Our Top Pick in Romance for August is Jami Alden's scorching new romantic suspense, Guilty as Sin. Our Romance columnist calls it "a shivery, sensual and sensational read" that finds two former lovers reuniting to find a missing girl—and to heat up the pages.
Kate and Tommy's thrilling story had us begging for more, so we chatted with Alden in a 7 questions interview. Read more about Kate and Tommy, and which scenes Alden believes are the hottest to write:
"For me the hottest scenes are the ones leading up to the first sex scene, including the first kiss. I love when characters are becoming increasingly physically aware of and drawn to each other. It's a great challenge as a writer to find the unique things about each character that the other will be drawn to. Then there's the first contact—the excitement of a first touch, a first kiss. It's something that, once you're in a long-term relationship, you don't ever experience again. It's fun to relive that, even if it's just in my head."
David Gordon's fun second novel, Mystery Girl, is our Top Pick in Mystery for August!
When failed novelist Sam Kornberg's wife walks out on him, he decides to take a job as an assistant to morbidly obese private detective Solar Lonsky. The gig: Following the "mystery girl." The result: A complicated, darkly comedic ride through L.A. with shootouts, murder and a little romance. It's a wild new take on L.A. noir, but it's also packed with clever literary and film references.
Check out our 7 questions interview with Gordon, where we talked about writing and other fun stuff.
Sound like your kind of mystery?
Our Top Pick in Romance for March is historical romance The Last Debutante by Julia London, the fourth book in her Secrets of Hadley Green series.
Daria Bobcock, the last debutante of Hadley Green, plans to travel from England to Scotland to visit her grandmother. When she gets there, she encounters a naked, unconscious Scottish laird named Jamie Campbell in her grandmother's cottage. When he wakes up, he kidnaps Daria as ransom for money owed to his clan. Sparks fly, hearts are torn between desire and duty, a scandal is revealed—and you've got yourself a charming new romance.
If London's answer to my question, "What is it about those Scottish men, anyway?" doesn't make you want to read The Last Debutante, I don't know what will:
"They are the ultimate historical romance fantasy: Sexy and strong, they take what they want and discard what they don't. They are dismissive of rules and propriety when it comes to true love, and if one claims you and makes you his own, he is yours for life."
Will you check this one out? Romance fans: Where/when are your favorite historical romances set?
March's Top Pick in Mystery, Leighton Gage's Perfect Hatred, is "hands down the first 'do not miss' mystery of 2013!"
In Brazil-set Perfect Hatred, Chief Inspector Mario Silva faces a daunting assassination investigation immediately after a "particularly nasty" suicide bombing. Things get even more intense when a criminal seeking revenge against Silva is released from prison.
The Mario Silva series is "a perennial personal favorite" for Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney, so we chatted with Gage in a 7 questions interview about Silva's "dogged persistence," the Brazilian setting and much more. His answer to my question, "Would you make a good cop?" is proof that Gage is a born storyteller, as he shares a story to illustrate the emotional toll of being a cop:
By way of illustration, here’s a story I got from one detective’s wife:
Her husband was assigned to investigate a double murder. A 17-year-old girl claimed she’d returned home from a date to find her parents bludgeoned to death in their bed. But the cop’s instincts told him the girl was lying. Ultimately, she confessed that she and her boyfriend had committed the crime. Not because she’d hated her parents, not because they’d abused her, but because they’d objected to her continuing relationship with the thug who helped kill them. She showed no remorse for what she’d done. She didn’t shed a single tear during the entire interrogation. Her only concern was that she’d been caught.
But the cop was so shocked that he went home, sank into a chair, wrapped his 7-year-old daughter in his arms and bawled like a baby. “Seventeen years old,” he kept saying, over and over again. “Seventeen years old.”
His wife felt helpless. She couldn’t find a way to comfort him.
Our January top pick in fiction is Jojo Moyes' Me Before You. In the novel, 27-year-old Louisa Clark is forced to take the first job she can find after she is laid off, becoming a caretaker/babysitter for a bitter and wealthy quadriplegic Will Traynor.
Though their relationship gets off to a rough start, Louisa comes to care for Will, whom she realizes cannot cope with the dependence his injury requires. Desperate to save Will's life, Louisa finds that her own life is changed.
Read our review at BookPage.com and watch the reader-review-styled book trailer from Penguin for a glimpse of the impact of Moyes' story:
Will you read Me Before You? What other novels are you reading?
Our Top Pick in Cookbooks for December is Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, with nearly 100 recipes that are "pure Ina: inspiring, totally trustworthy, confidence-building, packed with full-page photos and generously seasoned with tips for getting everything planned, prepped and plated."
Barefoot Contessa Foolproof is also one of our Top 10 Cookbooks of 2012! Who else is making these brownies tonight?
Melt the butter, 8 ounces of the chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate together in a medium bowl set over simmering water. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature (see note).
In a medium bowl, sift together ½ cup of the flour, the baking powder, and salt and add to the chocolate mixture. Toss the remaining 6 ounces of chocolate chips and the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour in a medium bowl and add them to the chocolate mixture. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.
