In Wild Lemon Groves Cookbook – Dolce

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Italy? The food, of course! When I was on my birthday trip to Amalfi that inspired my contemporary M/M romance In Wild Lemon Groves, I indulged to the max: pasta, pizza, gelato, and, of course, my beloved granita limone every day (sometimes twice).

To celebrate the recent release of In Wild Lemon Groves, and because there are so many food scenes in the book, I thought it would be fun to share some recipes based on the delectable meals that Seb eats alone, or shares with bello Andrea. If I could have made the book a scratch-and-sniff experience, or somehow had a box of Italian treats delivered with it, I would have, because everyone should get to experience authentic Italian cuisine at least once in their lives.

This is, fingers crossed, the next best thing, and I hope it inspires you to either get in the kitchen or seek out your local Italian bakery. And because Amalfi’s resident hunky chauffeur Andrea Sorrentino is a pretty sweet guy, we’re going to start with dessert!

Sfogliatelle

Sfogliatelle

Anyone who’s read In Wild Lemon Groves knows that one of the first things Seb samples–and fall in love with–in Amalfi is the sfogliatelle. A shell-like pastry filled with ricotta cream with a hint of orange or lemon, these babies are crunchy, creamy, perfect. Especially with an espresso.

You can find a recipe for sfogliatelle by the great Salvatore Elefante here.

torta-caprese

Torta Caprese

This delectable chocolate cake made from almond flour is Seb’s reward for working at Fabiana’s on the island Capri, a restaurant owned and operated by Andrea’s aunt. It also happens to be the cake I ask for every year for my birthday. Delizioso!

Here’s a video of the great Lidia Bastianich demonstrating how to make her version:

Gelato

What would a discussion of Italian desserts be without gelato? Omnipresent in Italy, I made a point of having one every day of my trip. My favorite was the torta caprese-flavored one–I mean, talk about decadent, smashing a cake into ice cream! Here is a photo of the double-scoop gelato I had on my last day…

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I was laughing as I was eating it because it looks like the Montreal Just for Laughs festival mascot Victor.

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Just me?

Feel like a food vacation of your own, but can’t afford a flight to Amalfi? Try out some of these recipes, or live vicariously by reading about Seb and Andrea’s adventures in In Wild Lemon Groves. 

Universal Buy Link

Next week – Pasta!

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In Wild Lemon Groves, Out Today! Blog Tour Schedule and Giveaway!!

In Wild Lemon Groves is out today!

Follow the blog tour and win! I’m giving away: one signed copy of In Wild Lemon Groves; one signed copy of Stoker & Bash: The Fangs of Scavo, my M/M Victorian mystery romance; *and* a $25 USD gift certificate (or equivalent in your currency) to the vendor of your choice!

Three chances to win, an official excerpt of the book, five blog posts from me… won’t you join in the fun? Here’s the schedule. Links will be attached as the posts go live.

Feb 8th – The Novel Approach – Bella Italia

Feb 10th – Gay Book Reviews – When Real Life Turns Fictional

Feb 12th – M/M Good Book Reviews – Learning Haiku

Feb 14th – My Fiction Nook – Cinema Paradiso

Feb 16th – Love Bytes – Supporting Characters Always Have a Ball

And watch out for reviews at Hearts on Fire, Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words, Mirrigold, and Gay Book Reviews!

Blurb:

A telltale knock on a quiet winter night is a sound no husband wants to hear. 

Sébastien Osaki has spent the past three years surviving the loss of his beloved Henry. When Seb lands in Amalfi, Italy, for their would-have-been tenth-anniversary trip, he’s haunted by the memory of the man he loved. Following Henry’s notebook leads him to some breathtaking coastal views but also right back to his despair. Seb’s there to get his groove back, not let the past wrong-foot him at every turn.

Enter Andrea Sorrentino, chauffeur, part-time pet whisperer, a Bernini statue in a soccer tee and tight shorts. From the moment Andrea picks Seb up from the airport, he knows just how to soothe Seb’s case of the sulks. But Seb isn’t sure he’s ready for Mr. Right Now, let alone a potential Mr. Right, in a part of the world where all roads lead back to Henry.

Can sun, sea, and eating your weight in pasta mend a tragedy-stricken heart? Will wine-soaked Amalfi nights and long walks through lemon groves work their magic on Seb’s wounded soul? Or will he slink back into the shell of his grief once his grand Italian adventure is over?

