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.
San Francisco has inspired artists, writers, and musicians for generations, and those of us lucky enough to live in Northern California understand why. Each of us also has a theory as to what makes this city special and what might have been lost in its most recent transformation. End of the Golden Gate brings together a number of talented writers, each of whom has a complicated relationship with San Francisco, including Gary Kamiya, Margaret Cho, W. Kamau Bell, Michelle Tea, Beth Lisick, Daniel Handler, Peter Coyote, and Alia Volz. Their diverse perspectives remind us of the many communities that have built this city and capture both the spirit of the city and the regrets we often feel as it changes. A wonderful book for anyone who has even briefly loved San Francisco.
The gulf between the fantasy of the American dream and the immigrant experience is unsparingly detailed in this impressive memoir by Ly Tran. Her family left the banks of the Mekong river to find a better life in Ridgewood Queens, but the horrors of the past were more difficult to leave behind and the hurdles of a new beginning often proved overwhelming. Caught between two cultures, Ly grapples with her parents’ expectations for their daughter and her desire to see a future for herself. Too often we overlook the grit and heart required by those that seek refuge on our shores; House of Sticks reminds us why their stories should be heard.
Nathan Harris’ elegant writing brings to life the broken souls of the Reconstruction Era and the strength it takes to confront a world built on prejudice. George Walker and his wife Isabelle—grieving from the loss of their only son—discover two freedmen, brothers Prentiss and Landry, on their land. In an attempt to stanch their pain, an unlikely friendship is formed as the Walkers offer Prentiss and Landry work and a possible path to freedom up North. But few things are as easy as they seem and old hatreds are slow to die as everyone in this small town soon learn. The Sweetness of Water is a remarkable retelling of our history, one which includes all of the characters that have been ignored in our narratives for too long. From the first page to the last, this powerful story reminds us of the humanity behind our failure and rebirth.
Be prepared to hold your breath from the first page to the heart-stopping ending! Captain Bill Hoffman is settling into a long flight when he receives a chilling call: his family is being held hostage and will be killed unless he crashes the Airbus A320 he is piloting, killing everyone onboard. Faced with an impossible choice and a long list of bad options, Bill knows he must come up with a plan to save everyone onboard and on the ground, but who can he trust to help him? An adrenaline-fueled thrill ride with the best protagonist since Die Hard's John McClane, Newman’s debut will make you wonder if you will ever be able to relax on a flight ever again.
China Room is a moving novel of one young woman’s desire for freedom and the impact felt generations later. In 1929, Mehar is a curious young girl in rural Punjab. Married at fifteen to one of three brothers, she is whisked away from a loving household to one filled with secrets and hardship. Mehar is expected to perform her wifely duties even though she is never told which of the three brothers is her husband—a mystery she is determined to unravel through various clues, such as the timber of his voice or roughness of his hands. Sunjeev Sahota captures the intoxicating quality of hope and painful reality of injustice in this beautifully rendered portrait of a woman’s desires and the lasting trauma from her oppression.
Ghost hunters, a two headed snake, and a school for mixed-race children all play a part in this surprising novel, which begins with a missing woman and expands to encompass the history of Vietnam. Winnie is caught between worlds—too Vietnamese for her American friends and too American for her family in Vietnam. Adrift in her life at home in Maryland, Winnie seeks a fresh start in Saigon, but soon discovers she has no talent for teaching English. Her sudden disappearance begins a series of stories as the past unfolds, shining a light on a history not often told and the repercussions still felt today. Violet Kupersmith fills the pages with unforgettable characters and fascinating details, creating a dazzling trail connecting the past to the present, and mythology to daily life.
Nobody writes contemporary noir as well as S. A. Crosby. In fact, few writers write gritty crime thrillers as well as Crosby, which he proves again in his latest book, Razorblade Tears. Ike and Buddy Lee are two ex-cons, regrettably bound together by the murder of their married gay sons and their deep shame over how they treated their sons’ love for one other. As the case goes cold, Ike and Buddy Lee set out to seek retribution and rough justice across the landscape of the rural South. Standing up for their sons in death in a way they never did in life, Ike and Buddy Lee dole out cruelty fueled by their own broken hearts and a lifetime of regret. Confronting racism, homophobia, and transphobia, S. A. Crosby’s visceral writing pulls no punches in this cinematic tour de force.
