Not sure what to gift the book club member in your life this holiday season? Or looking for a book for your own book club? The Penguin Hotline has a few ideas to get you started!

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For the foodies:

1. Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

For the romantics:

2. The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

For an important conversation:

3. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates


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For those dating in the digital age who could use a dose of humor (and some thought-provoking sociological insight to boot):

4. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

For the wanderlusters:

5. Euphoria by Lily King

For literary fiction with some curveballs you’ll want to discuss:

6. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff


For some gripping, Cold War-set historical fiction:

7. The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor

For National Book Award-winning short stories:

8. Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson


For a debut novel from an emerging voice:

9. Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam

For the multi-generational book club:

10. A Spool of Thread by Anne Tyler

Happy reading (and discussing)! And for more custom book recommendations for the holidays, check out the Penguin Hotline!


Photo credit: Dan Winters

Nick Offerman, author of Gumption and Paddle Your Own Canoe, shares his 2015 Holiday Book Picks with the Penguin Hotline:


Our Only World by Wendell Berry

As good a place to start as any, since I recommend his entire canon of fiction, essays and poetry. Our most important American writer, hilarious, loving, and vital.

Why We Make Things and Why it Matters by Peter Korn

A moving and personal account of the imperative to create with our hands tangible change in the world around us. A warming recipe for betterment from a master woodworker/teacher.

Lafayette in The Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell

Ms. Vowell fuels her every sentence with pithy observation and caustic insight, allowing her subjects, however historical, to become completely palatable, relatable, and ultimately human. Her rendering of France’s unflagging friendship to America over the centuries made me cry. Twice.

Thanks, Nick Offerman! The Penguin Hotline can’t help but recommend a couple more of our own favorites for the holiday: Gumption and Paddle Your Own Canoe. And check out the Penguin Hotline for custom book recommendations!

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Madeline McIntosh,  President of Penguin Publishing Group (right), with Penguin author Elizabeth Gilbert

Madeline McIntosh, President of Penguin Publishing Group (right), with Penguin author Elizabeth Gilbert

What kind of work do you do at Penguin? Do you have a crowning achievement, or memorable experience from your time here?

I have a very fun job, which is to oversee all the Penguin adult publishing imprints (meaning: imprints that publish books for grownups, not to be confused with other connotations of “adult” publishing). It probably doesn’t count as a crowning achievement, but one of the most memorable experiences of the past year was launching the Penguin Hotline in 2014. I love that what began as an off-the-cuff idea for a holiday ad developed into a way that brings the Penguins together with each other and with readers across the globe. Working on the Hotline reconnects us each with why we got into this business to begin with – we love books, and we love other people who love books.

When you aren’t busy at work with books, do you have a hobby? Do you have any book recommendations related to this hobby?

It probably wouldn’t sound right to list my 11-year-old twin sons as a hobby, but they come to mind in this case because the three of us continue to pick books for me to read out loud, even though they’re well into their own reading lives. It can be surprisingly hard to find books that appeal to older kids but which also work well as read-alouds. A few of my own favorites from the past year were Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm trilogy. Right now, we’re reading Graceling by Kristin Cashore. The boys love the adventure story. I love that they love this adventure centered around a kickass female lead character.


The other hobby-who’s-not-a-hobby is our dog Wally, a very goofy chocolate labradoodle. One of the best things about dog people is how easy we are to buy presents for – any books with dogs in them usually work. Two of my all-time favorite dog books are photo collections by Jim Dratfield: The Quotable Canine and Underdogs. There are some great new dog books this fall and winter: Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman, A Dog Named Jimmy by Rafael Mantesso, and Dog Love by Ann DeVito [out in February 2016]. And for anyone who’s about to get a dog, I think the very best dog training book is The Art of Raising a Puppy by the Monks of New Skete.

Which books are you most excited about gifting this year?

I have been recommending Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff for months, but there are still some people left I can give it to. The Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik is perfect for several people on my list. My foodie friends will get Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov. And for everyone else: Lost Ocean by Johanna Basford.

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What is your favorite holiday read of all time?

This isn’t very original, but I’m a sucker for A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

What’s your favorite part of working the Penguin Hotline?
I love receiving a request that goes beyond my area of expertise, since then I reach out to the hive mind, either here at Penguin or to friends elsewhere in the industry. I end up with suggestions that work not only for the person who’s written in, but that I want to read, too!

Thanks, Madeline!


Check out the Penguin Hotline for custom book recommendations!


Not sure what to gift the mystery and thriller lover in your life this holiday season? The Penguin Hotline has a few ideas to get you started!



