Jay from Joyfully Jay and Lisa from the Novel Approach discuss three of their favorite books from 2021, including titles by David R. Slayton, S.E. Harmon, Freya Marske, Lily Morton, M.A. Grant, and Layla Reyne. Lisa and Jay also share a favorite holiday read, and a book they’re looking forward to in the year.
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
- Joyfully Jay website
- The Novel Approach website
- Jay’s Best of 2021 on Joyfully Jay
- The Lights on Knockbridge Lane by Roan Parrish on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- The Lights on Knockbridge Lane review on The Novel Approach
- Episode 348 – Big Gay Fiction Book Club November 2021: “The Lights on Knockbridge Lane” by Roan Parrish on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- To Touch the Light by E.M. Lindsey on Amazon
- To Touch the Light review on Joyfully Jay
- Iron and Works series by E.M. Lindsey on Amazon
- Tidal Wave by E.M. Lindsey on Amazon
- Broken Chains MC series by E.M. Lindsey on Amazon
- Trailer Park Trickster by David R. Slayton on Amazon | Kobo
- Trailer Park Trickster review on The Novel Approach
- White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- The Formicary series by S.E. Harmon on Amazon
- The Formicary series reviews on Joyfully Jay
- A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- A Marvellous Light review on The Novel Approach
- The Cuckoo’s Call by Lily Morton on Amazon
- The Cuckoo’s Call review on Joyfully Jay
- Crooked Shadows by M.A. Grant on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Crooked Shadows review on The Novel Approach
- Rare Vigilance by M.A. Grant on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- The Darkest Court series by M.A. Grant on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- What We May Be by Layla Reyne on Amazon
- What We May Be review on Joyfully Jay
- Silent Knight by Layla Reyne on Amazon
- Queen’s Ransom by Layla Reyne on Amazon
- Episode 309 – Layla Reyne’s World of Assassins, Hackers and Cops on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- The Prince’s Poisoned Vow by Hailey Turner on Amazon (pre-order until May 2, 2022)
- Kiss and Cry by Keira Andrews on Amazon (pre-order until January 6, 2022)
- Only One Bed by Keira Andrews on Amazon
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- 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.
Jeff: Coming up on this episode, we’re talking to Jay from Joyfully Jay and Lisa from The Novel Approach about their favorite reads from 2021.
Santa: Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. This is Santa Claus welcoming you to episode 352 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. And now, here are your hosts, two guys who are always on my nice list, Jeff and Will.
Will: Hello, rainbow romance readers. We want to wish everyone who is celebrating this week, the happiest of holidays and hope that you got whatever was on your wish list.
Jeff: And speaking of Christmas, just a very quick reminder that if you haven’t checked out all of the festive conversations that we had on the Big Gay Fiction Fest, where we talked all about holiday romances, you can get details about our featured guests and watch replays anytime you want a biggayfictionfest.com.
And now we’re just going to get right into the conversation with Lisa from The Novel Approach and Jay from Joyfully Jay because we’ve got a lot to talk about. In the holiday spirit, they’re going to share with us one of their favorite holiday books of the season since there is still plenty of time to read those. And then it’s going to be a look back at 2021, as they each share three of their favorites from the past year.
Jay and Lisa Conversation
Jeff: Lisa and Jay, welcome back and happy holidays. It’s great to have you here.
Lisa: Happy holidays to you guys. Good to see you.
Jay: How are you guys doing?
Jeff: Good. Good. I can’t believe it’s the end of the year.
Jay: I know, it seems like the last couple of months have just flown by.
Jeff: Yeah, it was all just gone by like a shot. And now we’re going to talk about holiday books and the end of the year and taking a peek into 2022.
So I guess we should really start off with a holiday book. Cause we’re still in the holidays as this airs. We haven’t quite got to Christmas yet. Hanukkah of course has already happened for this year cause it was a little bit early.
Jay: It was a lot early.
Jeff: It was a lot early.
Jay: As early as it could possibly be. Yeah. Thanksgiving weekend.
Jeff: That’s right. It did start Thanksgiving weekend, didn’t it?
Have a big meal. Then start Hanukkah.
Jay: It was crazy. Like this is about as early as Hanukkah ever gets, so.
Jeff: Kicking off and looking at a favorite holiday romance. Lisa, what’s a favorite that you want to share.
Lisa: The Lights on Knockbridge Lane by Roan Parrish
Lisa: Well, my favorite this year, I have to give it to Roan Parrish’s “The Lights on Knockbridge Lane.” It’s one of those books that I started reading it, and immediately thought this book has to be made into a Hallmark holiday movie, because it’s just got everything, the sweetness and the family and the warmth.
So the story is that Adam Mills and his daughter Gus have just recently moved in to a new home. And their family situation is, it’s a little rough. They have had some trying times, and so Adam is trying to get settled in and get Gus settled in.
And, Gus happens to be this absolutely delightful, precocious, curious, little girl. And I absolutely adored her. Well, she happens to be, I don’t know if you would say snooping around, but she happens to look in their neighbor Wes Mobray’s window and discovers that he’s got some interesting pets.
And so Gus decides to just break on into his house and, and look at his menagerie of unusual pets. And so that was that, that creates the kind of meet cute situation, where Wes and Adam are introduced. And Adam is obviously mortified that his daughter, you know, broke those boundaries.
And so, Wes is the person in town who is kind of a, kind of hermit, to the point where people, small town rumors, that he must be a vampire because he only comes out at night and whatnot. So, his backstory though leads so beautifully into understanding why he is not great with interacting with the public and what not. So the crux of the story and what makes it such a warm and beautiful book is that Gus’s wish for Christmas is to have a house with the most Christmas lights on it in the whole wide world.