What a lovely and tender delight of a book! Catherine Raven has always felt more comfortable in the wilds of nature than in the company of people, so how fitting that a wild fox would teach her the value of connection and the lessons of friendship. As he returns time and again to visit, listening to Catherine read aloud from The Little Prince, a bond begins to form, deepening her connection to the world around her. Her careful attention to detail and honest portrayal of her struggle to find her place in the world bring her remarkable experience to life in this unforgettable memoir that will have you looking at all animals in your midst with greater curiosity.
Tahmima Anam tackles both the startup universe and the world around us in this fresh take on the traditional rom-com. Asha Rey loves two things in her life: computer programing and her husband Cyrus. She is inspired by how his mind works as he creates personalized rituals using literature, pop-culture, and history. Persuading Cyrus to allow her to develop an app to bring his gifts to a wider audience at first seems like a great idea, but when nothing goes as planned Asha is forced to confront her own complicity and needs in the aftermath. Propulsive and insightful, The Startup Wife examines the folly of attempting to recreate the best parts of our real world in the digital realm without addressing the problems that infect both.
An icy road, a terrible accident, and two separate crimes leaving victims in their wake. Four years later, a single phone call is all it takes to bring back the terror of that day, and set in motion a plot for revenge as two women begin to piece together what really happened. Set on the small Swedish island of Gotland, Carin Gerhardsen’s latest thriller is filled with surprises as secrets begin to unravel and connections are made. Shortlisted for Book of the Year by Swedish Book Clubs, as well as for the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers’ Award for Best Swedish Crime Novel, Black Ice is a brilliantly dark tale of evil and vengeance.
As breathtaking as the Redwoods that grace the Northern California forests, Ash Davidson’s debut novel paints a powerful portrait of a modest community whose lives are inextricably intertwined with the fate of the giant trees. Set in the turbulent 1970s, we meet Rich, a skilled logger, and his wife Colleen, a midwife. While Rich makes a costly bet on logging a particularly impressive grove as the ticket to a better life for their young son, Colleen begins to worry about the true impact the logging industry is having on their community and family. Both intimate in scale and grand in scope, Davidson brings the rich setting and diverse set of characters to life in this stunning achievement.
Fans of Charlotte McConaghy’s writing will not be surprised to learn that her latest novel is both fraught with suspense and graced with beauty. In a small town in the Scottish Highlands, ranchers fear that wolves threaten their way of life, but American Inti Flynn and her fellow biologists are determined these master predators are the key to bringing balance back to the ecosystem. Inti’s ability to feel the sensations of others in the natural world has helped forged a bond between her and the wolves, but that bond is tested when violence erupts, and she is forced to consider who the real predators are in their midst. There is more than one mystery in Inti’s story, but McConaghy skillfully unravels them all and, in turn, reveals the mysterious and often misunderstood nature of both wolf and man and the connections between us all.
A moving story of the importance of the family we create when our biological one falls desperately short. It’s 1994 and 16-year-old April has been raising herself for years, but it's one final argument with her dad that finally propels her strike out into the world on her own with only a stolen car and her beloved guitar to her name. Trust does not come easy to April, who is both naïve and older than her years, endearing her to people even as she pushes them away. At turns heartbreaking and hopeful, Allison Larkin’s diverse cast of characters reminds us of how love comes in many forms and true family turns up for us when least expected—all we have to do is let them in.
Love, loyalty, and secrets are the ingredients in the best family dramas, and We Are the Brennans is graced with a healthy dose of each. The Brennans were a large, close-knit, Irish-Catholic family until Sunday Brennan, the only daughter, left them and her fiancé behind with little explanation over five years ago. Now Sunday has returned home, and suddenly misdeeds from the past and mistakes from the present are threatening to tear the family apart. Tracey Lange’s big-hearted debut makes us fall in love with this complicated-but-loving family trying to do what is right by each other, especially when everything goes wrong.
In Anna Bailey’s propulsive debut, a rich cast of characters—including a missing girl, an abusive husband, a hate-filled preacher, and a bereaved best friend—are tangled up in a dark web of lies. Emma is wracked with guilt for not insisting her friend Abigail not go into the woods the night she went missing. Frustrated that nobody else seems concerned about what happened, Emma takes it upon herself to find answers. But as she digs deeper, ugly truths about her friends and neighbors are unearthed. Which one put Abigail’s life in danger? Bailey’s brilliant and haunting depiction of small-town American life is a chilling reminder of the poisonous nature of secrets and the dangerous consequences of keeping them.
