An Unnatural Vice by KJ Charles w Chicken Potato Leek Pie & Riesling

32161804 (1)This book is the second installment in the Sins of The Cities  Series. Our heroes are Nathaniel Roy a barrister turned journalist with a chip on his shoulder the size of Gibraltar, and Justin Lazarus an incredibly shady and clever medium whose goal in life seems to drive Nathaniel out of his mind. He has EVERY kind of trick up his sleeve, and and he has the Medium game down to a science. These two are hot and cold, and then hot and hotter.

The setting as always is top notch, this time we get a London covered in a thick fog that shrouds the city in darkness for days. The perfect time for sinister goings on to happen.  The universe and cast of characters from the first book in the series are all here and it continues to grow. Once again, KJ made Victorian London her playground and her characters brought the city and its secrets to life all while delivering a very satisfying love story.

Before I go further into the book, let’s talk food! I decided to go with a savory pie, with some British flavors. I must confess that a  couple of months ago I fell down the Netflix rabbit hole and watched all three seasons of the Great British Baking Show. Since then I’ve been itching to make a “proper” savory pie. This book features a few meat pie cameos, and Justin seemed to love them, and I love Justin,  so I took my chance! I’ve made a chicken, leek and potato pie, which honestly came out DELICIOUS, my judges (read very opinionated 8 yr old girl, 38 yr old man who will eat anything as long as he doesn’t have to cook it) approved and declared that it should enter the family dinner rotation. I paired it with a lovely Dry Riesling I from German winemaker Bex. This bottle was not sweet at all, but had a very prominent fruit profile, some stone fruit a little pineapple. It was lovely with the pie and the bottle was on sale for $8.99. Total win.

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Back to the story…Nathaniel has a problem and his name is Justin. He can’t stand the man. He just knows he is up to no good. Granted for the first time since he lost his lover five years ago, he is feeling anything other than utter apathy, he is not sure what to do with that, but he knows who is to blame, Justin Lazarus. Justin, who he is convinced is a hack and conning people out of their hard earned money by telling them he can give them a connection with their dead loved ones. The man is despicable, he can’t stand the little cheat, and is determined to show the world he is a fraud. The only issue is, that every time he encounters Justin the man gets deeper and deeper under his skin. There is something broken and fragile about him calls to something in Nathaniel. He too smart for his own good, he is beautiful and Nathaniel can’t seem to stay away.

In  an unexpected twist of fate, Nathaniel and Justin end up needing each other to get out of a potentially deadly mess.  Nathaniel’s friend Clem is at risk of losing everything if his nephew, and heir to the family’s fortune can’t be found. Justin just so happens to be able to get to the people that know where he might be, the only trouble is these people are not above killing them both to get their hands on the money. What ensues is a pretty fast paced adventure, where there are twists and turns literally to the last page. And while we escape to the countryside  and back with these two we get quite a romance.

I think Justin is one of the best characters KJ has written, and that is saying quite a lot, since some of her characters feature very prominently in my favorites list. What makes Justin so intriguing to me is that he refuses to apologize for what he must do to earn his livelihood, even if it make him despicable in the eyes of others. He was given a rotten lot in life and he turned that into something he could use to provide himself and his family security. He is a trickster and he is a fraud, so what? At least he is not walking around feeling like he is better than anyone, or sitting down reaping the benefits from the work off someone else’s back. Especially not a sanctimonious arsehole like Nathaniel Roy who was not idea what it’s like to be so hungry you’d sell your soul for a meal.  Justin takes care of his own and is completely unfazed by anyone’s opinion of how he does it.

Nathaniel is judgmental, he has been too comfortable his whole life to grasp the reality that some people literally have had to crawl up from the gutter to stay alive. He sees Justin is too fixated on his views on right and wrong. But when he finally gets over himself and can see Justin for who he really is,  Justin humbles and entrances him. They have so much to give each other once Nathaniel lets go of high handed bullshit, and Justin opens himself up a little bit and let down his guard…Neither are easy things to do for these two, but the pull is too strong between them.

The romance here is solid, the intrigue and drama quite delicious, and the chemistry between Justin and Nathaniel is phenomenal. Thankfully there is one more book in the series which I cannot wait to read. Another great romance by KJ Charles.

