Fabulous news for fans of You First by J.C. Lillis (or fans of superhero stories, second chance romance, found family, and general adorableness): sequel The Forever Place releases on August 18th, and we’ve got the cover reveal right here, so come check it out!
Since his breakup with his longtime boyfriend, small-town superhero Levon Ludlow has undergone an extreme life makeover. He’s got two new jobs, a remodeled house, custom-tailored trousers, and the power to talk to an even wider array of snarky and cantankerous animals. He swears he’s too busy with his new life to miss his old love—so when Jay calls with a problem only Levon can help with, he’s sure he can keep it professional and drama-free. Even if it DOES involve two weeks at a honeymoon resort with his ex.
Pairing up as a makeshift team, Levon and Jay head for the Valentines island resort in the Florida Keys, where an outbreak of scandalous guest behavior is linked to a flock of red birds and their strange and alluring song. Levon’s mission: use his animal-talking expertise to decode the birds’ song, uncover their goal, and send them back where they came from. Jay’s mission: use his water-moving skills to protect the island from a storm that’s brewing on the horizon. As Levon and Jay work together and reminisce in this land of heart-shaped tubs and vibrating beds, a flood of old feeling pulls them under—but unresolved issues and guilty secrets could kill their second chance before it gets off the ground. Can they come back together, once and for all, and find a new forever place that works for them both?
The sun-drenched sequel to the bittersweet YOU FIRST, this adult romcom is a funny valentine to superhero stories, found families, and love of all kinds, the old and the new.
Here’s the absolutely lovely cover designed in collaboration between the author and Mindy Dunn!
J.C. Lillis is the author of contemporary YA novels HOW TO REPAIR A MECHANICAL HEART, WE WON’T FEEL A THING, and A&B, plus various other stories about fandom, friendship, love, and art. She lives in Baltimore with her patient family, a possibly haunted dollhouse, and a cat who intends to eat her someday. YOU FIRST and THE FOREVER PLACE are her first adult novels.
Oh, how I love this book. Let me count the ways! A) It’s perfect on the coming-of-age front, B) it has found family in multiple iterations, C) it has a Black lesbian heroine in STEM from a military background that I know anyone who was an overachieving child (and especially those pushed by parents) will identify with, more and more so the closer you get to Grace’s identity, and D) the romance is so. Freaking. Cute. It’s not what you’re picturing when you think “Got married while drunk in Vegas” but it’s such a great take on it that you are not gonna be mad about it!
Honey Girl releases February 23 from Park Row Books, so please make good use of those buy links below to preorder!
With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls’ trip to Vegas to celebrate. She’s a straight A, work-through-the-summer certified high achiever. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t know…until she does exactly that.
This one moment of departure from her stern ex-military father’s plans for her life has Grace wondering why she doesn’t feel more fulfilled from completing her degree. Staggering under the weight of her father’s expectations, a struggling job market and feelings of burnout, Grace flees her home in Portland for a summer in New York with the wife she barely knows.
In New York, she’s able to ignore all the annoying questions about her future plans and falls hard for her creative and beautiful wife, Yuki Yamamoto. But when reality comes crashing in, Grace must face what she’s been running from all along—the fears that make us human, the family scars that need to heal and the longing for connection, especially when navigating the messiness of adulthood.
It’s a new month, and that means hanging out with a new author, in this case the positively brilliant K. Ancrum, whom you might know from her incredibly intense and beautiful debut, The Wicker King, or from her tender and alternately heartbreaking and heartwarming sophomore, The Weight of the Stars, which releases on March 19! Whether you’re already a fan or you’re about to become one who just doesn’t know it yet, come along and meet her!
First of all, congrats on the upcoming release! For those who haven’t been lucky enough to read The Weight of the Starsahead of time, what would you like them to know about it?
