RECIPE: Maple-glazed Pecans (Gluten-free & Vegan)

Let me tell you my Thanksgiving secret. I can't stand pecan pie!  

I make pecans glazed in pure maple syrup instead. It doubles as a delicious Thanksgiving pecan dessert and a snacky treat. 

It's very quick and easy to make. Only 4 ingredients. While waiting for your turkey to brine or whatever's keeping you busy & waiting tonight, these pecans can make your wait more worthwhile. Give it a try.

Maple-glazed Pecans

  • 2 c. raw pecans
  • 1 TB oil
  • 1 TB cinnamon
  • 1/3 c. maple syrup
1. On high heat, toss the pecans in oil for 2 to 3 minutes until the pecans become shiny with oil.
2. Add cinnamon. Keep mixing it with the nuts for 1 minute.
3. Pour in the maple syrup. Toss it in with the nuts for about 4 to 5 minutes. When the pecans look sticky and the maple syrup looks crystallized on to the nuts, turn off stove.
4. Transfer pecans into a bowl. Cool for 5 minutes.


BLOG REVIEW: A Facade to Shatter by Lynn Raye Harris

Heroine lives a quiet & unassuming life with her grandparents in the Sicilian countryside. Being in the arms of American war Hero changes the course of her life. Even though it was accidental because Hero was having a traumatic flashback from his war experiences during the wedding party they were at.
She’s astonished that he would be attracted in someone drab and full-figured as her. 
But takes advantage of the opportunity embarks in a 2-day affair with him. 
A month later she flies to Washington DC and informs him she’s pregnant.  
He proposes a marriage of convenience to tamp down any media sensation that would ruin his family’s political reputation.
Even though she's disappointed at his response, she understood what a scandal can do to a famous family like his and agrees to their temporary marriage. But hopes for more. Hero begins to want more with her as they spend more time together. But would she want a future with him once she finds out  the truth of his military past?

This book could not get past average. I read the whole thing, albeit reluctantly, to see if it would get more exciting since I’ve liked the only other Harris book I read. But, no.  Bland the whole way.  This book lacked the emotional intensity, excitement, and in-depth characterization that Harris’ Strangers in the Desert had. In this book, heroine was always looking for the love she never received aside for her grandparents and was always disappointed. She was full of insecurities because of her size and shape and her social awkwardness. She was a disappointment to her large and influential Sicilian family and some let her know it. When meeting Hero at a family wedding party, she expected to be ignored or, the very least easily forgotten, but Hero’s honing his attention on her was a welcome anomaly.  She took advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime event and yielded herself to him sexually and emotionally, even though he was clear about its temporary nature. She lied about her sexual experience and gave him her virginity.  She really was pathetic in her poor view of herself, her expectations from others, and her hoping for the impossible. She set herself up for disappointment time and time again. More like a doormat than a hopeful & positive person.

It was to her benefit that Hero was so concerned about his family’s socio-political reputation and proposed a marriage of convenience. I don’t think Hero would’ve ever looked for her. One, because of his insecurities due to his war experiences. Two, he wasn’t emotionally invested in her at all and easily let her go, after their 2 days together.  Her flying to Washington DC from Italy just to tell him she was pregnant spoke of her doormatty hopefulness. She hoped that he was as emotionally affected as she was over their affair a month before. She spent the little money she had for the plane for because of her hope that he’d be happy she was pregnant and want a happy family together with her. He wasn’t and even doubted he was the biological father of the baby and ordered a DNA test. It was not the reunion she hoped for. She wasn’t a total doormat because she started planning a single-parent life without reluctant Hero. But she did easily relent to his temporary marriage arrangement. Again, because she hoped that he might change his mind about its temporary nature and want more with her. Heroine had her brief moments of pushing past her pushover mentality but she’d default to it with just a little sliver of hope from Hero.   She even had some moments of strength, where she’d push Hero off of her, in the middle of her brain-numbing sexual forays with him, when she’d remember that he was likely manipulating her with sex. Most of the time, though, Hero’s sexual manipulations did work. Her brain turned off and she’d give in to him.

The overall romance was average as far as Harlequin Presents goes. They did fall in love but nothing spectacular. Their relationship came at the right time and right place. Hero did open up to her about his war trauma.

      ---------------SPOILERS: Don’t read below if you don’t want to know the  book’s details---------

A group of marines were sent to rescue him and all died in the process. He felt guilty for their deaths as well as not being brave enough to take his own life. The last marine who helped him gave him a pistol to use once, either to shoot himself or shoot the enemy with it. He’d been drugged by the enemy and injured before that from ejecting off his crashing plane. So, the choice he made to save himself was partly due to his weak mental and physical condition. He couldn’t forgive himself for not being strong enough to choose his own death and being the only survivor. Thus, he saw his being lauded as a war hero as a mockery and didn’t think he was a man worthy to be a husband to heroine and a father to their unborn child.

