Support Big Gay Fiction Podcast on PatreonThis episode kicks off with some news. Jeff will host a live virtual event for Doylestown Bookshop with author Philip William Stover, Will started the 100 Stories 100 Day project, and Jeff will be re-releasing Love’s Opening Night.

The guys recommend some TV and movies they’ve recently enjoyed: new movie Breaking Fast, the Netflix series Gameboys, reality competition show Blown Away, and the documentary The Bee Gees: How to Mend a Broken Heart.

Jeff & Will also review The Beautiful Things Shoppe by Philip William Stover, Rendezvous in Paris by Merry Farmer, Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell, Grumpy Bear by Slade James, and Infinity Son by Adam Silvera.

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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

The Beautiful Things Shoppe by Philip William Stover. Reviewed by Jeff.

Philip William Stover’s The Hideaway Inn, was on both Will’s and my Top Books of 2020 list. Philip’s take on a small town romance full of rich, wonderful, diverse characters worked for both of us. Philip has done it again with The Beautiful Things Shoppe, the second book in the Seasons of New Hope series. This opposites attract / small town / work place romance gave me everything I wanted.

Prescott and Danny hope that their taking over of The Beautiful Things Shoppe is just what they need to move their live in the right direction. We met the Shoppe’s owner, Uncle Arthur, in the first book and Arthur has retired from the Shoppe and leases it out. In a bit of matchmaking mischief he doesn’t tell Prescott or Danny that they each rented half.

These two are about as opposite as it gets. Prescott is quiet, reserved man who does things just-so and his collection is made up of elegant, fine art and antique pieces. He wants the Shoppe to be his calling card to being a serious fine art dealer. Then there’s Danny, a boistorius, fun loving guy who is happy in jeans and t-shirts and deals in retro toys and other kitsch. He’s dreamed of opening a store front rather than selling online and this place let’s him do that.

Prescott is every bit the stuffy guy, not wanting his art alongside Smurfs, Beanie Babies, Snoopy cookie jars or anything of the like. Danny’s willing to share the space but the way Prescott pushes his buttons just makes him want to dig in and be difficult. They’ve got to find a way to work together though because they’ve only got a couple of weeks to get the shoppe open before the big winter festival.

Prescott and Danny are a hoot because they’re attracted to each other, but they’re also not giving up any ground. Every little thing between them is a battle as neither wants to give up ground. It can be as simple as who is bringing in the fire wood for the stove. Each of them also makes some eagerious, albeit accidental, mistakes too which adds to the tension.

These guys have things in their past too with guys who have burned them. With Prescott it’s his ex, who is the snobbiest snob who ever snobbed. He wants Prescott back at his side. Danny’s had issues with guys who want to be around him because of his monied family. Danny doesn’t easily tell people who he’s related to because he wants to be taken seriously for himself, not what his family has.

This is a fairly typical setup, but Philip infuses these characters and the story with the same charm and wonderful story that he did with The Hideway Inn. The one step forward, two steps back as they work to get the store together is delightful to watch. The moments they find common ground and get along made me cheer–and what’s best the Danny and Prescott are happy and they acknowledge these moments to themselves. And then when one of them messes it up and they’ll get frustrated with themselves. Eventually this pivots to more forward progress than not, but it’s tenuous. Danny’s got a jealous streak when Prescott shows up trying to get back together while Prescott eventually has to come to terms with Danny’s hidden family.

The two truly find their common ground when it’s revealed that two of New Hope’s most loved buildings are target for demolition to make way for a parking structure. Like everything else, Danny and Prescott like different buildings but they’re ready to fight alongside the rest of the town to save them. I can say enough how much I liked these two, even when they’re at odds they’re likable, loveable delightful characters.

As we discovered in the first book, New Hope’s townsfolk love to play matchmaker and they terrific here helping bring the two together and pointing out when they’re being stupid. Of course, as a fan of Hideaway Inn, I liked catching up with Vince and Tack to see how they’ve settled in.

Philip’s done a pitch perfect small town romance once again. It’s that comfortable feeling of queer Hallmark movie. I’d be happy to keep reading these romances where he tosses together two very different people and gently bringing them together for an extremely satisfying happily ever after.

Rendezvous in Paris by Merry Farmer. Reviewed by Will.