Buy links:

Amazon ebook and print

Kobo

B&N

Books2Read Universal Buy Link

Libraries! The book is available on OverDrive and in print through Ingram and Create Space!

Bon voyage!

Selina

 

In Wild Lemon Groves, Now Available for Pre-Order

In Wild Lemon Groves HIGRES_FINAL

Greetings, friends!

Very excited to announce the imminent release of my new contemporary M/M romance set in Amalfi, Italy, In Wild Lemon Groves! For Valentine’s Day, why not escape the winter blahs for your very own Italian vacation! (In book form, alas.)

IWLG will be released on February 8th, with more details about the blog tour to come. The eBook version is now available for pre-order from the following vendors (beneath the blurb). Print will be released on the 8th! I can’t wait for you to fall in amore with Seb and Andrea…

Blurb:

A telltale knock on a quiet winter night is a sound no husband wants to hear. 

Sébastien Osaki has spent the past three years surviving the loss of his beloved Henry. When Seb lands in Amalfi, Italy, for their would-have-been tenth-anniversary trip, he’s haunted by the memory of the man he loved. Following Henry’s notebook leads him to some breathtaking coastal views but also right back to his despair. Seb’s there to get his groove back, not let the past wrong-foot him at every turn.

Enter Andrea Sorrentino, chauffeur, part-time pet whisperer, a Bernini statue in a soccer tee and tight shorts. From the moment Andrea picks Seb up from the airport, he knows just how to soothe Seb’s case of the sulks. But Seb isn’t sure he’s ready for Mr. Right Now, let alone a potential Mr. Right, in a part of the world where all roads lead back to Henry.

Can sun, sea, and eating your weight in pasta mend a tragedy-stricken heart? Will wine-soaked Amalfi nights and long walks through lemon groves work their magic on Seb’s wounded soul? Or will he slink back into the shell of his grief once his grand Italian adventure is over?

Buy links:

Amazon

Kobo

B&N

Also available on the Tolino, which I cannot link to as a Canadian. 😉

Apple iBooks (coming soon!)

Stoker & Bash Christmas Short: The Case of the Missing Christmas Cheer

Stoker & Bash

The Case of the Missing Christmas Cheer

by Selina Kray

December 24th, 1873

DI Tim Stoker leaned against a lamppost, coughing his lungs out. A dense pillow of fog had smothered the city for weeks. Not even the first breath of winter’s chill had thinned it, or the torrents of icy rain that flooded the city. There on the Strand, near the river, the night was so thick that the gas lamps’ aura didn’t reach the ground. Pedestrians fumbled their way forward through a blanket of grey mist, aiming for the next floating orb of light.

His boots waterlogged and his overcoat soaked through, Tim lurched into an alcove to collect himself before sprinting the last half block to the Gaiety. A few measured inhalations—and half his windpipe hacked into his handkerchief—and his chest settled. He’d spent all day outside the back entrance to the Spanish embassy on the lookout for the private secretary to the Duke of Wellington. His lordship suspected the formerly trusted Mr. Tolliver of selling some family portraits to the ambassador’s wife, an ungrateful cousin. An umbrella being too conspicuous, Tim was forced to do without. Thus his moist and congested state.

He wiped a line of condensation off one of the windows in a vain attempt at catching his reflection. After shaking the rain off the brim of his hat, he combed his hair into something tamer than unruly spikes, fingers rigid from cold. He thought again about returning to the meager warmth and poky comforts of his flat or, better yet, slumping in a nearby corner to sleep off his exhaustion. But he had missed every performance of Three Ghosts A-Haunting, the Gaiety’s take on Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, in which Hiero played both Marley-Bone Jacobs and the Ghost of Father Christmas’s Knickers.

Tonight was his final chance, but his omnibus had been delayed by the fog, and he’d missed the first two acts. If Tim hurried—and every inch of his body ached not to—he’d catch the last act and perhaps dry off enough to venture backstage afterward, where the fainting couch in Hiero’s dressing room might get put to its actual use. Because the thought of rushing out into the foggy, frigid damp gave Tim a turn.

