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!

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

Winter 2021

Staff Pick Badge
What Could Be Saved: A Novel Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9781982150617
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Atria Books - January 12th, 2021

A message from Thailand and the draw of a decades’ old mystery is just the beginning of one of the most remarkable novels of the year. Philip Preston has been missing since he was a child during the Preston’s family stay in Thailand. Forty years later, the possibility of his reemergence has his younger sister Laura racing to the airport and away from questions about her own life. But her reconnection with the past is more than just a mission to bring her brother home—it is an opportunity to understand what happened to drive the surviving family members apart. The writing is completely immersive as we travel from the streets of Bangkok in the '70s to present day Washington D.C., where Schwarz skillfully reveals that the true mystery does not lie in where Philip has been but in how to allow others to love us as we are.


Staff Pick Badge
The Prophets Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9780593085684
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: G.P. Putnam's Sons - January 5th, 2021

Toni Morrison has a new heir apparent, and his name is Robert Jones, Jr. His debut novel The Prophets brings to life an Antebellum South which has been unsung for too long. An alchemy of lyrical rage infuses the many stories told of the people on the plantation known as “Elizabeth” by some and “Empty” by others. At the center of it all is the love story of Samuel and Isaiah, a bright glowing ember of refuge amidst a shifting sea of suffering, until their relationship is deemed a threat to the plantation owner’s horrific plans. With insights both piercing and tender, The Prophets heralds the dawning of a new examination of our past—one in which people that have been so long ignored are given a voice and allowed the complex internal lives and histories they deserve.


Staff Pick Badge
The House on Vesper Sands Cover Image
$26.95
ISBN: 9781951142247
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Tin House Books - January 12th, 2021

If the cold months of winter have you craving something deliciously dark and suspenseful, you would be hard pressed to find anything more delightful than Paraic O’Donnell’s The House on Vesper Sands. Snow and menace are swirling in the air in late 19th century London as a young seamstress plunges to her death, leaving a singularly gruesome clue upon her body. Soon connections are made to a secret society which may be doing unspeakable things to other young women. While O’Donnell’s London deftly reminds us of other classics of gothic menace, it is the brilliant cast of characters that truly bring this book to life. The gallant Gideon Bliss, the indomitable Octavia Hillingdon, and the droll Inspector Cutter bring humor to this devilish tale, melding together the best of the Victorian novel and modern insight.


Staff Pick Badge
The Liar's Dictionary: A Novel Cover Image
$26.95
ISBN: 9780385546775
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Doubleday - January 5th, 2021

What do ‘frabjous,’ ‘corking,’ and ‘smashing’ all have in common? They are all synonyms for delightful, and each would be a fitting description of Eley Williams’ new novel, The Liar's Dictionary. Within its pages we meet Mallory, an intern for a famous publisher of an incomplete dictionary, tasked with answering abusive phone calls and hunting down ‘Mountweazels,’ made-up words inserted into the dictionary over 100 years earlier. We are also introduced to Peter Winceworth, the besotted young lexicographer who left this trail within his life’s work like crumbs from a fairytale that Mallory attempts to follow and understand. Throughout it all, William’s love of language shines with a playfulness that reminds us that while language is ever changing, the true magic of a word is in what meaning it holds within for you.


Staff Pick Badge
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9781984856029
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Random House - January 12th, 2021

In every reader's life there is a moment when a book surprises us and suddenly becomes a part of our literary soul. George Saunders has made a career of creating those connections with readers and he has spent decades teaching this craft to the few lucky writers in his MFA classes. Thinking back on his teaching experiences he realized the most meaningful conversations about writing came from his class on classic Russian short stories (Tolstoy, Chekov, Turgenev, and Gogol). These authors heralded from a different time and continent but were able to expand a reader's worldview and provide insight into their current life. He loved the surprise found nestled between the sentences and the emotion conveyed with a simple description. Using seven of his favorites to illustrate the call and response between a writer and reader, Saunders opens a window into his MFA classroom and reminds us of the important lessons they can teach writers or readers of any age.


