Support Big Gay Fiction Podcast on PatreonThis episode is packed with book recommendations as the guys discuss Learned Behaviors by Jayce Ellis, Brothersong by TJ Klune, Trade Deadline by Avon Gale & Piper Vaughn and Manners & Mannerisms by Tanya Chris. Two books outside the gay romance genre are also reviewed as Will talks about Dolls! Dolls! Dolls!: Deep Inside Valley of the Dolls, the Most Beloved Bad Book and Movie of All Time by Stephen Rebello and Jeff looks at The Bridge by Bill Konigsberg.

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Show Notes

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.

Book Reviews

Dolls! Dolls! Dolls!: Deep Inside Valley of the Dolls, the Most Beloved Bad Book and Movie of All Time by Stephen Rebello. Reviewed by Will.
One of the books that has been on my bedside table for a couple of weeks now is Dolls! Dolls! Dolls!: Deep Inside Valley of the Dolls, the Most Beloved Bad Book and Movie of All Time by Stephen Rebello. Now, if there’s any author who is going to write a definitive behind the scenes look at the book and movie, it’s Stephen Rebello. He is the guy who, along with his co-writer, penned the life altering tome, Bad Movies We Love, which was based on the column that appeared in Movieline magazine way back in the nineties. That book was important to me in so many ways. It also laid my foundation of my love for the movie Valley of the Dolls.

In this book, Stephen takes a look at Jackie Suzanne and the writing and promotion of the book itself, how that led to that bestsellers journey to Hollywood, and all the behind the scenes shenanigans that went on in the making of the film as well as its disastrous premiere and critical lambasting. Although it was a really big hit… Everyone loved it. He also examines the intervening years and its elevation to true cult status.

I really love this book filled with so many juicy backstage stories and so many layers about what went on with this particular property. It was really wonderful. A total breeze to read for all the interviews that he collected, tons of fascinating stories.

I realized that this might be of limited interest to listeners of this show, but I loved it to pieces and I highly recommend Dolls! Dolls! Dolls! by Stephen Rebello.

Learned Behaviors by Jayce Ellis. Reviewed by Will.
Jaq has just gotten his daughter packed off to college when he gets a message from his boss, Patti Kingsley. Their home and lifestyle brand has just landed a huge account, but Bernhardt wants a holiday exclusive in their stores in time for Black Friday.

Matt, arriving at the Kingsley offices in DC, will be acting as the on-site liaison for Bernhardt and make sure that the development of the new product line stays on schedule.

The stress and accelerated time from of the project has Matt and Jaq butting heads. They drive each other crazy, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t also be attracted to each other.

After working together a while, putting out fires and slowly moving the project forward, they develop a grudging respect, even though neither one of them knows how to deal with the sexual tension that is building between them.

Jaq visits his daughter on parents’ weekend. They hang out with Tanisha’s friend Angela and her dad, who just happens to be Matt. At dinner, the dads catch the vibe that Tanisha and Angela might be more than friends. It’s during this visit that Jaq learns Matt needs to be at his son’s wedding on the day after thanksgiving – Black Friday – which is the launch date they’re struggling so hard to meet.

Jaq takes Matt to a Bernhardt store to get a wedding gift. They almost kiss in the bedding department, wanting to give in to their attraction, the restraint however doesn’t last long. They share a scorching kiss in the parking lot.

Working late one night, Matt finds Jaq in his office. He’s tense and needs some release (if you know what I mean). Matt takes charge, telling Jaq exactly what he wants, and how he wants it. Jaq happily obliges. It’s amazing – mind blowing – and opens up a lot of possibilities for them, maybe even relationship possibilities…

But when Jaq gets home that night, he unexpectedly finds Tanisha there, her heart broken by Angela. He does his best to sooth her. This complicates things between him and Matt, but Jaq’s mom assures him that deserves to have a life.

