Jeff & Will kick off the show with an announcement: The Big Gay Fiction Fest is back for Pride Month. They’ve got all the details on the Fest’s line up and where to purchase tickets.
The guys discuss what they’ve been watching recently, including the movies Spider-Man: No Way Home and The Lost City, as well as the historical drama series The Gilded Age on HBO Max.
A dozen books coming in May are previewed, including titles by Michael Craft, H.L. Day, Timothy Janovsky, Charlie Novak, Beth Bolden, Kate Hawthorne, Annabelle Greene, J.R. Gray, S.C. Wynne, S.R. Lane, Matt Cain, and Frank Anthony Polito. Jeff also reviews The Long Game by Rachel Reid.
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: Pride 2022
- Spider-Man: No Way Home on Amazon Prime Video
- The Lost City website
- The Gilded Age on HBO Max
- Desert Getaway by Michael Craft
- The Reluctant Companion by H.L. Day
- Frank Fazetta
- Never Been Kissed by Timothy Janovsky
- Oh So Oscar by Charlie Novak
- Playing for Keeps by Beth Bolden
- Not Allowed by Kate Hawthorne
- The Servant and the Gentleman by Annabelle Greene
- The Animosity Equation by J.R. Gray
- Kiss Marry Kill by S.C. Wynne
- Eight Weeks in Paris by S.R. Lane
- Ariella Zoelle on Amazon
- Jeris Jean on Amazon
- The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain
- Episode 297 – Big Gay Fiction Book Club March 2021: “Throwing Hearts” by N.R. Walker on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- Renovated to Death by Frank Anthony Polito
- The Long Game by Rachel Reid
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast Links
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 kick off May with a look at what we’ve been reading and watching, as well as what upcoming books we’re excited about. Plus, we’ve got a huge announcement coming right up.
Will: Welcome to episode 375 of the “Big Gay Fiction Podcast,” the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Will and with me, as always, is my co-host and husband, Jeff.
Jeff: Hello, rainbow romance reader, it’s great to have you here. And I have to give a quick, happy anniversary to my husband. Our anniversary of our very first date happened this past weekend. So we’ve officially been together a million billion years now.
Will: Now it’s a million billion and one.
Jeff: Indeed. As always, the podcast is brought to you in part by our remarkable community on Patreon. If you’d like more information about what we offer to our patrons, head on over to patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Will: So as Jeff knows, I hate surprises.
Jeff: This is so very true. In these 27 years that we’ve had together, I think the only surprise I pulled off was a birthday. A little insight into my husband there.
Will: So in the interest of not prolonging the suspense, shall we get to our big announcement?
Jeff: Absolutely. I did say it was coming right up after all.
Will: So, as some of you may recall, last year, for the holidays, we threw an online get-together to celebrate all things Christmas, the Big Gay Fiction Fest. It was an online reader event, especially for fans of gay romance fiction, kinda like this show.
We had a great time, and those who attended seemed to really enjoy themselves as well. So I am very happy to announce that we’re doing it again. Big Gay Fiction Fest will be returning to kick off Pride Month. We’re going to be celebrating the latest summer reads, stories that embody the spirit of pride in 2022.
Now, as a quick refresher, this is a virtual book festival, and it is 100% online. There is no exhausted travel, or expensive hotel rooms to book. You can enjoy hearing from your favorite authors all from the comfort of your own home. Or if you’re more of an on-the-go type, you can watch it anywhere on your preferred mobile device. As Ina Garten might say, “How easy is that?”
Jeff: Oh, my gosh.
Will: The pride edition of Fest will be happening on Saturday, June 4th. And if you can’t virtually attend on the day, don’t worry, replays of all of the discussions and panels will be available to watch later. To get your ticket, just go to biggayfictionfest.com.
So let’s quickly talk about some of the programming that you can expect at Fest. We want you to know that we listened to your suggestions from last year, and this time we’ve got some specially themed author panels we think you’re gonna love. Authors S.C. Wynne, Frank Anthony Polito, and Michael Craft will be telling us all “Whodunit” in their panel on cozy mystery.
