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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.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

The power and charm of this debut novel is hard to describe. The compact length makes it possible to devour it in one sitting. Oddly, the heroine of the novel is never named, and we know her simply as “the wife.” A new mother, a colicky baby, faltering feelings toward her husband that she knows is a good man, a case of New York bedbugs—what could be innocuous calamities turn true and deep in the honest consuming musing of this young mother. In a language that simmers with longing and wit, this is a love story at full speed—with bracing emotional insights and piercing meditations about despair, love, and the capacious experience of motherhood. Truly, the power of Dept. of Speculation is stunning, it’s the kind of book you pass along the second you finish it, just so you have someone to talk about it with.
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S.M.C.
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ISBN: 9780385350815
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Knopf Publishing Group - January 28th, 2014

The All of It by Jeannette Haien

Ann Patchett found an old musty copy of this out-of-print novel in a used bookstore and after reading it, worked her prowess to bring it back to print. Oh, what a gift she has given us. Jeannette Haien wrote this Irish novel in the 1980s as her debut. The story seems deceptively simple, but has a lasting power and resonance of myth. Opening with a scene of a Catholic Priest fishing in horrible weather conditions, we learn quickly that Father Declan’s sporty endeavor was spurred by a confession by one of his parishioners the day before. After the death of her husband, Edna confesses to Father Declan the “all of it” and reveals a secret that goes back 50 years. Edna’s story puts Father Declan in a crisis of empathy versus absolution, and the resolution of his conflict is what gives this book it’s lasting power.
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S.M.C.
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The All of It: A Novel Cover Image
$13.99
ISBN: 9780062090096
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper Perennial - June 7th, 2011

The Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

This is not an easy read in terms of subject matter, but readers who appreciated Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking will instantly recognize the strength and determination of Sonali Deraniyagala’s memoir. On the morning of December 26, 2004, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, Deraniyagala lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons in the tsunami she miraculously survived. The opening chapters of this book are searing in their descriptive power, and there is little distance between the reader and the tsunami’s swallowing force. As Deraniyagala shifts from the horrifying chaos of the tsunami to her own clenched admittance that she has survived a tragedy she wishes she hadn’t, there is a frank and ferocious edge to her voice. The reader is never unaware of the teetering edge of Deraniyagala’s narrative: that tentative balance she holds in remembering her family, and the almost unbearable loss that such remembering puts her in. This is a book that speaks to the genre of memoir—the paradox of keeping stories and people alive within us, and the depth and tugging force that such a telling can create.
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S.M.C.
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$15.95
ISBN: 9780345804310
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Published: Vintage - December 31st, 2013

A Day at the Beach by Geoffrey Wolff

The Bronte sisters may have found their literary sibling match in the writing of the Wolff brothers. I have long been a fan of Tobias Wolff (This Boys Life), but knew little about his older brother Geoffrey, but after reading this autobiographical essay collection, I am stunned by command that both these brothers have over language and story. In A Day at the Beach, Wolff shares lessons from a life observed. Whether he is detailing a disastrous story from a boyhood Christmas or his struggle as an adult to teach literature as a visiting teacher in Istanbul, Wolff shares the wisdom that comes through hardship and hazard. The brilliance of Geoffrey Wolf’s writing goes without saying, but there is something else there—an implicit holding of frailty and wonder to have lived a full life and come out on the other side.
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By Geoffrey Wolff, Ann Patchett (Introduction by)
$15.95
ISBN: 9780804170093
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Published: Vintage - November 5th, 2013

Where the Moon Isn't by Nathan Filer

Two brothers sneak out at night for an innocent adventure, but only one returns 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. In a voice that is as funny as it is heart-wrenching, this novel 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? For fans of Silver Linings Playbook, and anyone that loves characters who are different and therefore real. 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.B.
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ISBN: 9781250026989
Availability: Out of Print
Published: St. Martin's Press - November 5th, 2013

