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

Are we Really so Hard to Find? POC and Minorities in Romance

I’ve never gone on a rant on this blog, which frankly is surprising since I seem to spend most of the time in breathless outrage lately. When it comes to the world of romance readers and authors I usually try to keep things in perspective, I adjust my expectations and try (for the most part) to appreciate it for the joy reading this genre brings me. I am a devoted fan of romance. It’s the part of my life that I always find myself defending to my loved ones. Explaining and educating them on how rich it is with smart and thoughtful books. That they are wrong to generalize what romance is or what I get out of reading these novels.

I tell them how much more enlightened we are compared to most literary communities, that we get to read books with heroes an heroines who are fearless and brazen in their pursuit of happiness. As Damon Suede one of the most popular gay romance authors out there likes to say, “romance is the literature of hope.” 

There is so much about this genre that I love, and yet every so often I feel so slighted and frankly hurt by the lack of care there is when it comes to the representation of people of color. Not to mention the teeny tiny number of authentic heroes and heroines of color in romance. I am not saying there aren’t some out there, there are. Amazing ones actually. Unfortunately we are still along for the ride in many ways, just happy to be remembered.

What brought on my rant today was a recent event put on by one of the biggest, if not the biggest independent bookstore in NYC, a bookstore I love, go to all the time and that always puts on awesome and thoughtful events. Being a voracious reader in pretty much all genres, this store is basically the equivalent of my book Cathedral. So, when I saw that they were having an event on “Feminism and Romance” I was thrilled, my two passions together. When I saw the authors that would be on the panel, I was even more excited, all of them are wonderful, and I’ve read many of their books. Then at a second glance, I realized they are all white women. A conversation about feminism in romance and not a single woman of color on the panel. In New York City, in 2017, it was not possible to find a Black, Latina or Asian woman who writes romance who could come and speak on her thoughts about feminism and romance.

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It was disappointing to say the least, and discouraging. Not because I don’t think that the women who were on the panel did not have important things to say on feminism (on the contrary from what I saw on the clips it seemed like a great conversation) but because once again our voices just did not seem to be important enough to have seat at the table. In one of the clips from the event on Instagram, (I watched them since I decided to skip the event), one of the authors talked about the need for intersectionality in romance. As much as I vehemently agree with her, I could not help but notice the irony. Because she is right, we do need more intersectional characters in romance, and a good place to start is more people of color and minorities being part of the conversation.

Romance like so much of what out is out there for women’s consumption is solidly grounded on an Eurocentric and White  (and patriarchal) perspective. This is something which cannot be dismantled just by hugging it out, or by saying we’re all about the love. These narratives and paradigms run deep and we have to do the work to break from them. To make romance more inclusive and well represented by all ALL kinds of people. I am not going to go further into my views on cultural imperialism (although maybe I should), but I will challenge this community to take a harder look at how we go about things. To be honest about who makes up our community, as opposed to who gets to speak for it. Whose voices do we consider to have value? Who gets to define what romance means to all of us?

I was at another literary panel last month, it was a panel called Badass Women: Speaking Your Power, put on by the PEN World Voices Festival, all the panelists were women who belonged to minorities, it was a powerful conversation and one where the challenge was made: “We are here. What we have to say has value. We are ready for the invitation, but if you can’t see that we won’t do the work for you.”

It is on all of us as a community readers, authors, reviewers, bloggers, publishers, editors, cover artists, ALL of us to start asking these questions. Why am I at a panel on Feminism and Romance and there is not a single woman of color here? How are minorities represented in the genres’ leadership positions? Is there value in adding their voices? Really, that question needs to be asked, and there needs to be action in the answer. Because, sadly I think that for many in the genre, getting the answer to that question right is not nearly as important as we’d like it to be.

Personally, I’d love to be say that I believe there is will in the genre as a whole to be more inclusive, to see more of us represented. The reality on the other hand is that I am an Afro-Caribbean, immigrant woman, who has read thousands of romance novels and very very few of them have a heroine that looks like me. As the author from the panel on feminism said, despite how far we have come, we have a long road ahead. I hope that soon we can start having the conversations which will start paving a way with room for more of us.

Lauraa

Amy Lane on Why She Believes in Happy Endings

7544649Welcome back! Thanks for stopping by for my third and last post in the  series. This week I’ve shared my conversations with Megan Erickson and C.S. Poe where they discussed writing characters with PTSD, and my chat with Dal Maclean who came by to talk about her process writing a character with severe childhood trauma. Today I delighted to have one of my favorite authors of gay romance, Amy Lane, to talk about why she is so passionate about given HER broken heroes happy endings.

