The guys start off with news, including this month’s Big Gay Fiction Book Club episode dropping this week, this podcast becoming available on Amazon Music, Jeff’s appearance on The Introverts Corner and the October 1 Big Gay Fiction Live episode featuring the launch of the Widdershins Role Playing Game Kickstarter.
Then it’s on to recommendations as Jeff & Will talk about what they’ve been watching recently, including some Broadway, Netflix series and selections from the Cinema Diverse film festival. Will also reviews Better than People by Roan Parrish.
Lisa from The Novel Approach and Jay from Joyfully Jay join Jeff to talk about some favorite books they’ve been reading, including selections from Aster Glenn Gray, Gregory Ashe, Samantha SoRelle, Alice Winters, Hailey Turner and Sam Burns.
Remember, you can listen and subscribe to the podcast anytime on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, Stitcher, PlayerFM, YouTube and audio file download.
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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.
- St. Nacho’s by Z.A. Maxfield on Amazon
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Amazon Music
- Pairings Episode 4 Featuring Somewhere on Mackinac by Jeff Adams on The Introverts Corner YouTube channel
- Somewhere on Mackinac by Jeff Adams on Amazon
- “Big Gay Fiction Live” featuring the Widdershins RPG Kickstarter Launch Event on Facebook (October 1 @ 8pm ET)
- Funny Girl on BroadwayHD
- Miscast 20 Playlist on MCC Theater YourTube Channel
- Julie & The Phantoms on Netflix
- Monsoon on IMDB
- Out of Body on IMDB
- Episode 180 – “Out of Body” with Jason T. Gaffney and Kevin Held on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- Out of Body by Suzanne Brockmann on Amazon (audiobook available on Libro.fm)
- Stone Fruit website
- City of Queens Twitter
- Bare website
- Who’s on Top website
- Better Than People by Roan Parrish on Amazon (audiobook available on Libro.fm)
- Boobies and Noobies Podcast website
- Jay & Lisa Book Recommendations
- Joyfully Jay website
- The Novel Approach website
- Honeytrap by Aster Glenn Gray on Amazon
- Review: Honeytrap by Aster Glenn Gray on The Novel Approach
- The Same Breath by Gregory Ashe on Amazon
- Review: The Same Breath by Gregory Ashe on Joyfully Jay
- His Lordship’s Secret by Samantha SoRelle on Amazon
- Review: His Lordship’s Secret by Samantha SoRelle on The Novel Approach
- Allie Therin on Amazon
- The Hitman’s Guide to Tying the Knot Without Getting Shot by Alice Winters on Amazon
- Review: The Hitman’s Guide to Tying the Knot Without Getting Shot by Alice Winters on Joyfully Jay
- On the Wings of War by Hailey Turner on Amazon
- Review: On the Wings of War by Hailey Turner on The Novel Approach
- The Fantastic Fluke by Sam Burns on Amazon
- Review: The Fantastic Fluke by Sam Burns 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 good to have you here again.
Jay: Hi, Jeff. It’s good to be back.
Lisa: Great to be here. Hi.
Jeff: It’s hard to believe it’s been three months since you were here last. We last saw you as we were in the midst of our Pride month celebration.
Jay: Oh, that’s right.
Jeff: Now we’re here into fall as this actually airs. So let’s talk about some books you guys have been reading. And Lisa, we’ll kick it off with you this time.
Lisa: My first book is a book called “Honeytrap” by Aster Glenn Gray. And this book is a book that I happen to run across the author on Twitter, fell in love with the cover, was really intrigued by the blurb, and it turned out to be such a great read. It’s a historical, a more modern historical. It begins in 1959, and spans the Cold War era. And this book is about one FBI agent, Daniel Hawthorne, and his Soviet counterpart, Gennady Matskevich, that’s…
Jeff: Oh my goodness, that’s a name.
Lisa: It actually has a little bit of fact included in it. In 1959, when the story begins, Nikita Khrushchev came to the United States. And he toured around the United States, and this kind of revolves around his whistle-stop tour. And one of the stops on the tour, there is an assassination attempt, which was very poorly executed. It was unsuccessful. But of course, now, the FBI and the Soviet Union want to find out who this assassin was. So Daniel and Gennady are…I don’t know if I’m saying that right, but anyway. I apologize too anyway. But they are paired together. And of course, at that particular point in time, the sort of truce in the Cold War is not really a truce as much as it’s, you try to find some blackmail material on the FBI agent and the FBI agent try to find some blackmail material on the…so they have to pretend like they’re being friendly, but while they’re doing this investigation they are trying to find dirty little secrets and things that they can share with the governments, the respective governments.
