Sunday, June 26, 2016


When a book wins the Pulitzer Prize for best General Non-Fiction it is time to check it out at Monrovia Public Library. When that book is so singular that it was named by Time magazine as one of the most influential works in the past century then it becomes doubly compelling for readers and book groups who enjoy titles with great depth to seek out that book.

The prize-winner is The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, a history of the illness from historical, medical, literary and sociological perspectives. Going back to ancient Egypt BC and continuing to the present, the book shows how cancer diagnosis and treatment have evolved.  Stating that "Incremental advances can add up to transformative changes" author Siddhartha Mukherjee shows how the understanding of cancer and the development of ways to stop it have grown and shifted with time and research.

The author is an oncologist,a professor and a medical historian. Born and educated in India and later at Stanford and Harvard, he is also a Rhodes Scholar who attended Oxford University. The Emperor of Maladies is a very readable work that presents complex information that does not overwhelm readers. Documentarian Ken Burns based his recent film for PBS on the book.

Mukherjee’s newest book, a current bestseller, is The Gene: An Intimate History. Like his previous book this is the saga, this time about the discovery of genes, how they operate and the pursuit to manipulate them. He also includes a fascinating genetic investigation into his own family. The science, the scientists and the ethics of genetic research are all present in this masterful work by an exceptional writer.

Friday, June 24, 2016


Sometimes called an American Downtown Abbey The Residence by Kate Andersen Brower is a fascinating treasure trove of recent history about the first families who lived in the White House and the staff that served them. Not a gossipy collection of oft-repeated stories, this the work of an experienced journalist, a former White House reporter, who interviewed many of the participants, some of whom spoke publically for the first time.

The book covers the Kennedys to the Obamas and tells about the housekeepers, butlers, electricians, chefs, kitchen staff and door men that served them. Readers will enjoy finding out the answers to such questions as which first family was most beloved by the staff and which first family was the most difficult. The Residence gives a bird’s eye view of the White House geography and explains the public spaces and the private living quarters and where the staff interact. Some of the most interesting information has to do with the meals the first families eat. Families must pay for all their food and that of their personal guests and how some families had specific tastes and others happily ate whatever was prepared. And, the book is also revealing about the staff, who sometimes work from morning until 2AM and who sometimes must use every ounce of diplomacy to be of service.

Ms. Brower’s second book is First Women, an intimate look at the First Ladies from Jacqueline Kennedy to Michelle Obama. The author interviewed several of these women and tells their personal stories and how they protected their husbands and families from the outside world. Raising children in the White House is another topic. Of great interest is the warm relationships the first ladies share, despite their varying politics.  This second title is not a repeat of the first and will equally fascinate.

Both books, which can be found at the Monrovia Public Library, are exceptionally interesting and entertaining for individuals and book groups.

Sunday, June 19, 2016


What do you think of when you think about short stories? Do you think about some of our most memorable pieces of literature like The Gift of the Magi, The Little Match Girl or The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County? Or do you think about how short stories are meant to be read in one sitting or that short stories are always fiction? If it has been a while since you have immersed yourself in a quick read now is the time to check out some of the newest short story collections on the shelves at the Monrovia Public Library.

Writer Lucia Berlin did not publish on a regular basis. She was brought low by addiction, working class wages and family difficulties and died in 2004 at the age of 68. Her selected stories were recently collected in A Manual for Cleaning Women, fictionalized autobiographical works that are poignant and biting.

The astonishingly prolific author Joyce Carol Oates has written a collection of horror stories The Doll-Maker. Called more psychologically disturbing than frightening these stories are engrossing and unusual. The title story is about a boy who is obsessed with the doll that was owned by his late cousin. He later finds and secretly keeps dolls.

Helen Ellis Sets a stereotype on its ear in American Housewife, a quirky and subversive look at the lives of wives. Her stories are hilarious and liberating and show women in all flavors.

Set in the Southwest where the author Kirstin Valdez Quade grew up Night at the Fiestas is a collection of stories about people looking for second chances. This debut book is authentic in its observations of people and the small towns from which they come.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


Born in Mississippi and now living in Arkansas, author Charlaine Harris focuses on the South as the setting for her many popular mysteries. For more than 30 years she has written a variety of stand-alone books and series that have earned a very devoted fan base. Most of her books can be found at the Monrovia Public Library in print, large print, CD and DVD formats.

