Jeff & Will remind everyone that the Big Gay Fiction Fest takes place this coming weekend on Saturday, December 4.
The guys also announce the Big Gay Fiction Book Club selection for December: Jay Northcote’s A Boyfriend for Christmas.
Next, they talk about books they’re looking forward to in the first half of December, including titles from Alice Crane, Charlie Novak, Keira Andrews, Lane Hayes, RJ Scott & V.L. Locey, K.C. Kassidy, Sophie Gonzales & Cale Dietrich, Riley Hart, and Jax Calder.
Jeff reviews the holiday romances The Geek Who Saved Christmas by Annabeth Albert, Forever Wilde in Aster Valley by Lucy Lennox, and Spiced Kisses by Charlie Novak. Will reviews Christmas Mountain by Garrett Leigh.
Remember, you can listen and follow the podcast anytime on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, Stitcher, YouTube and audio file download.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
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.
- Big Gay Fiction Fest website
- December Preview
- Waking Under the Mistletoe by Alice Crane on Amazon
- Only One Bed by Keira Andrews on Amazon
- The Holiday List by Lane Hayes on Amazon
- Snowed by RJ Scott & V.L. Locey on Amazon
- Benny from the Block by K.C. Kassidy on Amazon
- If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales & Cale Dietrich on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Sundae’s Best by Riley Hart on Amazon
- Playing at Home by Jax Calder on Amazon
- Holiday Romance Reviews
- The Geek Who Saved Christmas by Annabeth Albert on Amazon | Libro.fm
- Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Forever Wilde in Aster Valley by Lucy Lennox on Amazon
- Made Marian series by Lucy Lennox on Amazon
- Forever Wilde series by Lucy Lennox on Amazon
- Aster Valley series by Lucy Lennox on Amazon
- Christmas Mountain by Garrett Leigh on Amazon
- Spiced Kisses by Charlie Novak on Amazon
- Kiss Me series by Charlie Novak on Amazon
- Christmas Kisses by E.J. Russell, narrated by Kirt Graves on Amazon
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- Libro.fm website (use this link to receive your Big Gay Fiction Podcast special offer)
- Frolic Podcast Network website
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 on this episode, we talk about some of the books we’re excited about coming in December. Plus, we review some recent holiday romances that we’ve loved.
Jeff: Welcome to episode 349 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Jeff and with me as always is my co-host and husband Will.
Will: Hello, welcome back 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, simply go to patrion.com/big a fiction podcast.
All right. I think all of you probably know that there’s a big deal happening this coming Saturday. But just in case you don’t know, Big Gay Fiction Fest is indeed just around the corner, coming on Saturday, December 4th, starting at noon Eastern time, which is 9 AM for folks on the west coast of the United States and will be 5 PM over in the UK.
Now, in case you haven’t heard about the incredible lineup of guests we’ve got for this 100% free, 100% online book festival that celebrates holiday romances, here is the lineup we’ve got Annabeth Albert, Kirt Graves, Garrett Leigh, Lucy Lennox, Charlie Novak, and E.J. Russell.
Now you can get more details, and claim your free spot to attend the fest at biggayfictionfest.com. And don’t worry if you can’t attend on Saturday because you’ll be able to replay the Fest anytime you want.
Will: We hope you won’t be too busy with holiday festivities and are able to join us on December fourth.
And since we are on the cusp of another month, December is right around the corner, this is usually the time we would take to announce our new book club selection.
But before I do that, I hope everyone has had a chance to listen to the November episode in which Jeff and I have a deep dive discussion about “The Lights on Knockbridge Lane” by Roan Parrish. This episode just happened to have dropped on the American Thanksgiving holiday, so we totally understand if you haven’t had an opportunity to listen to the episode just yet. But I really hope that you do. “The Lights on Knockbridge Lane” is so sweet, and positively jampacked with holiday cheer. We really think you’re going to love this book.
But now that November is done, it’s time to talk about our December book club pick. And, I am happy to announce that our selection is going to be the virgin meets tattooed bad boy, holiday romance, “A Boyfriend for Christmas” by Jay Northcote.
Hmmm mmmm. This one is good. I think you’re gonna really love it. Members of our Patreon community will get a sneak preview of the episode later this week. So keep an eye out for that. And the book club episode, featuring “A Boyfriend for Christmas,” is scheduled to drop into the regular podcast feed on Thursday, December 23rd.
Jeff: “Boyfriend for Christmas” was such a wonderful read. And it’s an interesting juxtaposition against “The Lights on Knockbridge Lane” because you know, there you’ve got the single dad and the recluse next door, whereas “Boyfriend for Christmas,” we’ve got the virgin and the biker bad boy. So two different flavors for your holiday romance, both of them really excellent. So, looking forward to sharing our book club discussion on “A Boyfriend for Christmas” with everyone coming up in December.