And one of Gennady’s directives from his boss is to try to honeytrap Daniel. So he’s supposed to try to seduce Daniel into a compromising position. And so, it’s basically, it’s a kind of a forced proximity sort of relationship that builds as they get to know each other, and they still have their suspicions, and they’re still trying to do their jobs, but they’re also kind of forming this bond and a friendship. And it follows them from 1959 through years of separation because of the political climate at the time. In order for Gennady to have stayed in the United States, he would have had to defect from Russia, from the Soviet Union, and he was still very attached to his home and his country. And so, he leaves. And then they come back together in mid 1970s, I think 1975. But there’s a long span between the time that they are separated. They’ve both gone on to be married and have, you know, separate lives. Daniel is happily married. He has a wife. He has children. Gennady, not so much, his wife, the travel and his job being out of the country so often that his marriage is crumbling.
But there is a polyamory angle to the story then with Daniel, and his wife is very open, kind of swinging ’70s, you know, anything goes. And so, she really pushes Daniel and Gennady together when Gennady comes back to the United States. And so they begin kind of rekindle their affair and, you know, they realize how deep their feelings are for each other. And then everything implodes again, and Gennady goes back to the Soviet Union. And so, yeah, then eventually it ends up in 1992, end of the Cold War, Berlin Wall has fallen. The Soviet Union has dissolved. And Gennady comes back to the U.S. and they are able to meet again. And at that particular point in time, their lives are ready to…you know, it’s the right time, right place, their lives are ready to converge. So it’s kind of got this bittersweet all along the way until you finally get to the happy ending.
But “Honeytrap” by Aster Glenn Gray, she does a great job of giving you some history without it being a history lesson. You know, there’s not a whole lot of detail, but, you know, mid ’70s, I was 10 years old. And so I don’t really remember a whole lot about that era of the Cold War. But I certainly do remember when, you know, Gorbachev tore down the Berlin Wall, you know, people coming out with their pickaxes and sledgehammers and East and West Berlin coming together. So it was kind of fun to read a historical, a modern historical, where you kind of remember some of the things that were going on at the time. And so, yeah, it was a great book, “Honeytrap,” Aster Glenn Gray. I thought it was a lot of fun.
Jay: I know that I’ve seen people talking about it online. I’ll have to check it out.
Lisa: The cover is great, too. That was one of the first things. When I saw the cover and the title, I thought, “Oh, this looks like it’s gonna be a lot of fun.” And it really was. It was good.
Jeff: You’ve been mentioning a couple times recently finding books on Twitter specifically. Is it because you’re following certain authors or certain groups, or is it just happenstance?
Lisa: No. It just happens. I’ll be scrolling through, you know, doomscrolling through my Twitter, and all of a sudden I’ll see…you know, I’ll just see a book where I’m not following the author, but maybe someone who I follow has retweeted the post or has liked it and so it shows up on my feed. And I have had some of the best luck with finding great books just happening across them on Twitter. So that’s why I would say, don’t listen to anybody who says Twitter doesn’t sell books because it does.
Jeff: If nothing else, it’s selling books to you.
Lisa: I have found so many great books just by chance, just scrolling through Twitter, and they happen to show up on my feed.
Jeff: That’s amazing. I need to doomscroll on Twitter more often. That’s cool. So, Jay, what’s up first?
Jay: All right, my first one is a book that I’m sure both of you either have read or are going to read. But I did just finish it and that is the latest by Gregory Ashe, “The Same Breath.” Have either of you read it yet?
Jeff: Oh my gosh, you’re gonna review a Gregory Ashe book. You are stepping into Lisa territory.
Jay: I know.
Lisa: I just put that aside and now I get to add back my Regency.
