Ep 179: Alice Winters Discusses the “In Darkness” Series
Congratulations go out to authors who have been featured on the podcast and were nominated this past week in the 31st Annual Lambda Literary Awards, including Kris Jacen, Christina Lee & Riley Hart and Marshall Thornton.
Jeff shares the new Kickstarter for Raven Wild, the third LGBTQ+ children’s book from the team behind Promised Land.
Jeff & Will review Adriana Herrera’s American Dreamers. Jeff then reviews The Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg and A Tangled Truthby Max Walker.
Jeff interviews Alice Winters about her In Darkness series, including the just released third book titled Deception in Darkness. They also discuss Within The Mind, which kicked off a new series earlier this year. Alice also talks about what got her into m/m romantic suspense and what else she’s got planned for this year.
Complete shownotes for episode 179 are at BigGayFictionPodcast.com.
Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:
American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera, narrated by Sean Crisden reviewed by Will & Jeff This book could’ve easily been titled ‘The Food Truck Chef and the Librarian’, if that doesn’t automatically make you want to one-click this book, then you might as well keep on moving – because nothing I’m about to say is going to convince you to try this phenomenal romance.
Nesto is the food truck owner — who has relocated his business from NYC to upstate NY. He pours every ounce of his passion into the Afro-Caribbean food he serves, until that is, certain other passions are stirred by Jude, the librarian of the story.
Their attraction is instant, and their chemistry is obvious to everyone around them. But our heroes take things relatively slow, despite well-meaning nudging from friends and family.
You see, not only are they passionate about one another, Nesto is determined to make his business a success, and Jude is focused on getting funding for a county-wide bookmobile project.
They have lives beyond the romantic story arc of the book.
Hoity-toity literary snobs would call Nesto and Jude “dimensional characters” because they have depth. All I know is that I care about them because they are real to me, in my heart and in my mind. It’s something that goes beyond words on a page.
Several times throughout the story, life throws various obstacles in their path, but every time they rise to the occasion.
It would take a scene-by-scene breakdown of the entire story for me to explain how much I loved Nesto and Jude – and how they, through their actions, overcome their obstacles (both romantic and business related).
It’s one thing for an author to tell us a character is romantic or heroic — it’s another thing entirely when we’re shown that romance, that heroism, in the action that occurs in the story.
Nesto and Jude are good men. We know this because we experience it time and again in the book and we root for them because of it.
A member of Jude’s estranged family is gravely ill and reaches out to him. Jude gives this person a second chance (though they soooo don’t deserve it) and he is inevitably let down by them.
Jude is emotionally devastated by this and Nesto is not there for him, even though he promised he would be.
Up until this point I felt Nesto was the living embodiment of the perfect boyfriend, but when he badly screws things up – not maliciously or on purpose – he screws up because he’s human, which made me love him even more (as if that were even possible).
But Nesto isn’t going to give up without a fight, and comes up with a swoon-worthy grand gesture to win back Jude.
It’s a really fucking good one, by the way, and our heroes achieve their final (and very well deserved) happily ever after.
I want to recommend episode 341 of Smart Podcast Trashy Books. Sarah Wendell has a terrific interview with author Adriana Herrera and they talk about all sorts of things including the food featured in the book, writing diverse characters, and how her job as a social worker influences the way she looks at romance in the books she reads and writes. It’s really fascinating stuff and I suggest everyone check it out.
I also want to quickly recommend the audiobook of American Dreameras read by Sean Crisden. He’s one of my absolute favorite narrators and he does an exceptional job with this book, especially the various dialects of the ethnically diverse cast of characters.
If you want to read a kick-ass debut novel, get this book. If you crave genuine diversity in romance, get this book. If you want likeable, relatable heroes to fall in love with, get this book.
A couple of additional points from Jeff:
Adriana’s cast of supporting characters was incredible. Nesto’s crew of tight friends that helped him realize his food truck dream also kicked him in the butt when he didn’t move forward with Jude. And Jude’s bff also nudged him in the right direction. Speaking of friends, American Fairytale, coming in May, focuses on his Nesto’s friend Milo and I’m looking forward to that.
Adriana taps into current events as Nesto faces prejudice from one of Ithaca’s prominent citizens. These are uncomfortable scenes that highlight some of the terrible ways persons of color are harassed. Nesto’s high road approach was in line with his character for sure, but I was with Jude and really wanted to go off on the evil woman.
I’ve been a fan of Bill Konigsberg since he debuted with Out of the Pocket back in 2008. He’s a major inspiration for me for the types of young adult characters he creates as well as his talent as a storyteller. These two elements blend together perfectly in The Music of What Happens.
