Will reminds everyone that the first episode of the Big Gay Fiction Book Club, featuring Annabeth Albert’s Arctic Heat, will arrive on Tuesday, March 31. Jeff also updates everyone on the funds raised by the Romance for Literacy project.
Jeff talks about the new album Losing my Mind: A Sondheim Disco Fever Dream and then reviews Risk Taker, the latest in the Mixed Messages series by Lily Morton.
Jay from Joyfully Jay and Lisa from The Novel Approach recommend books from TJ Klune, E.M. Lindsey, Russ Thomas, Lucy Lennox, Jordan Castillo Price, Nora Phoenix and Sophie Gonzales.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.
- Arctic Heat by Annabeth Albert on Amazon
- Queer Romance for Literacy ProLiteracy Fundraiser website
- Losing my Mind: A Sondheim Disco Fever Dream on Spotify
- Losing my Mind: A Sondheim Disco Fever Dream on iTunes
- Risk Taker by Lily Morton on Amazon
- Book Recommendations with Jay and Lisa
- Joyfully Jay website
- The Novel Approach website
- The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune on Amazon
- The House in the Cerulean Sea review on Joyfully Jay
- The House in the Cerulean Sea review on The Novel Approach
- The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune on Amazon (pre-order through July 14)
- Temptation (Breaking the Rules Book 2) by E.M. Lindsey on Amazon
- Temptation review on Joyfully Jay
- To Touch the Light (An Iron and Works Holiday Novel) by E.M. Lindsey on Amazon
- Cloudy with a Chance of Love by E.M. Lindsey, Kate Hawthorne, EM Denning on Amazon
- Fire Watching by Russ Thomas on Amazon
- Fire Watching review on The Novel Approach
- Virgin Flyer by Lucy Lennox on Amazon
- Virgin Flyer review on Joyfully Jay
- Felix and the Prince by Lucy Lennox on Amazon
- King Me by Lucy Lennox on Amazon
- Michael Dean on Audible
- Bitter Pill by Jordan Castillo Price on Amazon
- Bitter Pill review on The Novel Approach
- Murder House by Jordan Castillo Price on Amazon
- Mnevermind Trilogy by Jordan Castillo Price on Amazon
- Channeling Morpheus series by Jordan Castillo Price on Amazon
- Episode 226 – “PsyCop” and “Spellcraft” with Jordan Castillo Price on BGFP
- Burn by Nora Phoenix on Amazon
- Burn review on Joyfully Jay
- Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales on Amazon
- Only Mostly Devastated review on The Novel Approach
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- Frolic Podcast Network website
Interview Transcript – Jay & Lisa Recommendations
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: So I am excited to welcome both, Jay from “Joyfully Jay” and Lisa from “The Novel Approach” for one big book chat.
Jay: Hi, guys.
Lisa: This is fun.
Jeff: So we’re gonna talk about several books. I know you both have three books to talk about, but I wanna kick us off with what I think is the book of the moment. And that’s T.J. Klune’s “House in the Cerulean Sea.” I reviewed it already on the show. You guys have both read it. What did you think of this what I’m just gonna say is an amazing book?
Jay: I really loved it. Just to, I guess, maybe catch people up who haven’t read it yet. It is the story of a group of magical children who live in an orphanage in a very remote house on an island, and Linus who sort of comes to do an inspection on behalf of the organization that oversees the magical children and comes with the intent of investigating and figuring out whether or not they’re being taken care of okay, but really not realizing that the organization he works for is not especially interested or caring about these children, and they’ve sort of been shunned because they have superpowers and magical abilities that are scary to a lot of people. I really loved it because I think that the messaging here is so nice, just the idea of not being afraid of what you don’t know of, in Linus’s case, of thinking beyond just his little part in the process to what happens to these kids when he leaves and how the things that he does affects them on a larger scale.
