Linda Cowen staff pick photoI’ve been a publishing lawyer for over 20 years, and at Penguin since 2008. I love to taunt other lawyers by saying things like, “Why yes, I do get paid to read novels all day.” Actually most of my novel reading gets done after hours, on the LIRR. Here are some recent faves:

 

 

 

9780143125242MLena Finkle’s Magic Barrel, by Anya Ulinich

Who says graphic novels have to be about super heroes (although some of us may regard Lena Finkle as one)? This wonderfully immersive story lets you experience what Lena’s life just as she does—saying one thing out loud and thinking something else at the same time. In this age of multi-media, it’s a pleasant surprise to see how “interactive” two dimensions can be. Best enjoyed in paper.

 

 

 

 

theoryA Working Theory of Love, by Scott Hutchins

Did you like the movie “Her?” Do you worry about whether/how much we can be replaced by robots? Do you believe in reincarnation? If you ponder any of these questions, this book is for you. It juxtaposes our most human hopes and fears alongside the possibility of the most advanced technology. Technology marches inexorably toward us, but the human heart beats on.

 

 

 

 

9780142180822MWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler

If you can, get someone to rip the cover off this book before you read it (or advance your ereader past the cover page) and don’t read a single thing about it. I read this after it was announced as the winner of the 2014 Pen/Faulkner Award with no other knowledge about it. At first I thought I’d “gotten” it right away. Then it took a turn I didn’t see coming and I had to take a break and send copies to my two best friends so that they would read it along with me.

 

 

 

shirleyShirley: A Novel, by Susan Scarf Merrell

Who among us lovers of literary fiction has not imagined what it would have been like to hang around with our favorite authors of the mid-20th Century? You know, when authors were revered, and their lives were private. Susan Scarf Merrell took it one step further. After mining archives including letters and journals, she re-creates the world of author Shirley Jackson and her husband Stanley Edgar Hyman, inserting a fictional couple into their life.  Step inside this novel and see what happens when a writer asks herself “what if…”

 

 

 

9781594205712MEverything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

Where can a book that begins with tragedy go?  A teenage girl is dead; it’s not a place I really want to visit. And yet Celeste Ng captivates page by page. She’s never maudlin or melodramatic. Instead she unfolds this sad story in such a way that makes us appreciate her characters and want to see how they will make sense of what’s happened. Even though you know the ending won’t change the beginning—this isn’t a book about miracles—you will not want to abandon this family.

 

 

 

 

goodlordThe Good Lord Bird, by James McBride

I want to make a special plug for the audio version of this one. This book is full of outrageous characters speaking in dialect circa the 1850s, and hearing it brings it to life in a way that most of us can’t possibly create in our 21st Century minds. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that there can be a new way to tell an oft-told tale, but this narrator tells us story of John Brown’s fight against slavery in a way that makes the whole story completely fresh and new. This is neither middle school social studies nor “costume drama” historical fiction—it is vital, moving, thought provoking and raucous. Listen to it and you will see the story unfold in your mind’s eye as if you were watching the year’s Best Picture.

 

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AllisonPrince

Allison Prince is the advertising and promotion coordinator for Gotham and Avery where she has the pleasure of designing ads, promo materials, and seasonal catalogs. She loves nature, books, folk music, and Brussels sprouts.

 

 

 

 

marblesMarbles, by Ellen Forney

Graphic novels have the unique power to get people who don’t consider themselves “readers” to pick up a book. With this comes great responsibility. Ellen Forney’s graphic memoir bravely shows her struggles with bipolar disorder, and delivers a larger imperative message: Mental illness—like any other illness—is a disease, not a case of choosing to feel sad, or something to just “get over.” In the wake of Robin Williams’s passing, we need more brave people like Forney to come forward and share their stories of living and thriving by seeking help on those darkest days.

