Will reviews There Galapagos My Heart by Philip William Stover. Jeff reviews Hard Hart by E. Davies.
Victoria Lee talks to Jeff about the Feverwake series. She discusses the dystopian world she created full of queer characters, magic and government corruption. We also get details on The Fever King WebToon, what got her started writing as well as her next book.
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.
- There Galapagos My Heart by Philip William Stover on Amazon
- The Hideaway Inn by Philip William Stover on Amazon (pre-order through May 26)
- Hard Hart by E. Davies on Amazon
- Victoria Lee Interview
- Victoria Lee: website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Substack Newsletter
- The Fever King by Victoria Lee on Amazon
- The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee on Amazon
- My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell on Amazon
- The Strange Guilt of Promoting a Book During a Pandemic on victorialee.substack.com
- The Fever King by Victoria Lee on WebToon
- tineeart on Instagram
- The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf on Amazon
- The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf on WebToon
- Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer on Amazon
- Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer on WebToons
- The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh on Amazon
- The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh on WebToons
- The Secret History by Donna Tartt on Amazon
- The Craft on Amazon Prime Video
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- Frolic Podcast Network website
Interview Transcript – Victoria 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: Victoria, welcome to the podcast. I am so excited to have you here.
Victoria: I’m so excited to be here. I’ve been looking forward to it.
Jeff: It was just a few weeks ago that I reviewed “Fever King” on the show, and as I was preparing to talk to you, I was reading the FAQs on your site and I came across this one question that asked if there were queer characters in the “Feverwake” series, you replied, “Literally, every character in the fever King is queer. All of them. Fight me.” I adore that answer so much.
Victoria: I stand by that.
Jeff: Did that FAQ come before the book actually came out? You were just putting it out there or did you actually get that question from somebody?
Victoria: I got that question actually from a critique partner when I was developing “The Fever King.” I had a friend who would read the book as I was writing it and also, you know, would read it after I was done.
And at one point she was like, it seems like a lot of people in this book are gay. Don’t you think that that’s going to be unrealistic or that you’ll have trouble getting it published because so many people are gay. And my response was, not only are a lot of people gay, but they’re all gay and fuck it, I’m still going to get it published.
Jeff: So tell our listeners about the “Feverwake” series.
Victoria: Okay? So the first book, “The Fever King” follows this kid named Noam. It’s set in a kind of speculative, futuristic, North Carolina where magic is a virus that infects a lot of people and most people die. But if you do survive, you then can use magic and develop magic powers.
And so the story follows Noam who survives the virus and gets the magical ability to control technology with his mind. Technopathy. And, he’s always been an activist against the government, which he thinks is very xenophobic and semi fascist, but now he has to join a government military training program to master his magic and he draws the attention of a guy named Lehrer, who’s the minister of defense, who’s a legendary war hero/revolutionary/most powerful magic user in the world. And he’s hoping to learn from Lehrer and learn how to use his magic, but then secretly bring on the government from the inside. But then the series as a whole follows that storyline, but it’s also really about understanding trauma and the intersection of interpersonal trauma and personal trauma. And what it means to survive trauma, to have an identity, that both incorporates a trauma that you survived but also kind of, is bigger than that.
Jeff: Which I imagine some of that you get into in “The Electric Heir” that came out back in March. Unfortunately, I haven’t read this one yet. What can you add on about where “Electric Heir” picks up from “Fever King?”
Victoria: I’m going to try and do this as non spoiler-y as possible, so the people who’ve read the first book know what I’m saying? People who haven’t don’t. What we learn happened to Dara in book one, happens to Noam with the same person. Noam experiences a new kind of trauma and he simultaneously is trying to justify it to himself but also kind of knows that what’s happening is wrong or is, you know, dangerous. And, it’s another layer of the political coup and the anti-government rebellion in that, Noam was able to overthrow the corrupt government from the first book, but he’s installed a government that turns out to be way more corrupt. And so now he has to figure out his own complicitness in that, but also how to fight back against that and how to fight back against that when he’s very terrified of the person who’s the villain in the second book.
