Photo credit: Robin V. Brown

Photo credit: Robin V. Brown

Daniel James Brown, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat, recommends “Five Books That Take You Away”:

One of the things that I look for in a book is a story that will carry me away to a time or a place that I know I will never be able to visit myself. That applies to both fiction and nonfiction, but for me the draw is particularly powerful in the case of nonfiction, where I know that the world I am journeying into really does or really did exist. Here a few of my favorite armchair adventures.

In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

What an epic journey! Transported back to 1879 you will travel deep into the Polar Regions on the U.S.S. Jeannette. You will soon find yourself struggling valiantly alongside Captain George Washington De Long as he confronts mounting and seemingly impossible obstacles in one of the harshest and most challenging environments on earth. Put out some snacks by your reading chair, because you’re going to get hungry before it’s all over.

The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko

This is one of those books that takes you not only into a spectacular physical environment—the Grand Canyon—but also into a culture that is nearly as exotic as the setting. Racing through the canyon on the Colorado River at crest of an epic flood, you will see it as you have never seen it before, and you will learn about the mindset of the extraordinary young people who live to master the river when it is at its most dangerous.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

By now Krakauer’s epic tale of life and death on Mount Everest is a classic of narrative nonfiction. But it’s a classic for good reason, and if you’ve somehow missed it, you should don a sub-zero parka, grab some supplemental oxygen, and strap on some crampons because you’re going to feel that you need them as you ascend the mountain with Krakauer on what turned out to be a tragic expedition in 1996.  Along the way, you are are going to journey deep into the souls of those who accompanied Krakauer, and the author himself.

Pilgrim’s Wilderness by Tom Kizzla

I suppose this is not so much a journey as a sudden and dramatic translocation. But you are likely to find the world in which Kinzzla sets you down—outside the tiny Alaskan outpost of McCarthy—as exotic and interesting as you could hope for. Aside from the vivid descriptions of the countryside itself, the book will introduce you to a memorable cast of eccentric characters, most particularly Papa Pilgrim, his wife, and their brood of fifteen children. The tale turns on the slow unraveling of Pilgrim’s carefully constructed and self-serving mythology about his life, and in so doing it brings you face to face with just how odd life in rural Alaska can be.

Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson

This is a book that takes you on two adventures at once. You will travel under the Caribbean with a pair of modern-day, high-tech treasure hunters. And at the same time you will travel back to the 1600s—the Golden Age of pirates—and voyage on the Golden Fleece with her rapacious captain, the infamous John Bannister. Both the modern day and the 17th century stories are first rate.


Thanks, Daniel James Brown! And the Penguin Hotline can’t help but recommend one book that takes us away: The Boys in the Boat! Start reading an excerpt here. And check out the Penguin Hotline for custom book recommendations!

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Team Canada NEW

Members of the Penguin Hotline – Team Canada! (Left to right: Amy Smith, Marketing Associate; Randy Chan, Director, Marketing; Charidy Johnston, Senior Director, Marketing; Lindsey Hamilton, Director, Digital Marketing; Evan Klein, Marketing Coordinator )

What kind of work do you do at Penguin Random House Canada? Do you have any crowning achievements or memorable moments from your time at PRH (either as individuals, or collectively)? 

Introducing Canada to the Penguin Hotline was a major achievement for us during Mother’s Day this year! Now that we are all in one office as PRHC, we’re excited to bring the Penguin Hotline to even more Canadians as a united team.

9780525426592 (1)When you aren’t busy at work with books, what are your hobbies? Do you have any book recommendations related to these hobbies? 

Between the six of us, we like: traveling, cats, comic books, concerts, baseball, and movies. We’ll let you guess who likes what!

Which books are you most excited about gifting this year? 

Books that top our gift giving lists this year are: The Illustrated Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood, After You by Jojo Moyes, What Pet Should I Get by Dr. Seuss, The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew, Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving, and Make Ahead Meals by Michael Smith.


What is your favorite holiday read of all time? 

A classic favorite? How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. A brand new favorite? It’s a tie between Merry Christmas Squirrels by Nancy Rose and When Santa Was a Baby by Linda Bailey.

What’s your favorite part of working the Penguin Hotline?

Interacting with everyone – colleagues and, especially, requesters! We usually don’t have much of an opportunity to personally chat with book buyers, so it’s really fun and rewarding to be able to share our love of our favorite books outside of our family and friends.