Now the recipe

Chicken, Leek and Potato Pie

1 tablespoon of margarine

2 slices of turkey bacon sliced

2 Cups of small read potatoes diced

1 carrot diced

1 chicken breasts cut into cubes

3 leek stalks sliced thin

2 cups of chicken broth

1/4 cup white wine

2 tablespoons of flour

1 pie pre-made pie crust just for top

1 egg white

1 tablespoon milk

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°. Cook bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until almost crisp, stirring frequently. Increase heat to medium-high. Add potato and carrot to pan; sauté 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chicken; sauté 3 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in flour and next 3 ingredients (through pepper); sauté 1 minute, stirring frequently.

Slowly add broth and wine to pan, stirring constantly; as you mix in the liquid should start to thicken. Cook 2 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring occasionally. Spoon mixture into a deep pie dish. Top with dough, folding under and pressing down on edges to seal. Poke some holes on the crust with a fork.

Combine milk and egg white; brush mixture over top of dough. Bake at 450° for 20 minutes or until crust is golden. Let stand 10 minutes.

Serve immediately with a mixed green salad.

Thanks so much for stopping by, I hope you read this awesome story and maybe bake this delicious pie!

You can buy An Unnatural Vice HERE.

You can learn more about KJ Charles and her work HERE.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

 

 

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Mature Content by Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell w Poke Bowls and Chenin Blanc

MatureContent-f.jpgLet’s get the basics covered before we move on to more “in depth” coverage of the Beau and Zane Show:

  1. Hot as Hell, like with lots and lots of flames. Actually just listen to this song before you start (just think of it as the gay romance version of pre-gaming).
  2. Funny as Hell. Zane in particular is just that bit of extra extra I was hoping for.
  3. Vernacular and Pop Culture references ON POINT and a plenty (I personally find these very amusing), almost like a guided instruction of millenial lore.
  4. This universe keeps growing and I expect more Cyberlove is in our future.

So, this is the fourth book in the Cyberlove series  co-written by Santino Hassell and Megan Erickson and for all intents and purposes it was what I was hoping for. Entertaining, sweet when it needed to be, with a heavy dose of intense smut, and a happy ending that came about with a pretty swift resolution and didn’t leave me feeling on edge or ragey.  Like with the other books in this series, Megan and Santino took an interesting look at yet another part of the social media machine and how the players in it operate. I have to give it to them this series is so damn clever and fun, honestly how had no one done this before?!

OK before I get a bit more into the story, let’s talk food! For this book I was not sure what to make, there are some foodie moments, but I wanted to make something VERY SoCal and SUPER trendy, basically the edible version of Beau and Zane. I decided to go with Poke Bowls, if you have been to the West Coast recently or watched Food Network for longer than ten minutes in the last year, you will have heard of Poke. Poke is originally Hawaiian made with raw fish (tuna or salmon mostly) which is cut into large chunks and marinated with spices and soy sauce. I am CRAZY about poke and whenever I visit my BFF in Cali, he knows that my request will be to stop at “the good poke place.” Poke is delicious, easy to make and a slam dunk “impress your date” meal. It goes great with ANY dry white wine, I served mine with a lovely Chenin blanc, from one of my fave wineries Indaba from South Africa.  Chenin blanc has a more delicate taste and not the bite of a Sav blanc and goest great with fish or seafood was $8.99, it is a DEAL.

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Beau and Zane are explosive in all ways, in bed, on camera, on text, EVERYWHERE, they just crash into each other. Beau can’t stand Zane’s messiness he is crass and careless with his privacy, but what he hates the most is how open Zane is about it. He’s trashy and completely unrepentant about it. Beau is annoyed by it all and yet there is something about the way that Zane goes about his life, that makes it hard  for Beau to stay away.

Zane on the other hand sees Beau as nothing but a sanctimonious fake. He dismisses him as a hypocrite who is just trying to push his own internalized shame and hang ups on his viewers. To Zane, Beau has just fallen into the bullshit heteronormative trap that he refused to fall prey too.  Zane gets to say how he will live his life as a gay man, and he’s just no interested in hearing from anyone who wants to put labels on him or try to make him into someone he is not interested in being. And yet when they are together it all feels so right, so real, he keeps coming back even if he hates himself for it.

The funny thing with these two is ,they are both so black and white, they are one polar opposite ends and Judge Judying (gonna coin this one!) the hell out of each other, but when the clothes come off it is all PERFECT. They give each other exactly what they need. It’s a classic enemies to lovers trope done well, all with that sassy/edgy/clever combo that Megan and Santino achieve so well together.

