Sunday, September 23, 2012

Two for One Romance

Today’s review post looks at two gay romances…Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino and Second Hand by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton.  As you can see, both books are written by women and both have a feminine feel, despite featuring male characters.  Let me start out by saying, these books are hot!  The sex scenes in both are deliciously done, with the right mix of emotion and steam to make for enjoyable leisure reading.

First, Tenino’s Frat Boy and Toppy, a fun college coming out story that introduces us to Brad, all-American jock and frat boy… who hates his own dating experiences, likes organic gardening and food preparation, and is majoring in PE because he thinks it’s expected, though he’s minoring in home economics.  Brad is discontented with his life, but he isn’t sure why until he meets Sebastian, the TA in his history class, and suddenly Brad starts to make sense of his own muddled feelings and desires.  Tenino does a good job here of playing with stereotypes…Brad, for example, uses the popular perceptions of what it means to be a college athlete and fraternity brother to hide his sexuality, even from himself, and Sebastian, the smart academic, is the more experienced sexual partner and the “toppy” of the title.  While there is certainly a happily-ever-after romantic component here, the journey to that ending is fun, with a delightful cast of supporting characters.  From Brad’s family to the marketing major ex-friend who tries to plan his coming out campaign to the frat brother who becomes “a card-carrying member of PFLAG,” Brad is surrounded by a motley band of supporters and confidants who try, successfully or not, to help him reconcile his emerging sexuality with his previous public personas.  Well-drawn and entertaining characters, a quick-moving if simple plot, and delicious sex scenes – both in Brad’s own experimentations and his relationship with Sebastian – make this a great escape read.  Even in the fun, though (and the story is fun), Tenino manages to raise interesting points on academic culture (or at least popular perceptions of campus life).  Definitely recommended.

Equally recommended is Cullinan and Sexton’s Second Hand.  Like Frat Boy and Toppy, Second Hand features a confused central character whose journey toward happiness requires that he accept himself as being something other than “normal.”  Vet school dropout and recently dumped by his fiancĂ© Paul is struggling to maintain the rental property his ex choose and then left him with, including a seemingly endless array of useless kitchen gadgets and  her ugly art projects, and his desire to rekindle the romance is rooted more in a desire for normality – wife, children, and all that those things imply in society – than his own passions or desire.  Enter El Rozal, the local pawn shop owner—gay, cynical, and saddled with his own problems in the form of a hoarder mother and crazy extended family.  These two put the fun in dysfunction, though, when they meet as Paul seeks to bolster his finances by ridding himself of all the kitchen cast-offs and El finds himself drawn to the insecure and confused young man.  One man doesn’t want a relationship….and the other thinks he’s still in love with his ex AND that he’s too boring for anyone else to want him…and yet, somehow a Panini press and a misfit mutt manage to help bring these two very different souls together toward that elusive happy ever after.  The balance of story and steamy eroticism is well-handled, El and Paul’s relationship is as hot as it is funny (ever had to figure out what to do with your dog when you’re trying to get some action?  Yeah, it’s got that!) Second Hand is the second of a series of novels, loosely connected and set in the same charming small Colorado town with more than its share of misfits, Tucker Springs and one hopes the authors will continue to produce such works.  I look forward to finding book one and hopefully future volumes in this series.

The existence of a largely-underground market if you will of female driven male/male erotic works is something I’ve been aware of for years, but it is interesting to see publishers beginning to capitalize on the market for such works.  I’m not a gay man, so I can’t judge the appeal of these books for that market, but I definitely think both will find female readers interested in this sub-genre of erotic and romantic fiction.

ARCs received from NetGalley.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Coming of age and coming out

Lavoie, Jennifer.  Andy Squared.  Bold Strokes Books, 2012.

Coming of age and coming out are two themes that appear frequently, not only in literature for young adults, but in literature as a whole.  Indeed, they appear often enough that, done poorly, the story can quickly slip into clichĂ©.  In Andy Squared, Jennifer Lavoie does a fine job of avoiding that slide as she details the coming of age and coming out experiences of a small-town soccer hero struggling to find his own path to maturity.  Andrew and Andrea, both nicknamed Andy, are twins who share starring positions on their respective soccer teams, a bedroom, and plans for college.  But the comfortable shared pattern of their lives is rocked when Ryder, handsome, charming, and a little exotic, moves to their small New York town from Texas.  As his friendship with Ryder grows, Andrew discovers a new hobby, new dreams, and the reason why none of his relationships with girls has ever worked out.  As their relationship becomes both romantic and physical, Andrew struggles to come to terms with this new identity, finding surprising support along the way.  But when their secret is exposed to small-town high school minds, will Andrew be strong enough to admit, to himself and to the world, the truth about his relationship with Ryder?  And will his relationship with his twin ever be the same?  Lavoie is deft and careful with her subject, crafting a story that will work for most high school-aged readers.  While the implication of sex is present, both with Andrew’s past girlfriends and with Ryder, such activities are off-screen; kissing is as far as Lavoie takes her details.  This lack of physicality allows the story to focus on the emotional struggles of learning something new about yourself and finding a place for your new self in a world that perhaps isn’t ready for that personal evolution.  From her teenage protagonists and their supporting cast of friends to the adults that guide and support both Andrew and Ryder, Lavoie’s characters are interesting and well-drawn; if there is a lack at all here, it’s that Andrea, Andrew’s sister, is a bit shallowly drawn.  It would have been interesting perhaps to see more of her internal thoughts, though certainly her actions for good and for ill do allow the reader to judge her and the relationship between the two. 

Andy Squared is definitely a recommended title for readers, male or female, gay or straight, who are struggling with establishing an individual identity outside of the expectations of the people who love them.

ARC received from NetGalley.