For more custom recommendations, check out the Penguin Hotline!


Linda Cowen, Penguin Lawyer, with Blue Rider author Elvis Costello

Linda Cowen, SVP Associate General Counsel, with Blue Rider author Elvis Costello

What kind of work do you do at Penguin? Do you have a crowning achievement, or memorable experience from your time here?

I’m a lawyer, with a job that is the envy of all other lawyers. Like all the lawyers here I have a few imprints that I primarily advise. I follow the books from acquisition through publication and beyond, responding to all sorts of issues that may arise in the full life of the book. A big part of my job is reading many of our books before they are published, to make sure there are no legal risks in them. This means I also get to talk to our authors, and many times I’m the first person other than their editor and close friends to read the book. There’s nothing better than being the first person to tell an author you love their book. I’m very lucky to advise Blue Rider Press, which publishes some of the greatest rock musician memoirs around. So in addition to reading great books I’ve had the good fortune to meet Neil Young, Rick Ocasek, Jewel and Elvis Costello. I also advise some of the corporate areas of the company, including Human Resources.


When you aren’t busy at work with books, do you have a hobby? Do you have any book recommendations related to this hobby?

When I’m not busy with books I spend a lot of time running—I’ve run 5 marathons, and will soon be training for another. Several years ago I worked on the book Running on Empty, by Marshall Ulrich, and that as much as anything made me want to become a long distance runner. Marshall ran across the entire country, and while I was reading I was thinking, “he’s crazy.” But I also was thinking, “I really want to do that.”  Dean Karnazes’s  Ultramarathon Man is also great. For running history I love Kings of the Road, by Cameron Stracher. And of course the modern classic for all runners is Born To Run, by Christopher McDougall.



Which books are you most excited about gifting this year?

My absolute favorite nonfiction book of 2015 is M Train, by Patti Smith. My favorite novel of the year is The Story of the Lost Child, by Elena Ferrante. Together, Patti Smith and Elena Greco are the most fascinating women–and people–I’ve read about in ages.  This year I also want to give people beautiful print books, ones that they will want to hold and peruse, like Thunder and Lightning, by Lauren Redniss,  and Notorious RBG, The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik.  As I was filling out this questionnaire my 15-year-old son sent me a photo of the cover of my copy of Notorious RBG with the text, “It’s the greatest book cover I’ve ever seen.” Long live the print book!


What is your favorite holiday read of all time?

I can’t say I have a particular favorite holiday read–like Patti Smith I spend a lot of time thinking about the books I want to take away with me on Christmas vacation every year, and also like Patti, this year at her “recommendation” (meaning she wrote about it in M Train) I’m planning on taking The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami (incidentally also the author of another favorite running book: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running). I’m going to Iceland, so I’ll have two long flights and a lot of semi-darkness when there’s nothing to do but read.

What’s your favorite part of working the Penguin Hotline?

I love working the Hotline because it gives me a chance to use books to solve people’s problems. Seriously, people reveal a lot about their relationships when they describe the person they are shopping for. I love the idea that we can make people happy and feel understood by each other just by helping them choose the right books.

For more custom recommendations, check out the Penguin Hotline!

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!)

 Start Reading an excerpt!

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.

Start Reading an excerpt!

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.”

Start Reading an excerpt!

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.

Start Reading an excerpt!


Find more books on the Penguin Classics page!

See Staff Picks for all our categories!

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.

Start Reading an Excerpt!



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.

Start Reading an Excerpt!



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.

Start Reading an Excerpt!



Find more books on the Literary Fiction page.

See Staff Picks for all our categories!

HealthandSelfImprovementPhotoRoshe Anderson works in Avery Books. When she is not preparing recipe to-do lists from the cookbooks, she can be found reading other health and self-improvement books as well as fiction. She also enjoys exploring health-related topics on her blog.