And of course that’s an expensive proposition. And so Adam, who was a successful photographer and has a presence on Instagram, kind of puts the message out there that, “Hey, you know, if you’ve got any spare Christmas lights just hanging around and you don’t know what to do with them, I’d be happy to take them off of your hands. My daughter wants to have a house decorated with the most Christmas lights in the world.”
Well, of course the Christmas lights just start pouring in pouring, in and pouring in. And so Wes kind of starts coming out of his shell and, and begins to help Adam hang the Christmas lights. And they began to spend more and more time together.
And, and of course all those warm feelings and the attraction starts. And so the story is just, it’s one of these kinds of stories that it doesn’t have a lot of flash. It doesn’t have a lot of bang. It’s about quiet, peaceful family times. Of course though too keep it from swaying too far into super sweet, there is again, Wes’s backstory and there is a hiccup in their relationship that they have to overcome. And Adam is just devastated and Wes is just, you know, is not coping well.
And, so it of course gets resolved because we get that guaranteed happy ending. We have to have our happy ending in romances, and especially at the holidays. But this book just, I thought that it just read every single moment where I could just see it in my head going, oh my gosh, I could, I don’t know who the actors would have been to play Adam and Wes, and Gus, and River who is Adam’s sibling, and they play a very important role in this story too. To the point where I loved River so much, that I would love if Roan wrote their book too, because there were just so many great moments with them in the family, you know, within the family dynamic.
She wrote all that warmth. Like you could just feel it. Like it was, you know, you, you think about the books that you want to curl up under a blanket by the fire and sip hot chocolate while you’re reading. And that was just really a hot chocolate sipping, warm fire sitting moment. It was just really a beautiful book.
So “The Lights on Knockbridge Lane” by Roan Parrish, if you haven’t read it yet, and you want those warm feelings and just all the heart flutters and the awws and the, you know, and those emotional moments. That’s really, it. It’s a good, good place to start for your holiday reading.
Jay: And that book of course was you know, historic because it was Harlequin’s first you know, LGBTQ romance in that particular line, which has been up till now, you know, most of their stuff’s published under the Carina umbrella. So that was really exciting to see something that is marketed, you know, in a very different way. And, exposing these books to a much larger audience who may not have ever come across that through that main line. So that was really exciting.
Lisa: Absolutely, and it came out in September, which I was a little surprised by that, that they released it so early, but I’m so glad it is because I feel like it’s a book that really got a lot of traction. So, you know, folks, if they haven’t picked it up yet and you know, and you could, I would read it in July. Well, you know, because it’s just like a sweet, sweet story and I just love it. So yeah, it’s historic, and if it was made into a Hallmark Christmas movie, all the better. It’s just so great.
Jeff: It was the first holiday book I read this year and it set the bar for everything else.
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah.
Jeff: And the cool thing is too, when we talked to Roan about it, there will be another book in Garnet Run that will also go out through Harlequin Special Edition.
Jeff: So there’s at least one more coming, in that line that’ll be LGBTQ, which is great. Hopefully it did well enough that Harlequin’s going to go, “We should do more of that in that line.”
Lisa: They need to. And I hope it was successful enough and I’m sure it was, I can’t even fathom that it’s not, but hopefully it’s just paved the way for just so many more LGBTQ romances, not even Christmas, just all through the year for them.
Jay: To Touch the Light by E.M. Lindsey
Jeff: And what about you, Jay? What’s on your holiday recommendation for the year.
Jay: All right. So I’m going to actually recommend one that’s a couple years old that I read back in 2019. It’s called “To Touch the Light” by E. M. Lindsey and it is a Hanukah story. And this book was significant, not just because I loved the book, but also it was my first book of E. M. Lindsey’s and I have since gone on to literally read, I believe every single thing they have put out since then, as well as gone back.
The book at the time was a sort of spin off at the end of Lindsey’s “Irons and Works” series and has since actually, they’ve released one more and now have a couple of more planned. So at the time the series had ended, and then this was a sort of a Hanukkah add-on. So, definitely can be read as a standalone. I read it as my first book and then went back to the series. So it started both my love of Lindsay’s writing as well as my love of the “Irons and Works” series.
Like I said, this is a Hanukkah book. It features chef Mario Garcia, who is like a chef at a resort or a hotel. And he really is not a huge fan of the holiday season from a work perspective it’s crazy time of year. From a personal perspective, he is pretty much estranged from his family. He’s trans and they have sort of dropped him.
So, you know, sort of all the holiday cheer and festivity is a little hard for him to handle. And sort of the light spot for him is actually his dishwasher, Viktor Popov. And, Viktor was actually a professor a very well, sort of respected and learned professor, in his home country. And, when he was outted as gay, he was exiled.
Like many immigrants I think that we find who come to America who have this incredible education in their home country, they come here and end up not being able to get jobs of, you know, equivalent. So in this case, he is very smart scholarly guy, and the only job he can get his as a dishwasher.
He is quite impoverished as a result. He also has a degenerative eye condition. So he’s not completely blind, but fairly close and it’s continuing to get worse. So, Mario decides that he wants to do a Hanukkah dinner as part of the you know, the hotel’s holiday festivities, because it’s all Christmas all the time.
But He doesn’t really know enough about the holiday, so, Viktor sort of becomes his consultant and helps him plan the holiday meal and, you know, sort of that’s the progression of their relationship develops as they’re working together on this Hanukkah festivities.
