Tag Archives: M/M romance

Marketing Beef by Rick Bettencourt

Clearly, Marketing Beef is the winner for Title of the Year. All other books need not apply.

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From Amazon: Shy accountant, Evan McCormick, is conservative with his money and tough on his body, yet the decent nest egg he’s amassed, and the toned physique he’s formed isn’t enough to fulfill him. Evan’s starving for affection. As an introvert, bonding with others isn’t Evan’s best quality. When Dillon—an impeccable-dressed and debonair ad executive—joins the firm, Evan lets his guard down. An office scandal and sexually-overt billboards popping up all over New England bring the two together in this funny yet romantic tale.

Includes moments of pure hilarity, off-the-wall sex, and downright fun.

LIES, ALL LIES! Okay, not all, the plot summary is accurate; I meant the promises of hilarity, great sex, and fun.

Another romance with two men written by a man, so it’s off to a good start and, it bears repeating, the title is hilariously tongue-in-cheek, but unfortunately there is not a lot more going on here. I have a couple of notes:

  1. Do men actually refer to their private parts as “down there”? I know Evan does in the story, but I reject this reality and substitute my own.
  2. The book was kind of dull AND had too much plot.
  3. No man ever looked smoking hot in a teal suit. The best he did was rise above it.
  4. Evan has a birthmark that he is extremely self-conscious about and his acceptance of it is used to symbolize his growth in confidence. I understood what it was going for, but it felt shoehorned in.
  5. Meh.

 

LGBT romance recommendations can be found here.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

Dog Tags by Darryl Banner & Two Week Seduction by Kathy Lyons

Dog Tags and Two Week Seduction each have the word Brazen in their publishing series name, so the reader should know what is about to happen. These romances feature young couples who knew each other as schoolchildren finding out there is more to their relationship when one of them returns home on leave from the military. The forced brevity of their time together, four and two weeks respectively, means they get busy quickly and commitment soon follows.

Dog Tags by Darryl Banner

Jesse is a music major plodding through his summer vacation when his neighbour Brandon arrives home for a month’s leave. Always leery of the taciturn and intense boy-next-door, Jesse is nonetheless immediately drawn to Brandon’s beautiful physique. When trading help with yard work for piano lessons, the men hook up and then spend their four weeks together getting it on and getting to know each other. The novella portrays mostly the former and essentially skips the latter.

Dog Tags is the first romance with two men I have read that was actually written by a man which was something I was looking for specifically. I have an impression that a lot of the M/M romances are written by and for women just as the M/F ones are. The writing here was nothing especially bad or good, it got the job done and had some nice moments, though there was very little by way of conversation between the leads. Brandon’s main purpose seemed to be to grunt and be intense while Jesse enjoyed it. Their four weeks end with Brandon returning to his work while the two of them await his next leave.

Two Week Seduction by Kathy Lyons

John O’Donnell has come home to his family for two weeks of reminders of why he left. He needs to help out his mother with her finances and living situation, and maybe have a little fun. When his well-to-do best friend’s little sister shows up looking even more tantalizing than ever, they hook up and things proceed from there. As with Dog Tags, they get busy early and often, building their desire for something more.

Two Week Seduction did its job adequately. John and Alea fall madly in love and rearrange their lives to be together. Alea comes from wealth and is wrestling with her family’s goals for her. John has no plans to leave the military, but reconsiders for her. The sexy elements felt a little forced and I never really cared about the characters as the plot and its elements felt clichéd in their execution.

New Adult romance recommendations can be found here.

LGBT romance recommendations can be found here.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

The Ivy Years Series: The Year We Fell Down, The Year We Hid Away, Blonde Date, The Understatement of the Year, and The Shameless Hour by Sarina Bowen

So many “new adult” romances, so little time. I recommend The Ivy Years series by Sarina Bowen and will be looking into her back catalogue. Taking place at a New England college, Harkness, the stories are not light and yet avoid melodrama. These are young people coming into their own and figuring out who they want to be. Each story features at least one character who is an athlete, mostly they are involved in hockey, but there are also soccer and basketball team members, and the football players are the villains. My experience of university may not have matched this jock heavy world, but since the beauty of a large student body is in creating its own neighbourhoods, I don’t mind all the sports, plus it justifies the ripped heroes.

