Jeff & Will are back from hiatus and have TV, movie and book recommendations. They kick off discussing streaming shows Welcome to Wrexham, What We Do in the Shadows, High Heat, and the new all-queer, big studio rom-com Bros.
In books they review The Rivals of Casper Road by Roan Parrish, Self-Made Boys by Anna-Marie McLemore, This Is Why They Hate Us by Aaron H. Aceves, Pitcher Perfect by Lee Blair, and Husband Material by Alexis Hall.
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.
- TV & Movie Recommendations
- Welcome to Wrexham on Hulu
- What We Do in the Shadows on Hulu
- The Office on Peacock
- Parks and Recreation on Peacock
- Our Flag Means Death on HBO Max
- High Heat on Netflix
- Bros website
- Spoiler Alert website
- Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Other Four-Letter Words by Michael Ausiello
- Book Reviews
- 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.
Will: Coming up on this episode, we’re going to tell you all about what we’ve read and watched while we were on hiatus.
Jeff: Welcome to episode 398 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of queer romance fiction. I’m Jeff, and with me, as always, is my co-host and husband Will.
Will: Hello, rainbow romance reader, we are so glad that you could join us for another episode of the show.
Jeff: As always, the podcast is brought to you in part by our remarkable community on Patreon. Thanks to Lulian for recently joining the community. If you’d like more information about what we offer to patrons, go to patreon.com/BigGayFictionPodcast.
We hope everybody had a great September. Thanks so much for being back here as we returned from our month away. How are you feeling about being back?
Will: That’s a good question. Overall, this has been a very weird year for me. I felt like this past summer lasted an eternity. I didn’t think we would ever get through it. But then September seemed to go by it in a flash. I don’t know. I guess I’m just looking forward to finally reaching the last part of the year and enjoying all of the great holiday stuff that October, November, and December have to offer.
Jeff: Yeah, there’s something about holiday magic that can make a lot of things be a lot better, at least for us.
Jeff: And I’m happy we’re back to talk about some books cause my goodness, have there been some good books, some good things on TV. So, very happy about that.
And before we talk about books, let’s get into some of the things that we’ve watched cause the number of things at the movies and to watch on TV has been absolutely outstanding. Although I think we wandered into some things that probably some people have known about for a while, but some good stuff. You wanna get us going on that?
TV & Movie Reviews
Welcome to Wrexham
Will: Yeah. Quickly I wanna mention that we started watching a show “Welcome to Wrexham.” It’s currently airing on FX and Hulu. It’s basically a docu-series about Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney who bought a football club over in England.
Jeff: As one does. Why not?
Will: Football as in soccer. Now what do I know about soccer, other than getting the ball in the net? Absolutely nothing.
Jeff: Mm-hmm. Me too.
Will: And would I normally care? Well, no, not necessarily. But I think what this show does is make the story of this particular struggling team really compelling and really informative without it coming across as some, you know, dull, boring sports lecture.
We get into the history of the town of Wrexham, the history of this particular team, why it’s been doing so badly in the last couple of years, and Rob and Ryan’s plan to get them to move up to the next league. It’s all really interesting and really compelling and I’m glad we gave this sports show a try.
Jeff: I have really enjoyed it. Like you, I’m like soccer. Okay. Hmm. This show is so compelling, and it’s been hard not to spoil cause the show in this past week has just crossed… they’re actually showing us stuff that happened back in January of this year. It’s really hard not to go to Google, go “How did Wrexham do? Did they achieve their goals?” to let the show play out. But yeah, it’s been bizarrely good and compelling television.
What We Do in the Shadows
Will: And because, you know, tis the season for all things spooky, Jeff and I finally took the plunge and started watching “What We Do in the Shadows.” We binged all four seasons in rapid succession because this show is so wonderful and ridiculous.
If you, unlike us, had been paying attention to this show for the last four years, it’s about a group of vampire roommates and the documentary crew that kind of follows them as they move about their daily lives. It’s so absurd and very charming. Very similar in the way that other workplace mockumentary shows like “The Office” or “Parks and Rec” did. In this particular case “What We Do in the Shadows” has a very specific gothic vibe, and it goes to prove that even though you may have been undead for several hundred years, that doesn’t exactly make you smart.
Jeff: That’s a brilliant way to put it. This show is based on a film of the same name, which we have also watched. And it was cool to see how the film connects to the series cause it’s a different set of characters, though we do get some crossover later in the seasons. It’s from the creators of “Our Flag Means Death” and this is the show that preceded that one, and you could see the same kind of comic vibe and storytelling in it.
But this group of kooky vampires, I swear. I just love how the story has evolved. They keep tweaking the format a little bit and tweaking what they can do with the show. It’s been so brilliant. I can’t wait for season five to come along, probably next summer.
Will: “Welcome to Wrexham” and “What We Do in the Shadows” both air on FX and are available to watch right now on Hulu.
Will: Another great show available on a streaming platform, in this particular case, Netflix, Jeff and I binged watched “High Heat.” And I’ve got four words for you: sexy, Mexican, firefighter, melodrama. And then if those four words don’t immediately sell you, just skip ahead a couple more minutes cause we’ve gotta talk about this.
