I think that being clairvoyant would be pretty neat, don't you? So when Angela James, the editorial director of Harlequin's digital imprint Carina, offered to fill us in on her predictions for this year's romance novel trends, I was pumped. Here are her attempts at gazing into the crystal ball of love.
One of my favorite and least favorite things about the current publishing world is that you never know what you’re going to get next week in terms of what’s hot, let alone next year. It does make even guessing at trends a lot like playing the lottery, but it also means publishing is always fun and exciting. So here are some of my best guesses for 2016 . . .
Thank you, Angela!
Full of mild, sweet flavor, Japchae is an accessible Korean dish the whole family will enjoy. Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard's simple recipe from Koreatown: A Cookbook is a perfect introduction to Korean cuisine.
Wok-Fried Glass Noodles with Crispy Shitakes
1. In a stockpot, bring a gallon of water to a boil over high heat. Add the noodles and boil about 6 minutes, until tender but chewy. Using tongs or a strainer, remove noodles but keep the water boiling and run the noodles under cold water until cool; drain well. Add enough salt to the boiling water to make it pleasantly salty. Fill a bowl with ice water and set it nearby. Blanch the spinach for 30 seconds or until tender and bright green. Remove and shock in the ice water. Drain, squeeze dry and set aside.
2. Heat 2 cups vegetable oil over high heat in a heavy medium saucepan with a few inches of clearance. When the oil reaches 350°F on a frying thermometer, fry the shiitake mushrooms in batches until they turn golden brown and crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon, drain on a paper-towel-lined plate and season them well with salt.
3. In a large sauté or cast-iron pan, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over high heat. When shimmering hot, add the garlic and saute, stirring until fragrant. Add onion and carrots and saute for 2 minutes, stirring frequently until slightly softened. Add oyster, Bunapi and enoki mushrooms and saute for 2 minutes, until softened. Add cooked noodles and saute, stirring, for 2 minutes, then let cook undisturbed for 1 to 2 minutes so the noodles color slightly. Continue cooking—the level of browning is a matter of personal preference.
4. Add the blanched spinach and mirin, oyster sauce and soy sauce, dropping the heat to medium and tossing everything to combine, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the scallion, sesame oil and sesame seeds and top with the fried shiitake mushrooms. Season with additional soy sauce to taste.
Modern African-American literature is a vital and varied world. In celebration of Black History Month, we've dug up 10 new or lesser-known works by contemporary African-American authors that deserve a wider readership.
Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans
The polished, well-crafted stories in this collection feature African-American and mixed-race women who are grappling with problems both universal—divorce; the directionless time after college graduation—and specific to their race and class. In one story, a group of middle-class, Ivy-league college girls laugh over ads offering high prices for egg donations, knowing that they wouldn't make the grade since they're not white. This insightful, electric debut displays a wisdom that belies the author's youth (she was just 27 when it was published).
Delicious Foods by James Hannaham
This daring, imaginative second novel was one of our favorites of 2015. From the vivid opening chapters, in which its most lovable narrator loses both hands in a violent incident, this is a story full of strong images and memorable characters—and, according to our reviewer, echoes of Ralph Ellison and Kafka. With it, Hannaham has cemented himself as one of fiction's most vivid voices.
Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr.
Reconstruction remains one of the most discussed and difficult periods in American history, and in his most recent novel, Pulitzer-winning columnist Pitts takes readers to that dark era. Sam is free and working as a librarian in Philadelphia, but after the Civil War ends he risks everything to return to the South and find his wife. The journey is as difficult as you might imagine, and Pitts describes it unflinchingly—and gives readers an honest ending.
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Beatty's fearless, bitingly comic satire doesn't hesitate to confront some of America's biggest issues as it tells the story of a nameless black man—the "sellout" of the title—who comes up with a startling way to save his hometown of Dickens, California, even after the city turned its back on him. All he needs is to reinstate slavery and segregate the local high school. With a premise as preposterous as Swift's "A Modest Proposal," Beatty swings at the fences.
