Book Passage boasts a staff of knowledgeable booksellers and savvy readers! Here, Book Passage staff members share some of their favorite books.
Before Portlandia, before Sleater-Kinney, there was a girl living in the Pacific Northwest with big ambitions, desperately yearning for an identity all her own. In Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Brownstein strays from the normal parameters of memoir to give readers an insightful, raw look into the moments that shaped her into the person who would later co-found one of the world's most influential rock bands. Navigating a past fraught with family turmoil, rejection from the music industry, and an unwavering determination to succeed, Brownstein shares the power of rock and roll, both as her catalyst to success and as a cultural barometer of our times. — Zack Ruskin
The brilliant woman programmer who sent us (and NASA) to the moon? YES! Share this picture book biography of the amazing Margaret Hamilton with your own endlessly curious, determined young scientist (or even pair it with Ada Twist, Scientist) and get ready to blast off! – Melissa M.
With the depth and shadows of a Gothic Novel, Jane Steele, like Jane, is a literary wolf in sheep's clothing. As you read, the book unravels a labyrinth of lies, mysteries and unexpected turns that make you feel you are falling in love with more than one book. Jane is equally heart-wrenching and daring, and as she forges a life through the harassment of Victorian England it is hard to call her an anti-hero, no matter how many bodies lie in her wake. This book takes on the age-old balance of good and evil in humanity with an abandon leaving the reader, right until the end, truly lost and helpless, but loving every minute of it. — Lauren Summersgill
Impeccable detail, complex and believable characters, and a haunting grasp on the challenges of migrant and refugee life ground this magical realist novel -- in which doors connect geographically and culturally different parts of the world -- in the "realist" part of that genre. Its prose is arresting and its story absorbing. I particularly appreciated the book's occasional one-page snapshots of the criss-crossing lives of others passing through those doors. --Leslie B.
This taut, cerebral debut thriller introduces readers to the only kind of alien we have yet to encounter: ourselves. Astronaut Mark Watney is mistakenly left for dead on Mars when his mission companions flee a violent wind storm. His mental and physical struggles to survive are a crash course in botany, mechanics, and the will to endure. This is the compelling space saga that you didn't know you had been waiting for! — Zack Ruskin
This is a solid YA novel, a bit predictable in places, but it weaves two women and two stories beautifully through the metaphor of an old house. The characters make this book, particularly as it gives a wonderful response to children grieving. In the end, it is about the frail links of family and I was invested in both women having a family and a sense of home. — Lauren Summersgill
Loved The Book Thief? Try this! A novel about two young women working for the British Secret Service, and the book serves as the confession of one captured in Vichy France... moving, funny, well-written. I loved it! — Emily Rosendahl
Illuminae follows two teenagers thrown into a corporate inter-galactic war. While it might seem like a very typical sci-fi fantasy in its premise, this book stretches beyond the boarders of that genre in the way that resembles Solaris for the YA crowd. The story has some great twists and turns, and a realistic romance at the center, but what makes the book amazing is how it was written. The different documents, the side comments from the researcher who compiled them, the IMs and how they clash with the official documents. It is fun to read it, and the representation of the AI is mesmerizing. — Lauren Summersgill
Intriguing, spare, as tightly plotted as anything in the mystery section - as the hired man repairs a British family's vacation home in Croatia, he reveals his own past as well as the family's secrets. GORGEOUS. — Emily Rosendahl
This book is truly different and unique. But it is not for the squeamish or those who don't like a little bit of horror. Right from the start the main character is so intense and shockingly different that you wonder if you can be surprised, but throughout the book surprises come at you, and each wave it stronger than the next. I know that the warning is page 198 - and I did not see it coming, even knowing what he was capable of - but the ending is what I found completely gut wrenching. I love it, I am haunted by it. — Lauren Summersgill
Marisa de los Santos is an utter gem of a writer. She's a person who crafts balanced portraits of families, and some of the most three-dimensional women I've ever read. This book continues that trend, and it's a delight. — Emily Rosendahl
