Category Archives: Staff Picks

The Staff Picks: Week of May 16th

This is the week we turn 25 years old. Mid-twenties. Quarter century… Portrait of a Bookstore can now rent a car!

Here is what the Staff Picks this week:

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Julie Picks:

This Life Is in Your Hands, by Melissa Coleman

In 1968, Melissa Coleman’s parents, Eliot and Sue—a handsome, idealistic young couple from well-to-do families—pack a few essentials into their VW truck and abandon the complications of modern reality to carve a farm from the woods. They move to a remote peninsula on the coast of Maine and become disciples of Helen and Scott Nearing, authors of the homesteading bible Living the Good Life. On sixty acres of sandy, intractable land, Eliot and Sue begin to forge a new existence, subsisting on the crops they grow and building a home with their own hands.

While they establish a happy family and achieve their visionary goals, the pursuit of a purer, simpler life comes at a price. Winters are long and lean, summers frenetic with the work of the harvest, and the distraction of the many young farm apprentices threatens the Colemans’ marriage. Then, one summer day when Melissa is seven, her three-year-old sister, Heidi, wanders off and drowns in the pond where she liked to play. In the wake of the accident, ideals give way to human frailty, divorce, and a mother’s breakdown—and ultimately young Melissa is abandoned to the care of neighbors. What really happened, and who, if anyone, is to blame?

This Life Is in Your Hands is the search to understand a complicated past; a true story, both tragic and redemptive, it tells of the quest to make a good life, the role of fate, and the power of forgiveness.

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Jane Picks:

The Housekeeper and the Professor, by Yoko Ogawa

He is a brilliant math Professor with a peculiar problem–ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory. She is an astute young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him. And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor’s mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son. The Professor is capable of discovering connections between the simplest of quantities–like the Housekeeper’s shoe size–and the universe at large, drawing their lives ever closer and more profoundly together, even as his memory slips away.

The Housekeeper and the Professor is an enchanting story about what it means to live in the present, and about the curious equations that can create a family.

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Lucia Picks:

A Moment in the Sun, by John Sayles

Spanning five years and half a dozen countries, Sayles’s latest novel takes the late 1890’s in its sights–from the white coup in Wilmington, North Carolina, to the bloody dawn of U.S. interventionism in Cuba and the Philippines.
Many, many pages long.

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Danielle Picks:

A Drove of Bullocks and A Filth of Starlings, by PatrickGeorge


A litter of kittens, a colony of ants, a pride of lions: everyone has heard of these plural nouns. But what about a parcel of hogs, a kaleidoscope of butterflies, or a business of ferrets? What could be more apt than calling a group of cockroaches an intrusion? Perhaps a loveliness of ladybirds! These fanciful groups and many more are illustrated with cutting-edge design—dazzling as a dazzle of zebras.

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BJ Picks:

When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson

On a hot summer day, Joanna Mason’s family slowly wanders home along a country lane. A moment later, Joanna’s life is changed forever…

On a dark night thirty years later, ex-detective Jackson Brodie finds himself on a train that is both crowded and late. Lost in his thoughts, he suddenly hears a shocking sound…

At the end of a long day, 16-year-old Reggie is looking forward to watching a little TV. Then a terrifying noise shatters her peaceful evening. Luckily, Reggie makes it a point to be prepared for an emergency…

These three lives come together in unexpected and deeply thrilling ways in the latest novel from Kate Atkinson, the critically acclaimed author who Harlan Coben calls “an absolute must-read.”

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Donna Picks:

The Privileges, by Jonathan Dee

Smart and socially gifted, Adam and Cynthia Morey are perfect for each other. With Adam’s rising career in the world of private equity, a beautiful home in Manhattan, gorgeous children, and plenty of money, they are, by any reasonable standard, successful. But for the Moreys, their future of boundless privilege is not arriving fast enough. As Cynthia begins to drift, Adam is confronted with a choice that will test how much he is willing to risk to ensure his family’s happiness and to recapture the sense that the only acceptable life is one of infinite possibility. The Privileges is an odyssey of a couple touched by fortune, changed by time, and guided above all else by their epic love for each other.

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Lilly Picks:

Damn You, Autocorrect!by Jillian Madison

A buck a boat funny stuff the happens with autocorrect.