December Release Preview
Will: Speaking of coming up in December, you ready to talk about some more holiday books?
Jeff: I am. I’ve seen your list. I previewed it before we sat down to record. You’ve done mega damage to my TBR, which was already bursting at the seams for December. Oh my goodness. Yeah. Let’s make other people add to their TBRs right now. What have you got for us?
Will: So let’s kick things up with “Waking Up Under the Mistletoe” by Alice Crane, which we’ll be releasing on December 1st. Rory loves everything about the holidays. Oliver is a bit of a Grinch. When they wake up married to each other on Christmas Day with no recollection of how it happened, they have no choice but to stick together until government offices reopen the following day so that they can get annulment. Although, their sexual chemistry is undeniable. Is it possible to fall in love with a stranger in a single day?
Jeff: Of course it is. This has Hallmark movie rom-com written all over it. You’ve got the little amnesia kind of thing. However, they fell into bed together and are married now. However, that sorts itself out. There’s something about sunshine and grumpy that has really become kind of my catnip in this holiday season. I feel like more books than usual this holiday season are relying a little bit on that and I’ve loved it every single time. So yeah, this is one of those that you’ve added to my already bursting TBR.
Will: “Waking Up Under the Mistletoe” by Alice crane will be coming out on December 1st.
And the following day on December 2nd, “Spiced Kisses,” the newest from Charlie Novak, is going to be releasing. When pub owner Ben is injured playing rugby, he needs the help of his festively cheerful pal Ianto to get through the month of December. Now getting a grumpy Yorkshireman to love Christmas might be too big a task even for Ianto, but he’s willing to give it a go and maybe convince his friend that the holidays are the perfect time to explore their relationship more and discover love in the process.
Jeff: I’m not gonna say too much about this right now because I’m actually going to review it coming up in a few minutes. All I’ll say right here is, this was one of the best things ever. I absolutely adored this book and you’ll find out more later.
Will: Also releasing on December 2nd is “Only One Bed” by Keira Andrews.
Jeff: If ever there was a title that spoke to you and your love of forced proximity, this would be it right here.
Will: I know.
Sam’s best friend needs him, so he rushes to a picturesque mountain village where Etienne is skating in a holiday ice show. But there is only one bed in their cozy little cabin. These two friends might just become lovers in this Christmas romance that offers a sexy, festive twist on the classic forced proximity trope.
I mean, yeah, you’re right. It’s all right there in the title.
Jeff: Yeah. You didn’t need to know more than that, but then you add Keira Andrews, who is a favorite of ours. For me, you added a skater. Doesn’t matter that he’s not a hockey player skater, he’s still a skater. So yes, please. And then there’s friends to lovers thrown in here too. I mean, this just has us written all over it.
Will: You know, I’ve often talked about how friends to lovers and forced proximity are my favorite tropes and that I could read them all day, every day for the rest of my life and be perfectly happy. I had a wild idea recently.
Jeff: Please do tell.
Will: There are so many amazing Christmas romances, not just this year, but from years previously, that my Christmas specific TBR is a mountain in and of itself. And I was thinking, what if I just took an entire year…
Jeff: Oh my goodness.
Will: To read Christmas romances with friends to lovers and forced proximity tropes because I guarantee you, I would not run out of titles to read.
Jeff: Absolutely not.
Will: I mean, the question remains if I would ever get sick of it. I’ve always said that I wouldn’t, but it’s like, um, I don’t…
Jeff: Is this the beginning of a 2022 challenge?
Will: The idea of this particular challenge, both fascinates and terrifies me. I don’t know. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about recently.
Jeff: You’re not usually somebody who reads holiday outside of the holiday season. So, I don’t know if like the forced proximity, friends to lovers would wear you out or just 12 months of holiday cheer might also be kind of the breaking point for you.
Stay tuned folks. We might find out more about this as 2022 arrives.
Will: Another book headed our way, this one coming out on December 3rd, is “The Holiday List” by Lane Hayes. Older, sporty single dad Sam doesn’t know what to do. When a new neighbor shows up on his doorstep with cookies and a wacky plan to spread holiday cheer. Though, he does need help with some of the experiments his son wants to try. So, maybe he can talk Chet into a mutually beneficial trade. The only snag is that he’s quickly becoming attracted to this unintentionally charming and sexy holiday elf with thick glasses.
Jeff: So here’s grumpy sunshine again, but this also speaks to some of my catnip from this year because nerds and jocks have kind of been a thing for me this year. So that attracted me to this book. And then you make it a May/December thing, with the nerd being younger and the jock being a dad. I think I’m going to need to check this one out, cause it ticked a lot of the boxes for me, the same way that Keira Andrews was ticked for you.
