9781592408177MOn the afternoon of June 8, 2005, a librarian at Yale University Library was shocked to discover an X-acto knife blade on the floor of the reading room. Library staff traced it to a bespectacled, silver-haired dealer in antiquarian maps who was looking at rare books and atlases that day. When he was followed out of the library, E. Forbes Smiley III was found to have four maps stolen from the books he looked at there. After an FBI investigation, Smiley eventually admitted to stealing 97 maps worth more than $3 million from libraries around the country. The question is, Why did he do it? That’s the question I set out to explore in my new book, The Map Thief, published by Gotham Books this week. Along the way, I discovered many new facts about the case, and about maps themselves. Here are five:

1) Maps are much easier to steal than art

Works of art are generally one-of-a-kind pieces that hang in museums where everyone knows where they are. It’s hard enough for thieves to break and in and try and steal one; but it’s even harder for them to try and sell it. For that reason, most art thieves are apprehended soon after their crimes—or else, the art goes underground for decades. Rare maps, meanwhile, may be printed in thousands of copies—of which a dozen or even a hundred may have survived over the centuries. Most of those copies exist in libraries, contained in books or in folders full of similar maps that are often poorly catalogued and sometimes poorly guarded. Once a thief walks out with one, he can sell it for thousands of dollars, or even tens of thousands of dollars, to dealers or collectors who may never even suspect it is stolen—and may hang it in public view without anyone else suspecting it either. Smiley got away with this kind of theft for at least four years, and would have gotten away with it for longer had he not carelessly dropped the blade on the floor.

2) Most maps are bad—but bad for a reason

It’s hard to put ourselves back in time to the way the world was before Google Maps and satellite technology, back when mapmakers had to rely on primitive instruments and dubious travelers’ reports to sketch the border and coastlines of the world. But hundreds of years ago, cartographers introduced all kinds of errors into maps, some mistakenly and others intentionally. A misjudgment by explorers in the 17th century, for example, led to California being drawn as an island for over a hundred years. But other mistakes were politically motivated, such as the inclusion of a Northwest Passage on Dutch and English maps for centuries; or the introduction of fictitious towns and cities onto areas a particular country was trying to colonize. During the 18th century, France and England battled over North America for years with maps that drew boundary lines in different places before they ever fired a shot in an actual war over the continent. Oftentimes these mistakes, intentionally or not, increase the value of maps, prized by collectors for the stories they tell about the area during a certain time period.

3) Map dealing can be a cutthroat business

Far from the image of map collecting being a rarified pursuit followed in a gentlemanly manner, serious map dealing can be competitive and cutthroat, with a small number of dealers battling it out at auctions over a limited number of rare and valuable artifacts. In the 1990s, the value of maps soared when they became popular for decorating by the rich and famous. Map dealer Forbes Smiley found it difficult to compete, even though he was one of the most knowledgeable dealers in his field. Always a bad businessman, Smiley began getting squeezed by other dealers better at competing at auction and sewing up valuable clients. He began falling further and further into debt, until he began to desperately look at theft as a way out of his predicament.

4) The roots of Smiley’s thefts were laid in a small town in Maine

Forbes Smiley always loved New England history; he grew up in a small town in New Hampshire and always lamented the way it became overrun with commercialization. In college, he fantasized about creating a utopian village with his friends that they could design to their liking. Years later, he actively sought to create that town in the small hamlet of Sebec, Maine, where he bought the post office and a restaurant and general store and sought to create the perfect New England village. Unfortunately, not all residents shared his vision, and he ended up getting in a legal dispute that cost him money and prestige—eventually leading him in part to steal maps to make up for his losses. While some of the money from the maps he stole went into nice clothes, fancy meals, and plane trips, the vast majority went into his grandiose scheme in Sebec.

5) Smiley didn’t admit all of the maps he stole

In an interview, Smiley told me that he didn’t know of a single map he stole that he didn’t admit to authorities. Yet, in my research, I uncovered nearly a dozen maps that libraries were able to recover after the FBI had given up their own hunt. The libraries relied on physical evidence such as smudges or impressions on the paper in order to identify and claim the maps they did; but many of them also have circumstantial evidence pointing to even more maps that Smiley stole. For example, some libraries are missing copies of maps that Smiley admitted taking from other libraries, and in other cases, he sold extremely rare maps to dealers that existed in only a few copies. Without definitive proof, however, the libraries weren’t able to recover them. Never a good businessman, Smiley may be telling the truth when he says he can’t recall all of the maps he stole. But either way, we may never know for sure how many maps he got away with taking.