We could just make this easy on ourselves and just say, you know, “Trust us. Go watch it. Sexy firefighters. That’s all you really need to know.”
Jeff: I’ve learned long ago to just trust what Will puts in front of me because 99% of the time it’s gonna be freaking brilliant.
Will: But for those of you listening, who would like to know a little bit more, the show is an ensemble, so there are lots of stories to tell, but the main focus is on Poncho. And when his brother dies under mysterious circumstances, he joins the local firefighter crew to find out what happened.
Oh, and also he may also be the son of an infamous serial killer.
The show is crazy. It’s outrageous. Essentially, you name it, and this show has got it. For listeners of this show, it’s worth mentioning that one of the characters is Fabio and he lives just down the street from the firehouse with his mom who runs a boarding house. And he’s cute. And he’s sweet and he loves to knit. And he also happens to love one of the firefighters. And over the course of the show, he and the man he loves, they go through it.
Will: But they make it out the other side for a happily ever after. I think that’s, you know, very important is that all the characters experience a whole lot of stuff, but each of them eventually make it to their happily ever after at the end.
One of the irresistibly sexy firefighters on the crew with Poncho is Julian. And he is played by Polo Morín, who just happens to be one of the few openly gay actors currently working in Mexico. And on first’s glance, Julian is just a pretty, incredibly ripped, himbo. But like many of the other characters, as we progress through the series, we realize that he is dealing with some really dark stuff and he’s really gotta go through it in order to reach the other side.
Overall, I think “High Heat” is really sexy, but also really compelling. No matter how outrageous the story gets, all of the performances are genuinely sincere, and they really make you care about what happens to these people.
I think once you’ve watched the first episode, you’re going to know whether this is for you or not. For Jeff and me, it was essentially, it’s like crack. One other thing this show does really, really well is like hooks and cliff hangers. Because yeah, once you get through one episode, you are not pausing. You are moving directly into the next episode.
Jeff: Yeah. They do a great job with that. It’s like we’re watching, okay, it’s time to go to bed, but, but that just happened. We can’t stop now. I really like this show. I’m always a little hesitant on some shows that have such a grand plan for themselves. You know, can they come in and stick the ending? And this show, 40 something episodes stuck the ending.
The through line of the whole thing is dealing with that aforementioned serial killer and what’s gone on with him, his 25-year history terrorizing this area. But around that, the show spans months of everybody’s lives and the fact that the creators could tie it all together and bring it all through to the last episode, give everybody a happy ending who deserved one. It was just wonderful. And yeah, it’s sexy and it’s interesting storytelling, but a little over the top storytelling at the same time. I just loved it.
Will: “High Heat” is currently streaming on Netflix. You can give it a look over there.
Will: And lastly, we wanna mention this last weekend was finally the big weekend. “Bros,” the rom-com that everyone has been waiting for has finally hit theaters. Jeff and I, of course, went and saw it.
Jeff: I can’t remember the last movie we saw on opening day. We were at the first show on Friday at our theater, ready to go.
Will: And our quick and dirty review is that we loved it.
It’s about two guys, Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane, who meet and then do the very modern dance of I like you, but do I like you enough to be in a relationship with you? It’s a really fun, very modern take on classic rom-com tropes. It’s very romantic, and because Billy Eichner also wrote it, it’s very opinionated and profane, wickedly funny. And I liked it because it manages to maintain its very specific and political queer viewpoint, while also giving us all the classic romcom tropes that we know and love.
Jeff: You’re so right about that. I don’t know how much Billy Eichner watched rom-coms and romance before he worked on this script, but you could tell that he did his homework. My little romance heart was so happy with Luke Macfarlane’s character announced what his big want was and what it needed to be, which I won’t spoil here cause it just made me go, “Oh my God, do you want do that?” Cause he’s an attorney so you know that there’s probably another want happening in there for him somewhere cause nobody necessarily wants to go to work to deal with people’s wills.
I love that it had its very strong queer viewpoint. Billy Eichner’s character is trying to open an LGBTQ history museum in Manhattan, and it gives him an opportunity within that role and just, you know, what he’s trying to do in his work to make some commentary about queer life. And it is so perfect to me.
I will say that my favorite part of the film, which there’s no unfavorite part of the film really, but probably my most favorite part, Billy and Luke end up in Provincetown where Billy is having to do some fundraising for the museum. But they have this very quiet moment, on a beach, and they end up talking a lot here. And for Billy, he’s explaining where his confidence has come from over the years, some of which is things that he had to form after so many teachers and mentors told him how he needed to behave to get through in this world, and he just eventually wasn’t having it. But that whole, essentially a monologue in that moment, was so heartfelt and so meaningful, and something that I think so many people go through as people try to tell you how to be. I loved it. It made me emotional. Oh, it was so perfect.
And the end of this movie is everything you’d ever want in a rom-com for a big, awesome grand gesture thing. Oh, just loved it so much.
Can we go back and see it again? Do we have to wait for streaming or something? At least it will be on Peacock because it’s a Universal movie.