So, what I think is really nice here is that, both of these people who really are sort of not seen and overlooked. You know, in Mario’s case he’s trans, he’s found a lot of the people that he’s dated or reached out to sort of drop him as soon as they find out. His family has dropped him and he’s just really feels very disenfranchised. And then you have, you know, the same thing with Viktor, you know, not only because of his position because the kitchen looked down on him because he was a dishwasher because of his eyesight. And, both sort of get dismissed out of hand a lot. So, you know, sort of the nice sort of holiday warmth really comes from the fact that they are able to connect and see each other and find somebody who sees them in a way that they really haven’t individually.
So. It’s a great Hanukkah story. Like I said for me, it was a great introduction to Lindsey’s writing. If you’ve read “Irons and Works,” it’s a great add on, but if you haven’t, it works as a standalone. And like I said, for me, it made me really excited to go back cause some of the “Irons and Works” guys sort of show up and pop in and out to go back and read that series.
And then, like I said, pretty much everything else that they’ve put out since then. So, this was a standout for me and definitely if you’re looking for a good Hanukkah story, check it out.
Jeff: I’ve been wanting to check out E. M. Lindsey in general. I keep going, Ooh, I need to read that. I need to read that I have this like a stack in my TBR and now you’ve helped to move their work up the list a little bit more with that recommendation.
Lisa: Literally like yesterday morning, finished her book “Tidal Wave.” First book I read. It’s her it’s oh gosh…
Jay: “Motorcycle Club “series
Lisa: Yeah. “Motorcycle Club” series. I can’t remember the exact title of the series itself, but I’m on book two right now. Yeah, so it was partly because of you because you’ve read so many of the books.
Jay: I talk about them all the time.
Lisa: You talk about them and yes. And then I had another friend recommend, I said, “okay, which book would you pick first?” And she said, “why don’t you try ‘Tidal Wave.'” And so, yeah, I’m glad that I finally was able to work that in amongst all my 8,000 other books that I haven’t read yet.
Jay: Very good.
Jeff: So getting close to the end of the year, which means we need to start looking at favorite books from 2021.
So we’re going to do three books a piece, and Lisa, what’s your first favorite of the year.
Lisa: Trailer Park Trickster by David R. Slayton
Lisa: Wow. I feel like I read so many great books this year, and I think that my reading was very focused and very purposeful this year. So I had a lot to pick from which is not a bad way to end a year.
My first one is a book that I had mentioned being extremely excited about, and boy did David R. Slayton deliver. “Trailer Park Trickster,” which is…
Jay: oh this is the sequel, right?
Lisa: Yes. It’s the sequel to “White Trash Warlock,” and you know, sometimes you can build up a sequel so much in your mind, you know, because you anticipate so much that it sometimes, you know, you, you think, okay, were my expectations too high or is this, you know, is this book that, didn’t live up to what the first book did.
This book just exceeded every one of my expectations in every single way. Adam Lee Binder is, he’s a warlock. And he was in Denver in the last book and basically, you know, kind of saved Denver from being destroyed. But his aunt Sue back in Oklahoma, who essentially raised him, has passed away.
And so Adam, hightails it from Denver back to Oklahoma. He kind of leaves his brother Bobby still lives in Denver and his very newly, newly minted boyfriend Vic lives there. And, Adam just kind of disappeared. He didn’t tell anybody what was going on, but he went back to Oklahoma to kind of make sure that, you know, things were being taken care of on his aunt Sue’s behalf.
And. Well ,talk about family dysfunction. This book has it all. So, so there are so many things that come out about Adam’s family, and, chiefly among them there is a dark Druid who has, been chasing after Adam. He suspects that this dark Druid is, his deceased father. And so Adam is, is a man who, who could have turned out terribly, terribly different than he, than he did.
He’s kind and he’s thoughtful and I just adore him to bits, but he suffered physical abuse at his father’s hands as a young boy and, and subsequently his brother, Bobby bashed their dad over the head and killed him. And then Bobby and, and their mother buried their father back behind the trailer. And, and so Adam Lee is, is convinced that, that this dark Druid is very potentially his father. So that’s, that’s part of the storyline that he’s, he’s trying to figure out the identity of, of this Druid.
And in the meantime, there is a murder mystery that unfolds that reveals even, even more dark secrets within his family. And, in the meanwhile Vic decides that he needs to make his way to Oklahoma to make sure that everything is, is okay.
And him being a Reaper whose boss is Death herself, he has some adventures of his own. And, I thought it was really great the way David gave Vic such an important storyline while Adam had his extremely important storyline. And he just brought them together so beautifully.
Argent the Queen of Swords is going to transport Vic to Oklahoma. And, they take a little side and venture and get themselves involved in elf politics and as it turns out Argent’s brother Silver, who’s the Knight of Swords just so happens to, in this particular moment save the Earth and all of us garbage humans from extinction because the elves want us dead and gone because we’re destroying the planet.
So Vic and Argent and Silver just happened to kind of save, save the world while Vic is way to Oklahoma, just, you know, a little side thing. And so Vic gets to Oklahoma and there are some confessions that need to be made on Adam’s part because Vic not only is a Reaper, but he is also a police officer. And, and he was unaware of the circumstances behind Adam Lee’s father’s death. And so that causes some friction between them.
