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!

FullSizeRenderKellie Schirmer is Director of Trade Production for The Berkley Publishing Group. Originally from Western NY, she now resides in Bergen County, NJ. When not making books…or reading books… she enjoys genealogy, baking, and travel.


9780141392462The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Originally published in 1844-1845, The Count of Monte Cristo revolves around a young man named Edmund Dantes, whose future is bright. He’s just been promoted and is soon to be married to a beautiful woman, but on the very day of his wedding, he’s accused of a crime he did not commit and is taken away….for a loooong time. Unbeknownst to him, three of his acquaintances, each jealous of him for different reasons, had banded together and plotted against him.

This book is often described as “the ultimate revenge story” and that may be true…the core of the story revolves around Dantes, his transformation into the “Count of Monte Cristo” and how he goes about punishing those who wronged him…but in my opinion, it’s also a story of adventure, friendship, envy, jealousy, love (and love lost), death, loyalty and deceit. Whew!

There are many versions of this book floating around, but if you are interested in a great read I’m recommending you pick up the Penguin Classics Unabridged edition, translated (and with notes and intro) by Robin Buss. The translation is excellent — the 200+ year old story reads as though it was written in present day – and the notes section is exhaustive, which saved me a lot of Googling!)

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9781101075821 2Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

“What do you mean, ‘Angle of Repose?’ she asked me when I dreamed we were talking about Grandmother’s life, and I said it was the angle at which a man or woman finally lies down. I suppose it is; and yet … I thought when I began, and still think, that there was another angle in all those years when she was growing old and older and very old, and Grandfather was matching her year for year, a separate line that did not intersect with hers. They were vertical people, they lived by pride, and it is only by the ocular illusion of perspective that they can be said to have met. But he had not been dead two months when she lay down and died too, and that may indicate that at that absolute vanishing point they did intersect. They had intersected for years, for more than he especially would ever admit.”

Published in 1971 and awarded the Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction in 1972, Angle Of Repose may be one the most beautifully written stories I’ve ever read. The story’s narrator is Lyman Ward, a former history professor who was forced to retire due to health issues. He moves into his deceased grandparents’ home and begins organizing their personal effects. As he reads through his grandmother’s correspondence, he reflects on his own life and marriage while imagining his grandparents life living in various mining towns in the west at a time when the land was still wild and untamed.

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9780142437254 2On the Road by Jack Kerouac

It took me a long time to pick up On the Road but once I did, I was diggin’ it! There has been so much written about this book, there’s probably nothing more I can add that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll let Kerouac speak for himself. The plot is a simple one….the adventures of two guys criss-crossing the country….but it’s the way the story is told….the frenetic pace….that keeps you turning the page:

“Sal, we gotta go and never stop going ’till we get there.’

‘Where we going, man?’

‘I don’t know but we gotta go.”

“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was – I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.”

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

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The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution and The Federalist Papers

9780143121961 2I’ve always been interested in the historical, but the last few years I find myself interested in the Founding Fathers and the early years of our country. I’ve been reading Ron Chernow’s bio of George Washington, and waiting patiently for the new season of AMC’s Turn.

9780143121978 2I had  been wanting to read The Federalist Papers (which are a series of essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, making the case for the Constitution) but  I found them a bit daunting. So when I came across these two volumes the other day, I was very excited. Both are annotated by Professor Richard Beeman, who provides context and notes making the text easy to digest. If you have even a passing interest, I would recommend  you check these out. You will be pleasantly surprised.

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Reinhart_bioColleen Reinhart is a Designer at Berkley NAL and reads more books than her tiny Brooklyn apartment can hold.



The Book of Other People edited by Zadie Smith 

The premise of The Book of Other People is delightfully simple: make somebody up, write a story about them and then name that story after them. The collection is full of gems but among my favorites is gorgeous comic Jordan Wellington Lint by Chris Ware that follows a boy from birth to age thirteen, the heartbreaking Puppy by George Saunders which depicts two mothers struggling to care for their families, and the hilarious Roy Spivey by Miranda July about a woman’s encounter with a famous actor on an airplane.





My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki 

I love when fiction tackles topics that most would shy away from if packaged in a non-fiction context. Take for example Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats. The heroine, Jane Takagi-Little, is a documentary filmmaker stuck working on a show that peddles beef to Japanese housewives by showing “wholesome and attractive” Americans cooking and eating it. Throughout the production of the show Jane struggles with the limited America she is promoting while discovering unsavory truths about the beef industry. Things really start to get interesting when Jane has the opportunity to direct and defies her bosses’ directions.