Will: Let me consult my magic eight ball. Yes, chances are very good we will be going to see it one more time in the theater.
Jeff: And there was something to look forward to, and I don’t have the name of it in front of me. Maybe you remember it. But there’s a Jim Parsons gay movie coming out for Christmas. It looks a little darker perhaps, but also romantic.
Will: It’s called “Spoiler Alert.” It’s based on a memoir the full title of which is “Spoiler Alert: He Dies at the End.”
Jeff: Well, there you go. So that’s a little of what that movie will be about, but the trailer looked really, really good. But “Bros.” Go see it, folks. Go see it. If you’re in the U.S. it’s in theaters right now. I don’t know what its release pattern is like in the rest of the world, but when it gets to your area, go see it. We need to support this movie in the theaters so we can have more like it cause this one just really set the bar high.
Will: So that’s some of what we’ve been watching recently. Let’s switch over and talk about some of the books that we’ve been reading recently.
The Rivals of Casper Road by Roan Parrish
Jeff: And we actually have a couple to talk about that we’ve read together, at the same time, which just doesn’t happen that much. We’re gonna talk about the newest book first. It’s the fourth in Roan Parish’s “Garnet Run” series, and it is tailor made for this time of year. Tell us all about “The Rivals of Casper Road.”
Will: Bram is new to Garnet Run, and he quickly realizes that his neighbors on Casper Road take Halloween very seriously, especially Zachary, who is the, um, let’s just, we’ll call him fastidious. How’s that?
Jeff: That’s a good word.
Will: I think that’s probably the closest word I can come up with. He’s the architect and horror fan who lives across the street. Bram’s fondness for whittling includes occasional chainsaw carving, as you do. When he creates a life-size vampire out of an old tree stump and Zachary sees it, he makes sure that Bram knows there’s only one reigning champ of the Casper Road Halloween decorating contest, and Zachary is that guy. And this good-natured declaration of war ignites Bram’s competitive streak, so now he’s all in.
Jeff: They’re so cute. Even while they’re being rivals, they’re so cute.
Will: He creates an enormous dragon in his front yard, which Zachary douses in yellow paint. So, if it’s a prank war that he wants, Bram is more than happy to oblige.
Jeff: I really love when the paint gets thrown because Zachary is so angry for a minute. And then he is like, oh. And then I think it’s just cute that Bram thinks, ooh, prank war. Let’s go.
Will: Well, you’re right, it’s really adorable. And it highlights the dynamic between these two. Zachary is so upset when he sees the dragon and even the mere possibility that someone else could actually outdo him. It’s so incomprehensible that he sees red for a moment, and without thinking he grabs the nearest thing, which happens to be some yellow paint, and he tosses it on the elaborate carving that Bram has done. And immediately he’s like, oh my God, oh my God, what did I just do? He panics cause it was so out of character for him.
But Bram being the lovable little mush ball he is, he can’t even actually comprehend of someone being so outwardly mean. So obviously he goes to what he thinks is the most viable option, that he’s just, you know, playfully executing a prank war.
So, a couple of gotcha’s later, Bram doesn’t get why Zach is so into horror. I mean it is so scary. Which leads to a conversation between the two of them about the psychology of horror. Maybe they could watch a scary movie together sometime? In another adorable moment, it turns out that even the least scary, scary movie is too much for Bram. So, they just end up cuddling and watching “The Wizard of Oz” instead.
Jeff: Can we just say that I am Bram in so many ways?
Will: It’s so funny, and so true.
Jeff: I mean I’ve gotten a little better lately. Like, you know, I’m able to watch like “Chucky” and things like that, but there are elements of Bram in this story that I’m like mm-hmm, that is exactly what I would do.
Will: When one prank scares the bejesus out of Bram, Zachary takes him to dinner as an apology, and it’s during this date that he reveals some difficult things in his family’s past. And since that topic of conversation proved to be a bit of a downer, they have another friendly date night at the local theatre showing Halloween classics, and that night they’re showing “The Wolfman.”
They end the evening on the back of Bram’s motorcycle, zooming through Garnet Run under the light of the full moon. This ends up getting their romantic engines all revved up. And their first time together is a hot, passionate. A super-sexy grind, which is so hot that they get off without taking off their clothes.
It’s at this point, the prank war has moved beyond their own houses, like changing the cheerfully spooky orange light display on the Purcell’s house to festive red and green.
Bram realizes that he is really starting to fall for detail-oriented Zachary. When they have dinner and paint cat boxes, which is a project for the local cat shelter, they talk about the contrasts in how they grew up, Bram just one of several kids in his loudly boisterous, loving family.
A Halloween hayride, in broad daylight…
Jeff: Oh my gosh…
Will: Leaves Bram so rattled that he’s left clinging to Zachary for comfort, which Zachary does not mind in the least.
Jeff: I do not think that I am that much of a fraidy-cat. I don’t think I would’ve done that, especially in the broad daylight.
