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

Megan Erickson and C.S. Poe Talk About Writing Veteran Heroes and PTSD

Welcome! So, today I have Megan Erickson and C.S. Poe on the blog today, to talk about what it was like for them to write characters who have come back from war, and are struggling with the effects of the trauma they experienced. I think both Megan in her book “Overexposed”, as well as C.S. in her “Snow and Winter” series do a great job of putting out there how hard it is to walk around wounded on the inside, but to the outside world looking completely fine. The fear of being “stigmatized” or being labelled as “crazy” is yet another layer of difficulty that veterans have to confront. Espcially when most people don’t even understand what PTSD even means or looks like.

So what is PTSD? According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs “PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.”

Some of the symptoms can be, “reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms), avoiding situations that remind you of the event, having more negative beliefs and feelings, and feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal).” Imagine dealing with all that and trying to rebuild a life or starting a new relationship. It’s a lot, and even if it is doable, it does not magically disappear because they have fallen in love.

So, this leads into my conversations with our guest authors. First, I will share my chat with Megan about her heroes Thad and Levi from Overexposed, and why it was important for her to show their emotional pain as accurately as possible. Here it is:

28490317TTB: In “Overexposed” you had two characters who had each experienced traumatic events. Thad is a veteran who has recently come back from his latest deployment, and is still reeling from those experiences, and Levi is grieving his sister who died in active duty.  

While reading the story I was really struck by how their ways of dealing with their pain was so different, and yet so similar. Thad’s complete silence, he was almost unable to speak about anything. Levi who was such an extrovert, had to find quiet in order to finally let the grieving happen. And yet,  they both ended on the same path, literally. However even once their connection happened, still they could not heal the other person. Each of them had to find a way back from their journey on their own. I thought that was a beautiful analogy, and letting their pain be part of the story made the novel a really wonderful read. Can you talk a bit about why you chose to let the effects of their pain and grief linger, and not just dissipate once the romance began?

Megan Erickson: Thank you so much for your kind words on “Overexposed”. This book was difficult to write because I knew there would be a lot of pain and grief. Regarding letting the effects of their pain and grief linger: I think it’s important to show that grief will change us. It’ll change how we live, love, make decisions, etc. And with Thad and Levi, I wanted to show that love and romance can break down some walls inside of ourselves. Meaning, once we start to see how others view us, especially ones that love us, it gives us a chance to look closer at ourselves. Love can be a mirror. I’m sure there were times Thad was thinking–why is Levi into me? What is it about me that he sees? Do I see myself that way?

TTB: The “Damaged War Veteran” is not an uncommon theme in gay romance. It’s a well used trope, however a lot the portrayals of these character’s experiences can be pretty superficial. It’s hard to develop a romance while trying to accurately portray what the effects of PTSD really look like, without resorting to graphic details or images that could affect the reader in a negative way. How did you approach writing Thad’s PTSD, and how was it different for you than other characters in your novels?

ME: The thing about PTSD is that it affects everyone differently. For Thad, he’d always been a quiet guy, an introvert, and he hadn’t really found many people at all that understood him. So when his brain was actively fighting itself over trauma, his solution was to get away from everyone. He couldn’t understand himself, how could others? Thad was different for me, because I admire those who serve so much, and I wanted to treat his situation delicately. He didn’t feel like a hero, and never really wanted to be.

Some would say that romance is a less serious genre, that the focus should be on getting that believable “HEA” and that getting too deeply into a character’s trauma could hurt the story.

TTB: Why do you think it’s important to be mindful of portraying trauma accurately? Have you found the reactions to Thad and Levi’s characters to be positive or any different from other books?

ME: I think it’s incredibly important to portray trauma well. Mainly because even if a character didn’t go through the same experience, they might have dealt with another traumatic experience similarly, or had the same thoughts. And for them to see themselves reflected on the page and treated with care and respect is everything.

I had no idea how readers would react to Thad and Levi but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s an angstier read, so I’m sure it wasn’t everyone’s thing, but the responses have been amazing and very intense emotionally. One reader got a tattoo with a line from this book, and another got a tattoo of a tent and moon to signify Thad and Levi’s journey on the Appalachian Trail. Which just blows me away. I’m grateful every day for being able to do what I do.

