Susan Loomis_credit Francis Hammond

All of the sudden, it’s summer. That’s northern France for you.  Wind whistles, grass is covered with frost, flowers have that slightly frozen etch around their petals until very late in the spring then BAM! The sun is out, the air is a warm caress, and rose is in the fridge, chilling for supper.

Tomorrow is the farmers’ market in my town of Louviers, and I’m so eager to see what’s there that I can hardly wait.  You wouldn’t think much would change from one week to the next, but it does. We’ve been through asparagus season, the very early harbinger of spring, but it’s taken an age for anything else to come along.  Now, though, with this burst of warmth which has summer woven all through it, there is likely to be shiny zucchini ready to steam and cover with minced garlic and parsley, and melons will finally send their alluring aroma through the air, begging for a squeeze of lime juice and a sprinkling of peppers and diced shallot, for a pre-meal salad. There may be a few early tomatoes, and strawberries will at long last lend their warm, almost syrupy flavor to a tart, a fruit salad, or a glass of red wine.

As for seafood, well, the sardines are jumping into the fishers’ nets, and I will dredge some in flour, cover them with minced sage and garlic, and bathe them in olive oil and vinegar for a summery escabeche.  I’m doing a big dinner and skate wing, straight from the English Channel, is on the menu.  I will serve it with a capery sauce atop crushed new potatoes that I’ve sprinkled with tiny strips of fresh basil and dabbed with fresh farm butter.  For a real nod to summer, I’ll add a mound of freshly boiled peas that are so sweet they belie their vegetable status and almost taste like dessert.

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Tomorrow I just know I will also find bunches of new onions, tiny beets, blushing young shallots, juicy cloves of new garlic, and carrots as thin as a pinky.  Anticipating this, I’ve made aioli to serve alongside this summer wealth, for a market picnic. I’ll follow with the sardines and a crisp baguette (for sopping up the sauce). Dessert?  A bowl of cherries in ice water.

For dinner, we’ll have the skate wing with potatoes and peas, a big crisp salad in a delicate vinaigrette, and a chocolate tart covered with sliced strawberries and dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

Oh summer, how happy we are that you are here!

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Explore Susan Herrmann Loomis’ new book In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France for everyday tips, secrets, and eighty-five recipes that allow you to turn every meal into a sumptuous occasion.

In a French Kitchen by Susan Herrmann Loomis is a delightful celebration of French life and the cooks who turn even the simplest meals into an occasion.

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photoBria Sandford is an associate editor for Portfolio, Sentinel, and Current. In her spare time she reads about the Puritans and talks about New Hampshire.

 

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At a glance, you might think the story of Mildred Lathbury, a young single woman in post-war London, would be a cozy little read and nothing more, but you’d be wrong. Under the surface of this rather conventional story of romantic near-misses, there’s an undercurrent of wry self-deprecation and bitter resignation that’s quite bracing. Pym’s heroine is an “excellent woman,” who lives a quiet life, does what needs to be done, is aware that she’s constantly overlooked, and copes with humor, grace, and just the tiniest touch of despair. I picked this up a couple of years ago when I was looking for a relaxing but smart weekend read, and it nearly threw me into a quarter-life crisis. I’ve not been able to get enough of Barbara Pym since. (I also can’t stop recommending her; while writing this I got a text from a friend saying, “Mildred is driving me crazy!”)

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The Sagas of the Icelanders by Various

Come for the largely historically accurate prose histories of Icelandic society, stay for the battles with magicians protected by armies of cats. Most interesting to me were the stories of Icelandic women, who seemed to retain more influence than their European sisters did. Be sure to read about Unn the Deep-Minded, who in old age captained her own ship and moved her family to Iceland, where she freed all of her slaves and spread her Christian faith.

 

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Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

This Scandinavian epic traces the entire life of a woman in medieval Norway, from her childhood through her years as a wife and mother to her eventual entry into a convent shortly before her death. A group of my friends badgered me for months before I actually gave in and started the enormous tome, and I wish I’d caved sooner. Undset’s theologically and psychologically rich treatment of the themes of love, sin, and grace were life-changing, and her characters will be with me for a long time to come.

