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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.

Thunderstruck & Other Stories

I have been a fan of Elizabeth McCracken ever since I read her novel The Giant’s House, a National Book Award finalist. McCracken’s vision is of a world slightly askew, and she has a wonderful way of blending the astringent and the sharp together with deep tenderness and understanding of longing and yearning. From the first story in this collection—an evocative and brittle but compassionate not-quite-ghost-story about a grieving mother—to the title story, which deals with a father’s acceptance of his daughter’s brain injury—McCracken writes with a no-holds-barred sensibility. The result is a unique and admirable collection that can be read and reread. 

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S.M.C.
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$26.00
ISBN: 9780385335775
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Dial Press - April 22nd, 2014

An Untamed State

Roxanne Gay’s first novel is a searing story of a politically and economically divided Haiti as seen through one family’s terrifying ordeal. Mireille, a Haitian-born young woman, is on vacation from Miami and visiting her upper-class parents in Port-au-Prince when she is kidnapped at gunpoint. Her captors usually extract hefty ransoms from their wealthy victims, but Mireille’s proud father refuses to pay until it’s nearly too late, and Mireille ends up suffering days of excruciating torture. Her eventual freedom is only the first step in the family’s uncertain recovery. Gay’s portrayal of Mirelle’s healing from a shattered state is powerful and harrowing. The brutality of the book is something that a reader needs to be ready for, but this is a deeply talented author with an unflinchingly told tale. 

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S.M.C.
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$16.00
ISBN: 9780802122513
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Grove Press, Black Cat - May 6th, 2014

Brewster

Brand new in paperback, Mark Slouka’s novel has a grit and depth that lasts long after its final word. The plot seems deceptively simple: It is a tale of two friends in 1968, coming of age in a working-class town; one is a runner, the other a fighter. Yet there is an undertow to Slouka’s narrative that evolves as we get to know the main characters, Jon and Ray, and the loyalty and desperation that forms between these two in the wake of their flawed fathers and distant mothers. This book breathes life. You cannot help but love these boys and get caught up in their quest. This novel is for the reader who knows that the miracle lies in the footfall, that it is the finish line that is the wonder, instead of the win. A beautiful and piercing read.

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S.M.C.
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Brewster: A Novel Cover Image
$14.95
ISBN: 9780393348835
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - May 5th, 2014

Burial Rites

Hannah Kent might be a time traveler—that’s how vivid and immediate this historical novel feels upon reading. Based on a true story, Burial Rites is set in Iceland in 1829 and tells the story Agnes, a maid charged with murder and condemned to die. She is sent to live on a family farm and work hard labor until her execution day. The beauty in Kent’s story is revealed in the relationships that form between the family members and Agnes and in what is unveiled as trust slowly builds. This story is as much about human relationship and recognition of one another as it is about what really happened on the night Agnes was accused of murder. A gripping tale that deepens as it goes along, this is one of those books that makes history come alive.      

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S.M.C.
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$16.99
ISBN: 9780316243926
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Published: Back Bay Books - April 1st, 2014

New Life, No Instructions

“What do you do when the story changes in midlife? When a tale you have told yourself turns out to be a little untrue, just enough to throw the world off-kilter? It’s like leaving the train at the wrong stop: You are still you, but in a new place, there by accident or grace, and you will need your wits about you to proceed.” —Gail Caldwell, New Life, No Instructions

Gail Caldwell (author of the memoir Let’s Take the Long Way Home) has done it again: She has written a memoir that is clear, compassionate, wise, and frank. The story is built around a time when Caldwell, feeling bereft and empty after having lost her mother, her best friend, and her beloved dog in a two-year span, buys a puppy, an impulsive decision that she immediately doubts. And then her own old limp from polio becomes too hard to ignore and she finds out that she needs a hip replacement. Caldwell’s language sets a pathway where the words unfurl to open toward a landing place of discovery that is a trailhead for all of us. I read this memoir and marveled at it. It is a humble, expansive, beautiful read.            
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$23.00
ISBN: 9781400069545
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Random House - April 1st, 2014

The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir

I first found myself captivated by the pictures of Dee Williams’ tiny 84-square-foot house. It is sweet, cozy, innovative, and beautiful all at once. Then I started reading Dee’s memoir and found myself captivated by the intention, adventure, bravery, and insight that went into her decision to build and live in such a small space. Humbled by a friend’s illness and a trip to Guatemala, Dee was handed a dose of humility. She sold the three-bedroom bungalow that she was constantly remodeling, and downsized—but in a sustainable and humble way. This is a graceful, inspiring memoir about building a home from scratch—and discovering a true sense of self, in just 84 square feet.

