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Sarah Jean Grimm is an Associate Publicist at Putnam, where she has worked for two years. She also edits on an online poetry quarterly, Powder Keg Magazine. Originally from New Jersey, she now lives in Brooklyn with her orange cat, Theodore.

 

 

 

 

we-are-all-completely-beside-ourselves-by-karen-joy-fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

This is one of the most emotionally intelligent novels I’ve ever encountered. It had me crying in public as I read it on my commute, and I still find myself thinking about its deeply captivating characters. It’s hard to articulate the particular appeal of this novel without giving away some major plot twists, but suffice it to say that Karen Joy Fowler is a master at exploring nuance, collapsing boundaries, and exposing nerves. This book takes an unblinking look at families, forgiveness, science, and language—ultimately uncovering the ways in which they overlap as part of the human (and nonhuman) experience. Devastating and necessary, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves will change you.

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On Such A Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

Chang-rae Lee’s dystopian future is that rare imaginative feat that strikes readers as simultaneously alien and impossible—if only it weren’t so likely. Set in the stratified society of a colonized America where urbanites labor for an unseen elite, a young diver named Fan ventures out of her settlement in search of her boyfriend, who has mysteriously disappeared. Lee’s writing is mesmerizing, and the world he creates is so realized and unnervingly familiar. It’s a haunting and absorbing pleasure to discover the details of this future alongside “our Fan,” whose story quickly becomes the stuff of legend.

 

 

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The Peripheral by William Gibson

William Gibson’s most recent novel completely colonized my brain. Much of The Peripheral is an exercise in cognitive dissonance: the lexicon, technology, and setting are so fresh as to be almost disorienting. But Gibson’s knack for world building is a marvel; his ability to transform recognizable elements into something uncanny is unsurpassed. Add to that a gripping plot, a mystery spanning two timelines, and a cast of compelling characters. The result is hyper literary science fiction that reads like a dangerous blueprint for our own era.

 

 

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Black Glass: Short Fictions by Karen Joy Fowler

In fifteen short stories, Karen Joy Fowler stretches her wit and showcases her characteristic humor. Originally published in 1998, this book will be reissued in hardcover this summer. It’s a romp through the mind of one of today’s most talented and enchanting writers. Blending the generic conventions of satire, magical realism, science fiction, myth, and more, this diverse collection investigates complex themes with profound acuity. This is immersive storytelling at its finest—a tour de force of intricate plotting, elegant prose, and humor that gives way to unexpected depth.

 

 

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The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

Told from the alternating perspectives of those closest to the title character, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is a portrait of a visionary filmmaker whose uncompromising pursuit of her art puts her relationships at risk. Sophie Stark uses the lives of those around her as material for her films, and as her career grows, so does the cost of translating life into art. Through a medley of voices, each one vivid and distinct, Anna North examines the nature of ambition and asks to what extent it is possible to truly know someone. You’ll race through this darkly engrossing novel.

 

Find more books on the Literary Fiction page.

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Anna Romig is a Marketing Coordinator for Putnam Books, where she’s worked for the last two years. She’s originally from Anchorage, Alaska.

 

 

 

 

 

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Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy

When I finished this book, I remember needing to physically walk away from it. It’s rare that I read something that jars me so intensely, but in a great way. David Joy’s novel, which he describes as “Appalachian noir” is a family saga, a love story about child sweethearts, and a crime thriller all at once. The story is told through the eyes of Jacob McNeely, the child of the local drug kingpin who controls the town, the people, and the police. When Jacob’s first love graduates high school and is about to leave their sleepy mountain town, Jacob fights to break away from the position he was destined to be in as his father’s heir and find a new life away from it all.

 

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Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Snow White set in 1950’s New England. Boy Novak escapes New York City and her father, an abusive man who literally catches rats for a living, only to end up in the quite town of Flax Hill. As in all great fairy tales, things are not quite what they appear, and when Boy marries a local man with an enchanting daughter, Snow, things start to slowly fall apart. Without giving away the plot, there IS an evil stepmother in this fairytale, but it’s not who you think.