Hunching up his collar, he legged it to the Gaiety’s door, only to find it locked. He tried a second one. A third. Biting his tongue to keep from howling in despair, he then noticed a billboard advertising the afternoon show, which had been sold out. Tim punched a fist into the door, hissed as pain exploded across his knuckles. Another coughing fit seized him, and he fell against it, wanting nothing more than to crawl into a ball on the stoop. Instead he hobbled around to the stage door.

Which opened at his touch. Tim stumbled in, shook himself off. The backstage area was fully lit. Perhaps someone lingered? Certainly Mr. Marcus, the manager, would recognize him, as would a few of the stagehands. Tim crept through the serpentine corridors, too shy to call out but hoping to encounter a sympathetic soul. The farther he ventured into the theater, the stronger the savory scent of a roast grew. His stomach urged him past the artisans’ quarters—all empty—and around the bend to the dressing rooms.

He caught the distant hum of conversation and the strum of music. Tim wondered if he’d interrupted some sort of private celebration. He considered retreating to Hiero’s dressing room for the night—he could make quick work of the lock—so as not to disturb them but thought it better to make his presence known. Tucking his hands into his armpits in the hope of restoring his circulation, he pressed on.

A drunken pair he recognized from the troupe skipped into view at the far end of the corridor. And into each other’s arms against the far wall. Before too many layers of clothing could be shed, Tim cleared his throat.

“Oi, it’s Mr. Kipling!” Bertie shouted, shoving his would-be lover off. “Best of the season to you, sir!”

Hiero had introduced him by his middle name to the Gaiety staff so as to avoid anyone identifying him as a detective. Not that Hiero tended to use Tim’s given name much at all.

“He’s been waiting for you.” Giselle, a dancer, slathered the words with innuendo. “Keeps looking at the door.”

“Then he might have left it unlocked.” Tim tried for a playful tone but only sounded grumpy. Possibly something to do with his chattering teeth and soggy boots. “Have I missed the play?”

“Oh, aye. But don’t worry,” Giselle reassured him, “the night’s still young. Plenty of drama left to be lived.”

“Marcus is trying it on with Nell,” Bertie said in a whisper more bullhorn than stage. “Though he’s just broken with Kitty.”

“And his wife’s here looking scammered.” She tittered. “Nell’s been stringing Irving along for ages—price of doing work, that—while juggling some foreign count and a marchioness…”

“But they ain’t here tonight!” Both cackled.

Tim chuckled, buoyed by their high spirits. “And where, pray tell, can I find Mr. Beastly?”

“Where else?” Giselle grinned, gesturing toward where they came. “Center stage.”

After thanking them, Tim wove his way into the wings. Or what would have been the wings, had the usual tiered curtains not been replaced with a backdrop that blocked out the entire side of the stage. A few more revelers exiting toward the back end made quick work of the obstacle. Tim traced back their steps until he came to a small tinsel archway hung between the back and side drops. He glanced inside to make sure he wasn’t interrupting a performance…

And caught his breath. Not from another fit of coughing, but the sight before him.

A table as magnificent as the one at Buckingham Palace dominated the stage, laden with a Christmas feast to rival the royals’. Roast goose, a hock of ham, a rib of beef with Yorkshire pudding, oysters, potatoes, peas, and mince pies, just for a start, with at least five sauces, had Tim wiping the drool from his mouth. A bushel of children almost hid the smaller sweets table at the back, where Tim spotted trifle, Nesselrode pudding, and Lumps of Delight, as well as a near-empty bowl of Roman punch.

The set had been decorated in the manner of a stately home, with candelabra at every corner and a huge, candle-laden chandelier above. An impromptu band hung off the front of the stage, playing Christmas carols on their tin flutes, drums, and fiddles. Every member of the company—other than those already overtaken by amorousness—had a full plate and a group to chat with and had come in full costume. The lively crowd, which Tim guessed included a few family members, spilled out into the audience, everyone twinkle-eyed and smiling.

Tim coughed into his sleeve, his throat suddenly tight.

He spotted Han first in a jade-green brocade coat, arm-wrestling with Angus, who flew his clan colors in a tartan kilt. Little bun-headed Ting cheered them on, a Christmas fairy in gauzy wings. Jie and Minnie snickered into their punch as part of a circle of dancers, while Callie, in a fancier version of her Archie togs, raced some boys up the center aisle. Aldridge, in a powdery barrister’s wig and regal blue robes, played harmonica with the band. And Hiero, the master of ceremonies himself, in a floor-length coat of military red with two flanks of buttons and a gold top hat, held court at the head of the table, half listening as Lady Odile de Volanges moaned over yet another soured love affair.

