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.
When Colson Whitehead tackles the heist novel, you can trust it will contain surprising twists and memorable characters, as well as his singular ability to bring history to life in a way that feels both fresh and revealing. HARLEM SHUFFLE does exactly this! The story centers on Ray Carney, an honest furniture salesman who is willing to be a little less honest on occasion to help his crooked cousin. When a no fail robbery fails spectacularly, Ray suddenly finds his life intersecting with a path of violence, blackmail, and revenge. Bringing to life Harlem of the 1950’s and 60s, HARLEM SHUFFLE is a brilliant novel of the murky areas between good guys and bad guys in a city where corruption is king.
Sally Rooney explores both intimate relationships and the general anxieties of today in her beautifully crafted third novel. Central to the story is the friendship between Alice and Eileen. Their lives since university have taken different trajectories and yet their continued correspondence grounds them, alternating between subjects both personal and theoretical. As they navigate their sex lives, work pressures, and the state of the world, they give voice to many young people today who wonder what happened to the beautiful world they were promised. Transforming simple observations into moments of profound understanding, Rooney once again has given us the perfect book for our times.
Lauren Groff’s new novel is simply magnificent! Taking place in the 12th c. MATRIX is the story of Marie de France, a roughhewn teenage girl, who as a bastard in the Royal court, is exiled to an English Abbey on the brink of ruin. Marie knows she is capable of reversing the Abby’s fortunes, and fueled by visions and determination, takes charge to transform the lives of those in her care. Giving voice to these unknown women from our past, Groff brings to life the unique sisterhood behind the walls in a world built for men and beautifully reminds us of the power of passion and faith.
A beautiful family saga filled with magic and danger, THE INHERITANCE OF ORQUIDEA DIVINA is a treat for fans of Isabel Allende and Erin Morgenstern. Orquidea Divina is dying, which she announces to her family through hand lettered notes delivered by enchanted birds and unsuspecting office interns. Years after her dramatic passing, their own magical gifts manifest and a threat held long at bay comes due, forcing them to travel to Ecuador to unravel the unearthly bargains Orquidea made in her youth. A spellbinding tale of a family, complicated by magic and driven by love.
If THE MAGICIAN was based on a fictional character, you would admire it as an incredible feat of imagination. That it is based on the life of Thomas Mann, whose family could inspire twenty novels and yet, Colm Tóibín has captured in one is impressive beyond measure. We meet Mann as a young boy, torn between his exciting Brazilian mother and conservative German father, and observe him and his family through the tumultuous decades that follow. Tóibín captures Mann’s rich inner life which fuels his writing and the complicated relationships he has with loved ones and the world at large. Tóibín’s unparalleled ability to bring all the Mann family members fully to life deepens and enriches the story of one of the most fascinating writers of all time.
Maggie Nelson is fearlessly thoughtful when engaging with even the thorniest of issues and in this country there are few more contested subjects than our idea of freedom. Often used in recent years as a rallying cry for those who engage in assault on others, Nelson looks beyond the slogans to our intimate and visceral relationship to this ideal in different aspects of our lives. Examining both her emotional responses to each and the commentary of other social critics, Nelson allows us to see the interconnected web between our ideas of freedom and the choices we make. Both intimate and broad in scope, Maggie Nelson once again encourages us think deeply and care humanely.
A big story, filled with outrageous characters and a whole lot of heart, THE GREAT GLORIOUS GODDAM OF IT ALL is more fun than you ever imagined having while reading about logging in the Northwest. The story is spun by Weldon Applegate, 99 but still in his prime, as he tells of his youth and his rivalry with a seven-foot-tall logger named Linden Laughlin. Spanning from The Great Depression to present day, Weldon’s mythic stories forms a rollicking ode to the American West and those who called it home. Josh Ritter’s memorable characters and skillful storytelling have combined into one glorious book.
