judy_murello

Judy Murello is an Executive Art Director in the Berkley Art Department handling all genre but especially the Ace list. She has worked at Penguin for oh such a long time. Before working at Berkley she was at NAL and was involved with the start of ROC.

 

 

 

 

The Raven’s Shadow trilogy by Anthony Ryan Blood Song, Tower Lord, and Queen of Fire (coming in July 2015)

bloodsongtowerlord

Anthony Ryan has created such a thrilling and engrossing epic tale. I just loved it! It’s just as good as the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. Great characters encountering great challenges, with some heart-breaking results. And it has a satisfying conclusion. Read them!!

thoseacross

Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman

This is a great book! One of my favorites. Don’t let the quiet set-up fool you. Let it lure you in and experience the strangeness that’s to come. Check out The Lesser Dead by Christopher too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

mooncalled

The Mercy Thompson and the related Alpha and Omega series, by Patricia Briggs

Beginning with Moon Called, this paranormal series just keeps getting better. Read both series, they go so well together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This isn’t out yet, but keep your eye out for…

Alice – Christina Henry (coming in August 2015)

This is a very unusual story that uses the Alice in Wonderland world in a unique way to tell a very different dark tale. Well written and surprising.

 

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Katherine Pelz photo

Katherine Pelz is an assistant editor at The Berkley Publishing Group, where she acquires romance, mystery and women’s fiction. During the rare moments when she’s not reading for business or pleasure, she’s in Brooklyn binge watching TV shows and hanging out with her cats.

 

 

 

 

 

spymaster

The Spymaster’s Lady, by Joanna Bourne

Joanna Bourne is, hands down, one of the best historical romance writers out there. Her writing, her characters, her settings, her plots…they are all THAT good. If you’re a historical romance reader and you’ve never read one of her Spymaster novels, you’re missing out on a master of the genre. Get your hands on a copy ASAP.

 

 

 

 

unwrapped

Unwrapped, by Maisey Yates

Small town contemporary romances are all the rage these days, and nobody writes one better than Maisey Yates. Her voice is fresh and ridiculously readable. UNWRAPPED is a holiday read that’s both hot and full of heart.

 

 

 

 

 

garden

The Garden of Letters, by Alyson Richman

Not strictly a romance, but a beautiful and moving historical novel that explores the pain and power of first love. It’s an experience that will stay with you long after you’ve read the final page.

 

 

 

 

 

exchange

Exchange of Fire, by P.A. DePaul

If you like some action with your romance, then you need to check out P.A. DePaul’s romantic suspense series. The heroine of Exchange of Fire is a sniper—I love a strong heroine (and a hero that can keep up with her!)

 

 

 

 

 

whenwemet

When We Met, by A. L. Jackson, Molly McAdams, Tiffany King and Christina Lee

I love reading New Adult romance, and WHEN WE MET contains stories from four of my top New Adult authors. You get four times the romance (and four times the hot heroes) with this one!

 

 

 

 

 

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isabel

Isabel Farhi is an editorial assistant at NAL/Ace/Roc, where she works on romance novels and science fiction & fantasy novels. When not at work, she watches anything with characters she can ship—and magic is an added bonus!

 

 

 

 

somegirlsbite

Some Girls Bite, by Chloe Neill

Paranormal equals vampires, and while I’m not usually a huge vampire fan I haven’t found better vampires than the Chicagoland vampires. Merit’s a grad student-turned-badass vampire, and she’s refreshingly human and fun to read. What’s really great about Chloe Neill is that her books just keep getting better as her world expands, and the twists and turns of her plots can last over books. But it always comes back to Merit and her vampire master/boss/lover, Ethan—who’s more than a little the attraction of these books as well!

 

 

 

writteninred

Written in Red, by Anne Bishop 

I was introduced to Anne Bishop years ago with her Black Jewels series, but this book plunged me back into her fan club, fast. As a history buff in my spare time, I loved how this book set up an alternate history and mythology where humans had always had to share their world with otherworldly creatures, and seeing how that changed our history—and even more, I loved seeing those otherworldly creatures interact with humans. Anne Bishops really captures the feeling that these beings are not human at all and they don’t think like us, and it makes for a fascinating, intense read.