Tim took a few hesitant steps forward. A glance of his starburst eyes was all Tim got before Hiero leapt to his feet, marching over to greet him to his own eccentric beat.

“You came!” Hiero grabbed the hand Kip reached out to him, spun him into close quarters. “Only the first of the evening’s many eruptions, I hope.”

“I think you mean disruptions,” Kip murmured, taking a step back so as not to dampen his clothes.

“Of course not.” Hiero tisked. “It’s as if you’ve never known me at all.”

“Oh, I’m well aware of your tongue’s… deviousness.”

“Care for further demonstration?”

“Not here,” Tim admonished, curling his fingers into Hiero’s lapels to warm them and keep him at a respectable distance. “Though a brandy would do nicely.”

It was only then Hiero seemed to notice the state of him.

“Goodness! Did they dredge you out of a swamp?”

“Something of the like.” Tim’s stomach snarled like a starving wolf. “Some of that roast might go a long ways toward drying me off—”

“Nonsense. You have no costume.”

“Don’t I make a fetching half-drowned, half-frozen, half-suffocated detective?”

“Forgive me, dear Kip, but that’s rather uninspired.” Hiero sighed, but his black eyes glittered with promise. “I’ll just have to sweep you off—”

“By the Fates, Horace,” Lady Odile blessedly intervened, twining Tim’s arm so tight against her it almost cradled her bosom, “can’t you see the lad’s in desperate shape. Come along, Mr. Kipling, I’ll make you a plate.”

Two heaping helpings and a brandy heated by candle flame later, Tim began to feel more like a prince than a toad. Not that Hiero’s attentions had wavered during this inner transformation. A press of fingertips to his wrist, a knock of foot, a nudge of knee, a smirk so arrow pointed it shot straight to Tim’s funny bone. Lady Odile took great relish in once again recounting the lonely tale of William, her suitor-not-to-be, to which Hiero provided such color commentary that Tim snorted cranberry sauce up his nose. All the while the crackle of Hiero’s regard fuzzed the right edge of his vision, growing in force and intensity until Tim’s skin tingled from its sear.

When Lady Odile called for a slice of the Nesselrode pudding, it was Tim who shushed her.

“Later,” he promised, patting her hand. “I could do with a change of clothes.”

Hiero sprang out of his seat before Lady Odile could answer.

“Allow me to escort you.” He wove a possessive arm around Tim’s middle, steering him toward the backstage. “Man of inconvenient appetites.”

“Myself, or Lady Odile?”

“Both. Neither.” Hiero backed away a step. “You’re very wet.”

“Said the bishop to the nun.”

Hiero threw his head back and laughed. “And in better spirits. Good. Now we just need to pretty you up…”

They’d slipped through a door at the far side of the stage and down a rickety staircase to the bowels of the theater.

“Oh, is that why you’ve lured me down here?”

Something in Tim thrilled at being led blind through the dark to an undisclosed—and intimate—location. Away from the revels and with some senses blocked, Hiero’s natural musk, of smoke, strong coffee, and a touch of sweat, tempted him closer.

The flick of the gaslights murdered the illusion.

The green, sickly cast and the underground gloom muted the vibrant colors of the costumes. Tim wondered how the actors looked so sharp if this was where they had their fittings. Beside a pair of sewing machines and a wall of mirrors, a maze of costume racks stretched on to infinity—or perhaps just the end of the room, obscured by furs and felts and feathers in every style and from every era. Tim recognized Hiero’s phallic horns and red cape from a recent production of Faust, or Who the Devil Wouldn’t? His performance as Misanthrophiles had inspired a great deal of sinning and swearing in Tim, though he hadn’t gone so far as to sign over his soul. As of yet.

No sooner had the door shut than Hiero pinned him against a wall, clammy clothes and squishy boots be damned. His kiss scorched Tim down to the tips of his toes, sensuous and mustached in perfect measure. Hiero was rarely forceful, but the height and size of him thrilled Tim, licking tongues of sensation wherever they touched. He wanted to crawl into his skin, wrap himself in Hiero’s velvet pelt.