Quick Overview:

  1. The Year We Fell Down – BAM! This book got me right in the feels.
  2. The Year We Hid Away – That’s a lot for two such young people to have going on.
  3. Blonde Date novella – YAY! Short and sweet and adorable and added to my classics list.
  4. The Understatement of the Year – Surrender. Lying to yourself is exhausting.
  5. The Shameless Hour – “You don’t get to tell me who I am.”
  6. The Fifteenth Minute – a misstep, skip it

The Year We Fell Down

Corey was a star athlete until a career ending and life-changing injury transformed her plans. She has arrived as a freshman at the school she was meant to play hockey for, but now she is living in the wheelchair accessible part of the dorm. The upside is that she gets a bigger room and has a great roommate. The up-upside is that Hartley, a dreamy member of the mens’ hockey team, has a badly broken leg and is living in his own accessible room across the hall. The downside is that he has a long distance girlfriend.

There is very little self-pity in Corey and whatever sadness she does feel is entirely deserved. While Hartley is mending from a break, she is never going to walk unaided or have sensation in her leg and feet again. It’s a tough road and she is making the best of it, showing remarkable resilience, but not in an unrealistic way or one that is free of emotional upset.  I think many of us have experience with life taking an 180 degree turn and having to change our expectations, so Corey was easy to relate to.

But what about her beloved (Adam) Hartley? He’s a mensch. He’s got issues of his own informing his life decisions, but whatever Corey has got going on, he’s ready to be part of it. They made a sweet couple and a sensible one.

The Year We Fell Down did make me cry, but I can’t judge whether that has to do with the writing or because I have dealt with a potentially debilitating health issue and it affected my reading experience.

The Year We Hid Away

Bridger MacCaulley and Scarlet Crowley have their parents to thank for the ocean liner’s worth of baggage they have between them, but what is university for if not getting out from under one’s childhood? Scarlet has found herself a pariah after her father is accused of genuinely heinous crimes and Bridger has been saddled with more responsibility than someone his age should have to deal with. While his burden is visible, Scarlet’s promises years of pain. She has changed her name and is trying to start a new life.

For a book with so much agita, I found it remarkably melodrama free. There were extreme story elements and responses, but in proportion to the events taking place. Bridger and Scarlet’s responses to their individual pressures are mature to the best of their abilities, but if the characters’ problems had been lesser or limited to just one of them, the story’s construction would have worked better instead of being really good despite this limitation.

Blonde Date novella

Oh, thank GOD! A quick, reasonably light, sweet novella. One of Scarlet’s roommates – Blonde Katie as opposed to Ponytail Katie – needs a date for a sorority event. To complicate matters, their brother frat members, and specifically her douchelord former boyfriend, will be in attendance. Scarlet volunteers Bridger’s neighbour, a young man she knows from high school. Andy Baschnagel is tall and he gangles (H/T Douglas Adams), and he is a genuinely nice and sincere guy. He has been smitten with Katie from the first time he saw her and desperately wants to make a good impression on this date.

The entirety of Blonde Date takes place over one evening and it’s just lovely. Admittedly, I am sucker for a novella and this is the best example of stripping a love story down to its basics I can think of. Katie has recently been shamed by the frat boys and with Andy’s calm kindness starts to figure out who she is and that who she wants to be may be different from what she thought, AND the affable guy gets the girl. HUZZAH!

The Understatement of the Year

In high school, (Mike) Graham and (John) Rikker were embarking on a relationship and were attacked the first time they showed affection in public. Rikker was badly hurt, Graham fled. Several years later, Rikker has transferred to Harkness and joined the hockey team (with Hartley and Bridger up there) after being outed and subsequently mistreated at his original college. It isn’t fun being a publicly gay athlete, but it beats the closet Graham has himself both locked and barricaded inside.