     -----------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS--------------------------------------------------

And  heroine, of course, loved him despite of it. And the war trauma really wasn’t anything that shocking. Therapy was mentioned and Hero agreed to it later. Their HEA(happy ever after) was quite possible. Again, nothing spectacular. Just average.

I limitedly recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Isn't She Lovely by Lauren Layne

21y.o. college student dresses normally for a film-school student, with her Goth clothes, dark make-up, and old army boots. 
Her new film-class partner Hero stands out in the crowd with his preppy, clean-cut look and frat-boy background and she tells him so.
He is equally blunt with how strange he thinks she looks. But their film-class assignment morphs into a real-life Pygmalion situation, where heroine must act convincingly as Hero's pretend girlfriend to his parent's upper-crust social function in exchange for Hero providing her with needed room and board for the summer.  
Their time together makes their issues with their own families and identity more evident. It not only heightens their similar straits but their growing mutual attraction as well.
But is their strong attraction enough to sustain the seemingly polar opposite worlds they live in? How far is heroine willing to continue her proper facade to keep Hero?
Will Hero have to ultimately choose between heroine and his social life?

A well-rounded book with characters of depth and humor.  Hero and heroine’s rapport and thoughts about each other were hilarious (i.e., she was “cranky little midget” and he was a “life-sized Ken Doll”). They match the stereotypes the other had about them with a bit of wiggle room to make it slightly askew.  They were comfortable with who they were and their social life. Yet they both experienced some current life changes that made them do something a bit different, in their case, taking a summer film class in NYU. Their shared class plus their accidental hallway bump started a whole trajectory that pushed their very-different lives together in a jumbled, intertwined mess. Their attraction simmered while they were figuring out their class assignment, their various family and ex issues, and their oddball relationship.  I liked that Hero and heroine were both level-headed enough not to rush into anything just because they had strong chemistry. They had so much going on in their individual lives and against their romance they were duly cautious. But, as they opened up to each other as they realize how much they did get each other, their emotional connection became an unstoppable force.  It became even more crucial for them to resolve their own issues before they had a good chance together.

I liked the character development that took place. Hero had to man up and make a choice about was more important to him: getting social approval or being happy. With heroine, it was letting go of her losses and embracing the good she had in her life. Their attraction to each other started the ball rolling on their identity changes.  They were polar opposites yet were attracted to each other and it made them search within themselves what that attraction was about. Their attraction challenged their view of themselves and people they were with. It particularly wasn’t easy for Hero who was the more social of the two. He enjoyed being with heroine yet he was embarrassed to be seen with her. Their real-life Pygmalion project enabled him to bring her to his social group without the risk of social embarrassment.  But, just like the Pygmalion story, heroine was still ultimately the Goth girl with the dark clothes and dark make-up.  He had to choose to lose her or accept her for who she was.  For heroine, the experience made her realize that she had changed. She liked the pretty dresses and lighter make-up and sociability. Yet she still liked her army boots and dark eyeliner. I liked how she combined the old with the new and came up with something different yet comfortable with the new person she became. I liked how Hero challenged her to stop hiding her fears and losses with her poker-face and Goth appearance. I’m glad that, when she took the risk to find out the truth about her past, it wasn’t as bad as she thought.

    --------------SPOILERS: Don't read if you don't want to know the book's details--------------

Her high-school boyfriend was stupid and irresponsible to drug her with a roofie on her drink the night her mom died of cancer. But he didn’t have sex with her after all. She passed out on his bed, naked but unknowingly still a virgin. And when she became conscious, it was to get the phone call that her mom just died. She didn’t bother confronting her boyfriend then or after. She wanted to forget that part of that night. Her ex-boyfriend did try to contact her numerous times over the years to explain what happened but she ignored them, believing the worst and already hiding herself with her deadened Goth look and heavily made-up poker face.

       ----------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS-----------------------------------------

She challenged him also. To take the risk and deal with his issues with his mom and to go beyond status quo. They were both good for each other. They challenged each other to go beyond being comfortable and safe in their own self-made cocoons. As they challenged each other to take risks, they provided each other with emotional safety and encouragement that comes from supporting and loving each other. Their HEA(happy ever after) looks pretty good wit h the way they balanced their differences with their unconditional love and support for each other .

I recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Romancing the Bookworm by Kate Evangelista

21y.o. college student would rather read a romance novel than do anything else.
But her best friend managed to convince her to spend Spring Break at the beach. She didn’t expect to be roped in to help at her friend’s brother’s seaside diner or be entranced by the brother’s best friend, surfer Hero. 
She’s surprised at how interested he seems to be with her, 
given the toned bikini babes interested in him while she’s a size-14 clothed in blowsy dresses and always has her nose stuck in a book.  As the spring break week closes in, they get closer together but heroine isn’t sure if things will end when they go back to school. 
When she hears from somebody else that her meeting with Hero was all part of his grand scheme, she doesn’t know what or who to believe. 