But everything is just laid out so beautifully, so meticulously. The writing is, is so gorgeous. And the ending of course, you know, you’ve got to have a cliffhanger, right, when you’re talking about murdering dead and dark Druids and, and family dysfunction and everything. So, so there is this amazing cliffhanger at the end involving Nick. That, boy now has, has me really, really waiting for book three in this series. And I, and all I keep thinking is please don’t let it be a trilogy because I don’t want this series to end it’s just so, it’s so beautiful, but yeah. So “Trailer Park Trickster” David R. Slayton, hands down, one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Jay: Oh, it sounds so good. Every time you talk about it, I write it down. Cause I keep thinking, I need to read it.
Lisa: It’s such amazing fantasy if you like fantasy at all, in any way, shape or form. Which I know you do with Hailey’s series and yeah. So it’s just really, really just, just fun absorbing read.
Jeff: I got to give that one a go to, cause I take my fantasy picks mostly from you. And so like, like Jay, I just, I write this down and it’s like, I need to check this out, so.
Lisa: Hopefully I haven’t let you down yet.
Jeff: So far so good.
Jay: The Formicary series by S.E. Harmon
Jeff: So Jay, what’s your first one.
Jay: All right. So mine is actually a duology. It’s a series called “The Formicary” series. The two books are “Chrysalis” is the first book and “Cross” is the second book by S.E. Harmon. And what sold me on the book right away is it’s an amnesia story and I’m like catnip for amnesia.
Jay: So it’s a suspense story. The first book “Chrysalis” opens up with Christian Cross waking up in the hospital. He has had a gunshot to the head and he was essentially dumped outside the hospital. Wakes up and he has no idea who he is. How he got there. Who’s trying to kill him or anything about his life.
But he’s almost immediately approached by a police officer who finds all of this quite suspicious. You know, not only the fact that he was dumped there, but they inform him that he’s had his teeth filed down and he doesn’t have fingerprints and his ankles appear to be reinforced. And so of course he has no idea what any of this is about.
The only thing that he remembers at all about his life is his boyfriend Dr. Grayson Laurie, who happens to be a doctor at the hospital. And, you know, he keeps asking for Gray, asking for Gray and Gray comes and we immediately know something is wrong. Whatever Chris is remembering about the relationship, he doesn’t have the full story and I don’t want to give anything away. So I’m going to leave it with that.
I’ll tell you that Gray and Christian, they are the love interest that carries through the book. But in the beginning we don’t really know what it was that happened between them.
And what’s really, I think fun here is a lot of times with amnesia stories we’re in the point of view of the character who is the partner. So they’re sort of watching their partner’s struggle with this, but here Chris is the point of view character. So as readers, we know nothing about him, just like he does, because we don’t have that outside viewpoint of the other character.
And even more, we learn that Chris had been keeping a lot of secrets from Gray. So Gray doesn’t really know what Chris’s job actually was, what he was doing all those times he was away. You know, all of these sorts of little tidbit to get uncovered. None of the characters know anything about, so the story gets super exciting.
Bad guys are after Chris. He spends most of the first book attempting to evade these people who are trying to capture him. While he’s also keeping an eye on Gray, and of course his emotional core is Gray and he wants to be with him, but he doesn’t want to risk his health and safety. And we get to the end of the first book and sort of… We find that, well, I’ll just put this way by the start of the second book, Gray has sort of had to make a deal with the devil in order to ensure his own safety, as well as Gray’s. So the second book sort of takes a slightly different turn where they have this. you know, I’m sort of quest slash mission that they have to complete in order to stay safe.
So while, the first book Chris is largely on his own running by the second book Gray is much more involved and they’re sort of in this together. So the whole time we’re slowly getting bits and pieces of who he is, who was trying to kill him, what’s going on in this organization of bad guys that were behind it all. And then ultimately, of course, they’re trying to take down this whole, you know, sort of evil empire. And so throughout the two stories, it’s just super suspenseful, super exciting, almost horrifying sometimes as we learn and get these reveals of what’s really going on, who he is, what’s been done to him, what the motives are of this organization behind it all.
And then there’s this intense romance between the two of them. I mean, you have to sort of expect that you know, Chris is a bad guy and we find out he’s been doing some not so great things. But he is, you know, pretty much willing to do anything for Gray, you know, whatever it is. Gray is definitely his emotional center.
And so the romance between them is just super swoony and intense you know, super suspenseful and exciting. And then throughout it all, Chris is sort of a snarky amusing point of view characters. So there’s lots of those little bits of humor that really balance it out.
Like in the first book he doesn’t know what his job used to be. So he keeps trying to guess based on things that seem interesting. So he realizes he’s really good with knives and he’s like, well, maybe, maybe I’m a chef. Maybe I, you know, and you know, Gray is like, you are not a chef. Trust me. So, you know, there’s all of these like little sort of bits of humor along the way.
And Chris’s is just a really fun point of view character. So I’m trying not to spoil too much, so I’m going to leave it there. But “Chrysalis” and “Cross” they’re both out, it’s a, duology so reads like one long story. You’re going to want to read both books. But, super fun, romantic suspense, you know, sort of dubious morals on the bad guy and super swoony romantic relationship.
Jeff: I have not heard of that, that flew under my radar this year. So I need to check that one out. Cause that sounded, I haven’t done a lot of romantic suspense recently. It had been like looking for the place I wanted to kind of dig back into it and that might be it right there.
Lisa: A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske
Lisa: My next book is a debut novel by author Freya Marske.
Lisa: Yes, a “A Marvellous Light.”
