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.
I know, I know, everyone is tired of hearing how good this book is, but it’s just so much fun, so inventive, has such great representation, is one of the very few gay trans books out there, and you just know it’s written by an Author to Watch. If you’re approximately the only person who hasn’t already, check out Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas!
Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.
When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.
However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.
Today on the site, we’re welcoming JR Gray, author of the Unscripted series, whose second book, Rewritten, released on June 4th! He’s here to talk about writing mental health into his newest romance, a slow-burn Hollywood-set friends-to-lovers that’s a direct sequel of Unscripted (so read that one first!), but first, a little more on the book!
Movie star 102: The headlines are never what they seem.
Quellcrist wasn’t new to fame or the effect it had on a relationship. He’d been married in the spotlight for as long as he’d been famous. But that was before Hale. He knew it was going to test him but even he hadn’t known the toll that months apart would take on his fledgling relationship.
Long days of shooting, different time zones, calls every day dwindled to days without calls, and rumors were all over the rags. Through it all Quell had to battle his own worst enemy but he didn’t know how to win against something inside him. Depression ate him whole and pain took over.
There was so much more at stake than losing his boyfriend, he was losing his best friend. His lifeline, the love of his life. Was there any way to come back from the damage done?
The idea for Unscripted started when I was watching a television show, hoping beyond hope that I wasn’t being queerbaited and that I’d get this amazing love story building. We’ve all been there, shipping something on a favorite show but not expecting to ever get a queer ship. How many times have we all had our hopes up and had the creators ruin it for us. I enjoyed the actors so much I started to watch videos of them and I became obsessed with the idea of two actors falling in love while playing a couple on a television show. This led to me obsessively watching videos on people who played couples in movies or television shows and watching their chemistry. Some went on to be couples and others were just good friends.
But what if I could have both? What if I could write a story where the actors had an intense bromance and then fell in love. As soon as I started crafting the characters I was obsessed. I loved them more than I’ve ever loved any of my other characters. One of the reasons was because I put a lot of my experience with depression into Quell. I felt his pain, and his rejection and his loneliness.
The depression topics in Unscripted were something I’d never done before. I knew it was going to be an intense book. Personal experiences are hard. I had no idea how it would be received, which is always a terrifying moment because I know everyone’s experience with depression is different. I was blown away with the reception and how many people took the time to message me privately to tell me they’d never read a book that showed depression the way they’d experienced it. As soon as I started writing Quell I knew he was special.
I wanted to tell a story that showed how people can realize their sexuality later in life as well as work in one of my favorite tropes: friends to lovers. I wanted to build a safe space in the friendship between Quell and Hale. Something that would help bring Quell out of his loneliness and someone to be there through his dark times. I wanted their relationship to be intense and born out of friendship. I knew it was the only way Quell would open up and feel safe.
This was a massive undertaking. But the book poured out of me and I loved it from the beginning. I knew book two would be even more intense and harder to write because Quell would go darker with his and Hale’s time apart but I knew getting to the HEA would be worth it for these two.
Gray is a cynical Chicago native, who drinks coffee all day, barely sleeps, and is a little too fashion obsessed. He writes realistic and damaged characters because everyone deserves a happily ever after.
One of the most popular requests on the LGBTQReads Tumblr is for recommendations for m/m trans Romance, and I’m so thrilled to have an author of the world’s newest here to talk about it, and specifically about sexuality in it. Freedom by E. Davies releases today, so let’s take a look at the book and then get right into the author’s guest post!
Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual. But Henry’s junk does.
Agoraphobe Jaden shouldn’t have let his big brother put a ticket in a blind date raffle for him. He wasn’t expecting to win. And certainly not an overnight trip to the Grand Canyon with a gorgeous stranger—and his total opposite, a hunky wilderness guide.
