2016

Ellie's Best Books of 2016

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Here is the list of the best books I read in 2016. After some hard struggle I managed to narrow them down to 16 and there are familiar and beloved authors with their releases from this, as well as some new-to me authors whose powerful stories I discovered in 2016. 


A Seditious Affair by KJ Charles - Technically I read it n the end of last year but I posted my review on the blog in January and thus it didn't make it on my best books of 2015 list. And this book is so special, my most favourite historical of all times
Review/buy on Amazon

Walk the Edge by Katie McGarry - an engaging YA/NA romance with realistic and relatable characters put in rather extreme situations by a favourite author.
Review/buy on Amazon

First and First by Santino Hassell - I really love the whole Five Boroughs series but this story stands out the most for me. Because the author managed to redeem a character I thought was nonredeemable. Furthermore, he made me fall in love with Caleb! And Ollie, well Ollie is like a dream come through,just the perfect partner anyone could ask for. 
Review/buy on Amazon

Listen to the Moon by Rose Lerner I discovered Rose Lener this year and binge read all her books. and they all are fascinating but this love story of the upstairs valet and the downstairs maid just stole my heart. Romantic and heart-felt and tender and sad and rigid and joyful - it had everything! Review/buy on Amazon

Downtown Devil by Cara McKenna - Cara McKenna's book has featured consistently in my best book of the year list and it's no surprise Downtown Devil is here this year. Poly/menage romances are not my favourite but this was just so good. A moving exploration of one's identity, sexuality, desires, limits and the writing it superb, as usual. 
Review/buy on Amazon

Gays of Our Lives by Kris Ripper - Another new-to-me author and I found this series completely fascinating. Emerson is the worst curmudgeon and Ollie, the ultimate hipster and their coming together was as unlikely as it was fun to follow. 
Review/buy on Amazon

Burn Down the Night by Molly O'Keefe - Molly O'Keefe is one of my to-go authors for erotic romance. The previous two books in this series were among my best reads last year and it;'s only fitting that ... will make the 2016 list. Biker and good girl turned bad were an explosive combination. Review/buy on Amazon

Fast Connection by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell  - I liked the first book but really, really loved this one. The depth and complexity of the characters and of all their relationships - personal, professional, with family and friends make it an unforgettable read. 
Review/buy on Amazon

A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev - another regular on my best books list. Sonali Dev is an exquisite writer and storyteller and her romances never fail to touch my heart. This one is darker than her previous two but completely mesmerizing
Review/buy on Amazon

Shatterproof by Xen Sanders - hauntingly beautiful, paranormal, yet very real, dark, yet hopeful and some of the most beautiful, lyrical writing I've read in a while.
Review/buy on Amazon

Keepsake by Sarina Bowen - Sarina Bowen is a favourite author and though this series is not her best, Keepsake was an absolute winner for me. Loved, loved everything about it - virgin hero, runaway from a religious commune where he grew up, heroine is rich, wild child, who suffered some
trauma and struggles with PTSD at the time of their meeting. The book deals with heavy subjects in responsible and considerate manner while telling a love story 
Review/buy on Amazon

Pansies by Alexis Hall - another regular on my best books list. I just love Alexis Hall's writing and this book hit some many of my buttons. It's about finding yourself and about dealing with bullying and loss and grieving and moving on and accepting yourself and being comfortable/happy in your skin and love (between parents and children and siblings and partners and friends).
Review/buy on Amazon

Documenting Light by EE Ottoman - a new-to-me author with a tender story of two trans people building a relationship while exploring queer history. This is a book about the connections between the past and the present and future. quiet and understated but emotionally powerful.
Review/buy on Amazon

Beard Science by Penny Reid - Penny is my to-go author for romantic comedy and her Winston brothers series bring me so much joy and tears of laughter. Cletus is everything and his story is so over-the-top weird and quirky and fun and crazy (the good kind).
Review/buy on Amazon
Baron by Joanna Shupe - Joanna Shupe is a new-to-me author and Baron is the first Historical set in the Gilded Age in NY that I have read. And I loved it. strong characters, strong conflict, great historical setting.
Review/buy on Amazon

Glass Tidings by Amy Jo Cousins - Amy Jo is a favourite author of mine. she has the uncanny ability to write characters that somehow speak directly to me. Tthis Christmas romance is a pure balm for the soul - heart-warming, a bit magical like the season and lot of real and honest story of two unlikely people brought together by circumstances, both weary of forming attachments and building a relationship but ultimately perfectly suited to each other's imperfections.
Review/buy on Amazon

2016

Edwin's Best Books of 2016

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Ellie has kindly asked me to write about my favourite books this year, so I had a think and this is what I came up with: a top 10, and some honourable mentions in no particular order. Obviously this is only what I read: there's some well-reviewed stuff I didn't get around to reading this year. I've also limited myself to one entry per author. Finally, it is a list of books I *read* this year. Some of these (notably my favourite book of the year!) came out earlier but I did not read them until now.

With that said, here are my favourite novels of 2016!

Top 10:

1) Ariah - B R Sanders
One of the first books I read this year and, at the end of it, still the best thing I've read. At one level, this is a bildungsroman set in a fantasy world - watching a talented young man - Ariah - grow into his magical powers. So far, so standard fantasy. But that's not really what's special about this book. At heart, the novel invites us to empathise with people who are different from us, think differently from us, and love differently from us. Nearly a year later, this book still affects me.

2) Where We Left Off - Roan Parrish
A perfectly written book that made me buy something I never buy: a one-sided crush turning into a relationship. The book gets me to accept than a wide-eyed romantic and a cynical hedonist can be each other's soul mates. It never insists on a traditional romantic arc and tries something very brave: a legit Happy For Now. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the main characters broke up 6 months after the end of the book, and I still think it's romantic as hell.

3) Seven Summer Nights - Harper Fox
This is Fox's (excellent) Tyack & Frayne series on steroids. A big, twisty book that takes on big, twisty ideas, braiding together seemingly disparate strands of pagan anti-authoritarianism, a historical mystery, dreamlike magic realism, post-war PTSD and a reciprocal hurt/comfort romance into a single narrative that, miraculously, entirely holds together. It's as if Pat Barker and Angela Carter wrote a queer romance together (which, if you had any doubts, is a glorious thing).

4) A Gentleman's Position - KJ Charles
This is not, I think, the best book in Charles' Society of Gentlemen series (that would be the second book, A Seditious Affair), but it is still one of the best books to come out this year. Making a stuck up prig like Richard Vane an (eventually) appealing romantic hero is some achievement. A reflection on class, love, wealth, and responsibility, with the fantastic David Cyprian as the other romantic lead, it's a book (along with the rest of the series) I'll happily re-read for years to come.

