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

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

 

Blackbird Knitting in a Bunny’s Lair, A Granby Knitting Novel by Amy Lane and a Finger Lakes Riesling

BlackbirdKnittinginaBunnysLairLG (1)Jeremy Bunny got his happily ever after, and what a lovely thing it was to read. In this new installment of Amy’s Granby Knitting Series we get back to our favorite group of crafty Colorado folks not long after Jeremy has almost lost his life to save a friend. The first time we met Jeremy and Aiden, we left them at a very new and seemingly fragile beginning. Jeremy’s life before Granby has been mostly a facade, he had been a conman, and turning his life around had been a difficult and trying process. Not because the people around him were not supportive, and not because he couldn’t find his own place, but because he fiercely believed he would never be good enough to earn any of it. Something had to shake up his little family, to compel him to step up and own that he was part of something amazing. Then and only then could he trust that he already had a place in the world that would never ever fail him.

For this story I wanted to do a local wine. I live in Ithaca, New York in the midst of the Finger Lakes Region. This area of the state is a prominent wine producer, but size and scale make the operation seem pretty small compared with the West Coast producers. Quite a few of the wineries, which are mostly family owned, still come to the Farmer’s Market on the weekends to sell their wines. It’s a very intimate experience to be honest. Since this series is in many ways about small business owners, and the sacrifices that doing something out of passion and love can entail, I wanted to feature a local wine with it. I chose the 2012 Salmon Run Reisling from the Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery. The Finger Lakes are known for their reislings and this one is a prime example. It is crisp and slightly fruity, and properly chilled has a delicious bite to it. Locally it goes for about $11 a bottle.

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This story felt sedate, and to me like a nice walk in to the sunset. We get to see Jeremy getting back into the life that he had selflessly given up as a sacrifice to repay a debt to a friend. We see Aiden struggle with what he had to do to save Jeremy and what it meant about him, about the kind of man he was. Struggling with what it felt to see Jeremy almost lost to him, as much as he loved his bunny that despair and fright was not easy to get over from or forgive. Mostly though this story was about taking ownership. Jeremy had never truly believed he could ever do enough to earn what he had found in Granby. He still struggled to reconcile the man he had been, the things he’d done with a life that seemed to have been handed to him without much effort at all.

The thing is that he HAD made an effort, he HAD earned his place, he HAD worked for what he had gotten. Aiden had seen it, as had Craw and Ariadne they were in awe of all the ways in which Jeremy has turned his life around, he was the only one that could not see it. He had to find a way to BELIEVE it, and for a man who had lived out of selling pipe dreams, to actually trust he really could hold on to what he had, he had to SEE IT. The chance came from an unlikely place.  Ariadne’s baby, who had struggled so much even on the womb,  would be born with special needs that required more resources than what their little family had in hand. Jeremy who had sat in the same hospital room with Ariadne while he recovered from his injuties, took that need on as personal project. He rounded the Granby community and knocked on EVERY SINGLE DOOR to make sure they were ready for Ariadne’s baby when she came out into the world.

Doing that for his friend and counting on the rest of their little tribe for assistance and support was what finally gave Jeremy the redemption he so desperately needed. Once he saw that the doors in Granby did open for him, that people trusted his words, and admired his actions he began to feel inside like he was indeed home. Aiden he had, and he counted on that heart and soul, but he also needed to know that he was valued by the people of the place he loved. Jeremy is such a special character and such a delicate soul. It is surprising reading him sometimes because, it’s jarring to think that someone so fragile and gentle, ever survived the kind of life that was forced on him by his father.

This was an easy lovely read, it had its tough moments, but mostly it was closure for Jeremy and Aiden. This time we get a lot more of Aiden. That was something I enjoyed, I understood his inner workings a lot better this time around. I loved them together, in bed and outside of it. Like a lot of Amy’s series the joy is in the unit as much as in the individual pieces, so the scenes with Craw, Ben, Ariadne and the rest of the gang were very fun to read. As much as the book was a calm read it did have some hilarious moments (the first dinner at Aiden’s parents house is HILARIOUS!). For the most part what I felt while reading was that I was giving these guys a long, strong, joyous hug goodbye.

Jeremy Bunny will be alright, I have no doubt, and I’m sure Amy will bring him back for a visit some time soon.

Totally recommend for readers of the Knitting Series (there is a discount code for the paperback with the WHOLE series at the back of the ebook!) Blackbird Knitting in Bunny’s Lair will be out tomorrow on Dreamspinner Press and can be pre-ordered here.

Hope you enjoy the book and the wine.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

Gay Athletes: My Favorite Sports Themed Romances

The sports world in this country has been shaken up quite a bit recently. Michael Sam one of the NCAA top football players came out as a gay man, just months before the NFL draft (where he is expected to be a top pick). Also recently Jason Collins a veteran NBA player, who came out a few months ago, signed a contract with the Brooklyn Nets making him the first openly gay athlete to play in an American professional sport. These news are heartening, because despite some nasty responses (from all the usual haters) I think both men have received  great support. It is an interesting time we are living in.

Last week a bill that would essentially have given Arizona businesses a license to discriminate against LGBT people was vetoed by the governor. I think that veto was in a large part due to the incredible amount of public outrage that followed it passing the house. It is sad to think that something so hateful would make it as far as it did, but at the same time, it is encouraging to see that people would not take it sitting down. It will be interesting to see if the testosterone fueled world that is American professional sports can evolve with the times.

Professional sports are an insular world, we see these men that look like gods, that have such power, these amazing specimens of maleness and masculinity playing these sports. We root for them, live and die with their wins and losses…Their victories feel like our victories and yet we don’t know WHO they are. Who they love, who nurses their wounds when they take a beating, who helps them celebrate their moments of glory.

