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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So LOTS of good conversation coming up on the blog. I do hope that this gets a conversation started in the gay romance community from readers and writers. I also look forward to hearing from you and your thoughts on this.
So please come back tomorrow for my talk with Roan Parrish!
Cheers and Happy Reading!
Laura
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The Silence of the Stars by Kate McMurray w Pasta Frutti di Mare and a fab French White.

SilenceoftheStars[The]LGKate McMurray does something in her books that I love. She mixes culture, setting and characters in a way that make her stories rich and interesting every single time. This book, a spin off  The Stars the Tremble,  is a beautiful love story of two men who have not been able to find what they are looking for. Sandy and Everett in each other not only find love, but they find ways to heal, so that they can build the life they always wanted.

Kate’s book always appeal to me because she writes about things I love, like baseball, the opera, or the magic of New York city. Sandy and Everett’s story had the music, and New York City as lovely complements to their romance. This story as charming as it was, also dealt (very well I thought) with PTSD and the struggle with which so many men and women in this country live with when they return from war. There is so much stigma in admitting to being damaged on the inside. Voicing that your head and your heart might never heal even after your body has is something that is just not done. Sandy came back from war broken inside and he just powered through all that pain. He needed to heal and forgive himself and Everett needed to trust his heart to someone that could really treasure it, just as it was.

For this book I wanted to make something a little fancy, like Everett could be, but also fast and simple like Sandy would be able to make if he was in the mood to do a little romancing. So, I came up with a quick and SUPER easy pasta e frutti di mare (pasta with seafood) recipe. I paired it with a lovely French white blend wine that is absolutely perfect to enjoy a seafood dish. The Domaine de Pajot Les Quatre Cepages is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard, Ugni Blanc, and Gros Manseng, it’s a crisp and lightly fruity wine with no sweetness. A wonderful complement to the dish, for about $9.00 a bottle also a great deal!

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Now the story. Sandy has never been very lucky in love. He was in the closet for most of his 20s and 30s while he served in the military. Once he was discharged after a injury during active combat he came back home to NYC and found a good job working with his best friend Mike in his contracting business, he was settled and even bought a house to fix up. But love, it didn’t really pan out. He couldn’t seem to get past one night stands or relationships with men that wanted to change him. After his last breakup Sandy was starting to feel a bit hopeless that he might never have the family he always wanted. That is until Sandy gets to his new contracting job in Brooklyn and meets his new client. Everett Blake, is a violinist and also the hottest thing Sandy has ever seen. They are both on the same page with the attraction and pretty soon they are having a hot and heavy affair.

Both Sandy and Everett can sense that they can fall pretty hard for each other but they are unsure. They each have their insecurities, Sandy still struggles with the memories from his time in Afghanistan and Everett is still trying to figure out what it is that makes him end up in relationships that make him feel so bad about who he is and what makes him happy. They are reluctant to bet on each other. Meanwhile Sandy is fixing up his house with his own hands and is trying to hold on to his dream of filling it up with family, a man he loves and children to raise together. But things are not looking too good for Sandy’s dream, even after meeting Everett and how good they are together. Maybe he’s just too damaged.

This book dealt with a pretty heavy subject, but it did so in a way that was respectful and not melodramatic which I appreciated. Sandy and Everett were falling in love,  and that involved them getting to know the wonderful as well as the not so nice sides to each other. Everett parent’s were snobby and judgmental, while Sandy was struggling to move past his trauma. Things were far from perfect, but they made it work, because they were in love and their future would be much better together than it would be apart.

I love Kate’s writing, it’s quiet and thoughtful and she gives her characters so much depth. Her men are all flesh and blood, and they have a vulnerability that always affects me. In this series particularly I really enjoyed the contrast of her heroes, the blue collar guys with the classical musicians, so unlikely and yet they were just right for each other.  She just goes to the core of what is most important, love…There is always common ground to be discovered and explore when love is the foundation. All in all I really enjoyed this book. I just plain love Kate’s writing.

Definitely recommend.

The Silence of the Stars is available for purchase here.

Pasta Frutti di Mare

1 pack of spaghetti or linguine

3 garlic cloves minced

2 tablespoons of fresh parsley chopped

1 cup of white wine (I used the Domaine the Pajot!)

1 dozen large raw shrimp peeled with tails

1 can of chopped clams with juice

1 can of mussels in juice

2 tablespoons of butter

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 tablespoon spoon of cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon of water.

salt and pepper to taste.

Directions:

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.