Very rarely, a book that is marketed and sold as a Children's Book reads like it should be in adult fiction. In the vein of The Book Thief this book breaks pas the children/adult divide to reflect on being a child in World War II. Ana wanders through war-torn Poland led by a man whom she does not know, but completely trusts, her "Swallow Man". What makes Gavriel Savit's book stand out, though, is not the tragedy and the mystery surrounding the war, but the magic and beauty to the book. So much of Anna's experience relies on her acceptance of the magic in the people that try to protect her, even in the war's most horrific moments. The writing is stunning, making this a book for anyone who wants to get lost in beautiful writing, good characters, and is not afraid to put their hart on the line, because it will be dented by this book. — Lauren Summersgill
FASCINATING. McBride borrows her stream-of-consciousness from Joyce, but she has a young female narrator coming of age in modern Ireland - it's eye-opening! — Emily Rosendahl
One of the best book I've ever read, honestly. A young boy watches the war in Bosnia through the lens of his grandpa's stories, and we're swept up in their humor and magic even though we know better than him what's really going on. Beautifully written. — Emily Rosendahl
Smart, sharp, angry, lyrical - an indictment of a culture that forgives depravities, but also a good story. It's about friendship and loss and finding yourself, and it's written so well that you don't even know your day is gone until you're finishing the last page! — Emily Rosendahl
England, 1255: a young woman hides herself away in a single room, unable to face the world. The mystery of why she chose to become an anchoress - a village holy woman who can't leave her cell, and who can only speak to a chosen few - keeps this historical mystery pulsing. We follow her through the first year of her cloistered life, as she chafes and grows and tries to escape her past. --Emily R.
Just Mercy was so compelling that I finished it in one sitting! An eye opening and important story about ineptitude and corruption in today's penal system. These are the true stories of children convicted to life sentences, innocent men and women on death row, and the mentally impaired unjustly imprisoned-- all are championed by Stevenson's endless compassion. --Amanda D.
In 2013 when Dr. Paul Kalanithi was wrapping up a stellar academic career as a neurosurgeon and embarking on a long prestigious medical career in his field, he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Should he continue to do research and perform surgery, or should he commit to the writing he always longed to do? He presented his dilemma humorously to a good friend saying, “The good news is that I’ve already outlived two Brontes, Keats and Stephen Crane. The bad news is that I haven’t written anything.” As it turns out, he ended up doing some of both - practicing medicine and writing. His writing ambition is realized in the form of his memoir, When Breath Becomes Air ... and we’re all better for it.
In his last years Paul documents his childhood, his academic and personal ambitions, his challenges as a practicing doctor-turned-patient, and his passion for literature and writing. He also delved into his longtime query about life in the face of death for the dying and their families. By his side through this whole process was his wife Lucy, a doctor herself, who also wrote the book’s epilogue. Although Paul was transparent about the difficulties in their marriage just prior to his diagnosis due to the pressure of medical school and work schedules, he was also optimistic about their bond. Once she knew of Paul’s cancer, Lucy never give divorce a second thought. The two made the difficult, yet life-affirming decision to get pregnant with their first child.
No doubt, this book’s premise is depressing. The reason for the book’s success is due to the author’s short, but great life as well as his ability to navigate pain and death, with aplomb. He proved to not just be a tremendous human being and surgical talent, but a writing talent as well. When Breath Becomes Air is thought provoking and poignant, making way for all of us to face mortality and ask the important questions. --Paula F.
History sometimes leaves us scant ingredients for a biography, but Deborah Hopkinson and Giselle Potter whip up what is known about America’s first cookbook author (the creator of Independence Cake) into a rich and delicious tale about the beginnings of our country. --Melissa M.
I love the graphic memoir format because it allows writers and artists to compile so many forms of memory. This book draws on photos, memories, associations, research, and storytelling to follow Thi Bui's quest to understand her parents, who left Vietnam during the war and raised their family in California. She captures both the urgency and the resiliency of the immigrant and refugee experience, grappling with what it's like to be raised by haunted parents in striking images. The story gains gravity in light of the birth of Thi Bui's own first child, as she comes to understand her family in a new way. --Leslie B.
Italy in 1969 is a boiling cauldron of strikes and secret meetings, all leading to rising barricades and riots in the streets. Balestrini was an artist present during the "Hot Autumn" he depicts in this arresting novel, and he follows the young Italian workers here with a clear eye and spare prose. Rachel Kushner, a finalist for the National Book Award, provides the introduction. --Emily R.
