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Hi everyone, it’s J.R., once again taking over Beth’s Missive.  As you all know, I usually send out the newsletter on the first Tuesday of the month.  This month, June of 2020, that Tuesday happened to fall on #BlackoutTuesday.  In recognition of the purpose of the hashtag, I wanted to go silent on social media- and it therefore felt it was inappropriate to send the newsletter out.
 
You know, I have to admit that I’ve started this column about six times, sometimes from Beth, sometimes from me.  I’m sad about the world.  I feel lost.  I’m exhausted.  I know a lot of people feel the same. 
 
Please know that these pieces were drafted about three weeks ago.  I particularly urge you to check out Bella’s book recommendation, Queen Move by Kennedy Ryan.  The decision to feature her superb new release was made over a month back, but never has it seemed more important to promote a wonderful romance about diverse characters by a spectacular author who is African American. 
 
I am sending love and hugs from the Brothers and myself and my family to you and yours.
 
J.R.   
Dear Vishous,

After ten weeks of lockdown for COVID-19, I headed back to work recently.  As I live alone (female, 28 years old, in a medium-sized city,) I relied on Zoom calls and Facetime not only for my job, but also to stay connected to the human race.  Let me back up about my job.  I’ve been working for the same company for three years, and there’s a guy who came on board in the last twelve months that really caught my eye.  He’s in my department, about my age, and I admired him from afar, as they say.
 
Flash forward to lockdown.  We got assigned a project together, and we had to Facetime one on one about it.  It was complicated, so these calls became frequent.  Even after we worked through the issues, we somehow kept the habit up of talking three times a day.  And then we had a virtual dinner together.  Finally, we watched a movie while on Facetime.  I really started to look forward to these calls, and I’ll admit, I began to make sure I was wearing something other than a sweatshirt when they happened.
 
I thought we were getting something off the ground.  I really did.  But when I saw him back in the office this week?  He was stiff and formal, and barely acknowledged me.  Yet he Facetimed me that night and it was like it always was.  At work the next morning?  It was like we were just coworkers.  Or worse, that I was a dirty secret. 
 
I’m so confused.  I really like him and want to see where this goes- in fact, I was hoping we could go on a social distancing date.  But I can’t reconcile the two sides of him.  What do I do?
 
Sincerely,
 
Confused
 
*****************************************
Vishous:  I wouldn’t touch this with a ten foot pole.
 
Mary:  I’m sorry- wait, do you mean as a letter for this column or-
 
V:  I wouldn’t go near this guy.  Look, Confused, you two are coworkers.  That’s the primary contact.  He’s either more clear on your company’s policy against fraternization than you are or he just wants someone, anyone to pass the off-hours with and you’re not that important to him.  Either way, leave him alone.  He’s a douche.
 
Mary:  Good to know we’re starting off on that note.  *shakes head*  But I’d like to start at the job, too.  Not surprisingly, however, I’m in a different place than V.
 
V:  *lights up*  You know, we usually end up agreeing.  Look back at previous columns.
 
Mary:  We get there in different ways, though.  Mine is a walk.  Yours is a run with a flamethrower.
 
V:  You are better at the “journey” part of things.  I’ll give you that.
 
Mary:  Wow.  *raises brows*  Look at you, throwing around the compliments.
 
V:  Just being accurate.  Compliments make me scratch.
 
Mary:  If I try to hug you, will you-
 
V:  Yes, I will make an excuse to get up and grab another Grey Goose.  In fact, I’m dry.  *gets up*
 
Mary:  *smiles*  Back to Confused- I’d like to focus on your company’s policy about people who work together dating each other.  Some companies allow it under some circumstances.  But unless you are prepared to wager your job on this fledgling relationship, please check what the parameters are first, before you do anything else.
 
V:  Whatever.  Regardless of the company policy, why would you want to layer on this complication at a time when the job market is so challenging?  *sits back down with V&T*  You Facetime’d a little during quarantine and now the real world is back and he’s sending signals he’s not that into you.  Let it go, move along.
 
Mary:  Hold on, there.  I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss the feelings that have grown for Confused as the result of the time they spent together.  Whether it was virtual or not doesn’t matter.  On one level, their relationship has broadened.
 
V:  It’s the real world now.  And in the real world, he’s making her feel second rate.  That’s bullsh*t.
 