Jeff: As you said, the first part about Noam undergoing what Dara went through, if we’d been on camera, you just see my mouth open and my eyes bug cause I know exactly what that means. It’s like, Oh my God.
Victoria: Chapter three you find that out.
Jeff: Oh my goodness.
What was your inspiration behind this series?
Victoria: Oh, man. A couple of different things. I don’t feel like it’s spoilery to say that even the first book deals a lot with themes about abuse, and trauma, as I’d said, I’m a childhood abuse survivor and I wanted to write about that, but I wanted to write about it not only from the perspective of people who already survived and who are, you know, past it and recovering and have their whole life ahead of them. But people who are still surviving, people who are still being victimized. Cause I feel like that’s a very particular place to be in. And there’s a character in “The Fever King” who’s in that place. And, I don’t want to say that “Fever King” is the first book to do this, cause that’s definitely not true.
In fact, I just read another book that does this really well called “My Dark Vanessa.” But I do feel it’s a really complicated position to be in because it’s a position where you almost don’t want to admit that what’s happening is what’s happening. Because to admit that what’s happening to you is wrong, would be to admit that you’re powerless over it.
And for a lot of people, that’s something that’s really difficult to face. And also people do often a lot of really inadvisable coping mechanisms to handle that kind of trauma while it’s still happening. So I wanted to explore that, but I also wanted to explore on this theme about government corruption and immigration and the oppression of marginalized groups.
I’m Jewish and I wanted to write about the way that history repeats itself. So in “The Fever King” there’s a character whose grandparents survived the Holocaust and then he himself survived a massacre of magic users. And then now in the present day of the story, there’s this sort of institutionalized not overt massacre, but slow oppression in massacre of immigrants. The main character is, you know, the child of immigrants. And so I wanted to show how the same kinds of oppression are a constant across history and we don’t seem to be able to learn from them. And that having survived one kind of oppression doesn’t exonerate you from being able to inflict that as well on other people and the way that abuse and trauma can be cyclical, and kind of how we all get to choose whether or not we take that trauma and we take that history and perpetuate it or turn it against ourselves and harm ourselves or use it to motivate activism. So I wanted to write about that, I guess.
Jeff: How did you decide to build your world because so much of it could be right now in so many ways, and yet you set it in the future and you’ve got this virus that gives people magic. So you had to have a magic system in there too, and you had to set up a government and everything. You built a lot. And I have to give you kudos for not, you know, weighing the story down in a ton of world building.
Victoria: Well, the upside to YA is you don’t really have the word count to do too much world building or the attention span from the reader. So you have to kind of condense it as much as you can. But yeah, a lot of people do the world building first and then develop the characters or develop the plot based off the world.
I’m kind of the opposite and I come up with the characters first. And then the plot, and then I figure out what kind of world would have produced those characters and what kind of world would put pressure on those characters, weaknesses, or restrict them from being able to use their strengths.
And so, this world just kind of seemed like it would best to challenge Noam and Dara and put them in the most interesting kinds of positions, characters with fatal flaws like they have. But also I did kind of want to set something in North Carolina cause I’m from Durham, North Carolina, and it’s a very interesting city.
It used to be the home of some of the biggest tobacco manufacturing companies in the country. And so there were all these old decrepit tobacco warehouses there that are no longer in use that have been either completely abandoned or repurposed from other things. When I was growing up, they were all just abandoned.
It was like no one wanted to go to Durham. People would go around the long way around Durham just to not drive through it because they thought they would get shot if they drove through Durham. And now it’s been revitalized or gentrified, whichever term you prefer.
And, it has a big food scene, big art scene. It always has had an art scene actually. But it’s become a much bigger part of the culture there. But that history is still very vibrant and you can still taste that history in the air when you’re there. And so it’s such a magical city for me.
