Moving on up

New newsletter letter

Hi there, friends! Thank you for reading this very weird newsletter for the last couple years.

I’ve been thinking about moving on to a different platform to make a More Professional Writer Person Newsletter for a while now, and Substack has recently made the decision easy for me by being a lil’ shady, as explained here by Malinda Lo.

I will now be sending out a monthly author newsletter using Mailchimp instead. I almost simply converted all my subscribers from here to there, but honestly, you might be annoyed with me by this point in the game, if you’ve been subscribed to this Substack for a while. Like, who needs to know every thought in Anita’s brain!! I only signed up for this because I’m your cousin and I want to know when your book comes out!

So, no pressure to sign up for the new newsletter! (Although the new one will likely be less weird than this one was. But still a little weird.)

If you’d like, though, you can go ahead and sign up for the new one here.

Thank you so much for your love and support.

xo

Anita

Leaning on this broken fence

Between past and present tense.

Hi friends! If you’re reading this, I hope you have power, and a warm place to curl up and read, and that you all are able to get the hugs, ice cream, and vaccines you deserve!

This past week was the Pitch Wars showcase for this year’s current Pitch Wars class. Although me & Pitch Wars as an organization have had a bit of a falling out since then (yikes), realizing it’s been a whole year since my own experience, unsurprisingly, has made me Contemplative. I started this newsletter when I was going through that process, and the ensuing madness of the showcase. It was exactly a year ago that I started getting calls from agents, and phew, Little Anita, I am proud of you for surviving all that, and also so very glad it’s over. I am seriously wishing only good vibes upon all the mentees currently going through the same thing, and ANYONE currently in the querying trenches. It is so vulnerable and scary.

This sentimentality also made me realize it’s been a while since I’ve actually used this Substack as a means of sending updates about my own writing process. Whenever I’ve opened up this tab recently it’s been to shout about other people’s books or vomit very random life feelings. And while I like having this space to do both of those things, I increasingly wonder what I should do with this space now. I should probably make a Professional Author Newsletter soon, which lol this space has not been. And maybe just keep all my little writing neuroses in my, like, actual journal. I don’t know.

But! If you are interested in what is going on in my writerly world, here’s an update.

  • I’m working on editing Book 1, which is now titled LOVE & OTHER DISASTERS. Oh!! If you want to add it on Goodreads, that would be a great and helpful thing for you to do! YES, I KNEW THERE WAS A PURPOSE TO THIS NEWSLETTER, not just me opening up Substack during my lunch break and procrastinating getting back to actual work, nope!!

  • I really put this book out of my mind for the last year, as it was on sub to publishers, as I started working on other projects, and delving back into it is…such a weird/nice/emotional experience. Writing is such a constantly evolving thing that knowing a final version of it will get stamped into life forever at some point in the next year feels so strange, when it’s gone through so many changes, when it will likely never feel completely perfect to me. I pretty continually run through cycles of “oh no, THIS got a book deal? oh no but that can’t be right” to “wait *I* created these characters? I made them do these things?? oh no I love them so much, MY BABIES” so, you know. We’ll see how I’m feeling by the end of the editing process!!

  • Over the next few months I’ll probably be getting more information about exact publication date, pre-order dates, more info about the cover (the above is def not the cover), etc. etc. which is all very exciting and surreal!

  • I’ve sent a draft of Book 2 to my editor and am working on Book 3. I love them both and they are both very different from Book 1. I think that’s good?? I can’t wait to talk about them more!!

  • While those books under contract with Forever are DOING THEIR THANG, I’ve also decided to self-publish some novellas. These will still be adult queer romance, but other than that, they will be very different from my traditionally published books, because they will be 1) very much shorter 2) deal with a totally different world/cast of characters 3) be written in even voice-ier first person whereas my trad books are third person which probably doesn’t matter to anyone but me but trying out different styles is actually very interesting!! Is this boring yet

  • Deciding to self-publish while also pursuing traditionally published books throws me into what we call the hybrid author lifestyle, a choice that is especially popular with romance writers. I am actually exceedingly excited about it. I could go a lot further into why I’m excited about it, or why I’m choosing to self-publish at all, but it feels like a lot of insider baseball and I don’t know if anyone cares BUT

  • I will say that self-publishing is actually (opposed to what a lot of people think) quite complicated & is like learning a whole new industry, but again, in like a nerdy-exciting kind of way, at least I think so. I’m hoping to self-pub two novellas later this year, one in summer and one in late fall, and hopefully people who like those will also like my traditional books when they start hitting bookshelves next year.

  • I LOVE BOTH OF THESE LITTLE NOVELLAS SO MUCH; they started as a pandemic-induced escape for my brain to just like…make myself happy. But I hope they make other people happy, too. Their plotlines are karaoke + feelings. (That’s it, lol, no really.) Just like my trad books, I can’t wait to share them with the world, but the idea of ACTUALLY sharing them with the world also makes me want to puke a bit, so! *fingers crossed*

  • I’m mentoring in a new program called the Write Team Mentorship Program! I’m currently reading through a handful of romance manuscripts to figure out which one I’ll work with over the next few months, and MAN, getting to read strangers’ work is such a privilege and an honor.

  • Writing is pretty much all I want to do, these days. (This is both…good and bad. And a topic for my journal, probably.)

And that’s probably enough for this little update.

Thanks again for following me on this journey. I love you all.

xo

Anita

Top 25 Reads, 2nd Half of 2020

In this year that has been so full of pain, these books have been such a gift. I love them with all my heart.

You can find my list of Top 25 reads for the 1st Half of 2020 here.

As always, these lists are not genre or pub date dependent; they are a summary of my reading habits: 90% romance, 8% middle grade and YA, 2% other weird stuff sometimes.

Presented in no particular order:

  1. Boyfriend Material, Alexis Hall

    Queer contemporary romance; 2020 (Sourcebooks)

This list will be rather Alexis Hall heavy, so I’ll try to temper my flailing. If possible. This was, without a doubt, the funniest book I read this year, and the book that brought me the most unadulterated joy. Whipsmart, queer af, tender. Any time I need to smile, I think about “No, this is just another homosexual I am standing next to,” and I laugh forever. Honestly, I cannot wait to re-read it.