Staff Pick Badge
The Center of Everything Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781640092341
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Counterpoint LLC - January 12th, 2021

Polly is slipping. Between the past and the present, action and inaction, truth and fiction. An unfortunate bike accident left Polly’s brain worse for wear but life marches on, traumatic brain injury or not. Now the convergence of a family gathering, and the suspicious disappearance of a dear friend threatens to undo her tenuous hold on the present as she struggles with memories of disturbing events from her past. In this moving family saga, Jamie Harrison shows us the vast expanse of Montana, the tangled paths inside a fragmented mind, and the secrets that help families endure.


Staff Pick Badge
Better Luck Next Time: A Novel Cover Image
$28.99
ISBN: 9780062916365
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Custom House - January 5th, 2021

With the sharp wit and genuine heart of a Capra film, Better Luck Next Year offers readers a delightful escape to a time of glamourous divorcees and handsome cowboys. Welcome to the Flying Leap divorce ranch outside of Reno Nevada, where wealthy women set up temporary residence and the newly anointed “cowboys” are trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps in post-Depression America. Our narrator is Ward, a young man whose family lost everything in the crash. The cowboys aren’t supposed to fraternize with the clients, but he is quickly swept away by the kindhearted Emily and the adventurous Nina, and trouble ensues. Julia Claiborne Johnson has once again given us characters to fall in love with and a story to capture our imagination in this tribute to the American west.


Staff Pick Badge
Sorrow and Bliss: A Novel Cover Image
$26.99
ISBN: 9780063049581
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Harper - February 9th, 2021

There should be a special category for books that make you laugh out loud in one chapter and feel the sting of tears in the next, and the book to be held up as a shining example of this new genre would be Sorrow and Bliss. Martha is smart and talented and often struggling with how to function in the world. Deeply loved by her family of misfits, she is also self-destructive and increasingly at odds with those who care about her the most as she tries to find the answer as to why she is this way. Meg Mason brilliantly captures your attention with her hilarious spot-on descriptions and witty dialogue, but it is the tenderness with which she reveals Martha’s struggles with mental illness that will undoubtedly grab a hold of your heart.


Staff Pick Badge
We Run the Tides: A Novel Cover Image
$26.99
ISBN: 9780062936233
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Ecco - February 9th, 2021

We Run the Tides is more than simply a coming-of-age tale; Vendela Vida’s enthralling novel brings to life the complexities of female friendships and the secrets behind the smiles. Set in San Francisco in the early '80s—a time of fewer boundaries and Esprit outlet shopping for the daughters of the stony Sea Cliff neighborhood—meet Eulabee, 13 years old and devoted to her friends. As too often happens, a simple disagreement leads to banishment from the group, and before things can be put right, a shocking disappearance sets everyone on edge. Vida deftly brings the voices of these girls to life and reminds us that in a city known for earthquakes, one should expect that change can come swiftly, shifting the world as you knew it and setting new paths in its wake.


Staff Pick Badge
The Kindest Lie: A Novel Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9780063005631
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: William Morrow - February 2nd, 2021

From the very first pages of The Kindest Lie, you know you are in the hands of a natural storyteller. This is a story of unlikely friendships, difficult choices, and the untold burden of our past. Ruth is compelled to return to the hometown she fled to pursue her dreams of success. Midnight is a boy broken and in search of a safe port to land amidst stormy seas of his young life. Both lives have been impacted by the brutal politics of race and class in modern America and both must find a way to heal their broken hearts in this moving story of the compassion and strength needed to move past fear and distrust and begin to hope for a better future.