Book lovers know that the only thing better than reading a good book is sharing it, and The Reading List is a lovely celebration of this universal truth. In a west London library, a troubled teenager and a grieving widow have little in common until a mysterious list of suggested books comes into their lives. The books and the discussions that follow allow them to process their troubles and forge new relationships. The list is titled “Just in case you need it” and includes such beauties as The Kite Runner, Rebecca, and Beloved, through which the two connect over characters and find their lives expanded by reading of others’ experiences. Sara Nisha Adams’ inspired novel captures the transformative magic of a good book. This is the heartwarming novel of the season.
The Perfume Thief is a spirited and singular story of Paris in World War II, told by a daring septuagenarian con artist attempting one last great heist. It’s 1941 and Clementine realizes she should have left Paris when she could, before all of her beloved artists and hustlers disappeared. Now she is trapped, finding amusements where she can and creating exotic scents for the lucky few. When the daughter of famous perfumer asks her to steal back her father’s diary from a particularly odious Nazi, Clementine cannot refuse. Schaffert brings all the sights and senses of Paris to life in this unforgettable story of resistance.
Clark and Division is both a propulsive mystery and a heart-wrenching examination of Japanese internment and relocation in the 1940s. The Itos have just been released from Manzanar and are following their oldest daughter, Rose, to Chicago when they learn she has died under suspicious circumstances. Her younger sister, Aki, refuses to allow Rose’s death to be quickly swept away by the authorities, but the more she digs, the more she realizes how little she knew of her sister’s new life. With strong characters and a careful eye for detail, Hirahara beautifully weaves together a story of history and injustice into a fascinating and compelling crime novel.
A vibrant collection of loosely interconnected stories, Afterparties reminds us of the generational cost of trauma and the rich vein of humor and grit needed for those who survive. Anthony Veasna So shows us a Northern California community of Cambodian immigrants and their kids, struggling with the ghosts of the past as they attempt to forge a future in a new country. There is a rich range of lives here, navigating loss, family, sex, and love, but also the terrible burden of trying to move on from events that cannot be forgotten. As the aftermath of a genocide reverberates through generations, the heart and vitality of the Cambodian community shines in this impressive collection.
A beautiful epic of one family’s history from slavery to the present, and a young girl’s attempt to find her place amongst the stories of her ancestors. The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois begins with a song of the land and the Creek people who inhabit it. Soon we are swept forward in time to young Ailey Pearl Garfield, the great-great-grandchild of slaves, trying to make sense of the voices from her family’s past. As her generation struggles with the trauma of our country’s racist legacy—some tragically succumbing to its weight—Ailey turns to the hard lessons of history and the wisdom of her forbearers to help navigate a path as a young Black woman in the world of today. A poetic saga which richly paints the pain, resilience, frustration, and love passed down through generations.
If you enjoy a little history, a little drama, and a whole lot of intriguing characters in your books, you would be hard pressed to do better than Christina Clancy’s Shoulder Season. Set in a little-known Playboy resort in the town of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, we meet the girls who work as Bunnies and learn of the complicated task to play both wholesome girl-next-door and sex symbol to the men who visit. The story focuses on Sherri, a girl who never imagined a life of glamour but is soon transformed to someone she wouldn’t recognize, making choices that would have been unthinkable before. Clancy skillfully brings the heady days at the resort to life, and through Sherri’s steps and missteps, reminds us of the cost of growing up.
If you loved Richard Power’s Overstory or Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees, you are in for a real treat with Suzanne Simard’s Finding the Mother Tree. A mix of memoir and science, Simard details her incredible discovery of the complicated mycelial networks that connect the forest and allow the trees to communicate. Born and raised in the logging world of British Columbia, Simard fell in love with trees as a young girl. As we follow her on her quest to understand the community of the forest, she reveals an entire world of living organisms and reminds us of our place in this delicate ecosystem. Endlessly fascinating and revelatory, Simard’s breathtaking memoir reminds us of the real magic that exists on our planet.