  1. Take a Hint, Dani Brown, Talia Hibbert

    Queer contemporary romance; 2020 (Avon)

I have loved everything I’ve ever read of Talia Hibbert’s, but this is probably my favorite thus far (with Work for It being a close second). Zaf was, hands down, the swooniest cis male romance hero I read this year, and Dani is…iconic. No one writes feelings quite like Talia. She’s just so good.

It is hard to believe that I read both this and Boyfriend Material within a month of each other and didn’t give up writing completely thereafter. (Contemplated it, though.)

  1. Beach Read, Emily Henry

    Contemporary romance; 2020 (Berkley)

Christ. I’m on #3 in this list and I’m already out of words about how good the books that came out this summer were. “So smart and good I could barely fucking stand it” applies to all three of the above, okay? There were some mixed feelings about this one in the romance community, mainly because it’s probably more a mixture of romance and women’s fiction than straight up romance, but I was all in and so beautifully destroyed by this book.

  1. The Devil of Downtown, Joanna Shupe

    Historical romance (Gilded Age NYC); 2020 (Avon)

Overall, my consumption of historicals this year was on the lighter side, but obviously I had to gobble up the final book in Shupe’s excellent Uptown Girls series. I mean, it’s a social justice warrior (which I use as a form of highest respect; can we reclaim this please) bringing a gangster to his knees with love. Obviously I loved it!!

  1. You Had Me at Hola, Alexis Daria

    Contemporary romance; 2020 (Avon)

This was one of the most interesting romance books I’ve ever read, in terms of narrative choices—this romance between two movie stars is alternately told between their real lives and their characters on the screen, and how Daria expertly blends the two is just so cool! And fun, and sweet, and all the other hallmarks of a well-done romance. I was thinking about this one for quite a while after finishing it.

  1. Today Tonight Tomorrow, Rachel Lynn Solomon

    YA contemporary romance; 2020 (Simon & Schuster)

My favorite YA of the year. This takes place over the course of one day, on these sworn rivals’ final day of high school in Seattle, and it is so achingly romantic? Oh my pickles. Another one I can’t wait to re-read, and fall in love with these overachieving dummies all over again. Truly fantastic.

  1. The Soldier’s Scoundrel, Cat Sebastian

    Queer historical romance (Regency England); 2016 (Avon)

There are a few authors’ backlists I’m dangerously close to completing, and Cat Sebastian is one of them. Somehow, after reading all of her other Avon historicals (including the wonderfully gentle Two Rogues Make a Right from this year), I had never read this one, her very first. And…it is unfair? That this was her first book and it is so, so good? Sebastian is able to weave history and sexy sexy tension and page-turning plot SO well. I only have one book of hers left to read, Hither Page, which I will probably break down and read in 2021, and then I’ll just need to…wait for her to write…new things? :(

  1. To Have and to Hoax, Martha Waters

    Historical romance (Regency England); 2020 (Atria)

Me, a few paragraphs ago: “I really didn’t read that many historicals this year!”

Me, now: *continues to include historical after historical* lol oops

Anyway, this was for sure the most FUN historical I read this year. I lurrrrve an estranged married couple trying to make their way back to each other, even when the way they choose to do so is…continually lie and prank each other, to the point of ridiculousness? Haha but such entertaining ridiculousness that only proves how much they ARE meant to be forever. *weepy heart eyes*

  1. The Love Study, Kris Ripper

    Queer contemporary romance; Carina Adores (2020)

This was one of the first contemporary romances with a non-binary character who uses they/them that I’ve read other than my own, which was so refreshing (and made me want to sit down with Ripper and talk out our thought processes on writing non-binary love interests, because I need someone to talk to about these things). Declan, the main character, is exactly the kind of hilarious, messy queer that I legit can’t get enough of (see: Alexis Hall), and the queer friend group is the kind of queer friend group I can’t get enough of. In addition, I thought the YouTube storyline was super current and fun. And calling something “super current” 100% makes me “super old,” but oh wells!

Looking forward to enjoying more next year from the Carina Adores line, which exclusively features tropey, fun queer romance.

  1. No Fixed Address, Susin Nielsen

    Middle grade contemporary; 2018 (Wendy Lamb)

This fall, I did attempt to hunker back down into my actual job, which involves being current on both middle grade and YA lit. Susin Nielsen is a veritable genius, in my opinion; every single thing she writes gets both funnier and more poignant, and as a former writer for Degrassi, she’s great at really GOING THERE. I loved everything about this book about a boy struggling with being houseless in Vancouver, BC.

  1. Spoiler Alert, Olivia Dade

    Contemporary romance; 2020 (Avon)

Ack, this cover, this book! So smart, so fun, so sexy. I love how Olivia Dade always treats her characters with so much respect, and I love how this book isn’t stealing from fan fiction, but paying honest, loving respect to it. It is such an important difference, in my book. The stakes and the backstories here were so touching and well done. Oh, Marcus, you earnest, wonderful cinnamon roll, I would eat you with a spoon.

  1. The Voting Booth, Brandy Colbert

    YA contemporary; 2020 (Disney)

I actually read this one during election week here in the US, and wow, what a caring decision I made for myself! Another all-in-one-day YA story, which is apparently really my jam, this is both a sweet love story and a moving tribute to the power of the vote. I loved it.

  1. So Over the Holidays novellas, Erin McLellan

    Queer erotic contemporary romance; 2019/2020 (self-published)

This whole series was SO FUN OMG?? I’m a little obsessed with the whole thing, but my favorite was probably Candy Hearts, followed closely by Bottle Rocket, but the other two are enjoyable as well. Just YOWZA levels of hotness (and such a fun variety of queer pairings!), but also really pure storylines? I love the supportive family unit of siblings that comprise most of the MCs of this series—Benji is one of my favorite characters I’ve read all year—and their erotic art/sex toy/lingerie making friends. (insert crying laughing emoji, but sincerely, I love them)

  1. Common Goal, Rachel Reid

    Queer contemporary romance; 2020 (Carina)

While we’re on the topic of pure characters & their hot exploits, let’s move on to Common Goal! Reid has two more hockey romances coming out next year (I think!), and thank Jesus for that, sincerely, because I could read about these queer hockey bros forever and ever and ever. I don’t know exactly how Reid does it, but every single one of her books feels like slipping inside the comfiest blanket, where all the men are kind and good and deserve all the orgasms they receive. I’m particularly trash for an experienced-one-teaching-the-inexperienced-one trope, so I was all over this manly upright citizen getting to explore his bisexuality for the first time like an eager puppy. Probably now my second favorite in the series after Heated Rivalry (which I re-read, also during election week, another kindness to myself!!), but they are all honestly so good.

