Jeff & Will kick off the show talking about what they’ve been watching, with a mix of classic toys, incredible comedies, documentaries, 1970s variety specials, and musicals.
Next it’s a look at books they’re looking forward to this month, including titles from Annabeth Albert, Lauren Blakely, Jocelynn Drake, Charlie Novak, Mia Monroe, Lane Hayes, Geoffrey Knight, Jackie North, RJ Scott, and TJ Klune.
The show wraps up with reviews. Jeff looks at One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston, Heart Ripper by K.A. Merikan, and Punch Me Up to the Gods by Brian Broome. Will discusses Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee, May the Best Man Win by ZR Ellor, and Sunset Springs by Kacen Callender.
Remember, you can listen and follow the podcast anytime on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, Stitcher, 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. These links are current at the time the episode premieres, however links are subject to change.
- A Toy Store Near You on Amazon Prime Video
- Action Figure Adventure on Amazon Prime Video
- The Toys that Made Us on Netflix
- Mitzi Gaynor Razzle Dazzle! The Special Years on Amazon Prime Video
- South Pacific on Amazon Prime Video
- Mitzi Gaynor TV specials on Amazon Prime Video
- Girls5Eva on Peacock
- Hacks on HBO Max
- Halston (the series) on Netflix
- Halston (the documentary) on Amazon Prime Video
- Pride on Hulu
- Equal on HBO Max
- Pose on Netflix (Season 1 & 2) | FX (Season 3)
- Special on Netflix
- High School Musical: The Musical: The Series on Disney+
- Tales of the City: The Musical at American Conservatory Theatre
- Out of Character by Annabeth Albert on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm (pre-order until July 6, 2021)
- Episode 315 – Giving YA Characters a Voice with Kirt Graves on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Scoring with Him by Lauren Blakely on Amazon | Kobo (pre-order until July 9, 2021)
- Winning with Him by Lauren Blakely on Amazon | Kobo (pre-order until August 6, 2021)
- Accidental Lover by Jocelynn Drake on Amazon (pre-order until July 9, 2021)
- Summer Kisses by Charlie Novak on Amazon (pre-order until July 15, 2021)
- Chasing Fate by Mia Monroe on Amazon (pre-order until July 16, 2021)
- Rules of Play by Lane Hayes on Amazon (pre-order until July 16, 2021)
- Script Club series by Lane Hayes on Amazon
- The Fake Prince Jake by Geoffrey Knight on Amazon (pre-order until July 20, 2021)
- The Ranch Hand and the Single Dad by Jackie North on Amazon (pre-order until July 27, 2021)
- Farthingdale Ranch series by Jackie North on Amazon
- Summer Drifter by RJ Scott on Amazon | Kobo (pre-order until July 29, 2021)
- Flash Fire by TJ Klune on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm (pre-order until July 13, 2021)
- The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Episode 314 – Gay Agendas & Meet Cutes with Jason June & Emery Lee on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- May the Best Man Win by ZR Ellor on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Heart Ripper by K.A. Merikan on Amazon
- Sex and Mayhem series by K.A. Merikan on Amazon
- Sunset Springs by Kacen Callender on Amazon
- Punch Me Up to the Gods by Brian Broome on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- 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, we’ve got reviews, plus some of the books that we’re looking forward to in the month of July.
Jeff: Welcome to episode 320 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, rainbow romance readers.
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 patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Welcome to the second half of 2021. The day this episode drops is July 1st hard to believe that half of 2021 is already behind us.
And for this episode, we’re actually going to be looking a little bit back at some of the things that we’ve watched and read during pride month, that we’re also going to look forward to some really good books that are coming up in July. Let’s kick it off with what we watched.
Will: Yeah. We briefly just wanted to talk about some of the content that we’ve enjoyed and hopefully you’ll be interested in exploring as well.
Jeff and I enjoy explorations of nerd culture, and we happen to grow up in the golden age of kick-ass amazing toys, the late seventies and early eighties, and to shows that explore that are “A Toy Store Near You” and another show we recently binged “Action Figure Adventure.” Now both of these series are brought to us from the people that created “The Toys That Made Us,” the really amazing series on Netflix that goes behind the scenes of what it takes to create some of the world’s most, memorable and enjoyable toys.
We just started watching the third series of a “Toy Store Near You” and this show takes a look at some of the vintage toy stores located across the U. S. And it primarily explores how each of these owners are coping with having a brick and mortar store in the age of COVID. And while it’s always interesting to learn how these entrepreneurs are surviving and even thriving in such difficult times, what’s really amazing is we get a deep dive, in-depth look at the collections that are featured in each of these stores.
It’s like toy nerd Nirvana. And getting a chance to travel to these places that we may never, you know, actually be able to go see is an awful lot of fun.
Jeff: Yeah, I really enjoy “Toy Store Near You” because not only do each of the owners have to show five toys that are in their collector, that they really like, so you always get these like really awesome nuggets, but just looking at what’s on the shelves behind them. It’s like, Ooh, look at that. Look at that. Ooh. Well, what is that? Could you freeze that? What is back there? I just love it.
Will: And in a similar vein is the show “Action Figure Adventure” and this is the story of a guy who decides to put together a collectible toy auction. And over several episodes of the show he drives around Canada, visiting various vintage toy stores, looking for the key pieces that are going to bring him top dollar in a charity auction.
So once again, we get sort of a backseat view as we travel across the country, looking at all of these amazing toys and learning from these passionate business owners and collectors.
Unfortunately, this show was also impacted by COVID in that the series was going to culminate with a big in-person auction. But, unfortunately they could not do that and had to move it online. But still, it’s a really fascinating journey, looking at a lot of really amazing toys and raising money for a worthy cause at the same time.