When he finally finds himself in Matt’s bed, he is not disappointed (again, mind blowing). He knows what he feels – but what does it mean and how would he and Matt work in the long run? It’s definitely not just casual, and they spend the rest of the weekend proving that to one another.

On Monday morning everything falls apart. Bernhardt has rejected the current design, but the nepotistic fool who’s playing office politics behind the scenes is not in the same league as Matt, who does not suffer fools lightly. Once that nonsense is shut down, he goes all the way to Norfolk where his son’s wedding prep has hit a snag. Once he has that under control, he tells his family that there is a new man in his life, so add another ‘plus one’ to the guest list.

The wedding/Thanksgiving weekend arrives, and Jaq manages to temporarily seduce Matt away from his work, adding some playtime to the hectic days ahead, days that Matt spends almost entirely on his phone and laptop. Having to go it alone at a wedding that he’s not even a part of has Jaq rethinking some things. On the morning of the big day they are finally able to talk about Matt’s lack of work/life balance, when Jaq gets a call. Tanisha has had an asthma attack that has landed her in the hospital.

Jaq packs to leave.

Matt gets dressed for his son’s wedding.

No matter how much they might want to be there for each other, family always comes first.

Tanisha is fine and assures her dad that he doesn’t need to drop everything for her like when she was a baby.

The wedding goes well, but when Angela sees her dad without Jaq by his side because of a “family emergency”, she puts two and two together, and soon father and daughter are headed back to DC to be with that other father/daughter pair that they are undoubtedly both in love with.

The week after the launch (which btw was very successful) Patti gives Jaq a much-deserved promotion. At the same time Matt has decided that he’s done with Bernhardt, to have given them so much, for so long, and have so little to show for it…. the choice is clear. With some help and encouragement from their friends and family, each of our heroes come to realize now that their children are grown, they might finally be able to start a new chapter.

Jaq takes Tanisha to the office Christmas party; which Patti has decorated in the finest of holiday style. She takes to the stage to thank her team when she is joined by surprise guest, Matt. When he and Jaq finally have a moment alone together, they dispense with the mea culpa’s (they were both wrong, they were both right) and go at it like men half their age. Seriously. It’s explosive heat when these two are together.

Everyone is supportive of them. Jaq and Matt are able to move forward as a couple, and as a newly integrated family.

Everything about Learned Behaviors was so deeply satisfying to me as a reader. The way Jayce Ellis created two men, complex characters who have such interesting compelling lives, how they navigate all that in their attempt at romance, all the while generating so much heat that the digital pages crackle and spark… such good stuff.

And combine all that with some delicious tropes – enemies to lovers, office romance, hot dads… it’s all just too damn irresistible.

I fell hard for Jaq and Matt, and feel pretty confident in saying that, out of everything I’ve read in 2020, these two are one of my favorite romantic couples.

And I haven’t really even had a chance to mention some of the amazing secondary characters that help them on their journey to happily ever after. Jaq’s mom is funny and amazing and wise. Matt’s ex-wife seems a little daunting at first, but she just wants what’s best for Matt (and that’s clearly Jaq), and there’s also Jaq’s group of single dad friends who help and support each other – I’m really looking forward to their stories too.

So, I really recommend this book. Jayce Ellis knows how to write a hell of a great romance and I hope that you’ll check it out. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this as a Christmas story per se, but it does take place during the holiday season, so now is the perfect time to read Learned Behaviors.

Brothersong by TJ Klune. Reviewed by Jeff.
Everyone knows I’m a fan of TJ Klune and his Green Creek series. The series is one of the best I’ve ever read with its sweeping story about the Bennett werewolf back from Green Creek, Oregon. I was swept away within the first chapters of Wolfsong a couple of years ago and there’s been no looking back. TJ created compelling characters, incredible love stories where these characters had to fight through hell and back for their mate and a huge battle of good and evil.