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Cook for Your Life by Ann Ogden Gaffney

“Comforting” and “unique” are two words that quickly come to mind whenever I think about this phenomenal cookbook. Author Ann Ogden Gaffney, who is a two-time cancer survivor, designed the recipes specifically for men and women dealing with the fatigue and altered taste buds associated with cancer treatment. Simplicity is a key ingredient to the book, and Ann encourages her readers to take advantage of the convenience of modern supermarkets to find prepped food items. In addition to the extremely well-thought-out design, I love the diversity of the recipes and the representation of various world cuisines. More specifically, I was excited to find recipes for “Jamaican Sorrel Tea,” “Kimchi Grilled Cheese,” and “Moroccan Pumpkin Stew with Chermoula Sauce” among the pages. I’ve already enjoyed the simple potato salad made with a vinaigrette instead of mayonnaise, and I look forward to trying the soothing, banana-rice smoothie recipe soon.

Start Reading an Excerpt!



Simply Scratch by Laurie McNamara

This cookbook had me at the DIY seasoning blends. Me: “You mean, I can make my own Italian seasoning!” I was also enamored with the author’s variations on the traditional pesto, substituting other herbs for basil. Author Laurie McNamara enlivens the book with her humor and inviting tone; she’s “the girl next door” who makes everything from scratch. In addition, Laurie brings a lot of originality to her creations and the names of the dishes. Since the book shows you how to create all of the ingredients in your pantry as well as the dishes it’s so comprehensive and a great resource. Laurie’s approach highlights how cooking from scratch offers greater control over health factors like sodium levels.



Woman On Fire by Amy Jo Goddard

Woman On Fire is one of the most powerful emotional toolkits I have ever encountered. Amy Jo is that brilliant and compassionate best friend, eloquently delivering insights to accelerate your personal growth. She shows readers how to approach the work of maintaining a relationship with great thought and intentionality. The book also contains compelling advice for understanding and then communicating your needs to a romantic partner. The incredible chapter on body image offers innovative ideas for rituals to help celebrate your body. As many others have already said, every woman deserves to read Amy Jo’s book and engage in this amazing work!

Start Reading an Excerpt!



Triumph of the Heart by Megan Feldman Bettencourt 

The mind-blowing story of a man who forgives his son’s killer sets the stage for all of the remarkable accounts shared in Triumph of the Heart. Author Megan Feldman’s personal story of her career and relationship struggles is also incredibly relatable and impactful.  The thoroughness of Megan’s investigation into forgiveness is impressive: she travels to Rwanda and throughout the United States, interviewing adult children who have chosen to forgive abusive or absent parents, heads of a school in Baltimore who are implementing principles of restorative justice with amazing results, as well as survivors of the genocide in Rwanda. I really enjoyed such a complex view of forgiveness, which includes the notion that the act of forgiveness can release repressed positive memories.

Start Reading an Excerpt!



To find Health & Self-Improvement books, click here

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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.

Start Reading an Excerpt!




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.

Start Reading an Excerpt!





Find more books on the Young Readers page.

See Staff Picks for all our categories!

If you’re looking for graphic, gory movies like Saw, Scream, or something with Freddy Krueger, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I prefer spooky films, ghost stories, and movies that mix horror with humor. I assume everybody has seen Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, and the movie that inspired it, Bride of Frankenstein, so let’s pick up from there.

28 Days Later

28 Days Later (2002)

Danny Boyle’s movie about a fast-spreading virus is all too believable, which is why it’s so scary. It also predates the current zombie craze. Starring Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, and Brendan Gleeson.

The Babadook

The Babadook (2014)

A fragile, single mom can’t seem to stifle her young son’s wild imagination. He insists that there is a monster in their house, and it turns out he may be right. A genuinely frightening import from Australia written and directed by Jennifer Kent.

Innocent Blood

Innocent Blood (1992)

A sexy French vampire sinks her teeth into a mob boss and unleashes a brood of blood-sucking vampires!  A guilty-pleasure crossbreed of an urban action thriller and a vampire movie, directed by John Landis. With Anne Parillaud (star of La Femme Nikita), Anthony La Paglia, Robert Loggia, and Don Rickles—yes, that Don Rickles.

The Others

The Others (2001)

Nicole Kidman stars in this engrossing ghost story set on the Channel Islands in 1945. A troubled woman whose husband has never returned form the war tries to maintain her creepy old house while protecting—or is it overprotecting?—her young children. Written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar.


