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

 

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Necropolis (Whyborne & Griffin #4) by Jordan L Hawk and a Spanish Jumilla to LURE IN the Summer!

Necropolis_200x300Whyborne and Griffin might be one of the best things that happened to me on this horrible traumatic thing I endured the past five months, which the people around here call Winter. I came late to this series, as I often do these days. I missed the buzz somehow when the first installment came out last summer, so in the midst of a horrific Upstate New York Arctic weather I started on Widdershins and proceeded to read all three books in a frenzy. Upon coming up for air I was delighted to hear that the fourth installment was in the works, and would be out in the Spring. JOY!!! Necropolis the fourth (I hope from many more to come) in the Whyborne & Griffin series, is another fantastic adventure with so much imagination and top notch writing, it was all my head could do keep up with all the amazing images and fast paced thrills. As always with Jordan’s stories, I was on the edge of my seat trying to keep up with Whyborne, Griffin and Christine, and loving every moment. And then there is the romance. They just get better with each book, it’s such a bone deep love these two guy have. Sighs…I love them.

OK on to the drank…Summer as much as that fucker refuses to commit (unlike Ival and Griffin) to settling here this year, is upon us…That means WHITE WINE all’a the time. I picked a 2012 Spanish Jumilla from the Luzon Winery in Murcia, Spain for this review. The Jumilla is peachy and grassy, with a delightful burst of all things green and no sweetness. Just a beautiful glass of organic wine, which is amazing value. It is $9.0o a bottle which is seriously a great buy, this one will be on the summer hits list for sure.

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Back to the book…This time we catch up to out guys months after their adventures in Stormhaven.  It is Christmas time and Ival and Griffin are settled into their life together…Knowing these two calm and peace cannot last for very long. Soon Ival receives an urgent telegram from Christine who is on an expedition in Egypt, asking for him to join her as there is some trouble. Ival is not a fan of leaving Widdershins, so he is unsure whether responding to her request is doable…However a few odd and rather scary things happen in the museum, and not long after Ival and his lover are off on a steamer ship hoping they get to Christine in time to avert disaster.

These guys are not new to the paranormal and have had more than their share of close encounters with seriously scary monsters. So when it becomes clear that an obscure Egyptian Queen, Nitocris said to have been the Mistress of the Ghuls, has apparently come back from the dead to take over the world of the living, the guys take the news SERIOUSLY. Christine is as always not phased, and extremely interested in finding the site of where this supposedly all originated. There is some weirdness happening that is for sure, and to add to the drama Christine’s long lost sister is in the mix and wanting to come on the expedition in the Saharan Desert. There is also man accompanying Christine an Iskander Barrett, a “colleague”, Ival doesn’t trust the man and neither does Griffin. There is enough suspicious stuff happening to warrant the distrust, and on top of it all the Camels in Egypt seem to have in for Ival…And they expect him to sleep in a tent! Things could not be worst…This is why he does not travel.

Once they set off looking for the site of Nitocris and her mischief, much fuckery ensues and Ival has to rely on his sorcery on a few close calls…This never goes over well with Griffin. It is hard for him to conciliate any sort of sorcery with anything good. It scares him, it make him fear for what it could do to Ival. Adding to the tension Ival cannot help feel guilty for how things went with Griffin and his adoptive family. Christine’s sister presence only exacerbates that.  Also it’s becoming clearer and clearer that whatever they are after does not want to be found, and things might get very bad, very quickly. Sabotaging and allkinds of crazy are happening, they are unsure of what will happen if they keep digging, but it is too late to turn back. These three have never met a monster they couldn’t beat, so they push on hoping to come out of that desert still breathing.

Like the first three books in this series this story is a bona fide adventure/romance it is fast paced and there is always, ALWAYS a new an intersting mystery to uncover. No adventure or bad guy is ever the same with these guys, and I treasure that. The strories are rich and coherent, these are not frivolously written stories there is a lot of meat in these plots. And that love, they are more genuine and solid every time we see them again, yet their connection never ever gets old. LOVE THEM. Jordan L Hawk has made a world and characters that are equally charming and intriguing, what’s more they are more endearing with every book. There is always something new to learn, and even more left at the end to look forward to.

