Jeff discusses the awesome Pride Month video from the NHL. He also talks about all the things that happened during release week for Netminder.
Members of the Queer Sacramento Authors Collective had a reading this past week at the Lavender Library and will be reading again this coming week at Time Tested Books. The live streams are available on the podcast’s Facebook page.
We talk about the Coastal Magic Convention 2020 lineup of m/m romance featured authors.
We review the Elton John biopic Rocketman. Jeff reviews Max Walker’s A Lover’s Game. Will recommends books for Pride month: Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders, Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution by Rob Sanders, The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets by Gayle E. Pitman, Stonewall: The Definitive Story of the LGBTQ Rights Uprising That Changed America by Martin Duberman and The Stonewall Reader curated by The New York Public Library.
Jeff interviews C.B. Lee about the latest book in her Sidekick Squad series, Not Your Backup. We also discuss the origin of the Sidekick Squad, what C.B. hears from readers and what’s coming up next.
Here are the things we talk about in this episode:
- NHL/NHLPA Hockey is for Everyone Pride video on YourTube
- Netminder (Codename: Winger #4) by Jeff Adams on Amazon
- An Interview with Jeff Adams, Author of the Gay YA Spy Series “Codename: Winger” on I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?
- Netminder review on Rainbow Book Reviews
- Blog Tour incl Guestpost, Excerpt & Giveaway: Jeff Adams – Netminder (Codename: Winger #4) on Love Bytes Reviews
- Harmony Ink Press blog website
- Lavender Library readings from May 31, 2019: Segment 1 with Kim Fielding, Mike Lopez, Pat Henshaw and Jeff Adams and Segement 2 with E.S. Wynn, Amy Lane, Liz Faraim and Stephanie Lake on Facebook
- Redesigning Landry Bishop by Kim Fielding on Amazon
- String Boys by Amy Lane on Amazon
- Coastal Magic Convention website
- Tracker Hacker (Codename: Winger #1) by Jeff Adams on Amazon
- A Lover’s Game (Stronewall Investigations #4) by Max Walker, narrated by Greg Boudreaux on Amazon
- Bad Idea (Stonewall Investigations Miami #1) by Max Walker on Amazon
- Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders on Amazon
- Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution by Rob Sanders on Amazon
- The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets by Gayle E. Pitman on Amazon
- Stonewall: The Definitive Story of the LGBTQ Rights Uprising That Changed America by Martin Duberman on Amazon
- The Stonewall Reader curated by The New York Public Library on Amazon
- C.B. Lee Interview
- C.B. Lee: website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Newsletter
- Not Your Backup by C.B. Lee on Amazon
- Sidekick Squad series by C.B. Lee on Amazon
- Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling on Amazon
- Ursula Le Guin on Amazon
- Diane Duane on Amazon
- Eoin Colfer on Amazon
- Jane Yolen on Amazon
- Ben 10: The Truth is Out There by C.B. Lee, artist Lidan Chen on Amazon
- Ben 10 Original Graphic Novel: For Science! by C.B. Lee, artist Mattia Di Meo on Amazon (pre-order through July 30)
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
Interview Transcript – C.B. Lee
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 C.B. to the podcast. It’s great to have you here.
C.B.: Hello, thanks for having me. I’m so excited to be here.
Jeff: Yeah, it’s very exciting. We got to see you last year at the LA Times Festival of Books for a little, teeny, tiny interview. But we’re thrilled to have you back as we start to talk about “Not Your Backup” which will come out on June 4th, just the day after this airs actually.
C.B.: Oh my gosh, that will be really exciting. I actually got to touch the advanced copies for the first time last week at YALLWEST, which due to this fun time jumps of podcasting…
Jeff: Well, actually a bit about a month ago.
C.B.: Right, right. But, yeah, it was really interesting just to, like, hold it for the first time and see it in print. Granted, the advance copies have typos since, you know, I went through and did all the pass through the typos. But it’s fun, it’s fun. It’s great that, you know, it exists, it’s in physical form, hasn’t quite felt real till now, but now it’s a real book or will be very soon, or tomorrow for your listeners and readers.
