Today’s our lucky day, listener, because one of my favorite guests is back to talk about a book written by another one of my favorite guests. Kenya Goree Bell is herself a steamy romance author and fearless autism advocate who loves to talk books on her own show, the KGB Grown and Sexy book club. Today she joined me to talk about some of the lesser known romance subgenres and the authors we trust to make us care about common and uncommon tropes. And as always, we had a lot of laughs as Kenya told me why “His Revenge Baby” is the Best Book Ever.
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And, just for fun, here’s an episode of outtakes from my chats with kids.
Discussed in this episode:
His Revenge Baby by Theodora Taylor
Theodora Taylor on Best Book Ever Episode 046, talking about Warrior’s Woman by Johanna Lindsey
Naima Simone books
Naima Simone on Best Book Ever Episode 113
KGB’s first appearance on Best Book Ever Episode 016, when we talked about Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean
The Honey Badger Chronicles by Shelly Laurenston
Knud: Her Big Bad Wolf by Theodora Taylor
Lotus Flower Bomb by Kenya Goree Bell
Demon’s Dream: An Unexpected Love by Elle Kayson
Sharonda Isadora TikTok
A Merry Little Meet Cute by Julie Murphy and Sierra Simone
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His Revenge Baby by Theodora Taylor is a steamy romance between traveling nurse Liliana Tucker who becomes a paid escort for mysterious billionaire No Nokamura. Soon their transaction becomes more than physical, and because of a whole lot of betrayal, Lily agrees to bear No’s child to get back at his cruel father.
Hello and welcome the Best Book Ever, the podcast where we get to know interesting people by asking them about their favorite book. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and today’s our lucky day, listener, because one of my favorite guests is back to talk about a book written by another one of my favorite guests. Kenya Goree Bell is herself a steamy romance author and fearless autism advocate who loves to talk books on her own show, the KGB Grown and Sexy book club. Today she joined me to talk about some of the lesser known romance subgenres and the authors we trust to make us care about common and uncommon tropes. And as always, we had a lot of laughs as Kenya told me why “His Revenge Baby” is the Best Book Ever.
Julie Strauss: Good morning Kenya. Welcome back to the Best Book Ever podcast!
Kenya Goree Bell: Thank you so much for having me, Julie. I love, love this podcast so much.
JS: And I love talking to you so much. I was really surprised to see when I looked back on my records. It’s been almost two years since we last talked on this podcast, which I didn’t realize it had been that long cuz we chat quite a bit on social media and things like that.
KGB: I think I realized when you had Naima, I was like, it’s been a while since I talked to Julie and I do have another book I could tell her about.
JS: Oh, I’m so glad. Well, before we get to this book we’re talking about today, tell me about what your reading life has been like since we last talked. When you were here last time, we talked about our all-time goddess, Sarah MacLean. And we talked a lot about romance and romance books in our lives and that kind of thing. What has your reading life been like since then? Has it changed at all?
KGB: Well, I think it’s changed a little bit. I don’t know if I was reading Dark Romance when we last talked, but lately I started reading a lot of Dark Romance. It could have been because of the dark times we were in during the pandemic, but I’ve also picked up more sci-fi books and still always reading historical, contemporary, interracial. So I’m always trying to read something and it’s mostly exclusively, at this point, romance books. Cuz I’m not trying to be scared. I’m not trying to solve a mystery, I just wanna find love within the pages.
JS: So when you say that you’ve been reading sci-fi, you mean sci-fi romance?
KGB: Yeah. Sci-fi romance.
JS: I don’t know anything about sci-fi romance. What does that mean?
