Jeff & Will shout out a special mini-series from Smart Podcast, Trashy Books that detail the recent issues with the Romance Writers of America. They also discuss the finale of NBC’s The Good Place and the Netflix series AJ and the Queen.

Will reviews The ABC’s of Spellcraft Collection Volume 1 by Jordan Castillo Price and Jeff reviews 19 Love Songs by David Levithan.

Jordan joins Jeff to talk about the Spellcraft books as well as Bitter Pill, which is the eleventh book in the PsyCop series. Jordan details the origins of both series, talks about what’s coming next and also what got her started as an author.

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Show Notes

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Jump to Reviews

Interview Transcript – Jordan Castillo Price

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Jeff: Jordan, thanks so much for coming on the show. It’s great to have you here.

Jordan: It’s nice to see you again, Jeff. Thanks for having me.

Jeff: Absolutely. We have so much to talk about, and kind of the big news is you’ve just released the 11th PsyCop book, back on January 20th. Before we talk about the new book, take us back a little bit and tell us about the series itself and what got it started in the first place.

Jordan: Yeah, it’s crazy to think that it’s been going this long, but, it was originally, it originally started in 2006. I answered a call for entries at Torquere Press, which was one of the earliest m/m presses, and they were looking for novellas with paranormal elements. Set in a day to day world, and that’s kind of my jam.

So, I wrote it specifically for that call to entry. But the funny thing is, for people who don’t know the series, the protagonist is a psychic medium, who has a bit of a pill habit and, but drugs shut down his psychic abilities so that he doesn’t have to see ghosts everywhere. And where that came from was I had a friend who was a paper hoarder, and he hoarded all sorts of weird types of paper in stationary, and he had these post-its from a pharmacy or from a pharmaceutical rep with a printing on it for something called Spectracef and I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if Spectracef made you see ghosts? But you know that Spectracef means wide spectrum antibiotic, clearly. But that’s where the drug came from in the story.

And that’s really the genesis of all the world building is that post it note.

Jeff: That is amazing. Post it notes.

Jordan: You never know where the idea’s going to hit you.

Jeff: So where do we find Victor as “Bitter Pill” opens and what do we have to look forward to in this story?

Jordan: Well, “Bitter Pill” opens, he’s now working for a government agency that is kind of a psychic big brother, and he’s working there because he suspects they have always been watching him. So he’d rather be on the inside if he, you know, if he has his druthers to know who’s keeping tabs on him.

And he figures that it gives him an in to explore a bit of his past, which is sort of lost to the foster care system. The prior novel “Murder House” had him doing his first undercover assignment. So he was playing a civilian rather poorly. Unbeknownst to him, he was picking up some more interpersonal skills.

He’s notoriously awkward throughout the series. And I wouldn’t say inept. He’s surprisingly good at what he does, but inside he’s cringing the entire time. And I think he grows a lot in book 10, interpersonally, from having to live with another agent and pretend to be married. So book 11, he’s, it’s more of a classic PsyCop I would call it.

It’s more digging into his past, digging into ghosts. There’s a drug on the scene that psychics get so addicted to that they just do it until they die. And so he’s trying to figure out what it is, where it’s coming from, and what to do about it before it can spread… and ghosts are involved.

Jeff: I would expect nothing less than in a PsyCop book than to have ghosts.

Looking back to 2006 did you have any inkling that this would go for, you know, now 13, 14 years and 11 books?

Jordan: I had no idea. And you know, the publishing landscape was so different, even five years ago, let alone 14 years ago. Self-publishing wasn’t even a thing yet, and the Kindle didn’t exist yet.

Actually, my very first book that came out was on a CD that they mailed people. I can’t even believe the changes that have come through the publishing industry since I’ve been writing. And no, never. I didn’t know the series would have legs, as I call it. I mean, I knew there was something special about it.

I knew the protagonist’s voice was unique and I knew his chemistry with the love interest was great. And I knew there were a lot of stories I could tell with the two of them, but I would never have thought I could do it for a living ever.

That would’ve been, I would’ve been stunned and probably wouldn’t have believed you if you would’ve told me back then.

Jeff: Did you plan it with the idea of a series initially, was it just, there’s this call and I’m going to put this book in for this call?

