Sara Humphreys' new contemporary McGuire Brother series is a step in a different direction for the award-winning paranormal romance author.
In this guest post, Humphreys to tell us about what inspired the new series, her fears about switching genres and more.
When people ask me where I came up with the idea for The McGuire Brothers series, I always wonder if I should admit the truth.
Here goes . . .
If you’re familiar with my previous work, then you know that I write steamy paranormal romance. Vampires, witches, shifters, demons and dragons inhabit the pages of my books. A few years ago, at the RWA National Conference in California, I pitched a new series idea to my editor, Deb Werksman. It was called Angels in Uniform and would feature angel-human hybrids that were all men in uniform.
My editor said, “Well, what if they were just people? You know, everyday heroes.”
To be really honest, I was afraid to try contemporary romance because the real world rules would have to apply. The hero can’t telepath with the heroine and he doesn’t have supernatural strength. In a contemporary romance, the men have to be . . . real men.
But it didn’t take long for me to get past my fears, and with Deb’s encouragement, The McGuire Brothers series was born.
First of all, I absolutely adore a man in uniform. They are alpha to the core: protective, loyal and steadfast. Secondly, there is something innately appealing about the bond between brothers. Maybe it’s because I have four sons or because I’ve seen the close relationship my father shares with his brothers, but I am a sucker for male-bonding.
The McGuire Brothers series features five brothers from a close-knit New England family, and all of them are men in uniform. Their devotion to each other is matched only by their commitment to service and eventually, to the women they fall in love with.
Readers will meet all five of the boys in Brave the Heat, but this love story belongs to Gavin. He’s the oldest in the family and the fire chief in their hometown. As with many first-borns, he is the caretaker and feels it’s his responsibility to keep an eye on his aging parents, to say nothing of the town he lives in.
After getting his heart broken by his high school sweetheart, Gavin swore off love and devoted his life to his career. However, when Jordan returns to town after a nasty divorce with two little girls in tow, the walls around Gavin’s heart begin to crumble.
One of my favorite moments in Brave the Heat includes all five brothers. They’re in the kitchen during their parent’s big anniversary party, and even though there’s a tent full of finely catered food, they’ve all come inside in search of their mother’s homemade cookies. Needless to say, there are only two left and a mild scuffle ensues.
If you ask me, there’s nothing sexier than a man who is devoted to family and living his life in service of others. Oh, and if he loves his mom’s cookies, that’s hot too.
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A riveting real-life survival story and an inventive debut novel by a musician are among the paperbacks on sale today:
Deep Down Dark
By Héctor Tobar
Picador • $16 • ISBN 978125007485
Championed by novelist Ann Patchett, among others, Tobar's account of the 33 Chilean miners trapped more than 2,000 feet below the surface is meticulously researched and often heartrending. Antonio Banderas will star in a film adaptation, The 33, set to debut in theaters on November 13.
Wolf in White Van
By John Darnielle
Picador • $16 • ISBN 9781250074713
A finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize for First Fiction, this wildly original novel from the singer for the indie band the Mountain Goats explores the aftermath of trauma through the experiences of a reclusive game designer.
By Amy FitzHenry
Berkley • $15 • ISBN 9780425281116
When Emma's career-minded mother announces that she's too busy to attend her daughter's rehearsal dinner, the bride-to-be finds all her doubts about marriage and forever overcoming her hopes for a happily-ever-after. Taking the advice of her best friend, Emma heads to San Francisco to track down the father who skipped out on her and to confront at last the emotions she can no longer hide. This charming debut novel by a Los Angeles lawyer is a trade paperback original.
Fire Shut Up in My Bones
By Charles M. Blow
Mariner • $14.95 • ISBN 9780544570115
In a powerful memoir, the New York Times columnist recalls the poverty and abuse of his Louisiana childhood and reveals the echoes of his tramautic past in a long, painful search for his personal and sexual identity.
Our month-long celebration of debut fiction may be ending today, but there are plenty of new voices to look forward to this fall. Read on for some of 2015's remaining First Fiction highlights.
The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo (Harper)
When you’re down on your luck, sometimes you have to look to the past for answers. At least, that’s the plan for Mattie Wallace, the resilient heroine of this sparkling debut.
A Bright Moon for Fools by Jasper Gibson (Viking)
This debut from the cofounder of a British comedy website (The Poke) follows a man with some serious trouth issues as he tries to outrun his past mistakes in Venezuela.