My Education by Susan Choi 

The premise of Susan Choi’s novel may sound familiar, young grad student Regina falls for charismatic older professor, But the book takes a sharp turn when the beautiful and angry professor’s wife Martha is introduced and the reader sees that the real attraction is between Martha and Regina. Choi uses their tumultuous relationship to explore the way opinions of love and desire change as you age and gain more experience. She stresses this even more in the final part of the book, which jumps 15 years into the future, when Martha and Regina are meeting again as equals.

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Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr.

Everything Matters! reads like a “what if” question. “What if you had voices in your head that told you the world was going to end when you turned 36?” That’s exacrtly what happens to Junior Thibodeau who has had these voices telling him about the future since he was still in his mother’s womb. This special “ability” makes Junior question the point of concepts like loyalty, love and devotion when the world faces certain demise. Even though the set-up sounds incredibly dark, Currie keeps it from being so by embedding Junior with an incredible wit. Currie is in on the cosmic joke and he invites you to laugh with him.

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Little Women by Louisa May Alcott 

I had to include Little Women because it’s the first book I ever fell in love with. The family at the center is instantly relatable even though the four sisters fit into archetypal molds so easily. The oldest, Meg March, is the “good” daughter who follows all the rules, Jo is the rebel, tomboy author, Beth is the desperately shy one and Amy is the spoiled, beautiful artist. The book follows them as they fight, fall in love, put on plays, deal with loss, get married, have children of their own, and discover what it means for them to be women.

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Bri1Bri Lockhart is a Marketing Coordinator at Penguin Young Readers focusing on young adult and middle grade titles. Born and raised in New Jersey, Bri spends most of her time reading, writing about pop culture, and watching horror movies. If you stop hearing from her, it’s because the book piles have fallen over and smothered her to death in the night.




The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

I’m a huge fan of Andrew Smith’s b-movie style coming-of-age story Grasshopper Jungle, so I wasn’t surprised that I adored The Alex Crow. The Alex Crow follows Ariel, a refugee that finds himself in a tech detox camp thanks to his adoptive family. Ariel’s story has the same genre-bending style as Grasshopper Jungle, but packs a powerful emotional punch—something that might not be wholly expected from a book that boasts about featuring a depressed, bionic, reincarnated crow.

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Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Ally, ashamed of her trouble with reading, acts out in class to distract her teachers from the problem at hand. When the substitute teacher Mr. Daniels walks in, he sees Ally’s troubles for what they are and helps her learn to work around her dyslexia and develop confidence again. Reading Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s sophomore novel will make you want to hug both the book and your favorite teachers.

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Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Ruta Sepetys is a master when it comes to historical fiction—anyone who has read Between Shades of Gray or her upcoming Salt to the Sea can attest to that. Her sophomore effot Out of the Easy tells the story of Josie, the daughter of a prostitute in 1950’s New Orleans, who wants nothing more than to get out of the Big Easy—a dream that might be dashed when a mysterious dead body makes an appearance in the Quarter. A savvy heroine, the New Orleans backdrop, and a dash of noir add up to one compelling read.

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Pom Pom Panda Gets the Grumps by Sophy Henn

There are some days (like yesterday, for instance) where everything is going wrong and there’s nothing you can do to stop that black cloud from following you around. Pom Pom gets it. Like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day, Pom Pom Panda Gets the Grumps shows us that bad days are universal (even among adorable pandas) but usually temporary.





The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

I’m fascinated by the psychology behind cults, so The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly was an auto-read for me. Jumping between the present day at a juvenile detention center after the murder of the cult leader and the past under the Kevinian Cult, Stephanie Oakes’s debut explores the dangers of blind faith and what happens when someone challenges those beliefs. I couldn’t put it down.

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Brianna Kelly is a Production Assistant for Berkley Publishing Group. Her words to live by are those of Ms. Amy Poehler: “Kiss every baby, and pet every dog. Walk slowly, and lie down when you’re tired.”



The Aeneid by Virgil

Many people have read Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, but far fewer have read Virgil’s The Aeneid, which chronicles the journey of the defeated Trojan army after their city has been sacked (thanks, Odysseus.) If you enjoyed the epic poems of Homer, you are doing yourself a disservice by not reading Virgil’s tale. After the destruction of their homeland, Aeneas and his army sail from place to place, looking to find somewhere to start a new city. Along the way they encounter kings and queens who try to help and hinder his quest. Of course the gods and goddesses are heavily involved as well—Venus, the goddess of love, is the mother of Aeneas and tries to protect him from Juno, the queen of the gods, who hates all Trojans. Despite the interference of gods and humans alike, Aeneas follows his destiny of settling in Italy where the Roman empire will one day be founded.