Jordan: It’s exactly what you just said, Jeff. There’s this call and I’m going to put this book in and Oh my God, someone bought it because I had this big Excel spreadsheet and I had a stable of stories and I would send them out, and get them back, and send them out, and get them back.

And like once a year would maybe sell something. Almost never. And even though every time I wrote something and thought, Oh, I think this is great, I would send it out. And you know. Nothing. So, even though when I sent out “Among the Living,” I thought it was special. You know, I thought they had about everything. So…

Jeff: As we writers do…

Jordan: We do, we love our latest baby.

Jeff: What keeps the series interesting for you after so many years?

Jordan: I think that the flow – there was a time when I needed to write, different standalones and explore different things because it wasn’t fresh for me anymore. And I knew that, I was going to regurgitate the same thing if I just pushed and wrote only PsyCop and I think lately I have found a balance where I am writing PsyCop and one other popular series.

And as I flow between the two of them, I get ready and eager to write the other one. So it’s a good balance of having, you know, a happy protagonist and then a sullen protagonist and switching up between the two seems to fuel the writing flow.

Jeff: Where do you get the ideas for the books as you go forward? Is it something that triggers just out in the world or do you have like a list of things you want to put Victor through or some mix thereof?

Jordan: I think the ideas come from the writing of the previous book or the previous few books. So I’ll hint, I don’t have an overall game plan, but I do have a game plan that started a couple of years back. So the thing that I will write in PsyCop 12 is something I’ve been thinking about for probably four years.

So I’m thinking on it for awhile. I’m thinking, okay, how am I going to reveal this thing and how can I hint toward this thing? I think my generative process involves a lot of simmering. And so I will have been thinking about, I want this to happen to Vic, or I want this to happen to Jacob. So, how can I start nudging the books toward it and making it feel inevitable?

Jeff: How far out are you planned at this point? And do you know when this wraps up or is it just for as long as you have these ideas?

Jordan: I make plans and then as I get toward the next step, I see it’s all changed. And this is how I outlined too, I’ll outline the whole thing. I’ll write the first chapter, I’ll look at my chapter two outline and say, well, that’s no good anymore.

You know, because something will have happened as I was writing chapter one that makes chapter two seem not quite right. And so I plan. But then I have the flexibility to change all my plans because I discover so much in the process. So I initially planned a certain ending for the series where we uncover Vic’s origin story and it’s, Oh my God, this is what this was my past and this is why I am the way I am.

And I figured, boom, that was a good end. But two things. I feel there’s a lot of ground I can still cover with these two guys and a lot of exploration I can do. And you can kind of keep dropping them into different situations and they’re still interesting. So as long as they’re still interesting, I really don’t see a reason to make it end.

But it does mean I think I need to move the origin story up and make it not be the big climactic moment, because I think there’s only so long you can stretch out suspense until it becomes silly and tedious. So like I’m reading Janet Evanovich’s “Stephanie Plum” series. I don’t know how familiar you are with it, but she’s got a love triangle that’s been going on since book one, and it’s to the point where it’s just dumb. It’s like, just pick one of the guys. It’s dumb at this point, and I don’t want it to be dumb like, well, you know, Vic’s got all these resources, why can’t he figure this out? He’s not a dumb guy, you know?

Jeff: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Is there anything you could tease us without going into spoiler territory about PsyCop 12?

Jordan: I have not decided where it’s set. And that’s what I’m stuck on. So that’s not much of a teaser, but it’s where I am right now. I know who needs to be there, and I know what Vic and Jacob are going to proactively be trying to do.

They’re gonna wring some answers out of somebody, but I don’t, I don’t know where. So that’s kinda, that’s kinda what I’m toying with right now and trying to figure out.

Jeff: It’s still simmering a little bit.

Jordan: It’s at the simmer point. Yep.

Jeff: Let’s talk about that other’s theories that you work on “The ABCs of Spellcraft.”

Jordan: Yeah, that’s my new baby. That one just started about a year ago.

Jeff: And you’ve got four out and you’ve just got the audio bundle out as well. Tell us a little bit about this series.

Jordan: So “The ABCs of Spellcraft” started as a project between, me, Clare London, Jesi Lea Ryan and Dev Bentham where we just wanted to write a cute Valentine story and all four of us wanted to release a story at the same time and have like a fun little group book release.

