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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

Man Booker Prize finalist Sebastian Barry has written a novel that lends itself to an open dialogue about memory and history. Set in County Sligo, Ireland, Barry tells the unforgettable story of Roseanne McNulty. Roseanne is nearing her 100th year and is living in a residential hospital. When one of the doctors begins to interview Rose, he finds himself immersed in the Irish conflict in its immediacy as Rose’s aging memory seems to bring the past to the present moment. The story that unfolds is mesmerizing and elegant and begs to question the vision that is it possible restore with language that which has been taken away by history? This is a wonderful read.

Reviewed by: S.M.C.
The Secret Scripture: A Novel Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780143115694
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Books - April 28th, 2009


For fans of Easter Island, this is your next read. Based on a true story, Kate Grenville tells the story of Daniel Rooke, an astronomer/navy lieutenant who is sent to the newly discovered New South Wales as part of the British colonial movement in1788. With the picturesque wilds of old Australia as its backdrop, Grenville brings to life the complications and excitement of what it must have been like to be living in unmapped territory. We watch as Rooke, always somewhat of a loner, finds himself surrounded in sudden intimacy when he is accepted and trusted by the local aborigines. In the same way he carefully notes and studies the constellations, Rooke begins to learn the culture and dialect of his new friends, taking time to record and set down his new linguistic findings. Using the original journal entries of Daniel Rooke, and the knowledge of what happens next in his life, Grenville depicts the startling decision that Rooke makes when he is asked to serve in a colonial duty that he can no longer agree with. This is one of the most beautifully written tales I have read that speaks to how language is not made up of words and letters but relationship and meaning, and it brings to light the beauty that can be shared if we hold one another as equals rather than foreigners in a great world.

The Lieutenant Cover Image
$14.95
ISBN: 9780802145031
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Grove Press - September 14th, 2010


This incredible novel is part murder mystery, part historical fiction, and part coming-of-age story. The protagonist is a young, gay exile from a fundamentalist polygamist compound, who has been living as a runaway for years. News of his father’s murder (and his mother’s arrest for said murder) brings him back to the home he thought he’d never see again in an attempt to clear her name. Twined with this contemporary narrative is a historical fictionalization of Brigham Young’s journey across America, his adoption of polygamy, and the rebellion of his young 19th wife. There’s a lot going on in this book, and Ebershoff makes it work. A seriously impressive novel.

Reviewed by: Kat
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The 19th Wife: A Novel Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780812974157
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - June 2nd, 2009


Vendela’ Vida’s The Lovers is one of those titles that lingers long after its read. The plot follows Yvonne, a middle-aged woman, suddenly widowed as she journeys to Turkey to revisit the place of her honeymoon—she is conflicted in her need to both escape but also dive into the grief around her husband’s death. In taut and seemingly spare language, Vida brings us hauntingly close to Yvonne’s world, where suddenly everything is no longer what it was. When Yvonne befriends a young boy on her travels, the loss of her husband breaks through, and what happens next left me with my heart pounding. This is a tale that beckons us to wonder if escape is possible in a world where human relationships rest in connection, love, and letting go.

Reviewed by: S.M.C.
The Lovers: A Novel Cover Image
$13.99
ISBN: 9780060828400
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Ecco - June 28th, 2011


Most neuroscientists do not publish books of short fiction, particularly fiction about the afterlife. David Eagleman, however, is not your typical neuroscientist. He also studied English literature in college, which explains the lyrical, elegant tone of his work, and has also long been fascinated with different takes on the afterlife. Each short story in this collection is an image of what life after death could look like, and each is as fascinating as the last. This is a book that begs to be read out loud. Share it with everyone you know. You will be immensely popular.

Reviewed by: Kat
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Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9780307389930
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - January 12th, 2010


I am a huge sucker for ghost stories. I seek them out all over the place – on the internet, among friends, and of course in books. I am happy to report that The Little Stranger is among the best ghost stories I've read; it's one of those rare books that not only manages to be well and truly frightening, but also packs a serious literary punch. A great many things sneak up on you when reading this book, particularly the potential instability of the narrator, a young doctor who finds himself in over his head when he befriends and strange and formerly wealthy family. I can't imagine a better book to curl up with as the first fall rainstorms hit.

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The Little Stranger Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9781594484469
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Riverhead Books - May 4th, 2010


In This Side of Brightness we are introduced to the character of Walker, living in the early 1900’s. Hired as a sandhog to help build the train tunnel that now connects Manhattan to Brooklyn, his life takes a series of turns after accepting the job. Deep in the tunnel’s underworld, Walker experiences something so profound that there is an immediate luminance and transcendence that outdoes the darkness he is surrounded by. McCann then parallels Walker’s story with that of Treefrog, a contemporary homeless man that survives by navigating his way through New York’s forgotten tunnels. In seamless prose switching between the two characters, McCann tells a story that challenges our notion of time and friendship, so that we come to realize how one person can ultimately embody all the stories that came before.

Reviewed by: S.M.C.
This Side of Brightness: A Novel Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780312421977
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Picador - January 1st, 2003


I love the phrase “Intimate Ecology of our Wild Ocean”; it is a carefully worded sentence that perfectly sums up what this book is about. Whitty has been a passionate diver and writer her entire life, and you can feel this in every sentence of her book. She explores coastlines and undersea landscapes inch by inch, reveling in small details and vast histories. Sure to spur conversation about conservation and our species’ impact on the Earth’s dazzling and precious ecosystems.

Reviewed by: Kat
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Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9780547520339
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Mariner Books - July 14th, 2011


So truth be told, Micah Perks is one of my mentors and friends. I only say this in a confessional tone, because I’m about to sing praises about her memoir, and I wanted to be honest that there is a connection. But please know that I am persnickety and as picky about my mentors and friends as I am about the books that I praise, and Micah and her writing are worthy of both positions. In 1963, Micah’s parents set out to the Adirondacks to build a school/utopian community designed to help teens struggling with addiction and emotional problems. Micah is an infant, and her sister is not yet born and soon this complex dream of her parents, spanning from idealism to struggle, becomes Micah’s home. Told in a sparing and unflinching voice, Micah amplifies the joy and chaos of counterculture life. While she is revealing in her own personal history, she is deft and contained with a gathered subtlety, so that there is a way that her writing reaches forward, toward a broader opening, and we are left examining not only the beauty and heartbreak of Micah’s own story, but also a marked point in our own history; America in the 1960’s. This is a beautiful read.

Reviewed by: S.M.C.
Pagan Time: An American Childhood Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9781582435398
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Counterpoint LLC - November 1st, 2009


I was a bit skeptical about the idea of psychotherapy case studies, mainly the not-so-small point of privacy issues; in order to protect the identity of his patients, Yalom was forced to alter certain characteristics and details about their stories. Once I got over the hangup of trying to discern what was true and what was altered, I entered a realm of the most amazing character studies I’ve ever seen. Perhaps the most fascinating element of this book is the narrator himself; Yalom is uncommonly frank, and reveals faults and anxieties of his own as he grapples with the demons of his patients.

Reviewed by: Kat
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Love's Executioner: & Other Tales of Psychotherapy Cover Image
$14.99
ISBN: 9780060958343
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Harper Perennial Modern Classics - September 1st, 2000


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