As a sports fan I’ve always been fascinated with what these men’s lives are in private could be like. Are they gentle, passionate, intense, aloof? Who knows right? But we can still get a glimpse of it in the fiction world. When I was thinking of what I should come up with for this week I thought, ATHLETES! I have quite a few favorite novels that feature sportsmen,  as one or both heroes in the story. I thought that would be a fun list for today.

locker room

Clearly my #1 was going to be The Locker Room by Amy Lane, I don’t even think it’s possible for me to make a favorites list that doesn’t include a book from hers at this point. Isn’t it a law somewhere? All Favorites List MUST include an Amy Lane title…Or is that just the voices in my head? So, yeah Xander and Chris the most lovely of all my lovelies. The princes of my Boy Love Kingdom. If you have not read this book you absolutely must, not only is it Amy Lane at her best, but the basketball court scenes are outstanding. Wonderfulness all around. For my original Goodreads review, click here.

out in the field

Out in the Field by Kate McMurray is probably the one book I’ve read in this genre that could have been tailor made for me. I’ve said this before, but from the moment I started reading M/M, I REALLY wanted a book with MLB players, particularly if one of the heroes was a Dominican. I am a huge baseball fan and being Dominican, this book was just literally my DREAM premise. What’s even better is that I LOVED it. Every page, it was above and beyond all my expectations. Iggy and Matt are two of my favorite couples, and read after read that feeling just gets more solid. If you want to read an incredibly realistic and encouraging story about coming out and living in and retiring from a life in sports, this one IS IT. For my original Goodreads review click here.

heart in hand

Heart in Hand is essentially fan fiction, the main characters are Sidney Crosby and Alec Ovechkin who are both professional hockey players. The author ships them in this story which is worthy of ANY publishing house. These two guys were epic. Ovie, man that dude made me cry like a beeyotch. This book had it all in terms of what I look for in stories with athletes, an incredibly respectful and reverent tone about the seriousness and what it takes to become a successful professional athlete, wonderful action moments and some epic highs and lows. There were mighty moments in this book, how people responded to these guys and their story…EPIC. If you have not given this one a try DO IT. You will not regret it. For my original Goodreads review, click here.

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WINE BREAK!!!!!!!

The wine for this post is a DEELISH and super affordable New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  The 2013 Monkey Bay Sav Blanc is a slam dunk! Not only is it super affordable, $8.99 a bottle it is crisp, citrusy and delicious without any bite at the end. I’ve gone back for this wine a few times since I first tried it, and it will surely be a regular this summer.

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dance with me

Dance with Me by Heidi Cullinan also made it to this list, because it’s awesome.  And because it showcases two men doing ballroom dancing, which if not a traditional sport it is incredibly athletic. Ed and Laurie are incredibly endearing. They are also very strong willed characters. Ed is dealing with life after an injury that ended his ability to play football, which he loved, and Laurie has quietly been licking his wounds after being utterly rejected for trying to challenge tradition in Ballroom dancing. They come together to dance, and it heals them both. Lovely story. For my original Goodreads review, click here.

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Steamroller by Mary Calmes…Ahhhh that sweet Mary crack that only she can provide. This story has college age heroes, one a cynical little shit who EVERYONE loves and the College Football Star that comes after him with unfettering focus. I love this story, in many ways sports are not at the forefront, but the CULTURE of collegiate sports is highlighted in an interesting perspective. The star who wants to be free of  the burden all the adoration and pressure to be the best represents, and on the other side of the coin the cynical boy that has formed an unfair opinion of who a jock is or can be. So yeah, I liked this one, and it served up all the good stuff we love in Ms. Calmes’ stories. I’ve gona back for MANY a re-read

BONUS PICK: Love of Sports Series by TA Chase

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This series is an oldie, but a goodie. I read it a really long time ago, like thousands of books ago, but I still really like it. The first story has professional basketball star as one of the heroes and the second a NASCAR driver. The writing is a bit on the sweet side, but I liked the characters and enjoyed the romance as well. These are good for a light, fluffy read!

Hope the list is useful in finding some new books to read! I love all these stories, and hope some of them become part of your favorites shelves!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

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Shiny! by Amy Lane and a DIVINE Strata…Perfect for Brunch.

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Love, love is a verb
Love is a doing word

Teardrop -Jose Gonzales

To say it is amazing that after so many books I’ve read from her, Amy Lane still delivers so soundly for me, would be an understatement. Again she wrote a story with characters that are so easy to love and cheer for, it’s bittersweet to let them go. Will Lafferty and Kenny Scalia made me laugh hysterically, cry a bit, and completely delight in reading how two people who came to each other scared and a bit dented by the world, could still have the boldness to  reach for their happy ending.

For these lovely boys I came up with a DELICIOUS recipe for a breakfast strata that is a solid winner. The strata is a savory bread pudding, which is usually served for brunch or breakfast. It uses a lot of eggs and cheese, but I adapted, it so that those who eat a bit of dairy (or none at all)  could make it. Serve this baby up with some fruit and a mimosa, and you’ll guests won’t want to go home!

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I’m gonna fight ’em off
A seven nation army couldn’t hold me back
They’re gonna rip it off
Taking their time right behind my back
And I’m talkin’ to myself at night
Because I can’t forget
Back and forth through my mind
Behind a cigarette

And the message comin’ from my eyes says leave it alone…

Seven Nation Army-The White Stripes

When we meet Will Lafferty he is having a pretty shitty day. He’s lost a teaching job AGAIN. This time he’s not even sure why. Apparently the little Christian school he was teaching at is not down with Harry Potter…And what the hell?! So, as he is doing the walk (techincally, “the drive”) of shame from the school where he’s been just fired from, he backs his care right into his future…Well, if we’re being literal, he backed into a trash can full of dildos and ugly curtains…BUT! The owner of said personal pleasure instruments, and gaudy window acccents is the object of interest here…Kenny Scalia was in the middle of putting all the evidence of his cheating boyfriend’s existence out on the curb. Poor guy had just walked into his house to find his guy and his sex toys being used by a complete stranger…God, what a mess. Seriously they were both having the WORST DAY EVER.  Once they exchanged names (and Kenny put some clothes on…long story) they decide to call the whole damn day a wash, and go get drunk together.

