As 2020 winds down, Jay from Joyfully Jay and Lisa from The Novel Approach join us for a look at some of their favorite reads from the year. We start off talking about holiday favorites from the season. Jay recommends His for Hanukkah by Reese Morrison and Lisa’s pick is Angels in the City by Garrett Leigh. Then it’s on to their favorites of 2020, which includes books by E.M. Lindsey, David R. Slayton, Lynn Van Dorn, Caleb Roehrig, Lily Morton and Joanna Chambers. Jay and Lisa also talk about a couple of books they are excited for in 2021.
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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.
- Jay & Lisa Recommendations
- Joyfully Jay website
- The Novel Approach website
- His for Hanukkah by Reese Morrison on Amazon
- Jay’s Review: His for Hanukkah by Reese Morrison on Joyfully Jay
- Favorite Book Lists: Holiday Stories on Joyfully Jay
- Angels in the City by Garrett Leigh on Amazon
- Lisa’s Review: Angels in the City by Garrett Leigh on The Novel Approach
- Jay’s Best of 2020 list on Joyfully Jay
- The Edge of Heaven by E.M. Lindsey on Amazon
- Jay’s review: The Edge of Heaven by E.M. Lindsey on Joyfully Jay
- White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton on Amazon
- Lisa’s Review: White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton on The Novel Approach
- Infected series by Andrea Speed on Amazon
- Royally Screwed by Lynn Van Dorn on Amazon
- Jay’s Review: Royally Screwed by Lynn Van Dorn on Joyfully Jay
- The Fell of Dark by Caleb Roehrig on Amazon
- Lisa’s Review: The Fell of Dark by Caleb Roehrig on The Novel Approach
- After Felix by Lily Morton on Amazon
- Jay’s Review: After Felix by Lily Morton on JoyFully Jay
- Merry Measure by Lily Morton on Amazon
- Mixed Messages series by Lily Morton on Amazon
- Finding Home series by Lily Morton on Amazon
- Oz by Lily Morton on Amazon
- Restored by Joanna Chambers on Amazon
- Lisa’s Review: Restored by Joanna Chambers on The Novel Approach
- Click by Nora Phoenix on Amazon (pre-order until January 20, 2021)
- Jordan L. Hawk on Amazon
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- Libro.fm website (use this link to receive your Big Gay Fiction Podcast special offer)
- Frolic Podcast Network website
Interview Transcript – Jay & Lisa
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Lisa and Jay, welcome back. It’s wonderful to have you here as always.
Jay: Thanks so much, Jeff. It’s great to see you, guys.
Jeff: I can’t believe we’re talking about the end of 2020 here.
Jay: Could not come any sooner.
Jeff: I know, right? Right here at the last Monday when this goes out. So it’s almost done.
Jay: Yeah. I’m happy to be rid of 2020.
Lisa: Let’s hope for 2021.
Jay: Yeah, fingers crossed.
Jeff: It’s gonna be better. And we’re gonna send the year out with some good book talk, of course. We’re right at the end of the holiday season, as we sit here between Christmas and New Year’s. And I know you’re a lot like us, you’re very into the holiday books. So I want to kick off and find out what one of your favorite holiday titles was within this holiday season for anybody who still might be reading some holiday books. And, Jay, I know you are, like, very into holiday like we are because you have the whole section of your site around favorite holiday books
Jay: We do. We have a whole list of our favorites.
Jeff: And we’ll link to that, like we always do, so that folks can reference that. What was a favorite for you this season?
Jay: I do like holiday books. And I always make it a personal mission to find some Hanukkah books because I’m Jewish and I celebrate Hanukkah. And definitely, there are far fewer Hanukkah stories every year than Christmas stories. So I was really excited this year, I found a Hanukkah book and a new to be author. It was called “His for Hanukkah” by Reese Morrison.
And it’s a Johnny Boy story. So the story of features Adam, who has recently broken up with a boyfriend and he is on leave from work for the holidays, sort of a forced leave from work, and he’s very much at his wit’s end. He is not a person who does well without structure and having a sense of schedule and timing. And so he’s sort of stressed about that. And he’s also feeling some Hanukkah stress in the sense of being sort of the Jew in the midst of a Christmas holiday that he doesn’t celebrate.
So he decides he’s gonna go to his club and maybe find somebody for the night and ends up basically just having a complete meltdown from the stress and encounters Tate, who has just returned to town. They were friends before. Tate’s transgender so the last time that Adam knew him, he was identifying as a lesbian.
