A Gathering Storm by Joanna Chambers with Savory Scones

34093599I don’t have the skills to impress upon the page the level of joy I felt when I saw that Joanna Chambers was back with a historical romance, all I can say is that the joy was substantial.  Joanna’s Enlightenment Series is one of my absolute favorites. Her writing just works for me. Her novels are exquisitely set, they always have pointed commentary on the issues of the time, and most importantly her love stories are gorgeous to read.

“A Gathering Storm” is exactly the kind of novel I have come to expect from JC, smart, well researched, and with a solid and lovely romance. But, before I get to the review, I’ll share the recipe!

What could I make for this story? A historical sent in Britain…Scones, of course! I love me a good scone and I don’t think I’ve read a novel by Joanna that does not feature a delicious scone at some point, so I thought it would be fitting. So, I made savory Wild Ramps (wild ramps are a wild spring onion that grows here in the Northeast, it is also know as wild leek in some places) and Gruyere scones to go with this book, and I know I am biased, but they are to die for.  Delicious, crumbly and the subtle garlic/onion taste of the ramps with the Gruyere is just YUM. I made a double batch and it they did not last through the day…

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Now the book…As I said before I think Joanna Chambers is one of the best historical romance writers out there. What I loved about this story, in particular,  is that she gives us two heroes with a lot of insecurities and a bit of callousness, but who  are so genuine in their search for ways to be good to each other. I love a story where people are just people, you know? Most of us would like to think that in the face of certain circumstances, true love or adversity, we will be our better selves, but the reality is that most times, we are just our human selves. That does not mean we are not truly questing to be the best we can be for the one we love.

So Ward and Nick…Ward is fixated on finding a way to gain some connection to his dead brother, even when it comes at the cost of his own reputation. He is adrift without his brother and losing the one person who made him feel known. Nick has never belonged anywhere, his mother, the only person who he had a real connection to is now gone, an he is also adrift.  Finding each other gives both Nick and Ward a place to be anchored.  And yet, they are so different, their birth and stations in life are so distant from each other.

One of the things I love about this novel, is that is does not sugarcoat the disparity between Nick and Ward. They were born to very different circumstances, and this has shaped their worldview.  Nick is guarded and cautious, because he knows a man like him is at the mercy of the will of those who have a higher station than him. Ward expects the world to bend to his will.  Yet, they can still fill the empty spaces in each other. What made this novel so good for me, was how true the emotions felt. It was almost like that supernatural plane that Ward was so preoccupied with was always there for him to find, he just had to fall in love.

Lots to love here, the happy ending is locked tight, the erotica is solid and the book will read again very nicely I reckon…So, get the book and make some scones!

For the recipe:

Wild Ramps and Gruyere Scones (Adapted from Not Derby Pie Blog)

1 3/4 cup flour, plus some extra for rolling
1 tablespoon & 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup Shredded Gruyere
1/4 cup chopped ramps (or very finely chopped chives)
3/4 cup heavy cream, plus 2 tablespoons for brushing scones
1/4 cup buttermilk

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Add the butter. Put bowl in freezer for 5 minutes to chill the flour. Then beat the mixture on low speed if using a mixer) until the butter is broken up into pebble-sized pieces, about 3 minutes.

Add the cheese and ramps. Then pour heavy cream and buttermilk into the bowl and mix just until dough comes together. Scone dough can be very sticky, so make sure you have a well floured surface to knead. Don’t knead too long, just enough to get the dough into a ball. Mold the dough into one or two disks, and refrigerate about 2 hours or stick in the freezer for 15 minutes.
IMG_0170Preheat oven to 375. Roll out disk on lightly floured surface to form one 7-inch round or two 3-4-inch rounds. Cut 12 slices from the large round or 6 wedges from each of the smaller rounds, and arrange on a baking sheet (no need to leave much room between the scones). Brush with cream (this will aid the browning process).

Bake about 20 minutes, until golden on top and browned on the bottom. Serve warm with some butter, I also had a bit of ramp pesto at hand and it was delicious.

Enjoy the book and the scones! Come back and let me know how they turned out!

You can buy “A Gathering Storm” HERE.

You can read about, and buy Joanne Chambers back list HERE.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

Social Justice in Romance Series: J.E. Birk Talks Balancing Light Romance with Serious Topics

33632459In  her second novel, “Dating Ryan Alback”, J.E. Birk blends a pretty serious issue into what is for all intents and purposes a sweet and light romance. In her story, Jason, one of the main characters is a public high school teacher in Colorado. He is also trying very hard to start a nonprofit that will provide support to students whose parents have either been deported or are at risk of deportation due to their immigration status. When I read the novel, I was struck by how deeply J.E. went into the issue of immigration and how our current policies are disrupting and some times tearing apart families, all over the country.

When I decided to explore the presence of social justice themes in romance, I wanted to intentionally look at topics that were not about LGBT rights. I think it is important to broaden the outlook of the social justices issues that fit in romance, and that there there are vast numbers of ways in which injustice and oppression can intersect in a person’s life.

Immigration or the treatment of undocumented  persons in the U.S. is a topic that comes up occasionally in romance. An though it is a tricky subject, I think the authors who choose to write about it do so because it has somehow touched their lives personally. I think this makes a difference in how the story is approached.  They  seem authentic and heartfelt.

The topic of immigration has been a hot one for awhile now in this country. I found it particularly brave for J.E., a newer author, to decide to go with this story line. So I asked a couple of questions about why she went in this direction with her second novel.

Here is what J.E. had to say…

The Tipsy Bibliophile: In your latest novel, “Dating Ryan Alback”, one of your two main characters is a public high school teacher, on the side he is working on starting a nonprofit that will support kids who have undocumented parents. What struck me the most about this, was not just that you chose to put forth such a controversial issue in our country right now, but that it was such an important part of the story. You could have been vague about what the program was about, who it would help, and it would have still made the character likable. Why was it important to you to highlight this issue to the degree that you did?

