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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.

Small Victories by Anne Lamott

I read an advanced reading copy of this having just heard hard news; without knowing it I had retreated some, turned my face to the wall. And then came Anne Lamott with Small Victories, written in that honest, slightly pushy way she has, telling her own story of the “too much” of things, and suddenly I had company. And not just any company, but real, faithful, slightly grumpy company, and it was like salve, her reminders about crawling out, facing the world, and trusting again.
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S.M.C.
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Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace Cover Image
$22.95
ISBN: 9781594486296
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Riverhead Books - November 10th, 2014

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

From the publication years ago of her novel, Dew Breaker, I have long been a fan of Danticat’s writing. And oh, how this new novel surpassed my expectations and rekindled my awe of this talented author. Told in interweaving chapters that go back and forth with time, the tale centers around a father’s love for his daughter, a heartbreaking decision, and a child, suddenly vanished. Mesmerizing from the first page, Danticat has offered up a story about the complexity of life when heartbreak and love are mixed together into one
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S.M.C.
Claire of the Sea Light (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780307472274
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Vintage - July 1st, 2014

Quiet Dell by Jayne Ann Phillips

This novel stunned me with its originality and power. 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 novel is based on a true crime that took place in 1931. Along the way, there are photographs (lifted from real archives) of the characters and the settings that surrounded them. Closing the cover, I did not feel weary about the world, but rather grateful and in awe of those who take the time to find the beating hearts amid the chaos.

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S.M.C.
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Quiet Dell Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9781439172544
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Scribner Book Company - July 1st, 2014

Steal the North

Emmy is a shy, sheltered 16-year-old when her mom, Kate, sends her to eastern Washington to an aunt and uncle she never knew she had. Fifteen years earlier, Kate had abandoned her sister, Beth, when she fled her painful past and their fundamentalist church. And now Beth believes Emmy’s participation in a faith healing is her last hope for having a child. Emmy goes reluctantly, but before long she knows she has come home. She feels tied to the rugged landscape of coulees and scablands. And she meets Reuben, the Native American boy next door. Here is a novel where land and place exist as their own characters; it is a quiet and lovely gem of a book.  

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S.M.C.
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Steal the North Cover Image
$27.95
ISBN: 9780670786183
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Viking Books - April 10th, 2014

All the Light We Cannot See

This masterpiece tells the story of two children on opposite sides of World War II. Its chapters are short, captivating portraits that interweave narratives and build, one voice on top of the other. The bombs that fall in this book reverberate as real; the hope and love and bravery are originally told and vividly depicted. There are comparable titles that will give you some idea of All the Light We Cannot See’s power—The Book Thief, The English Patient—but this story is its own. No words or review can really capture the poignancy it holds. Put it at the top of your list.

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S.M.C.
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All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9781476746586
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Scribner - May 6th, 2014

Thunderstruck & Other Stories

I have been a fan of Elizabeth McCracken ever since I read her novel The Giant’s House, a National Book Award finalist. McCracken’s vision is of a world slightly askew, and she has a wonderful way of blending the astringent and the sharp together with deep tenderness and understanding of longing and yearning. From the first story in this collection—an evocative and brittle but compassionate not-quite-ghost-story about a grieving mother—to the title story, which deals with a father’s acceptance of his daughter’s brain injury—McCracken writes with a no-holds-barred sensibility. The result is a unique and admirable collection that can be read and reread. 

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S.M.C.
Thunderstruck & Other Stories Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780385335775
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Dial Press - April 22nd, 2014

An Untamed State

Roxanne Gay’s first novel is a searing story of a politically and economically divided Haiti as seen through one family’s terrifying ordeal. Mireille, a Haitian-born young woman, is on vacation from Miami and visiting her upper-class parents in Port-au-Prince when she is kidnapped at gunpoint. Her captors usually extract hefty ransoms from their wealthy victims, but Mireille’s proud father refuses to pay until it’s nearly too late, and Mireille ends up suffering days of excruciating torture. Her eventual freedom is only the first step in the family’s uncertain recovery. Gay’s portrayal of Mirelle’s healing from a shattered state is powerful and harrowing. The brutality of the book is something that a reader needs to be ready for, but this is a deeply talented author with an unflinchingly told tale. 

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S.M.C.
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An Untamed State Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780802122513
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Grove Press, Black Cat - May 6th, 2014

Brewster

Brand new in paperback, Mark Slouka’s novel has a grit and depth that lasts long after its final word. The plot seems deceptively simple: It is a tale of two friends in 1968, coming of age in a working-class town; one is a runner, the other a fighter. Yet there is an undertow to Slouka’s narrative that evolves as we get to know the main characters, Jon and Ray, and the loyalty and desperation that forms between these two in the wake of their flawed fathers and distant mothers. This book breathes life. You cannot help but love these boys and get caught up in their quest. This novel is for the reader who knows that the miracle lies in the footfall, that it is the finish line that is the wonder, instead of the win. A beautiful and piercing read.

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S.M.C.
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Brewster: A Novel Cover Image
$14.95
ISBN: 9780393348835
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - May 5th, 2014

Burial Rites

Hannah Kent might be a time traveler—that’s how vivid and immediate this historical novel feels upon reading. Based on a true story, Burial Rites is set in Iceland in 1829 and tells the story Agnes, a maid charged with murder and condemned to die. She is sent to live on a family farm and work hard labor until her execution day. The beauty in Kent’s story is revealed in the relationships that form between the family members and Agnes and in what is unveiled as trust slowly builds. This story is as much about human relationship and recognition of one another as it is about what really happened on the night Agnes was accused of murder. A gripping tale that deepens as it goes along, this is one of those books that makes history come alive.      

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S.M.C.
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Burial Rites Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780316243926
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Back Bay Books - April 1st, 2014

New Life, No Instructions

“What do you do when the story changes in midlife? When a tale you have told yourself turns out to be a little untrue, just enough to throw the world off-kilter? It’s like leaving the train at the wrong stop: You are still you, but in a new place, there by accident or grace, and you will need your wits about you to proceed.” —Gail Caldwell, New Life, No Instructions

Gail Caldwell (author of the memoir Let’s Take the Long Way Home) has done it again: She has written a memoir that is clear, compassionate, wise, and frank. The story is built around a time when Caldwell, feeling bereft and empty after having lost her mother, her best friend, and her beloved dog in a two-year span, buys a puppy, an impulsive decision that she immediately doubts. And then her own old limp from polio becomes too hard to ignore and she finds out that she needs a hip replacement. Caldwell’s language sets a pathway where the words unfurl to open toward a landing place of discovery that is a trailhead for all of us. I read this memoir and marveled at it. It is a humble, expansive, beautiful read.            
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S.M.C.
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New Life, No Instructions Cover Image
$23.00
ISBN: 9781400069545
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Random House - April 1st, 2014

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