Growing up there with being told what a terrible place it was to live or how decrepit it was I saw the magic in it, but when I read books, the magical places were always , Oh, like, these meadows in Wales or this castle in Scotland. And I was like, well, why can’t there be magic in Durham, North Carolina?
So I wanted to make Durham the place that you would be if you had magic as opposed to one of the typical places.
Jeff: And you said it there so well, and obviously, I mean, Noam fights with everything he’s got for the place too.
Victoria: It’s interesting because Durham, as it got gentrified, a lot of people moved down South from New York or Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, wherever, because they heard about the new food scene and so on, or the new stimulus packages that they had for startups.
And a lot of us who had grown up there and lived there all along, you know, felt, yes, Durham is great now, but it’s always been great and it’s always had this magic to it. So I do think there’s a lot of people now who love Durham, but among those of us who grew up there, there’s this feeling of like, well, we’ve always loved Durham and we would always have fought for Durham.
And so, yeah, I think that that’s kind of how Noam feels as well.
Jeff: And along with the world, to kind of go back to how we opened. Really everybody’s queer here one way or the other. And given that you start with character, I guess that’s just how your characters built themselves out.
Victoria: Yeah. Well, so for me, I’m queer. I’m trans and bisexual and when I was in high school, everyone that I knew was queer. All of my friends were queer. I went to an art school, which was part of it, but I also feel like we kind of travel in packs, we attract each other. And so for me, it’s just not realistic because it’d be one or two queer characters and then a whole bunch of cisgender, straight people, because that was never my experience.
So, not only did I feel like, Oh, well if there’s one of us, there’s a ton of us, but I figured in the future, like in 2123 or whenever “Fever King” takes place, people are probably a lot more open about their identities. I wrote the book so that there’s not any homophobia and there’s not any transphobia and people are just kind of whatever they are and everyone’s chill with it.
Lehrer’s the leader of the country and he’s openly gay and no one cares. And so I figured probably a lot more people would be out and probably a lot more people would identify with some kind of queer identity if there was absolutely no social pressure to stay in the closet.
Jeff: One of the things that makes it such a refreshing read is that aspect just isn’t there. There’s a lot of stuff going on in this world, but that’s not one of them. The homophobia.
Victoria: Right? Like if you can create a fantasy where only you can put whatever you want in it, you don’t have to put homophobia.
Jeff: So I loved, Noam, so, so much. I mean, he’s 16 but yet, you know, he puts on this armor often of like, I’m an adult and I’m going to take on this and I’m gonna fix the world that it’s going to be great. And then other times he is a teenager who’s smitten with a boy and scared about what’s to come and missing his parents and his parental types and such. How did you find the right balance for him?
Victoria: I think he just reminded me of myself as a teen, but also of a lot of people I knew as a teenager who were so passionate about activism or about changing the world or about a cause. But they’re still kids. They’re still teens. They still have all of these small, not, I mean, they’re not small to them, right? But small compared to a genocide, like smaller tragedies, or fears or dramas. How those can feel equally as important sometimes too? So I don’t know.
I, I think it comes back to that whole intersection of intergenerational and personal trauma, right? There’s the intergenerational trauma of his parents being immigrants and everything that’s happening with the anti-immigrant sentiment and Carol Linnea, that’s his intergenerational trauma. But then there’s also the personal trauma that he’s experiencing with the death of his parents, or, with being manipulated by older adults. And I think that even the one of these only affects one person and only affects Noam.
The other one is this huge legacy kind of tumbling down over generations to Noam they’re equally as impactful and they cause as much harm and they inspire as much passion. And so, I don’t know, I just really wanted to kind of play around with writing something like that. And Noam I’m seeing the perfect character to really start to disentangle the difference and similarities between these bigger traumas, or these bigger tragedies and the smaller ones that feel just as intense.
Jeff: Now “Electric Heir” came out in the middle of March, and even as this airs in the middle of May, the world’s reeling from COVID-19. Of course, “Fever King” came out in 2018 before this was even an inkling for anybody. What’s it like for you to talk about a new book that has a deadly virus and in the middle of all this?