J.E. Birk: That’s a great question. The weird thing is that I never even considered making the nonprofit vague. Jason teaches in southwest Denver, where I used to teach, and this issue was/is hugely important to students and the entire community there. It just made sense to me that Jason, who cares deeply for his students, would tackle this particular issue if he was going to start any kind of nonprofit in that area.

I’ll never forget the first time one of my students told me their mother had just been deported and they were worried they’d never see her again. A lot of my teaching life is in Jason, so he too has never been able to forget that moment.

 TTP: As a romance reader (and an social justice advocate IRL) I am always surprised when social justice topics are done well in the stories I read. However it is not a common practice to explore these issues in romance. Do you think there is more space in the to explore injustices and difficult topics?

J.E. Birk: Many people have asked why I chose to add this subplot to a story which is largely very fluffy and feel-good in nature. I personally think social injustices should be explored everywhere, especially in the books we read more for entertainment and escape purposes…because when we read those books we are at our most relaxed. We’re more likely to be able to separate ourselves from the politics and simply consider the issue on a humane and real-world level. I too love when romance novels tackle social justice topics, and I actively seek those novels out when I’m looking for my next read.


Like I mentioned earlier this theme has been occasionally done in gay romance. Most recently Heidi Cullinan went deeply into it in her sequel to “Dance With Me”, “Enjoy The Dance”. I think this another book that does this topic justice, and recommend it highly.

If you would like to read “Dating Ryan Alback” you can buy it HERE.

If you want to know a little bit more about immigration and how you could help organizations that are assisting families. the ACLU has great resources and information HERE.

Thank you for reading my Social Justice In Romance Series, if you this is the first post you read, there are three earlier posts which explore other social justice themes to read, you can start HERE.

Thank you to Roan Parrish, KJ Charles and J.E. Birk for the amazing conversation, and I hope this has sparked some chats within our community of readers and authors.

My hope is to do a series like every month…My next one will be on Trauma. How do authors research and write characters with severe trauma? So stay tuned!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

 

Social Justice in Romance Series: KJ Charles talks Political Heroes and Representation in Historical Romance

25241403In her book “A Seditious Affair” KJ Charles gives us a torrid and intense love story between two men who see the world from totally opposing sides. Their views on how society should work, and what justice means are like night and day.

The “opposites attract” trope is tried and true in romance, and yet the story KJ presented to us unusual, it goes deeply into class injustice,  and the atrocities that can be committed by an oppressive state in the name of “the greater good”.  She also explores, the idea that even if two people are on completely opposite sides, common values like respect, decency and loyalty can bridge those differences.

Silas and Dominic are fervent in their political beliefs, they live and die by them. Silas fights to end the oppression his people are living under, even if by doing so, he risks his own life. Dominic staunchly defends the system that he believes is the only way to maintain “social order”, and yet they fall in love. In these the days of polarization and partisanship the idea that two men can come together and find common ground by valuing each other as human beings is almost magical.  The proposition that being humble enough to listen and try to understand the other side can bring healing and unity is very powerful. So, I reached out to KJ and asked her if she could talk a little bit about Silas and Dominic, and why she decided to build her love story on such rocky ground.

I also wanted to ask KJ about her stories with people of color. As much as I love gay romance, and I do love it VERY MUCH, something that is not done very often (or well unfortunately) are characters of color. In historical romance specifically it’s practically unheard of,  yet in KJ’s books POC are often represented and in two of her recent stories they are the main characters. I wanted to hear from her why it was important to have people of color in her novels, and to speak about how she went about writing these characters as a white woman.

Here is what KJ had to say…

The Tipsy Bibliophile: In “A Seditious Affair” and other books, you make a point of exploring class injustice and oppression at very deep levels, you expose the hypocrisy of such systems, even at the expense of your own heroes. Romance is supposed to be an escape, you know, “light reading”. What do you say to that? Do you find that your readers react to those elements of your story in particular, if so, do those reactions surprise you?

KJ Charles: It’s funny: people say ‘don’t talk about politics’ and ‘romance should be escapist’. But actually “Seditious Affair”, my most overtly political book, is probably the book that’s got the most intense love from readers. And I think that’s *because* of the politics. For one thing, fighting an unjust system is an absolutely real and brutal conflict, not a fantasy one, and that raises the stakes on the romance hugely. For another, I think passionate dedication to doing the right thing and making the world better is pretty damn sexy. And frankly, at the moment, I’d say two politically opposed people falling in love and learning to listen to and understand each other’s views is about as big a fantasy as you can get.

My heroes in that book both have deeply held senses of right and wrong, and they both have to compromise beyond comfort to be with the other, without losing their souls. I did not expect readers to get quite so hooked on radical politics 1819-20, but…well, it’s a fascinating time, an evident matter of injustice, and I think readers like to learn from their books; I certainly do.

The set-up of that book involves one hero very much on the wrong side of history–he works for a government that is actively trying to suppress calls for democracy, in ways that seem grossly unjust. What I tried to do was show how a basically decent man could do those things–because, you know, I don’t think it helps to present the people we disagree with as villains as a matter of course. Sometimes people support unjust systems out of cowardice, selfishness and greed, but sometimes it’s a matter of different world views. Dominic, in my book, is a Tory who opposes enfranchising the working man. That doesn’t mean he hates poor people: it means that, like many men of his time, he believes in a hierarchical society, and in the responsibility of those at the top. He thinks there is a God-given order to things, which includes a ruling class, and that democracy would lead to anarchy, chaos and murder, as in the relatively recent bloodshed of the French Revolution. We might now not find a lot to agree with in those views. But it’s worth noting that the great anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce was a Tory who opposed any enfranchisement for the working classes, even as he dedicated his life to ending enslavement. He didn’t think the Government should do anything for the poor; he near bankrupted himself personally giving charity to individuals. It isn’t always a simple matter of right and wrong where one person has to change his mind, and I think readers appreciate the nuance of that in books because they see it around them every day.
The Tipsy Bibliophile: I am as you know, a BIG fan of your writing, and as a person of color in an interracial marriage, I have been very interested, and pleased, with your interracial stories like “Wanted, A Gentleman” and “An Unseen Attraction”. Specially because they are so rare in gay romance, and practically unheard of when it comes to historicals. This is very delicate ground to tread on. So much can go wrong! Why is it important for you to write these stories? What was different for you in writing them?