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Welcome to Penguin This is my desk.

Welcome to 375 Hudson Street!

With the warm weather approaching, things are getting busier and busier here as we gear up for our summer season. Next week Penguin heads to Book Expo America (BEA), the industry book and author conference in New York City, which we are all very excited for. (Stop by the Penguin Booth and say hi if you are attending this year!) We have a lot of great authors going and it should be a lot of fun—look for our BEA wrap-up post coming soon where Amy, Lindsay, and I will all share our BEA 2014 photos and stories!

There is always something going on in our offices and this week (for me at least) it has been a busy one, but let’s focus on the fun bits from the last few days!

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This Wednesday, the Penguin Twitter Book Club held its second May #ReadPenguin chat with Jolie Kerr, author of My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag…And Other Things You Can’t Tell Martha—my favorite question from the chat was “How do you clean a lasagna spill off the street?” If you are not already joining our Book Club chats you should, because we get to talk about fun things like lasagna (and books too, of course!) Next month we are chatting with Yours for Eternity authors Damien Echols and Lorri Davis.

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Beartiz Williams signing her new book THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT

 

On Thursday, New York Times bestselling A Hundred Summers author Beatriz Williams stopped by to say hello and sign copies of her new book The Secret Life of Violet Grant, which comes out next week on Tuesday, May 27th and which I am very excited to read. Amy and I went up to say hello and grab a picture. See you next week at BEA, Beatriz!

Today, Friday, we have a half-day to kick off Memorial Day weekend.

Just your typical week at the office…and now I am off to sunny (fingers crossed) Long Island to sit outside and enjoy the weekend. What are your Memorial Day plans?

Until next time,

Shelby


mistakesFirst, open a Twitter account.  Sit on a chair outside of your daughter’s room at night, because she insists.  This lack of personal freedom is the reason that you were able to complete an entire book in nine months.  Now she’s asleep but you stay there, hands hovering over the keyboard.  Know that you MUST TWEET.  The pressure is overwhelming.  No witty quip will be witty enough, so decide to write about politics. Think about politics and draw a blank.  Close Twitter and open the NY Times. Go to “most emailed articles,” where number eight is a piece on making green smoothies. Become deeply absorbed.

Your sister-in-law has generously, patiently followed you around with her fancy camera, taking photos against backgrounds that might make you look like an author.  The pillars of Smith College; a lovely tree beside an academic building that – when you check the camera’s small bright screen – looks like it’s growing out of your head. Finally, you lead your sister-in-law back to your own office and stand against the bright red wall that makes everyone look good.  Click.  The picture pops up over and over when you post media interviews with YOU on Facebook.  Finally, a guy in Florida messages you saying he likes the way you look. “Ick,” says your husband. “Erase it.” Feel put-off and quite flattered.  Wonder if this is what it would be like to online date.  Refresh Facebook every ten minutes to see all of the likes. Smile.

The night before your book is actually published, leave your phone by your bed.  Check email at 1:00 am, 3:00 am and 5:00 am. Imagine bookstore owners around the country tearing into brown cardboard boxes filled with copies of your book, lifting those copies to the light and air.  Cue religious music – you’re Jewish, but this is Christian music, sweet voices of altar boys echoing in a cathedral where the windows are your book cover design made out of stained glass.  No reviews have come in by 5:00, so you rise and eat a nice bowl of pub day oatmeal.

Get your hair streaked with gold.  Wear bright red pants.  It’s the day of your son’s flute recital and so you walk over to the concert hall in this get-up.  This is a small town filled with students who wear pajamas to class and out into the street; this is a town where everyone knows you didn’t have gold streaks before you wrote a book; everyone knows you didn’t own red pants.  Decide not to care. Put on sunglasses to complete the look.  Feel like a show-off.

