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


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!











Insight by Santino Hassell with a Punchy Pinot Noir

30364791I discovered Santino Hassell last year at some point, and even though I have been reading this genre in worryingly large quantities for a very long time, and have reader friends who were fanatical about his In the Company of Shadows series, I never partook. I am bit of contradictory spirit and was like, “meh…he can’t be that good, it’s all hype. They don’t know…”. I was a bit off on that one! This dude can write, and when I say that, I don’t mean he can effectively put me in a “romance nod” with a book full of the delicious fluff I count on when I pick up a gay romance novel…Oh no no, he is W.R.I.T.I.N.G. fine urban fiction. There are a few reasons I have for saying this.

First, his sense of place, I live in the New York City area, I am Latinx, and I can say he captures the world I’ve lived in and know like few other authors I’ve read, IN ANY GENRE. And he is not just giving us the same old same old “white dude in Manhattan trying to make it” story line, no he is looking into the New York that those of us who have that concrete running through our veins love with undying passion.  He knows the humanity in those bodies captured in all those “New Yorker” snapshot, and it’s gorgeous.

Second, the characters, specially in his contemporaries. The word “representation” gets tossed out a lot these days, and it can feel like the concept has lost all meaning, but like most abstract things you know when you feel it. And as someone who LOVES this genre with, yet rarely see myself portrayed in the stories I read,  I cannot express how meaningful it is to pick up book with characters that feel personally familiar. Then there’s the dialogue, Santino’s command of the vernacular is always impressive. It gives the characters an authenticity that really sets his work apart.

OK…So now that I’ve gone on and on, let me get to the actual book I’m discussing here today…Santino’s new paranormal series, The Community, introduces us to a world where psychics, empaths and mediums and all kinds of other gifted individual squietly exist among us. Their secretive ways, of course, create all kinds of fuckery, which we get to enjoy for at least three books! This being first in a series, I thought Santino did well with giving us a sense of who the players are, while keeping enough of a mystery to build on in subsequent books.

Before I get into what I thought about Insight let’s cover the basics, and by basics I  just mean the wine. For this book, I chose a Pinot Noir, which like Santino’s novels, I waited way too long to get into. I’ve just recently decided that I actually love Pinot Noir, and have been testing various bottles, the one I chose today is from Hanging Vine Winery in the Central Valley of California. It is a light, flavorful wine, very smooth and with nice fruit notes. It is also about $11 a bottle which is a great deal for a nice California wine.

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Back to the book…So our Nate Black has some issues, some of them have to do with his psychic powers, but MOST of them come from belonging to a family where EVERYONE has some kind of paranormal ability. He tries to stay away from the as much as possible, which is not easy to do living in a backwater Texas town. He tried hard though, because being around his family always makes him feel fucked up. Besides there are only a few of them left, him mom died years ago, and not long after his twin brother fucked off to parts unknown and hasn’t made any effort stay in touch. Not that Nate can blame him, if he had the guts to do it, he would have been gone too.

Things change suddenly when he dreams of his brother’s death, something about what he saw compels him to make his way to New York City, where his brother died and find out what happened to him. He hitchhikes a ride from Trent, a hot dude also headed Northeast, and before he knows it, not only is he in the middle of a super shady secret psychic society situation, he’s also falling in love.

First things first, I enjoyed this book. I thought the premise was clever, and I am curious to learn more about the secrets and Scientology like shiftiness of The Community. Like any first in series paranormal it had its quirks, there is a lot of information to deliver when you are creating a universe that will be fleshed out in multiple books.

I liked Nate’s character a lot, he really evolved throughout the story, it almost felt like he went from a shadow to a full formed body by the end. The rest of the characters were great as well and as always with Santino’s book added a lot substance to the story. I specially enjoyed Elijah and Chase, those two will be amazing to read when their time comes.

I thought the mystery was done well, it was set up so that I did not feel totally lost, but had enough twist and turns to keep me guessing. The romance I thought was not as intense as the usual from Santino, but given all that was happening with Nate and Trent, it could have made for just too much. It felt to me more like a paranormal with a strong romance component, and that is alright. There is a lot to build on here, Trent and Nate were our first foray into The Community, and I am very interested in getting more of the people living in that world, now that it is solidly built for us.

I hope you go and explore more of Santino’s writing, in the off chance you’ve been reading gay romance under a rock and don’t already know his work. :0)

You can can get Insight here, pre-order Oversight the next in the series here, and find out more about Santino here.

So there it is, your book and wine for the weekend. You can thank me later.

Cheers and Happy Reading!!!