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Selected Stories by E.M. Forster

I’ve picked this Forster collection solely because it includes “The Machine Stops.” The story describes a dystopian world where everyone has abandoned the surface of the earth to live underground in “the Machine.” In the Machine, people live in climate-controlled pods, where the Machine makes life easy. They communicate with friends and family virtually. No one ventures outside, because “ideas” are more important and interesting than the boring and dangerous outside world–and because the Machine will kill you if you do. For a story written in 1903, it’s a terrifyingly accurate depiction of life in the age of the Internet. If you read it, beware: you may have to delete your Facebook account when you’re done.

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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

I hate reading or watching horror, but I love Shirley Jackson. The terror in her stories builds slowly and in an understated way. There are supernatural figures in her stories, but the really unsettling characters are ordinary people with ordinary motives. And she turns a phrase like no one else–who wouldn’t want to read a book that begins, “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.”                 

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Mary Allen is a foreign rights assistant for Avery, Portfolio, and Putnam. She is originally from Nashville, TN, but she calls Greenpoint home these days. Strawberries, old books, people-watching on the subway, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and her birthday are some of her favorite parts of life.

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I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam

With only 168 hours in a week, I’ve often bought in to the idea that you have to choose between a fulfilling personal life and pursuing ambitious professional goals. And even if you managed to find time for both of those, well then, it’s because you’ve surely sacrificed your social life, your hobbies, your sleep…Time management expert and breakout author Laura Vanderkam is here to counter this notion in her new book, I Know How She Does It. Drawing on research gathered from the time-logs of 1,001 days in the lives of highly-successful women, Vanderkam shows that women are indeed achieving the impossible–making time for both family and career. Vanderkam provides us with strategies for balancing the many demands of the office, the home, and the soul. If you haven’t given up on “having it all,” then this book is right up your alley.

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The Plantpower Way by Rich Roll & Julie Piatt

This is a cookbook in a league of its own. Equal parts recipe book, roadmap to a health,  manifesto of the plant-based lifestyle, The Plantpower Way testifies to the fact that you can raise a family, run an ultramarathon, eat like a king, and help save both the planet and your health using nothing but plants. As a Tennessee-born loyal barbecue-eater of 24 years, I had my doubts about the merits of a vegan plate, but within 20 pages, authors Rich Roll and Julie Piatt had me convinced. And after I tasted their Potato-Quinoa Wraps with Brazil Nut Cream, they had me converted. The recipes are simple, delicious and probably the surest way to live to the glorious age of 100. This is a vegan cookbook with a joyful cause, and it deserves space in every kitchen.

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The Anxiety Toolkit by Alice Boyes, Ph.D

In our ever-accelerating 21st century, anxiety has become as ubiquitous as smartphones and iced chai. If your morning commute, your news headlines, and your email inbox look anything like mine, then this book is your new saving grace. Dr. Alice Boyes masterfully distills her years of clinical practice and research into this tidy handbook to manage and master anxiety. As each chapter opens with a self-assessment quiz, Boyes helps us identify the nature of our anxiety and the mechanism by which it undercuts our lives. She then provides insightful, actionable strategies to conquer it. True to its name, The Anxiety Toolkit is a practical and powerful tool for anyone trying to break free of his or her modern angst.

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The 22-Day Revolution by Marco Borges

Beyoncé, in her infinite wisdom, has really put this book on the map, but The 22-Day Revolution by trainer and health expert Marco Borges was destined to start a movement with or without buzz from the Queen Bey. In this book, Borges shares the vegan, plant-based lifestyle program that has been keeping his clients (celebrity and plebeian alike) in the best health of their lives. For anyone looking to lose weight, reverse disease, or even to reduce their carbon footprint—in short, for anyone seeking permanent change—this is the ultimate handbook. It takes 21 days to break a bad habit, so Borges provides strategies, motivation, and delicious recipes to usher readers through to the 22nd day and into a happier state of body and mind—the inevitable benefits plant-based living.

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HeadshotNatalie Maester is a production assistant at Berkley. Born and raised as a European nomad, Natalie considers travelling as important as breathing. Graduating with a BA in English, she hopes one day to obtain a PhD in military history and revolutionary studies.

