Denise Roy is a Senior Editor at Dutton, focusing on fiction. Each April, she rereads Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder.




mrs grant

Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule, by Jennifer Chiaverini

Some of the greatest love stories in American history feature a chapter at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In 1844, the shy Missouri belle Julia Dent met Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant, a brilliant horseman and reluctant soldier. The two fell deeply in love, but four years passed before Julia’s father permitted them to wed. The groom’s abolitionist family refused to attend the ceremony. Though Julia had the company of Jule–her namesake slave who served as her vision (Mrs. Grant was nearly blind) and her confidante until she emancipated herself in 1863–she and her husband, the great general of the Union Army, endured years of separation and the privations of the Civil War until they were finally brought together as President and First Lady. New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini reveals the details of this great American love story—never before told in fictional form.


Girl Underwater, by Claire Kells

In the wilderness, the concept of survival is clear-cut. Simple. In the real world, it’s anything but. “What if the most devastating moment of your life was also the beginning of something beautiful?” New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult praises Claire Kells’ debut novel Girl Underwater, “a compelling coming-of-age love story that will have you rooting for its teen narrator, a girl who survives a disaster, and finds herself trapped between a traumatic past and a fragile future. Trust me–dive in!” If that’s not enough to convince you, “Kells expertly ratchets up the tension in her thrilling debut novel . . . With its subzero temperatures that will make you reach for a blanket and a wounded but never weakened heroine, Kells’ assured debut is a winner.” (Kirkus) Read one page of Girl Underwater, and you’ll be hooked, instantly.


oh you

Oh! You Pretty Things by Shanna Mahin

Jess Dunne is third-generation Hollywood, but her star on the boulevard has yet to materialize. Sure, she’s got a Santa Monica address and a working actress roommate, but with her nowhere barista job in a town that acknowledges zeroes only as a dress size, she’s a dead girl walking. Enter Jess’s mother—a failed actress who puts the strange in estrangement. She dives headlong into her daughter’s downward spiral, forcing Jess to muster all her spite and self-preservation. Oh! You Pretty Things is a family love story and an ode to the city that has inspired endless fantasies. There is also a botanical stylist named Kirk who really fills out a T-shirt. Welcome to Hollywood.




Sweet Forgiveness, by Lori Nelson Spielman

It’s hard to say “I’m sorry,” but Lori Nelson Spielman, #1 international bestselling author of The Life List and master of high-concept fiction, has invented an ingenious method.  In her new novel, Sweet Forgiveness, the urge for atonement is sweeping the nation in the form of a phenomenon called the “Forgiveness Stones.”  Nelson Spielman has a flair for dropping her characters into highly relatable situations that will have readers thinking, feeling, and rooting for wrongs to be righted. After you read Sweet Forgiveness, you’ll never again be tempted to give up on someone you love.




The River of No Return, by Bee Ridgway

This debut novel that combines spy thriller, historical romance, science fiction, and fantasy reads like “the love child of Jane Austen and Dr. Who” (Eloisa James). Named a “Best of the Year” with “the feel of an instant classic, along the lines of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” by The Washington Post, this “thrill ride” (Vanity Fair), time-bending chronicle of lovers separated by centuries, dares the reader to sample John Donne’s poetry without blushing.




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Amanda Ng is an assistant editor at the Berkley Publishing Group. She has previously been paid to play video games and is currently being paid to read books. She thinks she’s doing pretty well!








Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

The vampires from the Underworld movies and The Vampire Diaries are fine, but my absolute favorite version of vampires can be found in Robin McKinley’s SUNSHINE.  They aren’t just humans with fangs, they’re creatures that are dangerous, chilling, and entirely otherworldly.  The relationship between Sunshine and Constantine is equal parts curious and enthralling, and the scene in which they first meet is one of my all time favorites.





Magic Bites, by Ilona Andrews

The Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews is one of my favorite urban fantasy series. Kate is a fantastic heroine, the action is thrilling, and the world she’s built up over the course of the series is one of the most well-developed worlds I’ve seen. In her version of Atlanta, humans, shapeshifters, necromancers, and more inhabit the same space but don’t always get along. Also, while I love main characters Kate and Curran, the numerous side characters always get their chance to shine and their diversity makes the series even more fun and engaging.





