- Sean Kennedy’s Tigers and Devils, published March 9, 2009 by Dreamspinner Press.
- Sequel to Tigers and Devils: Sean Kennedy’s Tigerland, published October 15, 2012 by Dreamspinner Press.
- Marie Sexton’s Promises, published January 7, 2012 by Dreamspinner Press.
- Kele Moon’s Starfish and Coffee, published October 15, 2012 by Loose Id.
I have written almost nothing about male/male romance on this site. Mainly because I’m not sure what to think of this subgenre that is about men but written mainly by women and read mainly by women (this is not 100% true as Sean Kennedy’s books show). Here’s the take from a gay man who reads m/m romance and his thoughts about its production and consumption.
This post from USA Today tries to tease out why this is a popular subgenre among women:
Beth Walker, the publisher at Secret Cravings Publishing, says, “We’ve found that the vast majority of readers of the m/m books are women — 95%, according to our sales.” She adds, “Why this is such a phenomenon, we aren’t sure, but the women love to read these types of stories. They still want romance as part of the book, though, and expect a deep connection between the characters.”
Why do female readers enjoy this type of novel? Comments posted online in a forum for romance readers may be enlightening. One writes, “It’s about the love, about love having no limitations and barriers based on gender.”
Another reader says, “I think from a romantic perspective, the appeal is that if love between two men, which was taboo for so long, can happen successfully, the take-away message is that anything, any happy ending, no matter what the obstacles are, is possible.”
Because I make it a point to not beat around any bushes, I will also note that there is one thing you can get in m/m romance that you cannot get in most m/f romance novels and that’s anal sex scenes (and this isn’t necessarily true, as Sean Kennedy’s books also show — he implies rather than describes). Even I have lines and this is one of them so I’m not going to go into any detail here beyond mentioning that. But let’s not pretend that that is not at least part of this.
I also wonder if there is a way that women’s ability to empathize works here to their advantage. By which I mean that women are so famously empathetic in our culture and much more able to see through the eyes of a male character than men are able to see through the eyes of a female one. With m/m romances, then, all these ladies who are reading them can imagine themselves equally as each protagonist because neither protagonist is marked by their sex (and normally gender) as “female” — there are no obvious characters in whom a female reader is supposed to imagine themselves (much harder to argue this with m/f romances).
Who knows. In the end, as is always true with whatever literature you are talking about, it helps when the novels are just damn good, like the four I’m reviewing today.
I decided to write this post because I happened to read the four books listed above pretty close together and all of them — ALL OF THEM — are very well written, sweet love stories. All four of them will end up on My Favorite Romance Novels list. And I assumed that at least some people who read this site probably like m/m romance, too, and may be looking for recommendations. And I like to share! I’m compelled to share! So, I’m sharing! (that’s enough exclamation points, I think)
Let’s start with Declan and Simon.
The most important things in Simon Murray’s life are football, friends, and film—in that order. His friends despair of him ever meeting someone, but despite his loneliness, Simon is cautious about looking for more. Then his best friends drag him to a party, where he barges into a football conversation and ends up defending the honour of star forward Declan Tyler—unaware that the athlete is present. In that first awkward meeting, neither man has any idea they will change each other’s lives forever.
Like his entire family, Simon revels in living in Melbourne, the home of Australian Rules football and mecca for serious fans. There, players are treated like gods—until they do something to fall out of public favour. This year, the public is taking Declan to task for suffering injuries outside his control, so Simon’s support is a bright spot.
But as Simon and Declan fumble toward a relationship, keeping Declan’s homosexuality a secret from well-meaning friends and an increasingly suspicious media becomes difficult. Nothing can stay hidden forever. Soon Declan will have to choose between the career he loves and the man he wants, and Simon has never been known to make things easy—for himself or for others.
There is nothing to not like about these two characters. Declan has a huge heart and he wears it on his sleeve even as he feels that he must hide who he is and his relationship with Simon in order to stay secure in his job in the football league. Simon, on the other hand, is a cynical grump who loves cautiously. He also has a clever pop culture reference at the ready. And when he does care, like he does about Declan, he dives all the way in (though, admittedly, he takes his time getting his feet wet first).
Reading how these two manage their secret and then not-secret relationship stirred my heart and I was invested in them early on. I was so invested that when I read that there was a sequel, I knew without a doubt that I would read it. And the sequel is just as good as the original — a true feat.
Here is a beautiful excerpt from Tigerland, after these two men have been together for years, spending most of that time under the spotlight and in the scrutiny of the public. They have run away from everything for a weekend and find themselves sitting together on a beach. This is told from the first-person perspective of Simon (both books are):
The sun was warm, but not hot. In fact, the wind coming off the water was cold and overrode any heat the sun was giving out. I reached forward and grabbed Dec’s hand. It pulled him back a little, and he turned, surprised. Then he smiled, a smile so full of love and tenderness it seemed to be brighter than everything around us—the white sand, the sun reflecting off the surface of the waves—it could envelop me and swallow me whole.
The mantra I often repeat to myself in one of these rare moments of PDA begins: This is for those times when I want to take his hand, or he wants to take mine, but we don’t feel safe enough. This is for those times other couples get to take for granted, but we have to snatch in limited amounts when they become available to us. This is for those times when I can’t do such a simple thing as hold the hand of Dec as the tiniest gesture of affection and to show him how much I love him.