 

 

Untitled-1On The Edge, by Ilona Andrews

Ilona Andrews is better known for her Kate Daniels series, but I really enjoyed this lesser known series. It’s nice to have a heroine who isn’t as blasé as some of the more jaded paranormal detectives—Rose is cynical, but she’s unsophisticated as well, and she’s learning things right along with the reader. None of which keeps her from being whip-smart, and more than a match for the powerful aristocrat who comes sniffing around. This world’s also a far cry from a lot of fantasy worlds—not only is it much more rural, set in the backwoods—but the magic system’s incredibly intriguing. It’s definitely world worth exploring! And the hero and heroine’s frustrated chemistry is really delightful.

 

 

heartofsteel

Heart of Steel, by Meljean Brooks 

The only thing better than pirates? Pirates in airships! The only thing better than pirates in airships? A female pirate captain who’s totally in charge and ruthless enough to stay there. And the only thing better than that? Watching her fall in love, and not get any weaker for it. I love subverting tropes, and the way this romance turns the pirate and his captor trope on its head makes it a great read. Their banter and constant one-upping contest just makes it better! With the adventure and swashbuckling as well as the romance to drive the story along, I couldn’t put this book down.

 

 

 

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Erin is a Digital Marketing Manager at Penguin Young Readers Group. When she’s not reading (which isn’t often), Erin enjoys baking, hiking, and dreaming about her next vacation.

 

 

 

 

sun

I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson

It’s impossible to overstate how much I love this book. To put it in perspective, I work in an office that is lined virtually floor-to-ceiling with amazing novels, yet I’ve read this one twice in the last six months. Twins Jude and Noah walk right off of the page, and Jandy’s playful, lyrical prose is beyond compare. I recommend this book to anyone who likes books about love, or family, or loss, or beauty, or friendship, or art—which is another way of saying that I recommend this book to literally everyone.

 

 

 

herecomessanta

Here Comes Santa Cat, by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda

You may remember Cat from the hilarious Here Comes the Easter Cat, in which a certain feisty feline tried to steal the Easter Bunny’s job. This time, Cat has Mr. Claus in his sights. Worried that Santa won’t bring him a gift on account of his naughty behavior, Cat decides to take matters into his own paws and, along the way, learns a thing or two about the real meaning of Christmas. Here Comes Santa Cat is a delight: It’s quick-witted and clever but with a heart of gold. (Just like Cat himself.)

onceupon

Once Upon an Alphabet, by Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers refers to his books as picture books, not children’s books, and that is especially true of his latest offering. Once Upon an Alphabet is a darkly humorous, flawlessly illustrated, and wildly entertaining collection of 26 interconnected short stories, one for each letter of the alphabet. My personal favorite? “Onward,” starring a problem-solving owl and octopus duo. Pick it up for your kiddo, but don’t be surprised if you want a copy for your coffee table as well.

 

 

 

5thwave

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

If you haven’t read this alien invasion page-turner yet, this is the perfect time to pick it up. The movie is in production, so you still have plenty of time to read The 5th Wave (and the sequel, The Infinite Sea) before opening night. It’s a riveting story filled with edge-of-your-seat action, but what I love most about it is how Rick Yancey expertly fuses the physical and psychological struggles of surviving in a post-apocalyptic world. The novel jumps between narrators as it hurdles towards the conclusion and ultimately asks the question, what does it mean to be human?

 

 

ember

Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir

This one isn’t in stores yet (sorry, readers) but I can’t wait another minute to start talking about An Ember in the Ashes. This gripping debut novel is nothing short of amazing. Set in a ruthless and brutal dystopian world, Embers follows Laia, an orphan who will stop at nothing to save her imprisoned brother, and Elias, a reluctant soldier forced to compete to be the next emperor. You’ll race through pages filled with loyalty, betrayal, friendship, and violence as Laia and Elias discover just how far they are each willing to go.

