Sunita’s m/m reads for spring and summer 2013
I haven’t stopped reading gay fiction, but I find myself reading fewer and fewer m/m stories these days, especially compared to the amount I used to read. I’m continuing with the Brandstetter series, as well as with Michael Nava’s Henry Rios mysteries, and I’ve picked up recent and not-so-recent mainstream and literary novels with romance subplots. But the direction that so much of m/m romance has taken lately isn’t working for me. I’ll keep reading my favorite authors, though, and I’d love to have recommendations for more of the same.
Demolished by Astrid Amara
I’m a fan of Amara’s other books (especially her contribution to the Irregulars anthology and Carol of the Bellskis) so I picked up this contemporary. The characters are as likeable and amusing as ever. The book features two characters who are in college, so it might be considered NA; it’s not about their coming of age, per se, but it is somewhat about them finding themselves and figuring out the future. Calvin and Felix are out, gay men in their early 20s, living in Bellingham, Washington. They meet on a Grindr-like sex/hookup website, but when they make a face-to-face appointment they discover they knew each other in high school, and Calvin has hated Felix since their senior year. So much for the fantasy hookup, but fairly quickly Felix is able to show Calvin that he was operating under mistaken assumptions, and they begin a tentative relationship. At the same time, Calvin is finishing college and trying to figure out what is going on with his nephew, Robby, who is also gay and has changed from a happy-go-lucky high school student to someone with a secret that’s making him unhappy and volatile. This sets up a mystery that propels the plot and involves Calvin, Felix, and various other family and friends. I really liked the relationships and the voice, but the romance took a back seat to the mystery, the mystery wasn’t all that mysterious, and the villain was a stereotype. Most problematically for me, though, the story felt as if it was as much a cautionary tale as a contemporary romance, so the whole thing never came together for me. Grade: B-/C+
See the Light by Cassandra Carr
I picked this up because I’m always looking for sports romances and I like hockey. But what a disappointment it turned out to be. Nominally, the story is about Jason, a young NHL hockey star, and Patrick, a retired player turned coach, who are brought together on the US hockey team as it prepares for the upcoming Winter Olympics. Unfortunately, there is almost no time in the book that is spent on the game or on hockey relationships. Jason and Patrick lust after each other like obsessed teenagers, meet clandestinely to have sex, and masturbate a lot. There is also an obsession with topping/bottoming and whether or not the newbie gay guy will be willing to bottom. I didn’t find the sex scenes particularly sexy, which is a shame because there are a lot of sex scenes, and it’s a hockey book with very little about what makes hockey and hockey players fun to follow (except for endless discussions of their fab bodies), The storyline sets up scenes at the Winter Olympics, but when we finally get there, the hockey disappears in favor of the drama. Before that, Jason and Patrick agonize over being separated, because apparently the 90 miles tht separate Newark from Philadelphia create such a difficult commute during the season that getting together is a major hassle. There is a big reveal after the Terrible Event That Shows Us What Really Matters and then boom, no follow up, the book just ends. And while the athletes are closeted for most of the book and worried about being outed, when they do finally come out, there’s very little reaction. There’s better fanfiction out there, for free, if you want to read hockey slash. Grade: D
By Chance by Cat Grant
This is the first installment in Grant’s Courtland Chronicles series. It’s another college-set romance, this time featuring an outgoing jock and an introverted rich kid. The The novella starts out strongly with a clever hook and immediately relatable characters. Grant presents a believable, accurate picture of Columbia University and college life; nothing feels “off,”and I’m a tough critic since I once knew the place very well. The writing is smooth and the main characters feel like individuals rather than cookie-cutter products. Eric Courtland, the introverted rich kid, is refreshingly prickly and difficult to warm to, and he doesn’t completely lose that quality even when we get to know him better. Nick Thompson, the outgoing jock, conforms to some jock stereotypes and contradicts others, and their circle of friends are similarly individual.