With the fourth book, Brothersong, the saga wraps up and it was an incredible, and perfect, finale for the series. It’s always a little scary when a beloved series wraps. I think we’ve all suffered through less than satisfying endings. TJ did it right. If there’s never ever another Bennett pack story, and he’s said that’s the case, I am forever satisfied with where Brothersong leaves these people, the ones they love and the citizens of Green Creek.

Brothersong is the first time we’ve had a book from the point of view of a member of the Bennett pack. Through Carter Bennett’s eyes, we get some meaningful points of history, an indepth look at this father, and get to watch him fall hopelessly for the guy he’s been drawn to.

Since I’m not going to get into too many details, I’m going to focus on what I loved and I’ll try not to be too obtuse as I do so. Carter and Gavin’s love story is beautiful. It’s been brewing for a while now and it’s always been difficult. In Brothersong, declarations of love are made. For both of them it’s not easy. Gavin’s been through hell, and he’s done that mostly alone. Carter’s had his fair share of hell too, but he’s had his family and pack around him. Still, he’s got to find it in himself to give his heart to another. He never thought it’d be a man either. TJ doesn’t put a label on it–whether Carter is bi, pan or something else. What matters is Carter devotes his everything to Gavin. Being in Carter’s head as he sorts out what Gavin means to him gave me all the feels.

Found family is a central to the Green Creek books, and it plays a huge role here. WIth the perspective of a Bennett, we learn so much more about the pack and the members that have joined over the years. We get glimpse of the Bennett’s before the events in Wolfsong. More importantly, we see how the pack rallies around each other. The middle section of the story is essentially one big love letter to all things pack as everyone reconnects, Carter leans on his family to help him figure out what’s going on with him and Gavin. We even get a glimpse of Christmas time. I could’ve lived inside this part of the book for many more chapters relishing in what makes the Bennett pack the Bennett pack. TJ’s a master with found family in all of his work, and he does a sublime job in this book. One of the other things TJ excels at is humor and the Bennett brothers provide some amazing comic relief in this section–including efforts to help Carter embrace his sexuality. Some truly priceless moments happen.

And the big final battle. Wow. TJ pulled out all the stops. I didn’t thnk things could get bigger than what went down in Heartsong… but they did. I also don’t know why I thought I could figure out what TJ was going to do. You may have heard in the conversations we’ve had about this book that he’s said that not everyone would make it. I had it in my head shortly after the half point what I thought that meant. Boy was I wrong. I’ll admit to be terrified through the battle too as events unfolded though. Everything that happened worked so well, made total sense in the context of the series and ended up very satisfying with some truly expert writing from TJ to pull it all together.

He also leaves us with a look at what I’ll call recovery. It’s not a matter of the battle being over, there’s managing the fallout. It’s also not a spoiler for me to say that TJ promised to leave those who were left in a good place. And he does. As I mentioned, TJ wraps this expertly.

Kirt Graves must also be mentioned. Kirt burst on the scene with his incredible narration of Wolfsong and he delivers on every aspect of the narration of Brothersong. I can’t really call out where some of his most outstanading moments were because that would be saying too much but he takes the powerful text TJ wrote and infuses it with perfect emotional punch.

I’m sad, yet satisified Green Creek is over. Thank you TJ and thank you Kirt for four insanely good books and for making these characters part of my life… to say it was epic and awesome is an understatement.

Trade Deadline by Avon Gale & Piper Vaughn. Reviewed by Jeff.
The Hat Trick series by Avon Gale and Piper Vaughn stands among my favorite hockey series. The latest installment, Trade Deadline, did not disappoint with its second chance romance between a hockey player and a marine biologist.

We met Venom captain Daniel Bellamy in the previous books. As this one opens, even though the Venom won the championship he knows his career is at a crossroads because of his age. He ends up accepting a trade to his hometown team, the Miami Thunder. The Thunder is in the bottom of the rankings and the team has some major attitude problems. Thunder management hope that Bellzie can come in and help turn them around.