Wear your show-off outfit to the local bookstore, which has sold-out of the one copy of your book it had in stock – purchased by your colleague.  Talk to one of the booksellers, a tall, placid man with gray hair and the furrowed brow of a serious reader. Imagine that your book isn’t serious enough for him. Follow him around as he shelves novels written by other people, and offer phrases like, “I’m wondering,” and  “it would be great” and “I’d be happy to.”  Finally, he will turn to you and make eye contact, saying a box of your books is due in soon. Refrain from making yourself a total fool by asking – as he turns from you and continues shelving – if he’d like you come back and sign them.  Leave feeling like you have done well because you didn’t jump onto the counter and cry, “Am I not a local author? If you prick me, do I not bleed?”

When your publisher asks you to write for the new Penguin blog, consider the assignment and realize that writing about “anything” is hard. Does this mean you’re not a real writer? Maybe. Open Twitter, and notice that several male crime novelists are now following you. Wonder if this is creepy or nice.  Check Facebook again.  Realize that you’re hungry. You will need something, maybe green smoothie, before starting to do any real work.


jessicabacalI’ve lied to the people who ask, “How did you write a book while having a full-time job? And young children?”

“Fear,” is what I’ve told them, “fear of not getting it done, once I had a contract.”

It’s a nicely self-deprecating answer – better than, “I got it written because I’m AWESOME,” which might be slightly off-putting.  And actually there was some fear motivating me.  Now that the book is done, there is also some feeling of awesomeness, of pride in having finished . . . but the REAL answer to the question, “How did you write a book?” is this: “I was collaborating with a great team.”

Lindsay Edgecombe is my agent; she’s on the right in the photo.  She loved my book idea, and gave me guidance on developing the proposal. Then it was up to me to actually do the work, and the half-done proposal languished on my desk for many months.  Ironically, Mistakes was aimed at encouraging women to take risks, but I wasn’t sure if I was up for the risk of writing a book.  It just seemed SO big – and what if I didn’t finish it?  Also, the original idea for the book was that it would consist of essays I’d have to gather – and what if I couldn’t gather enough?

Luckily, along came Plume’s Kate Napolitano.  She’s my editor, and is just to my left in the photo.  After Lindsay said, “Let’s get this proposal finished” and pushed me to wrap it up, she sent it to several editors.  Kate is one of the editors who then talked to me over the phone, and I could tell that she was full of energy and excitement about the project, that she really “got” it. When Plume came back with an offer, things took a turn for the better.  Kate said, “People at Plume are wondering if you’d like to do the book as interviews rather than essays.” This would mean I’d actually TALK to each of the contributors about their mistakes, interviewing the women myself. I loved it.

Guidance from Lindsay and Kate didn’t end there. Kate had the wisdom to invite me to send her my first completed, written-up interview– and she had a lot to say about it.  Honestly, I wasn’t doing it right, wasn’t crafting the transcript into a story.  But I paid attention to Kate’s feedback and to Lindsay’s, and did better with the next interview, then even better.

When the book was finished and ready to go into the world, along came Milena Brown – that’s Milena on Kate’s left.  Milena is excellent at what she does, which means that she creates publicity fireworks in the most low-key way.  Somehow, she knows exactly who might take an interest in my book, and gets it into that person’s hands.  I imagine that she’s doing this for tens of authors (more?) but she manages to make me feel like she’s got this down, easy.  Even my friends on Facebook have started commenting, “Wow, you lucked-out with your publicist.”

Yes, there was some fear involved, but more importantly, there were these women: Lindsay, Kate and Milena.  They are AWESOME.

Check back Thursday, 5/22 for the next post in this series.


Becky Saletan with CREATIVITYI first had the opportunity to work with Philippe Petit back in 2001, when, shortly after the destruction of the Twin Towers, he wrote a book about his world-famous 1974 high-wire walk between them – what better commemoration could there be? The book was titled To Reach the Clouds, and it became the basis for the Academy Award-winning documentary Man on Wire (and the tie-in edition was retitled to match). At our very first meeting, I said, “You should know before you consider whether you want to work with me that I suffer from terrible vertigo.” Philippe’s eyes went wide and he responded, with what I would come to know as characteristic vehemence, “So do I!” While I knew that the walk had been decades in the planning, it had never occurred to me that this seemingly fearless creature had had to overcome any internal obstacles to perform his superhuman feat.