So this is sort of the first time they’re getting to know each other again, and Tate sort of helps calm Adam down and get him settled. And then, they decide that they are going to, as you do in romance land, they decide that they are going to spend Hanukkah together for eight nights.
So over the course of the book, we see them not just having this temporary relationship, but turn it into something more serious. And what I really liked about it, aside from just sort of a really sweet, nice sort of Johnny Boy dynamic, if you like that kind of story, I like that we see vulnerability from both men. You know, Tate, because he’s recently had some physical transition, he’s still a little bit insecure about how Adam is going to respond to him. And then, Adam has a lot of anxiety and his own issues. And so I like how there was some balance there, but there also wasn’t like the magic-relationship-cures-all-type thing, which sometimes you get.
And I also really liked the way that the story explores Hanukkah, because… I don’t know how much you guys know, but Hanukkah is sort of a very minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, with the exception of the fact that it happens to coincide with Christmas, and so, Adam expresses a lot of feelings about sort of not celebrating the holiday that everybody else celebrates and what that’s like to sort of feel the odd person out and what, you know, sort of meaning of Hanukkah is for him. So I thought that was really interesting to see explored, a little more depth to it than just sort of the light night, sort of eight nights we’re having like lots high notes kind of Hanukkah story.
And I’m also super excited because, if I’m reading between the lines correctly, it says this is the first book in Morrison’s Traditions series, which seems to be going to hit some other Jewish holidays. So I’m super excited about that because, as rare as Hanukkah is, anything other than Hanukkah is almost unheard of. So I’m super excited to see where the series goes and really liked Morrison’s writing. And definitely, I’m looking forward to seeing what else author puts out.
Jeff: That’s terrific. I mean, not only a Hanukkah book, because those are in such short supply, but that new author and seems to be going forward with more Jewish traditions. That’s incredible. Definitely going on my reading list and an author to follow as well.
Jay: Yeah. And also Own Voices author for being Jewish, so that was nice to see.
Jeff: Lisa, holiday book?
Lisa: All right. Well, I’ve read quite a few, several, and hands down, my favorite holiday book this season is Garrett Leigh’s “Angels in the City.” It is a contemporary romance of two men, Jonah Gray and Sacha Ivanov. It takes place in London. And it’s a kind of a fake boyfriend, starts out as a fake boyfriend, there’s a sexy little meet cute when their elevator stalls, and they’re stuck in the elevator together, and there’s some kind of semi-flirty banter going on between them when Sacha proposes that he pretend to be Jonah’s date, boyfriend for a Christmas party that Jonah is obligated to go to.
And so they go together and the chemistry is just off the charts, you know. You can kind of feel it. I think that Garrett just did an amazing job with all of the sexy, flirty dialogue and just how the characters interacted with each other. It’s just the story of these two people who kind of just have never had a committed relationship. In fact, Sasha seems to be just completely allergic to the idea of relationships at all, period, and then finds this person in Jonah, who is kind and he’s generous and he just is kind of like the magnet for Sacha.
And they kind of, they work, it’s also an office romance. So if you like fake boyfriends and you like the office romance trope, they find that they start sort of watching for each other, you know, so there’s just to kind of keep their eye on each other without letting each of them know that they’re watching for them. And then, they start to realize, “Oh, my God, what’s going on? I’m watching for this person, like, I can’t wait to see them.”
And so, it’s a story that’s not without its complications. These two guys have some things to work out individually, especially Sacha. And it’s one of those stories that it just becomes this really beautiful, heartfelt, deeply emotional connection between these two men. She just knocked it out of the park. She got every nuance, just so perfect. From the dialogue to that elusive thing we call chemistry that you don’t…you know, can you even explain what that is?
But just the fact that when you see these two together on page, and they’re talking to each other, and they’re bantering, and they’re flirting, and I just thought it was an amazing… “Angels in the City” by Garret Leigh, I just thought it was just a really superb. It’s a bi-romance, just, I thought it was perfect. I think she did a great job on it. So that’s my pick this year.
Jeff: That sounds terrific. I especially like the meeting in the elevator. As long as you’re stuck, we might as well make a fake boyfriend relationship out of it while you’re there.
Lisa: Well, might as well, “I notice how well that your suit fits.” And, you know, yeah, it just really is, it’s a great story. It’s not all light and fluffy. It’s got some deeply emotional things threaded through it to kind of make it feel, you know, a little more robust and a little more to sink your emotions into, but it just is really a great book.