And I think that from T.J. Klune’s point, I read a lot of his books, I think he tends to waver sort of really hysterically funny or really intense and dramatic. And this book I thought was really interesting because I found it sort of in-between. There’s definitely humorous moments mostly from the kids and the crazy things they do. One of the boys is the Antichrist, Lucifer/Lucy, and, you know, he is crazy, hijinks. But also there’s a lot of emotion in there. So I thought this was a really nice balance and sort of a middle ground versus some of his other books that I’ve read.
Lisa: I agree. I think it was such a great message book too. There’s such a message of kindness, and it’s a message of hope. It’s a message of how we message to children. One of the themes or one of the elements with these kids is they’re kind of the other of the othered. They are the outcasts of the outcasts, and so I think that there was such a great message that he had throughout the book where if you’re told that there’s something wrong with you constantly, then you’re going to start believing that there’s something wrong with you. And I love the way that Linus came to see these children as special and unique. I wanna be very careful with my wording. I don’t wanna say normal but that they are just children even if they have their own special little ways of communicating and interacting with each other.
And I just thought it was such a sweet book. I mean, it was one of those books where you were laughing one minute and then I got a little choked up then, you know, just a little bit later. And so I think that it’s such a gorgeous book with a beautiful message, and it’s such a timely message of just, you know, let’s just be kind to each other, I think, is really one of the biggest takeaways from the book. But on top of it, T.J’s imagination is just off the hook on this one, where he went with some of the characters and some of the situations and like you said, with Lucy and how he was this sweet little menace. He was such a menace, but then he was sweet.
And then there was Chauncey, who I just absolutely fell head over heels in love with this child who had a dream. And his dream was such a simple one, but it was such a meaningful one to him. And actually, I just fell in love with him. So, yeah, that’s just…it’s going to be a pinnacle book for T.J, and I’m looking forward to “The Extraordinaries” as well. I think that he is really taking things kind of next level, and I love to see it. So, yeah, that’s such a great book.
Jeff: I suspect when we get together in like December, I think we’ll all have this on our best-of-list.
Lisa: It’s already on my list of the best of the year just from the standpoint of it being such a sweet, unique, just a beautiful, lovely, lovely book.
Jay: I’ll also just throw in plotwise, although I think the plot is mostly centered on Linus and his sort of sense of self-discovery and he has about himself and his sort of role in the world as well as these children. There is also a romance element between Linus and the sort of caretaker of this orphanage of this school for the kids. So I think that it’s sort of like on the back burner slowly developing over the course of the story. It’s definitely not the focal point, but there is a really sweet happily ever after for Linus and Arthur and for the kids and for everything else. So, it’s not romance-forward in terms of being the main focus of the plot, but definitely, there’s a romantic arc in the book as well.
Lisa: There is. I think that speaking of Arthur, I think that both he and Linus in their own unique ways bring across the message of how important adults are, you know, in the lives of these kids and shaping how they see themselves. It was just such a beautiful book, such a beautiful book.
Jeff: So, we’ll kick off the other books we’re gonna talk about, and Jay will kick it off with you. I know you two don’t have overlapping books, which is gonna be really awesome to hear what all of you have to recommend.
Jay: All right. Well, I’m sort of cheating a little bit here because I am recommending a book, but I’m actually gonna broaden it to talk about a series and an author that I really like. The book that I’m gonna talk about is “Temptation” by E.M. Lindsey, which has also recently been released. But I wanna back up and talk about her writing in general. I discovered in Lindsey’s work actually over the holidays when I was looking for a Hanukkah story, and they were fairly fit on the ground this year in gay romance lands. So, she actually recommended her book or suggested her book, “To Touch the Light,” which is a standalone novella in her “Irons and Work” series, which is sort of a found family series about a bunch of guys who work for a tattoo parlor, and all takes place in this small town. And “Temptation” is the second book in a spin-off series that she has called “Breaking the Rules Series.” And since December, I think I’ve read like five or six of her books because I just have really been caught up in her writing, and I think that what really stands out for me is her stories have this really fabulous character development. Even when the plot seems very straight forward or very sort of in genre in terms of being very much along the lines of other things I’ve read, she has such good character development with these layered rich characters that it really makes the stories so unique.
