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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

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: Not On Our Shelves, But Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
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: Not On Our Shelves, But Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Random House - June 14th, 2011

My favorite thing about Emma Donoghue’s books are her characters. She’s written collections of short stories and many novels set in a wide range of eras and places, and no matter what the topic, her characters sing. This is particularly true of her historical fiction, which she infuses with exhaustive research. I blazed through Slammekrin in a day or two, and after I found I couldn’t get the protagonist’s voice out of my mind. Love her or hate her (…you might hate her), she will certainly spur heated discussion. This is a great summer read for fiction-loving book groups.

Reviewed by: Kat
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Slammerkin Cover Image
ISBN: 9780156007474
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Harper Perennial - May 1st, 2002

History and character come alive in this new novel by Ciji Ware. Architect Amelia Bradshaw returns to San Francisco in 1906 to work with Julia Morgan (yes, Ware makes real-life Morgan, the first licensed female architect in California, a character in her book). Bradshaw is hired on in an architectural firm, due to Morgan’s influence, but no sooner does she get hired, than the April 18th earthquake strikes—demolishing the city. The tragedy becomes a catalyst that changes all of the characters. As Bradshaw struggles to start a life for herself and help rebuild the city, she faces corruption, politics, sexism and unforeseen romance. This is great summer read that ends up being more layered than you expect.

Reviewed by: Clytia
A Race to Splendor Cover Image
ISBN: 9781402222696
Availability: Backordered
Published: Sourcebooks Landmark - April 1st, 2011

This is my favorite book of the summer, and I am unabashedly telling everyone to read it, but particularly book groups. This is the kind of gorgeous novel that you can’t wait to talk about, a painstakingly authentic story about three characters who come together in Athens and forge an immediate and strange connection. Their fate and the choices they make will keep you talking late into the evening. I cannot recommend this book enough!

Reviewed by: Kat
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Everything Beautiful Began After: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780061661488
Availability: Not On Our Shelves, But Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Harper Perennial - July 5th, 2011

This is a unique and wonderful coming of age story. Starting in Corwall, England in the late 1960’s and ending around the time of the terrorist attacks in New York, the years that are traversed in this novel are simple and unimaginable at the same time. How do I describe the bonds that are developed between the characters of this book? We watch two siblings recreate magic through a Rabbit they name God, we watch a best friend promise to witness unspeakable acts, we watch the world stretch and break as war and terror become common day. This novel, told mostly through the view of Elly (who we first meet at 5) ultimately challenges the dilemma of how to say yes, staying open to life, when loss and longing are enough to make anyone say no. This is a beautiful, magical story, well worth the read.

Reviewed by: S.M.C.

This is by far one of my favorite books of the season. Makkai has written a debut novel that is good enough to put you in a stupor of awe and appreciation. We are introduced to Lucy Hull, a children’s librarian who finds herself both a kidnapper and kidnapped when her favorite patron, 10-year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy’s help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in anti-gay classes with celebrity Pastor Bob. Lucy stumbles into a moral dilemma when she finds Ian camped out in the library with an escape plan that needs her help to carry out. What follows is a page-turning adventure with heart and depth. Book groups will be pulled into dialogue by questioning how far we should go to rescue someone from their own story, and when we should step back and hope they can survive and learn for themselves. This book is beautiful, engaging, funny, and heartbreaking (but in a way that works).

Reviewed by: S.M.C.