Jeff: So very enjoyable. And he was really going after some big ticket items, which meant looking at some really rare and in some cases, wildly large toys. He drove down to North Carolina to get something, and he actually had to bounce one of the camera crew out of the car to get it back home to Canada. So it was, it was just a lot of fun to watch.
Will: New episodes of “A Toy Store Near You” and the series “Action Figure Adventure” are both available on Amazon Prime Video.
Something else we also happened to recently enjoy on Amazon Prime are the television specials from the 1970s from Mitzi Gaynor.
Now, for those of you who are not like me, fans of golden age Hollywood, you may have no idea who Mitzi is. She’s primarily remembered as the star of the movie “South Pacific.” And in the 1970s, she did a series of television special, one approximately every year. And those specials are now available to watch in their entirety.
And boy, howdy. They are a really special, really unique trip down memory lane. First of all, Mitzi is amazing. Hands down that can’t be argued. She is a genuine triple threat. She sings, she dances, she acts. She’s a really genuinely adorable and funny comedian. Each special focuses on a certain theme and Mitzi is joined by several co-stars in each special. The creme de la creme of what the 1970s have to offer.
Before diving into the specials themselves, I recommend you check out the documentary “Mitzi Gaynor Razzle-dazzle The Special Years.” Mitzi herself takes us behind the scenes about her own career, where she was personally in the 1970s and how these specials came about. That in and of itself is fascinating, but then getting to watch the specials themselves filled with glitz and glamour, high production values, silly comedy sketches.
Jeff: Don’t forget amazing costumes.
Will: Bob Mackie costumes everywhere. So much glitz. These specials truly are special. I love them. They’re so much fun.
Jeff: Yeah, they’re really incredible. I mean, I have a hazy memory of some variety shows from the seventies, but to sit down and watch a whole bunch of them, just back to back. It was really incredible. Like some of the guest star choices. I never had a context for Roy Clark outside of “Hee Haw” and he sings really good. And he acts pretty well. The episode he was in was pretty amazing. You’ll hear a whole bunch of songs, some of what you’ve never heard before, but also you’ll hear songs, you know, but in a completely wildly different context or in an entirely different arrangement, it was just really awesome.
I have to call out the “100 Guys” special to it, which Mitzi at the end of the show, kisses, like all of these various guests stars who have shown up in their evening wear finery simply to be kissed by Mitzi. They have no other function on this show, other than line up and be kissed. It was really, really odd.
Will: “Mitzi Gaynor Razzle-dazzle” and a decades worth of television specials are available to watch right now on Amazon Prime.
Next, moving onto some comedies that we’ve recently enjoyed and think you’ll like too.
“Girls5Eva” is a sitcom on Peacock about a girl group whose most popular song is sampled by a rapper. And when that song takes off, they decide to use their new 15 minutes of fame to launch a comeback and hilarity ensues.
The strange name for the group and the series itself, Girls5Eva is explained in the show’s theme song, because they’re going to be famous five ever because forever is too short. It makes perfect sense.
Jeff: It’s so wonderful. It’s just this bright, shiny, happy, wonderful 30 minute sitcom. It’s from Tina Fey, she’s one of the executive producers. The cast is outstanding with Sara Bareilles and Renée Elise Goldsberry from “Hamilton” and Busy Phillips. These ladies have the best comic timing possible. The show was recently picked up for a season two and I can’t wait to see where they take everything next. It’s just, it’s a delight. You owe it to yourself to go have some really good laughs with these women. And you will find “Girls5Eva” on Peacock.
Will: Another show that we recently enjoyed that takes us behind the scenes of the business of show is “Hacks” on HBO Max. This is a story of a young woman, a comedy writer, who essentially gets drummed out of Hollywood. And the only job that she can land is writing new material for an old school stand-up comic who has a long-term residency in Vegas.
And the show really focuses on the generational differences between these two women and how at the beginning, they kind of hilariously hate what each of them stand for. But over the course of the series, they understand and respect what each of them have gone through as women in the industry.
Jeff: That generational difference opens up so many opportunities for some great comedy, but also some just great, you know, social commentary in general.
And the thing that I really like about these two, these two women have this really hard shell, both of them, they’ll generate all this conflict between each other, because they don’t want adapt, neither one of them do. But when push comes to shove, they’re also there for each other in critical moments. I really like the dynamic there. And this was another show that just recently got picked up for season two. And I’m looking forward to seeing more of this show.
Will: Jean Smart plays the old school comic, who is very loosely based on Joan Rivers. Jean Smart has always been insanely talented, but this show specific really showcases her in a very special and unique way.
I mean, she’s obviously got the comedy chops, but really shows what she can do when she’s giving dramatic complex material. She deserves all the Emmys, all the awards. She’s really amazing.
I think what makes “Hacks” so special is not only the way they explore the relationship between these two women, but the fact that it takes place in Vegas, which is essentially a whole other world. It’s like a different planet. The Vegas way of life is unlike any other. And I really love the way the series explores what it means to live in a tourist destination in the middle of the desert.
It’s just strange and so fascinating. I loved everything about “Hacks” and I’m super glad that it’s coming back for season two.
Jeff: Yes, you can find hacks on HBO Max.
Will: So from comedies, to the newest docu-series from creator Ryan Murphy. “Halston,” a show about the famous designer, focuses on his life and career. Starting from the time when he was a simple milliner who put the pillbox hat on top of Jackie O’s head to opening his own fashion house and revolutionizing American fashion
And of course it wouldn’t be a Ryan Murphy series if we didn’t explore all the behind the scenes drama of the glitz and the glamour and the drugs and the disco. Halston is played by Ewan McGregor and Halston’s bestie, Liza Minnelli, is played by Krysta Rodriguez.
