Romance, Alphahole Tropes, and Patriarchy

Blogger, I Cannot Countenance Your Patriarchy — The Triumph of the Feminine in Romance

A rant from one of my favorite authors who is reacting to yet another piece criticizing the romance genre with some rather off-base arguments.

The original piece was actually criticizing  the asshole alpha-male trope that is present in some Romance works as well as other genres.  Even though the introduction seemed to take square aim at Romance,  the original piece ended up drawing rather exclusively on examples from non-Romance genres.  Ironically, plenty of the best romance novels can use the asshole alpha-male to undermine the whole uber-tough, uncaring, and patriarchal premise of those characters.

 

Academic Commentary on Male/Male Romance

An overview and summary of the m/m romance genre from Unsuitable, a Duke University Blog on Gender Issues. (http://sites.duke.edu/unsuitable/malemale-romance/)

Interestingly, I find the complaints about potentially problematic, heteronormative fetishization of gay men by straight women writers and readers to be a little disturbing.

The fact that some aspects of the male/male romance include women (authors and readers) enjoying some primordial lust over same-sex male couplings doesn’t for me (as a queer man) undermine the entire genre.  Frankly, I feel some heated fetishizing, and fantasizing has a place for readers of all tastes.  The fact that in this genre it is often interwoven with compelling, provocative, and supportive characters, relationships, and stories just makes the entire genre that much more attractive to me.

Wolf Blood Born by Meg Winters

Wolf Blood Born

Title:  Wolf Blood Born 
Author: Meg Winters
Genre:  Male/male romance
Book info: Author | Goodreads
Format: eBook Novella (128 pages)
Publisher: Amazon Kindle

Overall rating:   3 stars (out of five)

Tagline: Exiled Werekin prince and his mating heat (leading to Werewolf pirates)

Note:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review (via the “Don’t Buy Me Love” program of the M/M Romance group on Goodreads).

This paranormal, male/male romance has a rather original setting as the protagonist, Harrison, is a prince from a matriarchal werewolf “empire” exiled to rather inhospitable human lands (where werekin are usually enslaved or worse).  Thrust into leadership by rescuing other wolves, Harrison must deal with the mating frenzy of the full moon, the unexpected devotion and attraction from his fellows,  and the vagaries of surviving in a hostile world of human and werewolf pursuers.

The strength of the work lies in its unique setting and politics, with details unveiled through this first installment, starting in a bit of an awkward fashion but also via increasingly interesting plot complications and twists revealed as the novel wore on.  From shadowy werewolf empires with harshly political matriarchies to the promise of werewolf pirate booty, the author builds a new and potentially interesting world for werewolf mating heat and romance.

Unfortunately, the characters and prose too reflect the awkward and choppy aspects of the story rather than the more intriguing, polished aspects.  The protagonists are sympathetic but not as engaging as I would have preferred, and at various times the writing was a bit too choppy for my tastes.  (For example, there are numerous times where several sentences are used to express an idea that I think would flow much more nicely in a long, complex sentence.  I am not a fan of starting a short sentence with “but” when the following fragment fits clearly with the preceding short sentence.)

The more I read, however, the more I felt this novel was simply an introduction to a more complete story to be unveiled in subsequent  installments and, suprisingly, the more I enjoyed the current reading as a set-up for a future payoff.  The plot devices around attraction,  full-moon frenzy, wolf mounting, human jealousy, and permanent mating seemed at first to be awkward and artificial but slowly drew my interest as more details and nuances were revealed.

The sex was nicely delayed and steamy enough, although the ultimate emotional attachment of the protagonists seemed rather artificial to me. However, I did greatly appreciate the reciprocal nature of the heat, and the unveiling of certain character details took me by surprise and greatly piqued my interest.

To my surprise, the potential of the setting (including possible “werewolf pirates”) has drawn me in.  I expect some of my hesitancies about occasional choppy prose to be smoothed out as this new author continues to write and expand the story and universe.  I am certainly intrigued enough to continue on to the second installment.

Setting:  4.5 stars  (even though the idea of “werewolf pirates” does nothing for me)

Characters:  2.5 stars (warmed up a bit to them as the story wore on)

Relationship: 2.5 stars (the “serve” your rescuer idea was neat, but not well executed)

Heat:  3.5 stars (reciprocal nature worked for me)

Plot:  3 stars  (with potential for more in later installments)

Paranormal aspects:  3.5 stars (forced matings were more “ick” and “blah” than intriguing or haunting)

Prose: 2.5 stars (not bad, but not great)

 

 

Talk Turkey by Bru Baker

Tagline: the new Windy City transplant and the helpline guy (who is definitely not a turkey)

Author: Bru Baker
Publisher: Dreamspinner (Dec. 2015)
Series: Sleigh Ride

Genre: Male/male holiday romance
Format: Novella (58 pages)

Rating:  star1 star1 star1 half-star  (3.5 stars – I really liked it.)