Will: It’s so cute. They pick out and carve pumpkins, and since they got pumpkin schmutz all over themselves, they shower together afterwards and then tumble into bed. Zachary’s attention to detail leaves Bram a seriously satisfied, blissed out, power bottom.
Jeff: It’s just amazing in how many ways Zachary can be, you know, so precision oriented. He’s an architect, so of course, he’s got a little bit of a mind towards that, but he is precision in everything, including the bedroom.
Will: Bram has fallen quite hard and suggests that they collaborate on their Halloween decor. Two yards are better that one, I mean, which is totally not a saying, but you get what I mean. To Zachary, winning is everything and coming out on top is fun, but working with Bram is proving to be funner.
When Zach gets a big promotion, which would involve him moving to Denver, he talks it over with his friends Adam and Wes, who force him to realize that, while the promotion is impressive, it’ll mean doing more of everything he currently hates about his job.
Bram and Zachary end up talking, concluding that any firm that doesn’t recognize his unique talents is crap. One of the many things I love so much about this book is its low angst approach to romance.
Will: That sentence that I just mentioned, that was it. That was the black moment. That was the big misunderstanding. There was like a millisecond of Zachary considering leaving. Bram being upset about that. But then they talk about it and realize, nope, not going to do that. We love each other. We’re perfect together.
Jeff: And I love how a lot of it was helping Zachary focus on that that wasn’t the right job for him. I mean, even if Bram wasn’t his boyfriend, or trying to be his boyfriend, the job wasn’t right. And between what Bram said, and what Adam and Wes said, he realized that the promotion wasn’t it. It was just gonna be wrong. He’d have been miserable in Denver. There’s so much more in Garnet Run, especially with Bram.
Will: Mm-hmmm. Definitely.
So, after this mild misunderstanding, they have make-up sex, which is amazing. And on Halloween, as they complete preparations for the big night, Zachary is really excited about all the possibilities that come with his new life with Bram.
Kids, and their families, and all the queer townsfolk come to experience the spooky splendor of Casper Road.
Jeff: We have to give out a shout out to a particular kid, Gus, who we met in “The Lights on Knockbridge Lane.” She takes full advantage of Bram and his scaredy-catness. It’s adorable in a very kid way.
Will: Yeah, there are several fun callbacks to other stories and characters in the “Garnet Run” series, and even some references to characters in the Roan Parrish extended universe, which I thought was very cool.
Jeff: I just love how it just dropped right in there. And we won’t tell you what that is so you too can go, aww.
Will: At the end of the night the winner of the decorating competition is announced, and one of our heroes gets the last laugh in the Casper Road prank war.
Jeff: It was such a perfect cap to the prank war, especially since I thought they were done with the prank war by then. But then it’s like, oh, hi, that’s still going on.
Will: It’s so funny.
Jeff: I have a suspicion in their long-term relationship that the prank war’s not really over.
Will: So, after their joint Halloween triumph, Zachary officially turns down the promotion and he and Bram begin planning their futures together.
The last couple of chapters serve as a super sweet epilogue, the two of them visiting Bram’s big family, and finding a few quiet moments to snuggle as Zachary sketches out their brand new dream house. It’s literally one of the most adorable things I’ve ever read.
Will: Because they’re just laying there and Bram’s like Ooh, ooh, what if we do this? And it’s like, Zachary’s, I gotcha. I can do that. No problem.
Jeff: It’s going to be the coolest house.
Will: I mean, I just can’t even with these two. They are so perfect for each other.
You’ve got Bram. He is this big lumberjack cinnamon roll who only wants the very best for his creative and intense boyfriend.
And while Zachary by his very nature is a very intense person, I think what Roan Parrish does through his, like, you know, inner dialogue and the way he interacts with all the other characters in town. Everything he feels and does, he does it very deeply and wholeheartedly. And we always understand his point of view and where he’s coming from, even though sometimes the things he does and says can come off, may be slightly abrasive. He’s still a good guy at heart.
And while it has never stated explicitly in the text of the book, it’s through the things that Zachary says and does that we have a pretty good idea that he is on the spectrum. And once again, I have to mention how wonderful Roan Parrish is as a writer. The things that Zachary says and does and feels in relation to his autism is never presented as a problem or something that needs to be fixed.
And Bram certainly doesn’t feel that way. He sees Zachary as a full, complete human being and he loves him completely, wholeheartedly, totally as he is.
Jeff: Mm-hmm. Even when they first meet.
Will: Exactly. Yeah.
Jeff: It’s not like, why are you doing this thing? It’s not even brought up. But there are nudges occasionally. Like there’s a… when they go to visit one of their neighbors, he’s like, oh, come on, you could be a few minutes late. It’s okay. We’re just gonna go down there and then we’ll come back. He puts it out there in a way that makes it like, okay, yeah, I can do that. And everything will continue to be okay. And yeah, I’ll be a little late to work or whatever.
And he also immediately realizes situations that might be uncomfortable, and then he just makes himself available to be supportive, especially when Zach meets the significantly large family that Bram has on a Zoom call one day. Can you imagine how many squares were on that window?
Will: Way too many.
Jeff: It was a lot.