Things get pretty interesting from therel. First of all, Will is getting some feelings inside of himself that are kind of new to him. He is looking at Kenny, and he kind of wants to get up close and personal with every part of the guy’s body. He’s so pretty, and shiny and nice. So nice…Also secretly on the inside he’s a big geek just like Will. They have so much to talk about! Kenny keeps looking at him like he’s on the same page with the body to body encounter. But what does any of it even mean? He’s not into guys…

As for Kenny, his day has seriously improved. It wen’t from having to face the fact ONCE AGAIN that all the men who come into his life are only there to use him, to meeting Will. Who from the inside and out seems to be a REALLY GOOD GUY. Not beautiful, not drop-dead gorgeous and groomed to within an inch of his life,  not what Kenny usually goes for. They guys seems so genuine though. Except for the straight thing, this one could have really been a keeper…

You don’t know how precious you are, I am the one who lives with the ocean. 
You don’t know how I am the one. You don’t know how I am the one.

The Ocean -Dar Williams

Will wakes up the day after the drinkfest with Kenny with a whole new outlook…Not only is he pretty sure he’s gay, but he is almost 100%  sure he wants Kenny for himself. He’s not sharing that bit of information with Kenny just yet, not until they are both ready, but meanwhile they can be friends. They have so much in common! Kenny is an amazing graphic designer, and Will has this entire universe he’s created for a graphic novel. They agree to work together on it. Pretty soon, they are more then just friends, they are BEST FRIENDS. Hanging out all the time, doing all kinds of stuff together. Privately Will is coming out to the people who are important to him, and he is strengthening his bond with Kenny.

They make each other happy, that is clear, but there is are bumps on their road. Will is still not ready to give up teaching as a career, even though the whole thing has been breaking his heart consistently since he started. Kenny is frustrated with him and thinks he is squandering his talent and his good heart, on a system that could never appreciate how wonderful he is…On top of that Kenny, he’s not ready to even consider anything with Will beyond friendship. For one thing, as far as he knows, Will doesn’t like him “that way” and for the other, even if he did, Kenny would not go for it. Why? Because he knows how that goes, things start out great, sex, passion, all these hopes and dreams, and then a year later you end up alone and disappointed. So, no, because not having Will in his life is no longer an option.

I’m sorry, but I’m just thinking of the right words to say
(I promise you)
I know they don’t sound the way I planned them to be
(I promise you)

But, if u wait around a while, I’ll make you fall for me
(I promise you)
I promise you
I promise you, I will

I promise you, I will -Depeche Mode

Will is biding his time though, and he’s learning about who he is and how he can move forward in his life. He wants Kenny in it that is for sure, but he needs to SHOW Kenny the kind of man he is. The guy is skittish and Will needs to make him see what they are together. He takes his time, one cannot rush one’s future. Until the day Kenny’s “horrific” taste in men forces his hand, and he has to put it all out on the line. Push comes to shove and Will not only has to play knight in shining armor, but he tells Kenny how he feels…and they walked together into the sun-…

Well not so much, because will is still stubborn about the teaching thing, and Kenny is still neurotic about the relationship thing. Things can be frightening…Will they be enough for each other? Would it really be OK for Will to stop teaching and live off his web designing, and the writing? What is he can’t make enough? Has Kenny really found a man that will stay the course, love him even after that initial shine fades away? It’s all so scary, there is SO MUCH to loose…Even if what they have to gain is EVERYTHING they wanted.

Love; it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be

There is a design, an alignment to cry
Of my heart to see,
The beauty of love as it was made to be

 Sigh No More -Mumford and Sons

Like I said earlier, it is pretty exceptional that Amy so consistently can write books which connect with me so thoroughly. First and foremost this book felt incredibly personal, from what I know of her own experiences I think this one was very close to her heart. Will is a man who has to come to terms with the fact that something he loves doing with a passion, not only can’t really love HIM back, but that insisting on doing it may ultimately destroy any of the joy he ever found in it. He needs to find a new way of seeing himself, and how he can contribute to the world he lives in. He’s not so confident in how the things that live in his mind and heart could ever be enough to make a difference.  Then there’s Kenny, like so many of us, he keeps throwing himself whole at the hope of someone to love. The problem is that being open to it, doesn’t always mean you’ll know  let in someone worthy of what you have to give.

So now I come to you
With open arms
Nothing to hide
Believe what I say
So here I am
With open arms
Hoping you’ll see
What your love means to me
Open arms

Open Arms -Journey

Right there, at that crossroads, where Will and Kenny met, that’s where Amy’s characters really shine (no pun intended!). Her characters are heroic in the face of love, because they NEED to live up to what their beloved sees within them.  Will could not see clearly who he could be, how strong he really was…But Kenny he could read how much Will had to give like an open book. Kenny wasn’t sure he was the kind of man someone would find worthy enough to build a life around, but for Will, his future has only one name,  Kenny Scalia.

Another lovely story, complete with wonderful insight on fantasy as not only an imaginative and rich genre in fiction, but as a means to open the minds of youth to critical and introspective thinking. The secondary characters were great, and the humor was outstanding. Amy and I have frighteningly similar tastes in music, so the songs in the story ended up writing half of the review for me!  All the links on the verses I chose, go to the songs in a youtube playlist I made for the book. So check that out!

Absolutely recommend. Overall, a WONDERFUL story. One of her best I think.

Shiny! will be released tomorrow on Dreamspinner Press and can be pre-ordered here.

Spinach and Cheese Strata (Savory Bread Pudding)
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 (10 ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed, squeeze of all excess liquid, and chopped

1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (1 large)

3 tablespoons Earth Balance Buttery Spread

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

8 cups cubed French or Italian bread in 1-inch cubes (about 1 and 1/2 baguette)

1/2 cup coarsely grated Gruyère (2 optional)

1 cup of Go Veggie! Parmesan Style cheese

1 pack of Go Veggie! Mozarella flavored rice shreds

2 3/4 cups almond milk

10 large eggs

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

SautĂ© onion in butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and nutmeg and continue cooking for one minute. Stir in spinach, remove from heat and set aside. Mix all “cheese” in one bowl and also set aside.