A sweet short story that reads quickly, it centers on a recent transplant from NorCal (Sacramento) to Chicago. Carson is a likable character (and just as inept in the kitchen as I was at his age), and readers who appreciate watching a totally clueless guy flail around in the kitchen might find him extra-endearing. The setting was cute, and the phone-flirting was nicely tempting while remaining relatively low-key. The first “in-person” meeting of the two was a little low-energy for my tastes, but their banter displayed a really nice, slightly-corny sense of humor connection that worked well for these two characters.

Being a transplant from Chicago to NorCal myself (the reverse of the characters), I loved the description of my hometown, from the L to city shopping to skiing down the streets after a massive snowstorm. (I once snow-shoed down the Chicago streets from my boyfriend’s apartment – located in the same area as the story’s protagonists – to a local supermarket after a particularly strong “storm-of-the-decade” blizzard shut the roads down.)

Another enjoyable, quick escape from Dreamspinner’s 2015 Advent Calendar. (3.5 stars rounded up to 4 on Goodreads for the sentimental Chicago snowfall and how the corny sense of humor worked for the couple)


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Caught! (The Shamwell Tales #1)

SleighRideLG

Title:  Caught!
Author: J.L. Merrow
Genre:  Male/male romance
Book info: Publisher | Goodreads | Author
Format: eBook Novel (276 pages)
Publisher: Samhain (August 2014)
ISBN: 9781619222250

Overall rating:   5 stars (out of five)

Tagline: The working bloke and the semi-posh academic – an English village romance (with bow ties!)

I connected with this story so much I’m going to diverge from my normally objective(ish), prose-only, semi-analytical reviews and range to something more personal…

O.k., I will start with my typical, objective(ish) review:

JL Merrow gives us a another simple, semi-geeky, English romance, this one focused on a recently-arrived educated, “semi-posh” teacher who falls for a sexy, working-class bloke. At its core, this is a mostly sweet and tender story that will have appeal to Anglophiles, cross-class romance enthusiasts, Doctor Who aficionados, and, most especially, bow tie lovers. That being said, the narration centers on the attraction, vulnerabilities, and insecurities of “Emsy” (Rob), and readers who find his yearnings and fears to be compelling should find this to be an entertaining and endearing romance. However, those who find a geeky character’s self-sabotage because of his insecurities and past betrayals to be annoying may not be as appreciative.

There was a fair amount of erotic tension built, although overall there was relatively little sex (and most of it was off-book), but…

My totally subjective, over-the-top, personal “oh-my-god-yes!” for this story:

…but several “missed” opportunities that built the sexual tension led to an erotic scene that eventually blew me away.

First of all, Sean the hard-working, council estates guy (American = blue collar guy from the “other side of the tracks” or “housing projects”), and the author’s hints at his accent just makes me melt.

Also, this average bloke really appreciates that Rob (Emsy) resembles Matt Smith as Doctor Who…

Matt Smith as Doctor Who
…which already raises the heat for me (on both ends).

Studly Sean also repeatedly expresses his appreciation for Emsy’s bow ties, even (and especially) when things get hot and heavy, so that’s a definite yes…

Sexy Bow tie

…as I love all types of bow ties on a man.

But what really took me over the edge was a sizzling scene where Sean began leering, lusting and almost panting over…

Matt Smith's Doctor wearing braces

…Emsy’s braces (suspenders).

It was just a few words, but it was hotter than hell for me.

Way too personal reasons why I liked it so much…
Years ago, I wore suspenders most of the time, until I entered a very seriously relationship with a rather dashing and fashionable Cubano. Miguel significantly upgraded my wardrobe and style as we frequented the hottest, most stylish clubs and gay nightspots in Chicago. Years and a relationship or two later, I married my wife who thinks things like suspenders (and plenty of my other nerdy characteristics) are dead sexy. For me, the lesson is true love is so much more likely with a person who appreciates you for being you – like Sean usually does of Emsy.

More personal experiences related to Caught!