It was a rocky road to romance for Dorothy and Marshall in The Duke from Paris (Tales from the Grand Tour book 1), but they survived scandal and blackmail to find their happily ever after. Now it’s their brothers turn to find love. Lord Sebastian Stone and Damian McGovern are friends who’ve had their eyes on each other for quite some time. They definitely enjoy engaging in flirty banter.

But flirtations must be set aside, they have reason to suspect that the Dorothy and Marshall’s blackmailer may be at the masquerade, being held that evening in the palace in which they’re staying.

Damian dresses in an elaborate geisha costume that is so convincing that he and Sebastian are able to take a turn around the ballroom without the other guests being any the wiser. When their repartee turns suggestive, the two of them hastily exit the dancefloor to find a dark corner, but instead come face to face with Solange, Dorothy’s former lady’s maid and prime blackmailer suspect. They give chase through the palace but lose her in the dark passageways. Their investigation at an impasse, they head upstairs to Damian’s room to further explore their passions.

Sebastian is not at breakfast the next morning. While looking for him, Solange pulls Damian into a storeroom to explain her suspicious behavior. She is not the blackmailer and is on a mission to restore her family’s honor. As for Sebastian’s? She mentions that she saw him leave earlier on the road into Paris.

When Sebastian returns, he joins Damian and the other McGovern cousins on a leisurely trip down up the Seine. Once everyone is aboard their well-appointed barge, Sebastian dodges the question of his whereabouts. Damian suggests that he can imagine a romantic future where they return to England to be together.

Distracted, the boat runs aground, sending the cousins tumbling into the water. After saving several soaked ladies, our heroes make their way back to the palace, find an empty parlor, begin to remove their wet clothes, and continue their amorous activities from the previous evening when they hear a loud crash. They discover a peephole, a broken camera, and a secret passageway.

Sebastian fears it may be Fordyce, the villainous blackmailer who forced him to flee his home country. Its then that he receives a note and leaves once again. This time Damian follows him into Paris and finds Sebastian working as a waiter in a second-rate café. His still has his title, but exile from England means he has no other income and is too proud to ask his brother for support. The two of them retire to Sebastian’s small room above the shop where Damian uses his powers of persuasion to convince him to join him (and their understanding family members) back in England.

A note from Fordyce sends them racing out into the night. It’s on the crowded Parisian streets that they run into Solange who suggest that the blackmailer may be headed to the nearby offices of a tabloid newspaper. It’s on the steps of the office that our heroes, the blackmailer, and the powerful owner of the scandal sheet – finally meet. It’s Fordyce’s own greed that brings him to a bloody end.

Bedraggled but victorious from the evening’s events, Damian and Sebastian return to the palace and tumble into bed together. The couple are welcomed with open arms into the extended McGovern family, a happy ending to their story.

But what of Solange? She returns to service for the McGovern cousins. The quest to avenge her family’s name will have to wait for the next book.

This Victorian novella is filled with passion and romance and adventure. Damian and Sebastian’s story was so much fun. I really enjoyed how they were able to fall in love, solve a mystery, and still find a way to steal a few private moments for some very spicy romantic encounters.

While this novella is the second in a series, it perfectly stands on its own. The previous plot points carried over from Dorothy and Marshall’s story are expertly explained by the author in a way that is organic and natural for the telling of Damian and Sebastian’s story.

To be honest, I was feeling a bit down on the day I started reading this story. By the end, Rendezvous in Paris had definitely lifted my spirits. Wonderful characters, great setting, a fast paced plot – Merry Farmer combines it all for an engaging and romantic read.

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell. Reviewed by Jeff.

I’m not usually one for sci-fi stories. It has to be just the right thing to get me to give it a go. But when I saw the combination of elements in Winter’s Orbit, the debut novel from Everina Maxwell I couldn’t say no. It’s got a royal couple in a hastily arranged marriage. There’s romantic suspense and political intrigue in play. And, yes, there’s some nicely done sci-fi elements. The further I got into this story, the harder it was to put it down.

Right at the start we find that Prince Kiem of Iskat, who is essentially the royal screwup, must marry Count Jianan of Thea immediately. Jianan former partner, Prince Taam, who happens to be Kiem’s cousin, was killed in an accident a month prior and it’s imperative that there’s a wedding between representatives of Iskat and Thea to be able to sign the treaty that bounds them, along with other planets together. The treaty is up for renewal every 20 years so the timing of the Taam’s death is problematic toward having the treaty renewed.

