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.

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

...............................................................................................   

Spring 2020

Staff Pick Badge
Daughters of Smoke and Fire: A Novel Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781419743092
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Harry N. Abrams - May 12th, 2020

There are important books that awaken us to the trials and humanity of people far from our shores, the stories of which we have previously been unaware. Daughters of Smoke and Fire is such a book. Leila and her brother Chia are Kurds, growing up in Iran where their existence is cause for suspicion and harassment. Their angry mother and beaten father cannot protect them from the brutality of their daily lives. Luckily there are friends and strangers who heroically show kindness or inspire hope. As her brother grows increasingly political, Leila questions her role in this society that often condemns her for being a woman. She begins to find answers once it becomes clear she must be the voice for those who are now voiceless. Ava Homa’s beautiful storytelling is a testament to the power of such a voice. —Luisa


Staff Pick Badge
All Adults Here: A Novel Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9781594634697
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Riverhead Books - May 4th, 2020

No one is better at creating a complicated and flawed group of family and friends that you love to root for than Emma Straub. In the small community of Clapham, NY, the members of the Strick family each have a secret to reveal—secrets which may disturb their carefully constructed façade. One of the first to come clean is matriarch Astrid Strick—shocked by the sudden death of a friend, she decides the time has come to introduce the love of her life to her adult children. But while she worries how they will react, it soon becomes apparent that each of them will view the news through a lens colored by the state of their own lives. Straub deftly turns the trope of the “typical” repressed New England family on its head as her characters explore their sexuality, gender roles, and expectations. As judgement turns to generosity, All Adults Here reminds us of the importance of allowing those we love to evolve. —Luisa


Staff Pick Badge
The Book of V.: A Novel Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9781250257017
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Henry Holt and Co. - May 5th, 2020

Stories of women struggling against the constraints imposed by society have been around long before the written word. Anne Solomon’s enthralling new novel, The Book of V., reminds us of one of the earliest tales—that of Vashti and Esther, two Queens of the old Testament, both attempting to challenge the roles they have been cast in. Solomon deftly weaves their story between the tales of Vivian—a Watergate-era senator’s wife, confronted by the brutal sexism of the social circles she has called her home—and Lily—a present day mother, struggling to find herself after motherhood has derailed her dreams of being a writer. Together their stories brilliantly illuminate the questions that face women to this day: when being torn between traditional roles and forging a path of our own, how can we survive and possibly thrive? —Luisa


Staff Pick Badge
Hollywood Park: A Memoir Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9781250621566
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Celadon Books - May 26th, 2020

When Mikel Jollett and his brother fled the cult they were raised in, they had no idea what the world outside held for them. Unfortunately, his mother’s narcissism and lack of parental supervision often meant a happy childhood would remain out of reach. With an unjaded eye and deft hand, Jollett brings to life his world from the perspective of the child he was. He also tenderly acknowledges the moments of love and encouragement from those who supported him in the only way they knew how as he transformed from a confused little boy into an accomplished musician. Filled with heart, honesty and raw courage, Hollywood Park is not only a memoir of an unusual childhood and troubled path to adulthood, it is also a remarkable tale of the bonds of love and transformative power of acceptance. —Luisa


Staff Pick Badge
Beach Read Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9781984806734
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Berkley - May 19th, 2020

Whose life doesn’t need a little romance? At least that's what romance author January Andrews thought until her father’s death turned her life upside down. Now, stuck in a house that represents her loss of faith and diminishing funds forcing her finish her next book, January finds solace in the most unexpected of friends, the angst-ridden literary novelist next door. A challenge to spend the summer writing in the other’s genre leads them to grow closer and maybe even find a happy ending to their own story. A warm-hearted tale of the healing power of connection, Beach Read is a welcome escape from our current predicament. —Luisa


Staff Pick Badge
The Anthill: A Novel Cover Image
$26.95
ISBN: 9780385545891
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Doubleday - May 12th, 2020

Medellin, Columbia—a city of scars, torn apart by a turbulent past, patched back together by hardened survivors and well-meaning volunteers. Lina spent the first eight years of her life here, before tragedy struck and she was sent to school in England. Finding herself the perpetual outsider, she has returned to her homeland and one true friend, Matty, to see if she can figure out who she truly is. But Matty and Medellin have changed and the refuge she was looking for may actually need her help to survive. Lena soon learns her dark secret did not disappear during her absence and now demands to be heard. Julianne Pachico’s brilliant prose brings to life both the surreal visions and naked truths revealed in this haunting story of redemption. —Luisa


Staff Pick Badge
The Paris Hours: A Novel Cover Image
$26.99
ISBN: 9781250307187
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Flatiron Books - May 5th, 2020

The City of Light shimmers in Alex George’s beautiful and propulsive novel of Paris between the wars. Here among the more famous citizens such as Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and Josephine Baker, we meet four more common individuals that are no less remarkable. Each are burdened by secrets and seeking resolution to missteps of their past. As their stories converge, we see the true mastery of George’s craft, illuminating the threads that connect them on the path to redemption. Filled with the art, music, and intrigue that has made Paris a source of inspiration for generations of artists and intellectuals, The Paris Hours transports you to a fascinating time in the one of the most beautiful cities in the world. —Luisa


