Calling all Trekkies and literature nerds! Robb Perlman has written a quirky and hilarious parody just for you. Fun with Kirk and Spock (Cider Mill Press) puts a sci-fi spin on the classic Dick and Jane series of children's books popularized in the 1950s with characters and plot points from your favorite episodes of "Star Trek: The Original Series."
Perlman riffs on the notorious fate of Redshirts—"See the crewman. / What's the crewman's name? / It does not matter . . . . He is wearing a red shirt"—Captain Kirk's, ahem, fondness for pretty ladies, Uhura's trouble with Tribbles and the extreme grumpiness of popular villain Khan. Even the Gorn gets a shout-out for his fabulous frock!
Check out the excerpt below for a peek inside:
Absolutely packed with punchlines and playful illustrations by Gary Shipman, this book is sure to pop up on more than a few Christmas wish lists this year. Fun with Kirk and Spock is on shelves now! How about it, readers?
Illustrations by Gary Shipman, courtesy of Cider Mill Press.
Katie & Giancarlo Caldesi break down an often intimidating branch of home cooking in their wonderfully accessible cookbook, The Gentle Art of Preserving. Stock up on fresh summer fruits and veggies while you still can—their recipes will let you enjoy them all winter long.
Try this recipe for a childhood favorite: Fruit Leathers! Choose your favorite fruits and get started.
Makes 1 fruit leather, approx. 14 inches square
Raspberry and Banana Leather
Cut the fruit with or without the peel into chunks and puree in a food processor or blender. Pour the purée onto silicone mats or plastic wrap-lined sheets. Make sure the pool of purée doesn’t go over the edge of the sheets; smooth out by shaking and tilting the sheet to make it spread out. The purée should be no thicker than ¼in. Dry in the dehydrator at 135°F for 4–6 hours, or in the oven at 140°F for 6–8 hours. Fruit leathers are ready when they are not sticky to the touch, but can be peeled easily from the mat or plastic wrap. Lift the edge, which will adhere lightly to the surface, and peel it back. If it peels back easily, it is ready.
STORING YOUR FRUIT LEATHER
Either eat immediately or cover the dried leather in a layer of parchment paper and roll up, or cut into 2-inch-wide strips and roll up. Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place for up to 6 weeks, but do check regularly for any signs of mold. Alternatively, pack into vacuum bags and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
During RWA this year, we had the pleasure of talking to many of the most popular romance novelists writing today. But we were also able to chat with a few new voices on the scene. One of the debut authors we chatted with was Rachel Lacey, whose romance Unleashed is set for an October release.
Unleashed, the first book in Rachel Lacey's Love to the Rescue series, follows Cara, a dedicated member of the Triangle Boxer Rescue team. Rachel explains, "Cara is a cancer survivor, and her plan is to be in remission for ten years before she adds anything permanent in her life." Although she adores the dogs she rescues, she only feels ready to commit to fostering the boxers as she helps them find a "forever" home. And of course, men are equally as off limits when it comes to forming an attachment. "But then she gets involved with Matt, a sexy private investigator on animal abuse cases, and sparks start to fly. So she has to make the decision: Do I go for it?"
Just like Cara, Rachel had to make a leap of faith in her own life to see her novel published. "I had been writing since high school," she says, "and I always thought it would be so cool to publish a book. But it was more of a personal hobby. Then, about four years ago, I decided, why don't I try to make this happen?" But Rachel's first authorial instinct wasn't to write romance. "I love reading suspense, so at first I tried writing it. . . . And then I realized that with all the books I read, I'd be kind of disappointed if there weren't two people falling in love." So she switched paths and began focusing exclusively on romance.
After signing up for a writing class with romance novelist Lori Wilde, Rachel realized it would take quite a lot of work to bring her goal of publishing a novel to fruition. "I found out I didn't really know anything about how to write a book or get it published," she says. "So I sort of started over and focused on learning the craft." It all came together for her, and three years later, she sold her series to Forever publishing.
And of course, Rachel loves dogs. All of her pets are rescues, and she adores boxers. "I'm pretty partial to them; I have other breeds in the book, but boxers are near and dear to my heart." Hence, Cara's involvement in a boxer-focused rescue. If you'll note, the cutest model on the cover is a boxer puppy!
