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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.

I am a huge sucker for ghost stories. I seek them out all over the place – on the internet, among friends, and of course in books. I am happy to report that The Little Stranger is among the best ghost stories I've read; it's one of those rare books that not only manages to be well and truly frightening, but also packs a serious literary punch. A great many things sneak up on you when reading this book, particularly the potential instability of the narrator, a young doctor who finds himself in over his head when he befriends and strange and formerly wealthy family. I can't imagine a better book to curl up with as the first fall rainstorms hit.

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The Little Stranger Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594484469
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Riverhead Books - May 4th, 2010

In This Side of Brightness we are introduced to the character of Walker, living in the early 1900’s. Hired as a sandhog to help build the train tunnel that now connects Manhattan to Brooklyn, his life takes a series of turns after accepting the job. Deep in the tunnel’s underworld, Walker experiences something so profound that there is an immediate luminance and transcendence that outdoes the darkness he is surrounded by. McCann then parallels Walker’s story with that of Treefrog, a contemporary homeless man that survives by navigating his way through New York’s forgotten tunnels. In seamless prose switching between the two characters, McCann tells a story that challenges our notion of time and friendship, so that we come to realize how one person can ultimately embody all the stories that came before.

Reviewed by: S.M.C.
This Side of Brightness: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780312421977
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Picador - January 2003

I love the phrase “Intimate Ecology of our Wild Ocean”; it is a carefully worded sentence that perfectly sums up what this book is about. Whitty has been a passionate diver and writer her entire life, and you can feel this in every sentence of her book. She explores coastlines and undersea landscapes inch by inch, reveling in small details and vast histories. Sure to spur conversation about conservation and our species’ impact on the Earth’s dazzling and precious ecosystems.

Reviewed by: Kat
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Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean Cover Image
ISBN: 9780547520339
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Mariner Books - July 14th, 2011

So truth be told, Micah Perks is one of my mentors and friends. I only say this in a confessional tone, because I’m about to sing praises about her memoir, and I wanted to be honest that there is a connection. But please know that I am persnickety and as picky about my mentors and friends as I am about the books that I praise, and Micah and her writing are worthy of both positions. In 1963, Micah’s parents set out to the Adirondacks to build a school/utopian community designed to help teens struggling with addiction and emotional problems. Micah is an infant, and her sister is not yet born and soon this complex dream of her parents, spanning from idealism to struggle, becomes Micah’s home. Told in a sparing and unflinching voice, Micah amplifies the joy and chaos of counterculture life. While she is revealing in her own personal history, she is deft and contained with a gathered subtlety, so that there is a way that her writing reaches forward, toward a broader opening, and we are left examining not only the beauty and heartbreak of Micah’s own story, but also a marked point in our own history; America in the 1960’s. This is a beautiful read.

Reviewed by: S.M.C.
Pagan Time: An American Childhood Cover Image
ISBN: 9781582435398
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Counterpoint LLC - November 2009

I was a bit skeptical about the idea of psychotherapy case studies, mainly the not-so-small point of privacy issues; in order to protect the identity of his patients, Yalom was forced to alter certain characteristics and details about their stories. Once I got over the hangup of trying to discern what was true and what was altered, I entered a realm of the most amazing character studies I’ve ever seen. Perhaps the most fascinating element of this book is the narrator himself; Yalom is uncommonly frank, and reveals faults and anxieties of his own as he grapples with the demons of his patients.

Reviewed by: Kat
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Love's Executioner: & Other Tales of Psychotherapy Cover Image
ISBN: 9780060958343
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Harper Perennial Modern Classics - September 2000


Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (Picador)THEN YOU SHOULD READ:

Annabel by Kathleen Winter (Grove Press)

Orange Prize nominations always seem to land at the top of my list, and I’ve recently discovered the Giller Prize as another go-to for great fiction. But a book that made the shortlists of both prizes? That certainly caught my attention. Winter’s meditation on gender and identity is set in a rural seaside coast that proves to be as isolating as it is beautiful. When a hermaphrodite baby is born into this small community, both the parents and the doctor decide its best to bring the child up as a boy and choose the name Wayne, a decision that seems final enough, until Wayne hits adolescence. A compelling and complex read in the vein of Middlesex.

Jeffery Eugenedies is one of those authors who packs a small but powerful oeuvre, and his fiction has attracted countless obsessed devotees. Luckily enough, he’s finally got a new novel coming out this fall, The Marriage Plot. If you haven’t caught up on his work, you simply must read Middlesex, a portrait of a character named Cal, who is born a hermaphrodite. Eugenedies twines the story of Cal’s Greek heritage with the story of his life in Detroit, and his struggle to come to terms with his unique identity. Picked by many critics as a contender for the Great American Novel.

Reviewed by: Kat
Annabel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802170828
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Grove Press, Black Cat - January 4th, 2011

Daniel and Sophia have known each other a very long time, but Sophia doesn’t know it yet. In fact, she doesn’t even know that her name is Sophia—she’s always been Lucy, and up until the moment she kisses Daniel in an empty classroom at her high school, her existence has been fairly average. Or so she thought. This is a romantic adventure written with thoughtful detail and skillfully-executed plot twists; a love story in which only one character knows the whole story. Readers who liked The Time Traveler’s Wife will find much to enjoy here.

Reviewed by: Kat
My Name is Memory Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594485183
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Riverhead Books - June 7th, 2011

This book is absolutely delightful! I admit, when I saw it was a story about a young girl who is half human, and half bonobo, I thought it might wind up a bit corny. But I completely fell in love with the characters. This book will appeal to both young adult and adult readers, and hit all the right discussion points.

Reviewed by: Clytia
Lucy Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307473905
Availability: Backordered
Published: Vintage - July 12th, 2011

This young adult novel won the coveted Michael Printz award in 2009 and it proves to be deserving. A mystery that is part love story, part family drama, and part coming-of-age story, Marchetta weaves a tale that is as heart-felt as it is intriguing. Abandoned by her mother at age eleven, Taylor has scattered memories about her early childhood and past. At night she dreams of a boy in a tree who keeps trying to tell her something, in the day she is managing the complexities of the boarding school that has taken her in. Set in the Australian outback, nothing in this novel is what it seems, except for the scope of its friendships, the reach of its imagination, and the depth of its character—those are all true. This is a beautiful novel for all ages, one you don’t want to miss.

Reviewed by: S.M.C.
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Jellicoe Road Cover Image
ISBN: 9780061431852
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: HarperTeen - March 9th, 2010

When Hilary Hamann first published this novel in hardback, reviewers were comparing her to the likes of Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, and George Eliot, and I have to say, I was skeptical. Yet, here I am letting you know those comparisons because, it turns out that they’re apt. Anthropology of an American Girl is sharp and strong, edgy, and deep. Deep in the way where you have to come up for breath because you’re not sure if everyone is going to survive (they don’t) and deep in the way where even if you don’t usually mark your books, suddenly you are because there are paragraphs so true and hitting that your chest catches, and you need to underline words that Hamann offers about turning from girl to woman because they prove something, outline something, speak to something that you hadn’t even known you felt, but is at once recognizable. I have to say this isn’t usually the kind of novel I read with its contemporary references and interlope on popular culture; normally such books make me feel invisible, but this one made me realize how much we are all a part of something. This is Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom written from the female perspective. I guess those comparisons keep coming but read this book and you’ll realize that Hilary Hammann has earned every one.

Reviewed by: S.M.C.
Anthropology of an American Girl: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385527156
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Spiegel & Grau - June 14th, 2011