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.

FullSizeRender (3).jpg

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!

 

 

Think of England by KJ Charles and an amazing Reisling.

Yes, yes, I AM a few months late with this review, but not in the slightest less excited to share my thoughts on this latest novel by the brilliant KJ Charles. These past few months have been incredibly busy for me with all kinds of things happening in my life, which sadly normally translates to cutting back on at least some of my hobbies! So, this past week I was getting ready to go on a mini-vacay with my family and decided to re-read Think of England, so as to have it fresh on my mind for the review. This second read, if possible, I enjoyed even more than the first and that is saying A LOT. KJ I think without a doubt is one of the more sophisticated historical romance authors I’ve read, this is a genre that specifically in M/M romance is frighteningly easy to foul up (with exceptions like the lovely Joanna Chambers and Jordan L Hawk).

KJ however excels where most fear to tread, a lot of it has to do with the fact that she has elegance to spare in her writing style, but also because  she sets her stories up on solid research, authentic dialogue and characters that don’t allow for distractions or confusions. If the woman says she’s taking us to 1904, than dammit that is where you will be for the next 200 pages or so! How about the actual story you say? The romance, the MENS, how where they? AMAZING. I mean Archie, a viking like war hero aristocrat…And Daniel and unrepentant poet with a VERY VERY sharp tongue…Oh KJ you are playing my song lady!  But she was not done, oh no, there was also intrigue, mystery, drama and aristocratic misbehavior here for miles, I was not bored for a millisecond and I could have wept from happiness when I heard there will be more from Archie Curtis and Daniel da Silva coming to us in the future.

For this awesome and very much posh setting and story I selected a lovely Reisling from the Willm winery in the island of Alsace. This wine has a sharp and fresh taste and it is just delightful to sip VERY cold. I enjoyed it many times this summer. For about $11 a bottle this wine is fantastic value.photo (2)

Now back to the story...Archie Curtis has his military service cut short when a faulty set of weapons was delivered to his platoon and ended up killing and or maiming his entire squad.  He walked away with a disfigured right hand he could barely use and a  There was foul play that he is certain of, but now he is not so sure by whom. The weapon manufacture, Lafayette, who had been held responsible for the accident came to Archie to say he had been framed…He said Armstrong his strongest competitor had framed him so he could take his contract. After he turns Lafayette away, and the guys turn up dead in the river, Archie is not sure what to think. That is how he ends up on his way to a two week long country house party at the Armstrong’s new country estate in Newcastle. Once he’s there he is immediately reminded of the reason why he was just not built for civilian life. These people have no purpose, how can they sit around and play for days on end? He does not fit in well with this lot…Especially once he is introduced to Daniel da Silva, the man is insufferable not only is his attire scandalous, but he makes no efforts to hide the fact that he is a homosexual. The women love da Silva’s wit but Archie is not amused, but he has not time to waste on the man or any of the other people at the house, he is there to find out what happened with the weapons that killed his brothers in arms and took his career.

Pretty soon Archie discovers that nothing is at it seems, there are sinister games at play in the Armstrong family. The more he digs the more he realizes Daniel da Silva could not only be useful to him, but may a valuable ally. The man is to clever for his own good, and that mouth he has…Archie discovers before too long that he is in over his head, with everything, and he will need to heroic one last time if he and Daniel are to get out of there alive.

This novel is in short, and absolute delight, both times I was at the edge of my seat, and had no clue how things would go. The showdown scene at the end was one of the most deliciously gruesome things I’ve read in awhile. I do love KJ Charles’ style, her heroes are men who do what they have to and are not afraid to get dirty, but they always try to do it for the right reasons. Daniel and Archie were DELICIOUS, and I seriously cannot wait to read more of their adventures in the espionage game. Loved loved loved.

If you have not read this, please PLEASE do…You will not regret it!

Think of England by KJ Charles is for sale here and here.

