Jeff & Will talk about their upcoming trip to the 2019 LA Times Festival of Books. They also discuss two series they’ve been watching: Comedy Central’s The Other Two and Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists.
Books reviewed this week include Kim Fielding’s The Spy’s Love Song, Ari McKay’s Take Two and Erin McLellan’s Clean Break.
Jeff interviews Erin McLellan about Clean Break, the second book in her Farm College series, and about why it’s important for her to tell stories based in her home state of Oklahoma. They also talk about her Love Life series, what got her started writing, her author influences and the TV she likes to binge watch.
Here are the things we talk about in this episode:
- LA Times Festival of Books 2019 website
- The Other Two on Comedy Central
- Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists on Freeform
- Joyfully Jay website
- The Spy’s Love Song by Kim Fielding on Amazon
- Take Two by Ari McKay on Amazon
- Clean Break (Farm College #2) by Erin McLellan on Amazon
- Erin McLellan Interview
- Erin McLellan: website | Facebook Group | Twitter | Instagram
- Controlled Burn (Farm College #1) by Erin McLellan on Amazon
- Clean Break (Farm College #2) by Erin McLellan on Amazon
- Clean Break Content Warnings on ErinMcLellan.com
- Love Life series by Erin McLellan on Amazon
- Troubleshooters series by Suzanne Brockmann on Amazon
- Brothers of the Wild North Sea by Harper Fox on Amazon
- K.A. Mitchell on Amazon
- Z.A. Maxfield on Amazon
- Alisha Rai on Amazon
- Annabeth Albert on Amazon
- For Real by Alexis Hall on Amazon
- Glitterland by Alexis Hall on Amazon
- Game of Thrones on HBO
- Schitt’s Creek on Netflix
- The Good Place on Netflix
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Hulu
- One Day at a Time on Netflix
- Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Netflix
- Tiny House Hunters on HGTV
- Instant Hotel on Netflix
- Project Runway on Hulu
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
Interview Transcript – Erin McLellan
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Welcome, Erin, to the podcast.
Erin: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Jeff: Very excited to have you here. You’re a new-to-me author and I just finished reading “Clean Break,” which I have to tell you, I adored so much. I’m reviewing it right before we get into the interview segment I’ll have reviewed it to kinda tell everybody about it.
Erin: Yay, thank you.
Jeff: It is the second book in your “Farm College” Series. So before we dive into “Clean Break,” tell us more about what the “Farm College” Series is about.
Erin: Okay. So it’s just two books so far like you said and they are set in a fictional college in Western Oklahoma. And I would say kind of the overarching themes are… Since they’re college stories, they’re new adult that’s kind of coming of age and self-discovery, finding your authentic self, finding a home is kind of a big one. I think that’s kind of important at that age. You’ve moved out of your parent’s house or wherever you grew up for a lot of people and kinda figuring out what is home, what is family, that kind of thing. So those types of themes are kind of follow both books. They’re both kind of angsty to be honest though “Controlled Burn,” more so than “Clean Break” actually.
Jeff: Oh, my goodness.
Erin: So be prepared. But, yeah, and I think in terms of… The setting is really important to me at least as the author and those books is important to me. I’m from Oklahoma. I live in Alaska now, but I’m from Oklahoma. And it’s important to me to write stories that are set in Oklahoma that have, you know, LGBTQIA+ characters in Oklahoma. And I know as somebody that reads a lot of romance, I don’t see that very often. I don’t see romance set there or it might be… I have seen it where it’s, you know, characters that are like, escaping Oklahoma which certainly is the case for a lot of people, but it’s also the case that people live and love, and make their lives there. And I kinda wanna show that.
Jeff: Does a farm college like this exist in Oklahoma? Is it based on a real place?
Erin: No. Kind of I guess. A lot of the kind of small details mirror Oklahoma State which was my alma mater for undergrad, but Oklahoma State is so much bigger than the college that I created. So Farm College is kind of a smaller college in Western Oklahoma that I’ve created, but in terms of being, you know, having a strong agriculture program, but also kind of having this liberal arts situation that’s going on and a pretty vibrant LGBTQIA community, I’ve kind of made most of that up. So…
Jeff: And I agree that we don’t see, I mean, besides books set in Oklahoma, really the more rural settings kinda, it’s always escaping from those places. And I like that you kind of built a place as if this is what you’d like to see even if it doesn’t quite exist there now.