15 & 16. Slippery Creatures & The Sugared Game, KJ Charles

Queer historical romance (1920s England); 2020 (self-published)

Hot damn these books! Both of these characters are just so fascinating?? And, well, slippery? And the ACTION, and the hate/love tension, geez Louise, I just. Don’t know how Charles does it. And as always! So fun to read historicals that aren’t Regency (not that I don’t still love Regency). I am sort of dying for the last in the trilogy?!

  1. Granted, John David Anderson

    Middle grade contemporary fantasy; 2018 (Walden Pond)

Another middle grade from another middle grade master; like Susin Nielsen, I love everything John David Anderson. This is a fable about a fairy who finally gets to go out into the world to grant her very first wish, the most esteemed job a fairy can ever aspire to, and things go a bit haywire. And, well. I cried. A lot.

  1. The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows, Olivia Waite

    Queer historical romance (Regency England); 2020 (Avon)

Waite’s The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics got a lot of attention last year, and while I did enjoy that one, whoa, I loved this one even more! Just something about plucky beekeepers and cranky widowed printers that really gets me going, I guess. In seriousness, it’s clear that Waite’s smarts and her research are immaculate, and it all really worked for me here. A lot of the bad guys in this one were also so bad and made me so mad and seeing Agatha and Penelope best them was *chef’s kiss*

  1. I Wish You All the Best, Mason Deaver

    YA contemporary; 2019 (Push)

Yeah, I was behind on this one, but I’ve accepted that I’m going to perpetually be behind on YA for the rest of my life, so. This book about a non-binary teen getting kicked out of their house and finding a home with their estranged sister and an effervescent boy named Nathan was the loveliest, and I wanted to give the whole thing a really, really tight hug.

  1. City of Ghosts, Victoria Schwab

    Middle grade mystery/horror; 2018 (Scholastic)

This was one of those fun ones for me as a school librarian, because almost as soon as I started it, I knew it would be one I could recommend to all kinds of kiddos, over and over again. It’s also one of those books that make me laugh at myself because I found it legitimately scary at times, and I knew my students would be staring at me and rolling their eyes when I told them so. I also loved, loved Jacob and hated, hated that he was a very dead ghost, and this is why I can’t read haunty things, lolz.

  1. The Remaking of Corbin Wale, Roan Parrish

    Queer contemporary witchy romance; 2018 (self-published)

I don’t know how to characterize this, honestly—is it paranormal romance? Kind of? Maybe? I dunno, but it’s definitely witchy and weird, and there is a lot of Jewish baking and pining, and wow, like so many things Roan Parrish does, it was just so…pretty. I love her himbos who fall in love with weirdos. Corbin Wale is a character I’ll be thinking about for a long, long time.

  1. Prosperityverse stories, Alexis Hall

    Queer fantasy; 2018 (self-published)

I am technically not done with this series, although I hope to finish it all early in the new year. It is hard to know how to summarize Prosperity; it is so different from a lot of Hall’s other work, but I think that’s what makes me so dumbstruck about it? To possess the kind of brain that can create so many different things? I can’t really talk about it without getting weird, SO, let me just say that I’ve had to take in every part of this series in slow bits and pieces because each bit and piece makes me think so much, and is such an interesting part of the puzzle of this universe, and, man. In summary, I would die for Byron Kae.

One thing I might like to do next year in these lists is include a quote with each of my favorite books. I am too lazy to go back and do that for everything else on this list now, but since I just recently read this bit, here is a quote from this universe that made me weep.

  1. Written in the Stars, Alexandria Bellefleur

    Queer contemporary romance; 2020 (Avon)

Something I’m super into recently in contemporary romance is DATES, like actual awkward/wonderful dates, and the dates in here are STELLAR. The Japanese burger/thrift store date?? *pounds table* A PITCH PERFECT SEATTLE DATE! Watching these two women fall in love was so freaking fun and swoony and wonderful. Masterfully constructed. I absolutely loved it.

  1. Brazen and the Beast, Sarah MacLean

    Historical romance (Regency England); 2019 (Avon)

The second in MacLean’s Bareknuckle Bastards series, I loved this one just as much as the first. The d r a m a in these books is unparalleled. In addition to making such memorable characters (The Year of Hattie, YES), these are the rare books where I think I genuinely like the blowing-shit-up bits just as much as the sexy bits. Remarkable!

  1. Arden St. Ives series, Alexis Hall

    Queer contemporary romance; 2017/2018 (Forever)

So in romance, there are tropes, right? And often a thing people say is, “I’ll read any trope except the billionaire trope, because fuck billionaires,” and I am like RIGHT? 100% AGREE. And, *nervous laughter* then I read these books? And then…I read the entire series again, a month later? Because I loved them so much that I missed them?

This list really isn’t in any particular order, but I did save these for last in case I’d think of some better way to describe how I feel about them by the time I got here, and obviously, I didn’t. But the a n g s t and the hilarity and the submission and the *sobs* EVERYTHING. This is a series about love and sex and consent and finding yourself and re-finding yourself and Arden St. Ives is my favorite person in the world who isn’t real. There are so many interesting things Hall does with these books; the last book is like…an entire book of the dark night of the soul moment, which is torturous and fascinating, but also it’s NOT, because the characters need an entire book of the dark night of the soul to heal themselves, so actually it’s beautiful? Or Arden needs a whole book to heal himself; Caspian just gets more lost, but *SOBS LOUDER* ANYWAY THESE ARE MY FAVORITE BOOKS OKAY THANKS FOR READING!!