Henry’s excited to meet a guy he clicks with, having finally finished bottom surgery. He’s been living stealth as the man he is for years, but he’s growing tired of hiding his past. Jaden not only accepts him, he captivates Henry, who resolves to be courageous and vulnerable in the rest of his life.
Back home in Denver, Henry starts to take pride in reconnecting with the trans community, while Jaden pushes himself out of his comfort zone. But freedom always comes at a price. Can they take the plunge into their wide open future together?
Transition is most visibly about embodiment—but it goes so much further than this simplified explanation. In seeking a better way of physically being, we’re also embarking on a journey of hope. Transition has forced me to believe in who I can be, and to strive to embrace that potential joy, even when those around me didn’t understand; that process has been the most powerful, life-affirming experience of my life.
I’ve been on this journey for over eight years now. A lot has changed, to say the least. And yet, despite massive increases in visibility and public awareness, and the associated risks and opportunities, the progress is uneven. Visibility rarely means education, and it’s hard to find facts on many aspects of transition and trans life. One of those areas is bottom surgery options for trans men, and another is trans men’s sexuality. Where those areas intersect, it’s often impossible to find facts without seeking out one-on-one conversations—which is not always possible or practical.
This is obviously aggravated by the current campaigns to stigmatize trans men’s surgeries. The abuse associated with trans bodies leads to many of us talking only behind closed doors—which is what transphobic factions want, so that they can control the conversation… and in doing so, our very hopes and dreams. Even when you do encounter information, it tends to be dry surgical factsheets that don’t really relate to everyday life. What will it feel like to actually interact with this different body in sex, while getting dressed, or in the bath? These questions tend to get overlooked in favor of the important decisions on surgeons, optimal healing, and so on. When you’re caught up in the required treadmill of waiting, chasing referrals, fighting for your rights, preparing for outcomes, and more, it’s hard to imagine the minutia of the “after”.
That’s where fiction can come in.
For cis authors, trans lives are often most interesting at their most raw: coming out, starting hormones, getting top surgery. But the focus on trans men in earlier stages of their journeys, the comparatively more easily-available information, and persistent myths and stigmas around gay trans men’s sexuality, means that romance featuring trans men tends to place them before or without bottom surgery.
When I started writing trans characters in MM romance, the questions I strove to answer in my fiction were much like those in the rest of my life: What does trans life actually look like after the moments that tend to be in the spotlight?
In answer, I’ve worked to create stories with a variety of trans men: James in Grind is struggling with debt from top surgery and has no interest in the further surgeries currently available, but packs and enjoys frot; Nic in Flaunt has had meta and is both ready to reembrace his femininity, and exploring his options for phallo now; Jake in Forever is boldly toppy, and would like a hysterectomy but wants to bear a child first. Each character tends to subvert some readers’ expectations, and each reflects an equally valid trans life.
In Freedom, I finally wrote a trans character who is post-phallo (all stages), having dated men before and during transition, but who hasn’t hooked up since then. He also has a complicated relationship with transness, having lived stealth for some years and found it liberating at first, only to feel like it began to encroach upon his freedom instead.
The conversations I wrote in Freedom came from a place of wanting to explore this different possible relationship to transness—post-dysphoria, if you like. Post-transition as a concept seems wobblier than it did when I started writing the book, and when I set out on this surgical journey myself. Nowadays, I think my relationship to myself, my past, and my community will keep on evolving for many years to come.
Throughout all my stories, I hope to show that transition is an ongoing process and series of choices, and there is no one-size-fits-all narrative. Above all, I want trans readers to see that romance can find you at any point in this journey; that they—and we—are loveable and loved no matter what. We can be as open and out or as stealth and private as we wish. Trans men are not an obscure fetish, nor are we desired only post-transition, or only desired by certain sexualities or genders, or any of the other myths. I tend to write pairings of cis gay men and trans gay men, simply because they’ve been the most common in my life experience. Even this fact often surprises people! Plenty of cis gay men do date, fuck, love, befriend, and desire trans men. If that simple fact can’t make it to any broader cultural awareness, there’s certainly an uphill battle about the complicated choices we make regarding our bodies.
