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Book Passage, in Corte Madera, Calif., has been Isabel’s favorite bookstore for 26 years. It’s like an extension of her home and office: there she has a mailbox, she does press interviews, she meets readers and other writers, and she teaches at conferences. All her book tours start with an event at Book Passage. The staff knows her well and chooses the best books and audiobooks for her. I try to order books from Book Passage before I look elsewhere—before I look to the “river in Brazil,” for instance. Here is Isabel’s summer reading list, which was compiled with help from Book Passage owners Elaine and Bill Petrocelli.
All the Light We Cannot See
After she lost her sight at age six, Marie-Laure’s father made her a scale model of their pre-World War II Paris neighborhood. She learned every nook and cranny with her fingers, knowledge that enabled their escape a few years later when the Germans occupied the city. At the seaside village where she and her father fled, Marie meets Werner, a German officer trained to be merciless as he searches for members of the French Resistance. Their story shows what can happen when good people encounter evil.
Love and Treasure
As Jack is dying, he shows his lawyer granddaughter a jewel-encrusted pendant and begs her to find the rightful owner. Jack was an Army officer in charge of guarding the so-called Hungarian Gold Train at the end of World War II–a train filled with treasures taken from Hungarian Jews on their way to concentration camps. Grounded in history, this exciting novel is full of twists and compelling characters.
A food critic, memoirist, editor, and now novelist, Ruth Reichl brings us Billie, a young woman who lands her dream job at the revered food magazine, Delicious. When the magazine suddenly closes (remember the day Condé Nast killed Gourmet?), Billie is asked to stay on to answer questions from readers. Exploring the defunct magazine’s library, she finds a trove of old letters from a reader to the late James Beard, famous chef and food writer, and a mystery is unlocked.
It’s the 1930s and Nell Stone, who has already written a famous book on the erotic habits of the children of a New Guinea tribe, returns to the island continue her research. The fictional characters are loosely based on Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune and Gregory Bateson. Anthropology, sex, a bullying husband and an irresistible lover make King’s Euphoria a treasure.
We Are Called to Rise
Contemporary Las Vegas is the setting for this outstanding first novel told in the very different voices of two women, an immigrant boy in elementary school and a damaged veteran of the Iraq war. A marriage falls apart, the boy’s Albanian family can’t figure out how to exist in an alien environment and the veteran must confront his demons. These unforgettable characters refuse to go away even after you finish the book.
As World War II begins, three friends find themselves competing for one showgirl role at San Francisco Chinatown’s exclusive nightclub The Forbidden City. Ruby is Japanese and desperate to pass as Chinese so she won’t be sent to a Japanese internment camp, Grace has fled her abusive Mid-western family, and Helen, who grew up in Chinatown, hides her own secret. The author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan beautifully explores the intricacies of friendship.
We Were Liars
E. Lockhart (written for teenagers but adults are loving this gem)
A distinguished family is vacationing on a private Massachusetts island when something happens to the teenage daughter. Each morning when she wakes up, she can’t remember anything that happened before. One thing becomes clear: this family is living in its own mythology. We Were Liars is mystery page-turner that will keep you up all night.
Under the Egg
Laura Marx Fitzgerald (For 8 to 12 year olds but adults will enjoy it too)
Theodora lives in a 200-year-old townhouse with her fragile mother and her grandfather’s legacy: $463 and a rather mundane painting of an egg. When Theo discovers that there is a masterpiece hidden behind the picture of the egg, she realizes grandfather, who was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wasn’t who she thought he was. This adventure into the secret world of art will fascinate kids and make them want to take you to the museum.
Cathedral of the Wild
A story of transformation that inspires a great appreciation for the beauty and order of the natural world. With conviction, hope and humor, Varty makes a passionate claim for the power of the wild to restore the human spirit. A memoir about growing up in a wildlife conservation park in South Africa and in the Varty family, who are as wild as the wonderful animals they protect.