A Doll’s House and Other Plays by Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was first performed in 1879, but it is so progressive and sympathetic to the rights of women that it could have been written today. Nora and Torvald Helmer are a married, middle-class couple with three children living in 19th century Norway. Although she is living a relatively comfortable life that society has told her to aspire to, Nora is not happy. This play encapsulates the frustration and oppression of women like Nora, who are smart and capable but who society does its best to restrict. The ending of this play genuinely surprised me, especially given the fact that it was written at this time, and by a man.  It is still so relevant today, and with two of Ibsen’s other plays included in the text as well, this book is a great introduction to his works.




A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay positing that the poor people of Ireland should sell their babies for the rich to eat is so over-the-top macabre that you cannot help but laugh the whole way through. Swift wanted to skewer the way the wealthier people of Ireland would discuss its impoverished population as if they were livestock, without thought to their humanity. Why not just buy and eat their babies? That way the poor would get some extra money while also getting rid of an extra mouth to feed. It makes perfect sense! Swift lays out his argument so well that you could almost imagine someone making the argument seriously.  It’s like an Onion article for the 18th century.




Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

This book is one of my favorites. No matter how many times I read it, it always makes me happy, sad, and mad—mad mostly because I will never get over who Laurie ends up marrying. The story follows the lives of the four young March sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. Living in Civil War-era New England, the girls each struggle with something different as they grow up. The thing I like best about this book is that there is really no antagonist other than the perils of real life. It’s refreshing to read a sweet story about very realistically flawed but essentially good people who are doing the best they can to be happy and good. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of drama though; life for the March sisters is not easy and tragedy befalls them just like any other family. If you haven’t already read it, do yourself a favor and just read it. If you’ve already enjoyed it, read it again!

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Katherine PerkinsKatherine Perkins is an Assistant Editor at Putnam Books for Young Readers. With parents in engineering and medicine and four siblings, Katherine is (so far) the only one in her family to choose a career in the arts over the sciences.  She’s also the only one of them in multiple book clubs (these two facts are probably related).



Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley 

Robin McKinley is one of my favorite fantasy writers, and Rose Daughter was the first novel of hers I read. It’s a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and it contains plenty of elements you won’t find in the Disney version: this Beauty has two sisters, a green thumb, and a terrifying dream that has plagued her since childhood—and that just might hold the key to her (and her Beast’s) fate. What I love about Robin’s writing is that her settings and characters are richly layered and gorgeously spun, and her stories have a just-rightness to them that’s utterly satisfying. Fun fact: Robin has actually written two Beauty and the Beast retellings (the other, Beauty, was published 20 years before this one) and they’re each unique.




Orleans by Sherri L. Smith

Set in New Orleans in the not-so-distant future, this story imagines a world where a series of weather catastrophes and a devastating blood virus have turned the Gulf Coast into a quarantine zone. The region’s survivors live in tribes according to blood type. The story alternates between fifteen-year-old Fen, who’s alone with an orphaned baby after her tribe is ambushed, and Daniel, a scientist from outside the quarantine who’s illegally crossed the Wall to find a cure to the fever. Their stories converge in a way that evokes The Walking Dead (in other words: riveting). Sherri Smith is an incredible worldbuilder, and her brutal version of the Big Easy is both fantastically strange and terrifyingly realistic.

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Chime by Franny Billingsley

This is the story of Briony, a girl who happens to be a witch. A well-intentioned witch, but a witch nonetheless. Her witchy inclinations toward evil have caused the death of her stepmother and robbed her twin sister, Rose, of her wits. Chime is by turns creepy and whimsical, and even a little romantic; you’ll see what I mean when you read it. It also features one of my favorite literary elements: an unreliable narrator.





My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales edited by Kate Bernheimer

You may have noticed that I kind of have a thing for fairy tales. Besides, doesn’t this title just make you want to huddle under the blankets on a stormy October night and read by flashlight? This is a collection of short stories by some of today’s top fiction writers (including Neil Gaiman, Kevin Brockmeier, Karen Joy Fowler) that reimagine classic fairy stories for a modern adult audience. If fairy tales are at their core about the things that enchant and revolt us, that mystify us and reveal truths about our human nature—then this collection does all of the above.