For the classics lover with a European flair:

1. Maigret by Georges Simenon

For the Millennium Trilogy junkie (Lisbeth is back!):

2. The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

For the one who appreciates a hard-edged crime novel with a female protagonist:

3. Catch Me by Lisa Gardner




For the one who wouldn’t be too scared of an eerie psychological thriller set in the countryside:

4. In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

For your friend who prefers suspense with a side of Nora Roberts-style romance:

5. Devoted in Death by J. D. Robb

For the one who loves Westerns:

6. Dry Bones by Craig Johnson




For your literary friend who wants to get the chills in a major way:

7. Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh


For the film noire fan:

8. Night Film by Marisha Pessl





For a Patricia Highsmith devotee, who liked The Goldfinch and Gone Girl:

9. Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm


For your friend who always tries to guess the ending, and needs some good character development to complicate things:

10. The Secret Place by Tana French



Check out the Penguin Hotline for custom book recommendations!

Linwood Barclay, NYT and #1 international bestselling author of BROKEN PROMISE (photo credit: Bill Taylor)

photo credit: Bill Taylor

Linwood Barclay, New York Times and #1 international bestselling author of Broken Promise shares his list of “Five Classic Thrillers” with the Penguin Hotline:

It’s occurred to me that whenever I’m asked to list my favourite thrillers, the titles that show up keep changing. There’s always one I think I should have mentioned, so the next time, I put it on the list, and one of the others falls off. Here are the books that come to mind today.

11/22/63, by Stephen King: Okay, time travel plays a big part in this 2011 novel about a man’s attempt to stop the assassination of President Kennedy, which puts it slightly into the sci-fi realm, but it’s a hell of a thriller, and shows that King has no intention of coasting in the later stages of  his career. It’s a huge, ambitious book, and in addition to the excitement that comes from trying to stop Lee Harvey Oswald, there’s a powerful love story at the novel’s core.

Marathon Man, by William Goldman: Before Goldman wrote the screenplay for the Dustin Hoffman thriller back in the 1970s, he wrote the novel. When I picked it up paperback as a teenager, I hardly knew what to make of it. The first several chapters appeared to have no connection to each other. First off, we’re witness to a bizarre traffic accident in Manhattan. Then we’re with Babe, the marathon-running student. Then we’re with Scylla, the assassin. As the threads start to come together, we’re mesmerized.

The First Deadly Sin, by Lawrence Sanders: Another book from the 1970s by the prolific writer of popular fiction (now no longer with us). Police detective Edward X. Delaney is on the trail of a serial killer who uses a strange weapon. This was the first big thriller I ever read. Delaney’s methodical, step-by-step approach to getting into the killer’s mind gives the book an epic feel.

A Judgment in Stone, by Ruth Rendell: In the very first paragraph, Rendell tells the reader who has been murdered, who the murderer is, and why the crime was committed. But the circumstances are so compelling, the reader has no choice to but to go on. You think you know it all, but you don’t.

The Cartel, by Don Winslow: Did I say Sanders’ book was epic? Well, Winslow’s most recent novel is EPIC. This ambitious book, about the Mexican drug cartels, is a followup to his earlier thriller, The Power of the Dog. If Tolkien had decided to write about the battles between drug lords, and their battles with government drug enforcement agents, instead of all that Middle Earth stuff, he might well have come with something like The Cartel. Not just a terrific read, but a deeply troubling work of fiction.

Thanks, Linwood Barclay! And the Penguin Hotline can’t help but recommend one of our favorite thrillers: Broken Promise!


Check out the Penguin Hotline for custom book recommendations!

Andy Dudley, National Account Manager (right), taking a selfie with author Deborah Harkness (photo courtesy Andy Dudley)

Andy Dudley, National Account Manager (right), taking a selfie with author Deborah Harkness (photo courtesy Andy Dudley)


What kind of work do you do at Penguin? Do you have a crowning achievement, or memorable experience from your time here?

I work with a number of our online accounts, selling e-books, digital audio books, and even physical audio books!

I don’t know if it is my crowning achievement, but part of my previous job at Penguin was to do author signings in the Penguin office. I did them with a number of memorable authors but one of my favorite will always be Robert B. Parker. He would always sing, tell jokes, and talk about his wife, Joan. It also just so happens that Robert Parker is one of my parents’ favorite authors! So when I told my parents that I had spent time with him, they were both impressed. And I think finally “got” my job.

When you aren’t busy at work with books, do you have a hobby? Do you have any book recommendations related to this hobby?

I really love music and there is a series of books called 33 1/3. Each book in the series focuses on a single album and dives deep into the creation of the album, what the album is about, and the artist. There are now over 100 titles in the series, from Big Star to Celine Dion, and if you are looking to buy a book for a music fan, there is sure to be one that would be perfect to give.