I really enjoyed the series because I happened to be a fan of the way Ryan Murphy takes facts from the subject’s life and then sort of a livens it up with lots of color and drama. And there were certainly plenty of drama in Holston’s life, but I also really enjoyed how the series focuses on his sort of laser, like clarity of his creative vision and how his ideas helped revolutionize the American fashion industry.
But he did those things with a close group of friends and collaborators, who were just as big a part of building the Halston empire as Halston was himself. So I really enjoyed the series as a whole, being able to look at what fashion and merchandising was going on in that time. And how a simple guy from middle America became a household name. It was all really well done. I liked it a lot.
Jeff: I also enjoyed the look at that particular era, and I really liked how Ryan mixed looking at the creative process. That Halston went through and you also get this really good look at how business and creativity don’t always meet in the middle well.
Will: Right. Exactly.
Jeff: So many things went on there. And then of course, you’ve got this super big personality with Halston himself. You wanted Jean Smart to get all the awards for “Hacks.” I would like to see Ewan McGregor get a ton of awards for “Halston.” Cause there’s such a range to play there through this person’s life that I think Ewan just kind of hit all of it and hit so well.
Will: Now, if you’re interested in learning more about Halston, but don’t feel like watching an entire five episode series, we might suggest the documentary of the same name, “Halston.” It is an Amazon Original. It takes a look at the designer’s life and creative career, focusing less on the sex and the drugs and the infamy of Studio 54 and that particular era and more on the business and creativity and the empire that Halston was able to build and explaining a little bit what went on behind the scenes when Halston became more of a corporation and the man himself lost the rights to his own name. It’s a really interesting look at the rise and eventual downfall of a man who made such a huge impact, not only creatively, but, how the business world treats fashion and markets brands based on a personality,
Jeff: Just watch both because they’re really good companions to each other. Seeing more of the business side that the documentary offers was really fascinating after having watched the Netflix side where everything was all blended together to get that deep dive on, the more business side was quite fascinating.
Will: “Halston” the series is available to watch on Netflix right now, and Halston the documentary you can watch on Amazon Prime.
Another documentary series that was released during June, just in time for pride, was the simply an aptly named “Pride.” Now this series, which aired on FX, I felt was a really great companion piece to another docu series that was released last year, “Equal” on HBO Max.
“Pride” the series takes a look at gay culture and the gay rights movement as it existed in the post-war years, leading all the way up to the present day. And each episode in this series tackles a specific decade.
And what makes this particular series so unique and interesting is that each episode is handled by a different director. And while they give us, you know, contextually an idea of what was going on in the gay rights movement in that specific era, it also drills down deep to really specific and unique stories of the people who were there, stories that I had never heard before and really opened my eyes to what was going on in the fifties and the sixties leading up to the Stonewall riots.
And while each episode in its own way is really special and very unique, I was particularly drawn to the 1970s, which explored the work of a groundbreaking lesbian filmmaker and how intersectional feminism would not only lead to. Strides being made in the women’s rights movement, but also the gay rights movement that would be so important leading into the 1980s.
The episode that focused on the 1980s was fascinating as well. Not only being able to hear stories from Ann Northrop and learning about details of the Act Up movement, but also sort of the simpler and quieter stories of individuals who were living at the time. Particularly a documentary filmmaker who picked up his video camera and recorded everyday life of people living in the Village in New York city during such a difficult time in the middle of the AIDS pandemic. And he recorded the lives of these singers and actors and drag queens, and everyday denizens of this unique section of New York City that as you watch him go about his everyday life, that part of New York just doesn’t exist anymore. It’s all been gentrified. It’s all gone.
The entire series is just jam packed with really important personal stories that I am very glad that have finally been told.
Jeff: I really like how this series in particular and “Equal” did this as well, picked things out of the past that are lesser known for the most part. I mean, they obviously hit some of the big stuff with Stonewall and marriage equality when we got up to the two thousands and stuff, but there’s really like that documentary filmmaker who just picked up his camera and walked around the village, taking video. I’d never heard that story before.
And something I’ve realized this year too, in particular. And this started when we rewatched “Pose” leading into season three and then this documentary series kind of brought it home to, how oblivious I was to some things going on in the nineties that are so key to the way things are now.
For example, one of the things I figured out with “Pose” is that I was the same age as the character of Damon in the series and just how radically different everything was between what I was living and what he was living. And even as I aged up how insane things still were in New York while I was living out in California. It just blew my mind.
And this series did the same thing. It’s like, how do I not know about this piece of history? How do I not know about this thing that happened while I was alive and an adult, and should be paying attention to these things? So I’m really glad that these stories have come to light and highly encourage everyone to give this a check out. You can catch the episodes of “Pride.” They’re available on Hulu right now.
Will: Two other shows that we’ve enjoyed have made returns this summer.
The first one we want to talk about is “Special.” It returned for its second and final season on Netflix. It focuses on Ryan and the unique challenges he faces as a gay guy with cerebral palsy, trying to live life on his own and learning to balance career and a love life.
We really enjoyed season one. “Special” came back exceptionally strong for season two. As we got eight half-hour episodes, the longer running time gave us more of an opportunity to not only explore what’s going on with the character of Ryan, but some of his friends and family.
And season two, we continued to follow Ryan and his misadventures in love. But how he also searches for a sense of community with other disabled people. We also look a little closer at his best friend Kim and what her family life is like as she tries to balance a career and love.
And also Ryan’s mom, Karen played by the brilliant Jessica Hecht. And season two, we get a closer look at what life is like for her, a woman who spent most of her life being a caregiver in some capacity and how she faces challenges moving on in the next phase of her life, where she’s trying to focus on herself and messing it up because there is no roadmap for these big life changes.
I really love “Special” the series itself in the various ways that it explores the stories of these particular characters. They’re all wonderful and interesting and messy. While I’m sad to see the show go after series two, I think it really ended on a high note.