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Lucrezia Borgia by Sarah Bradford

The first topic that got me interested in history was the femme fatale: women of unparalleled power, will and persuasion that tore through the epicenter of male dominion. But their stories have always been clouded in mysticism since they deviated so far from norms, they could not be “normal women”.

One of many illegitimate children of Pope Alexander VI (aka Rodrigo Borgia) but by far his favorite, Lucrezia Borgia has been labeled by history as a succubus, a jezebel, and a schemer. But how did she get there? Used by her father as a pun to increase his sphere of power and influence, she was married 3 times by the time she was 22 years old. Divorced from her first husband due to allegations of impotence, her second husband was killed by her own brother, the power-hungry Duc of Valentinois, Cesare Borgia. Bred to obey in a family that did everything but, Lucrezia remained powerless to refuse her father’s wishes yet fiercely loyal and protective of him. In this latest biography of her life, Bradford attempts to uncover lifelong intrigues, shifting family alliances and a fight for survival that characterized most of Lucrezia’s life. As a result, she became a calculating woman, focused on gains and prospects, casting aside emotional, peaceful and love-seeking image so often expected of women. Lucrezia Borgia is, like all femme fatale, a complicated story but a fun one to try and piece together.

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Churchill and the King by Kenneth Weisbrode

At first glance, they can’t be any different: a king and a prime minister. The first, a sickly spare, who never fit in, shy and seemingly insecure, he became a king after his brother’s shocking abdication. The second, a rowdy troublemaker with swaying alliances and beliefs, he could not stay in one political party for long yet eventually made leader of a nation. Born of a different social stock and decades apart, both men developed skills and backbones to stand up and stand strong during England’s greatest crisis. Despite the apparent differences, George VI and Churchill had similar struggles and challenges: childhoods with strict fathers whom they both feared and adored, outcastes each in his own way, they shared a love of the sea and the navy, facing off against their enemy when war broke out in 1914. When they took command of England’s defense in 1940, they were a perfect yin and yang. Weisbrode side by side comparison is a unique look into lives otherwise completely unrelated of two of 20th century leading men.

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Army of Evil by Adrian Weale

Being a military history junky, I have learned that one of the biggest faux pas committed by people is group labeling. People are by far more complicated in their intentions and decision making processes than checking off a male or a female box on a driver’s license app. In this in-depth study of the SS or Schutzstaffeln, Weale separates the horrible deeds of the Holocaust from the men that perpetrated them in order to attempt to understand what drove their actions. First created as an elite group of Aryans with black uniforms, knee-high boots and SS style ruins pinned to the shirt collars, the SS quickly became symbols of terror and certain end. Compromised of Einsatzgruppen (killing squads), camp guards, police patrol and spies, they were the deadly muscle of the Third Reich. Yet the majority of these men were a bit more than civilians, playing soldiers in military-style clothes, without criminal records, with wives and children at home. How could so many go so wrong? Weale introduces many potential reasons for their willingness such as the introduction of dangerous convicted criminals to lead the units and train their men to kill, to alcohol induced killing parties, to severe brainwashing combined with centuries of racism. Whatever reason each of us leans towards, it is an important lesson to study, learn and prevent.

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Inglorious Royal Marriages by Leslie Carroll

Sometimes the most interesting stories come wrapped in scandal, rebellion and shame. And this is a Leslie Carroll specialty: focusing on the stuff not taught in schools. Charming, witty and straight to the point, Carroll introduces us to little known royal characters whose titles implied anonymity and irrelevance yet influenced the course of history. Inglorious Royal Marriages showcases the likes of Margaret Tudor, sister of the famous Henry VIII, whose descendants occupy the thrown of England today. After the death of her husband King James IV of Scots, she secretly married two noble, both of whom stole her money and left Margaret for their mistresses, while she died penniless from a stroke. The double life of Monsieur Philippe of France, younger brother of the Sun King Louis XIV, is also a fascinating read. Married twice to two princesses, he was fond of dressing up as a woman (jewels and all), which his mother fully supported as he was growing up. Great at commanding an army, he never wore hats on expeditions because they would have ruined his hair. Whatever scandalous pleasure makes you smile on the train, Inglorious Royal Marriage is a quick and fun read that teaches interesting tidbits of peculiar characters so far ignore by major history.