Spread one third of the bread cubes in a greased 3-quart baking pan. Top with one-third of bread cubes,one-third of spinach mixture and one-third of cheese mixture. Repeat layering twice with remaining bread, spinach and cheese.

photo 1 (3)

Whisk eggs, milk, mustard and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in a large bowl and pour evenly over strata. Cover with plastic wrap and chill strata for eat least 8 hours or up to a day. Before putting in the fridge press down firmly on the casserole so that the egg mixture absorbs well into the bread.

photo 2 (5)

The next day, let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes while preheating the oven to 350°F. Bake strata, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

I hope you love the book and take a chance on the recipe. Don’t be shy on the mimosas, they make everything better!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

Christmas Kitsch by Amy Lane, Chocolate Tamales and some Bubbly…

ChristmasKitsch_500x750Logically I know that Amy doesn’t  ACTUALLY write her books for ONLY me…But she MIGHT AS WELL!  I loved this story. Totally and Completely. It’s a simple story really, and a familiar story to be sure. But it was so loving, and it was so warm. Rusty Baker is our narrator who tells us his story in the first person. Rusty is a high school senior, a jock, he’s not super deep, he’s got a kind heart, he was taught to be polite by his parents, he’s supposed to go to UC Berkeley in the fall to study something (pre-law has been “suggested” since his dad is a lawyer, and he’s meant to be his old man’s clone)…These are all facts, things that just happen to BE in Rusty’s life, not things he’s responsible for. He’s self-aware enough to understand his privileged life, to understand that all the stuff he has is supposed to make his life so much better than others who don’t live huge house or drive new cars. The thing is that stuff really doesn’t make anything better …The thing about his life he actually likes the most, the BEST thing, the one thing he got all on his own, it’s his friend Oliver. Oliver is different (brown, little, and from a very NOT privileged Latin family), not at all like his upper middle class friends who take everything for granted. Oliver is SO SMART, and funny. There is no frowning, EVER, when Oliver is around. Also, Oliver is gay, which you’d think would bother Rusty, but he doesn’t care! He’s never had someone like Oliver in his life.

These boys were so sweet, and THAT love. That all encompassing, grounding thing they had. I really had to think hard about what to make for this review…I toyed with the idea of cookies (you will know why when you read the book!), but I HAD to go with tamales. I’m LATIN! And the ritual that is tamale making during the holidays where a pivotal thing for Rusty, and his understanding of the kind of love he’d have with Oliver. SO! Tamales, Chocolate Tamales, that is…With a Vanilla Bourbon Pecan Crumble Filling that will make you want to cry, they are so DELICIOUS. For all this holiday goodness the only choice for a wine pairing was a bottle of BUBBLY…Jaume Serra Cristalino Extra Dry Cava Brut from Spain. It is my favorite affordable sparkling wine for drinking with extra luscious dessert. This wine is dry and fresh, so it cuts through the sweetness of the chocolate and buttery crumble. Delightful, and at $8.00 a bottle, a WINNER.

photo 3 (1)

Back to our  guys…Things are progressing fast for Rusty, high school is ending and he is doubled over by his parents expectations of him…They don’t SEE him. They want him to be someone he simply cannot be. College is like this impending doom looming in the horizon, and it’s scary. He knows in his heart his happiness lies in other things. He wishes he could tell his parents that the summer construction job with Oliver’s dad was like a revelation, that he wants simpler thing, maybe a job where he uses his hands and his body. A little house with dogs and people in it that love each other, that sounds like the best dream. Oliver too, he has to be in that life. Oliver is solid and there, and he makes Rusty feel grounded…He’s the best friend he’s ever had, until the day that Oliver challenges everything about their relationship and kisses him. And then, that’s when Rusty Baker starts to make sense to himself.

Once at Berkeley things go from bad to worse, the only thing keeping Rusty from totally losing it is the prospect of Thanksgiving break and seeing Oliver. He can barely keep his head above water with his studies, he’s so done with everything. He makes his decision when he gets home, he is going to come clean to his parents about who he really is, in all ways. Things come out (pun intended here) a lot more abruptly than he intends and he ends up getting kicked out of his home, and staying with Oliver’s family for the holidays. Rusty is adrift, cut off from his family so drastically, like he meant nothing to them, it hurts him deeply. He is not sure what will be of his life, but at the same time…It’s also what he’s always known to expect from his parents…What shakes him to the core though is  the brazen warmth with which Oliver’s family embraces him. To them this boy that their Oliver loves, MUST be OK, they will make sure of that. Rusty feels so undeserving of all this love and support, he just can’t accept it, they are too valuable and worthy, and he is to insignificant for even his parents to miss…Rusty struggles to let himself accept all that he is being offered…Even when his reluctance hurts Oliver, he hesitates. Oliver is a treasure, and Rusty has nothing to offer him , how can he possibly be enough? Oliver takes all that doubt Rusty has and fights it. Makes him see, that the ONLY thing that Oliver cannot live with, is not having Rusty in his life.

Amy Lane really outdoes herself with the interracial heroes, she has a real understanding of the things that are different about couples who come from such different cultural backgrounds.  The warmth that exists at the center of Latin families, but also the truth and honesty in all colors of families who ultimately, as much as they fuck up, still do want to see their children happy. The core of this story for me was the idea that there is not anything anyone can learn, know, or earn, to be deserving of the open love someone offers up to them…Rusty had to finally understand that the only thing he ever has to give Oliver was himself. All that other stuff they can take care of together.

Everything about this story was warmth, and I enjoyed it from beginning to end. The families and friends were wonderful. I loved Nicole, Rusty sister and Rex his college roommate HAS GOT TO HAVE his own story. What a wonderful character. Again, Amy Lane writes a story that to reads like something I know personally. Straight to my heart.

I cannot recommend this story enough, it is out today from Riptide publishing, and can be purchased here.

