, proclaims its mission “to celebrate the best in American literature, to expand its audience and to enhance the cultural value of great writing.” The National Book Awards promotes enthusiastic reading, just like the Monrovia Public Library reaches out to enthusiastic readers. Last week the National Book Award Fiction 2015 candidates were disclosed and you can find them at the Library.

One of the big books of this year is Did You Ever Have a Family? This debut novel by literary agent Bill Clegg was inspired by the story of fire that broke out in a house under construction and killed a woman’s parents and 3 daughters. In the book, it is the night before a wedding and a stove malfunctions and kills a woman’s family. What makes the novel so unusual is not the story of the woman’s grief, but how the various characters the woman knows, some of them just acquaintances, tell the stories of their own grief. Tragedy and the aftermath stay front and center in this haunting book.

From tragedy to comedy with Mislaid by Nell Zink. In 1966 college student Peggy’s affair with her professor results in an unhappy marriage with two children. When Peggy escapes family life with her daughter and leaves her son, she hides out in an African American community and pretends she and her daughter are  Black, even though they're Caucasians. Years later the daughter wins a minority college scholarship and meets the brother she didn't know she had. This hilarious satire addresses race and gender head on and leaves readers laughing and shaking their heads.

A Little Life by Hanna Yanagihara begins in college and follows 4 best friends as they age and become middle-aged adults. Each decade of their lives is highlighted and their histories and sadness are mined for emotions and memories. The friends are supportive, but their backgrounds are tragic. This novel is for readers who want a deeply involving book that might require a bit of a breather between chapters.

Friday, September 18, 2015


Books about the history of flight and flyers have always tickled the fancy of readers who enjoy adventure, inventions and the romance of taking off into the unknown. There are two books on the bestseller list right now about aviation and both are great for armchair daredevils. One is non-fiction and one is fiction and both be can be found on the New Book shelves at the Monrovia Public Library.
Much loved biographer David McCullough, author of fascinating and popular books about John Adams, Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman, has written another wonderful book about America and great Americans. The Wright Brothers is far more than just a recounting of two brothers who pioneered human flight, but is a deeply researched work that shares how the brothers’ parents and family nurtured their creative and scientific thinking. Here McCullough is once again the masterful storyteller sharing little known details. Readers will quickly consume this page-turning and exceptional history. 
Author Paula McClain follows up her historical fiction title and book group favorite The Paris Wife, about Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s first spouse, with Circling the Sun. This novel is about Beryl Markham, the first woman to fly solo east to west across the Atlantic Ocean. The year was 1936 and the English aviator had already grown up in Kenya, raced horses and had a job as a bush pilot. The story blends fact and fiction and captures the remarkable childhood that allowed Ms. Markham to grow up without boundaries and go on to make flight history. The author’s take on the flier’s familial and romantic relationships also help make this novel one that is not easily put down. You might also want to check out Ms. Markham’s autobiography West With the Night.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


There are so many books about famous authors who drank to excess. Ernest Hemingway got into bar fights, Dylan Thomas died of alcoholism, poet and Angeleno Charles Bukowski called drinking a form of suicide and Dorothy Parker fueled her acid wit with liquor.

Memoirs about people who are alcoholics may not be first on our list of books to read, but there are three autobiographical works that are not to be missed. They are not alcoholism 101 works about the mechanics of overindulgence and destruction, but they are sensitive, compelling and beautifully written. Readers have commented on how each provided inspiration for their own quest to be sober. All three memoirs are by women writers and all can be found at the Monrovia Public Library. 

Currently on the bestseller list is Blackout by Sarah Hepola who went from secretly sipping her parents’ beer to being a blackout drinker who could not remember where she was or what she did. Her struggle, and eventual success, was to find a way of living without alcohol. This slight book can be read in one or two sittings. 

The people in the life of the accomplished Sarah Knapp did not know that she was a secret drinker. Drinking: A Love Story is her extraordinary history of her own denial of problems with alcohol.  Straightforward and free of excuses or self-pity, Knapp describes her drinking and path to sobriety. The book is not a movie-of-the-week tear jerker, but is incredibly powerful and compassionate.

The daughter of Debbie Reynolds and the actress who played Princess Leia in Star Wars, Carrie Fisher takes on her Hollywood lineage, mental illness and substance abuse in the wildly biting and hilarious Wishful Drinking.  Based on her one woman play, this is a collection of anecdotes that pull back the curtain on one writer’s struggle.

Saturday, September 12, 2015


If you don’t know it exists you will never miss it. Truer words have never been spoken about the stuff we have squirreled away and that saying comes from a dandy little book, literally a tiny book, called Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness by Donna Smallin, a collection of tips to inspire decluttering. And what better time to read it, as well as other clean up books at the Monrovia Public Library, than National Clean Out Your Garage Day?
If the goal is to declutter, look at Clutter Free by Kathy Lipp and Cut the Clutter and Stow the Stuff by Lori Baird.  These books not only focus on freeing yourself from things bursting out of your closets and stopping the act of moving items from stack to stack by being better organized, but also focus on the psychological burden of having too much and instead enjoying a smaller and more treasured number of things.

Clearing garage clutter can send you in three directions—organizing, tossing out stuff or having a garage sale. The Complete Home Organizer by Maxine Ordesky addresses specific rooms in your home. Garage Sale and Flea Market Annual will help you determine what collectibles might be lurking and waiting to be sold. Tom Szakey’s Make Garbage Great is all about the zero waste lifestyle that discourages over-consumption and encourages recycling.

With books in hand, your garage awaits.