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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.

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: Usually Ships in 1-5 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: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
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: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
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: Usually Ships in 1-5 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: Usually Ships in 1-5 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

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett’s new novel is so solely its own. Patchett (best-selling author of Bel Canto) has written a moral adventure story whose beauty lies in the description and well, oddity of its setting. In a narrative abound with deadly snakes, harrowing river rides, and malaria-induced nightmares; State of Wonder describes a world where breathtaking beauty stands side by side with wrenching loss. The story begins with Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist working at a pharmaceutical company who is sent to Brazil to track down another elusive doctor who is using research with a tribe in the Amazon to create a valuable new drug. What happens upon Singh’s arrival is a tribute to Ann Patchett’s gift of storytelling. There are images in this book that you will never be able to forget; this is a complex tale of adventure, moral tug-of-wars, and incredible, distinctive beauty.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
State of Wonder: A Novel Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780062049803
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Harper - June 7th, 2011

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