Rikker and Graham fight their way to togetherness, two steps forward one step back, but end up where they need to be. Rikker’s family has failed him, Mike won’t give his a chance to succeed. With patience and  forgiveness, the guys become a couple. They were both extremely likeable and had great chemistry.

The Shameless Hour

This is the novel in which Sarina Bowen took the slut shaming undercurrents in the previous stories and directed kleig lights on them. Bella is the men’s hockey team manager and she has worked hard and had a great time off the ice as well. When she meets a dejected Rafe, freshly dumped and drinking champagne alone on his birthday, the two hook up. He would actually like to date, but Bella is the rake in this romance and she is on the move.

A couple of weeks later, early in the morning, Rafe finds Bella stumbling out of a frat house in very shaky condition. I want to stress in case it is a big NOPE for you when choosing a book, that she has not been assaulted sexually; however, she has been traumatized. It was very hard to read and I admit to jumping ahead several chapters and then going back to catch up with the story. The devastating effect of her mistreatment and the public attempt at shaming her is the dramatic momentum of the story. Bella is incredibly strong and surrounded by people who love her, but she is not invincible and it takes her time to come back to herself and act on behalf of all women who have been victims of sexual double standards.

But what about the boy? Rafe is in many ways the wallflower in this book and in keeping with that role, he is wonderful and waiting patiently to be noticed. He is a great friend to Bella and ready to support her regardless of the outcome of their relationship, though he has a clear preference.

The power of The Shameless Hour’s reversal is that, of course, Bella has acted like legions of romance novel heroes, but unlike the ones who tomcat their way through stories, our culture likes to tell her that being a good woman requires a different standard of conduct. Bella has made her peace with this B.S., but that doesn’t mean it is easy for her to live on her own terms.

New Adult romance recommendations can be found here.

Sarina Bowen’s catalogue can be found here. Bowen has also co-written two very enjoyable and steamy M/M romances with Elle Kennedy called Him and Us.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

The Backup Boyfriend, The Boyfriend Mandate, & Brad’s Bachelor Party by River Jaymes

I found these contemporary romances through the magic of KindleUnlimited. The Backup Boyfriend and The Boyfriend Mandate are the first two books in the Boyfriend Series by River Jaymes which also includes Brad’s Bachelor Party (see way below) and the upcoming novel The Boyfriend Makeover.

The Backup Boyfriend

Opting against the more traditional tattoo or radical haircut, Alec responds to his break up with Tyler by going full-on midlife crisis and buying a vintage motorcycle. He’s done all of the research and none of the riding which is why he ends up pushing the bike into Dylan’s garage. A misunderstanding, and the lightning fast presence of a man in Tyler’s life, leads to a Boyfriend of Convenience plot with Dylan playing at being Alec’s new beau. Being a romance, the playing part soon takes on a different meaning, but the boyfriend part takes a bit longer as they move from fraud, to a one-night stand, to what is this we are doing exactly?, to a relationship.

The obstacles that Alec and Dylan face are their own baggage. Alec has been busy trying to be the perfect son and Dylan has a painful past and issues of sexual identity to struggle with. They find their way and resolve everything in time for Alec’s ex-boyfriend Tyler to have his chance at lasting love.

The Boyfriend Mandate

Tyler and Memphis (!) were roommates in university who had a two-year relationship before Memphis walked away without a backward glance. They both moved on with their lives, Tyler to a long-term but now over relationship with Alec, and Memphis to a marriage which has ended in divorce. Thrown back together by Maguffiny plot machinations, they work their way through their old hurts and toward finding a new life together.

Memphis (again, I say, “!”) is a stuntman/underwear model (that warrants another “!”) whose personal life (read: sexual identity) is under scrutiny in the press, a fact that amuses him until Tyler and his ex-wife are drawn into the fray. Finding ways to provoke Tyler into letting down his guard, and thus release his emotions, allows Memphis the same freedom to deal with their horrible breakup and how they can be together again now that they have both grown up.

