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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

Starting with a phone call that leads to a child, drugged but alive in a suitcase, this Danish mystery is a perfect blend of Tanya French and Stieg Larsson—as psychologically driven as it is plot driven—a page turner so riveting that you may want to gear up if you plan to sit within arm’s length to this book’s reader.

This novel is a great fit for John Irving fans, with its blend of humor, deep pathos, and wrought exploration of family and friendships. Irma Voth is a Mennonite girl whose family moved from Canada to a small and even more insulated Mennonite community in Mexico. When Irma marries a local and is ostracized by her father, she must discover on her own the way of the world in order to survive. This is an amazing, original novel that should be at the top of anyone’s wish list.

This is one of the most lushly imagined books I've read in a long time, and it also happens to be one of the best love stories I've read in awhile as well. It's about a tortured young woman named Briony who is convinced that she is a witch, and that she was somehow responsible for her stepmother's untimely death. The language is an incredible blend of old-world English and modern-day poetry.

The main character of this novel, private investigator Claire DeWitt, reminds me a bit of Sherlock Holmes – she has addictions, and isn't very friendly most of the time – but with a New Age twist (imagine Holmes using the I Ching to find clues, if you can). The story is set in New Orleans six months after Katrina, a time and place that is viscerally well realized.

Local author Thad Nodine has done the impossible and written a novel that is funny, telling, original, and heartfelt. I know on their own perhaps those adjectives might not stand out, but together they make a whirlwind of a read. Narrated by Kevin, a blind and recently unemployed journalist, we are introduced to a make-shift family that has as many unlikable traits as they do likeable. As the family sets out on a road trip, we find ourselves rooting for them, wanting them to figure it out, to grow up and listen to one another. This is that book that has you shaking your head in exasperation, laughing, and tearing up all at the same time. What a read!

Touch and Go By Thad Nodine Cover Image
ISBN: 9781609530617
Availability: Not On Our Shelves, But Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Unbridled Books - September 27th, 2011

This was by far one of my favorite novels of the year—and it turns out—one of the New York Times too. Landing itself on the coveted NYT’s best ten books of the year list, this novel is an incredible debut. Telling the tale of 13-year old Ava who has grown up on an island in her family’s alligator-wrestling theme park (I know, I know, but it works) Russell introduces us to by far one of the most valiant and true heroine’s I have read in a long time. The bravery and pluckiness Ava has in her determination to hold her family together when circumstances threaten to tear them apart is beautiful and stoic. This is an original, incredible, and touching novel—a great read for fans of The Secret Life of Bees.

Swamplandia! (Vintage Contemporaries) By Karen Russell Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307276681
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - July 26th, 2011

A wonderful woven tapestry that centers around one small town in America with a legendary garden Hoffman takes us through three hundred years of history. Starting with the town’s founder, a brave young woman from England who has no fears of bears and ending in modern day with a desperate young man who craves solace after being an EMT in New York City , Hoffman has crafted an exquisitely magical book whose characters are vivid and unexpected. For fans of Isabel Allende, this is one of those magical books that tells a true tale of humanity with a bit of magic thrown in.

The Red Garden: A Novel By Alice Hoffman Cover Image
This item may be available from the publisher! Give us a call or send us an email to find out.
ISBN: 9780307405975
Published: Crown - August 2nd, 2011

This sensational cookbook by Canadian-turned-Georgian chef Hugh Acheson (who appeared on Top Chef Masters) is a fresh take on Southern food. The recipes emphasize vegetables and are delicious and lighter and fresher than you might expect. (Except for the mashed potatoes which are “more like butter with a touch of potato.” Well, and except for the desserts.) But what really sets this book apart is its design and its philosophy. You get a real sense of Acheson—his fun and quirky personality, and his dedication to all things local. Support local farmers (and artists, and coffee brewers, and native plant growers), he says, and you create and support community. (To which we say, Amen!) It’s not so much a political stance for him as it is his passion.

A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen: A Cookbook By Hugh Acheson, Bertis Downs (Foreword by), Rinne Allen (Photographs by) Cover Image
By Hugh Acheson, Bertis Downs (Foreword by), Rinne Allen (Photographs by)
ISBN: 9780307719553
Availability: Not On Our Shelves, But Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Clarkson Potter - October 18th, 2011

Rosenthal, owner of three restaurants in San Francisco (including Town Hall and Salt House), has put together a terrific cookbook. The scope of the recipes is broad—Clam Chowder, Curried Chicken Sandwich with Cashews, Slow Braised Pork Pozole, numerous Southern dishes—with enough diversity to interest any home cook. The tone is warm and wonderful, and the food is delicious. No wonder this book has landed on many “Best of the Year” lists!

Cooking My Way Back Home: Recipes from San Francisco's Town Hall, Anchor & Hope, and Salt House [A Cookbook] By Mitchell Rosenthal, Jon Pult Cover Image
This item may be available from the publisher! Give us a call or send us an email to find out.
ISBN: 9781580085922
Published: Ten Speed Press - October 18th, 2011

Mourad Lahlou, owner of Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurant Aziza, is a self-taught chef who turned to cooking out of homesickness for his native Morocco. His terrific debut cookbook captures his modern approach to traditional recipes and is gorgeous to look at, to boot. Library Journal says it "beautifully captures a culture, philosophy, and cuisine." I absolutely agree.