Small Change by Roan Parrish and Wild Mushroom Pate on Rye

Small Change eCover high res (1)To start, I will say that this book, Small Change by Roan Parrish is the kind of romance novel I’ve been waiting for since I started reading this genre as a teen. Finally, I got to read a heroine who didn’t mold her womanhood to the social constructs girls and women are expected to assume. Those things that we are told we need to be, in order to be deserving of love. Feminine, nice, thin, proper… Ginger has been fighting all those paradigms fiercely her entire life, and she’s pissed. She demands that the world see and listen to her on her terms, and all of this comes at a cost to her. She is a woman though, one with desires and who like all of us wouldn’t mind falling in love, for a person that deserves the person she has become, and in Chris she  finds a man who not only sees her for exactly who she is, he loves her for it, he RESPECTS her for it.

I know a book has impacted me deeply when I finish it and immediately ask myself what it would have meant for a teenage me to have read it. I think the teenage me would have felt deeply connected to Ginger and more importantly validated, like she was not alone. For me Roan Parrish with Ginger has delivered a heroine that feels closer to the woman I am than any other one I’ve read in a romance, maybe ever.  After thousands of romance novels read, being able to feel like I have a connection to a heroine on the page, is not just nice, it’s monumental. This book worked for me in pretty much every way. The characters where amazing, the romance was well developed and sexy as hell. The universe holds lots of promise and if that is not enough, there is a whole part of the book which is essentially an ode to sisterhood and women and empowering women. I mean I KNOW Roan didn’t write the book just for me, but totally feels mine. 🙂

Before I get further into my review, let’s talk food. For this book I had troubles! I was not sure what to make, because Chris made Ginger so many delicious things! There is one recipe that he literally created for her and even though I don’t really eat meat any more I wanted to recreate part of it with a vegetarian adaptation. So in lieu of chopped liver, I made a Wild Mushroom Pate that I used to make delicious open faced sandwiches. The taste is not chopped per se, but it is earthy and delicious spread over toasted rye with some chopped eggs and pickled onions. Eat this with a glass of rosé to sip and you will be loving life.  The rosé I picked is from from a French winery Chateau Montaud in Provence and it’s from their table wine line.  This wine is CHEAP, like $8.99 a bottle or $19.99 for a 3L box (WHAT?!) yes, that cheap, and it is DELICIOUS. I just got one box last weekend since I had visitors and man that thing went very rapido. So, give it a try if you see it!

FullSizeRender.jpg So more on the book. Like I said, I love me some Ginger, she is essentially a Jewish version of me if I was a tattoo artist and lived in Philly. I also mentioned that the book worked for me not just because of my love for Ginger, the romance is solid. Chris as a hero is so appealing, because he is such a regular dude in so many ways, and yet his heart and his openness make him so unconventional. Chris is pure sunshine and smiles, he wants Ginger and he tells her, shows her, and when that doesn’t work he just keeps trying until it does, because he is certain she is everything he wants.

Ginger is at a loss and a bit annoyed with all the interest from this guy who is beautiful, seemingly perfect, and worse, with a what appears to be a functional family. None of these things are in Ginger’s wheelhouse. She is not sure she can relate to someone that wholesome. She makes assumptions of course, but Ginger has her reasons to be skeptical. She’s not sure she can relate to someone with all the privilege that Chris walks around with, even though he does seem like a nice man. To someone like her who has had to be fierce and a little scary to be able to get just a fraction of the respect men are given everyday without question, it seems unlikely she’ll be able to be with someone like him. But every interaction with him, every conversation, reveals to Ginger a person that is not only interesting and sexy, but a man who carries his own pain and battle scars.

The big conflict in this romance is all within Ginger, and the road she has to travel to learn to let herself be vulnerable with someone and for someone. The process of seeing her let Chris in is beautiful and in the end delivers a truly satisfying happy ending. Along with the romance though we get so much that one rarely gets to experience when reading romance.

For one, Ginger takes on the toxic masculinity and misogynist culture of the tattooing world and it is glorious. There are hard moments too, Ginger’s family is hard, and so is Chris’ in a different way. Living in this world while trying to be a decent human being can leave one bruise and battered, but Ginger is a warrior and she gets hers, oh yes SHE DOES.

This universe promises more love stories, there are some budding pairings there that I would love to see unfold. I already know which I one I want to read next! 🙂 I am looking forward to all of them.