 

 

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My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

M.O. Walsh’s debut novel starts with the line, “There were four suspects in the rape of Lindy Simpson.” Obviously, this novel was not going to be bright and sunny like the title implies. Instead, it’s a dark and haunting novel set in the suburbs of Baton Rouge. Everyone knows everyone: the victim, and the suspects. As the plot unfolds, the narrator, now an adult, looks back at his ruined childhood and you realize, you never really know anyone. Even if you’re not from the south or a small town, Walsh’s prose makes you imagine yourself in this small town: a glossy picture, where just one crack exposes everything lying beneath the surface.

 

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The Strangler Vine by MJ Carter

The Strangler Vine, the first in a new series that was a huge hit when it was published in the UK last year, introduces us to a new crime-solving duo in a novel that is part historical fiction/part mystery. Think Sherlock and Watson, plucked from London and placed in 19th century British colonized India. William Avery, a by-the-books soldier is tasked with fetching Jeremiah Blake, a secret agent who has gone rogue and run off to live with the local inhabitants, and bringing him back to civilization to find the mysterious Thuggee cult. As they travel through India, they encounter tribal wars, corrupt British government officials, and the problems that come from their own troubled pasts.

 

 

Find more books on the Literary Fiction page.

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Maureen is the Academic and Library Marketing Coordinator. When Maureen isn’t reading a book or…wait, let’s face it, Maureen is always reading a book.

 

 

 

 

 

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In the Woods by Tana French

Ah memories. This is the first Tana French book I picked up but, obviously, not my last. Not only is this book dark and suspenseful but, it has that unhappy European ending too! I LOVE unhappy European endings. I picked this book up, I didn’t put it down until I was done and, when I was done, I was so angry and disappointed with the way things went down. It was perfect! Not everything always goes the way you plan and Tana is a master of realistic mystery and suspense. In the Woods is by far my favorite of the Dublin Murder Squad series.

 

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The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley by Jeremy Massey

Undertakers, sex, people dying while having sex, and the Irish mob. Who could ask for anything more? I read this book from start to finish in…let’s say…about 7 hours. 7 HOURS! And I had things to do that day! I was hooked from the beginning and even got to learn a bit about how to embalm a dead body! I haven’t fact checked yet but I think Jeremy Massey knows what he’s talking about since he really is a third-generation undertaker. HIGHLY recommended.

 

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The Alphabet House by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Being somewhat of a WWII buff, I was immediately drawn to this book. It takes us on quite the adventure in Germany during WWII where two British pilots are shot down on enemy territory and, in order to survive, they throw two wounded SS soldiers off a train and take their place. Cut to: Alphabet House. A loony bin for traumatized and wounded SS Soldiers. I was on edge throughout this entire book just waiting for these guys to get caught. Two British soldiers surrounded by SS Soldiers and they can hardly even pronounce their fake names. Good luck, right?

 

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Syndrome E by Franck Thilliez

Clearly you can tell I love European authors and Franck Thilliez gets all the love. I read 10 pages of this book and had no idea what was going on. There was so much science jargon about eyeballs I felt like I was learning how to speak another language. But, I pushed on through the next 4 pages and WHAM! I was hooked. I was now becoming an expert on eyeballs, subliminal messages, and the psyche of freaky children. I read and read and read until it was over and Thilliez has now made my favorite author list (It’s a long list, yes, but I’m very particular).

 

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The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood

Alex Marwood is an Edgar Award winning author because of this book and I know why. The first things about this book that got me were the writing and the flow of the story…Marwood is a genius! Continue on to the story itself and you can’t help but be fascinated. The Wicked Girls is dark and disturbing and seriously makes you question humanity and the innocence of children. Some children are just plain wicked.

 

 

 

Find more books on the Mystery & Suspense page!

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Andrea Lam is a Publicity Assistant at Viking / Penguin Books / Penguin Classics, where she is the in-house champion for tall ships, world mythology and folklore, and Anne Brontë.