Jeff: There is something about holding that physical copy, even if you see it, you know, even if it’s on your tablet as an ebook. It’s like there’s nothing like that paperback when it gets there.
Jeff: Now, “Not Your Backup” is book 3 in the “Sidekick Squad Series.” And, for those who haven’t experienced this series or heard of it, tell us what this series is all about.
C.B.: Sure, it is about a group of queer teens that take on a corrupt government superhero agency. And they live in this sort of post-dystopian world where superheroes are kind of treated like celebrities. And there’s, you know, shadowy government organizations and mysterious heroes, league of heroes, that kind of dictates who gets to be a hero and who gets to be a villain. And our protagonists all kind of uncover this huge conspiracy, and then they work together to build a resistance and take it down.
Jeff: It’s quite the world that you’ve built here. I mean, you hit so many things that are dystopian, U.S. future, superheroes, villains. What was your inspiration for all of this?
C.B.: So I’ve always been fascinated by kind of the, like, post-apocalyptic or dystopian worlds. But a lot of the media that I’ve read mostly focuses on kind of the…when you’re in the middle of the disaster, when you’re in the middle of the catastrophe, when everything is going wrong, how are people struggling to survive. So I really wanted to see a world that was…you know, so this is more of like a solarpunk take where the world has started to move forward, where it’s 100 years after all of these disasters have happened – kind of the impetus for the superpowers. And my book is a really extremely intense solar flare that catalyzes latent gene in people.
And then after the flare, which knocks out a bunch of nuclear power plants, also, it starts kind of a chain reaction of a bunch of environmental disasters. So 100 years later the governments of the world have kind of shifted and changed, there’s been wars, there’s been fights over resources, so the United States is now part of the North American collective, which is the entire continent of North America, which is now the habitable places. There’s, you know, 24 regions, which is, you know, kind of what’s left of the states. So there’s different areas all across North America, which are now the regions in which people live and, you know, continue to move forward with, like, their amazing technology, and hover tech, and all this amazing, clean technology. But, at the same time, you have all of these like high-tech cities, but outside of those regions, everything else is like the unmaintained lands. So, you know, the government is claiming there’s radiation danger and don’t venture out, but, of course, our heroes are like, you know, what the government tells us isn’t necessarily true. So a lot of…actually, the fun of writing “Not Your Backup” is one of my working titles was “Not Your Road Trip,” because there’s a lot of road tripping in this book.
Jeff: Yeah, I noticed. There’s a bit of a road trip in the sneak peek that I got to read too, that they’re out on this road trip, essentially on a mission.
C.B.: Right, right. Yeah, there’s the heist in the beginning of the very first chapter. But, yeah, there’s a lot of fun. We get to see a little bit more of the country outside of the cities in this book, so that’s exciting.
Jeff: Now, each of the books deals with one of the main heroes, if you will, or the sidekicks, if you will, given the titles of the book, but they’re really the heroes. In “Not Your Backup”, we focus on Emma, who is really the only one of them without the powers. What’s happening to our heroes this time out?
C.B.: So at the end of “Not Your Villain,” we have destroyed the registry, which…the big name of everyone who’s ever registered with powers that Captain Orion was planning to use to kidnap people and use for experiments. At that point, our heroes have been looking for the resistance the whole time. And they find a mysterious group that’s been leaving messages on encrypted channels. But then, at the end of the book, they realize that this is actually like a group of nerds that have been joining together to watch movies like “Star Wars,” and “Harry Potter,” and stuff.
