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Caitlin O’Shaughnessy is an Associate Editor at Viking and works with Clare Ferraro. She acquires and edits commercial fiction, nonfiction and illustrated books, including Sarah Lazarovic’s A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy, which was recently featured on the Today Show.

 

 

 

 

unbecomingUnbecoming, by Rebecca Scherm

This mesmerizing psychological suspense novel follows an irresistible femme fatale from small-town Tennessee to the glamorous art worlds and seedy underbellies of New York and Paris. The perfect follow-up for anyone who’s ready to move on from Gone Girl.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Poser, by Jacob Rubin

When Allison Lorentzen first brought The Poser to our editorial meeting I read a good chunk of this submission and  loved it. Now that it’s finished and is coming out in March 2015, I can’t wait to reread it and see how its evolved through the writing and editing process. The main character, Giovanni Bernini, is able to imitate anyone he encounters and becomes famous for his talents.  Rubin is a great writer with a long career ahead of him and his debut novel  is one to look out for.

 

 

 

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The Secret Place, by Tana French

This isn’t technically literary fiction but The Secret Place is the kind of book that’s so well-written you stay up all night to finish it. This is Tana’s fifth book (Viking also published In The Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place, and Broken Harbor) and I think it’s her best one yet. She captures the dialogue of teenage girls and their text-filled romances in an uncanny way and it’s like a smart, literary version of spending a Saturday afternoon watching Mean Girls.

 

 

 

inventionThe Invention of Exile, by Vanessa Manko

This is a Brooklyn writer who lives up to the hype – Vanessa Manko’s heartrending novel about immigrant struggles in the early 1900s is hard to put down. Incredibly well written and  based on Vanessa’s own family history, it’s a great read and equally good to pass along to a mom or aunt.

 

 

 

 

 

Find more books on the Literary Fiction page!

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9780399163241_large_Pennyroyal_AcademyPlaying make-believe as a kid, I usually dreamt up that I was one of two people:  “the grocery store checkout lady” or “the guy that cleans your windows at the gas station.” Not on the list: the princess. Maybe because I’d never seen one up close? Maybe I was just exceedingly practical? No, it definitely had more to do with princesses being, to my mind, fine but boring. What do they really do all day? Nothing as cool as wielding a squeegee.

Then I read A Little Princess. And not long after that, The Princess Bride. Suddenly, I’d found two “princess stories” that I would read again and again. They were funny, moving, and a little scary, with princesses I cheered for and loved to spend time with. So it felt a little magical when three years ago, Pennyroyal Academy crossed my desk, a submission that instantly reminded of these cherished books. Only then, it was called Pennyroyal’s Princess Bootcamp. It was hilarious and charming, and we knew immediately that we wanted to publish it.

Then in a twist befitting the best fairytales, something even more magical happened: debut novelist M.A. Larson shaped Pennyroyal’s Princess Bootcamp into the extraordinary Pennyroyal Academy, a novel that’s not only sharp and funny, but is a clever Grimm-like fairytale (starring a heroine Sara Crewe and Buttercup would definitely be proud of). The tongue-in-cheek is still there, but so now, too, is an incredible warmth and heart, and a memorable cast of characters, from princesses and knights, to witches and dragons.

We first meet our heroine, Evie, stumbling through an enchanted forest, wearing a dress made of cobwebs, desperate to make her way to the famed Pennyroyal Academy. For the first time in its long history, the academy has lifted its blood restrictions and all are welcome to enroll at this premier training ground for princesses and knights. The school has no choice. With the threat of witches growing stronger every day, they need all the help they can get. But for Evie, life at the academy means enduring a harsh training regimen under the ever-watchful eye of her fairy drillsergeant, while also navigating a new world of friends and enemies. I hope you’ll have as much fun falling into the world of Pennyroyal as I have–this is a story that is surprising, tender, and inspiring, with the affirming message: “You get to decide what you want to be. No one else.” No matter what your make-believe preference, there’s something here for everyone.

ps. If you have 5 minutes (of course you do, you’re reading this!), check out the Pennyroyal website for our Princess Maker and to discover your true princess name:!


sdn1As soon as I finished reading the manuscript of Cristina Moracho’s Althea and Oliver, I knew I had to buy it for Viking. Even in its raw form, it was stunning—a coming-of-age story that combined lyricism and grit, humor and hard truths, and absolutely nailed life at the end of high school, when your tether to family and friends is beginning to fray. I couldn’t believe it was her first novel.

