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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.

The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville

For fans of Easter Island, this is your next read. Based on a true story, Kate Grenville tells the story of Daniel Rooke, an astronomer/navy lieutenant who is sent to the newly discovered New South Wales as part of the British colonial movement in1788. With the picturesque wilds of old Australia as its backdrop, Grenville brings to life the complications and excitement of what it must have been like to be living in unmapped territory. We watch as Rooke, always somewhat of a loner, finds himself surrounded in sudden intimacy when he is accepted and trusted by the local aborigines. In the same way he carefully notes and studies the constellations, Rooke begins to learn the culture and dialect of his new friends, taking time to record and set down his new linguistic findings. Using the original journal entries of Daniel Rooke, and the knowledge of what happens next in his life, Grenville depicts the startling decision that Rooke makes when he is asked to serve in a colonial duty that he can no longer agree with. This is one of the most beautifully written tales I have read that speaks to how language is not made up of words and letters but relationship and meaning, and it brings to light the beauty that can be shared if we hold one another as equals rather than foreigners in a great world.

The Lieutenant Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802145031
Availability: Not On Our Shelves, But Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Grove Press - September 14th, 2010

The Lovers by Vendela Vida

Vendela’ Vida’s The Lovers is one of those titles that lingers long after its read. The plot follows Yvonne, a middle-aged woman, suddenly widowed as she journeys to Turkey to revisit the place of her honeymoon—she is conflicted in her need to both escape but also dive into the grief around her husband’s death. In taut and seemingly spare language, Vida brings us hauntingly close to Yvonne’s world, where suddenly everything is no longer what it was. When Yvonne befriends a young boy on her travels, the loss of her husband breaks through, and what happens next left me with my heart pounding. This is a tale that beckons us to wonder if escape is possible in a world where human relationships rest in connection, love, and letting go.

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The Lovers: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780060828400
Availability: Not On Our Shelves, But Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Ecco - June 28th, 2011

This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann

In This Side of Brightness we are introduced to the character of Walker, living in the early 1900’s. Hired as a sandhog to help build the train tunnel that now connects Manhattan to Brooklyn, his life takes a series of turns after accepting the job. Deep in the tunnel’s underworld, Walker experiences something so profound that there is an immediate luminance and transcendence that outdoes the darkness he is surrounded by. McCann then parallels Walker’s story with that of Treefrog, a contemporary homeless man that survives by navigating his way through New York’s forgotten tunnels. In seamless prose switching between the two characters, McCann tells a story that challenges our notion of time and friendship, so that we come to realize how one person can ultimately embody all the stories that came before.

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This Side of Brightness: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780312421977
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Picador - January 1st, 2003

Pagan Times by Micah Perks

So truth be told, Micah Perks is one of my mentors and friends. I only say this in a confessional tone, because I’m about to sing praises about her memoir, and I wanted to be honest that there is a connection. But please know that I am persnickety and as picky about my mentors and friends as I am about the books that I praise, and Micah and her writing are worthy of both positions. In 1963, Micah’s parents set out to the Adirondacks to build a school/utopian community designed to help teens struggling with addiction and emotional problems. Micah is an infant, and her sister is not yet born and soon this complex dream of her parents, spanning from idealism to struggle, becomes Micah’s home. Told in a sparing and unflinching voice, Micah amplifies the joy and chaos of counterculture life. While she is revealing in her own personal history, she is deft and contained with a gathered subtlety, so that there is a way that her writing reaches forward, toward a broader opening, and we are left examining not only the beauty and heartbreak of Micah’s own story, but also a marked point in our own history; America in the 1960’s. This is a beautiful read.

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Pagan Time: An American Childhood Cover Image
ISBN: 9781582435398
Availability: Not On Our Shelves, But Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Counterpoint LLC - November 1st, 2009

Jellico Road by Melina Marchetta

This young adult novel won the coveted Michael Printz award in 2009 and it proves to be deserving. A mystery that is part love story, part family drama, and part coming-of-age story, Marchetta weaves a tale that is as heart-felt as it is intriguing. Abandoned by her mother at age eleven, Taylor has scattered memories about her early childhood and past. At night she dreams of a boy in a tree who keeps trying to tell her something, in the day she is managing the complexities of the boarding school that has taken her in. Set in the Australian outback, nothing in this novel is what it seems, except for the scope of its friendships, the reach of its imagination, and the depth of its character—those are all true. This is a beautiful novel for all ages, one you don’t want to miss.