Erin: Right. And I think it’s kind of funny when I started writing “Controlled Burn.” It was pre-2016, right? And I kind of had this, you know, I kind of had this idea that it’s getting better, right? It’s looking up for lots of communities and I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the case anymore. I hope it will be and I hope it is eventually. But, you know, there’s good and bad, I think, about places like Oklahoma and Kansas, and Texas. And, you know, Oklahoma is really special to me. It’s really important to me. Kansas is the same, but there’s also problems and, you know, I wanna kinda write those stories. And I also, thinking about Oklahoma or Texas probably more so, a lot of the romances that I’ve read that are set there are like, ranch, you know, the cowboys, the farmers which there is kind of a farmer in “Clean Break.” But there’s a lot of people that live in Oklahoma and in Texas, in Kansas that aren’t cowboys. So I wanted to tell that story too.
Jeff: Right. And you really hinted that a little bit with some of the dialogue between Travis and Connor in “Clean Break” too as they kind of talk about the difference between cowboy and more the farmer type that Connor and his family are.
Jeff: And so, as we kinda move this direction, tell us what “Clean break” is about and kind of who Travis and Connor are.
Erin: Right. So “Clean Break” is about Travis and Connor. Travis is…he’s the best friend in “Controlled Burn.” So if you read “Controlled Burn,” you see quite a bit of him. He’s an English major. He’s from Houston, Texas, very ambitious. He’s got these kind of life plans and nothing’s gonna slow him down, right? He wants to go to law school. He’s got an internship after for the summer. He’s planning to move to Saint Louis eventually to work at this legal aid charity. He has this very, you know, set goals and he’s also kind of a unique, quirky, funny character to me.
And then you have Connor who comes in and I don’t know if I would say at the beginning of the book, it’s more like pre-book before the book happens, they have a little bit of a failed hookup in a lot of ways. Some misunderstandings and so, they don’t like each other very much. And then in the first chapter, they get paired together as class partners in a class. And Connor is a farm boy. He’s kind of a townie, right? He’s from Elkville which is the city that’s it’s set in. He’s expected to take over the family farm and so, he’s got this, you know, he kind of his future plans are set, right? He doesn’t have a say over them and he’s… I have a big soft spot in my heart for him. He’s got anxiety, he has OCD.
I really wanted to kind of write against the archetype of the like, lackadaisical cowboy or even like, the kind of the hard cowboy or, you know, that kind of archetype that I had in my head. I wanted to write a sensitive farm boy who’s in therapy and, you know, it doesn’t really match some of the people or the characters that I have seen written that way. And kind of the main issue between them, first is that they don’t like each other, but they’re attracted to each other, right? But the kind of the main two things that I wanted to do with the book is I wanted to write a complex authentic characters that are really well-rounded and hopefully, I accomplish that. And then the other thing that I really wanted to do was kind of write to people that are heading towards their future which is graduation and then, you know, the future beyond. And then their futures don’t mesh. There’s not really a way to come together at the end of graduation. They’re moving in different directions and I think that’s a really universal thing for people in college that are dating and dating seriously… do you compromise your future for somebody else? Do you change it? How do you make it work?
So those are kind of the two things that I really wanted to hit on and of course, there’s, you know, there’s some kink that happens in the book and kind of self-discovery with that especially on Connors’ part. So there’s a lot going on, but those two things. The characterization and the conflict there with their futures not meshing are the two things I really wanted to hit.
Jeff: And I think you did them both, I mean, really well. This book has so much going on in it and yet it never…the story also never gets way down either with the weight of everything that’s kind of moving around here.
Erin: Thank you.
Jeff: And really, you started them off as enemies who sort of move to friends to sort of get to lovers.
Jeff: Just that progression was so fun to watch unfold as they both pick at each other and then also help each other grow at the same time. It’s like, they lift each other up and kinda tear each other down at the same time.
Erin: Right. And I hope that that is realistic. I think people… Because in a lot of ways they are kind of mean to each other at certain points and people can be mean to each other in real life. Especially, they’re not very old, you know, they’re 21, 22. So they kinda make stupid mistakes sometimes and say things that can be hurtful and then have to figure out how to make it better.
Jeff: And I think with Connor too, you talked about writing against the archetypes and just having kinda the anxiety plus the OCD. And being, you know, a young gay man in that setting really just sets up so much for him in that situation.