And I think the other thing that characterized a lot of her work is that many of the characters in the stories have various disabilities, so characters in wheelchairs, characters with hearing impairment, character vision. And so that’s something that is so seldom seen in gay romance, and so having that kind of diversity I think is really interesting. And what I love is that it’s always very well explored in the books, but it’s never the focus of the character. It’s not about somebody being in the wheelchair, but the everyday life that this character lives is very much incorporated. So that’s my big plug for E.M Lindsey’s.
But the most recent book “Temptation,” again, takes place in the same small town. This is sort of a spinoff series and the characters from both series sort of coming in out of each other’s books, although individually, they all can stand individually. And this story features Colton, who is a young man just sort of out of his teens who was sent to a conversion camp as a teen and managed to escape and made his way to this town in Colorado, where he was eventually in foster care at Ted House, which is an LGBT center that recurs throughout the series. And then he’s paired with Marcel, who has come to this town with his boyfriend and just found his boyfriend cheating on him and is now trying to sort of reinvent his life. And Marcel has a vision impairment, and so it deals with sort of that.
And both of them are really dealing with the same issues of wanting to sort of stand on their own and show what they can do with their lives but having people who sort of wanna coddle them and take care of them, and they wanna prove that they can sort of stand on their own. And they’re both going through transitions with their jobs and with their lives. And it’s just a really good story. The characters have such a great connection, and like I said, I find the character development in Lindsey’s writing to be so good. So, I’m really excited about this, and I’m actually still going back and picking up books from the first series because I missed them in the first time around, so definite recommendation for anything that she writes. Oh, and really exciting. There’s another three author book with Kate Hawthorne and EM Denning. The three of them are writing a book together, which is just coming out as well, so lots of cool stuff from her.
Jeff: Very cool. Anytime you wanna plug an author in its entirety like that, you know that’s going right onto my TBR.
Lisa: All right. My first book is a recent release debut novel, debut author. It’s called “Firewatching” by Russ Thomas. And this is the first book in a new series titled “The Detective Sergeant Adam Tyler Mystery Series.” That was a mouthful. So, Detective Sergeant Adam Tyler is the protagonist. He’s the antihero in this particular series, and I call him the antihero because he’s a loner. He’s kind of the hard-boiled sort of detective who…you know, he doesn’t need any friends. He just wants to get in and he wants to do his job. So he is investigating. He works cold case, and so he’s investigating a cold case murder. And the mystery…
When I first started reading the book, it was kind of he was introducing all of these little things, and I was kind of lost and I thought, “I have no idea where this is going.” But then as the story goes along, he weaves all of these things together so beautifully in little bits and pieces so that by the time you get to the end, everything was just like the big reveal and, yeah, who the killer was. There’s an arsonist, and so you wonder throughout is the arsonist and the murderer the same person. And he just really ties it all so beautifully together in the end that I had no idea who the perpetrator was gonna be until that person was revealed. It’s tense. It’s suspenseful. There really isn’t a relationship arc. There is maybe the hint of a potential one coming down the line.
One of the bigger conundrums in the story is that Adam unwittingly accidentally sleeps with one of the suspects, the son of the actual murder victim who was murdered six years ago, and so that causes complications. He considers recusing himself from the case because of a conflict of interest, but his superior officer talks him out of it. And so that causes all kinds of complications as things go along. So it’s just the investigative part of it, the murder mystery, the arson, the tension, danger, suspense, action, you know, whodunit. It was just all really, really beautifully put together. So, I am really excited to have discovered and be able to say, “Wow, he hit it out of the ballpark the first time out.” So I’m really excited to get book two in this next series. So “Firewatching,” Russ Thomas, just a really, really outstanding investigative procedural murder mystery.
Jeff: And, of course, right up my alley, so another book on the TBR right there.
Jay: Yeah. Lisa is good at finding these like debut books or authors that like I haven’t heard of. I’m excited.