Victoria: Oh, it’s pretty weird I’ve got to say. I wrote an essay about this on, I made a new type of newsletter called a sub stack and on there my first entry was what it’s like trying to promote a book in the middle of a pandemic. And you know, the thing that makes it a little bit worse, obviously being that my book’s about a pandemic.
I think you feel like you have to tread this line between promoting your book, which you should do, and are required to do, and shouldn’t feel any shame in doing, despite the fact that the world’s exploding. But also do it in a way that doesn’t seem as if you’re trying to leverage the pandemic for personal gain, which I’ve definitely seen people do things that kind of evoke that. And, you know, it’s not a good look.
I think that there’s a little bit of a guilt to it where you’re like, well, why am I trying to promote this book that’s about something that might be especially triggering for people right now when there’s so much going on in the world.
But also I do know that people want to be able to read and want to go out to escape and want to be able to enjoy things. And I love this book and put a lot of effort into it, so I should be proud of it and I should be proud of what I’ve accomplished or what I’m putting out into the world. So, yeah, it’s definitely a very weird position to be in and I think that, especially given the immigration themes as well in the series, which I wrote this before, the 2016 election, so on one hand you can start to feel prophetic. From the other hand, it’s also like, well, that’s the whole point of these books too, right? History repeats itself. So sure, maybe we should have predicted this kind of immigration crisis, we should have predicted another pandemic like the Spanish flu, because these things keep happening as long as we don’t do anything differently.
Jeff: And I admit I felt a little bit weirdness because I reviewed “Fever King” towards the end of April on this show. I’m like, well, you may be wondering why I chose to read this book right now, cause I was reading it as it all kind of broke too. The book really isn’t about the pandemic itself.
I mean, there’s still outbreaks but it’s more about what’s happened since the big outbreak. So much of it’s just not about that and the comparisons I make to the book, there’s a little Harry Potter in it in some ways. There’s a little “Hunger Games” in it, you know, to really tie it to books that people know well. It was an interesting kind of escape in, in the late part of March to read this book, which was different than what was going on outside and not even set in the contemporary realm either.
Victoria: Well, I’m glad. That makes me feel better.
Jeff: You’ve also got a WebToon of “Fever King,” which is just amazing. It’s such a, it’s some beautiful artwork there. What was it like for you to see your book translated into a completely other medium?
Victoria: It was incredible. So I came from fandom originally where I would write fan fiction. You know, other people would do fan art.
And so I was very familiar with the idea of fan art. And so for me, before I ever published a book, like my number one dream, I used to say , I’ll know I’ve made it if anyone makes fan art of my book, and now someone’s not only – it’s not really fan art, but it’s art of the book. Not only have they done one little piece, it’s the whole book is now in art.
I can see how someone visualizes every scene in the book. That’s just amazing because for one, Sarah is incredibly talented. And so I love seeing her depiction of the story and her take on it, but also I’ve always felt as if writing is a weird kind of telepathy where you have this story in your head and these feelings and you’re trying to share them with somebody else through prose.
And when you get to see kind of like, alright, well I put all of this into writing and you read it and you try to visualize the same story. You try to feel the same emotions and this is what you saw, this is what you felt. And you can really see how somebody interpreted the written words. And so that’s also super cool.
Every time that she does a scene and I’m like, Oh, that’s exactly how I pictured it. That’s exactly how I imagined it. Or , that’s not what I was thinking. But that’s equally valid and it’s super cool to see that somebody else took this from that scene. So it’s, yeah, it’s really awesome. I think that it’s, one of my favorite things has kind of come out of this book getting published, is getting to see the web toon.
Jeff: And you’ve got some really nice fan art on your website too that has come from the book.
Victoria: Oh yeah. There’s a ton more now. I need to actually update the website cause I get tagged in fan art maybe once a day now on Instagram. And yeah, there’s a lot of it and it’s all amazing. Somebody actually drew me with the characters from “The Fever King.”