Will: Also coming out on December 3rd is the newest from RJ Scott and V.L. Locey. This one is called “Snowed.” A second chance at love is all pro hockey player Kyle wants for Christmas, but a dark menace from his past wants him dead, and love come second to staying alive. His only hope is getting to Christian’s cabin before the evil that has haunted him for years finally catches up to him in this, the third thrilling entry in the “Boston Rebels” series.
Jeff: I love RJ and V.L.’s books a hundred percent. Now, granted, I haven’t read the “Boston Rebels” series because, frankly, I’m a lot behind on some of their hockey books, but I came across that dark and sinister thing and evil and I’m like, what is happening in this series? I’m not used to seeing that in their hockey series. So now I need to go pick up and figure out what exactly is going on in “Boston Rebels” because this has me intrigued far beyond any Christmasy thing going on or hockey going on. I need to know what RJ and V.L. are up to here.
Will: So my hot take on this particular series is that most of the stories up to this point have dealt with mildly taboo themes. And in this particular instance in “Snowed,” I think some of the phraseology in the blurb, things like “dark menace” and “evil that has haunted him” might give you the idea that this is paranormal in nature. It is not. I think what we’re talking about here is dark romance with romantic suspense elements.
Jeff: I was thinking there might be mafia or something involved. That’s kind of where my evil, dark concept went.
Will: That’s a possibility. Yeah. You’re going to have to read it and find out.
Jeff: I am, right? What is happening here.
Will: Now if you’d like some recommendations that don’t specifically deal with the holiday, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
Coming out on December 5th is “Benny from the Block” by K.C. Kassidy. When high school principal William steps in to help a bullied freshmen boy, he is surprised to learn that the 15-year-old is the son of his former high school nemesis. He has mixed feelings about seeing Benny again, but Benny is a changed man in more ways than one. And he wants the chance to prove to both his son and William that he’s not the same guy he once was. Love always wins, right?
Jeff: Of course it does. K.C. Kassidy is a new to me author and this title intrigues me in a way I didn’t expect it to be because normally bully situations are not things I want to read in a romance because of the angst and some of the stuff that goes along with that.
But in this case, I’m intrigued by the fact that we’re having to help the son of a person’s former bully. And that to me put an interesting, different spin on what would have me pick up a book that involves bullying. So I might be given this one to go. I can’t say for sure, but it’s a possibility because I am intrigued with this.
Will: Yeah. K.C. Kassidy is a relatively new author in the m/m genre. I read one of her books recently and absolutely loved it. I’ll be talking about that on a future show. And if there’s anyone who can build a engaging romance out of this particular trope, I think she might be the person.
Now, if YA or new adult stories or more your cup of tea.
Jeff: Hmm, yes, please.
Will: We’ve got something coming out for you on December 7th. it’s the new title from Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich, “If This Gets Out.” Eighteen year olds Ruben and Zack are two members of the boy band Saturday. While on a whirlwind tour through Europe with an unrelenting schedule and minimal supervision, the two come to rely on each other more and more, and they’re already close friendship evolves into a romance. When they decide to tell their fans, they must find a way to hold tight to each other as their whole world begins to fall apart.
Jeff: So I’ve had an advanced copy of this for a little bit, and I’ve read the first couple of chapters because I was intrigued by the idea of this boy band romance. I love those first couple of chapters. I’ve got the audio book pre-ordered. I suspect you’ll be hearing more from me about this book, if not in December, then in January. Because it is very high on my list of things to read, because everything about this just had read me right now, read me right now. But, I also wanted to wait for the audio book for it. So, yeah, stand by for more from me on this one.
Will: “If This Gets Out” comes out on December 7th.
The following day on the eighth, the newest title from Riley Hart releases. This one is called “Sundae’s Best” and this new small town romance features bi/demisexual rep with two older heroes who eats the weight of their loneliness with laughter, making ice cream, and reminding each other what it feels like to be held again. Because when Grady and Deacon are together, nothing else matters. Together they can deal with family drama, small town gossip, Deacon’s newly discovered feelings, and whatever else life throws their way.
Jeff: So I love Riley Hart and small town romance in her hands sounds lovely. Older heroes, too. I’ve been enjoying the books I’ve been reading with older folks. As much as I also love new adult, as we just heard with the whole boy band thing, I can’t wait to see what she does with this. And I have to say too, I love this cover with one of the heroes and the ice cream shop in the background. There’s just something about the vibe of the cover that makes me want to pick it up all the more.