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Tyler Fields is the publicity assistant for Tarcher & Perigee. He is from Texas, has lived in Indiana, and is glad finally to call NYC home.  @TD_Fields

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Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

To begin, allow me to recall Porochista Khakpour’s (author of the stunning novel, The Last Illusion) New York Times review of Oyeyemi’s inimitable Boy, Snow, Bird in which she references both Kanye West’s infamous “Bound 2” music video and Freud’s notion of the uncanny in the first paragraph. If this doesn’t absolutely sell you – as it did me – then here’s more: Oyeyemi’s fifth novel contorts itself through myriad genres as it investigates, comments upon, and criticizes the complexities of race, identity, gender, and so much more in the modern age.

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Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya

What point to highlight first? Akhtiorskaya’s beautiful and swift prose? That this is my favorite emigrate-to-America novel since Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex (2002)? Or that such a brilliant novel could possibly be a debut? Regardless of why you choose to begin this searing novel, you’ll finish wondering why you hadn’t yet devoured the cross-cultural portrait of hope, ambition, and discovery in the first place.

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Frog by Mo Yan

Nobel-laureate Mo Yan’s eleventh novel, Frog is about a woman called Gugu whose staunch attempts to prove her alliance to China’s Communist Party and its one-child policy lead her to performing compulsory IUDs, vasectomies, and late-term abortions. It is about loyalty, allegiance, and the fine line between the two. And above all, Yan’s epic is a pointed commentary about political, economic, and social behavior under which women continue to suffer at the hands of reckless male politicians and son-fixated husbands.

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Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

For those of you reading this before September 15, 2015, delight in this preview to what is sure to be one of the most widely talked about and highly acclaimed novels of the year.

For those of you reading this post-publication, delight in the knowledge that Groff’s unforgettable novel is available to read at this very moment.

Personally, I will glean joy in remembering how a galley described to me only as “an exhilarating novel about marriage, creativity, art, and perception,” stunned me with penetrating, surprising prose and a unique, wholly original narrative. This book is not about the aforementioned aspects, it is an immersive experience with them.

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Hiding in Plain Sight by Nuruddin Farah

To my mind, by and far the most striking element of Farah’s novel is his uncanny ability to utilize the narrative of a woman’s journey to Nairobi as a mirroring device from which he reflects upon the instability of the region wherein the novel is set. Absolutely, Farah is a gifted writer, but more importantly, he is able to highlight beautifully the consequences of displacement – both as it affects a single woman, but also as it applies to an entire population.

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BONUS because this is, as far as I can tell, not the second, but the third time the following title has been recommended.

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Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

The potential energy wrapped into the opening of Ng’s novel, “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet,” is tantamount to the zenith of a rising object – all that’s left is to fall. Everything I Never Told You is the story of a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio, forced to confront and live with the death of a child. Poignant, profound, and deeply moving, this novel is the portrait of a family and its individual members whose lives come crashing from a highest height.

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photo (1)Hope Ellis is a Managing Editorial Assistant with Berkley. She likes candle-lit dinners, long walks on the beach, and—oh sorry, is this not a reality dating TV show? In addition to telling not-super-funny jokes, Hope can usually be found reading books with strong female heroines, watching bad TV, and painting random animal portraits (ask her about the pigeon, if you dare).

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Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Perhaps my favorite author on this list, Patricia Briggs writes paranormal urban fantasy at its most realistic. Mercy Thompson, mechanic by day and coyote by night, is one of my favorite characters, an unlikely hero with a trickster’s sense of humor. Patricia Briggs doesn’t shy away from dark subjects in this series, and she incorporates both the most loveable characters and the best plot twists. Her Mercy Thompson series is one of my favorites to read and reread.