Neither could my colleagues. The word spread from Editorial to Design to Sub Rights to Marketing to Sales, and to my delight I watched every reader become an evangelist. Althea and Oliver is that rare book whose appeal crosses generational lines, and here’s why: It’s not a YA novel so much as a work of literature with teenagers in it.

It’s set in North Carolina, in the mid-1990s. Althea Carter and Oliver McKinley have been best friends since age six. Now, as they come up on their senior year of high school, Althea realizes that she wants more than just best-friendship. Oliver, for his part, wants things to go back to normal—because his body has begun to betray him. When he falls asleep in class and wakes up at home three weeks later with no memory of what has happened, he is finally forced to admit that something is seriously wrong.

And then Althea, who even at her best is an instigator, makes a very bad decision, and their relationship is shattered. Before they can talk it through, Oliver leaves town for a clinical sleep study in Manhattan, resolving to repair whatever is broken in his brain; Althea gets into her battered Camry and drives up the coast after him, determined to make up for what she’s done.

A plot summary can tell you just so much. Molly Templeton, from WORD Bookstores, can tell you more: “I loved it, to the point where I’m a little bit speechless.  I love that it’s a love story that isn’t a romance, and a coming-of-age tale that doesn’t have any too-tidy epiphanies; it felt intimate, accurate, and vivid, like I was living the book along with the characters. I can’t wait to tell people about this one. It’s mind-blowingly good.”Althea&Oliver

And others agree. Althea and Oliver has already gotten three starred reviews, been selected by the Junior Library Guild, has publication deals in six countries—and counting!—and I’ve just received the finished audiobook.

But, of course, the proof is in the prose. If you want to start reading Althea and Oliver right now, EW.com has made it very easy for you. Just click here!


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Meaghan Wagner is an Assistant Editor and has been with Penguin since 2010. She is definitely the MVP of the Penguin Random House Downtown softball team, despite rumors you might have heard to the contrary.

 

 

 

 

 

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Where All Light Tends to Go, by David Joy

Admittedly this is more of a story that has crime and thrills in it, rather than your more traditional thriller, but since it is hands down the upcoming title I am most excited to see coming up, I must include it. David Joy so beautifully etches out the internal struggle between family loyalty and the personal hope for something better against the evocatively etched backdrop of the North Carolina meth trade.

 

 

 

 

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Naked in Death, by J.D. Robb

So this whole series really could go in here, but I figure it’s best to start at the beginning. This is the first series I obsessively collected – starting with the first 10 at a library book sale in 8th grade. I immediately fell in love with tough-as-nails Eve Dallas (and even contemplated getting a copycat tattoo of her famous rose) and her bad-boy Roarke. Robb (the alias for Nora Roberts) has a way of keeping every case fresh and fun and I look forward to the new book’s release *every* year.

 

 

 

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Double Play, by Robert B. Parker

Double Play has everything about a classic Parker- snappy, clever dialogue, great characters, villains you love to hate, intricate mystery – but set around baseball and, of all people, Jackie Robinson.  The plot crackles and seeing Jackie fictionalized is endless fun for a baseball fan like me. With great flashback interludes, it one of the best-written Parker novels I’ve ever read (and that, my friends, is saying something).