Debut author Graeme Simsion had a surprise bestseller on his hands last fall with The Rosie Project. On December 30, the Australian author returns with a sequel that promises to be every bit as charming: The Rosie Effect (S&S). Don and Rosie, now married, are living in New York City. Don is pleased with the success of the Wife Project, but now he's about to embark on the Father Project—Rosie is pregnant. But is he too wrapped up in learning how to be a dad and in sorting out his best friend Gene's tumultuous love life to notice that Rosie needs him, too?
Did you read The Rosie Project? Looking forward to this sequel?
Connecticut writer Kristen Harnisch brings a little-known portion of women's history to light in her compelling first novel, The Vintner's Daughter (She Writes Press). Set in 1890s France and America, it follows one woman's relentless quest to become a master winemaker—something that only a handful of real-life women have managed today. In a guest blog post, Harnisch explains the inspiration behind her remarkable heroine.
Sara Thibault is my hero. She fights against a rival to reclaim her family’s Loire Valley vineyard, sails across the Atlantic to bring herself and her sister to safety, and then journeys to Napa, California, determined to follow in her father’s footsteps as a master winemaker. Sara is passionate, principled and self-possessed, and although she leapt from my imagination onto the page, Sara’s spirit was inspired by the women winemaking pioneers of the late 1800s.
Three wine women in particular served as the inspiration for Sara’s character. A Frenchwoman, the Duchesse de Fitz-James, was the first to tout the benefits of replanting French vineyards with American rootstock to combat the devastation wrought in the 1870s by the phylloxera. This pale yellow louse attacked nearly 40% of France’s vineyards, sucking the vines dry of nutrients. The Duchesse’s French neighbors refused to try her idea, but she persisted, citing the recent success she’d had replanting the resistant rootstock in her own vineyard. Although it took years, the French winemakers did eventually replant, saving most of the vineyards that had been affected.
During the 1880s, California women were beginning to trade their kitchen chores for increasingly important roles in their family-owned businesses. The wine men of the region generally ignored their efforts. In 1886, after her husband’s suicide, Josephine Tyschon finished the winery they had planned to build on the 26 acres of land they’d purchased along Route 29 in St. Helena. The Tyschon Winery (now the site of Freemark Abbey) opened with a capacity of 30,000 gallons. By 1891, Tyschon had cultivated 55 acres of zinfandel, reisling and burgundy grapes. However, when the phylloxera struck in 1893, she lost 10 acres to the bug, and soon sold the winery and vineyard to her foreman, Nels Larson.
Josephine Tyschon’s neighbor, Mrs. J.C. Weinberger, also took over the family winery after her husband’s death. Weinberger’s operation was much larger than Tyschon’s, boasting eighty acres of grape bearing vines and a first-class winery with 90,000 gallons of capacity. Mrs. Weinberger won a silver medal at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris for her wine, and was the only woman in California to bring home this coveted award.
What compelled these amazing women to create such fine wines? Every bottle of wine contains nearly three pounds of grapes and the vulnerability of this fruit is striking: over the last century and a half, grapes have fallen victim to pests, rodents, frost, mildew and Prohibition in the United States. Still, with a precise blend of hard labor, science and art, winemakers continue to perfect the wines that fill our glasses.
According to the American Association of Wine Economists, as of 2011, only 12% of winemakers in Sonoma and 12% of winemakers in Napa, were women. In an industry long dominated by men, I raise my glass of Cabernet to these adventurers, and to the wine women of long ago who sparked the inspiration for The Vintner’s Daughter.
Author’s Note: William Heintz’s California’s Napa Valley (Stonewall Associates, 1999), and Sherry Monahan’s California Vines, Wines & Pioneers (American Palate, A Division of the History Press, 2013), were particularly helpful in my research of this topic.
Author photo by Alix Martinez Photography.
Cowboys, Dukes and Lairds: In the world of romance novels, some trends never die. They've got perennial appeal, and readers just don't seem to grow tired of these types of men (and really, who would?). But publishing houses are always looking for the next big thing. While at RWA, we were able to talk to a few editors and publicists about trends on the horizon, as well as the type of stories they would love to see more of. Check the romance shelves in a year: We predict that you might see a novel about a crew team consisting of mob-connected Vikings.
One of the biggest current trends is the Alpha male. From mixed martial arts fighters to rough-and-tumble modern cowboys, these boys are so bad, they're good. Cindy Hwang, Vice President of Berkley Publishing, says books starring this type of hero are usually a "gritty, edgy type of read." Certainly, bad boys have been around for decades. But today's bad-boy heroes are "a certain type of mix" we haven't seen before. They've got tattoos and a checkered past, but are fiercely loyal to the ladies in their lives.