Cloverfield (2008)

A monster invades New York City and causes incredible havoc. An old B-movie premise is juiced up as a “found footage” movie shot by a video camera. It runs on pure adrenaline and never lets up. Lizzy Caplan and T.J. Miller head the cast; J.J. Abrams co-produced and Matt Reeves directed.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

This Oscar-winning film by Guillermo del Toro is a dark fairy tale set in Spain during World War II. A monstrous Fascist captain determines to flesh out soldiers of the resistance as his pregnant wife arrives at his countryside headquarters with her young daughter. She escapes the brutality of her new environment by drifting into a fantasy world. This unique fable, which blends fantasy and fearsome violence, invites repeated viewings.


Mirrormask (2005)

A teenage girl who feels alienated from her parents expresses her frustrations by drawing and goes into a dream state inspired by her artwork—and into an odyssey to save the world from dark forces. Neil Gaiman conceived this story with his longtime artistic collaborator, David McKean, who directed this unappreciated film.

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

This ingenious British horror-comedy put its star, Simon Pegg, and writer-director Edgar Wright, on the map, and for good reason. It’s a very amusing riff on zombie movies, as our slacker-hero slowly catches on that London has been invaded by zombies.

An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Not a spoof but a full-blooded horror film that happens to have a sense of humor. David Naughton and Griffin Dunne star in this tale of an American who’s bitten by a wolf on the British moors, with terrifying results. Written and directed by John Landis. Rick Baker’s amazing makeup effects won an Oscar.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

The bombastic comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello costar with classic movie monsters (Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Lon Chaney, Jr. as The Wolf Man, Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s monster) in this merry mashup. The monsters all play it straight and the film has the look and feel of a vintage Universal horror movie, which is why it works so well.



Leonard is an authority on movies. His latest books Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide is the definitive guide to classic films from one of America’s most trusted film critics.

Thanks to Netflix and cable television, classic films are more accessible than ever. Now co-branded with Turner Classic Movies, Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide covers films from Hollywood and around the world, from the silent era through 1965, and from The Maltese Falcon to Singin’ in the Rain and Godzilla, King of the Monsters!

Brianna Kelly Staff Picks Headshot

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!

Start Reading an Excerpt!


image001.jpgLouisa Farrar is a publicist at Avery Books. From the selection below you would think she only reads about badass women written by badass women. She doesn’t. But it’s a nice coincidence.

Louisa speaks with an accent and lives in Harlem with her black Labrador and her American husband and lots and lots of books (and a Netflix account because only dogs are perfect).



The Likeness by Tana French

So while you can read Tana French’s books in any order – you tend to start with In The Woods. That’s the one that gets you sucked in. But The Likeness? This one’s my favorite. Cassie Maddox is a wonderful character. She is strong and fearless and bold and holds your interest, even if the whodunit plot wavers a little. Tana French writes characters and dialogue and sub-plots and settings in such a way that you stay up all night – like you should with any decent mystery/thriller – but you also realize that you’re in the hands of a masterful, literary storyteller. This isn’t just pulp.

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The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison 

Oh man, this is a good book to read lying next to your husband at night. (That sounded creepier than intended I should write thrillers.) Jodi and Todd’s marriage is on shaky ground and everything is at stake – their partnership, their luxe life, and their lives. It’s an unsettling read, and is more exposition than dialogue which I don’t tend to love, but these characters are so rich and so full of mistrust that reading what’s happening inside their heads – Harrison employs dual viewpoints, with each chapter labeled Him or Her – is a serious treat. This is “psychological thriller” at its best and it breaks my heart that the publishing world lost Harrison so soon. She is worth every accolade she earned as a writer.

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Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm

Whether she goes by Grace in Tennessee or Julie in Paris, Rebecca Scherm has created the perfect femme fatale. This book is unputdownable, as you’re transported effortlessly from small-town, corn-fed America to the glamorous penthouse, art-world New York City, to the seedy but intricate antique dealerships of Paris. I just exhausted myself. But, seriously. This book is beautiful and mesmerizing and I could not guess what was coming next.

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Blue Monday by Nicci French

Okay, so why isn’t Frieda Klein, the psychologist-by-day/crime-fighter-by-night created by husband and wife team Nicci French, as big here in the States as she is in the UK? Is it because she is a Londoner? Because, come on! This series is incredible! Blue Monday starts the ride, and introduces us to Frieda – a smart, careful, professional character who stands out from the usual suspects (mystery/thriller protagonists) of ex-drunk Dublin cops and white boys on the spectrum.




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