And I love what Roan does with all of the secondary characters. Not only is there the town of Garnet Run and we see all the characters, as you mentioned, from the other three books in this series. But just in showing us Bram’s amazing family, showing us Zachary’s less than awesome family. Granted they’ve been through some stuff, but still. Such a rich universe.
I know when we talked to Roan last year, this was likely to be the last of the “Garnet Run” books. Please Roan, take us back to Garnet Run sometime. I love this town so much and the characters that Roan has put in it. And I don’t know if there’s such a kind town anywhere else in romancelandia, cause all these people are good.
And I wanna see the cat boxes again. Those cat boxes. You just said cat boxes as if it was a throwaway thing. These are deluxe, posh, luxury cat boxes they got going on in this town. It’s amazing. As if the cat boxes were the main point of everything, but they’re amazing
So, in case you haven’t figured it out, cause I think we’ve been pretty obvious about it, we both absolutely adored “The Rivals of Casper Road” by Roan Parrish. You should definitely read this as part of your fall, Halloween season reading.
Self-Made Boys by Anna-Marie McLemore
Will: And from Halloween pranks, we’re gonna go back in time just a little bit to the roaring twenties.
Jeff: Yes. We have both read “Self-Made Boys” by Anna-Marie McLemore. This book is a remix or a reimagining of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, “The Great Gatsby.” Now, I don’t know about you, but when I read “The Great Gatsby” back in high school, I was bored by it. It just didn’t click for me, and neither did the 1974 Robert Redford movie, which we watched in class as part of our discussion on that book.
Now, just before I read “Self-Made Boys,” I did watch the Baz Luhrmann directed version from 2013 that started Leonardo DiCaprio, and I quite enjoyed that one. It was a good reminder of “Gatsby” before I dove into this book. Now I’m curious, what’s your relationship with the “Gatsby” material been in your past?
Will: Well, I think it’s worth noting that I grew up here in California. And I don’t care what anybody says, the California educational system is not always top notch, and by the time I had reached high school, most of the teachers I had, had pretty much given up.
Jeff: I shouldn’t laugh. It’s really tragic, but…
Will: It’s, no, it’s the truth. Everyone that I encountered, they were, you know, that burned out teacher cliche. And that was especially true of… I think it’s junior year when we had our American literature section. The teacher I had for that class rather than, you know, go through these “classics,” using air quotes here, rather than him having to read through them yet again, we only read sections of certain books.
Jeff: Oh wow. That’s a little unexpected.
Will: We, we read sections of, you know, “Moby Dick” and “Scarlet Letter” and “The Grapes of Wrath.” “Gatsby” wasn’t on our particular syllabus. But I do remember for some class at some point, just like you, we had to wade through that insanely boring seventies adaptation. I mean, despite the fact that it stars amazing people like Redford and Mia Farrow, it’s just a fucking snooze.
Jeff: It really is.
Will: It’s, oh my God.
So, I didn’t have positive associations with “Gatsby,” which is why when I read this book it completely took my breath away.
Jeff: Yeah, mine too. It was just unbelievable. I’m not gonna rehash the plot of “The Great Gatsby” here since like us, you’ve probably seen a movie or read the book at some point. But let’s talk about how Anna-Marie McLemore elevates this source material and tells a story that can actually resonate really well today.
First off, this book is very queer, which of course is why we read it. Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway are both trans, which as you might guess is part of where the title “Self-Made Boys” comes from. Nick is also Mexican American, as is Daisy. Although Daisy has taken steps, such as lightening her hair, so that she passes for white.
The other characters you’d expect are here too, like Tom as Daisy’s terrible boyfriend. He didn’t get remixed very much in this book. He’s pretty much just as terrible as he always is. And there’s pro golfer Jordan, and, you know, other support characters that you’re used to seeing. Still takes place in the 1920s before the stock market crash. It’s still glitz and glamor and parties, but it has a different tone and feel with Anna-Marie’s telling.
Nick as a narrator is significantly and poignantly different. Coming to New York City as a math genius and taking a job at a stock brokerage firm to use his math skills to help them predict market trends. But he’s here as a trans boy and a brown boy, and he thinks about these at every turn. How do people look at him? How do they interact with him? How does he need to interact with them because of his skin color? And there’s always an undertone of worry that he’s doing something that might give him away. Is his voice pitched wrong? Did he take a misstep in his walk? Things like that.
This change in Nick alone makes this story interesting and thrilling as he moves his way through work interacting with Tom and Daisy, and then befriending, and falling for, Gatsby. This relationship which grows even more as they discover that they are both trans, is so incredible and heartfelt to watch unfold.
Many of the plot points from the original book are present here, but the motivations and outcomes are different. And I don’t want to go into these because it would take away from your thrill of discovery. What I will say on the plot changes is that for the final act of the story, which to me starts from the car chase that goes through the ash heaps after a party, is significantly different.
And here’s a spoiler, and you could jump forward a few seconds if you don’t want to hear me say this.
Okay. You ready? Here it comes: no one dies in the car crash, and this book has a happy ending. Really one I could have never imagined and was so incredibly delighted by.