Will: And rounding out our list of upcoming reads, it’s the new sports romance from Jax Calder “Playing at Home” and this is releasing on December 9th. Austin loves his new job as manny to a pair of adorable kids. Although he gets the feeling that his boss, a glowering rugby player, isn’t that excited by him. But, he’ll win Jacob over. What he won’t do is crush on his gorgeous straight boss. From princess parties, Lego wars, nights spent talking about everything and anything, Austin’s beginning to fall for him hard. And when Jacob is revealed to be not as straight as previously assumed, all bets are off.
Jeff: So here’s another new to me author, who’s giving me rugby player and manny. How cool does that sound? Not to mention, you know, princess party to Lego wars. So yes, please. Why not? I like the idea of the manny and the rugby player, that’s a slightly different pairing than I’ve seen before. So yeah, yet another one onto the TBR.
Will: “Playing at Home” by Jax Calder is coming out on December 9th.
And if you’re interested in any of the titles that we just mentioned, do not worry. We’ve got the complete list on the show notes page at biggayfictionpodcast.com.
The Geek Who Saved Christmas by Annabeth Albert
Jeff: All right, as we do every holiday season, we’ve been reading a lot of holiday-centric romances. So we’re going to tell you all about some of the ones that we have been reading recently. And, I’m going to start with “The Geek Who Saved Christmas” by Annabeth Albert.
Now over this past year I’ve really gotten into how Annabeth writes geeks, “Conventionally Yours” and “Out of Character” are absolutely wonderful books. So when she announced The Geek Who Saved Christmas,” I immediately claimed that book as part of my holiday reading. I adored this story of the sunshine geek, bringing magic to the grumpy guy’s house and see that there’s that grumpy/sunshine thing that we were talking about just mere minutes ago coming into play. And it’ll show up again more in my reviews as we go.
I was absolutely delighted to find that there’s a lot more than the sunshine and grumpy labels for Gideon and Paul. And I adored the story even more because of that.
Gideon Holiday, quite appropriate to his name, loves Christmas and the neighborhood that he lives in. He always helps to coordinate the decorations everyone puts up, which is part of a fundraiser since the neighborhood invites people to drive through and make donations to help various community projects. He always wishes his next door neighbor, Paul, would decorate, but Paul’s opinion of the holiday is much more like bah humbug.
Now Paul isn’t a complete Scrooge though. And we see that early on because Paul volunteers his construction business to help with some needed work in the community park, which is a point of contention to the neighborhood’s true Grinch who plays a little bit of a minor side role in this book. Paul also comes to Gideon’s rescue when Gideon gets stranded up on his roof while putting up decorations.
Paul ends up needing Gideon’s help though. Paul’s younger brother. Brandon is coming for Christmas because his girlfriend’s parents are going away for the holiday. Brandon also wants to propose to Elaine during this holiday break. It’s not going to do for Paul to have a holiday-free home or for Paul to have saw horses in the guest bedroom–those just don’t happen to be something he’s put away from the renovation he’s been doing of the house.
Gideon eagerly says yes to helping decorate and get Paul’s place ready for Brandon’s visit. It doesn’t hurt that Gideon has always thought Paul was attractive and the chance to get to know him a bit better certainly doesn’t hurt either. Paul’s also not opposed to having the cute, sexy Gideon around more, because guess what? Paul has often had feelings for that cute guy next door.
Annabeth does such a beautiful job bringing these two guys together as they set up working on Gideon’s color-coded plan to get everything done in time for Brandon’s arrival. These guys find out so much about each other over the days that they’re working together. Gideon, for example, was once married to a woman, a marriage they ended because it turned out they were both gay. As things like this is revealed, we find that Gideon isn’t completely the ray of sunshine he appears to be at first look because of how the divorce hurt him, even if that was for the best, and how he keeps himself so busy and cheery to avoid this sadness.
It’s things like this that show how much Paul and Gideon actually have in common. For Paul it’s that he had to take care of Brandon when his parents died in an accident. He gave up a lot, making sure that Brandon had every opportunity. And, while he’s happy for his brother’s success, even now Paul doesn’t often take care of his needs and dreams because he wants to make sure everybody else is provided for.
What begins as a stray kiss, and moves to neighbors with benefits, and then further moves on to true, actual, real feelings for each other that neither Paul or Gideon know how to deal with. Annabeth just continues to ratchet up all the emotions in this book. Watching how they fall into a rhythm of working together, whether it’s decorating, shopping, planning things for Brandon and Elaine’s visit, or the simple task of doing something nice for the other, Annabeth gives us all the feels, holiday and otherwise.
Gideon and Paul are a terrific team, giving a wonderful holiday to Brandon and Elaine, and working together for some of the neighborhood activities too. But neither of them really knows how to express how they feel to each other. Gideon’s convinced he’s only needed because of how helpful he is. And Paul’s really clueless about how to express how thankful that he is for Gideon himself and not just his helpful nature. Now, normally I get annoyed when people need to have a simple conversation to actually get through things, but I love how Annabeth set this up and ultimately solved it for Paul and Gideon. It was so endearing and heartfelt because the thing is, these two don’t know how to have the conversation they need to have. They’re not really trying to avoid it. They really want to have it, but they don’t know the words. They just don’t have this, this thing that they need in this case.