The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry (Dutton)
Set during the legendary Qing dynasty, this historical novel tells the story of a real-life Chinese courtesan whose world opened up after a scholar chooses her as his concubine. Suddenly Jinhua has the opportunity to travel the world, something rarely afforded to Chinesewomen—or indeed, many men—in the 1880s.
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (Scout Press)
Already longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, this debut from literary agent Clegg (Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man) is a scorching depiction of a community's grief after a life-changing event.
The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young (Putnam)
A grieving mother starts experiencing visions after the death of her son, and wonders if she can solve a long-cold missing child case, in this Southern Gothic debut.
The Girl from the Garden by Parnaz Fourutan (Ecco)
The fortunes of a wealthy Iranian-Jewish family are explored in this poignant, accomplished and cinematic first novel from a recipient of the PEN USA Emerging Voices Fellowship.
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta (HMH)
When civil war breaks out in Nigeria, Ijeoma is sent away to safety and finds love—but with someone who is not only of a different ethnicity, but also another girl.
A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan (Simon & Schuster)
An I Don't Know How She Does It for this digitally plugged-in decade, Egan's playful and provocative meditation on what it means to “have it all" is one of the fall's most charming releases.
After the Parade by Lori Ostlund (Scribner)
This gentle midlife coming-of-age story follows a gay man after the collapse of a nearly 20-year relationship who goes on a redemptive journey to his hometown.
Another Woman's Daughter by Fiona Sussman (Berkley)
Apartheid South Africa forms the backdrop of this powerful story of a mother and daughter who are caught up in the racial tensions of the day.
Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson (Doubleday)
An elaborately designed novel that weaves a 19th-century manuscript into its pages, this story of a future dystopia created through an alternate past (Texas gained independence, for one) is an original and thrilling ride.
Cleopatra's Shadows by Emily Holleman (Little, Brown)
Did you know Cleopatra had a little sister? Neither did we, but this historically detailed exploration of life on the Nile during the Ptolemy dynasty feels like a breath of fresh air after the "Downton"-inspired wave of 20th-century historical fiction. Fans of Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles should take note.
City of Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (Random House)
This is probably the fall's most buzzed-about debut, and at more than 900 pages, it demands a significant time investment. But early word has it that the story, set in 1970s New York City and told by multiple narrators, is one that's worth getting lost in. Hallberg, a longtime contributor to the Millions blog, sold the manuscript for seven figures.
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (Riverhead)
Watkins, whose short story collection, Battleborn, was highly touted in 2012, is finally releasing a work of full-length fiction. Set in a near future where water has nearly vanished from the American West, it's a story of survival, weakness and cults.
The Marriage Pact by M.J. Pullen (Thomas Dunne)
A former therapist makes her fiction debut with a smart story of Atlanta 30-somethings coming to terms with life, careers and love.
Take a cross-country road trip with the father of pop art in Deborah Davis' The Trip. Our reviewer writes, "In Deborah Davis’ impressive recounting of this adventure, The Trip, Warhol’s experiences mark the turning point in his life between “Raggedy Andy” Warhola, a small-town kid from Pittsburgh, and Andy Warhol, filmmaker and pop art impresario." (Read the full review.)
We asked Davis to tell us about three books she's enjoyed reading lately.
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
Readers and reviewers alike use one word, “unputdownable” (and I’m not even sure it’s a word), when describing I Am Pilgrim, Terry Hayes’ best-selling suspense thriller. I tore through this spellbinder so quickly and so compulsively that I was actually sneaking reads on my iPhone when I was supposed to be otherwise engaged. In addition to delivering a smart, inventive and involving story, this book offers a kaleidoscopic vision of global politics in the tense and terrifying world we occupy today.
China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
The sensational sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan’s China Rich Girlfriend is a 24-karat exploration of money, mores and extreme affluenza in modern-day Asia. But Kwan delivers more than a panoramic portrait of fabulous excess (The clothes! The jewels! The cars! The homes!), and in the tradition of the very best social observers, he wisely reminds us of what’s truly important underneath all those intoxicating frills. His heart is always in the right place, yet he never denies us the thrill of our favorite new spectator sport: watching the crazy rich spend crazy amounts of money in crazy new ways.