 

 

 

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cmoHeadshot

Caitlin O’Shaughnessy is an Associate Editor at Viking and works with Clare Ferraro. She acquires and edits commercial fiction, nonfiction and illustrated books, including Sarah Lazarovic’s A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy, which was recently featured on the Today Show.

 

 

 

 

unbecomingUnbecoming, by Rebecca Scherm

This mesmerizing psychological suspense novel follows an irresistible femme fatale from small-town Tennessee to the glamorous art worlds and seedy underbellies of New York and Paris. The perfect follow-up for anyone who’s ready to move on from Gone Girl.

 

 

 

 

 

poser

The Poser, by Jacob Rubin

When Allison Lorentzen first brought The Poser to our editorial meeting I read a good chunk of this submission and  loved it. Now that it’s finished and is coming out in March 2015, I can’t wait to reread it and see how its evolved through the writing and editing process. The main character, Giovanni Bernini, is able to imitate anyone he encounters and becomes famous for his talents.  Rubin is a great writer with a long career ahead of him and his debut novel  is one to look out for.

 

 

 

secretplace

The Secret Place, by Tana French

This isn’t technically literary fiction but The Secret Place is the kind of book that’s so well-written you stay up all night to finish it. This is Tana’s fifth book (Viking also published In The Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place, and Broken Harbor) and I think it’s her best one yet. She captures the dialogue of teenage girls and their text-filled romances in an uncanny way and it’s like a smart, literary version of spending a Saturday afternoon watching Mean Girls.

 

 

 

inventionThe Invention of Exile, by Vanessa Manko

This is a Brooklyn writer who lives up to the hype – Vanessa Manko’s heartrending novel about immigrant struggles in the early 1900s is hard to put down. Incredibly well written and  based on Vanessa’s own family history, it’s a great read and equally good to pass along to a mom or aunt.

 

 

 

 

 

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I was even happier after I tasted it

Brooke Carey is an Editor at Gotham where she specializes in self-help, personal development, pop culture, and other non-fiction. She currently resides in Astoria, Queens but grew up in Nashville where she developed a deep, unyielding love for sad country songs and fried green tomatoes.

 

 

 

 

168hours

168 Hours: You Have More Time than You Think by Laura Vanderkam

I edited this book when I was still new to my career and had no clue how to manage my time. In fact, I had succumbed to the notion that time managed me. Laura changed all of that. This is not a book about how to make a to-do list or filter your inbox. Laura argues that, while we all say we “don’t have enough time,” we have exactly the same amount of hours—168 in a week—as anyone else. So how do some people manage to work full time, raise a family, run marathons and take up pottery while the rest of us feel like we’re constantly playing catch up? According to Laura, the first step to making the most of our hours is to look at exactly how we spend them. When we do, we realize that we waste a lot of time doing things that don’t improve our lives and are then empowered to focus on what really matters. If you don’t want to read a 270+ page book because, well, you’re pressed for time, I suggest Laura’s especial What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.

 

howtoHow to Be Richer, Smarter and Better Looking than Your Parents by Zac Bissonnette

This is another book I worked on, so perhaps I’m a little biased, but I truly believe every twenty-something should read it. It’s a guide for young people—those who are financially independent for the first time—on how to create financial habits that will set them on the path to lifelong prosperity. This is not a book about how to make a million dollars overnight, nor is it full of complicated investment advice. Zac argues that if you commit to good money habits—saving for retirement, paying off debt—while you’re young, you’ll set yourself on the path to lifelong prosperity. He also unpacks what wealth really means—that the people who have the biggest homes and fanciest cars are often up to their eyeballs in debt—and that real wealth is about security and not having to worry about money because you’ve been smart about it your whole life. But Zac isn’t preachy. He fills the book with references to pop culture and uses Teresa Giudice and Lenny Dykstra, among others, as cautionary tales. After editing this book, I immediately upped my contribution to my 401(k).