Mary:  It is.  If that’s what’s actually happening.  But again, the feelings are real.  No matter the context they came out of.  And it makes sense to constructively deal with her new reality which is that she’d like to explore the possibility of a relationship with this guy.               
 
V:  Okay, fine, let’s focus on him.  This paragon of maleness is not handling the work/off work thing well, and how does that bode for being all lovey-dovey with him, huh?  You think this recommends him for the sh*t you have to deal with when you’re in a relationship with somebody?  She doesn’t mention whether the recent Facetimes discussed the situation, like how they should or could handle the transition out of quarantine- but I think she would have if they’d talked about it.  So the hard split on and off the clock is how he wants things to go.  He’s answered the question and she doesn’t like it.  So that’s that.
 
Mary:  While I’ll agree that his actions do send a message, I think that clarity would be helpful here.  Confused, if you feel comfortable doing so, I’d like to suggest that on your next Facetime with him, you state what you’re interested in and ask him what he’s looking for. 
 
V:  Or you could just be like, bye.  And focus on not complicating your work environment.  Jobs are hard enough to come by.  Why layer on this bullsh*t with the feels? 
 
Mary:  *shoots glare over*  Oh, like you don’t care about the people you work with?
 
V:  I’m not trying to date any of them.  And they’re not giving me back-off signals at the office when I go goo-goo eyes at them.  I’m also not butt hurt because someone isn’t leaving Post-It notes on my desk with hearts and flowers on ‘em.
 
Mary:  Please don’t use that term in this context.  It’s disrespectful.
 
V:  I didn’t know goo-goo eyes is considered offensive.
 
Mary:  I was talking about butt hurt.
 
V:  Oh, please.  She needs a donut for her feels.  So what. 
 
Mary:  *mutters under her breath*  Listen, you do have a point about not complicating work-
 
V:  I’m sorry, can you say that a little louder?
 
Mary:  You’re sitting three feet from me.  And this is in writing, anyway. 
 
V:  I just enjoy hearing I’m right.
 
Mary:  Yes, I think we’re allllllll aware of that.  Back to Confused.  Confused, I think that there’s value in stating what you want and what you need from relationships- and this is true no matter what kind they are.  Romantic, familial, work, etc.
 
V:  Personally, I think you need the job so that comes first.  Who cares about this guy?  You do you.  If he can’t get on the goddamn train, that’s his loss.
 
Mary:  I don’t disagree with that. 
 
V:  Which means you agree.  You know, you could just use the A-word.
 
Mary:  *ignores V*  Confused, I’d really think getting some clarity is a good thing.  I’m not a fan of trying to read tea leaves with other people.  Just state your position and see what he says.  Then respect where he’s at.  I think V is right, though-
 
V:  *whistles*  I love that word, too.  Along with agree, and awesome, and absolutely.
 
Mary:  *rolls her eyes*  Confused, I think how this guy handles a conversation about your situation is an indication about how he will handle conflict and hard spots in a relationship with you.  Also, I think you need to put yourself first here and not compromise your job- or your happiness- because of your feelings for this guy.  The whole lot-of-fishes-in-the-sea thing is a reductive generalization, but there is a hint of truth in the saying.  If this guy is not able to give you what you’re looking for, it’s okay to be sad and mourn what you wish could be.  Please, know, however, that the right partner is out there for you.  The quarantine has been hard on people, and it is difficult to know how to stay safe during this transition as things open up more and more.  But getting out- in a safe way- and engaging other friends and interests can fill the void of your burgeoning relationship with him, in the event things don’t work out.
 
V:  Once again, we’re saying the same thing. 
 
Mary:  No, we’re not.  You’re suggesting she walk away.
 
V:  Because he’s being weird.  And FYI, Confused, don’t be surprised if he blows you off on Facetime when you do this whole here’s-my-truth bullcrap.  I’ll bet you dollars to donuts he ducks the question and then you get a whole lot less of those Facetimes from him.  The guy’s a loser.
 
Mary:  *smacks head*  V.  You don’t know this man.
 
V:  Don’t have to.  Being discreet at work is one thing.  Turning Confused into a dirty secret is another. 
 
Mary:  I do agree with that.  But I think Confused needs to know one way or the other.
 
V:  She already does know. 
 