 

 

 

 

north-and-south-by-elizabeth-gaskellNorth and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my favorite Victorian novelists, and North and South is easily my favorite of her novels. Gaskell wrote candidly and compassionately about class differences in British society, particularly as they applied to the heavily industrial North of England. In North and South, Southern Margaret Hale is forced with her family to move up to Milton-Northern (modelled after Manchester), where she comes into repeated conflict with mill owner and native Northerner John Thornton. As Milton-Northern’s mill workers increasingly agitate for rights, Margaret and John must come to an understanding both personally and politically, but their path is far from smooth. A bonus: the 2004 BBC series based on the novel is a wonderful adaptation, and I recommend both to just about anyone who will stand still long enough to listen.

 

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Spunyarn by John Masefield

I usually credit my deep love for tall ships and the Age of Sail to having read the entire 20-book Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian when I was twelve years old, but I’m sure that I encountered John Masefield’s poetry some time before then. Though I know intellectually that I’d not survive the physical toil of daily life on a merchant mariner or naval warship, Masefield’s ‘Sea-Fever’ makes me long for the far-ranging view from the bow of a ship running free, and moves me like few other poems do each time I read it.

 

 

 

the-turnip-princess-and-other-newly-discovered-fairy-tales-by-franz-xaver-von-schonwerthThe Turnip Princess by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth and translated by Maria Tatar

I’ve been passionate about world mythology and folklore since I was very young, and when I read the news in 2012 that a cache of previously unseen German fairy tales had been discovered, I jumped to follow the story. Imagine my surprise two years later when, shortly after I started working for Penguin, I learned that not only was Penguin Classics publishing a selection of Franz Xaver von Schönwerth’s tales, the tales were to be translated by the inimitable Maria Tatar! I’ve long admired Tatar’s scholarship, and I’m so pleased that her translation of Schönwerth’s tales are now available to the reading public and fellow fairy tale enthusiasts like myself.

 

passing-by-nella-larsenPassing by Nella Larsen

Nella Larsen’s short novel Passing is a poignant, painful exploration of race and racism in the Harlem Renaissance that deals with issues of racial identity formation, cultural assimilation, and self-presentation. Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry’s respective struggles with life as mixed-race women in a racist, male-dominated society still ring true today. Larsen’s other novel Quicksand, published a year before Passing, deals with related issues and is also well worth reading.

 

 

 

the-tenant-of-wildfell-hall-by-anne-bronteThe Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

Jane and Emily are both well and good, but Anne is my favorite of the Brontë sisters and—I feel—the most under appreciated. Anne published only two novels, the other being Agnes Grey, and in both her straightforward depiction of casual male chauvinism stands in contrast to that of her sisters’ in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. For readers accustomed to the exploits of Edward Rochester and Heathcliff, Tenant’s Arthur Huntingdon may come as a shock. Given that popular culture through history has a deleterious tendency to gloss over abusive behavior, I appreciate Anne Brontë’s refusal to do the same.

 

 

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The Penguin Book of Witches edited by Katherine Howe

If you thought you know about witches, think again. The Penguin Book of Witches is a well-selected collection of historical accounts (all primary-source documents) of accused witches and witch-hunters in North America and England that ably demonstrates that the history of witches is the history of legalized persecution of marginalized groups. Katherine Howe’s explanatory essays and notes are both intelligent and accessible, and help to contextualize the varying time periods in which the documents were written. Witches are a popular trope in fiction for good reason, and The Penguin Book of Witches is a great look at the history behind the fiction.

 

Find more books on the Penguin Classics page!

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Catherine Hayden is a Marketing Coordinator for the School and Library department. She has a passion for bookstores and libraries that borders on obsession. When she’s not working or looking at books, she can often be found playing in a grown-up dodgeball league, doting on her nephews, taking in New York City, and saying hi to every dog she passes on the sidewalk.

 

 

 

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Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison

This is the book that I give to every child (and some adults) in my life and it’s impossible not to fall in love with. Jane is a circus dog who wants to be extraordinary like her strong, elephant lifting father and her fearless tightrope walking sisters. What she finds, after many mishaps is that she doesn’t have to be extraordinary to be special. Hannah E. Harrison’s illustrations are simply gorgeous and bursting with charm and whimsy. The story is funny yet cozy and comforting for little ones and I guarantee they will want to read it over and over again.