 

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Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead

Richelle Mead has done some amazing post-apocalyptic world building in her Age of X series. I read Gameboard last year on vacation and was hooked, absolutely oblivious to the world, from the minute I started reading. If you’re looking for a complex (but still recognizable) dystopian world, some science-fiction genetics, and a fascinating take on the power of religion, go grab a copy of Gameboard.

 

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Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop

Take everything you think you know about the world and twist it upside-down. Daughter of the Blood is a dark, riveting fantasy about power, strength, and survival. It is seriously chilling, with a really great, nuanced portrayal of dark subjects (e.g., slavery, rape, and mental illness). Anne Bishop is a visionary, and while it’s not as evident in Daughter, she has a wicked sense of humor (“humor with a bite, scary with a wink,” as she writes in Tangled Webs).

 

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Touch the Dark by Karen Chance

If I could be any urban fantasy character, I think I’d want to be Cassie Palmer. Or at least have her powers of premonition, ghostly communication, and time travel. Karen Chance is an author who definitely knows her way around a plot twist, and the world she’s created is suspenseful and fun. Touch the Dark is a to-read for anyone who likes a good paranormal series.

 

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Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

The thing I love most about Charlaine Harris is how very realistic her portraits of daily life in the South are. She grounds the paranormal elements of her Southern Vampire Mysteries (better known to some as “the True Blood series”) with some no-nonsense reflections on budgets, cleaning house, and small-town gossip. Of course, the sexy vampires and weres are no small draw, either. If you haven’t already learned what all the fuss is about—go learn what all the fuss is about!

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Obsidian Butterfly by Laurell K. Hamilton

No paranormal book list (of mine, anyway) would be complete without Laurell K. Hamilton. As much a part of the history of vampire books as Anne Rice, Laurell K. Hamilton’s books are always gritty, sexy, thrilling reads. She’s a master genre-bender, combining three of my favorite genres: mysteries, romances, and the Sci-fi/Fantasy/Paranormal conglomerate. (Fun fact: did you know it took her years to publish her first book, Guilty Pleasures, because no one in publishing knew how to market it? I know this because, nerd that I am, I wrote a paper on vampire fiction in college.) This is actually the ninth book in Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, but it’s my personal favorite—lots of action, uncanny vampire powers, and Anita gets to use more of her crime-solving skills than we usually see. She gets bonus points for both blood-and-guts and [slight spoiler alert] a creepy serial-killer stalker in Obsidian Butterfly.

 

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Briana Woods-Conklin is an Associate Manager of Advertising and Consumer Marketing for Penguin Young Readers. Books are one of her favorite things, and she loves surrounding herself with them. But boy, are they heavy when you’re moving to a new apartment!

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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

I remember reading this book in sixth grade. And I remember it so clearly because when I was reading, I was so engrossed in the story that I didn’t want to do anything else. Everything just seemed to get in the way. Years later, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is still one of my favorite books, as rich and lovely as ever. A story of family, struggle, and the fight to understand both the world and ourselves, this book is as timeless as it is powerful.

 

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Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

The best books are the ones that make me want to read slowly — to linger over the language, to reread that excellent piece of dialogue, to turn the pages just a little bit slower, delaying the end and prolonging my time with the narrative. And this book made me do just that. From the very beginning, I knew this book was special. Giving the reader a look into the lives of often overlooked individuals, Counting by 7s is full of humor, sadness, joy, hope, and that intangible bit of story-magic that makes a book one you want to go back to again and again.

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Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.” I love the way this text sounds aloud! Full of rich artwork and simple but compelling text, Madeline’s grand adventures and misadventures have a special place in my heart (as does Miss Clavel!). There are so many great Madeline books, but this is the one that started it all!

 

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Ratscalibur by Josh Lieb

An unexpected story where squirrels do “squagic” instead of magic, and magical rats are called “ragicians,” and one seventh grade boy-turned-rat is expected to save the kingdom, Ratscalibur is an action-packed page-turner that will keep you engaged all the way through. With fun character names, new magical terms, and an abundance of wordplay, and this is a great read-aloud. A little bit scary, a little bit gross, and full of danger, Ratscalibur is definitely a whole lot of fun.