Now the recipe:

Wild Mushroom Pâté  (adapted from Smitten Kitchen Blog)

Pâté
1 ounce dried oyster or porcini mushrooms
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided
1  diced yellow onion
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 pounds mixed fresh mushrooms, any tough stems discarded and roughly chopped ( I used a mix of shitake, oyster and crimini

2 Portobello caps
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (use half if dry)
1/2 cup white wine

Directions

Combine dried mushrooms and boiling water in a small bowl and let soak for 30 minutes. Remove mushrooms, finely chop and set aside. Strain soaking liquid through a paper towel or coffee filter to remove any grit and set it aside.

Heat olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat. Add onions, if using, and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, until they brown at the edges. Raise heat to high and add fresh mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook, sauteing, until mushrooms brown further and release their liquid. Cook until all of the liquid has evaporated then wine and do the same. Add re-hydrated mushrooms and their soaking liquid, and cook this almost completely off. No liquid should run into the center if you drag your spoon through the mushrooms, clearing a path. Adjust seasonings to taste, seasoning is key here, then stir in last of the butter.

Let mixture cool to lukewarm, then blend in a food processor or blender until desired consistency. Mine was not totally smooth, as I wanted consistency that was more like chopped lover. Let chill in fridge for a few hours before serving, giving the flavors a chance to settle. Pâté keeps in fridge for 5 days, in an airtight container. A suggestion for leftover pâté , warm up and served tossed with some cooked papardelle pasta and little bit of olive oil, topped with lots of freshly grated parmesan for a delicious quick dinner.

Serve on slices of toasted rye bread, topped with chopped boiled eggs, pickled read onions and minced parsley.  To pickle red onions, combine 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup cold water, 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar in a jar. Add thinly sliced onion or shallot and cover with lid; let pickle in fridge ideally for at least an hour. Pickled onions will keep for two weeks in the fridge.

Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope you enjoy this amazing book and the yummy recipe.

You can purchase Small Change by Roan Parrish HERE.

You can learn more about Roan Parrish and her other work HERE.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

 

 

 

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Chat with Roan Parrish: Her New Book and Feminist Heroines

Small Change eCover high res (1).jpgI am so excited for today’s post! The amazing Roan Parrish, who if you read this blog you know is one of my favorite romance authors, has stopped by to talk about her latest book Small Change. This is Roan’s first M/F book and as with everything she writes, it is absolutely gorgeous. I loved this book so much for so many reasons, but her heroine Ginger made a huge impact on me. Ginger is a strong, passionate character who is unapologetic about how she lives her life. She’s out there getting her shit done and she has no time for bullshit.

I wanted to ask with Roan about Ginger and what was like to write her. I also wanted to hear her thoughts on the role of feminism in the genre. So last week, she and I had the amazing conversation I am sharing with you today.  So here it is:

Laura Adriana: Thanks so much for doing this Roan. I think you have written a much needed book for romance readers. I can’t tell how powerful it was to feel like I was finally reading a woman that I could relate to and who didn’t induce self-loathing or shame with her perfection or perfect reactions. So again, thank you.

Roan Parrish: Thank you, Laura! I’m so gratified that you felt that way about Ginger.

LA: Ginger is bad ass, and I loved her for it. Especially I felt like I was reading a character that I shared a history with. Even though Ginger and I are very different in background and other very important traits like race and country of origin, for some of us there is a shared history in forging an identity as a woman that challenges the social constructs around gender. In a world that is telling us what it should look like, sound like, feel like to be a “proper woman” those of us who refuse to inhabit that box usually pay a high price for claiming our “womanhood.” Ginger is fierce, she’s angry and she’s trying very hard to be strong for herself and the valuable people in her life, and that can look messy at times. At least that’s how I see her. Can you tell me a bit about how writing Ginger was for you?

Roan Parrish: Yes! I think that’s incredibly well said, it’s been my experience too: that there is a shared history for those of us who have paid that price to be true to ourselves when those selves don’t comport with society’s expectation. The very real, ever-present problems of gender norms, gender expectations, and the material affects that our patriarchal culture has on women are things that I (and my friends and community) think about and talk about every single day. And yet, they’re themes that the romance novels I read very rarely dwell on.