Jeff: 2020, for all the all the problems that we had in the year, sure brought really good books. I mean, just reviewing my own list that I’ll reveal in the next episode, it’s like, “Well, that was really good. That was really good. And that was really good. And that was really good.”
So, I’m looking forward to hearing what you two have, and especially if you overlap at all, in what you’re gonna bring here to the show. So, Jay, we’ll kick it off with you.
Jay: All right. Well, actually, I did publish my Best of List, the blog. We did our Best of List the week of the 14th. So we had four different reviewers, including myself, did a best-of post and then we did our best-of cover. So I’ll link you to that, if people want to check out our various annual favorites because I always find it fun to see, even if we’ve read similar books, how different our lists can be. So I’ll point you to that.
So I’m gonna pull a few off of that list. And I’m trying to pick some that I didn’t already talk about. But first that I’m gonna hit is “The Edge of Heaven” by E.M. Lindsey. I’ve talked about their writing before and how much I love it. And this was a standout. What’s interesting, I will say, is the first book I read of Lindsey’s is last year, and a Hanukkah story. The last one of the year I read was a Hanukkah story. And over that time, I read 15 books by E.M. Lindsey this year. So this was my year of this author for sure.
And as much as I loved all of them, this story, “The Edge of Heaven” was my favorite. It features what I think is the trope of the year, which is the fake relationship. I can’t even tell you how many stories I’ve read with this theme this year.
And what I really love is that it’s a very different spin and a little more nuanced, not quite as light and fluffy as the trope tends to be or often is. And in the story, Julian is…let’s see if I can get this right…his ex-husband is marrying his cousin. They divorced and his husband has now sort of moved up to the wealthier cousin.
And as much as Julian is over it, his mother is insisting that he come to the wedding nonetheless. She’s really quite horrible, as we see over the course of the book. And he allows his friend to convince him to hire an escort to come along and be, like, his boyfriend. But as it turns out, sort of a drunk-dialing mistake, ends up instead with Archer, who is in town from Paris, where he’s an astrophysicist and his brother is the governor. And he, for some reason, goes along with it and sort of finds the whole idea sort of endearing.
So not only is it a fake relationship, in the sense that you go off to the wedding, but Julian doesn’t realize that Archer is not, in fact, a hired escort, but is just a random guy who agreed to come along. So there’s a lot of nuance in the story, the relationship of Julian and his mother, as well as his father, who is as lovely as can be and is featured in the second book in the series (it’s also already out), the dynamic between the two of them. They’re so sweet and lovely and wonderful. And two men, who have spent a lot of time living up to other people’s expectations for them or other people want from them, are finally sort of breaking free of that, and moving towards what they want and the way that they love and support each other.
And even though the story takes place over a very short time, the connection is just so well written. And Lindsey is so good at character development. So, absolutely loved it. This is the first book in a series and the second book features Julian’s father with Julian’s best friend. So if you got tempted by the first one, the second one is equally awesome, and both are really great series.
Jeff: That sounds terrific. There’s one for the TBR now.
Lisa: Yeah, after we…
Jeff: Because I’ve been wanting to read some E.M. Lindsey anyway, so now you’ve just completely sold me on that.
Jay: Yes, if you’re gonna pick something to start with, this is a great choice because it’s early on in the series. It’s excellent book. I mean, I could recommend almost anything, but, you know, this is a good place to start if you don’t want to get into a series that’s already, you know, quite a number of books out.
Lisa: And I love that you fell so in love with their writing too that you just wanted to read as much as you possibly could of their…
Jay: I mean, there are very prolific authors, so quite a number of those came out this year, but I think I read at least five or six that were older books. So I sort of went back and forward and I couldn’t believe when I went back and realized I’d read 15 books. That’s quite a bit.
Lisa: That’s amazing. That’s amazing. I love that. Kudos to them. They hooked you.
All right, well, I too went back through my list and decided that I wanted to pick some books that I hadn’t spoken about at all yet this year. So my first is a book called “White Trash Warlock” by David R. Slayton. And it is an urban fantasy or it’s a fantasy book about a guy, Adam Lee Binder, who is a warlock, and he kind of considers himself white trash. And so there, that’s the title.
Jay: That’s the title.
Lisa: Yeah. But Slayton did such an amazing… This is like one of those books where you just, you finished it and you go, “Wow, it just about left me speechless.” I saw quite a few people, quite a few readers – and I have a very limited experience with Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, I did read, several years ago, the first several books in that series – said that Adam Lee kind of reminded them a little bit of Harry Dresden. And I guess I could kind of see that in their demeanor, you know, kind of the way they carry themselves, the way they thought about themselves.