KJ Charles:  I feel passionate about including POC in my stories because I am sick to death of seeing my city’s history whitewashed. There have been POC recorded in London since records began. I think the version of Victorian or Regency London where everyone is white and upper class isn’t just untrue, it’s painfully limited and honestly not that interesting. Opening out romance to variety of race, religion, occupation, class, gender and sexuality has produced most of my favourite historicals, and so many wonderful new stories. As a white author I am vividly aware of the importance of doing my research, representing with respect and as much historical accuracy as I can, and all I can say is, I’ll try my best to get characters and stories right. But I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing a white-only version of London because I don’t live in a white-only version of London.

I am in no way an expert but it does seem like the US and UK have very divergent historical attitudes when it comes to interracial marriage, because of course we have very different histories.  I’ve seen Americans assume that the UK had laws against mixed race marriages, which has never been the case. There are an absolute ton of mixed marriages recorded throughout London’s history, as one might expect for a port city and capital of empire, and that’s something I’ve reflected in my books as a matter of course. (Obviously we don’t have written records of queer relationships in the same way we do m/f marriages, but I think it’s fair to extrapolate the social attitudes.)

You can buy “A Seditious Affair” HERE.
You can buy KJ’s interracial romances “Wanted, A Gentleman” and “A Unseen Attraction” HERE.
Another historical series that explores class injustice incredibly well, please look for Joanna Chambers’ “Enlightment Series”. It is an AMAZING historical and an education on Scottish history. You can find the series HERE.
A few other novels with interracial couples that delve into racial justice that I LOVE are:
“Bolt Hole” by Amy Lane, you can find it HERE. 
“Other Side of the Line” by Margaritte Labbe. (this story explores the segregation and civil rights movement in the US, and it is WONDERFUL), you can find it HERE.
“Death of a Blues Angel” by Sarah Black (ANYTHING BY SARAH BLACK!), you can find it HERE.
“But My Boyfriend Is” by K.A. Mitchell, you can find it HERE.
Thanks so much for reading, and please let me know of any other romances which explore these themes that you love!
Come back tomorrow for my interview with author J.E. Birk where we talk about her decision to explore the struggle of undocumented families.
Cheers and Happy Reading!

Social Justice in Romance Series: Roan Parrish on Writing with Purpose and Decarceration

28549365In Roan Parrish’s novel “Out Of Nowhere” Rafael Guerrera one of the main characters, is an ex-convict. The ex-convict trope is not exactly unusual in gay romance, but Roan took her characters in an unexpected direction. Instead of going for the usual, she confronts us with a man who has turned his anger at the system into fierce political activism.. Rafe is relentless in his work, and refuses to be silent. He is vocal and strong, and as we read his love story we learn so much about our broken criminal justice system, mass incarceration and the decarceration movement Rafe is so involved in.

Since I read the book the first time, (I’ve read it many times by now) I have wanted to talk with Roan about Rafe. Why was it important for her to go so deeply into his political activism? Why is it important for us the reader to understand that side of him? I also wanted to talk about purpose in her writing. For me, reading romance is a lot about more than getting a happy ending with some sex sprinkled along the way (although this aspect is also critical to my enjoyment!) it is about hope, and it is about seeing the kinder side of humanity.

Being purposeful about bringing along the things that happen in our world which suffocate hope and dim kindness into a romance make the stories richer. It also builds empathy. Reading about characters who we may never come across in our own lives, and connecting with them at deep level, makes us more open to the try and understand about experiences and struggles we may have never thought of before.

So, no more of my ramblings…Here is what Roan had to say.

The Tipsy Bibliophile: The ex-convict, is not a rare theme in gay romance, it comes up every once in awhile. In “Out of Nowhere” you did something different, you did not go for the more traditional narrative, giving us a “damaged” ex-con, who is fixed by love. In Rafe’s character we get a man who had been caught up by the criminal justice system as a young man, and emerged from it emboldened to speak out and be an agent of change. Through him we learn about mass incarceration, the prison industry complex, and how the system is failing so many young men of color in our country. This is not the typical romance story line.

Why was it important to you, to let us in on the system that Rafe struggled with? What do you say to those who may argue those themes are too heavy for romance readers?

Roan Parrish: Sometimes, in romance novels, the presence of protagonists who’ve been incarcerated is a positive thing, because those characters get to be fleshed out, and in being so, often the traumas and stigmas of incarceration are made visible. But presence isn’t the same thing as analysis. And just as often, “prison” is used to stand in for a kind of eroticized reformed-bad-boy image, or as code that tells us the character is stereotypically tough. When that equation (prison = tough guy) happens, instead of being critiqued, prison becomes venerated as a kind of factory that produces a type of masculinity that signifies as erotic in many romances. This is a huge problem, because as long as books repeatedly equate incarceration with eroticized masculinity, they give it a shade of positivity, at least within those books. But, as readers well know, a lot of how we experience the world, and especially things that are unfamiliar to us, is through reading. So, if we encounter characters who’ve been incarcerated purely through reading, and those characters are coded as erotic tough guys who go on to find love, then there is an automatic connection between prison and positivity that is deepened with each story like this that we read.

At the most basic level, I believe that prison education and decarceration are issues that anyone living in America should be aware of. America is the nation with the highest incarceration rate in the world. 2.3 million Americans are currently incarcerated, and the breakdown based on race and socioeconomic background shows the prison system to be radically skewed against people of color and people with fewer resources (African Americans, for example, make up 13% of the general population, and 40% of the incarcerated population). And people who have been incarcerated face a whole slew of challenges, both while inside and after release, that make it difficult to avoid recidivism.