So they realize that they need to start the resistance. So that’s where we are at the beginning of “Not Your Backup,” where Emma and Bells are back in Nevada, and they are kind of in the midst of this fledgling resistance group – meanwhile, Jess and Abby are at the villain’s guild hideout in the Rockies and they’re trying to corral all the other meta-humans into taking action. So, the beginning of the book, you know, where kind of everyone has different goals, but then they all come together. It’s more about like building the resistance and finding… For Emma, it’s her journey in finding who she is. And, really, she’s a very natural leader, she loves coming up with plans, and she’s definitely a Gryffindor. She’s the first to jump in and try to take action. Her default is, like, fight me. But she also is, as you mentioned, she doesn’t have powers, and so when she’s trying to take a more active role in the resistance, she kind of butts heads with a few of the other members as they have different ideas about who is and who isn’t part of the resistance.
Jeff: She just needs to remind them that Batman didn’t have powers either. He just had a really good utility belt and brains. So she could definitely fill that role. What’s been the driving force behind deciding the type of character that you have at the forefront of each book? Because the three books have very different, distinct character types and personalities, and just everything about them is just…they’re just very different from each other.
C.B.: So, from the beginning, I wanted to tell this story about, you know, this fun adventure story with queer protagonists. So each book would center on another one of them in the main four. So there’s…and then after “Not Your Backup”, there’s one more book which will be Abby’s story, and so she will round out the quartet. But each of their…you know, they have very different personalities, but it’s been interesting writing their stories because each of them are on their own journey in what makes them a hero and finding how do they define success, and how do other people see them, and how do they see themselves. So, for each story, because we’re moving forward in time, as we get to see who is really, you know… It’s been interesting, because all four books will fit together as a series, but in each book, everyone gets to have their own journey.
Jeff: Which I really like because we’ve been introduced to all of them all the way back, you know, back in the first book, but then they get to their own story, which could essentially be read as a stand-alone, if you wanted to, I guess, although reading all of them together is much better. What was the bigger challenge to come up with the trajectory of these four diverse characters or to build this alternate universe of the U.S., or were they kind of equal challenges?
C.B.: I feel like the challenge for me is I’m not like a great outliner or I haven’t ever really been a planner. So I’ve always been more of the pantser in the writing style. So when writing a series, when I wrote “Not Your Sidekick,” I didn’t know, up until I think I was about 50,000 words in when I realized that I could not basically solve the problem in that one book, you know, because when I pitched it, it was one book. And then I was like, “Well, I really love all of these characters.” There’s a huge…there’s a bigger story here that I’ve introduced, and I will need more than one book to solve it.
And so, from the get-go, I knew the next story after Jess would be Bells because you get into, like, the backstory of the meta-human training and the heroes, league of heroes. And so, I think, overall, just planning a series is really challenging. Some people are great at it, where, you know, they have very detailed outlines, they know, from the very beginning to the very end, what the key points are going to be. And so, as I was writing book 1, I kind of had a panic attack and I was like, “Oh, no, I have to figure out what’s going to happen in each of the books.” And then as I restructured things and then writing book 2 and then 3, it’s kind of come to a point where I’m working on book 4 and now, like, everything that I… One of the reasons why it took me a longer time between book… So “Not Your Villain” came in 2017 and “Not Your Backup” is coming out in 2019. So I didn’t have a book come out last year because I was still working on crafting the storyline because whatever I did or didn’t do in book 3 would determine what would happen in book 4.
So everything had to fall into place, and I had to like figure out a lot of stuff. So it was challenging, but I think, you know, it’s still challenging, but that’s part of the joy of writing is to figure out how to tell the story you want to tell.
Jeff: If you do a series again, do you think you’ll try to do outlines more in the upfront or now that you’ve had this experience, do you kind of know how to do it and keep your pantser ways going on?
