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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Lickety Split by Damon Suede and a Hot Red French Wine

34098918In the Gay Romance scene a new Damon Suede book is a major event. He takes his time with his novels, and that is just one of the ways in which he sets himself apart. This new book, Lickety Split, like his previous novels Bad Idea and Hot Head, is a fine reading experience.  I loved this book, for the words, for the emotions, but also because it demanded my full attention.

I read a LOT of romance, if there were a Gifted and Talented track I’d be right up there. When one consumes something, in the volume that I consume romance novels, the brain and the body learn to navigate the experience almost by rote. You start reading and your head knows what will happen, when it will feel, how it will feel it, nice and easy. Not so much with Damon Suede’s stories though, I need to adjust the setting for him, because with him, there is no cruise control.

The idea that Damon could take the cowboy trope, which has been DONE, and then some and make it into a journey, so full of emotion that it flooded the pages, is a testament to the kind of writer he is. Damon could be a romance scholar, he has a profound understanding of why those of us who are passionate about this genre love it like we do, because he loves it just as much, and that comes through on the page. He writes for us the readers of course, but he also writes for himself,  because he believes in the kind of love he writes about, that love that just shows up, and changes everything. No one can write with this much shine, and not be a believer.

Before I get to the story, let’s talk wine! For this book I was trying to find something American made and packing a punch, however the wine found me. I was browsing my local wine shop, and happened upon this bottle of Le Cog Rouge, a red cock people! I could not pass that up, it was just too good. Happily the wine is delicious. It’s a nice French table wine, mostly a Grenache and Syrah blend, and for under $10 a bottle an absolute winner. Flavorful and perfect to sip while reading this fiery love story

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So back to the book,  Patch Hastle is coming home to Hicksville, Texas for his parents’ funeral. His parents who he had not spoken to in the seven years since he ran from home at the age of sixteen. He has made a life in New York City, as a model and is moving up in the DJ world. He’s done well for himself, and despite the regret that starts seeping in with every mile he gets closer to home, all he wants to do is get in and get out of Texas. He does not need anything from that place anymore.

Things complicate when he finds out that his father’s best friend (and the source of everyone one of Patch’s teenage wet dreams) Tucker Biggs has been appointed the administrator of his parents’ estate and Patch can’t do a damn thing without Tucker’s OK. Tucker was the stuff of fantasy and terror for a teenage Patch, and as soon as he lays eyes on him again he realizes nothing has changed.  When it comes to Tucker, Patch is still a hot mess.

Some things are different though, Tucker is not the same man Patch remembers, the edges are softer, and it seems like the only thing Tucker wants is for Patch to be happy. For him to not hate his hometown and the people he left behind so much. Patch doesn’t buy it, there has to be a catch, but the closer they get, the more every feeling he’s ever had for the man comes roaring back.

The thing is, Tucker seems to be feeling a lot of the same things, and just like that, in a moment, Patch is all wrapped up in Tucker. There are problems though, Tucker is not what Patch needs, he is a middle aged cowboy with no prospects, living in a double wide trailer on borrowed land. And yet,Tucker makes Patch FEEL, the things he does to his body and his mind, are like nothing he has experienced before. Even though he knows he could not possibly stay, he fears, he may never be the same again once he does.

There really is a dance between our two heroes, they are moving in and out of each other, in and out of the lives they figured they’d have, in and out of feeling completely alone in the world, in and out letting themselves accept the fact they DESERVE the happiness they give each other.

Damon Suede has an arsenal of instruments at his disposal when he writes that really transform the experience of reading romance for me. Not only is the erotica, top notch and so hot it WILL scald your kindle. He is the MASTER of capturing the moment. He reveals to us that love happens in small moments, that if we only just stay with our heroes and sit with them for one more second, we can be a part of their love story. Throughout this book, I was forced to just be with them a bit, and let what Tucker and Patch were making together in, to remember what it felt like for me to fall in love that fast, that hard, even when it made no sense.

For those of us, who have escaped a childhood or place that felt so small, so narrow, it could simply not hold all the things we knew we would be, Patch and Tucker are redemptive. I loved that Patch did find a home in the place he ran from. That what he got from Tucker made all the difference. Patch and Tucker’s story is complicated like people are, and hopeful and healing like romance should be. Just right.