#girlboss

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

As soon as you look at Sophia, you want to be her. She’s gorgeous, poised, and hella cool. And then you learn that she built her $100-million-dollar online clothing retailer, Nasty Gal, from scratch without a college education all before the age of 30, and your head explodes. She is, in short, an inspiration, but a sassy one. #GIRLBOSS is about being awesome and not apologizing for it. It’s about finding success on your own terms, even if you’re unconventional, awkward, or have stumbled along the way (Sophia, for example, spent a good chunk of her early adulthood dumpster diving and shoplifting to get by). The book became an instant classic when it was published earlier this year, and it’s no wonder. Sophia is Jackie O meets Jack Welch. What’s not to love?

 

idon'tcare

I Don’t Care About Your Band: What I Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Felons, Faux Sensitive Hipsters, and Other Guys I’ve Dated by Julie Klausner

On its face, this is a book of dating stories, but it’s so much more than that. I wish I’d had this book when I was 22 and first moved to NYC because I could have saved myself some of the drama—and trauma—that defined my dating life for the better part of a decade. Reading Klausner’s hilarious and horrifying tales of the man-children she’s encountered in her quest for true—or just functional—love is like listening to your bawdy best friend counsel and commiserate with you on what you should and should not tolerate from men (or women, or anyone, really). Read it with a bottle of wine.

 

julia

Julia Child: A Life by Laura Shapiro

Not a self-help book per se, but everyone can take a lesson from Julia Child. She was not only wildly successful but extraordinarily kind, level-headed, and full of joie de vivre. Plus, she and her husband, Paul, were deeply in love. This book made me smile, literally. I was so delighted while reading it that I couldn’t help myself. If more people lived like Julia, we’d be happier, healthier, and definitely better fed.

 

 

 

 

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daniel

Daniel Ridge is the Director of Advertising and Promotion for the Academic and Library Marketing department. He can be spotted at the hippest playgrounds throughout Williamsburg.

 

 

 

 

 

power

The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene

There are few writers whose books I enjoy starting quite as much as Graham Greene. His writing is crisp, cinematic, and hooks one from the outset. His output was fairly staggering and covered quite a range, but The Power and the Glory is generally considered his masterpiece, and rightly so. A whisky priest, a fanatical police lieutenant, a fanged mestizo, a setting worthy of Orson Welles, and a narrative that never sags—with an insightful introduction by John Updike to boot. Sign me up.

 

 

 

fairy

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, by Philip Pullman

This collection of Pullman’s beautifully rendered retellings of the Grimms’ classic tales is truly wonderful—full of wonders—and has become a bedtime-story standby in my household. Reader beware: even tales with innocent titles such as The Goose-Girl can lead to some awkward questions from 4-year-olds about how a decapitated horse’s head could talk and whether being rolled to death in a nail-studded barrel is really a fitting punishment for any crime.

 

 

 

crime

Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

And speaking of crime and punishment, Dostoyevsky’s novel of that name is one of my all-time favorites. Yes, it’s chock-full of big questions about justice, morality, and human nature, but what sticks with me is the vivid depiction of a sweltering, fetid, feverish Saint Petersburg in the days leading up to Raskolnikov’s foul deed. Anyone who has lived through an August heat-wave in New York City with no A/C, a job that doesn’t pay the bills, and a neighbor who blasts Seal’s 1991 hit “Crazy” every morning at 6:30 a.m. will know why Raskolnikov started thinking about that axe.

 

 

new york stories

The New York Stories, by John O’Hara

As a New Yorker, reading stories from the city’s past is much like thumbing through childhood pictures of your lover (who may be losing interest in you). Reading John O’Hara’s The New York Stories is like finding out that all those birthdays, baths, and Christmas mornings were shot by Annie Leibovitz. Great characters and razor-sharp dialogue set amid streets and buildings that time has certainly changed, but still spark a flutter of recognition. And I love the cover.