The best part of the book was the premise of double-digit girl being secretly pursued by tanned and toned surfer boy.  Unfortunately, the actual storyline wasn’t as exciting. At the very first chapter, I was already feeling lost and bored by inane details outside of the main romance. There was some vague hints about something Hero had planned. These vague hints/details kept continuing throughout the book. After awhile, I stopped caring what it was. The book lacked emotional pull. It failed to engage me in the main character’s life and in their romance. The only exciting thing was the anticipation of virgin heroine’s lauded sexual knowledge from her romance books and how this was going to translate into some sexy times between her and Hero. Too bad it took so darn long for their sexy times to finally get there. I skipped page after page of uninteresting details so we can get to the exciting parts already. Their sexy times were average. Not too bad but not on par of what the book was building up to. The romance was subpar. Neither Hero nor heroine were in love with each other. We got heroine to realize she “liked him” but she wasn’t planning on anything past their spring break fling nor was she heartbroken about it because she just “liked him”. Hero was more into heroine but it started out as more of an ego thing. To prove to himself that this girl who ignored him twice would return his attraction once she took her eyes of her books and finally saw him. And he was right. She salivated after his body and kept salivating over his body. They had a lustful attraction with a bit of caring on the side. That’s why I don’t get Hero’s elaborate and expensive ruse to get her to meet and spend time with him on spring break.  

The execution, though, was a mess.  Instead of letting us understand why Hero became so intent on spending time with heroine so we can empathize with his secrets/motives/suffering, we get vagueness.  The first chapter already had me at a loss, with Hero’s point of view(POV) starting off the alternating POV of Hero and heroine. I got the parts about surfing & his working for his dad but there were those bits about his uncertainty about his plan working and his brother. And I thought “huh”?  When a book starts out with me already feeling like I need instructions to break some secret codes in the book, it doesn’t bode well. And it the vague plot/details did continue through the whole book. I finally got that the vagueness was to cover Hero’s secret plans regarding heroine. I thought it was a poor decision to make it so vague that it was making me the reader feel left out that, after awhile, I stopped caring. I did finish it to see when Hero and heroine would finally get it on (because the book had been building up to it since their first meeting) but I skipped some pages, especially the parts with Hero’s doormat intern and classmate.  I couldn’t take how poorly Hero was treating him and how he was letting himself be treated.

There was a lot about the story I didn’t buy. Hero’s character for one. He was in college, running part of his dad’s business, and surfing like a pro. I could buy the college student and surfing part. But the running his dad’s major company ? Not so much. His classmate-intern was the one doing the leg work, while Hero merely signed the forms and went back to surfing. There was a lot of talk about how he’s supposedly the one who’s held responsibility for his loser stepbrother. But I still don’t know how and why he took that responsibility. They only became stepbrothers about a year or so ago. Most of the book made it sound like it was ongoing for much longer than that. Hero’s major interest in heroine was another matter. His fascination with her was due to her ignoring his 2 attempts to meet her on their college campus. He wasn’t used to being ignored, especially by a woman he’s interested in.  His elaborate and expesnive ruse to get her to spend time with him was about his ego and physical attraction and not about love.  Why couldn’t he just asked her on a date and made sure she listened to his offer? Why not set up an accidental meeting on campus with her best friend along and at a time where heroine wouldn’t be reading a book such as at a restaurant while heroine and her best friend are eating dinner together?  Heroine’s character was another one. There were inconsistencies about her body perception. She hid her body in baggy clothes because she was uncomfortable with her size-14. But we’re to believe she’s confident and proud of her curves. She was not just obsessed with reading romance novels. She lived her life through romance novels. She didn’t remember ever meeting Hero the 2 times he attempted to talk to her but remembered the titles of the book she was reading at those times. She compared her life situations with those from her books too many times to count. It was weird.  Another weird thing was how confident she was about sex (even though she was a virgin) because of all she gleaned from her romance novels.  And the other characters believed her too. She went from her 1st kiss ever to having wild, monkey sex with Hero within 6 days. And she was surprised to realize she “liked” him? That insight was so shallow it confirmed how out of touch with reality heroine was.

This book has an unsure HEA because their romance wasn’t love-based. It was clearly physical with some other interests mixed in. But heroine didn’t seem bothered by their lack of commitment or future together. Hero was a bit more bothered and tried to make things right with heroine. But again it may have been due to him being a caring person. But I didn’t consider him in love with her either.

 I minimally recommend this book

BLOG REVIEW: Wrong Billionaire's Bed by Jessica Clare

25y.o. heroine has always maintained her image as the good twin and a responsible, proper, and efficient employee. 
When her famous twin is once again strung out on drugs, she takes some time off work to help her rehab in private as well as to hopefully spend some time alone with her friend and childhood crush who owns the cabin they’re staying in. 
The cabin wasn't empty as she expected, catching her friend’s unapologetic playboy friend Hero cavorting in the hot tub with his lover of the moment.
His irate guest leaves but Hero decides to stay, finding heroine more intriguing than his almost-lover. She’s nothing like the women he’s used to being with and he’s intrigued by the wildness he senses she’s hiding under her proper exterior.
Instead of spending time solely with her sister and her crush, heroine gets very distracted with goading Hero.  It doesn’t take long for their frequent fights to turn into fiery embraces.
However, when her crush finally asks her out on a date, she leaves with him right away.  How does Hero react? Who does heroine ultimately chooses?

