Jeff & Will review the gay romantic comedy Analysis Paralysis from Jason T. Gaffney. In books, Will reviews Family Camp by Eli Easton and Jeff reviews Balefire by Jordan L. Hawk.

Jay from Joyfully Jay talks with Jeff about the blog’s Reading Challenge Month, which gives blog visitors the chance to discover some new books and win some big prizes. Jay also recommends books she’s been reading: Soul on Fire by Tal Bauer, Dealing in Death by L.J. Hayward and The Witchstone Amulet by Mason Thomas.

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Show Notes

Here are the things we talk about in this episode:

Jump to Book Reviews

Interview Transcript – Jay from Joyfully Jay

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 back, Jay, to the podcast.

Jay: Thank you. How are you doing, Jeff.

Jeff: I’m good. Ready for fall.

Jay: Me too. I feel like it’s pumpkin spice season already even though it’s still like 90 degrees here in the Washington area.

Jeff: Of course, you’re ready for fall at Joyfully Jay because it’s Reading Challenge time.

Jay: Yes, this year is actually our Fifth Annual Reading Challenge Month which kicks off on September 1. So I’m really excited about it.

Jeff: Tell us what’s in store for us this year.

Jay: Sure. So reading challenge month is four week-long challenges that take place over the month of September. Each week there’s a different reading challenge.

So we have New to Me Author Week. Diverse books week, so that really falls under anything religious diversity, cultural diversity, gender identity, racial diversity. Anything that you can think of that might sort of push outside the box. We have Judge a Book By It’s Cover week, which is pick a book because you love the cover. I’m so easily sold on a book because of a good cover so this is always a fun one. The fourth one is older/younger hero week so that is hero under 21 or hero over 40, which I’m cringing a little because I’m over 40 and it doesn’t feel old. For the purposes of finding a book, finding a 50 or 60 year old romance hero is not easy so we went with 40.

So we’ve got four reading challenges and the way it works is that each week my team at Joyfully Jay will be reading books that fit that challenge. Readers can get involved by earning contest entries by commenting on any of those challenges. If you leave a comment you get a contest entry.

The second part of that is we encourage readers to read along with their own books. Sometimes people will read what we’re reading and sometimes they’ll pick their own books that fit the challenge and if you read along with your own book and you write a mini review, a few sentences or paragraphs, on our wrap-up post on Friday that you get 10 entries.

If you do everything you can get probably somewhere in the 16 to 18 entries a week range. We have some amazing sponsors this year and amazing prizes. Carina Press is sponsoring New to Me Author Week and they have a great bundle of books.

Nine Star Press is sponsoring Diverse Books Week and they’re giving out six $20 book store gift cards. JMS Books are sponsoring Older/Younger Hero Week and they’re giving away five $20 gift cards and Riptide is sponsoring Cover Week and they’re giving away some audiobooks.

Each week has a great prize and if you get any contest entries over the entire month, you’re entered four our grand prize. We have about 75 books donated for our grand prize. Because that seemed excessive even for a grand prize, we have a divided up into three grand prizes that are going to be about 25 books each.

It’s going to be a lot of fun. We’ve got great prizes. If folks want more details, I’ll give you the links that you can put in your shownotes. We have a page up that explains the overview of the event. I have a prize preview post where you can see what’s being given away, the different prizes, all the books, all the authors who generously donated their books.

I also have a post on what we’re reading. If you’re somebody who wants to follow along you can see what we’re reading. I also have some tips for finding books that fit the challenges. I have links, for example a tag that’s Older / Younger Heroes so you can click on that. You can see all the reviews we’ve done so that might give you some ideas if you’re thinking about joining but you don’t quite know what you want to read.

Jeff: That’s amazing. And all those prizes.

Jay: I was really blown away. Every year I’m blown away by how generous authors and publishers have been. It’s a really fun week because with all the comments it generates just a lot more interaction on each of the posts. My favorite part is reading the reader’s reviews, the mini reviews. that readers write. I love to hear about what they think about the books whether it’s something they’ve chosen or if they’ve picked something that we’re reading.