Jay: Yeah. Oh, okay. Yes, I was thinking. But I wonder if either of them are gonna want to talk about it. Okay. So, absolutely loved it. Gregory Ashe obviously is an author that all of us really enjoy. This is a start of a new series. And so, the premise here is that Tean is a wildlife resource, sort of manager veterinarian in Salt Lake City. And one of his coworkers has recently been killed on the job. And he’s sort of looking into it and trying to figure out what’s happening there. And alongside him, the other character is named Jem, who is sort of a grifter, con artist kind of thing, grew up with a really troubled past, spent his life in foster care, and now sort of makes ends meet by doing small time cons around the city. And his foster brother, Benny, has some mental health issues and is very interested in the environment. And he sort of is constantly coming to Tean and to the other officials talking about, you know, conspiracies, about animals being killed, and poaching, and fish are dying, and all of this. Then Benny is also killed, and Jem, his sort of first stop is to go to Tean’s office and see if he can find anything out because he thinks there might be a connection based on all of the latest things that Benny’s been ranting about.
So the two of them kind of team up to try to figure out what happened to Benny, especially as they sort of put the pieces together that maybe Tean’s coworker is connected. And so, the mystery part of the story is following along as they’re investigating. And what I think that Greg does really well is there’s a large cast of potential bad guys. And as you go through the story, it really takes a lot of twists and turns as you figure out who all these different players are and each of them have a potential piece where, you know, they could be the culprit. And so, I think the mystery part has gotten really interesting as you watch all of that come together, and the setting, you know, in Salt Lake City. And they’re in the mountains. And I’m not really familiar with that area at all so I thought that was also really well done, just the atmosphere of the community, what it’s like there, you know, obviously a big Mormon presence, and Tean is a lapsed Mormon, basically kicked out by his parents once he came out. He has a lot of sort of issues, self-doubt issues that come along with that as well.
But what I think is really interesting, even beyond the mystery is the character development in this, which I think in general Gregory is really good at that balance of the characters and the story. But in this one really, I think what spoke to me even more than the mystery was the character development because these are such fascinating guys. Like, Tean has definitely some, you know…he’s in a not so great relationship. He’s definitely got some sort of self-doubts and self-loathing. He’s also like the total Eeyore character. Like, anything you say to him he’s like, “Well, 50,000 people might have just died from that cheeseburger that you ate.” And he sort of turns off a lot of people with his, you know, pessimism, which is sort of a defense mechanism, I think. And what’s fun is that Jem just, like, takes it all in stride and sort of turns it around almost into a joke and bounces out that negativity.
You know, they both have trust issues. They both have people who have hurt them. The whole time, we know that Jem is keeping his true identity away from, you know, Tean. He told him he’s a businessman from California that came in to look in on his brother. So, we know this big, you know, axe is about to fall at some point, that Tean is going to find out really the truth about Jem. So there’s a lot of really interesting interpersonal dynamics that I thought here that, for me, was actually the highlight of the book even beyond the mystery. And of course, because it’s a Gregory Ashe book, we don’t quite get resolution, I’ll just say, on the relationship end. The mystery ties up, but the relationship is still ongoing. So it didn’t quite have me cursing his name as much as I do sometimes when his books end, because it’s not really a cliffhanger, but the relationship isn’t fully resolved and will obviously play out over future books.
Lisa: I 1,000% agree with you, every single thing you said. You know, one of the things that really stuck out to me in this book, and I don’t know why it did, but you mentioned Salt Lake City and how much the setting of his books influence who the characters are.
Jay: Oh, for sure.
Lisa: “Hazard and Somerset” would not be “Hazard and Somerset” in Columbus, Ohio. And these characters wouldn’t have been who they are anywhere but Salt Lake City.
Lisa: And you were talking about Tean’s dread riffing when he would just constantly kind of get in this negative cycle was kind of funny, but yet it wasn’t funny haha, it was the humor that masks the pain. And he does that really, really, really well in all of his books I think, you know. The “Borealis Series,” he does it so well. This really was kind of one of those stark reminders of how humor isn’t always funny. Humor is sometimes a defense mechanism. And it really worked for Tean so well. Gorgeous book. I’m so excited for November. I can’t wait for the next one.
Jay: Yes, me too.
Jeff: Where is the darkness level in this book? And Greg knows this because I’ve told him, like, I had to move away from “Union of Swords” because it was too dark for where I am right now.
Jay: I don’t think it’s as dark as “Hazard and Somerset.”
Lisa: Not at all.