But just as suddenly, his heat and heft was gone.

“Strip!” Hiero commanded, then disappeared into the racks.

“I thought that fell under your purview.”

“Patience!”

With a chuckle, Tim shed a few layers, relieved to discover the damp hadn’t seeped all the way to his skin. Not that being dry saved him from the chill. By the time Hiero emerged with a dusty quilt, shivers wracked his body. He moaned when Hiero wrapped the quilt around him.

“Don’t get too cozy.” He stepped back, scrutinizing Tim with a master’s eye.

“Oh, forget all that. Any old sack will do. Come here.”

Hiero deftly evaded his grabby hands. “Costume first, whilst my mind is clear.”

Tim laughed. “We haven’t got an eternity. They’ll find us here weeks from now, sword pricked and savage. Rut-meo and Fool-liet.”

Hiero raised a pointed brow. “Have you ever thought of writing for the theater?”

“I prefer to fuck in them.”

“Testy.” A scapegrace smile. “Just how I like you. Oh, hell.”

He lunged at Tim, scooping him up and setting him on a fat-cushioned ottoman pushed against a prop throne. Hiero yanked the quilt from under them to serve as a cover, cocooning in their body heat. The oddity of their surroundings—or perhaps the night in general—gave Tim a fit of the giggles. Hiero silenced them with another breath-stealing kiss. Tim surrendered himself to his tender, passionate care, the softness of his lips and the grind of his hips, the brand of his teeth on his taught chest, the bliss found in the depths of his throat.

Tim lay there afterward, crushed by Hiero’s slinky but solid frame, his spirits floating up to the ceiling. He felt golden; he felt adored. More, he felt grateful, for this man and his ministrations, for this little oasis from the sleet and the smog and the drone of city life. He could be at his lodging house, warm and dry but alone. Instead he played couch to a slumbering giant who’d fed him and loved him and would later revel with him till the wee hours.

“Thank you,” Tim whispered into the dark waves of his hair.

“Whatever for?”

“For being you. For welcoming me into your world.”

“That’s a rather generous description of recent events.”

“Your magnanimity is starting to rub off on me.”

“Rub off? Intriguing. Tell me more…”

***

Tim blew one of the holly leaves from his crown out of his eyes before settling in beside Hiero on the divan. The entire company had oohed and ahhed at their entrance—with a few catcalls thrown in for good measure. Hiero had exchanged his ringmaster getup for a dark wizard/Father Time-esque ensemble, while Tim—his so-called masterpiece—had been forced into a Puck costume. He had bartered the green hose for Robin Hood’s cape and trousers, but at the price of the Ghost of Christmas Present’s holly crown. He even let Hiero paint his eyes. Though he would never admit it if pressed, he didn’t hate the overall effect. It made him see something different in himself, and he strode back into the gathering with new confidence.

By the time they returned, the table had been moved to the back and the chairs set up as a small audience to one side. Mr. Marcus’s office had been raided for a divan and a few wingback chairs, on which Hiero and family were given pride of place since they’d provided all the food and drink, a fact that made Tim’s stomach do a little flip but came as no surprise. Beastly or Bash or whichever birth name remained undiscovered, the Hieronymus whose presence at his side warmed Tim to the core was a man of the people. And on this night, Tim was proud to be counted among his nearest and dearest.

After bowls of pudding and tots of hot buttered rum were distributed, the performances commenced. A few of the children enacted a little skit, folk and festive songs were sung, and a couple of stagehands braved the criticism of their actor peers by reading a poem or reciting a monologue. Callie shocked them all with a mellifluous rendition of Let No Man Steal Your Thyme, which had all the ladies nodding along to the rhythm. Lady Odile played opera diva with an aria from Handel’s Messiah. And then Tim found the spot beside him empty as Hiero rose for his turn.

Tim had heard his tongue-twisty librettos and pompous villain solos from the burlesques the Gaiety put on, comedic or melodramatic tunes that suited his undeniable panache. But as the fiddler strummed out the first strains of Silent Night, Tim realized he had never really heard Hiero sing.

His voice, rich and smooth as the rum in Tim’s cup, with just a hint of rasp for spice, made the stage, the hall, the entire theater tipsy with contentment. Tim curled his legs up and listened, transported out of himself to a hush winter landscape by that sonorous voice. A spark, not unlike the birth of a star, glimmered deep in his heart.

