Chelsea: Welcome, friends, to the first ever inaugural episode of Beyond the Sectors. My name is Chelsea.
Ana: And I’m Ana.
C: And we are here by a little act of fate and joined love of these absolutely bonkers books!
A: So I’ve been reading the Beyond books since probably 20– it’s been,what, three or four years since I read the first once? I was trying to look back on my blog to see how I found them and I don’t have an early review because I read them not as a review book. I saw them on Smart Bitches or Dear Author and I was just like, “oh! I’ll try that!”. I’m pretty sure it was that $0.99 version Bree was talking about back in the day.
C: That’s so awesome! So you’ve been reading them a long time? I haven’t been reading them that long, it’s probably just shy of two years ago. People who are joining from my other podcast or who have heard me talk about this will know that one of my very best internet friends, I had just met her shortly before this and she was talking to me about these books, knowing where my interests and tastes lie as far as romance goes. And it happened to be right before Beyond Surrender came out so they were doing that huge ebook bundle, the huge box set of everything for like $10 or something. It was beyond worth it because it’s over a million words. So I read the first one, Beyond Shame – which is what we’re going to talk about today – and it was like 10 days to read the next 10 books in the series or something ridiculous. So that’s what I did! It was – I just like devoured them in one sitting and became a convert and an acolyte of everything that they do and Bree and Donna and how amazing they are. And yeah! I’ve probably reread at least a handful of them if not the whole series a couple of times since then.
A: Yeah, I’ve reread them a lot.
C: We love the Beyond books a lot.
A: What’s funny to me is that I have so many copies of Beyond Shame because I just kept picking them up in every version because it meant so much to me when I first read it and got into the world but yeah. I have a paper copy – I don’t buy paper copies – and I have a signed copy and those are the things that just become so significant.
C: Mmmhmmm. Yeah I have a signed copy of Beyond Jealousy from when they do their author’s sale every year because that’s my fave, as you guys will quickly come to learn. I have a lot of feelings about that particular OT3. But we are jumping way ahead of ourselves, that’s like book four, we are jumping many steps ahead of where we need to be. So that’s a little bit about how we found the books, do we want to do a little bit about who we are since it’s the first time? Do you wanna go first, Ana?
A: Sure! I’m Ana Coqui on Twitter and I’ve been blogging about romance online since about 2012. I had finished library school and could finally read again! So I started reading a ton of romance because I was just really over reading young adult dystopia and I needed some happy endings in my life. I read lots and lots of erotic romance when I first got started, which is how I found the Beyond books. So I review romance and I review for Love in Panels but mostly I also run RomBkLove every year on Twitter.
C: Yay! We love RomBkLove and we love Love in Panels. My name is Chelsea Outlaw and I have not been reading romance nearly as long, I’m going to be the new dog around here in lots of ways. But probably four or five years ago I had also gotten out of library school and had gotten my first job in a public library and because I was a young adult librarian I had been doing the young adult dystopian thing that was so popular at that time and I was just really ready to try a new thing. So someone recommended me some Sarah McLean romances, which led to Tessa Dare romances which just led further and further. I really love and read a lot of fanfiction, and those tastes have always run more towards the erotica and dark!hopeful side of things. So when someone recced these books to me and it opened up this new door onto a whole different world, that’s when I got started. I spend most of my time on Twitter @anoutlawlife and doing my other podcast Not Now I’m Reading with my dear friend and current roommate Kay, where we talk about romance. Actually, the first book we ever did was Ashwin, which is the first book in the follow up series to the Beyond series so we have a history with these books and with Kit but yeah. That’s probably where most people would recognize me from, being on Twitter and doing podcast things.
C: Alright! Now that we’ve talked about who we are we’re going to talk about the book we’re here to talk about – Beyond Shame! It’s the first book in the Beyondverse and the first book where we get to meet the O’Kane family. Do we want to do a little plot summary just in case anybody hasn’t read it yet?
A: Yeah. It’s a classic falling out of Eden – literally. There’s a very repressive community who expels this young woman onto the dangerous sectors and she finds an unlikely savior and a new freedom that’s unexpected.
C: It’s absolutely fantastic. It’s set up so brilliantly from the very first page, like Ana was talking about. That fall from Eden, our ‘utopian’ but actually just hyper repressive and religious community. that our heroine Noelle Cunningham is cast out of – literally. She’s caught partying which is against the rules so she’s literally thrown out of the city and she falls into the hands of Jasper McCray who is out patrolling sector four. Which is the sector where he and his family live, the O’Kanes. And yeah, this very beautiful, very naive princess is cast into his arms and she’s got the biggest doe eyes for him and lucky for her she finds not only someone who will save her but this whole kind of ragtag group of people who have bad habits of adopting the lost and taking in people who need homes. So we meet quite a few people in this first book but it’s really just a story of consent, and learning to trust oneself and finding another person who helps you do that.