Max and Jordan are seventeen and opposites in every way–and boy do these opposites attract. Max is chill, pretty much a jock dude. He plays baseball, video games and cracks crude jokes with his buddies. He’s out to his mom and his friends, but not beyond that. Jordan is far from chill. He’s stressed that his mom hasn’t been the same since his dad died, he loves to write poetry and he’s got two great girl friends, who he refers to as his “wives.”
Jordan and his mom resurrect the food truck his dad owned because they have to do something to pay the mortgage on the house or they will be homeless. Max comes into Jordan’s life as he goes from food truck customer to chef. Max loves to cook and since he needs a job, he’s willing to help out. Jordan’s mom is all too happy to hand the entire operation over to the boys. You can imagine that this is probably not the best choice.
As the two pull together to get the truck working–including some loose interpretation on what organic and locally sourced ingredients means–they learn more about each other. For example, Max discovers Jordan’s poetry while Max reveals himself to be an artist.
As their relationship grows and the food truck begins to succeed, Max and Jordan help each other find their best selves. Jordan teaches Max about hooligan do goodery, where you do a random act of disruptive kindness. Max shows Jordan the advantages of working out and how it can help you de-stress. Through all of this they fall in love, even though neither can quite believe they’re falling for their opposite.
Both boys have tough issues to deal with though. Max’s father taught him that he must always warrior up, never cry, never show weakness, just smile and agree to get through the hard times. Super Max, as he refers to himself, can’t get him through everything though. A random hookup he had with a college guy haunts him to a breaking point.
Jordan’s home life has major cracks too as his mom continues to spiral and he doesn’t know what to do. Jordan doesn’t realize how much is at stake until it’s too late.
Bill pulls no punches in this book as he touches on so many things–loss of a parent, a parent’s inability to care for a child while their own world is falling apart, rape, the tolls of toxic masculinity and racism to name a few. It’s not all heavy though as Bill also vividly tells the story about the joy of falling in love with the right person and the strength that can be found in family and in good friends. Most of all it’s about finding your true self, embracing it and not hiding it.
Kudos to the narrators here. Joel Froomkin (aka Joel Leslie) and Anthony Rey Perez do a terrific job. I’ve long loved Joel’s work and here he’s in excellent form. He taps into Jordan joys, sorrow and fears while also giving great characterizations to his b.f.fs. Anthony’s voicing of Max revealed so much of the character’s self-doubt even while he portrayed Super Max to the world. Like Joel, Anthony brought Max’s friends to full life as well. Each narrator gets major props for handling each boy’s emotional scenes–Jordan with the collapse of his family and Max coming to terms with the fact he’d been raped–with a powerful perfection.
I’ve loved each of the Stonewall Investigations books but this one with a second chance, friends to lovers romance is my favorite so far. It’s ripped from the headlines story also hooked me. Liam Wolfe is a successful Hollywood director who finds himself accused of embezzlement, harassment and other things he would never do. He has a pretty good idea who’s behind the character assassination but he needs help to prove it.
Stonewall detective Mark Masters has his world rocked when Liam walks into this office looking for help. Liam and Mark haven’t seen each other since they were teens growing up in New York City. They’d been inseparable but when Liam moved they’d lost touch. Their friendship picks up as if they’d never been apart and Mark eagerly takes on the Liam’s case to find out who’s behind trying to destroy his career.
The case leads Mark all over NYC and out to LA to sort it out. Signs point to a prominent, homophobic producer who has been public that he doesn’t like working with Liam. But as always in a Max Walker book, the truth is shocking. Once again I hadn’t anticipated the twisted way the case would work out. Max crafted a tight, unrelenting mystery.
The romance between Liam and Mark was beyond sweet. Their reacquaintance was wonderful as they recounted their past exploits and caught up on the intervening years. Max captured what it’s like for best friends who might be separated for years falling right back in with each other as if no time had passed. The feelings they had as teenagers came back too, and this time they acted on them, even while working through some of the baggage they carried from their teens.
Mark and Liam are so freaking cute! The reminiscences they shared were sweet and how those carried forward to their present made me swoon. The visit they make to a childhood diner in particular made me so happy. Liam’s also got some family issues that come up and how he shared those with Mark were bittersweet but served to deepen their relationship.
Max doesn’t take it easy on the emotions here. There are some crushing events in this book that weave flawlessly into the overall story. I gasped and cried over some of these and they reflect how good of a storyteller Max is.
The Unicorn killer took a high toll in this installment as well, more than we’ve seen in the previous books. That storyline is front and center in the recently released book four, A Lover’s Game. As soon as that audio is released I’ll be all over it to see what happens.