pastorswivesI don’t belong to a church. Or a temple or a mosque.

I don’t kneel by my bed and pray. I don’t invoke God’s name in thanks or anger.

My children were baptised in the Catholic church, but have received no further sacraments.

Yet my new novel is set in an evangelical megachurch. And my CBS drama pilot is about an ex-priest.

Faith fascinates me—and not just in a clinical, academic way. What does it feel like to believe? Why is religious belief universal? How do you get to a place in your heart where you can stand with thousands of others and raise your arms in rapturous prayer?

As a journalist, I’ve written about many things, some of import, many decidedly not. I’ve written about plastic surgery in Asia and ranchers fighting oilers in Wyoming and the American trend toward upscale laundry rooms.

But after two decades of chasing news and trends, I longed to write about the Big Things. Like love. Death. Faith.

My first book, Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death, explored weird and wonderful funerals and burials. Though I reported on cremains turned to diamonds and mummifications, it was for me a way to understand how we as a culture are changing the way we memorialize our loved ones. Doing so helped me through the subsequent illness and death of my parents.

My second book, Pastors’ Wives, is a page-turning novel about the lives of three women inside a Southern evangelical megachurch. But for me, it was also a way to work through my crisis of faith. The loss of my parents and the birth of my daughters spun me into an existential spin cycle. My beloved characters—Ruthie, Candace and Ginger—helped me through.

Though I have moved away from religion, I learned I still have faith: in my people, in my world, in love. Writing about faith taught me so.

Visit Lisa Takeuchi Cullen at Readers can also follow Lisa on Facebook and Twitter.

Lisa Cullen was a foreign correspondent and staff writer for Time magazine, covering social trends, news, arts and business in the U.S. and Asia. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two daughters.

me and stinky I met Stinkyboy in 1998 at the San Francisco SPCA while accompanying a friend who was looking to adopt a cat. While she was busy looking at kittens, I was busy being wooed by the scraggly-looking, slightly cranky, white-and-brown alley cat in the next cage.

Stinkyboy had just been rescued the week before and was a complete mess: covered in cuts and scratches, had every kind of intestinal parasite you can imagine and his left eye was completely swollen shut. (Also? He smelled pretty bad. Thus the name Stinkyboy). Of course I took him home.

A year later, Stinkyboy and I moved to New York City to start my career in publishing; once we got buddycatthere I decided that Stinkyboy needed a cat of his own. This time I hit the Kitty Kind shelter in Union Square, and found BuddyCat, a sweet six-month old black kitten who had been found half-frozen in a snowdrift. I fell in love instantly, and BuddyCat came home to live with us. The three of us have been an oddball furry little family for nearly fourteen years now; I can’t imagine not having either of them in my life. Every day I am cognizant of the fact that my four-legged family wouldn’t exist if it were not for rescue organizations and the dedicated people who run them. I’m thrilled that Penguin donates money and time every year to the Humane Society’s Animal Rescue Team with their Read Humane partnership; I hope you’ll choose to support Read Humane as well!

- Colleen Lindsay, Marketing NAL/Berkley

Learn more about Read Humane

HollyMy daughter Olivia always wanted a kitten. And having grown up with cats, I know that there is nothing that makes an apartment or house feel more like a home than the company of an animal.

So, one day after we moved to Brooklyn, Olivia and I went over to BARC (Brooklyn Animal Rescue Center) to adopt a kitten. When we got there, Olivia noticed an orange female nursing a litter of 4 kittens. She asked the shelter worker on duty about all 4 kittens, and found out that 3 of the 4 were already adopted. The worker told her that kittens were adopted quickly, and that Olivia was lucky that there was even one left!

Olivia picked up a kitten, pet it and put it back down. Then, she asked the worker what was going to happen to the mother of the kittens. The worker told her that it could take a long time, but that hopefully the mother would eventually find a home too. Then Olivia said, “Dad, I think I’d like to adopt the mommy. She’s the one who really needs to find a home. I’ll name her Holiday Hills and we’ll call her Holly for short.”

We love our new addition to our family and I am so proud that Penguin recognizes the importance of the Humane Society Animal Rescue Team by supporting it with a program like Read Humane!