And I understand why. Because it’s supremely difficult to write simultaneously about hating patriarchal culture that wants to control you, and about falling in love with a man who has benefited from that culture (no matter how wonderful and self-aware he might be). It’s a problem I’ve struggled with deeply in my own life, and it’s something that the genre of romance isn’t really designed to contain neatly.

I found writing Ginger really painful, for precisely this reason. In the first draft I wrote, I vented a metric ton of fury about this issue, even though I knew that I’d have to edit much of it out—not because it wasn’t true to Ginger, but because it wasn’t the way that I wanted to communicate those feelings.

LA: I can’t stress enough how much this book worked for me purely as a romance. The chemistry between Chris and Ginger was fantastic and he was a gorgeous hero. But mixed into the love story there are some profound reflections on misogyny, double-standards, sexual and domestic violence and many other kinds of aggression women have to navigate everyday. There is a strong feminist side to Ginger, and it’s clear from your other work that feminist values influence your writing. Can you share some feminist voices that inspire you and why?

RP: I’m so glad you think so! For all that I struggled with writing this book, I wanted so badly to believe that a romance novel really could function with a character like Ginger at its center. In order for that to happen, her love interest, Christopher, had to be the kind of person who Ginger would genuinely fall for. He had to love and appreciate her for all the things that she believes as well as all the things that she is—and he had to be willing to do the work in the moments when his privilege really did get in the way of their intimacy.

The feminist voices that inspire me the most are the people I surround myself with, in friendship and in work. My sister, in particular. These are people who are, in nearly everything they do, working to make the world more positive for more people, and I’m endlessly inspired to see it. Of course there are influencers and artists whose words and work has inspired me in large ways, but nothing compares to the daily, repeated microinspirations of seeing the people in my life act.

LA: How do you think writing more feminist heroines could impact romance as a genre? 

RP: I think one of the things that has been central to the genre of romance is the notion that it is, in essence, feminist because it’s a space where female characters and authors have agency over their bodies and their desires, without social punishment. And while I celebrate the genre for the power that it allows women, I don’t believe that any genre can ever be essentially feminist—not when the culture that created it is not.

Romance is a genre that places falling in love and having a relationship at the center of books. (Duh, it’s why we love them!) There’s no way to avoid the long, problematic history that also saw being in a relationship as the main—or only—function for women. For some people, and I’m one of them, the idea that a woman’s greatest happiness rests in finding a relationship, is fraught—in that it’s a constant internal battle. On one hand, you have this really problematic way in which women are reduced to their desire for or desire by men. On the other, you have the wonderful joy of falling in love. They’re both always there, in my head, and in the genre.

There are already a lot of heroines in romance that identify as feminists, which is awesome. But the presence of those characters alone doesn’t explode the conventions of the genre. Genre is a tricky beast, in that its conventions are what make it recognizable—push them too far in any direction and the book won’t feel like a romance anymore. But genre conventions become conventions through repetition. Which means that, no matter how set in stone they seem at any moment, give the genre ten years, or fifty years, or two hundred and fifty years, and what (arguably) started out as Samuel Richardson’s Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded (1740), morphs into the romance novels of today.

My suspicion is that the first thing that would happen if there were more explicitly, politically feminist heroines in romance is that the current divide between m/f romance and queer romance would erode a bit. While there is certainly a great deal of gay romance that isn’t at all progressive or political, there are also a number of queer books that are taking on political issues explicitly. And there are readers for whom those are the stories that speak the loudest. These are the same readers, I suspect, who would be interested in m/f romance novels if the genre included more characters who were queer, or feminist, or political, as Ginger is.

At the most basic level, the more different types of characters there are in romance novels, the more different readers they’re going to speak to. I hope we do see more explicitly feminist heroines in romance novels, if for no other reason than that I want to read them.

Thanks so much for talking to me about these issues, Laura—they’re in my heart.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Microinspirations, I LOVE THAT.

Thanks so much to Roan for coming on and having this amazing talk with me about two things that I care so much about. I think our genre is ready for more and more characters that break the molds we have gotten used to, and for books that reveal to us important truths about about finding love, while living life on our own terms.

I hope you guys enjoyed the chat and that you read this book.

You can buy Small Change HERE.

You can read more about Roan and her other work HERE.

Thanks so much for stopping by.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Lauraa

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.

social-justice

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

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