Archangel, by Sharon Shinn

The first time I picked this book up was at a friend’s house. I started reading and before I knew it I’d been reading for twenty minutes, completely ignoring everyone around me. Rachel (a human) and Gabriel  (an angel) are unforgettable characters that are forced to wed and carry the weight of their world together. That world, Samaria, is rich and detailed, with one of the most intriguing societies I’ve had the pleasure of reading about.






The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss

If you haven’t read the first two books in the Kingkiller Chronicle, THE NAME OF THE WIND and THE WISE MAN’S FEAR, you absolutely must. THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS is quite different from those thousand-page epics as it’s a beautifully illustrated book and features Auri, a side character from the main series. It’s an excellent companion piece as you get a glimpse into this fascinating character’s life while experiencing the author’s lyrical prose.





The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

Quentin, the main character of THE MAGICIANS, is clearly an antihero and it’s a testament to how excellent the story is that I absolutely loved this book despite Quentin’s many unlikeable characteristics. THE MAGICIANS takes us to a magical world but shows us that magic won’t just solve our very real problems for us. It’s up to each person to make certain choices, and sometimes not everyone is capable of making the right choices.





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Tara Shanahan Young Readers

Tara Shanahan works as a publicist at Penguin Young Readers and has had a passion for children’s books since her mom handed her a copy of Harry Potter in the 4th grade. It’s been true love ever since.






Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys 

Many books have rotated in my list of favorites over my years in publishing, but one that has held steadily at the top since the week I started at Penguin is Ruta Sepetys’ stunning debut. This account of the forced relocation of a Lithuanian family during the Russian invasion of 1939 was the first book I ever worked on and few stories have struck me so hard and stayed with me so long. BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is just so beautifully written and incredibly special that it is destined to become a classic.





Althea and Oliver, by Cristina Moracho

I’m such a sucker for smart, gorgeously written, realistic YA with a healthy dash of romance and few books have hit the spot quite like Cristina Moracho’s literary debut.  Althea and Oliver are teenagers in the 90s who have been best friends since they were six, but as their high school careers draw to a close they’re faced with the challenge of Althea’s growing romantic feelings and Oliver’s mysterious illness. I absolutely devoured this book in an afternoon and then proceeded to tell everyone I knew about it, so now I’m telling you! Go read it. You won’t be sorry.




5th wave

The 5th WAVE by Rick Yancey

This list wouldn’t be complete without a phenomenal blockbuster YA! THE 5TH WAVE busted onto the shelves last year and it completely lives up to the hype. This epic sci-fi adventure follows Cassie Sullivan as she fights for her life and the life of her younger brother as mysterious strangers start to take over the world.  Cassie is a kick-butt heroine who you can’t help but root for. I can NOT wait to see this one come to the big screen next year!





Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña; illustrated by Christian Robinson         

This fresh new picture book has brightened up my mood every time I page through it! Matt’s story of a grandmother taking the bus through the city while teaching her grandson about empathy, gratitude, and giving back is so heartwarming. I love Christian’s illustrations that color every scene with cheer and bring all the bustle and movement of their day to life. A must-have for all city kids’ bookshelves!





Maple, by Lori Nichols

Who doesn’t love a sweet, beautifully illustrated picture book? Lori Nichols’ charming debut features Maple, a free-spirited young girl who loves nature and seasons. This is the perfect story to get your whole family excited for spring!






Jack & Louisa: Act 1 by Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Wetherhead

Are you a theater nerd or just love a good middle grade novel? This sweet and funny story of the friendship between two young performers auditioning for Into the Woods, written by two Broadway veterans, is the perfect read for the young entertainer in your life!






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Katie McKee is a Senior Publicity Manager at Putnam. She started at Putnam in 2004 and has worked in the publicity department for almost 11 years. In her spare time, she loves traveling with her family, watching The Walking Dead, and reading to her daughter, Peyton.




