Book Picks from Elaine & Luisa

Book Passage President Elaine Petrocelli and Book Passage buying director Luisa Smith select their favorite new books and provide reviews about their selections in each issue of the Book Passage News & Reviews.

These books are also displayed in each branch of the Bank of Marin, as part of the program Partnership for Literacy sponsored by Book Passage and Bank of Marin. Visit any branch of the bank to find out more about this program.


September - October 2017

The Resurrection of Joan Ash by Cherise Wolas
This is a stunning debut! Beautifully weaving together stream of consciousness narratives with short stories written by the protagonist, we are drawn into the world of an exceptional writer and conflicted woman. Joan Ashby always knew two things, she wanted to be a writer and did not want to be a mother. But love intervenes and her life takes an unexpected turn, abruptly halting the career to which she was devoted. Cherise Wolas’ astute eye captures the struggle many women face to be true to yourself while loving others. Joan Ashby is a writer of unusual talent and the examples in the book provide glimpses of her brilliance. Also apparent is that Cherise Wolas herself is an immensely gifted writer with a glowing future ahead.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
This novel vibrates with life, from the Mendocino woods, to the unforgettable characters, each moment burning with honesty. There is nothing easy in life for Turtle Alveston, her treacherous relationship with her father and her unease with the world beyond her beloved woods, lead her to grow increasingly disturbed by the path she sees in her future as she realizes she will have to trust in herself to survive. Gabriel Tallent never shies from illuminating the beauty that may be present in even the darkest moments, or allowing quiet moments to grow into unforgettable scenes. Turtle comes alive in these pages, we hope for her and fight with her, and will remember her for years to come.

Ranger Games by Ben Blum
This is a suspenseful and disturbing exposé of how we treat our heroes when we create our finest soldiers. When a group of elite Rangers rob a bank in Tacoma Washington everyone asked how they could do something so antithetical to the Ranger Code. But when Ben Blum, cousin of one of the Rangers, investigates he finds the blind trust in that code may be the very thing that corrupted these men. An intimate portrait of family and the shocking revelations of his the Ranger training weave together to form an enthralling tale of the corruption of the American dream.

The Prague Sonata by Bradford Morrow
At the beginning of WWI a young girl is instructed by her father that music and war will be forever bound as he leaves her his most precious possession, a mysterious piano sonata. In New York, a young musicologist is given a part of this haunting musical manuscript with the request to unravel the mystery of its past. Bradford Morrow’s enormous talent brings Czechoslovakia of the early twentieth century roaring to life. At the same time, he perfectly captures our present day protagonist, gracefully unwinding the secrets of the past. With each beautifully intimate moment The Prague Sonata will capture your heart and draw you into the mystery at its core.

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie
In 2008, as Obama becomes president, Nero Golden and his three un-loveable sons move into a mansion in Greenwich Village. Who are these people? How did they become so rich, and where did they come from? A film maker following them for a movie takes us inside their weird world. With references to the fall of ancient Greece and Rome, Rushdie brilliantly unmasks the media savvy orange-haired villain who gains power by playing on bigotry and fear. Critics have compared The Golden House to The Great Gatsby and The Bonfire of the Vanities. I think Rushdie gives us a wild, magnificent tale that defies comparison, yet rings true in today’s crazy world.

Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain
I discovered facets of every emotion I have ever felt captured in these pages. Georgia Blain examines a day in the life of one broken family and the memories that brought them to this point. Ester is a family therapist attempting to pick up the pieces of her own life. Those that love her carry the guilt of the harm they have caused within their lives and the driving need to find a path forward. Blain’s prose is always elegant and sharp, revealing our natural proclivity to obsess over the meaningless and miss the startling beauty and real dangers all around. Beautiful.

The Floating World by C. Morgan Babst
This book touchingly captures the troubled path of recovery for one family in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Boisdore family is as beautifully complicated as the city they love, and their story is an intimate view of the tragedy that befell many in the storm’s path. Babst has given us a penetrating portrait of how each character is afflicted by grief in a unique way, beautifully contrasted with their deep reservoirs of love and hope for reconnection. The city is somehow brought back to life, while the storm itself is a menacing presence on every page. We should never forget this horrific event, and this remarkable debut reminds us why.

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
This has the spirit of a fairytale and the soul of a thriller. Deep in the Pacific Northwest is a lost child, and only a woman that has been equally lost believes she can still be found. Haunted by her own mysterious past, Naomi relentlessly hunts for the answer as to what really happened to 5 year-old Madison on that snow covered mountain. Madison herself narrates a magic-infused version of her disturbing tale as we watch Naomi search for any threads of hope that Madison is still alive. Denfeld’s elegant prose illuminates the evil that lurks in the darkest corners of society along with the resilience of belief.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
This is a book that is, in turn, powerful, scared, beautiful, heartbreaking, tender, and brutal. Jesmyn Ward has captured a truth about America in these pages, as we follow Jojo and his family who are struggling on the edge of poverty in the rural South. Jojo, only a young boy, will lay claim to your heart and you will gladly hand it over. His father is incarcerated, his mother, haunted by the loss of her brother, is more comforted by the release of drugs than the concerns of motherhood. Jojo looks to his grandparents to teach him how to understand the world around him. Ghosts inhabit this story, as the past nips at their heels in an ill-conceived journey to reunite the family. Sing, Unburied, Sing is a brilliant anthem for those caught between hardship and hope.

Glass Houses by Louise Penny
If you have devoured all twelve of the earlier Armand Gamache novels, or if this is your first trip to the Quebec village of Three Pines, prepare to be mesmerized. Gamache is in Montreal testifying in a murder trial, but there is something odd going on. The prosecutor clearly detests his witness, but aren’t they on the same side? As this unusual trial unfolds, Penny takes us to Three Pines where the murder victim was discovered. A hooded black robed figure has been standing quietly in the center of the village. What does it mean and how is Gamache going to wrestle with what he knows and what he plans to do?

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Jennifer Egan brings to life the characters that I never realized I desperately needed to know until I read them on her pages. It’s the 1940s and Anna works in the Brooklyn Navel Yard as a ship diver. Stubborn and spirited, she puts everything at risk when presented with an opportunity to discover what happened to her father, a man with many unsavory connections. Egan has the remarkable ability to write beautifully about both violence and tenderness. With Manhattan Beach she has crafted an irresistible tale that lets her talent shine.

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss
Two New Yorkers, go to Israel, and although they don’t know each other, their paths hold fascinating parallels. Jules Epstein, a retired, recently divorced attorney has been giving away his possessions. In Israel, he comes under the influence of a Rabbi with a grandiose plan to bring all of the descendants of King David together. Nicole is a young author who leaves her kids with her husband to travel to Israel. She is contacted by a retired literature professor who may also be a Mossad agent. He wants her to convince the world that Kafka didn’t die in Prague, but somehow spent his last years anonymously in Israel. In Forest Dark, the characters wrestle with deep issues, yet Nicole Krauss deftly illuminates their quests with dark humor.

The Late Show by Michael Connelly
Connelly has a new protagonist, and I’m crazy about her. Renee Ballard is a complex cop who has been moved to the night shift (aka “The Late Show”) after she accused her boss of sexual harassment. The night shift usually hands hot cases over to the day shift, but Renee can’t let go of one in which a woman says she was assaulted in “the upside down house” before lapsing into a coma. Ballard’s also been told to stay out of the investigation of a night club shooting, but her quest for truth draws her into that as well. Connelly is a master of the police procedural, and as we follow Ballard the pages fly by. I can’t wait to read more novels starring Renee Ballard.