Jeff: I agree with that. I’m sad that it’s done, but I’m glad they went out on their own terms and told the story they wanted to tell. And I do really like how the story opened up this season to. Where season one was really pretty laser focused on Ryan, moving out and striking out on his own. Here, things opened up for everybody a little bit more. It was just a wonderful series. If you haven’t checked that out, you could find both seasons on Netflix.
Will: And really quickly we want to mention that we had been really enjoying the return of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” on Disney+. Miss Jen and the drama club gang have a returned from their holiday break and have decided that for the spring musical, they’re going to be doing “Beauty and the Beast.”
So the show is focusing on that as well as the various stories of our diverse cast of teen characters. I really like the show just because it’s sweet and it’s funny, it filled with great songs. And it continues to tell really great stories as we continue to learn more about each of these characters.
Jeff: I’m really enjoying the season and the drama behind the drama club. They’re competing for a prestigious award and they’re competing against their crosstown rivals who happen to be led by “Dancing with the Stars” pro Derek Hough. He is a riot in this role as the competing drama teacher.
I also really love how this series continues to handle the gay couple between Carlos and Sebastian. There’s this super cute episode where they’re throwing Carlos a Quinceañero and it’s just the sweetest thing. Everybody coming together to throw the party and the song that Seb sings to Carlos, it’s also cute. And I just love it to pieces. Season two of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” say that five times really fast, is streaming right now on Disney+ and new episodes drop on Fridays.
And one last thing that we’ve watched and so happy we got to see it is the 2011 production of “Tales of the City: The Musical.” Yes. One of our favorite stories ever became a musical in 2011, with music from the Scissor Sisters Jake Shears.
We never got to see this. It premiered in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater. ACT put it out for streaming for a week to celebrate pride alongside the show’s 10th anniversary. I am so happy we saw this. It is so good to see how this show was adapted into a musical and how they brought to life the citizens of 28 Barbary Lane and the denizens of 1976 San Francisco. I just loved it so, so much.
I think maybe they cram too much story in it because when you consider the mini series is six hours long and they managed to put all of this into a two and a half hour musical, but still the, the music and the performances and seeing these characters from Anna to Mary Ann to Michael, all of them coming to life through a musical was really special.
Hopefully one day this musical will have another life, whether it’s a New York production or if it becomes a touring show or something, but it was really nice to see this little nugget of musical theater and get to enjoy it from the comfort of our own home.
All right, so that takes a look at everything that we’ve been watching. Let’s take a look forward now into some of the books that are coming out in July.
July Book Preview
Will: Yeah. You’re going to want to pack your favorite book bag and grab some sunscreen because we’ve got enough m/m romance recommendations to keep you turning the pages literally all summer long. I think these reads are perfect for a day at the beach, or maybe lounging by the pool or if you’re like me enjoying the cooler air conditioned comfort of home.
Jeff: Absolutely. That’s where I’ll be.
Will: Yeah, exactly.
So let’s talk about “Out of Character” by Annabeth Albert. This is going to be releasing on July 6th.
Is it true what they say about how opposites attract? Jasper and Milo are former best friends. It’s a classic jock/nerd romantic pairing, and they’re going to get their second chance at love as they game and cosplay their way toward a happily ever after.
Jeff: I am so super excited about this book. You may have heard during my chat with Kirt Graves back in episode 315, that I’d lost track of the fact that this book was coming out and ever since we talked about it, there I’ve been so super excited. I loved “Conventionally Yours” so much. So I can’t wait to get to this sequel and find out what Jasper and Milo are going to get up to. And, even better, the book’s once again read by Kirt and Joel Leslie. So bring it on.
Will: Baseball bros are going to find major league love in “Scoring with Him,” the new story from bestselling author Lauren Blakely, Declan and Grant’s epic love story begins here, and it’s actually going to continue in a second part of the “Men of Summer” duology. “Winning with Him” is going to be releasing on August 6th. “Scoring for Him,” which it looks really, really good, is going to be releasing on July 9th.
Jeff: So it’s not hockey, but I’m really down for any sports book that puts athletes in the same sport together and even more so when they’re on the same team. And here the fact that it’s a rookie alongside a more veteran player that ticks some boxes for me. So, yeah, bring this on.
Will: “Accidental Lover,” the new series title from Jocelynn Drake will also be releasing on July 9th. This is a story of love on the run for sexy assassin Alexi. With the Russians and CIA on his tail, he still can’t help but fall for the man he supposed to take out in this action packed continuation of the “Exit Strategy” series.
Jeff: Don’t you imagine it is like number one in the assassin rule book not to fall for the person you’re supposed to kill. I mean, seriously, but this sounds so good. I have not read any of Jocelynn’s books and so I might need to take a plunge, not just on this one, but the entire series.
Will: Yeah. If fast paced, romantic suspense is your thing…
Jeff: And it is.
Will: …and you haven’t given Jocelyn Drake a try. Yeah. You
Jeff: really should see now Will’s told me to do it, so I’m going to have to do it.
Will: She’s a definite fan favorite. Yeah, definitely.
So next up, let’s talk about “Summer Kisses” by Charlie Novak. The rising kitchen temperatures aren’t the only thing heating up for these two chefs with major egos who must get over their past issues and learn to work together. I think it’s the age old question, can former lovers turn enemies become lovers once again?
Jeff: Of course they can.
This takes so many boxes. I mean, you’ve got chefs, which means there’s going to be food. You do have that former lovers who are now enemies and going back to lovers. And I have to say, I like the quirkiness of the blurb for this book too. If you haven’t seen it, check it out at your favorite book retailer. It says so much about each of these characters through lists. It’s everything you need to know in just a very few words.
Will: “Summer Kisses” is coming out on July 15.
The very next day on July 16th, Mia Monroe is going to be releasing her newest, “Chasing Fate.”