 

 

 

metamorphosis

The Metamorphosis and Other Stories, by Franz Kafka

Kafka is great. If this is news to you, read this book immediately. If you already know this, then you know these stories are well worth reading again. I still think of “The Penal Colony” every time I hear the word harrowing.

 

 

 

 

 

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akif

Akif Saifi is an editorial assistant at the Penguin Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

stalin 2

Stalin Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928, by Stephen Kotkin

The first of Stephen Kotkin’s projected three-volume biography of Joseph Stalin is itself a mammoth undertaking. Kotkin here seeks to do away with once and for all our conception of Stalin as an opportunistic monster, and he shows us instead that from a very young age, Stalin proved himself to be exceptionally smart and capable, and was thoroughly driven by Communist ideology. Perhaps one of the most impressive things about this first volume is that very little is really known about Stalin’s early years, and Kotkin takes care to only includes verifiable information—he is not prone to the wild psychoanalysis of Stalin’s earlier biographers who speculated that the purported beatings he received as a child were in some way responsible for his later atrocities. And so Stalin himself is barely a presence in the first part of the book, and instead we are given a tour of the plethora of factors shaping the empire (not to mention the world) that he was born into: Bismarck, Marx et al. As a result, this is more than just a biography of Stalin; in Kotkin’s own words, it’s “a history of the world from Stalin’s office.”  Whatever it is, it’s a thrilling read, and it goes a long way in putting the present situation in Russia, as well as the crisis in Ukraine, into their proper historical context.

when the factsWhen the Facts Change: Essays, 1995-2010, by Tony Judt (on sale 1/22/2015)

In recent years, there have been few public intellectuals as consequential as Tony Judt. He was that rare figure who could seamlessly bridge the gap between history and current events, drawing from overlooked historic episodes to help explain the world we live in now. When the Facts Change is a collection of some of the essays he wrote in the last fifteen years of his life, the majority of which were first published by The New York Review of Books, where he was a longtime contributor. It’s all here, all the subjects that were so central to his work and thought: Europe and its efforts to come to terms with its history; the folly of the war in Iraq and America’s increasing isolation on the world’s stage; and, of course, the Holocaust and Israel’s current moral dilemma. His writings on Israel are collected here for the first time in book form, and even though some time has passed (and numerous lives have been lost) since he wrote them, they still carry with them an air of prescience and insight invaluable for understanding the conflict objectively. When the Facts Change is a fitting capstone to his stellar body of work, as well as a sad reminder of the voice that we’ve lost.

muderMurder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe, Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance, by Ian Buruma

Ten years ago this month, Mohammed Bouyeri, a 26-year-old Dutchman of Moroccan descent, shot and killed the filmmaker Theo van Gogh as he rode his bike through the streets of Amsterdam. But he did not stop there. He went on to slash van Gogh’s throat as people looked on in horror. The act was meant to be a retaliation for the release of van Gogh’s film, Submission: Part I, where verses of the Quran were painted on the bodies of naked women; indeed, Bouyeri claimed he was acting to defend the name of Allah. It was not the first time we had heard those words; it was surely not the last. In recent months, we’ve witnessed a resurgence of similar barbarism in the name of Islam, from the beheadings and widespread atrocities of the so-called Islamic State and the kidnappings and bombings of Boko Haram and Al Shabab in Africa. In Murder in Amsterdam, Ian Buruma, a noted historian and a Dutchman himself, travels to the Netherlands soon after van Gogh’s murder to investigate the climate that gave rise to such an appalling act, examining the influx of immigrants from North Africa and ex-colonies into the country and the way they are treated, as well as the resurgence of reactionary Dutch nationalists in a society often prized for its tolerance and liberalism. It reads like long form journalism that perfectly blends history with current events to explore a most pressing question, one that remains unanswered ten years on. I can think of no book more fitting for our times.

delugeThe Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931, by Adam Tooze 

Among the spate of recent books examining World War I on the centenary of its outbreak, Adam Tooze’s new book. The Deluge, stands out. Tooze, a professor of history at Yale and the author of The Wages of Destruction, a much-praised study of the Nazi war economy, is one of the finest economic historians writing today. Here, he shifts his focus from the Third Reich and the Second World War to the United States and the First, examining the pivotal role that conflict played in redefining the nation and catapulting it to the top of the global hierarchy. This is not new territory per se, but Tooze writes persuasively and authoritatively. If you only intend to read one World War I book this year, The Deluge will not disappoint.