 

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The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

The Day the Crayons Quit is laugh out loud hilarious. It tells the story of a little boys box of crayons who are fed up with their jobs, so they quit! Each page features a different letter from an irate crayon listing it’s reasons for quitting. Red crayon feels over worked while white crayon feels like he’s not being used at all and yellow and orange crayon are downright feuding! Each letter comes with hilarious illustrations of indignant crayons and pictures they are forced to draw. The books satisfying conclusion will have kids seeing their box of crayons in an entirely new light!

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Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

I am a sucker for a good graphic novel and this one is pure fun! Astrid is 12 years old and devastated when she finds out that her best friend Nicole, with whom she does everything, has chosen to take ballet rather than attend roller derby camp together. Now Astrid has to navigate roller derby camp, and all of the bumps and bruises that come with it, completely alone. This book perfectly encapsulates what it is to be an awkward adolescent and the ups and downs of friendship. Astrid’s imperfections, and the growth that comes from overcoming them, make her an incredibly relatable character for young girls and boys alike who will completely understand her pains and triumphs.

 

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The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

As a lover of the classics, I was intrigued when I found out we were publishing a book inspired by A Thousand and One Nights. Every night a murderous boy-king takes a new bride and every morning at dawn he kills her. This reign of terror continues until a young woman named Shahrzad, vowing to avenge her best friend, offers herself up willingly. All she needs to do is stay alive long enough to kill the king. This book is so lush and every character brings their own depth and fascinating backstory to the plot. I cannot wait for the sequel!

 

 

 

between-shades-of-gray-by-ruta-sepetysBetween Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepeteys

Honestly, Ruta Sepeteys could probably write a grocery list and I would be captivated but I recommend her debut Between Shades of Gray first. It has been a few years since I first read this book but I still can’t get it out of my head. It follows a fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl during WWII after Soviet officers invade her home, separate her father and force her, her brother, and her mother onto a crowded train to a Siberian work camp. The entire story is at once hopeful and devastating and a testament to incredible storytelling. It opened my eyes to a part of history that I knew very little about and yet is incredibly important. I think everyone should read this one.

 

 

Find more books on the Young Readers page.

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IMG_0918A couple years ago, I asked Patricia Briggs to write a novella for our anthology On the Prowl. We wanted something either about Mercy Thompson, the car mechanic coyote shifter heroine of her urban fantasy series, or set in Mercy’s world. But when she said, “I think I’m going to write about Charles,” it took me a moment to place Samuel Cornick’s half-brother, a werewolf of few words who makes a brief appearance in Moon Called.

Well, after reading “Alpha and Omega”, I never forgot who Charles was again. In fact, I fell so in love with him and his mate, the werewolf Anna Latham, that I asked Patty if she would want to write more stories about Charles and Anna. And thus, the Alpha and Omega series was born–an action-packed urban fantasy series that is also the heartfelt story of Charles and Anna’s relationship.

With Charles’s role as his father’s enforcer, they tend to be trouble shooters, called in to deal with problems, and rarely catch a break. In Dead Heat, Charles and Anna travel to Arizona for personal reasons…or at least it starts out that way. Soon, they find themselves in the middle of a whole lot of trouble. The cold war between the fae and humanity is about to heat up, and the werewolves may have to choose which side they’re on.

I freely admit that I have a thing for werewolves. The pack structure, the human / animal dichotomy…it’s a concept that that is ripe for storytelling. And Patricia Briggs writes some of my absolutely favorite werewolves, who may be able to change their shape, but are always human.

Dead-Heat-Patricia-BriggsIt’s a pleasure to share Dead Heat with you, and I hope you fall in love with Charles and Anna the way I have.

Explore the Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs!


Malice 2014 me and teapot 2“Where do you get your ideas?” a reader asks, at nearly every book event. “From my characters,” I say, aware that this makes me sound like a crazy woman. But before you call the men in the white coats, let me explain.