-Hank Cochrane, Director Trade Paperback Sales

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someone_could_get_hurtI’ve written three books in my life and all three of them have been subjected to the merciless criticism of the folks over at a certain social networking site for bookworms.  These people are deadly serious about books, so when they detect the slightest weakness in your text, they’re more than happy to pounce on you like a wounded antelope caught under a rock.  I read every review because I’m repulsively self-absorbed and because while getting a one-star review sucks, the people writing that review usually have valid criticisms.  In fact, as you will see, I much prefer getting a one-star review to certain other ratings.  Here now is my quick guide to how authors usually respond internally to their reviews, based on rating.

FIVE STARS: YES!  Sh*t yes!  Can’t do better than five stars.  I’m right up there with Hamlet.  But why did this person write ONLY one paragraph about how much they loved it?  Seems like a copout.  If you’re gonna give me five stars, you better MEAN it, buddy!  I want a PhD dissertation that can serve an annotated companion to the text for future college students.  Did you not notice the part where I alluded to tree branches on both page 134 and page 238?  I planted that imagery there for a reason, Mr. Lazy!  Seriously though… FIVE STARS!  BOOSH!

FOUR STARS: Very nice.  But why didn’t you give it five?  Virtually every four star review says, “I would have given this book five stars, except for (insert one incredibly petty little grievance).”  The author used too many commas!  I didn’t like the jacket copy!  The salesman at the bookshop who helped me find it was kind of a dick!  Just give me the five stars.  You’re dragging down my average.

THREE STARS: F*ck you.  F*ck you, three-star reviewers.  You are kind of the people who register onto message boards just to say, “meh”.  Have a REAL opinion the next time you read a damn book.  “Well, I kinda liked it but I kinda didn’t, so here’s my half-assed three-star review…” SH*T OR GET OFF THE POT, MISTER.  Love it or hate it, damn you.  Does nothing in life excite you?  At least with a one-star reviewer, I know where I stand.  But YOU, you filthy urchin, you think you’re being charitable by throwing me three stars like it’s loose change?  You are horrible.  And double middle fingers to the people who give you three stars but LOVE your book… those people who reserve four and five stars only for, like, the New Testament.  You’re not reviewing restaurants for the Times.  Be more of a star whore if you actually like something.

TWO STARS: Crap.  So you really didn’t like it, eh?  Sh*t.  Was it something I said?  Was it that sex scene on page 167?  I can have that expurgated, you know.  I’ll totally mail you a version with that part ripped out.  WHOLE NEW BOOK.  Hey, wait a second, did you base your review on a galley?  Dude, that wasn’t proofread!  You know that, right?  I made six tweaks that change the whole TONE of the book.  Give me another chance.  Please.  Please, I beg of you.  They’ll never give me another book deal now.  OH CURSE YOU!!!!!

ONE STAR: Haterz gon hate.




spot and beth1When friends meet my rotund, midnight-black cat, they invariably ask me: “Why would you name him Spot? He doesn’t have any spots on him.”

His name makes perfect sense to me. Ten years ago I had a friend with an adorable black-and-white spotted cat. I dubbed him “Cow Cat.” I had just moved into my own place, and the apartment felt somewhat empty. I wanted a pet for companionship—one that was as cool and friendly as Cow Cat.

I visited many rescue homes and shelters, looking for just the right cat, but all the spotted cats that I met seemed either standoffish or frightened. After weeks of searching, I arrived at the Yonkers Animal Shelter, where a skinny black cat with a huge head ran up to me and didn’t leave my side the entire time I was there. I gravitated toward the cow-like cats, and still, this big-headed black cat continued to rub against my legs. He chose me and now was doing all he could to let me know that, no matter what, he was going spothome with me. Who was I to argue?

I didn’t need much convincing. The more I petted him, the more I thought that he was the pet I was looking for all along. He was the black spot from Cow Cat. From then on, he became my Spot.

And he is the friendliest, most snuggly cat I have ever met. He may not be skinny any longer, and his head no longer is freakishly spotout of proportion with his body, but he still follows me around everywhere, reminding me every day of why we were meant to be together. Even if it takes some explaining, Spot truly is the perfect name for my 20-pound snuggle machine.

I love the idea of Read Humane and am so proud to be a part of an organization that values rescue animals and organizations. You can tell when you bring home a rescue how appreciative they are, and you get back so much love from them.