 

 

 

stitchesStitches, by Anne Lamott

One of my favorite lines of Stiches is “Beauty is a miracle of things going together imperfectly.” Anne Lamott’s incredible meditation on loss and transforming sad situations in life into hope and healing uses the metaphor of sewing and stitches throughout, showing that each “tear” in our fabric helps to make us who we are. It’s hard to adequately describe this book in a few lines, so I recommend reading it and finding solace in it yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

lostdogsThe Lost Dogs, by Jim Gorant

As a huge dog lover, I was horrified when I heard about Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring. Despite the atrocities they faced, almost every dog saved was able to recover from the trauma and receive a loving home. Here’s another reminder that no dog (no pit bull!) is fundamentally rotten; it was probably a human who made it that way. It is heartwarming to know these dogs will receive all the snuggles and love they deserve for the rest of their lives.

 

 

 

 

Run, Don’t Walk, by Adele Levine rundon'twalk

Adele Levine’s memoir about working as a physical therapist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center is equal parts heartbreaking and hilarious. Adele herself is a hero for helping our heroes. Despite the horrors these veterans faced, and continue to face which each surgery and painful rehabilitation, they still find chances to laugh. Laughter can be excellent medicine.

 

 

 

 

 

notfadeNot Fade Away, by Rebecca Alexander

Since first hearing about the proposal, I was in love with Not Fade Away, a memoir from a psychotherapist, athlete, and volunteer, who also has the rare and incurable Usher syndrome type III, which is making her gradually lose her hearing and sight. But Rebecca’s story isn’t about what she’s losing; it’s about how she lives each day to the fullest. She counts every day as a gift, and reading her story reminds me to do the same.

 

 

 

 

To find Health & Self-Improvement books, click here.

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Kent_Javits
Kent is the Director of Online Sales and Marketing.  Being a birder (twitcher, for those across the pond), it’s kismet that he works for a company with a bird in its title. He will not be entering the Penguin Cup Fantasy Football League.

 

 

 

 

jasper

Shades of Gray, by Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde is the master of creating whole new worlds that fly off the pages.  Anyone who reads must pick up his first novel The Eyre Affair which begins the hilarious Thursday Next series.  In Shades of Gray, Fforde sets off on a different course with this dystopian tale of a society, Chromatacia who’s hierarchy is dictated by the color they can see.   With his typical sense of humor and vivid prose Chromatacia leaps off the pages. And if there ever was a film adaptation it would win every Cinematography/Art Direction award available.

 

 

 

archetype

Archetype, by MD Waters

Archetype is the beginning of a post-apocalyptic two book series that concludes with Prototype. Describing Archetype without spoilers is difficult but at its heart is a very complicated love triangle which will have you turning the pages faster and faster to find out who wins Emma’s heart. And while there is a heart tug of war, Emma must figure out who she is. Archetype is an entertaining read with thought provoking theme similar to those evoked in The Handmaid’s Tale.

 

 

 

office

Office of Mercy, by Ariel Djanikian

If anyone is old enough to remember Logan’s Run then they will be reminded of the setting when reading The Office of Mercy. After the Storm, America-5 citizens live in a high-tech, environmentally controlled Utopia, underground basically.  And The Office of Mercy is in charge of the nomadic post-Storm survivors on the outside.  There many twists and turns, uncovered secrets that will leave you wondering what is right and what is wrong. A great read that will leave you wanting more.

 

 

 

postmortal

The Postmortal, by Drew Magary

Full disclosure, The Postmortal is on this reviewer’s to-read list but it comes highly recommended. The cure has come in the near-future tail, the cure for aging that is.  But of course, immortality comes with its own set of problems. Drew Magary is a 21st century Renaissance man. He writes hysterical columns for Deadspin and recently published a memoir on 21st century parenting.  Thus The Postmortal is bound to be a wild ride.

 

 

 

legend

The Legend Trilogy, by Marie Lui

Legend begins Marie Lui’s wonderful Legend trilogy. If you enjoyed The Hunger Games, you will enjoy Legend more. In Legend, the Western United States is now The Republic and perpetually at war. Day, born into slums and on the most wanted list for murder, becomes a reluctant hero to a revolution. On his tail is June, whose brother is the one Day is accused of murdering. These two well-drawn and likeable (if not loveable) characters are the yin and yang that carry this trilogy to a delightful conclusion.  Legend is followed by Prodigy and concludes with Champion, each book stronger than the previous.