Kennedy also does a great job with all the supporting characters. You really know, understand, and appreciate these people’s entire lives.
I give both Tigers and Devils and Tigerland 4.5 out of 5 stars.
I finished Marie Sexton’s Promises just yesterday. I could not stop reading this once I started.
Jared Thomas has lived his whole life in the small mountain town of Coda, Colorado. He can’t imagine living anywhere else. Unfortunately, the only other gay man in town is twice his age and used to be his teacher, so Jared is resigned to spending his life alone.
Until Matt Richards walks into his life, that is. Matt has just been hired by the Coda Police Department, and he and Jared immediately become friends. Matt claims he is straight, but for Jared, having a sexy friend like Matt is way too tempting. Facing Matt’s affair with a local woman, his disapproving family, and harassment from Matt’s co-workers, Jared fears they’ll never find a way to be together—if he can even convince Matt to try.
One of my favorite things is when a romance novel stretches across a large amount of time (a by “large,” I mean “a year” in this case). There is a build up here as Jared and Matt become friends and grow closer. Jared has known and accepted that he is gay for a long time and is out in his community. Matt, we come to find out, has had feelings for men before but never acted on them and never allowed himself to consider that they meant anything more than a momentary, fleeting feeling. When Matt chooses to be friends with Jared, close friends at that, he starts dealing with innuendo and assumptions about his sexuality long before he comes to terms with it. Matt wrestles with his feelings for Jared as Jared navigates how to remain friends with a man he loves, all eventually leading to the moment when Matt finally gives over to his lust (and love) for Jared.
There are major bumps in this new relationship. Matt does not know how to handle these feelings and he pushes Jared away, in fact walks away all together. In this scene, Matt has, all of sudden after weeks of avoiding Jared, showed up at Jared’s place, the morning after Jared slept with a man he often sees whenever that man passes through town (the book is told in the first-person perspective of Jared):
“No. I don’t love Cole. You know that.” I looked over at him. “If I had things my way, it would have been you in my bed last night. Last night and every night. But you have made it quite clear that you want nothing to do with me.”
He was staring at the wall about a foot above my head, and I knew he was struggling. He was angry and hurt and embarrassed, and I was pretty sure he was at least a little bit jealous too. “I love only you. But if you expect me to apologize for going on with my life after you walked out of it without a backward glance, you can go to hell.”
He stood there another minute, still not looking at me. Finally, he said, “I think I should go.”
“I think you should too.”
They work it out. But to do so, they have to work it out with their families, their jobs, each other. It is complicated and not always easy. Jared is not as comfortable with his identity as he seemed to be when he was single.
But they are delightful together, and when they are alone together basking in each other’s company, that feels easy.
I give Promises 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Last but not at all least, Kele Moon’s Starfish and Coffee.
On the island where they first met, two lovers from opposite sides of the tracks are reunited. Now jaded and broken, Alex and Matt still can’t deny their sizzling connection or the memories of one perfect, uninhibited year together.
At twenty-two, Matt Tarrington is rich, good-looking and destined to be powerful, but behind that confident exterior lurks a man who resents the life his family thrust upon him. Desperate for an escape, Matt heads to Mirabella Island off the coast of Florida for a year of relaxation and some wild nights with vacationing party-girls.
Matt never expected to find real passion in the arms of Alex Hunter, a handsome, laid-back local.
Alex is gay, but closeted. Matt should be completely off limits, but Alex finds the deeply in denial rich boy too tempting to ignore. Especially when a bet has them working together, fighting the heat in the rundown, beachside cafe where Alex sweats for every dollar.
Their love felt inevitable until youth left them vulnerable to hatred and greed. Now after six years of hating the lies they live, Alex and Matt will have to risk it all for the second chance they both desperately need.
Loved this loved this loved this (can that be my whole review?)
Alex is closeted but not at all confused about who he is attracted to. Matt, unlike Matt in Promises, is confused but seems to be willing to explore what he feels. While Alex can seem like a total arrogant asshole, he clearly likes Matt and, from early on, cares for him. Matt, like Declan in Tigers and Devils, once he puts his heart into his relationship with Alex, wears that heart out in the open, holding nothing back.
They are hot together (I mean, HOT), they are sweet together, they are good together until their secret relationship is thrust into the spotlight and interfering parties push them apart. One of them makes a poor, insecure decision that separates them for years.
The book starts in the present with much of it a prolonged flashback. And then it ends with us watching how these two men find each other after many years apart:
It probably would be in his best interest to go, because his entire being was throbbing with sexual desire and a need for contact. Matt felt as if he’d been drowning for six years, and Alex was suddenly the air he needed to breathe. It took more strength than he knew he had not to cross the kitchen and close the space between them.
There is a very clean wrap-up (almost too clean for all the characters involved) but by the time we reached that point, I was so emotionally exhausted from the roller coaster of this book that I was more than ready to cheer for everybody.
Here’s the biggest compliment I ever give a romance novel: I went back and re-read huge sections of this book almost immediately upon finishing it.
I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I give Starfish and Coffee 5 out of 5 stars.