So we each wrote a book with the same beginning line, “nothing good ever came of a Valentine.” And we each released our book, and I wouldn’t have known it, but mine had legs. And I said, you know what? Dixon and Yuri have more to do. So mine turned into a series and it was surprisingly well received because I think it’s very different for m/m.

I was feeling like, m/m needed something fresh and by that I mean I had been studying mainstream paranormal cozies and I was studying their structure. I was studying their language, and I was studying their conventions and I was wondering if it was possible to write an m/m where the sex scenes were downplayed.

I didn’t remove them entirely, but they’re definitely not super descriptive – no swearing, comedic, and focused on screwy personalities in fascinating characters that are quirky and that you don’t know what they’re going to do next. So it’s almost like, it’s almost like an, “I Love Lucy” m/m. Or something happening, but with magic and, and really allowing myself to be as weird with my humor as I want to be, even though that’s a little scary and a little vulnerable. I think writing funny is hard because you don’t know if you’re going to put a joke out there and think it’s hilarious and watch it fall flat. You just, you never know. But having my narrator, he’s so good at understanding my timing that every single line that I write that is supposed to be comedic, he hits spot on. Like he just gets, he gets every single thing that I thought was supposed to be funny. He delivers it as if he thinks it’s supposed to be funny too.

Jeff: Did you two collaborate in that regard or did he just read it and immediately know?

This is what this book needs to be and who these characters are.

Jordan: We collaborate a lot on character. In the beginning, but I do this with all my narrators, I describe who I think the character is to them, and, I talk a little bit about their motivations and, you know, if they have any quirks or something, I might suggest that too.

So, I mean, he did get a list of who everyone was and how they should be. However, in auditions, I had a line that went, “Oh my gosh, how do you think somebody’s going to pay you $1,000 for a stupid poem? “and he replies to his cousin “Well, it doesn’t have to rhyme.” And this guy was the only one who read that as if it was funny, you know?

And everyone else just started flat out read it. And I knew like, wow, the one guy who understood that was a joke there is the one I want to use, you know, and I definitely hear, you know, his rhythms as I write those characters now too.

Jeff: Given that this started from the same prompt as your other authors did in that Valentine series, did that essentially set off how “Spellcraft” created itself or was this bubbling around somewhere for you before the prompt came up?

Jordan: I understand what you mean. No, I think it was sparked by the greeting card and the Valentine because the premise of “Spellcraft” is that you need two people to work the magic. You need someone to paint an image and that harnesses the magic and you need someone else to write words on top of the image.

And that directs the magic and a greeting card was the perfect place to have that combination take place.

Oh, and I should say, Nick Hudson is the name of my super fabulous narrator.

Jeff: And new to the m/m genre

Jordan:.Yes, he’s got experience doing cozies and mysteries, but he’s never done an m/m before. So Nick Hudson is his m/m narrator name, and I can’t imagine a more perfect Dixon. Just, just nails it.

Jeff: And I’m excited that you’re bringing more cozy to m/m cause I think cozy, at least to me, seems underrepresented in the m/m market, not just an m/m paranormal, but m/m in general. I think there’s not a ton of the cozy mystery type stuff out there.

Jordan: Very few. Only a few people writing it. I think that there is room for people who want something a little bit different. You know, it’s hard to know how deep to drill down in your genre, and whether you’re being too hyper-specific because it seems like, wow, I have a gay paranormal, cozy with witches.

It just seems like, you know, that’s the potential audience there, 30 people. I feel fortunate that enough people were willing to take a chance on it.

Jeff: Are they as much fun to write as they are to read and even to look at because the covers are ridiculously fun.

Jordan: Oh, good. I’m glad you think so.

Sometimes they are, and sometimes they’re a little harrowing because I get that anxiety of like, I think this is freaking hilarious, but could be I’m the only one who feels that way. And you really don’t know what’s going to fall flat or what people are going to get.

Jeff: Anything new for “Spellcraft” in 2020 since we’ve got PsyCop 11 out, do we get something new for this?

Jordan: Oh, absolutely. I don’t have a release date yet, but “Spellcraft” five should be coming out soon. And so the way I wrote it structurally is that the books are novellas. They’re about half, half to a third the length of a typical novel, and each one is its own little mystery or romp. But they form arcs, they form distinct arcs. So the arc of the first four that went into the first collection in the first audio is, the main character’s uncle is missing – what’s going on with Uncle Fonzo? And that arc is resolved by the end of the first four. And, thereafter, there’s going to be arcs of three books.