I thought I wasn’t going to like this book at first. There were no attraction sparks when they met. Just a neutral assessment of each other.  Hero seemed like a calculating womanizing jerk who just wanted to make heroine’s life miserable. Heroine was irritated with him and viewed him as a worthless womanizer too.  There grew a lot of annoyance and hate on both their parts. As they spent more time fighting and getting a rise out of each other, I found myself enjoying their sarcasms and petty fights. I really liked how the author gradually transformed their negative interactions into one of interest, enjoyment, humor, and eventually passion.  Their petty fights and one-upping each other actually became sources of sexual attraction for them. I thought it was hilarious how heroine’s prim and proper demeanor, manner of dress, and updo –hairstyle went from things Hero ridiculed about her to being his sexual triggers. He was astonished at how her curvy and soft body turned him on like none of his usually-svelte lovers did. The lack of control both Hero and heroine had over their attraction to each other was a big change from their initial irritation and indifference to each other. It was fun to watch. Their sexual tension and interactions were combustible.

The change in Hero was the best part of this book.  He began as an arrogant, prideful, & hedonistic man who made no excuses about using people for his own benefit. He openly admitted to financial gain as his primary motive for being sexually involved with the woman in the hot tub heroine caught him with. He was usually immune to what others thought of him. He was very confident & successful. Women, in particular, fell at his feet. Heroine was unique in her open annoyance with him.  What started out as a challenge for him became the root of his transformation. Being with heroine made him feel and view things differently. She challenged him with her frank assessment of him as a gigolo who had more respectable options for financial gain. She challenged him to think beyond himself & care for others. And he did, starting with her. She moved him to care for her and to want to be a better man. It was as if her caring, self-sacrificial, & responsible character rubbed off on him. Towards the end, he became a faithful & committed man who began conducting his work with integrity and with help from his good friends.  

Heroine may have been a no-frills, organized, and responsible do-gooder but she was also seething underneath with suppressed emotions. She was used to putting others first. She wasn’t a doormat because she stood up for herself when needed. She cared for others because she wanted to. Her love for others(especially her sisters) was expressed through her being there for them in her unshakable & efficient manner. She became the good twin to her twin’s “bad”, impulsive, and sometimes risk-taking tendencies. It was her way of individuating from her identical twin. But, in doing so, suppressed her own impulsive, emotional, and wild side. And Hero brought it out of her. He saw what she was suppressing and wanted to see that part of her come out. He knew her like no one else did and fell in love with her whole package. I loved that.

I recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Venice in the Moonlight by Elizabeth McKenna

20y.o. heroine is grieving, not because her husband of 5 years just died with his family expelling her from their home, but because her long-lost painter father's recent death was likely due to murder.
Much of it she has to investigate herself in Venice since the authorities there are dismissive of her notions.
Her path so happens to cross the son of 1 of Venice's founding families,
who may be almost blind but is notorious for his lavish lifestyle and womanizing ways.
His attraction to her makes it easy to get into his family home, where she attempts to find the book her father noted in his journal from the shocking ceremony he witnessed.
As much as she tried, she can't resist her increasing attraction towards him,
especially when she gets to know the kinder side of him. Will he think differently of her when he finds out that she's implicating his own father for her father's murder?

The best part of this book was the intrigue. In fact, the romance in this book was encapsulated in the centrality of its' mystery and intrigue.  The mystery began as soon as heroine left her former husband's home. She regretted their estrangement due to his forcing her to a marriage she didn't want. She was still angry with him about it but she wanted to mend their relationship more and hopefully live with him again.  Finding out about the nature of his death as soon as she arrived in Venice turned the next 3/4 of this book into the intrigue of getting proof her father's murder and the people involved in it. I thought the use of the days-long Venitian carnival as the means for masked heroine to come and go to various seedy establishments at night without causing much suspicion was clever.  She was lucky to escape near capture and abuse several times. I though it was funny that vomiting saved her twice: the first one was from her husband and led to his eventual death and the second one was from her and saved her from sexual assault. The intrigue was well-paced and introduced us to different parts of 18th-century Venice. The only part about the intrigue that was questionable was the resolution. It was too swift, with the people involved changing allegiances quickly and giving up what they've been secretly doing immediately. With something that secretly involved that many prominent people in the city, I would surmise that more effort would be placed in snuffing out the whistle-blowers or putting the blame on those who were caught while moving their secret ceremonies elsewhere.