Erin: Right. Yeah. He has a lot going on. He’s bi actually and…
Jeff: Right. I’m sorry. You’re right. Yes.
Erin: And so, kind of a lot. I mean, it’s just a lot and I think it’s a lot for him to kind of deal with all at the same time.
Jeff: What was your research on the mental health side of it to kind of figure out what traits to weave into his personality?
Erin: So I did a lot of research and I had some readers too that read it for me. One of the main things that I really looked at was kind of the myths especially with OCD, kind of the myths surrounding OCD. I think a lot of people think it’s just, you know, a cleanliness thing or even an organizational thing where they, you know, people with OCD have an impulse to organize or clean. And that’s not really how it presents for a lot of people. A lot people have intrusive thoughts which he has or, you know, they have checking where he checks the expiration dates on food and he can’t kind of stop doing that even though he knows he shouldn’t be doing it, and it’s not healthy for him to do. And so, I did a lot of research about the myths and the different ways that it presents for people and kind of the hardships that it causes them. And I also really wanted to make sure that I kind of made it clear. It’s something that he’ll always deal with, right? It’s not going away and so, it’s really… I did a lot of research on how to manage it, how, you know, how to kind of continue life dealing with a mental health problem like that.
Jeff: Yeah. I just… So often I wanted to just give him a hug when he was starting to lapse into it. It’s like, “Oh, I’m so sorry this is happening.” What you did through the black moments and I don’t wanna give spoilers for folks who, you know, need to read the book. But what you did to the black moments for both Connor and Travis as they dealt with their emotions and for Connor how those emotions kinda manifest themselves in his OCD was really just, I really liked seeing two young adults kinda come to grapple with all of that.
Erin: Yeah. And I think it’s pretty normal when you’re more stressed, right? Or when there’s more and more stress for, you know, the OCD to kind of build on itself. The same with anxiety like, whenever I am really stressed about my anxiety, it’s gonna be worse about small things, you know, you can kind of blow them out of proportion. I know I do that and so, I was kind of trying to show that how it’s like as things got more stressful for him with graduation moving and with kind of this relationship with Travis, that’s not going away he wants it to go. It does kind of snowball for him and it kinda snowballs for Travis too just in different ways because he doesn’t, you know, he doesn’t have anxiety or OCD of course, but, you know, he struggles just kind of the same way.
Jeff: Yeah. When you were talking about with this books about you left out one of its major points.
Erin: The bugs?
Jeff: That is the inclusion of the the hissing cockroaches. Where did that idea even come from?
Erin: So I knew I wanted to put them in a class together and I wanted them to be class partners. But Travis is an English major and Connor is agriculture sciences, agribusiness major. And so, I knew it had to be like a gen ed class for at least one of them. And so, I really started thinking about the gen ed class that I had taken as an English major whenever I was an undergrad trying to figure out what class would make sense. And then I realized that I actually had taken an ag class that was Entomology 101. And I loved it, I, you know, I held like, tarantulas and I held millipedes. And I could see myself being that like, weird bug girl a little bit. I just loved it. And so, that’s kinda how I decided to put them in an entomology class. And it’s funny because, I mean, I do think that college is one of those times to take the weird class and do the weird thing. And so, I think it kind of made sense there and I also felt like, I gave a degree of what kind of humor and lightness I thought it would to the story. But I realize now that a lot of readers maybe don’t like bugs. So it’s something that’s like a little distracting to some people.
When I had took the entomology class, we had an assignment where we had that exact assignment with the Madagascar hissing cockroaches where we had to take them home and observe them. And so, you know, for an entire semester, I had a Madagascar hissing cockroach in my dorm room with me. I never took it out of its box. I like, you know, I fed it, like, carrots through the little hole that it couldn’t get out and so, that would be fun to put that in the story. And I can tell you for the readers, the cockroaches do not escape ever. They never… There’s no, like, unexpected cockroach scenes. I promise.
Jeff: Yeah. And I can vouch for that. There are no unexpected scenes and in fact, I had to check… I had to ask about that before I took the book to read and I’m like, “Bugs, I don’t know about that.”
Erin: I know. I have put it in the trigger warnings for the book and on my website, it really does lay out kinda scene by scene where they’re at and kind of the degree that they’re on the page. And they’re not on the page that much.