Girl, let’s talk. Now we’re going to talk about this. “A Marvellous Light” is an historical book and it’s reality adjacent. So it’s set in 1908 London. And we get some peeks into some of the real realism. Like Lord Asquith is the prime minister of England at the time. And the undercurrent here is that there is also magic in this universe, that Freya Marske has, has created. And so, Robin Blyth is a non magical person. And due to a paperwork, snafu ends up in a job that he is not qualified for that was vacated under really dangerous and serious and suspicious circumstances.
And so, he meets Edwin Courcey who comes from a magical family. And he is definitely the weakest link in the Courcey chain, as far as, as his magical abilities. He’s nowhere near as, as capable of a magician as his siblings who are. They’re just horrible, horrible people. I just hated them and wanted them all to go away, but they’re very important to the story. and really to who, to who I think Robin helps Edwin see he is.
There is a mystery and a painful curse and lots of danger and suspense as the men go in search of a relic that is extremely important to the resolution of… I don’t want to ruin anything, but it was, it was why this, this person was murdered, whose job Robin ends up taking.
So, they have their adventures and, and along the way, there’s, you know, there’s just you know, this heinously dangerous hedge maze that they, that they have to fight their way through. And, and it serves as just another way of Edwin kind of becoming the hero. You know, he does something within this, this hedge maze that, that ends up saving his and Robin’s life.
And so, this is very much a journey for him as well as Robin, because Robin discovers some things about himself that he never knew he was capable of. He is also busy simultaneously trying to kind of hone this ability of his, because it becomes important to the men to be able to find this rune or try to stop anyone else from finding it at least, this relic.
I just think, and I don’t know, Jay, like, I think that there are authors whose words just hit a little bit differently than others when you’re reading them. And I thought Freya, I was just chewing through the scenery of every image in this book. And every single scene was just written so lushly. It just was, the writing was so beautiful.
The characterizations were so beautiful. The imagination was so beautiful and I loved the way that Edwin and Robin played off of each other, like Edwin is kind of the grumpy. And Robin is the sunshine. And so, so they played off of each other so superbly. And I’m excited to, I saw a tweet from her not long ago that said that she had just written the first, you know, few sentences of book three.
So book two is already written. So I’m excited about, about that, but, and the ending of course, it leaves you in a place where you’re just absolute craving to get your hands on that next book. So yeah, just absolutely, stunning like, you know, and the fact that it was a debut.
Jay: Oh yes.
Lisa: Where have you been my entire life because it’s just, it’s really beautiful. So, “A Marvellous Light” by Freya Marske. If you like a little bit of historical, little bit of reality, a lot of magic and adventure. That is definitely, should be in the next go-to read for everyone.
Jay: It’s almost like a historical, urban fantasy. You know, usually I think fantasy is contemporary vibe, but it has very much that feel sort of magic and paranormal and, you know, sort of that adventure, but, you know, in that historical setting.
So I thought it was really good. I also really liked the prologue of the book opens where we’re seeing the murder. So we know what happens from the very start, but they’re slowly figuring out over the course of the book. They don’t even know that he’s dead. They just know that this guy’s missing.
But we as readers know from the very beginning that something awful has happened and what it was. And so I thought that was really fun and just very clever use of magic and.
Lisa: Oh and the cradling. Do you remember when we were kids and you would have the yarn and you, and you know, you would make it all into different things and the cat’s cradle and jacob’s ladder, and the witches broom.
Jay: Magic is done by hand movements that they call cradling that sort of mimics the cat’s cradle, where you would have the strings over your fingers and you would do these things. So the really advanced practitioners do it just with their hands, but Edwin is not as skilled as the rest of his family, so he uses the string as a crutch, and that is sort of a source of shame for him. So I thought that was a really clever, I mean, I read a lot of urban fantasy, a lot of paranormal and finding like a completely different take on magic and how it works is, you know, doesn’t happen very often. So I thought that was really a fun, little touch.
Lisa: That opening scene that you mentioned it was really terrifying. I mean like, like viscerally, like, “oh my God, what is happening to this poor man?” You know, I just was written, so, so just absorbing really. I just like from page one, I was hooked.
Jeff: I’m not sure I can do this book. I mean, you just said that was terrifying. And then there’s this whole thing with the hedge maze. I find hedge mazes a little bit on the terrifying side.
Lisa: Yeah, that scene was so great. It was so great, the action, it was, it was more of a page turner than it was “oh my God. I’ve got to set the book down and I can’t take this any more.” I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen. Yeah.
Jay: Yeah. I thought it was great.
Jeff: All right, Jay, back over to you
Jay: The Cuckoo’s Call by Lily Morton
Jay: Alright. I’m going to move away from my romantic suspense for a minute. And anybody who’s been watching me on this podcast or reads my reviews, know that I’m a huge Lily Morton fan and pretty much every year, one or more of Lily’s books makes it onto my best of list. So this year it actually was the most recent one that I read, “The Cuckoo’s Call” again by Lily Morton.
The story features Wren who’s a young man who’s gone on vacation with his friend to Majorca, and his friend Owen ends up bumping into some other friends who are much wealthier than poor Wren and they decide they’re going to go off to someplace else for even more fun and Wren can’t afford to go. And he ends up spending the rest of the week alone in Majorca and just decides he’s going to make the best of it.
But before that happens the guys are very distasteful and rude, he’s not smart enough, he’s not rich enough. And he sort of tells them off in the hotel lobby. And he’s overheard by Mateo Rossi, who is unbeknownst to Wren, the owner of not just the hotel, but pretty much this giant hotel empire.
And Mateo is really taken with Wren and his outspokenness. And later on, they run into each other in the restaurant and, once again, Wren is being sort of snubbed because he is not particularly wealthy and this is a fancy hotel and Mateo invites him to join him for dinner and they get to talking. Mateo was really charmed because he’s used to men throwing themselves at him because he’s super wealthy.