 

capitalCapital The Eruption of Delhi, by Rana Dasgupta

There has been much talk in recent years of the growing division between the top 1% and the remaining 99%, and part of the reason Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century became such a sensation earlier this year was because it provided some quantitative grounding to these arguments. Rana Dasgupta’s similarly titled Capital does not bother itself with the numbers; it is far more concerned with the social and human cost of income inequality. Dasgupta takes as his subject New Delhi, the capital of India, itself an incredibly polarized society where the very rich have recently done very well for themselves and have taken advantage of the influx of capital from globalization, while the rest of the city has carried on, largely unaffected, their lives about the same now as they were some forty years ago. If you’re a fan of Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City, you’ll find much to like in Capital.

 

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Katie Grinch

Katie Grinch is an Assistant Director of Publicity at Putnam.  She’s been with the company for 10 years (11 if you count her college internship).  She has a passion for pop culture, world travel and her cat named Wanda.

 

 

 

 

 

thestolenones

The Stolen Ones, by Owen Laukkanen

Owen Laukkanen is an amazing writer who always grabs me with his nuanced ability to take ordinary, everyday people and make them the center of terrifying actions.  This is the fourth thriller starring Kirk Stevens and his partner in the new joint BCA-FBI violent crime task force Carla Windermere.   Together, they find themselves on the trail of a massive international kidnapping and prostitution operation. Before they are done, they will have travelled over half the country, from Montana and Nevada, to New York and New Jersey, and come face to face not only with the most vicious man either of them have ever encountered––but two of the most courageous women that readers will find themselves truly rooting for.

 

girl on the train

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

Reminiscent of one of my favorite movies, Rear Window, this is a British gem of a psychological thriller that I want everyone to read, so we can talk about and all the twists and turns at the water cooler.   Told from the point of view of three different characters – Rachel really strikes a note as the unreliable narrator battling her demons.  She becomes entangled in the disappearance of a local woman she observes every day from the train window.  Her interest in the case reaches the point where you question why she’s so invested and if she knows more than meets the eye.  The mystery that unravels kept me reading nonstop.

 

 

strangler

The Strangler Vine, by M.J. Carter

A brilliant historical thriller set in Calcutta in 1837 written by established historian and biographer MJ Carter. The British East India Company rules India, or most of it. Its most notorious and celebrated son, Xavier Mountstuart, has gone missing on an expedition to track down the Thugs, the murderous sect of native Kali-worshippers who strangle innocent travelers by the roadside. William Avery, a young soldier joins forces with a secret political agent gone native become and the unlikely duo is drawn deeper into this mystery and the dark heart of colonial India.  Not only a captivating read, but I learned so much about the time, place and the mysterious Thugs.

 

 

forsaken

The Forsaken by Ace Atkins

Atkins demonstrates why his Quinn Colson series has met with such popular and critical success, and why Michael Connelly has called him “one of the best crime writers at work today.”  Since the start, all of Ace Atkins’ novels have had roots in a true story.   The plot has ties to a 1975 cold case in Statesville, North Carolina. Two young girls were abducted, one survived to tell the story and in the wake of the horrific crime, another murder occurred.

 

 

 

lost key

The Lost Key, by Catherine Coulter and JT Ellison

I was so excited when Putnam started doing a second series (A Brit in the FBI) with Catherine Coulter and she has found the perfect partner in crime with JT Ellison.  This is an electrifying an international manhunt that begins when freshly-minted FBI Agent Nicholas Drummond, barely out of his Quantico training, and his partner are investigating a stabbing on Wall Street. Their investigation, however, yields more questions than answers and a plot twist that dates back to WWI.  This series is pure fun and excitement that should draw in fans of Coulter as well as new readers.

