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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This novel stunned me. 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 book is based on a true crime that took place in 1931. It is not a sensationalist recounting; instead it delves into the inner lives and spirits of the crime victims and those close to them. There are photographs (lifted from real archives) of the characters and the settings that surrounded them, interspersed within the chapters that give the lost voice and breath. While this could be macabre in another writer’s hand, in Phillips’, the writing is filled with life.
Just out in paperback, The Round House is the newest novel by my favorite author. I’ve been following Ms. Erdrich’s writing for nearly two decades—she is to whom I turn for characters I can recognize as full and real. This newest novel shows the magnitude of her ability for fullness and depth. Narrated by 13-year-old Joe, who becomes frustrated with the bureaucracy of the justice system after his mother is attacked on an Ojibwa reservation, begins to try to solve the crime himself. Starting with old Native American stories that have been handed down, a layered history is revealed to Joe, and the beauty and complexity of this story begins to unfold, so it reads as part mystery, part political narrative, and part spiritual quest. The Round House is so much more than a coming-of-age story; it is a novel worthy of acclaim and praise, a novel written by an author whose talent and capacity is worthy of that impossible position—to land at the top of my (and soon to be yours) beloved authors list.
Ever since I read The Boy in the Suitcase by this talented Danish duo, I have been hooked by their writing. This newest book follows in the same vein—Nordic noir fiction focused on the criminal mistreatment of women and children. In it, Danish Red Cross nurse Nina Borg is reintroduced when Natasha, one of the women who took refuge at the crisis center where Nina works, shows up on the news as being a suspect in the death of her abusive fiancé. As Nina struggles to both understand the complexity of Natasha’s predicament and protect Natasha’s daughter, she realizes there is much she doesn’t know about Natasha and her past. The mystery has long and bloody roots, going back to a famine that devastated Stalinist Ukraine in 1934, when a 10-year-old girl with the voice of a nightingale sang her family into shallow graves. A beautiful but suspenseful read that will keep you guessing until the end.