Micah Kelly and Danny Bellamy were fast friends in Miami during their childhood. Danny talked of his dreams of hoisting the Stanley Cup and Micah wanted to work with fish and be near the ocean. They also were into each other and the first making out they did was together. Dreams separated them through when Danny left Miami to pursue hockey.

Micah was surprised when he found out Danny was back in Miami. He turned up to the first Thunder game and it only took Danny a moment to recognize him in the stands. They immediately rekindle their friendship, catch up and starting hanging out.

A lot has changed over the years, not the least of which is that Danny was married and has kids. In fact, that divorce happened in one of the earlier books in this series. Danny hasn’t consider being with a man since he and Micah were kids. Being around Micah brings all those feelings back. Micah feels it too.

The tentative romantic reconnection is so sweet. I love a sweet book, and this definitely was. Not everything is easy. Micah’s been hurt before and he’s unsure of offering up his heart again, especially given all that’s involved with Danny’s career and with his ex and kids who are still very much in Danny’s life. The career aspect isn’t a minor issue either because the longer the season goes on, the more he’s not sure the Thunder is where he should be. As a hockey fan, I enjoyed this glimpse inside a team that’s not doing well since so many hockey books involve teams that are doing at least decent in the standings.

Avon and Piper weave a perfect tale as Danny and Micah rediscover their friendship and how to be intimate with each other. The have such a easy going and fun approach to their sexy times that I really delighted in those scenes. I appreciated also the internal dialgoue for both characters as they fought with themselves over what to do given the external factors in play. Most importantly, I liked that it didn’t get too wrapped up in those elements at the same time, which could’ve been easy to do. These guys want to be together and they just have to sort out the right plan for that.

Of course, Bellzie’s got his Venom friends to bounce his feelings off of. It was wonderful to get some time with those guys. Micah’s got kickass friends too who in some cases give him just the right kick in the butt to get him out of his head.

I was head over heels for how this book resolved for these guys, both personally and professionally. Avon and Piper brought a great closing to this series with Trade Deadline. There were so many ways it could’ve gone and the path Danny chose was such a great balance between his personal and career needs. I highly recommend this book, which you can read as a standalone, and the entire series too because all three were terrific romances.

Kudos once again to Kirt Graves as well. He’s been the voice of the series and has always been wonderful. I really loved his characterization for Micah as it fit the character so perfectly from the excitement over his work with sea lions to his more lusty sides with Danny. If audio is your think, you’ll definitely want to do the entire series, and in particular this book, in that format.

Manners & Mannerisms by Tanya Chris. Reviewed by Jeff.
I love a good historical and I was so happy to discover Manners & Mannerisms by Tanya Chris. This is first time I’ve read a book from Tanya and I very much enjoyed this story of an American who comes to England to claim Albon Manner, which he has inherited. It’s an intriguing mix of cultures circa 1788.

Lord William Bascomb isn’t excited about the arrival of Reginald Abernathy once he hears that Reginald is traveling with a sister. As soon as that’s announced, William’s family set about matchmaking, even before they’ve met their new neighbors. And everyone is charmed by the Virginians, even as it’s clear that there’s a distinct difference in ways the newcomers conduct themselves–it takes some time to get used to their less formal ways. As it’s called early on–they’re breezy, very breezy. William’s all for breezy because things often get to stuffy with his family.

From the first time William met Reginald though, there was an attraction. William doesn’t want a wife. He knows he’s got a desire for me–one that he does everything possible to keep under wraps because he knows the consequences. What develops initially, of course, is a friendship that both men enjoy. And they do discuss everything from the more mundane things of running an estate to marrying–and they both reveal they find it tiresome the customs of families doing whatever it takes to ensure a marriage takes place, even if it’s not for love.

The two begin to work together as Reginald finds some suspicious bookkeeping that’s been going on by the gentleman who manages Albon. This adds a little bit of mystery and intrigue as William and Reginald work together to figure out what’s happening here, why and how to properly deal with it. Of course, having them work together is a great way to put these two in closer proximity to allow their attraction simmer.