I loved this book, and will come back to it again. Damon Suede, as he does, sets his own bar and then crashes right through it.

I hope you all love Lickety Split as much as much as I did

Cheers and happy reading!

Laura

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview: Josh Lanyon chats about Fair Chance and Washington State Wines

Hello Again!

I have so many MANY reviews pending for you! Will have  a lot of stuff in the next couple of weeks. First up, the always amazing, Josh Lanyon has stopped by for a glass of W, and a chat about her latest release, the final novel in the All’s Fair Trilogy, Fair Chance. In this thrilling final installment we visit again with Elliot, Tucker, Rollie and of course The Sculptor. I have loved reading this series, and as much as I hate to say goodbye, this novel was a very satisfying end to it. The mystery was top notch, and Elliot and Tucker were fantastic.

Before I go to the interview, of course have to talk about what wine you should be looking for to pair with this delicious book. I chose a Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend from Washington State winemakers Charles & Charles. These wines are produced in the Columbia Valley, and I have yet to have a bad bottle, they are also very affordable, this bottle goes for a bout $11.99, to total deal. The wine is bold, spicy and highly drinkable, if you find it, get more than one bottle!

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So, back to the book. If you have been in the gay romance game for any amount of time, you almost certainly have read Josh Lanyon, and know that when it comes to mysteries, she sets the standard. Fair Chance completely lives up to that. I loved this story, because even three books in, she managed to build on the arc of the past two novels, and delivered a fresh mystery, as well as whole new point of view in our heroes’ love story. As always dialogue and characters were on point, and all in all, I wish we could have Elliot and Tucker coming back to us forever.

I had some questions for Josh on the book, and of course on wines…She was kind enough to oblige, SO without further ado, here is my Happy Hour Chat with Ms. Lanyon:

TTB: Josh! Thanks for visiting and welcome. So, they’ll be back right?

JS: Maybe in a coda. But the story of Elliot and Tucker is now complete. 😊

TTB: May I ask why you decided to stick with Corian throughout the series? There was certainly enough there to keep us very interested, but it is not your usual approach.

JS: All’s Fair is the first deliberate, conscious trilogy I’ve written. Up until now it’s either been sequels or full on series. The demands of a trilogy are a little different, in that there has to be a clean, tight storyline connecting all three books. It’s a short, intense journey from book I through book III—with compact, structured character and plot arcs.

You’ll see something similar happen in the Art of Murder trilogy, though I don’t want to give too much away. 😉

TTB: Other than Tucker and Elliot, of course, my favorite character in the series was Rollie. Who was your favorite character to write in the series?

JS: It’s hard not to love Rollie in these days of anti-intellectualism and the rise of the alt-right. He’s a difficult and complicated character—probably the most complex character in the trilogy. He’s got such an interesting history—possibly the most interesting history of any supporting cast member I’ve written. I love that readers are really split when it comes to Elliot’s pop. He rubs some people the wrong way, but that’s not a bad thing when you’re hoping to create a memorable character. 😉

TTB: Now as you know other than the books, this blog is about food and wine. For this story I had thought of doing a cocktail but then found a bottle of my favorite Washington State winery Charles & Charles and decided to go with that. Do you have any favorite Washington made wines?

JS: I am astonished to find that I don’t seem to be familiar with any Washington wines. Oregon, yes. But as I was studying wine lists for Washington (because, yes, I’m also a wine geek) I saw two I would love to try based on label alone. 😊

Long Shadows Poet’s Leap Riesling Columbia Valley 2008 and Sleight of Hand Cellars The Archimage Walla Walla Valley 2007. Granted these are both getting a bit long in the tooth now, but still.

TTB: One last question, so we learned what Tucker’s favorite meal was in this story, can you tell me what would be Elliot’s favorite thing to come home to after a hard day at work?

JS: For Elliot it would not be so much what he ate as what he cooked. He’s got a healthy appetite, and he loves pizza and seafood, but he’s not someone who gives a lot of thought to his meals. He does find it relaxing to cook, and particularly to cook for Tucker.