The user name on Instagram was “tineeart” and yeah, that was pretty much goals for me. I feel like I’ve peaked now. It’s only downhill for me.
Jeff: Going back to the web toon how did that come about? Did the artist just reach out and say, Hey, I’d like to do this, or Hey, I’ve done this?
Victoria: Actually, WebToon reached out to me and they wanted to license the book for web serial. And then they auditioned two different artists and found one that they liked and yeah.
Jeff: Do you have a say in how it turns out in those cases or what they use from the book?
Victoria: It’s a pretty faithful adaptation. They send me scripts of episodes ahead of time, as well as sketches. So I kind of see, alright, so let’s say this week, or this coming week, I will probably get a package with the finalized art for next week’s episode. The sketch for the episode after that or the next two episodes and then the scripts for those next two episodes. so that I kind of like see what they’re planning on putting in there.
For the most part, I don’t change anything unless there’s something that I feel is incorrect or is going to mess up the interpretation of something really important in the book, or not set up book two well in case they ended up licensing that. But, I don’t know. I think that generally they do such a great job. There’s nothing for me to say except for, “Oh, this looks amazing.”
Jeff: That’s awesome. Hopefully we’ll see more things like this for these kinds of books. I mean, I don’t think it would necessarily play for a contemporary well necessarily, but for these kinds of young adult alternate future sort of books that could be really interesting.
Victoria: Oh yeah, for sure. I know a couple other books have had Web Toons now too. There is, “The Weight of Our Sky” by Hanna Alkaf has a Web Toon and “Not Even Bones” by Rebecca Schaeffer, and then also ” The Wrath and the Dawn” by Renée Ahdieh. So yeah, that’s becoming a thing and I’m pretty excited by it.
Jeff: That’s awesome. I’ll check those out too. Is there more in “Feverwake” to come?
Victoria: Nope. This is it. So I did release two novellas as preorder gifts for people who preorder “The Electric Heir,” but those are just little 30,000 word stories. But I feel as if, you know, I told this story. I wanted to tell, I have an idea of what I would do if I ever did decide to go back to the universe. But for now I’m focusing on other things.
Jeff: Speaking of other things, I’ve read the blurb for what’s coming in 2021 with “A Lesson in Vengeance.” Tell us a little bit about that.
Victoria: So, “A Lesson in Vengeance” is my take on a lesbian “Secret History.” So, it’s a dark academia thriller. It’s about this girl who returns to boarding school after her girlfriend died the previous year. She’s, you know, been grieving. She’s been in a mental hospital, finally coming back to school, coming back to her regular life. And she meets this other girl who’s a new transfer to this school named Ellis, who’s a literary prodigy, who, you know, has written these amazing books and as you know, quite famous and has this kind of cult of personality around her at the school and her and the main character become friends and get involved in trying to untangle this history at the school of these witches who had died hundreds of years ago that the main character believes are still haunting the school. And they start trying to reenact the murders of those witches to try and understand the truth of what really happened, but also to try and help the main character understand that magic isn’t real because she has kind of convinced herself that those witches cursed her and that’s why her girlfriend died. So, yeah. I don’t know how to describe it in a way that’s not spoilery. I guess it’s like “Secret History” meets the “Craft” a little bit, but also have some thriller elements in there.
Jeff: Yeah. Cause there’s definitely that mystery/thriller vibe of trying to figure out how the witches died and everything.
It’s very different from “Feverwake.” Were you looking to just totally pivot the vibe of the book or is this just where your characters took you next?
Victoria: So I love “The Secret History.” It’s probably my favorite book. But I was writing something else before this. I was writing adult fantasy, and I sent it to my agents and they were reading it and they had gotten back to me with revisions for that book and while we were on the phone talking about the revisions I was like, Oh yeah, I have this idea for this other book. I told them my very basic pitch for that. I was like, Oh, you know, like a Sapphic “Secret History” and like this would happen. And they were like, okay, stop everything. Forget the other book for now. Write this book right now. Just right now. Write that book. Which was good cause I was feeling very excited about that book at the time. More excited than I was about going back and revising the other one.