And, like I said, if you enter any of the weeks, you will be entered for the grand prize. Lots of chances to come home with goodies just from commenting and stopping by even if you don’t want to read your own book.

Jeff: I like the categories that you have because it can really stretch people’s reading.

Jay: You know my goal is always to have challenges that push you a little bit out of your comfort zone but not be impossible to find anything to read. This year we had about eight or nine suggestions that came from my reviewers or from topics we’ve done in the past. I had my Facebook Reader group, The Joyful Jays… we put a poll there and they’re actually the ones who made the vote on which of the four suggestions went through. That was fun because they got to give some input about what they wanted to see.

Every year I have found books that I’m not sure I would have picked up. One of the ones that makes me laugh is “Rule Breaker” by Lily Morton, which is one of my favorite books and one of my favorite authors. We did a Self-Published Book Week one year and I just randomly picked it off of a request because it was self-published. I knew nothing about her or the book and it turns out to be one of my favorites. I’ve had that actually happen quite a few times. It’s fun to push yourself to try something that you may not have picked up. I do think the categories are still broad enough that there’s lots of room to play and you can pick a genre or theme that you like or you can try something that you’ve never read.

And, so I think they’re going to be fun challenges.

Jeff: I’m looking forward to the covers that surface in cover week. I feel like this year has really been an extraordinary year for covers. We always see really good covers but there’s been so many really good-looking ones out there this year. Especially, for me, as we move more towards Illustrated covers this year, more than we have in years past.

Jay: Yeah, I’m seeing that trend for sure with the way the covers are going. It’s interesting because I do a favorite covers post every month and, unlike our favorite books which comes from the ratings of the reviewers, the favorite covers post is me. I choose which ones I like. I’m always interested to see what my reviewers come up with and what readers come up with because everyone’s taste is different when it comes to art. It’s interesting to see what other people like and what they choose is their favorite cover and what draws them into pick up a book.

Jeff: I think that’s going to be my favorite week by default.

So, what have you been reading lately that has caught your eye that our listeners should be checking out?

Jay: One that I was excited about and talked about quite a bit on Facebook is “Soul on Fire” by Tal Bauer. It is a suspense story. What’s most interesting about this to me is that the origin of the book apparently were that the author posted in his Facebook group for a theme and the readers chose military. He wrote the entire book from research to publication in a month.

So that was I guess the goal of the challenge for himself. I wasn’t really sure what to expect because a month is not a lot of time and Bauer’s work tends to be very, very research heavy. I was just blown away. The story takes place in in the Congo in Africa.

And the premise is that there is a rebel terror cell that has some sort of weapon. They don’t know exactly what it is. The main character, Elliot, is a Navy SEAL who is sent in to try to get involved and intervene. He meets up with this doctor, Ikolo, who is a doctor in one of the refugee camps. Ikolo gets involved because there is a strain of Ebola that’s going around at the same time.

The two of them are on the hunt for this rebel through the Congo forest. It’s incredibly exciting, suspense and detail and unbelievable sense of setting of this place that most western readers are really not familiar with.

Overlaid on that, a lot of really interesting sort of racial and diversity issues. Both of them are black men, one African, one American, and how they’re dealing with the prejudice that is, sort of, inherent often in the Western view of Africa and its citizens. Really interesting story on a lot of levels and absolutely I was just blown away by it.

I also was really excited the third, I guess it’s officially the 2.5, of L.J. Hayward’s “Death and the Devil” series just came out. This one is called “Dealing in Death.” I’m absolutely a huge fan of this series. It follows an assassin, Ethan Blade, and a spy, law enforcement guy, his partner Jack. I think I’ve talked about this on the podcast before because the first two stories have a dual timeline where it’s present and past sort of integrating at the same time and they’re both told from Jack’s point of view.

So this story is actually told from Ethan’s point of view for the first time. It covers much of the same time period of the last book so I was really impressed because sometimes when that happens it sort of feels like a rehash. In this case I was blown away by how exciting and thrilling the story was even though I already knew what was going to happen because I knew the ending from reading the previous book. Getting that perspective from a different character really interesting so highly, highly recommend the series and the book was great and just came out last week.