The strong first half loses steam in the second half; there’s plenty of action and conflict but it feels less organic, more told than shown. Unlike a lot of NA or NA-type books right now, it doesn’t have the emotional wallop of traumas and crises that epitomize that period of one’s life. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this first book enough that I’ve put the next one on my TBR. Reader warning, though: a later installment introduces a woman character, so if you like your m/m to stay m/m, you might not want to plan to read beyond this, which is chronologically the first book and has an HFN resolution. Grade: B-
Blood Red Butterfly by Josh Lanyon
Toward the end of his sabbatical last year, Josh Lanyon released this manga-influenced detective novel. Detective Ryo Miller is investigating a homicide and unraveling the role of manga artist Kai Tashiro is essential to solving it. The mystery isn’t who did it but rather how the killer got away with it since no other credible suspects are put forward. Both the characters and the writing style are less coolly depicted than in other Lanyon mysteries, the overall mood is more emotional in the style that some manga is emotional, and the words evoke the drawings (I was frequently seeing manga panels in my head as I was reading). Both Ryo and Kai are alluring as characters, and the setting is vivid and engrossing. I want to stress that I can’t speak to the authenticity of the manga representation, because while I’ve read a number of stories I’m definitely an ignorant consumer of the medium. It felt like a particular type of manga, not just BL but one of the less complex versions. The ending is a bit ambiguous and very abrupt (even for a Lanyon novel). I’m still not entirely sure how the deception and murder took place, and if it happened the way I think it did I don’t entirely buy it. The novella doesn’t really work, in the end, but it made me think, and I enjoyed watching an autobuy author try an experiment out of his comfort zone. Grade: B-
Save the Date by Kate McMurray
Even when McMurray’s books don’t entirely work for me, I like the voice and the characters, so I picked this novella up. It’s a very simple story: Tristan needs date for ex-boyfriend Stuart’s Formal Gay Wedding and serendipitously discovers that his supposedly straight good friend Darren is not only gay but has had a crush on him for a while. They get together but of course the path of friends-to-lovers doesn’t run smoothly, friends and family react in supportive and not-so-supportive ways, but eventually they work through it, with time out for angst over past loves, weddings, permanent relationships, and football. So yes, it’s predictable in its plot and characterizations, but the writing is relaxed and smooth, the narrator is appealing, and the supporting cast is slightly clichéd but generally well depicted. And yet I ended the story frustrated, because I am convinced that McMurray has a really good, maybe even great, novel in her, and this isn’t it. It’s a slice of life, an episode in a larger, potentially more interesting story. I want the whole package. So I’ll undoubtedly keep reading this author, waiting for the book that hits it out of the park. Grade: B-/C+
Thanks for your reviews! Demolished is high on my TBR list. (I love Astrid Amara’s writing too. She’s really underrated.)
As for recommendations, probably the most striking thing I’ve read lately is the new adult title The Foxhole Court by Nora Sakavic (and its sequel, the Raven King.) It’s hard to describe, but it’s refreshingly different, and is a mix of sports, college, and crime/mafia families (and a lot of UST.)
My only warning is that there is no m/m romance in the first two books (only hints, since the MC himself is oblivious to romance, although the people around him are not.) I think the romance parts are being saved for book 3 (….or that’s what I hope, because I’m about to die from that UST.)
Wow, nothing higher than a B- grade. What direction would you like your m/m romance to go?
I loved “Demolished” but understand what you are saying about cautionary tale. Lanyon’s novella worked for me pretty much same as it did for you. Thanks for note about Cat Grant’s second book – that’s a pass for me. I want women in my m/m stories to be strong and awesome and have their own secondary love stories and have sex, etc. I do not love story turning into ménage in the next book. Oh well, I always love reading your recommendations .
There is something SERIOUSLY wrong with the torso on SEE THE LIGHT. The portion between the belly button and the top of the jeans is at least double the length it should be (and it’s not because the jeans are low-slung).
I didn’t finish Blood Red Butterfly. Even though I wanted to like it and was looking forward to new work from Lanyon, the set up bothered me. As I get older, it becomes a lot harder for me suspend disbelief for things related to criminal procedure, and the idea of the primary investigator hooking up with the alibi for the suspect is so Not Right, professionally speaking, that I couldn’t get past it, at least not the way it was presented.
Despite the low grade, I like Amara enough to give Demolished a try.