There are  also moments of pretty insightful reflection on celebrity and how it transforms a person’s perception of themselves. All the things that it can take away as it gives you popularity or wealth. There were also so pretty important moments in there related to friendships and loyalty that made the book feel more grounded, and even a bit different in tone than the others.

If you like the fist four you will love this one. It’s exactly what I was expecting and I had a ton of fun reading. Can’t wait for the next one.

Now the recipe:

Poke Bowls (Serves 2)

2 cups of cooked brown rice (I made mine in the Instant Pot in 22 minutes, what was life before the Instant Pot?)

4 Oz of sashimi grade ahi tuna (if you have a sushi counter at your local grocery you can just ask for it and they will just sell you a chunk of tuna!)

1/4 of a sweet yellow onion VERY thinly sliced

3 tablespoons of soy sauce

1 teaspoon of sesame oil

dash of rice wine vinegar

1 1/1 teaspoon of honey

1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger

2 sliced scallions

kosher salt to taste

black and golden sesame seeds to sprinkle on top

Directions

Cut the tuna into 1/2 inch chunks, then mix in all the ingredients, except the sesame seeds. Let sit in fridge for 5 minutes before serving. Adjust soy sauce or salt if need.

Serve on top of rice, topped with sesame seeds and pickled ginger of the side. It makes an awesome meal for two!

Hope you enjoy the book, the wine and the recipe. They go GREAT together!

You can buy Mature Content HERE.

You can learn about the rest of the Cyberlove Series HERE.

You can learn more about Santino Hassell and his other work HERE.

You can learn more about Megan Erickson and more of her work HERE.

Enjoy your weekend guys! Cheers and Happy Reading!

Lauraa

Amy Lane on Why She Believes in Happy Endings

7544649Welcome back! Thanks for stopping by for my third and last post in the  series. This week I’ve shared my conversations with Megan Erickson and C.S. Poe where they discussed writing characters with PTSD, and my chat with Dal Maclean who came by to talk about her process writing a character with severe childhood trauma. Today I delighted to have one of my favorite authors of gay romance, Amy Lane, to talk about why she is so passionate about given HER broken heroes happy endings.

If you are a fan of gay romance you surely have read at least one Amy Lane novel. She is a prolific author putting out multiple novels every year, and although she is known for her more angsty books, she has quite a collection of lighter romance as well. A common thread in many of her books is to have characters who have suffered abuse and neglect (sometimes extreme)  or some kind of trauma in their childhoods. They reach adulthood with some emotional battle scars and happily in her stories they get to find unconditional love. 10821000

Amy’s stories can be raw and sometimes the emotional pain her characters carry can be almost too much to bear. I love her books because I can relate to the struggle in her characters, especially that yearning we all have to be seen for who we truly are by someone. To be loved even with our wounds.

I don’t think I could list every book of Amy Lane’s that I’ve loved in just one blog post, but I will briefly list some I think are particularly notable in relation to the theme of this blog series.

“Locker Room”, which is my favorite of all her books, and believe me that is saying a lot, gives us Xander, the basketball player who pushed himself of from a childhood of neglect and abuse to become a professional basketball player with the love and support of his lover Chris, who also has his own demons.

Others include, the “Promises” series  which has powerful stories that show not only how much the world can hurt people, but also how healing and happening is possible. “Racing for the Sun” delves into the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. It is a harsh and bloody story, almost like an avenging fantasy, but I loved it for how raw it was. “Bolt-Hole” touches upon the incredible damage that systematic racism can have on the life a  young black man. I think this is one of Amy’s more profound books. The “Johnnies” series, which starts of with “Chase in Shadow.”  A heart wrenching love story, the whole Johnnies universe is frankly some of her best work. This list is pitiably short, Amy as I said is very prolific, and her back list could keep you in books for months. I just wanted to highlight some of my favorites.13423284

So let’s get on with my chat with Amy, she was kind enough to answer some questions I had for her. I hope you find her answers as moving as I did, I as humbled by her honesty and willingness to share some of her personal reasons for writing the stories she does.

The Tipsy Bibliophile: Why is it important for you to give happy endings to men that have endured so much emotional damage? 

Amy Lane:  I think it’s because we ALL have our damage. Yes, my ten on the Amy scale damage may be three on someone else’s damage scale–but there was still a moment in my life when I was terrified and powerless, and it affected me profoundly. My family doesn’t do psychologists or counselors– we just power on through–so the first person to really see the extent of my damage was the first person I fell in love with. Luckily, he saw that I was more than just that damage, and we’ve been married for nearly thirty years, but still: rendering yourself naked before someone else, painful scars and all, is an act of bravery. 