While hunting for his Mr. Right, a guy connects with Diego, a friend from his past. When they’re friends with benefits arrangement starts getting serious, it begs the question has his perfect match been right in front of him all along?
Jeff: This sounds really interesting as you’ve got this character who is so very caught up in what he thinks his destiny is supposed to be, that he might miss Diego who’s just sitting right there going pick me, pick me, pick me. It should be really interesting to see how Mia brings these two guys together.
Will: Rules of Play” by Lane Hayes will also be coming out on July 16th. When a grad school scientist and a mechanic who dreams of becoming a baseball analyst fall for one another. It’s a match made in romance trope heaven. Let’s see there’s opposites attract, classic jock/nerd dynamics, bisexual awakening, best friend’s brother. All of this is part of the second book and Lane Hayes’s “Script Club” series.
Jeff: Yes, this does sound like trope heaven. You knocked off so many things there that I really like, especially jocks and nerds, which I’m so into right now. And then the opposites attract. You’ve got this lumbersexual and then also somebody who just might wear a cape to a grocery store. How cute does all this sound? I mean, yeah, I’m there
Will: “Rules of Play” by Lane Hayes is headed your way on July 16th.
Now let’s talk about “The Fake Prince Jake” by Geoffrey Knight releasing on July 20th. Comedic hygienes take center stage in this outrageous romcom where a beleaguered PR professional is tasked with locating and impossible to find royal. And to save the day, he’ll have to fake a relationship with a friendly barista who was a dead ringer for the bad boy prince. The safety and future of England itself depends on the success of their wacky scheme.
Jeff: I love Geoff Knight books and I love royal books, so the title of the author combo here means this has to get to the top of my TBR list. Then you’ve got that fake relationship and the princely impersonation and everything. And I’m sure this is all going to get combined with Geoff’s ability to offer up great characters not to mention steamy situations. This has summer reading heaven just written all over it.
Will: So from comedic fake princes, we head down home with “The Ranch Hand and the Single Dad” by Jackie North. That book is coming out on July 27th. Romance is definitely in the air as Jackie returns to her “Farthingdale Ranch” series. This is the story of a divorced single dad who finds himself drawn to a particularly appealing cowboy. It begs the question, can this conservative accountant win the heart of the out and proud young ranch hand?
Jeff: You know, I used to read cowboy books all the time, and now it’s become a very under read genre for me, for some reason. This one, with Jackie having the cowboy setting and putting the single dad in here, and there’s some age gap romance going on as well, it is high time for me to get back on the cowboy bandwagon.
Will: Yeah. I wholeheartedly agree the “Farthingdale Rance” series has been on my radar for a while and I really need to get off my butt and take the plunge because each of these books sounds really wonderful.
Jeff: Right there with you.
Will: So to wrap things up with our look forward, we’re going to talk about “Summer Drifter” by RJ Scott and that’s a releasing at the end of the month on July 29th.
It’s about a horse trainer named Levi and he isn’t looking for any attachment. When Quinn arrives at Lennox Ranch, he literally stumbles into Levi’s arms. Quinn’s nephew could be somewhere in Whisper Ridge Wyoming. Can they find the answers he’s looking for without falling in love in the process? Chances are no.
Jeff: Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking.
Will: But we’re going to enjoy the journey anyway.
Jeff: So full disclosure. I have to admit that I have not read any of RJ’s books that are outside of her hockey series. Now this one is just another reminder of what I just talked about, that I need to read more books with cowboys and ranch types. And this one with the additional level of searching for the missing nephew, I’m imagining we’ll have a good amount of investigating and maybe some suspense. So it’s definitely another one for my TBR.
And I’ve got a bonus one to throw into this list.
Looking at young adult titles. “Flash Fire,” which is the sequel to TJ Klune’s YA superhero novel “The Extraordinaries,” comes out on July 13th. Now I loved the superhero love story that we got in “The Extraordinaries” alongside of that good versus evil and who’s on what side and does that good at evil line actually move back and forth a little bit sometimes. Such a good book. And I really can’t wait to see what happens as Nick and his friends face what is coming next to Nova City.
Will: Now, those are some of the stories that we’re looking forward to. Hopefully we’ve piqued your interest in some of the books that we just featured. Now I know that was a whole lot of titles and if you weren’t taking notes, do not worry. We have you covered. You can get the complete list of our recommendations at biggayfictionpodcast.com. Just check out the show notes page for episode 320. You’ll find all the titles there.
But the recommendation palooza isn’t over yet. Jeff, tell us about what you’ve been reading recently.
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Jeff: So since its release in 2019, I have been a huge fan of Casey McQuiston’s “Red, White, and Royal Blue.” it captured my heart with its story of a British prince who finds his HEA with the son of the U S president. It also offered a wonderful alternative reality to the hellscape that the 2016 presidential election brought to the U S.
Casey’s new novel, “One Last Stop,” is just as excellent as she once again offers up a great romance, terrific found family, and some fantastical elements that only amp up the enjoyment of this book.
Twenty-three year old August as arrived in New York City, very much a cynic. She spent much of her youth caught up in her mother’s crusade to figure out what happened to her brother, August’ uncle, who she also happens to be named for, who went missing in the 1970s. August wants to get on with life, go to college and do what she thinks is the smart thing, which is to get through life alone.
That proves impossible. However, when she takes an apartment in Brooklyn with three amazing people, Nico, a psychic and bartender, Myla, an artist who also happens to be an engineer, and Wes, a tattoo artist who works now. It’s an instant found family that she doesn’t know that she’s going to come to love and rely on. She also gets a job at Pancake Billy’s House of Pancakes.
Will: Yeah. I want to go visit that place right now.
Jeff: Don’t you though? And if you read the book you’re going to be like, why doesn’t this place actually exist?
Will: Continue. Keep going.