The heart of every story is the characters. Even in a mystery or a thriller, where plot is critical to a story’s success, the characters are the key. When someone raves to you about a book, they don’t say “it’s about a bomb ….” They say “it’s about a woman who ….” When readers fall for a series, they remember the characters as much as the individual plots—sometimes even more.

Character is both a person and a person’s essential nature, revealed by decisions and choices, especially those made under stress. It is those choices and decisions that create the plot.

And so, for me, it’s crucial to get to know my characters before I start writing their story. Because I write series, I know my recurring characters, but they are always surprising me. I knew that Pepper Reece, the main character in my new Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries, got her nickname not from the shop but from her baseball-crazy grandfather, who dubbed the fiery three-year-old “Pepper” after the legendary Pepper Martin of the St. Louis Cardinals. But not until her mother Lena returns from Costa Rica for a visit in the third book, which I’ve just begun, did I know for sure what her real name is. (And no, I’m not going to tell you until then!) I knew she was raised in a communal household along with Kristen, her BFF and part-time employee. But I had no idea that in their early forties, these closer-than-sisters friends would discover that each had kept a secret or two.

Turns out that secrets are a theme to this series, as are questions about identity and the fine line between protecting someone and interfering. In Assault and Pepper, the first installment, Pepper finds a homeless man named Doc dead on the Spice Shop’s doorstep. The discovery rocks Pepper right down to her bay leaves. Nothing in her first year selling spice or her fifteen years managing staff HR at a giant law firm prepared her for the shock—or the consequences.

(Although being a cop’s wife for thirteen years did expose her to the seamier side of life. Especially when she discovered her husband and a meter maid—she still can’t say “parking enforcement officer”—in a back booth in a posh new restaurant practically plugging each other’s meters when he was supposed to be working a shift for a friend. Of course, it doesn’t help that he’s the bike cop on the Market beat.)

What’s even worse is when the homicide detectives—Spencer and Tracy, and yes, they’ve heard the jokes, and no, they’re not amused—focus on one of her trusted employees. She considers herself a good judge of people; after all, in both HR and retail, her livelihood depends on it. How could she have been so wrong? The only other suspects seem just as unlikely. Pepper investigates in part because she can’t believe her employee is guilty—or that the young woman would withhold the truth from her. The investigation forces her to confront the limits of her own judgment and her ability to work with other people. In the process, she learns new skills and draws on internal resources she didn’t know she had.

Plot unfolds when one character acts and another responds. And so as a writer, I ask my story people to tell me what they most want out of life. To show me their struggles, internal and external. To reveal how they respond when someone stands in their way. In the planning phase, I sometimes struggle until I identify the core conflicts between the victim and the killer—but also between the victim and other characters who fall under suspicion, and between the sleuth and those who would stop her. Ultimately, the characters’ actions and responses come together like the channels of a braided river.

Assault-and-Pepper-Leslie-Ann-BudewitzGetting there can be messy. It’s a kinetic process, always changing until I reach “the end” for the last time. It’s a lot of fun. I hope that it flows on the printed page, that it keeps you reading and asking questions. I hope my stories introduce you to a cast of folks you want to know, who show you a little something about life—and character.

Discover more about Assault & Pepper by Leslie Ann Budewitz!


Brooke_Davis_cAilsaBowyerI grew up on ten acres in a quiet bush town called Bellbrae. It was pretty idyllic: the air smelled of eucalyptus, we were friends with all our neighbours, and we had the space and time to play and imagine and create. My mum was always a great reader, and my dad became one when he had kids. I have lovely flashes of book-related memories that I sometimes catch as they float by: being read to by my parents, reading on long car trips and trying not to give into car sickness, being told off by Mum for reading in the dark, the treat of visiting a bookshop, reading well-loved books over and over. I was so proud to own books and would always ‘borrow’ my mum’s and put them on my bookshelf. She’d take them back without telling me, and I’d do the same. It became this silent, funny, ping-pong kind of game that we had with each other and didn’t acknowledge.