And if you ever wished that “Bridgerton” was way more queer, then you’re gonna love our discussion of historicals with Cat Sebastian, Merry Farmer, and Annabelle Greene. We’ve also got a panel focusing on paranormals with authors Jenn Burke, Kiki Burrelli, and Mia Monroe.
And really, that’s just the beginning of the fiction fest fun that we’ve got planned. If you want to know more and want to purchase tickets, head on over to biggayfictionfest.com. But for members of our Patreon community, don’t click that buy button just yet. Check our Patreon page for a special coupon code that you can use to get a discount on your fiction fest ticket. It’s our small way of saying thank you for supporting the show. We really hope to see you there on Saturday, June 4th. So one last time, because it’s kind of a long URL, go to biggayfictionfest.com for more details.
Jeff: So I’ve been recording the panels, and the panels have been so much fun. I think in the history of the show, we don’t do a lot of things that involve multiple authors. And if we do, it’s usually around an anthology like we do with “Heart2Heart,” or like we’ve done with shared universes like we did with “Magic Emporium.”
Those are the moments that we tend to bring a bunch of authors together. I think in the history of the show, we’ve probably only done one true panel-type discussion, and that’s when we discussed Mpreg back in 2019. Bringing these authors together for the first time, some of them hadn’t met each other.
It was such a delight to hear Cat, and Merry, and Annabelle talk before and after the panel about how excited they were to all meet each other. So it’s really exciting bringing people together in this way. And I think all of you are really gonna enjoy these conversations. I know I certainly did.
Will: So join us, won’t you, for a Big Gay Fiction Fest 2022. Before we get to this episode’s discussion of books, we wanted to quickly mention some of the things that we’ve been watching recently. We finally rented “Spider-Man: No Way Home”. That was really amazing. And we also actually went to a theater and we went and saw “The Lost City”
Jeff: Oh, “The Lost City” was so hilariously funny. It was like everything that “Romancing the Stone” kind of was. It was very much a throwback to that, and I loved every minute of it. There was also a moment that I really loved, where Channing Tatum’s character actually called out Sandra Bullock’s romance writer, reminding her that her stories bring joy into the world and to ignore romance haters. And it was so lovely to hear that presented in a big-screen movie for the world to hear. I almost clapped, but I restrained myself since we were in a semi-crowded theater. I was really appreciative that they said that.
Oh, and Spider-Man, too. I have often…let’s face it, superhero reboots, it’s like how many times do we need to revisit an origin story on a superhero, whether it’s Batman, or Spider-Man, or Superman, or whoever? What they did with “Spider-Man: No Way Home”, paid off the multiple reboots of Spider-Man. That was just one of the best Marvel movies ever.
Will: In addition to those movies, we’ve also been watching some great television. If you binged “Bridgerton,” just like we did, and are looking for something to follow it up with, I highly recommend “The Gilded Age” on HBO Max. Now, while it is not as romance forward as “Bridgerton,” it’s got a similar vibe and shares some of the same themes.
“The Gilded Age’s” Julian Fellowes American follow up to “Downton Abbey.” It’s set in New York during you know, obviously, “The Gilded Age”, roughly 1880 through 1890, and it’s about a lot of things, primarily the clash between old and new. Old money versus new money, high society tradition versus more modern progressive approaches to life.
The cast is enormous, and I’ll get to that in a second. But the show mainly focuses on the Van Rhijn sisters, who are old money, and the Russells who have built their enormous McMansion across the street. They’re the new money. And it’s about the conflict between these two families. That’s what the show is mainly about.
And I want to discuss the stars of the show, frankly, in my opinion, are the sisters Agnes and Ada, played by Christine Baranski and Cynthia Nixon. And if there was ever any doubt, this shows cements the fact that it’s Christine Baranski’s world and we are just living in it. Her character, Agnes, is so rigid and strict, but so very funny at the same time. And the way she and Cynthia Nixon play off one another, it’s just a dream. They are both utterly amazing.