We had a tremendously exhilarating time working together on that book, and after it was published I stayed in touch, mesmerized by this practitioner of an ancient art form (wire-walking dates to the Middle Ages) and so many others – drawing, magic, carpentry, street-juggling, and of course, writing. I was impressed not only by the amazing number of forms Philippe has mastered but by his unique approach to the creative process, and his exceptionally original insights into it, from how he develops his ideas to how he deals with problems and setbacks to how he executes a finished performance or work of art. I was also struck by how broad an audience the book could apply to, since Philippe himself puts his principles to work in both his performing and nonperforming arts – indeed, lives by them. Most of all, I experienced how much simply being around him and catching his enthusiasm had encouraged me to take on challenges in my own life, to push myself to tackle the im-pos-si-ble (that’s how he saw the word, its syllables stretched between the towers, when he first snuck up to the top of the still-under-construction World Trade Center). And so I suggested to him that he write a book about creativity – which to me was a little like suggesting to Julia Child that she write a book about French cooking, or to Gabrielle Garcia Marquez that he write a novel, an idea so obvious as to be a no-brainer. My husband, however, gets credit for the subtitle, “The Perfect Crime,” which he thought would appeal to Philippe’s iconoclastic personality – and captures beautifully the outlaw sensibility Philippe has cultivated.

I’m incredibly excited about the book that has resulted, which I see as appealing to readers who loved Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird – it’s of that family, so to speak, and at the same time utterly unlike anything I’ve ever read about creativity before. And it contains incredible original drawings by Philippe, which intensify the feeling that you’ve been invited inside the vision of one of the most amazing creators of our time.  


mistakesAt the graduation reading for my MFA in Writing program, an admired professor noticed that I’d refused the cheap white wine and was having seltzer instead.  “I’m pregnant,” I told her, a hand on my still-small belly.  She shook her head and said, “Oh, you’ll never write again.” It may have been an attempt at a joke, but she said it with a straight face.  I took a moment to concentrate on arranging my features into some semblance of nonchalance – but inside, I was devastated.  Somehow, because she was saying it, I thought it must be true.

It was like she had put a lazer focus on the secret, ambivalent part of me that really wasn’t sure if I could be a writer or even WANTED to be a writer.  Indeed, part of me giddily anticipated the baby as a “get out of (writing) jail free” card.  It was an excuse to slow down and take naps, to set aside my ambitions and the waves of inadequacy that came with them.  Because even the thought of having a baby was so consuming that there was only room in my brain to read snippets of What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Dr. Sears and other bland tomes that would tell me what to do.

Then my son was born and it was harder – much harder than I’d imagined – to nurse him.  When that painful ordeal was over and he’d “latched-on,” I found myself wanting to write about it, and published an essay in our local paper.  Neighbors saw it and congratulated me, and it was a bit like a “coming out.”  I was encouraged.  As my infant son cried less, I wrote more, and as life became full of taking care of someone who was not me, I was grateful for writing as a retreat to an internal landscape.

I’ve since had a daughter, too, who’s now five and asked yesterday, “Why do people keep saying they’re excited to read your book?” She doesn’t understand the thrill of finally being a published author – published by a big house like Penguin – but my nine year old son completely gets it.  He couldn’t wait for me to return home from work on the day when my first box of books arrived.  He was so excited to see the finished product, and wanted a copy of Mistakes I Made at Work for himself.

That night, he took it to bed.  As I sat nearby, reading a bedtime story to his sister, he lay on his stomach, the book light shining down, and opened to the first page.  After a few seconds, he interrupted us and said, “I like this way you describe ‘a low hum of anticipation.’ That’s good! You’re a really good writer, mommy!”

I wish that I could go back to my writing professor, who probably just thought she was being funny and had no idea that I’d take her seriously.  I wish that I could tell her about how having kids has actually helped me to prioritize my time, to become increasingly efficient, and to crave the wonderful feeling of having my own creative projects.  But I also just love being able to share the excitement of a first book with my son, and the knowledge that – at least for now – he is one of my biggest fans.

Check back Thursday, 5/15 for the next post in this series.


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I come to you as a writer, a mother, a daughter, a woman who suffers from over-volunteerism as in all of the above, who has been officially banned by her family from taking on anything more.  It’s enough they say, you’re never home anymore. And so I am here, at home, while my daughter is at school and my mother is at her book group—thinking about Mother’s Day.