 

That is all for today folks, thanks again to Josh for the interview and insight into the series. If you have not read this series yet, please do, you will not regret it.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

 

 

 

 

Wanted, A Gentleman by KJ Charles and British Ginger Molasses Cake

Hi there book people! It’s been a couple of weeks since I got on here. I’ve been busy fretting about the impending demise of civilization at large, starting a a second Master’s degree, and gearing up to travel to Washington DC, and march with the other millions of women around the world who wanted to make a point to the new president of the United States.

It’s a scary time right now for so many reasons, which makes me doubly grateful for romance novels, and particularly glad for authors like KJ Charles who picks up her pen with purpose and clear eyes. She does not shy away from the things that are shameful in our history, and I respect her for that. The construct of race has always been something that I’ve strived to understand. As a woman of color, a feminist, someone born in a small island that was colonized on one side by the Spanish, and on the other by the French, the weaponization of skin color by  those who lack it to oppress those of us who do, has always been a source of repulsed wonder for me.

So, when I see that a romance writer wants to dip her toe into that mess and come up with a love story, I can’t helped but feel charmed and amazed. KJ Charles once again navigated the complicated waters of interracial romance, and has given us a delightful story in Wanted, A Gentleman. But before I talk more about the book, let’s talk about food! For this one I baked, if you read the book you’ll find the description of the the gooey Yorkshire Parkin to tempting not to try it! Parkin is a traiditional English pudding that has molasses, lots of ginger and oats. It is quite moist and lovely, perfect with a cup of tea on a cold winter day.

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Now the story…Theodore Swann is an enterprising man of his times. He maintains and owns a lonely hearts paper, “The Matrimonial Advertiser”, and he writes sweeping romances under the pen name Dorothea Swann. He is also in a bit of a bind. The issue arises when Mr. Martin St. Vincent, free man and entrepreneur, shows up at Theodore’s place of business demanding answers regarding a certain series of ads in “The Matrimonial Advertiser”. The ads may involve a very wealthy, very underage young woman Mr. St Vincent deeply cares for, and he will do what it takes to save the lady from disgracing herself.

Things precipitate and before we know it, we have embarked with Mr. Swann and Mr. St. Vincent in a furious chase across England to save the young lady from impending doom. It is a bumpy ride, literally and figuratively, and like every other story at the hands of the marvelous KJ, the wit crackles as intensely as the tension between our heroes.

This story like others by this author doesn’t shy away from portraying the hero/es as deeply flawed, and explores the injustices of class, gender and race of the times. Martin St. Vincent was enslaved by the family of the girl he is trying to rescue. He cares for her, and is still conflicted in his relationship to his past masters. They freed him yes, they even helped him once he was free, however can that atone for the atrocity of owning a man like property? These are things that both Martin and Theodore explore and struggle with throughout the story.

I appreciate KJ’s boldness in not trying to sugarcoat the monstrosity that was slavery and or and not trying to suggest that freeing someone you felt you had the right to own just because his skin color was black is not in any way redeeming. We also get some incredibly witty and thoughtful musings on the burden of the woman, and the disadvantages that come with being born female.

As romances go, I think the love story was believable and effective. I do think that KJ holds back a bit with her characters of color, I felt it as well in her previous interracial story Rag & Bone. I don’t imply it in a negative way at all, I think it comes from awareness and respect towards the character. As a person of color, I appreciate her restraint and highly prefer it to the carelessness with which so many authors write characters of color in their stories. This of course does not mean this was not a lovely and entertaining story, it was. It IS, and like with every other story by KJ, we not only get the romance and the erotica, we get amazing humanity.

I completely recommend this book, and can’t wait for her upcoming trilogy Sins of the Cities coming out in February.