Jeff: Some of the looks that Cynthia throws at Christine when she doesn’t agree, but she’s going to keep her mouth shut because she knows it’s for the best, so good. Cynthia Nixon could win an Emmy just for the looks that she throws. But I have to say that Christine, too…it’s such a nuanced character.
She’s rigid and she’s strict, but those moments of kindness that happen, periodically, and they do show up and they’re very well placed, it’s like there is a warm beating heart underneath all of the armor and such that she’s got. It’s so just beautifully nuanced.
Will: Across the street from them are George and Bertha. He is literally a railroad tycoon with more money than God, and she is a social climber who will do anything to crawl her way to the top of New York Society. And the thing is that she is no dummy. She coldly calculates every single move her family makes to attain her goal.
It’s super intense, and it’s fascinating to watch. Of interest to listeners of this show is Agnes’ gay son Oscar played by Blake Ritson. He lives his high society life on the down-low with his long-term boyfriend, John, played by Claybourne Elder. And Oscar spends most of the season trying to land a rich, socialite wife so that he can live in the style to which he has become accustomed.
John isn’t so keen on the plan, and just wants a quiet, simple life with the man he loves. The two of them don’t have a ton of screen time in the nine episodes of season one, but they do have distinct parts to play in the interweaving storylines of all the characters. And speaking of characters, there’s an interesting upstairs-downstairs quality to “The Gilded Age”.
The show really enjoys juxtaposing the lives of the haves and the have-nots, which brings us to one of the other things that makes this show so special. If there’s a character with more than one line, the part is likely played by a Broadway luminary. The show shoots in New York, and they filled the cast out with the absolute best.
Every single episode, it’s like a treasure hunt for theater fans seeing if you can recognize your Broadway favorites. Seriously, there are just too many of them to mention. I’ll just say everyone on the show, whether their part is large or small, they are completely amazing. And one of the reasons I think “Bridgerton” fans might be into this show is that like “Bridgerton,” the historical setting is lush and ornate, and “The Gilded Age” certainly, spares no expense in showing off the luxurious details of what wealth and privilege was like at that point in New York City history.
And like “Bridgerton,” the story focuses on complex, female characters and how each of them operates within the restrictive social structures of those times. I think the show balances the grandeur of the setting with the intimate emotional stories of the characters. I really loved every second of it. I am super happy that there is going to be a season two.
Jeff: Me too. I loved everything about this show. We kept looking at it as it was unrolling week to week. It’s, like, “We should watch that, we should watch that, we should watch that.” And I’m kind of glad we waited to be able to binge it at the end and watch just all nine as one big chunk.
Will: HBO made you wait a week between each episode, and it’s like, that’s crazy. Why would you do that? That’s impossible. I want it, I need it all at once.
Jeff: You mentioned how it looks at women and how they operate within the structure of the times. It also looks at race. One of the key characters is a woman of color and how she navigates, not only being a secretary to one of the sisters, but also how she operates in that house on the Upper East Side versus when she goes home to Brooklyn, and some of the social gaffes that one of her white friends makes.
It’s really interesting because unlike “Bridgerton” that has its mixed-race cast, where they don’t discuss race at all, really, there’s the class structure, but it’s not about race in “Bridgerton.” In “The Gilded Age,” it’s very much, you know, how white society and black society coexist in New York and what that means. And it’s interesting to see those things played out, too, in a very smart way.
In terms of the Broadway thing, it is so packed. But I was really annoyed that they put Audra McDonald in front of a piano and did not have her sing something, come on. She was playing the piano, she could have been singing a little bit, too. Really looking forward to season two. We already know that Laura Benanti and Robert Sean Leonard are coming to the cast, so two more Broadway luminaries coming along there.
It was so good. And even though, like you said, it’s not romance forward, there are romance threads running around in it, and really eager to see where things go in season two because that first season was so good. So if you haven’t checked out “The Gilded Age” yet, it is on HBO Max. All right, so that’s a little catch-up on TV.
May Book Preview
Jeff: Jeff: Let’s talk about the awesome books that are coming in May.
Will: Before we begin, I wanna make sure that you understand that this is just a small selection of all of the books that are going to be available next month.