One byshoot of the popularity of the alpha-male hero is the recent increase in romances centered on groups of men, connected through anything from sports teams to the Navy SEALs. "These men have their own code of honor, their own sort of family within the club, but there's a bit of danger," explains Margo Lipschultz, Senior Editor at Harlequin.
Motorcycle clubs are huge at the moment, and Hwang notes that, "In the same way that werewolves have packs, motorcycle clubs have packs; they've got their own culture and society."
Lipschultz also sees another type of "band of brothers" heading to the forefront of submissions: "Recently I've seen a whole spate of submissions in which the heroes are somehow connected to the Mob, so they have this edge of danger to them. Although they're still heroes; they're still good guys."
Sports romances are also popular right now and have led to whole series focusing on each player on a team. Publishers such as Kensington have put out a call for sports romances featuring teams that go beyond football and hockey, like crew and lacrosse.
With the rise of erotica and YA, first-person narratives and character-driven series are becoming much more acceptable in contemporary romance. Contemporaries have gotten racier, too! Love triangles, once taboo, are popping up in the mainstream. Leah Hultenschmidt, Editorial Director at Forever, says, "One thing I've been so excited about seeing, and I think has risen out of self-publishing, is that authors are breaking the rules these days. In romance, first-person point of view was verboten. . . . And you had to have a self-contained romance in one book with a happily ever after." Not necessarily these days.
Small-town romance remains one of the biggest trends, and Martin Biro, an editor at Kensington, says that there's room to go even cozier. "Something that's blown up for us is Amish and Inspirational. The Amish thing is huge! We have three or four Amish series, and we want more."
Romantic suspense is also an underpublished genre at the moment, and almost every publishing house is searching for more of it. Think stalkers, killers and a sexy detective bent on protecting the heroine.
Many publishers said they would love to see more international romances. As Harlequin's Lipschultz notes, "You’re in this cosmopolitan, exotic setting that your average American might never have been to. It just adds to the fantasy.” Sexy foreign love affair? Yes, please.
Just like in the contemporary field, publishers are hungry for historical romances that are a little different. For historicals, that means something set in exotic places or times that have not yet been tapped by authors. How about a 1960s romance? Or a love story set in colonial India? Publishers want to see something fresh and unexpected.
Editors Mary Altman and Cat Clyne from Sourcebooks mentioned that although intensely emotional Regency romances à la Grace Burrowes (who was discovered at RWA seven years ago!) will always be popular, there's been an increase in light and effervescent Regencies (think Jane Austen-esque banter). Cat and Mary also have a special fondness for Vikings, which I can certainly get on board with.
Of course, what would the romance novel be without those fabulous covers? We asked a few editors what trends they were noticing in this area. Outdoorsy covers seem to be taking off (featuring a sexy male as well, obviously), and those gorgeous dresses on historical covers aren't going anywhere. Hultenschmidt says that she's also noticed more dogs on covers—a trend that comes at a price. "Do you know how hard it is to find the right dog for those covers? To find the one that's adorable, that's interacting with the cover models, that doesn't look sad. . . . There's certain breeds that work, and certain breeds that just don't!" Plus, it's got to match the novelist's description of the dog in the book, and of course, working with dogs on a cover shoot adds a level of difficulty.
Gone are the days of headless cover models, and Avon Publicity Director Pamela Spengler-Jaffee says the models seem to be heading in a more realistic direction. Of course, they're all beautiful, but perhaps not so unbelievably beautiful. And yes, everyone agrees that flipping through folders full of handsome men to pick the cover models is a nice perk of the job!
So where do trends come from? That's a complex question! Berkley's Hwang explains, "Sometimes, what readers want isn't necessarily what writers are writing. There's sort of a disconnect. For instance, when paranormal was very popular with writers, readers didn't seem to embrace it till a few years ago. Same thing with erotic." Romance trends can sometimes come as a surprise. But when these two eventually broke big, they had been building for a while.
Or perhaps certain trends are a reaction to how incredibly busy women are today, as Spengler-Jaffee suggests. With so many women working, raising children and basically being superheroes, the idea of being with an Alpha male who swoops in and takes care of everything is a stress-free escape. "He's not the man you really want," Spengler-Jaffee says, but it's a fun fantasy.