Also last week I reviewed “The Witchstone Amulet” by Mason Thomas. If you read his “Lord Mouse” book, which was a really favorite of mine, and this is another fantasy. It has a contemporary crossover in that the main character, Hunter, lives in our contemporary world and he has this amulet from his mother who’s died. She said to protect it and a thief comes and takes.

When he’s chasing the thief down he ends up following him accidentally through this portal that takes him to a completely other realm, which is this fantasy world. So there’s sort of a fish out of water vibe as Hunter’s acclimating to this completely different world. He walks in and they’re in the middle of this civil war and political unrest and the thief is a part of the rebellion who is trying to fight against the queen who has turned evil.

Then the twist, which is laid out in the blurb so it’s not a surprise, but the twist is that the current queen looks exactly like Hunter’s mother. Over the course of the book you figure out what exactly is happening. It’s a suspense and action story overlaid with a fantasy. Really highly exciting and well done.

So those are three things that I’ve been reading that I’ve really been enjoying lately.

Jeff: That’s quite a spread in there between fantasy and the military.

Jay: I don’t read a lot of fantasy and I’m not sure why. Every time I do I realized I really like it but it just doesn’t tend to be what you know catches my eye. Having read “Lord Mouse” and really loving it, when I saw that Mason Thomas had a new book out I was quick to grab it and I really liked it.

Jeff: I’m kind of the same way. Every time I go into a fantasy or steampunk or something like that. It’s always like, why don’t I read more this? In this episode I’m reviewing “Balefire” from Jordan L. Hawk. It’s the first Whyborne and Griffin that I’ve read. So I kind of dove in there at the end and it’s so good.

Jay: That’s a that’s an amazing series.

I also really liked recently also fantasy “Anhaga” by Lisa Henry who doesn’t typically write fantasy. I think I read that back in June or July. She doesn’t typically write Fantasy. She tends to either do sort of contemporary humor or dark and I thought that was also really good.

I’m trying to push my envelope a little bit because I seem to not gravitate towards it, but once I read, I really like it.

Jeff: It’s what Reading Challenge month is about. Yes expand those horizons.

Jay: Exactly. All right.

Jeff: Jay, thank you so much for telling us about Reading Challenge and about these good books.

Book Reviews

Here’s the text of this week’s podcast and book reviews:

Family Camp by Eli Easton. Reviewed by Will.
Nice guy schoolteacher Geo is a brand-new foster dad to 5-year-old Lucy and surly pre-teen Jayden. A week at family camp should be the perfect bonding experience for all of them, but things get off to a rocky start when Geo’s car runs out of gas on the drive up to Big Bear. A breathtakingly handsome good-Samaritan helps them out, and they’re soon back on the road.

Pro baseball player Travis loves returning each summer to the camp that his family runs. It’s home to him. Helping an attractive, but clueless dad and his kids on his drive in wasn’t any trouble, but an off-hand comment gives Travis the impression that Geo has no interest in providing a forever home for his foster kids.

Travis was adopted. Maybe Geo isn’t so cute after all.

When Geo shows up at Camp Evermore, Travis tries his best to avoid him, which proves difficult since Travis’ job is to make sure that the campers, all of them, have the best possible time.

After sharing a series of outdoor activities (canoeing, hiking, sing-a-longs) Travis is drawn to Geo, Lucy and Jayden. They might be a new family, but Travis can see that they’ve got something special. After spending more time together, Travis and Geo iron out their misunderstanding – Geo is, in fact, doing everything in his power to adopt Lucy and Jayden.

The kids start to come out of their shells, making friends and bonding with Geo. Even some dramatic moments (because what’s family life without a series of unexpected disasters?) can’t deter this newly formed family.

Some of the camp moms point out that the flirtatious attraction between Geo and Travis hasn’t been particularly subtle. Their quiet moments shared after lights out and stolen kisses in the woods just aren’t enough. At the parents-only party on the last night of camp, Travis takes Geo back to his room at the main house and they spend an amazing night together. They want to make things work despite the obstacles facing them.

