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.


November - December 2018


Click here for an archive of Elaine and Luisa's previous picks!


Evening in Paradise by Lucia Berlin
An electricity runs through even the most languid of Lucia Berlin’s stories, alerting you to pay attention, this is something special. In turns sweet and shocking, familiar and exotic, Berlin’s semi-autobiographical stories are beautifully balanced between her own life and a life where she imagines consequences for choices that could have been made. She reveals her deepest secrets along with the important people and places of her life. Many stories are tragic and yet all are imbued with her delightful sense of humor, creating a sort of dance as we move through a life that has not been easy but was always interesting. Lucia Berlin will forever be remembered as one of the great short story writers of our time. --Luisa

The Flame: Poems Notebooks Lyrics Drawings by Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen left us this magnificent collection of poetry and drawings as well as the lyrics of his last three albums.  In The Flame, he allows us inside his heart. As we read these poems, we can almost hear that gravelly voice. He wrote with candor and self-deprecating humor about his faith, his fears, his gratitude, and his love. He was about love—all kinds of love. Pick up this book and immerse yourself in these revealing drawings and brilliant poems. Your soul will be singing Hallelujah. --Elaine

The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim
When Najin and Calvin Cho left Korea to find better life in America, they could only bring Miran, one of their two daughters. Baby Inja was left in the care of her grandparents, aunt, and uncle. Although they tried to save enough to go back for their daughter, they couldn’t afford the trip. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, travel to Korea became impossible. Inja survived the war, but she thought of her American family as ghosts. She finally came to the U.S. when she was 15 and suddenly, two teenagers had to adapt to this change. Eugene Kim tells the story in alternating chapters in the voice of each sister. This enthralling novel immerses us in the life in the U.S. and Korea of the mid-20th century. --Elaine

The Dakota Winters by Tom Barbash
Tom Barbash captures the last golden moments of the 70’s. After a soul-searching journey abroad, Anton Winters returns to the celebrated N.Y. residence of his youth. His father’s nervous breakdown has forced him to stay grounded, but being surrounded by celebrities, both approachable and
mythologized, make reimagining his life a little more interesting. Barbash has an ear for the time and an eye for detail, bringing to life some of The Dakota’s most famous residents. With humor and affection, Barbash opens a door to the past and reminds us just what a remarkable a time it was. --Luisa

Presidents of War by Michael Beschloss
Michael Beschloss began work on Presidents of War almost ten years ago, but he’d be the first to admit that the topic has taken on new urgency in the last couple of years. What he found was that presidents faced with war-or-peace decisions sometimes lose their bearings.  James Madison, who was distrustful of presidential war powers, nevertheless talked himself into the unjustifiable War of 1812. James Polk built on those tactics, using some very contemporary-sounding manipulations of public opinion to get the nation into the Mexican War in 1846. And the battle with such self-delusion in high places continues to this day. If there are answers to be found in our history, Beschloss will find them. --Elaine

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
More than just a bewitching mystery of an unidentified child, Diane Setterfield’s latest novel is a celebration of storytelling in all its forms. It begins with a bloodied stranger bursting upon the scene, carrying a large package, which turns out to be young girl. As the mystery of her death and then life unfolds, stories long hidden come forth from all corners of this English village. Faith and science, grief and hope, truth and fiction, are all embraced as Setterfield reveals the power of each person’s personal narrative. It is pure joy to escape into the world of this master storyteller.  --Luisa

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
This is a deliciously dark novel of a man whose ambition surpasses his talent. Those who are close to him crave his attention, even as his thirst for recognition tramples their dreams. Maurice Swift has always wanted to be a famous author. While he may not be able to craft a bestselling novel, he is skilled at drawing out the secrets and stories of those more talented. He is introduced to us by his first victim, a writer blinded by attraction and starved for companionship. We see the depths that Maurice will go to through the eyes of each of his targets. John Boyne’s novel begins as a literary drama and brilliantly unfolds into a suspenseful page-turner. --Luisa

All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy
As the Nazis were coming into power, a German artist arrived in an Indian village to take Gayatri, a woman from his past, away to live with him in Bali. Gayatri was ready to flee her marriage and motherhood for soaring freedom. Her son was 9 when she left, but now he is a grumpy man in his sixties. Unlike his mother, he stayed in the village where, as Superintendent of Horticulture, his world revolves around trees and flowers. He receives a packet of letters his mother wrote to a friend after she left. As her son reads the words of this free-spirited woman, he comes to understand why she left. He too becomes interested in the world beyond his village. --Elaine

Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly
No one is more skilled at writing a police procedural than Michael Connelly. In Dark Sacred Night we once again meet Renee Ballard, a smart, tough cop whose career veered off course when she resisted sexual harassment at work. Renee may be unappreciated by her superiors, but that doesn’t stifle her drive to find the answers wherever they may lead. Her path crosses Connelly’s most famous detective, Harry Bosch, who is looking into a cold case of a murdered girl. Renee finds herself drawn into the investigation. As the layers of the mystery are unearthed, the trust between the two detectives grows. From the spot-on dialogue, to the surprising twists and turns, this is Michael Connelly at his best. --Luisa

Let Her Fly: A Father’s Journey by Ziauddin Yousafzai (forward by Malala Yousafzai)
As I marveled at the courage and brilliance of Malala, I’ve wondered about her parents. How do you raise a child who stood up to the Taliban and inspired courage throughout the world? Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala’s father, a diplomat, teacher, educational activist, and a campaigner for human rights, tells us of his own childhood as a shy boy living in a mud hut. We meet Malala’s progressive mother, Toor Pekai, and see the partnership she forged with her husband. He tells us what he has learned from his children, including the heart-breaking moment when they return to the place where Malala was so brutally attacked. --Elaine

The Library Book by Susan Orlean
There is no one better at investigating stories hiding in plain sight than Susan Orlean.  The vivid descriptions of the fire that engulfed the Los Angeles Central Library in 1986 are burnished by her meticulous research on the history of libraries. The mystery of who would start such a massive fire is woven between stories of eccentric librarians and the transformation of Los Angeles in the 20th Century. Orlean has crafted a love letter to the importance of the written word and those that devote their lives to its preservation. --Luisa

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny
Chief Superintendent Armand Gamache is surprised to find that he and his bookseller friend, Myrna, have been appointed executors of a will. Neither was close to the deceased, but they knew she cleaned houses for people in Three Pines. It was odd that she referred to herself as Baroness. When one of the beneficiaries of the will dies, Armand finds himself deep in a murder investigation. It seems all kinds of odd things are happening right before people’s eyes, yet they refuse to see. Don’t plan to sleep until you finish this terrific novel of financial shenanigans, police corruption, family secrets, drug deals, and murder. --Elaine

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
This dark and spirited noir-thriller tells the tale of two sisters tangled up by the deadly dating habits of one and the obsessive cleaning habits of the other. Korede is a nurse who knows just how to dispose of a body and how to respond when her younger sister calls to tell her she has killed again.. Interactions with the corrupt police in Lagos, the mercurial father of their youth, their disapproving mother at home, and the handsome doctor at work, allow us to see the intelligence and dark humor that has allowed Korede and Ayoola to survive for so long—but when will their luck run out? Oyinkan Braithwaite’s delicious thriller is not the suspense novel you expected but it is the novel you should read.  --Luisa

Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
How did I miss this gem? Fortunately, Angela King, superstar bookseller (aka “Aunt Lydia”) insisted that I read it. When she was a girl, Tina didn’t plan to live on a farm, but there she is, taking care of her taciturn husband, children, grandchildren, gardens, and animals. Her life is very different from that of her dear friend, Bella, who married an Italian and moved to Italy. After Bella dies, Tina writes a letter to the curator of a museum in Sweden that she and Bella had dreamed of visiting together. The original curator is long dead, but the current curator answers her letter. The correspondence that begins between this man and woman, who seemingly have nothing in common. Just when you think you know where this book is going, you are in for a surprise. --Elaine

The White Darkness by David Grann
Killers of the Flower Moon was one of the most memorable books I read last year. Now, David Grann brings us an incredible but true story of adventure and obsession. Henry Worsley idolized the 19th-century polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton. Although Shackleton never completed his explorations of Antartica, he repeatedly rescued his men—one of whom was Worsley’s relative—from certain death. Determined to complete Shackleton’s explorations, Worsley set out alone in 2015 and became the first person to trek Shackleton’s routes across the great white continent. --Elaine