In Out of Nowhere, then, it was crucial to me to write a character who, first, could express the fear and horror of incarceration, rather than portraying it as a crucible through which he had emerged, stronger or more macho. And who, second, was actively involved in attempting to intercede in the system that he had experienced. It also mattered to me that Rafe was a person of color, because of the overrepresentation of people of color in the criminal justice system. Personally, I’ve been doing prison education and abolition work for years, and the most valuable perspectives on issues related to incarceration are from folks who have first-hand experience with it. So, it was important to me that Rafe not just be working toward decarceration, but be doing so with the insight of having experienced prison himself.

What feels too heavy as a theme for romance novels is certainly a matter of taste. For me, there is very little that is more romantic than the idea that love and connection with another person can deepen our

convictions about what is right in the world, and can make us more grateful for our freedom, and more determined to work toward securing freedom for others.

TTB: I’d like to ask you a bit about purpose. I do a lot of reading on social justice issues. It would be understatement to say, I don’t usually expect to come across such a sophisticated depiction of systematic oppression when I pick up a romance novel. When you decided to delve into Rafe’s activism and his thoughts on the criminal justice system, did you do so in the hopes that it would start a conversation? If so, was it hard to achieve a balance writing about these themes within a romance novel?

I definitely hoped that Rafe’s representation would make people aware of issues with the criminal justice system, if they weren’t already familiar. It’s an issue that is so deeply ingrained in the work toward justice, but one that a lot of folks might not have had reason to become aware of. And, in fact, the most gratifying thing for me, after Out of Nowhere came out, were all the notes I received from readers who hadn’t been knowledgeable about decarceration, and who were now working to educate themselves or get involved as a result of reading the book. It really underlined what I’ve always believed about reading, which is that learning the story of a specific person allows us entrée into issues that might otherwise not have touched us personally.

But I also wanted folks who are deeply politically involved to see themselves on the page. There aren’t many representations of people doing political work in romance novels, and when there are, too often it’s a throwaway trait. Or, worse, it’s conflated with being a “social justice warrior,” a charming designation for people who shout hollowly about political issues online but don’t work toward change in the world. This is a dangerous conflation, because it makes it easy to dismiss any online political activism as empty (ahem, can you tell this is a pet peeve of mine?).

I didn’t find it hard to balance the themes of the book with the romance, no. From a purely practical standpoint, nearly all my friends and community do social justice work, and it inflects our romantic lives in the same way that, say, being a teacher, or a bartender, or a frequent concertgoer might—it affects who you meet, where you hang out, and what you connect with people about. So, it was perfectly natural to write Rafe’s involvement in Books Through Bars or decarceration and have it be one more part of his life, alongside his romance with Colin.

I didn’t choose to give Rafe a history of incarceration and a drive to change that system simply because they’re issues that I think are important, though. I purposely gave them to the character who was going to be romantically involved with Colin, precisely because of the thematic link. Colin has lived his life based on a set of rules and strictures that he grew up in, and that he internalized so strongly that he couldn’t break free from them, even once he was an adult. He was, as Rafe puts it, as much in prison as anyone Rafe met inside, only it was a prison that only Colin had the power to free himself from. So, there is a substrate of understanding between them because of certain shared experiences, even though they have dealt with these experiences very differently. And part of what I hoped to show, as they got closer, was the way that Rafe had infused his life with meaning by helping other people, whereas Colin was drowning because he wasn’t able to reach beyond himself. They needed each other: Colin needed to learn that the world mattered, and Rafe needed to learn that he, himself mattered.

TTB: Finally, are there other social justice themes that you wish to explore in your novels?

RP: Social justice is, in short, the belief that removing the barriers that people face because of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, ability, background, etc., would result in greater equality, freedom, and opportunity for all. It’s a principle that I believe in deeply, so everything I write is inflected by it to different degrees. Some are explicit, as with Rafe’s commitment to decarceration, and some more implicit. I recently finished a book about Ginger (who is Daniel’s best friend in In the Middle of Somewhere), who owns a tattoo shop in Philadelphia, and it explores a lot of the subtle and not-so-subtle sexisms that she experiences as a female business owner, and the misogyny she faces as a woman working in the male-dominated tattoo industry. But, yes, I would never want to write anything that didn’t demonstrate principles of social justice and equality, no matter how subtle.

Thank you for reading! Please share your thoughts on this, if you have them. Or, share any other novels you’ve read that talk about the issue of mass incarceration.

You can get “Out of Nowhere” in Kindle or Paperback HERE or in audiobook HERE.

If you would like to learn more about mass incarceration, here are a couple of resources for you.

Book: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness by Michelle Alexander, you can learn more about it HERE.

Documentary: 13TH Film which is available for streaming on Netflix, you can learn more about it HERE.

Advocacy Group: The Sentencing Project, you can learn more about them HERE.

Please come back on Monday for my talk with KJ Charles about her book “A Seditious Affair”, and why she let her characters get so political. She’ll also discuss representation in historical romance.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

Social Justice and Romance: Are those two a good fit?

How social justice is portrayed in gay romance is something that’s been on my mind a lot lately.  I think partly it’s due to the current state of the world, and all the things happening daily that are essentially eating away at the small gains we had made in the fight towards a more just society. But also, because in the past year, I have gone back again and again to the authors who have delved deeply into social justice in their stories, and reading those stories has been very meaningful for me.

Over the next week  I will post a series of posts on different social justice themes and will share my conversations with authors who have “gone there”, and not only delivered powerful love stories, but have opened readers up to some very important issues.

So, what is Social Justice? According to The Social Work Dictionary, social justice entails upholding the condition that in a perfect world, all citizens would have equal “rights, protection, opportunities, obligations, and social benefits”, regardless of their backgrounds and membership in diverse groups…A lofty goal if there ever was one, and so elusive. And yet, in the Social Work profession (my day job), pledging to advocate for Social and Economic Justice is embedded in all we do.