The Last Star by Rick Yancey

The finale to the 5th Wave series won’t be released until next summer, but I’m giving you notice now that you will need to schedule yourself an uninterrupted block of time to devour this. If you haven’t read The 5th Wave or The Infinite Sea yet, you have time to catch up.  It’s a sci fi series about the alien apocalypse, which might sound familiar, but I can promise this is like nothing you’ve read—it’s gut-wrenchingly intense and utterly gripping. Rick Yancey is a master at orchestrating plot twists that will make you fling your book at the wall right before you snatch it up again to find out what happens next. Also: The 5th Wave movie hits theaters in January!



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FullSizeRenderAmy Brinker is the senior coordinator for the consumer engagement group at Penguin Random House. She lives in Brooklyn where she makes pie and puns. She loves classic novels and terrible movies.


Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Pretty sure all my friends and coworkers are tired of hearing me talk about this book. I picked it up, not really knowing what to expect, and just got sucked into this weird momentum of excitement and dread. In the middle of summer, I leapt into a cold, desolate New England town and got lost in Eileen’s story. This may be a debut novel, but Moshfegh is masterful and frank and completely herself in every sentence. Not for the faint of heart, because it is quite dark, but it’s brave and fascinating and evocative, and I can’t recommend it enough. Listen to me interview Ottessa on Beaks & Geeks!

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A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

This book! This book. What a gorgeous and inventive novel. I love how deftly Ozeki holds the together the different threads of her plot and her tenderness towards the characters. Following a writer in the pacific-northwest and a teenager from Japan, this novel spans time and continents. The story slips between the realistic and the fantastic without ever leaving the reader lost. It’s also a gorgeous meditation on finding peace while coping with the stress of being a person.

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My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Now that the fourth in this series is out, it seems like everyone’s got Ferrante fever, but I was late to the party and have only read the first so far. My Brilliant Friend reads like a classic written years ago – it’s substantial, graceful, and complete. The setting is a chaotic neighborhood in 1950’s Naples, and the story follows two girls whose friendship and life prospects change over the years. The titular friend is a force of nature – blindingly brilliant, occasionally cruel, and entirely fascinating.





NW by Zadie Smith

NW is a wonderful novel/snapshot of a vibrant neighborhood – it follows four characters, all with complicated, tangled lives. The reader sees them interact, break away, struggle, and reconcile. Zadie Smith’s writing is clear, generous, and cutting, and always feels very true.

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

This was my first Shirley Jackson, and it knocked me back on my heels. I gobbled it up whole. This short book is immediately creepy and atmospheric in a very specific way. Actually, Eileen grabbed me partially because its tone reminded me of this book. We Have Always Lived in the Castle also hits all my favorite notes: creepy precocious teenager? Check. Beautiful and decadent family home falling into decrepitude? Check. MURDER MOST FOUL? Check check check check

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11707530_10153497905508829_2395704105725950779_nSarah is a web designer at Penguin. Her life revolves around design, reading, writing, music, travel, running, and TV shows. A lot of that life ends up on the Internet.


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The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

Bored and unhappy at a weekend wedding, Nora wanders away and accidentally ends up stepping into another world. This new world is filled with magic and beauty and love and everything a fairytale is supposed to be. She’s quickly taken in until one disastrous night shatters the looking glass and sends her fleeing for her life. She’s taken in by a grumpy and powerful magician and finds herself in the middle of a war and learning real magic to survive. Nora takes a practical approach to her situation even when her heart gets mixed in. She’s smart and relatable even when she’s being bewitched. It’s the kind of book that makes you wonder how you would react if you took a walk in the woods and found your way to another realm. It’s a fun question to think about and a fun read.

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The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

After the death of her best friend, Shahrzad volunteers to marry the murderer. Shiva isn’t his first victim either. Khalid, the king of kings, marries a new girl every night and has her killed every dawn. Shahrzad desires revenge, but something stops both of them from carrying out their plans. What unfolds is a complicated, heart wrenching relationship given Shahrzad and Khalid both had murderous intent on their wedding night. More secrets are revealed as they both learn things aren’t as simple as they imagined. The story is rich and beautifully told with a touch of magic. Just as Scheherazade from Arabian Nights, on which this book is based, would want.