And if you believe that people deserve love, forgiveness, a chance for absolution if they have sinned and to be productive and positive if they’re innocent–if you truly believe that, showing your naked painful scars is something everybody must do to find happiness. 
17700033So I write people with that damage, who do the unspeakably brave and live and love to tell about it. 
It’s a belief in humanity and hope. 
TTB: Trauma is a theme you have explored widely in your books, childhood trauma, sexual and domestic violence, PTSD in veterans, grief. Are there any traits in the characters or how you write them that are are consistent for every character or are they always different?

AL: As far as I can tell, there are two ways to react to trauma.

You can keep it quiet and let it make you weak, or tell the world and let it make you strong. 
But I don’t believe in absolutes–so most of my characters are on some sliding scale between these two extremes.  Deacon keeps his pain silent, Crick is pretty vocal about his, and Shane is somewhere in the middle.  Chase’s pain is so profoundly buried that he’s practically two people–the screaming child on the inside and the clueless man he pretends to be on the outside, and Kane just deals with each blow and keeps on rolling when it’s passed.  I know my own personal damage is known to a few people–but every now and then, somebody will say and do something that will resurrect it, and I’ll have to expose it to sunlight again and kill it. So if you’re writing damaged people, you need to acknowledge not only what the damage is, but how the character has reacted to it in the past–and what they’re going to have to do to expose their hearts and tell the world (or their significant other) so they can have a viable future.  And it’s always important to acknowledge that this is an ongoing process–even if you “rip off the bandaid” of your psychic pain, that wound still has to heal when exposed to air. 
Each person’s journey in healing from trauma is different and it takes a lot of strength to openly share that with others. I am grateful to Amy for sharing with us some of her own journey and those that she takes her characters on. She is a phenomenally brave human, I am honored to know her.
Again a big thanks to all the authors who joined me this week to talk about trauma and romance, and of course to all of those who stopped by to read the posts!
Have a great Memorial Day Weekend.
Cheers and Happy Reading!
Lauraa

 

Real Talk: Reading (and writing) Romance with Heroes who are Trauma Survivors

As I have mentioned before I am a social worker, and most of my work is doing advocacy for survivors of domestic and sexual violence (a big reason why I read so much romance, I need to gorge on those HEAs sometimes , ya know?).  So that means I have a critical eye for how trauma is portrayed in books. Those stories with veterans suffering from PTSD, characters who survived sexual or physical abuse as children, or those who have been sexually harassed or assaulted as adults. Are their stories told with care and respect for what they survived? Does is it ring true, is it fair, or is it simplistic? Does it minimize the struggle living with the effects of trauma can be for the person who has experienced it, as well as the loved ones who are there to support them? These are questions that I constantly have in my head when I pick up a book with this kind of story, and the answers matter.

So what is trauma anyway? According to Judith Herman in her book Trauma and Recovery: The Aftemath of Violence From Domestic Violence to Politcal Terror (which I HIGHLY recommend for anyone doing research about trauma) “psychological trauma is an affliction of the powerless. At the moment of trauma the victim is rendered helpless by overwhelming force. When the force is that of nature, we speak of disasters. When the force is that of other human beings we speak of atrocities. Traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection and meaning.” That last line is the important one when it comes to relationships and one that I think has a lot weight when thinking about romance.

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Heroes with histories of trauma are a popular theme in Gay Romance, which frankly is one of the reasons why I love the genre. These stories are hard, and provoke empathy and a connection with the characters that is quite powerful. However, there is also a tendency to try and fix that brokenness in the characters once love is part of the equation, in ways that to me feel a bit simplistic. It would be wonderful if love could solve everything, but the reality is that for most people who are struggling with the effects of trauma, even when they are loved and supported unconditionally, those wounds don’t go away. They can be managed and healing is definitely possible, but they don’t just disappear. These are subjects that need to be approached with care, because implying that they can be solved so easily could be hurtful or feel like judgment for readers who are going through similar situations. However when they are done well, they make for some of the very best reading the genre has to offer, and they could be sources of hope and validation for those out there trying to heal.

So who is out there writing this stuff in ways that rings true and are also delivering on those powerful HEAs? Well, lots of authors actually! I reached out to a few who have written some of my recent favorites, and chatted with them about why it was important for them to show accurate portrayals of what the effects of trauma looked like for their characters even if it was a messy sight.