In a hot sautee pan put the butter, oil and garlic at medium-high heat. After a minute add the garlic, sautee for a minute stirring so it doesn’t burn. Add the shrimp and cook for two minutes after they look cooked take out and set aside. In the same pan add the wine,  mussels and clams with juice to the mix.

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Make sure you mix in the garlic and butter on the pan to the seafood, season with salt and pepper and reduce heat to simmer and cook for five minutes or so. Once the mix is fragrant add the cornstarch and stir until the mixture thickens. Add the shrimp back to the sauce, toss in pasta and parsley. Serve with fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

Hope you enjoy the book and give the food and wine a try. They are all quite delicious and perfect for these summer months!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

 

Floodgates by Mary Calmes and a Wonderful German Red

FloodgatesLGMary Calmes’ books are like pizza…You can never have it too many times, you are always up for seconds, and even when you have to add a bit of this or that because it’s missing just a little something, YOU still don’t stop until it is ALL GONE. And as soon as you’re done, you begin calculating how long  you need to wait before you can have it again, without looking like you have a problem. This story was no different. This book was longer than usual for her stand alone contemporaries, and the secondary characters were a lot more layered and flushed out in the this one than I remember in the past. There WERE some crazayzay twists and turns as there sometimes are in Mary’s books when law enforcement heroes are involved. And there were a few threads I felt were a little loose throughout the story, but overall for any Mary Calmes fan, this book will take care of that itch only Mary’s books can scratch.

For this book I picked up an unusual variety of wine for me, a German red. I had this wine a few weeks ago at a friend’s house and I LOVED it. He told me the store he picked it up, and I went and got it. I had been waiting for the right book to try it out. My choice is the 2011 Dornfelder by Villa Wolf winery. This wine is exquisite, it’s got a nice sweetness to it, and is surprisingly light. It has a deep cherry flavor, and even a little carbonation, it is NOT HARD at all to take this bottle down in one sitting people. It is right on the cusp of my spending limit at $14.99 a bottle, but if you are going to splurge this one is a good choice.  Since I made the comparison to pizza, I made some at home while I read the book, I will put a link to a delicious and simple recipe for a thin crust pizza at the end of the post.

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Tracy Brandt is having a pretty shitty day…His office got shot up, (and he did too) because his business partner got mistaken for his brother who happens to dabble in the criminal side of things. The criminals after the mysterious thug were clearly not every bright since they shot up the wrong people! So, there he is in the hospital, with half his family and friends losing it over what happened. On top of everything his cheating ex, Breckin, seems to think this would be a great time to ask Tracy to take him back.  To make matter worse, because getting shot apparently doesn’t guarantee a guy isn’t going to be annoyed to death, his brother’s ex-partner in the police force, and BFF makes an appearance as well. Cord Nolan, the guy that thought suggesting that Tracy ride his dick five minutes after meeting him was a great idea. *sighs* Tracy just needs the day to be over.

But Tracy’s bad day starts turning into a bad week pretty soon…Apparently there’s a crazy killer walking around San Francisco taking out all the people Breckin’s been with…And bad news comes in threes apparently because  his ex’s penis had been busy while they had been together it seems and there are multiple potential victims involved…It’s a big homicide case…And who could possibly be the detective assigned to the case you might ask?????? None other than Cord Nolan, it is up to the big man himself to keep Tracy safe. There has always been a bit of friction between Cord and Tracy, a lot of that has to do with the fact there is always a thick layer of sexual tension between the two men. Tracy was prepared to deflect Cord’s usual annoying attitude, but it seems Cord’s cynical manner has changed, and the guy seems a lot gentler than he used to be. He is getting VERY close to Tracy in ways that are a bit confusing…Is he interested in Tracy? Is he reading this wrong?  He must be…Cord is not the settling down kind. Never was.

This story had all the elements that are present in Mary’s novels, a very likable hero telling us his story, a leading man who is all about fierce protection and protectiveness, family and friends who are adoring and supportive. Lots of passion, lots of intense moments, and because this one is a crimmie, LOTS of CRAZY plot twists. The love story in this book did not have an immediate pay off, there was a slower progression, and things did not culminate until well into the book. I enjoyed this particularly because I got to spend a lot more time with Tracy and his family, who I liked a lot. His two brothers especially had  a lot of time in the book, and there was a lot we got to see and hear about them and how their presence in Tracy’s life affected him. I liked knowing how they perceived their brother, the danger he was in, and even how the had seen his relationship with Breckin, and how they felt about a possible future with Cord. It’s rare to get much perspective on the supporting characters, and even on the other MC when you are hearing from his love interest in the first person. This POV can be very insular, but I think Mary did a really great job of using dialogue with other characters as a tool to give us a better sense of what could be between Cord and Tracy.

