REVIEW: The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
Dear Lyssa Kay Adams,
I was hooked by the premise of this book as soon as I saw the blurb. A group of guys who form a club and read romance novels (which they call “manuals” LOL) in order to fix/improve their relationships? Sign me up.
Gavin Scott is a Major League Baseball player for the fictional Nashville Legends. He fell in love with Thea at first sight. They started dating after he eventually worked up the courage to ask her out and three months later, thanks to a broken condom, Thea was pregnant with (as it turned out) twin girls (Ava and Amelia). Gavin proposed immediately but not out of obligation. He loved Thea and could not have been happier. He was a minor league player at the time they met but was called up to the big league shortly after and this obviously led to another huge change. Now, some years later, Gavin still loves Thea but was humiliated to find that she’s been faking orgasms with him since the twins were born. He didn’t react well to this revelation and after a month of tension, Thea kicked him out of home. And that’s where the book begins.
Some of the club members, one of whom is his best friend, arrive at Gavin’s hotel room where he’s nursing a powerful hangover and feeling very sorry for himself. After some questions they decide he’s a candidate for their “club” and they will try and help.
The members of the club come from a mix of backgrounds – some from the Legends, a business man, an NFL player and a Russian hockey player. The parts of the book where the guys are together are hilarious. Some of it was a little naff and over the top, sure but for the most part, I was happy enough to go along with it. And, perhaps it is juvenile of me but I could not help but laugh at Vlad’s “digestive problems”.
The first meeting, where Gavin basically knows nothing about why he’s there, is very funny.
Del turned around. “Everyone here?”
“Yeah,” Mack said. “In the basement. Is he ready for his initiation? I have to get that sheep back to the farm by midnight.”
At the hotel room in the initial scene, Gavin was given one instruction: don’t see his wife until after the first meeting. Unsurprisingly, he failed to follow this instruction and even more unsurprisingly, the guys are very unhappy about it.
“Everyone hurry up,” Del said. “We gotta get started. Dipshit here kissed his wife today.”
The room exploded. Heads swiveled. Chairs toppled. A hockey player in the corner swore in Russian.
“What the fuck, man?” Mack barked. “We told you not to go see her!”
A dude he recognized as Malcolm James, running back for the Nashville NFL team, choked on his beer. “Did you at least ask permission first, or was it a sneak-attack kiss?”
“Sneak attack, I guess?”
Yan smacked the back of his head. “That’s grand gesture shit, man! You can’t do that yet.”
I had thought the book would be entirely from the male MC’s perspective, but it is a dual POV book (third person, past tense), so readers learn about what’s going on not just in Gavin’s head but also Thea’s.
I enjoyed how romance novel tropes were thrown around by the guys in this book. (The parts which felt a just little forced were when they were talking feminism and patriarchy. Even so, I went with it.) But I wanted to address this:
“Romance novels are primarily written by women for women, and they’re entirely about how they want to be treated and what they want out of life and in a relationship. We read them to be more comfortable expressing ourselves and to look at things from their perspective.”
While the word “primarily” was in there, I’d have liked a little more inclusivity for genders other than “women” and for queer folks too. I understood where you were coming from with this line and let’s face it, the first bit – the “by women for women” is a common refrain. I just think we (Romancelandia “we”) would do well to broaden our references.
One other thing. While it amused me that romance novels were used as “instruction manuals” and while I do, absolutely, think there are things that folks can learn from reading romance (and not just about relationships), it seemed to me the narrative suggested that any one romance novel would do as well as another. Perhaps a bit more nuance here would have been useful.
I suppose the idea of the book club could have been manipulative. (It is a little manipulative. But not egregiously so IMO – I believe everyone practices a little manipulation here and there.) It could have been some kind of elaborate “pick up artist” type scam. But these guys are genuinely trying to improve their relationships and it is made explicit over the course of the book that they have to embrace some changes in themselves for it to work. It’s not just about a magic formula or being able to spout some fancy words or recreate some swoonworthy scenes from a book. And it is that which made all the difference. They weren’t trying to pull one over on the women in their lives. They were genuinely committed to saving their relationships.
As Gavin is introduced to the concept, he’s skeptical and the way the guys begin to convince him made me laugh (again).