Can’t wait for all the stories I’ll get to consume in 2021. We are so lucky to have so many stories.

xo

Anita

20 Most Anticipated Romance Novels of 2021!

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS

Back in June, I made a list of my Top 25 Books of the First Half of 2020. In a few weeks, after I squeeze every minute of reading time I can out of 2020, I’ll make another list for my Top 25 Books of the LAST Half, to round out the year. Will this post be less rambly than the first one? PROBABLY NOT! I LOVE BOOKS!

Until then, here’s another roundup I’ve been wanting to do: talking about my most anticipated (adult) romance novels of 2021!

I limited it to 20 books, and to books specifically marketed as romance; if I forgot to mention your book here I’m sorry! I have a small brain and these were the first 20 that occupied it. Know that I am legit excited about any and all romance novels except for ones that involve Nazis or glorify toxic behaviors without accountability!!

Also: while most of these are published by mainstream publishers (the Big 5, or 4 now, since the Penguin Random House/Simon & Schuster merger…yay capitalism), one of my reading goals for 2021 is to read more self-pub titles and titles from indie publishers. So hopefully my actual Best Reads of 2021 posts will include more of those.

Obviously we have the most information about books coming out in the first half of 2021; I still threw in ones we don’t know much about yet, too. I’ve included covers and synopses from the publishers when available, and then provided my own succinct, very eloquent summaries for lazy scrollers like me. (You’re welcome!!)

Here we go! Listed in order of publication date:

  1. The Ex Talk, Rachel Lynn Solomon (January 26; Berkeley)

Shay Goldstein has been a producer at her Seattle public radio station for nearly a decade, and she can't imagine working anywhere else. But lately it's been a constant clash between her and her newest colleague, Dominic Yun, who's fresh off a journalism master's program and convinced he knows everything about public radio. 

When the struggling station needs a new concept, Shay proposes a show that her boss green-lights with excitement. On The Ex Talk, two exes will deliver relationship advice live, on air. Their boss decides Shay and Dominic are the perfect co-hosts, given how much they already despise each other. Neither loves the idea of lying to listeners, but it's this or unemployment. Their audience gets invested fast, and it's not long before The Ex Talk becomes a must-listen in Seattle and climbs podcast charts.  

As the show gets bigger, so does their deception, especially when Shay and Dominic start to fall for each other. In an industry that values truth, getting caught could mean the end of more than just their careers.

Anita’s tl;dr: PUBLIC RADIO NERDS BANG IN SEATTLE!!

  1. The Bride Bet, Tessa Dare (February 9; Avon)

Once upon a time, two sworn enemies—the bookish daughter of a scholar and the devilish heir to a duke—made a pact: If they were both still single in ten years, they would marry each other.

It was a joke, Nicola thought. A duchess? Her?

But when the Duke of Westleigh returns a decade later, he’s serious. He needs an heir, so he’s holding her to their marriage bargain—diamond ring, lavish gown, engagement ball, and more. Nothing Nicola says can dissuade him. When she calls him arrogant, he praises her honesty. When she makes social stumbles, he catches her fall. And when she gets exasperated, the duke can’t seem to get enough. For reasons she can’t fathom, he claims that no other woman will do.

He’s betting he can change her mind, with logic and passion.

She’s betting she can change his mind, just by being herself.

And as the clock ticks down to a wedding day, neither is counting on losing their heart.

Anita’s tl;dr: IT’S TESSA DARE THAT’S ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW (& I have loved this entire series so much!)

  1. Love at First, Kate Clayborn (February 23; Kensington)

Sixteen years ago, a teenaged Will Sterling saw—or rather, heard—the girl of his dreams. Standing beneath an apartment building balcony, he shared a perfect moment with a lovely, warm-voiced stranger. It’s a memory that’s never faded, though he’s put so much of his past behind him. Now an unexpected inheritance has brought Will back to that same address, where he plans to offload his new property and get back to his regular life as an overworked doctor. Instead, he encounters a woman, two balconies above, who’s uncannily familiar . . .

No matter how surprised Nora Clarke is by her reaction to handsome, curious Will, or the whispered pre-dawn conversations they share, she won’t let his plans ruin her quirky, close-knit building. Bound by her loyalty to her adored grandmother, she sets out to foil his efforts with a little light sabotage. But beneath the surface of their feud is an undeniable connection. A balcony, a star-crossed couple, a fateful meeting—maybe it’s the kind of story that can't work out in the end. Or maybe, it’s the perfect second chance . . .

Anita’s tl;dr: SOFT FEELINGS ABOUT BUILDINGS AND HUMANS

  1. Accidentally Engaged, Farah Heron (March 2; Forever)

When it comes to bread, Reena Manji knows exactly what she's doing. She treats her sourdough starters like (somewhat unruly) children. But when it comes to Reena's actual family—and their constant meddling in her life—well, that recipe always ends in disaster. Now Reena's parents have found her yet another potential Good Muslim Husband. This one has the body of Captain America, a delicious British accent, and lives right across the hall. He's the perfect, mouthwatering temptation . . . and completely ruined by the unwelcome side dish of parental interference. Reena refuses to marry anyone who works for her father. She won't be attracted to Nadim's sweet charm or gorgeous lopsided smile. That is, until the baking opportunity of a lifetime presents itself: a couples' cooking competition with the prize of her dreams. Reena will do anything to win—even asking Nadim to pretend they're engaged. But when it comes to love, baking your bread doesn't always mean you get to eat it too. 

Anita’s tl;dr: BREAD AND BABES

  1. Act Your Age, Eve Brown, Talia Hibbert (March 9; Avon)

Eve Brown is a certified hot mess. No matter how hard she strives to do right, her life always goes horribly wrong. So she’s given up trying. But when her personal brand of chaos ruins an expensive wedding (someone had to liberate those poor doves), her parents draw the line. It's time for Eve to grow up and prove herself—even though she's not entirely sure how…

Jacob Wayne is in control. Always. The bed and breakfast owner’s on a mission to dominate the hospitality industry and he expects nothing less than perfection. So when a purple-haired tornado of a woman turns up out of the blue to interview for his open chef position, he tells her the brutal truth: not a chance in hell. Then she hits him with her car—supposedly by accident. Yeah, right.