Mary:  Well, we’ll see.  Confused, please let us know how it goes?  And we wish you all the best, everyone.  Stay safe!   
Hi all- happy almost Summer!  Fritz opened the pool over the weekend- thank God we have a heater for the thing as almost-Summer up here on the mountain is still pretty frickin’ chilly- and the sight of all that glowing, aquamarine water, makes me look forward to nights when I can sit out and enjoy the stars and take a swim.  It also makes me think of summer reading.  I’m on a serious romance kick right now, and the book I’m going to review this month is Queen Move by Kennedy Ryan.
 
I loved it.  The thing with good romance is that it sucks you in.  You identify with the heroine, you want the hero, and even though you know there’s an HEA at the end, you get all worried that the pair will not end up together and have the destiny they deserve.  And on the destiny note, this story is really about soul mates- something I know about firsthand ;). 
 
Here is the back blurb:
 
From Wall Street JournalUSA Today Bestselling and RITA® Award-winning Author Kennedy Ryan, comes a captivating second chance romance like only she can deliver...

The boy who always felt like mine is now the man I can't have…

Dig a little and you'll find photos of me in the bathtub with Ezra Stern.
Get your mind out of the gutter. We were six months old.
Pry and one of us might confess we saved our first kiss for each other. The most clumsy, wet, sloppy . . . spectacular thirty seconds of my adolescence.
Get into our business and you'll see two families, closer than blood, torn apart in an instant.
Twenty years later, my "awkward duckling" best friend from childhood, the boy no one noticed, is a man no one can ignore.

Finer. Fiercer. Smarter.
Taken.
Tell me it's wrong.
Tell me the boy who always felt like mine is now the man I can’t have.
When we find each other again, everything stands in our way--secrets, lies, promises.
But we didn't come this far to give up now.
And I know just the move to make if I want to make him mine.

 
These two characters - Ezra and Kimba - have the same birthday and were friends since they were about a year old.  When they were six, Ezra decided he needed to marry Kimba. So he did - at six years old. Using the pull tabs from two soda cans as their rings. I fell in love with him (and them) at that moment.
 
This book gave me all the feels. It was beautiful and tortured, had depth and resonance. And the themes and discoveries will stay with me for a very long time.
 
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
 

Our first time together was stolen from us, and I don’t hold against her any who have come since. But the truth was carved into ancient tablets of stone and etched into our hearts. 

I love her.

And from here on out, I want to be her last.

 
“I don’t think it will be easy, Kimba. I just know it will be worth it.”
 
It feels like we were this one thing that was severed in half, and our parts want to be rejoined.”
 
“I don’t just want you when you’re strong. I want you when you’re vulnerable, when you’re lost, when you’re not sure. I see the armor you have to put on to make it in your world.  I just want you to know here, with me, you can take the armor off.”
 
I reached out to the author, and took a chance that she might answer a couple of my questions.  She did!  Here’s a brief interview:
 
1)  Kimba is such an interesting character because of her strength, work ethic, conviction, and leadership. But we also got to see her vulnerable side - which was just as compelling. How did all of this combine in a way that you chose the title, Queen Move?

First off, thank you for reading, Bella, and for having me today!

So when they were kids, Ezra, the hero, taught Kimba, the heroine, to play chess. He told her the queen was the most powerful piece on the board. This is an analogy for her life. She deals in power: her own and that of the leaders she, as a political consultant, tries to get elected. We know she’s powerful. We know she’s a bada$$. To only show that aspect of her wasn’t as interesting as also showing her vulnerabilities, her flaws and weaknesses; how she continues to be powerful in spite of her inadequacies and fears. One of my favorite quotes from the book is “Sometimes the most powerful move you can make is to be still.” Kimba realizes not only has she been “running” her candidates, but she herself has been running.. Running from her past, from her family’s legacy and other things. Homecoming is one of the major themes of the book because Kimba is returning to Atlanta to be with her family for an extended period for the first time in years. This book is as much about her standing still so she can decide and make peace with what she wants as it is about her taking off to pursue it.
 
2)  Ezra was an incredible hero - totally swoon worthy!  But he’s also different than a traditional romance hero in that we got to see more of his soft side.  It’s amazing that you were able to give us a tenderhearted alpha.  Was that something you worked on or did it happen organically? 

