“Ginsberg was still here, and not only that, Derrick had discovered he really did like having the kid around.”
In a word: Read the thing. I laughed and cried reading this, that’s how emotional it was. Another wonderful installment in the Bluewater Bay series. The story follows Derrick and Ginsberg as they try to bring life back into Derrick’s parents’ failing B&B and accidentally fall in love with each other along the way. In between various rom-com shenanigans there is also a lot about gender issues that comes up, since Ginsberg is trans and Derrick struggles with toxic masculinity. A lot of the story is pretty funny, mostly at Derrick’s expense as he tries to deal with Ginsberg’s enthusiastic plans to help save the B&B while Derrick waffles about whether or not he actually wants to keep the thing open. Then there are the less funny parts where Derrick struggles to convince himself to stop falling in love with Ginsberg because their situation is temporary and everyone leaves eventually. This was actually one of the few times where I found the third-act breakup depressing rather than annoying (I legit cried, at work). I did get a bit annoyed at Derrick’s attitude a few times, but overall I really enjoyed his character. I also enjoyed Ginsberg and his seemingly-endless optimism. A real bonus was the return of Carter Samuels and Levi Pritchard, the main couple from Starstruck (book one), still together and happy.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Series: Bluewater Bay is a series of novels and novellas, written by various authors, that all take place in the small Washington town of Bluewater Bay. The town used to be a sleepy little logging community before it became the filming location of the hit TV show Wolf’s Landing. The books don’t share an overarching plot, but they all take place in the town and they sometimes share characters. The Burnt Toast B&B is the fifth book in the series and one of the leads is Ginsberg Sloan, who made his first appearance in the first book (Starstruck) as the stunt double and friend of one of the leads, Carter Samuels. This story has Carter, and his boyfriend Levi Pritchard (still happily together), along with Tori and the Stomping Grounds coffee shop from the second book (There’s Something About Ari) (though I’m pretty sure the Stomping Grounds might’ve also had a small appearance in the first book as well).
The Couple: Derrick Richards was a logger before layoffs forced him to go back home to work in his parents’ B&B, the Bayview B&B. Derrick is a big brawny man who feels he isn’t suited for the ‘women’s work’ that running the B&B entails. Added to that is that he feels trapped in the B&B because his parents, who initially owned and ran the place, have been dead for the past three years and there is no one but Derrick to keep the place going. The B&B is failing utterly because Derrick is a complete failboat who can’t seem to do anything without incident except for washing the dishes. He’s actually decided to throw in the towel and close the place down when he finds Ginsberg Sloan stuck out in the rain on his doorstep. We first met Ginsberg in book one (Starstruck); he’s the stunt double for the lead character on the show Wolf’s Landing and he’s friends with the couple from the first book. He was a side character then, but he’s one of the leads here. He’s currently off work because of a broken arm (job hazard) and that means that he now has little to no money coming in. He’s had to leave his current apartment for somewhere much cheaper, which leads him to the Bayview B&B, the cheapest place in the area (because it’s currently failing). Ginsberg seems to be optimistic and meddlesome by nature because he almost immediately decides to start helping Derrick restore the B&B to its former glory. He’s mostly the complete opposite of Derrick. Derrick wants Ginsberg out so he can close the place, but he can’t bring himself to just throw him out into the street, so he decides to try being an extra shitty host in the hopes that Ginsberg will get fed up and leave on his own (because Derrick is actually 12). It doesn’t work because Ginsberg is stubborn as all hell and is determined to succeed, for Derrick’s sake. Of course it comes as no surprise that Derrick and Ginsberg fall head over heels for each other along the way. Derrick is reclusive and awkward, and Ginsberg is loud and outgoing, and they are helplessly drawn to each other. It’s really only Ginsberg’s desperation and then his willingness to meddle that has him sticking around until he notices the effect he has on Derrick. On his part, Derrick starts lowering his defences, but he has a hard time with it because he doesn’t think their situation will last and he knows it’ll hurt him when Ginsberg returns to his job and previous life, a life that’s very separate from Derrick’s.