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Which books are you most excited about gifting this year? 

I have already given Yotam Ottloenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook to every home cook I know, so I am very excited that he has released his new cookbook, Nopi, this fall. Every year I buy the new Best American Short Story series title and this year there is a new collection in celebration of the centennial of the series. 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories is edited by Lorrie Moore and I’m going to give a copy of it to a few fans of short fiction that I know. Also, I haven’t given a copy of Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies to every person I know. It might be time to rectify that.

What is your favorite holiday read of all time?

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is still the best! There’s a good chance I watch the cartoon every year too.

What’s your favorite part of working the Penguin Hotline?

Recommending books! I worked in a bookstore for a number of years and it was my favorite thing when a customer came into the store and asked, “what should I read next?” So the Penguin Hotline is the perfect outlet for me!

Thanks, Andy! Check out the Penguin Hotline for more custom book recommendations!

Photo credit: Anna Pasquarella

Photo credit: Anna Pasquarella

J. Ryan Stradal, New York Times bestselling author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest recommends his “Five Favorite Books Set in the Midwest”:

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson — a collection of stories centered on addicts, criminals, layabouts, and drifters that’s absolutely gorgeous and filled to the rim with heart, sadness, and empathy.

The Fine Art of F***ing Up by Cate Dicharry – Iowa native and resident Dicharry’s humorous and surreal debut novel about the politics, desires, and acts of God that imperil an arts college in the upper Midwest.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace – while not all of Wallace’s essays in this volume are explicitly set in the Midwest, two of the best ones are, and this book is a wonderful introduction to the writing of one of the great literary minds of our time.

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley – King Lear set on an Iowa farm, Smiley nails Midwestern language, setting, and ethos in this beautiful, propulsive, and Pulitzer Prize-winning family drama.

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich – Erdrich’s poetic, captivating debut tells the stories of intertwined Native American families over generations, set in North Dakota.

Thanks, J. Ryan Stradal! And the Penguin Hotline can’t help but recommend one of our favorite books set in the Midwest: Kitchens of the Great Midwest!

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Check out the Penguin Hotline for custom book recommendations!


Not sure what to gift your friend who judges a book by its cover this holiday season? The Penguin Hotline has a few ideas to get you started!

For the one who dressed up as RBG for Halloween:

1. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik 

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For the one who loves coloring books:

2. Lost Ocean by Johanna Basford 


For the one who loves to cook gorgeous meals:

3. NOPI: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi




For the one who loves old books in new packages:

4. Middlemarch (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) by George Eliot, with foreword by Rebecca Mead 


For the one who loves Instagram:

5. Humans of New York: Stories by Brandon Stanton 


For the one who wants to read someone else’s diary:

6. The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavitz 


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For the dog-lover:

7. Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman

For the one obsessed with astrology:

8. Stories in the Stars: An Atlas of Constellations by Susanna Hislop 

For the one wants a book that will fit in the palm of your hand:

9. Devotion: A Rat Story by Maile Meloy 




For the one who wants something one-of-a-kind (from a limited edition of 250 copies, and signed, numbered, and bound in a unique piece of art by watercolorist Lourdes Sanchez):

10. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Deluxe Edition) by Elizabeth Gilbert 



Check out the Penguin Hotline for custom book recommendations!

Tom Colgan, VP and Editorial Director of Berkley (photo courtesy Tom Colgan)

Tom Colgan, VP and Editorial Director of Berkley (photo courtesy Tom Colgan)

What kind of work do you do at Penguin? Do you have a crowning achievement, or memorable experience from your time here?

I’m an editor. I’ve been lucky enough to do it for thirty years. It’s a dream job for a reader. I hope I don’t have a crowning achievement yet. I’d still like that to be ahead of me. So far, I have two things that give me a great thrill. I was lucky enough to work with Tom Clancy on his last few books and I’ve been able to help some very talented author to keep his characters alive over the course of several bestselling books. The other thing that still gives me a great kick is every time I get to call a new author and tell them that we are going to publish their debut. That’s just an amazing experience.

When you aren’t busy at work with books, do you have a hobby? Do you have any book recommendations related to this hobby?

Amanda Ng and I run the Hudson Street Food Truck blog on Tumblr. This list of the food trucks that I could see out my office window started as a service to my co-workers who had no view of the street. Now that my office has been moved away from the Hudson Street side, we’re getting truck reports from Katie McKim and Lisa Considine. I’m not aware of any food truck related novels, but you could try reading, It Had to Be Murder by Cornell Woolrich. It’s the short story on which the Hitchcock movie Rear Window is based. [You can also check out the Cornell Woolrich novel I Married a Dead Man in Penguin’s American Noir boxed set edited by Robert Polito.]