Jay: I think it’s much, maybe closer to “Borealis.” I mean, the ending, you know, again, everything isn’t resolved, but I don’t think it has that level of darkness or sort of angsty intensity. And certainly there’s not that conflict between the characters where there’s sort of always one thing after another happening to them. It’s much smoother I think than that.
Lisa: I think it’s even lighter than the “Borealis” series only because there was so much history between North and Shaw. It’s way lighter than “Hazard and Somerset.” But the history between Shaw and North and that constant undercurrent between them gave me so much anxiety. I think with Jem and Tean, with them getting to know each other and you kind of get more of the external tension of, you know, knowing what’s happened over here with Jem and this person who I’m not going to say who it is but also that person, you know, connects to Tean as well so you know that there are just going to be secrets that explode sooner or later and it’s going to cause some heartache, and it’s going to cause some tension between them. I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t feel like this one was angsty at all.
Jay: Like I said, there’s these two secrets. The one that I mentioned, the one that Lisa is alluding to, that we know as readers, so we know something’s coming. But the relationship between them actually develops very happily. And they have a nice dynamic in the sense that Jem is really able to sometimes pull teeth out of that I guess sort of almost the equivalent of the doomscroll, but sort of that spiral where he, you know…
Lisa: He went spiral, yeah.
Jay: Right. He’s sort of obsessing over things. And then, you know, Tean lets Jem sort of take down that façade that he has with everybody else. You know, he’s on, he’s charming, you know, mimic facial expressions, you know, repeat people’s names. You know, he has his whole thing that he does to, you know, sort of his marks. And with Tean, he can actually just let that go. So actually, I think it’s a very sort of happy positive relationship as long as you know that there’s secrets and some things they’re keeping from each other that are going to come out.
Jeff: Oh, I would expect that in a Greg book anyway, so.
Lisa: I just can’t wait. I cannot wait until the next book.
Jeff: So Lisa, back over to you. And you’ve added a book back in now that you kind of buddy reviewed one of them.
Lisa: I do. Since we’ve already talked about “The Same Breath.” I’m cheating and I’d added another book back in. This one is another historical, you know, more along my lines of historical reading. It’s a Regency romance/mystery called “His Lordship’s Secret.” It’s book one in His Lordship’s mystery series by Samantha SoRelle. And again, this is another one where I just happen to run across it on Twitter. I thought it sounded great. Love the cover. Love the blurbs. So I gave it a shot and it paid off. This particular book, it’s another one of those books that involves lots of secrets. So, Alfred Pennington is the Earl of Crawford. And there is a lot of backstory with Alfie’s character that comes into play as someone tries to kill him. And he starts receiving blackmail letters. And the inferences in the blackmail part of the story, he’s not quite sure if it involves who he is as the Earl of Crawford, or if someone is blackmailing him because they have discovered that he’s gay.
And so, when the assassination attempt happens, he goes on the search for a bodyguard. And so, he goes to an underground bare-knuckle boxing venue and is ready to hire one of the fighters as his bodyguard. And as synchronicity would have, it turns out that one of the fighters is someone from Alfie’s past, someone who Alfie just loves deeply. And so, Dominick is the person from Alfie’s past. And I don’t want to give too much away because their pasts really are a huge part of the story. And I don’t want to give too much of it away. But as it turns out, Dominick agrees to be Alfie’s bodyguard. And so, you get into a lot of the, how does this guy who, you know, makes his living on the streets, illegal bare-knuckle boxing for cash and the Earl of Crawford, a member of, you know, the aristocracy in Regency England, how do they work, because there’s no reason for them, you know, to associate with each other. They are from diametrically opposed ends of the spectrum when it comes to their role in the English society during that time.
And so, the mystery and their proximity, their forced proximity, close proximity, again, is that kind of trope, and there is them trying to figure out who’s blackmailing and trying to kill Alfie. And so, you get a lot of the suspense and the danger around the mystery, but also then the sweetness of them rekindling their friendship and sharing their memories with each other from before when they were just young boys and how Dominick was always Alfie’s protector, you know. You get that very sweet background along with kind of the suspense and the tension of this mystery of trying to figure out who it is who wants to do harm to Alfie. And then when it comes out, when the resolution happens, when you figure out who it was, it was such a great twist that I didn’t see it coming at all. So that was fun too, just really fun twist to the mystery, sweet relationship, their backgrounds, all kind of really came together to build this just emotional attachment to the characters. And so, “His Lordship’s Secret,” Samantha SoRelle, it was really a fun historical read. I really enjoyed it. And I’m looking forward to the sequel.