The romance was slow to develop emotionally. The physical attraction was immediate and I liked how visually-impaired Hero was so taken by the way heroine smelled. But it took them a while to get to know each other and for heroine to trust him. She was too busy either with her investigative assignations, resisting his charms, or luring him just enough to get needed info from or about his father. It was their painting sessions that allowed them to spend valuable time getting to know each other without being rushed. They developed an emotional connection that allowed heroine to take a romantic risk with him. Their sexual chemistry strengthened as a result. The sex scenes were generalized and focused more on their emotional connection. I wish, though, that the emotional connection between Hero and heroine developed much earlier in the book.  It was there but slight. Maybe it's to let us see the progress of Hero's transformation from an avid womanizer to a man obsessed only with heroine. I did appreciate that but still wish for a more intense emotional feel between Hero and heroine.

I moderately recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Rumor Has It by Jill Shalvis

Scarred former demolitions-expert Hero is back in  the small Idaho town he grew up in and now finds his sister's best friend since childhood fascinating.
28y.o. 2nd-grade teacher is quite content with her life, caring for others. 
There are 2 things she longs for, however: to attend the 1-year paid training program at UC San Diego and to have a romance with her longtime crush Hero. She knows that he is a no-commitment guy but she wants to shake up her predictable life and propositions him. His sister's warning makes him try to resist what she’s blatantly offering. 
He eventually does give in to their strong mutual attraction, when she clarifies her desire to have a temporary tryst with him.
Somehow it bothers him to have her limit it to a 1-night-stand.  He pursues her but she doesn’t put her hopes up because of his job prospect in Washington DC and her upcoming training program in San Diego. He makes a promise to her but soon breaks his word. 

What I liked best about this Clare book was how the chase switched. Heroine had been infatuated with Hero since she was a kid. Her crush on him had always been obvious. Even though she did the initiating of their present romance & got rejected by him a few times, I loved how she rattled well-controlled Hero by her low expectations of a relationship with him. She also shook him by just being her sweet, open, & warm nerdy self, which he was finding irresistibly sexy.  It was funny how disconcerted this big, bad, alpha-male ladies’ man was getting with her. It was as if the emotional table got turned and he became the more vulnerable and emotionally shaken one, while heroine became the level-headed limit-setter of their relationship. The contrast of how they were emotionally before and after they first slept together was brilliant. It leveled the emotional imbalance from heroine’s longtime unrequited love for Hero.

I also liked how Hero’s character growth was conveyed. Hero was already in the process of undergoing major life changes when he saw heroine again. We got glimpses of how reckless, restless, and self-centered he was as a teen from current conversations he had with other characters. It contrasted with his realization of how their small town now felt more like home to him and how he actually didn’t mind living there. His recent injury and consequent military job loss also made him assess his life and where he was going.  He had an open road to his future. But seeing heroine again directed him to where he wanted to go. Observing her and seeing how happy and content she was in their town and how she positively affected others inspired him and made him want to be wherever she was. And since she liked living in their town, then he did too. She was good for him and he was smart enough to realize it, even though he almost bungled it in the end. He did grovel and it made up for his mistakes with her.

       ---------SPOILERS: Don’t read below if you don’t want to know the book’s details-------------

Why Hero needed to grovel:
He promised to stay in their town and wait for her while she finished her 1-year training in San Diego. He confessed to never having had to wait for anybody in his life but that he would wait for her because she meant a lot to him and wanted a commitment with her. Two days later, she found him packing to leave their town because he was upset about learning that his dad was not really his bio dad. When she confronted him about his promise to wait for her just 2 days prior, he said that “things change” and that they should go their separate ways. He also confessed to being in love with her for the first time but he was still taking the job in D.C. and didn’t want her to plan his life around him.

How he groveled:
The 1st time…he bungled. One day later, he came to her house to, as he said, “grovel”. He came with ice cream and a blank card and proposed a long-distance relationship of texting and phone calls. But it wasn’t gonna work for her and she declined. She knew that if he took the job in D.C. that would be it for them. He had nothing to say to that.

The 2nd time…worked. One week after she moved to San Diego, she found him at her apartment. With his luggage. And his confession that “home is where you are” so he wanted to be wherever she’s at, despite having no job prospects there and giving up his promising job offers at D.C. and at his father’s ranch. He loved her more than his security, career, and comfort. And he was willing to wait for her if she wasn’t ready for him.  One year later, he came back with her to their small town and proposed marriage. This was significant because it showed him fulfilling his original promise to wait for her while she finished her 1-year training. The only change was that he waited with her, moved back to their town together, and up the ante on his commitment to her.

          -----------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS------------------------------------------

The greatest change in Hero was his putting others' (especially heroine's) needs before his own. He'd always put his own needs & desires first. Observing heroine's selflessness and caring greatly for her made him want to put her first. I loved the midnight picnic he took her too and made sure it was all about her. The promise he made to her came from that motive but he defaulted to his usual it's-about-me-first routine but righted it later. Their HEA(happy ever after) is very likely with Hero showing he can make sacrifices to make her happy and heroine learning to take charge of her needs and desires. 

I recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Striking Distance by Pamela Clare

32y.o. journalist doesn’t know that the Navy SEAL who rescued her 2 years ago from her 18-month abduction in the Middle East is the man she spent a torrid no-strings-attached weekend with 2 months before she was kidnapped. 
38y.o. Hero has never forgotten heroine since their weekend affair 4 years ago and especially after he found out she was not only still alive but back to safety after he & his Special Ops team rescued her from her terrorist kidnapper. 
Seeing her again by accident now gives him another chance to be with her, even temporarily. The attraction is mutual and even more intense than ever as they value their second chance together. 
But the sexual and emotional trauma heroine suffered during her abduction demands for Hero to romance her with sensitivity and patience. He also becomes her personal bodyguard when her abductor publicly declared the need for her demise to other terrorists, placing her life in constant danger.
It's the secrets they’re keeping from each other, however, that may make or break their relationship.

As much as I don’t like reading about rape & abuse in my romance novels, Clare made this book about how Hero and especially heroine transcended their past adversities.  Heroine’s abduction & various abuses were generally mentioned in the beginning but not with specific details, which I’m so grateful for. From there, it became about how heroine transformed her broken & fragile self into this powerhouse of a woman who bested those who tried to bring her down. It was done in this unassuming but sure way through her previous therapy, support from her family, & her strong survivor attitude. We see her inner strength and will to not be terrorized by her perpetrators and the public that was avidly watching her. This was already set in motion before she & Hero reunited.

Being with Hero only boosted her will to live an even better life. Hero understood her, protected her, and supported her choices. They might have only spent 3 days together 4 years ago and he may have his secrets and she, hers.

     ------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details-------------

Hero kept his identity as the Navy SEAL leader that personally rescued her from the Middle East. He also had difficulty divulging his past as a teen involved in street gangs which caused his younger brother to be shot accidentally. He still felt very guilt-ridden over his indirect cause of his brother's death, even though he's more than made up for it with the lives he'd saved in the Navy SEALS for the past 14 years. He was increasingly awed by heroine's heroic survival attitude that it made his irresponsible past worse in his eyes, deeming himself unworthy of her. 

Heroine's big secret was the baby she left behind in the Middle East unintentionally. Her pregnancy and birth of her baby was a shock to her. She didn't even know she was having a baby until she saw the baby squirming when it was outside of her body. Her baby was whisked away and she was then told it died. She didn't believe it and knew that 1 of the other wives of her abductor had her baby. She was in such a fragile emotional and physical state (she almost hemorraghed to death after her baby's birth) when Hero found her that she had a hard time even remembering her name, let alone that she had a baby. When she finally remembered about her baby once she was safe, she tried her best to find her and get her back.

     -------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS-----------------------------------------------------

But they had a deep emotional connection and got each other. Hero was also awed by how she had eclipsed the degradation done to her just 2 years ago. He may have stirrings of love for her before but, knowing the person she was now, he was a goner.  He was a strong man with a strong sense of responsibility. And her inner strength was a turn-on for him. I loved that he was a strongly sexual man but that he went at her speed because he just wanted to be with her. It was a while before they went past kissing. It took another while before they fully consummated their reunion. Trust in herself and in him had to be built before she was finally ready for the full sex act. He was patient with her without putting any pressure. In fact, he made it into a great sexual adventure which likely helped ease heroine’s sexual fears.

The action-suspense part was thrilling and the mystery wasn’t predictable. I had no clue who was staging the attempts at heroine’s life until the villain was revealed. The deaths and injuries weren’t written in gory detail. The main focus was finding out how the various murder attempts were related and who the villain was. The multiple government agencies involved and how they connected and contradicted each other were intriguing.

I recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Crashing Back Down by Kristen Mazzola

24y.o. heroine is grieving the recent loss of her beloved husband who she's been since college. 
The reliable presence of her husband's attractive best friend Hero has been a comfort and help to her. 
But for her current sexual awareness of him and her growing knowledge that the attraction is very much reciprocated. 
Her attempts to move on with life without her husband pushes her to begin socializing with her friends again.
And start an affair with Hero.
However, her feelings of guilt for moving on and continued feelings of loss produce moments of confusion and anguish. 
She tries to keep it from Hero but not always successfully, affecting their new romance. When she's finally about to dive more fully into her romance with Hero, she finds out something that makes her abruptly retract.  