 

 

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walker

Alan Walker is the Director of Academic and Library Marketing and Sales for Penguin. He can also be found on occasion reading Penguin Classics in alphabetical order for his Penguin Classics Marathon.

 

 

 

ofhuman

Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham 

W. Somerset Maugham’s masterpiece is my favorite novel, and I recommend it to everyone. It follows the life of Philip Carey at the beginning of the twentieth century. Born with a club foot and orphaned at a young age, Philip grows up with his dreary aunt and uncle, is packed off to boarding school in Germany, attempts to become an artist in Paris, and then returns to England to try his luck at medicine and various other careers. During that time he falls for Mildred, a waitress beneath his station, in what turns into a mutually destructive relationship (to say the least!). Maugham’s novel stands the test of time and is unique in how it makes us realize how much alike we are to those who came before us, in our hopes, ambitions, passions and most especially our deepest flaws. Three film adaptations have never come close to doing the novel justice, never capturing the heart and humor of the book. It would make a great HBO or BBC mini-series if done properly! (Michael Fassbender as Philip maybe?)

ageofinnocence

The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton

Wharton’s novel of the 1870s New York aristocracy is right up there as my all-time favorite read. Newland Archer’s tortured affair with the scandalized divorcee Countess Olenska set against the rigid morals of upper class society is the stuff of literary magic. How Wharton gets so deep into the very soul of Newland’s mind and heart is uncanny. If you’ve ever lived a lie for even a moment Newland is your man! The famous scene when our hero (or anti-hero?) sees Ellen (the Countess) from afar, and decides to go to her if she turns to him is one of the most heartbreaking scenes you’ll ever find in a book.

 

 

ethan

Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton

Wharton’s novels were mostly about high society New Yorkers, like The Age of Innocence, but she also wrote two books about the rural poor. The better known of these is Ethan Frome which takes place in a corner of Western Massachusetts and is one of literature’s great love stories. I read this when I was a teenager and plan to go back to it at some point to see how it reads a few years (OK, decades) later.  I admit a personal connection to this book as I too spent early years with friends and siblings sledding down the same steep Berkshire hills as Mattie and Ethan did in their fictional town of Starkfield. Luckily for me though, we did a better job of avoiding the trees.

 

 

a hero

A Hero of Our Time, by Mikhail Lermontov

Ah, the Russians. I think I could list any number of great Russian novels below in my top five black spine recommendations, but for the sake of brevity I have chosen one, which may not be as familiar as some from the long list of great 19th and 20th Century works, from Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Zamyatin, Chekhov, Bulgakov, Gogol, Pushkin, etc. That book is Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time starring the dark and moody Pechorin who delights in the misery and downfall of those around him. Pechorin is one of my favorite characters in all of literature, and towards the end of the short novel there is a hilarious dual scene that is worth the price of admission! For anyone interested there is a 1992 French film entitled Un Coeur in Hiver (A Heart in Winter) which is a loosely based modern adaptation of the novel starring Daniel Auteuil.

 

a room

A Room with a View, by E. M. Forster

Speaking of great film adaptations, my last recommendation is E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View.  It’s hard to read this book without picturing all the actors from the great 1985 Merchant/Ivory production reading their lines as you stroll through this very amusing novel, and that is mostly due to E.M. Forster’s brilliant dialogue which was taken practically verbatim from the book for the movie. To quote from my own Classics Marathon Read (link above) I guess I am a sucker for a novel about repressed upper class Brits at the turn of the 20th Century, especially when juxtaposed against the raw passion and beauty of Italy. If you are like me, whether you’ve seen the movie a hundred times or not, Forster’s novel will make you want to ask the great questions and maybe on a future trip to Florence plan a day trip to a nearby Fiesole hillside!

 

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