Keim and Jianan couldn’t be more different. Keim’s outgoing, energetic, doesn’t always think things true and sort of glides through life and now he’s thrust in to a much more public role than working with charities. Jianan is quiet, measured, thinks everything through to an extreme and takes his duty as a treaty representative very seriously. These two are on eggshells a lot as they get thrust together. Keim treads carefully because Jianan’s only been widowed a month and Jianan is cautious since Keim didn’t want any of this.

The romance is very, very slow burn and I loved it. Everina struck the perfect tone between Keim and Jianan trying to find the love in a marriage that was forced with virtually no advanced warning. From the beginning they’re sparks of attraction that neither really knows how to handle and some of the tentative steps are touching even when they don’t work out. That they really care for each other surfaces to them in the best ways as they support, care for, defend and rescue each other because they truly want to rather than have to because of the bounds of the treaty–these elements coalesce together when they find themselves stranded. This addition of some force proximity time simply added to the catnip of this story for me. I adored their inner monologues as they realize how they feel and deal with the idea that they’d like more but that they’re not sure how to get it given all extreme pressures around them.

And speaking of pressures, lets talk about the suspense aspect here. Keim and Jianan marrying doesn’t solve the treaty requirements. In fact, the Auditor won’t recognize the couple and has other issues such as some missing artifacts and evidence that Taam was murdered. Oh boy is there some juicy stuff here. Taam worked on a special project between Iskat and Thea and all was not as it seemed with that project and the threads of the conspiracy run deep. Keim and Jianan are determined to sort out what’s happening–not only do they want the treaty renewed but there are accusations that Janian’s behind Taam’s death.

These two work together so well. Much like the romance, it’s a tentative partnership at first but as they hit their stride and discover they can trust each other, even when it seems they shouldn’t. Best of all, the surprise each other–and honestly themselves–with the things they can do. This is critical because they both have low self worth at times and how the each work through that is a great dynamic in the story.

Everina worked magic with the suspense plot. Working together helps Keim and Jianan sort out their relationship, but separate from that it’s really intriguing trying to put together all of the pieces to who is doing what to who and what the galactic ramifications are. Most of all, I loved that Everina constructed a fascinating mystery that kept me turning pages while and was one that I didn’t solve ahead of the characters.

And since I’m not one for a ton of world building, I can report that Everina keeps that to a minimum and just gives you what’s needed when it’s needed. It’s just one more well done element in this story. There’s also a tremendous cast of support characters, led off by Keim’s assistant Bel. She is far, far more than she appears and her no-nonense manner of trying to keep Keim on schedule is just one of many talents. I would love to see a story focused on her.

I do want to call out that some content might be difficult for some readers. Jianan was abused by Taam and that does surface from time to time as Keim and others learn about Jianan’s past.

Overall I have to say that Winter’s Orbit was an outstanding read. I loved the combination of tropes and all of the terrific action in the suspense plus the slow drawing together of the prince and the count. I look forward to what Everina Maxwell comes out with next.

Grumpy Bear by Slade James. Reviewed by Will.

A couple of episodes ago, I spoke about how much I enjoyed Slade James’s novella The Uncut Wood. That story served as an introduction to his new series called Bear Camp. I said then how much I was looking forward to the first book in this series.

It’s now out and it is utterly amazing. I loved it so hard. I don’t even know how to describe how amazing this book is. The first book in the brand new Bear Camp series is called Grumpy Bear. It’s the story of Luke and Sawyer. Now, Luke just has his guitar and the clothes on his back when he arrives at bear mountain. He’s hoping to find a job or at least work a couple of days during the camps opening weekend.

Sawyer owns and operates the camp and he is the grumpy bear of the title. When he first meets Luke, he’s not sure what to make of the sunshiny happy-go-lucky guy. Sawyer has to contend with the constant threat of nearby creek overflowing because of the topography and the way that the camp is laid out. Their pool is in constant danger of being muddied by the nearby creek if its waters overflow the bank and the pool is a key element to the big kickoff weekend. if it’s not open, how else are they going to entertain all the campers who’ve come to a clothing, optional, gay campsite to have fun in the sun.

A summer storm forces, Luke and Sawyer to bunk together in Soyer’s tiny cabin. And there’s only one bed! Oh, I love it so hard!

Anyway, the opening weekend goes really well. All the while Luke and Sawyer are going closer and closer. One night around the campfire, Luke picks up his guitar and starts singing, which brings them to attention of one of the campers who happens to have connections in the music industry, specifically a producer who has created a new reality show for up and coming gay singer songwriters. It’s an opportunity that’s too good to pass up. And at the close of the weekend, Luke heads to Atlanta.

Luke quickly realizes that the great opportunity ain’t all, it’s cracked up to be. And, Sawyer eventually realizes that he’s not interested in running the camp without Luke by his side. Poor Sawyer attempts to make a grand gesture, but it kind of falls flat. But, never fear, both of our heroes realize that there is no place like home and that place is bear camp.

I loved absolutely everything about this book.

Generally speaking, I have zero interest in camping or the great outdoors, but this story made me want to go visit this place and hang out with these wonderful, amazing, wacky people. Grumpy Bear is a wonderful installment in a brand new series and I cannot wait to read the next one.

Infinity Son by Adam Silvera. Reviewed by Jeff.

Last year, Adam Silvera took his writing in a new direction with a urban fantasy young adult novel called Infinity Son. I love Silvera’s take on contemporary YA fiction as he writes incredible LGBTQ+ characters dealing with a myriad of very real-world issues. Bringing that sensibility into urban fantasy made for one heck of a thrill ride.

In an alternate New York City, twin brothers Emil and Brighton have grown up idolizing the Spell Walkers, a group of Celestials who carry various powers. Brighton is obsessed with the Spell Walkers and has created a web series about them. The Spell Walkers are a misunderstood community, often painted to be the bad guys for society’s problems. On the cusp of their birthday, the brothers are hoping–although Brighton more than Emil–to get powers. Powers are a funny thing since sometimes you’re born with them and sometimes they manifest later. In general though, if you don’t have them by 18 you’re not getting them.

Emil, Brighton and their best friend Prudencia do everything together. They were tight when the brother’s father died after a failed attempt to cure a severe illness. They’re planning a great summer together before they all move into the next phase of their lives, which includes Brighton going to California for college.

Adam knows how to write strong characters and these three shine, I fell right into the story because of the alternating first person of Emil and Brighton and seeing this alternate New York through their eyes (as a side note, the pov stays primarily between these two, although at times other characters take over the story telling). There’s a tension that pops off the page too because you know something’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of when. It’s like the opening of any good disaster movie where you get that look at life before everything blows up.

And blow up it does, while our motley trio is out at a rally for the Spell Walkers, they provoke someone who they don’t realize is a Specter, this is someone who comes by their powers through blood alchemy. Big mistake since the Specter goes after them and in a battle that climaxes on the subway, Emil saves them as he suddenly manifests power.

Emil is stunned. Brighton’s angry because he didn’t get powers and he feels he’d be much better at the whole powers thing than his brother. And Prudencia’s just trying to look out for both of them. They end up on the run and rescued by Spell Walkers who want to keep them save, and maybe use Emil’s Phoenix powers to help their cause.

Adam weaves such an incredible story as more secrets come at the brothers from all sides. At every turn, I was like “holy crap, that just happened.” Emil has so much to take in with the powers and what he learns about them. Brighton must figure out his place among the groups of Spell Walkers since he has no powers. And then there’s the Big Bad that’s lurking–Luna, a supreme alchemist is out to live forever and extract a lot of revenge. She needs three things to make the Reaper’s Blood and Emil and the Spell Walkers must stop her. Yes, I’m being cagey about the plot because you need to read the book. You need to have those “holy crap” moments for yourself.

Beyond all the great characters that are the Hallmark of any Adam Silvera book, he also writes incredible battle scenes. There are quite a few throughout Infinity Son and each is bigger than the previous. Through all of this chaos, he manages to keep focus–even while trying to save the world from the evil alchmist–on the brothers and family. That keeps the story grounded.

Of the brothers, Emil was my favorite. I think that’s because he’s not so caught up in being dazzled by the Spell Walkers like Brighton is. I enjoyed watching him come into his powers, and even though he’s a “hero” he still fails plenty. It’s also great that he’s still a teen figuring life out too and maybe finding a boyfriend in the midst of all this. Emil being gay is not even close to an important element in the story, but he is and there’s the smallest thread of perhaps the beginnings of something between him and another Specter.

Whew, boy! I’m not good at talking about books like this and trying to keep all the cool plot points covered up. I loved Infinity Son with its mix of strong, awesome characters and save-the-world heroics. And I’m glad I waited until now to read it. The book has a major cliffhanger and luckily I don’t have to wait long to resolve it since Infinity Reaper comes out March 2.