I think about Social Justice a lot, it’s literally my job,  and one of my passions.  My other great passion is reading, romance novels in particular are a big source of joy, and my go to when I need self-care. However Romance and Social Justice, sadly are two passions of mine that rarely overlap.  It’s not to say social justice never comes up, the fight for LGBTQ rights is a theme that is covered well in gay romance, as it should be, and in my opinion is one of the things that make this genre very special for readers.

social-justice

Social justice is much broader than LGBT rights though, and it intersects through many different parts of what makes a whole person, not just their sexuality. It is also gender identity, race, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, country of origin, immigration status, education…and the list goes on.  The combination of all these things will determine whether a person navigates this wold from a place of privilege or disadvantage.

So what does any of this have to do with Romance Novels? Well, for me, a lot.  I’ve struggled a lot with the idea of there being a place for topics like income inequality, systemic racism, mass incarceration, sexual violence, immigration reform and so many others in romance. Is it even appropriate to get so heavy when romance should help readers escape? I think the answer is yes, especially for those of us who already read gay romance. Because, we already are seeking stories of  people who have struggled so much to be able to love openly. I think romance readers are the ideal audience for books that address injustice, and I wanted to hear from authors and readers about their opinions on this.

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My first conversation is with one of my favorite writers (in any genre) Roan Parrish author of the Middle of Somewhere Series published my Dreamspinner Press. We talk about the second book in this series “Out of Nowhere” one of my favorite romances. In this book Roan presents to us, the prison industry complex, decarceration, internalized oppression, and political activism, just to name a few, and does it all while giving us a sweeping and passionate love story. Roan will share about her thoughts on writing with purpose, and why more people need know about decarceration.

My second conversation will be with KJ Charles , author of the Society of Gentlemen Series published by Penguin Random House. KJ will talk with us about her novel “A Seditious Affair” and why it was important for her to delve so deeply into the politics of her two heroes. She’ll also share on why she writes persons of color in her stories, and the importance of their presence in historical romance.

My third and last conversation will be with author J.E. Birk author of “Dating Ryan Alback” published by Riptide Publishing. J.E. will share why she decided to highlight the struggles faced by the children of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. in her novel, and why she thinks romance is the perfect space for stories with a focus on social justice.

So LOTS of good conversation coming up on the blog. I do hope that this gets a conversation started in the gay romance community from readers and writers. I also look forward to hearing from you and your thoughts on this.
So please come back tomorrow for my talk with Roan Parrish!
Cheers and Happy Reading!
Laura

Goodbye Paradise by Sarina Bowen w Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Tart

34198964Today I have a lovely recipe for a lovely story I read over the weekend, Goodbye Paradise by author Sarina Bowen. I’ve read a few of Sarina’s books, her Him Series, was in my Comfort Reads List for last year, and her recent book Good Boy is literally the first het romance I have read in YEARS. In this novel, which is the first in a series, we meet a couple of young men Caleb and Joshua, who have been raised in a polygamist cult in Wyoming…The book is not so much about the cult, but about their life once they escape it. I really enjoyed the story and will definitely read the next one.

Before I get further in to the book let’s talk a little about the recipe I paired the book with. I decided to do a Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Tart, which was essentially as a result of quiches being mentioned several times in the book. 🙂 This recipe is foolproof. There is literally no way to mess it up, it looks super fancy and it is DELICIOUS. Perfect for two young guys trying to start on their own out in the world!

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Now the story…We meet Joshua and Caleb right before they are forced to start a new life outside of their religious community. Joshua is forced out of the compound and left to fend for himself, but Caleb does not leave him to his own devices ,and together they make their way to a fresh start.

This story even though it is built around some pretty rough themes, and could have been very dark, is very sweet and quite sexy! Joshua an Caleb escape a situation in which they never could have been together, an along the way find kind and generous people that help them start over.

I thought the author did a good job of getting at the internalized homophobia that a person growing up in that environment could struggle with, without stalling the development of Caleb and Joshua’s romance. There was not much conflict there at all actually, which honestly I enjoy in a romance. There was no doubt these two would end up together it was just a matter of building a solid foundation for their lives.

I loved the friends and family and really appreciated how they were such a central part of the story. I specially loved Maggie and how her struggles were portrayed. I of course love little kids in book, so that was bonus. Overall this was nice story, with some very sexy parts, an for the most part a nice and easy happily ever after.

I recommend.

You can buy Goodbye Paradise HERE.

You can read more about Sarina Bowen and her other novels HERE.

Now the recipe!

Caramelized Onions and Mushroom Tart

1 pie crust (I just used a pre-made frozen Trader Joe’s crust)

2 large onion sliced thinly

1 8oz pack of white mushrooms sliced

1 cup of Gruyere cheese shredded

1 cup of Swiss cheese shredded

4 eggs

3/4 cup of half and half

2 tablespoons of butter

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 tablespoon of dijon mustard

Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions

Pre-heat oven at 375 degrees. In a skillet with 1 tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of oil saute the sliced onion (sprinkled with a pinch of salt and pepper) at medium heat until they are caramelized (about 15 minutes) stir regularly and watch them so they don’t burn. After the onions are done set aside in a bowl to cool and saute the mushrooms (sprinkled with a pinch of salt and pepper) with the remaining oil and butter, until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir so they don’t burn. Once cooked set aside in a bowl to cool.

Put your crust in the oven to cook for 16 minutes. Watch it and take out before it browns too much. Once crust is done take out to cool. While crust is cooling, scramble the eggs in a bowl and mix with the half and half, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Once pie is cool, spread the mustard over the bottom of the crust, the sprinkle cheese in one layer, than layer of mushrooms and top with a layer of the onions. Pour the egg mixture on top of that. Put in the oven at 375F for 35 minutes. Make sure the center is firm before you take out. Let it cool for 5 minutes before cutting. You can serve this with a spring mix salad tossed with a light vinaigrette. It goes VERY WELL with a dry white, like a Sauvignon Blanc.