It helped to know that this book was part of a series because it was primarily about heroine grieving the loss of her husband and trying to adjust to life without him. It had a more chick-lit feel to it than romance. Her romance with Hero was not the central focus of this book. It was merely one of the ways she was coping with her grief.  Her romance with Hero was mostly out of comfort and familiarity. I never got the sense that she was in love with Hero.  She was attracted to him and was flattered to be the recipient of his unusual commitment and devotion.  But she often felt guilty about her relationship with him when she thought about her husband whom she was still in love with.  Her romance with Hero was very much a moment by moment HFN(happy for now).  Her reaction to her friend joking about her being engaged to Hero was telling. She was appalled at that thought and considered never marrying again. Her sexual chemistry with Hero was off and on.  She mostly thought of him as a good friend and her husband’s best friend.  I felt bad for Hero's unrequited love for her but understood how recent her loss was and the changes she had to make. Their sex scenes were mostly generalized, except for their first time together where it was more detailed. Most of the time they seemed to be hugging and cuddling like they did when they were just friends.  Hero was much more emotionally invested in their romance than she was.  As a chick-lit book, her HFN romance with Hero made more sense.  It makes me wonder if the next book(s) will progress to a more central focus between heroine and Hero's romance. I wonder what the full truth will reveal about Hero and if Hero's perspective would be featured more. 

“Crashing Back Down” was an appropriate title for this book.  When heroine took a step forward towards healing & maturity after the loss of her young husband, either more bad things happened to make her retreat to her depressed/lost state or she’d crash back to her carefree college habits of drinking and partying to forget. Heroine was in an emotionally numb or frozen state in this book. There would be a bit of thawing here and there, in which therapy helped, but overall not any significant forward movement. Heroine numbed herself a lot with alcohol. Every other page seemed to involve her imbibing in some kind of alcoholic drink. She drank when she was happy, sad, needed to relax, with her meals & snacks, and to let off steam. She and her friends frequented similar places they did in college and involved themselves in various college-related past times. Most of the time they reminisced about their college days, especially their drunken escapades.  She was known to have drunken blackouts, be an affectionate drunk, and be an aggressive drunk.  Her adult formation seemed to be linked a great deal to alcohol as well as her husband.  Maybe that’s why she reverted frequently to her college memories and behaviors.  Maybe her current drinking helped connect her with her deceased husband somehow. Her frequent reverting back to the past was part of heroine’s lack of forward movement to grow up and move on. She was hanging on to the past and was reluctant to abandon it. I'm hoping to see her mature, get strong inwardly, and stop self-medicating so much with alcohol in the next book(s). 

I partially recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Because We Belong by Beth Kery

Artist heroine has been eagerly looking forward to her marriage to her fiance, businessman Hero.
But it's been 6 months since she last seen or heard from him, when he abruptly left for parts unknown. 
And she has since given up on their engagement. She gets involved in his company since his family needs her input in a major business deal they're attempting due to Hero making her part of his company's board members. 
But an attempt on her life forces Hero to come back to her. The love between is still strong and so is their passion for each other.
However, he doesn't want to divulge what he's been doing since he left her 6 months ago and can't promise to not leave her again. Heroine is torn between her hurt and anger and the need to fight for their relationship. 
She knows that Hero loves her but can't convince him that he is worthy of her love, no matter his background. What will it take for him to choose her?

I finished this book in no time. It brought to mind why I like Kery's books so much. Her writing took me into the life of the characters. It was like watching a good movie. The emotional tone, sexual-emotional connection between Hero and heroine, vivid characterization, and not-so-predictable mystery of the story gripped my attention and emotions. I'm not a fan of BDSM(bondage discipline sadism masochism) but Kery has a way of writing that made the detailed sex scenes more about Hero and heroine's deep emotional connection than merely salacious erotica. They were romantic BDSM moments, if there is such a thing. What they said conveyed their respect and enjoyment of each other. What they did conveyed their love and understanding for one another. It left no doubt that both of them loved each other. I didn't need to read the previous book(s) in the series to fully understand their current relationship. 

The main obstacle to their current relationship was Hero's view of himself. He may be a confident alpha Hero overall but his new knowledge about his parental origins made him doubt himself.

      ---------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details----------

The 6 months Hero spent avidly researching his deceased father was spent alone in his father's huge French estate and with growing horror at his findings. He found proof that his genius biological father raped his mentally-ill mother and impregnated other women in his bizarre sexual and reproductive quest against women. It finally made sense to him why his schizophrenic mother who he took care of as a child would sometimes respond so negatively to him. He greatly resembled his father per the opinions of the residents of the French village his father's estate was located. It made him wonder how much of his own sexual proclivities and his identity was tainted by his father's blood. The violent nature of his siring and his genetic predisposition created an identity crisis and a huge fear of his worthiness to be with heroine. He was true to heroine and was celibate since the last time he was with her.

      ------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS---------------------------------------------------

No matter the reassurances of love from heroine he couldn't believe himself worthy of her and was obsessed with his quest to understand his progeny in order to know and accept himself. Those were some poignant moments, with heroine feeling helpless in not being able to convince him and Hero feeling helpless and frustrated in his uncertainty about his identity. They couldn't be together because of this external factor that was beyond themselves. I loved heroine's persistence and strength in doing all she can to support him, even at his rejection. She may be artistic and not the most socially savvy woman but she was strong where it counted.  She was not easily swayed and was forthright about her desires and limits. And Hero loved that about her and what made the difference in helping him get through his present dilemma. Heroine loved enough and was strong enough for both of them to see them through this storm in their relationship. Hero had to learn to trust her and their love for each other to help him through his self-doubts. They had a good partnership and a sure HEA(happy ever after).