So the next three that are coming out is what’s going on with Pinion Bay, which is the city where they all live. So there’s, there’s something sinister going on in the city and they have to figure that out. So, yeah, so each grouping has its own arc, and then each book individually has its own thing to solve.

Calling it a mystery is kind of a stretch. It’s more paranormal than mystery, but I’m calling them cozies because they take the characterization and rhythms of a cozy more than any other genre that I can think of.

Jeff: Both of your series involve a lot of world building. What’s your approach to building the world so that it’s there and doesn’t overwhelm the reader as they try to figure out the world? And what kind of research do you do to build this stuff? Or is it just all top of the head?

Jordan: I feel bad when people ask me how I do my world building cause it’s just so instinctive for me. And I think, as far as I can tell, I think my process is that when I, when I lay down a rule, like if I say, you can’t destroy a piece of spellcraft because it will set, it could set the magic.

You don’t know. It could be doing opposite what you think you’re trying to do. So now that I say you cannot destroy spellcraft going forward. You can’t destroy spellcraft. So what does that mean? Well, I could have someone destroy one and have it boomerang or, what I did do is I had my protagonist make a business out of unmaking them, which is the correct way to dispose of them.

But the things I say, the things I like, kind of draw a line in the sand and say, this is the way it is. Then I’m stuck with that going forward and I have to figure out ways around it or figure out ways to incorporate it. So it’s almost like a snowball rolling down a hill. I just start with this little crumb of an idea and then it gets bigger and bigger as I extrapolate on it logically and try to see it through to its logical end. But, not planned, not planned at all.

Jeff: Are you generally a pantser?

Jordan: I think I’m a combo writer and that I do know where the stories are going to end. I generally know what the climactic scenes are. From reading “Save the Cat” I’ve actually found a new point that I write toward that isn’t the climax, but it’s, It’s the false victory, the moment of ta-da and everything’s great, but it’s not, I, for some reason, that’s a stronger shining moment in my mind of, of where the protagonist thinks they’re good, and they’re really not good. And it’s a more interesting part because I think the twists come out of that.

So I’m a semi-planner, but like I said, I come up with stuff as I’m writing that turns out to be really important that I have to then incorporate. In “Spellcraft,” which is more comedic, there are usually like running gags, going through that. I, you can’t plan a running gag.

It has a naturally come out of the text. For some reason I’ve noticed everyone’s been saying Pinion Bay is not a thriving metropolis. And I, one day I just said, I wonder how many times that has actually been said in the series. And you know, looking back, I’m like, yeah, that’s pretty much how everyone described Pinion Bay.

But these things come out evolve organically. I think.

Jeff: Going back in time for you a little bit. What got you started as a writer?

Jordan: I was a voracious reader of high fantasy and urban fantasy, and when I got my first computer in 1999 and it was a Bondi blue iMac, I did two things. I put Photoshop on that sucker and I learned how to Photoshop and I started writing.

It just was an impulse in me that I think with a computer, it’s the ability to delete and redo as many times as I need to, frees up my creativity in a way that using traditional materials, there’s always the thought that I could ruin something by making the wrong mark or writing the wrong word and knowing that I can assemble and reassemble and redo and change as many times as I want, which is what the computer allows me to do. It really opened me up to all sorts of different self-expression.

Jeff: And those blue iMacs were so cute.

So the high fantasy paranormal material, is that always kind of just where your heart’s been?

Jordan: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I’m not one for contemporary much of anything. I like to have either monsters or a strange technology. Sci-fi. Not necessarily space opera. I’ve written on a little bit of sci-fi, but they’re more speculative, like, one of my older sci-fi works is well, what would happen if somebody invented a food that ended world hunger? How would society then change? Or, what if vampirism were a deadly contagion. Or, I’m trying to think what else I’ve written that is more. I have a futuristic one called “Zero Hour.” That was, what if, what if everyone was a clone? I have another one, called “Meatworks” that, where the question is, well, what if instead of wifi and the internet and cell phones, what developed in the 70s, 80s, 90s was robotics, and so it’s a world run by robotics.