Uh, on the front of hockey slash…I don’t even *like* hockey, yet I’ve been persuaded to try it. It’s not awful? But it doesn’t make me any more disposed to watching hockey.
@Isobel Carr: That creeped me out too. He is missing important, ah, parts.
@Isobel Carr: He looks bloated, too.
Lanyon’s the only author I recognize here. I think I’ve read everything he has out there. . . except for this book, which I’m still not tempted to try.
Hmmm . . . not sure what you mean by “direction not working for you” . . . but I too am reading the Brandstetter mysteries and just recently glommed all the Michael Nava Rios’ novels as well. They are both excellent, IMO. Josh Lanyon is a favorite of mine too. So, using those writers as a basis for comparison, I’d recommend Elle Parker’s Dino Martini novels (there are only two) and AJ Thomas’ “A Casual Weekend Thing” to you. Have recently enjoyed all 3 books; and Parker’s two are full of fabulous female characters who take nothing away from the m/m MCs or the storylines.
Huh. I’ve been reading less m/m books as well, but I thought it was just me. What’s the trend in m/m books that you haven’t liked? So far this year my favorite published m/m reads have been by James Buchanan, Anne Tenino, Abigail Roux, and a couple others that I can’t remember right now.
I am however eagerly awaiting Jordan Price Castillo’s next PsyCop novel, whenever that’s going to be released.
ETA: And I forgot to mention the Young Avengers comic books. It isn’t strictly a romance, but there is a m/m romance in there that I adore, plus it’s just a really fun series.
Missed seeing this post earlier…I’ve been enjoying the David Brandstetter mysteries, too, as you already know. Very atmospheric with credible characters and situations. The series has been a breath of fresh air since nothing was working for me reading wise.
I’ve read most of the authors in this list, but none of these books.
Hmm, recent m/m romances I enjoyed. I liked Unhinge The Universe by Aleksandr Voinov and LA Witt a lot, although it’s definitely not for everyone (and I’m still not sure if the fact that I liked it is problematic or not). Also liked Broken Triangle by Alexa Snow and Jane Davitt – fun to read an m/m with more sexual tension than actual sex. And I enjoyed Josephine Myles’ anthology Blooming Marvelous.
@Isobel Carr: I suppose he could be short-waisted, but even so, the proportions are just wrong.
Thanks so much for all the suggestions, everyone! I am writing them down. Some of them are authors I’ve already tried, but many are new to me, or timely reminders of authors I meant to try but haven’t yet.
@TTG: See, I’ve never heard of that series. I don’t mind waiting although I can get fed up with too much UST. But it’s entirely dependent on the way it’s handled.
@Jayne: Short answer: more grownup behavior, more characters that feel like people I run across in real life, more believability overall.
@Sirius: Yes, a lot of readers were upset by the switch in the Grant series. I’m curious so I’m going to keep going.
@Isobel Carr: @Dabney: I am so glad I didn’t notice that or my mini-review would have been even more annoyed-sounding. It is *very* strange. I want to unsee it now.
@jmc: I can totally understand your reaction to the Lanyon, I have that reaction on issues that I have too much knowledge about. I think in this case I chalked it up to the manga spin and went with it. The hockey slash thing is weird, because a lot of it (including some good stuff) is written by people who don’t know or care about hockey. Carr does, I believe, which is why I hoped for more actually hockey content. I think you might enjoy the Amara. I did, despite my caveats. I was probably disproportionately disappointed because I like some of her work very much.
@Susan: I think if the excerpt/sample doesn’t make you want to read it, it’s not for you.
@NBLibGirl: Oh, great suggestions, thanks! I started the first Dino Martini book and got distracted, but I liked what I read. And the new Psycop is out at the end of this month, I believe. I am working on a review of the first three Henry Rios mysteries, similar to what I did with the Brandstetters. I think both series are amazing, and in each case when I reread they get better.
@Dana S: I need to go back to Buchanan’s books. I read a couple years ago and was impressed.
@Keishon: I am hoarding those books for rainy days, although I can always reread. There are quite a few good gay mystery/romance series that I need to start or continue, although Hansen and Nava are pretty much the gold standard.
@cleo: I’m of two minds on the Voinov/Witt and haven’t been able to pull the trigger yet. I do like Snow and Davitt’s collaborations, so thanks for the reminder of that one!
More generally, the directions that m/m has gone in that don’t work for me fall into two categories: (1) the “two broken men find each other” syndrome, and (2) the heavy reliance on tropes, ranging from hurt/comfort to Gay4U to “cause” romances that redress real-world inequality in a fantasy-world framework (even though it’s nominally a contemporary romance).
On (1), I like vulnerability and imperfect people finding love as much as the next reader, but so many m/m books go way over the top. There are an awful lot of stories in which either or both characters are “damaged,” whether because of horrible childhoods, adult traumas, physical/mental disabilities, or a combination of the above. All too often I feel as if the characters need years of intensive therapy rather than the true love of Mr. Perfect. I realize these are fantasies, but they’re not my fantasy. Lots of readers love them and lots of authors love to write them, so it’s a reader-author win-win, but I feel as if they’re crowding out other types of stories.
On (2), I get that every genre has set pieces that readers enjoy, it’s part of the genre’s ability to provide comfort reads. But again, they feel so dominant to me these days. So much angst, so much predictability in the storylines, all improbably wrapped up in an HFN/HEA at the end of the story (which is more often than not a novella, so the wrapup has to be done in a truncated word count). When genres become all about the tropes, rather than all about the people or the relationships, I think they suffer.
Also, I’m totally burnt out on anatomical sex scenes. This is true for me in both m/f and m/m. I don’t need to have every single action described to me. I don’t need to know exactly how ripped Mr. Perfect’s abs are. I want the whole person, not repeated invocations of body parts.
@Sunita, Foxhole Court is a good series, (and like any good drug, the first novel is free from Amazon and Smashwords.) I’ll only be disappointed if the UST doesn’t go anywhere in the next volume, but the author has talked on her blog of actual future progress, so I am ever hopeful. I recommend trying it if you’re looking for something not-the-norm. It’s turned out to be one of my fave m/m reads for the year, partially because it’s so…different, and very hard to predict how the story would go.
I read the Brandstetter series years ago, fantastic series, and it set a high bar. Richard Mark Zubro is a possibility; he doesn’t write as well Hanson, but his stories are mysteries in which the detective and his lover are gay, and the issues are ‘real world’ issues. Tony Fennelly also did several gay mysteries, which are on the light side, but good with good characters.
I love m/m stories, particularly mystery, where the plot is the catalyst for character interaction. While I want relationships in my books and the issues that go with trying to have a relationship (the ‘romance’ elements, I would call them), I prefer ‘not first time’ stories, but stories where the characters are out of the first blush of love and into the hard work of trying to make the relationship work in the face of ‘life’. I don’t mind ‘first time’ stories if the ‘coming together’ is a built into strong characters getting to know each other on their own terms and around or because of what’s going on in the plot of the story.
I look forward to your reviews of the Rios series. – Fara
Sunita, I hope you don’t mind me rambling a bit more – because I am curious on the prevalence of various tropes thing and what it all means. You know I agree with you on two damaged people (shall we say sometimes VERY VERY damaged people) meeting each other and healing each other. Picture me doing a head desk and screaming at the book – it does not work that way, please go to therapy ASAP before you are going to be together forever. PTSD ( just using it because it is pictured so often in m/m romances) will not disappear just because you met the person you love, and many other mental illnesses will not either. They do not pull that with physical illnesses ( wait, no, I forgot – I read at least one book where the guy who was never supposed to be walking did at the end. OY), so why mental illnesses are a different thing beats me. Have to say though – I do see some improvement in that area, in a sense that therapy is mentioned more and in some books improvement takes place independently of falling in love. I like that.
What I am curious about is what seems to be your unhappiness with the tropes in general. I am not talking about any specific trope ( like lots of extreme varieties of GFY irritate me too), but weren’t tropes prevailing in romance for a longest time? I hope I am not sound accusatory or something, I just want to know. Are you also unhappy with tropes in m/f romance? As you know I read little of it now but I do read some and even when I read more in my youth I remember secret babies, friends becoming lovers, virginal heroines , etc being all there. I guess my true question is that in my view romance always had plenty of familiar plot turns and good romance book was about writer taking something familiar and twisting it and making his or her own. Like it will be a comfort read and still something new. I always expect something familiar to be present in romance, although I am always pleased when writer builds something new based on something seemingly familiar if that makes sense. Not sure if I am even asking a question here but would love to hear your opinion :).
I do have to agree with you though about happy ending, I love it and wanted, but the shorter the story is usually the less certain ending is often much more appropriate and often – let’s get married after we knew each other for a day ( exaggerating but not much) feels really silly to me.
Thanks so much Sunita.
Thanks for the clarifications! I quickly retract the recommendation for A Casual Weekend Thing because both characters are very damaged (which I’m sure you noticed when you checked it out and is the reason you didn’t mention it when responding to my post ;-). I think Thomas does a reasonable job of using the damage within the context of her story and both characters acknowledge it throughout – even at the end – that they have/will continue to deal with their baggage. Thomas isn’t the prose writer Hansen/Nava are but the plotting of the mystery worked, and the romance was secondary to the plot (less an excuse to string sex scenes together). So the book worked for me.
Parker’s Dino series, on the other hand, is about people you might know. It’s a much lighter read, the crimes are pretty ordinary (although no less well plotted) and the characters act like grownups. I’m surprised not to have found them on more lists of good m/m reads. PWNN over at AAR recommended them.
I think what we are all talking about/looking for are books that are “well-written”: plots that make sense and are interesting, with characters that are/act like people with whom we want to spend our time. I don’t think it is the “tropes” per se that are the problem. I just think there is a lot of bad stuff out there. First, there are books that are just bad all the way around. And second, sometimes I get the feeling that I’ve gotten a pretty detailed outline or a good first draft of a book that still needs to be “written” (filled out with details about characters and plot points) before being published. In other words, a great idea for a book that isn’t quite there yet. When we’re lucky, we find a really good book.
@NBLibGirl: Definitely – there is a lot of bad stuff out there, I completely agree. I was and am curious about how tropes may have influenced Sunita’s unhappiness, but I by no means dispute that there are many not well written books out there, I have read a lot of them myself :)
@Sunita: I may have resisted the Lanyon book, but I checked out the other recommendations and well, let’s just say I didn’t escape unscathed. I’ll also be watching out or the new Psycop. Thanks to everyone.
@everyone waiting for the new psycop, I’m pretty sure it’s due out the end of this month, yay!
@Sirius: Great question. I thought about expanding on this in my previous comment but it was already long so I condensed it. You’re absolutely right that tropes are prevalent in m/f romance, indeed, every genre has them, and not all bother me (and some I very much like, e.g., marriage of convenience, and I happily read certain authors who repeat character and plot aspects).
I think about it this way: tropes work best for me when they are scaffolding, not unlike the frame of a building. Buildings can have identical frames but then gain individuality by the ways in which those frames are covered, decorated, etc. In fiction the particular characters, storyline and plot details, and writing styles are the covering and the decoration. So two marriage of convenience stories can be very different depending on the author choices.
What I don’t like is when the scaffolding becomes an end in itself, and the characters, plot, and writing styles use tropes as shortcuts. When that happens the story becomes predictable and kind of dull. Or, alternatively, the tropes are turned up to 11, and a hurt/comfort trope goes OTT for torture, or emotional breakdowns, or something similar.
I think trope abuse in m/m is harder for me to take because some of the most common tropes already fall at the margins of my preferences.
@NBLibGirl: I’ll still look at Casual Weekend Thing, because in the hands of the right author I’ll read setups I usually run from. If there’s one thing I’ve learned reading fiction, it’s to never say never. ;)
I agree that there are a lot of books out there that read as if they’ve never had a hatchet taken to them by someone who is determined to make the book a lot better. I come from a writing culture in which you write at least two drafts before seeking outside feedback and then hand the piece over to someone you can trust to take it apart (for its own good). Then you write at least one more draft, then you submit it to a publisher, then you get feedback from the publisher’s reviewers and/or editors, rewrite it again etc. etc. I don’t think that’s the norm in m/m (or increasingly in many genres), if only because the timeline from first draft to published story is becoming so short. That’s not the only reason, but it’s a big one.