Yorkshire Parkin Pudding

adapted from britishfood.abot.com

  • 8 oz/ soft butter
  • ½ cup  soft, dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1cup golden corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1 cup self raising flour (or 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 1/2 tsp of baking powder, 1 tsp salt)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of cinammon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 pinch of ground clove
  • pinch of ground allspice
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoon milk

Directions:

Heat the oven to 275F

  • Grease a 8″ x 8″square cake tin.
  • In a large heavy-based saucepan melt together the butter, sugar, molasses, golden syrup over a gentle heat. Do not allow the mixture to boil, you simply need to melt these together.fullsizerender-1
  • In a large, spacious, baking bowl stir together all the dry ingredients. Gradually add the melted butter mixture stirring to coat all the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  • Gradually, beat in the eggs a few tablespoons at a time. Finally add the milk and again stir well.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and cook for 1½ hours until firm and set and a dark golden brown.
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  • Remove the Parkin from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. Once cool store the Parkin in an airtight tin for a minimum of 3 days if you can resist eating it, you can even leave it up to a week before eating and the flavours really develop and the mixture softens even further and become moist and sticky. The Parkin will keep up to two weeks in an airtight container. I suggest serving it with some vanilla ice cream. SO GOOD!

Hope you enjoy the book and the cake, stay warm, and stay fired up!

Cheers and Happy Reading.

Laura

My Favorite Books of 2016 and Holiday Cookies!

I hope everyone has been having a lovely holiday season this past week. I have been busy hosting lovely friends and family who have made the trip to New York for a visit with us, as well as working and other “leading a life” related activities. I have also caught a bit of a cold, but I WAS able to do some baking before the holiday crud set in. As promised I have a list of of my favorite books of 2016, as well as a couple of recipes of holiday cookies I love to make this time of year.

The cookies I chose are Chocolate Crinkles and a Shortbread recipe. The crinkles are delish, like eating the edge of the brownie pan, and the shortbread recipe is incredibly delicious and versatile. You can make take the basic dough and add all kinds of fun ingredients. I made two different kinds for this post, lemon poppy seed and dried cherry with dark chocolate chips. SO GOOD!!

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Now, back to the books, for convenience sake, I’ve listed the books in the order they came out this year, from the earliest to the latest, some had made it on the blog already. So here they are, my favorite romance reads of 2016:

26157385The Mermaid Murders by Josh Lanyon: What can I say that has not already been said about a Lanyon Mystery? The dialogue is superb, the mystery will keep you guessing, and the heroes will make you swoon. This mystery in particular had it’s fair share of heart stopping moments, and there were scenes so vivid and fast paced throughout I was a bit breathless the whole time. Loved it.

 

28121630-1Scoring Chances Series by Avon Gale:  This series caught my eye early this year and it quickly became a favorite. I love the easy stories and strong writing. I have read every book in the series, and can say that each one has been better then the last. The game of hockey is star for sure in these novels, and I think the books are the better for it. The author clearly has a passion for the games and her enthusiasm infuses the stories by giving us heroes with a whole lot of heart.

22714914-1Catch a Tiger by the Tail  and Smoke and Mirrors by Charlie Cochet: The only way one would be a gay romance reader and not heard of the THIRDS series at this point, would be if one were doing so under a large rock, even then, I’d be surprised! The THIRDS universe has an enormous following, and every bit of hype is unequivocally very well deserved. The world Charlie Cochet has created is outstanding. Getting lost with these characters, and their stories is a delight, the books just get better and better. Smoke and Mirrors the 7th book,  and latest in the series, was probably the most emotional so far for me. One of the best books of the year, full stop.

25893424A Gentleman’s Position By KJ Charles: If I could, I’d  write a love poem to this book, I love it so. I’ve read it like a half a dozen times, and it is just as good each time. I absolutely love the way KJ Charles set this book and the nuance with which she put forth some incredibly deep thoughts on privilege, obligation and a man’s place in the world. On what it really means to ‘have it all’. Throughout this series, she explores socio-economic disparities and injustices with such a clear eye and razor sharp tongue, I almost feel sorry for those poor saps out there who think they are too clever to read romance…Almost.

32106624-1Risk Everything on It  and Take a Chance on It by K.A. Mitchell: The last book in this trilogy was a heart breaker, just like it promised to be. It lived up to the angst I expected, and it also delivered some of the most tender storytelling I’ve read in this genre. Only one with some serious skill could walk us through a love story forged in the midst of cancer treatment, and give us everything we need to get an utterly satisfying romance. KA Mitchell has those skills, and then some.

12000020-1Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz: This book was released awhile ago, but I only got around to it this year. It is a beautiful coming of age story, I loved it so much. I think pretty much everyone should read this book.