So, yeah, I wrote that book and it sold at auction and is being published. So I guess that worked out for me.
Jeff: Yeah, I think it did.
How did you get started writing? You mentioned some fan fiction in your past. What’s your writing origin story?
Victoria: So, my parents tell this story about how when I was in kindergarten and you know, we were given this assignment to write down whatever the teacher was saying just to practice being able to write. So I was doing that and they left the room and they kept talking, and I can only hear so much of it. And you know, I took, I continue to take things extremely literally. So I kept writing down their conversation and then whenever I couldn’t hear what they were saying, I would make it up and it became its own whole story, which was probably the first time that I was going to be a writer.
The second time being when I wrote a novel when I was like eight called “Patsy.” It was about a girl named Patsy () spoiler on the Oregon Trail. It was almost a fictionalization of the “Oregon Trail” computer game, which I was obsessed with at the time.
And it was terrible. I’m sure it was very bad. It was only 30,000 words long or something. I wrote that and I never looked back. I just kept writing novels. And then when I was in high school and college and a little bit in middle school too, I got into fan fiction and I would write fan fiction, but also original stuff at the same time.
And kind of I go back and forth between what kind of project I was working on and I didn’t decide to try and get anything published really until I was in grad school. I just played around and wrote what made me happy.
Jeff: And “Feverwake” was your first, right?
Jeff: That’s awesome.
Victoria: Well, not first novel ever, but first novel published. It was my 23rd novel ever.
Jeff: Is fantasy and this alternate history and maybe a little paranormal where you see yourself dabbling forever? Do you see contemporaries in your future or what do you think that looks like?
Victoria: I definitely could see myself writing contemporaries. I have an idea for contemporary that I want to write that doesn’t have any magic in it at all.
And I’ve written a little bit of it, like maybe a chapter, and then put it aside to work on some other projects that like this one. And then I have the two adult fantasies that I’ve been playing with. But yeah, I definitely could see myself writing contemporaries. I’m also co-writing a contemporary tragic romance with a friend that’s an adult upmarket, no magic. But I don’t think that those would come out for a really long time cause they’re nowhere near being done.
Jeff: Are you enjoying the co-writing experience?
Victoria: Yes. I have to admit that I haven’t done my part yet. My friend has written her part. I’ve done a lot of plotting of it and helping her with hers, but I haven’t actually started writing, so I’ve had too many deadlines for other books. But I’ve enjoyed it. Theoretically.
Jeff: That’s good. At least the plotting went well, I assume, that’s a good sign.
Victoria: Yes, for sure.
Jeff: Is there anything after “A Lesson in Vengeance” that you can kind of tease this with? What might be coming up in later 2021 or into even 2022.
Victoria: I know there’ll be a 2022 book, also with Delacorte because “Lesson in Vengeance” sold in what’s called a two book deal,” meaning that they bought an unspecified future book from me. I don’t know what that will be yet cause we haven’t decided, but based off the ideas that we’ve thrown around, I have a feeling that it will be another kind of thriller with a little bit of speculative magic elements to it. Kind of like “Lesson in Vengeance” where it’s not a full fantasy, but it has a little bit of magic.
And then I have a book right now that is, I don’t know how much I can say. You’re not supposed to talk about this cause it’s like Fight Club. Don’t talk about Fight Club, but I’m going to talk about it. I’m on submission with an adult fantasy book. Which means that the book is out with publishers. They have to decide if they want to buy it, but since no one has bought it yet, I don’t feel like I can say what it’s about. But hopefully it sells. If it does sell then just keep your eyes peeled because it will be announced. But, now that I’ve said it, of course it won’t.
Jeff: Hopefully we didn’t just jinx the whole thing right here.
And how can people keep up with you online to find out, you know, when “Lesson in Vengeance” comes out and when you might sell this other book and everything else coming.