Jeff: Nice. Those are some of my favorite historicals, the kind where it’s not just opposites attract where you’ve got the upper…you add the class to the opposites attract, it gets even more interesting.
Lisa: Nicey, right, because what excuse do you have to go out and have a meal together? You don’t, you know. So the bodyguard angle kind of helped in that a little bit as well. But, yeah, it’s still, you know, they couldn’t go out as peers.
Jeff: Right, because it’s not your bodyguard and sitting down maybe across the table from you, the bodyguard needs to be over there somewhere.
Lisa: Right. Exactly, exactly.
Jay: It reminds me when you were saying…I think we talked about this at either our February or our June call about the Allie Therin book that had the same issue. There was the sort of class conflict that made these two guys feel like, you know, they are in an established relationship, but they have to hide it from everybody because it doesn’t make any sense publicly that they would even know each other, let alone that they would be friends, you know, forget romantic partners. So, yeah, I think it’s an interesting conflict.
Lisa: Yeah. So that was a fun one. That was really good. I’m glad I got to add it back in. Thank you for doing “The Same Breath.”
Jay: I always asked you before. I was like, “I wonder if Lisa’s gonna talk about that?”
Jeff: If we talk and there’s no Gregory Ashe book mentioned, something’s wrong.
Lisa: He releases one every three months.
Jeff: He’s making me crazy because I’m like, A, I can’t keep up and, B, I can’t read “Union of Swords” right now. So, slow down.
Jay: All right. So I’m going for my second book sort of complete, diametrically opposed to my first one. And I’m going to talk about Alice Winters. I don’t know if I’ve talked about Alice Winters books here before. I’m a big fan. She writes romantic suspense, often with a heavy layer of comedy. And this series, “Hitman’s Guide Series” is definitely one that falls heavily on the comedic side in addition to the suspense. So, this is the third book in the series. And the setup here is that Leland is a former assassin. And he grew up with basically like a handler, who was his, I guess, adopted family, who trained him to be an assassin. And he meets Jackson, who’s a private investigator in the first book, when they’re both sort of working the same case from different angles.
Leland is actually looking to put a hit on one of the guys they’re investigating, whereas Jackson is investigating it through sort of more legal means. But they run into each other and that’s sort of what kicks off their relationship. So now, we’re three books in and they are, you know, in love and living together. And this one is called “Hitman’s Guide to Tying the Knot Without Getting Shot.” So they all have very long titles.
Lisa: What a great title.
Jay: And so, you know, Leland has gone straight, or as straight as Leland can, and is working with Jackson in his PI office. And Jackson gets shot and nobody knows why. No one can figure out who’s trying to kill Jackson and why. So that’s really the mystery of the story, which I won’t, you know, reveal too much about. But the mystery is, you know, who’s even after him. They have no idea that he’s a target. They don’t know why he is a target. Soon, they find out that there’s a hit on him. And what I really loved about this one is that… Well, I should just backtrack to say that these are very comedic almost to the point of absurdity. So, you sort of have to like that banter. There’s a lot of snarky banter. There’s a lot of silliness. It’s over-the-top humor, which I like because it really bounces nicely with that suspense.
So that really is sort of the overriding emotion to a lot of the book, or to a lot of the series. But what I really liked here is the emotional connection between the guys, really comes out in this book in a way that…even more than in the other stories. And, you know, when Jackson is shot, Leland is literally ready to burn down the world. I mean, the idea that somebody has harmed this man that he loves, and of course, he’s, you know, sort of beyond ethics and is going out and tearing the streets apart trying to figure out what’s happening. And eventually Jackson sort of reigns him in and says, “Okay, we’re gonna, like, investigate this legally,” and not just, you know, start doing all the crazy things that Leland does. So I really loved this one in particular because the bond between the two of them, the way they love each other, the way that they are open and talk about it with each other and share their feelings. And you can see that connection is so strong and it’s just killing Leland that Jackson is at risk. And Jackson is equally worried that Leland is going to sort of put safety and planning and everything else aside and just dash into the fray because he’s so worried about Jackson.
So, it’s a really nice balance, again, between the comedy…I mean Leland is crazy. He does crazy things. Jackson mostly laughs it off and puts up with, like, the outrageous things that Leland says and does because he adores him. Jackson is mostly the straight man but, you know, he adores everything Leland does so much. But then there’s also this just underlying connection. And, you know, as the title indicates, so this…I’m not spoiling anything here, tying the knot without getting shot, there is a happy event in the story. And it just is a really nice balance of all three of those elements, the humor and outrageousness, the mystery and the suspense as they figure out what’s happening, and then the romance between them.
So this is probably my favorite or maybe my second favorite Alice Winters series. You really will want to read it from the beginning because they follow the same couple all the way through and you get to see the background about Leland and really what has shaped him and how the relationship has grown out of it. But this I think was one of my favorites of the series just because of the way it really brought that emotion into it.
Jeff: I really want to read this series. The series as a whole is it bubbles along in my TBR because I love…Was it “In Darkness?” Is that what her first series is called?
Jeff: I loved “In Darkness” and her tone of how she writes, that blend of romantic suspense, and snark, and fun, and comedy. And I mean, it’s all in the title of these books, exactly what you’re gonna get.
Jay: And if you look “In Darkness,” this series is very much in keeping with that.
Jeff: I figured. I’ll get there eventually.
Jay: Yes. They’re long books. You got to make some time.
Jeff: Yeah, exactly. They are not short at all. It’s like, you know, hours and hours, even if you speed up an audiobook, it’s still. All right. Lisa, what have you got for the finale?
Lisa: I’m so glad I get to come back to this series again, “On the Wings of War,” Soulbound book five by Hailey Turner.
Jay: That’s a good series.
Lisa: This series is some of the most superior urban fantasy I have ever read. And just when I think that she could not pull any more characters, or beings, or gods, or goddesses from mythology and folklore, she does. And she knows more mythology, and legend, and lore than I could have possibly even forgotten in my lifetime. The world-building in this series is some of the most impressive I’ve ever read. She goes into…I don’t want to say this in that she goes into such minute detail because it doesn’t read slowly. It’s like, “Oh my gosh, okay, well, let me just skim past this.” Every single thing that she includes in her books is just integral in some way to the overall story arc in this series, which is the Morrigan’s staff. And Patrick Collins, special agent, Patrick Collins, his father is like the epitome of just evil and whoever gets control of the Morrigan’s staff is basically going to control the world. And so they are trying to keep the Morrigan’s staff out of Ethan Greene’s hands because if he gets it, that’s the end. That is just, you know, the end of humankind, basically.
Persephone owns Patrick’s soul, and he is beholden basically to her. And so, his soul was damaged and she basically made it possible for him to live, basically. So Patrick has always been this very kind of disaffected kind of guy, who didn’t have really close connections. And then he meets Jonothon de Vere who is a werewolf. And he has a god writing his soul, basically. So, the building of their relationship, and Jonothon’s god pack in New York City, and the people who are now members of that pack, Wade, who is a dragon who is just an absolute delight, and Sage who is an attorney and she’s a weretiger and she’s just badass and I love her, and Marek who is her fiancé and he’s an oracle. And so, there’s this kind of building a family now where Patrick is kind of starting to realize that he belongs to something bigger than just him and his bond with Persephone. In this particular segment, you get…again, Hailey Turner, she writes an action sequence so beautifully and…
Jay: Oh my gosh.
Lisa: Her fight scenes are just phenomenal. And so you get so absorbed in these fight scenes, and they’re so beautifully choreographed, and they’re so beautifully written. And, you know, she throws in some zombies and the Baba Yaga. You know, it’s just like you just can’t imagine that there could be more packed into this world and be able to consume it all. And yet, you still just keep eating it up because she just makes it so incredibly absorbing every single time. And so, this is really kind of a…and there’s also kind of, you know, the enemy of my enemy is my friend vibe going on with the vampires in New York City. And it is just all of the layers, and all of the machinations, and all of these little things going on in the background. I mean, the Valkyrie come in and they’re just, you know, these badass warrior women and…
Lisa: It’s Norse mythology. It’s Celtic mythology. It’s Russian mythology, Aztec mythology. I mean, there’s just so many different wells that she draws from in order to bring this series and bring it every single book, time after time after time. So, yeah, “On the Wings of War,” of course, you know that title in and of itself is kind of indicative of what’s coming. And so, yeah, I think this is going to end up being a seven-book series.