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The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

Here at Penguin, we get a lot of books. We can request books, we are given books, and we often find books. I requested this book, but by the time it reached my desk I didn’t remember doing so. I read the description and knew why I had asked for it, but I didn’t quite realize how much I would thank my forgetful past self. The Midnight Queen tells the story of a slightly alternative England where magick is commonplace and Oxford University’s Merlin College is the premiere place to learn it. After a dangerous evening ends in the death of a fellow student and strips Grey of his power, he’s sent to spend the summer out of the way at his professor’s estate. There, he meets the professor’s daughter Sophie, who has been teaching herself magick in secret and against her father’s wishes. Their meeting and discovery of an assassination plot sets them off on an adventure filled with secrets, a little romance, and some of the most powerful magick of the age. It’s a fast read that I finished in a few days and had tremendous fun reading. It’s part of a series and fortunately the next book, Lady of Magick, was released just a few days ago.

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Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, adapted by: Philip Pullman

Who doesn’t love a good fairytale? Who doesn’t love the strange and creepy original Grimm’s stories retold by one of your favorite authors? That’s exactly how I feel about this collection. Pullman is the author of the His Dark Materials series, which are the books that I give as my favorite even though it’s impossible to choose just one. He has created some of the most incredible and complex worlds in his previous works, and now he brings that same feeling into this collection. He puts his own spin and fantastic storytelling onto the classic tales everyone knows and some of the ones no one has ever heard before. Make sure you read Pullman’s notes at the end of each tale!



The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Like some of the other characters on this list, Quentin also discovers a world of magic. He is accepted at Brakebills College, which is college—with all the extracurricular activities that entails—plus magic. Students still pull all-nighters, spend a semester abroad, make friends, drink too much, and make questionable relationship choices. But it’s not quite as magical as he imagined after growing up reading a series of Narnia-like books. Once they’ve graduated, Quentin and his friends set off to find their Narnia. If the world of Harry Potter hides its magic, in The Magicians’ world magic is just there out of the corner of your eye where you don’t notice it. I know everyone recommends this one, but I just can’t see my list of magical titles without it. Especially now the entire trilogy is available, which makes the series perfect for a binge read. And you’ll want to read them all in one sitting just to see Quentin go from sullen teenager into capable magician.

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525671_584447470707_901838343_nMelissa Faulner is an Assistant Editor in Dutton Children’s Books. A “spiritual New Yorker” who grew up five miles from the beach in Florida, as a child she preferred to spend her free time indoors and her allowance on hilariously ambitious books like Middlemarch (when she was twelve). When she’s not reading on trains, she can be found baking, listening to podcasts, or finally watching tv shows that everyone has been raving about for years. (I finally get it! Mad Men is amazing!)


Persuasion, by Jane Austen

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Though Pride and Prejudice is, of course, the gateway drug of (almost) all Austenites, it’s Austen’s oldest heroine, the quiet, thoughtful Anne Elliot, who remains my truest love. Persuaded at a young age to reject the marriage proposal of a poor sailor named Wentworth whom she loved, Persuasion opens when twenty-seven-year-old Anne Elliot is suddenly thrust back into an acquaintance with the now Captain Wentworth. Representing a huge shift in Austen’s representation of wealth and aristocracy as a savior for her heroines (spoiler: it’s not), Persuasion is a novel about regret, longstanding affection, and coming to terms with the mistakes we make when we’re young. It’s also about dark, brooding sea captains and unrequited love, so, I mean, it really doesn’t get much better than that.

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White Noise by Don DeLillo

Though it falls under my pet peeve category of “Novels about navel-gazing white men having a mid-life crisis,” White Noise grabbed me and shook me apart the first time I read it. Set in a Midwestern college town, the book chronicles a period of time in the life of college professor Jack Gladney, a Hitler studies professor who’s only now taking German lessons, and is in constant fear of the death of his fifth wife Babette. Our “modern” obsession with distraction and consumption, our struggles with our own mortality, the looming possibility of death-by-a-manmade-airborne-toxic-event—it’s all there, and it’s a wild, glorious revelation.

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Savvy by Ingrid Law

One of my absolute favorite books of all time is the Newbery Honor–winning Savvy by Ingrid Law. Readers are introduced to almost-thirteen-year-old Mississippi “Mibbs” Beaumont and her family, all of whom are born with a special ability—a savvy—that reveals itself on their thirteenth birthday. As Mibbs wonders and worries over what her own savvy will be, she must also journey to save her father. Brilliantly told and filled with the sort of beautifully imagined magical realism that serves to highlight the humanity of its characters, Savvy is soul-warming, and has within its pages one of my favorite scenes in a book of all time.