 

 

proxy

Proxy, by Alex London

If you think the 1% are a problem now, in Proxy they are on steroids and the void between the haves and have-nots is gaping.  Alex London’s two book series, which begins with Proxy and concludes with Guardian is creative, compelling and wholly satisfying. Proxy begins a thrilling revolution in this dystopian world led by a gay teen named Syd.

 

 

 

 

grasshopperjungle

Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith

Dystopian need not be in the distant future, nor does it need to be serious. Austin and best friend Robby are our teen heroes who fend off six-foot-tall praying mantises while thinking all the thoughts a normal teen boy would be thinking. Sounds funny, and it is, this book is laugh-out-loud hilarious and a very original young adult novel. Destined to be a classic in the near future.

 

 

 

 

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photo 3

Stephen Morrow, Executive Editor at Dutton

 

 

 

 

 

denaliDenali’s Howl, by Andy Hall

It was 1967, the summer of love, and while Haight-Ashbury was dancing to White Rabbit and the Beatles were dropping acid, twelve sober young men climbed into the worst storm ever to hit the summit of Alaska’s Mt. McKinley or Denali as the locals call it. Only five made it back.  Andy Hall, the son of the Mt. McKinley National Park superintendent at the time, was five years old. Denali’s Howl is his telling of what befell those on the mountain and those at its foot trying to help.  It is also a study in how we think of our past, how such tragedies can become embedded in the meaning of our lives, our unwritten autobiographies, and yet remain mysterious.

 

 

mindThe Organized Mind, by Daniel J. Levitin

Could good old conscientious organization really be the secret to navigating the modern world’s flood of details?  As Daniel Levitin shows, the latest neuroscience says yes.  From how to deal with your kitchen junk drawer (what are those keys in there for anyway?) to how to organize your thoughts for the most important decisions of all, The Organized Mind is a book that brings together the ordinary everyday experience of making your life work better with Levitin’s expert insight into how attention and memory function. This isn’t just a book about being neater, it is about clearing a space in which you (and your kids) can be resoundingly creative.

 

 

superstormSuperstorm, by Kathryn Miles

We had just had our Halloween party back in 2012 at 375 Hudson Street when New Yorkers started to realize the big bad hurricane was coming to get us.  As she was working on Superstorm Kathryn Miles said the storm was like the shark in Jaws–only this monster ate its way up from Jamaica to the Great Lakes, with New York City as its main course.  Her story of forecasters and their science unable to make sense of this unprecedented system as it played out day by day, of the seamen whose traditional knowledge didn’t help, and of the people whose lives it destroyed is all about the unforgiving, fearsome power of nature—just when we thought we had it beat.

 

 

doessantaexistDoes Santa Exist?, by Eric Kaplan

Ok, so Does Santa Exist? is the most profound and funny book I’ve ever worked on and probably ever will.  I am pretty much unhinged about it.  Eric Kaplan has a job as a brilliant comic writer on America’s  most popular sit com and is finishing his Ph.D. at Berkeley, but I’m just hoping he starts a cult so I can join it.  How could such a simple, childish question lead to such a dazzling, exuberant flight across the deepest questions of human existence?  You will learn a bunch of philosophy, and the point of it all too.  As Matt Groening said, “It is the funniest book of philosophy since… well, ever.”  Just the thing for the gift giving season!

 

 

 

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MaxandRubyThis fall, Viking will publish Max and Ruby at the Warthog’s Wedding, the latest of Rosemary Wells’s books about the bunny siblings who star in their own popular show on Nick Jr.

Despite the fact that Rosemary has written more than fifty books about Max and Ruby, she always finds a way to keep the latest book fresh.  In Max and Ruby at the Warthog’s Wedding, the bunnies race through the Ritz Hotel, in search of a missing wedding ring, guided by the maps on Grandma’s iBunny phone.  In a typically witty Wells touch, the iBunny phone features a glittery green lift-the-flap cover decorated with a carrot with a bite taken out of it!