Lisa: I follow people on Twitter, and it’s like, “Oh, God, brilliant. So here’s another book to add to the TBR file.” Yeah. So I just follow folks on Twitter who always seem to have these great recommendations, and, you know, I get suckered into it. And this one really, really…you know, when you go into the unknown and you just never know, especially with the debut, you just never know if it’s gonna pan out, if you and the author are going to gel, which some of that so much of reading is, “Do you really relate to this author’s writing style and how they are communicating the story?” And I just thought this one was great, so, yeah.
You know, there are a couple of elderly women. This is, you know, the parts where he introduces these elderly women and you think, “How in the world are they relevant to this story?” He just mixed details and little things out, you know, just a little bit at a time to keep you interested and keep you following along. It was really top-notch. I loved it.
Jay: Oh, good.
Jay: Yeah. I’m gonna check it out. So, my second one is “Virgin Flyer” by Lucy Lennox. And I’ve been a fan of Lucy’s writing. I’ve been reading her “Wilde Family” series. So this is a standalone actually. The story features, I wanna say it’s Teo. It’s T-E-O. So that’s how I’m gonna pronounce it, but I’m probably wrong, who has long been in love with his best friend Chris and has sort of been waiting for this relationship to happen. And Chris has sort of been stringing him along, giving him the impression that, yes, in fact, this might happen at some point. And now Teo has reached this point in his life where he realizes that he’s this grown man, no experience, and he worries that when things ultimately materialize with Chris, he’s gonna be sort of unprepared. So, he decides that he wants to sleep with somebody, but he doesn’t want just sort of like a grinder hookup. He wants something that gives the feel of a relationship.
So he puts out an ad for a silent hookup, meaning sort of a relationship experience, boyfriend experience, no talking, no exchanging names. And this pilot named Jack, who sort of has a guy in every port kind of thing, sees the ad, decides it would be interesting. They have this sort of combustive incredible chemistry, and then they don’t even exchange names and think they’re never gonna see each other again. And, of course, they’re both now sort of pining for this connection, and, of course, they end up re-encountering each other. And the rest of the story is sort of them navigating their relationship while Teo is coming to terms with are things meant to be with him and Chris or not. And so, I guess, there’s sort of a love triangle element to it, but great story.
I just really fell in love with the characters, and it’s one of these books which Lucy does very well, which is very sweet and also very sexy at the same time in sort of getting that dynamic and watching both of these men realize that they’re falling for each other, but Jack, of course, thinks it’s completely no chance because Teo is in love with Chris and Teo having to come to understand what the future that he always imagined for himself and the life that he always thought that he would have with Chris and deciding whether or not that still the life that he wants. So, I loved it and, of course, Lucy’s stuff just burns up the chart. So it’s been getting really great reviews all over the place and great story. I know Jeff you’re a Lucy fan. Yes.
Jeff: I am a major Lucy fan. This is very high up on my TBR already because I am so gaga for the “Wilde” series. I’ve read some of the Marian books too, but the “Wilde” books, especially “Felix and the Prince” and “King Me,” love, love, love.
Jay: Those are my two favorites, my definite two favorites. It’s funny that you say that because for sure. Yeah. And if you like that style, I think that you’ll really like this as well, and it’s apparently on audio now already too. So, if you like your audio, I believe that Michael Dean did the audio, but yes, very much in that tone of the “Forever Wilde” series. I haven’t read the Marian series. So I can’t compare it but very much in that same tone but again a standalone but that sort of mix of sweet and sexy. I loved the way the relationship developed and gave the guys a chance to sort of figure out what they wanted for their lives. You know, Jack is going through sort of career decisions, and Teo is going through relationship decisions, and just really well done and such a good story.
Lisa: Well, my next one is Jordan Castillo Price’s “Bitter Pill.” I’ve never really talked about this series, and I’ve been reading it since 2010. I’ve been invested in this series for 10 years. She’s been writing it for 14 years. The “PsyCop” series is really…it’s, to me, just one of the genre standards. You get to a point in a series sometimes when you think that the author just doesn’t know when to end or doesn’t know how to end, and I don’t want this series to end like ever. Over the course of 14 years, her world-building has just continually been incredible. The abilities that make up her “PsyCop” world are phenomenal. Victor Bayne is just kind of this seminal… I don’t even know. He’s kind of this pragmatic kind of guy who sees and talks to dead people, but he’s like off-the-charts talented in the measurements of talents within this verse.