A: And claiming desire. One of the biggest themes in this book is her learning what she loves and learning to be able to say it even if it’s difficult – stop thinking about what other people think about it.
C: And she spends and the book spends a lot of time wrestling with that tie-up that comes with sex and shame and feelings and where those lines get drawn when it’s something that you legitimately want, even if it’s something you’ve been told you shouldn’t want. Particularly in this society she’s coming from. The thing I love about this entire book is that not only does it lay the foundation for characters and plot and the whole family tree that unfolds in later books, but it really sets up that underlying thematic principle of “shame is not a principle we operate on here” or “the things that cause shame in this community and this world are not necessarily the things you’ve been told should cause shame” and there’s a great deal of consent and agency in that and I just really like. Like Ana said, it’s about Noelle learning to take that back and use that language for herself.
A: Absolutely. One of the things is that I’ve been rereading the series through audio and one of the things that struck me going back is how so many of the things that go throughout the series are laid down in that first book. It isn’t like, “oh, they just came up with this later, or it grew out of something” even though I feel like some elements – the biker elements and the fight night stuff eventually faded away despite being central in the beginning – the themes of consent, longing, family, those are all just there from day one.
C: And they do such a brilliant job on so many levels, because that’s my favorite thing about going back and rereading after finishing all the books is seeing how those seeds get planted for plots, and for characters. The series is so long that as the books go on, we learn more. We don’t meet everyone in this first book-
A:-but we do meet so many people! We meet Nessa from a later book right there at that first fight night. And that gets called back to. That was something when I first read the book – she wasn’t terribly important to me so I just went right past her but now that I’m going back I’m like, “hey! That’s Nessa!”
C: And that’s what’s so awesome about getting to see those things. It’s fun to track how they develop or change or deepen as we go through the books so we will definitely be doing quite a bit of that with our favorite characters and couple and things. The world is so wonderful because it feels so lived in from the moment you pick it up. And these people and this family they have so many bonds that even though you don’t know everything you know there’s lots there to learn, lots of backstory that will unfold more.
A: Even in that first scene when Jas catches Noelle there’s that teasing that goes on about him being the white knight, and you get the feeling that these characters really know each other being able to tease each other like that and you’re looking on going “okay, what is that.” As Noelle is getting to know Jas and discovering that about him and the tension that creates in their relationship, it’s right there in that first scene that this is something everyone knows about him.
C: I love these books because they’re all about the women in this community. Even the ones that aren’t, they’re all about the women in this community. But even operating under that there is such a good brotherhood and friendship among this group of men that isn’t free of ALL shades of toxic masculinity because dudes, but is very aware of not hyper indulging those particular things in a way that’s really healthy and optimistic. Even as the books are sort of post-apocalyptic, basically.
A: Yeah. There’s a great arc in how the men in the gang really behave. You can see that progress. I’m in the middle of relistening to that next book and I really want to slap Dallas around-
C: – yes, Ana, yes!
A: Nobody is perfect in the beginning but yeah. There’s not that toxicity there. They have a brotherhood, a friendship, not just trying to beat each other to a pulp.
C: And it’s really nice to see that. I really love books like that. I have a really big affinity for, like, hockey fic, sports romances, band romances, that built in brotherhood.
A: That band of brothers kind of thing.
C: Yeah! Exactly. And what I love so much about this one is that it’s a band of brothers who aren’t all men. You get characters like Rachel and Six later on, who become these kind of people integrated into the brotherhood beyond just being a member of the community at large and it’s just a really interesting dynamic to watch unfold over the series and also just within this book. Because between Lex and Dallas and Ace and Rachel, there are so many different levels of power and possible power imbalance that are skirted or addressed or just handled really nicely.
A: And one of the reasons why I go to these books is because the power dynamics are explicitly part of the text. A lot of times you can be really uncomfortable with the power he has over her, but you’re not sure if the authors are aware of the power dynamics in a relationship or a trope. But I’ve never gotten the feeling that Bree and Donna are unaware. They know, they write them in very explicitly, THAT’S the conflict driver in the text.
C: Yeah! Like you said, that’s what’s driving conflict, so there’s that sense that it’s not only character but authorial awareness and intent. And it really does shift and grow as the books go on and a lot of the O’Kane men kind of wise up and learn a little bit and meet a variety of different women who are powerful in different ways.Which is another great theme of this book – that power can express itself in a wide variety of ways and that people have power and agency they may not originally think they have because they’re not thinking of it that way.