C.B.: I don’t know if I’ll ever… Like, I feel like with each book, I’m like, “Oh, do I know how to write a novel now?” But like every book is its own challenge. I do have a better sense of like, okay, you know, how do I plot as a pantser? And then plotting for pantsers, and like learning how to like… For me, I just tend to think of an outline like a road map where I have these destinations I wanna hit, but I’m not committed to – I don’t have to see everything and if I go off track or take a different route, that’s okay as well. So as long as I kind of get the same…like, it’s all in the journey of how I get there, and then the destinations that I pick along the way, if I get to them or not, that’s cool. I kind of have these benchmarks that I want to reach. But I really like thinking of the framework in which I think about my books as a roadmap. So I’ll try to plan out, you know, all the cities I want to visit, but I’m open to discovering places along the way and kind of building up on that.
Jeff: How does the pantser sort of method work while you’re world building? Or do you try to, at least, before you start writing, “No. This is my world. This is what’s happened. This is what the U.S. looks like now, and how all that works?” Or does that come organically as you go as well?
C.B.: I actually thought like, really early on established the world and what it looked like. I drew a map of which countries were left and which, how, who, what alliances were made in probably much more detail than you’ll ever see in the books because basically I plotted out what happened in that World War III, and what areas were no longer habitable, and all of these things, and all the different lines of, like… I probably spent way too much time figuring out the socio-economic holes, ramifications of which country is now aligned with what country and which countries refuse to join a union or…and they’re all new countries.
So there is this whole political backstory of, like, which country fought….you know, which alliance was at war, which alliance and what’s still happening overseas. Some of which you’ll see, but it is the world itself. I’ve always enjoyed world building, and I think it’s really fun to come up with the…I think once I wrote book one where I established, like, how do the powers work. Every power level is different. For example, like the A class, B class, or C class, depending on how…basically, I wanted all the meta-humans in my world to…their powers basically are dependent on…like, they have a limited number of time per day that they can use their powers. So once they’ve used it, then they can’t use it for the next 24-hour period. So it’s a different sort of look at superpowers and abilities because you have to be more mindful about how you use your powers. And so that was an element that I established early on, but overall, I think for me, world building, there are some details I discovered along the way, but I pretty much plotted the world building which is a funny like…and it’s interesting to think about, even though I do consider myself a pantser, how much of this series I did very much envision out from an early stage.
So like some of the confrontations and the fight scenes, and the stuff that… I’ve been planning one particular scene in book 3 since book 1, and I didn’t get to do it until… And, so that was like a fun way to be like, “Oh, yes, I’m finally going to like write the scene that I’ve been waiting for.” But I’d had a lot of these moments in my head, and just planning it out and getting the opportunity to like, “Okay, yes. Now, I’m getting to that chapter. I’m getting to the point in the whole series where we’re getting…you know, it’s coming full circle.” So that’s very satisfying.
Jeff: It sounds like you’d have a lot of bonus material too if you ever wanted to release it, if all the stuff that you’ve got of the world itself, and the disaster, and how it’s split up.
C.B.: Yeah, I mean, potentially, I have a whole timeline that I could release. And then I did these fun… For “Not Your Villain,” I did all the deleted scenes, well, deleted as far as they were cut for length. But I still consider it part of the story, the cannon. So those are an extra that are available on my website. I’ll probably do something similar for Backup, but I’m not at that stage yet.
Jeff: Right. It’s good to know about the Villain extras. I’ll be going to check those out.
C.B.: Yeah, yeah, they’re fun. They’re all in one PDF. And my book designer, CB Messer, was amazing. And she formatted them the same way as the book because we have a lot of extra art as well because she does these amazing, like, chapter headers for each chapter. She’s so talented and amazing designing the covers and the interior of the book, really, you know, capture that feel. And so, “Not Your Villain” actually, in the edits, went from…yeah, it was cut a lot. So, you know, it’s really sad as a writer to kind of see these scenes go, but, you know, as far as, yes, and my editors are great about, like, “This scene is great. But, you know, it kind of slows down the pacing,” or like, “This scene takes us in a different tone or direction, and, like, while they’re great, they don’t fit in the story at that moment and kind of take us away from the main action.” So I understand why they had to go. And, yes, the story is stronger overall, but I like them as an extra.