There’s something that Paul says towards the end of the book that really resonated, “We rescued each other. And now we don’t have to be alone for any of the other nine zillion holidays you celebrate.” That tells you right there, how much he has opened his own heart and how they truly did rescue each other from the sadness that they were both living in that wasn’t always obvious to some people.
Oh, I just loved it so much. Annabeth gives all the holiday goodness in this book, the decorating, the food, the snowy locations, the celebrations, Brandon and Elaine’s engagement was so delightful–and perfectly them because Annabeth gives us enough information about them that we can truly appreciate what Gideon and Paul put together to help them pull that event off. While they are side characters, I tell you, I was totally invested in that whole side story that went on there. And there are some amazing grand gestures between Paul and Gideon too, that just warmed my holiday romance loving heart.
So I absolutely recommend that you add “The Geek Who Saved Christmas” to your holiday reading list. It was just brilliantly awesome.
Forever Wilde in Aster Valley by Lucy Lennox
And moving on to another one that I have picked up. It’s been far too long since I visited the Wilde and Marian universe of Lucy Lennox. And I have to admit that I’ve actually never been to Aster Valley, but a single book has now solved that problem for me and done it in Christmas style. “Forever Wilde in Aster Valley” brings together the Wildes, the Marians and the characters from Aster Valley into one mega crossover that mixes a family reunion, Christmas fun, and a wonderful romance.
The Wildes and Marians have arrived at Aster Valley for a huge family reunion at the Rockley Lodge. Of course, bringing these families together is a wild and boisterous affair that we’ve seen hints at in previous books, such as the gathering at the beginning of “King Me.” Meanwhile, one of the newest members of the clan is getting his first big dose of this family for the first time. Miller Hobbes only recently figured out his place in this family as he performed a reunion between his mother and his mother’s mother who happens to be Aunt Tilley. This is Miller’s first Christmas without his mom, who passed away, and in part this trip is to help him feel not alone. However, going from a son who only had his mom to a huge family is a lot. And, sometimes it’s too much.
To help him get some time alone, he’s sent off to the local bakery to pick up the lodge’s order for the morning. He spies baker Derrius through the window and is captivated by the man working the dough and dancing to the tunes and his ear buds. I loved right as this meeting happens, that Lucy gives Darius this thought when he first spots Miller through the window, “This man will be someone important to me.” How sweet is that? They haven’t even said two words to each other yet, but just something about seeing Miller through the window gives that thought to Darius.
It’s a bit of a counterpoint to Miller, who at one point mentioned to Nico, “The Wildes and Marians make it look so easy, you know. Like you could just go out there and find your person and live happily ever after. It’s not like that in real life.”
Well, that may be true, but you know what? Hang on Miller, because you’re about to find your person.
The romance between Darius and Miller is so super sweet. Darius, who was also new to Aster Valley after selling his chain of bakeries and relocating from Chicago to reconnect with what he loves about baking, is super tuned in into Miller’s moods and provides a place of calm from all the bustling at the lodge. It gives them time to connect over food, over simpler things in life, and over just simply enjoying time together. In fact, I would call the romance between these guys simple and sweet, and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. It’s just that it’s not that overly complicated. It’s not angsty. It’s two men finding their person and quickly discovering that the person is exactly who they need to be with. I adored the easiness that Lucy brought to the romance of this story.
Now other areas aren’t as easy for Miller and it’s Darius who’s there to help him recover from some of the fireworks that happen. Aunt Tilly is kind at heart, but at times she pulls strings that really aren’t hers to pull. She could be a bit meddling and not always thinking about the impact her actions can have. Miller’s still got things to work through with his mom’s death, and this is where some of the heavier emotions come in this story as Miller sorts out his place in this big family and how he got there.
Lucy’s done a wonderful job of tying these stories all together into one wonderful Christmas romance, Miller and Darius have a wonderful coming together with the simplest meet cute spying each other through that bakery window that I mentioned. Miller cements himself into the Wilde and Marian families and finds some peace as well in the aftermath of his mother’s passing. And there’s so much Christmas. This is possibly the ultimate book of found family with not only the foundation these two families have with each other, but also all the people that they brought into their lives with husbands and wives and children and grandchildren. I got such a warm feeling from having Christmas with this wonderful large gang. It just really made me crazy happy.