Now his arm is broken, his B&B is understaffed, and the dangerously unpredictable Eve is fluttering around, trying to help. Before long, she’s infiltrated his work, his kitchen—and his spare bedroom. Jacob hates everything about it. Or rather, he should. Sunny, chaotic Eve is his natural-born nemesis, but the longer these two enemies spend in close quarters, the more their animosity turns into something else. Like Eve, the heat between them is impossible to ignore... and it’s melting Jacob’s frosty exterior.

Anita’s tl;dr: THIS SERIES IS FUCKING ICONIC & I DON’T WANT IT TO END

  1. The Heiress Hunt, Joanna Shupe (March 9; Avon)

Knickerbocker scoundrel Harrison Archer returns to New York to discover that his deceased father has bankrupted his estranged family. To save them from ruin, he's forced to quickly find and marry an heiress. For a matchmaker, Harrison turns to the one woman he wishes he could marry: his childhood friend and true love, Maddie, who once broke his heart and is now engaged to a duke.

When her best friend Harrison left for Paris without a word, Maddie Webster took refuge in her infatuation with tennis. Now Harrison is back and needs her help in finding a bride. Begrudgingly, Maddie arranges a house party in Newport with a guest list of eligible heiresses. But watching Harrison flirt with potential brides is more than she can bear.

When Harrison and Maddie reunite, the passion between them ignites. But with their marriages to others looming, time is running out. Is their fate inescapable . . .or can love set them free?

Anita’s tl;dr: NEW SHUPE SERIES!! KNICKERBOCKERS IN NEWPORT!!

  1. The Intimacy Experiment, Rosie Danan (April 6; Berkley)

Naomi Grant has built her life around going against the grain. After the sex-positive start-up she cofounded becomes an international sensation, she wants to extend her educational platform to live lecturing. Unfortunately, despite her long list of qualifications, higher ed won't hire her.

Ethan Cohen has recently received two honors: LA Mag nominated him as one of the city's hottest bachelors and he became rabbi of his own synagogue. Low on both funds and congregants, the executive board of Ethan's new shul hired him with the hopes that his nontraditional background will attract more millennials to the faith. They've given him three months to turn things around or else they'll close the doors of his synagogue for good.

Naomi and Ethan join forces to host a buzzy seminar series on Modern Intimacy, the perfect solution to their problems--until they discover a new one--their growing attraction to each other. They've built the syllabus for love's latest experiment, but neither of them expected they'd be the ones putting it to the test.

Anita’s tl;dr: WOULD DIE FOR NAOMI GRANT (also cannot wait to meet Hot Rabbi!!!)

  1. To Love and to Loathe, Martha Waters (April 6; Atria)

The widowed Diana, Lady Templeton and Jeremy, Marquess of Willingham are infamous among English high society as much for their sharp-tongued bickering as their flirtation. One evening, an argument at a ball turns into a serious wager: Jeremy will marry within the year or Diana will forfeit one hundred pounds. So shortly after, just before a fortnight-long house party at Elderwild, Jeremy’s country estate, Diana is shocked when Jeremy appears at her home with a very different kind of proposition.

After his latest mistress unfavorably criticized his skills in the bedroom, Jeremy is looking for reassurance, so he has gone to the only woman he trusts to be totally truthful. He suggests that they embark on a brief affair while at the house party—Jeremy can receive an honest critique of his bedroom skills and widowed Diana can use the gossip to signal to other gentlemen that she is interested in taking a lover.

Diana thinks taking him up on his counter-proposal can only help her win her wager. With her in the bedroom and Jeremy’s marriage-minded grandmother, the formidable Dowager Marchioness of Willingham, helping to find suitable matches among the eligible ladies at Elderwild, Diana is confident her victory is assured. But while they’re focused on winning wagers, they stand to lose their own hearts.

Anita’s tl;dr: MARTHA WATERS WRITES THE FUNNEST BANTER IN ALL THE LAND & THIS IS GONNA BE THE BANTERIEST

  1. Hot Copy, Ruby Barrett (April 13; Carina)

Corinne Blunt knows what people think of her—she’s an icy, unapproachable executive. It’s the price she’s had to pay to get to the top. But there’s knowing you have a reputation in the office, and there’s hearing your new intern laugh when someone calls you “Blunt the C*nt” in the elevator on his first day.

She’d hoped to finally find an ally in Wesley Chambers, but she’s not about to let him off the hook for joining the office boys’ club. Taking refuge in the professional boundaries between them, she relegates Wes to assistant work—which would do the trick, if he weren’t so eager to prove he’s a decent human being.

Wes is sincerely apologetic, insisting it was a misunderstanding, and to her surprise, Corinne believes him. Being forced to work together was one thing, but long hours at the office with what turns out to be a kind, thoughtful man soon has their business relationship turning personal, and things get complicated—fast. Could this be something more serious than either of them dared to hope for? Or is their relationship just playing into the harmful power dynamics Corinne’s had to endure her entire career?

Anita’s tl;dr: HOT FEMINIST OFFICE BANGING (support debut authors!!!)

  1. The Hellion’s Waltz, Olivia Waite (May 11th; Avon)

Okay this is one we don’t know much about, other than it’s the third f/f historical romance in Waite’s Feminine Pursuits series, and the quality of the previous two is of the HIGHEST ORDER. So—

Anita’s educated guess: REAL SMART QUEER LADIES, BEIN’ SMART AND QUEER

  1. People We Meet on Vacation, Emily Henry (May 11th; Berkley)

Poppy and Alex. Alex and Poppy. They have nothing in common. She’s a wild child; he wears khakis. She has insatiable wanderlust; he prefers to stay home with a book. And somehow, ever since a fateful car share home from college many years ago, they are the very best of friends. For most of the year they live far apart—she’s in New York City, and he’s in their small hometown—but every summer, for a decade, they have taken one glorious week of vacation together.

Until two years ago, when they ruined everything. They haven't spoken since.

Poppy has everything she should want, but she’s stuck in a rut. When someone asks when she was last truly happy, she knows, without a doubt, it was on that ill-fated, final trip with Alex. And so, she decides to convince her best friend to take one more vacation together—lay everything on the table, make it all right. Miraculously, he agrees.

Now she has a week to fix everything. If only she can get around the one big truth that has always stood quietly in the middle of their seemingly perfect relationship. What could possibly go wrong?