Jeff: No, they’re not and I never got squirmy reading it either because I really don’t like bugs. But I was totally fine with how this turned out. So…
Erin: Yeah. I know. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me that it would gross people out. At that point it was too late when it, like, finally hit me. I was like, “Well, I can’t do anything about it.” But I kind of thought that they were funny.
Jeff: Well, I think it really fits with the whole ag culture of the college that of course, they’re gonna end up with bugs or whatever and have to learn about them. So it all meshed in together and like you said, there’s no point where they’re escaping or, you know, being gross. They’re just kind of there.
Erin: Right. And students…
Jeff: I like to, you know, those classes sometimes you take in high school where you’re having to take care of the doll for a week or whatever. And in this case you’re hanging out with a cockroach. So…
Erin: Right. It’s kinda like a little pet for them for this semester.
Jeff: So is there more plan for the Farm College Series?
Erin: I have not kind of set plans. I do want to write a story for Alex. He’s in both books. He’s not in “Controlled Burn” for very much though his part is kind of important in “Controlled Burn.” He’s a friend of Connor’s really in “Clean Break” and I do wanna give him a story and I will. I’ll probably start writing that soon. Kind of be on that. I don’t know how much more I’ll write in the Farm College Series though I do wanna do a spin off that’s kind of several years in the future. So they’re not really in college anymore and I want to do an F/F romance for Desie and Lena. So I would start there for them.
Jeff: Yay. Yeah. I would totally read that book because one of the things you did in “Clean Break” and I’m sure you established it back in “Controlled Burn” too, was just the tight community of friends that Travis and Connor both have, and even, like, the strong family presence of Connor’s family and how they support him. So it would be great to see more of all of that.
Erin: Yeah. So… Yeah. And I definitely… I think I did a little bit more successfully in “Clean Break” for sure where they have very supportive families and they do have kind of a big wide friend group. And so, yeah, I’m glad that you like that, but I do want to do the F/F romance for Lena and Desie kind of. But Lena is quite young in this book. She’s 20 and so, I wanna give her a little bit of time to grow up, I guess.
Jeff: Yeah. That’s cool. Now, you’ve got another series out there called “Love Life.” And tell us a little bit about what goes on in that series?
Erin: Sure. So that’s also, they’re both male/male romances. Set in Oklahoma, Eastern Oklahoma for the first book, “Life on Pause.” They’re kind of small town romances there. The first one is about a guy that works at a homestead kind of prairie museum. They’re kind of common in Oklahoma where the people that work there have to dress in like, historical costumes of the time. So he works at that type of museum and then he is paired with a high school choir teacher. And it’s kind of them trying to fall in love and figure out how their relationship will work. It’s definitely kind of lighter in tone than the farm college series, but it’s still a little angsty. The second book in the series, “Life of Bliss,” is more novella link that’s a little short and it’s very tropey. It’s kind of two people that don’t like each other very much, but are fooling around kind of behind their friends’ backs. They agree to be fake boyfriends for a family wedding in Arkansas and Arkansas kind of, well, it has this… Historically in the area, it was the only state that didn’t have a waiting period for marriage licenses. Now, most of the states don’t, but back in the day, you know, they made you like, test for syphilis and all kind of stuffs. But extended the marriage license period. So Arkansas is kind of the place where people go for their shotgun weddings historically. So this is going back quite away, but in this book they go to a wedding in Arkansas, they get drunk at the wedding and basically, end up getting married themselves. It’s set in Eureka Springs, Arkansas for the wedding part and I don’t know if anybody would be familiar with that. But you can get married practically anywhere in Eureka Springs. It’s kind of an economy there. So it’s quite easy to get married and that’s what happens. So it’s kind of fake dating to accidental marriage.
Jeff: Fake dating to accidental marriage. I like… Those are favorite tropes right there.
Erin: Yeah. It’s a fun one, I think.
Jeff: So what is your writing origin story? You’ve got these four books out. How did all this start?
Erin: Well, I was a creative writing English major in undergrad, but then I ended up going to grad school for library and information studies. And I was a public librarian. And I had… I kind of had a lot of big changes in my life. I just graduated grad school. I just got married, I just moved away from home like, all of these big changes. I had a full time job for the first time and I had… I was living in Houston, Texas and I had this horrible commute. It was like, an hour and a half each way and…
Jeff: Yeah. that’s pretty horrible.