But, anyway, so he is a warlock and even the term warlock, the author kind of puts his own little spin on it so much that when we think of warlocks, we think of these, you know, powerful, witchcraft, you know, and it’s not necessarily a complimentary sort of a title. But, anyway, Adam Lee has just about enough magic to not be skillful or powerful, necessarily, but he lives with his aunt in a trailer park in Oklahoma. And he has a brother. Their past is, let’s just say, complicated to keep it in its simplest form.
They have a complicated past and his brother has kind of just completely denounced his roots, denies his roots. Bobby Jack is now Robert. He’s got the suburban home and the suburban wife and the child and whatnot. Bobby’s/Robert’s wife just has some troubles, okay, and only the kind of troubles that Adam Lee could help with.
And so Robert kind of steps through the years and tries to overcome the guilt of what he did to Adam Lee years ago and calls Adam and asks, “Can you please come and help?” Well, he goes to Denver, and he helps as much as he can. But there is something sinister and magical and paranormal and powerful, and Adam is not quite sure how he’s gonna handle this and how he’s gonna save Robert’s wife.
But he goes about doing just that and, you know, runs into all kinds of just fantastical creatures, including his ex-boyfriend, he is fay. And so, you know, he is the prince of the fay and so you’ve got all of this kind of tension going on between Adam and the ex, and how that kind of influences in Adam’s journey and how he is going to try to defeat this big evil that’s hovering, you know, over the city.
So, you know, it was creative. It was imaginative. Adam was just all kinds of, to me, just lovable and relatable, every guy kind of hero. I thought that David R. Slayton just wrote the heck out of this book and I cannot wait for the next one. There is not a romantic element to the story, but there is a potential for a love interest for Adam Lee moving forward in Vic Martinez, he’s a police officer. And so, “White Trash Warlock,” I just thought it was a really fun, just a skillfully woven world building. I just thought it was just great characterizations, just a great book. So that was a lot of fun.
Jay: It sounds good. I’ve been on a real urban-fantasy kick this year. I’ll check it out. I mean, it’s something that I always liked, but I found that I’ve been really gravitating towards them lately. So…
Lisa: Yeah, it’s one of my favorites. You know, it’s so much fun. Like, I think that’s one of the reasons why I love Soulbound so much is, you know, you get New York City, a city that we’ve all been to. And then, throw all of these, you know, magical beings and everything into it. And then, it’s just, yeah, you know, I love it. Love it.
Jeff: Yeah, I’m getting more and more where I think I may actually start to dabble more in there, primarily because of your recommendations, genre.
Jay: Have you read Andrea Speed’s Infected Series?
Jeff: No, that’s another one too I think you’ve talked about here on the show that I want to read that sometime.
Jay: That’s a classic.
Lisa: It’s a classic. And yeah, if you get a chance to… I will warn you to gird your tear ducts for Book 2.
Jeff: Oh, goodness.
Lisa: But Andrea Speed’s Infected series is really, yeah, it’s one that you’ve got to read, especially, you know, Seattle, and it’s shifters. And it’s just really good, really good.
Jay: So for my second book, I am going to talk about “Royally Screwed” by Lynn Van Dorn, who some of you might know if you have read the omegaverse books with the dragon shifters. She also writes under Virginia Kelly with Piper Scott, so same author, different pen name. And “Royally Screwed” is an enemies to lovers, which is one of my favorite tropes.
The setup is that two neighboring kingdoms…so it’s sort of like real-world contemporary with a slight alternative, you know, universe spin in these neighboring countries in Europe, where the parents decided that they were going to make a marriage contract for their unborn, what they thought was son and daughter, only to find out that it turned out that they were both princes.
So despite the fact that they have no sense of whether these two men would be interested in other men, they decided that they would be contracted to marry. And over the course of the story, it covers quite a bit of time, we see Yuri and Angelo growing up together, and they’re definitely at odds in their early years. And, you know, in part because they’re sort of stuck together.
So they’ve got this sense of adversarial relationship with each other, but also this super intense bond. It almost made me think of the way siblings can sometimes be where they’re gonna, like, beat the heck out of each other, but nobody else better touch them, you know. So this is certainly not a, you know, incestuous-sibling relationship, but it has that sense of dynamic of they’re protective over each other at the same time that they are often odds.
