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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.

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.

Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
When God Was a Rabbit: A Novel Cover Image
Email or call for price
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).

Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
Staff Pick Badge
The Borrower Cover Image
$25.95
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.

Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
War Dances Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780802144898
Availability: 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.

Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
Bitter in the Mouth: A Novel Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780812981322
Availability: Backordered
Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - August 9th, 2011

Come, Thief by Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield’s new poetry collection is a masterful blend of concise language and poignant questioning. Hirshfield pairs together emotions and images that take single moments and open them to realms that are infinite and lingering. I was struck by the way Hirshfield’s words again and again danced the duel of invitation and letting go:

      Love in August

      White moths against the screen in August darkness.

      Some clamor in envy.

      Some spread large as two hands of a thief

      Who wants to put back in your cupboard the long-taken silver.

Like Mary Oliver, this poetry collection is one you’ll want to have on hand for reading and rereading, always finding something anew.

Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
Come, Thief: Poems Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780307595423
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Knopf - August 23rd, 2011

Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell

Before there was Mary Karr (Liar’s Club) or Jeanette Walls (The Glass Castle), there was Caroline Knapp, memoirist and pioneer of writing about truth and pain. Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story, published in the early 1990’s, is a quietly moving story chronicling her harrowing relationship with alcohol. A few years after the book’s publication, Knapp and Gail Caldwell became best friends. Both writers, the two met for years to walk their dogs along a favorite path; their accumulative miles eventually logging a measure for the interior ground they covered. They spoke about everything from their shared history of struggle, to their relationships, to their love of writing books. When Knapp was diagnosed with cancer these two private, fiercely self-reliant women were suddenly thrown into the unknown. Caldwell chronicles this journey in her own memoir Let’s Take the Long Way Home (now available in paperback). Caldwell’s striking and beautiful prose speaks to the deepest levels of devotion and grief and to the transformation and treasures she found in knowing and then losing Caroline. This book is not only a gift to Ms. Knapp, but it is a gift to anyone who is lucky enough to have found and journeyed through life with that singular and treasured relationship of a best friend.

Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780812979114
Availability: Backordered
Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - August 9th, 2011

The Grace of Silence by Michele Norris

Michele Norris of NPR’s All Things Considered set out to write a book about “the hidden conversation on race” that was taking place around the country since the election of President Obama. Norris was interested in the continuing phenomenon she felt when interviewing people about what they weren’t saying when race came up; people were being careful and she wanted to know why. Then, when interviewing her own family about race and silence, a family secret was revealed and suddenly Norris’s journey to understanding the complexity of racial legacy became a more immediate and intensely personal story. The Grace of Silence illuminates the ways that silence and revelation are deeply imbedded into how we have racial dialogue. I cannot get the ending words of this memoir out of my head, and nor do I want to. This is a beautiful, telling, and wonderful read. 
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
The Grace of Silence: A Family Memoir Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9780307475275
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Vintage - September 6th, 2011

The Pain Chronicles by Melanie Thernstrom

Oliver Sacks, meet your match. Melanie Thernstrom’s Pain Chronicles is a wonderful meld of science, memoir, history, and mystery. Thernstrom interweaves her own struggle with chronic pain with amazing research tracing the concept of pain in history—from ancient Babylonian pain-banishing spells to modern brain imaging. Think of it: pain, though universal, in many ways is invisible; when we stub a toe, there is nothing to reflect the pain we feel other than our behavior to it (in the toe-stubbing case, much hopping and hollering). But pain—that thing that travels and channels and blooms and dissipates—what exactly is it?  Thernstrom’s research is masterful at making the invisible visible; her detailed writing, and ever-readable stories, offer insight and meaning as a way to transcend suffering and make it known.

Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
The Pain Chronicles: Cures, Myths, Mysteries, Prayers, Diaries, Brain Scans, Healing, and the Science of Suffering Cover Image
$20.00
ISBN: 9780312573072
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Picador - August 2nd, 2011

The Kid by Sapphire

Sapphire’s writing has long held a place in my heart. Sharp, taut, brave, and honest, I was overjoyed that she gained an even wider readership when her novel, Push, was made into the movie Precious. Now, 10 years in the making, Sapphire is coming out with Push’s sequel. In The Kid, we are handed the story of Abdul, Precious’ son, and his own journey about how to make it through hardship and come out whole.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
The Kid Cover Image
$25.95
ISBN: 9781594203046
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Penguin Press HC, The - July 5th, 2011

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai

Makkai has written a debut novel good enough to put you in a stupor of awe and appreciation. Lucy Hull, a young children’s librarian, 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 weekly antigay classes with celebrity Pastor Bob. Lucy stumbles into a moral dilemma when she finds Ian camped out in the library with an escape plan and needing her help to carry it out. What follows is a page-turning adventure with heart and depth, questioning how far we should go to rescue someone from their own story, and when we should step back and hope they can survive it and learn for themselves. This book is beautiful, engaging, funny, and heartbreaking (but in a way that works).
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
Staff Pick Badge
The Borrower Cover Image
$25.95
ISBN: 9780670022816
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Viking Adult - June 9th, 2011

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