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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.

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.
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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.

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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.
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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

Hidden America by Jeanne Marie Laskas

This book shines for its informative, often witty, and also heart-warming view of those who keep the wheels of our country turning. Hidden America takes interviews from the people that play a part in running our every day lives, and shines light on the unsung heroes among us. Whether it’s a migrant labor camp in Northern Maine, to a traffic control tower at America’s busiest airport, to the misshapen stench of a California landfill, Jeane Marie Laskas uses vibrant and revelatory prose, to bring to life those who go overlooked. I loved this book for its breadth, its humor, its humanity, and its fierce hold of authenticity.

Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780399159008
Availability: Out of Print
Published: Putnam Adult - September 13th, 2012

The Man Who Saved the Union by H.W. Brands

Bestselling historian H.W. Brands takes on Civil War general Ulysses Grant and in a wonderfully readable biography describes how this unlikely hero turned into a two-term president that held the country together at two critical turning points in U.S. history. American history buffs as well as lovers of a great biography will find this book finely researched, but surprisingly compelling. Using Grant’s own words and journals, Brands details battleground assaults to the fierce devotion and intimate relationship Grant had with his wife, to the deep friction Grant felt with his father, and what emerges is compelling narrative of a deeply humanitarian president often overlooked by history.

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S.M.C.
The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace Cover Image
$35.00
ISBN: 9780385532419
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Doubleday Books - October 2nd, 2012

The Orchard by Theresa Weir

Weir’s story about her marriage to an apple farmer is wrenching and tender. There are times when you want to ask what in the world she thinks she’s doing with her life, but you can’t stop reading. The Orchard is an environmental fable much like Silent Spring, but also a portrait of an astonishing marriage and partnership. A powerful and important memoir.

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S.M.C.
Staff Pick Badge
The Orchard: A Memoir Cover Image
$12.99
ISBN: 9780446584685
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Grand Central Publishing - September 4th, 2012

Better Than Fiction edited by Don George

This is a collection of original travel stories told by some of the world’s best contemporary novelists—including Isabel Allende, Peter Matthiessen, Alexander McCall Smith, Joyce Carol Oates, and Tea Obreht. What surprised me about the collection was its never-ending breadth, not just in destination (we visit the span of the world from San Quentin prison, to Rome, Antarctica, India, or the Sudan) but also the keenly observant voice and narrative that is immediate with each author. Some of these authors tell of journeys so quirky and hysterical, that it’s hard to believe that the stories are true, and not an imposition of their novelistic ways, but other essays our deeply affecting and observing, speaking to the seemingly polar emotions of kinship and also solitary inconsequentiality that can come with travel. This is guaranteed to please many on your gift-list and worth asking for on your wish list as well.

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S.M.C.
Better Than Fiction: True Travel Tales from Great Fiction Writers Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781742205946
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Lonely Planet - November 1st, 2012

Witches on the Road Tonight by Sheri Holman

Quirky, magical, and wholly compelling, Holman’s novel tells the story of a young boy growing up in Depression-era rural Virginia in the throes of Appalachian poverty. Raised with the rumors of his mother’s mysterious ways, Eddie Alley is used to life being slightly askew, but when a car accident leads to an impromptu visit from a city writer and photographer, Eddie’s whole world changes. Suddenly Eddie’s view of small town life is shattered and thrown, as he is given an unexpected and expansive look into a different future but not without consequences. Holman interweaves folklore and ghost stories and spins them into this multi-generational tale that talks to loyalty, betrayal, redemption and the way that we cannot run away from who we truly are. There is a deep mystical vein of magic and love that run at the core of this novel that sit with me still.

Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
Witches on the Road Tonight Cover Image
$14.00
ISBN: 9780802145710
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Grove Press - January 10th, 2012

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

This is a coming-of-age story with a dystopian backdrop that vividly illuminates the brave clarity of its 11-year-old narrator. One day Julia awakes to find the world irrevocably altered. Somehow, during the night, the world gently slipped on its axis so that the earth’s rate of rotation has slightly decelerated. “The slowing” continues until both day and night are twice as long as they used to be. “The changes in the planet are profound, but the daily changes in Julia's life, which she might be facing even in a normal day, are equally profound… She begins to see cracks in her parents' marriage and must navigate the currents of loyalty and moral uncertainty. She faces sickness and death of loved ones. But she also witnesses constancy and perseverance. Julia's life is shaped by what happens in the larger world, but it is the only life she knows, and Walker captures each moment, intimate and universal, with magical precision.” —Kirkus Review. This is a mesmerizing, touching, and profoundly moving book.

Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
The Age of Miracles Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780812992977
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Random House - June 26th, 2012

The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

Set in post-WWII in the Yorkshire countryside, a young newlywed couple starts their life among the damp aftershocks of war, with rations and food shortages and a cultural push to simply make do. While Philip loses himself in his work as the town doctor, Isabel is left alone with too much time, feeling adrift in her new life. On an exploration of her flat she finds an old RAF coat and uses it as blanket to stay warm. Soon after, a young man appears at her window and what transpires next is a complex relationship that sets off a series of events with lasting results. This is that perfect winter read that throws you into a foreign landscape that is at once captivating and haunting, where longing and love bleed together in ways that are both natural and supernatural.

Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
The Greatcoat: A Ghost Story Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780802120601
Availability: Out of Print
Published: Atlantic Monthly Press - October 2nd, 2012

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