The Strangler Vine, by M.J. Carter

The Strangler Vine has shades of Heart of Darkness with a splash of Conan Doyle and it is one of my favorite debuts of the season.  Set in the wilds of 19th-century colonial India at the height of the East India Company’s rule, this historical mystery introduces an unforgettable investigative pair. William Avery is a young soldier with few prospects except rotting away in India. Jeremiah Blake is a genius political agent gone native who can’t resist the challenge of an unresolved mystery. This unlikely duo is thrown together to track down an author who has gone missing in the untamed wilds of India. I won’t reveal much more, but you end the novel wanting to read everything you can on the East India Company and the mysterious Thuggee cult. And what’s even better is that we haven’t seen the end of Avery and Blake!


The Fatal Flame, by Lyndsay Faye

When you pick up a novel by Lyndsay Faye, prepare yourself for time travel. With her last two books (The Gods of Gotham and Seven for a Secret) and her latest, The Fatal Flame, you are literally transported to 1840’s New York City. Through her meticulous research, Faye blends real-life historical figures and details into her fictional canvas. The Fatal Flame once again features “copper star” Timothy Wilde, a one-man force of righteousness in a city rife with corruption. Faye is a masterful storyteller and if you love historical mysteries, this is the book to pick up.




Gathering Prey, by John Sandford

Gathering Prey is the 25th novel in John Sandford’s beloved “Prey” series. This thriller takes Lucas Davenport and his adopted daughter Letty into the unknown world of “Travelers:” a group that moves from city to city, panhandling, committing no crimes. But now somebody is killing them. Gathering Prey has everything: Sandford’s trademark humor, action, and fantastic writing. But he has something extra in mind for this latest Prey installment – something no one will expect.





My Sunshine Away, by M.O. Walsh

My Sunshine Away is one of the most buzzed about debuts of the season (and for good reason). The novel has garnered amazing pre-publication praise from a few fans you might know: Kathryn Stockett, Anne Rice, Tom Franklin, Matthew Thomas, and the list goes on. My Sunshine Away tells the story of a fourteen-year-old boy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in love with fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson, the girl across the street. But after Lindy is attacked one night while riding her bike home from track practice and no arrests are made, innocence is suddenly lost from her, him, and everyone along Piney Creek Road in their affluent section of Baton Rouge. Walsh’s writing is mesmerizing and the descriptions of his hometown of Baton Rouge create an incredible backdrop for this gripping debut.



The Ranger, by Ace Atkins

It’s hard to sum up Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson series in a few lines because these books offer up so much. If you’re looking for a series that’s gritty and action-packed, yet reads more like a literary novel than crime fiction, look no further. Atkins has created such an intriguing and appealing hero in Quinn Colson, a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq who returns to rural Mississippi to fight corruption on his home turf. And if you don’t believe me, the reviews speak for themselves: Marilyn Stasio wrote in The New York Times Book Review, “Ace Atkins’ killing honesty sets a new standard for Southern crime novels.” The Ranger is the first installment in this remarkable series.



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Seema Mahanian is an editorial assistant at Pamela Dorman Books/Viking. She isn’t ashamed to say that she will read any Kennedy family bio and can recite all Oscar best picture winners since 1927.






bonepeopleThe Bone People, by Keri Hulme

I ugly cried on a bus while reading The Bone People. Hard. But I was determined to finish, and I had zero regard for the fact that strangers were witnessing my heart being ripped out. So do I need to add that Keri Hulme’s debut, Booker-winning novel is devastating? Set in New Zealand’s South Island, three outcasts—Kerewin, a hermetic artist; Joe, a spiritual man and abusive alcoholic; and Simon, a mute, precocious orphan—form a family of sorts. Hulme, weaving in myth and legend, uses her characters to explore the intersection of Maori and European culture in contemporary New Zealand. The Bone People examine states of isolation, the desire for connection, and violence as communication. Raising the subjects of Maori displacement, and cultural survival, The Bone People is warm but brutal; it’s beautiful.