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The Staff Picks: Week of May 9th

Well, hello again! It’s a new week and we have a new set of recommendations– books we love and can’t wait to tell you about.

See last week’s here.

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Lucia Picks:

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, by Wells Tower

Viking marauders descend on a much-plundered island, hoping some mayhem will shake off the winter blahs.  A man is booted out of his home after his wife discovers that the print of a bare foot on the inside of his car’s windshield doesn’t match her own.  Teenage cousins, drugged by summer, meet with a reckoning in the woods.  A boy runs off to the carnival after his stepfather bites him in a brawl.  Wells Tower’s version of America is touched with the seamy splendor of the dropout, the misfit: failed inventors, boozy dreamers, hapless fathers, wayward sons.

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BJ Picks:

22 Britannia Road, by Amanda Hodgkinson

“Housekeeper or housewife?” the soldier asks Silvana as she and eight- year-old Aurek board the ship that will take them from Poland to England at the end of World War II. There her husband, Janusz, is already waiting for them at the little house at 22 Britannia Road. But the war has changed them all so utterly that they’ll barely recognize one another when they are reunited. “Survivor,” she answers.

Silvana and Aurek spent the war hiding in the forests of Poland. Wild, almost feral Aurek doesn’t know how to tie his own shoes or sleep in a bed. Janusz is an Englishman now-determined to forget Poland, forget his own ghosts from the way, and begin a new life as a proper English family. But for Silvana, who cannot escape the painful memory of a shattering wartime act, forgetting is not a possibility.

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Frank, Jr. Picks:

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

It’s the perfect time, Frank thinks, to revisit this classic. He’s been reading it again and trying to convince the rest of us to do the same.

Here’s where you should not go.

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Lilly Picks:

Patti Smith 1969-1976, photographed by Judy Linn

“Linn’s collection of photographs is the perfect complement to Smith’s National Book Award-winning memoir, Just Kids . . . like Smith’s memoir, the photos-uninterrupted by titles, captions, or any other text-serve two purposes: they tell the story of young artists finding their voice and style and serve as a love letter to ’70s New York, four decades later.”
-Flavorwire.com

Lilly says:  “I LOVE it.”

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Donna Picks:


French Leave, by Anna Gavalda

Simon, Garance and Lola flee a family wedding that promises to be dull to visit their younger brother, Vincent, who is working as a guide at a château in the heart of the charming Tours countryside. For a few hours, they forget about kids, spouses, work and the many demands adulthood makes upon them and lose themselves in a day of laughter, teasing, and memories. As simply and as spontaneously as the adventure began, it ends. All four return to their everyday lives, carrying with them the magic of their brief reunion. They are stronger now, and happier, for having rediscovered the ties that bind them.

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Danielle Picks:

Yummy: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales, by Lucy Cousins

Eight classic stories take on new energy as Lucy Cousins ramps up her artwork. In this bold, funny, and unflinching collection, the beloved author-illustrator retains all the emotion and humor of the original fairy tales: the heroes are courageous, the villains are horrible, and the children are tasty. With her sly, simple language and vibrant illustrations, even the scariest fiends become the stuff of shared hilarity and shivery thrills.

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Aida Picks:

The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake

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Jane Picks:

The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca, by Tahir Shah

Jane says: “Having traveled through most of the Moslem nations in the bygone era when there were still kings and emperors in Afghanistan and Iran, Morocco always haunted my mind as being so very different as to seem a sojourner outpost from an alien galaxy.  Nothing was quite solid, pathways of energy ran unseen under the surface, reality always had a half-glimpsed twin slipping around a shadowed turn.  It wasn’t until I read The Caliph’s House all these decades later that those rather hallucinatory impressions began to merge into something coherent. At first glimpse, you might take it for a crazier version of other International House Hunter sagas like Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence and Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun as one reviewer put it, “the…idealistic…pursuit of greener grass through domestic upheaval”.  But it has both a darker and a more luminous adventure to offer.  At the very moment Tahir Shah is signing the purchase papers for the crumbling palatial relic he has fallen in love with, a terrorist bomb goes off in the hotel across the street, shattering windows and blowing him and the attorney bloodied across the room.  With this sonic boom of penetration between cultures we are catapulted into a universe ruled by ancient and inscrutable tribal codes of honor and invisible meddling spirit jinns.  Restoring the Caliph’s house and garden courtyards to their full glory becomes a cultural, even spiritual, trial given vivid life by Tahir Shah’s sharp observations and sharper humor.  Full of bizarre events and characters, it’s a magical and very delicious dish.”