When I was preparing for lower surgery, the vast majority of people in my life had no idea what was involved, what the options were, or even that it was possible to have a real, satisfying sex life—either before or after surgery! In particular, cis gay culture at the moment seems to have very little idea how to address our existence, and gay fiction often reflects that confusion and uncertainty. Yet trans men have been dating cis gay men (as well as people of all genders and sexualities) for as long as people have been around! Within broader society, there’s very few portrayals of our bodies, whether we opt for bottom surgery or not.
There seems to be an odd dichotomy of thought: either we must desperately desire surgery (leaving no space for those who are happy without it), or we must reject it, as “natural bottoms” (a deeply transphobic concept that is startlingly pervasive). If we do choose surgery, either it’s “the surgery” that grants us, overnight, a cis penis—a misunderstanding that can create painfully dysphoric interactions with friends and lovers. Or, on the other hand, we’re doomed to life with no satisfactory options.
Where’s the room for reality: that our options are broad, our outcomes not always certain but certainly not hopeless, and our lives not necessarily centered on this one narrow aspect of our selves? That the results can be more than satisfactory, and huge strides in techniques have been made, yet outdated myths tend to circulate more widely than fact? That despite this, there are huge strides in advocacy, information, and aftercare that must be made to protect and uplift us?
Better still, where’s the room for fantasy: that we can set aside all our reality for an afternoon and just enjoy a story? That we can have a perfectly wonderful sex life where the differences between our junk and the expectations placed on cis guy’s are minimal, or even celebrated? This is what was so deeply enjoyable about writing Freedom—having Jaden simply accept Henry’s body, embrace the advantages, and focus on learning what makes Henry, specifically, feel good. It’s not a fantasy that’s so far away from real life. In my experience, that’s how relationships tend to work, yet we often aren’t granted this fantasy on the page. Sensual moments are often used for predictable narrative tension, as if we can’t simply exist, fuck, and love it.
Not that there isn’t a place for those stories—trans lives are messy, real, and diverse. Even within Freedom, with my optimistic outlook and aims, there are moments where Henry struggles to remember that his learned habits about his body are outdated now.
Romance books are a tremendous place to explore how our many lives and loves can look. The diversity in trans bodies and lack of education regarding them can throw off readers sometimes. But that very lack of expectation is also an opportunity! Because no person should be expected to enjoy or desire sex, to fit naturally into any role, or to be interested in any particular sex act, gender, or person. Yet too many norms of society are structured around these rigid, artificial ideals.
In rewriting the rules of expectation, trans people can show a path to sexual liberation for all. At the end of the day, sex—between fictional characters or in real life—ought to be about finding what each person involved desires, and looking for the points of intersection where both (or more) can find what they want and need.
One thing’s for certain: sex, sexuality, and transness isn’t neat and tidy, but it is full of hope and possibility. And that’s something that will never grow old.
Since 2013, E. Davies has crafted feel-good stories of men in love–stories that are brimming with hope, found families, and realistic guys next door getting their modern fairytale endings. As for hobbies: rescuing bees, dancing badly, traipsing through meadows, and studying photos of cute guys for research totally count, right?
I’m really thrilled to have Katrina Jackson back on the site today for this beautiful essay on finding queer Black love in literature. I asked her to write it after seeing her Twitter threads about it, and I’m so grateful that she did. You can see more about Kat and her books here, but frankly, I’m antsy to get to the post, so, onward!
I didn’t start reading romance with any kind of intention until I was an adult, but I have loved love stories my entire life, especially Black love stories. There was something about seeing movies with Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee and realizing that they had spent decades sharing their passion for art and activism with one another, that made my heart swell. It still does. I’ve also always loved queer love stories for as long as I can remember, even when I didn’t understand that I loved queer love stories for the same reasons I loved Black love stories: I was searching for depictions of love that reflected pieces of myself. I was searching for something that felt like a little slice of me on the big and small screens.