Victoria: So “Lesson in Vengeance” will come out, broadly summer 2021, so summer next year. I am online on Twitter and Tumblr and Instagram at SoSaidVictoria. And then I also have my website, VictoriaLeeWrites.com and my sub stack, which is a website version of a newsletter at VictoriaLee.Substack.com.
Jeff: Fantastic. Well ,Victoria, it’s been so awesome talking to you about all things “Feverwake” and getting to learn more about what you write and what’s coming next. Thank you so much for being here.
Victoria: Thank you so much. It’s a great talk.
Here’s the text of this week’s reviews:
There Galapagos My Heart by Philip William Stover. Reviewed by Will.
As a favor to his aunt Penny, Michael agrees to teach painting to the guests on her high-end cruise to the Galapagos Island. What could be the harm in a quick vacation before he moves into his new position as a senior acct. manager at his firm.
Off he flies to Ecuador and, before they set sail, Penny has the visiting faculty introduce themselves to the tourists. Their resident wildlife expert is going to be Benton… Michael’s insufferably handsome, charming, British ex-boyfriend.
He does everything he can to avoid Benton but, as they tour the capital and take photos where the Northern and Southern equators meet, they can no longer postpone the inevitable and talk. It doesn’t go well. Michael just can’t seem to catch a break. Penny tells them that they’ll be rooming together for the duration of the cruise.
They call a truce and, after the ship sets out to sea, Benton gives his first lecture about the various species that call the Galapagos home. In lesser hands, the presentation would be deadly dull, but the passengers are enthralled by him and Michael realizes that he may not be as over Benton as he once thought.
To avoid dealing with this new revelation, Michael races back to their stateroom and pretends to be asleep. Benton takes his time getting ready for bed, doing a tantalizing strip tease that Michael can’t help but watch through half-closed eyes.
He is so not over him.
After a little schedule manipulation from aunt Penny, Michael is to join Benton on an early morning onshore excursion to plan the upcoming nature walk for the guests. Their time alone amongst the wildlife is magical but things quickly take a sour turn when Benton suggest that Michael do a solo show of all the pieces he is sure to paint with the Galapagos as his inspiration.
He thinks he’s being supportive of Michaels’ talent. But Michael only feels the pressure to pursue something that he’s given up. Something he feels he’s failed at.
Back on the boat, there is a telegram waiting for Benton. Michael reads the awkwardly phrased congratulations. It seems Benton is now a father.
Despite the frustrations with his ex, Michael couldn’t help dreaming up romantic second chance scenarios with Benton. But he now has a child with somebody special waiting for him back in England. It was never meant to be with them.
Things are decidedly frosty between our heroes before Penny forces them to play nice for the remainder of the trip. At dinner they reminisce about the old days and Benton opens up about his emotionally distant family and why he cares about animals so much, forcing Michael to realize that he never really appreciated what a good thing he had with Benton.
The next morning Michael teaches his watercolor class. The passengers all seem to enjoy it. Benton as well. In fact, watching him teach so passionately about something he obviously loves has Benton feeling amorous. Once he returns from his onshore nature excursion, they’ll meet in their stateroom, where Benton will show Michael just how romantic he really feels.
Michael uses his downtime to catch up on some work and becomes so wrapped up in accounts and spreadsheets that forgets his scheduled rendezvous with his gorgeous ex. Penny decides it’s time for a heart-to-heart and explains that being chained to something because it represents (in Michael’s mind) security, might be keeping him from becoming his true self.
After teaching his final watercolor class, Michael goes ashore and finds an art gallery. After talking to the man whose art he admires, he realizes that security ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. It might be time to spread his wings and fly, just like the exotic birds Benton loves to talk about.
Michael quits his job and, after a brief but harrowing health scare, Benton and Michael realize that they’re far better together than they ever were apart.
FYI – Benton, we eventually find out, is the proud poppa of a baby wombat. He was part of the team taking care of the mother wombat in a zoo back in the UK.