Jeff: I swear every month, the number of titles that are available in this genre just grows.
Will: The number of amazing titles.
Jeff: Yeah. Will makes a big list every month and the number of things on that list that we choose to winnow down to talk about this here, it just grows and grows, and grows. It’s more than a page long these days. It’s really awesome that so many great books are coming out.
Will: Let’s kick things off with the newest mystery title from Michael Craft called “Desert Getaway”. Dante is working as a concierge for a vacation rental outfit in Palm Springs. But when he finds a dead body floating in the swimming pool, his own troubled past comes back to haunt him. He turns for help to Jazz, former cop, now struggling PI. They need each other to solve this murder and to save themselves from personal and professional disaster.
Jeff: Nothing worse than finding a dead body just to wreck your entire day, right?
Will: Oh, it sucks.
Jeff: And then it dredges up stuff from your past, too. I mean, come on. Yeah, this looks like it’s gonna be a very interesting and fun series, and seeing how Dante and Jazz get along with each other. Excited to have this book on my TBR, and, of course, it’s one of the things we talked to Michael about in Big Gay Fiction Fest.
Will: Also coming out on May 2nd is “The Reluctant Companion,” the new fantasy title from H.L. Day. If Jack is to find his missing sister, and Sebastian is to rescue his captured prince, they’ll need to set their differences aside and work as a team. As the unlikely companions face all manner of dangers, they grow closer, rescuing him from an impenetrable tower guarded by dragon-shifting knights. Well, that part is harder. But once the adventure is over, letting Sebastian go might be the hardest thing Jack has ever had to do.
Jeff: I love that they both have a mission here because usually, you know, you might go on a quest with somebody because, like, “Please come help me do this thing,” but here they both have their thing that they need to do, and that I feel like is just gonna draw them even closer together as they kind of get through it. And, you know, when it’s all done, it’s, like, “I still really like you, let’s do a thing together.” Fantasy is not usually my thing, but also the cover of this book was really striking, so…
Will: Yeah, the cover kind of caught my attention, too. It’s sort of a mash-up between bodice ripper and fantasy via Frank Frazetta, it’s kinda spectacular.
Jeff: Yeah. It’s really awesome. It would make a great poster for the wall, too. So I may have to give this one a go, pick up a little something different to get my summer reading kick-started perhaps.
Will: Next on our list is a title by Timothy Janovsky, “Never Been Kissed.” That’s coming out on May 3rd. Feeling nostalgic on the eve of his birthday, Wren sends emails to all the boys he loved before he came out. Enter Derick, Wren’s number one pre-coming-out-crush and his drive-in theater’s new social media intern.
As their hazy summer becomes consumed with a special project that just might save the struggling drive-in for good, Wren and Derick are drawn ever closer, making Wren’s dream of a cinematically perfect kiss before the end credits a very real possibility.
Jeff: Is it terrible the first thing that drew me in for this blurb was the fact that it was happening at the drive-in?
Will: I know. There’s something kind of, it’s romantic and nostalgic, it’s about drive-ins, maybe because I haven’t been to one in 40 years.
Jeff: Forty years probably. Easily for me, because the last drive-in I was at, we were still living in Michigan. So it’s pre me turning 10. But also, we saw that documentary last year about, you know, the drive-in that was trying to survive somewhere in the Midwest, and so all this nostalgia kind of thing.
But then there’s some workplace stuff going on there. There’s, you know, somebody from the past, so maybe a little second chance thrown in. I’m really enchanted by this entire blurb. And why do I feel like this is gonna be one of those, it’s, like, “Which of us gets to it first?”
Will: I know. I’ll race you. “Never Been Kissed” comes out on May 3rd.
And a few days later on the 5th is the new title from Charlie Novak, “Oh So Oscar.” Oscar has accidentally managed to convince his boss, the legendary editor of “The Traveller,” that he has a boyfriend.
Now, he must persuade photographer and casual acquaintance Ilias to play along for a week-long couple’s retreat. Under the Hawaiian sun, Oscar discovered there’s more to Ilias than meets the eye. But before Ilias will risk his heart, Oscar will have to find a way to open it.