The first DVD I bought was The Color Purple. It was one of those old-school DVDs where the movie was split between two discs with those cheap plastic covers. I cherished that DVD, because once it was mine, I could watch that scene of Celie and Shug’s tentative kiss – with the juke joint providing a muffled backdrop – whenever I wanted. And I wanted to watch it over and over and over again. I felt similarly engrossed, years later as I watched the climax of Moonlight. I was a puddle of happy, relieved tears as the tumult of Chiron’s life culminates in this hardened, resilient man sitting across a diner table, staring at his childhood love with softness and warmth in his eyes. These two scenes, among so many others, spoke to that quietest part of my heart and the longing many of us hold to look at someone we love and feel fully and completely seen and loved for all that we are.
I turned to romance books while getting my master’s degree. I was in the depths of one of the worst depressive episodes of my adult life. Every day I received messages from professors and other students, that I did not belong, and I dreamt about abandoning the program and running home to the places and people who loved me. I didn’t leave, but I did start reading romance. Finding love stories that centered people who looked like me made the world feel much less alone and allowed me to start down a years-long road to fully identifying as bisexual, even though I’ve always known that I wasn’t straight. It took a little work to find queer stories with Black people, but once I found one, I found more and more and more.
The point I’m trying to make is that I have looked for Black queer love stories for most of my life and I have found them! They have buoyed me when I was at my lowest, when life seemed bleak and when looking at the news made my entire body hurt so much that I spent days in bed mourning.
So you can imagine how much it hurt when, in the midst of the most recent cluster of stories about American police officers killing Black people like Tony McDade and Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, I saw bookish twitter accounts – some I follow, some I don’t – begin recommending books by Black authors that refused to recognize the full breadth of Black life and humanity. Romance accounts, specifically, were so cavalier in their lists that many recommended books by non-Black authors who wrote Black characters, sometimes problematically, because they didn’t read much romance by Black authors, but refused to cede space to reviewers and readers who did. Across the board, I watched romance outlets, writers, reviewers and readers, recommend books that focused on white characters, books filled with anti-Black stereotypes, and on top of all that many patently ignored queer Black authors and books with queer Black characters.
While I don’t particularly agree with recommending fiction in a moment where people need to confront the depths of their anti-blackness and begin to consider the realities of global white supremacy, watching romance readers who imagined themselves as supportive of diversity, erase (queer) Black people (authors and characters) dug deep in my chest. It sent the message that people like me and the characters I write don’t actually matter, even while people were putting the hashtag in their bios. It was an erasure that struck a painful chord because it reminded me that the people and stories I love – who are the center of my life – are so easily forgotten and ignored.
I love Black people. I love queer Black people and QPOC. They don’t just matter to me, they are precious. I would not be alive today without them. I would not be writing without them. And I would not have the solace of these stories on the days when I still can’t get out of bed because everything hurts. At least with the stories that Black authors have written, my heart doesn’t have to hurt nearly as much, because it is so full of love for queer Black people.
Unfortunately, even when I’m depressed, I have a near obsessive desire to catalog books, so I took to twitter to begin a thread of queer romance written by Black authors. I began with books I love by authors I respect and appreciate and asked for recommendations. What I found in this process was instructive in many ways. I made a few caveats for recommendations that might have seemed random at the time but were not. I asked that the author identify as Black, since I’d seen so many outlets recommending non-Black authors. It mattered to me that if the response to Black murder was to uplift Black authors, that those authors better be Black and stand firm in their blackness. I wanted to focus specifically on adult romance because the YA book community had rallied their recommendations firmly behind Black authors (trans, cis, queer and het). It was exciting to watch and frustrating to compare to the adult romance community.
