Zarren Mykhail Kuzma is a Sales Analyst for Penguin Young Readers Group. By day, he reads vertically in many excel grids. By night, he reads horizontally in many books. His B minus sense of humor is well known throughout the land. You can follow him on Twitter @zmkuzma… if you dare.
The Toymaker’s Apprentice by Sherri L. Smith
So, we read a lot of books here. (It’s the nature of the work, and, of course, many Penguins are also book nerds.) But, for me, there are some moments when lethargy strikes and it’s difficult to really get into a groove with a book. I might recklessly start and stop any number of titles, looking for something to scratch that reading itch, but nothing seems to work. Toymaker’s Apprentice is a book that brought me out of one of these funks, and in a way, reminded me why I like to read. On its surface, it’s a clever retelling of the Nutcracker, but at its core it’s an adventure, an exploration of secrets and magic, and a truly imaginative storytelling wonder.
The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove
The Glass Sentence flew under my radar at first. It sat on my shelf for ages before I decided to give it a try even though the premise always stuck out to me: Earth placed in utter chaos because of a mysterious disaster that has thrown every continent into a different historical period of time. It wasn’t until I started this book that I began to realize that it was legitimately marvelous. I mean look at this example list of things that you’ll encounter if you read it: magical maps, ghosts, pirates, plant people, train escapes, and steampunk. Can you really ask for anything else?
Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley
When I read Circus Mirandus, two images come to my mind. The first is the story itself. This book transports you to place that is warm, magical, and filled with wonder. It honestly has the feel of an instant classic in the mold of Roald Dahl or J. M. Barrie. The second image—which is related—is of a parent and a child reading together, sharing this book. This is one of those books that you keep on the nightstand and read a little every night to your children before they fall asleep. (I say that, and I don’t even have kids.) I think it’s the kind of book that can inspire a lifelong love of reading and will be remembered by many for years and years to come.
An Ember In The Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
There are books that cause me to miss my subway/train stop. There are also books that—after finishing them—make me miss the main characters because of everything that I’ve endured with them. An Ember in the Ashes does both. This YA novel is particularly special because of one key trait: honesty. That might seem strange to say, but this fantasy boldly confronts some of the terrible things that we encounter in real life. Sexism, abuse, slavery, violence—Ember in the Ashes rips away the veil and forces you to openly confront the potential for people to be both good and evil.
Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of The 1960s by Philip K. Dick
I remember the first story I read by Philip K. Dick. At the time, I didn’t know that he was one of the most famous science fiction authors of all time, whose works have spawned a hefty number of films. Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990 and 2002), and Minority Report (2002), are just a few. The story is called “Shell Game”, and I remember my exact emotional arc: utterly confused at the beginning, mesmerized by the clarity and reveals in the middle, and shocked (and a little depressed) at the end. “Shell Game” and, in fact, much of Philip K. Dick’s work plays with expectations, challenges reality, and in an odd way says quite a bit about human nature. After reading “Shell Game”, I picked up this exact collection of his novels and became a Philip K. Dick fan 4 lyfe.
The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq by Hassan Blasim
I don’t even know where to begin with this one. It’s jarring, it’s comic, it’s fantasy and reality smashed together in a bleakly dark wartime scenario. I was recently asked by a friend of mine, “What book that’s come out recently do you think that everyone should read?” I tend to recommend books based on who’s asking for the suggestion, but this question warranted only one answer: The Corpse Exhibition. There are so many reasons to read this book both social (it’s about the Iraq war from an Iraqi perspective) and literary (Hassan Blasim is, in my mind, an Iraqi Gabriel García Márquez or Julio Cortázar). But ultimately, this collection simply opens you up to something completely new. Just one story in and you know that you’re about to read something that you’ve never seen before.
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