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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.

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.

Reviewed by: S.M.C.
Irma Voth: A Novel Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780062070180
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Harper - September 6th, 2011


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.

Reviewed by: Kat
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Chime Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780803735521
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Dial Books - March 17th, 2011


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.

Reviewed by: Kat
Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead (Claire DeWitt Novels #1) Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780547428499
Availability: Out of Print
Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - June 2nd, 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.

Reviewed by: S.M.C.
Swamplandia! (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9780307276681
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
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.

Reviewed by: S.M.C.
The Red Garden Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780307405975
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Broadway Books - August 2nd, 2011


Like the elaborate pastries created by Felice’s mother, this novel will melt in your mouth. It’s not fluff – a run-away teenager, a marriage on the rocks, a hidden secret – but it’s rich and sensual and delicious. Perhaps more troubling than a sugared item should be, but certainly as amazing.

Reviewed by: Nici
Birds of Paradise Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780393064612
Availability: Out of Print
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - September 6th, 2011


When it comes to beautiful prose, this book has a spot at the top of my 2011 list. Van Booy’s sentences are so exquisite and perfectly weighted that you could spend an hour reading a single page. But you won’t, because the story and the characters insist that you continue. It takes place in Athens and circles around a peculiar love triangle between three lost souls. Just stunning.

Reviewed by: Kat
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Everything Beautiful Began After: A Novel Cover Image
$15.99
ISBN: 9780061661488
Availability: Backordered
Published: Harper Perennial - July 5th, 2011


This novel has been much-buzzed all year. It won the Orange prize and was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award. Here at Bookshop, we like to think we called it. This book enthralled us so much when it was excerpted in the 2010 Best American Nonrequired Reading that we practically begged for a copy, and when we got one we were not disappointed.

Reviewed by: Kat
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The Tiger's Wife: A Novel Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780385343848
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - November 2011


Brockmeier’s novel links together a number of characters with a single dazzling premise: one morning, the world wakes up and discovers that pain has become visible. Headaches glow white, cuts shimmer, back pain flares and ebbs. Our pain can no longer be kept secret, and the effects of this phenomenon are startling and far-reaching. You must read this!

Reviewed by: Kat
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The Illumination Cover Image
$24.95
ISBN: 9780375425318
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Pantheon - February 2011


This is a unique and wonderful coming of age story. How do I describe the characters of this book? We watch two siblings recreate magic with a Rabbit they name God, we watch a best friend promise to witness unspeakable acts, and we watch the world stretch and break as war and terror become common day. This is a beautiful, magical story, well worth the read.

Reviewed by: S.M.C.
When God Was a Rabbit: A Novel Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781608195343
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Bloomsbury USA - May 17th, 2011


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