Erin: I think most people that have been in Houston know what I’m talking about. And I had all this time to kind of think and I basically on my commute started plotting a book. And some of it came from, I missed kind of the creative outlet writing research papers and stuff like that from school. And so, yeah, that’s kind of how I started writing as I plotted this book on my commute and then finally, I decided that I was gonna sit down and write it. And that book was “Controlled Burn.”
Jeff: That’s an awesome story.
Erin: Thank you.
Jeff: What led you into putting this creativity towards M/M romance amongst all of the genres that were possible?
Erin: Yeah. Some of it I think is that I was reading a lot of it at that time, I kind of got into M/M romance I guess if we’re going further back by reading Suzanne Brockmann, right? So she has the “Troubleshooters” series and that has Jules Cassidy who’s the gay FBI agent, right? He’s got that kind of the secondary romance through several books and then the primary thorugh a novella. And then whenever I was in grad school, I kind of didn’t have time to read for pleasure very much. So I wasn’t reading very much and then I took a class about reader’s advisory that we had to read like, the books from the best books of the year for “Publishers Weekly” and “Kirkus,” and stuff. And I just kind of… I can’t remember what year it was, but I grabbed kind of a random book off the romance list and it ended up being “Brothers of the Wild North Sea” by Harper Fox and I didn’t really realize that it was a male/male romance. So I just kinda grabbed it and started reading, and then it became quite clear, you know, very early on what it was. And it’s a beautiful book. Harper Fox is, you know, is a beautiful writer. Everything that she writes is really awesome and so, I kind of gobbled up everything that she had written and then it kind of hit me at that time. There has to be other writers that are doing this and, you know, they weren’t the books that were in the libraries. They weren’t in my libraries.
So I kind of started searching them out and, you know, read a lot of K.A. Mitchell and Z.A. Maxfield, and some of those authors at that time that were the most prolific. And I was just very excited because I felt like there are all these authors that I had never heard of that I didn’t know about and they were all really, really good. And they were writing, you know, stories that kind of the themes were very important to me. And so, then when I write finally, eventually, decided to sit down and write a book. I think probably the main thing for me is that I wanted to write characters who are LGBTQIA in Oklahoma and it just happened to be that the first book that kind of came to mind, and that I plotted fully was an M/M romance in “Controlled Burn.” So that’s definitely how I got started.
Jeff: That’s very cool and some great authors there to get you introduced to the genre as well. Who do you count as your author influences?
Erin: Well, definitely, you know, my gateways were Suzanne Brockmann into romance in general and then Harper Fox. Kind of on a wider scale, I really like Alisha Rai. She kind of, she writes the heroines that are the type of parents that I just love. They are raunchy and rowdy, and wonderful. I would say also Annabeth Albert in terms of contemporary romance. Alexis Hall, I think kind of teaches or his books are like a master class on first person point of view if you look at “For Real” or “Glitterland.” And so, I really, really like his books too.
Jeff: Now, your bio mentions that you like binge worthy TV shows. So of course, we have to know what are you binging these days or have binged recently that you would recommend?
Erin: So my husband and I have been rewatching “Game of Thrones” of course, because the last season was about to come out. So when you binge that show, you just kind of realize how many awful things happened back to back to back because the first time we watched it, we didn’t binge it. We are watching it week to week, but when you’re binge watching that it’s like, “Oh, my God. That’s so awful, these things that keep happening.” Other than that, I really like… I like true crime, but I’m not watching any kind of true crime right now. And I like comedies. So I’ve watched “Schitt’s Creek” recently which I love, “The Good Place,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “One Day at a Time,” all these sitcoms that I think are really good, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” because I love musicals is really good. And then I also watch a lot of like, reality TV. So I like, like, “Tiny House Hunters,” and “Instant Hotel,” and “Project Runway,” shows kind of like that.
Jeff: Very cool. Yeah. Some good stuff on there.
Erin: You can tell me I watch a lot of TV.
Jeff: “The Good Place” is a particular favorite.
Erin: Yeah. It’s so smart. It’s so different than like, yeah, it’s very, very unique. So this is a great list for everybody who’s looking for something to binge the spring right here. So what’s coming up next for you in your release plans?