29759618In the “Snow and Winter” series one of C.S. Poe’s heroes, Calvin Winter is a NYPD detective who is still suffering the effects from what he experienced while serving in the military. He is haunted by his memories, and even though he has tried to push it all down and keep going, things are slowly falling apart.

One of the things I really like about Calvin’s character is that C.S. shows how much his struggles with showing weakness, how opening up about his trauma would mark him some how. I think that conflict made Calvin very appealing to me, and I think was a great issue to address. So I had a chat with C.S. about her book and why she chose to approach Calvin in the way she did. Here is what she had to say.

TTB: PTSD in a character, specially in a romance, can be quite heavy if portrayed accurately. For your first novel you decided to delve in the trauma that Detective Calvin Winter had suffered while in combat. I think the book is better for it, and certainly makes Calvin a much more intriguing hero. What parts of Calvin’s struggle with his trauma were important for you to get right?

C.S. Poe: Writing Calvin’s character came with the very serious task of accurately representing aspects of PTSD, and it was in the forefront of my mind throughout the entire writing and editing process. It was important to me to show Calvin as a strong, smart, and brave man, while at the same time reflecting an inner struggle he acquired later in life. Calvin has a battle raging inside, where he is trying to be the man everyone sees– a hero, while accepting the fact that war has changed him and he may need help to overcome what he has experienced. It was his reluctance to seek help that I wanted to portray, the concept that he feels weak or has somehow let people down by not being Captain America.

Another important element to his character was to not make the PTSD who Calvin is. He is a man. He is a highly decorated army veteran and metro detective. He’s a son, a brother, and a boyfriend. He is not PTSD. In order to show this, I had to do a lot of research, which involved days of documentaries and videos, reading articles and support groups, researching VA hospitals, and more. I wanted to represent symptoms of PTSD subtly that suggested Calvin was struggling hard, but that he won’t let it consume his life.

TTB: Something I struggle with when I see it in a novel, is the minimization of trauma once the romance begins to emerge. The idea being that love can make the PTSD go away, when in fact it is a lot more complicated than that. Do you think that putting Calvin’s struggle right in the midst of his relationship with Sebastian gives their love story a depth that would not have been there otherwise?

CSP: Absolutely it did. Through my extensive research on PTSD in veterans, I’ve learned that in fact, many relationships struggle to stay afloat, and even more can often fail. Of course a relationship that doesn’t succeed breaks the single rule of a romance novel, that being there needs to be a Happily Ever After, or at least a Happy For Now, in the case of this ongoing series. Calvin’s happiness and success with Sebastian is a very critical and key element of the character arcs in these books. When the two meet in Nevermore, Calvin is pretty low, and because of how PTSD can intensify with emotional stress from a relationship, especially a new one that didn’t start so easily with Sebastian, it was important that in Book Two, Curiosities, Calvin basically hit rock bottom. I needed to stay true to how devastating PTSD can be, to not belittle what real people experience, while at the same time giving hope and belief that things can get better, as seen through a man like Calvin.

To Sebastian, Calvin is his knight in shining armor. Sebastian doesn’t think anything less of Calvin when the armor is too heavy to hold up without some help. There is a raw, naked honesty between the two men. The ability to ask for and receive help during the darkest moments, while remaining equals, that I think solidifies their romance, and makes them so very special to one another.


I am always grateful to have stumbled upon this genre, and one of the biggest reasons is that it is filled with authors who feel such passion for writing their stories. Thanks so much to Megan Erickson and C.S. Poe to taking the time to talk with me about their heroes and their writing process.

Please comment if there are any other books out there with veterans or those suffering the effects of PTSD that you recommend.

Other favorites of mine are:

Think of England by KJ Charles

Marlowe’s Ghost by Sarah Black

Racing for the Sun by Amy Lane

If you would like to read more about Trauma and PTSD in particular here are a couple of books I recommend:

Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence- From Domestic Abuse to Political Power by Judith Herman

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk

You can buy “Overexposed” HERE.

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

You can buy “Snow and Winter” series HERE.

You can more about C.S. Poe and her work HERE.

Please stop by again on Wednesday to read about my chat with Dal Mclean and our chat about writing a hero with childhood trauma.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Ultimate Winter Couscous

Ingredients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laurax