Rosemary always tries to teach as well as entertain, whether by teaching ABCs, counting, or nursery rhymes, and in this newest title she is subtly imparting early map skills via up-to-the-minute technology.

It’s hard to believe that Max and Ruby are 35; they certainly are not showing their age!

See the entire Max and Ruby series!


TheLostWifeWhen writing novels, one never knows where inspiration will strike.   A few years ago, I was well into my research for a book on the ways that Jewish artists managed to create art during the Holocaust, when I overheard a story at the local hair salon about a couple who were separated at the beginning of the war with each of them being told that the other had perished. Sixty years later, they miraculously were reunited at the wedding of their respective grandchildren.  When I overheard that story, I felt like I had been struck by lightning.  My mind was filled with so many questions: why had this couple each believed the other had died? What was their initial love story? What were their second love stories that produced the children who were now the parents of the grandchildren getting married?  And most importantly, how did they each survive World War II?

This story would end up being the bookends for my novel The Lost Wife, into which I invented the lovers’ histories both before and after their separation.

I wanted to draw in my readers by evoking the same questions that I had after initially hearing that story.  I wanted those questions to propel them into the same journey I too would undertake while crafting the body of the novel.

TheGardenofLettersThe inspiration for my new novel The Garden of Letters, also began after hearing a story that ignited my curiosity.  While at a dinner party, a friend shared with me the details about how her father had escaped from Hungry through Italy during WWII with forged papers that their family had spent their entire life savings on.  When my friend’s father arrived in Portofino, German guards were scrutinizing everyone’s papers so carefully that he was sure he was going to be arrested.

Suddenly, out from the crowd, a big barrel-chested Italian man cried: “Cousin, cousin, I’ve been waiting for you all week.  Thank heaven’s you’ve come!”

He was able to whisk my friend’s father away and take him back to his home on the cliffs of Portofino.

When my friend’s father asked this man why he had saved him, for clearly he wasn’t his cousin, the man replied:  “I try to come to the port every month.  I try to save the person who looks the most afraid.”

When I heard that story I immediately thought it would make an amazing beginning to a novel.  I imagined the two people whose lives intersect at this occupied Italian port.    One fleeing and in need of shelter.  The other a person who sees that fear and sets upon helping him.   “The Garden of Letters” opens with my young heroine being saved from the Germans at the Portofino port by a doctor.

As in all my novels, I wanted my main character to possess a creative gift.  With The Lost Wife, I explored how art could be used as a form of Resistance against the Nazis.  In The Garden of Letters, I explore how music could be used.

My main character Elodie, is a young cellist who sends coded messages for the Italian Resistance through her performances And the book explores the many creative ways essential information was transmitted during the war.

When I traveled to Italy to meet with partisans and female messengers who were involved in the Resistance, I was introduced to a person who shared with me another unusual way information was sent during the war.  Giovanni Pellizzato, whose grandfather was both a bookseller and an active member of the Italian Resistance, described how codes were cleverly hidden throughout the pages of a book, and how within the back shelves of his father’s bookstore many of the books had their paper carved out to create a space where pistols were stored inside.  This information was so intriguing to me, it inspired the character of the bookseller, Luca, in The Garden of Letters.

As storytellers, we’re responsible for crafting narratives that bring our readers into a world that transport and hopefully inform.  As writers, however, we must also be open to all the stories that surround us, for everyone has a unique history to share.


The leaves have started falling

The leaves have started falling

Summer is official coming to an end and we are feeling it in the office. It has been a rather quiet August at Penguin, with everyone jumping to take their last summer vacation before we all take a deep breathe and hunker down into our desks for the Fall publishing season.

There have been dozens of beach photos filling our Facebook feeds, endless alfresco dinning after work, and a steady stream of picnic, boating, kayaking, brunch, and rooftop pictures overwhelming Instagram. Summer is coming to an end and we are sending it out in style by cramming as many outdoor things into the small amount of time that is remaining.