5) Fast Connection - Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell
This is basically a cheat. I'd limited myself to one book per author, and this allows me to fit two writers who both deserve individual entries (for Out of Frame and Interborough) in one spot! Simultaneously light and fun and a realistic portrayal of two bisexual men who are unsure about the whole relationship thing, it's one of the most effortless-seeming books I've read this year which, I'm sure, means that it was anything but to write.

6) Triad Blood - 'Nathan Burgoine
Excellent queer urban fantasy with a unique setup. In this world, magic works in threes, and magical beings need to be in groups of 3 to have power. It's always 3 demons, 3 wizards, or 3 vampires, but here we see a vampire, a demon, and a wizard form a triad with each other. The story is essentially about them trying to keep themselves safe from the rest of Ottawa's (!?) paranormal crowd. Bonus for the understated, and interestingly asymetric, not-quite-romance we get between the members of the Triad.

7) Gays of Our Lives - Kris Ripper
The whole series is excellent but this is my favourite. Grumpy ass grump falls in love with ridiculous hipster mostly against his will. Obie is just such an appealing love interest, and the risk Ripper takes at having a main character as misanthropic as Emerson really pays off. Well observed and takes seriously the idea that romance is for everybody (something that much LGBT romance only pays lip service to).

8) Jamie Brodie Mysteries - Meg Perry
My love for this series is a little odd. It's competently written but no better than that, and the mysteries that provide the plot drive for each book are workmanlike but not amazing, once you get past the cute premise of an academic librarian as a detective. But what makes this almost unique in the m/m world is we see a couple go from first hookup then follow them through 13 books (and counting!) of negotiating a relationship and a life together. And it's hard. Jamie and Pete deal with sexual incompatiblity, secret keeping, financial insecurity, jealousy, health scares, family trouble, work stress, frequent silly bickering and overcome it all. Some might not be interested in seeing a relationship with so many negatives depicted, but to me seeing them go through all that and choose to stay together makes this the most satisfying relationship I've read this year.
9) Looking for Group - Alexis Hall
As niche a book as you're likely to find - a contemporary new adult romance set at least half the time in an MMO, and told to a significant extent through chat logs. It can be (and by all account was) offputting to a lot of people, but as a queer MMO nerd I really appreciated it for what it was: a sweet, low-key romance about the value and validity of online relationships. Really well written, too.
10) Shadow Valley series - Devin Harnois
Paranormal YA done right. Teenage boy finds out he's a fae changeling, moves to magic town to be instructed in how to hide his powers from the outside world. He quickly makes friends with a half-dragon bad boy, and their bi guy/straight guy friendship is the core of the series. They both date other people, but this deep connection between Aiden and Dylan is really the most important relationship, and that's great to see. Cool world, well drawn characters, and teenages who act like teenagers. A five book series and the final book just came out. What's not to like? 


Honourable mentions:

Here's to You, Zeb Pike / Thanks a Lot, John LeClair - Johanna Parkhurst
A well-written YA m/m romance duology that does a really good job of showing the real difficulties of being a queer teenage boy but also puts it in perspective - these boys have a heap of other problems, and being gay is only one of them.

Unravelling Josh - Edie Danford
College romance (loosely linked to Danford's other Ellery College books) that's smoking hot but also deeply reflective, warm hearted, and non-judgmental. I enjoyed this a lot.

Must Like Spinach - Con Riley
Just such a nice, warm book to read. Very slow burn romance between two leads you grow to love by the end of the book, with a great supporting cast.

Save of the Game - Avon Gale
I like all of Gale's hockey books; this is my favourite. Two men figuring out they're bi, figuring out they like each other, pretty much zero freaking out ensues. Great stuff, enormous fun, and grew on me upon rereading: I like it more now than I did when I first read it.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place - Amy Jo Cousins
A two novella collection in Cousins' Bend or Break series. Both continue the trend of enormously likeable leads and believable, respectful young queer men. Cousins remains the best writer of college m/m going.

Hold Me - Courtney Milan
Outrageously enjoyable enemies to lovers/friends to lovers double bill, with both descriptions applying to the same couple. Not a lot of books I had more fun with this year.

*** *** ***

As a bonus, how about some genuinely excellent free stuff?!

Here are some pieces of fiction I enjoyed a lot this year that you can find for free online.

When Your Child Strays From God - Sam J Miller http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/miller_07_15/
A SF short story, and word for word the most emotionally affecting thing I read this year.

Hotblood! - Toril Orlesky http://hotbloodcomic.com/page/276
A webcomic about gay centaurs in the old west. Enough said.



Austin Chant

New and Debut: Austin Chant

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This week my guest in the New and Debut feature is the wonderful Austin Chant, author of Coffee Boy (trans mm romance) and the upcoming queer/trans retelling of Peter Pan (I can't tell how much I'm looking forward to this one). Read on to check his awesome interview and a short excerpt from Coffee Boy.


Meet Austin


1. Tell us about yourself and why did you decide to become a romance writer?

I've wanted to be a writer since I was about six years old, but I didn't get into romance for a long time because I had a lot of misconceptions about the genre (as we often do). One of my biggest misconceptions was that there was no such thing as queer romance, or trans romance, so I didn't think I'd ever see myself represented. Then, in 2013, a regional conference called Gay Romance Northwest blew my mind open, introducing me to a ton of amazing queer books and even more queer amazing authors. I immediately decided I needed to throw myself into romance, and I've been at it ever since!

I was born and raised in Washington in a small town that tends to wind up on lists of "cool places for hipsters to visit". I'm now at university near Seattle, writing as much as possible after work and school and slowly getting used to telling people I'm a romance novelist.  I'm a bisexual trans man, a gamer, a tea drinker, and a passionate cook. 

2. Can you share some of your favourite books and authors?

I'm a huge fan of KJ Charles, particularly her Society of Gentlemen series and The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal. They both have a perfect blend of lovable, compelling, funny characters and terrifyingly high stakes which, combined, makes me cry a lot. I also love Heidi Belleau and C.S. Pacat for the Rear Entrance Video series and Captive Prince, respectively. I'll read pretty much anything — characters and style matter more to me than genre.

3. Who/what do you consider your writing influence/inspiration?

My biggest single influence is Diana Wynne Jones, who was a wonderful British author of children's fiction. She wrote a lot of very genre-bending fantasy and sci-fi, including Howl's Moving Castle, which my parents read to me when I was a little kid. Fantasy is my favorite genre, but aside from that, my influences are all over the place — I love Jurassic Park, Jeeves & Wooster, Hemingway, Bradbury, fanfiction, etc. And I collect copies of The Picture of Dorian Gray because they all inspire me.

