Guest Post: Found Family in Romance by Pene Henson

My love, there’s only you in my life. —Lionel Richie, Endless Love

Over and over, fiction tells us romantic love is our primary goal. It’s the highest height, the most powerful salve to loneliness. There’s something compelling about that story – a story that pits lovers against the universe, a story about love over everything else. It’s epic, fated, star-crossed romance, with a beautiful soundtrack.

But real life tells a different story. One in three Americans over 45 are lonely, regardless of whether these people are happily in a relationship or not. In real life we need broader relationships as old and as deep as romantic love.

It felt like a family reunion for the family I’d never really known, a homecoming at the place where I was always meant to be but hadn’t known how to find. —David Levithan, Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story

When I fell in love with my wife, Robbie, I inherited a dirt bike, a yellow and white vintage trailer, a dinghy, two pets, and four best friends.

Robbie’s friendship with these women has survived heartbreak, coming out, illicit substances, dance parties, softball teams, double beds. They have thousands of memories I’ll never share. They have twenty-year-old nicknames, thirty-year-old schemes, almost forty-year-old stories. They say “mate” the same way. They talk about dogs and building projects and boats. They give Robbie room to be frustrated or thrilled, tired or caring, and always herself.

I come with my own mismatched collection of essential humans—people I turn to with a new plot or anxieties at work, people I trust to read bad reviews and admire photos of my kids. These people type ALSO I LOVE YOU in all caps, send heart eyes emojis, and celebrate a book birthday by telling everyone they know. They remember my poor decisions; they tell me I’m strong. These are the people I open a third bottle of champagne with, even though these days we have to wake up at 6 a.m.

Together, these people form our family of choice.

We all look for a haven at the end of the day. Many people, especially queer folk, don’t have that home with their family of origin. Found families aren’t bound together by blood or awkward rules about being nice to your aunty. They don’t mean you leave your principles at the door. They do mean you’re committed even when it’s tough.  

I thought about my found family when I wrote my first novel, and threw a group of twenty-two-year-olds into a rundown beach house, and when I wrote my second novel and gave Lien a layered queer community in Sydney.

We read to know we are not alone. —William Nicholson, Shadowlands

There’s a thrill in opening a new book. Who are these characters? Who do they love? What breaks them? What puts them back together?

I love stories where the main characters have a chosen family already in place. I love the fondness and knowledge and teasing, the ferocious kindness. I love watching them fight for and sometimes with one another.

There are narrative benefits. Found family adds strength and breadth to the romance—the delight when a family of choice accepts and values a love interest. Found family gives the characters support and safety in their worst times—in heartbreak the character’s found family is there with food or fighting words and that understanding that years of knowing someone brings. Found family can build conflict—it’s terrible to see a character pulled between romance and a family they’ve chosen.

Found families flourish among all kinds of fictional people: a ragtag group of survivors, a circus troupe, a werewolf pack, hockey players, surfers sharing a beach house. These crucial relationships deepen a love story and stay with us long after the book is over.

Mr. Maclay: You people have no right to interfere with Tara’s affairs. We are her blood kin! Who the hell are you?
Buffy: We’re family. —
Joss Whedon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Family

How about some recs… These are books I’ve read and loved. But tell me your own!

In Michelle Osgood’s Canadian werewolf series THE BETTER TO KISS YOU WITH, romantic relationships are intertwined with vibrant found family relationships that reflect real life queer communities. Human Deanna turns to her BFF Nathan for a tension-releasing laugh or to hold her hand when the whole werewolf thing is too much. Alpha Kira has her brother Cole and right hand Jamie for fierce and unconditional support. In turn she must look out for them.

ROGUE WOLF’s band of space pirates are family from the first page. Elliot Cooper depicts the intimacy between five people who share living space, working space and fighting space. The characters know one another like they know their ship, they anticipate one another’s needs almost without thinking. It makes any secrets between them tougher to handle.

HEELS OVER HEAD by Elyse Springer is a diving romance and it doesn’t start with a found family. Instead it starts with very distinct and quite prickly personalities. But through training in close quarters the characters learn one another’s physicality like they know their own; they learn to have hopes and dreams for one another. They become family.

The upcoming OLYMPIA KNIFE by Alysia Constantine is an extraordinary book where a circus troupe is home and family to queer women and people with little safety elsewhere.