Chocolate Tamales with a Vanilla Bourbon Pecan Crumble Filling

For the masa:

  • 2 cups corn flour for tamales
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons (heaping) non-hydrogenated vegetable spread
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup 2% milk, more if needed
  • 1 (6-ounce) package dry corn husks, moistened according to package directions
  • 1 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

For the filling:

  • 1/2 cup of raw pecans
  • 4 tablespoons of vegan buttery spread
  • 3 tablespoons of brown sugar or sucanat
  • 2 tablespoons on bourbon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of organic vanilla
  • 1/2 cup of mini chocolate chips

Directions:

For the masa:

In a standing mixer with paddle attachment, place corn flour, salt and water and mix at high speed to prepare the batter. Scrape bowl halfway through and continue mixing until well combined. Remove batter from bowl, form it into a ball, divide it in three parts and set aside. Wipe out the mixer bowl. Add the butter and vegetable spread to the bowl and mix at high speed until fluffy and light, stopping a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Separately put the chocolate chips in the microwave for 1 minute, stir it at 30 seconds and add to the mix  once its cool. Add vanilla, cinnamon and sugar, then add the reserved corn flour batter in three parts with a third of the milk and the chocolate following each addition. Continue mixing well for another 3 minutes.Add some extra milk if the batter seems dry. It will be very sticky when it is ready.

photo 3

For the filling:

In a skillet put in the pecans and heat for about five minutes at medium heat, moving them around, so they don’t burn. Put the pecans aside and then add the buttery spread to the pan, sautee for a minute until melted then add the sugar, vanilla and bourbon, stir until it looks like caramel and then add the pecans. Cook for another 3-4 minutes stirring constantly. When the mix is thick like caramel remove from heat and let cool for 15-20 minutes. Once its cooled scrape the mix of the pan and place in the food processor, add the maple syrup and pulse until the mixture is coarsely ground uniformly.

photo 2 (1)

photo 1 (1)

Making the tamales:

Fill the bottom of a steamer with a few inches of water and bring to a boil. To assemble the tamales, place one moistened triangular-shaped corn husk on a work surface with the base of the triangle closest to you. Using a soup spoon, scoop about 2 ounces of batter and place it on the bottom center of the husk (close to the base but about half an inch away from the edge). With the back of your spoon, make a small flat indentation in the middle of the batter and place about two teaspoons of the crumble and a pinch of the mini chocolate chips in the indentation. Now it is ready to be folded (you do not need to cover the chocolate chips with more batter). Fold the right side of the husk over the filling, then fold the left side up and over, enclosing the filling but without pressing too much. Now flip the top of the triangle over to close the tamale. Tie both ends of the tamale with string. Place the the steamer rack standing up. Repeat with the rest of the filling and stack all tamales together on the steamer rack so they stay together. This will keep them from opening up while cooking. Once they are all in the steamer bring water to a boil, cover and steam for 45 minutes.

photo 2 (2)

Check the steamer occasionally to make sure there is enough water in it. To check if the tamales are cooked through, open one to see if the filling is fluffy and no longer stick to the sides of the husk. Serve the tamales with vanilla ice cream and a bit of hot fudge and ENJOY.

I do hope you guys try this recipe it is delicious and a holiday treat, with the bubbly and this wonderful Christmas story, I guarantee an amazing evening!

Cheers, Happy Reading and A Lovely Holiday Season!

Laura

Ethan in Gold by Amy Lane and Caramel Apple Pie Cupcakes.

EthaninGoldLGThe Porn Star and the Virgin…Like we didn’t see that coming!!!…EXCEEEEEEEPT with this book like with every other one I’ve read from Amy Lane there is a lot more to the story. Why?  Because first and foremost, this story was HUMAN. About people. People being good, bad, weak, strong, hating, loving, triumphant, defeated, resilient and downtrodden. Just people, Amy writes about the nature of  humans,  of the lives they are handed and the paths they take. How much it REALLY takes to make a good life out of what sometimes is very very  little. How it  can be that some people can be family to strangers, and others can hurt their own flesh and blood to the breaking point.

When I finished this book my first thought was “I am so glad Amy Lane writes what she feels she needs to, and not what will make people happy.” Because her books to me are precious. They are simple stories really, but what makes them rich and moving is that she gives us her characters with a nakedness and honesty that it challenges us. Just offers them up to us in their brokeness.  She MAKES us see the ugly, the bad and the weak in them. She forces us to acknowledge that yes, every happy ending has its dark spots, and ugly chapters, that smiles sometimes have been paid for with a lot of blood and tears, that happy moments a lot of times come as the result of walking away from a lot of hurt, that in the end being able to look back from a better place IS WORTH IT ALL.

For all the awesomeness that was Ethan and Jonah I had to do something VERY SPECIAL, a friend and fellow baking enthisiast has come for a visit. A lovely young woman who “Bakes for a Cause”. She does Bake Sales around the college campus where I live to raise money for different charities and I think she rocks. So, in this post the baking credit goes to The Flour Child Bakery. We made some amazing  to Caramel Apple Pie Cupcakes with a Caramel Glaze that are to die for, and totally perfect for the apple harvest time here in New York. I must confess though, I broke all the rules with this one, this recipe is most definitely NOT VEGAN, but it is DELICIOUS!

Golden.

Golden.

Now the story…Evan Costa (Ethan in the pornosphere) is a young man who had something pretty awful happen to him when he was a little boy, someone did a really bad thing  to him. The saddest part was that his mom never forgave HIM for it, and she proceeded to make him and his sisters pay for her own bitterness. Evan’s mom became a hateful woman after Evan’s “incident”, she never hugged him, never showed affection. He became the embodiment of all the things she could not control in this world. It hurt Evan so bad, not a hug, not a kind gesture for so long. He was starving for any kind of human contact. If it hadn’t been for his therapist, and his friends from the anime club at school things could have gone really bad for him. He knew it too. He had seen a few of his friends fall down holes that they never crawled back out of.

Evan needed touch. He craved it, and as far as he could tell a perfect way to ensure he was touched A LOT was going into porn. He already had the body and the face and he wasn’t very interested in school. Also getting to have sex with beautiful men (who were also pretty great guys) was a nice bonus.

So he took the plunge on the porn and became, Ethan, italian porn good. He kept living at home, with his mom and sisters in that hateful, stagnant environment his family home had become until his secret got out, and then he couldn’t anymore.  Things were touch and go for a while there, but he HAD his friends and THEY had his back THE WHOLE TIME. He wasn’t alone, he knew that. He also knew that he had to make some changes.

There is Jonah too, the skinny young guy who works  with Tommy at the Petsmart. He is cute, if a little on the scrawny side, and he looks INNOCENT. Like untouched by anything dirty. Ethan is taken with him. He has this crappy job, and a sixteen year old sister with a horrible disease. But he seems happy,  and gets so excited talking about comic books with Ethan. The guy is tired though, him and his family are pretty much dedicated to making his sister Amelia comfortable, and as healthy as they can keep her, which sadly is not very healthy at all.