 

 

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Hexbreaker by Jordan L. Hawk: This new series by Jordan L Hawk, who is a total master at the paranormal, is pretty clever. A paranormal police force in 1800s New York City, animal shifters of every kind. This first book was entertaining and the love story was solid. Looking forward to more from this universe.

 

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First and First (Five Boroughs Series #3) by Santino Hassell: I got on the Santino Hassell train a bit late, and did not pick up this series until this year. I am glad I did, this series is set and written with the kind of grit only a born and bred New Yorker can muster up. The vernacular is on point, the portrayal of Afro-Caribbean New Yorkers is done superbly, the love stories are raw and hard fought. For an adopted New Yorker like me, this series can’t get any better. I look forward to Staten Island and the Bronx.

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Overexposed (In Focus #4) by Megan Erickson: This is the last book in the ‘In Focus’ series. Each book is set around a trip, road trip, cruise and in this case walking the Appalachian Trail. One of our heroes is grieving, the other is struggling to readjust to civilian life.The second theme in particular I think this author does very well. Trauma is not easy to write into a character, and I thought she did both her heroes and their pain justice.  I loved this book, thought it was the best of the series and strongly recommend it.

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Out of Nowhere and Where We Left Off by Roan Parrish: This another author/series with which I’ve descended deeply into the waters of fervency. Will and Leo’s story in particular is as much a coming of age story as it is a romance. The author does this with such a gentle hand, that we feel like we are spreading our wings alongside Leo. There is heartbreak in this story, but loves wins out gloriously.

 

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Pansies by Alexis Hall: This book is as sweet as the cover and the title suggest. Alexis Hall is a known and respected name in this genre, and for good reason. This book was wonderful.

 

 

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Bitter Legacy by Dal Mclean: I wrote a review on this book a couple of weeks ago, so I won’t go too much in things here, other than to say, if you have not read it, please do.

 

 

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Summer Lessons by Amy Lane: This might be one of my favorite Amy Lane series. I absolutely loved the previous story Winter Ball, and this one was just as sweet. Pure Amy Lane goodness.

 

 

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So This is Christmas by Josh Lanyon:  To begin and  end the year with Josh Lanyon, if only every one could be this magical! For those of us who have been reading this genre for awhile, this novella out today, is a bona fide Christmas Miracle. What can I even say? I stayed up ALL NIGHT reading it, and it was well worth the wait and the sleep depravation. Jake and Adrien again, happy and in love, it was like visiting with beloved old friends, you know the ones right? You can just pick up with them, like you were  together yesterday. *happiest of sighs*

Now after all these amazing books, let’s move one to the cookies you can bake to enjoy them with!

Lemon Poppy Seed and Cherry Dark Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 sticks  unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup  confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon  vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions

Before you start with the though prepare your flavors for the two varieties. For the lemon poppy seed,  zest two lemons and 1/4 cup of poppy seeds. For the cherry dark chocolate, chop up finely half a cup of dry cherries (I used dried bing cherries from Trader Joe’s) and a half a cup of dark mini chocolate chips.

Put the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat at medium speed until it is smooth. Add the sifted confectioners’ sugar and beat again until the mixture is smooth and silky. Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla or almond, followed by the salt and any dried fruits, zest, nuts or seeds. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, beating just until it disappears. It is better to underbeat than overbeat at this point; if the flour isn’t fully incorporated, that’s okay just blend in whatever remaining flour needs blending with a rubber spatula.

Turn the dough out onto a counter, gather it into a ball, and divide it in half. Wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

2. Working on a smooth surface, form each piece of dough into a log that is about 1 to 1 1/4 inches (2.5 to 3.2 cm) thick. (Get the thickness right, and the length you end up with will be fine.) Wrap the logs in plastic and chill for 2 hours. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and kept refrigerated for up to 3 days or stored in the freezer for up to 1 month.)

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3. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

4. While the oven is preheating, roll cookie logs in any coatings of your choice. Then, using a sharp slender knife, slice each log into cookies about 1/3 inch (10 mm) thick. (You can make the cookies thicker if you’d like; just bake them longer.) Place the cookies on the lined baking sheets, leaving about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) space between them.

5. Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, or until they are set but not browned. Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature.