The Conflict: Ginsberg is trans, and that is not an issue. Derrick finds out about it completely by accident, but once he learns that Ginsberg is FTM it doesn’t change his feelings towards him. He never questions the fact that Ginsberg is a man. The real problem Derrick has is with gender expression. Ginsberg identifies as male but he’s also effeminate; that’s something that Derrick has a problem wrapping his mind around, which is purely a personal issue he has. Derrick is a big guy and determined to be the manliest man to ever man. I think that part of that stems from daddy issues and bullying. We don’t actually get any flashbacks to his interactions with his parents, and we don’t ever see them because they’re dead, but there are some mentions of his father that gives the impression (at least to Derrick) that he wouldn’t accept any ‘girly-ness’ in his one and only son. I think that has coloured every aspect of Derrick’s life. He’s had an on again/off again boyfriend since junior high school, but never came out to his father; he worked in his parents B&B but mostly doing the ‘manly’ chores his father did; and when he grew up he went off to become a manly lumberjack. Derrick seems to be obsessed with masculinity, so I think it makes him uncomfortable that Ginsberg can be so confident in his own masculinity that he expresses himself in ways that are stereotypically feminine (fancy coffees, chic clothes, pink things, ‘women’s work’, crying and other healthy emoting). Derrick is a bit of an asshole about this at first (and it was most likely a huge problem with his past relationship, but we really only get vague background on that), and he does improve a bit over the story with Ginsberg’s corrections, but he does tend to revert back to it when he feels vulnerable or threatened so it’s still a learning curve for him to not be a dick about it.
The Side Characters: Most of the story is firmly centered around Derrick, Ginsberg, and the B&B, so there isn’t a really big cast of side characters that they interact with for any significant length of time. Ginsberg is the stunt double for Wolf’s Landing lead Carter Samuels, the two of them are also friends. Carter and his boyfriend, Levi Pritchard, (the couple from the first book in the series) show up a few times and I was glad to see them again. I really liked them in the first book and it was great to see them still happily together. They don’t actually do much plot wise, but they hang out with Ginsberg a bit, meet Derrick, and we get to see a bit of Levi onset. And speaking of returning characters, Ginsberg often gets his caffeine fix at the Stomping Grounds, the coffee house owned by Tori, from the second book in the series. Tori is also a friend of Ginsberg and Carter’s (and also to Buck Ellis and Ari Valentine, who don’t make a reappearance here). Tori, along with a non-binary (I think, it’s not clear, but this character uses ey/eir pronouns) teenage co-worker Dean, help Ginsberg and Derrick with the first major event in their plan to resurrect the B&B. The biggest side character, who probably helps the most with the B&B, is Derrick’s ex-boyfriend and current friend, Jim. Jim is described, by Derrick, as an aging twink, and is basically an older slightly more outrageous version of Ginsberg (well, I say older, but he and Derrick are the same age and Ginsberg is only a few years younger even though Derrick is constantly calling him ‘kid’ in his head). Jim also seems to be Derrick’s only friend and they have a fairly rocky history because of Derrick’s issues with masculinity. He’s officially an accountant (and sometimes dog-sitter for Derrick’s parents’ tiny vicious dog Victoria Beckham), but he’s also very good at baking so he uses that to insert himself into Derrick and Ginsberg’s plans for the B&B. Jim and Ginsberg actually become pretty good friends over time, and he provides a temporary refuge for Ginsberg during the third act breakup drama.
The Sex: There are only two sex scenes written out in detail, though Derrick and Ginsberg do have more sex off-screen. With Ginsberg being trans I was wondering how the sex scenes were going to play out re: his plumbing. His genital situation turns out to not be much of an issue. Actually, I don’t think Derrick ever thought about it when he was thinking about going to bed with him; he actually forgot that Ginsberg wouldn’t have a prostate. The first scene comes after a musical event at the B&B and Derrick and Ginsberg finally stop fighting their feelings and have sex. It involves anal, with Derrick topping. It’s written like a standard sex scene, but it doesn’t ignore the fact that Ginsberg doesn’t have the traditional male genitalia. Ginsberg isn’t just a gay man after all, he’s a gay trans man. The second scene happens near the end, after Derrick’s breakthrough in regards to gender expression and the breakup. It’s anal again, but with Ginsberg on top this time. Turns out you can fuck someone with a packer if you get the right kind. This one happens when the two of them are in a much better place emotionally and it cements the new start to their relationship.
The Writing: I loved the writing. This was a very emotional read, and I actually did tear up a bit at some moments. I also laughed at others. Derrick and Ginsberg are both very engaging characters and I liked the way their relationship played out (even if Derrick could be a bit childish at times). There was a third-act breakup here, but for once I was kinda alright with it. The fact that it wasn’t brought on by a stupid misunderstanding definitely helped. I’d really like to point out the reappearance of Carter and Levi, because that really made me feel like this story was definitely taking place in an established universe. Also it was really great to see Carter and Levi again, so that was a nice bonus.
[The Burnt Toast B&B was published January 10, 2015, it is available in print and as an ebook]