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Bookshop Santa Cruz staff recommendation:

The following books are recommended by our staff as great choices for book groups. Sign up for our Book Ends email newsletter to receive more great book group recommendations.

Looking for more book group recommendations? Find curated book lists for the following categories:

Surviving 2020: Books That Will Make You Believe in Humanity
Strong Women Through the Ages
Book Group Sleepers: Great Books Your Group May Have Missed

This memoir struck me on so many levels—not just for its exquisite and textured writing but also for its powerful honesty and startling frankness. Ian Brown’s son Walker was born with an extremely rare genetic syndrome. To his parents, caregivers, and even his doctors, Walker is a mystery, unable to speak and truly communicate; his disease makes Walker and his needs, feelings and even his symptomatology a complete unknown. As investigative journalist, Ian turns his focus to the disease, traveling the world to meet with the few doctors and parents of children who know CFC (cardiofaciocutaneous), and becomes immersed in this community. He comes to find the value of every human life, and begins to accept the wonder and love of Walker just as he is.

Reviewed by: S.M.C.
The Boy in the Moon: A Father's Journey to Understand His Extraordinary Son Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780312675417
Availability: Out of Print
Published: St. Martin's Griffin - July 17th, 2012

Before Wild became the Oprah-sanctioned bestselling explosion that it is today, Cheryl Strayed wrote an anonymous advice column for the literary website The Rumpus. Her penname was Sugar. Thousands of people wrote in to confess, vent, and beg for advice, and she answered them. But what sets Strayed apart is her format: instead of dispensing clichéd tidbits, she wrote essays in response. Wrenching, soulful, vulnerable essays that somehow reach right in and poke at the heart of what her desperate readers are really asking. By the time I finished it, I was considering three different tattoos from the book. It’s that kind of read.
Reviewed by: Kat
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Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307949332
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - July 10th, 2012

In Blue Nights, Didion again writes about loss and grief—this time focusing in on the death of her daughter, Quintana Roo. Like The Year of Magical Thinking there is an unflinching honesty to Didion’s voice. book groups especially will be drawn in to discuss the complexity of Didion’s narrative structure. Her writing is layered and rhythmic, so we are handed sentences and words that repeat and spiral. It is as if Didion could not help herself, writing in overlapping threads of memories and moments that cannot be separated from the life and love of a person who is so suddenly absent. Blue Nights is haunting and singular—a book whose very inertia is in the complex filter of a life sifted through loss. Didion has handed us a compilation of grief—an assembly that is determined and striking, and will ring familiar to anyone that has had to form their own narrative around holding on and letting go.
Reviewed by: S.M.C.
Blue Nights Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307387387
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Vintage - May 29th, 2012

Every month, an average of 3-4 people leap to their deaths from the Golden Gate Bridge, and several more are talked down from the edge. This is a startling fact, one that few people are aware of. John Bateson wants to challenge the stigma and the fear that keeps these stories from being told. The issue of whether or not to erect a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge is hugely divisive and heated, and Bateson argues that it is indicative of the way we think (or fail to think) about mental illness. Whether or not you agree with him, this is a book that will challenge preconceptions and make you think. I highly recommend it.
Reviewed by: Kat
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The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge Cover Image
ISBN: 9780520272408
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: University of California Press - April 18th, 2012

I know that book groups might be hesitant to read a book that falls into the Young Adult genre, but truly I think any story that can depict childhood and coming of age in a way that can immerse both young and adult readers, is a story that is well worth discussion. In When Things Come Back 17 year-old Cullen narrates what happens when his small town suddenly becomes a hotspot after what was thought to be extinct woodpecker is spotted. Cullen is both impressed and mortified by his town's transformation—suddenly his peers are sporting woodpecker inspired haircuts and bird-watching becomes an ideal date. But then when his 15-year-old brother goes missing amidst the chaos, Cullen’s surprise turns to something more vigilant and shadowed. The gift of this YA novel (which was the winner of the coveted Michael Printz award) is the way that regret, surprise, and humor are all interweaved. Layered and remarkably unique, this novel calls to mind how ordinary and extraordinary are only a coin’s throw apart.

Where Things Come Back Cover Image
ISBN: 9781442413337
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Atheneum Books for Young Readers - May 3rd, 2011

Reviewed by: S.M.C.
The Healer of Fox Hollow Cover Image
ISBN: 9781936467358
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Vantage Point - July 1st, 2012

Marian Sutro is an ordinary nineteen-year-old living in extraordinary times. She comes of age in England during World War II (yes, another one, but I promise this is good!), and she cannot escape the desire to serve her country. She is accepted into a secretive program, spirited away to a training camp in the wilds of Scotland, and then parachuted into occupied France, where she must work undercover. She does not entirely understand her position, but the stakes could not be any clearer. Despite the over-the-top storyline, this is a quiet book that does not flaunt any James Bond tropes, and that is what makes it so piercing and believable.
Reviewed by: Kat
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Trapeze: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781590515273
Availability: Backordered
Published: Other Press - May 1st, 2012

This is a good pick for someone who loved The Year of Magical Thinking. It’s not quite a memoir, but not entirely a novel either—somehow, I like to think of it as a shrine. Francisco Goldman had been married for only two years when his beautiful, talented wife was killed in a freak accident at the beach. Say Her Name is sad, yes, but what brings it to life is the glow of love and devotion in every sentence. Reading it, one gets the feeling that no one has ever loved anyone as much as Francisco loves Aura. And that’s not going away. Visceral, delicate, unrelentingly beautiful, and so worth the tears.

Reviewed by: Kat
Say Her Name Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802145802
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Grove Press - April 10th, 2012

If there is one book designed for book groups to read, this one is it. It begs discussion and curiosity. Suspended in a strangely modern-day version of limbo, we are introduced to “the Kid”, a young man who is trying to create a life for himself in the wake of incarceration. After doing time for a liaison with an underage girl, he is shackled to a GPS monitoring device and forbidden to live within 2,500 feet of anywhere children might gather. With nowhere else to go, the Kid takes up residence under a south Florida causeway, in a makeshift encampment with other convicted sex offenders. Banks’ talent as a writer is evident as he eases us into the narrative slowly and deftly, breaking down the story so that his characters become human and real. I want to suggest that Banks has created something brave and thorough in this book—he has created a new moral compass of sorts, one that is deserving and crucial. It is not easy, but ultimately this book is about empathy and hope, and it takes a brave writer, and a willing reader, to look at something head on. What a read.
Reviewed by: S.M.C.
Lost Memory of Skin Cover Image
ISBN: 9780061857645
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Ecco - July 17th, 2012

It is 1918, and having survived the horrors of the First World War, Tom Sherbourne enlists as a lighthouse keeper on remote Janus Rock, the last point of land where two oceans diverge. Thawed by the seclusion and ritual of this life, Tom meets and falls in love with his wife Isabel on a trip to the mainland. The two return to the lighthouse and begin an intimate and almost sacred homemaking. But when Isabel suffers multiple miscarriages, the island’s seclusion starts to feel precarious and haunted. Until a day comes when a boat carrying a dead man and a screaming baby washes up on the shore. Isabel and Tom make a decision that enters them into that gray area when there is no clear right or wrong. The ripple effect of this decision becomes a pulsing force, and ultimately the novel questions life, the beauty and ugliness of it, the light and dark of it, and the shades in between.
Reviewed by: S.M.C.
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The Light Between Oceans: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781451681734
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Scribner - July 31st, 2012