Skip to main content


Wouldn't you know it: After stating that I was mostly staying away from reading challenges in 2014,  I then spent most of January doing a reading challenge. A chance comment of mine during a conversation prompted my friend Sig to hold me to something I said in a reading report post several months before, about doing some research into gay romances with a view to finding some good ones. I'd read a few since then, but had not been too impressed.

Sig happens to love this genre and considers herself an expert on the subject. In the second week of January she handed me a Kindle loaded with a bunch of gay romances in various subgenres, including some of her favourites with various other stories thrown in for variety. She challenged (or rather ordered) me to read at least 10 of them, preferably at least one erotica story and one BDSM subgenre story.

By the way, I should say that by good ones I meant romances that have the qualities I like in a good straight romance: an interesting or thrilling story with strong emotions, engaging characters that undergo plausible development in the course of the narrative, no "sex instead of character development" scenes, no more than one sex scene per every 60-or-so pages and preferably only one long sex scene.

I have, in the past, been able to ignore an over-abundance of the last two items, but only when the first three items were in place. I usually get around them by skimming, and I can tell you: I did a fair amount of skimming through some of these stories. It seems that in gay romance - usually referred to as M/M romance - there must be sex in at least every other chapter. I found a handful of books that had less, and another handful in which the frequent sex scenes were short and written with enough skill and variation not to make me suspicious of an overuse of the "cut, shuffle and paste" technique, because, face it: there are only so many ways in which you can write a sex scene before they start getting repetitious.

Generally speaking, the fewer the sex scenes, the better the character development and story were, with the sex being used for verisimilitude and extra flavouring, rather than being the main focus of the story. Some, however, were just sex scenes strung together with the barest hint of a story and lead characters with the (admirable) physical charms but also unfortunately the plastic personalities of Action Man dolls.

All of these stories fall into the "all dessert and no main course" category of literature, although some are apple pie while others are meringues.

What I do find refreshing about M/M romances is that in the sex scenes, the authors tend to call things - both body parts and actions - by their names. Not necessarily medical names - penis is not a common word in these books - but rather the terms used in everyday talk. If you've read straight romances you will be familiar with the flowery evasive language and metaphors used in the sex scenes in about 95% of them. There aren't a whole lot of those in use in these books, and the language tends not to be as purple as in straight romances. For example, I only found one mention of the "velvet covered steel" kind in 20 books, which, had I been glomming straight romances, would have been a record. This plain language, of course, means that when taken out of context many of these sex scenes could easily be read as porn. It's the context, the story, and the feelings that temper them and make them erotic rather than pornographic.

A final interesting point is that of the 20 books by 14 authors, it seems only two authors are male. They, and about half of the others, go by gender-neutral author names - either initials or unisex names - while the rest go by recognisably female names. I have no way of knowing how many use pseudonyms and I didn't feel like going into the research to find out, but since this type of literature is out of the literary mainstream (although it seems to be slowly paddling towards it) and has certain associations some would consider shameful, I am assuming most of these names are pseudonyms.

So, will I continue reading M/M romances? I think I can safely say 'Yes' to that, but I will be careful in my choices before I start buying rather than borrowing them because, if you didn't already guess, I f***ing hate it when romance authors use sex to replace character development or to stuff plot holes, and I will need to find out which reviewers I can trust to help me avoid such books and which authors write the kinds of stories I like.
I'm working on the reading report, will post it later this week.


Popular posts from this blog

Book 40: The Martian by Andy Weir, audiobook read by Wil Wheaton

Note : This will be a general scattershot discussion about my thoughts on the book and the movie, and not a cohesive review. When movies are based on books I am interested in reading but haven't yet read, I generally wait to read the book until I have seen the movie, but when a movie is made based on a book I have already read, I try to abstain from rereading the book until I have seen the movie. The reason is simple: I am one of those people who can be reduced to near-incoherent rage when a movie severely alters the perfectly good story line of a beloved book, changes the ending beyond recognition or adds unnecessarily to the story ( The Hobbit , anyone?) without any apparent reason. I don't mind omissions of unnecessary parts so much (I did not, for example, become enraged to find Tom Bombadil missing from The Lord of the Rings ), because one expects that - movies based on books would be TV-series long if they tried to include everything, so the material must be pared down

List love: 10 recommended stories with cross-dressing characters

This trope is almost as old as literature, what with Achilles, Hercules and Athena all cross-dressing in the Greek myths, Thor and Odin disguising themselves as women in the Norse myths, and Arjuna doing the same in the Mahabaratha. In modern times it is most common in romance novels, especially historicals in which a heroine often spends part of the book disguised as a boy, the hero sometimes falling for her while thinking she is a boy. Occasionally a hero will cross-dress, using a female disguise to avoid recognition or to gain access to someplace where he would never be able to go as a man. However, the trope isn’t just found in romances, as may be seen in the list below, in which I recommend stories with a variety of cross-dressing characters. Unfortunately I was only able to dredge up from the depths of my memory two book-length stories I had read in which men cross-dress, so this is mostly a list of women dressed as men. Ghost Riders by Sharyn McCrumb. One of the interwove

Icelandic folk-tale: The Devil Takes a Wife

Stories of people who have made a deal with and then beaten the devil exist all over Christendom and even in literature. Here is a typical one: O nce upon a time there were a mother and daughter who lived together. They were rich and the daughter was considered a great catch and had many suitors, but she accepted no-one and it was the opinion of many that she intended to stay celebrate and serve God, being a very devout  woman. The devil didn’t like this at all and took on the form of a young man and proposed to the girl, intending to seduce her over to his side little by little. He insinuated himself into her good graces and charmed her so thoroughly that she accepted his suit and they were betrothed and eventually married. But when the time came for him to enter the marriage bed the girl was so pure and innocent that he couldn’t go near her. He excused himself by saying that he couldn’t sleep and needed a bath in order to go to sleep. A bath was prepared for him and in he went and