Jeff: So I don’t have anything kind of set in stone. I’m not very good at planning. [I”m working on one about] tornado chasers or storm chasers. That’s a male/male romance that I have on submission right now to a publisher that I’m hoping will pick it up. If they don’t, then, you know, it’ll keep going out and hopefully somebody else will want it. I’m currently writing a book about a rec league softball team and I want this to be really, really tropey and kind of fun and light. The first one is using kind of the one bed trope. So I hope that that would be a lot of fun. I’ll write Alex’s story pretty soon and then I have a book that I wrote. But I’m hoping to put out at Christmas, it’s called “Stocking Stuffers.” And it’s a M/F romance with a bi heroine who sell sex toys. You know, like the Tupperware parties, but it’s like the, you know, the sex toy Tupperware parties kind of. And so, she works for a company kinda is the marketing person for a company like that and she’s hosting one of those parties, get snowed in, you know, with a big red bag of toys basically.
Jeff: Yeah. That’s like an interesting forced proximity story.
Erin: yeah. So it was a lot of fun to write.
Jeff: And I’m very interested in the storm chasers one too because I’m kind of a weather geek at heart. So you kind of got me on that one.
Erin: It was a lot of fun to write. Growing up in Oklahoma, you know, tornadoes are such a kind of a constant really. I mean, my parents have lost a house in tornado. I know lots of people that have lost houses in tornado. It’s so common. It’s just kind of a part of your life especially if you’re from Central Oklahoma like me and so, it’s… Yeah. It was a really fun one to write because you are just kind of entrenched in bad weather in Oklahoma in the spring all the time. So…
Jeff: Very cool. And how can readers keep up with you online to keep track of all these projects?
Erin: So I have a Facebook group called Erin McLellan’s Meet Cute. That’s a good one if you kind of… I do giveaways and book recs, and stuff. On Twitter my handle is @emclellanwrites and I’m on Twitter pretty often. On Instagram it’s @erinmclellanwrites and on Instagram, I would say it’s about 70% Alaska stuff like, every moves that I’ve ever seen and then 30% books. Unless there’s a book released and then it flips. But it’s a lot of Alaska if you follow me on Instagram. And then my newsletter which you can get too on my website or through any of the social media too. You would be able to kind of find the link to my newsletter and that’s probably the best way if you just want like, to know about new releases or sales, or things like that without having to kind of trudge through Twitter.
Jeff: Well, fantastic. Well, I thank you so much for coming to talk to us about “Clean Break” and wish you all the success on that one and the upcoming releases as well.
Erin: Thank you so much. It was so fun.
Here’s the text of Jeff’s book reviews:
The Spy’s Love Song by Kim Fielding
Rock star and secret agent on a mission to a foreign country to topple a dictator all wrapped up in a Dreamspun Desires package. That combination pushed all of my romantic suspense buttons and I had no choice but to pick up this book. And I loved it every bit as much as I thought I would.
I was in tropey goodness heaven with the rock star thing, a bodyguard vibe plus lovers on the run and some occasional forced proximity.
Jaxon Powers is a jaded rock star who’s at the end of a long tour. After waking up in a hotel room barely remembering what happened the night before, he might also be ready for a change in lifestyle. He gets a lot more than he bargained for when his manager brings him to a meeting with the State Department. It seems the dictator that runs the small country of Vasnytsia is a fan and wants Jaxon to perform a private concert as well as a large outdoor one for a worker’s festival. The U.S. wants Jaxon to do this because it’s a chance to improve US relations with the Russia-supported dictator.
The only person going with Jaxon on the trip is secret agent Reid Stanfill. Besides keeping Jaxon safe, Reid’s got an agenda that has global ramifications.
I fell in love with this book right from the beginning. Kim plays with expectations from the beginning. While Jaxon appears to be the spoiled rock star we quickly find that’s not what he wants to be. He’s a small town boy, doing what he loves to do but he wants more substance to the way he’s living. The trip to Vasnytsia does exactly that as his world view gets a complete makeover.
Not only does Jaxon end up traveling without the entourage he’s used to, as Reid’s mission goes sideways the two end up on the run. Reid’s mission is to try to destabilize the country and force elections and that makes him an enemy of the state. Despite his fear, Jaxon won’t leave Reid to fend for himself. Jaxon knows his celebrity can protect both of them and he sticks by Reid even as Reid tries to force the star to safety.