So after reading Caught!, I went out and bought my first pair of suspenders in years, as my wife is someone who will really appreciate me wearing them. (Or maybe I’ll ask my wife to wear them and see if I can’t pull off one of those sexy accents – “Oi! ’bout time sum’un likes braces, innit?” )

And more – After being surrounded several times in football-related mini-riots when I lived in Britain, English hooligans intimidate me as much as the rougher edges of the south side of Chicago (which I experienced first hand for many years when growing up). On the one hand, I enjoy “street” or working class accents, as those sounds seem to re-connect me to the “real” life outside of my academic ivory tower. However, when I combine the sound of those accents with gay or geeky ideas running through my mind, I have a visceral, fearful, “run and hide” reaction based on too many years of intimidating and violent incidents.

So the scene in Caught! of a working class bloke panting over braces, well it just takes some of my most ingrained, deep-seated terrors and turns them into something incredibly sexy… how many books do that?

Sleigh Ride

SleighRideLG

Title:  Sleigh Ride (2015 Advent Calendar)
Genre:  Male/male romance
Book info: Publisher | Goodreads
Format: Compilation of 31 short stories and novellas
Publisher: Dreamspinner (Dec. 2015)
ISBN: 9781634769648 | 9781634769655

Series:  Dreamspinner’s “Advent Calendar”

Overall rating:   4 stars (out of five)

Tagline:  holiday collection of short, escapist and soothing HEA/HFN male/male romance stories

 

Dreamspinner compiled 31 holiday-themed short stories and novellas to celebrate the 2015 Chirstmas/holiday season.   I purchased the “pre-order” package and thereby received one story each day during the month of December.  Overall, I found them to be soothing, albeit sometimes very short escapes, providing brief relief from the craziness of a very busy time of year.  I enjoyed all but a couple of them as quick and soothing diversions (rather than the more fully engaging and fleshed out stories I would expect in full-length novels).

Overall, 29 of the 31 stories nicely delivered to me anywhere between 15 and 90 minutes a day of m/m romantic escapism. For most of the stories, the heat level usually runs from low to just an off-book promise, but “meet-cutes” abound.   While the bulk of the stories were contemporary, Christmas romances, the collection includes a nice range of characters, backgrounds and themes, including Chanukah and New Year’s celebrations, a few “alternate” (fantasy/science fiction/paranormal) settings, raising kids as a single Dad, and a Christmas Elf fantasy or two.  Gay aliens, a bisexual or two (someone acknowledges we exist!), and super-heroes help round out diverse characteristics that really appeal to me.

Surprisingly, I postponed reading what turned out to be my favorite story as its theme (a divorced couple missing each other and their kids at Christmas) seemed to be too much of a downer, while one of the set-ups that intrigued me the most (courting Santa’s son) was my least favorite.

Because of their brevity, I generally wouldn’t spend the list price for each individual story,  but as part of a discounted, pre-holiday collection purchase, I enjoyed reading a different, usually engaging and escapist short every day.   Here is the order I received them over the course of the month:

Day 31: Kismet by Cassie Decker

3 stars crushed phone crushes crush until Kismet strikes on New Year’s Eve  (review)

A “missed-connections” setting was sweet, if a little over-the-top and straining credulity just a bit.  Overall, however, it was a quick story of frustration over the hot guy met during a serendipitous airport coffee, but the connection was lost until New Year’s Eve kismet led to a happily together reunion.

A sweet story ending with a nice little bit of sizzle (although the characters seemed a little over-the-top regarding their missed connection).

Day 30: The Beary Best Holiday Ever by B.G Thomas

3.5 stars – Grumpy bear and the cub – with a little Death by Chocolate tastiness (review)

A sweet exploration of mis-communication, personal baggage, and an ever-bubbly cub whose appreciation is larger than life.   Rounded up because of the cool caves, interesting plot device of party-planning over several months, and bear pride!  (I performed at a national Bear Pride event once – it was a blast!)

Day 29: Holiday Hotel Hookup by Jeff Adams

4 stars holiday hotel smut   (review)

Well-written, nicely set-up holiday hotel smut, with some studly, hairily hot (and also somewhat geeky) sizzle.

Day 28: Talk Turkey by Bru Baker

3.5 stars the new Windy City transplant and the helpline guy who is definitely not a turkey (review)

A sweet short story that reads quickly, it centers on a recent transplant from NorCal (Sacramento) to Chicago. Carson is a likable character and readers who appreciate watching a totally clueless guy flail around in the kitchen might find him extra-endearing.

Day 27: Elf on the Beach by TJ Nichols

3.5 stars – the wintry Christmas elf  and the Australian summer surfer, or the magic of belief (review)

A gentle story of a lonely, orphaned, traumatized man coupled with the power of faith (and hot elf love) that could bring the magic to make him whole.  The drama wrapped up quickly, yielding a fine little holiday story with a swift, pat happy-for-now ending.