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I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Even though it was still in ARCs, everyone here was already buzzing about  I’ll Give You the Sun by the time I finally read it. Jandy Nelson’s stellar young adult novel, which won the Printz Award this year, follows the rift in the relationship between fraternal twins Noah and Jude, who had once been inseparable. Breathtaking, almost poetic prose, along with vivid explorations of art and love and death, this is one of those books that gives you that anxious, fluttery “I can’t believe it’s really this good” feeling when you read it. I cried through the last twenty pages, and then, when I’d finally finished, gave it a big hug.

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Middlemarch by George Elliot

The story of a fictitious provincial town and its residents, Middlemarch primarily centers on the life and marriage of Dorothea Brooke. I’ll admit that I only know a bit more about the plot than that, and am reluctant to learn too much more since I’m FINALLY reading it! It may have taken me almost two decades, but it’s finally happening. Unfortunately, at about eight hundred pages, it might be another year before I actually finish it.

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Maggie Rosenthal_photoMaggie Rosenthal is an Editorial Assistant at Viking Children’s Books. A lifelong New Yorker, she loves discovering new worlds in books, trying her hand at new recipes, and – most importantly – eating.


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The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

If, like myself, you are a longtime lover of fairytales, there is no one better to rip apart your idyllic childhood memories of story time than Angela Carter – in the most gruesomely satisfying way possible. Carter transmutes classic stories into the stuff of nightmares, but she does it with evocative and nuanced artistry. When I first read this collection, it alternately gave me chills and a sense of hope. In Carter’s able hands, the passive heroine of old is transformed into a decisive and self-assured one.  The Bloody Chamber brings new life to tales that, love them as I do, often get retold over and over again without much reimagining. Carter brings imagination to the table by the truckload.



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The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

This is the ultimate revenge story. As shameful as it might be to admit, there are few things on this good green earth as gratifying as a hard-won revenge. Add to that some romance, drama of the highest order, and gritty determination and you have a deeply rewarding classic. I imagine Edmond Dantes as a mixture of Bear Grylls and Tim Gunn; he does whatever he needs to in order to survive, but he does it with panache. His escape from the Château d’If after his wrongful imprisonment and methodical decimation of the people who put him there had me on the edge of my seat. I think I first read this when I was in middle school, when it fed my need for adventure, and then again in college, when I could better appreciate the beautiful writing (even though I read it in translation) – which just goes to show that it can be appreciated on so many levels.

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The Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker

In a dark mood? Don’t read Dorothy Parker. Or do – maybe her sadistic sense of humor can knock you out of it. In one example, she writes with an almost frivolous honesty in a catchy poem about suicide. You can probably tell right there if she’s the writer for you. I think what I like most about Dorothy Parker is her expansive wit and perceptive eye, which never feel cloying or burdensome to me. She was a fascinating woman and I’m still finding out interesting things about her. Did you know she bequeathed her estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Well! She also attempted suicide many times, which tint her writings with a sadness for the woman behind the words, but they also draw out an earnestness in them that might be missed if one knew nothing about her. There’s always so much to discover about her, and I urge you to dip into her world if you can.


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Ivanhoe by Walter Scott

Maybe I’m a glutton for antiquated writing styles, but I was amazed at how much fun I had reading Ivanhoe. I know: “fun” and “the Norman Conquest” don’t often go together, but trust me on this one. Our protagonist, Ivanhoe, has just returned from the Crusades and gets himself embroiled in the struggle between Richard Coeur de Lion and his brother, John, so clearly this is a story of epic proportions. This read does require a bit of stamina (a modern-day Penguin editor would grab the garden shears and have a field day cutting this one down), but it still has a place in my heart. It’s a great historical piece, but it also has some of my favorite kickass heroines: Rebecca and Rowena. While Scott unfortunately does not avoid all 19th century stereotypes, he won me over with Rebecca, the young, fiercely independent, and wise-beyond-her-years Jewish woman battling the wants of the heart and the prejudice of her time. Now who could resist that?


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The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Here is a real romance. And I mean that in the sense that everything about this book is romantic, from a passionate love of books to the sparks that fly between these vivid characters. I’ve never been to Spain – let alone traveled back in time – but the story of young Daniel uncovering the history of a mysterious book in 1945 Barcelona comes alive off the page. There are some truly heart-pounding and heart-wrenching moments in this book. The writing is lush and the ending is rewarding. The Shadow of the Wind is what I call a good “any time” book. Looking for something fun and distracting? Read this. Looking for something thought-provoking? Read this. Now, I’m not trying to tell you what to do…but read this.

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