Which books in the genres you edit (thrillers, mystery, science fiction, history, miltary) are you most excited about gifting this year?

This year I’m still pushing The Martian by Andy Weir to anyone who has an interest in science fiction, engineering, math, science, or just good story telling. It was a great movie, but an even better  book. Of course, you can’t go wrong with Lee Child. Make Me, such a Reacher title, was a solid entry into the thriller canon. It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since we lost Tom Clancy. Fortunately, Mark Greaney is doing an outstanding job keeping Jack Ryan going strong. I guarantee that Commander in Chief will keep the readers on their toes. Also I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes was a revelation! I can’t recommend this highly enough to anyone who is interested in thrillers. On the nonfiction side, I really enjoyed Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal by James Hornfischer. He’s a terrific author, very much like a latter day Walter Lord, and this is a story that’s too often ignored. A Spy Among Friends by Ben McIntyre was a terrific analysis of the Cambridge spy ring that almost destroyed British intelligence. If you have any interest in the spies or the Cold War or if you like John LeCarre it’s a must read.


What is your favorite holiday read of all time?

I can’t really think of anything I’ve read that was specifically Christmas related, other than A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and that’s too easy [though, we might add, a great choice!]. So let me suggest two other holidays: for Thanksgiving, read Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick will bust a lot of the myths you have about the Pilgrims, but, ultimately, it will leave you with a great appreciation for the struggle they had to put up to make it. On Halloween, I started reading The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff. It’s amazing, and an instant cure for nostalgia.

What’s your favorite part of working the Penguin Hotline?

As you can tell from my longwinded answer to these questions, I love working at the Penguin Hotline. There’s no one working in publishing who wasn’t first a reader, and readers love NOTHING better than talking to each other about books. This is an opportunity to share my favorites with other people. What could be better than that?

Check out the Penguin Hotline for custom book recommendations!

Photo credit: Robin V. Brown

Photo credit: Robin V. Brown

Daniel James Brown, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat, recommends “Five Books That Take You Away”:

One of the things that I look for in a book is a story that will carry me away to a time or a place that I know I will never be able to visit myself. That applies to both fiction and nonfiction, but for me the draw is particularly powerful in the case of nonfiction, where I know that the world I am journeying into really does or really did exist. Here a few of my favorite armchair adventures.

In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

What an epic journey! Transported back to 1879 you will travel deep into the Polar Regions on the U.S.S. Jeannette. You will soon find yourself struggling valiantly alongside Captain George Washington De Long as he confronts mounting and seemingly impossible obstacles in one of the harshest and most challenging environments on earth. Put out some snacks by your reading chair, because you’re going to get hungry before it’s all over.

The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko

This is one of those books that takes you not only into a spectacular physical environment—the Grand Canyon—but also into a culture that is nearly as exotic as the setting. Racing through the canyon on the Colorado River at crest of an epic flood, you will see it as you have never seen it before, and you will learn about the mindset of the extraordinary young people who live to master the river when it is at its most dangerous.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

By now Krakauer’s epic tale of life and death on Mount Everest is a classic of narrative nonfiction. But it’s a classic for good reason, and if you’ve somehow missed it, you should don a sub-zero parka, grab some supplemental oxygen, and strap on some crampons because you’re going to feel that you need them as you ascend the mountain with Krakauer on what turned out to be a tragic expedition in 1996.  Along the way, you are are going to journey deep into the souls of those who accompanied Krakauer, and the author himself.

Pilgrim’s Wilderness by Tom Kizzla

I suppose this is not so much a journey as a sudden and dramatic translocation. But you are likely to find the world in which Kinzzla sets you down—outside the tiny Alaskan outpost of McCarthy—as exotic and interesting as you could hope for. Aside from the vivid descriptions of the countryside itself, the book will introduce you to a memorable cast of eccentric characters, most particularly Papa Pilgrim, his wife, and their brood of fifteen children. The tale turns on the slow unraveling of Pilgrim’s carefully constructed and self-serving mythology about his life, and in so doing it brings you face to face with just how odd life in rural Alaska can be.

Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson

This is a book that takes you on two adventures at once. You will travel under the Caribbean with a pair of modern-day, high-tech treasure hunters. And at the same time you will travel back to the 1600s—the Golden Age of pirates—and voyage on the Golden Fleece with her rapacious captain, the infamous John Bannister. Both the modern day and the 17th century stories are first rate.


Thanks, Daniel James Brown! And the Penguin Hotline can’t help but recommend one book that takes us away: The Boys in the Boat! Start reading an excerpt here. And check out the Penguin Hotline for custom book recommendations!

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