Brewster by Mark Slouka

 I started reading this novel and then couldn’t stop. I have to admit that I swore (in that way you do when deeply impressed—quietly and under my breath) because Mark Slouka has written a novel that hits hard and then keeps on going. Telling a coming-of-age story about a misfit set of friends growing up in a working class town in 1968, Slouka captures the loyalty and desperation that forms between boys when fathers are flawed and mothers are absent. This book breathes life—in its honesty, its struggle, its complexity, and its undercurrent of reverberating compassion and understated grace. This is the novel for the reader that is brave enough to fall in love with its characters and watch as the gun goes off and the race begins—hoping, rooting, and praying for their stride to hold out—where each foot fall is the miracle and it is the finish line that is the wonder, instead of the win.
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S.M.C.
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$25.95
ISBN: 9780393239751
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - August 5th, 2013

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

Tara Conklin's novel alternates between present day New York and 1850’s Virginia. Josephine is a 17-year old house-girl with a hidden talent for painting who tends to the mistress of a Virginia Tobacco farm. Lina Sparrow is a justice-driven lawyer who is trying to win a class-action suit seeking reparations for the descendents of American slaves. In seamless juxtaposition between past and present, Conklin intertwines the stories of these two women, highlighting the redemptive nature of art and the stirring openings that can arise when secrets are unveiled and truth is sought. A beautiful book that is meant to be re-gifted again and again.

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ISBN: 9780062207395
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: William Morrow - February 12th, 2013

We Sinners by Hanna Pylväinen

This is a contemporary read with a twist—telling the story of a current day fundamentalist Christian family at the crossroads; characters are caught between the cultural fissures of their strict church and that of ordinary America. The family in this debut novel in many ways feels just like that of any other family, the sibling rivalries, the loving chaos that ensues with so many children, the overwhelming love and also stifling atmosphere that occurs with attentive parenting. But the book also calls to the issue of faith—how it can bind a family together but also divide it. This is a stunning novel that is powerfully empathetic, illuminating the dilemma between faith and love and the conflict that can arise if asked to choose between the two. It’s a book whose understated beauty stays long after its finish, by an author who is subtle enough to deftly convey such large themes—once finished, the satisfaction will be deeply felt, and suddenly, as the gift-giver, you’ll finally find yourself in that coveted place of getting the next call for just the right book to recommend.

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$16.00
ISBN: 9781250032188
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Published: Picador - July 23rd, 2013

By the Iowa Sea by Joe Blair

Memoirs can do two things—they can tell an adventure story so captivating, that you have to rip through the pages to see how it will all turn out, or they can take a quiet ordinary life and turn it to be so revealing that there are life lessons that ring as raw and true—Joe Blair’s memoir is one of the few that manages to do both. Blair thought he was going to be traveler—that he would have avant-garde adventures on his motorcycle and Jack Kerouac his way through the country with a notebook and pen. Instead 15 years later, living in small-town Iowa, Joe is an air-conditioning repairman, struggling to stay faithful in his marriage, and feeling beaten by the autism diagnosis of his young son. When the Iowa River floods a state disaster is declared, and heroic measures are suddenly needed—in rendering language and with stunning insight, Joe’s observes the flooding of the river, detailing how his ordinary life has suddenly turned extraordinary, only to recognize it’s been that way all along.
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By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir Cover Image
$19.99
ISBN: 9781451636062
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Published: Scribner - March 5th, 2013

The Society of Timid Souls by Polly Morland

What is it to be brave? With wit, deep integrity, and sharp research, documentary film-maker Polly Morland sets out to pursue this question again and again, and oh, my goodness, we should be forever grateful to her that she did. Weaving her own personal struggle with self-doubt, with that of face-to-face interviews with ordinary people who rose to take extraordinary actions, ranging from soldiers on the battlefield, to the lone child who risked speaking out against a bully in the lunchroom, this book is a synthesis of seeking and finding. It is a tapestry of memoir and brilliant investigative reporting, of moral philosophizing and world traveling adventure, of inward reflection and outward connecting—by exploring bravery, Morland reveals tales of extraordinary courage that are extreme and stunning, but she also reminds us of the bravery and courage that lies in all of us. A deeply rich and inspiring read that reminds us of the sacred--that even in challenging times, humanity is brimming with hope and potential.
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$26.00
ISBN: 9780307889065
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Crown Publishing Group (NY) - July 9th, 2013

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