KGB: Well it is aliens, it’s space aliens. And it is so fascinating because these writers have to do so much world building in their books and they have to create different organisms and different species and everything, but somehow they have to be compatible with humans in order for them to fall in love and have a relationship with them. So they always have some type of humanoid feature. But then, like for instance, this author Ella Maven, sometimes her heroes have horns. Sometimes they have spikes, sometimes they are all different colors. And she has a group of aliens who are also have a motorcycle gang, right? And then Elizabeth Stephens has a series that has Black heroines falling in love with aliens. She has one where Earth sent these pods out because the world was dying. And so this particular EarthCraft spaceship crashed on a planet close to where these aliens inhabited. And this planet is desolate. It has red dirt. They only can grow like these fibrous tubular root vegetables. And the animals who are on this planet, they eat humans, right? And so they are like they said we will come and help y’all out, but y’all gotta give us y’all some of y’all girls. If you’re fan of any kinda sci-fi, like Star Trek or anything like you would love like sci-fi romance.
JS: I think the only sci-fi romance I’ve ever read was with the author we’re talking about today, Theodora Taylor, when she came on the show, we talked about a Joanna Lindsey book whose name I have forgotten. But it was a sci-fi.
KGB: I know the book you were talking about because that one was one of the very first scifis. Johanna Lindsey was so before her time.
JS: Yeah, I listeners, I will put that into the show notes because that was a super fun episode and it was also a super fun introduction to Sci-fi romance if it’s something you haven’t read before. But just to go back, I wanna ask you, cuz you said that in the last couple of years you’ve gotten into Dark Romance. Can you tell us what that means?
KGB: Okay, so Dark Romance is basically the villain gets an HEA. It’s when the villain gets the happy ever after
JS: Even if he’s is genuine, bad guy.
KGB: They call them morally gray. Just think of any villain. Lex Luthor, the Joker or anybody like that, they get their HEA too, actually, and they would get their HEA instead of the hero in some cases. Cause the hero’s too square in these stories, right.
JS: So tell me how you found this book that we’re talking about today, His Revenge Baby. My favorite title, possibly ever, in the history of books, by our beloved Theodora Taylor.
KGB: Okay, so back in 2017, or whatever, Naima Simone had put up that she had read another book by Theodora Taylor. And I was like, what is this? What is she talking about? And so I read that book, it was a Shifter romance. So once I read that one, it was like, I don’t use drugs, but I think it would, you could associate it with the first time somebody does like a very powerful drug and they become addicted.
JS: Wait, I’m gonna interrupt you. Will you share with our listeners what you mean by Shifter Romance?
KGB: Okay. A shifter is usually an animal, a person who can change into an animal. Most of the time it’s wolves. Sometimes it’s bears. I think one, uh, Shelly Laurenston has badgers and different things.
KGB: Yeah. So in this particular book it was called Knud. And it’s three brothers, and he’s the one who falls in love with the daughter of the president. It was enough to get me started on my Theodora Taylor journey. And I read all the shifter books. You know how sometimes you’re like, I can’t believe this person has this extensive back list and I’m not finna do this to myself. Right? But I had time. I had a little baby at home and I was grieving because my mom had passed away and books were the thing. They kinda helped me process that grief and all of her books, like really, it just fed into all of what I needed at that time. And in that process, I came upon His Revenge Baby. And I think it might have been at that point, maybe the fifth book of hers I read, but oh my God, that book has stuck with me.
JS: So tell our listeners what this one is about.
KGB: Okay. So, Theodora has this series called 50 Loving State series, which is her plan was to write 50 books and to have them all loosely connected. And this particular book is 50 Loving States Washington. And so when the book starts, we see the heroine is completely naked. Sitting outside the office of a CEO who, she’s being interviewed to be his lover for the next six months. She walks in and she sees that it is him and she’s like, It’s you! And then she does this flashback that I love that Theodora does, where we realized that Lily has been sent in to spy on him. And the only reason she agreed was to save her brother who is her only family, save his career. Doug has been like a second-rate baseball player. He didn’t make it in the pros in America. So he was sent to Japan to play over there, and No’s family owns this team. And so someone, we don’t know who at this point, wants her to spy on No and say what he is doing, his plans and all of these different things and there starts the journey of No and Lilly. So he thinks she’s an escort, but she’s really more of an innocent. And he’s this cold austere billionaire who is not anybody you wanna miss with, which we find out later. And so they go on this little whirlwind affair for six months. The whole time they’re together, these six months, she never sees him without his clothes on.
