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!


July - August 2019

CHANCES ARE... - Richard Russo
Three old friends, now in their 60’s, gather just after Labor Day on Martha’s Vineyard. Lincoln, a real estate broker, has six kids. Teddy is the publisher of a small scholarly press. Mickey is a wild and somewhat famous rock musician. They talk of their years as scholarship students at a New England liberal arts college. There, they all fell in love the same girl. She was engaged to a rich guy, but it was clear she didn’t love him. Right after graduation she joined them for a weekend at a Vineyard beach house. Then she disappeared. They are still trying figure out what happened. Richard Russo brings us an insightful portrayal of their friendship. Chances Are… is filled with humor, irony, suspense, menace and tenderness. After you read it, let’s talk. --Elaine

THREE WOMEN - Lisa Taddeo
If our sexual desires reflect a hidden truth about ourselves, then Three Women shows that every story behind those needs is unique. Maggie, Lina, and Sloane—three women with very different lives—have each experienced wholeness and loss through various sexual encounters. Lisa Taddeo’s gripping, non-fiction work offers the women moments of reflection on how they arrived at that moment and how desire has impacted their lives. The magic in Taddeo’s work is found in the common threads that she discovers connecting all women as sexual beings. --Luisa

In 44 stories that range from a paragraph to a gorgeous novella, Peter Orner’s deceptively simple tales give us insight into each protagonist’s defining moment. In other hands, such depth and insight might require hundreds of pages. Although profound, these stories are often very funny. Orner shows the absurdity of life and the absolute simple joys too. The dialogue is so good that if you are reading this book in public, you may be tempted to read it out loud to anyone in earshot. From the woman who gets calls from her estranged missing brother to the drug dealer who dresses up like Captain Kangaroo, each character is unforgettable. --Elaine

THE GIFTED SCHOOL - Bruce Holsinger
In a town of privilege, four friends have supported each other through the ups and downs of parenthood. But when a magnet school for the gifted comes to town, they discover the limits of their loyalties and the questionable lengths they will go to secure a place for their children. As secrets and resentments build, the delicate balance that had made their town a haven begins to topple. Bruce Holsinger finds the perfect voice for each character, as they struggle between their good and bad impulses. This novel resonates deeply in our times. --Luisa

THE CHAIN - Adrian McKinty
A fiendish thriller! When Rachel receives a call saying her daughter has been kidnapped, the kidnappers tell her they want something more than just the ransom: she needs to kidnap and provide them with another child in order to free her own. Unless she cooperates with this chain-kidnpping, she’ll never see her daughter alive. She’s caught up in a nightmarish situation, but she realizes she must somehow break the chain. Dennis Lehane says it best: The Chain is diabolical, unnerving, and gives a whole new meaning to the word ‘relentless.’” --Luisa

When Ulrika and Adam’s daughter, Stella, is arrested for the murder of a local businessman, they each try on their own to grapple with this unthinkable situation. The story is told from each of their points of view, and a picture emerges of a family in crisis, deeply damaged by holding on to secrets for too long. The actions they take now that may define their lives forever more. M.T. Edvardsson’s gripping tale will have you questioning where the truth lies and if anyone will emerge unscathed. --Luisa

THE NICKEL BOYS - Colson Whitehead
Colson Whitehead turns his keen eye on the horrific abuses of the Jim Crow era. Inspired by the Civil Rights movement, Elwood Curtis is on the road to college when an innocent mistake derails his life and locks him away in the Nickel Academy, a vicious, racist reform school in Florida. He meets another inmate who is as cynical as he is hopeful, and together they try to find a way to survive. Whitehead’s exquisite prose shines a light on a shared history that has been overlooked for far too long. --Luisa

TURBULENCE - David Szalay
Shuttling from London to Madrid and on around the world, the elegantly connected stories in Turbulence show multiple lives in transition. From a mother’s regret to a man’s attempt to forge a connection, each story reveals the struggles we face when life alters our plans. We see brief connections between the characters that show how even bystanders may be altered by their mere presence in times of upheaval. With a detailed eye and graceful touch, David Szalay reminds us that beneath the calm demeanor of those around us there may be an ocean of turbulent emotion. --Luisa

This book is fiction, but Annie Clement and many characters are based on real people. In 1913 the copper mines in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula bring huge profits to the absentee mine owners. The miners’ wives wonder if their husbands and sons, who are underground mining for paltry wages, will return home maimed or dead. After an especially horrifying instance of cruelty on the part of the mine manager, Annie Clements organizes the women and gets them to convince the men to strike. The national press covers the actions of the thugs who were hired by the mine manager to start riots, beat up and even kill the miners. Mother Jones arrives with money and advice. Only one merchant, a Jew who has escaped the cruelty of Czarist Russia, supports the strikers. He gives them credit and provides food, hiding places and a means of escape. That quiet hero is based on my Great Grandfather. --Elaine

LIFELINES - Heidi Diehl
A graceful and intimate character study, Lifelines follows Louise and the members of her family as we learn of the choices, big and little, that shaped their lives. When her youngest daughter asks her to come to Germany for an important funeral, Louise is forced to examine what her time in Germany really meant to her and what she values now in her life in Eugene, Oregon. She has a jealous husband at home and her mercurial ex awaiting her arrival in Dusseldorf. The connections between the past and the present are revealed to be both beautiful and painful in alternating points of view. --Luisa

DEEP RIVER - Karl Marlantes
Aino and her brothers grew up in Finland, learning to read using the Communist Manifesto as a primer. As Imperialist Russia became too oppressive, her brothers left Finland for America where they became loggers in the forests of Washington’s Columbia River. Aino followed them to what she expected would be a workers paradise. But she soon saw the cruelty of the owners as loggers lost arms, legs and life. Aino became involved in starting the first labor union in the lumber industry. In a novel informed by his own family’s experience, Karl Marlantes, the author of Matterhorn and What It is Like to Go to War, brings us adventure, a love story and an intriguing epic of a family. --Elaine

INLAND - Tea Obreht
The author of The Tiger’s Wife takes us to the lawless Arizona territory of the late 1800’s. There are two protagonists--Nora and Lurie. Nora is alone on the parched family homestead with her visually impaired son, her incompetent 14-year-old niece, and her mother-in-law who is mute due to a stroke. Nora’s husband has left to find water and her older sons have ridden off in the night. Lurie is a young thief on the lam. Marshall John Berger is determined to bring Lurie to justice for killing a boy. As their stories become entwined, Téa Obreht mesmerizes us with a complex tale, filled with unforgettable characters, including animals and humans--living and dead. --Elaine

Janet Fitch began this story in The Revolution of Marina M. when a 19 year old poet rejected her bourgeois family and joined the Bolshevik Revolution. Now it’s 1919 and a much wiser Marina has returned to St. Petersburg where she moves into a literary collective. Here, she comes in contact with literary giants who refuse to bend to the party line. As Marina comes to question the revolution she so enthusiastically joined, she is in ever greater danger. --Elaine

HOLLOW KINGDOM - Kira Jane Buxton
A starkly original story, Hollow Kingdom brings heart and humor to the post-apocalyptic world of human zombies and rebellious animals. The star of the show is a domesticated crow with a foul mouth and a twisted affection for mankind. As the world around him devolves, he and his bloodhound buddy embark on a quest of survival along with an unforgettable cast of characters. We see ourselves as our pets envision us, whether as the mediocre servants of our cat’s imagination or the poop-obsessed walking companion of our dog. This darkly humorous tale of humankind’s hubris is filled with playfulness and wit. --Luisa