Through all of the crazy events that could result in either of them dying, Jaxon and Reid manage to start a romance. Reid tries to keep it from beginning since they’re in a country where homosexuality is illegal but they give in to their passions. That’s just the beginning as they share stories about their pasts, which only endears them more to each other. The mix between the romance and suspense is perfect, giving our guys time to fall in love even while things around them go crazy.
I liked that Kim avoided the usual Dreamspun scenario of having alternating points of view. Everything in the story is Jaxon, which works perfectly so we don’t know Reid’s mission or anything else too early. It makes for a very snappy read going on the roller coaster that Jaxon experiences.
Kim brings Vasnytsia to life through its people. It starts with the guides taking Jaxon around the country, giving him peek behind the propoganda. As he meets fans who must covertly speak to him as it wouldn’t be proper for anyone to talk with the American he begins to understand why Reid’s mission is so imporant. Ultimately it’s these people who shelter Reid and Jaxon and help complete his mission–with a particularly awesome assist from Jaxon.
Drew Bacca does a great job on the audiobook, including having to sing a couple of Jaxon’s songs. This is the first book in the “Stars From Peril” series that Kim has in the Dreamspun line. The second book, Redesigning Landry Bishop, comes out in May and I’m already looking forward to it.
Clean Break by Erin McLellan
I almost didn’t pick this book up because I couldn’t imagine reading a book that included the characters taking care of Madagascar hissing cockroaches. I’m not a fan of bugs and the trigger warning page discusses more about the bugs than anything else. However, I’m glad I listened to the re-assurances I wouldn’t be creeped out because this is a terrific book–and the bugs really are a non-thing.
This book, the second in Erin’s “Farm College” series, throws together Connor Blume and Travis Bedford–two guys who very much don’t like each other in the aftermath of an awkward, failed hookup. As their final college term begins, Connor and Travis are taking Entomology 101 and because the professor likes students to sit alphabetically, they’re next to each other and end up becoming class partners.
Their dislike for each other radiates from them during that first class. Connor’s OCD and anxiety flare up just being near the guy, who he’s still wildly attracted to and wants to have a real discussion with. Travis has the attraction too but carries the anger from their previous hookup. It only gets worse as they get the assignment that they’ll be caring for Madagascar hissing cockroaches for the semester or that they’ll have to answer discussion questions together.
It doesn’t take long for the sparks of dislike to turn into sparks of desire and they end up spending time after class in a storage closet making out. Neither of them is particularly happy that they’re giving in to their desires, which makes the scenes cuter and hotter. Travis wants the fussy farmer and Connor very much wants the stand-offish English major.
Even as their make out sessions start to cool their hatered, they realize they’re constrained by time. At graduation, Connor is set to take over management of his parent’s farm, even though he doesn’t necessarily want that. Meanwhile, Travis can’t wait to get out of the small town for his legal aid internship and then on to law school. The guys have their futures mapped out and there’s no space for the other. That doesn’t stop them from getting emotionally entangled.
Erin does a terrific job of bringing these two together. As they move their hookups to the bedroom, Travis discovers he likes Connor’s controlling side and gives himself over to it. Connor though never takes advantage, making sure that he’s always got Travis’s consent and that Travis enjoys himself. That continues as Travis reveals he’d like to be spanked. Both guys discover this is exactly what they need.
Beyond the sex though, their efforts to not get too attached aren’t helped by their post-sex talks. Travis usually wants Connor to tell him a story and it’s here that he opens up bit by bit about his anxiety, his OCD and his pre-determined future. There’s so much going on for him, as a reader I wanted to wrap him in a hug and do whatever I could to ease the load he carried. Travis talks a lot too and over time we learn what makes him so driven–it turns out he lost one of his dreams due to an accident and he doesn’t want to let anything or anyone cost him this one.
Just a she was great at bringing them together, Erin tears the guys apart just as expertly. It’s a tough go as Connor and Travis force themselves apart as graduation nears. Erin does a number on the characters as they emotionally hurt themselves and each other as they keep to their plans. Both guys want to talk to the other so badly and yet they’ve promised not too. For Connor, this is particularly bad for his OCD.
Of course, this is a romance, so all must end happy. Thankfully how Erin gets the guys back together his as satisfying as everything she did earlier in the book. There is a way for them to be together–it just takes time for them to get there.