Jeff: Well, how many of our favorite things got ticked there? Got a little fake dating.
Will: All of them. Yeah, I love everything about that.
Jeff: Off to Hawaii. So you just know that Charlie is gonna give us a lot of really excellent vacationy descriptions there. Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff going on there that makes it perfect for that, you know, late spring, early summer kind of read. And why don’t I work for someplace where I get to go to Hawaii to do stuff? Something needs to be fixed about that.
Will: If you prefer something a little less tropical, there’s the new sports romance from Beth Bolden “Playing for Keeps.” That’s releasing on May 11th. Sebastian isn’t ready to acknowledge that he’s in the twilight of his NFL career. So he signs with the Miami Piranhas intending to prove everyone wrong.
Beau, the head coach’s out and proud son isn’t interested in playing it safe with football or with anything else, and soon they’re embroiled in a hot and secret affair. As Seb falls harder for Beau, he begins to realize that the worst thing in the world isn’t getting benched but possibly losing the man he loves.
Jeff: Sports, age gap, workplace.
Will: Forbidden love.
Will: Oh, my God, I’m dying.
Jeff: Oh, Beth has such amazing plans for the Miami Piranhas series. I’m really looking forward to these books coming out. They sound like they’re gonna be so, so good.
Will: We have another forbidden age-gap romance coming out the very next day on May 12th, “Not Allowed” by Kate Hawthorne. With only two months until his first semester of college, Wyatt has a list of things he wants to experience.
He doesn’t know where to start until he finds himself along with the one man he shouldn’t want. Grant knows better than to get involved with his best friend’s son, but Wyatt approaches him with a list and a proposition that he can’t turn down. One thing is for certain, it’s going to be a summer neither of them will ever forget.
Jeff: Yes, indeed, more age gap, more forbidden romance, and this cover, oh, my God. The younger man kind of pinning the older guy against the wall. He’d kind of got him lifted up a little bit, and they’re both looking at the camera like they’ve just been caught, which in my mind means that they’ve been caught by the dad/friend. This is the beginning of a trilogy. I can’t wait for these books. I think they’re just gonna be…I’ve said this a lot, they’re gonna be so good, and I want them all.
Will: Yeah, the story sounds incredible and, like you said, the cover is really hot.
Jeff: It’s hot. And what makes it even hotter is that, “Oh, we’ve been caught,” look that the photographer just captured so perfectly.
Will: Incidentally, the two cover models Eric and Cayman are real-life husbands.
Jeff: Oh, that’s even more adorable.
Will: If you want to get a gander at Kate Hawthorne’s characters, “Not Allowed” releases on May 12th.
Next up is “The Servant and the Gentleman,” the new historical by Annabelle Greene coming out on May 17th. As the administrator for the Society of Beasts, Josiah is responsible for the club’s well-being.
When a threat emerges from an unexpected quarter, Josiah must deal with it. He needs Hartley’s prestige to help them save the society. Together, they’ll pose as a couple to infiltrate a rival club. The relationship might be a sham, but the desire between them is all too real. Stuck in close quarters with everything they love on the line, they discover that everything might just include each other.
Jeff: Another perfect example of so many tropes colliding. You’ve got a little class difference there between the prestige of the one guy and, you know, the other gentleman who’s just working for the club. I know it’s only gentleman clubs, but I went immediately for, like, industrial espionage.
That might be a little too much for what’s happening here, but, you know, dealing with whatever is going on with the rival club thing. I’ve been wanting to pick up this historical set for a while from Annabelle, and of course, this third book in this series just kind of draws me to just pick them up and move them much higher up in my TBR.
Will: “The Servant and the Gentleman” comes out on May 17th.
And the very next day, on the 18th, we’ve got “The Animosity Equation” from J.R. Gray.
Jeff: That’s the best title ever. I don’t know why, but something about animosity and the equation, I don’t know, it immediately intrigues me from title alone.