In the author’s note, Anna-Marie says that they attempted to code and label race, sexual orientation, and gender identity in a way that was meant to fall between historical realism and contemporary consciousness. They did such an amazing job with the history and remaking these characters into ones that are believable in this world, and ones that you root for to be able to live their best and happiest life.
The descriptions in this book are so wonderful. From the environment to the emotions, things as simple as how rain falls or how jewels look, it’s all so exquisite. It really allows the reader to be perfectly submerged in the world these characters are in. And in particular, I have to say, I love Nick’s family. Not a moment that they are not accepting of him. One of the reasons that Nick goes to get this good, well-paying job in the city is to repay them for all their support. And Nick’s father in a letter towards the end of the book writes, “Please don’t treat it as a debt you must pay off. You don’t owe us anything for seeing you as you truly are.” I mean, how many of us might crave that from a parent? I just, I love this book so, so much.
Will: This is the queer diverse “Gatsby” we have always needed, and I really genuinely just loved everything about it. It’s dramatic and thrilling and it’s deeply romantic. I loved all of the new takes on the classic characters, Nick and Gatsby are especially great.
But deep down it also made my little heart, so very, very happy that Jordan could finally be the fully realized, fleshed out, lesbian golfer that she has always been, you know, she’s always supposed to have been like this, so bold and self-assured and glamorous and amazing. Jordan number one fan right here,
Jeff: You would like a book featuring her, I suspect.
Will: Oh God, I would live for that.
Jeff: I don’t think either of us can say enough wonderful things about this book. Regardless of how you feel about the original story, we think you should really read this version. It’s just outstanding and it’s not surprising that it was recently also long listed for the National Book Award. How often do we read National Book Award long list titles on this show?
Will: That would be never.
Jeff: The audio book is also outstanding with narrations by Avi Roque and Kyla Garcia. So yes, please pick up “Self-Made Boys” by Anna-Marie McLemore. You will not regret it.
This Is Why They Hate Us by Aaron H. Aceves
Jeff: And there’s one more young adult book I have to share.
Every now and then there’s a book that I’m blown away by and also not sure how to really talk about. That’s the case with “This Is Why They Hate Us” by Aaron H. Aceves. I could just leave it with a portion of the blurb that’s on the back of the book from Adib Khorram, the author of “Darius the Great Is Not Okay,” who said it’s “achingly, tenderly honest.” And that really sums it up perfectly.
“This Is Why They Hate Us” is the story of Enrique, or Quique to his friends and family. He’s got a summer plan–to get over his crush on Saleem, pursue some guys he’s interested in, and do some self improvement along the way. Aaron gives us such a complex character with Enrique. He’s been in therapy before because he has had thoughts in the past of possibly harming himself, and because he often can end up in a downward spiral thinking about how people think about him–even as he tells himself he knows it’s not true.
The summer is complicated too. He’s not out as bi to anyone except his best friend Fabiola, who is also the only person he’s ever hooked up with. So, while Saleem is his crush, Saleem has no idea, and it’s not even clear to Enrique if there’s any reciprocation at all. And who are the other romantic prospects–well there’s jock Tyler, class president Ziggy, bad boy Manny, and there’s also Arturo who just graduated a year ahead of Enrique, and represents the potential downside of coming out since he was a victim of a gay bashing.
So much happens across this summer. Enrique does hook up several times, which causes an array of reactions as each one isn’t quite what he’s looking for or expects. He watches, and supports, as Fabiola starts her own relationship. In terms of bettering himself, Enrique tries to start up a fitness regime, and also takes to the library to read some classic gay literature, we’re talking about books like “Giovanni’s Room” and “Call Me By Your Name.” One of my favorite, and now marked passages in this book, is as Enrique discusses his analysis of these books with his English teacher. I couldn’t help but nod along as Enrique talked about the everyman, or every gay, character and the better man character and how those archetypes played out across the books… and how Enrique is the every gay in his own story.
This was a page turner for me. I needed to know what Enrique would do, see how he processed what happened to him–and man, like I said, does a lot happen in this summer. There are certain summers that stay with you, and for Enrique I imagine this to be the summer that he looks back on in 20, 30 or 40 years and says damn… that was “the” summer. I also needed to know how the summer concluded for Enrique. This isn’t a romance, so it wasn’t a story that I was necessarily ensured to see a happy ending. I love where the summer ended and school resumed, with Enrique in a good place with himself.
Here’s the thing that makes this book resonate so much for me. While Enrique and me are different in so many ways, not the least of which is the fact that it’s been more than 35 years since I’ve been his age, my teenage and young adult self has never felt more seen by a character in a book. He has some of the very same thoughts I had at that age, over the very same situations and feelings. I think everyone who reads “This Is Why They Hate Us” will find something of themselves in Enrique, no matter their age, background, sexuality, or gender. And I have to imagine that young people who read this will find their everyman–or every gay–in Enrique.