And simmer it does. I loved how Tanya bounces William and Reginald between super subtle flirting and at times more overt, and dangerous, filtration. It’s a delicate game that she balances so well. As in so many other ways, Reginald isn’t bound by some of the more uptight considerations of the British. While he knows he must tread carefully, his breeziness spills over into his attraction for William and it delightfully throws William way off his game.

As they move beyond flirting, Tanya really heats things up but in a slow burn way. They first kiss is sweet, tender and scary as hell for William–especially since there’s a knock at the study door. And boy does that first kiss send William into a tizzy trying to figure out what means that he wants oh so much more. Moving from the first, to many more kisses to finally having sex gave all the feels in this case as William allowed himself to want it, and to enjoy it. The push/pull between what he wanted and his fear of what it could mean gave the story a great crackle of tension that pulled me along because I had to know how William would finally be able to accept the relationship and engage with his happily ever after.

I loved Reginald in the story. In the historicals I’ve read, it usually has the two men being from England or elsewhere in Europe. Adding an American, with those less stringent behaviors, opened up an interesting storyline as these two men were very different even while they belonged to same class. Reginald too is a wonderful character because of how he treats others as well, especially those in his employ–another counterpoint to how staff was managed in the day. He’s really wonderful and how he changes William for the better is a terrific part of the story.

Manners & Mannerism was completely enjoyable and I’m so glad I picked it up for its wonderful characters, bit of intrigue and sweet, romantic love story. As always, kudos to Joel Leslie on the audiobook. He’s always terrific in historicals and I loved his portrayal of confident Reginald and the more tumultuous William. Not to mention his wonderful accent work with all of the British with some American tossed in too. A great job from both Tanya and Joel.

The Bridge by Bill Konigsberg. Reviewed by Jeff.
I love Bill Konigsberg’s books. His titles, which are all young adult, always end up on my favorites list. His new book, The Bridge, is a departure from the stories he’s told in the past, which have been stories about young people discovering who they are. The Bridge deals with teen mental health and sucidie. Bill handles this topic with a deft hand that makes this difficult and very emotional topic a compelling read even when the going gets tough.

As you can imagine, this book won’t be for everyone because of its subject matter but let me tell you a little more about it so you can judge if this outstanding book should be on your TBR.

the book centers on teens, Aaron and Tilly, who are both feeling suicidal and Bill presents four different versions of what happens to these two characters. In each version of the story, we see different points of view of what’s brought them to the bridge and the aftermath of their choices. It’s powerful reading, getting inside the heads of Aaron and Tillie to see what’s pushed them to the breaking point. We become witness to slights by classmates, by family, by teachers. Not always big slights but ones that can pile up over time. There’s some huge egregious behavior as well. It’s a wide range of things–large and small–that add up. Bill’s does an incredible job of showing us how people behave toward one another, good and bad, and how it can all pile up. On the flip side of that though he also shows the small acts of kindness that can bring people back too. We also get a glimpse of what happens to the people left behind and the pieces they have to pick up for themselves, family and friends.

I wasn’t sure about this book when I decided to read it. I’d had since it came out because I one-click anything by Bill, but these are difficult times we live in and obviously this book deals with difficult, emotional topics. And yet, it didn’t bring me into a funk. Bill made me feel for the Aaron and Tillie and their circumstance while also showing glimmers of hope. This book also excels at driving home the fact that we don’t know what’s going on inside other people’s heads and what they may be going through while projecting a happy facade to the world.

I’m glad I read The Bridge. Bill continues to chronicle the teenage experience expertly. And this is an important book too as it deals head on with mental health in such a straightforward manner. This is a great book, for sure one of the best of the year for me, and I recommend it for anyone who thinks this type of story is something for them.

Also, since I’ve talked about audio on each of these reviews, Marin Ireland does an incredible job handling all of the characters in this book. She nails the emotion at every turn so the audio is definitely something you should check out.