Friday, January 29, 2016


She is the world-wide bestselling author whose identity is unknown. Her pen name is Elena Ferrante and she appears to be Italian, but because she gives no interviews and refrains from any exposure on social media, her true name has not been discovered. Ferrante has remained anonymous since the publication of her first work in 1992. She once said, “I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors.” Her books about women and their struggles and interior lives have been critically praised for deep characterizations and originality.

Ferrante’s best known books can be found in her Neapolitan series, four titles that compose a single book. These four novels, all centered in the Italian city of Naples, are owned by the Monrovia Public Library. These are complex and thoughtful books for those who like a reading challenge.

My Brilliant Friend begins the series about two best friends, Lila and Elena, who meet as children after World War II and continue a lifelong friendship, although their lives will take different paths.  This first book has a high degree of reality and shows the difficult lives of children growing up in a working class neighborhood. Book two is The Story of a New Name and covers the friends’ lives in their twenties, one entering an unhappy marriage and the other pursuing an education.

Next is Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay with Lila having taken her child and left her husband and Elena rising in her career and publishing a book. This volume studies their friendship and how it waxes and wanes and focuses on the choices, good and bad, these women make. The New York Times chose book four The Story of the Lost Child as one of the best reads of 2015. Both Lila and Elena have returned to their home in Naples, which they originally had tried to escape.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


One of the best places to explore diversity at the Monrovia Public Library is in the cooking section. You can find cookbooks that cover the globe in terms of geography, technique and style.

Two of Monrovia’s newest cookbooks are written by favorite chefs. Originally from France and now living in the U.S., Jacques Pepin, who starred on PBS cooking programs with Julia Child, is known for teaching the fundamentals of French cuisine. The Library owns Happy Cooking and Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home and his newest is Jacques Pepin: Heart and Soul in the Kitchen. Here Pepin shares some of his favorite recipes when guests come over and offers reflections on not only trendy foods, but also on how to raise children to eat everything. 

Mark Bittman, long time New York Times food columnist has always advocated common sense nutrition, part-time vegetarianism and cookbooks that don’t require the latest and greatest devices, has a new book called Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix. Here he presents master recipes that can be changed and improvised using different ingredients. This easy-to-use cookbook will inspire meals that are tasty and will keep you from getting bored in the kitchen. 

Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov highlights how the food of Israel comes from so many different countries and cultures. Recipes whose inspiration came from Northern Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe are included.
Cook for Life: Delicious Nourishing Recipes for Before, During and After Cancer Treatment by Ann Ogden Gaffney is a specialty cookbook that addresses particular nutritional needs. The recipes are easy and the emphasis is fresh food prepared in inviting ways.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


If you’re  thinking about a second career, look no further than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for inspiration. Born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, the champion high school and college basketball champ went on to become one of the greatest National Basketball Association players. A Milwaukee Buck and LA Laker, he earned fans and kudos for his magnificent skills on the court. Off the court, he was a UCLA graduate and an articulate speaker on social and racial issues. Less interested in celebrity than in the world at large, he has become a writer and historian who has earned critical and popular praise for his books, several which are available at the Monrovia Public Library.

Less an autobiography than a diary of his last year as a professional basketball player, Kareem is Abdul-Jabbar’s insightful book that looks not only at his present but also his past. His memories of childhood and his comments about coaches and players make this a very readable sports book.
With a degree in history and an interest in the lives of African-Americans he wrote Brothers-In-Arms: The Epic Story of the 671st Tank Battalion. This is an engaging book, particularly for World War II fans, full of facts and anecdotes about the all Black armored unit that fought at the Battle of the Bulge, but also fought racism at home and in the military. Abdul-Jabbar continued his interest in history with On the Shoulders of Giants, his personal journey through the Harlem Renaissance, when African Americans burst forth with rich cultural offerings. Highlighting not only the lives and output of musicians, writers, artists and athletes, he also presents the personalities as worthy of emulation.
Also look to Abdul-Jabbar for some marvelous books for youth. What Color Is My World is about African American inventors. The author takes up fan fiction in Mycroft Holmes, about Sherlock Holmes’s brother, who journeys to Trinidad to solve some mysteries. That the author has written a suspenseful adventure should come as no surprise to readers who admire the continually reinventing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


As a novelist Jodi Picoult has an enviable reputation. A favorite author of readers (who have been called the Pi-Cult), her books top the bestseller lists and her themes often reflect hot topics in the news. Her career trajectory has been really interesting. She began writing as a child, has a degree from Princeton in creative writing but on graduation could only find a job on Wall Street, her first novel was rejected by many publishers and she once wrote for DC Comics Wonder Woman. 

A serious author in love with the writing process, she once said to prospective writers, “If you write because you want to be rich, you are in the wrong business.” And living up to these words, it wasn’t until her 10th novel My Sister’s Keeper, about a young woman who was conceived as a bone marrow match for an ill sibling, that she became a bestselling author. The Monrovia Public Library owns 32 Jodi Picoult books in all formats—regular print, Large Print and on CD and DVD.

Some of Picoult’s books share characters, such as The Pact, about teen suicide, Salem Falls, about false accusations at a prep school and Nineteen Minutes, about a school shooting. In addition to writing straight fiction, Picoult writes mysteries. In Leaving Time a teenager searches for her mother who disappeared. Full of suspense and some twists, this is a page-turning and satisfying book. 

Readers love Picoult’s character development, fast-paced plots and compelling and sympathetic storylines. Although some call her writing chick lit, she sees her work as popular fiction that has special appeal to those who love a good read.

Saturday, January 16, 2016


How much time do we spend every day on our hair?  Look to the Monrovia Public Library for books and media that not only offer tips on hair care, but also investigate the social, cultural and psychological meaning of hair.

Me, My Hair and I: Twenty-Seven Women Untangle an Obsession is a witty and insightful collection of essays on women’s relationship with their hair.  Concepts of beauty, identity and femininity are shared by women of diverse ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. Comedian Chris Rock takes on the serious topic and million dollar business of African American hair in the hilarious documentary Good Hair. Rock interviews hairdressers, Black women and celebrities about hair care and what it means to have good hair. Although often laugh out loud, the DVD is informative and opens a cultural window on what attractiveness means. And for more on African American hair try It’s All Good Hair: The Definitive Guide to Styling and Grooming Black Children’s Hair by Michele Collison.
For more hair issues with how-to tips take a look at these books. Great Braids by Thomas Hardy (and you thought he only wrote English novels) and Braiding: Easy Styles for Everyone by Diane Carol, teaches female and male readers to try new hairdos. Curly Girl: The Handbook celebrates how to cut, love and set free curly hair. Annie Strole’s Homemade Beauty: 150 Simple Beauty Recipes shows how to make natural hair care products at home.  
Finally, with the price of beauty salons, think about a home haircut with Haircutting Basics by Martha Fernandez and Scissors and Comb Haircutting by Bob Ohnstad.