Do ahead: Packed airtight, the cookies will keep for about 5 days at room temperature, or in the freezer for a month. Unbaked logs can be frozen for longer.

Chocolate Crinkles

Adapted from Simply Recipes 

  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Directions

Beat together cocoa powder, white sugar, vegetable oil in the mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or beat by hand with a wooden spoon) beat together the cocoa powder, white sugar, and vegetable oil until it comes together into a shiny, gritty, black dough of sorts.

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing for 30 seconds each. Add the vanilla and beat in thoroughly.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and espresso powder if using.

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Mix into the chocolate mixture on low speed until just combined. Do not overbeat.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill the dough for four hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the confectioner’s sugar in a wide bowl.

Using a rounded teaspoon get clumps of the chilled dough and roll them into 1-inch (2.5 cm) sized balls using your hands.

Roll the balls in the confectioner’s sugar and place on the cookie sheets (you should be able to get 12-16 on each sheet).

Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool a minute or two on the sheets before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

I hope that you’ve gotten a couple of books to look for from this list and that you give the cookies a try, they are YUMMY!

This is my last post for the year, hopefully 2017 will ring in with great books to read. Wishing all of you a very Happy New Year!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laurax

 

My Comfort Reads from 2016 and the Ultimate Winter Couscous…C-O-Z-Y

Hello folks! Now that I decided to bring back the blog, I figure go big or go home right?! Over the weekend we had terrible weather here in the NYC ‘burbs, lots of snow, then rain, then slush…Indoors weather, just begging for a cozy fire, some yummy hearty food and a comfort read. Then it occurred to me, why not post my comfort reads of the year?! So I came up with a list of books  I’ve read over and over again in 2016, the stories never seem to get old, they just make me feel happy. Given the state of things this year, things that bring us joy are not to be overlooked.

To go with this list I picked a recipe that I LOVE to make in the cold weather, it makes me feel well fed, warm and happy. It’s the Ultimate Winter Couscous which appears in one of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks, Plenty by Yotam Ottlolenghi. This couscous is aromatic, earthy, delicious and very filling, also the leftovers are dynamite.  The wine I paired it with is the Sauvignon Blanc by Archer Roose. It IS a boxed wine, but honestly it’s delicious, I buy it all the time. It’s pretty much always in my kitchen.  They also have a Cabernet that would go great with this dish as well, and the best part is the price, under $25 for a box with four bottles. You can’t beat that on a snow day!

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Ok, so let’s talk books, the order of the books relates to how re-readable and happiness inducing, I’ve found them (it’s important to note, I’ve read each of these multiple times, so they are all awesome!).

25893424A Gentleman’s Position (Society of Gentlemen Series #3) by KJ Charles. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this series. This book specifically, is like a warm blanket for me. There is such a beautiful intersection of historical romance with a deeply thoughtful look at social injustice, and the chains, visible and invisible, men make for themselves in every one of these books. I’ve said it once, twice, many, many times, in historical romance, for me, KJ Charles is second to none. If you have not read this series, please do, you will not regret it. Also if you have read them and loved them, a new Christmas Coda is out and it is AMAZING, we get an update from all our gentlemen, and a particularly scorching visit with Silas and Dominic from book two. You can get it by subscribing to the author’s newsletter!

28168696Risk Everything on It by K.A. Mitchell What is a list of favorites worth if KA Mitchell isn’t in it? K.A.’s writing is always safe bet for me, and this book specifically just hit all the right notes. I’ve read this one a few times this year, and like everything she writes,the erotica is searing. Moreover, with this one, as the title suggests, she takes risks. She has two men with complicated lives at a time in life when making changes can come at too high a cost, is it worth the risk? Of course it is! This is one of my favorites KA’s books, and that in itself is  telling.

29361143Power Play (Scoring Chances Series #3) by Avon Gale: This series is built around a set of American minor league hockey teams and it is DELICIOUS. This book particularly, I have read  like half a dozen times since it came out, as a matter of fact I read over this past weekend. I just love it. Love the romance, love the characters, the series, and the way the author blends in the game as well.