Day 26: Hearth and Home by E.T. Malinowski 

4 stars – Santa and Mrs. C help nudge a grouchy tinker Elf to soothe a klutzy hearth Elf into a heated connection (review)

Five stars for the setting and initial, cute banter, a solid 3.5 stars for the Elf on Elf sizzle, rounding out to four stars overall.

Day 25: Blame It on the Fruitcake by Pat Henshaw

4 stars – lovely, sweet holiday hook-up between the orphaned, home-raised biker and the consummate professional with the big family (and tasty fruitcake)  (review)

Another short, escapist read, this sweet story centers on the hesitations of the big bike mechanic regarding his attraction to his smartly dressed neighbor (who is also the supplier of his newly discovered love, fruitcake).  It wraps up quickly and neatly as these holiday shorts do, as much as I would have liked a novella- or novel-length treatment of these characters.

Day 24: Hapless by Therese Woodson

4 stars – a sweet perfectionist attempts to give his hockey-playing beau a romantic, holiday proposal to remember  (review)

From the description, I thought this story might not be the type I would like, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  The repeated attempts to propose came across as sweet, earnest, and realistically disastrous.  Despite the overwhelming presence of this plot device dominating the short story, the ending still seemed real and the characters’ chemistry real (if a bit schmatzly).

Day 23: Son of Santa by Kate Sands

2 stars – alienated prodigal son tracked down by the elf he can’t help but crush on   (review)

Alternate tag line: alienated prodigal son stalked by an obnoxious elf sent by meddling parents

The set-up for this story, Santa’s son Noel taking a sabbatical from the North Pole, is original and intriguing, and some of the characterizations and dialog were rather interesting.  However, the repeated, deep frustrations voiced by Noel became rather strong, and for some readers (myself included) the strength of Noel’s reactions ruined whatever potential chemistry there might have been between Santa’s son and the elf sent to track him down.  (Some readers found Noel to be much too whiny and simply wanted him to “get over” himself.  Reading between the lines, I took Noel’s attitude and tone to mean his home in general and Fannar in particular treated Noel very badly, so the elf came across as a stalking, intruding, obnoxious a-hat to me.)  In any case, in the end I wanted the two of them to be as far away from each other as possible.

1 star for the (lack of) enjoyment level, and 3 stars for the ideas and writing

Day 22: Somewhere To Be by Amy Yip

3 stars – jilted Chinese delivery guy is delivered to his family by the sweet but lonely fair-haired British bloke

Sweet and short, it covers a nice range of blind date, past relationship and family traumas, and semi-closeted to the traditional Chinese family  all in a quick and easy read.  A nice HFN highlighting the fact that nice guys don’t always finish last.

Day 21: A Trip to Remember by Meg Harding

3.5 stars – snowed-in together, two men share a holiday (and movies and games and a bed…)

The characters were not my type, but their banter and competitive teasing quickly built rapport and attraction between the two in their “forced-together” holiday.

Day 20: Fireworks and Resolutions by Leandra Dohman

3 stars – office Christmas kiss leads to an initially awkward but eventually fire-work filled New Year’s

The two big story ideas were very interesting, but were difficult to flush out fully in a short piece.   The main foucus, hiding at a New Year’s Eve part due to embarrassment at past klutzy and/or drunken behavior, was carried out well.  The second device – New Year’s resolutions to help shape a new relationship (preventing  miscommunication and adding heat) – was nifty but seemed a little quickly tacked on to the very beginnings of a hit-or-miss relationship.  On a positive note, while the leap together seemed a little rushed, the author was able to stitch together a nice “awkward beginning to a relationship” arc in a very short story.

Day 19: Northern Lights by Asta Idonea

2.5 stars – dumped in Iceland and rescued by a Viking (review)

For a story about being dumped on one’s birthday in a foreign country and knocked unconscious, it slips its way into being semi-sweet.  Of course being rescued by a pagan Viking stud is about as nice a way as possible to resolve that dilemma, and the story ends with a hint of a hopeful HFN.

Day 18: Unto Us the Time Has Come by Sean Michael

4.5 stars – utterly sappy story of two separated husbands getting back together at Christmas  (review)

Apparently, this is my kind of snappiness, as it made me cry (and that does not happen very often).