It seems odd that given all that mothers do for us on a daily basis that we’ve given them only one designated day a year when they are celebrated. So first off, I move to have something called Mother’s Hours. These are times of the day, designated by mothers where we must be left alone. Ok, so maybe it doesn’t need to be HOURS, maybe it could just be fifteen minutes. But you know that dull drab look we get; that vacant expression, the head nodding but we have no idea what you’re saying. The pallor and cardio fitness of someone who meant to go to the gym but instead baked cupcakes for the class or sewed name-tags into camp clothes, the dull whine of the woman who meant to get a hair cut but instead cleaned the hamster cage, the bird cage, and cleaned the spots where the dog did various things that went unnoticed by everyone else. Mothers Hours, for mothers who drink tea, or white wine, or just need a moment to themselves, mothers who do it all and then some—mothers who don’t even have time to be reading this.

Let’s pause to consider the working mother who comes home fried, having been up since five am, first organizing the family, making breakfast, somehow getting everyone dressed and out the door and then dealing with her job, her superiors, her subordinates, her competitors—and the guy next to her doing a lot less and earning a lot more. She comes home and is the lightening rod, she is ground zero for everything including meltdowns—who else would put up with it? As soon as she’s in the door, she’s met with sobbing children, the litany of misunderstandings that our kids hold in all day and then deliver back to us.

This is when I start eating chocolate. I can be preparing dinner and nibbling on what’s left of the kid’s chocolate bunny which I supposedly hid to save her from the sugar and calories—but which you could equally argue I hoarded for myself.

Mothers are the one soup to nuts relationship in your life; you’ve got them from beginning to end, and so I am all about celebrating it. There are things about the mother/child relationship that should not be unique to that intimate bond but in fact should be part of our culture, the way we live–think about compassion, acceptance, the idea that you matter, your needs, desires and dreams have a place here. Wouldn’t it be nice if the world could be a little more like a “good-enough” mother?

The funny thing is this—I didn’t always get along with my mother; the running joke is I was the worlds worst kid only its not a joke and it’s not funny. I was an angry and unhappy creature of a child, at war with the world. I grew up adopted and with a giant chip on my shoulder. In the seemingly perfect world of Chevy Chase Maryland, where hair was brushed and shoe laces were tied, I was an outright freak. My mother and I would fight; she would get exasperated and throw her arms up and say, “I hope one day you have a little girl just like you.” And I’d cross my arms over my chest and say, “I hope I do!  That dream came true for both of us and I have a wonderful, funny, handful of an eleven year old, who is just like me—for better and worse.

But despite the fighting, when I left home, I always called my mother. I called her every day all through college and graduate school and into my adult life. I sometimes called her twice a day, once in the morning before she left for work and once in the early evening before dinner. People thought I was weird, “You talk to your mother every day?” It seemed stranger to me that people didn’t talk to their families, but rather made appointments for when they would talk—Sundays at 5pm. And when they showed up for their appointment what did they talk about? Did they file a report on the week? Take attendance? The truth is I love the sound of my mother’s voice.

The only other thing I love as much is what happens at 3.30 every afternoon when I hear the front door open and a youthful mini-me calls out, Hi mom, I’m home. When my daughter grow up and gets a place of her own—I hope we won’t have to make an appointment. In fact, my plan is that I’m going to treat her to something special–a landline. I’ll buy her a princess trim line phone or maybe a wall mount with one of those long curly cords and hope that in the evenings when she’s making dinner, she’ll give me a call.

So what am I doing for Mother’s Day, I’m running away from home and going to Australia… but first I’m calling my mother.

A.M. Homes is the author of the novels, May We Be Forgiven, This Book Will Save Your Life, The Mistress’s Daughter, Music For Torching, The End of Alice, In a Country of Mothers, and Jack, as well as the short-story collections, Things You Should Know and The Safety of Objects, the travel memoir, Los Angeles: People, Places and The Castle on the Hill, and the artist’s book Appendix A:

A.M Homes has recently been named one of the 50 Most Powerful Moms of 2014 by “Working Mother Magazine.”