Jeff: And of course you could just know by the name of that place, that there are still more interesting eccentrics to come into her life through there as well. It’s Jane though, who really captivates August. Jane, who she meets on the Q train. It seems like one of those New York moments where you see some of the same people every day on your commute. Except Jane is always on the train when August is. Day or night, even middle of the night. Uptown or downtown
As August pays more attention, she notices that Jane is always wearing the same thing and her possession includes things like a Walkman. I really love how August goes between smitten, flirty, freaked out by her feelings for Jane, and curious about why Jane is always on the train. And sometimes all of the above are going on at the various same time.
August’s investigator instincts kick in, honed from all that time working with her mom. And she looks into why Jane is on the train, how she got there, and is there a way to get her off the train and what happens if she does actually leave the train? It turns out that Jane is stuck on the train because of something that happened in the seventies.
Not only is August falling for someone, but it’s someone who shouldn’t even really be here because she’s stuck in time. Casey weaves an incredible story here in some author’s hands this would become a mess dealing with the stuck in time elements and how August and her friends deal with it. But the way the entire situation is handled, is completely realistic in a perfect fantastical magical way. It has a great layer to the romance as Jane and August can only go on dates on the train, and at the same time there’s the balance of the investigation that August is doing on where Jane came from and what happened and why she can’t leave the train. And of course, if they free Jane from the train, well, what the heck happens then?
August roommates not only give her a wonderful tribe to hang with. They jump right in trying to figure out what’s going on and what to do about it. They’re exactly the kind of friends you want who don’t question the oddity of it all, but jump into help. And what a group too. They even move a birthday party from their apartment to the train so that Jane can be part of it rather than just listening to it on a phone. And you see, it’s a phone that August gave Jane so that they could actually text. And so Jane could actually hear some post 1970s music via radio stations that play, of course, on online.
Not only does August and her friends need to help Jane, but Pancake Billy’s need saving too. In typical New York fashion, the building’s up for sale and that puts the diner in jeopardy unless Billy can raise the funds to buy the building.
It’s really incredible what friends can accomplish. It’s also amazing how Casey tied so many elements together into a wonderful, satisfying read that has this amazing romance for August and Jane at the center of it. I loved them so so much. I love August’s roommates. In fact, I’d love to see a book featuring Nico, Myla and Wes, and the extended group of friends that we meet here. With August investigative skills, who knows what kind of book series could grow from here.
I truly loved every single thing about the whimsical romance of “One Last Stop,” and I already can’t wait to see what Casey McQuiston cooks up next.
Will: That certainly sounds like a unique take on urban fantasy tropes.
Jeff: The other thing it did too, was make me miss New York, the whole idea of the Q train.
Will: Some books will do that.
Jeff: You know, quirky little things like Pancake Billy’s because while that place doesn’t exist, we both know that places that are similarly quirky do exist.
Will: Oh yeah.
Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee
So this past June, I revisited the YA genre. Now, most of you listening to the show know this isn’t really my thing. And hasn’t been for kind of a long time. The last time I paid attention to YA was maybe 10 or 15 years ago when “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” was a thing. But this summer with so many special and unique queer stories being told. I really had to dive back in.
I read the “Meet Cute Diary” by Emery Lee. Of course we had a chance to talk with the author in episode 314. If you haven’t listened to that episode, please do so. That’s a wonderful conversation.
And as a quick recap, “Meet Cute Diary” is about young trans guy Noah and his adventures over one summer as he tries to save his blog from an online troll as well as maintain his friendships, and just search for the seemingly perfect boyfriend. Jeff read and reviewed “Meet Cute Diary” in episode 314. I highly recommend it as well, but I have to admit this book really stressed me out.
Jeff: I could see how it could do that.
Will: Noah is a typical 16 year old and he’s constantly struggling with these new complex emotional situations that he finds himself in. And he makes some really messy mistakes because, you know, that’s what 16 year olds do. And I was really empathetic to what he was going through, but I also found that really stressful.
Jeff: You just want to take them to go don’t, don’t, don’t do that. That thing is wrong.
Will: Almost all of my reading is focused on contemporary romance. So I know what to expect from the emotional story beats of that kind of story. So diving into a YA book for the first time in a really long time, I was kind of thrown for a loop.
It kind of engaged me on an emotional level, in a new and unexpected way that I wasn’t totally prepared for. Like I said, Noah’s story stressed me out, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t totally amazing. I really recommend “Meet Cute Diary” if you haven’t given it a try.
May the Best Man Win by ZR Ellor
Another, YA story that I also recommend, but also stressed me out in a very similar way, was “May the Best Man Win” by ZR Ellor. It’s about two high school seniors, Jeremy and Lucas. They’ve known each other for a really long time and in fact, they used to date. But Lucas has now transitioned and he’s going to be challenging Jeremy for the title of homecoming king.
The battle for this title is really the focus of the conflict in this particular story, which on the surface may seem very fluffy and silly. Like it might be the plot point for an episode of “Saved By the Bell.” But the title of homecoming king means something so specific and so important for each of these characters. Jeremy and Lucas both see the title as homecoming king as sort of a step towards, kind of a door opening to the people that they want to become.
And as we learn over the course of the story, and the difficult past, they’ve both experienced, both together and individually, that the men that they’re going to become really, really important. So the battle over the homecoming king title ends up in a brutal game of one upsmanship, in the things they do and say to one another are kind of cruel and occasionally heartbreak. But by the end of the story, they realized that they are stronger together than they are apart.
Like I said, this is another YA title that really threw me for an emotional loop. There’s a lot of stuff going on for these characters. And I really liked it. It was just really good. It’s an amazing book. And I think there’s a lot of available material here that it would make a really great movie or a TV series.
Jeff: Are you listening, Netflix?
Will: I know. Producers out there. Please check out “May the Best Man Win” by ZR Ellor. It’s really good guys. Give this one a shot.
