IMG_20150401_140930Zarren Mykhail Kuzma is a Sales Analyst for Penguin Young Readers Group. By day, he reads vertically in many excel grids. By night, he reads horizontally in many books. His B minus sense of humor is well known throughout the land. You can follow him on Twitter @zmkuzma… if you dare.

 

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The Toymaker’s Apprentice by Sherri L. Smith

So, we read a lot of books here. (It’s the nature of the work, and, of course, many Penguins are also book nerds.) But, for me, there are some moments when lethargy strikes and it’s difficult to really get into a groove with a book. I might recklessly start and stop any number of titles, looking for something to scratch that reading itch, but nothing seems to work. Toymaker’s Apprentice is a book that brought me out of one of these funks, and in a way, reminded me why I like to read. On its surface, it’s a clever retelling of the Nutcracker, but at its core it’s an adventure, an exploration of secrets and magic, and a truly imaginative storytelling wonder.

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The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove

The Glass Sentence flew under my radar at first. It sat on my shelf for ages before I decided to give it a try even though the premise always stuck out to me: Earth placed in utter chaos because of a mysterious disaster that has thrown every continent into a different historical period of time. It wasn’t until I started this book that I began to realize that it was legitimately marvelous. I mean look at this example list of things that you’ll encounter if you read it: magical maps, ghosts, pirates, plant people, train escapes, and steampunk. Can you really ask for anything else?

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Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

When I read Circus Mirandus, two images come to my mind. The first is the story itself. This book transports you to place that is warm, magical, and filled with wonder. It honestly has the feel of an instant classic in the mold of Roald Dahl or J. M. Barrie. The second image—which is related—is of a parent and a child reading together, sharing this book. This is one of those books that you keep on the nightstand and read a little every night to your children before they fall asleep. (I say that, and I don’t even have kids.) I think it’s the kind of book that can inspire a lifelong love of reading and will be remembered by many for years and years to come.

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An Ember In The Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

There are books that cause me to miss my subway/train stop. There are also books that—after finishing them—make me miss the main characters because of everything that I’ve endured with them. An Ember in the Ashes does both. This YA novel is particularly special because of one key trait: honesty. That might seem strange to say, but this fantasy boldly confronts some of the terrible things that we encounter in real life. Sexism, abuse, slavery, violence—Ember in the Ashes rips away the veil and forces you to openly confront the potential for people to be both good and evil.

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Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of The 1960s by Philip K. Dick

I remember the first story I read by Philip K. Dick. At the time, I didn’t know that he was one of the most famous science fiction authors of all time, whose works have spawned a hefty number of films. Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990 and 2002), and Minority Report (2002), are just a few. The story is called “Shell Game”, and I remember my exact emotional arc: utterly confused at the beginning, mesmerized by the clarity and reveals in the middle, and shocked (and a little depressed) at the end. “Shell Game” and, in fact, much of Philip K. Dick’s work plays with expectations, challenges reality, and in an odd way says quite a bit about human nature. After reading “Shell Game”, I picked up this exact collection of his novels and became a Philip K. Dick fan 4 lyfe.

 

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The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq by Hassan Blasim

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. It’s jarring, it’s comic, it’s fantasy and reality smashed together in a bleakly dark wartime scenario. I was recently asked by a friend of mine, “What book that’s come out recently do you think that everyone should read?” I tend to recommend books based on who’s asking for the suggestion, but this question warranted only one answer: The Corpse Exhibition. There are so many reasons to read this book both social (it’s about the Iraq war from an Iraqi perspective) and literary (Hassan Blasim is, in my mind, an Iraqi Gabriel García Márquez or Julio Cortázar). But ultimately, this collection simply opens you up to something completely new. Just one story in and you know that you’re about to read something that you’ve never seen before.

 

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Happy birthday, America! In honor of our nation turning another year older, we have rounded up some of our favorite birthday picture books.
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Happy Birthday, Cupcake! by Terry Border  
If you loved Terry Border’s debut, Peanut Butter and Cupcake!, then you’re in for a treat: Cupcake is back, and throwing herself a birthday party. The only problem is that it’s hard to think of an idea all of her foodie friends, from Ice Cream toHamburger, would enjoy. Luckily, Cupcake’s best friend, Muffin, has a big surprise up her sleeve. Food puns and visual laughs abound in this picture book that adults will love just as much as kids. (Ages 5-8; available 7/7)
Bernice Gets Carried Away - sharingBernice Gets Carried Away by Hannah E. Harrison
Poor Bernice. We’ve all had days like this: No frosting rose on her cake (even though every other guest at the party got one), the only soda flavor left was prune-grapefruit(yuck!), and the single prize she managed to grab from the piñata was a squished gumdrop. Luckily, a bit of perspective and a little help from her friends is all it takes to pull Bernice out of her sour mood. This gorgeously illustrated picture book is sweet, funny, and a poignant reminder that bad moods are fleeting, especially when you have great friends. (Ages 3-5; available 7/14)
froggys birthday wish - surpriseFroggy’s Birthday Wish by Jonathan London
The night before his birthday, Froggy flop-flop-flopped over to his window and made a birthday wish on the moon. But, when we woke up the next morning, his parents didn’t seem to remember that today was a special day after all. Could everyone have forgotten Froggy’s birthday? Or, just maybe, is there a surprise party waiting for him? (Ages 3-5)
Caterina is my kind of owl. As a fellow Type-A creature, I love watching her make lists, gather supplies, and prepare for the perfect party. Still, you can’t control everything, and Caterina is devastated when a rainstorm washes away all of her tireless planning. The party seems ruined, but when the guests show up and band together to salvage the day, Caterina remembers the most important element of the perfect party—good friends. (Ages 3-5)
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The Night Before My Birthday by Natasha Wing, Illustrated by Amy Wummer
In The Night Before series, Natasha Wing rewrites the classic The Night Before Christmas poem for different holidays and childhood milestones. The Night Before My Birthday opens as one family is putting all of the last-minute touches on the big party. There’s a minor emergency when a kitchen mishap ruins all of the ice cream, but never fear: It’s nothing Dad can’t handle! This rhyming read-aloud captures all of the fun of your birthday boy or girl’s special day—and reminds them that sometimes even great parties hit a snag or two. (Ages 3-5)