He’s used to sort of a certain type of guy and he really is not looking for relationships. So he sort of cultivates these, you know, men with whom he has no real emotional attachment. They have a short affair and then it’s over and that’s the end. So I think he finds Wren outspoken as sort of refreshing and you know, he’s very plainspoken and he’s very, you know, real and just sort of says what he thinks.
And so. Mateo offers Wren a job for the week, helping him sort of scope out some potential properties on the island and giving him sort of the real person’s perspective, because of course, everyone kowtows to Mateo everywhere he goes, and he can’t get anyone to, you know, treat him like they would treat him normal guest.
So, the two of them spend this amazing week together. Mateo grew up on the island and it’s beautiful and they, you know, are on beaches and just, you know, one of the things that Lily Morton does so, so well is setting and just bringing a place to life. And I was like, ready to book my ticket to Majorca after reading this because it sounds so unbelievably glorious.
And then at the end of the week, the men are supposed to split. And this is not giving anything away, cause this is revealed in the blurb, but Mateo invites Wren back to Venice with him. He has to go back home, Venice is where Mateo lives. And he invites Wren to come for the month and just sort of continue their affair.
And so Wren is like, what the heck? You know, he knows he’s going to get his heart broken. But, you know, he has just this crappy job back home in London, you know, dumpy apartment, take the adventure while he can get it. So the two of them go to Venice and it’s an interesting shift because the book divides into two parts.
You know, they’re having this just glorious, you know, almost surreal experience in Majorca. And then they get to Venice and they’re sort of faced with the reality of Mateo has to be back at work and the demands of his job that are really draining him. He sort of hates it, but it’s a family company and he’s the heir parent. And he needs to sort of be there working.
And his family is very wealthy and snobbish and they hate Wren and they treat them like crap and the two, you know, sort of that their relationship, the two of them is still very solid, but they’re sort of hitting the harsh reality of the outside world, out of that little bubble that they had built together in Majorca.
And so, you know, as the again, this is sort of one of those prologues in the prologue, we see Wren booking a flight to go back to London. So we know again from the very start, things are going to, be happening, you know, stuff’s going down. And so, you know, watching as this, you know, sort of arc as things are wonderful, and then they’re falling apart, and how they figure out how to reconcile the fact that they are two very different sorts of socioeconomic classes. They’re from two different countries. There’s a big age gap. They’ve got these family dynamics and how they end up working at all together.
So, you know, again, I really love Lily Morton’s writing. And, a lot of times her stuff is very sort of snarky and bantery, which I absolutely love. It’s totally my thing, but this one is a little bit less so, and I think it has just a warmth to it that’s really nice. And just the sense of how these two very different men end up figuring out how to make this relationship work that sort of starts as a holiday fling. And they both think it will be nothing more. And of course, then it turns into something lasting. So I really enjoyed this one. I recommend pretty much anything that Lily writes, but this was my favorite of what I read of hers this year.
Lisa: I loved it too. I agree. I one hundred percent agree. And it’s when you, when you were talking about the banter and how that it wasn’t quite as, prevalent in this book, as some of her other books. The beginning of the book shook me too, because her books usually start in some, some sort of comedic way.
Lisa: Like, there’s always something just mad cap or hilarious happening. And this book starts on a very somber note and it struck me that, okay, I need to stop for just a minute and kind of adjust my expectations on what this book might be. It might not be as lighthearted and fun as some of her other books and yeah, I literally, I was like Googling pictures of Majorca.
Jay: Yeah I am going on vacation, Lisa.
Lisa: Yeah. I know. I was like, okay, let me, let me have a look at this place. But yeah. So, Wren, I thought was, is probably one of her sweetest characters ever. She writes so many sweet characters and he’s just so sweet and so endearing. And he’s like, I just wanted to wrap him up in bubble wrap and bring him home with me and just say, sit right here. And I will take care of you, you know? Yeah. Yeah. That was really good.
Jeff: Yeah, this is one of those that’s been parked on my to read list because I love Lily’s work. And I haven’t read any in a while. And this one really struck me because of some of those elements you talked about of like these two very different people and kind of the, the struggles, you know, that they’re there. And to know that she’s kind of tilted the tone a little bit to now just makes me want to read it all the more, because I was expecting it to be more of the, you know, kind of the snarky bantery thing.
Lisa: Yeah. It’s really, really sweet. And I, and I love I’m such a sucker for this, and I don’t know why reading a book where someone is falling in love and they have no idea that they’re falling in love. And it’s just, and that’s kind of what happens with Mateo in this book. He’s just falling in love so deeply with Wren, and then all of a sudden it was like, “Oh my God, what am I doing?”
Lisa: Crooked Shadows by M.A. Grant
Jeff: All right, Lisa, what’s your final favorite for the year?
Lisa: My final favorite one is it just came out December 14th and it’s one that I was looking forward to because the first book in the series was on my best of list last year. This book is “Crooked Shadows” by M.A. Grant, which is the sequel to “Rare Vigilance.”
And this is her foray into vampires. And the first book was set in Scarsdale, New York. This book, Cristian Slava and Atlas Kinkaid are on the hunt for who ever is creating these feral vampires. So where else do you go but Romania to find who’s creating feral vampires?
So they are in Romania and apart from trying to figure out who is creating these strigoi, I hope I’m pronouncing it correctly. The strigoi, the feral vampires, they also run into a kind of a political turmoil there.