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Jellicoe Road Cover Image
ISBN: 9780061431852
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: HarperTeen - March 9th, 2010

Anthropology of an American Girl by Hillary Hamann

When Hilary Hamann first published this novel in hardback, reviewers were comparing her to the likes of Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, and George Eliot, and I have to say, I was skeptical. Yet, here I am letting you know those comparisons because, it turns out that they’re apt. Anthropology of an American Girl is sharp and strong, edgy, and deep. Deep in the way where you have to come up for breath because you’re not sure if everyone is going to survive (they don’t) and deep in the way where even if you don’t usually mark your books, suddenly you are because there are paragraphs so true and hitting that your chest catches, and you need to underline words that Hamann offers about turning from girl to woman because they prove something, outline something, speak to something that you hadn’t even known you felt, but is at once recognizable. I have to say this isn’t usually the kind of novel I read with its contemporary references and interlope on popular culture; normally such books make me feel invisible, but this one made me realize how much we are all a part of something. This is Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom written from the female perspective. I guess those comparisons keep coming but read this book and you’ll realize that Hilary Hammann has earned every one.

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Anthropology of an American Girl: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385527156
Availability: Not On Our Shelves, But Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Random House - June 14th, 2011

When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

This is a unique and wonderful coming of age story. Starting in Corwall, England in the late 1960’s and ending around the time of the terrorist attacks in New York, the years that are traversed in this novel are simple and unimaginable at the same time. How do I describe the bonds that are developed between the characters of this book? We watch two siblings recreate magic through a Rabbit they name God, we watch a best friend promise to witness unspeakable acts, we watch the world stretch and break as war and terror become common day. This novel, told mostly through the view of Elly (who we first meet at 5) ultimately challenges the dilemma of how to say yes, staying open to life, when loss and longing are enough to make anyone say no. This is a beautiful, magical story, well worth the read.

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When God Was a Rabbit: A Novel Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781608195343
Availability: Out of Print
Published: Bloomsbury USA - May 17th, 2011

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai

This is by far one of my favorite books of the season. Makkai has written a debut novel that is good enough to put you in a stupor of awe and appreciation. We are introduced to Lucy Hull, a children’s librarian who finds herself both a kidnapper and kidnapped when her favorite patron, 10-year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy’s help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in anti-gay classes with celebrity Pastor Bob. Lucy stumbles into a moral dilemma when she finds Ian camped out in the library with an escape plan that needs her help to carry out. What follows is a page-turning adventure with heart and depth. Book groups will be pulled into dialogue by questioning how far we should go to rescue someone from their own story, and when we should step back and hope they can survive and learn for themselves. This book is beautiful, engaging, funny, and heartbreaking (but in a way that works).

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The Borrower Cover Image
ISBN: 9780670022816
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Viking Adult - June 9th, 2011

War Dances by Sherman Alexie

Before War Dances, I had only read Sherman Alexie’s novels. So I
am used to the feeling of having his stories and characters unleash
their quiet powers until I am willingly held hostage, both begging for
the release to have time to reflect, yet longing to have the experience
keep going, as I don’t want to finish his tale and say goodbye to newly
made friends. Therefore, I was hesitant to read Alexie’s short stories
only because I wasn’t sure if, in shorter form, Alexie could give me the
gift of the journey I was used to taking with him. But I was wrong.
These stories are a hurricane of strength. Each one makes you pull back
in awe, take spacious breaths when the chance is there, but lifts you to
spin, whirl, and ache at the connection that is so finely wrought
between the characters and the story he creates again and again. Do not
miss out on this incredible read.

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War Dances Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802144898
Availability: Not On Our Shelves, But Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Grove Press - August 3rd, 2010

Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong

New in paperback, this book is so much at once. A coming-of-age novel, a mystery surrounding family secrets, and a striking love story. Truong introduces us to ten-year-old Linda Hammerick, a young girl who has synesthesia—she experiences every word as having a taste. Not knowing that this is a neurological condition, Linda tells only her best friend about her odd capability. We watch Linda grow up and seek connection, but all the while keeping people at a distance because of the way she experiences life slightly askew. When a family tragedy forces Linda to return to her childhood home, Linda finds out that she has not been the only one in her family to keep aspects of them selves hidden. A quirky but poignant story well worth the read.

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Bitter in the Mouth: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812981322
Availability: Not On Our Shelves, But Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - August 9th, 2011


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