Avon Gale’s SCORING CHANCES series is interlinked stories of love and hockey. Many of the books focus on the hockey family surrounding and supporting these men and the close, sometimes prickly, sometimes invaluable relationships with teammates and coaches.  

In DARK HORSE by A L Brooks, Sadie’s made a home with her best friend and her grandmother. The three of them have an irreverent relationship which rings true to the Australian setting. The book deals with Sadie’s abandonment issues and the impact that has on her chosen family, even while she rebuilds a connection with her mother and falls in love.

Cheyenne Blue’s GIRL MEETS GIRL series of interlinked romances about Australian women living in the outback is enriched by the ways queer women build family over the world.

Pene Henson has gone from British boarding schools to New York City law firms. She now lives in Sydney, Australia, where she is an intellectual property lawyer and published poet who is deeply immersed in the city’s LGBTQIA community. She spends her spare time enjoying the outdoors and gazing at the ocean with her wife and two unexpectedly exceptional sons. Her first novel Into the Blue (Interlude Press, 2016) received a Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Romance. Her second novel, Storm Season, was published by Interlude Press in 2017.

Connect with Pene: or @penehenson on twitter.




Edwin’s Recent Reading Roundup, week of August 7: Paranormal Romance

Edwin’s Recent Reading Roundup: Paranormal Romance

Life has been hectic the last few weeks, so I haven’t had time for reviews, but I have, of course, still been reading! And I’ve read some good stuff that’s worth highlighting…

Black Magic Glitterbomb by Sage C Holloway

Get it now: Publisher | Amazon | B&N 

This novella grabbed me with the blurb and didn’t let go until I reached the very satisfying conclusion.  I mean, the blurb tells us the book is about a mediocre dark mage who steals the coffee makers of his defeated enemies and accidentally rescues a clueless blond twentysomething while defeating said enemies.  And then the sentence of the book proper is “I liked to relax over a cup of coffee and the bodies of my enemies.”  How can you not want to keep reading?

The book continues in this vein, with dark mage Benji and rescued cutie Kit quickly being confronted with magical assault from enemies as varied as magical tentacles and evil cupcakes (yes, evil cupcakes).  The humour is charming, the developing relationship between Benji and Kit is sweet, and the interaction between them and Benji’s collection of friends and frenemies (including a kindly blood mage, the worst married couple in existence, and a too eager apprentice) rollicking good fun.  The book took me about an hour to read, and I can’t think of a better hour I spent the last couple of weeks.  Recommended (and currently less than a buck!).

The Sumage Solution by G L Carriger

Get it now: Amazon | B&N | Kobo 

G L Carriger is the contemporary PNR pen name for Gail Carriger, author of the excellent Parasol Protectorate series of Victorian PNR novels.  The Sumage Solution is the first in a series about a pack of (mostly) queer werewolves who have recently relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area (The reasons for the relocation are set out in Carriger’s earlier short story, Marine Biology).  The central romance is between the pack’s Beta (and brother of the Alpha), Bryan, AKA “Biff,” and Max, who is essentially a magical bureaucrat.

Max is also a sumage, essentially an anti-mage: instead of casting magic he inhibits its use.  Coming from a prominent magical family, he’s something of a disappointment to them (being gay didn’t help either).  Much of the action in the book is Max dealing with the baggage of his family background, both in terms of the emotional toll his rejection took on him, and in terms of some mysterious magical artefacts his father left behind.  He and Bryan did not initially get on well, but eventually become friends and then more.  Bryan is a total sweetie, and does an interesting take on the “beta” trope: he’s not his alpha’s enforcer, rather he’s the pack’s domestic heart.  A big, hairy biker who also makes sure his pack eats their greens and is an EMT in his day job.  Dream man, basically.  

The romance between the two of them moves quite quickly but is believable, and includes some surprisingly hot sex scenes.  The paranormal plot is interesting (and seems to be a continuation, 100-odd years later, of the Parasol Protectorate universe), and keeps the action moving.  I could have done with a bit more time on the details of the magic system (there seem to be 3 different types of mages and sumages, and it’s not entirely clear what each does), but this is a minor quibble.  Throw in enough humour to make you smile fairly frequently and you have a thoroughly enjoyable weekend read.

Cutie and the Beast by E J Russell

Get it now: Publisher | Amazon  | B&N | Kobo 

This is the first in a new contemporary PNR series featuring 3 princes of faerie.  The prince in this book is Dr Alun Kendrick, therapist to the supernatural population of Portland.  He has also been cursed to have hideous appearance. His love interest is David Evans, his cute young temp receptionist.  