Jeff: Yeah, we’ve all gotten used to those on DVDs over time, so there’s really no reason books can’t have them too.
C.B.: Yeah, yeah, it’s a fun extra to have the deleted scenes.
Jeff: So you mentioned one more book in the series, the fourth one, is that gonna be it for these heroes?
C.B.: Yeah, I can’t say for sure that the door is completely closed. But for this arc, this storyline, that will be the series. It will be completed with Abby’s book.
Jeff: We could treat it like the Marvel Universe. Now, if phase 1 is over, and there could be a phase 2 eventually, once you figure out what that is. What got you started in writing?
C.B.: I love telling stories. And think I was very young when I tried, like, writing a story for myself. I had an old notebook that I would scribble this adventure story in when I was in sixth grade. And then I’d kind of start and then every recess, I’d pick it up or I’d work on it when I was supposed to be doing homework or stuff in class. And so I’ve always wanted to tell stories. I didn’t really think of it seriously as a career. And then, after college, I went to school for science. And so I was going to get a PhD and do all this stuff, and I, you know, ended up going a different route.
And really writing has been a journey where it kind of comes…it ties back to, and I guess like the “Sidekick Squad Series” and the titles were all, you know, the titles are all about, like, hey, I’m not who you think I am, I’m not the person that you’re claiming that I should be or expect me to be. It comes back to where, as a queer woman of color, I didn’t really see a lot of myself in books growing up. And so what I really hoped to write was, like especially when I was writing Sidekick for the first time, I wanted to write a book for my 16-year-old self. So this is the book that I wanted to read. And I wanted it to exist. And so writing…and then I also just like telling stories. So I wanted the story to be fun, I wanted them to be happy and have, you know, there’s drama in them. But overall, I wanted to see kids like myself, and kids who looked like me, and other kids, that reflect the world that we live in because trans kids exist, asexual kids exist, mentally ill kids exist. And there aren’t enough stories where they get to be part of something that’s a superhero adventure, or something fun and fantastic like this.
And so I wish that I hope…and I think there are definitely now, in the past, you know, 5, 10 years, there’ve been a lot more stories, and I think that’s great. So I’m just really excited that now people are writing more and more and reading more and more, and there’s a lot of great books to come.
Jeff: And one of the things to not…I don’t want to knock the coming out story because those are very important and very needed. But in these books, that’s not really part of it. I mean, this is a much bigger adventure these teenagers are on that just doesn’t revolve around their sexuality so much, that just, there’s so much more going on, which I think is awesome and gives everybody something different to read.
C.B.: Yeah, I love that…like, I want us to have the breadth of different types of genres and stories that there are for, like, able-bodied heterosexual people. Like, I want there to be so many stories to choose from. And so, you know…and I really love…I think there’s a lot of power in having joyful stories as well and stories where, yes, sexuality is a part of it, but, you know, who I am is not just my sexuality. Like, every person is multitudes where who you are is made up of so many things like your passions, your dreams, your hopes, your hobbies, your friends. Who you are as a person isn’t just one thing, and we’re all…I love being able to explore that and getting to see… I want people to see that people in the LGBTQ community are like fully nuanced people that get to be complicated and have flaws and go on adventures, or fall in love, or discover more about themselves in the way that all straight people can.
Jeff: Well said. I like that for sure. Who were some of your author influences as you got started on your writing journey?
C.B.: So I really love the “Harry Potter” series growing up. That’s a huge influence for me. That was one of the first ways I started writing was “Harry Potter” fan fiction because I loved that world so much. And just a lot of…I read so much fantasy like Ursula Le Guin, Diane Duane, Eoin Colfer, like tons of fantasy, Jane Yolen. I started to read a lot more widely. I think when I was a kid, there was a point when I would like go to the YA section and just read like everything in the library. So I would pretty much read everything, but I tended to love fantasy and sci-fi the most.
Jeff: Nice, and now you get to write your own.
C.B.: Yes. I’m really lucky.