Staff Pick Badge
Afterlife Cover Image
$25.95
ISBN: 9781643750255
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Algonquin Books - April 7th, 2020

A beautiful book about the connections that bind us all, Afterlife is a balm for these times of discord. It is a story about Antonia, a woman simmering in grief who recognizes her own limitations and the need to push past them and apply love where she is able. But even though she would prefer to hide away, her sisters’ calls, her dead husband’s memory, and the urgent need to help those near and far reel her back into the world. Julia Alvarez’s tender depictions of her characters allows this book to feel both intimate and universal, perfect for a book about reaching beyond ourselves in order to heal. —Luisa


Staff Pick Badge
Valentine: A Novel Cover Image
$26.99
ISBN: 9780062913265
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Harper - March 31st, 2020

Few books make you feel changed for having read them and Valentine should be added to the list. Here is the story of a small town in the aftermath of a brutal rape and the inhabitants who are forced to confront the realities of their existence. And while for some this means retreating into defensiveness and bigotry, others are awakened to an inner strength that allows them to take hold of the narrative of their lives and defend those without a voice. Brilliant and heartbreakng, Elizabeth Wetmore's searing debut reminds us of the true cost of hate and the tenacity of hope. —Luisa


Staff Pick Badge
The Mountains Sing Cover Image
$26.95
ISBN: 9781616208189
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Algonquin Books - March 17th, 2020

Beautiful in its details and profound in its cultural significance, The Mountains Sing is a heartbreaking and poetic story of Vietnam in the 20th century as told through the stories of one family. Tran Dieu Lan and her granddaughter Huong have each experienced tragedy at the hands of foreign invaders and their fellow countrymen, but they are aware of generosity and love that survives in the midst of tragedy. Recounting the stories of their lives, the poetry of their language, and the emotions of their song brings to life the complicated beauty of this land and these people so often scarred by tragedy. By telling the story of this one family, Nguyen Phan Que Mai shares the history of Vietnam in this moving epic. —Luisa


Staff Pick Badge
Kept Animals: A Novel Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9781501188589
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Scribner - April 21st, 2020

Set in the dramatic hillsides of Topanga Canyon in the '90s, where estates cling to drought savaged land and rich and poor politely cross paths, three teenagers are forever changed by a tragic event. Rory was a stable hand whose budding friendship with June and Vivian allows her to start imagining herself beyond the example her mother has provided. Up until now her deepest connections have been with the horses in her care, but on the precipice of discovering love, she is confronted by anger and hate. Alternating with her story is the present-day tale of Charlie, Rory’s daughter, now living on a horse ranch in Wyoming, lonely and desperate to understand her mother’s story. Beautifully examining the often unfair ramifications of class, sex, and sexual orientation, Kate Milliken has crafted a moving tale of discovery and redemption. —Luisa


Staff Pick Badge
Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes Cover Image
$30.00
ISBN: 9781328866745
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - March 3rd, 2020

Did you know about Rose Pastor Stokes? I didn’t, but I should have. She was born in 1879 in the Russian Empire, but by age eleven, she was supporting her mother and siblings by working in a cigar factory in Cleveland. Her letter about the horrific conditions of the workers led to a job with the Jewish Daily. She fell in love with the scion of a wealthy family, and they became two of the leading activists of their day. Because she passed out birth control information, she had the honor of being called “one of the most dangerous influences of the country” by President Woodrow Wilson. I’ll let one of the great writers of history, Adam Hochschild, finish the story. —Elaine


Staff Pick Badge
Apeirogon: A Novel Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9781400069606
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Random House - February 25th, 2020

Israeli Rami Elhanan’s daughter, Smadar, was shopping when she was mortally wounded by a suicide bomb. Palestinian Bassam Aramin's daughter, Abir, was mortally wounded when an Israeli soldier fired rubber bullets into a crowd. Colum McCann didn’t make this up—the novel is based on a Palestinian and an Israeli man who would be expected to hate each other. Instead, they meet every day to talk about their daughters, their land, their pain, and the senseless killings. Together, they become committed peace activists. The title, Apeirogon, refers to the imaginary polygon with an infinite number of sides, and McCann’s multi-faceted novel soars as he immerses us in a collage of memory, fact, politics, photos, music, regret, and determination. —Elaine


Staff Pick Badge
The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz Cover Image
$32.00
ISBN: 9780385348713
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Crown - February 25th, 2020

Do you think you already know more than enough about Churchill? I thought that too, but Erik Larson changed my mind. Accessing recently declassified intelligence reports and newly available diaries, Larson brings us an illuminating portrait of the period May 1940-May 1941. We are with Churchill as he works to bring Roosevelt along and to unite Great Britain in the midst of daily bombings. Through these many diaries, we get to see what they were seeing during this crucial year. —Elaine