Jay: Yeah, it is my understanding as well. This is book five.
Lisa: Yeah. And it has to be read from book one. You can’t jump into the middle of this series. It has to be read from book one. And it’s just a really, really compelling, superbly written urban fantasy series. So, “On the Wings of War,” Hailey Turner, Soulbound book five, excellent.
Jay: One of the things you mentioned, you know, the Slavic mythology, but each story sort of centers on a different sort of pantheon, which I really like. You know, we have Norse, we have Celtic. And then here, we’re dealing with Slavic. So I really like the way that she incorporates that mythology. It’s not just centered sort of on your traditional Greek and Roman kind of gods. It really bands of scope and brings in a lot of diversity in that way as well, which is sort of fun.
All right. So my last book that I want to talk about, actually read it last month even I think, and I went crazy for it, “The Fantastic Fluke” by Sam Burns. Have either of you read? So the setup here is that Sage grew up, lost his mom as sort of a young teen, and was brought to live with his father who he had never met. This is a paranormal sort of supernatural world. So magic is alive in this world. And Sage has exhibited very minor, magical powers. So his father has basically been disinterested in him his entire life, starting from the fact that he abandoned them, you know, when Sage was born, and has made it clear that he doesn’t think Sage is worth his time.
And so, when the book opens, his father has actually just died and Sage has inherited his bookstore, which, on one hand, he loves because he loves running a bookstore, but on the other, he sort of feels like he’s just sort of following along what’s expected of him. He really hasn’t found his place. He’s very alone. You know, he has a best friend, but really, you know, he’s lost his family. And so, one day he is walking, you know, down the street, and he sees people in an alley who are abusing what he learns is a fox. And he takes the fox home to sort of take care of it. And he assumes that the fox is a magical familiar because the familiar sort of chooses the witch. And so, he figures this clearly very smart and obviously not typical fox must be a familiar. And so he’s trying to figure out who the fox belongs to as he’s going about his business.
And then the same time, he gets a ghost who appears in his bookshop. And the ghost is Gideon who is sort of a gunslinger, you know, Wild West sort of outfit clearly, you know, and sort of 1800s sort of Wild West kind of ghost. And Gideon tells him that, in fact, Sage has more magic than he realized, and that Gideon has been sent to sort of train him on how to use it. And Gideon has a really interesting character because we learn that he has been training multiple witches. And every time he trained somebody, before they’re able to sort of train their next apprentice, they die. So, Gideon keeps getting sort of called back up from the afterlife to come. And so, one person after another, you know, has disappeared and he never knows what’s happened to him. He just knows he’s back again and there’s somebody else he has to train.
So, you know, the premise of the story sort of follows along as Gideon is teaching Sage about his magic and then there’s bad guys who are out to stop him. And there’s a whole sort of suspense plot that goes along with Sage and his magic, and what does it really do, and why do these guys want to stop it? And there’s a lot of secrets that they uncover along the way. So lots of layers and really interesting world-building with regards to the magic, as well as sort of with regard to this mystery and what’s happening, and what’s really going on. But I think what really is interesting here is also the interplay between the men. Because Gideon is non-corporeal, Sage can see him but he has no body. You know, most people can’t even see him. And they know that not only is he a ghost who really inhibits, you know, physical relationship, if nothing else, he also knows that his time is limited, that as soon as you know, Sage is trained, he’ll disappear again just like he always does. So there’s this pattern.
So we know, there’s, like, this time limit on this relationship for what’s going to happen. And so watching them develop this connection is just really sweet. And it’s a great relationship dynamic, but also the sense of the found family that comes out of all of this because Sage is very much alone. He was close with his mother who’s gone. His father has always, you know, not cared for him. He doesn’t really have anybody. And then, suddenly, he has Gideon. He reconnects with somebody else that adds…I don’t want to give that part away, that is another relationship. And then he has this relationship with the fox, who is Fluke. That’s the fox’s name, which is the connection to the title. And, you know, Gideon keeps telling him, “You know, that’s not someone’s familiar, that’s your familiar.” And Sage can’t even believe it because he’s grown up his whole life sort of thinking of himself as very much unworthy and less than. And so, he can’t even accept the idea that’s obvious to everyone else, that clearly this fox found him because he’s his, not because he’s lost.