Jeff: I need to get that book read. We’ve talked about many times on this show that you and I don’t tend to read the same books because then there just gets to be an overlap. But that one really intrigued me from the get go and now that you’ve given it your seal of approval, I really need to find the time to get that one done.
Welcome back to the YAG genre. I hope you keep checking that out periodically.
Will: I don’t know if my delicate sensibilities can handle it.
Jeff: It can get rough in there…
It’s a rollercoaster ride, man.
Jeff: …because you look at the books we’ve had this year, like “Meet Cute Diary,”, like this one, like “Jay’s Gay Agenda,” that put all that messiness right out there on the page for you.
And, you know, as, as our adult selves, we look and think, oh, don’t do that. That’s that’s not going to end well. But thankfully these authors find the way to bring it back so that things are okay by the end of the book.
Will: Happy endings had by all.
Heart Ripper by K.A. Merikan
Jeff: So I’m going to take us down a completely different path now.
And there’s really nothing like diving into the middle of things, and that’s exactly what I did going for the ninth book in K.A. Merikan’s “Sex and Mayhem” series called “Heart Ripper.” The opposites attract scenario, with a bit of an age gap lulled me in from the blurb and I’m glad I picked it up because I loved the story of young David and badboy biker Raja.
It starts simply enough. It’s a babyshower and the home of a biker. Hunter’s younger brother David is there, hanging back, very much out of place as the preppy guy amongst all the leather and goth. Raja, a friend of Hunter, and the new president of a club teetering on the brink of falling apart, is also there. He’s challenged to hookup with someone, and a bet is made that he can’t hookup with David. No one knows David is Hunter’s brother, so it happens and sure enough Raja discreet follows David to an upstairs bathroom and David sucks him off. It’s right on the edge of consent, but David wants it. He’s into older, muscled, badboy Raja. He doesn’t want to be into Raja, but he is. Before the evening’s over though, Raja knows exactly who he’s hooked up with and he’s not happy. Not only is Hunter a friend, but his girlfriend is the daughter of a larger club’s president. This isn’t good.
Good boy David can’t believe what he allowed, but he’s also been pushing boundaries lately, like not telling his parents that he isn’t going to college in the fall. He’s also questioning a lot of his religious upbringing and how it drove a wedge between his parents and his brother. David did get Raja’s number before they parted though and it isn’t long before they’re texting.
Raja can’t get David out of his head either, even though he’s got far more pressing business trying to get his club back on its feet. Yes, there are some overall details I’m missing because I jumped in to book nine, but it doesn’t matter. I get enough details to know what’s going on and who Raja’s clubmates are, and the dynamic and aspects of bad blood that are there because he was voted president over some other members. It’s clear that Raja’s got a ton happening, and it’s not helped by the fact he ends up with another bet regarding David.
The authors do an amazing job of balancing so much in this book. David’s navigating coming out, extremely religious and homophobic parents, striking out on his own and getting a frist job and also feelings of first lust (or is that first love) with Raja. Then there’s Raja, who is a self described manwhore, who finds himself with increasing feelings for David that he’s trying to reconcile with the potential issues within the club organization of seeing him… plus all that stuff I mentioned about getting his club in order.
But oh man is this romance amazing. David’s new to everything, but it doesn’t exactly mean he’s a pushover either. He pushes back against Raja when he wants something, but he’s also willing to let Raja lead. And you might not think these two would be about the talking, but they have a lot of amazing conversations, which you know I’m a huge fan of. They learn about each other’s backgrounds, likes, dislikes, no topic seems off limits even if at times it might be uncomfortable. The only thing they really have to stay away from is Raja. Not telling David too much about what’s going on with the bike club. I hadn’t anticipated this would be a relationship where they’d be able to truly make each other better and to balance out the fact that David’s very much a newbie in so many ways while Raja is older with a different set of baggage, but somehow it worked where they each had something very specific and oftentimes helpful to add to the relationship.
There’s so much big drama in this book too, off setting the sweet talking I mentioned above. Big time biker battles going on with infighting with Raja’s crew and issues with Hunter once he finds out what’s going on between Raja and David. A huge, and really awesome, showdown with David’s terrible parents. Plus incredible growth for both David and Raja on their way to each other.
Believe it or not, this was my first K.A. Merikan book and it won’t be my last. I loved how complex they made David and Raja. These two had a lot to unpack and I loved that journey. Plus the world of “Sex and Mayhem” was so vibrant that even though I dropped myself into the middle of it I appreciated all the details of the world the bikers and those who hang with them in habit. I totally recommend this “Heart Ripper” and I’m pretty sure I’ll be going backwards or forwards soon in this series that currently has 12 books.
And make sure to check out episode 322, coming your way on July 12, because we got a great interview with Kat and Agnes, who are the duo that write together as K.A. Merikan.
Will: Definitely looking forward to getting a chance to talk to them.
Sunset Springs by Kacen Callender
So another story that I recently read and very much enjoyed was “Sunset Springs” by Kacen Callender. And it’s about Charlie, who, when things don’t work out for him in New York city, he reluctantly returns home to Sunset Springs. Emphasis on Reluctantly. Charlie is black, gay and trans. He doesn’t think this small town has much to offer him (it certainly didn’t when he was growing up).
His mom has been having some health issues and the family bookstore is struggling, so Charlie spends most of his days reorganizing stock and helping customers. One day Jack strolls in, former high school football golden boy, who also happens to be the only other out gay guy in town. They strike up a friendship and, when Charlie takes a horseback riding lesson at Jack’s family ranch, their attraction turns into a friends with benefits situation, which over time leads to them officially dating, which isn’t easy in a town as small as Sunset Springs.