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Home the Hard Way by ZAM Maxfield w an Oregonian Pinot Noir and Sweet & Sour Stir Fry

home the hard wayEvery time I start a review for a ZA Maxfield book I feel like I need to disclaim my intense LOVE for her stories. So, just for the sake of tradition, I will state that ZAM has not ever written anything I haven’t loved. This book is no exception. Actually this one might be in my opinion some of her best writing. My stomach was in knots the whole time. The tone in this story is dark and dreary, with a mystery that kept my stomach in knots from beginning to end. The characters were a mixed bag of personalities that ranged from ethereal, to strange, to deeply twisted. The tone, the setting and the humans in this book all flowed though. It was bleak, but it was also very easy to connect with the heroes. Dare and Finn are a mess, so much baggage yet all I wanted for them was to be able to have at least a chance, just a chance for some happiness.

For this book I selected a wine from Oregon wine country, the Rascal Pinot Noir is a pretty light red wine. Not too full, but still flavorful, definitely a red that can be enjoyed even in the warm summer weather. It goes for about $10 a bottle which is a pretty nice deal. For food I decided to make a quick and easy meal. I figure neither of these two guys have much interest in the kitchen, so I went with something easy and flavorful. I made a Sweet & Sour Stir Fry that you can make with pretty much any kind of protein or even just veggies. Served on top of rice it’s a fast and filling meal.

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You can never go home…Dare only wishes that were true. Dare was a guy who lost his anchor after the inexplicable suicide of his father, and from then on he just drifted. Sometimes he let his dick mess things up for him, sometimes he let his drinking do it. The kid who had it all together growing up in Palladian, Oregon was not the man that came back to the little town  after essentially destroying his career as a homicide detective in Seattle. He’s to come home in shame to Palladian to take a job he only got as a favor to his father memory at the local police department. Dare has failed everything and everyone in his life. Especially Finn Fowler.

Finn the little kid Dare rescued from a bully back from elementary school and protected fiercely for the next four years. Finn who he walked away form without a single word for the next fifteen. Finn the only thing in Palladian that had even a hint of home. Finn he’s always been a yearning in Dare. The things he feels for Finn, he’s never felt for anyone else. He wants to protect Finn, to save him. But he failed his friend when he left him without a second glance, and the Finn that he’s found is not the Finn that he left. This man is harder and darker and has secrets. SO MANY secrets. He’s also had a lot harder life than he deserved. Finn has gone through so much, it’s made him cynical it seems and so shut off. The only thing he seems to care about is his aunt who is in the last stages of cancer.  Dare wants to help, he needs to step up, but he is such a mess himself. It seems like everything in his life went off the rails the day his father took his own life and it never got back on track. Maybe if he finds out once and for all what really happened to his father than the dark cloud over his life could dispel. Just seems the more he uncovers the less he understands.

I think this book is some of ZAM’s best writing. One thing I enjoy more and more with everyone of her books is that her stories and her men are not subscribed to any sort of formula. So even though I recognize her brand, the stories feel new. When ZAM does a darker story, her men are flawed yes, but they are also incredibly easy to empathize with. Because they are broken  in ways we can all relate to. Dare and Finn were easy to love and even easier to root for. Palladian was also an incredibly rich setting, there is a saying in Spanish “Pueblo Chico, Infierno Grande…Small Town, Big Hell” and that in a few words was Palladian. A town that thrived on secrets, lies, gossip and pettiness to a level of gluttony where it was literally eating it’s young. What a place. I hope we get to visit Palladian again, because the drama in that town definitely captured my interest. It was like a blend between Wisteria Lane and Twin Peaks. Very intriguing place Palladian was.

This book was solid. A hefty mystery which kept me guessing, very interesting characters, a love story that although was not high on the romance it had plenty of depth to make my heart ache at the right moments. The writing itself was pretty wonderful too.

Totally recommend.

Home the Hard Way is out today from Riptide Publishing and is available for purchase here.

Sweet and Sour Stir Fry Recipe

1 cup of rice (cook according to intructions)

2 cups of chopped veggies (I used onions, baby corn, brocoli, carrots, bell peppers and mushrooms)

1 cup of shrimp (you can use any other protein you want like chicken or beef)

1 clove of garlic minced

olive oil

For the sauce:

1 tablespoon of sesame seed oil

1/4 cup chicken broth

2 Tbsp soy sauce

2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 Tbsp agave nectar/brown sugar

1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes

3 teaspoons of cornstarch


Combine all the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl stir until the are well blended and set aside. In a large hot skillet saute the garlic for a  minute, add the protein and stir until it is cooked. Remove the protein and set aside, in the same pan  add a bit of sesame seed oil and saute the veggies for about two minutes.

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Add the sauce to the skillet and stir for a minute. When the sauce starts to thicken add the protein and simmer on low for a couple minutes. Serve over white rice and enjoy with your glass of wine!

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Hope you enjoy the book, the meal and the wine!

Cheers and Happy Reading!