There’s a lot I’m not telling you here because this is a story that you need to experience as I did. I hadn’t read much about this book before going into it, except for being aware of the raves it was getting. Every one of those raves is deserved, and this book definitely has a place as one of my favorite books of the year. The one thing I’ll note is that Enrique, as you might have guessed, goes through some very difficult situations through the story, from his mental health to some homophobia, to some other things that may be triggering for some. Like I said though to me, it all ends in a good way, but you should just be aware of those situations that do come up.
Thanks to Aaron Aceves for an outstanding book. And thanks to Alejandro Ruiz for bringing Enrique to life on the audio book. The performance was so, so perfect. So, just to say it one last time, I highly recommend “This Is Why They Hate Us” by Aaron Aceves.
Pitcher Perfect by Lee Blair
Will: So, in addition to that, you’ve also got a couple of contemporary romances that you’ve read recently.
Jeff: I do. I’ve been quite on the reading binge during our break, and it’s been some really great stuff. Let’s talk first about an amazing meet cute.
Lee Blair delivers one of my all-time favorite meet cutes in “Pitcher Perfect” as she brings Austin and Caleb together as they talk about notebooks and ink at a specialty paper store in Portland. Yes, a paper store! It’s nearly as good as bringing people together in a bookstore. And Austin and Caleb are so cute as they eye each other, take interest, and ultimately spend some time talking about all the things they love of about writing on actual paper.
Sadly, it’s only a meet cute as Caleb ends up having to take a phone call, and one of Austin’s friends has to take him away so they aren’t late for dinner.
Austin and his friends / business partners Dom, Ethan, and Ty head back home to Dahlia Springs, where they are the owners of the Tap That Brewery. Austin is the brewer of the group, and he works endlessly to craft beers that will get Tap That on the map and ensure they become a destination for beer lovers.
Guess who’s just moved to Dahlia Spring? Yup. It’s Caleb. He’s moved there, to the place his mom grew up and loved so much, because the place he had parked his food truck in Portland got sold. Now he’s serving his breakfast sandwiches out front of the local coffee shop with dreams of opening his own restaurant too.
Austin and Caleb immediately find their chemistry again as soon as they meet up. One of the things I love that Lee did in this book was to give us great insight into Austin and Caleb’s thoughts. The book is in first person, which is my favorite POV, and I suspect these guys talk themselves as much as they do with each other. You all know I love guys that talk, I say this all the time, and between the internal and the external, my heart was so happy here.
With the guys and Caleb both looking to take their businesses to the next level, they decide to enter the Portland Pairings competition where a chef and brewer team up and present. If Austin and Caleb can create the winning entry, it’ll be huge for Tap That and Be Eggcellent to Each Other. There are so many puns in this book folks. It is so fun, especially some of the beer names that get tossed around. Kudos to Lee for coming up with all that cause it’s just hilarious.
Both guys have reservations about the competition. For Austin, Portland Pairings is a sore spot because right after his father won it, he and his mom took off leaving Austin with his aunt–who happens to be Ty’s mom–and going off to find success. Austin wonders if Caleb might also look for the competition to be his ticket to more than Dahlia Springs. For both guys there’s the question on if they’re going to be up to the task of the competition, and if the working relationship will have a good amount of give and take, or will some of the efforts be one-sided.
Lee Blair’s style of low angst is exactly what I like to read. Each time something comes up with the competition, or maybe it’s how Austin and Caleb feel they should navigate this relationship, or even if there’s the perception that something is off for some reason, it’s addressed immediately. There’s really nothing left to misunderstanding. If something is up, it’s discussed. That’s true with Austin and Caleb, and it’s true with Austin and his friends. I’ll say it again, heroes who talk are the best!
I absolutely love the energy between Austin and Caleb. They love what they do, and they want to excel at it. They understand the work that’s needed for their businesses and the competition. And as they work on the competition, they start to see the awesomeness that’s possible when you have someone in your life who gets it, and knows how to be there for you. They both have had relationships where they’ve been burned by guys who just didn’t get it at all. Austin and Caleb are really perfect for each other, and the more they see that in the other, the more my heart was just so happy for them.
The friend group with Ethan, Ty and Dom are wonderful. Everyone should be lucky enough to have a band of friends you want to start a business with. They are there for each other, but not afraid to call out each other out on their shit too. It’s great to see how easily they bring Caleb into the group from the very beginning. We also see Caleb’s dad and sister, and it’s nice how they fit into this story and this group. And then there’s the townspeople. As Lee starts bringing an entire town to life for the Dahlia Springs universe, we’re starting to see how the town works, what its cliques are and so much more. It was super fun–especially Mabel who runs the Chamber of Commerce.
As you can tell, I adored “Pitcher Perfect” by Lee Blair. I’ll definitely be making return trips to Dahlia Springs because I’m enchanted by what I’ve seen of the town and its people so far. If you’re looking for a good low angst read, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Husband Material by Alexis Hall
Jeff: And I’ll wrap this up with one more that’s got a completely different tone to everything else that we’ve talked about.
I’ve been eagerly awaiting Alexis Hall’s “Husband Material” since it was announced. How could I not want more Luc and Oliver, their snappy banter and Luc’s delightfully fun band of friends? Sequels involving the original couple can be difficult stories to pull off, but in Alexis’s capable hands “Husband Material” exceeded my expectations.