JS: By the way, listeners, does not mean that there is not sex.
KGB: Oh, it’s plenty of things. Like they have sex pretty early in the book, but she’s never seen any of his body, you know, from the neck down, but his penis. So she gets sick, she wakes up and he has this beautiful tattoo over his back. Right. And, uh, y’all know if y’all have read my book, y’all are gonna know that. I’m just gonna say it. Lotus Flower Bomb is just basically His Revenge Baby fan fiction. I just love this book so much. I might read again after we stop talking. She sees his tattoo and then he takes her back, cuz No’s going through a lot at this point. And Lily has been all this time trying to spy on him, but he never talks about work, which is also very much in line with Japanese culture. He’s just romancing her. They are having a great relationship. No is scrambling, trying to figure out why his father is never satisfied with him anymore. And then Lily’s time’s up. She disappears, she goes back to America. She goes back to be a nurse for children’s oncology at this hospital at Washington. And guess who shows up after a year in Washington state? But No. And this time he is not the clean cut. He’s let his hair grow out longer. He’s wearing a black hoodie and some pants, and so the revenge baby part of it is No’s revenge against his daddy. And so Lily and No end up agreeing. She agrees to his plan for the money to give him a child. But she makes No promise to give her the baby so the baby don’t grow up cold and distant and emotionally broken like him, and so she can finally have somebody to love her because she feels like she has never been loved because all of her relationships have been transactional and she hasn’t felt love from other people. And in the process, he gets to know her as the real Liliana Tucker, and then she gets to see different parts of him. Cause he starts coaching the niece and they all develop this family-like bond. In the process, we see Lily has still always loved him. He’s trying to hold back his emotions and then they find out that they’re pregnant. And the deal was, once he goes and finds out that she’s pregnant, he’s gonna move back to Oregon. But, you know, deep down she was hoping for more, and I think this is maybe one of the hottest scenes in a romance I ever read. When he breaks down and he tells her, ‘You make me weak.’ Oh my God. And to do that, back in Samurai days, to be humiliated like that, people would actually kill themselves, you know, to be disgraced. That’s the worst thing for somebody to be seen as someone making you weak or you making yourself weak for another person. That is just how deep, deep that is. So, because Theodora does this wonderful thing where she has so much diversity in her books, but not just diversity of race, but of abilities and different neurotypical and non-neurotypical people. She does such a great job with that. I would advise anybody to study her if they wanted to write, you know, characters from different perspectives cuz she does it so well.
JS: When I first saw the blurb, I was like, Okay, great. Hooker with a heart story. We’ve been there a million times. And if it were anyone but Theodora Taylor, I would not have even wanted to read it. But I knew my initial resistance to the hooker with a heart story, like, that’s not gonna be what this is. That’s not at all gonna be what we are conditioned to think from watching Pretty Woman. She’s gonna go in multiple directions and she’s gonna knot them all together. There is so much happening in a fairly slim book.
KGB: Yeah, cuz I am also not a fan of hooker with a heart stories. But it’s almost always in romance that they are, it’s some kind of situation where they can’t see them their way out and initially the first contact they have is with the hero. So I think that’s how you have to, you know, cause we, we are still in a society that still looks at sex work as something as so forbidden and like, those people don’t have their own lives and, and all of those things. So we still have that purity culture to contend with. But I think she did a great job. If anybody can make it work, she can make it work.
JS: And that was why, even though it’s not a trope I like, I completely trusted her with it because I knew it wasn’t going to be just that story of this poor, innocent virgin with no other way out of this terrible life she has until a man saves her. Theodora Taylor’s not gonna do that.