Enjoyed this thoroughly and totally recommend it.

Necropolis will be released on May 6th, and will be available here.

I hope you enjoy the book and the wine!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

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Remnant by Jordan L Hawk and KJ Charles and one of my fave mixologies, The Negroni.

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Sooooooo...Jordan L Hawk and KJ Charles wrote a story together and it’s free…Featuring characters from their stories which we know and love!!!! That is what I call GOOD NEWS! These ladies have been producing some of the best reading material I’ve gotten my hands on in the pasty year. KJ and Jordan each have very unique writing styles, and their stories are RICH with captivating adventures, great humor and very intriguing mysteries. These ladies bring elegance to the horror genre, I kid you not. But where the both take really bring it in their stories, their men. I LOVE their characters. Jordan’s men they are not always comfortable in their own skin, but they are noble and true. Whyborne and Griffin are a delight to read.  As for KJ, the woman elevates the term dark and mysterious, to some new heights. She also has a true gift in weaving humor into her stories in a way that really adds value.

Like I said my excitement was susbtantial when I heard that Jordan and KJ has hooked up to write  story…That got me thinking what to do, what do drink, what to eat…I decided food, might not be the thing for this one, because people this is a PARTAY…Like a let’s get tipsy and go kinda a crazy up in here…So naturally. Cocktails. One of my favoritest cocktails is the Negroni, it’s a got equal parts of Campari, Vermouth and Gin. Three things I enjoy very much separately, but when they come together it’s PERFECTION, and then sipping it while reading a story written by two authors I LOVE!!!…I need a GIF for this…

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Now back to this collaboration, to be honest, despite the fact that their stories do dabble in similar areas, I had never considered they could write something together. Thankfully, I’m not the one doing the brainstorming for the authors I LOVE. This story brought the two worlds they created together seamlessly. They played the characters off each other so so well. Honestly, it was like the four guys had meant to meet all along.

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Ok let’s get serious here. The story. SO! Remnant is set in London just a few months from when we left Whyborne and Griffin after their last adventure. Simon and Robert have been together for about five years and their latest case is a strange one indeed. Three people have been found dead, HORRIBLY dead that is. When Robert and Simon arrive at the scene of the latest murder, they reach an impasse.  The writings on Simon’s body, which usually tell the tale of the ghost at hand turns out to be in some sort of ancient language. Egyptian language to be more specific, this is a problem. If they can’t decipher the runes, they won’t be able to figure out what needs to be done to appease the angry spirit from the beyond.

While reading the paper Simon happens to spot Percival Endicott Whyborne’s name in the list of notable passengers, arriving in London on a steamer from America. He has heard of this Whyborne, and of his association with cults, necromancers and all kinds of unsavory types. BUT the man is said to be an Egyptologist which means he could be valuable in helping with the message in the runes. Robert quickly sets of to try and find him. He eventually identifies Whyborne and his travelling companion (a very fetching young man) and before they know it they’re all in a weapon laden stand-off. Things are tense, but Whyborne and Griffin are not ones to walk away from an adventure, specially if they can help prevent more deaths. So pretty soon the foursome is teaming up to come after the person responsible for the the strange murders.

Whyborne and Feximal are not too fond of each other, but Griffin and Caldwell get on like old bosom buddies…And doesn’t that chafe their respective lovers asses?  The dynamics that ensue from this unlikely team effort are fabulous. The banter is exquisite and so fun to read, Whyborne was in rare form  in this story. He is so awkward and lovable and the way Griffin completely adores him ALWAYS charms me. Robert is such an imp and completely shameless, the man can certainly get sober and serious Simon to loose his cool. In the BEST ways possible. This one is a winner for sure. I really do hope these ladies consider bringing these guys together again. It was a delight to read, the mystery itself was not really the meat of the story, there was not much horror on this one. I was fine with that, just seeing these guys run into each other take of in an adventure together was satisfying to the extreme.

Totally recommend this one! It is available for free here. 

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The Negroni

1 oz Vermouth

1 oz Campari

1 oz Gin (I used Citadelle, which in my opinion is the best value in the market)

Stir in a cocktail shaker and serve over ice. Add a couple of slices of orange to the glass for garnish and taste!

I hope you enjoy the story and the cocktail.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

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