4. What kind of stories can the readers expect from you (contemporary/historical/sci-fi, adult/NA/YA, etc)?

I want to write a little bit of everything, but I have a special place in my heart for fantasy, so you'll definitely see more of that. I love contemporary queer romance that captures stories from my community, and I make occasional forays into historical fiction because I also love writing about queer folks throughout history. Honestly, the only common thread between everything I write is that it's all very queer and character-focused. The next couple books I expect to release are a) a queer/trans retelling of Peter Pan that probably counts as historical fantasy, b) fairly classic sword-and-sorcery M/M about dragonslayers who fall in love, and c) some snarky contemporary F/F about singers and figure skaters. All three have trans protagonists.

5. Please, introduce your latest release.

My latest book is Coffee Boy, which is a contemporary trans m/m novella about a gay trans man named Kieran who's starting a political campaign internship after graduating college. It's a snarky book about navigating the workplace as a trans person, and about struggling with the apathy and inertia that tends to hit when you can't imagine things getting better (for you or for the world). And, of course, it's a romance! Kieran's supervisor Seth is an older bi man who, despite having a stick up his ass, is unequivocally supportive of Kieran's right to be safe and respected at work. Over time, as Kieran learns more about Seth, their relationship deepens from uneasy allyship to friendship and, you know. You'll have to read the book.


Blurb

After graduation, Kieran expected to go straight into a career of flipping burgers—only to be offered the internship of his dreams at a political campaign. But the pressure of being an out trans man in the workplace quickly sucks the joy out of things, as does Seth, the humorless campaign strategist who watches his every move.

Soon, the only upside to the job is that Seth has a painful crush on their painfully straight boss, and Kieran has a front row seat to the drama. But when Seth proves to be as respectful and supportive as he is prickly, Kieran develops an awkward crush of his own—one which Seth is far too prim and proper to ever reciprocate.

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / AllRomance / NineStar Press


Author Bio and Links

Austin Chant is a bitter millennial, passable chef, and a queer, trans writer of romance, erotica, and fantasy. His fiction centers on trans characters who always, always get the love they deserve. Austin cohosts the Hopeless Romantic, a podcast dedicated to exploring LGBTQIA+ love stories and the art of writing romance. He currently lives in Seattle, in a household of wildly creative freelancers who all spend too much time playing video games.


Excerpt


When his heart has stopped pounding, Kieran crosses the room and sinks gratefully into the chair at his new desk.

Although it might not be his desk for long if Seth kills him. Luckily, Seth looks like he’s too busy tearing somebody to shreds over the phone to spare much malice for Kieran. Every time he stops to listen to whatever the caller is saying, his nose wrinkles contemptuously. He’s keeping his voice down, but Kieran catches something about “funding that was promised to us” and “pulling all mention of your business from our campaign materials”.

In Kieran’s assessment, Seth looks kind of like a grown-up Boy Scout—that straight-laced, proper, honest look—but also kind of like a snake. He’s at least thirty, perfectly clean-shaven, sleek. He has hair trimmed short and blunt, long on top but slicked down, and despite the heat, he’s wearing a crisp blazer. The only part of his look that seems out of place is a single steel stud in his right ear, and even that is vaguely intimidating.

Awesome.

Feeling intimidated doesn’t stop Kieran from wanting to eavesdrop, though, because he wants a distraction as much as he relishes drama. He takes out his phone and pretends to be distracted by Twitter while listening as hard as he can. Seth’s side of the conversation is choppy, as if he’s being interrupted.

“I can’t be any clearer about this,” Seth says. “The senator does not offer business endorsements in exchange for donations. If a member of her staff told you otherwise, I —sincerely—apologize.” He listens intently for a moment and out of the corner of his eye, Kieran watches Seth squeeze the phone like he wishes it were someone’s neck. “No, that’s—no, there are no exceptions. Absolutely not. I suggest you contact the main office if you have any more concerns, because as I’ve said, this is a branch office. I cannot take a message for the senator, because she doesn’t work here. Yes. Goodbye.”

Seth smacks the phone down in its cradle, and Kieran jumps in spite of himself. He stuffs his cell phone back into his pocket as Seth swivels toward him.

“So,” Seth says. He stands up, offering his hand without approaching Kieran’s desk. Kieran has to scramble out of his chair and across the room to shake it, while Seth stares imperiously down at him.

Kieran isn’t surprised to find Seth’s handshake firm and unforgiving. “Hi,” Kieran says, forcing a smile. “Sorry for, um, barging in. I was expecting Marcus.” It’s only half a lie.

Seth raises his eyebrows. “Marcus mentioned that he knew you. From the university?”

“Yeah. He taught a bunch of my classes.” Kieran does his best to sound calm, smooth, anything but as shaky as he feels. “So—who’re you? The manager?”

“Marcus is the manager,” Seth says, like Kieran should have known. This probably falls into the category of ‘Things Marcus Could’ve Bothered to Tell Kieran.’ “I’m Seth Harker, the senior campaign strategist.”

The way he says senior makes it sounds like he has power over Kieran’s life and death. Kieran resists the urge to grimace. “Nice to meet you. Is Marcus going to be here?”

“He had a family engagement. Have a seat, and we’ll talk through your responsibilities.”

“Okay.” Kieran scrunches himself into the chair in front of Seth’s desk.

Seth sits across from him, studying Kieran with an awkward level of scrutiny. “What is that button?” he asks.

The pronoun pin. Kieran feels a sharp blush rise in his face again. He’s not ashamed of needing to wear it—he’s annoyed that he has to. “My pronouns,” he says, as casually as he can. “I like to wear it when I meet new people.”

Seth gives a mere nod. “I see. As a reminder?”

Kieran flips his thick, curly hair angrily over one shoulder. “Well, most people make the wrong assumption when they meet me.”

“Marcus has been very specific in calling you ‘he’ whenever he mentioned the new intern,” Seth says, “so hopefully there won’t be any room for wrong assumptions.”

His voice is crisp and cool, like it isn’t an issue for him at all. Kieran lets out a breath, startled and relieved and angry. Because it is an issue, but at least he’s not going to have to repeat the conversation he had with Marie. “Great. You might wanna clear that up with the rest of the office.”

Seth raises an eyebrow. “Why? Did something happen?”

Kieran is not going to fall into the trap of complaining about his coworkers on his first day. “No. It’s fine. I just—I didn’t get the impression that they knew.”

“I see.”