 

 

 

 

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Loyalty, by Ingrid Thoft

This book has a special place in my heart – it was the first one I recommended Putnam acquire that we actually bought. After years mired in submission after submission, getting acquainted with Thoft’s tough-but-tender P.I. Fina Ludlow and her unbelievably dysfunctional family was a breath of fresh air. The second book in the series – Identity- came out this summer and the third will follow in 2015. Keep a lookout for Fina!

 

 

 

 

Find more books on the Mystery & Suspense page!

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Linda Cowen staff pick photoI’ve been a publishing lawyer for over 20 years, and at Penguin since 2008. I love to taunt other lawyers by saying things like, “Why yes, I do get paid to read novels all day.” Actually most of my novel reading gets done after hours, on the LIRR. Here are some recent faves:

 

 

 

9780143125242MLena Finkle’s Magic Barrel, by Anya Ulinich

Who says graphic novels have to be about super heroes (although some of us may regard Lena Finkle as one)? This wonderfully immersive story lets you experience what Lena’s life just as she does—saying one thing out loud and thinking something else at the same time. In this age of multi-media, it’s a pleasant surprise to see how “interactive” two dimensions can be. Best enjoyed in paper.

 

 

 

 

theoryA Working Theory of Love, by Scott Hutchins

Did you like the movie “Her?” Do you worry about whether/how much we can be replaced by robots? Do you believe in reincarnation? If you ponder any of these questions, this book is for you. It juxtaposes our most human hopes and fears alongside the possibility of the most advanced technology. Technology marches inexorably toward us, but the human heart beats on.

 

 

 

 

9780142180822MWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler

If you can, get someone to rip the cover off this book before you read it (or advance your ereader past the cover page) and don’t read a single thing about it. I read this after it was announced as the winner of the 2014 Pen/Faulkner Award with no other knowledge about it. At first I thought I’d “gotten” it right away. Then it took a turn I didn’t see coming and I had to take a break and send copies to my two best friends so that they would read it along with me.

 

 

 

shirleyShirley: A Novel, by Susan Scarf Merrell

Who among us lovers of literary fiction has not imagined what it would have been like to hang around with our favorite authors of the mid-20th Century? You know, when authors were revered, and their lives were private. Susan Scarf Merrell took it one step further. After mining archives including letters and journals, she re-creates the world of author Shirley Jackson and her husband Stanley Edgar Hyman, inserting a fictional couple into their life.  Step inside this novel and see what happens when a writer asks herself “what if…”

 

 

 

9781594205712MEverything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

Where can a book that begins with tragedy go?  A teenage girl is dead; it’s not a place I really want to visit. And yet Celeste Ng captivates page by page. She’s never maudlin or melodramatic. Instead she unfolds this sad story in such a way that makes us appreciate her characters and want to see how they will make sense of what’s happened. Even though you know the ending won’t change the beginning—this isn’t a book about miracles—you will not want to abandon this family.

 

 

 

 

goodlordThe Good Lord Bird, by James McBride

I want to make a special plug for the audio version of this one. This book is full of outrageous characters speaking in dialect circa the 1850s, and hearing it brings it to life in a way that most of us can’t possibly create in our 21st Century minds. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that there can be a new way to tell an oft-told tale, but this narrator tells us story of John Brown’s fight against slavery in a way that makes the whole story completely fresh and new. This is neither middle school social studies nor “costume drama” historical fiction—it is vital, moving, thought provoking and raucous. Listen to it and you will see the story unfold in your mind’s eye as if you were watching the year’s Best Picture.

 

Find more books on the Literary Fiction page!

See Staff Picks for all our categories! 



TheLostWifeWhen writing novels, one never knows where inspiration will strike.   A few years ago, I was well into my research for a book on the ways that Jewish artists managed to create art during the Holocaust, when I overheard a story at the local hair salon about a couple who were separated at the beginning of the war with each of them being told that the other had perished. Sixty years later, they miraculously were reunited at the wedding of their respective grandchildren.  When I overheard that story, I felt like I had been struck by lightning.  My mind was filled with so many questions: why had this couple each believed the other had died? What was their initial love story? What were their second love stories that produced the children who were now the parents of the grandchildren getting married?  And most importantly, how did they each survive World War II?