And his relationship with Jacob Marks started off, you know, in a bathroom at the retirement party for Vic’s ex-partner. You don’t get the sense in those first few novellas. And even for a little while longer as the novel started getting longer, you still kind of wondered, is, you know, Vic kind of Jacob’s kink. You just really don’t know like what the dynamic of their relationship is other than the fact that Jacob seems just really, really fascinated with Vic and his talent.
And now, you know, she has really taken Jacob, I think, to a new level. She has developed his character where you saw this guy who was always kind of cool sort of impervious. You didn’t really get the idea that he could be flustered by anything, and then all of a sudden you start to see kind of the chinks in his armor. Things do scare him. So, you know, she’s really started developing Jacob’s character in the tenth book, which is the book prior to just this most recent one, “Murder House.”
Jacob and Vic spend the entire book apart, and it was such a revelation in how much they really have come to rely on each other and they need each other and how much they deeply, deeply love each other was, you know, kind of the absence makes the heart grow fonder sort of thing, you know, and you don’t really realize when you’re in things day-to-day until that thing that you count on being there every single day isn’t there anymore. And I just thought it was such a great building of their romantic arc.
And then this latest book, “Bitter Pill,” it’s another book that’s gonna go on my best of 2020. I think that she just has really…you know, is doing a great job of Vic now having to really not remember his past but now confront his past. His past is coming back and confronting him, and so he doesn’t really have any choice but, you know, to do whatever he can. There was even a little side of poignant…very poignant side story in this that I thought JCP really wove beautifully into one of the ghosts who was an informant for Vic. One of his ghost informants was a former sex worker who was murdered, and she has a really, really touching story that both Vic and Jacob helped resolve that I thought is probably one of the most moving things I think JCP has ever written certainly in this series.
You know, I wanted to give “Bitter Pill” some love and the “PsyCop” series some love and Jordan Castillo Price some love because she really just delivers time after time after time. She’s written so many great series. Her “Mnevermind” trilogy is phenomenal. Her “Morpheus” series with Wild Bill and Michael was my first experience with JCP. I mean, you know, it’s like the first book is a long short story short novella and it’s super erotic. When you’re reading that you’re thinking, “Oh, gosh, this is kind of porny,” right? But then, you know, she just builds book after book after book, this relationship between Michael and Wild Bill, and it’s just really…it’s sexy and it’s got all these elements of, you know, emo, angsty but yet it’s sexy and thrilling and it’s just…yeah. So “Bitter Pill,” Jordan Castillo Price, it’s kind of…it’s intimidating to look at a series and go, “Oh, my God, it’s already 11 books in and she’s already writing book 12.” But, you know, the first four or five are novella length. You know, you can get through them quickly if you can catch up. I just love this series and highly recommend it.
Jay: For sure. I’ll just add to what you were saying is that I think that Vic and Jacob are definitely on my, you know, all-time favorite couples list, and I love the odd couple sense of them. Jacob is sort of the David Gandy character. You know, he’s beautiful, he’s suave. You know, everyone’s always falling all over him. And Victor is very sort of awkward and uncomfortable in his own skin in many ways, and Jacob is madly in love with him. And Victor doesn’t even really understand why, but Victor is the one who is so super talented on this, you know, sort of paranormal type scale. And I will echo what you said that I really like how in the last few books Jacob is sort of coming into his own as being sort of more than the backup or the sort of… and psychic isn’t the right word, really, but that concept of sort of being there as a supporting role to what’s happening with Victor. And he’s getting his own sort of arc in terms of his own abilities or sort of no abilities and how all that’s pulling together. So, I think the series really is continuing to take interesting turns even this far end.