Seth actually turns and scribbles something down on a pad of paper in front of him. Kieran can’t imagine what he’s writing. “Remind everyone in the office that new intern is a dude”? Or, probably more likely, “Fire whiny trans guy at earliest opportunity.”

Seth turns back to him. “Let me know if you have any problems.” He waits for Kieran to nod. Kieran wonders how obvious it is that he doesn’t find this reassuring at all. “Now—Marcus said that he knew you before you applied for the internship. He was impressed with your undergraduate coursework.”

More like: Marcus is a bleeding-heart PhD candidate who thinks all trans people are brave and inspiring, and he’d been willing to overlook Kieran’s often-lackluster college coursework and pretend it was a sign that Kieran wasn’t being challenged enough by the material. And that’s why Kieran has the internship. “Yeah, he thought I was okay.” Kieran shrugs. “Of course, I’m guessing I’ll probably do less campaign strategizing and more…getting coffee and making copies?”

Seth almost smiles. It’s a flicker at the corner of his thin little mouth. “You aren’t wrong. But we need you for more than that. This is a new branch of Senator Norton’s campaign, and things are just starting to get off the ground. You’ll be assisting Marcus with whatever he needs to keep us organized, and taking on whatever additional duties we might need an extra hand with. Especially social media and the new campaign website—Marcus said you have some skills in that area, and we’re lacking staff with…digital experience.”

Kieran translates that to everyone who works here is old. “Uh, yeah. I can help with that.”

Seth nods approvingly. “I think you’ll find the experience rewarding. Our internship program offers you a chance to learn the types of skills it takes to run a campaign. Working on our digital outreach puts you at the intersection of a lot of departments. It might help you see what kind of a real job would suit you.”

“A real job?” Kieran laughs in spite of himself, because it stings. “I have one of those already.”

“Oh?”

“Flipping burgers,” Kieran says. “It comes with real paychecks and everything.”

Seth frowns. Kieran can see the cogs turning in his head and wonders if he’s smart enough to figure out that Kieran’s definition of real is “pays rent.” Evidently Seth does, because he clears his throat and says, “There will be opportunities for advancement here. Paid advancement. Assuming, of course, that you fit the position.”

Kieran is pretty sure he won’t.


Author Interview

Author Interview: KJ Charles

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KJ Charles talks about her writing and gives sneak peaks in her upcoming books 


ER: Hi, KJ and welcome! I want to start this interview with some questions on your writing process and then dive in more detail about your upcoming books (and I know you have a few of those up your sleeve) 
So, let’s kick this off with the question how you became a romance writer. Was this your childhood dream?

KJ: I always told stories in my head but it never occurred to me that I’d be a writer; I never really wrote them down at all. And when I did start writing I didn’t actually intend to write romance--I was supposed to be doing fantasy. None of this was planned, basically. I’m just making it up as I go along. 

ER: What is the best and the worst thing about being a writer?

KJ: Best is the reader response. When people say that a book meant something to them, or are inspired to create art or Tumblr jokes or reference your work or just talk about it. Writing is very solitary and then the book comes out and strangers are suddenly talking to you about the people in your head, and sharing in your mental creations. It’s really astonishing. 

Worst is how easy it is to screw up. Especially writing romance, which is a genre people come to in search of something that is in the end going to make them feel better. I don’t ever want to think that someone read a stupid throwaway remark of mine that made them feel attacked or belittled; I don’t want to expose my blind spots and unconscious bigotries, both for my own shame and for the sake of readers who might read something hurtful. Unfortunately, writing is a great way to give people a CAT scan of your psyche, for good or ill. If I’ve learned anything it’s that we all have a lot more blind spots—at best—than we’d like to think.

ER: Which part of the writing process is the easiest and the most difficult for you?

KJ: I love the self edit. When you have the first draft down, you’ve found out what the book is actually about, and you’re just tweaking and refining and oiling the bits to work together. That’s pure fun.

Most difficult: Copy edits. As an editor and an opinionated person who dislikes being wrong, I have difficulty taking them with grace.

ER: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

KJ: I’m now a plotter. It’s been a hard learning curve, though. I had to dump 30K on a book where I’d been winging it and it hadn’t worked; I vowed to plot thoroughly in the future; I then plotted out an entire book in detail, the first of a trilogy, and had to dump 30K of that because I’d forgotten to make the characters interesting or likeable. /side eyes everything/

ER: You write mostly queer historical romance. Is this your favourite subgenre to write? Do you want to try other subgenres?

KJ: I vastly prefer historical. If I do contemporary it would be urban fantasy probably, maybe horror. To be honest I don’t think I have anything to say in realistic queer contemporary that wouldn’t be better said by #ownvoices writers. Which is not to dictate what anyone else should write, but it’s how I feel about me.

ER: You have written only m/m couples so far, if I’m not mistaken. Are you interested in writing other types of relationships - m/f or f/f or poly relationships?

KJ: My December novella features a f/f central relationship and I’m aiming to write more of that. I have a forthcoming nonbinary main character also (Sins of the Cities book 3), and I’d love to write more nonbinary leads. I’ve never had an idea for a poly romance, but if I do I will!

ER: Speaking of writing dreams and future plans - what is the most outrageous/crazy story you want to write (Please, ignore the practical aspects of who would publish and who would want to read it)?

KJ: I don’t really see anything I want to write as outrageous, in that if it makes a coherent story, why not just do it? There is an amazing world of readers out there. (Except for my Twitter-running-joke contemporary Brexit romance, Hard Brexit, which involves a constitutional lawyer and a hot Brexiteer, with wigs-and-robes kink. That’s probably a step too far for anyone, ever.)

ER: Same question but about what kind of story you want to read and haven’t found it yet?

KJ: It’s not remotely outrageous, I just want more diverse historicals--diverse in terms of class and race and gender and sexuality and setting and period. Also I really want queer Restoration romance please. Someone do that or I may have to.

ER: Now, it’s time to focus more on your upcoming books. I believe Wanted, a Gentleman is your next release, right? Can you tell us more about it?

KJ: In fact I have two! Bear with me...

‘The Price of Meat’ is a short story (15K) in the queer horror anthology All in Fear, out now. It’s set in a Victorian AU, inspired by one of my favourite Victorian pulp stories (I won’t spoil it by saying which but Sondheim fans will probably work it out from the title!) and based on a real historical curiosity: the liberty of Alsatia, which was an area of London where laws officially didn’t apply. It’s penny dreadful rather than romance, with a f/f relationship at the centre. 