Big audio book props to, to Michael Dean. As always he’s expert at bringing all the right feels to these romances, But he also does a fantastic turn at getting all of these characters together and capturing the fun and frivolity of their holiday celebrations. I absolutely loved it.
So yes, you also need to add “Forever Wilde in Aster Valley” to your holiday reading, even if you’ve never visited these families from Lucy Lennox before. She does a great job of giving you what you need to know about these characters, but in actuality, none of the past matters within this moment. You can just sit back and bask in all the love that these families have for each other, and not really worry about how all of it connects together. And you get a great brand new romance as well. Oh, thank you, Lucy, for a wonderful holiday read.
Will: Well, are you ready to take a trip from one festive location to another? From Aster Valley to Christmas Mountain?
Jeff: Absolutely. Bring on more Christmas.
Christmas Mountain by Garrett Leigh
Will: I’m glad you said yes, because I just finished reading “Christmas Mountain,” the latest from Garrett Leigh and this story is about Fen and Rami, who once worked together at a prison as guard and probation officer respectively. And the last person Fen ever expected to find broken down outside his house on snowy Christmas Mountain is this former coworker with a toddler in tow. Rami explains he was headed up the mountain to his sister’s place, Fen’s closest neighbor. And little Charlie has recently become Rami’s responsibility, but he doesn’t feel he’s up to the task and is seeking the help of his far more capable sister, Safia.
But because of the storm, it’s apparent that they’re not going anywhere anytime soon, and they settle in. Fen is a natural at parenting and is terrific with Charlie. The whole situation is so intimate and cozily domestic. The attraction Fen and Rami once shared, before life took them on separate paths, is still there. A near death injury Fen received while on the job, still haunts him and is the reason he retreated to his current life of solitude on the mountain, running his family’s tree farm.
The next morning, Paddy, Safia’s husband arrives in his truck to take Rami and Charlie up the mountain. They will stay for a while for some long overdue family time.
A few days later Fen drops by to find Rami knee deep in farm life, kids, animals, and constant general chaos. Fen thinks it suits him. Rami insists otherwise. They go into town for a date night so Fen can check in on the tree lot that’s part of the Christmas fair. They eat donuts from one of the vendors and share a pint. Some flirting and a kiss at the local chip shop hopefully will lead to more. And when they get back to Fen’s place, they make out for hours falling asleep in each other’s arms.
The next day, Paddy takes Rami deep into the woods to show him the treehouse, an office beautifully constructed by Fen’s dad. Inside is a powerful satellite router. Now, up to this point, Rami has insisted that his sister’s plan to have him in Charlie live on Christmas Mountain wasn’t feasible because the internet was so crappy. Here he is presented with the perfect solution, a remote office nestled amongst the trees.
Jeff: I immediately want to move to Christmas Mountain now that you’ve mentioned this thing.
Will: I know it’s so precious and so amazing.
Jeff: I’m sorry to interrupt, but I just had to inject that right there.
Will: Rami’s car has been repaired and Fen goes to the treehouse to deliver the good news. Rami has his own news to share. He spoken with his boss, and he’ll work remotely for a few weeks until after the holiday.
That night, they go for a walk to a lookout point atop the mountain. Though he doesn’t label it, Fenn is essentially demisexual and while he wants to be with Rami “that way,” it’s going to take some time to work through the storm of emotions that are inside of him.
Rami, meanwhile, needs to get some things from his place in Manchester, so Fen goes with him on a day trip. Now, Fen hasn’t been back to the city since that day of the prison attack. As they lay on Rami’s bed in his sparsely furnished apartment, Fen reveals the details of that horrible day. And after telling the story, he feels different, unburdened. He kisses Rami and things heat up pretty fast, but this time he doesn’t want to stop and they end up sleeping together.
And when they return to the mountain, Rami achieves a work-life balance, which including Fen is just about picture perfect. In order to give Safia and Paddy a break, they round up the kids for an afternoon at the Christmas fair. Mae, Rami’s niece, is a holy terror when it comes to her turn to sit on Santa’s his lap. But, she is also perceptive beyond her years. In a quiet moment she tells Fen she can see how much he loves Uncle Rama because he’s always smiling when they’re together. And that night after a rambunctious family dinner, she also suggests Fen and Rami have a sleepover, which is exactly what they end up doing and the mini cabin Rami has been using as his room. They make love in front of the fire.
And in the morning while making tea, Safia gives her brother some blunt advice, tell Fen he loves him for fuck’s sake. Rami calls Fen, who was off on a holiday tree delivery, and he says, “I love you,” but bad weather means Fen won’t be back until the next morning. And they can say in-person to each other then.
But unfortunately, a natural disaster in the night leaves Rami and his family stranded a top Christmas Mountain. It takes most of the day, but Fen eventually makes his way back. Their love is a forever kind of love and nothing will keep them apart. Fen will move in with Rami, Charlie and the rest of his wild and wonderful family.