The other critical requirement was that the books feature Black characters and all the love interests should be Black or other people of color. Again, this was not arbitrary. Romance, like other literary genres, is steeped in white supremacist narratives. It is not just that so many traditionally published romance authors are white, it is that the foundation of the genre is based on whiteness as the norm. The tropes and story structures and even the Happily Ever After (the only requirement of romance literature) have been defined by a white default, even when some of the characters are people of color.
The proliferation of romance stories (traditionally published, indie and self-pub) that peddle in anti-Black, homophobic, transphobic, racist and xenophobic stereotypes is alarming, but not new. What feels new are the ways in which so many of these books are classified as “diverse” and “inclusive” even when they are not. So when I asked that all the recommendations focus on Black and POC characters, it was because I wanted to create a list of queer romances that rejected the white supremacist narrative in romance that centers whiteness, that demands white love interests and requires a translation of queer love between characters of color for white audiences. I wanted to find books by Black authors who, hopefully, wrote for readers of color.
What I found in this process was a mixed bag, as much of life is. On the downside, I found that I spent hours of my day clarifying fairly clear instructions, asking readers to verify that the authors and characters were Black and POC. I found that some people were disinterested in the idea of queer Black people and QPOC loving one another. I found that readers, writers and reviewers – many who jumped at the chance to make recommendation lists themselves – had become comfortable ignoring blackness. They considered it incidental or a box to check on the list of diversity brownie points. They were perfectly fine to tokenize Black authors and characters but were never challenged to consider why.
But the other, far better, thing I discovered was the wealth of queer romance written by Black authors. There was Black Romance and IR, polyamorous, m/m, and even the apparently elusive f/f romance. There were so many bisexual and pansexual characters! I found contemporary and historical and paranormal and urban. Certainly, there is room to grow in many areas, for instance so far there is only one trans Black romance recommendation (noted below) and ace spectrum representation is similarly lacking. In this moment, I choose to celebrate that the few books we have exist, but I hope for more.
There were many highs and lows in this process. I won’t pretend that I didn’t often wish I hadn’t decided to field the barrage of twitter notifications in a moment when I really should have given myself peace and quiet. Self-care is a thing I’m working on, especially now. But for all the new books and authors I and others discovered, I’ve decided that the exercise was worth it.
Below are a sample of books that emerged in the conversation, some I’ve read, some I’ve moved up my TBR and some I’m waiting impatiently to be released. These are books that remind me of the things that were true at the beginning of this all. I love being Black with every cell in my body. This is not incidental to me. And queer Black people are still PRECIOUS and CRUCIAL to my life and well-being.
For even more recommendations put together by Katrina, check out this list on Goodreads! (Blogger’s Note: Please do not add to this list anything that does not fit the above-stated requirements or I may do a murder.)
Katrina is a college professor by day who writes romances by weekend when her cats allow. She writes high heat, diverse and mostly queer erotic romances and erotica. She also likes sleep, salt-and-pepper beards, and sunshine.
She’s super active on twitter. Follow her: @katrinajax
*All links are affiliate, bringing a small percentage of each purchase back to the site (Amz = Amazon | Bks = Bookshop)
What he needs is for his favorite author to release another one of her sexy supernatural novels and more people to sign up for the romance book club that he fears is slowly and steadily losing its steam. He also needs for the new employee at his local bookstore to stop making fun of him for reading things meant for “grandmas.”
The very last thing he needs is for that same employee, Rex Bailey, to waltz into his living room and ask to join Meet Cute Club. Despite his immediate thoughts—like laughing in his face and telling him to kick rocks—Jordan decides that if he wants this club to continue thriving, he can’t turn away any new members. Not even ones like Rex, who somehow manage to be both frustratingly obnoxious and breathtakingly handsome.
As Jordan and Rex team up to bring the club back from the ashes, Jordan soon discovers that Rex might not be the arrogant troll he made himself out to be, and that, like with all things in life, maybe he was wrong to judge a book by its cover.