One of the Brentwood Library’s most popular programs is returning this month: CityRead.

Now in its 17th year, CityRead is coming back with a Russian twist and gearing up to be one of the library’s most exciting events yet. The program, begun by a former library employee, is designed to foster community discussion about books by encouraging an entire community to read the same book at the same time.

This year’s book, “The Romanov Empress,” chronicles the life of Maria Feodorovna, a Danish princess who rose to the heights of Imperial Russia and the Romanov dynasty, only to witness its downfall.

“I really enjoyed it,” said Liz Fuller, senior community library manager. “I don’t know anything about Russian history ... but I learned a lot, and you just get a more personal sense of what the family was struggling through during this time of revolution and upheaval.”

The book’s author, C.W. Gortner, lives in San Francisco and will be speaking at the library on Oct. 23. He has written several historical novels about intriguing woman, including Isabella of Castile, Catherine de Medici and Coco Chanel.

“It’s such an unexpected honor for me,” said Gortner of his novel’s selection. “I grew up in a part of Spain that didn’t have public libraries, so to me, libraries have always been magical places to escape and find new worlds. I’m very excited to be part of Brentwood Reads.”

Fuller said she and a panel of avid readers meet each January and begin talking books. The criteria for a CityRead selection are that authors are local enough to come speak, and the book is something they all enjoy. “The Romanov Empress” turned out to be just such a book.

“One of the women we meet with has read all of his books and loved him, and she recommended him,” Fuller said. “So we all looked at it and liked it, so we approached him and he was happy to come out and talk in Brentwood.”

In previous years, the library purchased 500 copies of the chosen book and gave them all away for free. This year, however, is different, Fuller said. The library is using its sponsor money to bring in additional programming for its patrons, including a Russian dance program, a Russian art expert, and other fun events.

“Buying all those books is pretty pricey,” Fuller said. “It costs around $4,000 to do that, so this year we are modeling a couple other libraries. We bought 50 copies to have a drawing for, so we will give those away to the winners, and the county agreed to purchase more copies, so we are getting more copies catalogued that people can check out.”

The new books will be unveiled on the CityRead official kick-off date of Sept. 9.

CityRead has been sponsored through the years by community partners, including the Friends of the Brentwood Library, the Brentwood Art Society, the Brentwood Rotary and the Lions Clubs of Brentwood and Discovery Bay.

Drawings for free copies of “The Romanov Empress” will be held on Fridays. To enter, fill out a card at the library’s front desk and place in the box. Only one card per person. Entrants need not be present to win.

For more information on CityRead, call the Brentwood Library at 925-516-5290, or visit For information on the library’s programming to go with “The Romanov Empress,” including Gortner’s appearance, visit