Lisa: So, so how have you read it too? Oh my gosh. So good, so good. So the kind a ruling family in this particular territory where they are. The son who is also Cristian’s friend has, has disappeared. And so on top of Cristian and Atlas, trying to figure out who is creating the vampires, they’re also trying to track down Cristian’s friend. So what they end up falling into is this plot to overthrow the current family.
And it’s just a it’s just a bloody, bloody mess. And they, they end up figuring out who it was, who was doing this and it’s, and they just, you know, they fall into all these traps and there’s, there’s danger. And there’s this weird, weird things happening with, with Atlas, who’s got PTSD because he was attacked by these strigoi in Romania and, and basically left for dead.
And he’s, he’s horribly scarred and he has a horrible PTSD from it. In fact, so badly that, that he, he was plotting against Cristian in “Rare Vigilance” and, and basically wanted Cristian to die for the sin of existing. And so there is still kind of that undercurrent in their relationship where Atlas doesn’t know where to put Cristian.
He’s extremely attracted to him, and, and there is no doubt that he cares for Cristian. But how in the world could a relationship ever work between them?
So, another, you know, another thing that happens within the dynamic of this relationship is Cristian knows he’s in his love with Atlas, and he also believes very vehemently that Atlas is going to leave. So Cristian is basically ready to take and willing to take whatever Atlas is willing to give Cristian in this moment. So there’s that, that very kind of bittersweet undertone to their relationship where, you know, Cristian is, I hate to say it this way, but he’s kind of, he will take whatever crumbs Atlas throws out for however long that Atlas is there to throw them out.
So, there’s very much that undercurrent of poignancy in their relationship mixed with the danger of these feral vampires and them trying to track down who it is. And then you’ve got the overthrow of, the ruling family simmering in the background and M. A., you know, she’s another one of those writers, or I don’t know, sometimes I feel like she writes books just for me because every single word I just connect to so, so just deeply. And I get so lost in, in her books.
She just really is bringing this couple and this particular series to a place now where the cliffhanger at the end is like, “oh my gosh.” I mean, they’re being hunted basically themselves. And is there a betrayer in their midst? There’s kind of, the all signs are pointing that way. So, you know, how in the world are they going to get out of Romania and back to the United States? Because they’re basically now kind of prisoners in Romania, they can’t move freely. It’s another one of those books where I was hoping that I was not tightening my expectations to outrageously for the sequel, and she just really, really delivered an amazingly fun, and action packed at The same time, poignant story. So “Crooked Shadows” by M.A. Grant. That was another fave this year.
Jeff: I’m so glad you enjoyed it that much, because I remember it being like one of the ones you were anticipating. So I’m glad it paid itself off.
Lisa: Well, I’ve read every single book she’s published so far and I absolutely love, I just absolutely. There’s something about her writing that I connect with so much. And, she can write gritty. She can write almost lyrical, you know, kind of a poetic kind of prose with her fae series. She’s just beautiful, beautiful imaginative writer. Like what in the world? Cause she pulled out of her bag of tricks next. She is just really, yeah. great author.
Jay: What We May Be by Layla Reyne
Jeff: All right, Jay, last up on your favorite list for the year.
Jay: All right. So I’m going back romantic suspense. Apparently this has been like my year of urban fantasy and romantic suspense. Really been reading a lot. So, this one is “What We May Be” by Layla Reyne. It’s actually a MMF. So, you know, threesome story, two men, one woman. And in this story Sean, Trevor and Charlie were friends and roommates and met in college, and basically the three of them fell in love and they were contemplating marriage or marriage as much as they could, you know, manage with three of them and basically saw their lives together.
And then Shawn left and Trevor and Charlie just could not make it work with just the two of them and their relationship, romantic relationship fell apart and things have been, you know, sort of tense for them. They still live in the same small town together, but they really just, their relationship fell apart.
So, now here we are 10 years later and there has been a murder, and Sean works for the FBI and Charlie is a police officer in town. So he is being brought in because he has some sort of you know, sort of job connection with the person who was killed or the father of the person who was killed. Actually, I want to say the son. But anyway, so he gets brought in and he’s working with Charlie on this case.
So, you know, there’s the suspense side where we have sort of this twisty murder mystery while we’re trying to figure out who’s behind it all. And, you know, because it’s a small town, you’re getting all those little pieces where everyone’s related to each other and knows each other.
And so, you know, I sort of love a small town mystery because it really brings in that sense that, you know, there’s so many suspects and so many people and everything is intertwined because, you know, it’s this small community. And so I thought that it was a really exciting mystery.
I will say the ending didn’t a hundred percent come together for me, but very sort of exciting and fun. And, Layla Reyne is just really a master of romantic suspense, everything that she writes. And she does such sort of good twisty, exciting mysteries and, you know, sort of interesting killers and motivations. And what sort of fun here is that we learned early on that, there’s this very specific pattern to the killing they discovered. You know, sort of what the motivation and the pattern is. And then they’re sort of trying to reverse engineer, like who’s the next victim. Now that we know what the pattern is, maybe we can stop it before it happens, because this is a serial murder because we know what the motivation is and what the murderer is doing. So that sort of adds a fun element because it gives a little twist to the case.
But really for me, the main pull of the story is this relationship between the three of them. And, you know, Sean comes back and the other two are understandably angry at him and we don’t know why he left. And that slowly throughout the book, we get those pieces that answer those questions about what happened to this relationship, why it fell apart and start to figure out if it’s possible that the three of them can rekindle that again.