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The Staff Picks: Week of May 2nd

Recently, someone had the audacity to call us the “best curated bookstore” in Los Angeles. We’re not sure we can take this kind of libel sitting down.

So, we’re going to get back up and tell you what books, if you were to walk into our store this week, we’d rush over and tuck under your arm, stage-whispering fervent promises about.

We might even make a weekly habit of this, quickly compiling a reading list on which anyone on the planet would be able to find something they’d love. Because although there is only a handful of us, we are  zealots about the books we love and deviants in our tastes.

Lilly Picks:

The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace

The agents at the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Illinois, appear ordinary enough to newly arrived trainee David Wallace. But as he immerses himself in a routine so tedious and repetitive that new employees receive boredom-survival training, he learns of the extraordinary variety of personalities drawn to this strange calling. And he has arrived at a moment when forces within the IRS are plotting to eliminate even what little humanity and dignity the work still has.

The Pale King remained unfinished at the time of David Foster Wallace’s death, but it is a deeply compelling and satisfying novel, hilarious and fearless and as original as anything Wallace ever undertook. It grapples directly with ultimate questions–questions of life’s meaning and of the value of work and society–through characters imagined with the interior force and generosity that were Wallace’s unique gifts. Along the way it suggests a new idea of heroism and commands infinite respect for one of the most daring writers of our time.

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BJ Picks:

Started Early, Took My  Dog, by Kate Atkinson

Tracy Waterhouse leads a quiet, ordered life as a retired police detective-a life that takes a surprising turn when she encounters Kelly Cross, a habitual offender, dragging a young child through town. Both appear miserable and better off without each other-or so decides Tracy, in a snap decision that surprises herself as much as Kelly. Suddenly burdened with a small child, Tracy soon learns her parental inexperience is actually the least of her problems, as much larger ones loom for her and her young charge.
Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie, the beloved detective of novels such as Case Histories, is embarking on a different sort of rescue-that of an abused dog. Dog in tow, Jackson is about to learn, along with Tracy, that no good deed goes unpunished.

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Danielle Picks:


The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau, by Dan Yaccarino

Jacques Cousteau was the world’s ambassador of the oceans. His popular TV series brought whales, otters, and dolphins right into people’s living rooms. Now, in this exciting picturebook biography, Dan Yaccarino introduces young readers to the man behind the snorkel. From the first moment he got a glimpse of what lived under the ocean’s waves, Cousteau was hooked. And so he set sail aboard the Calypso to see the sea. He and his team of scientists invented diving equipment and waterproof cameras. They made films and televisions shows and wrote books so they could share what they learned. The oceans were a vast unexplored world, and Cousteau became our guide. And when he saw that pollution was taking its toll on the seas, Cousteau became our guide in how to protect the oceans as well.

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Aida Picks:

Say Her Name, by Francisco Goldman

In 2005, novelist Franciso Goldman married a beautiful young writer named Aura Estrada in a romantic Mexican hacienda. The month before their second anniversary, Aura broke her neck while body surfing. Francisco, blamed for Aura’s death by her family and blaming himself, wanted to die, too. Instead, he wrote “Say Her Name,” a novel chronicling his great love and unspeakable loss.
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A word from Aida about this being a “novel”: It’s not. At least, not a novel as it’s commonly thought of. This is one of the very small handful of books I can name written in the flushed throes of fresh grief. It isn’t a memoir written in retrospect, I mean. It is,  rather, the thoughts and recollections of a man who cannot yet say, “this is what happened and this is how I got through it.” There is no “The End” and though Goldman does wrap it up at the end of the book, this is simply a transparent and long journal entry. Whether it should have been published is a moot point, of course, (though I wouldn’t have,) but it is an absorbing book, which does little more than to tell us what it was like. That’s all. It doesn’t try to make sense. For this reason, it’s unique.
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Jane Picks:

Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall
Isolated by the most savage terrain in North America, the reclusive Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons are custodians of a lost art. For centuries they have practiced techniques that allow them to run hundreds of miles without rest and chase down anything from a deer to an Olympic marathoner while enjoying every mile of it. Their superhuman talent is matched by uncanny health and serenity, leaving the Tarahumara immune to the diseases and strife that plague modern existence. With the help of Caballo Blanco, a mysterious loner who lives among the tribe, the author was able not only to uncover the secrets of the Tarahumara but also to find his own inner ultra-athlete, as he trained for the challenge of a lifetime: a fifty-mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country pitting the tribe against an odd band of Americans, including a star ultramarathoner, a beautiful young surfer, and a barefoot wonder.
Full of incredible characters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting-edge science, and, most of all, pure inspiration, Born to Run is an epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? In search of an answer, Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong.
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Frank, Jr. Picks:

Unfamiliar Fishes, by Sarah Vowell
Many think of 1776 as the defining year of American history, when we became a nation devoted to the pursuit of happiness through self- government. In Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell argues that 1898 might be a year just as defining, when, in an orgy of imperialism, the United States annexed Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam, and invaded first Cuba, then the Philippines, becoming an international superpower practically overnight.
With her trademark smart-alecky insights and reporting, Vowell lights out to discover the off, emblematic, and exceptional history of the fiftieth state, and in so doing finds America, warts and all.
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Lucia Picks:

The Great Night, by Chris Adrian

On Midsummer Eve 2008, three people, each on the run from a failed relationship, become trapped in San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park, the secret home of Titania, Oberon, and their court. On this night, something awful is happening in the faerie kingdom: in a fit of sadness over the end of her marriage, which broke up in the wake of the death of her adopted son, Titania has set loose an ancient menace, and the chaos that ensues will threaten the lives of immortals and mortals alike.
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Julie Picks:


Reading My Father, by Alexandra Styron
In Reading My Father, William Styron’s youngest child explores the life of a fascinating and difficult man whose own memoir, Darkness Visible, so searingly chronicled his battle with major depression. Alexandra Styron’s parents—the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Sophie’s Choice and his political activist wife, Rose—were, for half a century, leading players on the world’s cultural stage. Alexandra was raised under both the halo of her father’s brilliance and the long shadow of his troubled mind.

Reading My Father portrays the epic sweep of an American artist’s life, offering a ringside seat on a great literary generation’s friendships and their dramas. It is also a tale of filial love, beautifully written, with humor, compassion, and grace.

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Frank Picks:

When I Stop Talking You’ll Know I’m Dead, by Jerry Weintraub with Rich Cohen

Here is the story of Jerry Weintraub: the self-made, Brooklyn-born, Bronx-raised impresario, Hollywood producer, legendary deal maker, and friend of politicians and stars. No matter where nature has placed him–the club rooms of Brooklyn, the Mafia dives of New York’s Lower East Side, the wilds of Alaska, or the hills of Hollywood–he has found a way to put on a show and sell tickets at the door. “All life was a theater and I wanted to put it up on a stage,” he writes. “I wanted to set the world under a marquee that read: ‘Jerry Weintraub Presents.'”

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Donna Picks:

Half Empty, by David Rakoff

In this deeply funny (and, no kidding, wise and poignant) book, Rakoff examines the realities of our sunny,  gosh­ everyone-can-be-a-star contemporary culture and finds that, pretty much as a universal rule, the best is not yet to come, adversity will triumph, justice will not be served, and your dreams won’t come true.

The book ranges from the personal to the universal, combining stories from Rakoff’s reporting and accounts of his own experi­ences: the moment when being a tiny child no longer meant adults found him charming but instead meant other children found him a fun target; the perfect late evening in Manhattan when he was young and the city seemed to brim with such pos­sibility that the street shimmered in the moonlight—as he drew closer he realized the streets actually flickered with rats in a feeding frenzy. He also weaves in his usual brand Oscar Wilde–worthy cultural criticism (the tragedy of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, for instance).

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As you can see, what we pick won’t necessarily be new or old or funny or serious or long or short. They’re just good books that excite us and what’s a friendly bookstore for but to share all the excitement…

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