I am so happy S.T., our favorite spectacularly handsome crow from HOLLOW KINGDOM, survived the zombie apocalypse to give us another hilarious and heartwarming tale. Snarky as ever, S.T. is joined by a colorful collection of creatures as he embarks on the most important task of his life. Yes, the world is still in trouble and MoFos are still a threat, but the natural world is up for the fight and even has a few surprises up its sleeve. Both hilarious and heartrending, Kira Jane Buxton’s latest is a love letter to all the animals that make this world worth saving, even us.
A breathtaking memoir of a young undocumented immigrant from China, BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY makes real the sharp contrast between the American dream and the struggles for those attempting to find it. At the age of seven, Qian Julie Wang and her family left China for a better life in “Mei Guo”, or the “beautiful country”. Once here, fear and isolation take over as they struggle in the shadows, terrified of being caught. Beautifully written and shockingly illuminating, Wang’s narrative is a clarion call for us to address the injustices in our immigration system; but what makes her story so moving is the loving way she holds on to the hope that we can do better.
Former Stanford Sailing Coach, John Vandemoer, begins his book with the FBI knocking on his door early one morning. The pages race by as we learn about the way things work in athletic fundraising and how easy it is to twist facts. We travel with John and his family through a nightmare that was orchestrated by a criminal who was working under the direction of corrupt officials. RIGGED JUSTICE is shocking yet touchingly human book.
If you enjoy Pat Conroy or Daniel Woodrell, then you need to be reading Wiley Cash. When Sheriff Winston Barnes is awoken by the sounds of a plane crash he has no idea of the tragedy awaiting him at the small local airport, or the deception and corruption already infiltrating his community. What he does know is that there is sometimes a difference between being a good man and a good sheriff, and he is no longer sure how to hold onto both. Centered around two families struggling with loss, Cash masterfully brings the complicated South to life, a place filled with both the salt of the earth neighbors and unrepentant racists. More than simply a crime novel, this is a powerful gut punch of a small town America story.
The beauty of an Anthony Doerr novel is how every chapter could be a perfectly constructed short story, and it is thrilling to rediscover this in his latest work. Weaving together three storylines, from 15th century Constantinople to the present-day Idaho to a future voyage to a new planet, Doerr introduces us to a host of memorable characters, connected by their love of stories and a special ancient codex. As they struggle against an unjust world and often seemingly insurmountable odds, the codex guides them and provides hope. An incredible feat of imagination and skill, CLOUD CUCKOO LAND is an ode to books and the people who find magic hidden within their pages.
In his brilliant new novel, Richard Powers explores the expanses of both the natural world, voyaging from our fragile planet to the stars beyond, and the spheres of experiences possible inside our own minds. Here on Earth, we meet Theo, an astrophysicist and struggling widow, trying his best to raise his young son, Robin. As Robin rages against an unfair world, Theo turns to science and nature for answers to his son’s questions and as refuge from an increasingly hostile society. With vivid descriptions of both everyday life and worlds beyond our galaxy, Powers offers us a moving critique of the harm we are causing to this planet, as well as a deeply empathetic look at our often broken but beautiful human spirit.
In a world that often moves too fast and demands too much, how lovely would it be to slow down, appreciate solitude, and be grateful for the little things, just like a tree? Sumana Roy has long loved the quiet companionship of trees, marking time by their growth, and taking lessons from their refusal to bend to pressures of man. In each delightful chapter she looks to artists, writers, botanists, and spiritual leaders for explanations as to the graceful way trees inhabit this world and what we may learn from them in turn. This book is more than just a beautiful meditation of the natural world, it is a bold exploration into how we may restore our souls.
TJ Klune has once again given us a delightful book that will certainly make you laugh, most likely make you cry, and undoubtably warm your heart. The fact that it is a story about death might give you pause if it was any other writer. Wallace Price was a self-centered jerk when he was alive. When he discovers he is dead he does exactly what he did in life and complains loudly that this is unacceptable. But as he waits in the quirky tea shop to be ferried to the other side, his new companions, including handsome ferryman Hugo, begin to show him there is more to life, and death, than he previously understood. A big-hearted book of how to embrace life even in the face of loss.