Their gazes met, locked. Tim felt the blush stain his cheeks but gave in to the cosmic thrall of Hiero’s eyes.

A song, a look, a Christmas gift for him alone.

Fin

 

Wishing you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season and a very happy New Year! Much love from Hiero, Tim, Callie, Han… and me!

Selina

 

Five Historical Romances I’m Loving Right Now!!

If you’re like me, end of summer sloth is starting to take over. That time of year when the air is sweet, the sun golden but sets earlier every evening, and nothing beckons louder than your backyard/balcony lounge chair. Maybe you’re on holiday. Maybe holidays are done and you, like me, want to recapture that lazy feeling on your weekends. At this time of year, there’s no luxury like a good book, a fruity drink, and an afternoon to relax through.

In Romancelandia, the sunny season had seen published an unusual amount of LGBTQ+ historical romances, and I, for one, am not complaining. Five of the most talented authors around have put out incredible books, and so it’s time to give my fellow historical writers some love in one of my favorite features, Five Things I’m Loving Right Now (Historical Romance Edition).

So take advantage of the last days of summer to soak in a few rays and travel back to far more adventurous (and repressed, it must be said) times. After you’ve read Stoker & Bash: The Fangs of Scavo, of course. 😉

Aqua Follies by Liv Rancourt

AquaFollies

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. And this cover is not only gorgeous, but a perfect reflection of the story inside. I’d read paranormals by the wonderful Liv Rancourt, but her historicals were new to me. Boy, am I glad I dove into this one! A rare historical set in the 1950s, Mrs. Rancourt brings the era we think we know through movies and TV brilliantly to life. You will fall as hard for Russell and Skip as they do for each other, and be bedazzled by the dialogue and period detail. A must-read for any historical romance fans.

A Gathering Storm by Joanna Chambers

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The author of the astounding Enlightenment series journeys to Porthkennack, a Cornish seaside town with a moody beauty and a stormy atmosphere. Especially when it comes to its newest and most inscrutable resident, Ward, a disgraced scientist chasing the ghost of his dead brother. Salt of the earth Nicholas is blackmailed into helping him with his experiments into weather and spirits, and gets more than he bargained for when sparks fly between them. Need I say more? A master of the genre at the top of her game.

Spectred Isle by KJ Charles

SpectredIsle

The shadow world encroaching on 1920s London was never so beguiling as in the hands of Mrs. Charles, who expands her world of occultists and invisible entities established in The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, but a generation later. As always, the period detail and the level of research into folklore is gold-standard–you will learn ridiculous amounts of the most fun kind of information reading this book. But the deep emotion with which she imbues her characters, wounded Saul and sardonic Randolph, are what makes this so glommable.

The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian

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Mrs. Sebastian is my favorite new discovery this year, earning one-click status with her first book A Soldier’s Scoundrel and my undying devotion with her second, The Lawrence Browne Affair. This gem concludes her trilogy, but is hopefully not the last historical we get from her golden pen (or, er, keyboard). Courtenay, who has the reputation of a Cassanova thanks to someone publishing a book of his exploits, is the titular rake. He finds his foil in Julian, an ultra-proper man with dark secrets. Together, they try, and fail, to resist their best instincts and the lust that burns between them. Much to the reader’s delight.

The Bones of our Fathers by Elin Gregory

BonesFAthers

Okay, so I’m cheating a bit with this one. It’s a contemporary, but it involves a museum curator and the discovery of an ancient burial cist, so I hope I’m forgiven. It’s also bloody fantastic. The lovely Mrs. Gregory doesn’t get enough love or attention, despite being an incredible author, so do yourself a favor and pick up this treasure about… well, the power struggles over some ancient treasure in the form of two intertwined male Bronze Age skeletons. Mal, the curator, and Rob, a local boy with an unfortunate nickname and hidden depths, also find their lives intertwined, in the best and sometimes most difficult ways possible. Wit, warmth, and welcome are the hallmarks of this book–don’t miss it.

Happy reading!

Selina

Best Books of 2015

As the last grains of sand pour through the hourglass that was 2015, every one of us, I think, is taking a few moments to reminisce about the year that was. It’s the time of year to shift around the beads on the abacus of life and, if you’re a geek like me, to remind yourself of all the indelible pop culture experiences you had this year. A tough year for me personally, but an epic one in terms of the entertainment I consumed, and the thoughts about it I shared with my social media friends. So, over the next couple of days, I’m rolling out my best of 2015 in books, TV, and film. Because who doesn’t love a good list?