And it’s compounded as they grow up and that Yuri does turn out to be gay and definitely is interested in Angelo. But Angelo has no interest, at this point, in men and is off dating women. And they both know that, ultimately, they’re going to have to get married and there’s sort of this, you know, clock running. And I guess, sort of, assume it’s going to be a marriage of convenience once they ultimately get together. But as they get older, they end up in fact falling for each other.
So I really liked it not just because I love enemies to lovers, I love the dynamic. It’s got a little, like, kink there, sort of a stank and kink is part of the story. But also, drew me in from that sense of bond, like the connectedness that the two of them had and the way they always sort of were aware of each other and circling each other even before they ultimately fall for one another, this sort of intrinsic bond that comes from being fated for one another from birth, you know, without having much choice about it. And the way that it then transfers into this big, all-consuming love affair.
So I really loved it, totally fell for it. And I thought it was a great sort of fantasy-ish, fairy tale-ish feeling contemporary story.
Jeff: I’ve been wanting to look at this when it’s been lurking on my TBR for a while because I love royal stories, anyway. And this one had enough of a pivot on that, where I’m like, “Well, that’s really interesting,” so it’s lurking there.
Jay: Yeah, it’s sort of got that modern-day royal, you know, set in the real world with just a little spin that these countries that aren’t real exist in this world. But beyond that, you know, it’s a real-world setting.
Lisa: And enemies to lovers is such a fun trope, too. You know, like when they start having feelings, and then they get mad at each other because they have feelings for each other. And it’s just so fun.
Jay: And, you know, the cenobite, this thing is so fun because there’s this clash here where, you know, as often with arranged marriages, they have no interest. And Angelo, specifically, has zero sexual interest in Yuri for a very long time. But they know that they are going to ultimately have no choice but to be together and the way that sort of clash happens, but then Yuri is totally into Angelo from the very beginning. And, you know, how they sort of move past that and how Angelo comes to fall for Yuri, even though he’s never really seen himself with a man. So it has that nice sense of romance to it.
Lisa: Yeah, that sounds great. My next book is another urban fantasy, except this one, young adult, so this one is a YA urban fantasy. It’s called “The Fell of Dark” by Caleb Roehrig. And it is a story about a high school boy, Auggie Pfeiffer, who lives in a suburb of Chicago, where there happens to be a convergence of ley lines. We all know that when there’s a convergence of ley lines…
Jay: You know what happens.
Lisa: There’s gonna be magic and mayhem going on, right? And it does. So Auggie is this kid who, unbeknownst to him, there is a prophecy that is causing him to be hunted by various factions, some of them want to study him, some of them want to save him and kind of make him their, you know, not overlord, but kind of worship him, you know, and then some just want him dead.
And so he’s just a kid who…he wants to pass algebra and maybe kiss a boy before he dies, you know, but he’s got all of this stuff going on. And again, this is just another one of those books where I thought Caleb Roehrig did an amazing job with the world building, bringing all of these, the kind of the various known characters from, you know, ancient times and whatever. You know, he brings all of these various characters into the story and integrates them into the prophecy and into these various groups.
This robust cast, again, it’s just so deeply explored. And he had to have done some research, you know, because he just brought all of this stuff together into this. But, again, the action sequences, the suspense, the tension, and there are two boys who kind of get involved with Auggie that he finds that he’s attracted to both of them, but they have secrets and so then he doesn’t know who to trust. And so you’ve got this whole dynamic going on underneath of, you know, again, he doesn’t know who wants to kill him and who wants to save him and who can he trust.
And so, again, the prose is just super sharp. The dialogue is perfect. And I don’t know if this is Book 1 in a series, but he kind of left some cards on the table that if he wanted to tell more stories with Auggie, I think he could. So, you know, I don’t know if that’s a possibility. But “The Fell of Dark” by Caleb Roehrig, more excellent urban fantasy, this time with young adult characters, just really well written, entertaining, just a real page turner.
Jeff: Even more reason for urban fantasy in 2021 for me.
Jay: That’s your homework, Jeff. Before we talk next, you need to have read at least one new urban fantasy, how’s that?
Jeff: All right, by the time we talk at the end of March. That is my task now.
Lisa: I think I have a type, now that I think about it.
Jay: So my last one is “After Felix” by Lily Morton. Morton is on my list every single year. She’s on my monthly list, every time I read one of her books. This was my favorite of the year, I think, of her books. And one of the reasons I really liked it is because I found a setup really interesting.
You know, as with you guys, I read like 250 books a year or something. So I’m always really drawn to things that have a different setup or a different approach to something that’s sort of a common trope.