Its a tender love story about two girls standing in the wreckage of their parent’s circumstances who find a way to learn how to face the same circumstances “harder better faster stronger”. If you’ve seen the movie Interstellar, its like… if the movie was about Murph growing up, but from the perspective of another girl who thought she was super hot. I wrote this book because I wanted to make a soft and precious love story for the huge HUGE turn out that the WLW community had for The Wicker King. I really hope I did them justice with this one.
Of course, The Weight of the Stars isn’t your first queer YA, as you debuted with your fabulous and wildly intense and thoughtful The Wicker King, which is so much about co-dependency and mental health at its heart. What drove writing that book for you, and who do you really hope finds it?
Like many authors who write about difficult contemporary circumstances, I wrote The Wicker King from a lot of personal experience. I really wanted to explore the nuance between Jack’s colorful display of physical illness and the dramatic and incredibly realistic portrayal of August’s descent into mental illness. That sliver of a line between August’s experience with Jack and how readers processed August as a child who desperately needed help and whether or not they would recognize that he did was very personal to me. That aside though, I really hope that it finds teenagers who have noticed a friend struggling, adults who are in positions of power who need that extra push to intervene when something doesn’t seem quite right with the teens in their lives and, and I haven’t mentioned this at all before but: I also hope that older MLM find the book because a significant amount of my older MLM readers have said that August’s struggle with his orientation really resonated with them in a specific and very gentle way. And I think that’s very precious ,so I hope more older MLM find The Wicker King.
One thing that’s great about your website is that you’re really into sharing information on your publishing journey with your readers, which I love. What do you think are the most important bits from yours for other aspiring authors to know? And what’s been your favorite moment of the journey so far?
There are still posts there from when I almost gave up writing The Wicker King, or was struggling with whether I wanted the book to be explicitly Bi because I was afraid it wouldn’t sell. Mostly because I wound up pushing through both of those insecurities to find myself where I am now. But looking back: reading the plaintive cries of a younger me, the soft worries and requests for help, is such an encouraging thing. It really makes me want to pull myself up and march towards an uncertain future.
I think my favorite moment of the process is reading all of my edits. I have had the incredible luck to have had two a hilarious and great agents and 3 hilarious and great editors. I love flipping through the pages of my book and seeing comments like “Oh my god” at the chaotic things my characters are doing. There is this one scene in particular in The Weight of the Stars, where the MC spontaneously realizes that she’s had a crush on her love interest the whole time and she has a full on hysteria fit about being really gay for her in a car, and one of my editors wrote that she screeched through reading the scene and I remember reading that comment and laughing so hard.
In The Weight of the Stars, we get some really wonderful aspects of queer representation that aren’t often found in YA. What felt really important to you to have in this story, and why?
I ride or die for found families. Found families are such a huge part of western queer culture and modern western queer history that its an honor to continue the tradition of their representation. Mostly-LGBTQ friend groups providing familial love and support, shoulders to cry on, homes to crash in, food to eat and physical affection is so pure, so precious and so important.
I also feel like there is a yawning chasm of butch characters in F/F. The Weight of the Stars gives you Soft Butch with Alexandria and Butch with Ryann, for people who are familiar with those terms and with those identities. F/F is already rare and tends to sell less than M/M (for a multitude of reasons), so this isn’t meant to be divisive. But a majority of F/F is not about butch girls and I wanted to build this love story between two butch girls that is ten times softer and more gentle than anyone would imagine a story about butch love could be. I wanted tenderness that prickles tears at the corner of your eyes and soft yearning that you’d usually associate with Virginia Woolf, but I wanted it for a giant muscle girl.
Your books feel so…rare, I guess is the word? There’s something about the way you write that’s so special and so different but still feels like part of the same unusual universe. What’s a K. Ancrum book to you? What do you think will always show up in your work in some way?
This is such a cool question! First, I think my format is probably a huge part of that. I’m “known” for telling instead of showing, largely because I have something else big to show instead (example: August telling the reader that he’s well, while he shows the reader that he is Not, Ryann telling the readers she has no family, and then showing the readers that she has a close family made of friends. ). I also kind of format my books more like movies, they’re intended to be read straight through and the pacing and format reflects that. There is also an immediacy in the way I write romance. I write like the words “I love you” are pushing at the inside of the teeth of my characters, and I think that really resonates with a decent amount of readers (thank goodness haha).