These books are fairly standard romances with a heightened reality about financially secure, beautiful people finding love. In both novels, one of the partners addresses his identity as a bisexual and I would welcome an LGBT romance in which both characters are secure in this aspect of his or herself from the outset and with no wrangling involved and sticking to just two people falling in love.

Sidebar: The love scenes in the books, while they were incredibly

blanche

I did not actually find them all that romantic, and because, as Paul Reiser once said on Mad About You, “I agree with both of them,”, I did wonder if I was fetishizing a M/M relationship in much the same way popular culture so often does with two women. It made me feel a little icky when I looked at it from that perspective, but it didn’t stop me from reading… even when it should have for general quality reasons which brings me to Brad’s Bachelor Party.

The title says most of it and the rest you can likely guess. Brad is getting married in Hawaii and the festivities are a chance for him to spend time with his closest friends, including Cole. While college roommates, Brad was attracted to Cole, but when he made a move Brad freaked out and the friendship was severed. Coming back together during a family emergency, their friendship was rekindled and nothing hinted at romance for them until too much time in close proximity tipped the scales.

Brad’s Bachelor Party was a middling romance novella. Everything about it was okay and nothing about it was special or interesting. Cole and Brad find their way to each other at just about the worst possible moment, but it works out well in the end. I did wonder about the poor jilted virtually invisible fiancee though. I hope she finds a nice man just like Brad did.

LGBT romance recommendations can be found here.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

Muscling Through by J.L. Merrow

I was loaned J.L. Merrow’s contemporary romance Muscling Through by my friend Katie after reading her review of the book. She really liked the story and gave it a positive appraisal. Mine will be less so. It was a quick read, which is good, and I would be delighted to read a M/M romance novel well done, but Muscling Through is not that book.

Al and Larry, bearers of the two least romance-novel-sounding names of all time, meet when Al helps a very drunk and nervous Larry home from a bar. Larry is soused enough, and Al big and intimidating enough, to think he is being threatened in some way. This is, of course, not the case which is why the story is a Meet Cute and not a Call Cops. The novella is told entirely from the perspective of Al, including Larry’s initial terrified reaction to him. He is a giant lug who works in Cambridge renting out boats for punting on the Cam. Larry is an art history professor at the university. J.L. Merrow took the opposites attract trope and stretched it like taffy to accommodate the story. Al may be a very nice, but the man is a different sort of hero.

“some comedy repeat on Dave. I like the repeats ’cause it’s easier to get the jokes the second time.”

“We started our honeymoon in Florence, which is this really pretty town in Italy. That’s in Europe.”

Let’s break the second quote down: Al explains that one of the most famous cities in the world is in Italy. Then, this man from the U.K., a part of the European Union, clarifies that Italy is in Europe in case that is new information for the reader and suggesting it might have been new information for him as well. That represents a lot issues and the whole novella is the same. Al misunderstands people, misreads or plain misses context clues, so that by telling the story exclusively from Al’s perspective, Merrow limits the novella as well.

I spent Muscling Through trying to figure out to what degree Al was not very bright or actually challenged. Then I wondered if I was a horrible person for thinking that Al’s limitations made the romance unrealistic. (Yes, I am.) Was Larry taking advantage of Al in some way? (Clearly not.) Who wouldn’t want to date a human teddy bear? Why couldn’t Larry find Al attractive beyond a physical relationship? How big of a monster am I? Am I going straight to Hell? Is there some way I can turn this around to make it all the fault of the author so as to avoid feeling guilty or like an insensitive cow?

Maybe Merrow was aiming for Joey Tribbiani territory – not so bright, but a sweet and lovely guy – and overshot, but it disrupted the entire reading experience for me. I suspect that falling in love in spite of challenges might be the point of Muscling Through; to show love through one person’s eyes as that is the way we see it in our own relationships, but I am just not enough of a mensch to get past Al’s limited viewpoint. My internal dialogue became a political debate about whether his intellectual limitations crossed some undefinable line into potential exploitation or diminished decision-making capacity. If the reader had been given Larry’s viewpoint, it might have made more sense, but I was left with only Al to go on and he was not a successful narrator, but a confused one.

LGBT romance recommendations can be found here.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.