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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.

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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Brewster: A Novel Cover Image
$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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S.M.C.
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The House Girl: A Novel Cover Image
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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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S.M.C.
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We Sinners: A Novel Cover Image
$19.00
ISBN: 9781250032188
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
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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S.M.C.
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By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir Cover Image
$19.99
ISBN: 9781451636062
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
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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S.M.C.
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The Society of Timid Souls: Or, How to Be Brave Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780307889065
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Crown Publishing Group (NY) - July 9th, 2013

We Are Water by Wally Lamb

Each of Lamb’s novels have an almost effortless lyricism to them that allows the storytelling to deepen and take hold. Lamb’s newest novel (which opens with a poem by Adrienne Rich) is about the Ohs, a family living in the beginning years of Obama’s presidency. In the alternating voices of each family member, Lamb tells the history of their town and the race and class strife that has plagued it for generations. When a story of a flood that nearly destroyed the town in its founding years is unveiled, the desires and conflicts of the Oh family become extricable from the history from which they come. Lamb shows how the legacy of the human experience is based on the need and deserving of connection and acceptance. This is a wonderful book.

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S.M.C.
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We Are Water: A Novel Cover Image
$29.99
ISBN: 9780061941023
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Harper - October 22nd, 2013

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt (The Secret History and The Little Friend) is a writer who takes at least 10 years to write each of her books. The Goldfinch centers around 13-year-old Theo, a tragic event, and a historical painting that pulls Theo into the underworld of art. The research that went into this novel must have been extraordinary, and yet it is unnoticeable; the story is so infused with detail and feeling that you lose yourself in the characters and their experience. This is a novel about the orchestration of where we end up versus where we belong—the story of fate versus destiny. It is a work of art, one that must be personally viewed to be experienced. Read it. Don’t miss our event with Donna Tartt Thursday, October 24, at 7:00pm. See this page for details.

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S.M.C.
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The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) Cover Image
$34.00
ISBN: 9780316055437
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Little, Brown and Company - October 22nd, 2013

The Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips

This novel stunned me. 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 book is based on a true crime that took place in 1931. It is not a sensationalist recounting; instead it delves into the inner lives and spirits of the crime victims and those close to them. There are photographs (lifted from real archives) of the characters and the settings that surrounded them, interspersed within the chapters that give the lost voice and breath. While this could be macabre in another writer’s hand, in Phillips’, the writing is filled with life.

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S.M.C.
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Quiet Dell: A Novel Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781439172537
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Scribner - October 15th, 2013

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Just out in paperback, The Round House is the newest novel by my favorite author. I’ve been following Ms. Erdrich’s writing for nearly two decades—she is to whom I turn for characters I can recognize as full and real. This newest novel shows the magnitude of her ability for fullness and depth. Narrated by 13-year-old Joe, who becomes frustrated with the bureaucracy of the justice system after his mother is attacked on an Ojibwa reservation, begins to try to solve the crime himself. Starting with old Native American stories that have been handed down, a layered history is revealed to Joe, and the beauty and complexity of this story begins to unfold, so it reads as part mystery, part political narrative, and part spiritual quest. The Round House is so much more than a coming-of-age story; it is a novel worthy of acclaim and praise, a novel written by an author whose talent and capacity is worthy of that impossible position—to land at the top of my (and soon to be yours) beloved authors list.

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S.M.C.
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The Round House: A Novel Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780062065254
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper Perennial - September 24th, 2013

Death of a Nightingale by Lene Kaaberbøl & Agnete Friis

Ever since I read The Boy in the Suitcase by this talented Danish duo, I have been hooked by their writing. This newest book follows in the same vein—Nordic noir fiction focused on the criminal mistreatment of women and children. In it, Danish Red Cross nurse Nina Borg is reintroduced when Natasha, one of the women who took refuge at the crisis center where Nina works, shows up on the news as being a suspect in the death of her abusive fiancé. As Nina struggles to both understand the complexity of Natasha’s predicament and protect Natasha’s daughter, she realizes there is much she doesn’t know about Natasha and her past. The mystery has long and bloody roots, going back to a famine that devastated Stalinist Ukraine in 1934, when a 10-year-old girl with the voice of a nightingale sang her family into shallow graves. A beautiful but suspenseful read that will keep you guessing until the end.

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S.M.C.
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Death of a Nightingale Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781616953041
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Soho Crime - November 5th, 2013

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