A: We get Noelle very early on in the books trying to figure out how she buys her way into relationships and you just sort of, like – no! She’s counting the dollars and cents of what is given to her because she’s concerned about where it’s going to go, and then you see that again with Six later on. It’s such an interesting, intentional thing to see her growing awareness of her value and what she brings to the community. She thinks for some reason she’s only being let in because of Lex, or because Jas is interested, but it’s like, “no, you yourself has value to the O’Kanes.”
C: And she really grows to embrace that by the end of the book. She realizes that her life in this very sheltered community still left her with a knowledge base those not born there don’t have. And that knowledge can be powerful, and the possession of it can be a source of power for her to use or not use.
A: That’s one of my favorite scenes in the whole book, when she’s sitting there with the tablet, talking to Dallas. No, it was Rachel right, because Dallas had left her with the tablet and she’s starting to figure out that oh my gosh! These are things she’s assuming everybody knows but that they don’t know in the sectors and Rachel challenges her about all the things she knows about the powerful families. And the realization that she has power over these people who kicked her out is just such a POW moment for her that I was really like, “yes!”
C: It’s so wonderful. One of the brilliant things about this book is that it’s a great way to start a series. And Bree and Donna aren’t the only authors who have done this in terms of starting a series, but to do that literal outsider viewpoint and have us for the most part stick with her perspective as she learns about the community and the rules and the social structure and how it all works.Granted, we’re not just in her perspective so we’ve got some outside knowledge, but that moment feels so good because we’ve been with her through that thought process of her ‘worth’, how she’s not worth anything and is only there on the charity of others so yeah. It feels really good to have her realize – it might look different, she might not wield her power the same way Lex does, but she has that same innate power she could draw from.
A: It’s interesting to me, too, as a reader. I come from a religious background so seeing the religious references throughout the book – yes, Eden, but also as someone who grew up in Purity Culture and the Evangelical movement, I felt connected with Noelle’s journey of seeing herself as someone with value whether or not she’s married to the right person or behaving in the right way. And to redefine that and reject that. So there’s so many layers to me in this book. There’s the point where Bree and Donna said that they were responding to Sons of Anarchy and Fifty Shades of Grey but they were also responding, I think, to event in Evangelical Christian culture that permeate our regular culture and were responding to so many other questions about what makes a legitimate heroine journey in romance. Because she ends up with Jas, but she’s also with Lex, and that is so clear in the book. That her desire and attraction and love is developing for them both throughout the book. So she doesn’t have to give up one of them to have her happy ending.
C: And she learns that she doesn’t have to have either of them if she doesn’t want to and that’s the last important piece of the puzzle for her and the heroine’s journey. And that’s why I like Bree and Donna, because they really take that concept of a happily ever after can look different for each person, or couple, or situation depending on what makes that couple really happy. And that’s something we’ll definitely see in other books. It’s just a very empowering thing. The whole series is empowering, but to really stick with Noelle through that journey and shift in ownership of her body and mind and power and all of those things. Plus, Noelle and Jas are my favorite couple to get glimpses of later on in the series. And no spoilers, but the way their story grows is really really beautiful. So to know how that happens way down the line and to see how it starts here is just really nice. I have a bad habit of just going back to my favorite books or couple, so I think really rereading the whole series will remind me of all the things I loved even from the beginning. Now, we’ve been very very adulous of this book because we love it a lot. But is there anything about this book that is maybe, like, a seven instead of a ten?
A: [laughs] You know, I love this book. And it’s interesting to me some of the stuff that isn’t – when I first came to it, I came to it as an erotic romance, right? So I read the first three books back to back and it wasn’t until halfway through the second book before I went “oh my gosh, the politics is important”. Because I’d been reading so many books that were erotic romance, sex-focused, only the things that happen in the room mattes. That honestly? I skipped over so much of the politics in the first book because I wanted to get to the next sex scene. But as I read the book and got to know the characters more, there’s that scene at Carys’s in the second book and I realized I didn’t know anything about it. So I don’t think it’s something wrong with the book, but sometimes the expectations people bring to a book. Early on, this was packaged with, like, dark romances, biker romances, and so I can see how people get confused. Because it’s very intentionally in there. They’re taking those tropes and that setting and subverting them. But if you’re reading really quickly, and reading for the sex, you can kind of miss it.
C: That’s the thing I was going to say. It’s not necessarily so much about the book but when I first picked it up it got slotted into that mental category of the boxer, fight night, biker club sort of romances that I’d read a fair amount of because I’m a sucker for that found family boys club. And so, yeah, it probably wasn’t until I got through the second book and that part starts falling away that I realized this was a series that started that way very intentionally but was going to be growing into something different. And that wasn’t the thing I was really focused on yet. So like you said, it was a different kind of expectation. And that’s why I love that there are so many of them now because it’s so easy to go “no no no! I know how this seems or what it looks like, but I promise.”
A: And I was having a conversation with somebody: “Oh, but Noelle and Lex are just putting that on for the men” and I’m like “no, no, no!”