 

his People this is highly sophisticated mystery novel writing…That is just to whet your appetites, so to speak. We

Blackbird Knitting in a Bunny’s Lair, A Granby Knitting Novel by Amy Lane and a Finger Lakes Riesling

BlackbirdKnittinginaBunnysLairLG (1)Jeremy Bunny got his happily ever after, and what a lovely thing it was to read. In this new installment of Amy’s Granby Knitting Series we get back to our favorite group of crafty Colorado folks not long after Jeremy has almost lost his life to save a friend. The first time we met Jeremy and Aiden, we left them at a very new and seemingly fragile beginning. Jeremy’s life before Granby has been mostly a facade, he had been a conman, and turning his life around had been a difficult and trying process. Not because the people around him were not supportive, and not because he couldn’t find his own place, but because he fiercely believed he would never be good enough to earn any of it. Something had to shake up his little family, to compel him to step up and own that he was part of something amazing. Then and only then could he trust that he already had a place in the world that would never ever fail him.

For this story I wanted to do a local wine. I live in Ithaca, New York in the midst of the Finger Lakes Region. This area of the state is a prominent wine producer, but size and scale make the operation seem pretty small compared with the West Coast producers. Quite a few of the wineries, which are mostly family owned, still come to the Farmer’s Market on the weekends to sell their wines. It’s a very intimate experience to be honest. Since this series is in many ways about small business owners, and the sacrifices that doing something out of passion and love can entail, I wanted to feature a local wine with it. I chose the 2012 Salmon Run Reisling from the Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery. The Finger Lakes are known for their reislings and this one is a prime example. It is crisp and slightly fruity, and properly chilled has a delicious bite to it. Locally it goes for about $11 a bottle.

photo (27)

This story felt sedate, and to me like a nice walk in to the sunset. We get to see Jeremy getting back into the life that he had selflessly given up as a sacrifice to repay a debt to a friend. We see Aiden struggle with what he had to do to save Jeremy and what it meant about him, about the kind of man he was. Struggling with what it felt to see Jeremy almost lost to him, as much as he loved his bunny that despair and fright was not easy to get over from or forgive. Mostly though this story was about taking ownership. Jeremy had never truly believed he could ever do enough to earn what he had found in Granby. He still struggled to reconcile the man he had been, the things he’d done with a life that seemed to have been handed to him without much effort at all.

The thing is that he HAD made an effort, he HAD earned his place, he HAD worked for what he had gotten. Aiden had seen it, as had Craw and Ariadne they were in awe of all the ways in which Jeremy has turned his life around, he was the only one that could not see it. He had to find a way to BELIEVE it, and for a man who had lived out of selling pipe dreams, to actually trust he really could hold on to what he had, he had to SEE IT. The chance came from an unlikely place.  Ariadne’s baby, who had struggled so much even on the womb,  would be born with special needs that required more resources than what their little family had in hand. Jeremy who had sat in the same hospital room with Ariadne while he recovered from his injuties, took that need on as personal project. He rounded the Granby community and knocked on EVERY SINGLE DOOR to make sure they were ready for Ariadne’s baby when she came out into the world.

Doing that for his friend and counting on the rest of their little tribe for assistance and support was what finally gave Jeremy the redemption he so desperately needed. Once he saw that the doors in Granby did open for him, that people trusted his words, and admired his actions he began to feel inside like he was indeed home. Aiden he had, and he counted on that heart and soul, but he also needed to know that he was valued by the people of the place he loved. Jeremy is such a special character and such a delicate soul. It is surprising reading him sometimes because, it’s jarring to think that someone so fragile and gentle, ever survived the kind of life that was forced on him by his father.

This was an easy lovely read, it had its tough moments, but mostly it was closure for Jeremy and Aiden. This time we get a lot more of Aiden. That was something I enjoyed, I understood his inner workings a lot better this time around. I loved them together, in bed and outside of it. Like a lot of Amy’s series the joy is in the unit as much as in the individual pieces, so the scenes with Craw, Ben, Ariadne and the rest of the gang were very fun to read. As much as the book was a calm read it did have some hilarious moments (the first dinner at Aiden’s parents house is HILARIOUS!). For the most part what I felt while reading was that I was giving these guys a long, strong, joyous hug goodbye.

Jeremy Bunny will be alright, I have no doubt, and I’m sure Amy will bring him back for a visit some time soon.

Totally recommend for readers of the Knitting Series (there is a discount code for the paperback with the WHOLE series at the back of the ebook!) Blackbird Knitting in Bunny’s Lair will be out tomorrow on Dreamspinner Press and can be pre-ordered here.

Hope you enjoy the book and the wine.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura