Jeff & Will talk about two series on HBO Max they’ve enjoyed: the AIDS drama It’s a Sin and the high school dramedy Generation.
Jeff reviews Layla Reyne’s romantic suspense Queen’s Ransom as well as Eden Finley & Saxon James’s jock/nerd romance Power Plays & Straight A’s. Will reviews Caught Looking by Adriana Herrera and Deja Vu by Lawrence I. Hill.
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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.
- Girls Like Us on Apple Podcasts
- It’s a Sin on HBO Max
- Angels in America on HBO Max
- The Normal Heart on HBO Max
- Generation on HBO Max
- Degrassi website
- My So Called Life on Hulu
- Beverly Hills 90210 on Hulu
- Skins on Hulu
- Queen’s Ransom by Layla Reyne on Amazon
- Fog City series by Layla Reyne on Amazon (audiobooks also on Libro.fm)
- Caught Looking by Adriana Herrera on Amazon
- Power Plays and Straight A’s by Eden Finley & Saxon James on Amazon (audiobook also on Libro.fm)
- Deja Vu by Lawrence I. Hill on Amazon
- Episode 292 – Darkly Enchanted Romance with Joshua Ian on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- 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
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Will: Coming up in this episode, Jeff and I are going to be telling you about everything that we’ve been reading and watching recently.
Jeff: Welcome to episode 294 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast. The show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Jeff Adams. And with me as always is my co-host and husband Will Knauss.
Will: Hello everyone.
Jeff: As always, the podcast is brought to you in part by our remarkable community on Patreon. If you’d like more information about the bonus content we offer our patrons go to patrion.com/biggayfictionpodcast. And this week, our patrons are going to receive the March bonus episode, which will include our ongoing discussion of the classic gay paranormal soap opera, Dante’s Cove.
Will: Welcome back rainbow romance readers. We are so glad that you could join us for another episode. Spring has sprung a new season is upon us. There are flowers in bloom. The birds are chirping and Jeff and I are going to be spending the majority of this episode, telling you about all the things that we’ve been reading and watching from inside the comfort of our own home.
But before we get to those reviews, we’d like to introduce you to another show that’s part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Here’s Sophie and Frannie to tell you about “Girls Like Us.”
Girls Like Us Promo: Hey guys, I’m Frannie. And I’m Sophie. And we’re the hosts of “Girls Like Us,” on the Frolic Podcast Network. You can check us out every Monday asking the question “What does a degree in literature get you?” With the answer, “a podcast about children’s books.” We cover The Click, Pretty Little Liars and this random YA book sent to us by listeners. New episodes come out every Monday. Bye.
It’s A Sin
Will: So earlier this year, the new series from Russell T. Davies premiered in the UK and here on the other side of the pond, it became available to us on HBO Max. It’s called “It’s a Sin.” It’s a drama about a group of friends living in London in the 1980s during the AIDS pandemic. And if you haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, it is a brutal and honest look at what it was like to live during those times.
I thought it was remarkably well done. It’s so good that I would personally place it in the echelon of works like “Angels in America” and “The Normal Heart.”
Jeff: I absolutely agree with that. I think this is a very interesting companion piece to both of those, especially because this gives us the British look on things. One of the things that stuck out to me in one of the early episodes here was that they were essentially brushing it off in London for awhile—that’s an American thing it’s happening over there. And then they figured out that it was actually happening pretty much everywhere. So that makes for an interesting way to kind of compare and contrast between the American-based plays and movies that have been made.
And you’re right. it’s an extraordinary series and it is brutal. There are light moments. There are funny moments, but to watch what happens to this core group of friends over a decade was quite something. And I’m glad that we parsed it out over a few days and didn’t binge watch all the episodes at one time.
Will: Another new series that also just happens to be on HBO Max is called “Generation.” And this show deals with what it’s like being a teenager growing up in America, this specific point in time.
It’s funny, it’s outrageous. It’s dramatic.
The first three episodes recently dropped. Jeff and I watched those and I enjoyed them an awful lot. A majority of the core characters identify as queer and while it deals with specific issues about what it’s like to be growing up in 2021, it also deals with a lot of the classic themes and tropes that we have seen in teen-based shows from the past.
Jeff and I are of a certain generation.
Jeff: We’re old
Will: Our teen shows growing up were things like, you know, “Degrassi,” “My So-called Life” and the glossy soap opera shenanigans of the gang from “90210.” If I had to compare this series to anything recently, it reminds me a lot of the UK series “Skins.” And that was almost 20 years ago now.
Jeff: We’re so old.
Will: But I really enjoyed this. I think the cast is pretty phenomenal and it’s specifically described as a dramedy. So at walks, that really awkward line between the ridiculous and sublime and the painful and dramatic, which is, you know, what, being a teenager is all about.
Jeff: Yeah. I really like how, in these first three episodes in particular, it really drifts back and forth between some super harsh reality and some more light and almost frivolous things. I really love the character of Chester. He is absolutely incredible. He plays on the water polo team. He is also very out and outspoken. In the first episode, he is sent to the guidance counselor because he’s been dress coded because he is in a crop top and skinny jeans and whatnot. But then the whole school thing flips on its head in one of the next episodes, because they’re in an active shooter lockdown, and then we go through the drama that circulates around that.
So it’s, really amazing. Your analogy to “Skins” I think is perfect because it’s very much in your face, very honest. But there’s also a lot of heart that runs through it at times, too. I really like it.
I’m looking forward to seeing where this show goes in the upcoming episodes. As Will mentioned, the first three episodes recently dropped. New episodes come out on Thursdays on HBO Max. And it looks like this particular season of the show is going to run eight episodes. So there’s more to come there.
Queen’s Ransom by Layla Reyne
Jeff: So diving into books, I feel like I have really been on like a reading binge lately. I’ve been taking in so many things and they’re all so, so good. I’m excited to get to talk about them a little bit.
And the first one I’m going to kick off with is Queen’s Ransom by Layla Reyne.
I ate up Layla Reyne’s original Fog City trilogy that came out in 2019. I’m so happy Layla’s returned to the Madigan family for two more installments. It kicks off with this month’s release of Queen’s Ransom, featuring Madigan sister Helena as she goes after happiness with Ceilia, who just happens to be the sister of Helena’s brother’s fiance. (Did you get all that? Two Madigans are falling in love with Perri’s.)
Queen’s Ransom picks up a short time after A New Empire brought Hawes Madigan and Chris Perri their HEA, and siblings Hawes, Helena and Holt control of the family business–both the legit cold storage business as well as their shadier dealings. Of course, since we’re dealing with the Madigans, life isn’t going to be easy going.
Helena’s been away, making sure the Madigan business is fully shored up in the aftermath of the battle for the business. First order of business is to take her motorcycle to her favorite mechanic, Ceilia. As their discussing the bike and engaging in a bit of filtering–and wondering to themselves if that’s a good idea–someone shoots up the repair shop. Who is it? Someone who doesn’t approve of the new ruler of the Madigan family business? Maybe it’s a new gang looking for control? Or it could be Ceilia’s deadbeat, sleazy ex-husband. One thing’s for sure, Helena is going to get to the bottom of it and the family’s going to help too.
There’s so much great stuff going on in Queen’s Ransom and it’s centered in a wonderful romance between Helena and Ceilia. They are flirty and sexy. Helena isn’t scared off by the kids, really adorable kids, that Ceilia had with her ex. She is, however, worried about what it means for Ceilia to be with her given her line of work as attorney/assassin/part of a crime family. Ceilia’s not spooked by that though because she’s seen first hand how the Madigans take care of their own, including her brother Chris. I loved watching these women continually finding their way back to each other and the growing love.
And here’s a small thing that really delighted me. Usually when characters get the flutters, it’s usually butterflies (and nothing wrong with that at all, I’ve written butterflies before and it’s a common thing to say). Layla went with a hummingbird and that conjured some really nice images and feelings to me because of how delicate the bird is, but also the rate that it’s wings move and that it can zip around. I absolutely went gaga for this descriptive element. I know it’s tiny in the grand scheme of the book, but man did it make an impact for me.
Of course, Layla’s an ace at romantic suspense and I ate up the mystery of who shot up the shop and why. It was elaborate and intriguing and I honestly can’t wait to see how it reverabtes in the next book in the series that’ll come out in May. That’s all I’ll say on the whodunit part because I’m not giving up spoilers!
The consistent thing I’ve loved in the Fog City books is the strong family bonds, which also extends to friends of the Madigans. Not only do they have each other’s backs if anyone from the outside fucks with them. They take care of each other in every way. The family is together here–both the Madigans and Perris–as they prepare for the wedding of Hawes and Chris. They’re also watching over Holt who got seriously hurt in the original trilogy as he plays single dad to his young daughter… and maybe gets a relationship with police chief Brax (not to worry, Holt gets his story in May’s Silent Knight.
I highly recommend Queen’s Ransom and the entire Fog City series. If you haven’t read the others, you should dive in from the beginning as this book is all the better with all the context on the Madigans and what Helena’s been up to this point. Definitely add this to your TBR. It’s so, so good.
Will: Well, good. I’m glad that you enjoyed that.
Caught Looking by Adriana Herrera
Will: The novella I want to talk about just happens to be by one of our favorite authors, Adriana Herrera and her most recent release was called Caught Looking.
Yariel is a superstar shortstop in the Major Leagues. Hatuey is the team’s interpreter. They’re are in a panic – worried that they’ve placed their decade long friendship in jeopardy by spending one explosively passionate night together. Yari insists it can’t happen again, but Hatuey has different plans.
They’ll be headed to the Dominican Republic for a series of charity events and it’s during that time together that he’ll prove to Yariel that that he’s not as straight as everyone once thought.
On the private plane to the DR it’s proves easy to get Yariel hot under the collar. They almost join the mile high club, but Yari pulls back. Hateuy knows this is what they both want. What they both need. Since going on the offensive didn’t work, the new plan is to make Yariel come to him.
Staying in the same suite at the resort where the team’s fundraiser will be held, they can’t seem to keep their hands off each other for long, but they’re interrupted by Hatuey’s father. They then spend the afternoon at the sports camp Yariel sponsors and later in the evening go to a black-tie gala.
At an exclusive after party, Hatuey proves to be very popular. Perhaps purposely provoking Yari’s jealous streak will snap him out of it and get him to admit that they’re meant to be. He fumes as he watches from the sidelines. When he can’t take it any longer, he drags Hatuey back to their place – he has to have him, or he’ll die. These two definitely don’t lack passion and they don’t do anything halfway.
They spend the next several chapters engaging in sex so intense that it’ll set the digital pages of you ereader on fire, which really shouldn’t come as a surprise because everything they do is so intense. The way they fight is intense. They way they fuck is intense.
Now, without a shadow of a doubt, they both know that they belong together, now and always. In an epilogue set a year later, they still can’t keep their hands off each other and Yariel has a special Valentine’s Day surprise for Hatuey, one that’ll assure their bright and happy future together forever.
Now, as I mentioned, we are both of Adrianna Herrera’s work, but this time I think she’s truly outdone herself. Not only are the sex scenes crazy, off the charts hot, but the deeply held passion that these to characters have for each other is evident on every single page and in every single moment that they share. Yariel and Hatuey are loyal friends and intense lovers (there’s that word, intense, again). Their chemistry is explosive, and I can’t think of a better example of a ‘friends-to-lovers’ trope written so expertly.
If you’re looking for a novella that packs a lot of emotional punch with a ton of sexual heat, then Caught Looking is the story you should be reading.
Jeff: I absolutely second that. We don’t often read the same books for the show. And you said, you must read this. You must, must, must read this, go read this right now.
Will: I shoved it right in his face.
Jeff: And I’m glad you did, because everything that you said there is a hundred percent right. I love how Adriana worked in the novella format because you’re right, this book starts in the aftermath of sex. There’s no meet cute. There’s no setup. There’s no, Oh so dreamy moments. Boom. We’ve had sex and now we’ve got to deal with that. You don’t even get to see the sex that happened. You just know that it did. But she picks it up and she gives you all those other moments so you understand their history and you understand where they are and where they’re going and that they really have to do this together.
It was just brilliant. I loved every single minute of it.
Power Plays & Straight A’s by Eden Finley & Saxon James
And I’m going to keep our sports thing going as I talk about Power Plays & Straight A’s by Eden Findley and Saxon James.
Hockey romance is one of my go-tos and it’s been a while since I’ve read one. I’m glad I picked up this one from my list of ones to read. Power Plays & Straight A’s by Eden Finley & Saxon James is the first book in their CU Hockey series that came out last summer. Not only did it satisfy my desire for some hockey romance, but its jock-nerd story ticked another box for me.
Foster Grant’s instructions from his brother are clear–look after Zach but don’t hit on him. Foster’s always had a thing for Zach’s cute nerdiness, but he’s been focused on hockey more than crushing on someone. That’s even more important now that he’s in his senior year and looking to make the leap to the big time.
Zach’s coming to CU, from arch rival Vermont, to pursue his Master’s in psych. He’s also wants to prove that he can live on his own without help from Seth (that’s Foster’s brother) or anyone else. Zach knows he often focuses too much on his studies to the point he loses track of time, has a hard time reading people and that maybe he should allow himself more of a life than he does.
Their first meeting on campus makes Zach bristle. He runs into Foster while he’s exploring campus, and unfortunately right after a bird has crapped on him. Foster’s outgoing, happy-go-lucky style don’t sit well with Zach whose just annoyed. They meet up again as Foster ends up in the sports psychology class Zach’s the TA for. It doesn’t help that Zach doesn’t understand anything about team sports, but the professor wants him in this class to help Zach push outside his comfort zone. Foster’s offer to help Zach understand team sports and the psychology behind it at first is brushed off… but Zach relenting to the offer is the first stop on their journey toward falling for each other.
Eden and Saxon do a wonderful job of showing the differences between the fun, boisterous, and driven Foster and the studious, quiet but also just as driven Zach. As Foster and Zach step more into the other’s world not only do sparks fly but they find amazing ways to support each other as well in some large and small ways–even risking what’s most important to each of them.
The sweetness that permeates this book is the thing I love about it most. While they have to figure out what a future looks like where Foster is hopefully somewhere in the NHL and Zach is working his way to a doctorate, they’re both incredible sweet in their romance. I love jocks who are fierce in their sport but complete romantics too. Foster doesn’t know initially he’s got that in him–but he does and I loved it. Zach’s not sure he’s capable of being loved because of his personality so it’s a different journey the Foster’s but it’s just as satisfying.
There is an angsty subplot in play to with the reasons that Zach decided to switch schools for his Masters that involves some bullying. Payback’s a bitch and while Foster didn’t exactly approach the situation in the best way, I loved that he took care of it.
And that whole thing about “don’t hit on my friend.” Explaining the relationship to Seth wasn’t the easiest–Seth didn’t want Zach hurt after all–but Foster sorted that. He also had to get through the first moment of bringing a boy home, all the more cutely awkward because Zach was sort of already a member of the family.
I loved my first visit to CU Hockey with Power Plays & Straight A’s by Eden Finley & Saxon James and I look forward to more books (book three just recently came out). If hockey romance with jocks and nerds is your thing. Give this a try.
Deja Vu by Lawrence I. Hill
Will: So back in episode 292, we talked with author Joshua Ian. We got the chance to discuss some of his amazing Gothic romance and some of the work that he does under a separate pen name. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to that interview, yet we highly recommend you go check it out. I think the discussion was a lot of fun.
So the novella I want to talk about right now is called Deja Vu and it was written under his Lawrence Hill pen name. And it’s about a guy named Alvin, who is is the hospitality director at an upscale Atlanta hotel. One afternoon while chatting/gossiping with friends Denise and Devon, he learns that their latest celebrity check-in is R&B superstar Tee Mills. As a kid, Alvin knew Tee as Tim, and they were best friends up until high school when Alvin got dropped for a more popular group of friends.
After receiving a special request from the penthouse suite, Alvin reluctantly goes up to find Tee preparing for some interviews and wearing nothing but a pair of briefs that show off everything he’s got to offer. Not that Alvin is interested. Especially not when Tim doesn’t even acknowledge him or their past together.
That night, Alvin is busy putting out fires (quit literally) at a large wedding reception being held in the hotel ballroom. The good-looking brother of the bride is chatting him up when the DJ starts spinning the Tee Mills classic, Déjà Vu. Hearing the song throws Alvin emotionally off center. He’s about to head home for the night when he gets another request from the frustratingly hot VIP upstairs.
Tim answers the door in nothing but a robe, and Alvin is frustrated by his obvious seduction techniques. Tim asks if the desert he brought up is one of Alvin’s own recipes, because he really like the food at Alvin’s restaurant.
In the years since they’d last seen each other, Alvin had gone to culinary school, opened his own place, and when that didn’t work out, he got the job at the hotel. It seems his old friend has been keeping tabs on him.
They get to talking over chocolate cake and champagne, Tim trying to explain how being on the down-low was never what he wanted, but it was his way of having both a career and a life. He always admired how Alvin was out in school and was jealous of how easy it seemed for him (it wasn’t) and how much Tim liked him back then.
They reminisce about a long-ago snow day when they danced to their favorite song and shared their first kiss. Tim shows him the ring that he wears on a gold chain around his neck, a ring that Alvin made in shop class and gave to him. He’s kept it because he’s been in love with Alvin all this time. He couldn’t tell him how he felt back then because he was too scared. He’s stronger now and has come back to Atlanta over the holidays to show Alvin how he really feels – how he’s always felt.
Everything Alvin has ever wanted is standing right in front of him. It’s a second chance and it’s one he’s not going to pass up.
After sleeping together, they cuddle up close and Tim whispers that he wrote Déjà Vu about Alvin. It was just for him.
In the morning, Alvin leaves the comfort of the suite to start his day, when his phone starts blowing up. In a telling tweet, Tee Mills has come out to the world. Dating and loving someone as famous as Tim is sure to have its challenges, but deep-down Alvin feels this is the start of something good – their future is filled with nothing but possibilities.
Déjà Vu is a story that’ll definitely have you rooting for the two heroes. When they’re finally able to openly talk about their past and realize that the future they want is together… well, that’s what swoony, feel-good romance is all about.
I though the characterization in this novella was particularly strong, and I especially liked the dialogue. The way Tim and Alvin talk with each other has a wonderful flow, a very natural rhythm. It’s so good that I think this story would make an amazing one act play. I would love to see Tim and Alvin’s story brought to life on stage.
If ‘second chances’ and ‘romance with a superstar’ are some of your favorite tropes, then I suggest you give this story a read.
Jeff: It sounded so sweet. You really had me hooked when it turned out he wrote the song for him.
Will: Oh, it’s so good.
Jeff: I mean, come on writing a song for somebody. That’s like writing a poem for somebody.
Jeff: Now, if you’re interested in learning more about the books and TV shows we’ve talked about in this episode, all you have to do is go to the shownotes page for episode 294 at biggayfictionpodcast.com. And I want to tell you that Eden Finley and Saxon James’s CU Hockey series is available on libro.fm as is the original Fog City trilogy and fingers crossed that Queen’s Ransom joins those as well in the coming months.
Of course, we love libro.fm because it’s a great way to pick up your favorite audiobooks while also supporting your local bookstore. Listeners to the Big Gay Fiction Podcast can get a two month audiobook membership for the price of one. You can get all the details on that deal at biggayfictionpodcast.com/librofm. It’s really easy to use their app, and we think you will love getting some of your audiobooks from libro.fm.
Will: All right. I think that’ll do it for this episode. Now coming up on Thursday and episode 295, we have got more book reviews for you.
Jeff: Yeah. I’m excited to get to talk to everybody about the first two Vino and Veritas books that I’ve been eagerly awaiting. They’re so good. Just spoiler on that: so, so good.
Will: Thank you so much for listening until next time, please stay strong, be safe and above all else keep turning those pages and keep reading.