So this is the sort of lovers reunited theme. And unlike most books where you pick up sort of after the breakup but before for the guys are back together, this story actually has a before and after, and it’s laid out right there the table of contents. So before we have Max and Felix who meet, sort of thinking they’re going to have a one-night stand, casual hookup, that, of course ends up turning to more. And one of them is interested in sort of making it more serious and the other doesn’t, and things fall apart.
When you’re starting, there’s a before and there’s an after that something’s gonna happen partway through the book that’s gonna should have shatter this building romance. And then, the story picks back up for after when they are reconnecting. And I don’t want to give too much away, but will just say that the one that decided to break it off realizes that was a big mistake. But at this point, things have sort of moved on. And we see how they figure out how they can sort of come back from this, you know, very painful breakup. And the way that they change over the course of the story from men who really want something that’s only casual to wanting something that’s more serious.
And it does standalone really well, but it is part of Morton’s Close Proximity series. So if you’ve read the other books, we do meet both Felix and Max in earlier books in the series. And so the second half of this book sort of brings us into that timeline, where the two of them are sort of present day, I guess, you’d say, where the two of them have broken up and then get back together.
So as with everything that Morton writes, there’s a lot of humor, a lot of banter, great interplay among the characters, but also just a really interesting dynamic to see this relationship, you know, sort of the complete up, the plunge down, and then the back up again, which is a pattern that you don’t always get. Like I said, often these books sort of start at the halfway point. And here, we get both, you know, sort of the good and the bad, and bringing them ultimately back together.
Lisa: I love that book.
Jay: You’re nodding so I’m guessing you read it too.
Lisa: I so agree, I love it. And, you know, when you were talking about that being…you know, with the Close Proximity series, and I think that of all of her trilogies, of all of her series that are trilogies, and these characters get introduced in Book 1 and you get to know him a little more in Book 2, I think Max and Felix are the couple that I was anticipating their book more than any other because she introduced that and teased that out and that friction and, you know, Felix’s snark and Max, you know, just kind of took it or whatever. I just think that she did such a great job of teasing that relationship out to the point when that book came out, I was so excited to read it .
Jay: For sure, because we do… Like I said, they both appear, I think, definitely, in the first book, I think they both appear in the second book as well. And so, we see that they’re at odds but we don’t know why. And so it is really well done because you do get that hints of their relationship early on, so you could jump in here and get the backstory. But if you’ve read the other books, it definitely gives you that sense of like, “What’s going on with them?” Then, you get their full story, which is done really nicely.
Lisa: Yeah, no doubt. Yeah. I love Lily too. I mean, I read every single book she comes out with in like a day. You know, you just can’t put him down. They’re so fun, so fun. Her Christmas book was good this year too.
Jay: “Merry Measure”?
Jay: That was also excellent. I almost did that for my holiday story, but I knew I was talking about this one. It takes place in Amsterdam and great setting, great holiday story.
Lisa: Yep, I agree.
Jeff: I want to do this series. Earlier this year, I got through and adore the Mixed Messages. And then these books came out, and I’m like, “Uh, now I want to do these as well.” But we all find it wonderful.
Jay: Oh, read Finding Home in between.
Lisa: You have to. I mean, you don’t have to, but you should because there is a character in “After Felix” who is in the Finding Home series too, so you’ll kind of get that whole backstory there as well.
Jay: So there’s three trilogies that take place in a shared world and actually, some of her standalone books also are in this world. So you can jump to any of them, but if you read them straight through, like in the Finding Home Series, you meet Henry’s brother from Mixed Messages and then his brother Silas is the hero of Finding Home.
So, like, you’re gonna want to read them all, so start with Finding Home first before you move into this one because then you’ll be reading them in order because you have to read “Oz” That’s actually my absolute favorite of hers.
Lisa: I love Oz and Silas, yeah.
Jeff: I’m not gonna read any new books in 2021 because I’m getting all those homework for previous ones.
Lisa: Those books, I swear, I mean, you’ll be through them in, you know, week and a half or whatever, because they just are so, yeah, they’re so charming and funny and clever and snarky. And, yeah, they’re fun.
Jeff: I do love her sense of snark, it’s so pitch perfect.
Lisa: Yep. My last book of 2020. It’s not an urban fantasy. Let’s just start with that.
Jeff: Breaking a trend.
Lisa: Yeah, it’s a historical romance though, which you know I also love my historical romances. It is the fifth book in Joanna Chambers’ Enlightenment series, “Restored.”
