Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

About Sarah Frantz

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

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REVIEW: Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino

REVIEW: Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino

Dear Ms. Tenino.

I loved this book. Just loved it. I read it in one sitting, finally going to sleep at 3am on Friday night, damn you. In retrospect, it has flaws, but I didn’t notice them as I was reading.

Brad is a football player and in a frat. I really REALLY love the way the book starts:

One of Brad’s frat brothers bent over naked in the locker room showers early one Thursday morning, and he thought, “I’d tap that.”

He stood there frozen, skin stinging from the pelletized water, soap suds streaming down his chest while his world made a . . . What did they call that? Paradigm shift.

Dammit, dammit, dammit. He’d been trying to avoid this. Admitting it to himself. Consciously. His subconscious had been admitting it for a while in his sleep. Emitting it.

Brad flicked another quick look at Collin. Yeah, he still had a delectable ass. Dammit.

Brad had spent years trying to avoid the “G” word, but denial was suddenly circling the drain. He stared at the water pouring down at his feet, and thought about hanging on to the security that came with telling himself he wasn’t into guys. But it was pointless, right? It wasn’t going to go away. Trying not to know it now was like trying to make the soap suds go back in the bar.

Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne TeninoBrad gets to the point where he just wants to figure it out, get it right for once. So he accepts that he’s gay and starts chasing his delectable history TA, Sebastian. Now, this is where I start getting really picky — do TAs just grade papers? Maybe in some schools? Are you going to have a Ph.D. student at a College? I don’t think so. And no one, NO ONE *EVER* enjoys grading. Ever. Or if they do, I wish they’d come and grade mine, dammit.

But details about academic life aside, Sebastian is hot, Brad’s hooked, and he has to work up the courage to come on to Sebastian. This takes a full quarter of the book, but I wasn’t at all bored. During that time, Brad comes out to his completely accepting family, figured out that despite his size and looks, he’s probably a bottom, comes out to an ex-girlfriend, plagiarizes a paper to try to catch Sebastian’s attention.

Once Sebastian and Brad get together, the sex is smoking hot, the relationship is interesting, and the humor is just nonstop. That’s the thing about this book — it’s laugh-out-loud funny without trying too hard to be so (and without really being excerpt-able, despite reading through the whole book again to try to find a suitable excerpt ;). Sebastian watches everything with a sort of amused, affectionate disdain, so bits of the book from his perspective were fun. And Brad is just…wonderful. He’s not particularly smart (although he’s not stupid), and watching him figure out how to be gay is just an amazing journey. He’s stubborn and intense and committed to being authentic. SUCH a great character. Just a taste:

On Saturday morning, Brad woke up early and watched Sebastian sleep. He knew it was dorky and he tried to stop, but he couldn’t seem to look away. He’d done it last Saturday, too.

He was lucky. Really fucking lucky. He wanted to just stay here forever. But he had to get back to his room and do some laundry, as well as inventory the damned kitchen at the frat house and get ready for the stupid pledge ceremony.

He sighed. He’d rather be here with his boyfriend. Who seemed to be waking up. Just before he thought Sebastian was going to open his eyes, he rolled over and scooted backward into Sebastian’s body. He didn’t want to get caught staring at the shape of Sebastian’s jaw or his long eyelashes in the sunlight, but he could rub up on him some.

Retrospective niggles (I have no idea why this part of the review came out in bullet format, but it’s better to have it written than to fight it, so here you go):

  • Sebastian did not read like a 28 year old. It would have made more sense to me if he’d been doing his M.A. and he were 24 or so. But a 28 year old Ph.D. student seemed a bit more of a stretch to me with the character as written.
  • Once the relationship starts, there’s not much narrative tension, except the tension that’s still about Brad figuring out who he is. Which was engaging and fun, don’t get me wrong, but not relationship-focused so much.
  • The Black Moment is very slightly contrived and not exceptionally well explained. When Brad and Sebastian fight, I had to read it two or three times to really figure out exactly what was drawing them apart. Once I’d figured it out, I believed in the problem — it was subtle but strong and had been foreshadowed throughout the book. But it took me a while to get there.
  • Once they split, there’s a bit too much “gathering of the support network,” as Brad puts it, before they get back together…a few too many conversations with other people before they get together to figure things out together. The book started to seem like an ensemble piece, except the ensemble didn’t really gather at the end, so that was odd.
  • And the final scene ends abruptly. We’ve had pages of Brad coming out to his frat, and when he and Sebastian go upstairs…the rest of the house isn’t mentioned again at all. But then, I’m a big believer in epilogues, or slightly more drawn-out endings, post reconciliation. In my opinion, there needed to be an extra scene from the next morning, or with Brad’s brother banging on their door, telling them to quiet down, or something.
But all that aside, I loved this book. I loved the gentle humor. I loved the characters — all of them, but especially Brad. And I loved the subtle overturning of some m/m expectations (another list!):
  • No coming out angst from friends or family.
  • Big bad football player Brad is a bottom and LOVES it.
  • The characters act rationally when Brad finds himself with his dick down someone else’s (ie: not Sebastian) throat. He tells Sebastian, they work things out and even use it as an opportunity to take the relationship to another level. It was interesting to see the not-Sebastian sex scene and then wonderful to see how it was dealt with between Brad and Sebastian.
  • The mild kink sneaks up on both characters as an additional facet to their relationship that shows how perfect they are together, rather than being something one of them needed because he’s SuperDom looking for PerfectSub.
I can’t wait for more from you. I really hope you give Collin his story.

Grade: B+

Best regards,

P.S. Your blurb’s awful (SUCH a strange shift from second to third paragraph and it doesn’t capture the true tension of the novel), the cover’s pretty (nice abs) but strange (what IS that living room supposed to represent?), and the title’s horrible. But hey, YMMV.