Jeff: Were there any particular books or authors that really influenced you as you in those formative years?

Jordan: I think Tanith Lee was probably my biggest influence. She had a lot of sort of androgynous, beautiful, deadly characters that always seemed, it seemed very much larger than life. And I think when I was a new writer, I mimicked her style, although it wasn’t my style at all. Turns out. But I got that all out of my system, you know, before I published, because I wrote a lot, a lot before I ever was published.

Jeff: Very cool. Is there something genre or sub-genre wise that you really want to tackle that you just haven’t quite gotten to yet?

Jordan: I would like to someday probably do a disaster survival type thing. I don’t know why, but I’m always very intrigued by that.

Jeff: I do love a good disaster movie.

Jordan: I do too, and especially if they have to sort of make due. I was just thinking about “Lost.” Did you watch “Lost” when it was on?

Do you remember? Like in the very beginning when they were just figuring out how to be on the Island and they figured out that Sawyer needed glasses so they found like glasses among the corpses and like soldered together, two halves, the two different glasses for him to wear. Just the stuff like that intrigues the heck out of me.

So I would like to do a good survival novel sometime. I don’t know when.

Jeff: That would be awesome. I hope you figure that out cause there’s not enough disaster type novels out there in the world or in the m/m world either.

Jordan: I can’t think of any.

Jeff: I can’t either at the moment. So please make one.

What is the best way for everyone to keep up with you online? To keep track of future PsyCop and future “Spellcraft” and all other Jordan goodies.

Jordan: Well, definitely you could look me up on Facebook or, you can sign up for my newsletter at

Jeff: Perfect. We will put the link to that in the show notes along with all the books we’ve talked about. Wish you the best of success with “Bitter Pill” and all the good stuff with “Spellcraft” as well.

Jordan: Thank you, Jeff. It was so fun to talk to you.

Book Reviews

Here’s the text of this week’s reviews:

19 Love Songs by David Levithan. Reviewed by Jeff.
David Levithan is one of my literary heroes for the many ways he tells a story. I loved diving into his new edition of shorts called 19 Love Songs. It’s a wonderful collection that shows off his talents. Many of these stories have appeared in other anthologies, but the majority were new for me and the re-reads were like hanging out with an old friend.

It’s impossible to cover 19 shorts in a reasonable time, so with the understanding that I loved all nineteen, let me hit on a few highlights.

First off, anytime David revisits classic stories, I’m thrilled. Among the stories here are “The Quarterback and the Cheerleader,” which was part of the 10th Anniversary edition of Boy Meets Boy and I loved reading this all over again because this tale of a date between the quarterback and homecoming queen Infinite Darlene and Cory, a cheerleader for an opposing school is always a delight. There’s also a glimpse at A from Every Day as we get “Day 2934,” a Valentine’s Day that A experienced when they were eight. It’s a poignant day as A tries to do right by the mom, and the kid he inhabits, on a day that means something to them. There’s also a Two Boys Kissing story with Avery and Ryan’s fifth date, which turns into a sleepover due to a “Snow Day.” The story is cute, filled with teen angst and beyond sweet.

On to some of the extraordinary stories that were new to me.

“As the Philadelphia Queer Youth Choir Sings Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’” is the internal dialogue of the choir members. Some wonder why they’re singing that song. Some wonder if a certain person is noticing them. Some wonder if they’re doing okay and trying not to freak out in front of the audience. Some reflect on what it means that a parent is in the audience. It’s an utter delight and totally what you can imagine a bunch of teens thinking about.

“How My Parents Met” is exactly that story. It’s a beautiful story on the right people finding each other and making a life–both the simple parts and the more complicated ones

Another slice of relationship is “Twelve Months.” Here two men, together for an unknown time frame, experience a year–the ups, downs, and the in-betweens. This captures simply love, and how love can persevere even when times can be tough and require work… and even when a relationship might be on the verge of collapse.

One of the most unexpectedly fun stories is “The Woods” in which a relationship nearly meets its end when a guy discovers his boyfriend runs a very popular Taylor Swift fan blog. The guy can’t understand why it was a secret, especially because he doesn’t think Taylor is all that. Hating the hurt he causes his boyfriend though he binges Taylor’s music, re-reads the blog and starts to put the pieces together. It’s an interesting take on why people might keep their obsessions a secret, what happens when they get revealed and how it can bring a deeper understanding to a couple’s bond.