Wanted, a Gentleman, publishing January, is a shortish novel/long novella set in 1805, a road trip story in which our heroes are on a chase to Gretna Green in pursuit of a runaway heiress. Theo is a Lonely Hearts magazine publisher and jobbing weasel; Martin is a merchant who’s a sort-of friend of the heiress’s family, and the story is about them solving their immediate problem of catching the heiress, tackling the larger problems they both have, and coping with the utter ghastliness of a 14-mile-an-hour high speed chase on miserable roads through nowhere...all the while falling in love. :)

ER: I know you are also working on another series of historical romances. When can we expect them and what will they be about?

KJ: The trilogy is called Sins of the Cities, and it’s a Victorian series set in 1873. I love Victorian sensation fiction, which is all about lost heirs and family secrets and murder and shenanigans, so I decided to write one. It’s three separate romances involving a set of friends, with an ongoing family-secret/murder plot that works its way through all three books. I also wanted to write some lower/middle class characters, not just the aristocracy, and to generally make my Victorian London a bit more reflective of the real place’s diversity. 

The first is An Unseen Attraction, publishing February, about Clem Talleyfer, a lodging-house keeper, and Rowley Green, a taxidermist. Two gentle, quiet, mild-mannered men who deserve a lot better than to get mixed up in someone else’s murderous family secrets...

ER: This is a bit of unfair question but who is your favourite character/book you have written? 

KJ: Probably A Seditious Affair. It’s a very political book, which I like; I loved putting the history together; the romance absolutely flew for me in the writing; plus these were the most star-crossed lovers I could possibly imagine, which is hugely pleasing to the sadistic writer brain.

ER: Oh, that is my favourite of your books too. I hesitate between Dom and Silas for a most favourite character and can’t really choose but as a couple (and the story of their coming together and staying together) they are just out this world amazing! 

ER: Which book of all you have written so far was the easiest to write and which the most difficult?

KJ: Jackdaw was absurdly easy. Writing it was like taking dictation. The most difficult was Unseen Attraction draft 1, which as noted above started with a different plot and two different main characters. I’d already sold the trilogy, including audio rights, so I couldn’t simply not write the damn thing, and I had two linked subsequent books depending on this one so I had to find a way to keep the trilogy structure in place while redoing everything else including recasting the leads completely and oh my God I’m going to have to go for a lie down just thinking about it. Once I had the proper characters, it was a joy to write.

ER: And my final question is what advice would you give to aspiring authors?

KJ: You will get more criticism from more sources than you can imagine. All of it will hurt; some of it will be unfair; plenty of it will be important. You need to learn to listen to it, assess it, and be very ready to accept you screwed up. That’s how you do better as a writer and a person. (And don’t ever throw a tantrum about it in public.)

ER: Thank you very much KJ for doing this interview!

KJ: Thank you for having me!

*** *** ***

KJ Charles next release is Wanted, A Gentleman, coming out on January 9 from Riptide publishing. 

Add to Goodreads / Pre-order from Riptide 


Blurb

By the good offices of Riptide Publishing
KJ Charles’s new Entertainment


WANTED, A GENTLEMAN
Or, Virtue Over-Rated


the grand romance of


Mr. Martin St. Vincent . . . a Merchant with a Mission, also a Problem
Mr. Theodore Swann . . . a humble Scribbler and Advertiser for Love



Act the First:

the offices of the Matrimonial Advertiser, London
where Lonely Hearts may seek one another for the cost of a shilling


Act the Second:


a Pursuit to Gretna Green (or thereabouts)


featuring

a speedy Carriage
sundry rustic Inns
a private Bed-chamber

***


In the course of which are presented


Romance, Revenge, and Redemption
Deceptions, Discoveries, and Desires


the particulars of which are too numerous to impart

Contemporary Romance

Review: Someone Like You by Lauren Layne

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Title: Someone Like You (Oxford #3)
Author: Lauren Layne
Date of publication: 6 Dec 2016
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Loss, grieving

Author's links:
Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads
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My rating: 4 stars



Blurb

Lincoln Mathis doesn’t hide his reputation as Manhattan’s ultimate playboy. In fact, he cultivates it. But behind every flirtatious smile, each provocative quip, there’s a secret that Lincoln’s hiding from even his closest friends—a tragedy from his past that holds his heart quietly captive. Lincoln knows what he wants: someone like Daisy Sinclair, the sassy, off-limits bridesmaid he can’t take his eyes off at his best friend’s wedding. He also knows that she’s everything he can never have.

After a devastating divorce, Daisy doesn’t need anyone to warn her off the charming best man at her sister’s wedding. One look at the breathtakingly hot Lincoln Mathis and she knows that he’s exactly the type of man she should avoid. But when Daisy stumbles upon Lincoln’s secret, she realizes there’s more to the charming playboy than meets the eye. And suddenly Daisy and Lincoln find their lives helplessly entwined in a journey that will either heal their damaged souls . . . or destroy them forever.

Review


I really enjoyed the first book in this series,Irresistibly Yours, a light-hearted romance between two sports journalist. It was fun and sweet. Someone Like You is nothing like it and I still loved it just the same, if not more.

Lincoln's story is heart-breaking and there numerous moments in it that brought tears to my eyes. Yet,  the pervading sense of not one of sadness and grief but rather there was always a ray of light that gave the readers hope that things will work out for the best in the end. 

Lincoln's story and to a lesser extend, Daisy's story is one about loss and grief and ultimately having a second chance, moving forward to find new meaning. 

I really liked how the darker aspects of the story were balanced out by the easy interactions of the tight-knit group of friends made up of the couples from Stiletto and Oxford magazines.

Lincoln was not alone, once the masks fell off. We see that in fact he is not the flirtatious player we thought he was based on previous two books. It was Daisy who first saw through his mask and the author took the reader with her on the journey of discovering the man behind the mask. In a way it was a discovery for him too because he was no longer the man he used to be and had to figure he was now and who he wanted to be in the future.  

Daisy's scars from her failed marriage pale in comparison with Lincoln's suffering but they have made her hesitant, questioning herself on her feelings and her judgement of people.

They started off as friends, just two people with secrets but who felt comfortable in each other's company right from the start. The development of their relationship felt very easy, natural with its up and downs and setbacks.

I really liked how it all played out after Lincoln's big loss. The time he needed to accept and let go, to move on and try to love someone without the feelings of guilt and betrayal, it all felt natural to me. Daisy understood his situation but still she felt hurt and it prompted it to realise a few things about herself. She took a risk and went back to living a full life.

Their coming together in the end was just beautiful and very emotional. The epilogue gave them the sweetest HEA, even went a bit over the top with all the weddings and kids, but still I found it fitting the overall tone of the story.