Travis receives word that a tabloid site has published a picture of him kissing Geo and he immediately leaves for L.A.

On the final morning of camp, Geo is disappointed and a little broken-hearted that Travis didn’t even say good-bye. He also must console his kids, because if there was anyone who loved Travis more than Geo, it would be Lucy and Jayden.

Travis is given the choice of denying the picture or telling the truth. He does what no other pro baseball player has ever done – he comes out of the closet.

Once the details of his career are ironed-out, Travis has Geo, Lucy and Jayden come to one of his games. After Geo wraps his head around being the boyfriend of a famous athlete, they all live happily ever after – as a family.

I’m so glad that I read ‘Family Camp’. It was the perfect end of summer read.

I loved Geo and Travis so very much. Two terrific characters who over the course of the story open their hearts, learn to trust and create a family that was perfect for them.

I really loved all the secondary characters as well, they provided a great support system for our heroes on their journey towards love.

Speaking of journeys, though the bulk of the story takes place over the course of just seven days, I didn’t feel like the romance felt rushed or unrealistically insta-love-ish. I think the author made the most of the interactions the characters had, building the foundation of their feelings one camp activity at a time.

Balefire by Jordan L. Hawk. Reviewed by Jeff
Here’s an admission–until now I’ve never read anything in the Whyborne & Griffin series by Jordan L. Hawk. You may ask yourself why I started at book ten with Balefire. Simple: audiobook narrator Julian G. Simmons reached out and asked me to take a listen and provided me an Audible code. I’m so glad he offered because I loved falling into the world Jordan’s created and big credit to her because she made it easy to jump in on book ten without feeling like I’d missed too much. While I’m sure there were nuances along the way that I didn’t catch, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

In Balefire, Whyborne has to make good on a promise to help his Endicott relatives take back their family estate from an evil cult. In return, Whyborne’s going to get a codex he needs to help him figure out how to stop the masters (and here’s one of those nuances… I’m not totally sure what or who the masters are, but clearly they are a big bad). The journey to the estate is a pretty terrible one. In fact, it’s worse than they all expected as the evil is significant and knows Whyborne way too well. There’s also the not insignificant fact that the people on this journey do not all get along, which makes for some really good side conflicts.

I’d been hesitant to dive in to book 10 with so much in the past, but like I mentioned, Jordan does a terrific job crafting the story. It’s clear how much Whyborne and Griffin care for each other, the little gestures they share, the wordless exchanges that can happen between them and the power of their love that pulls them through some intense confrontations.

The journey to the island the Endicott home is on, and going through the house to figure out what happened was so vivid. Jordan writes such amazing details for her settings and characters that it felt like I was right there on the expedition. I loved the tension-filled sailing to the island and then moving through the estate. Julian’s narration added the perfect atmosphere with the voices of the people and creatures along the way. Everything amped up the tension.

I really dug the mystery as they pieced together what had happened to the house and the people that lived there. Many twists and turns went down and it was quite deliciously diabolical.

The action scenes, such as the final showdown that took place in different areas of the estate, worked so well. It was a delight to read as more and more piled on to make it seem nearly impossible for anyone to escape from the crazy that was happening.

In the best way possible, this triggered the geeky Dungeons and Dragons player that still lives inside me. That may sound cheap. But to me it means everything. I love in depth quests and this story had that vibe as Whybrone and Griffin embark across the sea and then go through hell once they get to their destination. Add into that the magic they both have and the incredible things Whyborne dealt with as he learned more about himself made this story for me. I’ll be reading more of this series because it made me so happy and excited.

It’s a long way to go back through nine books but I have no doubt that it’s going to be worth it. Getting this glimpse of the Whyborne and Griffin universe proves it’s a place I need to visit. I fell hard for the characters and the things they do. I also want to see how they formed the bond they have because it’s so very strong in this book that I need to know its backstory.

Thank you Julian Simmons for the code and for getting me into a great story. And, Jordan, wow. Thanks for having such a terrific imagination. I know there’s a book eleven coming in the series, but before that I’m going to do my best to go back and see where it all started.