I look at all my childhood books now and I can feel the magic of that time, the feeling they gave me. I can’t remember not feeling like books were important. I don’t think this is something I could have explained as a kid—now I can attach language to the feeling, and suggest that perhaps it was something to do with the way reading tapped into my imagination and my love of learning and the need I might have felt to develop an understanding for the way people are. But as a kid, it felt natural and I loved it and I didn’t know why. It was just something I thought everyone did, like the way we all did colouring-in, and played the recorder, and dressed up in Mum’s old bridesmaid dress and glittery shoes. It was all play to me.

Roald Dahl was my all-time favourite, and still is. His stories were funny, imaginative, rude, and pretty violent, in a cartoonish way, and it seemed like my parents shouldn’t be encouraging me to read them. I didn’t feel like I was being patronised when I read Roald Dahl. I also loved Judy Blume, Robin Klein, John Marsden, Emily Rodda, Katherine Paterson and L.M. Montgomery. Their writing felt honest and real—even when it was wildly imaginative. I was also really taken with Tim Winton’s ‘Lochie Leonard’ books—he captured the sound of the Australian accent so beautifully and I hadn’t realised you could do that in writing, that you could give a character the sound of your own voice.

I’ve kept journals since I was quite young, and there’s a line in one when I was eight years-old that says, pretty precociously, ‘I’m determined to become a writer.’ And then, when I was nine or ten, I wrote this nonsense poem in the style of Roald Dahl in primary school about my little brother called The Pest. My teacher asked me to read it out loud in front of the class—my classmates laughed in all the right spots, and I was urged to do a sequel. The sequel was terrible and didn’t have the same impact, but I remembered the feeling of my writing giving people pleasure. I wanted more of that feeling.

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Brooke Davis is the author of Lost & Found, her debut novel about the wisdom of the very young, the mischief of the very old, and the magic that happens when no one else is looking.


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Seema Mahanian is an editorial assistant at Pamela Dorman Books/Viking. She isn’t ashamed to say that she will read any Kennedy family bio and can recite all Oscar best picture winners since 1927.

 

 

 

 

 

bonepeopleThe Bone People, by Keri Hulme

I ugly cried on a bus while reading The Bone People. Hard. But I was determined to finish, and I had zero regard for the fact that strangers were witnessing my heart being ripped out. So do I need to add that Keri Hulme’s debut, Booker-winning novel is devastating? Set in New Zealand’s South Island, three outcasts—Kerewin, a hermetic artist; Joe, a spiritual man and abusive alcoholic; and Simon, a mute, precocious orphan—form a family of sorts. Hulme, weaving in myth and legend, uses her characters to explore the intersection of Maori and European culture in contemporary New Zealand. The Bone People examine states of isolation, the desire for connection, and violence as communication. Raising the subjects of Maori displacement, and cultural survival, The Bone People is warm but brutal; it’s beautiful.

 

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Kitchens of the Great Midwest, by J. Ryan Stradal

As an Australian, I have limited knowledge of Midwestern cuisine—I think cream of mushroom soup and casseroles involving marshmallows. I was wrong (sort of). This smart, hilarious, touching novel that reminds me of Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, revolves around Eva Thorvald—a lonely young girl with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the legendary, mysterious chef of the most difficult dinner reservation in the country. She finds solace and salvation in the recipes and ingredients of the Midwest. Each chapter is the story of a single dish and character in Eva’s orbit, set against the backdrop of church bake-offs, hot pepper eating contests, and the opening weekend of hunting season. J. Ryan Stradal captures the zeitgeist of the Midwest, and with joyful, wistful prose, examines how food can create both community and identity, while highlighting the bittersweet nature of life. I’m so excited for this to come out in July 2015. Everyone who’s read it has fallen in love with it. So get ready, because you will, too.

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The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer

As a twenty-something living in New York, where my friends are like family, tell me a book is about a group of twenty-something friends in New York, and the narcissist in me will devour it immediately. But I didn’t expect to fall for this novel so completely. The Interestings traces the friendships of a group of six—from fifteen-years old into adulthood—and how they, and their friendship, changes over the years. For me, few books about the passage of time  have captured both youthful idealism about art and potential, alongside the harsh realities of adult success, jealousy, and failure, with such insight. Some characters are so well-realized that it felt more like investing time with new friends just made between the pages, than reading a book.