Lisa: Yeah. And JCP has written some short little codas in between the books, and some of them are from Jacob’s point of view. It’s such a revelation to get his thoughts and feelings about how like just head over heels in love he is with Vic. And Vic is just kind of like, “I don’t know why this guy loves me, but I’m glad he does.” And Jacob really, really does love him so much. So, yeah, I just think that’s just…you know, I just had to give JCP some love because that’s just such a great series, and “Bitter Pill” I think might have been one of my favorite books in this series so far. I think she’s really ramped up the action in that one.
Jeff: It was great to talk to her back in Episode 226 about not only “Bitter Pill” but kind of the history and the origins of “PsyCop.” It’s one of my biggest probably gaps in the genre is that I’ve only read one “PsyCop” book. And it’s on that list of things. I need to get back there and catch up on that series because it was so good.
Lisa: Yeah. One of the things that really, really shows when she writes those books, you know, they’re from Vic’s point of view, and she’s been writing his point of view for 14 years now. And it’s so clear how very well she knows this character and his voice. You know, it’s amazing to me, what, the journey that she’s been on with this character for so many years now that, yes. When you start reading the books, it’s like, “My old friend Victor Bayne, it’s so great to see you again,” you know. She just has that sort of…she has him down to such a conversational sort of storytelling mode that you really do feel like you’re hanging with an old friend who’s telling you about the things that he’s going through as he’s going through them. It’s so great. She’s just amazing.
Jeff: Yeah. I gotta move that up my TBR now too.
Lisa: Yeah. I recommend you do it.
Jay: All right. So my last one is going to be “Burn” by Nora Phoenix, which is actually the third book in her of “Ignite” trilogy, so three books, and they are a post-apocalyptic story that starts in a…well, it’s a dystopian future where the United States has been divided into three parts, and the central United States is the conservative United States. And being gay is punishable by being put in jail and these sort of they call them camps, but they’re really prisons. And the three characters, Austin and Tan know each other and have been friends for years as they’ve been in this camp, and Mack is a new character, who they haven’t met yet.
And the book opens on the night that there’s this giant meteor shower and suddenly the camp is destroyed, and they see their opportunity to escape. And they’re attempting to make it, you know, to one border or the other, but it’s winter and it’s dangerous. And then they realize that things are ramped up a level when they realized that they weren’t just meteors but, in fact, it was an alien attack and that these…you know, these landings were actually the aliens that were coming and looking to do something nefarious that we don’t find out, you know, until later. So I won’t give it away on the third book.
So the story is sort of, again, like a dystopian, post-apocalyptic combination that follows these three men as they’re fleeing and have so much uncertainty because they don’t know what’s going on. They don’t know which direction is safe. They don’t know what they should do. And they’re relying on one another, and so they’re building this relationship as they go. And Tan has some difficult past that he’s sort of reconciling, and he and Austin have been dancing around each other, but Austin’s very protective because he doesn’t wanna be yet another person who is sort of using Tan or just wants him for sex. And then we have Mack who is very naive and grew up in a very sheltered environment, and he is completely inexperienced with almost anything in the real world.
So, it’s a really nice combination of the relationship dynamic among the three of them, but also Nora Phoenix has put together just such an interesting post-apocalyptic story, which I’m really a fan of, and there’s not a ton of them. I always grab them when I can find them because it’s not a huge, you know, part of the genre within gay romance but really ties together the story of what’s happening in the world and how they’re gonna make their way. I’m getting to the end and thinking, “How is it possibly, like, are they gonna come out of this with a happy ending? There’s a million things going wrong.” And somehow she pulls it together in a way that actually really works, and it just, you know, builds this happy ending for them and a good resolution, so really good story. And again, it’s a trilogy. They’re all out now. So you can start with the first one, and it reads almost like one continuous story. So, the books pick up one right after the other and tie together really well.
Jeff: Interesting, not just, you know, this alternate universe where the country’s divided up like you mentioned, but then you throw aliens on it, too.
Jay: And then aliens, right, and then a threesome. And then…right. Yes. there’s a lot happening in these books, which, again, could have been really like just overwhelming, but it really does pull together. I mean, the ending is sort of crazy. You sort of have to go along for the ride, but it actually does all come together in, you know, all this sort of different things happening comes together really well and bit of a slow burn on the romance department through the first book, and then it really heats up in the second and third. But I think it was really interesting.