Over the next few posts I will share my conversation with Megan Erickson whose book Overexposed, is one of my favorites and I think does a beautiful job of rendering both of her heroes’ struggles. Thad’s PSTD from his time in Afghanistan, and Levi’s grief from losing his sister to the same war. I also talked with C.S. Poe whose hero Detective Calvin Winter in the Snow and Winter series, struggles to adjust to civilian life after leaving the military. The portrayal C.S. does of how violent and pervasive PTSD can be is fantastic, and she still manages to give us a funny and robust love story.

I also will be chatting with Dal Mclean and her book Bitter Legacy, which deals with a hero who is survivor of horrific child abuse. This topic is particularly important to me, and I think Dal does one of the finest jobs in rendering it that I’ve read in this genre. And yet her heroes still get their happy ending. Finally we will hear from the Queen of Angst herself, Amy Lane. She will talk about her writing and why she keeps going back to those broken heroes.

So, more than a lecture on what trauma is, although I will give definitions and such! 🙂 I hope this is more of a conversation starter. These authors have been quite generous to share some insight, and I hope to hear some more thoughts about this topic, and maybe get some recommendations on other books that approach this topic well.

Also, I will be listing some resources during the posts, of books on trauma that I have read over the years which I think are incredibly informative, and could be of use for those who write these kinds of heroes. And finally, I will list other novels that I have loved over the years and I think broach these subjects well.

Ok, that is all for me today! Come back Monday for my chat with Megan Erickson and C.S. Poe about writing heroes who have come back with from war emotionally wounded.

Happy Friday All.

Cheers and happy Reading!

Laura

Concourse by Santino Hassell with Avocado Tostones and Aperol Spritz

30364779It’s Friday! And man this book made my week. For real, between studying for finals and this fuckery with congress things were looking grim, but Santino saved the day. I’m just going to say it from the get go, this book is my favorite in the series so far. I loved it SO MUCH.  I don’t even know where to start. First of all, the intensity. I literally lost all feeling in my hands from holding my kindle so hard while reading it on the BX12 bus…I don’t know if it was just all too much, what with reading about the Bronx (Fun Fact: not many books set in the Bronx out there), while being IN the Bronx, and then Ashton making me cry while also being super hot with Val…Good LORD. This book IS IT, guys. Concourse, is the fifth book in Santino Hassell’s Five Boroughs Series, which is an absolute favorite of mine, and honestly with as much as I’ve loved the other books, I could not envision a book that could top them. And yet, here we are, with Ashton and Val, Santino achieved the Holy Grail of good romance, the perfect combination of angst, top notch chathartic erotica, and enough swoon worthy moments to fell a sperm whale. I won’t even go into my feelings about Santino’s writing, I already waxed poetic about that in my review of Insight. Before I get to the story though, let’s talk food!

OK! So, this book, as I mentioned, was amazing, and Ashton is now my favorite person, so what to make for him and Val?! They are both so delicious, and there are lots of foodie things happening in the book, so there was definitely inspiration, lots of possibilities. In the end I decided to make my own version of the infamous Avocado Toast that Ashton makes for Val in the beginning of the book. However, since the story is set in the Bronx and I AM Dominican, I gave the whole thing a twist.  I made these boys Avocado Tostones (See what I did there?!).  For those who don’t know tostones (or have spent any time north of 137th street in Manattan), a toston, is a crispy plantain fritter. They are delicious, and go perfectly with avocado and limey things. To make the recipe extra fancy for Ashton, I made quick pickled red onions and a cilantro pesto for garnish. These little avocado bites  are seriously delish, and go perfectly with the champagne cocktail I selected. Which leads us to the alcoholic beverage for this book…

Since summer is near, I made an Aperol Spritz, one of my go to sunny day drinks. Aperol is an Italian aperitif (pre-dinner drink), very popular during warm months.  It is delicious mixed with prosecco, and a slice of orange. I can literally picture Ashton downing these all day long sitting in an outdoor cafe, while forcing Val to take sips. Guys this recipe and cocktail pair is a total WIN!!! Perfect for reading Val and Ashton’s romance. But now back to the story…

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This book worked for me at many levels. The connection between Val and Ashton was so intense and raw that every scene with them together felt electric. In so many ways this this is a classic trope, friends to lovers, prince and pauper romance. And yet, Santino took to it another level and crafted a character driven, stunning love story with, with a strong sense of place.