Amalia_FrickAmalia Frick hails from Boulder, Colorado and is a Subsidiary Rights Assistant at Penguin Young Readers. In her free time she can be found drinking coffee, pretending to star in her own comedy show, and searching for the perfect popsicle recipe.

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Audacity by Melanie Crowder

I came to this book hesitantly, thinking that a fictional account of a historical hero told in verse might be dry or inaccessible. But within a few pages I was swept away, my reservations forgotten. This is the true story of Clara, a Ukrainian Jewish immigrant to New York City at the turn of the twentieth century who worked in the clothing factories to support her family. Passionate, curious, and tenacious, Clara studied academics after working ten hour shifts, dreaming of becoming a doctor. But she found another purpose as well: advocating for fair working conditions for the factory workers. Facing her family’s disapproval, loss of employment, and brutality at the hands of police, Clara relentlessly fought for women’s rights in the workplace. A true story celebrating kindness and standing up for what is right, Clara’s story will ignite the heart of any reader.

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Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

I’ll admit that I’ve been a little slow to actually pick up this book, but when it won The Newbery Honor, The National Book Award, and the Coretta Scott King Award, I knew it was finally time to move it to the top of my list. This is the story of Jacqueline, an African-American girl who grew up moving from Ohio to South Carolina to New York during the 60s and 70s. Somewhere between lemon-chiffon ice cream cones and learning about Peter Stuyvesant, Woodson finds her brilliance in the stories she tells. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down, transfixed by the story of a girl who grew up to be as passionate and emotive in three lines as she is in thirty.

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So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Anyone who’s spoken with me in the last three months has received some kind of regurgitated nugget from this book. It’s just that relevant. Focusing on the power of social media to shape individual behavior, Ronson interviews people who have been destroyed, professionally and personally, by a maelstrom of tweets. He discusses the actual effectiveness of shame in modifying a someone’s behavior (spoiler alert: it’s low). He investigates the various ways that people recover from shaming–from public figures to private citizens to prisoners. And, most interestingly, he wonders what motivates people to shame others in the first place. This is necessary reading for anyone who has ever felt themselves to be the victim of public shaming. Give it a look, and then share it with that friend of yours whose social media tone is one of Righteous Indignation. (If you don’t have friends like that, congratulations, you’re that friend!)

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The Brothers: The Road To An American Tragedy by Masha Gessen

There are many questions associated with the 2013 bombings at the Boston Marathon carried out brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev. Just as I write this post, Dzhokar, the surviving brother, has been sentenced to death for his involvement. But what happened to these brothers, Chechen immigrants to Boston, turning them from immigrants to terrorists? This is an in-depth investigation that seeks to uncover what went wrong, and how two boys, whom no one could initially believe were involved, came to commit such an act. Masha Gessen’s reporting is detailed and clear, and avoids the sensationalism so readily available. A Russian immigrant herself, Gessen tells of the history of the family, their move to the United States, and the political forces at play with deeply relevant cultural insight. This will completely change the way you think about threats of terrorism facing America today.

 

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Kristen O’Connell is the Sr. Director of Consumer Marketing and Social Media for Penguin Random House. In her free time you can catch her watching or playing tennis, working on her really old house, and spending time with her husband, son and dog.

When I think about my dad and books, I think about my childhood summers and the reading lists he’d assign to me in addition to what my school required. I clearly remember having to reach page 100 in my Little House on the Prairie book before I could join my friends at the pool. It’s not always easy hanging with a teacher on summer vacation when you’re 10, but I thank him for it now! When it comes to books for dad, sports bios and thrillers are always a hit—with the occasional twist thrown in for good measure.

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Tom Clancy Under Fire by Grant Blackwood

Jack Ryan Jr? Check. Political intrigue? Check. A wildly thrilling read from a beloved voice? Check. A no-brainer for dad!

 

 

 

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The Miracle of St. Anthony by Adrian Wojnarowski 

There’s a review of this riveting story of triumph in sports from the Raleigh News and Observer praising the book as “The Friday Night Lights of Hoops.” There’s no truer statement about this riveting examination of a season following Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley’s St. Anthony’s High School basketball team. “Clear eyes, full hearts!”

 

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The Italians by John Hooper

John Hooper’s insightful and often funny look at what makes the people of Italy tick is a wonderful read for Italian-Americans and travel enthusiasts alike. If you grew up watching soccer on the RAI channel like I did, you know Dad will love it.

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You Cannot Be Serious by John McEnroe and James Kaplan

The two most important things my father taught me about tennis was to never be afraid to go to the net (like his beloved Johnny Mac) and don’t loose your temper (like his beloved Johnny Mac). On the court, I’ve often failed on both fronts, but this fantastic memoir from one of the most beloved and reviled characters in American sport is a must-read for fans of the game.

 

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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.

 

excellent-women-by-barbara-pym 2Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

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!

 Start Reading an Excerpt!

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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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See Staff Picks for all our categories!