Author Archives: Lucia

About Lucia

Lucia is the bookbuyer for Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City, CA. She also works as an editor and reviewer for, and can be heard recommending books on NPR's Morning Edition with Susan Stamberg. She lives with her family in La Jolla, CA.

Oooh, oooh, ooooh!

Twice a week it’s like Christmas morning around here — fresh boxes filled with new books arrive on our doorstep. We have lust and covetousness in our hearts! Here are some of the brand-new ones we’re most excited about: (click on the covers for more info)

The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson

Donna is “seriously dying to read The Family Fang. It seems off-beat but compelling.  I’m always interested in how kids turn out when they have looney birds for parents.  Of course there are plenty of memoirs which fit that description so it will be interesting to read a novel of that genre.”

(This is also already one of my favorites of the season. If you like The Royal Tenenbaums, you’ll love The Family Fang)

How to Keep Your Volkswagon Alive, by Christopher Bucher

The title! And it’s about a single father raising a son — who happens to be a 1971 Volkswagon Beetle. It’s already brilliant and heartbreaking. Oooh, I can’t wait!

The Wizard of Oz – in Scanimation!

BJ says: “Fun and entertaining! No matter how many different incarnations one has read, the story never loses its punch- and in the end it is all about the story.”

Wildwood, by Colin Meloy, illustrated by Carson Ellis

Calling all Decemberists fans! Lead guitarist and songwriter Colin Meloy has penned one of the most anticipated books for young readers coming out this year. Will it be good? Will it be great? Apparently Lemony Snicket and Michael Chabon want to live inside Meloy’s wild world forever:

This book is like the wild, strange forest it describes. It is full of suspense and danger and frightening things the world has never seen, and once I stepped inside I never wanted to leave.
-Lemony Snicket
“Dark and whimsical, with a true and uncanny sense of otherworldliness, WILDWOOD is the heir to a great tradition of stories of wild childhood adventure. It snatched me up and carried me off into a world I didn’t want

to leave.”
-Michael Chabon

Who Am I? And If So, How Many? by Richard David Precht

This international bestseller, apparently one of the most talked-about books in the world, has just made it to our fair city. Will we be talking about it, too?

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Recommendations, Bookbuyer's Notes, Staff Picks

A Good Book is Hard to Find… from the very beginning

My daughter loves books. Loves, loves, loves. “Book” was among her first handful of words, and she loves looking at them, flinging them off the shelves, stacking them up, carrying them around, and handing them to us forcefully so that we will read them to her right now. Again and again.

At 14 months old, Eva already has very specific ideas about what kinds of books are good. I’m not surprised at her taste, but I am slightly surprised how difficult it is to find books that fit the bill. I don’t know why I should be surprised, since much of my life as far back as I can remember has revolved primarily around finding the perfect books — for myself, for my friends, for my husband, for this bookstore — and the very fact that it’s so difficult is what keeps me at it. I’m terribly picky. My husband is even pickier. And the bookstore, pickier still! So our daughter naturally has excellent taste.

In the Night KitchenAs I search for more books that are like the ones she loves best, I realize I’m chasing the impossible: more instances of absolute brilliance. A book like In the Night Kitchen? Are you kidding? There simply is no other book like In the Night Kitchen — or Goodnight Moon, or The Snowy Day. And this is what I come up against in choosing books to stock in our bookstore.  Our staff asks me for “more books like [fill in the blank]” and become frustrated when I fail to stack up the shelves with ever more brilliant books that they will love just as much as the best book they ever read.

I understand, though. There are so many (so many!) books in the world. Every time I discover one that blows my mind I realize that means there are more out there, somewhere, waiting for me. We all read so many mediocre books on the road to the ones that change our lives. It’s the very gentle price we pay for the chance.

So Eva and I make our way through the library, piling up picture books and hauling them back. Every so often one sticks, and that’s how very lucky we are.


Leave a comment

Filed under Bookbuyer's Notes

Staff Picks: Week of July 11th

Lucia recommends Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice & Aguas Frescas, by Fany Gerson

From the pure, radiant flavors of classic Blackberry and Spicy Pineapple to unexpectedly enchanting combinations such as Sour Cream, Cherry and Tequila, or Strawberry-Horchata, Paletas is an engaging and delicious guide to Mexico’s traditional—and some not-so-traditional—frozen treats.

Collected and developed by celebrated pastry chef Fany Gerson, this sweet little cookbook showcases her favorite recipes for paletas, those flavor-packed ice pops made from an enormous variety of fruits, nuts, flowers, and even spices; plus shaved ice (raspados) and aguas frescas—the delightful Mexican drinks featuring whole fruit and exotic ingredients like tamarind and hibiscus flowers.