My only two minor quibbles refer to a moment around middle of the story involving Lincoln which read as paranormal, thus out of place for me. The other thing that I'm uncertain about is the introduction of two new characters who will be the hero and heroine of the next book. I think Lincoln's story would have been the perfect ending to the series, with all the couples from the previous and this series, it all becomes too much, too many people, interconnections. I might be wrong about this and sincerely hope the next book will live up the high expectations this series have set for it. 

Purchase links: KINDLE | NOOK | IBOOKS

Erotic romance

Review: Bad Neighbor by Molly O'Keefe

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Title: Bad Neighbor
Author: Molly O'Keefe
Genre/Themes: Erotic romance
Release Date: 21 Nov 2016

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Author's links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads

My rating: 4 stars




Blurb

He's sexy... He's dangerous... He's right next door. 

I gave up everything to save my sister from a monster, and now I’m lying low in this rundown apartment so I can stay out of danger. Hiding from everyone.
Except for the guy in apartment 1A.
He’s rude. Silent. Muscled, mysterious, and hot as hell. I don’t know if he likes me or hates me, but the more time I spend with him, the less it matters.
I want him.
And for the first time in my life I'm going to go after what I want.

She doesn’t belong in my world.

From the second 1B moves in, I know she’s keeping secrets. She doesn’t belong here, much less with a street fighter like me.
But that doesn’t stop me from craving her. Her softness and sweetness. She’s a drug, and suddenly I’m addicted.
I know someone is going to try and hurt her and I can’t let that happen. But unless I push her away and get her out of my world, that someone could be me


Review


I'm a big fan of Molly O'Keefe's writing, her Boys of Bishop and Everything I Left Unsaid series are one of my favourite contemporary romances.

bad Neighbor is a new standalone book, though a second one focused on secondary characters will be coming out soon. If I have to pick one word to describe this story it would be HOT! It's also a bit dark, a lot of intense and a tad predictable.

What we have is a bad boy underground fighter falling for the good geeky and shy girl next door. By the end though what we get is not what we saw initially. Instead Jesse and Charlotte turn out to be two complicated people - loyal to their families, ready to sacrifice their own chance at happiness to help out their siblings.

I like how in every book Molly O'Keefe manages to create very intriguing characters, believable characters that draw you in their world and you can't help but fall in love with them

Charlotte journey of taking control of her life was fascinating. She was timid, geeky, lack confidence and her self-esteem was low but with Jess she acted bold, went for what she wanted despite being afraid of rejection and ridicule, was brave to try new things and i love that about her th emost. She was a really interesting character and enjoyed her a lot.

Jesse was a more the standard romance bad boy hero - rough and tough underground fighter but with a heart of gold, doing it for his family (his brother). He started as seemingly being rude to Charlotte but in fact he was there, helping her settle in, protecting her from the very beginning. He treated her just right, gave her space and time when she needed it but also pushed her just enough for her to act, to go forward,

This is an erotic romance and love scenes stand out with their intensity. That threesome that became a sort of a foursome was something special, super hot but also revealing all too well the characters' deep emotions and (hidden, at least for Charlotte) desires.

Bad Neighbor is a strong erotic read, with great characters falling in lust which quickly turns into true intimacy and love.

Purchase links: Amazon


Blog Tour

New and Debut: Jude Sierra

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Today's New and Debut post features Jude Sierra and her latest release, Idelwild, published by Interlude Press. This post is part of the Blog tour for the book, so read on for an interview with Jude, an excerpt from the book, and don't forget to enter the giveaway at the end for a chance wo twn a copy pof Idlewild.



Meet Jude


1. Tell us about yourself and why did you decide to become a romance writer? 

Well I’m a 34 year old mother of two young boys. I’ve been married for about a billion years (ok, actually 11), and I’m halfway through a Masters in Writing and Rhetoric. I’m currently applying for PhD programs, so my head is consistently exploding. Pretty usual stuff!
I began writing as a poet, and I transitioned into writing long form fiction in 2007 when I did NaNoWriMo for the first time. I still write poetry, but I’m an incredibly slow, nitpicky, and obsessive poet. Fiction suits me in many ways – and the poetic side of me comes out a lot in my lyrical style. 

I think I love romance because we get to really explore some human complexity but still have happy endings, still provide escape and joy for readers. As an avid reader, I can say there’s nothing like romance for me. It’s like homecoming, it’s comfort and I need that. I think there are aspects of writing romance that are really challenging and exciting as a writer. For example, writing complicated or flawed characters falling in love or redirecting their lives. I love writing sex, I’ll be honest. Not just because….sexy. But also sex scenes provide such great ground for character exploration and work for a writer. Everything I put into a sex scene has some sort of purpose for me; it’s never gratuitous. Though, again….sexy. Love that. 

2. Can you share some of your favourite books and authors?

How much time and patience do we all have? Just kidding. I’ll try to limit myself to romance genre right now. I have a few books I’ll go back to over and over – I’m a re-reader, particularly when I’m stressed out. Small Wonders by Courtney Lux is a fabulous book. Her main character starts so prickly and complicated and difficult, but watching his journey is so incredibly satisfying. His backstory is painful, which makes the ending of the book so special.

I am currently obsessed with Roan Parrish, Avon Gale, and Santino Hassel + Megan Erickson’s work. They’ve each crafted series (Middle of Somewhere for Parrish, Scoring Chances for Gale, and Cyber Love for Hassel and Erickson) that I’ve read multiple times. 

I’ll admit I’m a huge Hunger Games fan. I’m actually re-reading them now (although, what a time to be re-reading these particular books!). And if you haven’t read The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, please do so. The blurb for the first book sounds insane, but these books are fantastic. I’m a huge YA/NA reader, as you can probably tell. 

3. Who/what do you consider your writing influence/inspiration? 

Langston Hughes, Pablo Neruda and Sharon Olds. All poets, right? But really, these are poets who influenced my love for the written word, and inspired me to craft my particular voice and style. As far as novelists go, I have to credit Diana Gabaldon as a huge inspiration – I hope to one day achieve even a quarter of what she does with her storytelling and prose. 

4. What kind of stories can the readers expect from you (contemporary/historical/sci-fi, adult/NA/YA, etc)?

Oh man, a little of everything? I tend to flummox my publisher because I write what moves me, so I’m all over the place. I would say that in general I write contemporary romance. Idlewild, my current release is definitely contemporary with touches of coming of age (with the age difference in the characters, it had to work that way). I am a big fan of NA, and my next book will probably fall into a NA contemporary category. 

5. Please, introduce your latest release 

My current book is called Idlewild. It’s set in Detroit, and it’s a contemporary. I love Detroit – I and my family have ties here that go back a few generations, and I really wanted to write a positive and realistic story set there. Detroit sets a complex backdrop for our characters, who come from very different backgrounds, to learn about each other and themselves. 