Kitchens of the Great Midwest, by J. Ryan Stradal

As an Australian, I have limited knowledge of Midwestern cuisine—I think cream of mushroom soup and casseroles involving marshmallows. I was wrong (sort of). This smart, hilarious, touching novel that reminds me of Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, revolves around Eva Thorvald—a lonely young girl with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the legendary, mysterious chef of the most difficult dinner reservation in the country. She finds solace and salvation in the recipes and ingredients of the Midwest. Each chapter is the story of a single dish and character in Eva’s orbit, set against the backdrop of church bake-offs, hot pepper eating contests, and the opening weekend of hunting season. J. Ryan Stradal captures the zeitgeist of the Midwest, and with joyful, wistful prose, examines how food can create both community and identity, while highlighting the bittersweet nature of life. I’m so excited for this to come out in July 2015. Everyone who’s read it has fallen in love with it. So get ready, because you will, too.


The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer

As a twenty-something living in New York, where my friends are like family, tell me a book is about a group of twenty-something friends in New York, and the narcissist in me will devour it immediately. But I didn’t expect to fall for this novel so completely. The Interestings traces the friendships of a group of six—from fifteen-years old into adulthood—and how they, and their friendship, changes over the years. For me, few books about the passage of time  have captured both youthful idealism about art and potential, alongside the harsh realities of adult success, jealousy, and failure, with such insight. Some characters are so well-realized that it felt more like investing time with new friends just made between the pages, than reading a book.



On Beauty, by Zadie Smith

Oh, Zadie. She gives an examination of race and gender in contemporary Britain and the US, with rich lush characters that spring off the page. She ties in elements of Rembrandt and the way we construct meaning and significance from art, while looking at the seemingly simple difficulties of contemporary relationships, both romantic and familial. This novel accomplishes so many things at once, and with such ease, I half-expected it to cook my dinner and clean my apartment as well.





The New York Trilogy, by Paul Auster

We’ve all read detective novels. We start as children, then we grow up, go through a post-modernist phase, and read Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy. These three interlocked novels are incredible. Auster uses elements of classic and hardboiled detective fiction mixed with experimental and meta-fiction, littered with references to 19th century American authors, to explore the many layers of identity and reality. I was so enamored that I once chased Paul Auster around a city trying to get his photograph. Sorry not sorry, Mr. Auster.




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Andrew Yackira Headshot

Andrew Yackira is an Editor with Tarcher/Penguin, acquiring books on health, wellness, self-help, philosophy, and works containing loads of other fun and potentially world-changing ideas. When he isn’t reading for work, he still manages to read for pleasure, is an avid commuter cyclist, a gamer, an eater-of-foods-he-didn’t-prepare—as well as some that he did—and (presumably to his neighbor’s chagrin) has recently taken up playing the mandolin.




Stronger, Faster, Smarter: A Guide to Your Most Powerful Body, by Ryan Ferguson

Ryan Ferguson, the author of this fitness guide, spent ten years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. The titular line comes from something his father told him—after first realizing that the nightmare of his imprisonment might be his new normal:  “Son, do whatever you can to get stronger, faster, and smarter.  This is now your number one priority.” Aside from the inspirational story behind the Ferguson’s physical transformation while behind bars—and, ultimately, his acquittal—this book contains a fitness program emphasizing a need of resolve and inner strength over the need of fancy exercise equipment. Most of the exercises highlighted in this book are simple and can be done in a 6’ x 8’ cage if need be (and we hope our readers never find themselves in a situation where that need arises).


getting things done

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen

This perennial bestseller in the “productivity” category is a favorite among many of the staffers here at Tarcher. David Allen is a mastermind of organization and anti-procrastination tips, and his no-nonsense approach is brilliant for simplifying the daunting pile of tasks many of us face during our workdays. Also, there will be a revised 2015 edition of this classic coming out in March! Tarcher is proud to have partnered with the Penguin imprint on theGetting Things Done Productivity Cards in 2013, which distilled the wisdom in this book down to bite-sized portions in a colorful and beautifully-designed deck of cards.