Awwww, Ezra! It was both a natural progression of him as a character, and also intentional. I love alpha males as much as the next romance reader, but I like to play with the conventional idea of that archetype; to possibly evolve it. Kimba is a strong, powerful woman. Instead of matching her with someone who was as big on the page (at least at a surface glance) as she was, I gave her a man who was completely comfortable with her success and ambitions; who was completely secure enough to watch her soar and feel no resentment or jealousy or like it somehow diminished him as a man. She needed that. He’s so brilliant and kind and compassionate. He’s a single father, and I wanted that to not just be a trope, but for the care and thought he took raising his son to really say something about his character. That he is a good man who sees his greatest accomplishment as raising a thoughtful, wonderful human in his son Noah. Don’t get me wrong. Ezra is an accomplished man in his own right, but his priorities are apparent. His son is always first and most important. He’s also aggressive in the bedroom, but wants Kimba to be, too. There is a lot of equity in their relationship. Neither dominates the other. There is not only scorching passion and longstanding affection, love, but also deep respect. Sometimes in romance I’ve seen the “alpha male” cross the line into male toxicity. I wanted there to be no question that, though Ezra is strong, there is nothing toxic about him, the way he conducts his relationship, or how he loves his woman.
 
3)  The Jewish faith plays a part in this book, and learning more about it was part of what engaged me and made the book so interesting.  How did you go about creating Ezra’s background?

I enjoy writing about varied backgrounds, but especially when you write beyond your own lived experience, you have to be vigilant and careful. You don’t want to be appropriative or stereotypical or disrespectful. I’m not perfect. I’ll make mistakes, and when I do, I’ll own them, but I try to do my homework on things I don’t know personally. Ezra is not only Jewish, but is black and Jewish. Immersing myself in that unique heritage involved lots of interviews with folks who identify similarly, reading  memoirs and books that discussed the duality of that experience, utilizing sensitivity readers, and of course, just good old fashioned research. I research a lot longer than I actually write. I want the information to be a part of me by the time I sit down to write so I can seamlessly weave it into character development and plot. Ezra’s Jewish heritage was so formative for him, specifically in how he decides he wants to change the world. That aspect informed a lot of his choices and goals.
 
4)  This is a story of soulmates. And your portrayal of the characters was beautiful. One of my favorite parts was seeing them as children - and also their relationships with their parents and how it informed their future. Where most romance novels start in the present, you took us to the past. Was that a hard decision to make as an author and why did you decide to do it? 

I always knew we would see them as kids. I felt strongly that it wouldn’t be enough for readers to hear how it had been; to be told how close they were from the time they were babies, but to see it. It bisects the story into two distinct time periods, and gives the first part of the book a clear sense of time and place. We start in the 80s and progress through the 90s. The music, the technology, the trends, the clothes - all flavor that part of the story and, I hope, paint their childhood in more vivid tones than if I’d just told the reader about it. I thought about movies like Love & Basketball, Sweet Home Alabama and Brown Sugar as I was writing. All stories where the protagonists find each other as children and have a lifetime to fall in love. Kimba and Ezra are separated just as they are about to enter high school and don’t see each other again for more than 20 years. When we reach the second part of the book, we can contrast it with the past for ourselves as readers. Without me telling you they’ve grown and changed and matured, you know that yourself by seeing them as adults. You saw the promise of who they could be when they were children. And then I show you who they’ve become. Really that time period, childhood, becomes the foundation for their love story, and I didn’t want to cheat it.
 
5) You’re known for featuring marginalized characters in your books - something that I admire. Why have you made that your mission in your writing?  

It may sound goofy, but I don’t see writing as strictly vocational. I see it as a calling. I believe on some level that I’m supposed to be telling stories. That I was made to do it. That, for me, lends each story a certain weight, and I approach it thoughtfully and intentionally. I often feel like I’m writing on a mission. One of my creative convictions is to center marginalized characters as much as I possibly can. It’s really personal for me because, as a black woman, I know how it stings to feel erased from the stories you love most. I grew up in a very white heterosexual romance world. Over the years, I’ve loved seeing it diversify; to see it embracing and depicting as many ethnicities, identities and experiences as possible, and I want to be as much a part of that as I can be. My characters are black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, gay, disabled— you name it and they have found their way into my stories.  I want people who haven’t seen themselves on the page as much before, to have that when they read my books. 
 