Our main characters are Asher, who is a widower trying to keep the restaurant he started with his late husband alive. The book starts with him going for one last Hail Mary plan to do so, firing his staff and hiring a new staff to get a fresh start. One of the waiters he hires is Tyler, who is fresh out of college. Tyler is a very interesting man – he’s a little lost, but he’s incredibly charismatic. Despite having no restaurant experience, Asher hires him. They make a great team, and as they work together more and more, Tyler begins to take on a bigger role in helping Asher save Idlewild. 

Idlewild brings them together, offers Tyler an opportunity to find his place and to take steps to really find himself and his happiness. As his relationship with Asher goes from friendship to intimate, they both have a lot to navigate – not just Tyler’s arc, but Asher realizing he has to confront grief and loss he’s been telling himself he’s over. There’s a lot of lovely discovery between them, and the city plays a big role in this. 



Summary 

Asher Schenck and his husband John opened their downtown gastro pub in the midst of Detroit’s revival. Now, five years after John’s sudden death, Asher is determined to pull off a revival of his own. In a last ditch attempt to bring Idlewild back to life, he fires everyone and hires a new staff. Among them is Tyler Heyward, a recent college graduate in need of funds to pay for med school. Tyler is a cheery balm on Asher’s soul, and their relationship quickly shifts from business to friendship. When they fall for each other, it is not the differences of race or class that challenge their love, but the ghosts and expectations of their respective pasts. Will they remain stuck, or move toward a life neither of them has allowed himself to dream about? 




Author Bio and Links

Jude Sierra first began writing poetry as a child in her home country of Brazil. Still a student of the form, she began writing long-form fiction by tackling her first National Novel Writing Month project in 2007, and in 2011 began writing in online communities, where her stories have thousands of readers. Her previous novels include Hush (2015) and What It Takes (2016), which received a Starred Review from Publishers Weekly. 



EXCERPT


Today when Asher greets him, he seems more present. Tyler knew this place was in dire straits, but if he needed confirmation, the harried expression on Asher’s face when they first met was it.

Although his clothes hint that he’s tried to put himself together, his hair is a mess. It’s longish, with a hint of curls and is the kind of tousled only some men can pull off. Though deep brown, Tyler can see some gray at the temples. Asher has dark eyes and sports the shadow of a beard. Despite the pallor of his skin that indicates he hasn’t gotten sun in a long time and his slightly sloppy appearance, Tyler can’t help but notice how handsome he is. He’s taller than Tyler by a few inches—most men are. He has no idea how old Asher is—it would hardly be polite to ask—but he thinks maybe in his thirties. That’s hardly old, but it’s older than he; that’s never been an attraction. But, it’s working right now. Tyler swallows and smiles.

“So,” Asher starts. He sits at the same table. It’s just as covered in paperwork. “What are your thoughts about working here?”

“Are…” Tyler eyes him. “Are you hiring me?”

“I am strongly considering it.” Asher doesn’t smile but his eyes are friendly. 

“It would be great to work here,” Tyler says. “Really. This building has a vibe.” 

“Oh, I don’t know. Something here feels right.” He wonders if he’s making a fool of himself. Tyler sometimes can sense the energy of a person or place. It’s nothing he seeks—but some people and places he’s encountered just feel right.

Empty, Idlewild brims with potential. It’s a building with great bones, long but narrow, with high groin-vaulted ceilings and a bar that curves down the length of the front-of-house floor. Cream-colored wainscoting lines the bottom of the walls—he sees it running up the stairs to the second floor—and the walls are a rich deep red that’s brightened and warmed by an eclectic assortment of antique lighting fixtures. Wide wooden steps with carved spindles lead to the second floor seating area. The dark wood and walls are offset by light through the large glass window. 

“Well, I hope so.” Asher looks around, then shrugs. “Or that I can make something of it.” 

“Just you?” Tyler asks. “That sounds exhausting.” 

Asher tilts his head with a tiny smile quirking his lips. 

“Well, if you wanna take a chance on me, which I recommend, I want to help you with that.” Tyler smiles as warmly as he can and is gratified when Asher’s eyes catch his. They share a second of eye contact that leaves Tyler short of breath. He looks away quickly. 







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Author Interview

New and Debut: Izzy van Swelm

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My guest today is Izzy Van Swelm, author of mm romance series. Her first book, Soulmate for Sin (Amazon), was published by Wilde City Press in 2015 and she has also released a Christmas novella, All I Want for Christmas.


Meet Izzy


1. Tell us about yourself and why did you decide to become a romance writer?

First of all, can I thank you for the chance to be on Ellie Reads. There aren’t many opportunities for new writers to promote themselves these days, as everything seems to depend on how much ‘traffic’ an author can bring to a review site…

To answer your question, I am English and have a gorgeous family who I love very much. I spent a decade at University studying English Literature and English Studies ending up with three degrees, including two post-grad. I love the written word in all its forms, and I hope I shared a little of that love with the students I tutored in English Lit. for several years. 

I have always written little things (apart from essays!) and my first poem The Owl was published in a school anthology when I was nine – nothing has quite matched the thrill of that's probably why I still remember the title!

I started reviewing books about five years ago, and it motivated me to try it for myself I suppose. I did face-to-face pitching to editors at UK Meet 2014, which was terrifying, although everyone was very nice. Each time I finished a pitch I would be on my laptop to message Alexis Hall asking him what he thought it meant and which one should I take etc. I really had no experience and too much excitement, so Alexis grounded me a bit! 

I was very lucky to be offered contracts from two different publishers for my first book Soul Mate for SIN and it was published in January 2015 by Wilde City Press. They have also published books by TJ Klune, Eric Arvin and Heidi Cullinan so I felt like a real author then 


2. Can you share some of your favourite books and authors?


This is a really hard question, as my favourite books change all the time. Currently, in queer romance I would have to say Alexis Hall and Harper Fox are my favourite authors overall, and JL Merrow, such a good author for thoughtful, observational novels with brilliant British humour. There are some really good new authors coming along too.

Favourite books – well I recently read and loved Bitter Legacy by Dal Maclean, what a marvelous debut novel. I don’t usually go for novellas, but two of my all time favourite works John & Jackie by TJ Klune and Sand and Ruin and Gold by Alexis Hall are of course novellas and a short novel by JL Merrow, Muscling Through is another favourite of mine. 

I also love the dramatic intensity of the Brontes, the social commentary in Jane Austen, the pomposity and thought provoking nature of Herman Hesse and the wonder of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I really enjoyed Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie and – oops sorry, I tend to ramble when talking books. 