Reiki for Life: The Complete Guide to Reiki Practice for Levels 1, 2, & 3, by Penelope Quest

Chances are you’ve heard about Reiki in the last few years, as centers are beginning to pop up all around the country and compliment other ancient techniques such as T’ai Chi and acupuncture. This handbook is all anyone interested in Reiki needs to begin practicing this potent and increasingly popular healing technique. Readers will learn how Reiki works, how to perform Reiki on themselves and others, instructions on how to become a Reiki Master, and much more.





What the Fork Are You Eating? An Action Plan for Your Pantry and Plate, by Stefanie Sacks MS, CNS, CDN

American culture seems increasingly obsessed with labels like “natural,” “grass-fed,” “free-roaming,” and “organic”—but author, certified chef, and nutritionist Stefanie Sacks argues that these labels may be misleading and arms consumers with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions for themselves and their families. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say, so this book would be incomplete without the included fifty original recipes that readers can try at home (although I don’t think there are any pudding recipes—sorry for any confusion).




Less Doing, More Living: Make Everything in Life Easier by Ari Meisel

In this handy and compact tome, TEDx speaker, triathlete, and productivity consultant Ari Meisel transforms his “Less Doing” lifestyle into actionable steps that readers can easily apply to their lives. Ari’s 21st century philosophy puts the internet and technology to work on behalf of the reader—using apps and tools to automate and outsource daily activities like e-mail, keeping track of new ideas, and remembering meetings—creating an “external brain” and freeing up the reader’s time and mind to focus only on important tasks. But this philosophy isn’t just about business and work life. Meisel tackles the trifecta of wellness—fitness, sleep, and nutrition— and instructs the reader on how to get more out of life, all while doing less. This book is a true gem in productivity improvement, and I personally use strategies I learned from working on this book in my daily life.


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Ryan Murphy noodles

When Ryan Murphy lived in California a barber told him he seemed like a New Yorker. So he moved there. If he’s not at Penguin or flogging literature at Three Lives & Company, he’s probably tucking away noodles in Flushing, samosas in Jackson Heights or banh mi in Elmhurst.








My Antonia, by Willa Cather

Is there a more beautiful writer in the English language than Willa Cather? Years after I first read My Antonia the storyline has become a jumble in my head, but Cather’s peerless vision of the American prairie remains. Pick any random page and you’ll find a gorgeous metaphor or crystalline phrase. Page 201 from the Drop Caps edition: “We sat looking off across the country, watching the sun go down. The curly grass about us was on fire now. The bark of the oaks turned red as copper…The girls sat listless, leaning against each other. The long fingers of the sun touched their foreheads.” There is a subtle mastery to Cather’s words, a clear-eyed sense of rhythm and place that coalesces into a portrait of America that few writers of any era have matched.


flatlandFlatland, by Edwin A. Abbott

On the opposite side of the literary spectrum from My Antonia we have Flatland, Edwin Abbott’s spare satire of Victorian society. The story is told by a Square (a member of the privileged, all-male Polygon class), who describes his two-dimensional world and the hierarchies that spring from such inborn characteristics as the number of sides one possesses. Women are Lines, one-dimensional mathematical constructs without depth or importance and mainly notable for the danger they pose as sharp objects. Shapes with irregularities are either shunted into the working classes or, when an aberration is uncorrectable, euthanized. As Abbott said in a later preface, the narrator Square has identified closely with historians “in whose pages (until very recent times) the destinies of Women and of the masses of mankind have seldom been deemed worthy of mention and never of careful consideration.”



Typee, by Herman Melville

Long before James Frey and David Sedaris, Herman Melville set a standard for pseudo-memoir with his rollicking South Pacific adventure tale. Expanded, exaggerated and embellished, Typee nonetheless is based on Melville’s real experiences as a captive on Nuku Hiva. Though simpler and far less philosophical than the later Moby-Dick, Typee shows clear strains of Melville’s genius for inquiry and narration, and even a few flashes of humanistic insight beyond the Noble Savage stereotypes. The book (and his next one, Omoo) is an exotic and exciting travelogue that clearly caught the attention of the American public—unlike the epic story of the White Whale, which sank like Ahab in the marketplace, Typee was snapped up by readers eager to read tales of a world entirely inaccessible to them.