Of course, there’s more banter and humor, but in using the structure of one of the most famous rom-coms ever with “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” Luc and Oliver get to experience very different weddings, while also sorting out what happily ever after looks like for them.
The book covers nearly a year, and by the time we get to the fourth wedding, which of course is Luc and Oliver’s big day, it’s been nearly three years since that first fake date back in “Boyfriend Material.” I love how Alexis has made this very much an ensemble piece. While the POV remains strictly with Luc, we see the whirlwind of the three weddings and the funeral that proceed Luc and Oliver’s and the impact each of these very different events has on them.
Let’s talk about the weddings first, the book kicks off with Bridget and Tom in May. Given that Bridget is Luc’s best friend, it’s not surprising that Luc is in the role of maid of honor. And, oh my, is this poor wedding off the rails because Tom’s going missing–you may remember from the first book that he’s a bit of a spy. This wedding is full of rom-com awesome between Tom’s work calling him into action, a venue burning down and pretty much anything that can go wrong does… but on the other hand it turns out perfect. It’s truly the kind of wedding you’d expect for Tom and Bridget.
The unexpected wedding is Miles and John, which happens the following month in June. Miles is the guy who destroyed Luc’s life by selling him out to the tabloids–recovering from that is why Luc and Oliver ended up fake dating in “Boyfriend Material.” Miles is engaged to John, aka JoJo, a YouTuber. Going to Miles’s wedding is not easy for Luc, and it certainly opens up a lot for Oliver and Luc to talk about as they painfully get through the ceremony and greeting the newly married couple afterwards. It’s a time of a lot of reflection for both of them.
Then there’s the over the top, society affair that is the marriage of Alex and Clara in September. It has all the trappings of a very rich, very British wedding. It’s also the type of wedding you go to not so much because you want to go and celebrate friends, but it’s more of an expectation because it’s co-workers. There are some wonderful comedy of errors moments here, such as the group of co-workers all being arrested because they’ve ended up trespassing and they have to be rescued by Alex. It’s also in this part of the story where Luc and Oliver have serious discussions about what their wedding could be, and should be. I loved these discussions as it looked at the many expectations around weddings, the social versus the legal aspects of marriage and all the various aspects of what marriage means to queers since it is such a hetero-normative tradition that we didn’t have full access to–at least on the legal side–until quite recently. While this causes Luc and Oliver some angst, I was thrilled they had the discussion.
The funeral comes in November. I’m not going to spoil who passes away because it’s not even mentioned on the beginning of this part of the book like the weddings are. I found this to be quite poignant, although I’m sure it’s going to strike some people as inappropriate what happens here. I’m a fan though because I think it allowed for some real healing to begin for those among the living.
Finally, as we arrive back around in the spring, it’s Luc and Oliver’s turn. Planning has not been easy for them. As I noted, they’ve had a lot of conversation about what they want in a ceremony, especially what will best represent each of them. In what I’m about to say, I may spoil the ending–but rest assured this is a romance so there is an HEA–but I love that Luc and Oliver went for the HEA that was right for them. It doesn’t matter what their friends wanted them to do, or what society tells them they should do. They ultimately did what was right for them, and something they can look back on and be happy about.
I loved everything about “Husband Material” with the very ensemble approach, the different takes on weddings and grief, plus an excellent look at how weddings and HEAs can be quite different for everyone–and in particular how couples have to negotiate together on what the HEA means to them and how they’re going to create and honor it. Of course, I also have a to give a shoutout to audiobook narrator Joe Jameson who ones again brings Luc, Oliver, and everyone else to perfect life. I can’t imagine reading this book without Joe’s wonderful voice talents.
So that’s a very highly recommended for me for “Husband Material” by Alexis Hall.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read our conversation for yourself, simply head on over to the show notes page for this episode at BigGayFictionPodcast.com. The show notes page also has links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
Jeff: And if you’d like even more gay fiction recommendations, don’t forget that Will and I have put together “Happily Ever After,” a free ebook full of reviews and suggested romance reads. Whether you’re in the mood for contemporary or historical or holiday romance, cause you know that holiday time is coming right up here, we have got you covered. You’ll get it when you sign up for the Rainbow Romance Reader Report, our weekly podcast newsletter. To learn more and to get your free ebook, go to BigGayFictionPodcast.com/report.
Will: All right, I think that’ll do it for now. That was a long list of recommendations. Coming up next in episode 399, we have the first in a special two-part series focused on “Black Love Matters.” This was an amazing essay anthology that looks at romance and romantic media with essays from black readers and writers, and cultural commentators.
Jeff: This is a truly remarkable collection, and next week we’ll discuss it with its editor Jessica Pryde, who is also a Book Riot columnist and the cohost of the “When in Romance” podcast, as well as romance author and friend of this podcast, Adriana Herrera. It’s an important and insightful conversation that you will not want to miss.
Will: We hope that you’ll join us next week. 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 kinds 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. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.