Across publishing, but definitely in my department of Consumer Marketing, we have a noticeable slow down in our workload during the summer months as less books are being published and more people are off enjoying vacation. But with “Back-to-School” now literally just around the corner, there is no ignoring the fact that our casual and relaxed summer work days are at an end. Fall is fast approaching as evident by the ever surprising piles of fallen leaves littering the sidewalks of New York City, the cool (and getting cooler) breeze that meets me as I leave my apartment in the morning, and the fleet of food trucks that slowly at first and now in force have been returning to our corner of Manhattan.

IMG_0867While most people I know are dreading September, I have been looking forward to it since the very first day of summer. (I am not a summer person.) I am relatively new to Penguin and to the adult work world. This is only my second Fall as a full-time employee and I am just as surprised now as I was then, that being an adult doesn’t mean your calendar year changes. Publishing (at least in my experience) follows the academic school year, which makes sense as that is when a significant percentage of the population is reading.

Over the last month we have begun making Fall site and digital marketing plans. We been gathering information from departments across the company, making Fall digital marketing plans, reviewing the Fall book list, and sitting quietly at our desk, knowing that this is in fact the lull before the storm. The wave of work is just around the corner!

Wandering the West Village

Wandering the West Village

As someone who not so long ago was in college, I can’t help but see the similarities between school and work. Gathering up your things to move back to campus, making plans to see your friends, back-to-school shopping, and reviewing the syllabi. It is amazing how similar the feeling of nervous excitement and anticipation that I have now is to back then!

We have a solid Fall coming with our plans hashed out for the next few months and are gearing up to start our winter planning (because you can never be too prepared!). It is going to be a busy and a fun one and I cannot wait, because Fall really is New York City’s best season! And if you don’t believe me I will defer to one of my favorite quotes:

 

“Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils…” – You’ve Got Mail

What are your favorite places to go and things to do in the city during the Fall?



JDG SUN photoI’ll Give You the Sun made me realize just how many new YA readers, teens and adults both, had never heard of The Sky is Everywhere.

It’s been over four years since Sky, Jandy Nelson’s debut, made everything crystalline for me.  I used to have the hardest time explaining to agents and authors what I wanted beyond “really, really good manuscripts,” which is like having an online dating profile saying you like to do “really, really fun stuff.”  It was The Sky is Everywhere that broke it open for me.  I made everyone read it—my best friend, my teenage cousins, my husband, my mother, my grandpa (I have a kickass 96-year-old grandpa).  I began to tell people, “This.  This is what I want.  Novels like The Sky is Everywhere.”  Little did I know then that I’d get to work with Jandy Nelson herself one day, and that her second book, I’ll Give You the Sun, wouldn’t just break it open for me, it would break my effing heart.

I’ll Give You the Sun is a soaring, pinwheeling, forget-where-you-are, steal-your-breath, feel-it-in-your-bones, transcendent, transporting whirlwind.  It’s the kind of novel that makes you cry through the happy parts as much as the sad parts for the sheer depth of feeling, sheer aliveness of its characters, sheer boldness of its telling.  Reading it, I had the same falling-headlong feeling, the same zap of recognition I’d had at eighteen when I read Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat for the first time.  This is the kind of novel that stays with you, that you read over and over again.  It’s the kind of novel that lasts.

The voices here are the voices of two teen fraternal twins, one a boy, one a girl, telling their stories from two different, crucial points in time—one from before the event that changed their lives and one from after.  Both are magical, visceral, pop-off-the-page voices—so hard to find.  To do justice to these siblings, Jandy essentially wrote one novel, then another novel, and then wove those two novels together to create a third, I’ll Give You the Sun.  No wonder it took her four years.

It was The Sky is Everywhere that brought me to Jandy Nelson, and I’ll Give You the Sun that will make me stay with her.  What this novel accomplishes is raw and rare, and it will change some readers’ lives.  Is it too much to say that I’ll Give You the Sun redefines the boundaries of what makes a YA novel YA?  Nah, I’d say that’s just about right on target.

Read More Posts From the Editor’s Desk.