3. Who/what do you consider your writing influence/inspiration?


Most important to me is music and nighttime. I always make a playlist for my writing whether it ends up in finished form or stays in my WIP folder. I have very eclectic taste in music, so my inspiration can be Chopin, Medieval Babes, John Grant, Joy Division, Muse, Lady Gaga, Vast or Ryuichi Sakamoto etc. 

Nightime because when the world is more or less asleep and it’s dark, everything seems possible. I’m a bit weird - I like looking out at the night sky and just watching tree branches sway in front of the moon, stuff like that *blushes*

I don’t think I could point to a literary inspiration, as I think we absorb something from everything we read, and there would be no point in trying to write like someone else. Certain authors inspire me to strive to be better, but I’m not sure that is the same thing.


4. What kind of stories can the readers expect from you (contemporary/historical/sci-fi, adult/NA/YA, etc)?


Mainly contemporary romance, but I like to add paranormal twists to my stories. Humans have such capacity for beautiful flights of fancy and imagination. It is quite easy in the depth of a silent night to believe an owl is in fact the soul of a warrior, a coincidence is destiny and an unconscious state can project us through time. I would like to write a romantic paranormal novel, maybe the next one ;) 


5. Please, introduce your upcoming release.


At time of writing my new Xmas release is ‘too WIP’ to be seen by anyone but me, and even I’m not sure lol. However, I am tweaking and re-releasing my Xmas novella from last year All I Want for Christmas, so I hope to have two out. 



All I Want for Christmas


Stuart, still grieving for his husband Oliver, is spending Christmas Eve evening in a village church watching his granddaughter in a nativity play. 

The location, the play, and the sound of the children singing carols bring back memories and so much more…


So, Stuart is in church to watch the Nativity Play which includes his Grand-daughter, Olivia as a bunny rabbit, and is directed by his daughter Lottie. As he waits for the play to begin he is drawn back into the past when he watched the then four-year-old Lottie act in the Nativity, in the same church...



EXCERPT

‘I wish that windbag would be quiet and let the singing and the play begin.’

‘Oliver, this is his biggest gig of the year. If you’re in his church, you have to expect the vicar to big his part up, he’s got a captive audience.’

‘Big his part up?’ Oliver almost snorted. ‘Well, I just wish he wasn’t quite so religious.’

Stuart looked at Oliver in amused astonishment.

‘What? I know it’s a church, but he must know we’re only here for the kids and the play.’ 

Stuart sighed. He wasn’t religious either, but he did feel in a church you had to…pretend? 

Maybe Oliver’s honesty was better. This church was special though - when same sex marriage became legal, Oliver and Stuart had approached this very vicar, now expounding about the meaning behind the Christmas story, and been met with nothing but kindness and congratulations. 

It was important to Stuart that they get married in St Lawrence. It was all tied up with acceptance and belonging for him, and he wasn’t an atheist, just angry at a church who mainly felt his love for Oliver was sinful. Oliver wanted it because Stuart did—he had no time for churches or religion. 

Oliver had emerged from childhood a committed, happy atheist, or at most agnostic. No Christmas services and Nativities for him. A good Christmas was lots of television, friends, games, alcohol and overly full stomachs. The church hadn’t played any part in his life when he, and his siblings were young—so he continued this tradition by ignoring God and the institution altogether.

Yet here they were again, in church—for the second time. This evening, a Christmas Nativity service, but the first had been their wedding.

Initially, Oliver had been furious when Stuart proposed marriage—not the response he had hoped for of course. 

‘Why?’ Oliver had yelled, as he paced around the room.

‘Why?’ Stuart’s knees were starting to complain, and he felt rather self-conscious kneeling in the middle of his lounge, arm outstretched, his hand holding a small jewellery box. 

Oliver stopped his pacing and started to fiddle with the romantic display on the coffee table.‘Strawberries in chocolate?’

‘Lindt 70% dark, I dipped them myself…’

Pulling the unopened bottle of champagne from the ice bucket, Oliver read the label, ‘Bolly?’

‘Of course,’ answered Stuart trying to keep the strain out of his voice. He felt that if he so much as breathed too heavily, he would lose this argument. 

He suspected that to Oliver this came under his oft-used phrase - ‘conforming to heteronormative values’. This was a society that had rejected him, and them many times. Stuart could see his point, but was it wrong if it made them happy? Surely, the fact that they were two men living together with their baby daughter was a two-finger salute to those values, and that society.

‘You did all this for me?’ 

Stuart had nodded.

‘Why, do you want to get married Stuart?’ Oliver’s gaze didn’t waver as he asked. So, Stuart cleared his throat quietly, 

‘It isn’t why do I want to get married. The question should be why do I want to marry you? And that’s the easiest question ever—because I love you, because you are the last thought I have when I go to sleep, and the first when I wake up.’

Oliver’s screwed up ‘annoyed face’ had relaxed as his anger dissipated, so a heartened Stuart carried on…

‘I know, to you, it looks as though we are conforming, but it’s important to me that I tell the world how I feel about you and our family. I don’t want this to be a political act of defiance, or one of conforming under pressure. I want this to be a celebration of ‘us’ with our family and friends. Just once I want to stand holding hands with you merely as an expression of intimacy and love, and have everyone around us share that.’ 

Oliver took hold of Stuart’s hand, and pulled him to standing. Just as well as Stuart felt, he could no longer stand without assistance. With Stuart in front of him, and still holding Stuart’s hand, he said 

‘Yes.’

Stuart started to grin—a smile wasn’t joyful enough. He picked Oliver up and swung him around laughing.

‘Just so you know I don’t want poncey pastel flowers, or pale grey suits and no hymns or religious crap…’ Oliver laughed too, as Stuart finally put him down.

‘Ok, no poncey flowers, check – no grey suits, check.’ Stuart bent and picked up a strawberry.

‘Oh, no God, no check?!’ Oliver cut in, as he went to bite the offered chocolate dipped strawberry.

‘It might be a tiny bit ‘religious’, if the wedding is in the village church,’ Stuart rapidly proffered another bite of strawberry… ‘Please.’

While Stuart opened the Bollinger with a flourish, Oliver nibbled on the soft fruity flesh and groaned, as he tasted the decadent combination of the strawberry and chocolate. Taking his glass of champagne, 

Oliver lifted it in salute, ‘You wicked man. How can I refuse you?’ 

That night had been theirs. The strawberries, chocolate and champagne were no sweeter than the kisses and lovemaking that followed. 

Lottie must have known the night was special, as their daughter didn’t wake them until 6am.

Purchase link: Amazon



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