 

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On Beauty, by Zadie Smith

Oh, Zadie. She gives an examination of race and gender in contemporary Britain and the US, with rich lush characters that spring off the page. She ties in elements of Rembrandt and the way we construct meaning and significance from art, while looking at the seemingly simple difficulties of contemporary relationships, both romantic and familial. This novel accomplishes so many things at once, and with such ease, I half-expected it to cook my dinner and clean my apartment as well.

 

 

 

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The New York Trilogy, by Paul Auster

We’ve all read detective novels. We start as children, then we grow up, go through a post-modernist phase, and read Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy. These three interlocked novels are incredible. Auster uses elements of classic and hardboiled detective fiction mixed with experimental and meta-fiction, littered with references to 19th century American authors, to explore the many layers of identity and reality. I was so enamored that I once chased Paul Auster around a city trying to get his photograph. Sorry not sorry, Mr. Auster.

 

 

 

Find more books on the Literary Fiction page.

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IMG_3238American publishers often hear the grousing that we bring out vanishingly few novels in translation.  While I think things are getting better thanks to the inspired work of outfits like Dalkey Archive, Europa and New Directions, and while I know that in fact some of my own defining editorial experiences have been with fiction in translation, including W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, let’s face it, there’s some truth to the problem.  Not that it’s a mystery as to why.  We’re a fairly monolingual lot, or at least I certainly have no faith in my literary discernment through the haze of my schoolboy French and Spanish.  Publishing debut fiction, period, is hard enough, and falling in love is everything.  How do you know?

In the case of Daniel Galera’s Blood-Drenched Beard I had some help.  First, John Freeman, then editor of Granta and a reader of beautiful taste, curated a Granta “Best of Young Brazilian Novelists” issue, and he led the issue with a story that was in fact the first chapter of this novel.  It made the skin on my arms stand up: a father has called his son to his side to say that he’s literally sick to death of his lingering illness and is going to end his own life; and so he needs his one obedient child to look after his beloved old dog.  Our narrator cycles through emotions from incredulity to outrage to sorrowful acceptance.  And then his father drops his final whopper: his own father didn’t die of natural causes in the beach town of Garopaba: he was murdered, in effect lynched by the town.  Oh, and, we figure out soon enough that our narrator suffers from face-blindness – he is incapable of remembering who people are by sight.

So begins one of the wildest, coolest, slinkiest, most moving existential mystery novels you’ll ever experience.  It’s like nothing else I’ve ever read. If there is a love triangle in this novel, it is between a man, his dog and the ocean, and “oceanic” is the word that comes to mind to describe its power.  The novel’s protagonist is isolated from other people in such a way that every human connection touches us to the quick.  And the novel builds to a furious climax that left me reeling.  Talking sweepingly about national characteristics of prose invites ridicule, usually deservedly – what do “Americans” write like? – but at the same time I have to say that there is a sensuous musicality to Galera’s voice, a velvety toughness, both sophisticated and laced with physical menace, that, while it’s certainly all about the genius of Daniel Galera, somehow also makes me feel connected to the novel’s setting in the way only very special fiction can.  Part of the credit goes to the great talent of translator Alison Entrekin, translator of City of God, and of Chico Buarque, and many other Brazilian novelists.

Speaking of translators, another thing that gave me heart was that Daniel himself is one of Brazil’s most famous literary translators, translating Zadie Smith, David Mitchell, Jonathan Safran Foer and others into Portuguese.  It’s not that this is dispositive of anything in terms of his own fiction in any obvious way, but it’s a good augury on a number of levels.

9781594205743HOur publication also has to do with the trust and friendship Ann Godoff and I feel for Daniel’s Brazilian publisher, the great Luis Schwarcz, the founder and head of one of the world’s most indispensible publishing houses, Companhia Das Letras.  Luiz told me in no uncertain terms that this was going to be one of the best novels he’s ever published, and Daniel a truly giant talent.  And lo and behold, he was exactly right.  I envy anyone the experience of reading Blood-Drenched Beard for the first time.

 

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