I always liked the stories where you’re sort of seeing how people figure out how to make their way when, you know, everything’s falling apart. It feels very timely right now, which I didn’t think about when I chose it. But, you know, it just was interesting to see and just some little fun, you know, bits about how they managed to, you know, survive and the different things that they do to make their way through this process. So, definitely, definitely fun. I think that, you know, Nora tends to be known for her mpreg stories and her contemporaries. So, this is one that I think doesn’t quite get as much buzzer awareness of her books. So if you like her writing, definitely this is worth checking out for sure.
Lisa: You read all these authors I’ve never read before. This is great.
Jeff: Well, I think you do that for us too, Lisa, because really, you come up with these debut authors and everything. Keeps things fresh on both sides.
Lisa: That’s true. That’s true.
Jeff: So, what’s your final book?
Lisa: My final book is a contemporary teen romance called “Only Mostly Devastated” by Sophie Gonzales. If you love the movie “Grease,” this book is unapologetically a differently, delightfully “Grease” fanfic. There’s more to it. There is more to it. It goes a little bit deeper than just, you know, the boys meeting over the summer and then separating, but they’re not really separating.
So Ollie and Will meet on their family vacations at a lake in North Carolina over the summer. Will is in North Carolina from California. His aunt is ill with cancer, and so he’s spending some time there during the summer. And he and Will develop a relationship. They just fall hopelessly devoted to each other. They just fall in love, and they make promises, you know, how you are when you’re a teen and you make promises and everything seems like forever, and you don’t know if those promises that you’re gonna be able to keep. But they make them anyway, and then they go their separate ways because Ollie and his family have to go back to California. Except, Ollie and his family don’t go back to California.
Ollie ends up staying in North Carolina, and so he’s starting at his new school. He doesn’t know anybody. He’s a little bit too not really introverted, but he’s shy and doesn’t talk much, and so he ends up being sort of taken under the wing of a few of the girls who are sort of the Pink Ladies except there’s only three of them. There’s not four. So, they all go to first day of school like school party, and lo and behold who is there who has been ghosting Ollie for weeks now, but Will. You know, he’s the jock. He’s on football team. He’s not out at school. And so there’s the whole conflict then of how Will is not the boy who Ollie thought he was. Will doesn’t act the way as sweet and kind and compassionate and generous and just everything, you know, that Ollie fell in love with over the summer. Will can be, you know, kind of a jerk.
It’s the unraveling of their feelings and Will coming to a point where he starts becoming comfortable with…you know, there was a point where he didn’t even like admitting that he knew Ollie because, you know, he didn’t want to be…he didn’t wanna be friends with Ollie because Ollie is out and proud of being out, and so he didn’t want that by association sort of thing. But through music, they don’t break into song and dance in the middle of a lunchroom or anything. There’s no flash mob-style, you know, dancing and singing, but music does play a big role. Ollie is a musician, and so Will uses that as a way to begin to connect with Ollie showing interest in his music. And they go through some bumps, and there are some family traumas to deal with that give the story a little more heart, a little more depth. But overall, if you love that premise of “Grease” and you like the…
Jay: And I do.
Jeff: Me, too.
Lisa: Yeah. And you like young adult romance, you know, teen romance, high school romance. It’s just a really, really sweet book. So “Only Mostly Devastated” by Sophie Gonzales is just a really sweet fun read.
Jeff: That sounds delightful. The more books, the more happy bubbly things we can get right down I think the better. What’s more happy and bubbly than “Grease”?
Lisa: Exactly. Exactly. And so, yeah, it’s got the humor. It’s got the pathos, it’s got, you know, the pining. So, yeah, it was…
Jay: I love a good pining.
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. Me, too. Absolutely. Yeah. It was a lot of fun.
Jeff: Guys, this has been awesome. I love all of us together. It was ridiculously fun.
Lisa: I agree.