Jay: Oh, yeah. It was great.
Lisa: Isn’t it? It was such a beautiful story and the characters are older. And so, it was kind of nice to see a romance between two men in their 40s as opposed to, you know, your mid-20s typical romance characters. Kit Redford, and Henry Asquith, the Duke of Avesbury, I hope I’m pronouncing that right, Avesbury. It is the story of a man who is married and is committed to his wife, but his wife has given him permission to seek relationships outside of their marriage bed. And so, Henry goes to a brothel one night and lays eyes on Kit and is immediately taken with him. And he buys Kit’s contract in order to have exclusive access to Kit for a year.
Well, throughout their twice a week, very regimented, Henry has kept himself to the twice a week schedule, as a means of kind of keeping a sense of personal control. But they end up falling very deeply in love in that first seven or eight months of the contract, but neither one of them is bound to admit that, but they are very much in love with each other.
And then something happens family related that pulls Henry away. And there are circumstances behind Henry’s quick departure that leaves Kit absolutely devastated and heartbroken. And so they are apart for 18 years when Henry comes back, and does not obviously find a warm reception at all from Kit but is willing to do anything and everything to get Kit back, and to not necessarily make amends, but to kind of repair and restore the relationship that they would have had if Henry had not been pulled away.
And so, the building, again, of the lessening of Kit’s resentment and the building of his understanding of what Henry was going through. And the way Joanna rekindle the romance that was brewing between them 18 years earlier was just really gorgeous. And again, this was a situation, and I know we’ve talked about this on multiple occasions, in historical romance, it’s a romance between two people who were at completely opposite ends of the social spectrum and, you know, they would not have worked. I mean, you know, this wouldn’t have been a situation where they would have gone to their club and had dinner together as friends in public.
The circumstances under which Henry reconnects with Kit is in very different circumstances. He is no longer a sex worker, and he owns his own business. And so, they’re starting off already in a place where not socially equal, but they are equal in a sense that Kit can take care of himself now. And so, I don’t know, I just thought it was amazingly romantic. And I just thought Joanna did such a fantastic job of not making it easy for them to come back together.
These two characters worked to make things right between them. And Henry worked so hard to make things right for Kit. And kind of as a side story then is the dynamic that’s going on within Henry’s family and his children. And I think that his son is actually going to get a book in the series as well. Maybe the next book in the series. And so, it was really beautifully written, beautifully told historical romance.
And sometimes, you have to suspend a little bit of disbelief when you’re reading historical romances. With this one I didn’t. It just was so just genuinely romantic and just really beautiful. And I loved it. So “Restored” by Joanna Chambers, Book 5 in the Enlightenment Series.
Jay: Yeah, what I really liked is, and you mentioned this, not just about them being older but the sense that this was sort of a true, like, second chance. You know, Henry, now his children are grown and so that responsibility that he felt to be there with them and take care of them and why he had to leave Kit, you know, is now gone. And suddenly, for the first time in his life, you know, especially as sort of a noble who had a very predetermined path, he’s able to live for himself.
And the first thing that he wants to do when he has this opportunity is go back and reconnect with this, you know, man that he loved his entire life and couldn’t have. So that sense of it, of, you know, these men sort of embarking on their second stage, and, as you said, Kit has made much of his life and he’s sort of in his second phase of life, and the two of them have now, you know, are finding a way to come back together after all they’ve been through for so many years. Like, it’s really interesting.
Lisa: Kit, being able to be independent and not be reliant upon Henry for, you know, everything, basically, it just kind of put them on that equal footing. And, you know, you’ve mentioned Henry’s children, there was just also a lovely dynamic, just the friction between Henry and one of his sons that, at the end, it just was like… I just was like, “Oh, my God, that’s so beautiful.” Yeah, I thought she just did a really lovely job on this one. It’s probably my favorite in the series. It’s probably my favorite.
Jay: I’ll just go in for folks who haven’t read the series. The first three books are sort of a trilogy that feature the same characters over the course of three books. And then, Books 4 and 5 featured new couples. And this one, although I think there’s some maybe minor cameos, this one, with the characters are completely…
Lisa: Completely stand alone.
Jay: Yeah, they will. So while I would strongly recommend, because the Enlightenment Series is fabulous, you could jump in on Book 5 with no problem without having read the original trilogy or the subsequent book or short stories and stuff that are connected.
Jeff: That’s good to know. So flashing forward a little bit, Jay, what’s something you’re looking forward to book wise in 2021?