Jeff: Is there a genre you want to branch into as you close up the “Sidekick Series?”
C.B.: I’m excited to write more fantasy. So the “Sidekick Squad” is more sci-fi, speculative. So I’m working on some fantasy stuff. I’m excited to share it. I have some contemporary stuff. I have a short story coming out next year in the next “All Out” anthology. So that’ll be fun. It’s like a very fluffy high school romance that’s just set in like… The only magic is the friendship and the romance so…
Jeff: Aww, sometimes that’s all you need though.
C.B.: Yeah, yeah, it’s fun because when I was writing it, I hadn’t written just contemporary in a long time. So that was really fun to try and explore that. Plus, I got to put a lot of puns in there, so it’s all good.
Jeff: You seem to travel a lot. I feel like every time I see you on social media, it’s like, “I’m going to this event” or, “Here I am at this event, come see me over here.” What drives you to be out on the road so much?
C.B.: So I like the opportunity to see, meet readers. I live in Los Angeles, and I’m really lucky to have the opportunity to go to a lot of events that are fairly local. I also think it’s really important to travel when I have the opportunity to, and I’m lucky that I’ve been able to, and sometimes I will just commit to doing it out of my own pocket because I want to meet readers in those areas. So I love…yeah, I already said it, I love meeting readers. But, especially in places where you don’t get a lot of, you know, LGBTQ resources, or teens don’t necessarily get to see a lot of authors or books with this content come their way and getting to meet teens in, you know, small towns or getting to meet people even though I do a lot of web chats. And so that’s fun chatting with libraries or classrooms through the power of the internet, which is amazing.
But, part of being on panels and having these conversations is important to me just because, you know, I get to share with people that might not have heard of my books before or are just learning about it for the first time. And so that’s always a very special moment to me when someone’s like, “Oh my gosh,” like, “This is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I didn’t know it exists, but now I do.” And so that’s very meaningful. And sometimes I get to meet people who have already read the books, and that’s very important to me. And that’s a part of the most rewarding things to me as a writer is knowing that your work has made an impact on someone, whether it’s just making them smile, or, you know, to the depth of having someone like… I’ve cried over several really long emails just because sometimes people are really sweet and talk about like, “Oh, this is my coming out experience”. I want people to see that they’re valid. And so knowing that someone else has read my work and recognize themselves, that’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
I was in Seattle recently, earlier this year, and one of the events I did was with the Seattle Public Library where we went to the LGBTQ Youth Center. And that was really powerful just to, like, hang out with kids and chat with them and what are they looking forward to as far as like, “Hey, what’s powerful to me, what’s fun to me?” A lot of this is stuff that I totally resonate with when they connect with a character on TV or are upset that, you know, that character got killed off in one season or whatever, because of TV. But, you know, it’s always great to chat with people. Everyone’s always going through something.
Jeff: Yeah, for sure. So we’ve hinted a little bit about some stuff that’s coming up for you. You’re working on Sidekick 4, you’ve got a short story coming out next year, anything else we should know about?
C.B.: I’m also writing the new “BEN 10” original graphic novels with BOOM! Studios and Cartoon Network. So one is already out. It’s called “The Truth Is Out There.” It’s where “Ben 10” is part of the Cartoon Network show where Ben can turn into 10 different aliens. So it’s fun. It’s a fun, middle-grade romp. So I’m doing a number of those graphic novels with BOOM! So those will be available throughout…I can’t recall the dates off the top of my head, but another one is coming out in July, and then one more in October of this year and then the next year, there will be some more coming as well.
Jeff: What’s it like writing for graphic novel because, I mean, that’s a different sort of animal, a novel that, you know, is 60,000 or 70,000 words long?