The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson
This lush, lyrical debut, set in 1989, finds 10-year-old Phaedra and her 16-year-old sister, Dionne, spending the summer with their grandmother in Barbados. The Carribbean feels worlds away from their home in Brooklyn, and the two sisters are in for a life-changing exploration of their heritage. Jackson, whose own family is from Barbadoes, portrays the sisters' discovery of their cultural heritage with authenticity and sensitivity.
The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore
Moore, who built a career as a cello player and college professor, published this unexpectedly page-turning debut at the age of 52. It's a cozy, small-town story that covers one year in the lives of four smart, interesting women who have been friends for more than 40 years, and centers on the Indiana diner where they meet regularly to dish on life and offer each other moral support. If you liked Fried Green Tomatoes or the novels of Jan Karon, give this a try.
Third Girl from the Left by Martha Southgate
Ohio author Southgate—a former editor at Essence—specializes in family sagas set against a textured background that gives readers a glimpse into African-American history. In her third novel, she links three generations of African-American women through a love of movies. Mildred, the first generation, escapes her memories of the race riots by going to the cinema; her daughter, Angela, builds on her mother's love of film to run away to Hollywood and have bit parts in the blaxplotiation films of the 1970s. Things come full circle when Tamara, the third generation, is able to actually attend film school and build a career.
Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon
This 2005 release is something of a modern-day Romeo & Juliet, although what separates lovers Antonio and Natasha isn't their disapproving families, but the prison system: Antonio is incarcerated for killing his father, something he swears he didn't do. Buckhanon tells the story through letters written by the two teenagers in their vibrant Harlem vernacular, putting a human face on the people behind bars and those who love them.
Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson
Four progressive Berkeley students are introduced to what some politicians might call "the real America" in this sly social critique of a debut novel. Daron, Charlie, Candice and Louis, all from different backgrounds, go to Daron's tiny hometown of Braggsville, Georgia to protest a Civil War re-enactment that local residents provide as part of their "Patriot Days" celebration. But when the casual racism of the small-town South meets these earnest activists, the results are explosive.
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Just when you think you've seen all the horrors of slavery, a book like Wench comes along to make you realize that its evils are limitless. Perkins-Valdez's striking debut sheds light on one of the more complex issues of the so-called peculiar institution: the way that some wealthy slaveholders made female slaves into pampered mistresses—and even took them on vacation. Perkins-Valdez takes a kaleidoscopic look at this warped power dynamic through the experiences of four different women.
Remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? As a child, I could spend all day deciding on my destiny with the flip of a page. And now I can write my own love story with Mimoun’s very funny new book, which is perfect for anyone who’s still searching for the right one this Valentine’s Day. Who needs a boyfriend when you can create the perfect one? In my love story, I am a food critic (YES!), and I’ve just been through a very ugly breakup in which Greg dumped me for an idiot named Oasis (NO!). I’ve decided to start online dating, and it’s not going very well (SURPRISE!).
Every eight dates or so you’ll have a perfectly lovely time, get really excited, and never hear from the man again. The world of dating is pure anarchy. Plus, your swiping finger is getting sore. One time you see a cute guy online named Max412 who claims to know the movie Clueless like you do and who even read the Jane Austen book Emma that it’s based on. You like him, so you decide not to message him back; after all, your instincts have been dead wrong lately. This is the upside down world you live in now.
“You can’t let it break you,” your friend Meg says. Her perfect poise and steely determination is why she’s a millionaire lawyer and you’re a broke French-fry addict. But you like the expression, “Don’t let it break you.” You repeat it to yourself one night as your eyes grow bleary from staring at the computer.
You’re sorting through your new messages (you’re now on three dating sites), and you finally notice two guys who aren’t bad: Goodnplenty and Architect1753. The first one has a gentle smile. The second one lists a high income and wears an impish grin.
If heartache has you wanting to be soothed by a gentle smile, turn to page 171, section 47.
If an employed dude sounds like a refreshing change, turn to page 9, section 2.
What are you reading this week?
Every month, we review the hottest new romance releases in our Romance column. But why let the print books have all the fun? In Digital Dalliances, we highlight digital-only releases guaranteed to heat up your eReader.