Anita’s tl;dr: FINE, I GUESS YOU CAN RIP MY HEART OUT AGAIN, EMILY

  1. Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake, Alexis Hall (May 18th; Forever)

Not a lot of information about this one, but being that it’s by my favorite writer of all time, and takes place on a baking show—

Anita’s educated guess: WILL GIVE ME AN EXISTENTIAL CRISIS ABOUT MY OWN QUEER COOKING SHOW ROM COM IT’S FINE EVERYTHING IS FINE

  1. How to Find a Princess, Alyssa Cole (May 25th; Avon)

Makeda Hicks has lost her job and her girlfriend in one fell swoop. The last thing she’s in the mood for is to rehash the story of her grandmother’s infamous summer fling with a runaway prince from Ibarania, or the investigator from the World Federation of Monarchies tasked with searching for Ibarania’s missing heir.

Yet when Beznaria Chetchevaliere crashes into her life, the sleek and sexy investigator exudes exactly the kind of chaos that organized and efficient Makeda finds irresistible, even if Bez is determined to drag her into a world of royal duty Makeda wants nothing to do with.

When a threat to her grandmother’s livelihood pushes Makeda to agree to return to Ibarania, Bez takes her on a transatlantic adventure with a crew of lovable weirdos, a fake marriage, and one-bed hijinks on the high seas. When they finally make it to Ibarania, they realize there’s more at stake than just cash and crown, and Makeda must learn what it means to fight for what she desires and not what she feels bound to by duty.

Anita’s tl;dr: SORRY I DIDN’T READ THAT SYNOPSIS AT ALL; WAS TOO BUSY STARING AT THAT COVER IN A DAZED STUPOR FOR THE REST OF TIME

  1. One Last Stop, Casey McQuiston (June 1st; St. Martin’s)

Cynical twenty-three-year old August doesn’t believe in much. She doesn’t believe in psychics, or easily forged friendships, or finding the kind of love they make movies about. And she certainly doesn’t believe her ragtag band of new roommates, her night shifts at a 24-hour pancake diner, or her daily subway commute full of electrical outages are going to change that.

But then, there’s Jane. Beautiful, impossible Jane.

All hard edges with a soft smile and swoopy hair and saving August’s day when she needed it most. The person August looks forward to seeing on the train every day. The one who makes her forget about the cities she lived in that never seemed to fit, and her fear of what happens when she finally graduates, and even her cold-case obsessed mother who won’t quite let her go. And when August realizes her subway crush is impossible in more ways than one―namely, displaced in time from the 1970s―she thinks maybe it’s time to start believing.

Anita’s tl;dr: REMEMBER THAT TIME I WROTE A WHOLE NEWSLETTER ABOUT BEING OBSESSED WITH CASEY MCQUISTON; YEAH ME NEITHER

  1. Wild Love, Lauren Accardo (June 8; Berkley)

When life sets fire to your happily ever after, you ditch your cheating boyfriend, trade in the city life for the off-the-grid seclusion of your mother's bookstore in the mountains...and try to resist your attraction to the brooding town mechanic you accidentally got into a fender bender with outside the local bar. Sydney Walsh might be falling head over heels for the romance novels she's stocking up to rebuild The Loving Page, but she has no delusions about actually starring in one. That chapter has closed.

Beneath Sam Kirkland's gruff mountain-man exterior lies a gentle heart and a burning desire for the woman he knows he can't have. He's made promises that anchor him to the past, making romance off-limits. And he accepted that—until Sydney came crashing into his life.

Sam can't do a relationship right now. Sydney doesn't have the wherewithal to believe in one. But when you meet the right person, the wrong circumstances don't matter. Even when the world seems to be doing its best to keep them apart, their real, one-of-a-kind love is worth fighting for.

Anita’s tl;dr: BOOKSTORES & ROMANCE IN THE MOUNTAINS, MY CATNIP

  1. Slow Burn, Olivia Dade (June 15th, Berkley)

Another one we don’t have too much information about yet, but its MCs, Alex and Lauren, were one of my very favorite parts of Dade’s Spoiler Alert, and I cannot wait for their story. Dade has said in interviews that this one allows her to introduce the concept of Big Hag Energy and wow, am I here! for! that!

Anita’s educated guess: BIG HAG ENERGY! WHICH IS NOT SO MUCH AN EDUCATED GUESS AS ME JUST REPEATING AGAIN WHAT OLIVIA SAID! ALSO HAVE YOU READ SPOILER ALERT YET?? GO READ IT, FOOLS!

  1. The Heart Principle, Helen Hoang (August 17; Berkley)

To most people, Quan Diep is nothing but a surly-looking, underachieving playboy. The problem is he’s not any of those things. And now that he’s the CEO of an up-and-coming retail business, he’s suddenly a “catch,” and the rich girls who never used to pay any attention to him are looking at him in a new way—especially Camilla, the girl who brushed him off many years ago.

Anna Sun dislikes Quan Diep almost as much as germy bathroom door handles. Or so she tells herself. She will never admit that she has a secret crush on him, especially because he only has eyes for her charismatic and newly engaged younger sister Camilla. Over the years, Anna has worked hard to overcome her OCD, but she’ll still need to find a way to bury her anxieties and seduce Quan so he doesn’t ruin her sister’s engagement, and with it, a crucial real estate development deal.

Slowly, Anna breaks down Quan’s dangerous and careless exterior while peeling off her own tough, protective shell. But when Quan discovers Anna’s true intentions, he’s forced to confront his own hurtful past and learn to forgive, while Anna must face her greatest challenge: truly opening herself up to love.

Anita’s tl;dr: THE Q IN QUAN IN THE FONT OF THESE (PRINT) BOOKS IS GORGEOUS & TURNS ME ON & I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE IT OVER AND OVER (this one miiiight have only made sense to me)

  1. When London Snow Falls, Hugh Blackthorne (2021; Entangled)

I don’t have a lot of official information for you yet about this one, including things like whether this will actually be the official title, but it was the title when I read a draft of it because I am HUGH’S #1 FAN, YOU READ IT HERE FIRST! This is a sweet & sexy m/m romance between a barista & a rock star that also includes a fantastic storyline about unconventional family that I would love to see more of in romance. Hugh’s writing is gorgeous and lyrical while also being so fun; reading his work is such a genuine pleasure.