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Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Roller Girl! Every time I mention this title, I feel like I need to put an exclamation point at the end of the sentence. Because Roller Girl is just so much fun! This graphic novel tackles the difficulties of friendship and the fear of trying new things through the wonderful setting of the roller derby. Not only is the art fantastic, but the story is great, too. Roller Girl speaks to all of us, who sometimes need a little encouragement to follow our passions and the bravery to be a little bit different from our friends.

 

 

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Image(1)William Owen is the Digital Production Manager at Penguin. Western New Yorker, softball player and Spartan racer, he can often be found on the stairs in Prospect Park, writing in Brooklyn cafes, or working from a hammock in his boss’s office. He will graciously accept any pie you have left over. Twitter: @William_A_Owen

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The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

I’d been meaning to read Nnedi Okorafor’s works for some time, so when I saw she had a new book forthcoming I could not wait to read it and darkened the editor’s door until he gave me one. Everything I’d heard about The Book of Phoenix was spot on. The story is astounding and insightful, and weaves together the futuristic ideas of Phoenix’s world with the sights and sounds of our world beautifully. Reading this was like seeing Jurassic Park for the first time in the theatre, the way something surreal and uncanny can seem to fit so fluidly into a vision of our world. I cannot wait to read Okorafor’s other books now.

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Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones

One of, no, THE most original book I have ever read. Sirius, the Dogstar, is accused of murdering another celestial and sentenced to live out existence in the body of a dog unless it can find the weapon used in the crime. What? Are you even allowed to use that as the premise for a story? Diana Wynne Jones took what seems is just a sloppy mess of ideas – celestial entities, a murder, terrestrial gods, an orphaned child and a bunch of dogs – and did what less than a handful of other writers in the world could have done: made an incredible, compelling, brilliantly told story. If you’ve never read her work, this is a terrific place to start.

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 The Price of Valor by Django Wexler

The third novel in Django Wexler’s Shadow Campaigns series is another book I couldn’t wait to read (in the middle of it right now), and continues the masterful storytelling of the first two novels. Set in a Napoleonic colonial world, Wexler constantly builds, expanding the history and the fantastic elements without ever sacrificing his characters. Three books in and I’m still as invested in Janus, Winter and Marcus as I have been from the beginning, and the mysteries surrounding the Thousand Names and the Priests of the Black are only getting deeper.

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Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman

I heard a lot about this book from a friend of mine. She is a grad school buddy and we were talking about werewolves and she said, “I just read this great book about werewolves. It’s super creepy, southern gothic horror.” I said I didn’t really get into horror that much. Turns out I’m really a fan of horror if its written by Christopher Buehlman. Unsettling, eerie, sometimes back of neck prickling.

 

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Idoru by William Gibson

I had to put William Gibson on the list. I chose Idoru, the second book in his second trilogy, for a couple of different reasons. To me this is a book that has always felt tuned up a step on quality while it was tuned down a step on the sometimes whipsaw pace of the Sprawl Trilogy or the other Bridge trilogy books. It is a better chance to see what is happening. The story seeps off the page a little more, a little deeper, and being able to get that much closer to the complexities of Gibson’s stories, and his writing method (which is a fascinating and intimidating approach) takes his lauded and praised work and turns up to 11.

 

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Molly Pieper is the Marketing Assistant for Plume. She lives in Connecticut but doesn’t mind the commute – it gives her plenty of time to delve into a good book!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Other People We Married by Emma Straub

I really enjoyed Straub’s collection of short stories because of her familiar and fallible characters.

Themes of love, or rather romance in some form, is a commonality throughout these twelve stories but Straub strikes a great balance.

These stories are neither cheesy nor predictable but are relatable nonetheless.  My personal favorite is “Some People Must Really Fall in Love.”

 

 

 

 

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About a Boy by Nick Hornby

An oldie but a goodie. This is one of those books I’ve read over and over again and never tire of. It’s a great feel-good read.

Will Freeman, the classic bachelor type, has his world turned upside down when he meets twelve year old Markus as the result of his latest dating scheme.

As their friendship evolves, Hornby’s simultaneously funny and poignant novel reveals to the reader that when it comes to people, there is always more than meets the eye.