I had no idea there was an edgy urban gardener movement in Oakland. Carpenter's memoir captivates as she homesteads, squatting on undesirable real-estate land, raising livestock in a split level apartment, and befriending a neighborhood of misfits. She takes the reader along for an East Bay experiment in animal husbandry-- encountering famous chefs and developing skills she never dreamed of. --Amanda D.
Hardly a week goes by without hearing news of a black man being killed by a white man or police officer these days, so there could not be a more timely and topical book then this. Mychal Denzel Smith, contributing writer for The Nation magazine pens his first book with Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education. In it, Smith uses his own life to chronicle what it’s like to be a young black man growing up in the era of post 9-11 and Barak Obama juxtaposed against the deaths of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and more. It also denotes a time when celebrities such as LeBron James, Dave Chappelle and Kanye West (remember, “George Bush hates black people”?) asserted themselves in small, yet powerful social and political ways. Maybe for many of his contemporaries all of these characters and situations came and went without particular notice, just part of their youth, their world, but for Smith they loomed large in his consciousness.
“Then George Zimmerman killed Tryvon Martin. I looked at the face of the boy who became a symbol and wanted more. I wanted more for him than the choice between martyr and token. I wanted more for him than eulogies and praise songs. I wanted for him, for all the Trayvons in waiting, a world where they didn’t have to grow up broken or not grow up at all. I looked at my own life and asked how I made it to twenty-five. I asked who influenced me to think the way I did ... I asked myself: How did you learn to be a black man?”
Smith gives a glimpse into his background of being born to straight-laced, professional parents who wanted him to be like Barak Obama. They wanted him to pursue academia, maybe law, but definitely to excel without ruffling feathers along the way. He fast forwards to the college years. In some ways, once he got to college, he couldn’t have been more different than what his parents expected. He devoured rap and was influence by what he read of black radicals from the past, such as Huey Newton and Malcolm X. During his early college life, Obama was too status quo, too safe for his taste.
Smith remained with the intelligentsia but favored journalism and activism over law or medicine. Over the years, he also broaden his political views. During college and in his post graduate years, he began recognizing Obama’s brilliance and relevance. During a recent talk, Smith answered a question of mine regarding Obama’s impact on his youth. He started off his answer by acknowledging that whatever one thinks of Obama’s politics, his blackness or lack of promoting his blackness, “Obama is not the elephant in the room, he is the room!” Eventually Smith even went beyond his male dominated sphere of influence, and learned to appreciate the contributions of prominent black women on his life views.
“Everything I read, listened to and learned validated my right to existence as a black man in America, but only within the confines of a patriarchal definition of masculine identity. What went unquestioned were the ways my newfound sense of black manhood contributed to the ongoing marginalization of my mother, my grandmother, my high school guidance counselor and more than half the student population of Hampton University’s campus. I began to see myself, but only by refusing to see black women.”
Although he deftly tackles intense, important issues, tragic events and his own deep thoughts, Smith manages to make his book an engaging, easy read. He often interjects humor and elicits a chuckle from the reader even as you can’t help but notice into what a unique era he and his peers have come of age. He asks the important questions. They don’t all get answered, but you get the sense it’s the asking and watching that matters most. --Paula F.
Introduce your kids to the joy of sci-fi with this thrilling tale of a girl, her horse, and hordes of ravenous alien machines! Funny, exciting, and perfect for fans of Bone and Hazardous Tales. -- Melissa M.
This book evokes all the reasons I first fell in love with fantasy. It's spare and simple, building a world that contains an island populated only by women, who farm, forage, read, teach, and trade, and take refuge from the poverty and violence of the world outside. When that world threatens the island's peaceful life, the young narrator answers the call for a new kind of strength. The book is being compared to the work of Ursula K. LeGuin and Marion Zimmer Bradley, and it deserves the comparison. --Leslie B.
The story of a young hacktavist in an unnamed Gulf state on the cusp of the Arab Spring, this book marries political hope with magical realism - after all, why shouldn't genies have opinions about revolution? The main character, Alif, grows up quickly but never loses the biting sarcasm that makes him an entertaining narrator, even as he quickly realizes that the world contains more magic than he ever expected. The story is resplendently alive with possibility, and I loved it! -- Emily R.