Call Me, Maybe by Ellie Cahill
Loveswept• $2.99 • ISBN 9780425284575
Published Feb 9
Clementine Daly is old money, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. Although she’s enjoyed all the privileges of growing up wealthy, she prefers yoga pants and reading, not designer gowns and jet-setting. Clementine is in the post-grad limbo that so many young people find themselves in, and her family is a bit concerned by her lack of direction in life. So they send her off to California with her brother, Honor, to check out the family real estate empire, hoping that might push her into a career.
Unfortunately, it doesn't, and in the scramble to get to her (first class) seat, she ended up with the wrong phone. The phone of a very sexy reporter she (literally) ran into at the airport. She’s mortified, but luckily she and the reporter, Justin, both call Chicago home, so they agree to switch back phones after their trips end. But who knew accidentally stealing a phone could be so much fun? Between the flirty texts and phone calls as they forward messages to each other throughout the week, Clementine is developing a serious crush. But she’s kept a few choice aspects of her identity secret, so who knows what will happen when they finally meet up in Chicago . . .
Do you think you'll be picking up this romance novel for your eReader?
On Friday, Nashville's literary nonprofit The Porch brought Rodney Crowell and Mary Karr together for a night of music and song. The two artists read from their works—Chinaberry Sidewalks and The Liar's Club, respectively—and performed music from their 2012 album, Kin.
Four regulars from The Porch's workshops—Tiana Clark, Kate Parrish, Joshua Moore and Lagnajita Mukhopadhyay—opened the event with readings of their work, and testimonials to the power of storytelling, an idea that certainly seemed to resonate with the audience. As she took the stage, Karr said how impressed she was by their work. "You're all going to heaven, but first you're going to be writers, which is hell."
Karr, who referred to storytelling as "communion," read an excerpt from The Liar's Club to uproarious laughter, but was at first reluctant to sing. She eventually joined Crowell in a rousing rendition of "If the Law Don't Want You, Neither Do I," a song she and Crowell wrote that was recorded by Norah Jones.
The two longtime friends maintained an easy banter, sharing the story of how they met (Crowell included Karr's name in a list of writers in the song "Earthbound," which inspired her to get in touch with him). Crowell had already written an autobiographical album, Houston Kid, but he wanted to stretch his muscles and write a memoir. When he mentioned as much to Karr, she tried to discourage him. "She said, give me 250 pages and I'll cut it down to 50," Crowell remembers. "I didn't write anything for a year [after that]."
After their performaces and readings, the two had a discussion with local interviewer Craig Havighurst. When asked about the Venn diagram of prose, poetry and song. Karr and Crowell agreed that music was the emulsifier—a surprising answer for a memoirist.
Other memorable quotes:
Karr: "Being a writer is hard and it's lonely and you're a weirdo."
Crowell, on his parents: "They were sent out into the world with bad directions and got lost from there."
Karr: "I'm in my body a lot. . . . If I hadn't been a writer I might have been a massage therapist."
Listen to a few other excerpts here.
An edgy, fantastical short story collection and three novels are among the highlights of this week's new paperbacks:
By Rachel Cusk
Picador • $16 • ISBN 9781250081544
Cusk’s eighth novel landed on many “best of” lists in 2015, including the New York Times’ top 10 books of the year. Through 10 conversations, we learn the painful background story of the unnamed narrator, an author heading to Greece to teach a summer writing course.
Get in Trouble
By Kelly Link
Random House • $16 • ISBN 9780812986495
The acclaimed, award-winning short story writer returns with new weird and wonderful worlds in her fourth collection, which ranked #21 on BookPage's Best Books of 2015.
By Eddie Joyce
Penguin • $16 • ISBN 9780143107873
Joyce taps his hometown of Staten Island as the setting for his memorable first novel, the story of an Italian-American family still struggling with the death of their firefighter son on 9/11.
A Small Indiscretion
By Jan Ellison
Random House • $16 • ISBN 9780812985429
Ellison took a break from college at the age of 19 to travel and work in Europe for a year, an experience that inspired her riveting debut novel about a young (and foolish) American woman whose experiences in London echo through her life two decades later. The paperback includes a reader's guide with discussion questions for book clubs.