Staff Pick Badge
Send for Me: A novel Cover Image
$26.95
ISBN: 9781101947807
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Knopf - February 2nd, 2021

Using heartbreaking fragments of letters from her own great-grandmother, Lauren Fox has created an exquisite and intimate portrait of a family bound by love across oceans and generations. The horrific nature of the Hitler regime is just starting to become clear as an opportunity to leave for America presents itself to Annelise and her husband, but they must leave her parents behind. Years later, the discovery of the letters between Annelise and her mother forces Annelise’s granddaughter, Clare, to reevaluate all the relationships in her life. Fox's graceful and propulsive new novel is both a tender look at the lasting devastation caused by the war and a tribute to the strength of the individuals who held onto an ember of hope throughout.


Staff Pick Badge
The Four Winds: A Novel Cover Image
$28.99
ISBN: 9781250178602
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: St. Martin's Press - February 2nd, 2021

Once again Kristin Hannah stuns us with a magnificent portrait of a woman forged by the fires of fate and driven by love and determination. The Dust Bowl brutalized much of America in the 1930s and Elsa’s farm was not spared from the devastation it wrought. After fighting for her family’s survival, a choice between the hard times she knows and the possibility of a better life out West is the first step towards becoming the heroine of her own story. Hannah brings this period of heartbreaking drought and economic depression to life along with the vast landscapes of the American west. But even better, The Four Winds gives us a character so full of grit and love that she will inspire hope even off the page.


Staff Pick Badge
The Survivors: A Novel Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9781250232427
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Flatiron Books - February 2nd, 2021

No one is better at evoking the dangerous nature of the Australian outdoors than mystery writer Jane Harper. On the coast of Tasmania, Kieran Elliot has returned home to help his parents and visit old friends—but not all in this small town are happy with his reappearance. After a body is discovered on the beach, his ties to a decade-old drowning and disappearance is once again in the spotlight. Kieran himself had attempted to move on from his past but new questions now have him questioning the roles he and his loved ones played in the tragedy all those years ago. The beautiful and unforgiving coastline is a fitting background for Harper’s latest nail-biter.


Staff Pick Badge
Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9780399588587
Availability: Backordered
Published: Random House - February 9th, 2021

To read Between Two Kingdoms is to be reminded that the most noteworthy stories are the true ones. Suleika Jaouad was only twenty-two when a cancer diagnosis throws all her life plans out of the window. Forced to return home for treatment and reduced to needing 24-hour care from those she loves, Jaouad finds she is now a resident in the land of the unwell. While there she draws strength from fellow patients and the strangers who write to her in response to her blog. But this moving story doesn’t end at the moment of recovery—Jaouad’s determination to rediscover herself after remission reminds us that the most powerful lesson of almost losing everything is how it gives clarity to what is truly important.


Staff Pick Badge
Girl A: A Novel Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9780593295847
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Viking - February 2nd, 2021

Abigail Dean’s brilliant debut will entice you with its straight-from-the-headlines story, but it is her extraordinary writing that makes this propulsive novel stand out from the crowd. Lex was Girl A, the girl who escaped from a “House of Horrors” and saved her siblings, thrusting them into the public eye and forcing them to be scattered to the wind. Today she is a successful lawyer to all who know her—but underneath, the scars of abuse continue to fester. The death of her mother has forced her to return and attempt to reunite with her brothers and sisters. Smoothly moving between childhood and present day, Girl A is a deftly drawn character study of Lex and her siblings as they confront their past and struggle to find peace.


Staff Pick Badge
Lola on Fire: A Novel Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9780063001008
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: William Morrow - February 16th, 2021

Lola on Fire reads like a cinematic action movie distilled onto the page. But while it opens with a heart-pounding fight scene worthy of Tarantino, it quickly evolves into an intricate cat-and-mouse game involving a desperate brother and sister on the run, a vengeful mobster, and a woman with a deadly track record. It all begins with Brody mistakenly thinking that one harmless robbery would be enough to get him and his disabled sister back on their feet. His bungled attempt forces him to partner with an attractive young woman in a more dangerous plan—a plan he now realizes was more diabolical than he imagined as he now must try to stay one step ahead of a cold-blooded killer.