At one level, this is essentially a friends-to-lovers romance.  Alun resents the presence of a human, David, in his office, and is also waiting for David to reject him because of his looks.  Slowly, both Alun and his patients start to appreciate David’s sunny friendliness, and a relationship begins to build.  This element of the story works really well.  The chemistry between Alun and David is palpable, and David’s general sweetness and naiveté (without being an idiot) make him a really appealing character.  Similarly, the banter between the main couples and the well-drawn support characters is great.

Less successful is the paranormal world building.  It’s not entirely clear how all the elements – faeries, vampires, dragons, shifters – fit together, and there doesn’t appear to be a governing cosmology to the world.  You don’t need to tell the reader all of this, but it does all need to hang together consistently, and this element of Cutie and the Beast doesn’t quite get there.  Regardless, the appealing relationship at its core make this book well worth a read.

Edwin gets grumpy if his SF/F reading doesn’t feature happy queer main characters.  Aside from that, he reads and writes for a living (though not fiction), so of course his hobby is reading, and now writing about what he reads. Why do anything else? Connect with Edwin on Twitter.

Historical Romance review: The Masterpiece by Bonnie Dee

Title and Author: The Masterpiece by Bonnie Dee

Genre: Historical M/M Romance

Order at: Author Site | Amazon | B&N

Reviewed by: Anya

Why you need this book: Slow-build, adorable romance which is perfect to chill with on hot summer days. Read More

Historical Paranormal Romance review: Spectred Isle by KJ Charles

Spectred Isle by KJ Charles

Published by: KJC Books

Format: eARC

Genre: Historical paranormal romance

Order at: Amazon

Reviewed by: Erin

What to Expect: A terrifying adventure in 1920s England featuring found families, finding meaning of life after the horrors of war, and a sweet love story.

Read More

New Binge Worthy Book: Sara recs Blue on Black by Carole Cummings

Blue on Black by Carole Cummings

Published by: DSP Publication

Format: eBook, paperback

Genre: science fiction (maybe? closer to fantasy?), steampunk (maybe?)

Order at: Publisher | Amazon | B&N

Reviewed by: Sara Beth as part of her column, Binge Worthy Books

What to Expect: This book basically defies whatever genre you might want to file it under, so whatever you’re expecting, probably best to let that go, and settle into a fantastic read filled with mystery, cleverly rendered tech, and just a titch of romance. Read More

Contemporary Romantic Comedy: Spun! by J.L. Merrow

Spun! by J L Merrow

Published by: Riptide Publishing

Format: eARC

Genre: contemporary romance/comedy

Order at: Publisher | Amazon |  B & N

Reviewed by: Edwin

What to Expect: Whimsical English village romance with bonus appearances from a very fashionably-dressed teddy bear. Read More

A Russian Feast: Liz Jacobs talks her book, Abroad, and Russian Delicacies…

Today we are joined by debut author, Liz Jacobs, whose first book is an amazing New Adult look at growing up and discovering oneself while abroad. We highly recommend it! She joins Binge on Books to talk a Russian Feast (with pictures!) Read More

Science Fiction Romance review: Rogue Wolf by Elliot Cooper

Rogue Wolf by Elliot Cooper

Published by: Self-published

Format: eARC

Genre: Science fiction/queer romance

Order at: Amazon | B & N Kobo

Reviewed by: Edwin

What to Expect: Short, sharp, entertaining caper with a good romance and some interesting sci fi ideas. Read More

Historical YA Review: A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Published by: HarperCollins

Order at: Publisher | Amazon | B&N

Format: e-ARC

Genre: YA historical fantasy

Reviewed by: Moog

What to expect: Queer historical YA full of simmering heat, loads of pining, and an irascible main character you will both love and be exasperated by in equal measure.

Bonus: Check out our exclusive interview with Mackenzi Lee and enter to win a paperback ARC of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue!
Read More

Contemporary New Adult Romance review: Abroad, Book 1 by Liz Jacobs

Abroad: Book One by Liz Jacobs

Published by: Brain Mill Press

Format: epub

Genre: New adult

Order at: PublisherAmazon | B & N Kobo

Reviewed by: Edwin

What to Expect:  Incredibly well-observed new adult tale of a young Russian-Jewish American in London on exchange.  Don’t let the simple premise deceive you: this has an emotional depth that is rare to see, particularly in a first novel. Read More

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