The Log from the Sea of Cortez, by John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck’s books could almost fill my best-of list all by themselves, but for the purposes of this post I’m limiting my Steinbeck picks to one. The Log from the Sea of Cortez tells the story of the author and his friend, biologist Ed Ricketts (who might be familiar to fans of Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday and several other works), traveling down Baja and into the Gulf of California on a scientific expedition. The book is as funny and thoughtful as Steinbeck’s acclaimed fiction, and his descriptions of life on the Gulf are as sumptuous as those of the Salinas Valley in East of Eden. Just as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay shaped my perception of New York City prior to living here, Steinbeck’s West Coast stories gave me a minds-eye view of the opposite side of the continent before I moved there myself.

songlinesThe Songlines by Bruce Chatwin

If I had my own country and wanted one person to write a book about it, I’d pick Bruce Chatwin. Sure, like Typee, some of the events and dialogue in The Songlines are invented. Yes, Chatwin was just as interested in self-mythologizing as in chronicling the places he visited. But I defy anyone with either an iota of artistic feeling or a restless soul to read Chatwin’s story of Aborigine Australia and not put it down exhilarated by the effortless prose and stunned by the complexity of the cultures he visits. Any attempt to chart the physical and spiritual landscape of Aborigine religion would be doomed to failure in lesser hands, but Chatwin’s words flow and entwine like the very Songlines trod by their master-creators during the Dreaming.



The Liars’ Club, by Mary Karr

(Okay, it’s not technically a classic yet, but it’s close enough—Penguin Classics will release a Graphic Deluxe edition of The Liars’ Club in late 2015.) Notable not just for the quality of the work itself but also for its influence on countless memoirs in the following decades, Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club is the story of a cracked childhood told with wit (but not snark) and feeling (but not schmaltz). Like most worthwhile memoirs, Karr’s life is both a pleasure and a pain to read, with cringe-worthy moments of youthful indiscretion, parental failures on a Child Protective Services scale, and moments of gritty, hard-won redemption.


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IMG_3238American publishers often hear the grousing that we bring out vanishingly few novels in translation.  While I think things are getting better thanks to the inspired work of outfits like Dalkey Archive, Europa and New Directions, and while I know that in fact some of my own defining editorial experiences have been with fiction in translation, including W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, let’s face it, there’s some truth to the problem.  Not that it’s a mystery as to why.  We’re a fairly monolingual lot, or at least I certainly have no faith in my literary discernment through the haze of my schoolboy French and Spanish.  Publishing debut fiction, period, is hard enough, and falling in love is everything.  How do you know?

In the case of Daniel Galera’s Blood-Drenched Beard I had some help.  First, John Freeman, then editor of Granta and a reader of beautiful taste, curated a Granta “Best of Young Brazilian Novelists” issue, and he led the issue with a story that was in fact the first chapter of this novel.  It made the skin on my arms stand up: a father has called his son to his side to say that he’s literally sick to death of his lingering illness and is going to end his own life; and so he needs his one obedient child to look after his beloved old dog.  Our narrator cycles through emotions from incredulity to outrage to sorrowful acceptance.  And then his father drops his final whopper: his own father didn’t die of natural causes in the beach town of Garopaba: he was murdered, in effect lynched by the town.  Oh, and, we figure out soon enough that our narrator suffers from face-blindness – he is incapable of remembering who people are by sight.