Ethan is kind of amazed that Jonah and his family were not tearing each other up under the stress, his own family would have imploded. Jonah is so brazen too. He knows Ethan wants him and he is not letting him get away. Not even once he finds out about Ethan’s big secret.

The problem is that clearly it can not work between them, I mean HELLO! Jonah is good and pure, and Ethan is a dirty whore. How can that work? He can’t do it. He can’t soil Jonah, his family and his dying sister for goodness sake! He needs to just leave, get out, make Jonah realize that he is NOT one of the good guys. He is damaged goods, someone whose entire family could walk out on without even a glance back. That’s who he is, but Jonah refuses to see that. He is so stubborn, he keeps looking at Ethan like some kind of hero, and it is killing him, because there is NO WAY he could live up to any of that.

But he FALLS, how can he not catch a little bit of that hope bug going around his little family of friends? Things are happening around him that are making him feel like he can have a little more too. Tommy and Chase are going to be daddies. Dex and Kane are making a go of it, they’re in love. HE’S in love. He is needed and wanted by someone he needs and wants right back. He can see it now, a future that will be better than what he ever could have envisioned for himself.

Ethan and Jonah were real heartbreakers. But they were such a joy too, they gave so much to each other. Ethan needed to know about unconditional love. He needed to experience it, needed to understand he DESERVED it.  Not because he was good, or pure or better, just because that is what people get for being good people, who HAVE good people.

Jonah, he knew all about that kind of love, he had it from his family, gave it to his sister as much as he could. But after putting her first for so long, he needed to start thinking of himself, of the things he wanted and needed like love, sex, fun, a life…Little things and BIG things he just never had time to desire before. Once they came together, they were ready to fight to make things work. Make a life, together, they weren’t sure where they would get to, but they would walk there together.

I loved this book, and  I don’t want to pile it on here, but the way that Amy has created this series to me is just brilliant. We’ve been in the same time frame for three books. Six men, three love stories, all happening in this little universe of Johnnie’s studio. I was at home as soon as I opened this book, I was invested in pretty much every character, and wanted to hear about where Ethan was, and who the man was that could help him get to his happy ending.

Again, what can I even say? Amy Lane is my lady. This series is a complete joy to read, and I hope we get much much more from the Johnnies world.

Ethan in Gold will be released this Friday October 4th and is available for pre-order at Dreamspinner Press

Now scrumptioliscious cupcakes!

Caramel Apple Pie Cupcakes

Ingredients

for the cupcakes:

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 cup butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup and two tablespoons of light brown sugar, packed

2 large eggs

3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

2 tbsp butter

2 tsp cinnamon

2-3 tbsp sugar

1 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and diced

for the caramel glaze:

4 tablespoons of  store-bought caramels (I used Wegman’s Creamy Caramel)

2 tablepoosn of Apple Butter

Splash of almond milk

1 pinch of cinammon

Directions:

for the cupcakes: – Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 12 muffin tinwith cupcake liners. – In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Set aside.

Meanwhile in a skillet sautee  2 tablespoons of butter until it’s fragrant add apples and a bit a cinammon and sautte for about two minutes.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each additional and scraping down the sides of the bowl.  With the mixer on low speed, add the applesauce and half of  apples and beat well.  Slowly add the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated.  Divide batter evenly among the liners, filling each about 2/3 full.  Bake for 19-20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, or until cake tester comes out clean.  Allow cupcakes to cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

for the caramel sauce: – Combine the caramel, apple butter, cinammon and splash of milk until incorporated. Set aside to cool.

Once the glaze is of a dense consistency drizzle over cupcakes and top each one with a bit of the apples and chooped candied pecans.

Hope you enjoy the  golden cupcakes and book!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

Left On St. Truth-Be-Well by Amy Lane…”F***** A” Key Lime Coconut Vegan Cupcakes with the tried and true French Lillet.

LeftonStTruthbeWellLGAmy Lane and her men…sighs…It’s like the lady goes to my brain, and into Laura’s Favorite Things folder and hunts for story ideas! Her latest, the novella Left on St. Truth-Be-Well, is just a happy little shot of awesome. It was funny, sexy, and cheeky with a subtle, but crystal clear message on what it is that really matters in life, and the importance of giving oneself permission to be happy.

I enjoyed this story a lot, for various reasons and unlike a lot of times with shorter stories I was happy with where it ended (not that I wouldn’t want a sequel!;)). So for this post I wanted to do something sweet, delicious and adorable just like this story, and what happened you ask? Well, cupcakes of course!

F***** Awesome Key Lime Coconut Vegan Cupcakes which I must say came out AMAZING! To go with these delish treats I cracked open one of my all-time favorite sweet wines, the one and only Lillet. Lillet is an aperitif wine from France that has been around for ages and well chilled (or on the rockss) is the perfect pairing with something sweet.  In terms of price this choice kind of breaks my $12 rule since a bottle of Lillet is usually around $25, BUT this is really not a “drink in one sitting” kind of bottle. Lillet is more like a small glass with dessert type of drink, and it keeps very nicely in the fridge for a few weeks. But more on wine and cupcakes later…On to the story.

Carson Saunders has just driven from Chicago to Florida on a quest to get back, Stassy, his boss’ nephew who has was last heard from there. Carson usually isn’t the guy that people would think of when you call in the “cavalry” so to speak, but his boss is kind of a scary gangster and you don’t just say no to the guy. Also there’s that thing about Carson kissing Stassy in the broom closet in the restaurant they work at, and the kid kind of freaking out…And then taking off. Ok, so he feels kind of responsible! But dammit he’s trying to make amends, and now he’s in “the middle of nowhere Florida” in a messed up hotel full of parrots in cages (and parrot shit EVERYWHERE!!!) and with the word Bates in the name!