Pop culture can also influence trends. Take dragons, for example. A few publishers mentioned a spike in fantasy romances featuring these fire-breathing monsters. Since paranormal is losing a bit of steam on the market, this might seem surprising. But Martin Biro at Kensington suggests that the mega-success of "Game of Thrones" might have put fantasy-themed romances and dragons are back on the radar. (Think "swords and princesses," says Biro.) Seems a likely theory: Hwang notes that all the vampire movies and TV shows were what pushed paranormal into popularity several years ago.
And just when we were noticing the return of the overall, crop top and clogs to the fashion world, Sourcebooks' Altman tells us, "I'm seeing a lot more romances that are like the ones I read in the 90s." Remember the Alpha heroes of yore? (Hello, Fabio!) Looks like what goes around, comes around.
So readers, what trends would you like to see more of in romance novels?
There's something ominous circling the three characters in David Shafer's debut novel, but quite frankly, I haven't been giving it much attention. I've been far too caught up in Shafer's unrelenting humor—which is wicked and dark, just how I like it—and his spotless characterization. That being said, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot also fulfills all the requirements of an outstanding technothriller, with pulsing strains of paranoia and those all-seeing technological powers-that-be.
The story centers around 30-somethings Leila, Leo and Mark. Leo and Mark were friends at Harvard, but Leo is now a bit of a loser, while Mark is a phony self-help guide who works for the Committee, a data collection agency that seeks to privatize all information. Leila is a disillusioned nonprofit worker on the other side of the world. The only thing keeping the Committee from its goal is a secret underground Internet called Dear Diary. With jabs at every political angle, a love story and plenty of cool tech, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a pageturner of the highest order.
Read on for an excerpt from Leo's first scene:
There was no one even near Leo when he flew from his bike. His mind cast about for a culprit, for someone to blame other than himself. The bike just ceased its forward motion and he did not. How surprising, how nifty physics was. And as he trebucheted toward a four-inch curb, aware at once that his meeting with it would be physically calamitous, he remembered that he was wearing no helmet, and his surprised turned to fear. A month ago, at a party to which his friend Louis had brought him, Leo had heard (well, overheard) the host claiming that he wasn't afraid of death. That particular claim seemed to Leo to be demonstrably false. So, costumed as Jesus (for this was a Halloween party), Leo had decided to explore the man's reasoning. Not afraid of death, huh? My, that must make you a real psychopath. But he had seen almost immediately that he should not have told the man that he was like a Holocaust denier. "I said like a Holocaust denier. Like," he protested lamely when Louis escorted him out of the party and told him to enjoy the bracing walk home dressed as Jesus.
No, thought Leo, as he landed his right hand, fingertips first, on the cold nubbly of the curb, I am definitely more than a body, but I believe I am less than a soul.
Then, with a fluid agility that hadn't been his in years, Leo tucked his head and vertical body behind the leading edge of his rounded arm. Some latent muscle memory from five months of jujitsu at the McBurney YMA on West Sixty-Third Street from when he was ten? Leo seemed to recall that this YMCA had in fact served the adventurous class of men described in the song. Now, he felt a point beneath his stomach become the axis of his spinning mass, and he knew to use that dragony breath to take the hit when, after about 120 degrees, his trunk met the sidewalk, hard. Next was his hip and ass, which rolled over not just the concrete but also a busted padlock on the scene by chance. Then came his knees and feet, with a thwack. That was followed by his trailing left arm, which lay down gently, and his gloved palm, which landed and sprang back, the way a conguero lands a hand on the taut hide of his drum.
Leo stood up. He was fine. Just fine. Right as rain.
Leo stood up again, this time more carefully. Okay, maybe fine was an overstatement. But ambulatory and intact. A bit exhilarated, actually.
His bike lay twisted in the street behind him, its front tire still clamped in the groove of the new light-rail system tracks they were laying all over town. Only now did he notice the yellow-and-black warming signs that would have made him aware of the hazard his bike had to cross. The graphics depicted pretty much what had just happened: a bicycle with its front wheel caught in the maw of the track, the blockish pictogram rider hurtling over the handlebars. An honest piece of graphic art; a tiny, two-line picture poem, thought Leo, and he started to upbraid himself for his carelessness and lack of attention.
But wait. On one corner—the direction from which he'd come—the warning sign was there, but it was swathed in black plastic, taped up tight.