Anita’s very solid knowledge: CAN’T WAIT FOR THE WORLD TO FALL IN LOVE WITH HUGH BLACKTHORNE

  1. Role Model, Rachel Reid (2021; Carina)

Troy Barrett has been freshly traded to Ottawa after calling out Dallas Kent during a team practice. He wants to be a better person, and the weird, scrappy energy of the struggling Ottawa team seems like the place to...well. It seems like the only place that will have Troy right now.

Fortunately the Ottawa team includes Ilya Rozanov and Wyatt Hayes, and also includes an adorable social media manager, Harris Drover. Harris is the opposite of Troy in every way: friendly, cheerful, chatty, and goofy with a booming voice, a startlingly loud laugh, and Pride pins all over his denim jacket. Definitely not the sort of person Troy would normally associate with, and yet… 

Anita’s tl;dr: WOULD LITERALLY READ ABOUT REID’S PURE HOCKEY DUMMIES FOREVER AND EVER

  1. Diana Biller’s Next Book (Fall 2021; St. Martin’s)

Okay so I literally know very little about this one, other than it stars Benedict Moore, the brother of Samuel Moore, the hero of Biller’s most excellent The Widow of Rose House. And anyone who has read The Widow of Rose House knows that Biller is a wonderful genius whom we must stan.

Anita’s educated guess: GONNA HAVE LOTS OF SEXY ROMANCE AND GHOSTS PROBABLY!!

So what did I miss? What books are YOU most excited for?

xo & all the books,

anita

On writing queer trauma & love.

The (Un)Happiest Season & Alexis Hall.

In brief synopsis: Gays have been begging for holiday rom-coms of our very own for years. Decades! Centuries!!

And it seemed like all our dreams were coming true this year—finally, in 20freaking20—with The Happiest Season. Kristen Stewart. Clea Duvall. Dan Levy. Aubrey Plaza. Seriously: a dream.

Like all highly-anticipated queer content, the feedback on this one was quick, passionate, and divisive. I have cycled through a lot of feelings about it since watching it, and while the one general consensus is that this movie was mis-marketed, I actually have less issue with the com part of this equation than the rom. This movie, in fact, did make me laugh out loud several times.

But after far too much overthinking, what I’ve realized bothered me the most about it was that it was not, in my opinion, a romance.

For a brief plot summary, this movie deals with Abby (KStew) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) heading home to Harper’s family’s for the holidays. Abby is planning on introducing herself to Harper’s family before she asks Harper to marry her on Christmas Day. It’s only on the way to Harper’s small town that it’s revealed that Harper is in fact closeted to her family and wants Abby to be, too. She’ll reveal their love, she promises, after the holidays, but Harper’s father is running for mayor and she doesn’t want her gay happiness ruining his political career.

(This will be the spoilerest of spoiler posts, so if you want to watch this movie, abandon this now and come back later!)

There are a few important things about this movie: it’s based on Clea Duvall’s (icon!!) personal experiences; it is one of the first queer movies, ever!, with substantial mainstream backing with queer writers and producers and actors. It is a queer story told by queers that will resonate with many queers, and it (sort of) has a happy ending. This is all incredibly important.

The acting and writing is great and smart and funny. It’s a very compelling story. Like I said, I laughed out loud at quite a few moments.

But where things went wrong, for some viewers, was that while straight people apparently get to have holiday rom-coms about Christmas tree farms and sugar plum bakeries, we got an incredibly toxic family and two hours of Kristen Stewart being in gut-wrenching gay pain.

There were other issues, too—there is a lot about the character of Jane that made me uncomfortable, and people of color have pointed out issues with the choices made here about race—but I want to focus on the themes of gay trauma and romance, being that…this is what I write about. This is what occupies my brain.

(And let it be said from the get-go that there have been a thousand times more shitty and toxic movies about straight people that resulted in 0% Twitter discourse! Because 1) art about marginalized people is ALWAYS held up to more intense scrutiny, and 2) when you only have ONE of a thing, you don’t have anything else to talk about. Give us more options to talk about, World.)

The annoying thing about trying to summarize this stuff in tweets is that it gets boiled down to false opposing viewpoints:

Give queers happily-ever-afters without any trauma! We have had enough trauma!

And:

Coming out stories and family trauma are still important to talk about, actually.

When the reality is, of course: both can be true.

I have always had trouble swallowing the no trauma allowed discourse. Which might be a defense mechanism, being that I tend to include trauma in what I write: both Books 1 and 2 in my three book series include themes of parental rejection. Which I write mainly due to the students I work with, who still very much deal with these issues. And I want them to have books where there are characters who deal with these same issues, but are able to find love anyway—in themselves and in other people.

And that, in the end, was what was lacking in The Happiest Season: love.

When we meet Abby and Harper at the beginning of the movie, they are already in love, so we have one brief scene to make us trust in their relationship before we are thrown into two hours of lies and hurt. Other than knowing they like to make out with each other (which is, admittedly, important), we know nothing about why these two actually love each other.

If there had been more devoted to their actual relationship—some flashbacks, maybe, to happier times that Abby recalled as a means of getting through this nightmare, reminding herself, and viewers, that getting through this for Harper was worth it—maybe watching the nightmare itself wouldn’t have been so painful. But we didn’t understand why they loved each other, why they worked, and so all we saw was Abby, hurting, over and over and over.

And then, toward the end, when Abby is at her pinnacle of hurt, her best friend John comes in to explain that, in fact, none of this is about her. That Harper’s trauma of being closeted with her family is just that, separate from her love for Abby. That Harper can be afraid of coming out, and still be deeply in love with Abby at the same time.

And that…is true.

But in the narrative of this story, it almost felt like a trick to make the viewer feel bad. Because I had spent almost two hours, like, actively hating Harper. And now I felt like this horrible person because I was told, no, actually, Harper is the victim here.

And maybe she is! The scene where she cried to Abby about not wanting to lose her, and not wanting to lose her family, and not knowing what to do, was the most emotionally resonant scene of the movie, in my opinion. Heart-wrenching and well done.