Carson is in over his head, this Bates Parrot Hotel is a waking nightmare and he doesn’t even know where to start looking for Stassy. First things first though, after leaving his decent hotel room at the Super 8 (no way was he staying in the hellhole!!) he walks over to the FA Café gets himself some breakfast tacos and meets Dale. Dale. The guy is beautiful, funny and so friggin’ relaxed he’s like a hammock and a beer in the shade on a sunny day. Carson usually doesn’t go all mushy for guys, this happens more with the ladies, but Dale kinda blows what Carson has known about himself out of the water from the minute they meet.

Match made in heaven.

Match made in heaven.

At breakfast Carson catches a glimpse of what the things is Stassy running in some unknown direction, he gets on the case FAST and with Dale in tow, he sets to go back into the Bates Parrot Motel and figure out what’s doing…Aaaaaaand what’s doing is a DEAD GUY. Oh man…Things get complicated! Dale’s brother is in the police force, so they call him to look into the dead person and Carson finally gets a hold of Stassy. The thing is the kid has fallen in love and his boyfriend is freaking about getting blamed for killing the guy they found. They need to sort out this mess, before Stassy’s uncle kills Carson!

Meanwhile Dale is putting THE MOVES on Carson, and as skittish as he is with this stuff, he IS lonely, and Dale DOES make him shiver from the inside out just by standing there…So he lets go of his discomfort and begins something with Dale. He’s going back to Chicago in a few weeks anyway, what harm is there in letting himself enjoy something FOR ONCE? Dale lives a simple life. He’s not after some big ambitious career or looking to change the world. He has a little house, works the cafe in the mornings, works at the community center in the afternoons, and every day he goes out and surfs. He is not willing to be miserable just to live up to other’s expectations of what he ‘should have been’… Carson starts to think Dale might be on to something with this life philosophy.

And yeah there is still that pesky murder to figure out! Regardless Carson lets Dale in and he discovers that he is much a happier person than he thought he was, now that he has found someone who can make him feel like weeping and laughing at the same time just from a touch. If only his life wasn’t in Chicago…Then again…What exactly IS keeping him in there anyways?

I love when Amy Lane goes for the light, corky, funny story, they are just JOY…I mean she still managed to come up with a pretty interesting whodunit, and one of the most weirdly and disturbing subplots I’ve read in a while with the “Bird Lady”, but in the end this was a simple story of finding love. Carson knew he wasn’t as happy as he could be, and he KNEW something was missing even if he wasn’t sure what it was. When Dale came into his life, he let himself think about BETTER, even if he did require quite a bit of coaxing (a lot of which involved HOT AS HELL sex) from Dale in the process because sometimes he just needed some direction, and someone to be strong enough to tell him what he needed to do. He did it. He was strong for himself, for what he found with Dale and then he literally walked straight into his bright new day.

Perfect summer read. PERFECT. Amy Lane…You. The. Woman.

Left on St. Truth-Be-Well is available at Dreamspinner Press

Ok NOW, cupcakes! Cupcakes people! And I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but DAMN these are DELICIOUS, moist and subtly limish and coconutty…And the frosting…*whimpers* I wish I could wear it. So good.
F***** Awesome Key Lime Coconut Vegan Cupcakes

DELISH.

DELISH.

½ cup of coconut milk (not light)

½ cup and two tablespoons unsweetened vanilla almond milk

Zest of one lime

2 Tablespoons of lime juice

1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar

1 ÂĽ cups cake flour

2 Tablespoons of cornstarch

Âľ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1/3 cup canola oil

Âľ cup organic cane sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

¼ cup flakes unsweetened coconut (I used Bob’s Red Mill brand)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a cupcake tin with cupcake liners. Put all ingredients in a bowl, mix until smooth but not too much or too vigorously. Fill cupcake liners halfway with the batter. Cook for 13 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean from center of the cupcake.
Coconut Lime Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup non-hydrogenated shortening

1/2 cup non-hydrogenated margarine (I use Earth Balance)

3 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 Tablespoons of lime juice

2 Tablespoons of coconut milk

1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest

ÂĽ cup flaked coconut

Beat shortening and margarine together until well combined and is light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for 3 minutes. Add vanilla, coconut and lime juice, beat until fluffy. Add zest and mix. Chill until ready to use. Separately place flaked coconut on a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with cooking oil spray. Place in the oven at 375 degrees for about five minutes or until the flakes start to brown. Use toasted coconut as garnish to top cupcakes.

All I can say is ENJOY! Enjoy the book, the sweets and the wine.

 Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

Review: Forever Promised by Amy Lane and a Sparkling Spanish RosĂ©…Saying goodbye to The Pulpit with Crick and Deacon’s Champagne Cupcakes

ForeverPromisedI am so excited for this post!  There is just so much goodness for me to talk about that I could barely figure out where to begin…First of all could Amy Lane have possibly planned a more perfect week for the release of the final installment in her Promises series?!?!?!?!…The Defense of Marriage Act was declared unsconstituional by the Supreme Court of the United States  two days ago, making ALL couples legally married in this country absolutely equal under the law. ALL MARRIAGES, and  for me there is no other set of characters in M/M Romance that evoke well earned and hard fought happy married life more than The Pulpit Crew…Sooooo I had to go BIG for this review, I mean just a nice bottle of wine and some thoughts was not enough…This is a celebration!!!!!! When I celebrate, I pop a bottle of bubbly and make sure I have something delicious to bite into. So for my goodbye to the people of Promise Rock I went for one of my favorites, Jaume Serra Cristalino Rose Brut, a delicious Spanish cava with raspberry and very light creamy overtones that just compels one to raise a glass and toast to life. Cristalino has 60% Pinot Noir 40% Trepat grapes that go perfectly with lightly sweet treats, and for the amazing value of $8-$10 a bottle, this wine could not have been a better choice for my review of Forever Promised.…I  am not done though, because damn it, IT’S AMY LANE!!

I got creative and came up with a dessert worthy of celebrating births,  weddings, anniversaries, departures, homecomings and even the solemnity of grieving a loss…Crick and Deacon’s Champagne and Raspberry Vegan Cupcakes, a recipe created by yours truly are moist, just lightly boozy and a sweet, perfect combination for this beautiful story, to be enjoyed while sipping on some pink bubbly and smiling (sometimes a bit weepily) through what might be the best ending to a series I’ve read in this genre.

cristalino and cupcake pic jpeg

A glass of Cristalino and Crick and Deacon’s Cupcakes

But more on wine and cupcakes later…On to the story.