 
 


Ever wonder what goes on at the Penguin headquarters in New York? Every other Friday, one of the three of us will give you the inside scoop – photos, tours, and sneak-peeks from our office. We’ll introduce you to Penguin employees, show off our books, photograph author signings, and much, much more.

attheoffice

Lindsay Jacobsen: Is the Senior Online Content Coordinator. When she isn’t reading or binging on Netflix, she can be found attending concerts and comedy clubs.

 

 

 

Amy

Amy Brinker: Is the Consumer Engagement Coordinator. She lives in Brooklyn where she makes pie and puns. She loves classic novels and terrible movies.

 

 

 

Shelby

Shelby Hearn: Is the Consumer Marketing Assistant. She is fighting a debilitating caffeine addiction and sipping a large cup of coffee (no milk) as we speak.

 

 

 

 


insanecityWhen the snow is falling and the wind howls, there’s nothing I’d rather do than curl up by the fire with a book.  I always look forward to winter because there’s something so satisfying about feeling safe and cozy indoors while I lose myself in someone else’s story.

I adore a white Christmas and always look forward to the brilliant blue skies in January, made even brighter by the mounds of fresh white powder, as far as the eye can see.  I live in the Midwest specifically because I relish all four seasons and can’t imagine ever seeing in the New Year clad in shorts and a pair of flip flops.

My point is, I love winter.  I really do.

But as I gaze out my window and see the fluffy piles I love so much still banked four feet high on either side of my front walkway, I sort of want to kick a lung out of someone.  I find myself repeating, “Go home, winter.  You’re drunk,” every time I have to layer up to leave the house or pay a gas bill.

Fortunately, there’s no better escape from the winter doldrums than a great book, so I’m delighted to share my Spring Is Coming (Because It Has To, Eventually) book picks!

My first recommendation for a great escape is Dave Barry’s Insane City.  For almost a quarter of a century, Barry was on the scene for the Miami Herald, documenting the truly bizarre, the outrageous, and most importantly, the hilariously true stories in his weekly diatribes.  Deemed The Funniest Man in America by the New York Times, Barry’s always been at his best when employing his catchphrase, “I am not making this up.”

Yet he’s equally as skilled when he does, indeed, make it up.

His novel Insane City, neatly answers the question, “What if a Pulitzer Prize winner interpreted The Hangover in book form?”  We open with hapless Seth Weinstein on his way to his wedding in Miami with his Groom Posse, three men who are “connected by the bond of college, as well as the bond of being unsuccessful at everything they had tried since.”

After an airport kerfuffle, the Posse arrives in South Florida and things quickly go awry.  Wedding rings (and pants) are lost, replaced by a Haitian refugee family, a large jewel-encrusted-bikini wearing stripper named LaDawne, and an eleven foot albino python.

Complicating matters are Seth’s affianced bridezilla, an amorous orangutan named Trevor in possession of said lost ring, and an entire wedding party who inadvertently get stoned to the bejesus due to a misplaced batch of pot brownies.  But it’s not until billionaire guest Wendell Corliss discovers the one thing his money never bought was fun that the action truly begins.

The laughs generated from Insane City will absolutely shake the chill from your bones.

tfiosNext up is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  Do yourself a favor and read this book before the movie comes out, because no matter how fine the film may be, it won’t hold a candle to the magic and nuance that is Green’s writing.  The way he’s able to capture and articulate his characters’ thoughts and feelings is nothing short of masterful and this book is destined to become an American classic.

I had the privilege of meeting the author a few years ago and I had to ask him, “At what point in your life were you a fifteen year old girl with cancer?  Because clearly this book is too real for you not to have personally lived this.”  Green attempted to convince me that he was, in fact, never a fifteen year old girl, but I was having none of it.  At no point did I ever consider the fact that characters Hazel and Augustus weren’t living human beings; Green has breathed so much life into them that they simply can’t not exist.

One of the myriad reasons that this book moved me so much is because Green possesses a rare gift and that’s the ability to take the teenage experience and make it relatable to those of any age.  (Please don’t be dissuaded by the Young Adult label!)  Filmmaker John Hughes had this gift, too – the ability to look at teenagers and take their hopes, thoughts, and dreams and translate them to a broader audience, without mocking or minimizing the experience.