Thanks to the lovely folks at GoodReads, putting together my best books of 2015 list was a breeze! I pressed a button and presto, changeo, they tallied all the stats and collected all the book covers for me. A huge help! But also surprising. The year has been a busy one, and that’s reflected in the smaller number of books I got through. Not a surprise, since as I type this there are at least a dozen on my waiting list, with at least five by major authors. I also tend to rate books quite highly, but I attribute this to the fact that I’m very good at selecting books for myself that I will enjoy. I have my stable of trusted authors, and though I do sample works by new writers (four of which made it to this list), just keeping up with my favorites eats up the largest chunk of my reading time.

So, without further ado, here are the seven best books I read in 2015 (in no particular order).

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A Death at the Dionysus Club by Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold–A Victorian mystery series with occult leanings, beautifully drawn characters, a fascinating and terrifying underworld, and a complex, touching romance. What’s not to love?

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Captive Prince 1&2 by C.S. Pacat–I’ve written about them before. If you’ve read this series, you know how expertly plotted, devastatingly smart, and utterly riveting they are. Laurent is one of the best characters of all time.

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Missing Reels by Farran Smith Nehme–If you, like me, love old movies and are just as fascinated by the stories behind the making of those movies, you will love this book. A film buff’s romance with strong mystery element, with a lovely, complicated, silent film-loving heroine and her dashing mathematician foil. I ached when this one was over.

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Hoarfrost by Jordan L. Hawk–A new Whyborne & Griffin book is always a cause for celebration. This one’s winter setting hit close to home, and made for a particularly emotional outing. I marvel at the depth of Mrs. Hawk’s imagination, which conjures up civilizations and creatures that, like the best episodes of Doctor Who, touch the head and the heart.

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Jackdaw by K.J. Charles–What else is there to say about Mrs. Charles other than she is the best historical M/M writer working today? I could have put all of her releases on this list, but my love for the Charm of Magpies world knows no bounds, so Jonah and Ben it is.

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Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates–A pitch-black book about six Oxford University students who start a game of dares that transforms all their lives. Twisty and addictive, Mr. Yates pushes all of his characters to the brink and beyond.

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Unnatural by Joanna Chambers–An engrossing historical that had me by the heart for its entire length. I just loved James and Iain to bits. But it’s the brushstrokes of her writing that stay with me, the quiet moments and the compelling images that linger in the mind long after the last page.

What books made you stay up into the wee hours to finish them this year? Hit me up in the comments!

 

“Oh, just make out already!” Why genre cinema needs to go there, and soon, in the #Stucky era

Four score and many moons ago, I wrote my graduate dissertation on, I kid you not, “Homosociality and the male anti-hero in A Clockwork Orange and Romper Stomper”. Inspired by the theories of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, I argued that in both of those films, the male leads were repressing their homosexual desires and/or more  stereotypically feminine aspects by exaggerating their macho behavior. That their hyper-masculinity was as much a performance as personality trait, there to mask desires and behavior that weren’t socially acceptable at the time. Both of those films are quite avant-garde, making the homosocial aspects of their lead characters’ relationships with their friend(s) explicit, but falling short of making this subtext text. Give the eras in which both films were made and the filmmakers involved, this is hardly a surprise.

But, as my new Prime Minister recently said, “It’s 2015,” and at least some of the recent/upcoming bromances need to become genuine onscreen romances.

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This fact was underlined by two recent pop culture events: the releases of Victor Frankenstein and the Captain America: Civil War trailer. In the former, a gonzo steampunk reinvention of the Frankenstein story, Daniel Radcliffe plays a brilliant but innocent young Igor as a Dickensian waif with mad surgical skillz. He is rescued from near-enslavement by dashing James McAvoy in Byronic mad scientist mode. The most compelling thing about the film is the chemistry between the two, as Victor seduces–though not literally–young Igor into helping him with his experiments, then turns on him when Igor grows a conscience. The best scenes in the film are where they banter, flirt, fight, share intimate details about their lives, nerd out over science. It’s a romance in everything but name.