On Christmas Eve, once all the kids are asleep, they make love with a joyous intensity that is their very Merry way of expressing the love that there’ll be sharing for the rest of their lives.
Now I’m by no means an expert, but in my experience, one of the things that you can always count on when you pick up a Garrett Leigh book is a heartfelt story filled with genuine emotion and everything that Rami and Ben go through is so relatable. They’re average guys who find themselves in difficult circumstances with no easy answers, kind of like real life, which is why I think you’ll be rooting for them on page one, just like me.
And when it comes to the romance in the story, if you’re angst avoidant like me, I think you’ll enjoy the way they heroes work through their issues both past and present without lots of maudlin wallowing. They are very active participants in their journey towards family togetherness and a life filled with love.
Nobody hands them, their happily ever after. They work for it.
“Christmas Mountain” is a kind of different holiday romance. It forgoes the Christmas schmaltz, though you all know I love lots of gooey, sappy holiday cheer, and it goes for a more grounded, nuanced approach. It deals with complicated family and relationship dynamics while still delivering on the kind of satisfying romance that will make you sigh, just go ahhhh and fill you to the brim with holiday cheer. So it’s a chef’s kiss for me. Mwah. Thank you, Garrett Leigh for writing a hell of an amazing holiday romance.
Spiced Kisses by Charlie Novak
Jeff: So while we’re going to leave Christmas Mountain, we are going to stay in England as we talk about the latest from Charlie Novak. Now I’ve had Charlie on my need-to-read list for awhile now and I finally took the plunge with her first ever holiday book with “Spiced Kisses,” which is the third book in her “Kiss Me” series.
And you want to talk about chef’s kisses. I’ve got one for this one, too.
Jeff: Thank you for the sound effect. I absolutely adored this. Hey, guess what this is? Grumpy, sunshine back again. It’s a grumpy, sunshine, friends-to-lovers romance filled with Christmas cheer. And for me, this was a great introduction to Charlie’s writing.
Now, Ben is the co-owner of The Pear Tree pub, and he’s gearing up for the chaos that is December with all sorts of holiday bookings. You’ve got lunch. You’ve got dinners. You’ve got tea. You’ve got parties. It’s a lot. And frankly, he’d be happy to skip December and the holidays. He’s definitely grumpy. It’s noticed by his staff too.
Yes, Ben treats them all quite well, but they still wish he had a better mood as evidenced by the text chain that they have that doesn’t include him, where he’s often the subject of discussion. At least they’ve convinced Ben to go to rugby practice to get him out of the pub for a bit and maybe work off some of that grumpiness.
It turns out though rugby practice was the worst thing he could do. While it does give Ben the moment to see Ianto it’s also here that Ben breaks his collarbone. That’s what happens when tackling practice goes very wrong on a wet, muddy rugby pitch. Ianto feels terrible since he was on the receiving end of Ben’s bad tackle and offers to help Ben out during his six week recovery period.
Now, this isn’t the worst thing since Ben and Ianto each find the other attractive, although they would never ever admit that. Being together a bit more though, won’t be a bad thing for either of them. Now at first Ben’s super annoyed that he can’t do anything. He’s not used to relying on anybody for help.
The Pear Tree staff sees this as the moment for Ben to stop being a workaholic. They shoo him out of the pub when he returns after being at the hospital and Ianto does his best to assure Ben that he’s there to help. His job as a personal trainer means that he’s got a little bit of flexibility with his clients and the classes that he teaches.
Now, it being the holiday season there’s much to do at the pub. And since Ben’s not going to let his duties slide, that means Ianto has to help a whole bunch with decorating The Pear Tree. Charlie wrote some super sweet decorating moments, everything from hauling the pub’s ornaments out of storage and discovering that they’d been partially shredded by mice to getting the needed material to fix them. And if you don’t think these two guys had some super cute, really just sweet moments fixing these holiday garlands, you would be way wrong.
They got to get Christmas trees loaded into the pub. They’ve got to get these things decorated and it’s interesting and fun because over time, you know, these are things that Ianto doesn’t have to be there for, for every single one of them because there’s other staff helping too. But, he is there.
Ianto loves Christmas and it honestly doesn’t take long for some of his sunshine to pierce into Ben’s heart. Yes, for a hospitality worker, December’s never going to be great because of the work involved, but Ianto has certainly infused it with more fun than Ben has possibly ever had at Christmas time, including some super-sweet caroling that he kind of just whispers in Welsh while they’re decorating the pub. It’s one of the most super sweet moments in the book. as Ben sees Ianto through those eyes of this, this big bear of a rugby player, fitness guy singing these carols in Welsh. It was just, mmmm. I need that scene in a movie because I just think it’d be too sweet.