Will: It’s a case of collegiate enemies to lovers when a closeted redneck who’s more comfortable on a horse and in a pair of boots than trying to figure out this Ivy League stuff is forced to room with an insufferably flirty, elite swimmer, blonde sex god. Forced proximity never felt so right in the latest entry of the love equation series.
Jeff: I do love my collegiate romances, and this one with that kind of redneck in an Ivy League setting, that kind of opposites thing, it just has so many, like, “Please read me, please read me,” written all over it.
Will: If you’re craving something a little more mysterious, I might suggest “Kiss Marry Kill” by S.C. Wynne coming out on May 30th. Someone has begun to reveal his true motives for being in Rainy Dale, and it’s not good news for Dr. Maxwell. If he’s going to go to war, he’ll need people on his side.
In his quest to be more of a people person, he’s roped into attending the wedding of one of his young patients. Everything about the wedding seems so very, very perfect until the groom’s dead ex-wife makes an appearance, in this, the latest and the continuing “Dr. Maxwell Thornton Murder Mysteries.”
Jeff: I immediately thought of all the dynasty twists that they’re never dead. It’s like, the dead ex-wife or the dead somebody shows up and wreaks havoc. I mean, how can that not make for a good story? Because it’s just got some soapy-tropey goodness written all over it. So. yeah, that sounds like a very excellent entry in that series.
Will: And rounding out some of the titles that are releasing at the very end of the month is “Eight Weeks in Paris” by S.R. Lane. In this one, Nicholas’ personal life is constantly in a shambles, but he’ll always have his career, and his next role is going to be his legacy.
Chris is out, gorgeous, and has more ad campaigns to his name than one can count. Eight weeks of filming bring Nicholas and Chris closer than the producers ever dared to dream. Chemistry, so very much not a problem. But as the movie wraps and real-life comes calling, they’ll have to rewrite the ending of another love story, their own.
Jeff: At the very end of the idea of the Hollywood romances of late, titles by, like, Ariella Zoelle and Jeris Jean. So just add this one to the Hollywood romances that I want to read. It’s such a good place to mind, like, differences between actors who are working on their legacy and maybe somebody new who’s coming into the movies, or all the twists and turns you can have while shooting a movie and being close together. I love the whole thing of how movie-making can play into the romances, and so this one is right in line with what I’ve been reading.
Will: “Eight Weeks in Paris” comes out on the 31st.
And also coming out at the end of the month is “The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle” by Matt Cain. After being forced into retirement by the Royal Mail, 65-year-old Albert forms a brave plan to truly start living.
He’ll find George, the man with whom he spent one perfect summer so long ago. As he begins to search, something extraordinary happens. Albert finds unlikely allies, new friends, and the courage to help others even as he seeks the happiness he’s always denied himself, proving it’s never too late to live, to hope, and to love.
So the last line of that description was actually pulled directly from the blurb and, lord knows, I love cheese, but even for me that’s a little too live, laugh, love. The reason that I’m talking about “The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle” is that even though it is probably not as romance forward as the stories we usually cover, a phrase that we’ve already used in this episode, what I think sounds so special about this one is that you’ve got an older main character, and it’s about the community that he surrounds himself with. And I just think that sounds lovely, and I cannot wait to read it.
Jeff: Yeah, I’m right there with you. I love that this character is 65, and we get to see life from a character of that age. One of our book club selections within N.R. Walker’s “Throwing Hearts” had that wonderful be romance happening between two older characters, and it was such a delight to read.
Lucy Lennox has given us some older characters that we get to see with Doc and Grandpa from “Forever Wilde.” We need more of that because people who are seniors deserve to see, you know, happily ever afters for them as well. And so, like you said, the romance content may not be as forward here as some of the other books, but I think it’s really wonderful to read stories with characters who are in that age group.
Will: And lastly, to wrap up our list of titles that we’re looking forward to in the month of May, I want to talk about “Renovated to Death” by Frank Anthony Polito, his kickoff to a brand new mystery series releasing on May 31st. After a successful first season of domestic partners, Peter and JP are taking on a renovation of a local Tudor Revival inherited by identical twin brothers, Terry and Tom.