There is, of course, the obligatory love interest (for Igor–Victor is far too self-absorbed to notice anyone not of use to him). Since she’s the typical girlfriend character, she’s boring and pointless, there to get injured and be saved, criticize Igor when he makes poor life decisions and support him when he finally decides to do the right thing. But how much more interesting would she have been if she was not there merely to support the lead, but was a participant in their activities as a platonic friend and character of equal merit. And the dramatic stakes of the film would have increased tenfold if Igor was scared he was losing not just a friend and employer in Victor, but his lover to ambition and madness.

Kosofsky Sedgwick derived her theory of the homosocial in part from 19th century novels, where the two male rivals for a woman’s affections would be the most well-defined characters, to the point where the beloved they were fighting over became superfluous. Given how women are still marginalized in modern cinema, especially in genre cinema, couldn’t we redefine both male and female roles by freeing women from the ‘girlfriend’ part and giving them more agency, and deepening the male relationships by having them actually be in one?

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A significant portion of the audience is already clamoring for it. After the Captain America: Civil War trailer hit, highlighting Cap’s efforts to save his old friend Bucky from both friends and foes who want his head on a pike, the online response basically amount to: “Please, please, please, can they make out?” As beautifully illustrated in this sketch by @hunktears:

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And amazing articles like this:  http://comicsalliance.com/super-stucky-steve-bucky-civil-war-trailer/ In it, Andrew Wheeler argues that:

“Yet if Bucky Barnes were a woman, this would be a love story, played out with all the same narrative beats. If Peggy were the brainwashed assassin kept frozen through the decades, this movie would definitely end in a kiss. Everything about the love, pain, and intimacy of the Steve/Bucky relationship on the big screen is typical of a romance, and that’s something fans are right to respond to — something the filmmakers may even be playing into, though surely not with any formal sign-off from Disney.

The world is increasingly more free, fair and tolerant for people in same-sex relationships, especially in countries like the US. Yet imagine this; if we lived in a world that had no hang-ups about same-sex relationships, no hate, no prejudice towards the idea of two men or two women together; do you doubt for a second that this movie would actually be a romance?

If everything else about this movie were the same, but we were different, wouldn’t it make sense for Steve and Bucky to kiss?”

It does make sense, and we are ready for it. (And, for my money, the filmmakers are deliberately playing on this in the trailer.) Who is Captain America’s romantic foil if not Bucky? They are the only two people in existence who have lived yin-yang versions of the same experience, who have fought each other and have died for each other, have been friends, comrades, enemies, and saviors, have a deeper connection than any two other characters in the MCU… so explain to me why they can’t be lovers. There isn’t even a token love interest standing in their way. Cap’s entire argument in this trailer seems to be, “Bucky is my friend, so don’t you dare lay a finger on him.” [Note: the details of the disagreement between Cap and Iron Man are undoubtedly more complex than this in the actual film, but this trailer is keeping those secrety secrets hidden, and for good reason.] It’s very Captain American to go to impossible lengths for friendship. But think of how much more powerful it would be if he went to war with his friends for love.

Film after film, it’s there in the subtext. It’s time to take a risk and turn these homosocial relationships into homosexual relationships. Why can’t Bucky and Steve be lovers? Why isn’t the new twist on Frankenstein that Victor and Igor have a tryst that turns tricksy? Why can’t Batman have given Robin a home because they have similar backstories *and* he has a thing for twinks? Why can’t Trish Walker be Jessica Jones’ ex-girlfriend, creating a love triangle between the two of them and Luke Cage? (Hands up who wants to see that threesome do a love scene!) Why can’t Jessica Chastain try to seduce Mia Wasikowska away from Tom Hiddleston, or want them both, in Crimson Peak? Why can’t The Vision be a trans or intersex character in Avengers: Age of Ultron–in fact, why does The Vision have a gender at all?

It all comes down to the same question, the one more and more people are demanding of their genre cinema: why aren’t there more queer characters, queer stories, queer superheroes and aliens and vampires and witches and shape-shifters and zombies and Gothic heroes/heroines?

Why isn’t there more queer representation in genre cinema?

Because, filmmakers, you subtext is showing.

 

[Note: Artist’s name for the top image of Steve and Bucky in bed is in the bottom of the frame. This is not my drawing, and I take no credit for it. If you know who the artist is, please contact me.]