And so as the book continues, you really see that warmth that comes from him finding these connections with all these people and animals and the richness that has come into his life as a result of Gideon, as a result of Fluke and sort of finding himself again. So I thought that it was amazing. I immediately messaged Sam, and I was like, “We need more.” And I’m really excited because I got to be a little bit of an audiobook matchmaker on this one and connected Sam with Joel Leslie, who is one of my favorite narrators. And they just announced that he’s going to be doing the audio for this one.
So I’m super excited. I feel like I just, like, made some book babies between the two of them. So loved it in print. I’m sure it’s gonna be great in audio. And if you enjoy, you know, urban fantasy, the ghosts, the mystery, all of that. It’s not necessarily high action, although there’s definitely thrilling elements to it, but that sort of urban fantasy sense of the magic sort of woven in and the world-building, it was really great. It blew me away. One of my favorite books definitely of the last several months, maybe even one of my top of the year.
Jeff: Nice. Fantastic. That’s a good way to end our segment with one that might be on your best of the year list. Fantastic. Well, this has been as usual, painful for the TBR. But thank you both so much for giving us such good books to share with everybody. And I look forward to doing it again in December when we do talk, the end of year kind of best of thing.
Lisa: It’s always great to see you guys.
Jay: Bye guys.
Here’s the text of this week’s reviews:
Better Than People by Roan Parrish. Reviewed by Will.
Traditionally when I talk about books and review them, it’s kind of a straightforward process. I can tell you that the characters did A, B and C, which led to the moment where they say “I love you” and everything leads to happily ever after. That’s a pretty easy formula when it comes to talking about romance books.
But in the case of Better Than People by Roan Parrish, there’s something a little bit more subtle and emotional going on.
The story is about Jack. He is your average lovable grouch and he has a menagerie of animals. While Jack’s taking care of his animals, he breaks his leg. So, he needs someone to come in and help wrangle all of his furry friends. Enter Simon. He’s a nice guy but he happens to have crippling anxiety.The most mundane, everyday tasks are really difficult for him, especially when dealing with people.
So it’s a minor miracle that he manages to work up the courage to get on a pet matching app and find Jack who needs his help. Things don’t get off to a great start. Jack comes off as gruff and impatient while Simon, who is unable to utter even a single word, seems aloof and distant. Eventually, as the days and the weeks go on, they learn more about each other and, of course, fall in love.
Now that’s a kind of a pat overarching explanation of what’s going on. This book is about genuine, emotional small moments in which two people can learn to grow and trust one another. It’s really wonderful and magical. I haven’t read a book like this in quite some time. There’s a feeling of kindness and safety as Jack and Simon get to know one another. It’s like a warm blanket.
Now eventually, after a few months, Jack gets his cast off and he believes that this is a reason to celebrate. For Simon it spells doom, meaning that Jack will no longer need him and no longer want to be in a relationship. They eventually overcome this misunderstanding and Jack over the course of the book realizes how special Simon truly is
and the way that he uniquely has to navigate the world.
What this book really manages to do in a really wonderful and unique way is explore the idea that Simon doesn’t need to be fixed. It’s about how these two men make each other better. Something that was really special is that both Jack and Simon have things in their past that they need to work through in order to fall in love.
For Simon the crippling anxiety is a serious subject matter, but it’s handled in an approachable way. I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s not heavy handed, angsty, very-special-episode. There’s a lot of sensitivity at play and a lot of kindness. I know that’s kind of a bland word, but this book is unrelentingly kind and nice, which is something I know that I have needed recently, especially after the last few weeks.
So kudos to Roan Parris for creating two remarkable characters and they’re lovable menagerie of furry friends.
I listened to this book in audio. It’s narrated by a guy named James Cavenaugh. What I thought was really exceptional about his work here is that he takes these tiny moments between Jack and Simon and he really seems to get the simplicity of the emotion. He takes those quiet moments and makes them big. Not in a melodramatic way, but in a way that brings us along as readers and listeners.
So I really enjoyed Better Than People. I think it’s a magical romance that actually takes place over the course of several months and it happens to end in the holiday season. So if you haven’t read it yet, put this on your TBR. I think this is going to be a wonderful book for the end of the year.