Val and Ashton have been friends forever. Val’s mom was Ash’s nanny, and they sort of grew up together, even though their worlds were completely different. Ash was always the black sheep in his wealthy family, the outcast, so Val, his mom and sister took him under their wing and gave him the affection he never got from his own flesh and blood. Ashton has always loved Val, and Val has always loved Ashton, but now that they are grown ups (well sort of), their lives are still too different, Ashton is a wealthy Instagram NYC celebutante and Val is an amateur boxer that drives cabs during the day to put this sister through school. They might as well be on different planets. And yet they are each other’s touchstone. They just can’s seem get past all those differences though, and even if there is history and genuine affection between them, they don’t seem to know how to come together.

Ashton’s character made this book for me, his vulnerability and his yearning to be SEEN, to be wanted by someone for who he really was, man it was heartbreaking. His character was rendered with such nuance and feeling, I wanted to weep for him. And yet, he was bright and funny, gave as good as he got from Val. Val was the stoic protector, and yet in the end he had to be saved too, and what saved him was Ashton. Then there’s the sex…The chemistry between these two was some next level shit, I mean how do you even do hotness, angst and humor ALL AT THE SAME TIME? Every scene with Val and Ashton was delicious, and felt so genuine.

I can’t do a review about this series without going to the setting. There are no superlatives that come to mind that are enough to convey how much Santino’s portrayal of NYC affects me. To see every borough treated with the care that he does, and to show ALL the parts which make this city the amazing place it is, makes me kind of weepy to be honest. I love his writing, but this series, these New York City stories? They’re his sweet spot.

Finally, the cast of characters and squads that he’s brought to life made their appearances and I thankfully it seems like there is more to come from this universe. I can’t wait.

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this book and the entire series.

Now the recipes!

Avocado Tostones with Pickled Onions and Cilantro Pesto

Ingredients

Tostones

2 plantains (if at all possible purchase at C-Town, they have the best plantains! ;))

5 tablespoons of canola oil

salt to taste

Avocado Mash

2 Avocados

Juice of one lime

1 garlic clove minced

1 teaspoon of chopped cilantro

salt and pepper to taste

Pickled Onion

1 red onion thinly sliced

1 jalapeno thinly slice

1/2 cup of red wine vinegar

1/2 cup water

1/3 cup of sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Cilantro Pesto

1 cup of cilantro

1/3 cup of oil

1 clove of garlic minced

juice of one lemon

1/3 cup of oil

Directions

  1. Picked onions, put all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat to low medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes.
  2. Avocado Mash. Mash avocados in a bowl and mix with the rest of the ingredients. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Cilantro Pesto. Pulse all ingredients in food processor until well blended.IMG_0394
  4. Tostones. Peel the plantain (if you don’t know how, click here.) and cut into half inch slices. Heat oil in a skillet, when hot start frying the plantains, fry them until they start to look yellow and brown. Take out of pan, and smash each slice until they are flat (look like a cookie). Once you have flattened them all return to the oil for a second fry. Once they are brown and crispy, transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt.IMG_0393.JPG
  5. To make your avocados tostones, spoon a dollop of the mash onto the toston, top with a few pickled onion slices. Add a bit of the pesto, and if you’re feeling really frisky top that with a bit of feta cheese. SO GOOD.

Once you have your tostones, pop that prosecco and top your glass with a bit of the Aperol. You will be in heaven with this book,  recipe,  and cocktail combo. I GUARANTEE IT! Also the left over cilantro pesto and pickled onions are DYNAMITE on top of street style tacos…My dude just eats the onions by the spoonful, they are so good.

Alright guys hope you enjoy the book, and the food and drink!

You can buy Concourse HERE.

You can buy the rest of the Five Borough Series HERE.

You can read more about Santino Hassell HERE or visit his Patreon HERE.

Have a great weekend.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what J.E. had to say…

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers and Happy Reading!

 

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what KJ had to say…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Justice 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

Bonfires by Amy Lane and Double Chocolate Banana Bread

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommend it.

You can but Bonfires HERE.

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

Now the recipe!

Double Chocolate and Banana Loaf

*Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers and happy reading!

Laura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommend it.

You can buy Dating Ryan Alback, HERE.

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

Now the MOLE!

Slow Cooker Mole

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

1 Finely Chopped Onion

2 TB of vegetable oil

2 TB Chili Powder

2 TB unsweetened cocoa powder

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 ts ground cinnamon

1/8 ts ground cloves

2 cups of chicken broth

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

1/4 cup peanut butter

3 TB instant tapioca

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

11/2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 scallions sliced

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura