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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,
-Sarah

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.

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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.

24 Comments

  1. Kati
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 10:25:54

    That’s enough for me. Clicking the buy button now.

    Thanks, Sarah!

  2. Heidi Belleau
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 10:36:55

    Yay I was waiting for a good review of this and now I can buy it and yay!

    It’s true, the title kind of doesn’t make sense for the plot as you’ve described it.

    I’m especially excited to hear there’s sex with someone outside the relationship with this, AND it’s realistically handled. I hate hate HATE how M/M seems to shy away from that!

  3. Sirius
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 11:16:37

    I liked 18% of Gray by this author, so I already purchased this book, but now I will get to it sooner. Well done sex outside of the relationship is a good thing in my book as well, but I will wait to get excited before I actually read it. Humor is a wonderful thing in my book. Thanks for the review.

  4. Sarah
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 11:36:27

    Sounds really good! You’ve convinced me. Sometimes your reading tastes (judging just from reviews only) tend to be too… kinky for me I guess , even as someone who enjoys m/m stories but this sounds like it’s more on my level.

  5. Sarah Frantz
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 11:38:12

    @Sarah: This is only barely kinky, promise. Very hot, very low key. I hope you enjoy it! :)

  6. KKJ
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 12:40:37

    I think the living room on the cover is supposed to represent typical college bachelor garage sale/dead grandmother transient furnishings, complete with the broken recliner, dumpster-worthy couch, a Beer Chair (my brother still has his) and dirty magazines magazines on the bottom shelf of the coffee table.

    That jar-thing on top of the coffee table is probably their weed stash and not a Yankee Candle.

    Added this (the book, not the weed or the Beer Chair) to my wishlist.

  7. CourtneyLee
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 13:21:56

    I love love LOVE contemporary MM romance with accepting families. There is only so much disapprove-relative angst I can take, which is why I tend to gravitate toward paranormal/scifi/futuristic MM. I enjoyed 18% Gray so I’ll have to look into this.

  8. CourtneyLee
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 13:23:50

    *disapproving, not disapprove. Where’s the edit button?

  9. Susan
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 16:45:24

    I don’t pay much attention to cover art anymore (although I probably should after @KKJ’s detailed analysis of this one), but that dopey title (sounds like a skeevy kind of children’s book) would have ensured that I never would have checked this out on my own. I’m with @Sarah in that I obviously have a lower kink level that you (I continue to cringe just at the review of Owned and Owner), but this was a great review and sounds more my speed. Click, I bought it!

    Hmm. I’m obviously addicted to parentheses today.

  10. jayhjay
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 16:54:47

    Sarah, great review! I loved this one as well (as I think we may have discussed on Twitter). Totally agree with all your thoughts – and definitely agree that I’d love Collin’s story!

  11. Kaetrin
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 18:30:13

    off to go shopping! thx for the review Sarah :)

  12. Anne Tenino
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 18:55:53

    So far, this is one of my favorite reviews. I can’t apologize for the title, sorry—it’s one of those whacky things that cracks me up—but the ending thing…yeah. IDK why but they’re my weakness. I’m working on it. I do have a short scene I just wrote about these two that might get put out as a freebie eventually. I’m still working on it, and I need to wait until Rachel (my editor) has some free time.

    This is one of those reviews I’ll save for future reference. It’s dual-purpose; for bad days when I’m convinced I can’t write and also good for those days when I’m convinced I can write better if someone would just give me some direction.

  13. Hannah E.
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 21:12:37

    I read your review, then I read an excerpt, and now I’m probably going to have to buy this book. It’s a struggle, though, because my usually price limit on ebooks is $6.00. If it costs more than that, I don’t buy it, regardless of how much I love the author, or how good the excerpt is. I might make an exception for this one.

  14. Anne V
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 21:31:58

    @Hannah – fwiw, I have a similar limit ($7 for first time authors) and I’ve been trying to buy fewer and better books (I read too fast and am prone to settling for dreck) but I bought this anyway, and I’m glad I took the chance. It’s a keeper, and I’ll reread it, and (magical thinking/rationalization alert!) that makes me feel like it somehow cost less, because I will read it more than once.

  15. Mary G
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 23:39:07

    I loved this book too – in one sitting. Beyond the hot sex, I loved the emotions between them. The wonder, contentment & what it meant, this delicious little secret you know before the H & H do. Well before Seb anyway.

  16. Jenny
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 10:39:21

    See, this is why I love to read well-written, thought out reviews. I probably would’ve taken a pass on this one based on the blurb, the price and the cover art (which, I’m sorry, but I don’t like. What is he looking down at?), but because I trust Sarah’s tastes, I’m off to buy.

  17. Hannah E.
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 11:59:30

    @Anne V: Hurrah for rationalizations! I have already read the excerpt twice, so I’m guessing I’ll get multiple reads out of this book.

    @Anne Tenino: Love the title. It makes me smile. And that is the most tasteful author comment on a review that I’ve ever read.

  18. Lasha
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 13:58:10

    I loved 18% Gray and so I pre-ordered this one, but haven’t had a chance to read it. It now moves up my To-Read list and although I hate infidelity in m/m books, I am willing to see how this one goes since you said it was handled realistically. Thanks for the great review.

  19. Sirius
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 20:46:37

    Lasha, I really would not call what happens in this book an infidelity (IMO of course, your interpretation may vary) – to me they are so not near the level of any commitment when this happens, let me know what you thought. Loved the book Sarah, probably my favorite of all your recommendations which do not always work for me, but this one worked perfectly (even if I already had the book, it forced me to read it sooner).

  20. Jane Davitt
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 12:56:38

    I had this on my TBR pile so I went ahead and bought it. Don’t regret it, but I found it a little too easy a ride to really stick with me. The secondary characters felt more vivid than the two leads.

    I did enjoy the quirky humor running through the book (the scenes where he came out to his parents and later his fraternity were laugh aloud funny) but I think the story lost steam instead of gaining momentum and for such a short book (171 pages on my reader) that’s a shame.

  21. Avery Shy
    Mar 31, 2012 @ 23:29:34

    I’m considering reading this book BECAUSE of the title. Sounds like the author has a sense of humor to me! :D

  22. Sophia (FV)
    Apr 07, 2012 @ 11:24:04

    I was a little hesitant to pick this one up because of the price but this is the third favorable review I’ve read. Your recs are usually spot on for me so I think I’m going to grab it! Thanks!

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