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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.

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

Silver Sparrow is a quiet, impactful book, an almost meld of the writings of Alice Walker and Barbara Kingsolver. Set in Atlanta in the 1980s, it tells the story of Dana, the secret preteen daughter of James, who is married and has another family across town. Dana struggles with her shame and anger when she realizes that she is an illegitimate daughter. Dana becomes obsessed with her half-sister Chaurisse, who has no idea that Dana and her mother exist. And then one day, Dana and Chaurisse’s paths cross, and the secrets begin to unravel. The result is a disquieting novel that examines the bonds and the obligations that make up a family.

Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
Silver Sparrow Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9781616201425
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Algonquin Books - May 8th, 2012

Home by Toni Morrison

As much as I would have liked to proclaim that I took the news that Toni Morrison had a new novel coming out with resounding calm and groundedness (qualities that I somehow imbue Ms. Morrison with), truth be told, I omitted several squeals that hit an octave that probably woke my neighbor’s dog. Knopf, her publisher, is keeping it somewhat under wraps until its actual street-release date (do they not know the amount of extra tension this causes???) but here’s what I do know: It tells the story of a Korean war veteran who has returned home and is on a quest to save his younger sister. It’s almost a novella, at only 160 pages. Home is rumored to be one of her finest books yet, which is saying something: Her other books, which include Beloved, Jazz, Sula, and The Bluest Eye, demonstrate her gifts as a writer of almost unbelievable grace and wisdom.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
Home Cover Image
$24.00
ISBN: 9780307594167
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Knopf - May 8th, 2012

Arcadia by Lauren Groff

Arcadia, a beautiful and raw novel, is centered around a boy named Bit, nicknamed for his small size. Groff splits the book into two halves. In the first half, we watch Bit grow up in a utopian and wooded commune in the early ’70s. In the second half, Bit is an adult, a father raising his own child in New York City. I am unsure how to describe the scope of this novel—the way Groff’s language brings us into Bit’s world, the intimacy, the wonder, the confusion, the worry and the hope he holds as a child, and then the struggle, shattering grief, and quiet, determined bravery he develops

as a man.

Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
Arcadia Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781401340872
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Hachette Books - March 13th, 2012

Gold by Chris Cleave

Chris Cleave (Little Bee) is a gifted author when it comes to portraying characters and struggle. His newest title, Gold, tells the story of Zoe and Kate, Olympic-level cyclists who have been best friends and competition rivals since they met as young teenagers. As the date of the 2012 London Olympics draws near, the frailties of these two friends are exposed alongside their undeniable strengths. There is heartbreak in this story—a sick child, an aging coach, a blend of goals and dreams clashing together with hard truths and unfathomable decisions—but always there is a marked tone to Cleave’s writing: an

unspoken pull that makes this book not only a page-turner in terms of content, but a novel that makes the reader care deeply about everyone involved. What a wonderful read!

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S.M.C.
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Gold: A Novel Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781451672725
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Simon & Schuster - July 3rd, 2012

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

There are few novels that leave me in silence—that deep felt silence of profound experience like a cathedral or a sudden clearing among high trees. The Orchardist 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 two girls show up, vigilant and slightly feral, and he offers shelter. The setting, the language, the depth of each character take hold, offering moments of profound love, deep awe, grief, independence, surrender, and change.

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S.M.C.
The Orchardist: A Novel Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780062188502
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Harper - August 21st, 2012

The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

I was gripped by this story from its first page. It is hard to describe this beautifully told novel without giving anything away. Judith is raised by her widowed father, under the influence of his deep religious faith and a town that is slipping into an industry-based poverty depression. Judith tries to make sense out of a life that is somewhat outside of her grasp. When an external event starts a catalyst of chaotic change, we hold our breaths as this imaginative and deeply tender-hearted child tries to put things in place, while risking her own well-being. This is a novel about belief systems, about the developmental shifts in a child’s awareness, but it is also about the deep and clumsy love between a parent-and child. But most of all, this novel speaks to the crux of childhood—at the strength it takes to hold onto faith and wonder, even when all the evidence says otherwise. This is an amazing read.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
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The Land of Decoration: A Novel Cover Image
$23.00
ISBN: 9781250024077
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Picador - March 5th, 2013

The Gilly Salt Sisters by Tiffany Baker

Tiffany Baker has done it again. I was first taken by her debut novel, The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, and loved Baker’s wholly original story-telling, and the life, humor, and heart that she built into her writing. In The Gilly Salt Sisters, Baker doesn’t disappoint. Telling the story of two sisters who inherit their parents’ salt-farm, Baker twists magic, spite, and tension with the sisters’ decision of whether to stay with the family business or not. There is superstition, suspected witchery, and suspense thrown into this surprisingly layered tale, making it a lush and vibrant read.

Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
The Gilly Salt Sisters Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780446194235
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Grand Central Publishing - March 14th, 2012

Witches on the Road Tonight by Sheri Holman

This was the one of my favorite reads of last year. Quirky, magical, and wholly compelling, Holman’s novel tells the story of a young boy growing up in Depression-era rural Virginia. Raised with the rumors of his mother’s mysterious ways, Eddie Alley’s life is forever changed when a car accident leads to an impromptu visit from a city writer and photographer. Eddie’s small town life, along with his future, is suddenly thrown, 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 mystery and a love that run the vein of this novel that sits with me still—I loved it!

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

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

Newspaper journalist Joshua Foer was originally given the U.S. Memory Championship as an assignment, but rather than just writing a story, Foer became a participant. Through his research for the article, Foer interviewed the likes of Ben Pridmore (the current Memory Champion winner) who could memorize the exact order of 1,528 digits in an hour, to meeting with a man who could only remember as far back as one thought. Foer found that in many ways memory can learned; it turns out there is a secret language for our brains—that our minds have a preference to remembering one way over another. Foer basically studied this “memory language” and decided to join the Memory Championship to test his skills. The results are laugh-out-loud funny, but also fascinating. This book needs to be your next read—especially for all those Bill Bryson fans out there!

Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
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Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780143120537
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Penguin Books - February 28th, 2012

Kayak Morning by Roger Rosenblatt

This is a companion title to Rosenblatt’s first memoir, Making Toast, which chronicled the early aftermath following the sudden death of Rosenblatt’s 38-year-old daughter, and how he and his wife moved in with their son-in-law to help care for their young grandchildren. In that book, Rosenblatt touched me with his delicate, true, and even (and often) humorous writing about life marching forward. But Kayak Morning is a more lyrical and grand view. Rosenblatt speaks less of the details of his life, but rather contemplates his grief, which has settled and is steady, with the observations of nature and water he makes while kayaking. There is a poetic pace to the writing, and his sadness and longing is present and profound, but I was also deeply moved by the quiet pull of peace and joy that Rosenblatt finds in his journeying.

Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
Kayak Morning: Reflections on Love, Grief, and Small Boats Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780062084033
Availability: Backordered
Published: Ecco - January 3rd, 2012

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