I assuredly recommend this book

RECIPE: Buttery Mushroom Bites (Gluten-free option)

If I were to become a vegan, butter would be the one I'd miss the most of all animal products.

I love butter. The taste and creaminess of it. Margarine & other butter alternatives just don't cut it. 

The mix of butter and cream cheese with a bit of flour creates this wonderfully rich and lightly-crisped pastry.

Your mouth will thank you for the experience of each bite. Try it.

Crispy Mushroom Bites (Gluten-free option)
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour (to make gluten-free: 1 c. GF flour. Add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum if not yet mixed in the flour)
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, cold and cut in small cubes
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, cold
  • 1/2 c. mushrooms, chopped in small pieces
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • pinch salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Saute mushrooms in oil. Sprinkle with salt to taste. 
  3. Stir occasionally until mushrooms become soft and smaller in size. Remove from heat.
  4. In medium bowl, combine flour (plus xanthan/guar gum, if gluten-free) and salt.
  5. Cut in butter and cream cheese. Use your hands to combine it well with the flour mixture until it can hold together to form a ball.
  6. Form dough into 2 balls with your hands. Put in bowl and cover with plastic.
  7. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
  8. Sprinkle parchment or wax paper with some flour & place dough on top. Sprinkle top of dough with some flour & cover with another parchment/wax paper. Roll dough with a rolling pin into a round disk about 1/8-in. thick. 
  9. Slice into thin pizza-wedges with a knife. 
  10. Add mushroom filling on wedges. Roll up from the wide outer-edge inward to tip. 
  11. Put in greased or silpat-covered cookie sheet with tip of wedge facing the bottom.
  12. Bake for 20 minutes or until crust starts turning golden brown.
  13. Remove from oven. Cool.

BLOG REVIEW: His Christmas Wish by Marquita Valentine

24y.o. teacher steels herself against her 25y.o. estranged husband who's back in town.
He left her for the Army 4 years ago and now wants her back. 
She recently found out about his deception and isn’t sure what that means to her. She hasn't really gotten over him and being around him again with his clear intent on having a second chance with her makes it difficult to keep her limits.
But their problem before still stands now. Their families still can’t abide each other and heroine doesn’t want to cause her ailing mother heart failure. When the truth comes out, however, heroine has to make a choice. What does she choose this time around?

A good second-chance romance. It’s a novella but didn’t feel short. The focus is on the present time, with Hero’s coming back for heroine after he left her for the Army 4 years ago. We get tidbits of their past romance scattered throughout the book. Basically, Hero left her the day after their secret wedding to join the Army as a backlash against his parents’ who disowned him for marrying heroine. After numerous letters & phone calls, her failure to join him where he was stationed signaled the end of their relationship. He let her be and continued on with the Army. What they both didn’t know until the present time was that his letters & most phone messages never reached her because her mother intercepted them. Heroine also felt guilty for leaving her ailing mother & for getting married in secret so she doesn’t go with Hero and stays in town.
Their immaturity caused their separation. He was hot-headed & impulsive. She was scared of rocking the boat with her family. Their 4-year separation did bring some needed changes & maturity in both of them. Hero’s deceit with heroine was part of his immaturity in handling their separation.**

--------------------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details-------------

Hero deceived her through the letters he sent her through the years, using another name. They developed a relationship through their letter exchange, with Hero confiding about his war experiences with her and heroine becoming increasingly attached to him. She planned on finally meeting her pen-pal on Christmas and signing her marriage annulment papers. She started getting suspicious that something was off with the letters based on the last two she received, where Hero was greatly hinting at his true identity. She received confirmation of his true identity and his deception the day before she saw him again.

As much as I didn't like his deceiving her, I understood his fears of her rejecting him if he confessed the truth. It was important to him that she get to know the man he’d become. Later, his letters to her became a source of comfort and hope amidst the war trauma he was experiencing. He planned on telling her the truth when he saw her again. Still, his deception took years to occur and was a way of manipulating heroine’s attachment to him.

-----------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS-------------------------------------------------------------

His deceit was something they had to deal with in the present. Total honesty and forgiveness were needed. And they managed to do it with the maturity they’ve both achieved. They were both done playing mind games with each other and hiding their romance from their families. They were ready to embark in an open & mature relationship with each other, no matter who they might displease. I liked the contrast of their character growth from their previous romance. It showed them righting their past mistakes and restarting their romance now on more solid footing. Despite their impulsivity and immaturity, both of them stayed true to their marriage and abstained from sex with another during their 4-year separation.  I believed Hero’s promises to be a constant partner to heroine.  He showed patience, sacrifice, and persistence with her mistrust and rejection, when he would’ve acted very differently in the past. Heroine also stepped up and openly chose Hero over her parents. And the choices they made now had a domino effect on both of their families.

I recommend this book