I just recently saw links to a couple of articles that argue against ruthless editing and multiple drafts. There may be a few published works that would have benefited from those strategies, but I don’t think most would, at least not the stuff I’m reading.
@Sunita – I like your trope as scaffolding analogy. That makes a lot of sense to me.
@Sirius – I agree with you about love magically curing PTSD or mental illness – those romances make me so angry. Like you, I also see improvement – mentions of therapy, medications, characters who are inspired by meeting their hero to seek out help or take better care of themselves. Out from the Cold by LA Witt is the most recent example I’ve read – both heroes have PTSD. One has a flash back and the other helps him using a technique he learned in therapy. The first h is like, oh, I didn’t know you could really treat PTSD – that helped, maybe I should go to therapy too.
I personally love romances (mm or mf or other) with two damaged people who help each other heal from / reconcile with their pasts (or their families). When it’s done well (or at least to my quirky but exacting standards) I find it incredibly emotionally satisfying. Perhaps that’s why I keep reading m/m – I am a complete sucker for romances where the h/h have to work for their hfn or hea. I keep picking up these damaged hero mm romances and while some infuriate me, enough of them work for me that I keep reading them.
@Sunita: I think I understand now, thanks. Basically what you are saying is that you are ok with trope being a very general framework which may be the basis for some fresh, unusual characterization and interesting plot, but you do not like when trope pretty much defines the story and every story with the same trope basically becomes the same story? If yes, it makes sense to me. Thanks again.
@cleo: I LOVED “Out from the cold” – excellent example of the story I enjoy with such or similar theme, thank you. I have seen reviews for that story which said that story was depressing. Well, both guys are ill, they are not going to recover miraculously even at the end of the story when it is clear that they love each other and will work to make their relationship work. Yeah, it is not a very happy story for the majority of page space, but to me it was a very satisfying story.
Also love the scaffolding analogy . . . at least I interpret it to mean essentially the same thing I was trying to say: it’s what a writer does with their story/scaffolding (plot, characters, settings, etc.) that makes the difference between a good and a bad read for me. Thank heavens there are people like you who are better at explaining these things than myself! And I’d love to know what you (or others) think of A Casual Weekend Thing if you get to it . . .
@Sirius – I loved it too! Do you have other mm recs in that vein? I think you’re much more widely read in mm than I am. So far my other favorites of that type
are A Quiet Gentleman by Heidi Cullinan and Between Sinners and Saints by Marie Sexton and to a lesser degree Dirty Laundry by Heidi Cullinan. And Nine Lights over Edinburgh by Harper Fox. I’ve read too many disappointing mm of this sort to name but I really hated Driftwood by Harper Fox.
@cleo: I’m coming to realize that I don’t read for particular tropes much. There are some I like more than others, but it’s really about how well executed the story is. I rarely comment on posts that discuss bulletproof tropes, because I don’t approach my reading that way (or if I do, I don’t have a conscious sense of it). Sometimes I wish I did, because it would be easier to find books that I really enjoy (across all genres). I have authors and general tropes (e.g., police procedurals in mysteries) but not much that is more specific.
@Sirius: Yes, exactly. Since I don’t read for particular tropes, the predictability works against rather than for my enjoyment. Unless it’s by author; you can’t get much more predictable than Betty Neels, after all.
@NBLibGirl: Yes, that’s how I meant it. I mashed up scaffolding and skeleton in my comment, I think, but luckily you all knew what I was talking about!
I plan to read a bunch of the recommendations here and try and do an omnibus review post of them. Don’t hold me to when, but I’ll work on it. ;)
@Sunita: You know what’s funny? When you phrased it that way, I do not think I read for the particular tropes either. I mean, no, no, scratch that – as you know I love ” from enemies to lovers” and will eagerly seek out any book which has that, unless a trusted friend tells me they hated it. But besides that – I do not seek out any tropes, if I like the author, or story comes recommended I will pretty much try anything as long as while I am reading in romance genre, it has happy or hopeful, or at least not tragic ending :).