Bake for 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Don’t overbake!
As soon as the brownies are out of the oven, place the jar of caramel sauce without the lid in a microwave and heat just until it’s pourable. Stir until smooth. Drizzle the caramel evenly over the hot brownies and sprinkle with the sea salt. Cool completely and cut into 12 bars.
Note: It is very important to allow the batter to cool before adding the chocolate chips, or the chips will melt and ruin the brownies.
Robyn Carr has been sharing the stories of heartwarming romances in her wildly popular Virgin River series for 30 years. The 20th book in the series, My Kind of Christmas, is our December Top Pick in Romance. It's a tale of the fierce attraction between Navy pilot Patrick Riordan and Angie LeCroix (Jack Sheridan’s attractive niece, if you're familiar with the series), both of whom have survived serious trauma.
We chatted with Carr in a 7 questions interview about favorite characters, the Virgin River setting and much more.
My favorite question to ask romance authors is always, "What are the sexiest scenes to write?" And if you weren't reading Carr before now (first off, you're crazy), her answer will probably convince you to start:
"Not the sex scenes, actually, but the scenes that lead up to the sex scenes—the caress, the touch, the shiver of expectation, the kiss. The seductive words and the growing expectation that it's the right match, the perfect possession."
There was one thing Angie did remember—almost dying. Seeing her grandmother on the other side. Seeing herself lying in an emergency room covered with blood. The only person she told was her neurosurgeon, Dr. Temple, because she wanted to know if she was crazy. He had said, “I hear that sometimes, about deceased loved ones helping with the crossover.”
“Is it real?” she had asked him.
“I don’t know,” he had answered.
She hadn’t told anyone else in the family.
Angie had been the passenger in a car one of her classmates had been driving on a cold, drizzly, slick March evening. A car on the opposing interstate lane had lost control, crossed the median and hit two oncoming cars. It could’ve been a flat tire or avoiding another car, but there was no villain; no alcohol or drugs to blame; it was an accident. That driver had been killed, everyone else injured, Angie the worst. Her classmate, Shelly, had multiple broken bones but was fully recovered now except for an ankle she said got strangely cold—she blamed the plates, screws and pins.
Angie had a couple of serious fractures for which surgery had been required, she lost a spleen, there was a collapsed lung and she had a titanium rod in a femur, but the big issue was the head injury—there had been an impressive laceration on the back of her head and while there was no open fracture, her brain began to swell and the neurosurgeon implanted a shunt to drain the edema. She had some memory loss which had slowly come back, except, thankfully, not the details of the accident. She had been in a coma for three days and then had to fight her way back to the world through a post anesthetic and pain med haze. They had wondered for weeks if this bright, driven young medical student would have any mental handicaps.
She did not.
She was forever changed, however.
This was where she and her mother had their impasse. Her parents were educators, professors, and the parents of three very smart daughters. To say they monitored their education and pushed them along trajectories they thought were in line with their desires and skills would be an understatement. And Angie had been happy to meet their expectations—she was proud of her academic accomplishments. She often felt it was the singular thing she could be proud of—she wasn’t athletic, musical or pretty. The only place she had real confidence was in her intellectual achievement.
She was fully recovered from her accident and could have gone back to school in September, but she chose not to. Her father, sitting cautiously on the fence, thought a brief break was within reason but her mother disagreed and wanted her back on that horse.
Angie wasn’t sure any more. Of anything. For one thing, she was done having her parents, mostly her mother, decide things like this for her. Angie grew a backbone and said, “I might not want to continue medical school! I might want to make macramé flower pot holders for the rest of my life! Or grow herbs! Or hitchhike across Europe! But whatever it is, it’s going to be up to me!” Donna accused her of undergoing a personality change because of her head injury and Angie suggested she’d finally found her personality and it was remarkably like Donna’s.
No one else in the family thought she was different excepting the fact she had grown wonderfully stubborn. And having Jack, Mel and Brie on her side didn’t thrill Donna.
Angie didn’t go back to medical school, though the dean did tell her she would still have a place with them if she didn’t wait too long. She didn’t discuss it with her parents or her Virgin River cheering section. She’d had a close-up of how unpredictable and tenuous life could be. One minute you’re buzzing along the freeway, singing with the radio, the next you’re looking down on yourself, watching as medical staff frantically worked to save your life and you see your dead grandmother across a chasm of light.
Once she realized she had barely survived, every day dawned brighter, the air drawn into her lungs more precious, the beat of her heart weighing heavy in colossal importance. She was filled with a sense of gratitude and became contemplative, viewing the smallest detail of living with huge significance. Things she took for granted before had grown in magnitude. There was no detail she was willing to miss; she stopped to have long conversations with grocery store bag boys, corner flower peddlers, librarians, booksellers and school crossing guards.
Happy Thanksgiving, readers! Our Cookbook of the Month, naturally, is Sam Sifton's "charming, absolutely essential manual," Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well.
If, by chance, your preparations aren't going very well—or if you simply need a great last-minute recipe for cranberry sauce—here's a little help from Sam Sifton.