I recommend The Fault in Our Stars as a spring pick-me-up because even though there are so many heart-breaking moments in the tale of two cancer-surviving teens finding love, it’s one of the most uplifting novels I’ve ever read and it will warm you to your core.

bungalowMy final pick is Sarah Jio’s The Bungalow.  Although this wasn’t her first novel, it’s the one that introduced me to her work and now she’s one of my all-time favorite authors.

I’ll be honest – I grabbed this particular book because I was attracted to the cover.

I know, I know.

In my defense, I was in the middle of another bitter Chicago winter and when I saw the ocean backdrop and thatched hut, all I could think was, “I want to be there.”  So I opened the book for the cover, but Jio’s writing captured me instantly, brilliantly weaving a tropical tale of the past and present into a powerful narrative.  Jio’s work embodies everything I love about contemporary women’s fiction.  I’m not sure I can do the story justice, so here’s the description in her own words:

A sweeping saga of thwarted love, murder, and a long-lost painting… In the summer of 1942, twenty-one-year-old Anne Calloway, newly engaged, sets off to serve in the Army Nurse Corps on the Pacific island of Bora-Bora. More exhilarated by the adventure of a lifetime than she ever was by her predictable fiancé, she is drawn to a mysterious soldier named Westry, and their friendship soon blossoms into hues as deep as the hibiscus flowers native to the island. under the thatched roof of an abandoned beach bungalow, the two share a private world–until they witness a gruesome crime, Westry is suddenly redeployed, and the idyll vanishes into the winds of war. A timeless story of enduring passion, The Bungalow chronicles Anne’s determination to discover the truth about the twin losses–of life and, and of love–that have haunted her for seventy years.

As I read, I could practically taste the salt in the air, with the trade winds gently mussing my hair.  Granted, the salt was likely from my icy walkway and the wind from a faulty fireplace damper, but for the time I spent reading this book, I had completely and utterly escaped the clutches of winter.  And for that moment in the snow and the slush of 2012, it was enough.

So, even though Mother Nature may not have had the last word yet, we’ve definitely broken the back of winter.

Spring is coming, and with the help of a good book, likely sooner than you think.

Jetwistedsistersn Lancaster is a New York Times bestselling author. Read an Excerpt from her latest novel: Twisted Sisters.


Good_Morning,_Mr._MandelaAs an editor, I am drawn to books that recreate a time and a turning point in history, and especially to witnesses that take us deep inside the moment. The world watched – and changed — when Nelson Mandela walked out of prison, and Zelda la Grange takes us back to that turbulent time in South Africa, and helps us understand how it looked from inside a frightened white community. “I was fearful of so much twenty years ago—of  life, of black people, of this black man and the future of South Africa-and I now was no longer persuaded or influenced by mainstream fears. He not only liberated the black man but the white  man too…“Prior to the elections we expected black people to take over the country. We expected revenge. But we all woke up the next morning, went back to work and the normal way of life. Nothing was there to indicate that soon the very foundations of my life, my ignorance, my beliefs, my values were to be shaken up and tested. Little did I know that I would emerge from that paranoid, white cocoon of fear and denial and that the man who would lead me out of that – gently holding my hand – would be Nelson Mandela.”

There is probably no one figure on the global scene in the last twenty years who was more admired, more treasured, and more recognizable than Nelson Mandela. And yet for all the thousands of pages that have been published about him, very few who have written about him were personally close to the great man, or can testify to what he was like off stage, when the cameras were turned off. Zelda la Grange is that witness for us; she was his personal assistant and aide-de-camp for almost two decades. She traveled with him, managed his office after he stepped down from the presidency, and came to regard him as family.

But what is startling about this story, and one of the things that drew us at Viking to take on this book, is that Zelda herself is a white Afrikaner, who grew up in a conservative family in South Africa and who was taught as a child to think of Mandela as the enemy. Her journey from prejudice to acceptance, from fear to love, makes her new book, Good Morning, Mr. Mandela, both unexpected and moving.

She then gives us a wonderfully rich and warm portrait of the man she came to call “Khulu” – grandfather. He is wise, moral, and direct, but with a teasing sense of humor and personal quirks – in other words, an actual human being.

Penguin imprints around the world are going to be publishing this book all together at the end of June, and it’s exciting to be involved in such a special global project together.