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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.

My Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

There is something about this British memoir that would not let me put it down—there is grit, honesty, and laugh-out-loud wit—I think it’s the wit that makes this book stay dear.  Andy Miller had always been a book lover, until life got busy and while he found himself talking about literature with the same enthusiasm, he realized that in his recent years he had actually only read one book all the way through.  And so, at the turn of his 40th birthday, he made a deal with himself that he would read 50 books, actually read them, give them time, and discussion, and thought, and when he did, Andy had an entirely new filter in which he viewed his life. This book is Andy's inspirational and very funny account of his expedition through literature: classic, cult, and everything in between. Beginning with a copy of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita that he happens to find one day in a bookstore, he embarks on a literary odyssey. From Middlemarch to Anna Karenina to A Confederacy of Dunces, this is a heartfelt, humorous, and honest examination of what it means to be a reader, and the soul-searching that comes when we take in others narratives in order to examine our own.

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S.M.C.
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The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life Cover Image
$14.99
ISBN: 9780061446184
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Harper Perennial - December 9th, 2014

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

Two brothers sneak out at night for an innocent adventure, but only one will return home. So begins the premise of debut author’s Nathan Filer’s novel. Narrated by 19-year old Mathew, who is being treated for schizophrenia, Mathew is determined to tell the story of what actually happened ten years before when his brother went missing, and in by doing so, he may just save himself from his own demons. Readers who enjoyed Curious Incident of the Dog in Nighttime or Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain will gravitate toward this novel, but it is so fully its own—one that must be read and not described: “‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’”

How’s that for an opener? This is a beautiful book with an ending that comes as surprise. This is the story for the reader who upturns rocks to see what’s underneath—the reader that loves a story where shadow reveals beauty, and hope seeps through.

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S.M.C.
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The Shock of the Fall: A Novel Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9781250028136
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: St. Martin's Griffin - January 6th, 2015

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

This book is a must read for book groups. Set in a high security prison, our main protagonist, a death row inmate, states that prison is a place of enchantment. And he convinces us that it is—there is a mythic beauty to the prison’s stone walls, to the sounds of a hundred keys turning at once to lock the gates—there is an epic pull in the collective dreaming of men who must reach into their memories and imaginations to remember movement and love from an unconstrained time. Told mostly from the perspective of this poet-turned-prisoner, we are also introduced to the jail’s faithless priest and a woman, known only as “the lady” who is there to exonerate the condemned men. When the lady discovers the truth of one prisoner’s past, we are asked to look at the potential for violence that lives in each of us, and more so, to discover the beauty and humanity that exists even in the darkest shadows. This is a beautifully written book that begs for conversation; book groups will find themselves walking the line of trying to separate that which makes flinch, with that that makes us imagine and empathetically open.

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S.M.C.
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The Enchanted: A Novel Cover Image
$15.99
ISBN: 9780062285515
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Harper Perennial - February 24th, 2015

Syllabus by Lynda Barry

I’m a bit jealous that I haven’t gotten to be one of Lynda Barry’s students, but this book/syllabus/work of genius is the next best thing. It’s like having one of your favorite authors/artists/teachers look right at you and beam down the light of creativity into your soul. The handwritten, fully illustrated syllabus instructs students on which Emily Dickinson poetry lines to memorize (with an illustration of Emily Dickinson) and why literature-scholar-turned-psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist holds the key to imagination, and even how researching one portion of the brain and only answering to the name “Amygdala” for weeks on end is in fact life changing and creativity producing. This book really is a dream come true—unless you actually got to take a class from Lynda and then, well, don’t tell me about it.
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S.M.C.
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Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor Cover Image
$22.95
ISBN: 9781770461611
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Published: Drawn and Quarterly - October 21st, 2014

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Surgeon and author (The Checklist Manifesto) Atul Gawande confronts one of the toughest problems facing doctors and patients: what to do when medicine reaches its limits. When it comes to the inescapable realities of aging and dying, medicine often runs counter to what it should, and medical training does not prepare doctors for the death of their patients. Gawande became determined to change medicine so that the medical world not confuse living with dying. For fans of Oliver Sacks, this is a powerfully moving and informative book.
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S.M.C.
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Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9780805095159
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Published: Metropolitan Books - October 7th, 2014

Small Victories by Anne Lamott

I read an advanced reading copy of this having just heard hard news; without knowing it I had retreated some, turned my face to the wall. And then came Anne Lamott with Small Victories, written in that honest, slightly pushy way she has, telling her own story of the “too much” of things, and suddenly I had company. And not just any company, but real, faithful, slightly grumpy company, and it was like salve, her reminders about crawling out, facing the world, and trusting again.
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S.M.C.
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Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace Cover Image
$22.95
ISBN: 9781594486296
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Published: Riverhead Books - November 10th, 2014

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

From the publication years ago of her novel, Dew Breaker, I have long been a fan of Danticat’s writing. And oh, how this new novel surpassed my expectations and rekindled my awe of this talented author. Told in interweaving chapters that go back and forth with time, the tale centers around a father’s love for his daughter, a heartbreaking decision, and a child, suddenly vanished. Mesmerizing from the first page, Danticat has offered up a story about the complexity of life when heartbreak and love are mixed together into one
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S.M.C.
Claire of the Sea Light (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780307472274
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Published: Vintage - July 1st, 2014

Quiet Dell by Jayne Ann Phillips

This novel stunned me with its originality and power. At its end, I realized I would be forever haunted—truly, there is no better word to describe the vibration left behind after reading this book. Fusing fact and fiction, the novel is based on a true crime that took place in 1931. Along the way, there are photographs (lifted from real archives) of the characters and the settings that surrounded them. Closing the cover, I did not feel weary about the world, but rather grateful and in awe of those who take the time to find the beating hearts amid the chaos.

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S.M.C.
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Quiet Dell Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9781439172544
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Published: Scribner Book Company - July 1st, 2014

Steal the North

Emmy is a shy, sheltered 16-year-old when her mom, Kate, sends her to eastern Washington to an aunt and uncle she never knew she had. Fifteen years earlier, Kate had abandoned her sister, Beth, when she fled her painful past and their fundamentalist church. And now Beth believes Emmy’s participation in a faith healing is her last hope for having a child. Emmy goes reluctantly, but before long she knows she has come home. She feels tied to the rugged landscape of coulees and scablands. And she meets Reuben, the Native American boy next door. Here is a novel where land and place exist as their own characters; it is a quiet and lovely gem of a book.  

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S.M.C.
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Steal the North Cover Image
$27.95
ISBN: 9780670786183
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Viking Books - April 10th, 2014

All the Light We Cannot See

This masterpiece tells the story of two children on opposite sides of World War II. Its chapters are short, captivating portraits that interweave narratives and build, one voice on top of the other. The bombs that fall in this book reverberate as real; the hope and love and bravery are originally told and vividly depicted. There are comparable titles that will give you some idea of All the Light We Cannot See’s power—The Book Thief, The English Patient—but this story is its own. No words or review can really capture the poignancy it holds. Put it at the top of your list.

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S.M.C.
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All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9781476746586
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Scribner - May 6th, 2014

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