Science! Sometimes it’s helpful. So is spice. Some like a clove or two added to their cranberry sauce. (I am not one of them.) Others, a whisper of ginger and a small handful of nuts, for texture. Of this, I approve.
2. Cook until sugar is entirely melted and cranberries begin to burst in the heat, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir again, add zest, and cook for 2 or 3 minutes longer, turn off heat, cover pan, and allow to cool.
3. Put cranberry mixture in a serving bowl, cover, and place in refrigerator until cold, at least 2 hours, or until you need it.
Whenever I hear someone say that their favorite food is Mexican food, the first thing that typically pops in my head is "Well, duh." With bright, familiar ingredients, it's always my go-to easy dinner out. But what about easy dinners in?
The Mexican Slow Cooker by Deborah Schneider is our Cookbook of the Month, and as cooking columnist Sybil Pratt writes, "So much of what we love about the Mexican kitchen are dishes cooked in a simple olla or pot that simmers slowly on the back of the stove. . . Once everything is in the cooker, it will work its magic and all you’ll have to do is accept the 'Olés.'"
While the chicken cooks, make the salsa. In a 2-quart saucepan combine the tomatoes, tomatillos, and jalapeño. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer until the tomatillos are barely tender, about 5 minutes. Drain the vegetables well and transfer them to a blender along with the garlic, chipotles, and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Blend until fairly smooth and refrigerate the salsa until needed.
Peel the onions and cut 1/2 inch off the stem and root ends. Cut each onion in half vertically. Set one onion half on the root end and cut from top to bottom to create 1/4-inch slices. Repeat with the remaining onion halves.
When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the slow cooker and break it into large pieces. Strain the cooking liquid, discarding the solids, and reserve for another use.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and oregano and cook, stirring often, until the onions are soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the salsa and chicken to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes, or until heated through.
Note: Available in all Mexican markets, tostadas are 4- or 5-inch round corn tortillas that are fried until crisp. They are often sold in stacks labeled as tostadas caseras.
Our Top Pick in Romance is the newest contemporary romance from Lisa Kleypas, Dream Lake!
Writes romance columnist Christie Ridgway, "Alex Nolan is in the process of losing his home, a good portion of his construction business and, perhaps, his sanity—the latter because he’s being haunted by a stranger’s ghost. While coming to grips with all that’s gone wrong, Alex takes on the job of rehabbing a home for baker Zoë Hoffman, whose sweetness and optimism he worries will be damaged by his dark edges. But Zoë can’t help but be drawn to Alex. . . This is Kleypas at her contemporary best: The writing wows and the ending evokes happy tears."
I chatted with the talented (and good lookin', if you don't mind me saying) Kleypas about romance and writing in a 7 questions interview. Love her answer to my question, "What's the most romantic thing that has ever happened to you?" Read her answer!
Read on for an excerpt from Dream Lake (more here):
At the sound of Zoe's scream, Alex reached her in a few seconds. She had bolted from the galley-style kitchen, her eyes huge in her ashen face. "What is it?" he demanded.
"S-spider," she said hoarsely.
"It's here," the ghost called out from the kitchen. "Damn thing just jumped from one counter to the other."
Dashing into the narrow space, Alex grabbed the antique eggbeaters and killed the spider with a few decisive thwacks.
Pausing to look more closely, Alex let out a low whistle. It was a wolf spider, a species that tended to hide during the day and hunt for prey at night. This particular specimen was bigger than anything he'd seen outside of a zoo. A touch of humor quirked one corner of his mouth as he thought of how Sam would have reacted to the situation. Sam would have found a way to capture the spider without harming it and safely transport it outside, all the while lecturing about respect for nature. Alex's view on nature was that any time it ventured inside, it was going to find itself confronting a big can of Raid.
His gaze swept across the kitchen. A loose collection of webbing was anchored at the corner of the ceiling. Spiders spun webs near food sources, which meant there had to be a big supply of insects attracted to the moisture from leaks in the wall.
"Alex," came the ghost's urgent voice from the other room, "Something's wrong with Zoe."
Frowning, Alex left the kitchen and found Zoe in the center of the main room, her arms wrapped tightly around her middle. She was breathing in airless pants, as if her lungs had collapsed. He reached her in two strides. "What is it?"
She didn't seem to hear him. Her eyes were wide and unfocused. She was shaking in every limb.
"Did it bite you?" Alex asked, looking over her face, neck, arms, every exposed inch of skin.
Zoe shook her head, wheezing as she tried to talk. Alex found himself reaching out for her and snatching his hands back.
"Panic attack," the ghost said. "Can you calm her down?"
Alex shook his head automatically. He was good at making women angry, but calming them wasn't in his repertoire.
The ghost looked exasperated. "Just talk to her. Pat her back."
Alex gave him an appalled glance. There was no possible way to explain his unwillingness to touch her. The sure knowledge that it would lead to disaster. But Zoe swayed on her feet, looking like she was about to pass out, and there was no choice. He reached for her, his hands closing lightly around her arms. The feel of her skin against his palms, the texture of her flesh, sent a thrill of heat through him, which, in light of the circumstances, was nothing less than depraved.