(It was also a conversation Harper should have had with Abby MONTHS AGO. You’re telling me these people are LESBIANS and have been LIVING TOGETHER FOR SIX MONTHS and Abby doesn’t know that Harper’s family is fucked up? PUH-LEASE WE DISCLOSE THAT SHIT IN THE FIRST WEEK.)

But! Harper’s very real pain doesn’t erase the pain that Abby had just been forced to go through.

And because there was no emotional investment given to their relationship, because I didn’t know why these two loved each other anyway, Harper being in horrible pain TOO didn’t make this story better, or more justifiable. If anything, it made it worse. This didn’t feel like love. It felt like a really unhealthy, awful situation that was inexpressibly wrapped up in a pretty bow, when the only logical happy ending for anyone in that household was therapy.

(Because, as Adriana Herrera explains so damn well in this very important conversation with Jen Prokop, love alone does not cure trauma.)

I think the reason why I haven’t been able to stop overanalyzing Abby and Harper’s relationship is because…I learned this year that I actually do like absorbing stories about seemingly toxic relationships. I think examining the way we hurt each other is important.

I have been working my way through Alexis Hall's significant body of work this year, and after reading so many of his books, I’ve learned the story he likes to tell—because the truth of writers is that we all, essentially, write the same story over and over. I have obsessively gobbled up Alexis Hall’s story over and over, and will continue to do so until he stops writing, which, WOW, writing that sentence actually made panic bubble up in my veins haha just kidding, self, he will never stop writing everything is okay take a deep breath!

Anyway. Alexis Hall writes about messy people with trauma making bad choices, and how those bad choices affect everyone around them—including the people they love, and inevitably hurt, the most. He writes about the redeem-ability of these messy, traumatized people, the love-ability of them, even as we watch them make these bad choices, even as we watch their trauma take over and hurt characters that don’t deserve to be hurt.

This is often hard for me to read, but like The Happiest Season, I can’t look away from it, because pain is compelling. The series I am most obsessed with of Hall’s is the Arden St. Ives series, which is thousands and thousands of words about a cold, deeply traumatized billionaire, Caspian, and the pure-hearted puppy of a soul that he falls in love with, Arden. I read the entire series through twice in the space of a few months, loved it even more deeply the second time, and will probably continue to feel the same each time I choose to reread it in the future. It is about sex and power and consent and trauma and love and it absolutely knocks me out. And there are so many scenes throughout the series where—even reading through the second time, when I already knew the impressive extent of Caspian’s trauma—I wanted to kick him in his stupid face every time he hurt beautiful puppy Arden. I wanted him to walk barefoot over an endless field of Legos. I wanted him to live the rest of his lifetime in cold wet socks and too-tight jeans.

And I still wanted Arden to love him.

Because Arden and Caspian were electric when they were together, and they each loved each other to the greatest extent they knew how to love. They each got something out of the relationship, and even when Caspian hurt Arden, Arden was willing to suffer for him. He consented his suffering, until it was too much, and he couldn’t anymore, and Caspian always, always respected Arden’s consent.

Abby, in The Happiest Season, does not have the power of consent. She is blindsided, with little choice to say anything but yes. Yes, I will put myself back in the closet. Yes, I will lie for you. But she’s not a truly willing participant. And we don’t understand the root causes of why she suffers what she does for Harper—her love—and so it only feels like suffering for suffering’s sake.

There is a line in Hall’s Prosperity series, which I am making my way through now, that I have not been able to stop thinking about. In Prosperity, there are multiple storylines happening at once, but the redeem-ability theme is really taken up a hundred notches here in the heavily present storyline of Ruben and Milord. Their story is more starkly Biblical, good vs. evil, than Hall’s other books, even though Biblical elements are almost always present in his work. Milord is the least redeemable character Hall has probably ever written—for all intents and purposes, a sociopath—but still, Hall want us to know that he can be lovable. That Ruben loves him anyway. And I’ve honestly struggled with it, just as the main character Picadilly struggles with it, with Milord not deserving Ruben’s love. Byron Kae (who I would die for) describes it to Picadilly like this:

This is essentially Alexis Hall’s recurring thesis, distilled. Love isn’t earned. It’s given.

It’s an incredibly powerful sentiment. And I feel like it’s what I’m supposed to feel at the end of The Happiest Season, when John explains to Abby that Harper’s trauma isn’t about her, and when Harper gives a disingenuous plea to Abby at the end (“I don’t care what my family thinks”—YES YOU DO HARPER! THIS ENTIRE MOVIE WAS ABOUT THAT! It would be much more true to say, “I realize now that I am fucked up by my family and am willing to work through it with you by my side, if you’ll still have me”—THAT is romance!!). And Abby, inexplicably, says OKAY, and they kiss.

I am supposed to accept that, even though Abby has now been traumatized by Harper—and Harper hasn’t groveled nearly as much as a romance hero should—it’s okay because Abby is still choosing to give her love anyway.

But…I can’t accept it. Because I don’t understand why she’s giving it.

And so that doesn’t really feel like love to me. It feels closer to something much darker than that. And having everyone in that fucked up family being all happy dory at the end—running to the man who has emotionally abused them for years and giving him a hug because he was finally forced to be a decent man—doesn’t feel like a happily-ever-after. It doesn’t feel like catharsis; it feels like a lie.

I know a movie cannot do everything a book can; I know that you have to pass over a bunch of the work that it takes to get to a happy ending for the sake of pacing and time. And like I said, I really don’t think this is a bad movie, per se. It’s complex, and honestly, it is amazing to have a complex queer movie out there marketed toward the masses.

What I think I’m trying to say, in the end, is that if you’re trying to pull off a romance, the romance matters. The romance doesn’t solve trauma, but it can soften its blow. It can give us a reason to face the trauma head on, to care for ourselves better. To know that we truly can be loved, and that we can love in return, and that sometimes it’s messy, and sometimes we hurt each other, but it’s worth it if we get it right.

We are all made of trauma AND love.

I want both.

Queer people deserve both.

Hopefully, capturing both is something I do an okay job of in my own work. It feels important to get it right.

But I’m sure the Goodreads reviewers will let me know, one day.

xoxo

Anita

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