I think the thing that will always show up in my work is tenderness in the relationships between my characters and physical affection. I like my characters to show care through touch, even if its hard for them to use their words to express it. Teenagers have a very particular and rare relationship with touch, especially because they are in that transitional stage where familial touch and platonic touch start moving to make room for sexual touch. And they often explore the boundaries of that in a way that adults and children do not (example: when I was in HS, I had a friend who would often do the hair of the other girls and it was a very familial touch moment that I can never imagine her repeating as an adult) There is a tenderness to that that I think makes my books feel kind of quaint and strangely realistic in ways that a lot of people are unable to put their finger on.
I am OBSESSED with The Golden Record. Just…. we really did that! We really made a record of all of humanity’s Greats and sent it out to space to be found by anyone or anything to try and make them love us! Make them want to understand us! Make them listen to our music and hear the sounds of our woods, our fields, our seas! and then we gave them a map so they can find us, and by god isn’t that the pinnacle of humanity? The desperate craving to be loved? The desperate curiosity towards the beyond? The desperate humbleness of our offering, but given with earnestness nonetheless? That hopeless sort of Human Hope we fling in every direction, reckless and violent to the end? Our endless chasm of “Maybe… Please?” and “Look at us!” and “Look for us!”
We sent it in the 1970s it still flies, endless in the black. As singular and lonely as we are.
What other queer YA are you reading lately that you’ve loved? Anything you’re especially looking forward to?
This is a nightmare answer but I’m currently just reading tons and tons of fan fiction. I’m learning a lot about portraying the intricacies of desire in a thousand delicate ways, and learning how people tend to view courtship when they’re at their most self-indulgent, most secret, most private. Fan fiction is written in the dead of night in the dark for your friends or because your heart says that you Must. I want to access that flavor for my work, from a learning perspective.
As for books I’m looking forward to: I’m so freakin’ hype about Wilder Girls and The Last 8. I’m also super pumped for His Hideous Heart, the anthology you have coming out. I love EAP and the prickly way he writes and I’m excited to see what you all made of him. (Blogger’s Note: Thank you!)
What’s the first LGBTQIAP+ representation you remember in media, for better or for worse?
This is going to sound really crazy, but when I was 8, I read a romance novel that included an intersex major character. I remember reading descriptions of her and her body like I was looking into the face of god. I had literally never heard of anything that was so perfect and so beautiful. I don’t remember what the book was called or anything about it, but I remember her lover saying something to her about how “she was made up of many pieces of many pretty things” and melting. Just, filled to the brim with a hunger for that sort of acceptance and for being cherished exactly as I was (which was a bi child).
I’m working on a cool novel about a train heist and another novel about possession!
K. Ancrum grew up in Chicago Illinois. She attended Dominican University to study Fashion Merchandizing, but was lured into getting an English degree after spending too many nights experimenting with hard literary criticism and hanging out with unsavory types, like poetry students. Currently, she lives in Andersonville and writes books at work when no one is looking.
I’m very excited to have Alex Harrow on the site today, revealing the cover of their upcoming adult sci-fi best described as “gay Firefly with magic,” Empire of Light! (See tags for more information on rep and content warnings.)
Check it out:
Damian Nettoyer is the Empire’s go-to gun. He kills whoever they want him to kill. In exchange, he and his rag-tag gang of crooks get to live, and Damian’s psychokinetic partner and lover, Aris, isn’t issued a one-way ticket to an Empire-sanctioned lobotomy.
Then Damian’s latest mark, a suave revolutionary named Raeyn, kicks his ass and demands his help. The first item on the new agenda: take out Damian’s old boss—or Raeyn will take out Damian’s crew.