Anyway, it doesn’t take long for The Pear Tree staff to see the looks between Ben and Ianto or the flirty things that go on. So of course they band together to make this happen even more, which ends up creating an entirely other text thread. And, even the creation of a hashtag. Their tactics are fun and funny, and sometimes a bit extreme at one point. Although the extreme tactics actually yield excellent results in the long run. And if you read the book, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about, where they almost took it a little bit too far.
And I do love The Pear Tree staff. Charlie has created some really wonderful side characters here. Aaron and Josh, the two chefs who are also boyfriends and where the subject of “Strawberry Kisses.” Then you’ve got pastry chef Patrick, the front of house manager penny, who is getting through the Christmas season while also being eight months pregnant. God bless her. And the rest of the staff are a great bunch of people who want Ben happy. Like I said, he works to keep his grumpiness to himself. He truly feels like his staff is family, and he works with Aaron, who’s the other co-owner, to really make sure that they’re taken well care of. It’s a great, essentially found family, what they’ve created at The Pear Tree.
And Ianto has got some great people, too. His twin brother, Rhys is a hoot who gives Ianto a lot of brotherly grief, but they’re good family together. And Ianto’s grandfather, who raised the brothers after their parents died, arrives for Christmas celebrations and fits right into the larger family.
Charlie gives Ben and Ianto so many moments of quiet to figure out more about each other. While they are friends, there’s a lot to discover about the other and it’s the quiet moments that I really love, which is not really a surprise to anybody who’s listened to any of my reviews over the last year or so. As Ianto cracks Ben’s grumpiness, and Ben discovers what it’s like to love, be loved, and have an actual partner in life rather than somebody who might be helping him out of pity, he really opens up to the possibilities. And then Ianto finally finds the person who is his Mr. Right. This book gives all the wonderful feels, right alongside a very Merry Christmas.
I also love here how the dark moment when you think, oh, this isn’t really going to work. It was really solved because the people involved knew exactly what they’d done wrong, and they went right away to fix it after some good guidance from some of those side characters, I’ve mentioned. It never got too angsty. It never got, oh my God, what’s going to happen. They sorted it out in good order and in a really perfect way.
I also loved each of the British-isms in this book that I understood, such as the rarity of a Paul Hollywood handshake, which just a few months ago, I would have been like, what, what does that even mean? Yeah, I’ve been over bingeing certain British programs lately. Things like that give this book a richness in setting that I absolutely adored. And yes, I would love a trip to The Pear Tree to hang out with these people because they all seem like super fun, and frankly the food sounded really good too.
So I highly recommend “Spiced Kisses” by Charlie Novak to be added to your holiday reading list. Just like the other two books I’ve mentioned. Meanwhile, I’ve got the first two books in the “Kiss Me” series lined up on my TBR because I need to visit the pub again, which I think I will be doing shortly after the new year.
Will: Now if our festive reviews of these four books have piqued your interest, we’ve got good news because we’re going to be talking about them even more on Saturday, December 4th.
Jeff: Yes. Each of these books are from the authors who are featured in the Big Gay Fiction Fest so you can find out far more about each of these titles by coming to the Fest.
And don’t think we short changed E.J. Russell either. Will, has loved each of the books that are inside the “Christmas Kisses” collection that she has got out. And we’ll actually link to other episodes where Will has reviewed the three in each of those. And E.J.’s bringing along Kirt Graves to talk to us on the Festival, and we’re going to get a whole story read by Kirt as part of the Fest.
If you want to claim your free spot to the Fest, all you have to do is go to biggayfictionfest.com and then you’ll be ready to go on Saturday, December 4th, when the festivities begin at noon Eastern time.
Will: Now as we always do, we want to quickly remind you that this episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. Thank you, Patreon peeps. If you’d like to read our conversation for yourself, simply head on over to the show notes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com, The show notes page has links to everything that we talked about in this episode.
Jeff: Yes, they do. We will have the links to every single book that we’ve talked about over there. So you can make your TBR as large as ours is.
Will: All right, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next on Monday in episode 350, we’ve got more book reviews for you. Plus we’re going to be headed to the movies as we take a deep dive look at the gay holiday romance “Dashing in December.”
Jeff: We call that discussion Holiday Movie Matinee, and we’re actually going to be talking about “The Christmas Setup” as part of the Big Gay Fiction Fest. Meanwhile, here on the podcast, we’ll talk about one of our other favorite movies from 2020 with “Dashing in December.”
Will: And we hope that you’ll join us for that next week.
On behalf of Jeff and myself, we want to thank you so much for listening, and we hope that you’ll join us again soon for more discussions about the kind of stories that we all love, the big gay fiction kind. Until then 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.