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!

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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
ISBN: 9781640092341
Availability: Backordered
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, Jaime 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.