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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 Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

This is a wonderful book for both writers and readers of memoir. Mary Karr, otherwise known as the queen of memoir for her best-selling books Liar’s Club, Cherry, and Lit, has written a brilliant book that celebrates the genre. With her characteristic wit and insight, Karr discusses her own writing process, focusing on unearthing one’s life story as well as taking us through excellent lessons and exercises on the mechanical how-to’s of writing autobiographical content. This inspiring book is one that you will continue to refer to. Make room on your shelf next to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Steven King’s On Writing; Karr has taken on the genre of memoir and gifted us all.  --S.M.C.

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The Art of Memoir Cover Image
$24.99
ISBN: 9780062223067
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Harper - September 15th, 2015

Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken

Elizabeth McCracken (National Book Award Finalist for her novel, The Giant's House) has a wonderful way of blending the astringent and sharp with that of deep tenderness and yearning. New in paperback, this story collection illustrates McCracken’s deep-felt vision of capturing the world empathetically but slightly askew. From the first story—fierce and wonderfully startling, McCracken tells an evocative and brittle but compassionate not-quite-ghost story about a grieving mother—to the title story that deals with a father’s acceptance of his daughter’s brain injury, McCracken writes with a no-holds-barred sensibility and the result is powerful, unique, and deeply admirable.  --S.M.C.

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Thunderstruck & Other Stories Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780812987676
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Dial Press Trade Paperback - August 18th, 2015

We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride

We Are Called to Rise says so much about the good in humanity; it is a story of redemption and unexpected love. Set in Las Vegas, we are given an intimate view of those living in the city instead of the traditional story of the light and show. We are introduced to an immigrant boy whose family is struggling to assimilate. A middle-aged housewife coping with an imploding marriage and a troubled son. A social worker who struggles with the darker shadows of the city, and a wounded soldier recovering from an injury he can’t remember getting. These characters seem separate and disparate from one another, but McBride interlaces their stories and by the time their stories connect to reveal a whole, acts of tragedy and deep bravery are already unfolding. This is one of those novels that seems a quick read, where the story catapults you forward, but by the end, the spectrum of the range of what we are capable of, in every sense of that word, is what actually remains.

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S.M.C.
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We Are Called to Rise: A Novel Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9781476738970
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Simon & Schuster - April 28th, 2015

A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip by Kevin Brockmeier

The entire focus of this memoir is the author’s experience of seventh grade. Brockmeier tells the story of his twelve-year old self in third person: He is Kevin, a kid “who cries too easily and laughs too easily” but “he is trying hard not to be him anymore, that kid.” What comes next is a chronicle of awareness, of awkward first kisses, and friends that turn enemies, and creativity squashed and encouraged and squashed again. Kevin is the kind of kid that knows awkwardness and loneliness and small victories while they are happening. His 12-year-old self is astute and awake enough to grasp exactly how harrowing growing up can be.

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S.M.C.
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A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9780804169899
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Vintage - March 3rd, 2015

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

Rene Denfeld’s first novel is a stunning and captivating read. Set in a high security prison, our main protagonist, a death row inmate, states that prison is a place of enchantment. And he convinces us that it is: There is a mythic beauty to the prison’s stone walls, to the sounds of a hundred keys turning at once to lock the gates; there is an epic pull in the collective dreaming of men who must reach into their memories and imaginations to remember movement and love from an unconstrained time. Told mostly from the perspective of this poet turned prisoner, we are also introduced to the jail’s faithless priest and a woman, known only as “the lady” who is there to exonerate the condemned men.  When the lady discovers the truth of one prisoner’s past, we are asked to look at the potential for violence that lives in each of us, and more so, to discover the beauty and humanity that exists even in the darkest shadows. This is a beautifully written book that begs for conversation; readers will find themselves walking the line of trying to separate that which makes us flinch, with that that makes us imagine and empathetically open.