The mystery in this story got a little nutty at times, and there were some twists here and there that didn’t add up for me, but I did enjoy the story overall. I was right there with Cord and Tracy. I specially liked the epilogue, it was really nice to get so much information of where the guys ended up. So yeah, classic Mary Calmes, with lots of passionate love confessions, devoted friends, creepy exes, fabuliscious possessive tops, and all the things that make her a perennial favorite.

If you’re a fan don’t even think on it go read it.

Floodgates is out today on Dreamspinner Press and is available here.

Now PIZZA! Like I mentioned I made some delish thin crust pizza to go with this book. I got the recipe of the Smitten Kitchen blog and it is a total winner. The toppings are not vegan though, if you want to some suggestions on toppings click here, for a link to my own pizza recipe post from a couple of months ago.

Hope you enjoy the food, wine and book choices for today, they are all delicious, one time might not be enough!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

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Clockwork Tangerine by Rhys Ford and a Tasty Tempranillo

ClockworkTangerineLGRhys does steampunk…And she does it well. It is hard to believe Rhys Ford hadn’t dabbled in this genre yet. Her mind is so creative and her writing so vivid. Her style just seems like a match made in heaven for this genre. In this story she takes us to her beloved Bay Area.  San Francisco, actually, St. Francisco. We go to the city when it was part of the British Commonwealth. She takes us right into the thick of things, Little Orient, where our heroes have their fateful meeting. From the get go we are taken into a delightful adventure, with a good dose of political intrigue, very engaging characters (fiesty Dowager included!) and a vivid setting.  Marcus Stenhill, the Viscount of Westwood, happens upon a man receiving a terrible beating while on an errand in Little Orient. Marcus being a man who won’t sit idly while a gang of four, beat on a single man when he is down, comes to the fellow’s rescue. The man Marcus rescues should be his foe, a mortal enemy. Even though they have never faced each other their histories are bound in a sinister way. Robin Harris had a part in Marcus’ father murder, indirect, but a part nonetheless. He should hate him, but instead is flumoxed by his desire for the man. Things won’t be easy…Not only are his unnatural desires criminal in the commonwealth, but Robin himself is a marked man. Pursuing anything with him may be too much folly, even for someone with Marcus’ influence and wealth.

For the men of Clockwork Tangerine I chose a lovely Spanish Tempranillo, which if not a super popular wine in most of the British Empire, certainly a common one to find in territory so close to the Spanish Empire’s holding a bit to the South. The 2011 Dacu Tempranillo from the Ribera del Guadiana in Spain, is an absolute WINNER.  It is very earthy and smooth with a distinct flavoring that will appeal to Zinfandel lovers. At about $10.00, you cannot go wrong with this bottle.

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Now back to the story…Once Marcus takes on rescuing Robin, he goes all the way. He takes Robin back to his house, and does not leave his side until he is recovered. From the moment Marcus steps into Robin’s home he can see that the inventions which were taken and bastardized by the Society to bring down the Empire were not the last Robin’s mind had to give. There are all kinds of magical contraptions all over the house. Harris has apparently successfully developed prosthetics that are aiding people to walk and see. Marcus is enthralled. By the time Robin comes around a few weeks later after the beating, Marcus is a mainstay in his life.

Robin is taken aback by the kindness, by the presence of the man. Of all people, Marcus should loathe him, yet he gives him nothing but gentleness. There is also the issue of the man’s beauty. Robin can barely take being close to him without working himself up to complete discombobulation. Robin just does not understand what the man could be after…Maybe he feels the same, there have been hints here and there…But, but…No it can’t be, there is no way possible that someone as tainted as he could end up with a man like Marcus in his bed and a life of happiness. Robin can have his doubts, but Marcus will show Robin to never underestimate a man who knows EXACTLY his worth, his position and his heart, and what he is willing to do for those he loves.

For the length of this novella, all in all, we get quite the story. Not only did we get a very strong sense of the place and world, but we got to know both men and their individual stories pretty well. The world was solidly set as well, we got a good understanding of how the society works, and the foes who have and could threaten their world. I would love to see a sequel for this book where Robin and Marcus united to defend their beloved British Empire. There is a lot to love about the world Rhys created, but at the nucleus it is a strong love story. Marcus saves Robin from a life of isolation and guilt, and together the life they will build will make them both whole.

Lovely story. Totally recommend. Stop by tomorrow to read more about Clockwork Tangerine and Robin’s inventions. The lovely Ms. Ford wrote a bit about Robin’s machines and their relevance to her story!

Clockwork Tangerine will be released tomorrow from Dreamspinner Press.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura