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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.

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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Wave Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9780345804310
Availability: Not On Our Shelves, But Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
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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S.M.C.
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A Day at the Beach Cover Image
By Geoffrey Wolff, Ann Patchett (Introduction by)
$17.00
ISBN: 9780804170093
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
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.

Reviewed by: 
S.B.
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Where the Moon Isn't: A Novel Cover Image
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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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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
$25.99
ISBN: 9780062207395
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
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: Not On Our Shelves, But 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: Not On Our Shelves, But 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: Not On Our Shelves, But Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Little, Brown and Company - October 22nd, 2013

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