Amy Lane is a fucking CLASSY LADY, I mean finesse and elegance in telling a story, this lady HAZ GOT IT, no florid writing, no cheap outs of happy sappy walking into the sunset. Nope, the last installment in The Promises Series was true to itself  and to its characters from the first page to the last.

This was, Promise Rock: The Self-Actualized Edition…This book begins two and half years after we left our guys, Collin and Jeff are just married, things are getting along, they are all a little older and whole lot wiser, mostly though they are tightly knit as they ever have been. But keeping this family that they have has always  come at a cost. Jon and Amy have an amazing professional opportunity and will be moving to Washington DC to work as LGBT rights advocates. Drew and Benny are finally ready to get on with their lives as a couple, but the ties that Benny has to Deacon might prove to be too intimidating an act to follow and even though Drew loves The Pulpit  starting their life as a family might mean being away from their people.

Deacon as the patriarch is feeling a little adrift, even though him and Crick are finally feeling like they are whole. So when Benny offers the ultimate gift, to be a surrogate to Deacon and Crick, it is such an absolute act of selflessness and complete love that it’s almost too terrifying to consider despite how much they want a child. A child that would have a little bit of each of them, borne from Benny the little girl that  arrived in The Pulpit so that things could be held together at the lowest moment in Crick and Deacon’s lives, it was too much of a miracle to turn down, specially once Deacon understood that it was as much a gift for them to recieve as it would be for Benny to give it.

There is so much to this story, but what I loved the most about  is that we get to visit with every single one of the gang, each one gets to tell us a part of the story, and it’s like we get a chance to have a private final chat and a hug goodbye with each one before we have to see them go.

Amy Lane’s books affect me deeply, always they resonate with me, because they are so HUMAN so harsh so times, but it’s what always makes the good moments so joyful. These guys are special and I was scared that this last chapter would be a soft ball, a light happily ever after, nothing too upsetting or hard. I should have known that Amy Lane was not going to cut us any slack AT ALL, because what has made this series the special thing that it is, is precisely that we’ve seen these characters hurt and struggling so that when the good moments come, when the lightness and laughter hits they are seen and embraced as the gift that they are.

This book is about absolution and reflection. It’s about moving on soberly, being able to let go of the past with a clear understanding of just what a fucking miracle it is that even after the valiant efforts at self-destruction they all made, they got their bright future anyway. Many are not so lucky, so many people never get a second chance, but those who do they need to look at that miracle in the face and be nothing thankful.

I probably could talk about this book for 12 pages, but I can’t really go on forever, so I will talk briefly about the things that I loved the most.

Mikhail…He was the catalyst for the most powerful emotions in this book, he was mighty, in good ways, in terrible ways…He was atonement.

Benny and Crick, looking back on their lives and the good fortune that they had to have found a home and love in Deacon, it was wonderful to see them look back, to see what they had arrived to, after such a difficult beginning.

Jeff and Collin still in love, and still against all odds daring to be hopeful, and telling the world that they were brave enough  to want more out of life than people would probably allow them to.

Deacon and Crick…These guys. So wonderful after so much hardship, such heartache, such fear…They made it. They were together and whole (even if baring the scars of harder times) they were still in love and still saw in each other’s eyes that there was always something to hold on to, something to live for…Something to try to be happy about.

“Sometimes you just got to be happy, and worry could happen tomorrow”

This book could have been too easy, or too hard, or too angsty or too long or TOO MUCH. But it wasn’t, it was just right. There were moments that cut to the bone, followed by momenst of unapologetic lightness and absurd humor that could only make me laugh and shake my head. Like life. Like people. We are sad and we are bad, but then we turn to the people that can still see the best in us, and let them try to coax it out of us with a joke or a hug…or an emergency knitting project.

So many sad things happen in this life, every day to good people, but so many good things happen too. People move away, and people come back and people stay…But when there is love and goodwill every day brings what it must, and we can face it because we know that there will someone there to walk with us through whatever we must to do.

Fantastic final installment, I was left smiling, and weepy and secure in the bright future of my guys and gals in Promise Rock. What a joyful journey this has been. Thank you, thank you, thank you Amy.

Completely recommend this book and this series. I will miss my guys.

Forever Promised is out today on Dreamspinner Press: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3980&osCsid=lrdsnsmg0lfg5oap2t3fuk85d2

So for those of you want to give Crick and Deacon’s cupcakes a try here is the recipe…I recommend that you only eat them once you’ve secured the bubbly for drinking while eating them and that you’ve secured a few hours free of distraction to immerse yourself in  Forever Promised.

Crick and Deacon’s Champagne and Raspberry Vegan Cupcakes (makes 10 cupcakes)

½ cup and two tablespoons of pink sparkling wine (I used Jaume Serra Cristalino)

½ cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk

1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar

1 ÂĽ cups cake flour

2 Tablespoons of cornstarch

Âľ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1/3 cup canola oil

Âľ cup organic cane sugar

1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon of almond extract (you can substitute for vanilla)

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a cupcake tin with cupcake liners. Mix all ingredients in a bowl adding the champagne last, mix until smooth but not too much or too vigorously. Fill cupcake liners halfway with the batter. Cook for 13 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean from center of the cupcake.

Raspberry and Champagne Buttercream Frosting

½ cup of shortening

½ cup of margarine (Earth Balance)

3 ½ cups of powdered sugar

2 tablespoons of Pink Champagne

2 tablespoons of vanilla almond milk (add a bit more if frosting is too lumpy)

2  tablespoons of raspberry puree (put 1 cup of fresh raspberries in the food processor and then run through a sifter to get rid of seeds)

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

For garnish leave out 10 raspberries to decorate the cupcakes.

Separately put margarine, shortening and raspberry puree in an electric mixing bowl and mix until smooth, add sifted sugar, vanilla extract and champagne and mix again, add almond milk as needed.

Frost the cupcakes as you prefer and top with a fresh raspberry and enjoy with a glass of chilled pink bubbly! Make sure to make a toast to Crick and Deacon and The Pulpit gang!

CHEERS AND HAPPY READING!

Laura