- Beth Parker, Associate Director of Publicity, Gotham/Avery

Learn more about Read Humane



Abby came to us from a breed rescue in Alabama—and while she’s certainly no pure bred, she’s best in show to us!

I’m proud to work for a company that not only publishes great books, but also recognizes the needs of organizations like the Humane Society and partners with them to help

- Kristen O’Connell, Director of Consumer Marketing and Social Media

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RoninI adopted Ronin two years ago after my cat of 14 years passed away.  I couldn’t have wished for a more amazing cat!  He makes me smile everyday and I am so grateful that we found him. I am pleased to see Penguin supporting the “adopt don’t shop” ideology with Read Humane.  There are so many wonderful animal companions (of all ages) that need good homes.


- Morgan Green, Assistant Manager Paperback Sales Administration

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someone_could_get_hurtI hit a car when I was going to visit my baby son in the hospital.  I was pulling into a gas station and there was a pump available just past this other car.  I wanted to get to my son as quickly as possible, so I arrogantly tried to sneak by the other car with my bigass minivan.  And I could see the Latina woman in her car screaming at me WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! as I edged forward, and I heard her shriek out in anger when I brushed against her front panel.

If you’ve ever been in a fender bender, you know how awkward it is, especially when it’s your fault.  I got out of the car and did the customary amateur inspection of the woman’s car, praying I’d find nothing.  But no, her shit was scratched up pretty good.

“Why did you do that?!” the woman screamed.

“Oh, God.  I am so, so sorry,” I said to her.

“How am I gonna pay for this?” she cried.  “I’ve had a really terrible week, and now this.  This is a loaner car because someone hit me last week, and I’m here illeg…” She cut herself off before she could say more.  She began sobbing heavily, with her sister trying to comfort her.  I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.  I said it over and over, as if it would do any good.  This woman was being crushed by life, and I was the cherry on her shit sundae.  I was the white asshole in the minivan swooping in to drive her to the brink of madness.

I tried to comfort her.  “I have a son in the hospital, and uh…” I trailed off.  My son, barely a week old, was on the verge of being operated on for a life-threatening condition, which you can read about in this book.  I guess I was trying to even up our suffering somehow, even though that was crude and pointless.

“I’m sorry about your son,” she said.

“No, no.  I hit you.  This is all my fault.”  I tried my best to let her know that I knew how it felt, that I knew about those moments when everything just piles and piles and piles on top of you until you feel ready to break, when you wonder why life is so intent on shitting all over you.  I gave her my insurance card, my full name, and my phone number, and I told her she could contact me at any time if she needed more information.  And then she drove off.  I felt like I had handled the situation responsibly… that I had somewhat atoned for my stupidity.

A mechanic who saw the whole exchange went up to me.

“Why didn’t you just give that woman some cash?”

I hadn’t even considered that.

“Should I have done that?” I asked him.  “I just gave her my insurance information.”

“Just give her a hundred bucks.  She doesn’t have any fucking insurance, man.”

And he was right.  I never heard from the woman again.  I don’t know what happened to her.  I don’t know if she went further into debt, or got deported, or any of that.  I wish I would bump into her again (not with my car!) so that I could hand her all the cash in my wallet, to make up for the time when I hit her right at a moment where I cared about my son’s life and no one else’s.  I wasn’t the only one in rough shape that day.  Your suffering is never unique to the world, and I wish I had remembered that.

Today marks the publication of Dan Brown’s newest thriller, Inferno, which reunites readers with Robert Langdon of The DaVinci Code fame. If you enjoy books that mix together secrets, suspense and adventure, then check out these great titles.

angelopolis city_of_dark_magic strindbergs_star






zero_hour shadow_of_night devils_elixer







babylon_rite cassandra_project of_saints






And the book that inspired Dan Brown’s Inferno, Dante’s Inferno







Posted by: John Mercun, Consumer Engagement Manager

cheesedoodle readhumanebooks marianne and cheesedoodle

There’s no greater love like the love of an adopted pet. I found my forever friend in Cheese Doodle!

Change your life and help save theirs. Adopt a rescued cat or dog today.

I’m so thankful for Penguin’s continued support to fight against animal cruelty and its donation to The Humane Society.

Please join this cause and pick up a Read Humane book at your nearest retailer.

- Marianne Pappas, Assistant Manager, Distributor Sales

Learn more about Read Humane