JS: Right, right. And she was so great to put, to make Lily’s backstory so compelling and such, like you said, like a, like such a tightly written short story. I love a hero who is so shut down emotionally. He almost can’t move, you know, he’s almost a stone statue and then this girl just comes and chips, chips away. And he’s so big and larger than life. And I love when the heroine, just by being herself, she doesn’t even have to do anything diabolical. Cause No had it so together and Lily was so quirky in the beginning, but then it reverses and then he’s the one who is absolutely devastated and falling apart because he loves her and doesn’t know what to do with himself. I love, that’s my catnip in a book.
JS: You know, I have taken writing classes from her and she is a great teacher. Absolutely brilliant. And what’s funny is I know how she works. Cuz she has taught me, she’s taught a lot of people about how to use universal fantasy. And it’s so funny to then go read her fiction and, you know, the analytical part of my brain was going, Oh, here we go. This is the Cinderella story. Oh here we go. This is the Beauty and the Beast part of it. And so, at first my mind was sort of clicking with, Okay, I see what you’re doing here cuz you taught me this, Theodora. And then by the end she got me!
KGB: You’re in a reading journey when you open a book with an author and especially an author you read a lot. You have already established a relationship of trust with them, right? So you can go in and you’re like, I’m gonna trust you with this because I knew you took care of me for the last 10 books. I’m gonna trust you to do right by me as a reader. You know that they’re gonna hold onto that commitment. You can trust them because they’re, they, they’re not gonna let you down.
JS: I was thinking that with the, the whole Samurai subplot. I was thinking, Oh, this is cute. The way he’s teaching her the ways of the Samurai. That was my biggest moment of shock was, and I don’t want to give spoilers, but the way that Samurai story played out, I almost fell out of my chair. I went, Oh my God, she actually did this. She went all the way with that Samurai story. Because it’s fundamentally kind of outlandish in 2022 to read that story. But she’s the one who can take you there and that trust is established. Because you know, the thought of dragon shifters, which she has also written about, it’s fundamentally weird, right? But we know that she can do it. We know that she can go, Just trust me. This is a good story. And she always does.
KGB: Yeah. I think another thing like with the shifter stories, just like with sci-fi, you go into it knowing well we know this is fantastical, right? This is the height of what we are doing with fiction. You know? And I think sometimes when you read an author who writes many different genres, like, she’s gonna write what she feels like writing.
JS: I mean, we all know how romance is dismissed. And she takes it seriously, and you can tell that. It’s a super fun read, but she is taking it very seriously, which is what makes it such a great read.
KGB: You have to respect your audience. Sometimes I be like, Theodore, what are we doing? But I trust her. I’m go with, I know it’s gonna be a fun ride. It’s gonna be a fun ride.
JS: That’s the thing that I don’t think people get when they are dismissive about romance is A, they don’t get how much fun we’re having reading and writing it, but also, they don’t get that while we’re having fun, like, you just explained the plot of His Revenge Baby, and it’s kind of a wild plot, but also we’re dealing with very big issues here. Like you said, all the diversity that she tackles in it. Not just race, but everything, ability, everything. Sex work, she’s talking about all of that. She’s talking about misunderstandings between cultures when it comes to pride and family. These are all really, really big topics. And, we also get to have sex while we’re doing it. So like the people who get mean about romance don’t understand what’s really going on in this genre.
KGB: Yeah. And in that story also you see kids with cancer, you see addiction. You see in how that affects families. You see how having mental health helps you and dealing with your issues, the way you need to, how that helps you, and then finding somebody who loves you through all of that, you know? Cause the niece had a lot of emotional issues going on. And Lily, even though she was hurt, she still found, found a way to draw strength from her niece and also to love her through those very hard situations that her niece was encountering because her niece had the experience, a fish out of water situation coming from Japan and immigrating over here and going to school. And then helping her with her tutoring and getting her English better. It was just so many things, like you said, for a small book. I can’t believe your mind works like that, you know?