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This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

I think by now most people are aware of Tropper’s novel because of the 2014 movie adaptation—but this really is a book worth reading on its own merits.

It’s more than your typical family drama. Tropper hits that sweet spot between laugh out loud funny and emotionally gripping in this portrait of a dysfunctional American family.

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everything-i-never-told-you-by-celeste-ng

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

This was an emotional read. Ng’s portrait of a fractured family is painful, yet so beautifully written. Her third person narration and seamless movement throughout time make for an intelligently written and dynamic read. This novel is more than the tale of a young girls death and the aftermath and ensues, it’s about sacrifices and what can become of all of us after making one.

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

First off, I must say this book really does deserve all of the hullabaloo. It’s a smart, enthralling thriller that was hard to step away from. Hawkins protagonist Rachel is unreliable in the best kind of way; you both doubt her credibility and want to believe her. The way in which the narrative moves back and forth between different characters perspective is another element of this great book that keeps the reader devouring pages. I found myself trying to predict the ending of Girl on the Train, and was pleasantly surprised when I was completely wrong.

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Penguin Online photo Yafa

Anyone who’s seen Jennifer Lawrence or Charlize Theron on screen knows that both of the Oscar winners for Best Actress are the real thing. It’s not surprising, at least to me, that they have no patience for phony celebs or “pretend” foods. Theron won’t go near anything gluten-free: “It tastes like cardboard!” she exclaimed in a talk-show appearance. Lawrence told Vanity Fair that gluten-free diets are “the new, cool eating disorder.”

Real foods, to both women, do not perform bait-and-switch tricks like substituting tapioca for whole wheat flour in baked goods. Real foods contain whole grains that may or may not be fashionable at the moment, but still deliver proven value.  I’m reminded that our palate and digestive system subscribe to no dietary trends, and never have.  Our bodies dwell in a microbial universe where nutritive usefulness trumps the latest fad; muscles and ligaments along with the liver and every other internal organ thrive on minerals and vitamins, healthful bacteria, fiber and phytochemicals. They’re sublimely oblivious to pop culture’s demands for the newest, coolest, latest diet.

As the author of Grain of Truth—The Real Case For and Against Wheat and Gluten I set out to discover for myself, as an investigative journalist, just how seriously I should take the campaign against gluten. Was this protein complex found in wheat, barley and rye, as William Davis claims in Wheat Belly, so injurious to our well-being that it has killed more people than all wars combined? Or were we yet again being subjected to unsubstantiated hyperbole—this time delivered by medical professionals, among others?

The gluten-free craze arrived in a thundercloud of hyperbole, like Moses delivering the Ten Commandments and warning if you fail to honor them, well, we’ll see you in hell. That’s the emotional foundation of screeds like Wheat Belly and Grain Brain. Like scripture, they are unconditional—they don’t deal with shades of gray, so we don’t have to, either. It’s all fire and brimstone. Eat wheat and grow fat, while you rot your brain. Other diet fads—Zone, South Beach, Atkins, generally call for more protein and fewer carbs, and more thought.  Gluten-free is a one-stop one-shop silver bullet.

Reliable clinical studies indicate that only .63 to 6 percent of us suffer from definable symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and 1 in 133 from celiac disease. The vast majority of men and women who think they’re reacting to gluten— about 30 percent of the general population—fall into neither category.

A recent study at the University of Florida set out to probe people’s misconceptions about gluten. It followed 97 participants who tasted two food choices, one labeled “gluten-free” and one labeled “gluten.” The majority decided the non-gluten food was healthier, even though neither food actually contained gluten. As many as 32 percent of the study subjects thought eating gluten-free would bring about weight loss. Not true. It’s the elimination of junk food, the researchers point out, that makes all the difference.

grain-of-truth-by-stephen-yafa 2I discovered too that long fermentation, as in sourdough, is nature’s way of reducing the toxicity of gluten molecules while increasing its nutritive value and edible enjoyment. A surprise to me, and proof again that the best part of authoring a book is to learn what you didn’t know when you began.

 

Read more about Grain of Truth—The Real Case For and Against Wheat and Gluten by Stepehn Yafa!