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S.M.C.'s Reviews

Susan McCloskey has worked at Bookshop Santa Cruz since graduating from UCSC in 2000. She is the former Event Coordinator at Bookshop and continues to consult for the store. In her other life, she is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. She believes in story, and loves the meld of working with books, narrative, and people.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

I cannot say enough about this debut novel, which takes place in Chechnya, after its decade-long war with Russia. The snowy landscape is scarred by bombs, and countless people have “disappeared” at the hands of soldiers and rebels. Inside this bleak setting are an orphaned 8-year-old girl, Havaa; Akhmed, Havaa’s neighbor, who takes her in; and Sonya, a surgeon who reluctantly takes the pair into hiding at one of the region’s last functioning hospitals. This is a beautifully told tale that shines with eloquence and maturity. For fans of The Tiger’s Wife or Birdsong.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780770436407
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Hogarth - May 7th, 2013

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls (The Glass Castle) certainly must have pulled from her own unconventional background to so convincingly bring the two intrepid stars of this new novel to life. It is 1970, and 12-year-old Bean and 15-year-old Liz have been left by their artistic, whimsical mother, Charlotte, in a desert town in California. They end up making their way “home” to the Virginia town they were born in but have not seen since. Their Uncle Tinsley and the small Southern town that greet them seem suspended in time, but truly everything is on the edge of social change, with the Vietnam War and racial integration barely at bay. Both Bean and Liz have to grow and shift in their loyalty to themselves and one another, and must make heart-breaking decisions to try to carve a road between their past and future.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
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The Silver Star: A Novel Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781451661507
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Scribner - June 11th, 2013

The Gilly Salt Sisters by Tiffany Baker

Now available in paperback, Tiffany Baker’s second novel is a celebration of wholly original story-telling where fantastical and believable narratives are woven into one. Telling the story of two sisters who inherit their parents’ salt-farm off of Cape Cod, Baker twists magic, spite, and tension into the sisters’ decision of whether to stay with the family business or not. When surprising alliances are made between the sisters and those in the remote village, suggestions of superstition, suspected witchery, and suspense arise. History is made present when family secrets are unveiled and local lore suddenly comes to life, making this a surprisingly lush and vibrant read.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
The Gilly Salt Sisters: A Novel Cover Image
$14.99
ISBN: 9780446557290
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Grand Central Publishing - March 5th, 2013

Waking by Matthew Sanford

I was completely taken by this memoir and surprised by the way it moved me and made me examine my own thoughts and concepts about mind, body, and spirit. Matthew Sanford's life and body were irrevocably changed at age 13 when his family's car skidded off a snowy Iowa overpass, killing Matt's father and sister and leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. Matt’s telling about this event and his own childhood awareness of his time in the intensive care unit at the Mayo Clinic, to his growth and journey toward becoming a paralyzed yoga teacher and father of twins, is not what one would expect. Matt’s narrative is never saccharine and nor does it fall into cliché, but instead his humor, anger, and deep observing intellect continue to manifest a sense of stubborn joy and wonder. Forced to explore what it truly means to live in a body, he emerges with an entirely new view of being a "whole" person. In this searingly candid memoir he delivers a powerful message about the endurance of the human spirit and of the body that houses it.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence Cover Image
$15.99
ISBN: 9781594868450
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Rodale Books - May 27th, 2008

Anatomy of Injustice by Raymond Bonner

As a journalist for the New York Times, Ray Bonner traveled the country following capital punishment cases. Those stories led to a Pulitzer Prize, and one particular case led to this book. Anatomy of Injustice is an impassioned and incisive investigation into the many shortcomings of the justice system brought to light in the story of a grievously mishandled murder case in South Carolina that left, Edward Lee Elmore, an innocent man facing execution. Raymond Bonner gives us an exhaustive account of the particulars of racism, prosecutorial misconduct, inept defense lawyers, and injustice in Elmore's case, which, the author makes clear, occurs in courts throughout America. He carefully examines each stage of the initial trial--jury selection, the role of the lawyers and judge, the appeal process--and introduces us to the spirited young female lawyer who, for two decades, fought to get Elmore a fair trial. Powerfully suspenseful and deeply moving, Anatomy of Injustice is a page-turner that also serves as a vital contribution to our nation's ongoing, increasingly vehement debate about justice and inequality.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780307948540
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Vintage - January 8th, 2013

Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

In her newest book, best-selling novelist Jeanette Winterson, turns her eye toward memoir, and creates an interesting testament to finding place and the nature of memory. The first half of the book is a series of snapshots from Winterson’s young life as a girl and of her relationship with her adoptive zealot mother who was often thwarted and abusive. The second half of the memoir is more in ‘real-time’ and tells of Winterson’s quest to find her biological parents. Winterson speaks to the displacement and yearning that can come with being adopted. With woven words and tactile imagery, she has created a narrative of survival, wit, and the importance of claiming identity.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780802120878
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Grove Press - March 12th, 2013

When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams

If beauty moves you, this is book needs to be your next pick. From its stunning cover to the depth and splendor of Williams’ writing, this titled moved me again and again. Williams opens the book with a succinct scene from her mother’s last days before dying of cancer. In a last conversation, Williams’ mother tells Terry that she is leaving Terry her journals with the simple instruction that Terry must not open them until she is gone. Terry pays heed and opens the diaries after her mother’s death only to find that they are blank—all of them. The finding, Williams says, sent her into a “double grief.” This book is about the journey Williams’ goes through to fill in those journals. It is a mediation on voice and understanding. It is a tribute to flight and identity, to seeking and exploring, to family reconciliation and letting go. And always, to the ways that observation, nature, and noticing can be their own reaching tools--to filling in and finding knowing and seeing beauty in the most remarkable of places.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9781250024114
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Picador - February 26th, 2013

Home by Toni Morrison

Home is Toni Morrison’s shortest novel—at only 160 pages it could almost qualify as a novella, and yet its short length does nothing to detract from Morrison’s literary prowess. The lyrical story centers around Frank, a young African-American soldier who leaves his sister Cee, to fight in the Korean War. When he returns, the nation is at a full-capped edge with racial tension and women struggling for independence. Frank is desperate when he hears that Cee is caught up in a situation that she may not survive, and sets out to save her, throwing himself in peril’s way. Told in the multi-perspective narrative that Morrison is so loved for, we watch as two siblings hold their love for one another despite the odds, and the way an ever changing environment casts shadow and light creating a precarious dividend between surviving and thriving.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
Home (Vintage International) Cover Image
$14.95
ISBN: 9780307740915
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - January 1st, 2013

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Just released in paperback, this novel stands as one of my favorite reads of all time. That is not a title I offer lightly, but the reverence that this novel holds makes it deserving of such status.

There are few books that leave me in silence—that deep felt silence of profound experience like a cathedral or a sudden clearing among high trees. The Orchadist is a book that once read becomes sacred. The story starts in the late 1800’s in upper state Washington. In an orchard a solitary man, broken but slowly healing, lives and tends to his land when unexpectedly two girls show up—they are vigilant and slightly feral—and he offers them shelter. The events that unfold are rooted and startling. The setting, the language, and the depth of each character will take hold. There will be quiet moments of profound love, and equal moments of deep awe. And there will be grief, at the way hearts open, and families are forged, at the way independence is sought and strength is regained, at the way the seasons bend and move forward, and all that can be learned in surrender and change.

Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
The Orchardist: A Novel Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780062188519
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper Perennial - March 5th, 2013

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

One of my favorite things is to discover a debut novel that feels like it was meant to be told, where the story itself has its own life-force and pulse to it, so strong that the characters and words seem to gather themselves together to shout out their truths. Julie Kibler’s Calling Me Home is just that kind of debut. Interweaving the story of a bi-racial and forbidden love in 1930s Kentucky, with that of a modern-day friendship between an unlikely pair, Kibler speaks to implicit racial tensions and the heartbreak of a particular time in history. But Kibler does more than that, she offers up the solidarity that exists in all forms of love. Whether it is the love of family or lovers to the love of friendship and community, Kibler speaks to the way that faith and humble acts of kindness can come together to cross barriers, to heal the burdens of loss even when they are generations old.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
Calling Me Home Cover Image
$21.99
ISBN: 9781250014528
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: St. Martin's Press - February 12th, 2013

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