BookPage is excited to reveal the cover for Wish, the upcoming middle-grade novel by Barbara O'Connor, the award-winning author of How to Steal a Dog and The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester. It will be released this November from Macmillan Children's.
According to the publisher, Wish takes young readers to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, where 11-year-old Charlie Reese is sent by her irresponsible parents to live with family she doesn't know. But there she finds a stray dog that quickly becomes her best friend, and suddenly it feels as though her greatest wish may come true.
Jennifer Wright's It Ended Badly, a fascinating and well-researched catalog of 13 of the worst breakups in history, is too hilarious to be read in public. I had to stop reading it at the office, as I couldn't stop reading passages out loud to everyone while shrieking with laughter. Our reviewer writes that this book is "the perfect Valentine’s Day read for anyone who’s still daydreaming about setting their ex’s car on fire." (Read the review.)
We asked Wright to tell us about three books she loves.
I wrote It Ended Badly: Thirteen of The Worst Breakups In History so that people would have a book they could take to bed with them the first night of a breakup. But that book did not always exist! These were always my favorite books to read when heartbroken, all of which are excellent follow-ups once you have bought my book, read it and sent copies to all of your friends.
In what a teacher once called “deeply reductive reading of the novel, seriously, that is not what it is supposed to be about at all,” this can be approached as the best breakup work of all time! First of all, it’s not a novel, it’s a novel-in-verse, and second of all, I stand by my reading of this 19th-century Russian classic. Spoilers ahead: The plot revolves around Eugene Onegin, a city gentleman who moves to the country to inherit an estate. While he’s there, Tatyana, a shy teenager, becomes infatuated with him and writes him a letter proclaiming her love. Eugene tells her not to be ridiculous. Duels follow! Years later, back in St. Petersburg, he spies Tatyana at a ball. She’s insanely beautiful and married to a Prince. Eugene realizes he’s in love with her now, but she says, “Nope, nope, too late, dude, wow, way too late.” Who runs the world? Shy literary girls who love writing letters run the world! Damn right Eugene regrets all his decisions. He regrets them because he was dumb, just like everyone who ever spurned you and your literary gifts. (Regardless of your gender, you are Tatyana, and never forget it.)
The Portable Dorothy Parker edited by Marion Meade
The best compliment you can give any funny female writer is to compare her to Dorothy Parker. Unfortunately, her martini-dry wit didn’t lead to an especially happy love life. That’s a shame for Dorothy, but a boon for you, because her heartbreak led to some amazing short stories. There are a variety of her collected works around, and you should obviously buy them all, but make sure you get one that contains “A Telephone Call” and “Advice to the Little Peyton Girl.” Both deal brilliantly with the anxieties and stupidity surrounding heartbreak—and the fact that we often can’t stop ourselves from doing things that go against our own best interests. If you’ve done those things, these stories will reassure you that you’re not alone. Besides, if you’re heartbroken, laughter is the best medicine, next to scotch. And when you get back into the dating scene, you’re going to appreciate having a copy of “The Waltz” handy.
The Love Books Of Ovid
These may have been written 2,000 years ago, but human nature doesn’t change. Now, look, if you’re heartbroken you’re going to want to skip over the numerous positive elegies Ovid wrote to love. Those are garbage lies (or at least they might seem that way now). You can begin with the elegy in which “He Upbraids His Mistress Who is Acting Falsely Towards Him.” It’s filled with choice outraged lines like “Away with thee, Cupid and thy quiver! Love's not such a priceless thing that I should so often and so desperately long for death!” Or there’s the one in which Ovid “Beseeches Cupid Not To Discharge All His Arrows At Him Alone” and he laments, “who dost never weary of tormenting me, who never givest me any peace of mind, why, Cupid, dost thou treat me thus, who never ceased to march beneath thy banner?” I don’t know Ovid! Why do bad romantic things keep happening to us!? We’re so nice! Anyhow, Ovid is a perfect whining kindred spirit if you’re going through that phase of your breakup. And surely everyone goes through that phase.
Thank you, Jennifer!
Author photo by Eric T. White