@cleo: Oh ok, unfortunately if we are talking about how PTSD is handled in m/m romances, I do not have too many recommendations. Looks like you do read historicals? If you have not read “Bonds of earth” by G.N.Chevallier, I highly recommend it, I thought for historical (meaning that their treatment means were more limited, not that book was deficient, I thought it was superb) PTSD of the soldiers coming back from First World War was handled very well.
Also, in the same vain, but I cannot imagine if you read historicals that you have not read that one yet – “Whistling in the dark” by Tamara Allen.
Oh, I will be reviewing this one here sometime in the next few weeks, and it is not PTSD, but I was really impressed with how mental illness was handled (obviously as an outsider).
“Disasterology 101” by Taylor V. Donovan – really liked it.
Oh, this is not m/m and not romance, but I thought as far as portraying a character with PTSD it was amazing – “Sparta” by Roxane Robinson. And it even has a hopeful ending – not at all a magical cure ending though.
@ Sirius – thanks for the recs. I haven’t read any of them. I’ve read other Tamara Allens, but not Whistling in the Dark.
Cleo I hope you will like those books if you decide to pick them up. I just thought of another one, but this one comes with the caveat – I have not read it yet. It got massive thumbs up from my buddies with similar tastes – “Billy’s Bones” by Jamie Fessenden. Triggers for child abuse as far as I heard.
@Sunita: Reliance on tropes is actually one of my bugbears in pretty much any genre fiction, but for some reason I find it especially bad in romance. There are obviously exceptions (I forgave Anna Cowan’s Untamed its historical inaccuracies just because I found the characters so well-realised) but in roughly 70% of the novels I read I have an “oh, here we go” moment where I can skim a chunk of the book because I know pretty much where it’s taking me. That’s a problem in romance in general.
I think for me it really stung when m/m started to move more in the trope-reliant direction, though. I’ve always had my issues with the genre (straight women are evil! one of these men needs to double as the woman of the relationship!) but I now find it embodying some of the things I dislike about the romance genre in general in super-concentrated form. I’m especially saddened by how the m/m HEA is now virtually identical to the m/f HEA – marriage, white picket fence and, increasingly, babies. Also symptomatic of a wider issue within romance fiction, in my opinion, because as you said it crowds out other stories about different kinds of ways to be happy in your relationship, but I suppose I was hoping that as the LGBT romance genre grew it would challenge those tropes rather than fitting itself into them. Maybe that’s unfair of me.
@Rei: Yes, exactly. I’m not crazy about the Alcoholic But Brilliant At His Job Detective character in mysteries, but at least you get a variety of types within that setup. In romance the dominant tropes seem to create more predictability, somehow, or maybe I just see it more.
I’ve come to the point where I think of most of the men in m/m romance as “m/m men” rather than “gay men,” because in all too many books the range of character traits is both limited and the stuff of fantasy.
I don’t think it’s unfair, particularly given that readers and authors say repeatedly that they read m/m because it’s so different from m/f. And again, I’m all for a wide range of stories and characters. My complaint isn’t that there are “broken men find each other” and “two guys fall in love, get married, raise children” stories in m/m. My complaint is that there are *so many* of them that I can’t find the other stuff nearly as easily.
My complaint isn’t that there are “broken men find each other” and “two guys fall in love, get married, raise children” stories in m/m. My complaint is that there are *so many* of them that I can’t find the other stuff nearly as easily.
I like the way you put this – and I think it’s definitely a byproduct of what you say above, that so much of m/m – as opposed to gay (GREAT distinction) is based in recreating the traditional ‘romance’ construction. A big part of my attraction, decades ago when it was still gay fiction, was that the men were still – well, ‘men’. There was no ‘woman in pants’ emotional construction (a big part of what I love about Brandstetter and a lot of the Alyson-published gay novels). I do love a good story in which people find love. But I also love stories where that coming together is within the realm of who they are and what they are. The love story part of the story is even better when the characters are strong and ‘real’ in their own right, suffering from the actual problems of being how they are in a world that’s ‘real’, as we see it today or in the history, not an imagined, ideal world that isn’t one I recognize (well, unless it’s fantasy).
Coming in late… I really enjoyed this post and all the comments that followed. I’d be curious to hear about the gay fiction you’ve been reading, although I realize that might be outside of DA’s mandate. I look forward to trying out Nava and Hanson.