There are lots of judgmental stares and Charlie can’t understand why Jack ever chose to stay in town. Racist and homophobic microaggressions aside, there are good people there who support them too. Tricia, Jack’s ex-girlfriend, proves to be an unexpected ally when Jack and Charlie attend the county fair together and she defends them from a local bigot.
A job offer and a potential return to New York has Charlie reexamining small town life, the friends he’s made over the course of the summer, and the love he’s found, and rethinking everything he thought he wanted.
Small-town romances are my thing, so it should come as no surprise I really enjoyed this novella, not only because it hit all the tropes I love, and was a really terrific love story, but it also examined the unique complexities of Charlie and Jack’s relationship. Their experiences concerning race and homophobia aren’t the same, but they are intersectional, so they are able to support each other. And though Jack doesn’t always get it perfect, he recognizes his white privilege and works to be the thoughtful and supportive partner that Charlie needs.
Heavy topics to be sure, but handled beautifully by Kacen Callender, who was behind recent YA bestsellers like – “Felix Ever After” and “This is Kind of an Epic Love Story.” If you enjoyed those, I really hope you’ll give this audible original a try. Because it’s an audible original, at the moment it is only available in audiobook format. Here’s the neat thing though, If you are already an audible subscriber, you can download this to your audible library for free. No need to use a credit or anything. Just click and start listening right away.
What I realized as I was putting my talking points together for this episode is that it is inadvertently become my summer of trans masc gay romances with stories like “Meet Cute Diary” and “May the Best Man Win” and now “Sunset Springs.” I’m really enjoying the chance to explore these kinds of stories and I’m really happy, like super duper happy that more authors are exploring more diverse characters, including the trans masc experience.
Jeff: I love sound of this story, that it puts the trans experience into a small town cause you don’t necessarily often think small town and a trans romance paired up together. So this book sounds really exceptional. You’ve given me another one now that I need to slot into my reading sooner than later.
Punch Me Up to the Gods by Brian Broome
And I want to take a moment as we wrap things up to talk about something that we don’t read much on the show and that’s a memoir. But I think this one is so worth everyone’s time. “Punch Me Up to the Gods” by Brian Broome has landed on several lists as a must-read for this summer or a best book of 2021 so far.
“Punch Me Up to the Gods” chronicles Brian’s childhood and early adult years. He tells about growing up in Ohio alongside his brother and sister and their parents. There’s a father who has lost his way since losing his job at a local plant and a mother who simply wants to make sure that her family has what it needs to survive. Eventually he moves to Pittsburgh, hoping to escape, only to find out that the big city isn’t all the friendly either.
The stories Brian shares are a mix of tragic, heartbreaking, funny and offer a view into what life is like for a young, black, queer boy. Through the stories, Brian not only shows the expectations put on black boys by black parents and how it differs from what he saw with whites, both at his school and on TV. He also delves into what it means to be black and gay. Brian faced this early on in his household because his brother did all things boys were supposed too–be tough, like sports, like girls. Whereas Brian was into books,, competing in the spelling bee, hanging out with girls as friends, and playing with his sister’s dolls.
Even as an adult though, cultural expectations followed him. He tells the story of a Frenchman he met at a bar. This guy was obsessed with the idea that Brian must play basketball and Hoover, his favorite teams. And what position did he play? And things like that. Brain played along with this because the guy was nice, was buying him drinks and it might lead to more. The two dated for a while…until the guy brought a basketball to Brian asking to see his moves and took him to a basketball court. Of course, Brian had no moves and the relationship immediately ended. Brian’s early adult years were not easy as he looked for acceptance, and often relied on drugs and alcohol in an attempt to find it.
Brian’s stories are interwoven with a bus trip where he encounters Tuan, a young black boy traveling with his father. Tuan triggers parts of Brian’s own story for him to tell as the boy is told “not to cry, “be a man” and arranged to sit a certain way (as in, not with his legs crossed like a girl). This part of the story shows how little has changed in the way fathers treat their boys since Brian’s childhood.
At the end of the story, when Brian’s in Paris hoping to discover some of what James Baldwin found in that city, Brian writes a letter to Tuan hoping that he is able to find a way to avoid the hardships Brian endured. The sad thing is, Brian admits that it probably isn’t possible.
I’m glad I picked this up because it’s a view into a life that is outside my own experience. It was all the more powerful I think because I listened to the audio book, which Brian narrates so he told me his stories directly. It’s so important for us to listen and understand stories that are different from our own and I highly recommend “Punch Me Up to the Gods” because Brian has an outstanding story to tell.
And so there you have it. We’ve given you a ton of books to read that are out. Now. We’ve told you what’s coming in July, that we’re excited about and you have a whole bunch of TV to watch. So for at least the month of July, you should not be bored.
Will: A special thank you to our community on Patreon. Their patronage has made this episode’s transcript possible. If you like to read our conversation and reviews for yourself, simply head on over to the show notes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com. And as we mentioned earlier, the show notes page also has links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
Jeff: And all of the audio books that are available through Libro.fm will also be highlighted there. Libro.fm is the place where when you buy an audio book, you’re also supporting a local bookstore of your choice. So it’s a great place to get those audio books, listeners to the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, have the opportunity to get a two-month audio book membership for the price of one to find out about that offer and take advantage of it simply go to biggayfictionpodcast.com/librofm.
Will: Now coming up on Monday in episode 321, author E.J. Russell is going to be joining us and she’s going to be talking to us about the interactive game that’s just been released based on her story “Cutie and the Beast.”
Jeff: Yes, it was great hearing about the game. Plus, we’re also going to be talking about the books that she’s released earlier this year and the big dive that she’s taken on audio books.
Will: Thank you so much for listening. Until next time, stay strong, be safe, and above all else keep turning those pages and keep reading.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find more shows you’ll love at frolic.media/podcasts. Production assistance by Tyson Greenan. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.