 

 

28549365-1Out of Nowhere (Middle of Somewhere Series #2) by Roan Parrish I don’t know what it is about Roan Parrish’s writing that works so well for me. Not that there aren’t obvious reasons, like the fact she writes with amazing style and so genuinely. Her love stories are earnest, in ways that really affect me. I relate to her characters so deeply, they feel like kindred spirits. Out of Nowhere specially has such a perfect balance of angst and hope, I find myself utterly disarmed by Rafe and Colin. I can’t express my respect for this author enough… She goes fully in with issues like mass incarceration and racial injustice, in a romance novel!  Read this one, but first read #1 and then after that #3.

27797842Us (Him #2) by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy: I don’t know what it is about me and hockey this year, but whatever it is, IT IS WORKING. Another series, and both books are just adorable. This second one brought the angst up a few notches, and it made it that much better for me! Also the best friend/neighbor/teammate character had me cackling away for the whole of the  book. These books are so fun and sweet.

 

 

30415154Fast Connection (Cyberlove #2) by Megan Ericksson and Santino Hassell: I would like to say the nuclear level of hotness that is this book is not a major reason why I’ve read it like five times, but I’d be LYING. In two words this book is, fun and hot…It is utterly readable, Luke and Dominic are a happy place for me. But I don’t want to sell it short, they delve into issues like the difficulties of veterans trying to re-enter civilian society after their service, among other things. This is not just fluffy sexy times.

Just because I can, I have two Bonus Picks, just because I am already here and listing stuff, so I thought I’d add two of my PERENNIAL, ALL TIME, READ THEM SO MUCH I KNOW SOME PARTS BY HEART comfort reads.

  1. The Adrien English Series by Josh Lanyon audiobooks…This series however you consume it, is life changing. The audios however, are to another level, they are utter perfection. I even got my husband to listen to them on a road trip a few years ago! This is perfect to listen during the holidays, I’ve done it for like the past three years. So good.
  2. The Enlightenment Series by Joanna Chambers. Other than KJ Charles, Joanna  is by far my favorite historical author in the genre. This series is set PERFECTLY in early 19th century Scotland. Again an author that does not shy away from accurately portraying injustices, and getting at some pretty hard issues, like domestic violence and the shameful part of Scottish history knows as the “highland clearances”. Also the love story is EPIC.

Now that we have some books to read, let’s talk food!

Ultimate Winter Couscous

Ingredients

  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into ½ inch chunks
  • 2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into ½ inch chunks
  • 8 shallots, peeled
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 star anise/or anise seeds (½ teaspoon)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground turmeric
  • ¼ tsp paprika
  • 2 cups pumpkin and butternut squash cut into ½ inch chunks
  • 1 14oz can chickpeas
  • 1 cup chickpeas liquid and/or water
  • 1 cup couscous
  • large pinch of saffron
  • 1 ¼ cup boiling vegetable stock
  • 4 tablespoons butter, broken into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons harissa paste
  • ¼ cup preserved lemon skin, finely chopped/or zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 tbsp cilantro leaves
  • salt

Directions
Preheat the oven to 425F. Put carrots, parsnips and shallots in a large baking dish (9×13) Add the cinnamon sticks, star anise or anise seeds, bay leaves, 4 tablespoons of the oil, ¾ teaspoon salt, and all the other spices and mix well. Place in the oven and cook for 15 minutes.

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Add the pumpkin, stir and return to the oven. Continue cooking for about 35 minutes, by which time the vegetables should have softened while retaining a bite. Now add the dried apricots and the chickpeas with their cooking liquid and/or water. Return to the oven and cook for a further 10 minutes, or until hot.

About 15 minutes before the vegetables are ready, put the couscous in a large heatproof bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, the saffron and ½ teaspoon salt. Pour the boiling stock over the couscous. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and leave for about 10 minutes. Then add the butter and fluff up the couscous with a fork until the butter melts in. Cover again and leave somewhere warm.

To serve, spoon couscous into a deep plate or bowl. Stir the harissa and preserved lemon or zest into the vegetables; taste and add salt if needed. Spoon the vegetables onto the center of the couscous. Finish with plenty of cilantro leaves.

I hope that you try some of these books if you have not read them already and give the recipe a go. They will hep keep you warm in the coming cold winter nights.

So, now that you know MY favorites…Share YOUR favorite comfort reads and winter recipes with me!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laurax