C: Ha ha haaaa, I don’t think we were reading the same book, friend!
A: But I realized, if you didn’t read that it’s in Lex’s AND Noelle’s point of view, that their desire is real, and if you come with expectations from other books where yeah, people put that on, they don’t see that. This polyness, the grandness of love within the O’Kanes, is a thing. You might think “oh!” and mistake the power dynamics in there because you have characters that are stripping and dancing and engaging in group sex and often you find those in books where the power dynamics aren’t as favorable. So I think some people read past what’s there because they come with an expectation.
C: I agree with that. And there’s a part of that that is performative, the group sex on stage or the stripping, those are performative. Those women are performing in a specific scenario. So if you’re not used to or have preconceived ideas, I could see how you could translate that to the offstage moments and think they’re still being performativ. Even though they’re telling you on the page many times that that’s not what’s happening.
A: And I think that’s part of following Noelle’s point of view so closely in the beginning. Because she misunderstands moments and she doesn’t understand the rules. So if you stop there, that might be what you think is happening.
C: Yes.That’s a great point, Ana. Alright, before we go – because I think we’re kinda sorta headed towards wrapping up. Really, we could go on about these books forever – but did you have a favorite scene, favorite characters we meet in this book, any big standout favorites for you?
A: For me, yes. I love Rachel and Ace and Six, who are some of the main secondary characters we meet here. I will never get over that scene with Rachel and Noelle where they have that conversation I mentioned. That was such a moment of sisterhood, of vulnerability on both their parts. When they’re talking about their values to their family and towards the gang, those are the people I was most invested in coming out of the book. And Lex is my queen, so.
C: Lex is always queen! I love the pacing, and this is a thing that’s hard to see if you haven’t read them before but I love the way Bree and Donna do their interstitials. So we see some perspectives that aren’t Noelle and Jas, but the bulk of those are from Lex’s perspective.And she’s the main character of the next book. And then in the next book you’ll get more from Six’s perspective. So they build on all the characters you need to know, and while they’re always floating around in the background, that’s what really sets you up for the next book.
A: Right. That’s where you get little different angles of the sectors expanded, too. And that keeps the books from being claustrophobic just because you’re always seeing just a hint of something just down the road.
C: Okay. We told you we’d talk about him friends. Ace is just – I love him so much. And it’s hard to fully put into words why without getting into other books and things, but in this book he’s that perfect level of smartass you just want to slap and then kiss. He’s just being adorable, but also the worst! There are several scenes where he gives Noelle these brotherly hugs that are affectionate, and being affectionate without being sexually affectionate is something she doesn’t really understand and is a new concept for her.
A: Like what are the boundaries here? In this book, he’s the one who pushes her boundaries more. Jas is so focused on trying to respect them and Ace is always “no, I’m getting in there.”
C: Always! And that’s the thing about Ace. He can be so inappropriate, but he always is that person who knows where the line is. And if he crosses it he’s going to do it on purpose, but he’ll dance around it and be super super close to it, because that’s just how he is.
A: He’ll ask that super inappropriate question no one else will ask. And to me he’s one of the male characters in the who is most emotionally vulnerable because he has that face. And he can always put on that mask of up for anything or whatever, and as the series progresses we see more of that. But I think you see that he’s got the public face versus the real Ace very early on.
C: And like you said, that becomes more important as we get into later books and kind of find out why. I think he’s maybe the character who isn’t Dallas – because Dallas a lot of growing – but I think he’s the character who has the most growth, or whose world expands in a way that shakes him and his beliefs the most.
A: Right, because his definition of what happiness for him could be really does dramatically change.
C: And it’s really beautiful beauceu we don’t get that primary story until book four so we get a good amount of viewing it off the page as that power dynamic develops over the next several books and ugh! I just love them so much, Bree and Donna, because you can go back and see it. I don’t know how much was intentional, but they’ve had an idea from the beginning and they worked to execute it. And you can see the seeds in this early book that just blossom in this beautiful way later on in the series and that’s an awful metaphor but. I just love these books so much. Did you have anything else, Ana? Anything we didn’t hit that you wanted to cover?
A: I think we’ve hit worldbuilding, characters, the fact that it’s such an interesting introduction to an arc. It’s not just a one and done story and you get that sense from the beginning.
C: That will probably about wrap us up for the first one! We’ll be back in a couple weeks to talk about the next book, Beyond Control, also known as Lex and Dallas’s book. If you haven’t read it yet go ahead and hop online and pick yourself up a copy, we are going to be diving into the second book, we are having a ton of fun doing this little project! You can find us online.
C: Perfect! Keeping it super simple for y’all. Until next time, friends, go out and pick up a copy of Beyond Control and we will see you guys beyond the sectors! Bye!