The Martian by Andy Weir
The Martian is a classic shipwreck story with a very clever twist. This new millennium castaway has been abandoned in outer space, on the notoriously inhospitable planet Mars. I’m not a big science fiction fan, but Weir creates a completely credible “what-if” world, with a charismatic hero at its oxygen-less center. Time is astronaut Mark Watney’s enemy, as he confronts new and seemingly insurmountable obstacles every day. But our unlikely hero’s wit, intelligence, ingenuity and irresistible boy-next-door personality (although in this case, “next-door” is an angry red planet) have us hanging on his every action, rooting for his survival. Read it before the Matt Damon movie comes out in the fall!
Thank you, Deborah! See anything you think you'd enjoy, readers?
(Author photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders)
Our final debut of the week is Erin Duffy's Bond Girl. Duffy spent years on the floor as a trader, and she knows the world her book is set in well.
I must confess to panicking when I glimpsed the shiny black Louboutin stiletto embellishing Erin Duffy’s debut novel, Bond Girl. Call me a snob, but I have no interest in reading anything remotely resembling an homage to "Sex and the City." Thus I was delighted to discover that Duffy’s maiden literary voyage has steered clear of the silly and sordid clichés of so-called “chick lit,” and instead delivers a delectable tale of a plucky female bond trader whose Wall Street escapades just happen to coincide with the economic Armageddon of 2008.
Read our full review here.
So you sped through All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr's riveting second novel set during World War II. Starring two teenagers—a French girl and a German boy—on opposite sides of the war whose lives become intertwined in surprising ways, this magical, almost fable-like story is a sweeping saga. If you're looking for a book worthy of following it, allow us to humbly present the options below.
If you were drawn to Doerr's not-unsympathetic portrait of German life during wartime—and the explanation of how everyday people could be caught up in the Nazi machine—pick up Hummel's realistic story of a German hausfrau on the homefront, which is based on the lives of her grandparents. Full of pitch-perfect details about the hardships faced by families as resources were diverted to the army, this novel "drive[s] home the humanity and suffering of the people who are frequently considered only as the enemy."
This moving debut, set during the Chechen wars, also features a cast of characters whose lives, at first, appear to have little in common, but are eventually shown to be linked in surprising ways. It also possesses the same emotional heft as Doerr's bestseller—and hey, we already know you like books by authors named Anthony!
Was it the peek at a lesser-known side of World War II that drew you to All the Light We Cannot See? Then you should pick up Jamie Ford's accomplished 2009 debut novel, which sheds light on the shameful treatment of Japanese-Americans in their own country during that conflict. "Ford aims to portray the Japanese-American internment with solid historicity, choosing to focus on how the events affected the course of real people’s lives. And he succeeds," according to our review.
If you thought that Doerr's portrayal of life in France during and World War II felt real, don't miss this long-lost masterpiece. Némirovsky's manuscript for Suite Française was written as the Germans rolled into France, and is that rarest of treasures: A fictional account of WWII as it unfolded. And it was only found some 50 years later, long after the author herself (a Jew) was murdered in Auschwitz.
Fans of the fable-like feel of All the Light We Cannot See should consider picking up The Illumination, which imagines that the physical and psychological pain of others is visible—shining like a beacon. Through this device, Brockemeier explores the links between suffering and beauty, using the stories of six different characters connected by a journal of love notes, with a wisdom and compassion that will be familiar to readers of Doerr's work.
So you loved All the Light but thought that maybe, just maybe, it could use a little more action? An illicit affair or two? Gillham's twisty debut is your best bet. Set in 1943 Berlin, it's the story of an ordinary German woman who somehow finds herself helping Jewish refugees—even as her husband fights for the Third Reich. The fact that her short-lived lover, whom she still longs for, is Jewish might have something to do with it.
What books do you recommend to readers of All the Light We Cannot See? Tell us in the comments!
RELATED CONTENT: Read our previous "Read it Next" posts.
Masterful home cook Katie Workman's new cookbook Dinner Solved! makes it simple and easy to accommodate kids and picky eaters with tweaks to a single meal. Try this super customizable recipe for Simple One-Skillet Chicken Alfredo Pasta, which can be served as-is, or tweaked with add-ins like sun-dried tomatoes or broccoli florets.
Fork in the Road: Slightly decadent, more than a little comforting, and with some great add-in options to elevate it above the usual.
Serves 6 to 8
What the Kids Can Do
Measure ingredients, pick add-ins, stir with supervision.
While it’s certainly reasonable to thrill over a meal of reheated leftover Alfredo pasta, either warmed on the stovetop or in the microwave, this dish is best when it’s made just before serving.