REVIEW: Owned and Owner by Anneke Jacob

REVIEW: Owned and Owner by Anneke Jacob

Dear Ms. Jacob.

Readers: This book is hardcore, heavy-duty, almost-but-not-quite non-consensual BDSM. I hesitate to call it a romance and yet it really almost is. It’s total 24/7 dehumanization of the female submissive. It is NOT for everyone. I loved it and I heartily recommend it, but readers, please read my review before buying, because it’s unlike anything else I’ve reviewed.

Owned and Owner by Anneke JacobMs. Jacob, I’ve tried your As She’s Told and it’s just slightly too…squicky for me. I never enjoyed the pony-play parts of Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty series. Ditto Molly Weatherfield’s (aka Pam Rosenthal) Carrie’s Story when it gets into pony play. I have friends who adore pony play and it’s seriously beautiful, but I’m pretty uninterested. So the dehumanization and pony play of the contemporary set As She’s Told is…not my thing. It goes just a bit too far for me, no matter how well-written it is.

This story, though, takes those ideas and moves them to a hypothetical far future. Humans have colonized the galaxy and there are two sister planets, Henth and Raniz. Background is infodumped in Chapter 3, but the upshot of it is that Raniz is populated by small, entirely lesbian women and Henth is populated by huge, entirely homosexual men. Except for the few throwbacks. Heterosexuality is almost unheard-of and something to be ashamed of. If women on Raniz are convicted of a severe enough crime, they are offered the choice of rehabilitation, exile, or slavery on Henth. They have to choose to go to Henth and are then subjected to a month of intense attempts to convince them to choose otherwise. Once they get to Henth, they are sold to the highest bidder. There is intense competition among the small group of men on Henth who realize they’re heterosexual. When one manages to buy a pet woman, he can then choose to do to his new exotic pet whatever he wants.

The narrator is a woman who has worked hard most of her life to get to the point that she’s given the choice to go to Henth. That is, she’s a malingerer and a random sabateur, hoping she’d finally do something awful enough to be convicted and offered the choice. Because she wants to go. She wants to be owned by a man, she wants to be a pet, she wants to have decisions taken away from her. When she gets to Henth, she’s bought by Garid who has worked hard for years to be able to afford a woman. With full awareness that his new pet is human, intelligent, with a mind and a will, Garid treats her like an animal. He refuses to allow her to learn the language, he trains her using trial and error and severe physical punishment.

The narrative tension is in the narrator’s loss of will. She narrates her complete and utter submission to Garid. The story is also told from Garid’s third person point of view, and from the perspective of one of Garid’s friends. The “romance” in the story is in the progress of Garid’s utter control over the narrator. There are set-backs and changes. There’s pony play and orgasm control and humiliation and group sex. But it’s all about how Garid becomes the narrator’s will:

My master had taught me a great deal, far beyond my childish imagination. One thing he taught me was that I had been completely wrong about what I had wanted. I didn’t really want my Ranizen fantasies. Behind every one of those was a mind and an imagination – mine. Every one had a star, bound, abused, and brought to ecstasy – me. I was the center of those fantasies; I controlled them. I controlled the outcomes. I made them safe and scary and sexy and orgasmic.

I had fantasized about losing control, giving up autonomy, always to a man who would want what I wanted and give it to me. It wasn’t losing control at all, it was choosing the plot by inventing my own cast of characters. Playing at helplessness. But my master didn’t give me what I wanted; he took what he wanted. And I was utterly, utterly grateful that it was so. All I needed to know was what he wanted from me. All I had to be was the instrument of his will and pleasure.

How many times had I been like that stupid animal at the vet, coming to the end of its chain and looking surprised? I didn’t choose. I was an animal – less than that – a slave of an animal that had less than an animal’s autonomy and less than an animal’s rights. Even pets get off the leash from time to time. I had no rights to attention, no rights to orgasm, no rights to anything at all. My master had bought every privilege I ever owned.

I had been halfway there, that night in the tool shed. I had reached the point of resignation. But now I think I’d reached the point of joy.

The brilliant thing about this book, the thing that made it work for me, that made it one of the hottest things I’ve ever EVER read, was the 110% consensual nature of what happens in the book. The narrator is beaten, humiliated, fucked, shared, turned into an animal with no will of her own, and she craves every single thing that’s done to her. Every woman discussed in the book is utterly happy with her situation. The rightness of the situation for the characters is written into every word of the story. So readers can have their non-con with an utterly clear conscience.

More quirkily, I especially loved how the men in this book are aberrant. Garid has to come out to his father about buying a woman. There’s a whole chapter early on in which Garid and his friend discuss how they figured out that they’re heterosexual and dominant, how it’s changed their lives, how their families deal with it — all the things gay people go through here. It’s a lovely conceit in the book.

Calling it a “romance” is perhaps a stretch. Although Garid thinks at the end that he loves his pet, and indeed wouldn’t want any other relationship, he would have bought any slave at that point because they’re so rare and he had the money. Neither of the main characters have much choice in who they “love” — it’s almost a fated mate story in that respect. But the focus of the story is still 100% on the growth of the relationship between them.

Readers, if you like hard-core dehumanization BDSM, then this story is for you. I loved it. I thought it was almost a “sweet” story, in some respects. Both main and secondary characters have personalities that feed into how the story progresses. It’s not merely a bunch of stroke scenes sewn together. There is narrative arc and emotional progress throughout the story, so it’s worth reading end-to-end, as well as picking out individual scenes for closer…inspection, shall we say.

Grade: B+

Best regards,

-Sarah F.