But as the show is set to start filming, Peter and JP discover a body. Could the killer be the crabby next-door-neighbor, the realtor ex-boyfriend, the bartender ex-boyfriend, or even the renovation-reluctant brother, Terry? Peter’s mystery writer skills and JP’s experience as the former star of a cop show will be put to the test. With a killer on the loose, this is one fixer upper that may prove to be deadly.
Jeff: Like we’ve mentioned before, there’s nothing like a dead body to ruin your day. And of course, the whole, “I’m not a cop but I played one on TV.” We watch a good amount of HGTV, and so I see this, and I’m just, like, “How would Nate and Jeremiah deal with a dead body? Or how would Keith and Evan deal with a dead body?”
Will: Oh, my God, that’d be so funny. Yeah, I know, this one sounds just too good to be true. I cannot wait to see how Peter and JP deal with this particular situation.
Jeff: Yeah, me too.
Book Review: The Long Game by Rachel Reid
Jeff: So that’s the preview for May. I want to talk about a book I’ve read recently, and it’s a book I’ve been waiting for for months, and it finally arrived at the end of April. It’s not a surprise to anybody who’s listened to the show that I love hockey romances.
And I became such a fast fan of Rachel Reid the “Game Changers” series. Her combination of incredible characters finding their way to their happy, while also infusing the stories with some great looks at the game and the business of hockey really won my heart.
While I love each of the five couples that she’s featured, none got my heart quite like pro hockey players and rivals on the ice, Shane Hollander and Ilya Rozanov. In “Heated Rivalry,” which is book two in the series, we saw the meanest teams and followed them as the NHL set them up as rivals.
All the while they turned enemies with benefits into a full-blown relationship. Now, before I go on, if you haven’t read “Heated Rivalry,” or the books that have come after it, and for that matter, if you haven’t read “The Long Game” yet, you might actually wanna jump forward about five minutes because there are going to be spoilers while I talk about what I absolutely love about what Rachel’s done with Shane and Ilya’s romance.
Okay, you’re ready? Here we go. You’ve been warned. So at the end of “Heated Rivalry,” we left Shane and Ilya knowing that they were boyfriends and knowing that they were gonna have to keep their relationship a secret. After all, what would it look like for the NHL’s two biggest rivals to have been in a secret relationship for years?
It didn’t matter that the league had at least one other out player, as we saw in the first book of the series. You could call what they had an HFN or if you had faith in Shane and Ilya like I did, an HEA. Now, of course, we got to see Shane and Ilya in books three, four, and five in the series as well, catching little glimpses of them through interactions with the main characters that were in each of those books.
And in “Role Model,” which is book five, we got even more because that book was focused in Ottawa, where Ilya is the team captain. So we got even more of a window into what’s up with him, and his interactions that were happening with Shane along the way. Now, here’s one of the many things that’s awesome about “The Long Game,” which brings Shane and Ilya back to the forefront, it starts not from where “Role Model” ended, but we go further back in time.
We see Shane and Ilya from their point of view, re-living some of the scenes from the previous books and expanding on what they were doing during the time of those previous books. I thought this was just really brilliant, giving us that point of view.
Because there were, in particular, events from “Role Model,” especially the aftermath of the issues that the Ottawa team had on their flight to Florida, where they almost crashed, that I so badly wanted to see how Shane and Ilya were dealing with that. And to see that come full circle in this book was so absolutely wonderful. Now, Shane and Ilya love each other and hockey so, so much. And there’s the problem.
With Shane in Toronto, and Ilya in Ottawa, they’re relatively close to each other, but during the season, they can end up going days and even weeks without seeing each other. Life’s not any easier since there’s only a handful of people that know about their relationship, and most of those happen to be Shane’s friends and Shane’s family. It leaves Ilya without much of a support system.
It’s really heartbreaking how much they want to share their relationship with everyone, and the stress that it puts them under, and how much it really causes them to second guess everything. Yes, they see each other in the summers and, you know, whenever possible during the season. But when you can’t tell anyone else or share how much you miss your man, it’s not good for you, it’s not good for your boyfriend, or even those around you.