So begins one of the wildest, coolest, slinkiest, most moving existential mystery novels you’ll ever experience.  It’s like nothing else I’ve ever read. If there is a love triangle in this novel, it is between a man, his dog and the ocean, and “oceanic” is the word that comes to mind to describe its power.  The novel’s protagonist is isolated from other people in such a way that every human connection touches us to the quick.  And the novel builds to a furious climax that left me reeling.  Talking sweepingly about national characteristics of prose invites ridicule, usually deservedly – what do “Americans” write like? – but at the same time I have to say that there is a sensuous musicality to Galera’s voice, a velvety toughness, both sophisticated and laced with physical menace, that, while it’s certainly all about the genius of Daniel Galera, somehow also makes me feel connected to the novel’s setting in the way only very special fiction can.  Part of the credit goes to the great talent of translator Alison Entrekin, translator of City of God, and of Chico Buarque, and many other Brazilian novelists.

Speaking of translators, another thing that gave me heart was that Daniel himself is one of Brazil’s most famous literary translators, translating Zadie Smith, David Mitchell, Jonathan Safran Foer and others into Portuguese.  It’s not that this is dispositive of anything in terms of his own fiction in any obvious way, but it’s a good augury on a number of levels.

9781594205743HOur publication also has to do with the trust and friendship Ann Godoff and I feel for Daniel’s Brazilian publisher, the great Luis Schwarcz, the founder and head of one of the world’s most indispensible publishing houses, Companhia Das Letras.  Luiz told me in no uncertain terms that this was going to be one of the best novels he’s ever published, and Daniel a truly giant talent.  And lo and behold, he was exactly right.  I envy anyone the experience of reading Blood-Drenched Beard for the first time.


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DirtyChick_photo credit_AC Photography, WhangareiAs a city person living on a farm in New Zealand, it seems I’m always trying new things. I suppose this is honorable: I’m expanding my horizons and acquiring skills. The problem is that novelty so frequently ends in disaster.

There was the “let’s try raising a rooster” phase, resulting in an 18-inch bird pecking furiously at my legs. There was the earnest attempt to “get this cow back in her paddock,” ending with the cow in a neighbor’s garden, eating roses and (I am certain) having a laugh.

After various misadventures with animals, I decided this year to start vegetable gardening, and now it is clear I may die by zucchini. Not realizing just how fertile these sluts of the squash world can be, I planted six varieties and sat back hopefully, anticipating summer luncheons of ratatouille and zucchini tarts.

The resulting zucchini torrent brought me to the brink of collapse. They surged from the garden, some slender and demure, most wide and menacing as a cudgel. We baked, grilled and fried them, and when we could eat no more we tried feeding them to the cow, who glanced up critically but refused to cooperate. They sprang up overnight, sometimes a dozen in a day. At night I lay awake, certain I could hear them growing then slithering, Triffid-like, in the dark.

Then there was the matter of the sorrel. I planted this weed with fond thoughts of France, remembering a classic soup from childhood. I’d blend it with stock from the turkeys we’d raised, and smooth it with eggs from our chickens. I imagined the soup bright green, bursting with sunlight and flavor from the garden I’d planted myself.

Just picked, the leaves were beautiful, as springy and vibrant as I’d remembered. But in contact with heat they faded, the green leaves surrendering to grey, then capitulating to the muddy consistency of pudding.

I persevered, straining the soup, tempering the cream, smoothing and correcting the seasoning. And though the resulting flavor wasn’t too terrible, pleasantly citrusy if a bit strong, I couldn’t get past the look of it. This soup just looked like a swamp.

“That’s all right, I’ll feed it to the chickens,” I thought, comforting myself with the wisdom that nothing is wasted on a farm, that the chickens would turn this culinary failure into good eggs for our family.

But even the chickens wouldn’t taste my crappy soup, and the next morning I found the bowl untouched in their enclosure, while my hens pecked for beetles in the grass.

Meanwhile, I’d turned my back on the garden for an entire day, and the result was zucchini anarchy. These plants have oversize leaves, large enough to hide a toddler or, in this case, the most perversely large squash I had ever laid eyes on.

Antonia in her garden

Antonia in her garden

This zucchini was nearly four feet in length, far beyond the pornographic specimens I’d contended with in the past. When they get that large, they’re not even called zucchini, but rather “marrow,” reminding me uncomfortably of the human bones they might suck if they ever grew teeth.