Jay: All right. So lots of things sort of already on my calendar. It’s amazing when you start putting those 2021 dates on the schedule, but I’m going to call out “Click” by Nora Phoenix. It’s the third book in her White House Men series. And as you may have guessed from the title, it takes place in and around the White House.
So there’s a little bit of a “West Wing” feel, particularly in the first book that features White House staffers. The second book features CIA and, I think, FBI and secret service. So it’s a little more on the law enforcement end. And this book was going to bring us back to the White House with the White House photographer and Chief of Staff, both of these characters we’ve seen in the first two books.
So what I’m really enjoying about this series, particularly, is that the central focus is a bombing during Pride March that happens five years prior to the start of the series. So, at least, thus far, all of the characters have some connection to the bombing. They were journalists, they were working the Pride booth, they were in it, they were watching. And they have never found who was behind the bombing.
So that investigation is still ongoing. And it’s sort of carrying over as well as some other suspense-related things, that I don’t want to give away, that happened in the course of the book. So what’s interesting is it’s an overarching sort of mystery suspense plot. But each book features different main characters, which is not typical of that style book. Usually, you’re following the same characters as they investigate the case, you know, from book to book. But in this case, each book features a different couple, but there’s this overarching mystery going behind it about who was behind the bombing, who’s behind the things that have happened and happening in the subsequent books.
And then, sort of overlaid on it is a very sort of “West Wing” style, you know, sort of young and enthusiastic about government. And I really needed that right now. So, especially, in this book, on some ways it seems almost like unrealistic and idealistic when you think about everything that’s been going on, you know, in our own government now. But it’s sort of fun to see something that has that look of people who are like really excited about serving their country and working in the White House and how all that plays out. So I’m really excited.
Like I said, we’ve met both of these characters. There’s an age cap element to this. There’s, I think, a virgin hero element to this, and in addition to this sort of overarching series plot. So I’m really looking forward. I think this series is gonna have, I don’t know, six, seven, eight books. Sounds like it’s planned to be quite a long series, but this is the third so there’s still time to catch those first couple of books before this third one comes out.
Lisa: Well, apart from about 47 sequels that I’m looking forward to, I picked Jordan L. Hawk’s new book, “Blind Tiger.” Yeah, I’m so flipping excited. Now, I don’t have a release date because I don’t think that he has a release date on it yet, but his Hexworld series is set in the late 19th century New York City. And this is a spinoff of the Hexworld city that moves ahead to the 1920s. And so it’s a roaring ’20s Hexworld spin off called “Blind Tiger,” roaring ’20s. Ha, don’t you love that?
He is so clever. I just love his work. So “Blind Tiger” by Jordan L. Hawk. I really don’t know a whole lot more about it other than it’s set in this Hexworld where there are witches and their familiars, and the Metropolitan Witch Police. They, you know, go out and investigate all manner of paranormal activity and crimes and whatnot.
So I have a feeling that it might be set around the Metropolitan Witch Police in the 1920s. That’s just a guess, not gonna say 100% for certain. But “Blind Tiger,” Jordan L. Hawk, he always does such a great job of the world building and the character building and the overarching, you know, storylines in his series are always just top notch. So that’s my pick.
Jay: I will read every single thing that Jordan ever writes.
Lisa: I love his work. I’ve read, I’ve literally have read every single thing.
Jay: Yeah, I think, this is my E.M. Lindsey. I think four or five years ago, I had my year of Jordan Hawk, and I think I read 17 books by him… So, at this point, I mean, I don’t even hesitate. I don’t even care what it’s about. Anything…
Lisa: I don’t even read the blurbs anymore. It’s just like, “Yep, bring it, Jordan.”
Jeff: One click, here we go.
Lisa: Yep, yeah. So, yeah, “Blind Tiger,” Jordan L. Hawk.
Jeff: Oh, fantastic. As usual, you’re no doubt hurting the book budgets of all of our listeners and myself between the holiday books and the best of 2020, and this little sneak peek into 2021. And now, I have homework even for the next time we get together in 2021.
Jay: You do have homework.
Jeff: So, Jay and Lisa, thank you so much, as always, for being here. It’s always such a joy. Thank you for a year sharing wonderful books with us and look forward to continuing it in 2021.
Lisa: This is always a bright spot, always a bright spot in the year, yeah.
Jay: Guys, happy holidays.
Lisa: Happy Hanukkah. Happy Christmas. Happy Holidays, everyone.