Jeffrey Toobin takes us on a wild ride through the turbulent, violent, and wayward Bay Area during the early 70's. He strips away any glamour or mystique associated with the SLA, and reveals how the times more than the success of the group provided a stage for the chaotic melodrama of Patty Hearst's kidnapping and subsequent crime spree. -- Amanda D.
If you liked Gone Girl or Girl on the Train, you’ll love All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda. On one level this is a slow moving, gripping psychological thriller about the disappearance of two young women from the same small town, ten years apart. On another level, it is about suppressed memories, family and lies, and the lengths you'll go to protect them. At the heart of the story is Nicolette, a 28 year old school counselor who gladly moved from her rural hometown 10 years ago. When the novel starts, she unexpectedly needs to return home for the summer to ready the family house to put on the market. Before she says goodbye to her new fiancee and hits the road, she gets an odd message from her father alluding to her best friend’s disappearance ten years prior.
Once Nic arrives in Cooley Ridge, the story is told in reverse from day 15 to day 1. Interspersed are flashbacks to the decade old cold case investigation of Corrine’s disappearance. The first investigation focused on Nic, her brother Daniel and her then boyfriend Tyler and his friend Jackson as suspects. As Nic re-lives the tragedy in her mind, she is haunted by her own suspicions and unanswered questions.
Initially the use of reverse story telling feels a bit awkward and unnecessary, but then there’s comes a point where it makes complete sense and seems brilliant. Miranda does a great job with the story’s pacing, with character development, leaving clues for the readers, and then delivering a big pay off in the latter part of the novel. -- Paula F.
Alameddine once again writes about isolation so beautifully. In The Angel of History, Satan, Death, and 14 saints tug back and forth at Yaqub/Jacob's life. He's survived violence-- a childhood in Yemen and Egypt-- and disease-- the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco that took his lover and closest friends-- and now teeters between memory and forgetting. A toweringly intelligent, acidic, multi-voiced novel that richly rewards the one who stays with it. --Leslie B.
A fish-out-of-water story about a young man coming to terms with his father's legacy - but in a slightly unexpected setting. This is a great fantasy to try even if you've never read in the genre, because the good writing, the rich characters, and the court intrigue will sweep you along. The only difference between this and more traditional historical fiction is that the court is an Elvish one. --Emily R.
All The Light We Cannot See is uniquely satisfying as Doerr marries detailed historical fiction with eloquent prose to produce a masterpiece. Characters are rendered with heartbreaking sensitivity, leaving the readers finding compassion for the least likely subjects. --Amanda D.
In the seemingly endless sea of novels, new author, Brit Bennett and her book The Mothers, manages to have a distinct voice. Set in a black community in Southern California by the ocean, the main teen character, Nadia, is grieving the recent death of her mother. She acts out in unhealthy ways, such hanging out in bars late, avoiding her father, and getting romantically involved with Luke, the former football star of her high school who also happens to be the son of a local pastor. After getting pregnant, she decides to abort the baby and accept an academic scholarship out-of-state. Soon after, a series of life events ensues for Nadia who finds herself part of a love triangle of sorts involving Luke and a new friend, Aubrey.
Bennett’s style is approachable and almost lyrical. She deftly draws her characters into a fully realized and engaging cast . The story is largely told from the perspective of the “church mothers” who observe Nadia- her relationships, her mistakes and her triumphs. The mothers are judgmental and gossipy, yet whimsical and adorable. They serve as a sort of Greek chorus.
"So we heard all about her sojourns across the border to dance clubs in Tijuana, the water bottle she carried around Oceanside High filled with vodka, the Saturdays she spent on base playing pool with Marines, nights that ended with her heels pressed against some man’s foggy window. Just tales, maybe, except for one we now know is true: she spent her senior year of high school rolling around in bed with Luke Sheppard and come springtime, his baby was growing inside her.”
The Mothers is confident and impressive debut novel that will surely put Bennett in the class of skilled and necessary voices that promote stories of diversity. -- Paula F.
This Nebula Award winner is both clever and beautifully written! Agnieszka lives on the border between Poland and Russia in the Middle Ages, and on the border between the real and the unreal as well: her tiny village requires the patronage of a mysterious wizard to keep the villagers safe from dark things that come out of the neighboring woods. When Agnieszka becomes the wizard's apprentice, the novel enters its own: universal themes of a young woman coming of age and protecting her family, as well as a strong portrait of female friendship. -- Emily R.