Hope you enjoy the tart and the book, they are a pretty yummy combination!

If you try the recipe, please comment below an let me know how you like it!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

Bonfires by Amy Lane and Double Chocolate Banana Bread

34389595You know what I love? That what counts for light romance from long time fave Amy Lane, takes on the absurdity of public education bureaucracy, involves a dead body, and provides us with an epic, righteous monologue that literally made me cheer out loud…Light and fluffy from Ms. Lane. 🙂 SO! Amy does light and sweet mid-life romance, her way. In Bonfires Amy lane gives us Larx and Aaron’s love story, two men in their late forties, entering a chapter of life when kids are almost done growing, careers are settled, and life is feeling like it can bear a new beginning. I enjoyed this book a lot, it really was quite easy reading and the romance was utterly sweet.

So, for something as wholesome as Larx, Aaron and their pack of kiddos I had to bake! To go with this lovely story I made a Double Chocolate Banana Loaf that will literally will make you weep, it’s so good. It is a one bowl, throw everything in type of deal, perfect to whip up when you have a house full of ravenous teenagers needing breakfast. The photo (below) I have for this was literally from breakfast this morning. Today is rainy and gloomy here in the NYC ‘burbs, and I cannot tell you how much comfort re-reading the last few chapters of this book, while sipping my coffee, with a few bites of this cake brought me.

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So the book…Larx and Aaron have known each other for a long while now. Aaron is a local Deputy Sheriff, a widower who raised his three kids on his own after his wife passed ten years before. Larx is the high school principal, who moved to town with his two kids after what was rumored to be a VERY messy divorce. They’d been friendly, until one day Aaron notices that Larx is someone he wants to learn a WHOLE lot about, and he is not shy about getting that message to the feisty principal.

Larx on his end, is not upset about all the attention he is getting from the handsome deputy and well, things get going. Except, life is complicated, one of them is in law enforcement, the other a public educator, jobs that LGBTQ people lose everyday if they are brave enough to live openly. Also they’ve got like five kids and half a petting zoo between the two of them! Yet coming together seems to be a lot simpler than they thought it would be, it’s almost like life was just waiting for them to figure this shit out and go for it.

The outside world of course had other plans, and pretty soon they are both neck deep in a town fiasco that is threatening to crucify two boys brave enough to be themselves, just so their little town could continue to live with blinders on, and not have to accept that fact that gay people exist. What ensues is a really candid look at the hypocrisy with which so many communities operate. How people seem to be fine using children as scapegoats children in their need to maintain their comfort zones. The bravery it takes to confront that, and the heroism of public educators and others who fight for kids who have no one else to stand up for them.

As always the cast of characters had some fantastic personalities, and a lot of that peppery back and forth that Amy Lane is known for. What more can I say? This is classic Amy, an intense love story, characters who are not afraid to do what’s right and demand that others step and do the same, a strong sense of place, and the open possibility for a future visit.

Highly recommend it.

You can but Bonfires HERE.

You can find out more about Amy Lane and her enormous back list HERE.

Now the recipe!

Double Chocolate and Banana Loaf

*Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3 medium-to-large very ripe bananas
1/2 cup coconut oil melted (original recipe calls for melted butter, so that is also an option!)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 cup (about 6 ounces or 170 grams) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips

Heat your oven to 350°F. Butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan, or spray it with a nonstick baking spray.

Mash bananas in the bottom of a large bowl. (You’ll have a little over 1 cup mashed banana total.) Whisk in melted butter, then brown sugar, egg, and vanilla. Place baking soda, salt, cinnamon (if using), flour and cocoa powder in a sifter or fine-mesh strainer and sift over wet ingredients. (My cocoa is almost always lumpy, so this is essential for me.) Stir dry and wet ingredients with a spoon until just combined. Stir in chocolate chunks or chips.

Pour into prepared pan and bake 55 to 65 minutes, until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out batter-free. (A melted chocolate chip smear is expected, however.) Cool in pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and invert it out onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The banana bread will keep for up to 4 days at room temperature. Although in my case the bread was half gone 20 minutes after it came after the oven, and the rest was gone by morning.  It is chocolatey, moist and decadent.

I hope you enjoy the book and give the recipe a try! If you do, let me know!

Cheers and happy reading!

Laura

Dating Ryan Alback, a Slow Cooker Mole and more Pinot Noir

33632459.jpgOne of my favorite tropes in romance is the “Notting Hill” story, when a celebrity meets a civilian and falls in love. They are not always done well, but when they are, well it just gives me massive amounts of joy.  J.E. Birk whose previous novel The Worst Bad Thing, I really loved, has written Dating Ryan Alback which delivers on the Cinderella story and then some. I loved the characters and their journey, but I was also impressed by how the author achieved balance in giving us a pretty sweet love story, while introducing some pretty serious topics.

With this book I have dinner AND wine! For the meal I made a delicious and easy Slow Cooker Mole. Mole is a tradition Mexican dish which usually requires days of cooking and preparation, this quicker version is packed with flavor and very simple to make. I chose this recipe inspired by one of the heroes in our story. It is sooo good you will be glad there are leftovers. You can eat this over white rice, in a tortilla or use in burritos. I am serious this recipe is a KEEPER. The wine I paired it with is a Pinot Noir from The Pinot Project by Skurnik Wine in Sonoma California, it is lovely and light wine, perfect for spicy food and it goes for about $12. A steal! Honestly if you plan well before your next trip to the store, you could be having an amazing night in your own home very soon!