“Reading romance make me know how much my wife and I see world differently, and how I need to be better job of speaking her language.”
“Ever said something to Thea that you thought was totally innocuous only to have her storm off and then claim for hours that she’s fine?” Malcolm asked.
“Or say something you thought was funny only to have her get super offended?”
“Well, yeah, but—”
Yan piped in. “Or tell her that you put the dishes in the dishwasher only to have her get all pissy about how you shouldn’t expect a gold star for doing what should be the responsibility of any adult in the goddamn house?”
A chill ran down his spine. “Have you guys been talking to her?”
Gavin is “assigned” a book – Courting the Countess – a fictional romance novel which has as it’s premise a marriage in trouble. It is therefore perfect “homework”. There are “excerpts” from the novel peppered throughout the story. My guess is that you didn’t write the whole book. It wasn’t necessary, after all. I’d imagine if there was an entire actual book and one was to clip out six or seven longish excerpts to showcase the story there would be things which didn’t quite flow or lacked context. Your challenge here was to “tell” the story very quickly and not skip anything important. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work all of the time. There were some continuity issues and there were a couple of times where an important factoid or piece of backstory was shoehorned in. I understood why it was there but had I read it in an actual book I’d have been scratching my head a little as to why I was being told then and there. Still, this is a fairly minor criticism; Courting the Countess is not a major part of the book.
The plan the guys come up with to help Gavin hinges on Gavin agreeing to give Thea an uncontested divorce and paying off their house for her if, within a set time, he can’t prove to her that they should stay together. Which is all fine as far as it goes but I didn’t really understand why Thea would go for it. Gavin is a MLB player. Presumably he earns big dollars. They don’t live in Graceland – frankly, I didn’t understand how the house wasn’t already paid off. I decided to go with it, but the income thing didn’t make all that much sense to me and the more I thought about it the less sense it made.
Another thing which had me confused is the age of the twins. Thea and Gavin have been married for three years. Thea was pregnant with the twins when they married so the twins have to be under three. They’re referred to in the book as “toddlers” which fits with that age. But they go to pre-school and dance class and their speech and development felt more like five-year-olds to me. I know kids can start dance class very young but with they way they were portrayed in the book I was constantly readjusting my mental image of how old they were.
The story is told in an engaging way, with some turns of phrase which struck me as very evocative.
He tasted like toothpaste and whiskey and a shot of long-lost dreams.
I liked both Thea and Gavin. A marriage-in-trouble story always runs the risk of either making one partner the villain and difficult to redeem, or presenting problems which seem less significant in reality than would pose an actual threat to a relationship. I think you threaded the needle well here. There was a little skimming over the issues and I would have liked a little more context as to just how the pair had gotten to where they were at the start of the book, but it also felt authentic without making me hate either of the protagonists.
The story takes place in a fairly short space of time in the off season and I’d have liked to have seen how Gavin and Thea navigate the demands of his career and hers going forward. It was obviously something which they had not succeeded at before and I didn’t have enough information about what was going to be different to be 100% confident about what their future would hold. However, they were talking to one another about important things so I did believe they could make it work. I just really wanted to know how.
I think I laughed the hardest when the guys were giving Gavin “flirting practice” near the beginning of the book. Honestly, there was wheezing involved. But underlying this was a genuine lack of confidence and fear on Gavin’s part that he wasn’t good enough. And, over the course of the book I understood just why Thea faking orgasms hit him right where it hurts. I mean, I understood on one level anyway, but it’s more than that with Gavin.
That said, I didn’t quite buy that he would not have known. Thea said that she only started faking after the twins were born. So the first months of their sex life was healthy and successful. How exactly did Gavin not notice when Thea started faking it? Particularly when, the set up of the book is that the one time after they’re married where she does not fake it is so blindingly obvious to Gavin that it causes him to rethink their entire post-marriage sex life. It’s a question that gets asked numerous times in the book but it’s never really answered.
Gavin has a stutter and I liked the way that Gavin’s teammates and family didn’t make an issue of it and just accepted him as he is. There are some characters who are unkind however so I mention it in case it’s a problem to some readers.
I think the book could have benefited from another 20 or so pages to round out some of the things which felt underdeveloped but, when viewed from the lens of “lighthearted rom-com” it works well and, I certainly did laugh.