Vampires, werewolves and all things supernatural populate Ms. Harris’ most beloved novels, the Southern Vampire Series with Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic Louisiana waitress. The 13 book series starts with Dead Until Dark and concludes with Dead Ever After. The series became the source material for the TV program True Blood, available on DVD.

The Harper Connelly Series followed and readers hooked on Sookie Stackhouse can read titles like Grave Sight and Grave Secret about a woman struck by lightning who can see the last moments of people before they die. Harris’ latest series is the Midnight Texas Trilogy about a small town and its mysterious goings on. 

Ms. Harris first gained notice with readers with her Aurora Teagarden Series about a Georgia librarian who is an amateur sleuth. These light mysteries have a touch of humor and include A Fool and His Honey and Last Scene Alive.

If Harris’ books are your thing also try the Shakespeare Series, set in small town Arkansas, about a woman named Lily Bard who is hiding from the past and living an anonymous life as a house cleaner.  When she finds a dead body she realizes that she must solve the crime before she is accused of committing it. Titles include Shakespeare’s Landlord and Shakespeare’s Champion.

Monday, June 6, 2016


There have been some terrific memoirs by doctors that have been mentioned in past blog posts—My Own Country by Abraham Verghese, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and Black Man in a White Coat by Damon Tweedy . Now comes current bestseller When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. All of these thought-provoking and compelling autobiographical works can be found on the shelves of the Monrovia Public Library.

Paul Kalanithi always sought out challenges. As a child his parents moved from New York to the Arizona desert and his life changed completely. His mother was constantly seeking the best education for her children and his father was a cardiologist devoted to his patients. The author went on to Stanford and studied English and pre-med courses. After sampling a variety of medical specialties he chose the most strenuous-neurology-where strategy, precision, speed and endurance matter. Sometimes working 24 hours a day, he spent much of his time doing surgery. Just as he was about to complete his grueling years of study and graduate he felt an ominous pain in his back. He had stage IV lung cancer. The doctor was now the patient.

Paul Kalanithi died in 2015 before finishing When Breath Becomes Air, a deeply affecting life story and reflection on how his sudden illness and extreme decline caused him to say “What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present?” His wife finished the book, her final chapter paying homage to an extraordinary man who wrote and lived with such depth.

Friday, June 3, 2016


Anyone who watches 60 Minutes knows that its correspondents are hard-charging investigative journalists who do not back down in the face of difficult stories and evasive interviewees. One of the best known reporters is Lesley Stahl, the first woman to join what had been a men’s club. Her resume is quite impressive—she joined CBS in 1972 and despite her great skills progressed because the network was obligated by affirmative action rules to start hiring women and minorities. She became the White House correspondent and moderated Face the Nation before she joined 60 Minutes, where she has worked for 25 years. Now she has a new book, which can be found in regular and large type at the Monrovia Public Library.

Becoming Grandma: The Joys and Science of the New Grandparenting might seem like a surprisingly homey title for a woman who is regarded as a tough newscaster, but of course women don’t want to be categorized in one way. The book is more than just the personal story of how this mother of one daughter responded to being a grandmother, but it is also a very readable look at the science and sociology of grandparenting. The book also includes conversations with Whoopi Goldberg, Tom Brokaw and John McCain about what it means to have grandchildren.

Ms. Stahl talks about keeping her opinions and emotions to herself as she reported the news. And here is what happened next: “Then, wham! My first grandchild, Jordan, was born on January 30, 2011. I was jolted, blindsided by a wallop of loving more intense than anything I could remember or had ever imagined.” The author gushes as she talks about the relationship she has with her granddaughters. She also consults with specialists about what her feeling mean from a psychological point of view and explores how grandmothers and grandfathers are currently playing a much larger role in the lives of children, especially when parents cannot care for them. 

Lesley Stahl’s intimate look into her own life and her reporter’s efforts to present a great story about the world of modern grandparenting make this a very entertaining and informative book.