Whether you’re drawn to a simple burst of fresh fruit—as in the Coconut, Watermelon, or Cantaloupe pops—or prefer adventurous flavors like Mezcal-Orange, Mexican Chocolate, Hibiscus-Raspberry, or Lime Pie, Paletas is an inviting, refreshing guide guaranteed to help you beat the heat.

Donna recommends The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, by Alina Bronsky

Told with sly humor and an anthropologist’s eye for detail, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is the story of three unforgettable women whose destinies are tangled up in a family dynamic that is at turns hilarious and tragic. In her new novel, Russian-born Alina Bronsky gives readers a moving portrait of the devious limits of the will to survive.
“Once you find yourself in the grip of Rosa’s saga, there is no escaping. Brutal, self-absorbed, perceptive, and hilarious, Rosa is as unreliable as she is unforgettable. Set both behind the Iron Curtain and in the reunified Germany, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is refreshing as well as disturbing. The strengths of the three generations – unsinkable Rosa, her passive but loving daughter Sulfia, and her unpredictable and mysterious granddaughter Aminat – link these women together and simultaneously pull them apart. Their story will fascinate, repel, and bring you to tears.”
— Leslie Reiner, Inkwood Books, Tampa, FL (Indie Next List selection)

Lilly recommends The Art Lover’s Cookbook – A Feast for the Eye, edited by Carolyn Miller

Still lifes, genre scenes, cartoons, photographs, and decorative arts illustrate the amusing and complicated relationships we have with food, our sustenance and our delight. Enjoy tasting and reflecting on these wonderful expressions of the artistry and creativity with which we celebrate food.

Jane recommends Titanic Thompson: The Man Who Bet on Everything, by Kevin Cook

Born in a log cabin in the Ozarks, Alvin “Titanic” Thompson (1892-1974) traveled with his golf clubs, a .45 revolver, and a suitcase full of cash. He won and lost millions playing cards, dice, golf, pool, and dangerous games of his own invention. He killed five men and married five women, each one a teenager on her wedding day. He ruled New York’s underground craps games in the 1920s and was Damon Runyon’s model for slick-talking Sky Masterson. Dominating the links in the pre-PGA Tour years, Thompson may have been the greatest golfer of his time, teeing up with Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Lee Trevino, and Ray Floyd. He also traded card tricks with Houdini, conned Al Capone, lost a million to Minnesota Fats and then teamed up with Fats and won it all back. A terrific read for anyone who has ever laid a bet, Titanic Thompson recaptures the colorful times of a singular figure: America’s original road gambler.

Aida recommends Tree of Codes, by Jonathan Safran Foer

Danielle recommends the Simply Small Series, by Paola Opal

“Bare beauty is what you find in the Simply Small Series books…almost haiku-like.”
Word of Mouse Book Reviews

“…just perfect for the youngest readers.”
ABC Best Books for Children

“Opal uses vibrant onomatopoeic language, such as ‘swoosh,’ ‘thump’ and ‘splash,’ which makes reading aloud to children fun.” — CM Review

BJ recommends The Wheel of Nuldoid, by Russ Woody

The much-anticipated first book by veteran television writer/producer Russ Woody. Inspired by The Hobbit and The Wizard of Oz, The Wheel of Nuldoid is a dark tongue-in-cheek look at the very center of our world, where a society of short, quarrelsome creatures live and operate the machinery that rotates the earth. It’s the story of three unsuspecting humans-sixth grade teacher Warren Worst, his student Leo and Warren’s beautiful neighbor Lily-who are living quietly in San Francisco until the earthquake of October 1989 turns their lives upside down. Literally. Join them as they journey through the Region of Neither Norr, fall hundreds of miles through a giant tunnel-hole, cross the Plains of Low Weather and the Valley of Lopsided Water, fly down the ancient slide of the Droiden Frobble Dynasty and scale the Great Big Canyon.

Julie recommends Shanghai Girls, by Lisa See

In 1937 Shanghai—the Paris of Asia—twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree—until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth. To repay his debts, he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides. As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, from the Chinese countryside to the shores of America. Though inseparable best friends, the sisters also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. Along the way they make terrible sacrifices, face impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are—Shanghai girls.

1 Comment

Filed under Staff Picks

The Waste Land + iPad app, and other words you never imagined in the same sentence.