C.B.: It was definitely a new experience. It was a lot of fun trying a different medium. Like, definitely writing a script goes differently as far as…and I catch myself like “Oh, I’m being too descriptive. This is literally…the only person who will see this is the artist.” And it’s also a great collaborative process. So it’s really fun to work with the artists and editors and bring together this story that exists in its own medium. It’s not just me, the writer, but what the artist is bringing, and collaborating with them, and getting to like…you know, I’ll write the dialogue and the action. And then they’ll imagine it in a certain way of like, “Oh, I didn’t think of that,” and that’s really fun. I really like the graphic novel format. I’m hoping to do more. I’m really excited to be working on these projects. And, yeah, hopefully, I’ll be able to share more upcoming projects.
Jeff: Pretty cool. And speaking of, what is the best way for people to keep up with you online?
C.B.: You can always find me on Twitter and Instagram at, C-B-L-E-E_C-B-L-E-E, because it’s double the trouble. My website is cb-lee.com, and then you can find more links to other ways you can connect with me. Usually Twitter and Instagram, where you can find me the most – that’s where you can connect with me. So in my website, it has like fun stuff. I try to update it with writing resources and my upcoming events. And I also have a newsletter, which will have some special tidbits probably like the deleted scenes, which is the very first place I offered the “Not Your Villain” extra scenes.
Jeff: Pretty cool. Well, C.B., thank you so much for hanging out with us. We wish you all the success with “Not Your Backup” when it comes out on June 4th.
C.B.: Thank you so much for having me. And I really appreciate it. I’m so excited. And I hope everyone enjoys the book.
Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:
A Lover’s Game by Max Walker, narrated by Greg Boudreaux. Reviewed by Jeff
I was so happy that this fourth book in Max’s Stonewall Investigations series released in audio just a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the final installment of the series and I was not disappointed.
The series has been working up to the final showdown between private investigator Zane Holden and the Unicorn Killer. The Unicorn has loomed large over the series–a serial killer that terrorizes the gay community in NYC. The killer’s gone after partnered gay men and Zane’s husband was aomng the victims. In the first book we find out the Unicorn’s returned and now in the fourth one Zane’s obsessed with bringing the reign of terror to an end.
At the same time Zane is preparing for his wedding to Enzo, the defense attorney who captured his heart in that first book. Unfortunately, Zane is so occupied with the case, he’s missing things, like cake testing and venue selection, and he hasn’t told Enzo that he’s even back on it. Zane thinks he’s protecting Enzo by keeping his activities a secret, but Enzo feels it puts him more in danger not knowing.
And boy does everything hurtle towards a massive, satisfying conclusion.
Max had me super stressed in this installment. He always does a great job of creating suspense. Here though I suspected everything. Is the Uber driver a killer? Is that bottle of wine spiked with something? What does it mean that someone looked at them on the street? Is the person providing information or mis-information? I suspected everything and also never figured out who the Unicorn was ahead of the reveal. I love that!
While Zane and Enzo have been featured in the middle two books of the series, it was great to see them returning to the spotlight. Their dynamic as the move towards their wedding date was wonderful to watch. The quiet, sexy moments they share along with their wedding planning and time they spend with Enzo’s family shows their strong relationship and amazing friends. And, man, are there some super sexy times in this book. There’s always steamy scenes in this series, but these were the best yet.
Max contrasts these happy times with how they handle the increasing threats–they want to be strong for each other and also do what’s necessary to keep the other safe. They find it’s hard to maintain the balance and that only increases the tension. I both hated and loved what Max put them through because it was so realistic.
Is it weird to say that I liked that terrible choices were made? Despite being great at their jobs, Zane and Enzo sometimes do things that are terrible choices and what makes those so good in the story is that I could see myself doing the same thing. These two are flawed and make bad decisions like anyone can. It makes them human. It makes you scream at them to not do something. It makes you cheer when it all works out too.
Kudos to Greg Boudreaux. He’s done a great job with this series overall but I have to shoutout his work voicing the Unicorn. It’s a creep, calm yet evil voice that made me shudder.
The spin off for Stonewall Investigations Miami is set up here too. That first book, Bad Idea, just released last week and I can’t wait to pick it up as soon as there’s an audio version.