This story would end up being the bookends for my novel The Lost Wife, into which I invented the lovers’ histories both before and after their separation.

I wanted to draw in my readers by evoking the same questions that I had after initially hearing that story.  I wanted those questions to propel them into the same journey I too would undertake while crafting the body of the novel.

TheGardenofLettersThe inspiration for my new novel The Garden of Letters, also began after hearing a story that ignited my curiosity.  While at a dinner party, a friend shared with me the details about how her father had escaped from Hungry through Italy during WWII with forged papers that their family had spent their entire life savings on.  When my friend’s father arrived in Portofino, German guards were scrutinizing everyone’s papers so carefully that he was sure he was going to be arrested.

Suddenly, out from the crowd, a big barrel-chested Italian man cried: “Cousin, cousin, I’ve been waiting for you all week.  Thank heaven’s you’ve come!”

He was able to whisk my friend’s father away and take him back to his home on the cliffs of Portofino.

When my friend’s father asked this man why he had saved him, for clearly he wasn’t his cousin, the man replied:  “I try to come to the port every month.  I try to save the person who looks the most afraid.”

When I heard that story I immediately thought it would make an amazing beginning to a novel.  I imagined the two people whose lives intersect at this occupied Italian port.    One fleeing and in need of shelter.  The other a person who sees that fear and sets upon helping him.   “The Garden of Letters” opens with my young heroine being saved from the Germans at the Portofino port by a doctor.

As in all my novels, I wanted my main character to possess a creative gift.  With The Lost Wife, I explored how art could be used as a form of Resistance against the Nazis.  In The Garden of Letters, I explore how music could be used.

My main character Elodie, is a young cellist who sends coded messages for the Italian Resistance through her performances And the book explores the many creative ways essential information was transmitted during the war.

When I traveled to Italy to meet with partisans and female messengers who were involved in the Resistance, I was introduced to a person who shared with me another unusual way information was sent during the war.  Giovanni Pellizzato, whose grandfather was both a bookseller and an active member of the Italian Resistance, described how codes were cleverly hidden throughout the pages of a book, and how within the back shelves of his father’s bookstore many of the books had their paper carved out to create a space where pistols were stored inside.  This information was so intriguing to me, it inspired the character of the bookseller, Luca, in The Garden of Letters.

As storytellers, we’re responsible for crafting narratives that bring our readers into a world that transport and hopefully inform.  As writers, however, we must also be open to all the stories that surround us, for everyone has a unique history to share.



JDG SUN photoI’ll Give You the Sun made me realize just how many new YA readers, teens and adults both, had never heard of The Sky is Everywhere.

It’s been over four years since Sky, Jandy Nelson’s debut, made everything crystalline for me.  I used to have the hardest time explaining to agents and authors what I wanted beyond “really, really good manuscripts,” which is like having an online dating profile saying you like to do “really, really fun stuff.”  It was The Sky is Everywhere that broke it open for me.  I made everyone read it—my best friend, my teenage cousins, my husband, my mother, my grandpa (I have a kickass 96-year-old grandpa).  I began to tell people, “This.  This is what I want.  Novels like The Sky is Everywhere.”  Little did I know then that I’d get to work with Jandy Nelson herself one day, and that her second book, I’ll Give You the Sun, wouldn’t just break it open for me, it would break my effing heart.

I’ll Give You the Sun is a soaring, pinwheeling, forget-where-you-are, steal-your-breath, feel-it-in-your-bones, transcendent, transporting whirlwind.  It’s the kind of novel that makes you cry through the happy parts as much as the sad parts for the sheer depth of feeling, sheer aliveness of its characters, sheer boldness of its telling.  Reading it, I had the same falling-headlong feeling, the same zap of recognition I’d had at eighteen when I read Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat for the first time.  This is the kind of novel that stays with you, that you read over and over again.  It’s the kind of novel that lasts.