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S.M.C.
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The Enchanted: A Novel Cover Image
$15.99
ISBN: 9780062285515
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Harper Perennial - February 24th, 2015

My Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

There is something about this British memoir that would not let me put it down—there is grit, honesty, and laugh-out-loud wit—I think it’s the wit that makes this book stay dear.  Andy Miller had always been a book lover, until life got busy and while he found himself talking about literature with the same enthusiasm, he realized that in his recent years he had actually only read one book all the way through.  And so, at the turn of his 40th birthday, he made a deal with himself that he would read 50 books, actually read them, give them time, and discussion, and thought, and when he did, Andy had an entirely new filter in which he viewed his life. This book is Andy's inspirational and very funny account of his expedition through literature: classic, cult, and everything in between. Beginning with a copy of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita that he happens to find one day in a bookstore, he embarks on a literary odyssey. From Middlemarch to Anna Karenina to A Confederacy of Dunces, this is a heartfelt, humorous, and honest examination of what it means to be a reader, and the soul-searching that comes when we take in others narratives in order to examine our own.

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S.M.C.
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The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life Cover Image
$14.99
ISBN: 9780061446184
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Harper Perennial - December 9th, 2014

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

Two brothers sneak out at night for an innocent adventure, but only one will return 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, and in by doing so, he may just save himself from his own demons. Readers who enjoyed Curious Incident of the Dog in Nighttime or Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain will gravitate toward this novel, but it 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? This is a beautiful book with an ending that comes as surprise. This is the story 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.M.C.
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The Shock of the Fall: A Novel Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781250028136
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: St. Martin's Griffin - January 6th, 2015

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

This book is a must read for book groups. Set in a high security prison, our main protagonist, a death row inmate, states that prison is a place of enchantment. And he convinces us that it is—there is a mythic beauty to the prison’s stone walls, to the sounds of a hundred keys turning at once to lock the gates—there is an epic pull in the collective dreaming of men who must reach into their memories and imaginations to remember movement and love from an unconstrained time. Told mostly from the perspective of this poet-turned-prisoner, we are also introduced to the jail’s faithless priest and a woman, known only as “the lady” who is there to exonerate the condemned men. When the lady discovers the truth of one prisoner’s past, we are asked to look at the potential for violence that lives in each of us, and more so, to discover the beauty and humanity that exists even in the darkest shadows. This is a beautifully written book that begs for conversation; book groups will find themselves walking the line of trying to separate that which makes flinch, with that that makes us imagine and empathetically open.

Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
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The Enchanted: A Novel Cover Image
$15.99
ISBN: 9780062285515
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Harper Perennial - February 24th, 2015

Syllabus by Lynda Barry

I’m a bit jealous that I haven’t gotten to be one of Lynda Barry’s students, but this book/syllabus/work of genius is the next best thing. It’s like having one of your favorite authors/artists/teachers look right at you and beam down the light of creativity into your soul. The handwritten, fully illustrated syllabus instructs students on which Emily Dickinson poetry lines to memorize (with an illustration of Emily Dickinson) and why literature-scholar-turned-psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist holds the key to imagination, and even how researching one portion of the brain and only answering to the name “Amygdala” for weeks on end is in fact life changing and creativity producing. This book really is a dream come true—unless you actually got to take a class from Lynda and then, well, don’t tell me about it.
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S.M.C.
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Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor Cover Image
$22.95
ISBN: 9781770461611
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Drawn and Quarterly - October 21st, 2014

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Surgeon and author (The Checklist Manifesto) Atul Gawande confronts one of the toughest problems facing doctors and patients: what to do when medicine reaches its limits. When it comes to the inescapable realities of aging and dying, medicine often runs counter to what it should, and medical training does not prepare doctors for the death of their patients. Gawande became determined to change medicine so that the medical world not confuse living with dying. For fans of Oliver Sacks, this is a powerfully moving and informative book.
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S.M.C.
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Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9780805095159
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Metropolitan Books - October 7th, 2014

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