The thought came like a revelation: This was no accident. They obscured that sign because they want me eliminated.
Some part of him said, No, don't be ridiculous. But then why was only one sign shrouded?
What are you reading today?
In her latest Regency romance, Shana Galen brings her Lord and Lady Spy series to a conclusion with Love and Let Spy. In this cheeky take on the classic Bond movies, Jane Bonde is Britain's best spy and last hope. Jane is worried her dangerous position will get in the way of her relationship with fiancé Dominic Griffyn, but as secrets come to light, she may have to choose between the most important mission of her career and the troubled man she's come to love. In this guest post, Galen tells us about the inspiration behind her spy-themed romances and why she loves writing strong heroines.
I never intended to write a series based on popular spy movies. In fact, the first in the series, Lord and Lady Spy, was a tough sell. My editor gave me a one-book contract for the book, and I figured that was it. (OK, I had hope. I might have sort of left the end of Lord and Lady Spy slightly unresolved because I had my fingers crossed that readers would want more.)
And I’ve never been so thankful that they did. I wrote True Spies, and now I have Love and Let Spy coming out. The fun thing about these books is that they’re each based on a spy movie. The idea for a book based on a modern movie came to me one evening while watching the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith. I started thinking, what if this movie were set not in the 2000s, but in the 1800s? What if I wrote a book about a married couple who were rival spies and never even knew it? And what would happen when they inevitably find out?
True Spies is based on the movie True Lies, and for the third book, I wanted another iconic spy movie. I watched a lot of them, and then I went to see Skyfall. Of course, I’d seen James Bond films before, but while I was watching the latest Bond film, I thought, why don’t I do a Bond book? Except I’d put a spin on it, and my James Bond would be Jane Bonde. I knew I could have fun with it by including nods to the Bond films. Jane would prefer her ratafia shaken not stirred. She’d have a friend and co-worker named Q and an admirer named Moneypence. There would be a fast-paced opening scene and plenty of cool gadgets.
I also knew all of these elements would add up to nothing more than a parody of the Bond films if I didn’t also have a good story. Jane had to become more than Jane Bonde to the reader. She had to have a poignant and interesting backstory as well as a vitally important mission. And, unlike the Bond girls in the movies, my Bond. . . boy had to have complexity and his own character arc. Dominic Griffyn isn’t just a pretty face. He’s dark and tortured and exactly the kind of man Jane could fall for.
I’ve always written strong heroines, but writing female spies gave me the opportunity to write tough, kick-ass heroines. Jane Bonde in Love and Let Spy is the toughest yet. I mean, she’s a female James Bond—She has to be able to run with the big dogs. For me, the key to writing strong heroines is to give them an inner vulnerability as well. Readers want to identify with the heroine of a book, and no one identifies with someone who is strong and sure of herself all the time.
In Love and Let Spy, I wanted to take a look at what the life of a spy might really be like. Behind all the glitz and the glamour of having a secret identity, it must be very lonely work. A spy has to protect herself at all times. She can’t let anyone know the real person behind the mask. Jane has been trained from a young age for the work she does for the Crown, and she doesn’t know anything else. She doesn’t have any true friends, hobbies or life outside of her mission. As she comes to know Dominic, she realizes it’s very likely she might end up alone. It’s a tough choice—go on devoting her entire life to spying or pull back and make room in her life for more.
It’s a dilemma a lot of romance readers can identify with, myself included. We can be the supermom or super-wife the media expects us to be, or we can step back and enjoy life, even the messy parts of it.
See more from Galen on her website. Love and Let Spy is available now!
As summer begins winding down, it's about time to kick off the new school year.
When Kim Bearden began her teaching career, she never expected so many of her school day's teaching moments to come from her own students.
Bearden delves into her 27 years of experience in the education field and tells the story of her founding of the Ron Clark Academy (an innovative middle school in Atlanta with a world-renowned reputation) in her uplifting new memoir, Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me.
Crash Course is filled with anecdotes about the importance of bringing creativity into the classroom, advice for tackling problems from a place of honesty and embracing and celebrating her students' cultural differences—all relayed in Bearden's down-to-earth voice.
While aimed at fellow teachers, Bearden's memoir is a beautiful read with insights for anyone working with youth or the public at large.
See Bearden and some of her real students discuss Crash Course in the trailer below:
What do you think, readers? Any teachers out there looking for a back to school read?