The last one I’ll mention is also the final in the book. “Give Them Words” tells the importance of telling stories and encouraging others to tell their stories. It’s a perfect cap to this collection.

While I’ve shouted out less than half of the nineteen stories, each one is a gem. On the audiobook they are brought to life David Levithan is among the narrators. He very poignantly reads “How My Parent’s Met” and also

As Valentine’s Day nears, 19 Love Songs is a perfect collection to lose yourself in for a dose of love, though not always an HEA, in many forms.

The ABCs of Spellcraft Collection Volume 1 by Jordan Castillo Price. Reviewed by Will.
So this week I read The ABC’s of Spellcraft Collection. It’s the series of novellas written by our guest today, Jordan Castillo Price. I highly recommended the first story in this series last year when it first came out. The first book is called “Quill Me Now” and to give just a quick recap, we’re introduced to Dixon. He is a down on his luck spell crafter, and he gets mixed up with the evil Flynt, who runs a greeting card company as a front in order to learn the secrets of spellcraft.

While dealing with him. he meets Flynt’s Russian bodyguard Yuri, and they end up falling for each other while saving the day. It’s really interesting, funny and heartfelt and it sets up a very interesting story in a world where magic is part of everyday life. It combines different components of the urban fantasy genre along with cozy mysteries, which is a really interesting hybrid that I don’t think anyone other than Jordan Castillo Price could pull off with such aplomb.

The next story in the series is a short that Jordan gave out to her newsletter subscribers. It’s called “All that Glitters.” In this story, Yuri meets Dixon’s, shall we say, eccentric parents. They go over to the house for dinner and end up searching for a magic red spatula. It’s weird and wonderful. It gives us some insight into why Dixon is the way he is and why family means so very much. Speaking of family, Dixon’s Uncle Fonzo is missing, and it becomes the key story point that links all of these books together.

In the second full book, “Trouble in Taco Town,” they get a lead on Uncle Fonzo. So they go to Taco Town, Minnesota where they find things are slightly awry. Some spell craft has gone wrong. The town’s beloved giant taco has been besieged by a flock of rare birds, and the local motel has, in turn, been besieged by some very demanding birdwatchers. One of the local farmers has tomatoes that are so ripe that they explode. And a gift shop owner who, manufacturers taco snowglobes, has their machine go on the fritz and the little tacos end up looking like a certain piece of female anatomy. So while trying to uncover, if Fonzo was indeed responsible for all this mayhem, they solve the town’s issues and get another lead that Uncle Fonzo may be at a nearby spa.

This leads us to book three, “Something Stinks at the Spa,” where they go to a local mineral spring that has unfortunately been turned into a sulfur spring. The entire town is enveloped in a cloud of funky gaseous sulfur as the spring has gone dry. The poor local hotel and spa is just about to go out of business.

So while Yuri and Dixon investigate Fonzo’s possible influence in everything that’s going wrong in this small town, Dixon ends up giving a spa treatment to a jilted bride, and Yuri must massage self-important businessman. All the while, they try to impress a local travel writer, who has allergies and can’t smell anything. So as long as they give the impression that everything is going well, they can get a good review and hopefully get this hotel back on its feet. They eventually set things right, and get a call from Uncle Fonzo himself.

So, our two heroes head off to a creepy carnival. In book four, “Dead Man’s Quill,” they extricate Uncle Fonzo from a difficult situation at said carnival and then take him home where they uncover the real reason for Uncle Fonzo’s disappearance and the fact that he has been cursed. How in the world are they going to craft a spell to get him out of the situation?

If you can’t tell from my description, the series is weird and wonderful and very funny. In a pretty ingenious way it manages to mix two subgenres that are a complete delight.

Quick shout out to the narrator, Nick Hudson, who we talk about in the interview. Jordan found him for this particular project and he is amazing. If you’ve already read this series but haven’t checked out the audiobook, I highly recommend you do. I think he does a remarkable job, not only with Dixon and Yuri, who are two delightful heroes but are really kind of polar opposites on the personality spectrum. What he manages to harness in his performance is really charming and delightful.

So I really recommend everyone check out this series if they haven’t already.