A New Zealand friend named Zane came round to commiserate, and when he saw my marrow he laughed out loud. “You can’t eat that,” he told me pointlessly, as though I would have dared to attempt such folly. “You can make a rum, though.”

At this, my ears perked up. “Make rum? To drink?”

“Yep, my grandmother did it, when times were tight. Hollowed out the inside of the thing and packed it with sugar, then hung it in an old stocking over a bucket. Stuff that drips out is a real strong alcohol. Marrow rum, they called it.”

Every now and then, as I try out new things, I learn something great: like how to turn a monster into a cocktail. And so I no longer pick my zucchini. Instead, I let them grow large and luxurious, ballooning out into the glorious rum vessels I now know them to be. Come fall, I’ll hang them from the rafters, each packed with sugar, until they release their essence, drip by delicious drip.

And in a few months, I’ll have marrow rum, enough to make everything better—the angry rooster, the obstreperous cow, this life in the country where we constantly stumble and fall. Maybe, if I drink enough of it, that marrow rum will improve the taste of sorrel. Or at least, I won’t worry about it, one way or the other.



Read more faming life woes in Dirty Chick, which chronicles Antonia’s first year of life as an artisan farmer. Having bought into the myth that farming is a peaceful, fulfilling endeavor that allows one to commune with nature and live the way humans were meant to live, Antonia soon realized  that the reality is far dirtier and way more disgusting than she ever imagined. Part family drama, part cultural study, and part cautionary tale, Dirty Chick will leave you laughing, cringing, and rooting for an unconventional heroine.

photoIt was during the ambiguous time before the impending holiday office closure that I first heard about Watch Me Go by Mark Wisniewski. I was at a holiday party, in fact, standing in a small circle chatting with friends when I was introduced to a new face—a literary agent who, as it turned out, was someone I’d for months been trying to schedule lunch. How serendipitous. We made small talk about holiday plans and promised to see each other in the New Year. As I moved away to say hello to some other friends, he casually mentioned a novel he was getting ready to send out. Would I be interested in seeing it? His pitch was The Wire meets Winters Bone. How could I say no?

The next morning my inbox greeted me with an email containing the promised manuscript. I began reading that day and was hooked within the first five pages. Very early on in Watch Me Go, the reader learns about a sealed oil drum whose contents weigh enough and smell bad enough to contain a human corpse. One of our main characters, Deesh, is headed with two buddies up the New York State Thruway, far north of their Bronx hometown, to take on a seemingly standard junk-hauling job—to dispose of this oil drum. It’s only after they collect their $1,000 and dump the drum in an empty field that they begin to suspect there may have been a dead body inside that steel barrel. It’s from there that Deesh’s life begins to spiral out of control: After a fatal confrontation with a police officer, he’s on the run, the prime suspect of two homicides.

As I turned the figurative pages of my old e-reader, I realized that I’d read only a hundred pages. I was barely knee deep into Deesh’s heart-pounding story and I already had that exhilarating feeling that this was one I had to have. This bold, gritty novel really got me! When it comes to fiction, I look for books that will make you forget what you’re doing—whether it’s because of the beautiful writing, the power of the story, or the lasting impact of the characters, and in a perfect world it’s all three of these. So by the time I got to the end of Watch Me Go the following morning, I knew I’d just read a novel that brilliantly mixed all the elements the best fiction is made of. Watch Me Go perfectly blends suspense, family drama, and love story, while movingly speaking to today’s important issues like racism and social inequality.

WatchMeGoIt didn’t hurt that Mark Wisniewski is a Pushcart prize, Tobias Wolff Award-winning writer who’s been in the literary scene for decades. After an unforgettable initial conversation with Mark, I learned that the genesis for Watch Me Go was a short story he wrote a few years back that received such amazing praise, Salman Rushdie chose it for 2008 Best American Short Stories, calling it “irresistible.” I sure couldn’t resist Watch Me Go and I bet you can’t either!



Watch Me Go is an edgy, soulful meditation on the meaning of love, the injustices of hate, and the power of hope.

Start Reading an Excerpt from Watch Me Go!