Day 17: Home Is Where the Christmas Trees Are by CJane Elliott

3 starslonely gay bachelor uncle has a traumatic break but gets some (definitely physical and maybe emotional) relief  (review)

Dex was very sympathetic as a single gay man trying to care for his recently orphaned niece, although a couple of twists and turns in the story were appropriately unsettling for him.  His meeting with a potential love interest (and his mother) was also nice and sweet, and became hotter with an eventual hook-up.

Day 16: Best Laid Trap by Rob Rosen

2.5 sizzling, snarky stars  –  snarky New Year’s Eve sex in a snowed-in cabin

A short, eventually steamy “story” focused on a snarky man stumbling into some New Year’s Eve sex in a snowed in cabin, with a possible HFN.

Day 15: Loving and Loathing Vegas by Lex Chase

4 stars Demonic friends-to-lovers story wrapped in otherworldly, baby-riffic style  (review)

The premise of two incubbi (sex demons) having a contest to fall in love over the holidays is enticing as all, well, Hell. Overall, the plot reads much more like a standard friends-to-lovers romance than a paranormal tale.

Day 14: Grateful by Kim Fielding

4.5 stars – klutzy guy dreading another, “typical” Jewish family gathering meets the multi-talented, “to-die-for” foreigner (with a Newfie)  (review)

A nicely reassuring, HFN quickie for fans of the awkward, normalish, and sometimes clueless guy catching the eye of the suave, sophisticated stud (with his own interesting needs).

Day 13: Teddy Bear Christmas by CC Bridges

3 stars – a lonely Jewish guy working the holiday, a man missing his family, and the teddy that unites them  (review)

If only all stranded/snowing/airport travel were so rewarding, and that every frazzled, overworked, overwrought airport worker could find such a nice break from the ire of over-stressed travelers.

Day 12: Nøtteknekkeren by Felicitas Ivey

4.5 stars – a nicely surreal and just grim/Grimm enough Christmas fairy tale (review)

This struck me as the most original writing of the collection, although in reality it’s a wonderfully “gay” take on a haunting, traditional folk tale.  A little darker than the typical story (and I’m usually not a fan of dark), overall I found the reading experience to be the most interesting of the compilation (although not the most soothing or escapist).

Day 11: Leap Through Eternity by Sara Stark

2.5 stars – bumbling, cutely stumbling “idiot” and the mostly naked stud in briefs (review)

Day 10: Worth the Wait by Caitlin Ricci & Cari Z.

3 stars – hot umbrella man to the rescue (and he’s good with the adorable niece, too)  (review)

Very short but enjoyable story of a nice, first connection between two likable guys, including an adorable, book-obsessed niece and a nice setting for bibliophiles. 3.5 stars rounded down for its brevity and leaving the reader wanting so much more.

Day 9: An Assassin’s Holiday by Dirk Greyson

4 stars – a 3.5 star dark premise/happy ending read rounded up for some reciprocal tastiness (review)

Day 8: Christmas Miracles of a Recently Fallen Spruce by Brandon Witt

4 stars –  Quick holiday, “meet-cute” with a white Christmas, a two men in a PG one man tent, and, of course, a requisite “Horny Elf.” (review)
A quote from a character sums up my feelings about this story:   “I like the different sides of you. All anal retentive and a dirty elf-loving artisan. Good stuff.”

 

Day 7: Four Alternative Christmas Presents by Tam MacNeil

4 stars – yearning after one’s super-hero (or lusting after the boy wonder) (review)

A clever super-hero story, a fantastical setting explores even more “alternate” settings.

Day 6: Menorahs and Mistletoe by Jess Roth

4 stars – a nice present from one of Santa’s elves for the lonely bisexual Jewish dad

A tender and sweet holiday short, the story includes a nice incorporation of Hanukkah, a single parent worrying about the effect of dating on his child, and a bisexual guy all woven into a brief m/m romance. (Oh – and while office or bathroom encounters aren’t usually that hot to me, but when there’s a cute elf, well…)

Day 5: A Certain Kind of Holiday by Andi Van

3.5 stars – travelling with the older, cheating professor turns out to be just what the holiday ordered (review)

Day 4: Old Acquaintance by Avon Gale

4.5 stars for me (partly for the common little kink missing from most m/m romance) – Oh yes, and a semi-drunken New Year’s Eve first time for a jilted middle-aged guy – with a splash 😉 (review)

Day 3: Mission Mistletoe by Jessica Payseur

3 stars – gay alien Christmas in space (review)

Day 2: Not the Best Day by Brynn Stein

3 stars – the Butthead isn’t exactly Beavis  (review)

Day 1: Whispers of Old Winds by George Seaton

3.5 stars – rugged veteran/sheriff in a semi-supernatural Colorado mountain setting (review)