Jeff: We will put links to everything in the show notes that we talked about plus the reviews that’ll be on both of your sites for these books, and I think we’ll probably be doing this again in about three months.
Jay: Yeah. I hope so.
Lisa: I love it. Yeah. That sounds like a great idea.
Here’s the text of this week’s reviews:
Risk Taker by Lily Morton. Reviewed by Jeff.
The Mixed Messages series from Lily Morton has become a favorite and the latest, Risk Taker really captured my heart because of the journey that Henry and Ivo have had. Friends to lovers is among my favorite tropes and this story gave me everything I could want with all the amazing humor that Lily infuses this series with.
Henry and Ivo became stepbrothers when Henry’s father married Ivo’s mother. They immediately became fast friends when Henry arrives back home, expelled from yet another school. Ivo’s mother is one of a string of wives and Henry and his older brother Silas recognize this for what it is. However, Ivo becomes an amazing stepbrother. Even after the divorce, Henry and Ivo jointly receive one of the family houses in London when the father dies. That only cements their ongoing friendship into adulthood all the more. Now an attorney, Henry lives in the house full time and Ivo uses it as home base from his world travels as a photojournalist. As the book opens, Henry is back from a random bathroom hookup in a bar to find Ivo on the doorstep because he’s injured and lost his key.
The chemistry between Henry and Ivo is thick right from the beginning as they bicker about needing to get him patched up, a task which falls on brother Silas, who is a vet, because Ivo doesn’t want to go to the hospital. As Ivo gets patched up to settle in at home, the brothers end up discussing Henry’s so-called dating life–as in the many hookups he’s had. Not only does Ivo declare that that life isn’t for Henry. Henry declares that he’s ready to date seriously and settle down.
As you can guess, Henry really wants to settle with Ivo–the man of his dreams for so long. He’s sure though that Ivo wouldn’t want a life with a boring attorney. Henry also fears for Ivo, going off to war-torn places for his job–but he also doesn’t want to be the one who asks him to settle for his other career as a successful artist. Ivo’s also convinced that he’s not right for Henry because he views himself as broken–Ivo does carry some terrible dreams–and that Henry can do better than him.
As they settle into home life though, they see what could be possible. Ivo sleeping next to Henry, which keeps Ivo calm through the night. Eating together, relaxing together. Seeing friends together. Henry even creates a studio for Ivo to give Ivo the chance to paint again, for the first time in years. But Ivo’s heart aches every time Henry talks about settling down. They have heartbreakingly honest conversations too–like what it would me for their shared home if Henry found someone. The thing is they both want the other to tell them to stop, to stay, to choose them.
Lily does a wonderful job of showing Ivo and Henry’s past–through notes that begin each chapter along with some well placed flashbacks and stories they tell. Their bond has been there all along, they just haven’t been able to have the confidence to move to that next step even though it’s left them both miserable. This is made all the worse as Henry continues to go on some truly terrible dates–and boy is there some wild humor in those.
Of course, Henry and Ivo’s facades eventually crack in an emotional outburst that leads to some sizzling hot, passionate sex–made all the more meaningful because of the years of affection these guys have. Of course, it’s not all perfect even as they start to date each other–fear, worries and apprehension crash in each step closer they take.
In particular Ivo’s concerns that he wasn’t right for Henry moved me so much as he views himself as so broken because of what he’s seen in the world. Lily really delves into the PTSD that Ivo carries and it’s so very cathartic as he gets his happy because you know Henry’s going to take good care of him.
The book is populated with everyone we’ve seen in the other books–Gabe and Dylan, Jude and Acea–and it’s wonderful how Henry and Ivo’s friends rally around them and gently (and sometimes not so gently) push them in the right direction.
I continue to adore Lily’s work and I think Risk Taker is my favorite in this series because Henry and Ivo was the story I didn’t even know I needed. Joel Leslie gets compliments, as always, for his work here. In particular how he captured Ivo’s fears, worries and brokenness while still finding all the wonderful humor that Ivo had as well.
I wholeheartedly recommend Risk Taker, and the entire Mixed Messages series from Lily Morton.