If you are a fan of gay romance you surely have read at least one Amy Lane novel. She is a prolific author putting out multiple novels every year, and although she is known for her more angsty books, she has quite a collection of lighter romance as well. A common thread in many of her books is to have characters who have suffered abuse and neglect (sometimes extreme)  or some kind of trauma in their childhoods. They reach adulthood with some emotional battle scars and happily in her stories they get to find unconditional love. 10821000

Amy’s stories can be raw and sometimes the emotional pain her characters carry can be almost too much to bear. I love her books because I can relate to the struggle in her characters, especially that yearning we all have to be seen for who we truly are by someone. To be loved even with our wounds.

I don’t think I could list every book of Amy Lane’s that I’ve loved in just one blog post, but I will briefly list some I think are particularly notable in relation to the theme of this blog series.

“Locker Room”, which is my favorite of all her books, and believe me that is saying a lot, gives us Xander, the basketball player who pushed himself of from a childhood of neglect and abuse to become a professional basketball player with the love and support of his lover Chris, who also has his own demons.

Others include, the “Promises” series  which has powerful stories that show not only how much the world can hurt people, but also how healing and happening is possible. “Racing for the Sun” delves into the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. It is a harsh and bloody story, almost like an avenging fantasy, but I loved it for how raw it was. “Bolt-Hole” touches upon the incredible damage that systematic racism can have on the life a  young black man. I think this is one of Amy’s more profound books. The “Johnnies” series, which starts of with “Chase in Shadow.”  A heart wrenching love story, the whole Johnnies universe is frankly some of her best work. This list is pitiably short, Amy as I said is very prolific, and her back list could keep you in books for months. I just wanted to highlight some of my favorites.13423284

So let’s get on with my chat with Amy, she was kind enough to answer some questions I had for her. I hope you find her answers as moving as I did, I as humbled by her honesty and willingness to share some of her personal reasons for writing the stories she does.

The Tipsy Bibliophile: Why is it important for you to give happy endings to men that have endured so much emotional damage? 

Amy Lane:  I think it’s because we ALL have our damage. Yes, my ten on the Amy scale damage may be three on someone else’s damage scale–but there was still a moment in my life when I was terrified and powerless, and it affected me profoundly. My family doesn’t do psychologists or counselors– we just power on through–so the first person to really see the extent of my damage was the first person I fell in love with. Luckily, he saw that I was more than just that damage, and we’ve been married for nearly thirty years, but still: rendering yourself naked before someone else, painful scars and all, is an act of bravery. 

And if you believe that people deserve love, forgiveness, a chance for absolution if they have sinned and to be productive and positive if they’re innocent–if you truly believe that, showing your naked painful scars is something everybody must do to find happiness. 
17700033So I write people with that damage, who do the unspeakably brave and live and love to tell about it. 
It’s a belief in humanity and hope. 
TTB: Trauma is a theme you have explored widely in your books, childhood trauma, sexual and domestic violence, PTSD in veterans, grief. Are there any traits in the characters or how you write them that are are consistent for every character or are they always different?

AL: As far as I can tell, there are two ways to react to trauma.

You can keep it quiet and let it make you weak, or tell the world and let it make you strong. 
But I don’t believe in absolutes–so most of my characters are on some sliding scale between these two extremes.  Deacon keeps his pain silent, Crick is pretty vocal about his, and Shane is somewhere in the middle.  Chase’s pain is so profoundly buried that he’s practically two people–the screaming child on the inside and the clueless man he pretends to be on the outside, and Kane just deals with each blow and keeps on rolling when it’s passed.  I know my own personal damage is known to a few people–but every now and then, somebody will say and do something that will resurrect it, and I’ll have to expose it to sunlight again and kill it. So if you’re writing damaged people, you need to acknowledge not only what the damage is, but how the character has reacted to it in the past–and what they’re going to have to do to expose their hearts and tell the world (or their significant other) so they can have a viable future.  And it’s always important to acknowledge that this is an ongoing process–even if you “rip off the bandaid” of your psychic pain, that wound still has to heal when exposed to air. 
Each person’s journey in healing from trauma is different and it takes a lot of strength to openly share that with others. I am grateful to Amy for sharing with us some of her own journey and those that she takes her characters on. She is a phenomenally brave human, I am honored to know her.
Again a big thanks to all the authors who joined me this week to talk about trauma and romance, and of course to all of those who stopped by to read the posts!
Have a great Memorial Day Weekend.
Cheers and Happy Reading!
Lauraa