Last week, T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land was, for a glorious moment, the top-grossing iPad book app. (Let’s just pause for a moment to look at those words in one sentence together.) The app includes a dramatic reading from Irish actress Fiona Shaw, and commentary and readings from Viggo Mortensen, Ted Hughes, and Eliot himself. This week, Marvel & DC comics regained their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd positions, but, as of this writing, you’ll find Penguin’s  “Amplified Edition” of Keroac’s On the Road in 4th place, complete with family photos, reproductions of the original 120-foot scroll, and tributes from John Updike and Bob Dylan.

When I first read about The Waste Land app, I recoiled in reflexive disgust. “The Waste Land”  and “app” were not words I wanted to see in a sentence together. But when I saw Eliot up there with Dora the Explorer, Disney princesses and countless Bible apps trailing behind, I got excited. Not so excited that I actually want to look at the apps, but excited, nevertheless. I’m not so naive as to believe that these apps will actually make people read more poetry, more literature, or read more at all, but I’ll settle for some more people reading a poem, however they come to it.

I’m not going to get into the whole e-books vs. paper thing; it’s obvious and boring. But let me just end with a quote from The New York Times Opion page:

The real achievement [of the app] here is to make “The Waste Land” feel published — to let you feel, when you are reading Eliot’s text, that you have a well-printed book in hand, lacking only the material feel of paper itself.

Priced at $13.99, the app is almost twice as much as the paper edition from Modern Library, which has the added bonus of feeling just like a book. Though, without Viggo, I guess it’s just not the same.


Leave a comment

Filed under Bookbuyer's Notes

Our house

What my family is reading this week:

Me (Lucia):

Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson

At the repeated urging of Doug Dutton and my friend and co-worker, BJ, I finally picked this up at the library. Do I love it? No. Is it great? No. Can I stop reading it? Absolutely not. I wait for my daughter’s nap so I can snuggle up next to her and speed-read this with cookies crumbing up the bed next to me — summer candy!

A Moment in the Sun, by John Sayles

This is what I read in the evenings.  Best thing I’ve read in a longggg time. Stellar, masterful, brilliant — it deserves far better descriptors than my sleep-deprived brain can conjure up at the moment. I did a little better here.

My husband (Micah):

A Moment in the Sun, by John Sayles

We tried this one as a read-aloud in the evenings, but both of us kept stealing away with it and speeding ahead. It’s a race to the finish, which I’m sure Micah will win.

Seconds Out, by Martin Kohan

I read this article about Martin Kohan in The Guardian some months ago, and I immediately ordered a copy in the original Spanish for Micah. It finally arrived yesterday! I’m hoping it’s as good as I expect it will be. We have the brand-new English translation at Portrait.

Our daughter, Eva Ophelia:

The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats

This is a cornerstone of our bedtime routine, and it was a favorite of ours long before Eva was born. Luckily, she loves it just as much as we do. Especially when the snow falls — “plop!” on top of Peter’s head.  (By the by, did you know that Ezra Jack Keats was actually Jacob Ezra Katz,?)

Little White Rabbit, by Kevin Henkes

Our latest library-favorite, this is a nice book for very little ones — a real storyline, great illustrations, and just a little text on each page.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Good books that aren’t depressing

A couple of our staff members are always pestering me for “good books that aren’t depressing.” It turns out that every once in awhile most people want to read a good novel where most things turn out okay, and some nice things happen to some likeable people — who knew? Here are three brand-new books that promise to keep you out of the knife drawer:
Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell

Attachments is so perfectly engaging, so sly, and so funny I read it all in one sitting, then went back and read my favorite scenes a second time.”
-Haven Kimmel

Beth and Jennifer know that someone is monitoring their interoffice email. And Lincoln the email-monitor knows that he should stop reading their mail and just send them a warning. But he can’t stop. By the time Lincoln realizes how much he feels for Beth, it’s too late to unread all of her personal messages. And it’s way too late to introduce himself. What would he say? “Hi, I’m the guys who reads your e-mail, and, also, I love you …”

Attachments is is a fast, funny romantic comedy about three people at the end of their 20s, at the end of the last Millennium. It’s a novel about breaking up and starting over, about office crushes and high school girlfriends and making peace with your boyfriend’s band. At its chewy caramel center, this is a book about falling in love with the person who makes you feel like the best version of yourself. Even if it’s someone you’ve never met.

The Borrower, by Rebecca Makkai

“A 26-year-old children’s librarian, Lucy Hull, allows herself to be ‘kidnapped’ by one of her precocious 10-year-old patrons, a boy intent on running away from home. The pair end up on a hilarious road trip that ping-pongs them across the Midwest and out to the East Coast. Makkai’s writing is sharp and funny, and book lovers will enjoy the many references to well-known titles, from echoes of the road trip in Lolita to a chapter that is structured like a Choose Your Own Adventure story. What a wonderful, assured, and original debut!”
— Shuchi Saraswat, Titcomb’s Bookshop, East Sandwich, MA

The Coffins of Little Hope, by Timothy Schaffert

“At the heart of this story is narrator Essie Myles, an 83-year-old great-grandmother who has been writing obituaries for her father’s small-town newspaper since she was a teenager. Far from morbid, Essie is a born storyteller, and she takes the reader on a wonderful journey into the nuances of a small town and its reaction when a little girl goes missing. Essie recounts the disappearance of the girl and in the process interweaves the stories of her own family and those of the town. Filled with rich characters and written with both charm and wonder, this should be the next book on your nightstand!”
— Julia MacDonald, The Yankee Bookshop, Woodstock, VT


Filed under Book Recommendations, Bookbuyer's Notes

Astral Dreams of Joy in a State of Wonder, or, Enough With the Chick Lit

A recent literary argument in the NY Times made me wonder: if Richard Russo and Jonathan Tropper were women, would their books be categorized as “Chick Lit?” Kate Christensen, the author of one of the summer’s most talked-about novels, has an awesome article in the latest issue of Elle that speaks directly to that very problem. To which I offer the following: Three big novels coming out in June that just happen to be written by women. Chick lit? Sure. Whatever. Something rhymes with that, I’m sure.
The Astral, by Kate ChristensenThe Astral, by Kate Christensen
“Like the rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn of its setting, Christensen’s unremittingly wonderful latest is populated by an odd but captivating mix of characters. At the center is Harry Quirk, a middle-aged poet whose comfortable life is upended one winter day when his wife, Luz, convinced he’s having an affair, destroys his notebooks, throws his laptop from the window, and kicks him out. Things, Harry has to admit, are not going well: their idealistic Dumpster-diving daughter, Karina, is lonely and lovelorn, and their son, Hector, is in the grip of a messianic cult. Taking in a much-changed Greenpoint, Brooklyn, while working at a lumberyard and hoping to recover his poetic spark, Harry must come to terms with the demands of starting anew at 57. Astute and unsentimental, at once romantic and wholly rational, Harry is an everyman adrift in a changing world, and as he surveys his failings, Christensen takes a singular, genuine story and blows it up into a smart inquiry into the nature of love and the commitments we make, the promises we do and do not honor, and the people we become as we negotiate the treacherous parameters of marriage and friendship and parenthood.” (Publishers Weekly)

Dreams of Joy, by Lisa SeeDreams of Joy, by Lisa See
See revisits Shanghai Girls sisters Pearl and May in this surefire story of life in Communist China. Joy, the daughter Pearl has raised as her own in L.A., learns the truth about her parentage and flees to China to seek out her father and throw herself into the Communist cause, giving See ample opportunity to explore the People’s Republic from an unlikely perspective as Joy reconnects with her artist father, Z.G. Li, and the two leave sophisticated Shanghai to go to the countryside, where Z.G., whose ironic view of politics is lost on naïve Joy, has been sent to teach art to the peasants. Joy, full of political vigor, is slow to pick up on the harsh realities of communal life in late 1950s China, but the truth sinks in as Mao’s drive to turn China into a major agriculture and manufacturing power backfires. Pearl, meanwhile, leaves L.A. on a perhaps perilous quest to find Joy. As always, See creates an immersive atmosphere–her rural China is far from postcard pretty–but Joy’s education is a stellar example of finding new life in a familiar setup, and See’s many readers will be pleased to see the continued development of Pearl and May’s relationship. (Publishers Weekly)

State of Wonder, by Ann PatchettState of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
In this expansive page-turner, Marina Singh, a big pharma researcher, is sent by her married boss/lover to the deepest, darkest corner of the Amazon to investigate the death of her colleague, Anders Eckman, who had been dispatched to check on the progress of the incommunicado Dr. Annick Swenson, a rogue scientist on the cusp of developing a fertility drug that could rock the medical profession (and reap enormous profits). After arriving in Manaus, Marina travels into her own heart of darkness, finding Dr. Swenson’s camp among the Lakashi, a gentle but enigmatic tribe whose women go on bearing children until the end of their lives. As Marina settles in, she goes native, losing everything she had held on to so dearly in her prescribed Midwestern life, shedding clothing, technology, old loves, and modern medicine in order to find herself. Patchett’s fluid prose dissolves in the suspense of this out-there adventure, a juggernaut of a trip to the crossroads of science, ethics, and commerce that readers will hate to see end. (Publishers Weekly)

1 Comment

Filed under Book Recommendations, Bookbuyer's Notes