Ilya, in particular, struggles. Rachel did an amazing job writing about his mental health. We know from “Heated Rivalry” that Ilya’s mom suffered from depression, and he’s worried that he may have depression as bad as she did. It’s a bit of a walking-on-eggshells topic for Shane and Ilya as Shane tries to gently ask if Ilya is doing okay while Ilya can’t decide if he should tell Shane that he’s actually seeing a therapist.
I have to say that one of the most heartwarming, and yet kind of sad moments, at the same time, comes towards the end of the book when Ilya tells Shane that he is not okay, and he’s not sure that he really can be. It takes such trust and love to share that with anyone, and Rachel writes these scenes with the tenderness and care that they deserve. Of course, Shane assures Ilya that he’s got him, and that he’ll do whatever is necessary for Ilya’s mental health. The NHL in Rachel’s books is not a great organization.
As we saw in “Role Model,” the league didn’t deal with the sexual assault situation very well. And here the league commissioner is less than welcoming to Shane and Ilya as a couple once they are both accidentally outed, which I have to say is a scene that was both an, “Oh, shit, that happened moment,” while also being kind of hilariously funny at the same time.
Shane, despite his misgivings about going against the league, had had enough. And the showdown between the commissioner and Shane and Ilya was such a triumph. I might have actually cheered out loud as they left the commissioner’s office seeing them sure in themselves, even if their careers might have been over. I have to say that the ending was crazy satisfying, because of course, there was a wedding.
And Shane and Ilya finally ended up on the same team in Ottawa. Here’s one of my all-time favorite couples, getting one of the best HEAs ever. I mean, like I said, I was happy with where they ended up in “Heated Rivalry,” but this just blew the doors off of everything.
It was hard fought for them through the years of keeping secrets and the stress that that can bring, which does reach a boiling point in this book. But Rachel pulled off something I can’t recall seeing in romance before. And that’s a story that starts in one book, bubbles along in a few more, and really returns for an incredible finale.
I don’t think I have the words to explain how ultimately satisfied I was with this book. As we saw these two so, so in love with each other, but navigating the reality to the career and what the long-distance relationship and secrets were doing to them. And for it to all finally come out was so cathartic. It was just an incredible finale.
Gotta give props to narrator Cooper North as well. All of Shane and Ilya’s emotions come through his voice so well. Cooper’s performance here is really firing on all cylinders, and I loved it so, so much. So just in case you didn’t notice, I really highly recommend “The Long Game” by Rachel Reid, but I do think you need to read at least from “Heated Rivalry” through the other books to really come to this one and get the full impact of it.
But it’s really just phenomenal in every single way. As we’re recording this, the paperback has shown up today, so I can park it on my shelf. I’m so happy it’s in paperback and really excited that Karina is releasing the entire series in paperback starting a little later this year. Because every one of these is gonna sit on my shelf of all-time favorite hockey books. So good. I’ll stop gushing now, so that we can actually wrap up this episode.
Will: Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read our conversation and reviews for yourself, head on over to the show notes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com. The show notes page also has links to all of the books that we talked about in this episode.
And if you’d like to keep up to date with the show and recent releases in our genre, check out the rainbow romance reader report, the weekly dispatch that delivers the latest news right into your inbox every Friday. Go to biggayfictionpodcast.com/report for more info.
Jeff: The report is a great way to keep up with additional new releases because as we noted here, there’s a giant list of great books that come out each and every month. And we’ll be mentioning in the report some of the ones that we can’t mention in these preview episodes.
Will: All right, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up on Thursday in episode 376, we’re gonna take a look at more upcoming books, this time in the YA genre.
Jeff: That’s right. There are so many great YA books coming in May. We’ve decided to give them a whole separate episode. Plus, I’ll be reviewing a couple of YA books that I’ve read recently, and we will be talking about the show that everybody else is talking about, Netflix’s “Heartstopper.” If you haven’t watched that yet, you really need to. We’ll talk more about that on Thursday.
Will: On behalf of Jeff and myself, we wanna thank you so much for listening. And we hope that you’ll join us again soon for more discussions about the kind of stories 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.