Again, I really loved Queen Move and highly recommend it!  If you’re looking for something to get sucked into, it’s going to fit that bill perfectly.  Here are the buy links if you want to hop on the train:

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Finally, a movie I can say I love!  So in the last few months, I’ve tried to expand my repertoire, watching things I might otherwise not have.  It’s been interesting, but after sitting down and seeing The Nice Guys, I was reminded of how great movie going can be- and also how subjective a good experience is.  What cranks me up, might not work for my Mary (okay, fine, it rarely ever works for her, although we always enjoy our time together!) and vice versa.
 
The Nice Guys, starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling (look, I get him confused with Deadpool all the time, okay?  They don’t even look alike, but the Reynolds/Gosling thing always screws me up,) is in a similar vein, in some respects, to Quentin Tarentino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood- which is one of my all time top five movies.  We’re talking seventies vibe, some violence, great characters, sudden surprises.  But it’s is its own thing, too. 
 
A private eye (Gosling) and an enforcer (Crowe) end up teaming together to find a missing teenage girl.  But that’s just the bare bones.  Dead bodies, gotchas (the bee in the car,) mysteries, Kim Bassinger, sucker punches, blue dye, bromance... I mean, there’s so much.  And it’s great.  Yes, the private eye is loathsome in some ways and the enforcer breaks bones for a living, but at least the latter has a moral code to some degree, and the P.I. has a tragic past that kind of makes you get where he’s coming from.  The whole time, I was hoping there’d be a sequel, but it appears as if it didn’t gross enough to be on the Part II list.  In this respect, it reminds me of Let’s Be Cops, which I loved, but didn’t do as well as it should have in the marketplace (but that’s just me.) 
 
Anyway, on to some things I particularly loved:
1)  Crowe and Gosling are terrific together.  There’s a scene where they meet and you’re led to believe something bad is going to happen- but you know they’re the main characters of the film so you’re like, nah, he’s not going to...  and then Crowe does lolol.  It’s like living with the Brotherhood.  I felt right at home!  My other favorite scene between them- and really, there are too many to count- is when Gosling goes for Crowe’s ankle-holstered gun.  Then there’s the bee in the car.  And the chase scenes.
 
2)  Credible surprises.  There’s a scene at this party and Gosling ends up going over the edge, literally.  When his fall finishes, he lights a cigarette and the viewer sees that there’s a surprise behind him- and it’s awesome.  And that’s the whole movie.  Anytime you think you know which way things are going, you find out you’re wrong, and it’s done so well that nothing seems loose and unsupported.  The plotting is tight and takes you on a rollercoaster.  The fact that I was always surprised is was probably my favorite part of the movie. 
 
3)  Seventies vibe.  Ordinarily, I’m not a big seventies guy, but I loved the retro interiors, cars, clothes.  It doesn’t matter that so much of it is not aesthetically pleasing; it’s more that it’s great to just go back in time.  Like Once Upon a Time, this is a capsule film and that’s part of why I love it. 
 
4)  Kim Bassinger.  I associate her with the nineties, and I loved seeing her again.  (Okay, fine, I have to block that scene from 8 Mile with her in that trailer with Eminem where she talks about... well, I’m just going to stop that right there.)  But she’s great.
 
5)  The mystery worked.  The ins and outs of it are convoluted in the beginning, but it was easy to follow after it gets going.  And the culminating moment at the auto show?  Awesome!  Totally works!
 
6)  There’s some emotional parts, too.  It’s hard to go deep when so much comedy is happening and still keep the stride of the movie, but the film managed a couple of deep dives that worked.  For instance, there’s a great scene between the P.I.’s daughter and the enforcer where she makes him stop killing someone.  Totally believable, and a little touching. 
 
7)  The daughter totally worked.  Sometimes in films like this, there’s a kid thrown in as a device to create vulnerability in the main male character and contribute to the chaos and high stakes during the third act climax.  In this case, the P.I.’s daughter was a real participant in the film, not just a one-dimensional plot point.  Sure, she causes some difficulties, but they were credible.  And there was some real comedy from her, too.
 
Anyway, if you’re looking for a break from binge watching TV shows, and are up for a Deapool/Perry Mason/Hobbs & Shaw kind of vibe, I recommend this movie!  It was a great ride for me, and it makes me think I need to watch some more of Gosling’s work.  Although not that L.A. movie with the singing and the dancing.  Never going to happen.  I already get stuck with Lassiter’s clicker choices droning on in the background.  I’ll never make it through all that yodeling and the tippity tapping voluntarily.  (But I do like Emma Stone.)
 
Until next month, hugs!
 
Rhage

 
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