To protect his friends and save his own skin, Damian teams up with Raeyn to make his revolution work. As the revolution gains traction, Damian gets way too close to Raeyn, torn between the need to shoot him one moment and kiss him the next. But Aris slips further away from Damian, and as Aris’ control over his powers crumbles, the Watch catches on.
With the Empire, Damian had two policies: shoot first and don’t ask questions. But to save the guy he loves, he’ll set the world on fire.
And here’s the cover, designed by rock star Natasha Snow!
Gorgeous, isn’t it?? But wait, there’s more! Stay tuned (for another .03 seconds for an exclusive excerpt from Empire of Light by Alex Harrow) that begins…now!
SHOOTINGS WITH A CHANCE OF EXPLOSIONS
Funny how I always had to be the guy who ended up with a gun to his head.
“I thought you said this was going to be easy,” Aris said somewhere to my right. His voice was thick, the words choked out past the gun shoved underneath his jaw. The two Reds who kept us pinned were all broad shoulders and raw muscle. Huge white guys. Buzz cuts. Built like fucking tanks. In the low light of a fading sunset spilling into the empty warehouse, their leather coats gleamed like congealing blood.
The run had started out simple enough: get in, dump the cargo—a couple dozen barrels of diesel and some tech we’d snatched off a derailed train—and get the hell out. The place’d been abandoned for years, just another slouching ruin on the outskirts of Low Side. The perfect hiding spot to stash away things you didn’t want the Watch to find, while waiting for the highest bidder to jump the gun. A surefire way to some quick and easy cash and still get to my real job for the night.
Standing there with my face mashed against the crumbling brick wall, a gun barrel against my skull, it looked more like a surefire way straight to a cell in the Finger of Light.
If we were lucky.
The guy above me looked more than happy to put a bullet into my brain pan and chalk both Aris and I up as “casualties, resisting arrest.” The Watch, safeguards of the Empire, the Consolidated Nations at their best. To protect and serve. Right.
Not like I could just tell our dear upstanding Reds to go ahead and stick their guns and handcuffs up their asses, because we kind of were on the same team. I might be running the Empire’s off-the-books hits for extra cash, but officially, I didn’t exist.
Blurting out that I was on their boss’ payroll wouldn’t get me anything but a bullet to the head and my body dumped into the East River. Talk about employment perks.
That’s what I got for double-booking myself. Fucking Murphy’s Law.
And worse, I’d dragged Aris into it.
“Guess Jay was sugarcoating it just a little bit when she said there might be slight complications.”
Someone ratted us out. No way the Watch had just shown up here, far from their usual patrol routes, without any reason. The whole thing’d been a sting from the get-go, and once I found out who’d set us up—
My fingers twitched for my Colt. My Colt that lay cold and useless about five feet away from me. Slim chance I’d be able to shoot both Reds before one of them got to either Aris or me, but I might get lucky and get the drop on one of them. Especially if I could piss him off enough he got stupid. At the very least I could distract them from Aris.
“You know, I kind of need to be somewhere. And I’d really appreciate a little more leg room here,” I said and squirmed under the Red’s grip.
Honestly, by now I probably should’ve memorized some of the regulars’ names or something. To me they all looked the same. All fists ready to punch and guns ready to fire; neatly wrapped in black uniforms and their trademark red coats. Not like this was the first time either. By now, the Watch should really issue us a punch card for frequent visits, maybe something with a rewards program.
Alex Harrow is a genderqueer, pansexual, and demisexual author of queer science fiction and fantasy. Alex’ pronouns are they/them. When not writing queerness with a chance of explosions, Alex is a high school English teacher, waging epic battles against comma splices, misused apostrophes, and anyone under the delusion that the singular ‘they’ is grammatically incorrect.
A German immigrant, Alex has always been drawn to language and stories. They began to write when they realized that the best guarantee to see more books with queer characters was to create them. Alex cares deeply about social justice and wants to see diverse characters, including LGBTQ+ protagonists, in more than the stereotypical coming out story.
Alex currently lives in Utah with their equally geeky wife, outnumbered by three adorable feline overlords, and what could not possibly be too many books.