Jonathan Franzen's first novel, The Corrections, took what seemed to be a typical American family and ripped the facade off the doll house of their existence. Following each of the character's stream of conscious narrative, we come to understand the reasons behind their neuroses and helplessly watch their follies and occasional redemptions. -- Amanda D.
Stephanie Dandler’s debut novel Sweetbitter is a raw and gutsy romp through a year in the life of a young woman’s launch into a restaurant career in the food capital of the world. The 22-year-old heroine, Tess, has gladly departed her midwest roots in search of her true self and a more exciting life in New York. Although she quickly runs into the realities of big city living and prices, she is undeterred, taking the first apartment, roommate and restaurant job she can get her hands on. To her surprise, the latter is an entry level position at a desirable locale. Modeled after Danny Meyer’s Union Square Cafe, the restaurant of Sweetbitter is prestigious and lively, with a cast of characters as customers and staff. As a back waiter and newbie to the restaurant world, Tess gets a trial by fire. It’s working late-shifts six days a week, stocking inventory, carrying dishes, breaking plates, fetching wine, making big bucks but with no time to enjoy them, and getting hazed by veteran staffers. She is schooled about food, wine and the ways of fine dining customer service. She falls in love with the “bad boy” bartender only to get her heart broken, and gets stabbed in the back by her mentor. Bright lights, big city indeed! Along the way, Tess develops a good palate and restaurant smarts, but also becomes a product of her environment, imitating her colleagues' exorbitance in alcohol, drugs and reckless sex.
“When I woke again it was to a sunset I didn’t deserve,” Tess, recounts. “From my tailbone the shame started and with it came prongs of pain up my spine until it hit the base of my skull. I looked reluctantly at my shirt and moaned. The vomit had dried but the blood was still damp in spots on my breasts and at the collar. . . . I touched my nose and flakes of blood came back on my fingers. There was a note safety-pinned to my shirt: ‘Please text me so I know you’re alive, Your Roommate, Jesse.’ ”
Will Tess survive her first year in New York and in a new career? Will she climb the foodie corporate ladder, becoming chef, sommelier or the wife of a rich patron? If nothing else, this story, including its conclusion, is rooted in reality because it is derived in part from Dandler’s real-life professional restaurant experience. Although at times tedious and over-indulgent, and bit over-hyped, Sweetbitter is undeniably enjoyable and understandably successful. It deftly combines a coming-of-age story with a foodie adventure. -- Paula F.
What if the U.S. had drafted women onto the WWII front lines? You will not be able to put this fast-paced adventure down! It's the story of three different young women who find themselves at war, each carrying the burden of a heavy past as well as hoping to make a better future. It's exciting and unpredictable, and I can't wait for book two in the series! -- Emily R.
Mark and Kate sit next to each other in their high school math class, but they've never spoken - until one fateful night at San Francisco Pride Week when they reach out, each needing a friend. This book is hopeful and honest and does that thing so well for which Levithan and LaCour are justly beloved: it shows teenagers on the cusp of everything, engrossed and ready to take on the world. -- Emily R.
This stunning memoir by a novelist shortlisted for the International Prize for Arab Fiction reads more like poetry than prose. Saif was a young father living with his family in Gaza during the 2014 invasion, and this diary kept over the 51 days of war puts us right in the center of his struggle to remain human and hopeful. The writing isn't sentimental, but it's stunning. -- Emily R.
Crispin's memoir about traveling through Europe and tracing the lives of her favorite artists is moving and stark. She travels in the wake of a breakdown, trying to convince herself to keep living, and the book is beautiful in ways I didn't expect. Ultimately, it's an honest meditation on the loneliness of life and travel, and while there aren't any conclusions, there is a forwardness. --Emily R.
This collection of essays written in response to police brutality and in light of the Black Lives Matter movement is incendiary. Jesmyn Ward, nationally renowned for Salvage the Bones and Men We Reaped, brings her clarion voice to bear here as the collection's editor, and every piece is well chosen. This is a worthy successor to James Baldwin's classic jeremiad The Fire Next Time. - Emily R.