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About the book…Ryan Black is one of those celebrities who does not enjoy the limelight, he loves his career and that he gets to act for a living, but he despises the tabloids and all the attention that comes from being on television. He has been burned before and he is not about to play the fool again.  He is working on a show which is set in New York City public school and he loves it, feels like he is doing work that means something. Romance is not a priority. And yet, despite his better judgement he agrees to go on a reality dating show…

Jason Santos, is a public school teacher in Denver and has been out of the dating game way too long (according to his friends and family). He’s had his heart broken, but he really should get out there again, even if romance is not a priority. He has a project he is working on to support kids of parents who have been deported, and that just feel like a much more important thing to be focusing. And yet, he agrees to go on a reality dating show…

Ryan and Jason are not too sure about this date they are sent on, but they go with it. They get along great, it really seems like there might be some potential there. Jason is genuinely impressed by how seriously Ryan takes his role and how much he wants the show to be an accurate portrayal of what life is like for a public school educator. Ryan loves the fact that Jason does not seem fazed by his fame, it’s going very well…until Ryan let’s his past relationship baggage get the best of him and ruins the whole damn thing.

Jason, is not having any of Ryan’s drama. He feels like a fool for even thinking he could make things work with a melodramatic celebrity, yet he can’t get over how great their time together was. He wonders what could have been different if Ryan would not have made the assumptions he did? On his end Ryan is a ball of regrets, he knows he overreacted, and he can’t help but think that he might have ruined a very real chance at happiness. After some Grade A friend and family meddling, Ryan gets his head out of his ass, and makes a move to get Jason back. Jason is too much of a good guy for Ryan to lose him without a fight.

This novel is a nice and easy read, with really great heroes, and a very fun cast of characters. The friends and family added a lot to the novel specially the parents and best friends on both sides. I also really appreciated the author’s bravery in putting an issue like the tragedy of what is happening to families of undocumented immigrants front and center. This is the kind of novel that keeps romance readers like me, coming back to the genre. A love story with characters you feel invested in from the start that leaves you feeling hopeful about the world.

Highly recommend it.

You can buy Dating Ryan Alback, HERE.

You can read more about J.E. Birk and her other work HERE.

Now the MOLE!

Slow Cooker Mole

*This recipe is adapted from the “America’s Test Kitchen Soups, Stews and Chilies” recipe book

1 Finely Chopped Onion

2 TB of vegetable oil

2 TB Chili Powder

2 TB unsweetened cocoa powder

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 ts ground cinnamon

1/8 ts ground cloves

2 cups of chicken broth

1 (14.5 ounce) can of diced tomatoes (I used Fire Roasted)

1/4 cup peanut butter

3 TB instant tapioca

2 ts minced chile in adobo sauce (This amounts give a decent amount of heat, if you want a milder heat cut in half)

11/2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 scallions sliced

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Directions

Combine onions, oil, chili powder, cocoa, garlic, cinnamon, and cloves in a bowl and microwave, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, about 5 minutes, transfer to slow cooker.

Stir broth, tomatoes and their juice, raisins, peanut butter, tapioca and chipotle into slow cooker. Season chicken with salt and pepper, and nestle into slow cooker. Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 4 to 6 hours on low.

Transfer chicken to cutting board and let cook slightly. Using forks shred chicken into bite size pieces Let sauce settle for 5 minutes.

Stir in shredded chicken and let sit for another 5 minutes in low setting. Stir in scallions, with salt and pepper to taste. Serve on white rice, topped with sesame seeds and some avocado slices and warm flour tortillas on the side.

Together with the book and the wine, this Mole is an absolute WINNER. If you do try the recipe come back and let me know how you liked it!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Insight by Santino Hassell with a Punchy Pinot Noir

30364791I discovered Santino Hassell last year at some point, and even though I have been reading this genre in worryingly large quantities for a very long time, and have reader friends who were fanatical about his In the Company of Shadows series, I never partook. I am bit of contradictory spirit and was like, “meh…he can’t be that good, it’s all hype. They don’t know…”. I was a bit off on that one! This dude can write, and when I say that, I don’t mean he can effectively put me in a “romance nod” with a book full of the delicious fluff I count on when I pick up a gay romance novel…Oh no no, he is W.R.I.T.I.N.G. fine urban fiction. There are a few reasons I have for saying this.

First, his sense of place, I live in the New York City area, I am Latinx, and I can say he captures the world I’ve lived in and know like few other authors I’ve read, IN ANY GENRE. And he is not just giving us the same old same old “white dude in Manhattan trying to make it” story line, no he is looking into the New York that those of us who have that concrete running through our veins love with undying passion.  He knows the humanity in those bodies captured in all those “New Yorker” snapshot, and it’s gorgeous.

Second, the characters, specially in his contemporaries. The word “representation” gets tossed out a lot these days, and it can feel like the concept has lost all meaning, but like most abstract things you know when you feel it. And as someone who LOVES this genre with, yet rarely see myself portrayed in the stories I read,  I cannot express how meaningful it is to pick up book with characters that feel personally familiar. Then there’s the dialogue, Santino’s command of the vernacular is always impressive. It gives the characters an authenticity that really sets his work apart.

OK…So now that I’ve gone on and on, let me get to the actual book I’m discussing here today…Santino’s new paranormal series, The Community, introduces us to a world where psychics, empaths and mediums and all kinds of other gifted individual squietly exist among us. Their secretive ways, of course, create all kinds of fuckery, which we get to enjoy for at least three books! This being first in a series, I thought Santino did well with giving us a sense of who the players are, while keeping enough of a mystery to build on in subsequent books.

Before I get into what I thought about Insight let’s cover the basics, and by basics I  just mean the wine. For this book, I chose a Pinot Noir, which like Santino’s novels, I waited way too long to get into. I’ve just recently decided that I actually love Pinot Noir, and have been testing various bottles, the one I chose today is from Hanging Vine Winery in the Central Valley of California. It is a light, flavorful wine, very smooth and with nice fruit notes. It is also about $11 a bottle which is a great deal for a nice California wine.