I really, really enjoyed this super sweet, super tropey tropical romance. It was the perfect vacation that I didn’t know I needed.
One other thing I want to quickly mention is I think the character of Michael, in another author’s hands, could have come off as very annoying because he spends an awful lot of the story pushing people away or shoring up the walls that he’s built around his life. Benton and penny are constantly pushing him to explore his art more and he’s constantly saying ‘no’ until he finally has this ‘a-ha’ moment at the end of the story.
The way that the author uses Michael’s introspection and especially his humor, makes him very likable and very relatable. You understand why he does, and thinks, the way that he does. Overall, I just really loved the story about Michael and Benton, fighting their way back from something that didn’t work before – and most definitely works now.
If you haven’t guessed yet, I really enjoyed There Galapagos My Heart, and I highly recommend that, if you haven’t already, you give author Phillip William Stover a try. You won’t be sorry.
Hard Hart by E. Davies . Reviewed by Jeff.
I righted one of the wrongs in my reading and dove into a book by E. Davies. I loved meeting the citizens of Hart’s Bay in Hard Hart, the first book in the series. It’s easy to see why the book won a silver medal in the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards because it is wonderful. It ticked a lot of boxes for me with it’s small town romance and a fling to lovers, opposites attract romance that burns so hot.
Jesse Stone and his friends are new to Hart’s Bay. Jesse convinced them to come to Hart’s Bay from Portland as Jesse is trying to get over a bad breakup. His friends want to open up an art gallery and studio space to help bring tourtists to the depressed town.
And why is the town depressed? A huge schism split the Hart family who founded the town. The one’s that own most of the buildings in the downtown have left them unoccupied as a way to maybe let the town just die. It’s a great chance for Jesse and his friends if they can get a lease and start their business but there’s complications.
Finn Hart is on the other side of the Hart family. He’s in the uncomfortable position of hooking of with Jesse only to discover shortly after that Jesse and friends are his new neighbors. It’s too late though because they already have all the feels for each other… but they also have baggage too. Finn is worried he’s bad for Jesse because if his landlord finds out it the elder Hart might turn against them. Jesse still reeling from his breakup too. He doesn’t want Finn to just be a rebound and he’s also not sure he deserves someone as awesome as Finn.
E has done an amazing job with these characters and I loved everything about them. Finn so badly wants his family to get their shit together and stop holding the town hostage and he loves Jesse so much he doesn’t want him tangled up in the crap. He’s also so gentle and sweet with Jesse and totally would do anything for him. Jesse on the other hand balances between his friends and worries they’ll think he’s making a mistake and not wanting to hurt Finn. E keeps them moving forward, learning about each other, having amazing dates and some sizzling hot sex. And oh man does is that good. It gets hotter everytime–from the sex on the beach hookup that first night to the cementing of their HEA.
The town drama runs high too. Once it’s discovered that Finn and Jesse are dating and that Jesse and friends would dare to try to rejuvenate the town there are several attempts at sabotage. Jesse takes this all very personally because he’s got bullying in his past. It’s hard for him to shake and it casts more doubt on Finn for him because what if Finn was part of it all along? The whodunit creeps in slow and it unfulreals in a way that leaves a lot of question for the reader and it was so good. I loved how it played out and even how it caused Finn and Jesse to doubt for a bit.
I love the town too and all the charatcers E introduced. Small town series soar when they’ve got great townsfolk and Hart’s Bay has them. While there are members of the Hart family out to cause trouble, there’s far more wonderful people including in the Hart clan. I suspect I’m going to be coming back here just like a make routine trips to Hobie, Texas.
The audio is also great. Greg Boudreaux does a perfect performance, especially hitting all the right notes for Finn and Jesse, especially their vulnerable moments. Greg is a finalist in the LGBTQ+ category in the 2020 Independent Audiobook Awards for his work here and I totally heard why.
So I completely recommend Hard Hart by E. Davies. It was a perfect dose of small town sweetness.