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S.M.C.
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ISBN: 9780399166174
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Blue Rider Press - April 22nd, 2014

Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death

Journalist Katy Butler was living on the other side of the country when she got the call that her 79-year-old father had suffered a crippling stroke due to his failing heart. She quickly flew across the country and joined her elderly mother to be at her father’s bedside. She watched as doctors fitted her father with a pacemaker that saved his heart but did nothing to prevent her father from falling into a “slow decline” toward death. Where is the line between saving a life and prolonging death? With her scientific background, her gift for storytelling, and her ability to look at a systemic problem in our medical system, Butler set out to explore this challenge. But her quest had barely begun when her mother was suddenly faced with a harsh diagnosis of her own. Having just watched her husband get trapped in a medical labyrinth, Butler’s mother refused treatment and decided to look at death straight on, without medical intervention other than palliative care. Butler’s experience of watching her parents go through aging and dying in these two very different ways led her to Slow Medicine, a movement toward reclaiming “good deaths.” Part memoir, part medical history, and part spiritual quest, Knocking on Heaven’s Door is riveting and beautifully written, and it also bravely poses questions that can help all of us relook at the scared path of death and dying. Don’t miss our event with Katy Butler on July 10th.

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S.M.C.
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$17.00
ISBN: 9781451641981
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Scribner - June 10th, 2014

A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip by Kevin Brockmeier

Kevin Brockmeier first caught my attention with Illumination, his beautiful novel that uses a dash of magical realism to trace the seam of empathy and visibility in a world where we so often fail to see one another. Illumination stands out in the way that it is expansive and far reaching. So, I was curious to see what Brockmeier would do with a memoir that is so focused and concise—a memoir whose entire focus is on one year: Brockmeier’s experience of seventh grade. Brockmeier tells the story of his twelve-year old self in third person, he is Kevin, a kid “who cries too easily and laughs too easily” but “he is trying hard not to be him anymore, that kid.” What comes next is a chronicle of awareness, of awkward first kisses, and friends that turn enemies, and creativity squashed and encouraged and squashed again. Kevin is the kind of kid that knows awkwardness and loneliness and small victories while they are happening. His 12-year-old self is astute and awake enough to grasp exactly how harrowing growing up can be. So in the end, Brockmeier offers us in non-fiction what he does in fiction: universality. We share the feeling of frailty and of hope—of a life experienced in all its brave triumphs of faltering, humor, falling, landing, and holding on.
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S.M.C.
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$24.00
ISBN: 9780307908988
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Pantheon Books - April 1st, 2014

Facing the Wave by Gretel Ehrlich

Gretel Ehrlich, poet and award winning nature-writer, was stunned when she heard the news of Japan’s earthquake and Tsunami in 2011. Japan’s Tohoku’s coast, now ravished by the disaster, was where Ehrlich had lived years earlier while studying Japanese art and poetry. After hearing the news, Ehrlich was compelled to visit the devastated region and bear witness to the reality behind the headlines. In a poet’s deft and observing language, Ehrlich balances her own reaction with those of the survivors, blending poetry, scientific observation, and survivor’s testimony into one. Facing the Wave is a mosaic of observation and witnessing that speaks to the harrowing devastation of a region affected, but also to the intimate awe of a people holding hope and gaining ground after the wake of tragedy. This is a beautiful blend of refection and reporting that makes for a stunning read.

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S.M.C.
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$15.00
ISBN: 9780307949271
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - March 11th, 2014

The Secret of Raven Point by Jennifer Vanderbes

I have been in awe of Jennifer Vanderbes since the publication years ago of one of my favorite novels ever: Easter Island. So when I saw that she had another novel coming out, I greeted it with bated breath and The Secret of Raven Point did not disappoint. Telling the story of Juliet, a young woman growing up during World War II, Vanderbes hands us a novel that is part coming-of-age tale, part mystery, and part wartime narrative. When Juliet’s older brother goes missing in action as an American soldier battling the German army overseas, Juliet lies about her age, then trains and enlists as a nurse to get as close as she can to the point her brother was last seen. Stationed in a field hospital in Italy, Juliet is thrown into the chaos of wartime life. She quickly finds herself surrounded by a makeshift family of fellow nurses, patients, soldiers, and doctors whose lives and small actions create intimacy and meaning under such perilous conditions. Juliet is caught between allowing her new life to shape and form her, and her own loyalty toward that of her missing brother, whose whereabouts remain veiled. This is a novel about holding faith beyond reason, about transgression and transformation, and about how when seeking truth about another, it is impossible to not also find truth about yourself. A poignant, lasting story, for anyone who is a fan of Call the Midwife; Vanderbes’ new novel shows off her skills in their highest form.
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S.M.C.
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ISBN: 9781439167007
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Scribner Book Company - February 4th, 2014

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