Note: What does rigate mean? Ridges. And those ridges are what lets the pasta grab onto that sauce and hold it tight. Tighter than a preschooler hangs on to his mom who is about leave him at school for the first time, or maybe even a month or so into the school year, even though he knows she is coming back, because when has she ever not? (Can you tell I still have scars?)
One of the reasons I like to cook mostly healthy food is so I can justify the occasional dish like this one. In between an evening featuring Kale and Quinoa Salad (page 78), and another dinner starring Cornmeal-Crusted Tilapia (page 147), I can rationalize this warm hug of a meal. Plus, any one-skillet meal where the pasta cooks right in the sauce is a gift with purchase, in my book.
1. Cut the chicken breasts into 1-inch pieces. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Melt the butter in a very large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, in batches if necessary, and sauté until nicely browned on the outside, but still a bit pink inside, about 4 minutes (the pieces don’t have to be browned on all sides; two sides is fine). Remove the chicken and set aside on a plate.
3. Do not clean the pan! Those brown bits on the bottom of the pan are going to add flavor to the sauce. Add the garlic to the pan and sauté over medium heat until you can smell it, 30 seconds. Turn the heat to high, add the chicken broth, and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen up all of those delicious caramelized bits. Bring to a simmer, lower to medium heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the pasta, stir well and simmer until the pasta starts to soften, about 8 minutes. Stir in the warm cream and the browned chicken with any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender, most of the liquid has been absorbed, and the chicken is cooked through, about 4 minutes more.
4. Stir in the Parmesan until well incorporated, and adjust the seasonings.
5. You can continue with Step 6 or see the Fork in the Road for add-in suggestions.
6. Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the parsley, if desired. Serve hot and pass extra Parmesan at the table.
When you add the Parmesan in Step 4, you can add any of the following to the pot, alone or in combination; stir over medium heat for another minute or two.
Or, you can serve up portions of Chicken Alfredo Pasta for those who like it plain and simple, and add proportionate amounts of any of the add-ins to the pot.
Which debut author from 2015 is destined to be your new favorite author? Let an old favorite lead you to it.
If you liked The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisburger, you'll love Oh! You Pretty Things by Shanna Mahin.
This workplace drama has loads of humor and a touch of romance, all set against a finely drawn LA backdrop that's just as full of crazy as the fashion industry. (read our review)
Set on Staten Island, this family drama follows a close-knit Irish-Italian family whose world changed forever on 9/11. Like Butler's debut, it is especially good at making the relationships between men feel real. (read our review)
Like Messud's Nora Marie Eldridge, the protagonist of Hausfrau is angry (albeit more passive in expressing it) and definitely not a role model (/understatement). Yet somehow, you can't keep from turning the pages to see what she'll do next. And like Messud, Essbaum has some serious literary chops. (read our review)
Like Sebold's modern classic, Walsh's debut traces the effect of a horrible crime on a community. Walsh takes it a step further, though, to provide a thoughtful examination of what these crimes say about society—especially men—adding timely thematic resonance alongside his suspenseful story. (read our review)
Readers who couldn't get enough of the historical detail and chilly Nordic landscapes of Kent's debut will want to pick up Wolf Winter, which also pits outsiders against their community and features a mysterious death. (read our review)
Like Miller's Orange Prize winner, Cadwallader's debut takes readers to a vanished world in poetic and polished prose. Her heroine, though, is no warrior, but a 17-year-old girl who voluntarily retreats from society to become a holy woman, or Anchoress. (read our feature story)
In his most recent novel, the author of Corelli's Mandolin returns with another gripping tale of love and war. This time, the children of three neighboring families, who grew up in an Edwardian idyll, face love and loss as World War I rages. De Bernières blends global events with personal stories to great effect, putting both into perspective.
King Edward brought his brief and beautiful age to an end on the sixth day of May in 1910. Prostrated by bronchitis but smoking cigars to the very end that they had been hastening, he leanred from the Prince of Wales that his orse Witch of the Air had won at Kempton. 'I am very glad,' he said, and his servants put him to bed. 'I shan't give in,' he said, 'I am going to fight it,' but he fell into a coma and died at the imminence of midnight.
Thus it was left to King George to deal with what his father had foreseen; and to Rosie, Christabel, Ottilie, Sophie, Sidney, Albert, Archie, Daniel and Ashbridge.
What are you reading this week?