The voices here are the voices of two teen fraternal twins, one a boy, one a girl, telling their stories from two different, crucial points in time—one from before the event that changed their lives and one from after.  Both are magical, visceral, pop-off-the-page voices—so hard to find.  To do justice to these siblings, Jandy essentially wrote one novel, then another novel, and then wove those two novels together to create a third, I’ll Give You the Sun.  No wonder it took her four years.

It was The Sky is Everywhere that brought me to Jandy Nelson, and I’ll Give You the Sun that will make me stay with her.  What this novel accomplishes is raw and rare, and it will change some readers’ lives.  Is it too much to say that I’ll Give You the Sun redefines the boundaries of what makes a YA novel YA?  Nah, I’d say that’s just about right on target.

Read More Posts From the Editor’s Desk.


JillSantopoloThe concept of love is universal. And the idea of being free to love whomever you choose has been battled for centuries in many different countries on many different platforms. At its heart, that’s what Atia Abawi’s The Secret Sky is about—the freedom to love.

This book was inspired by many real events, but the reason it exists is because of a New York Times article published in July of 2011 called “In Afghanistan, Rage at Young Lovers.”  The article is about two teenagers from different ethnic groups who met in an ice cream factory and whose romance incited a riot of three hundred people that called for the teens’ death by stoning. Michael Green, Philomel’s publisher, came into my office with that article and said, “Have you read this?” (I had.) Then he said, “I think there’s a novel here. Do you know anyone who could write us a forbidden teen romance set in Afghanistan?” I figured the ideal person to write this kind of story was someone who was Afghan and who had spent a considerable amount of time in Afghanistan, but also grew up speaking English. And, of course, was a professional writer. Not necessarily the easiest person to find. I went through my mental rolodex and landed on Nick, a college friend who was then living in Islamabad and Kabul, reporting for ABC News. I thought perhaps he might know someone, so I sent him an email. He, in turn, sent an email to Atia Abawi. She was an Afghan-American journalist living in Kabul, reporting for NBC, and had been wanting to write a novel based on her experiences. Nick had found my ideal author for this project.

He connected me with Atia, and the result was The Secret Sky, inspired, in part, by the Times piece, but mostly inspired by the people and the villages that Atia visited during her five years reporting from Afghanistan. The story, which follows Fatima, a Hazara girl, and Samiullah, a Pashtun boy, as they fight their families, their village’s traditions, and the local Taliban to stay together, is not real, but it could have been. In fact, this past year, in March, The New York Times ran another article about forbidden love in Afghanistan, this one called “2 Star-Crossed Afghans Cling to Love, Even at Risk of Death,” which details a very similar story: two young people from a rural village whose declaration of love put them—and their families—in grave danger. 

What is most powerful about The Secret Sky is that it is so real. It captures, in beautiful, raw prose, what’s happening today, a fourteen-hour plane ride from New York City.  I’ve been editing books for the past decade, and I think Atia Abawi’s The Secret Sky is the one that has most changed me. It made me think—really think—about the privileges I take for granted every day and about how different my life would be if I had been born in a rural Afghan village.

I know this is a book about teenagers, written with a teenage audience in mind, but I think it will appeal to readers of all ages. As of the writing of this piece, The Secret Sky has already received a starred review pre-publication from Publishers Weekly and advanced praise from journalists and AtiaAbawi_TheSecretSkynovelists alike.  The power in Atia’s words has touched so many readers already. I’ll leave you with one of those reactions, from Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent and anchor of Andrea Mitchell Reports. She said:

The Secret Sky brilliantly captures the magic and the heartbreak of Afghanistan as only someone rooted in its mystery can….This first novel by a top foreign correspondent has the authenticity of raw journalism and the poetry of a gifted writer.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Start Reading The Secret Sky here!