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Back to the book…So our Nate Black has some issues, some of them have to do with his psychic powers, but MOST of them come from belonging to a family where EVERYONE has some kind of paranormal ability. He tries to stay away from the as much as possible, which is not easy to do living in a backwater Texas town. He tried hard though, because being around his family always makes him feel fucked up. Besides there are only a few of them left, him mom died years ago, and not long after his twin brother fucked off to parts unknown and hasn’t made any effort stay in touch. Not that Nate can blame him, if he had the guts to do it, he would have been gone too.

Things change suddenly when he dreams of his brother’s death, something about what he saw compels him to make his way to New York City, where his brother died and find out what happened to him. He hitchhikes a ride from Trent, a hot dude also headed Northeast, and before he knows it, not only is he in the middle of a super shady secret psychic society situation, he’s also falling in love.

First things first, I enjoyed this book. I thought the premise was clever, and I am curious to learn more about the secrets and Scientology like shiftiness of The Community. Like any first in series paranormal it had its quirks, there is a lot of information to deliver when you are creating a universe that will be fleshed out in multiple books.

I liked Nate’s character a lot, he really evolved throughout the story, it almost felt like he went from a shadow to a full formed body by the end. The rest of the characters were great as well and as always with Santino’s book added a lot substance to the story. I specially enjoyed Elijah and Chase, those two will be amazing to read when their time comes.

I thought the mystery was done well, it was set up so that I did not feel totally lost, but had enough twist and turns to keep me guessing. The romance I thought was not as intense as the usual from Santino, but given all that was happening with Nate and Trent, it could have made for just too much. It felt to me more like a paranormal with a strong romance component, and that is alright. There is a lot to build on here, Trent and Nate were our first foray into The Community, and I am very interested in getting more of the people living in that world, now that it is solidly built for us.

I hope you go and explore more of Santino’s writing, in the off chance you’ve been reading gay romance under a rock and don’t already know his work. :0)

You can can get Insight here, pre-order Oversight the next in the series here, and find out more about Santino here.

So there it is, your book and wine for the weekend. You can thank me later.

Cheers and Happy Reading!!!

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Difficult Women by Roxane Gay with a California Merlot

28818921 (1)I usually stick to romance novels on this blog, however I felt I needed to make an exception for the latest book of one of my favorite authors. Roxane Gay, has written a collection of short stories titled Difficult Women, many of the stories are anchored solidly  in a love story (not necessarily romantic love perhaps, but a strong love nonetheless) so I thought it would not be a big departure from my usual to write some thoughts on it here.

In this collection of stories Ms. Gay explores love, lust, loss, abuse, grief, friendship, sex and gender among other themes, but mostly , principally she explores the female experience. Those of us who reach adulthood a little damaged, but certain of our worth, knowing we deserve more, this book is cathartic.

But before I get to the stories, let’s chat about the wine. I decided to go with a winery that has been very popular in my household lately that is  the Dark Horse winery in California. I specially like their reds, and their Merlot is a star. It’s cheap, delicious and you don’t see it coming. Perfect with the dark and strong women in this book. Dark Horse is widely available and a bottle usually does not run for more than $9, a steal!

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Back to the book. I have always relied on books as a major source of solace and connection. An author whose words make me feel like I am known, like there is someone else out there that “gets it” is incredibly powerful for me. When the characters and the words speak to your individual experience, there is nothing like it. That is what Roxane Gay’s writing does for me. Both her fiction and her non-fiction feel transcendental, they make me feel seen and understood.

The stories in this collection, all 20 of them, feature women who have been bruised, broken,  and used. And yet they are known, they are seen by a lover, a friend, a sister, a stranger, they have made a connection that has kept them grounded to a world that has tried, but failed to fuck them over.

I think more than anything I am deeply moved by the way Roxane Gay explores the effects of trauma. She does not shy away from the ugliness of it, how it lingers, how the world is full of us, the walking wounded, with scars that cannot be seen yet coat us inside and out. With hurt,  with shame, trying to fuel our self-destruction, and yet we are out there loving, laughing, feeling, touching and opening ourselves up for more. Rising above, beating the odds, taking what is rightly ours.

The difficult women  in Roxane’s stories, are women falling into love, falling out of love, grieving, searching for a purpose, looking for connection, and many other things. There is always a touchstone in each story, a connections that brings them back to the surface, that grounds them to who they are and their own worth. Broken yes, but put together, living. I loved every single one of these stories profoundly, but I will just write my thoughts on the ones that stuck with me the most:

I Will Follow You. This story touches on the ugliness of trauma in a very unique way. In my profession I work with survivors of trauma, specifically those who have experienced the kind of trauma that the characters in this story have, and I usually cringe when I read how badly authors botch stories of people who have to live with that kind of pain.  Roxane got this right, this story is painful and muted, but it is also stubborn and strong. Trauma survivors WILL LIVE, even if it’s in the pain of what has been done to them. I loved the bond in the sisters, a little twisted, yes, but so is the world, and they did what they had to for each other.

North Country. This is  pure romance. An erotic, sweeping, sweaty, life giving, life changing full fledged romance. Honestly if this was the kind of romance novel between men and women that was being written, I would have probably not given hetero romance up for LGBT romance.

La Negra Blanca. A clear eyed look at the construct of race and how it runs through the very core of this country and how it functions. Brilliant.

Requiem for A Glass Heart. I’m just going to put the first line of the story here…”The stone thrower lives in a glass house, with his glass family.”…Yep.

Break All the Way Down. The pain in this story is SO DEEP, so guttural, it was hard to not weep for this woman, and yet she saved herself, and she kept walking.

Noble Things. This is full on prophetic, and almost a bit frightening, and again Roxane Gay gets at the true wickedness that lives in this country, like no one I’ve read in a long time.

If there was a theme for this book, I think I would say courageous, just so very brave. Because to be a woman in society, it is to be a survivor. We who demand what we deserve, are without exception made to pay for our hubris, but we say fuck that, we say what place we belong in, and we are willing to do what it takes to claim it.

Don’t walk, but run to read this new Roxane Gay book if you haven’t, and if she is a new name to you, start with Bad Feminist, and just keep going.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

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