JS: So tell me what is on your nightstand right now? What book are you reading?
KGB: Okay. All right. So you gotta trust me.
KGB: You gotta trust me because this book is called Demon’s Dream. Right?
KGB: Okay. It’s a Black Romance and it’s by author I saw on TikTok called Elle Kayson. So what happened was, I saw it on TikTok, this reviewer Sharonda Isadora was like, this book starts out with a character being told to open the door and you instantly know, Don’t open that door. And so our hero’s name is Damien, but everybody calls him, calls him Demon, and the girl’s name is Dream. And her father is a gun runner and his brother is maybe a cartel guy, whatever. Like they own businesses. I’m not sure they own businesses, it’s a criminal element. Okay? So his brother’s the biggest kingpin in the south. And girls are currency here. They’re princesses. They get married off just like the aristocracy to the dukes and the princess within the crime world. So, they go see the king of the kingpins and he’s like, Okay, I won’t kill your son if you give your daughter to my brother for X amount of time. A daughter for a daughter, right? So Dream is like, Okay. I will sacrifice myself. Once again, like Lilly too. I dunno. Why I love it. It is something I love. I’m basically writing this right now as well. But anyway, so it goes on a journey. You gotta read it, you gotta, Julie. They also have a subplot between his best friend named Cartier and her sister named Dayana. And that one’s even richer and deeper. So this book is a long book. It is 760 some pages. Okay, let me tell you something. This girl can write her tail off. Now I will say this book in particular, I would say is grittier. Cause it is more of what you would call like urban romance. Cause within African American romance, you got regular African American romance, like your Harlequins and your Beverly Jenkins and your Brenda Jacksons, and Naima Simone. And me, right? But these books more are like if you are listening to a hiphop song, you’re gonna see a liberal use of the n word. You’re gonna see a little bit of slang. But when I say the writing is above anything that I’ve read this year, that is how deep the plot elements are. You talk about universal fantasy, You talk about Beauty and the Beast, you talk about the under unappreciated, hardworking sister who is doing everything for the family, fixing everything for the family. You talk about the dark night and the kings of the court and all of this thing, It’s all on the page. It talking about being swept away, being bought, all these luxurious things taken to the castle. All of these things, it’s just, it has me in a grip. It’s unputdownable. It was such a pleasant surprise for me. I was like, how good can it be?
And then I read Sierra’s and Julie’s new book, A Merry Little Meet Cute, which is so funny, light and effervescent, but it deals with some real issues and I just love the execution. They did such a great job writing a character who was fat and being loved and appreciated for that and leaning into her own self and loving her body and her who she was in the world and her place in the world. I just love that book so much. I think they did such a great job.
JS: You’re, you’re having the author of Demon’s Dream on the KGB. Will you tell our listeners what that is?
KGB: Okay. So the KGB is my little author spotlight where I interview authors and we talk about craft writing and whatever their current release is. Mostly, we do it every Thursday, but I’m kinda changing it up and doing some Tuesdays as well, at 8:00 PM. and we just talk about whatever their hot new release is and author life, craft, everything like that.
JS: How else can listeners find you?
JS: And listeners, Kenya is one of my favorite follows, just because she knows everything there is to know about romance, and this is where I go for new romance recommendations, my absolute most trusted source. So I highly recommend following her wherever you do social media because also she’s super fun, in case you haven’t noticed.
KGB: I try to be. I’m a good time.
JS: You’re a good time. So, I want to thank you for joining me again. I think I did this to you last time where I kept you way longer than I said I would because it’s always so much fun talking to you.
KGB: Thank you for having me, and I just really appreciate you putting the focus on great books and giving us a chance to chat with you about them.
JS: It’s my favorite thing in the world. And now I have a new favorite Theodora Taylor book, which – come on. They just, each one is better than the last, every time you read her book. So thank you for introducing me to this one.
KGB: You’re welcome and I love her.