And it’s interesting because it’s not, there’s not really. flashbacks in the story, which typically is the way that things are set up in one of these, you know, what happened 10 years ago? What happened now? Readers, I think have sort of a mixed feelings about flashback. So if that’s you, I will tell you, this is so interestingly written in that we really don’t get flashbacks, but yet I really could feel that connection with them from 10 years ago. And that bond that they had, and even as they’re at odds, it’s like they’re being pulled together because that connection between them is still so strong, but they don’t know if it’s just been too long and too broken to bring it all back together again.
So. I don’t really read a lot of MMF and I picked this up because Layla can do no wrong in my eyes in terms of, you know, her writing. So I gave it a shot and I really enjoyed it and loved the relationship between the three of them. They’re very sexy. They’re very romantic. They just have this super intense chemistry that you just know they belong together. And then of course the three of them are also investigating this murder together.
So, really fun, something a little bit different for me, but great romantic suspense. And I liked it a lot.
Jeff: I am so glad to hear that she teased that book when she was on the podcast back when “Silent Night” and “Queen’s Gambit” came out, as coming later this year. And you know, as soon as I cross out of my holiday reading, it’s going to be one that I pick up because you’re right, Layla can do no wrong. And I liked it even more because of the piece, I knew it with an MMF, but it’s also a second chance as somebody tries to come back into it and I’m fascinated to see how that works.
Jay: Yeah. And I think, you know whenever you’re dealing with like a polyamory kind of story, especially one where it’s, you know, a threesome as opposed to sort of separate relationships, is showing how as three, they work better than any two could be. And so I think that really is illustrated really nicely here, cause we see, you know, that Trevor and Charlie, as much as they love each other, their relationship just really doesn’t work. They’re out of balance. And you know, I want to believe that these three people need to be three people, not just two with someone added in and that’s really you know, is addressed well in the story. And I love the way that that all came together.
Anticipated in 2022
Jeff: So let’s take a sneak peek into 2022. Lisa was something that you’re looking forward to.
Lisa: The Prince’s Poisoned Vow by Hailey Turner
Lisa: I’m so, so excited because steam punk, I don’t think there could ever be enough steam punk in my life. And I just was so excited to see that Hailey Turner is writing a steam punk series. The series is called the “Infernal War Saga,” And the first book is called “The Prince’s Poisoned Vow” and it comes out May 2nd. And I don’t have first idea what it’s about, but it’s steam punk.
Jay: Right we are going to read it anyway.
Lisa: Here I am girl, bring it.
Jeff: Steam Punk and Hailey Turner has your name written all over it.
Jay: I am super excited for this one.
Lisa: I don’t need no stinking blurb, just give me the book. So, yes, “The Prince Poisoned Vow,” May 2nd, Hailey Turner. Cannot wait to see what she does with some steam punk.
Jay: Yeah I am super excited.
Jay: Kiss and Cry by Keira Andrews
Jeff: And what about for you, Jay? What’s on your radar?
Jay: Well, mine is “Kiss and Cry” by Keira Andrews . I absolutely love Keira Andrews. Again, read everything that she writes.
This one comes out January 6th. If you read Keira’s holiday novella, “Only One Bed”, which was adorable, then you’ll know who the main characters are here, but I’m not going to spoil because we don’t find out until the end of that book. So if you’ve read that already, you’ll know, or if you want to read the blurb, you can find out. But if you haven’t read that, I don’t want to ruin it by telling you.
Although that was essentially a standalone, this is a Olympic figure skating story. I’m a big figure skating fan. I know that Keira is a huge skating fan and is super, super knowledgeable. So this sort of ties into the winter Olympics.
This is two figure skaters, enemies to lovers. Both competing for, you know, the Olympic medals. It’s a grumpy and sunshine. It’s like I said enemies to lovers. It’s sports, it’s skating. And I’m super excited cause it’s everything that I love and I love Keira’s writing. And funny enough, as I was reading the “Only One Bed,” I was composing my, you know, imaginary email to Keira said, ” You better be giving this person a story.” And then at the very end we find out you know, what is happening with that.
So, I’m really excited about it. And like I said, if you read her Christmas story, then you already know who these characters are, but it is a little bit of a spoiler. So I’ll hold that until everyone’s had a chance to read “Only One Bed”, but lots of fun. “Kiss and Cry,” January 6th.
Because they’re not labeled as a series, I’m guessing it will stand alone, but I don’t know for sure. But good way to sort of lean into the Olympics and get started on those Olympic stories.
Jeff: Fantastic. Well, thank you both for sharing your favorites and getting us set up a little bit for 2022. What a good year of reading we’ve all had.
Jay: I Know, yeah.
Lisa: For sure. For sure. It’s like an embarrassment of riches. It’s such a good year.
Jeff: So wish you both the happiest of holiday season as the year comes to a close and a very happy new year.
Jay: Thank you, you as well.
Lisa: Yes. Happy new year.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, simply head on over to the show notes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com. And don’t forget the show notes page also has links to everything that we talked about in this episode.
Jeff: And thanks so much to Lisa and Jay for sharing their favorites with us. Some really excellent books they’re in their lists. And as usual, they added books to my TBR, and I bet they did the same for all of you as well.
Will: All right, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next on Thursday in episode 353, it’s time for the Big Gay Fiction Book Club pick for the month of December. We’re going to be talking about Jay Northcote’s “A Boyfriend for Christmas.”
Jeff: You’ve got one more conversation about holiday books from us before the season ends. Make sure to tune in for our conversation about this virgin meets tattooed bad boy holiday romance.
Will: 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.