Real men read romance! There I said it. No going back.
A year ago I wouldn’t have made such a bold statement, but Cheryl and her BFotB (Best Friend of the Blog) opened my eyes and I’ve now read a number of romance books. To be honest, I felt like I was dared into doing it. I mean, I had so many preconceived notions of what romance novels are about, then I made lots of dumb comments based on said preconceived notions until finally Cheryl forced one upon me so I could see what all the fuss was about.
So after I got over my preconceived notions about romance books, here are a few of the things I’ve learned…
- They are about female empowerment;
- They are about self discovery;
- They are about accepting the imperfections that make us human.
And what was this magic book that Cheryl suggested? Why, The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams. Lucky for you, there are now four books in the series, including: Undercover Bromance, Crazy Stupid Bromance, and coming soon Isn’t it Bromantic? I’m going to talk about all four here and to some degree they follow a fairly set pattern, but each one is enlightening and endearing in their own way.
<Side note: I will refer to the club as the BBC. Not to be confused with the real BBC. It’s just easier to type.>
Before I start talking about the plots of each book, Let me introduce you to some of the “bros” of the club. On the surface level they all have it made. These are the alpha male studs of Nashville – athletes, a club owner, and other men who have looks, money, and successful careers. To quote Anchorman, these are the type of guys that “men want to be and women want to be with.”
Of course looks can be deceiving, because each guy here is hurting or broken in some way. In fact, one of the many things I liked about the series was that each book addresses how we deal with idealized versions of ourselves (you know, the smiley faces on social media and that crap) versus what’s happening in real life. Like, how many times do we look on Instagram and see people living ‘the good life’ when they’re not? How many emails, ads and magazines are devoted to weight loss or dieting because we are told to care about how we look to others, instead of how healthy we are or how we feel about ourselves? And how often as men are we told to bury our feelings, because being emotionally open and vulnerable is unmanly? These notions are both self- and socially-destructive. Okay, done with my soapbox, now back to your regularly scheduled book review.
The Bromance Book Club focuses on Gavin Scott, successful baseball player, husband, and father. Until one fateful day he discovers that his wife has been faking it… forever… like he’s never satisfied in all of their years together. Angry and wounded, Gavin basically runs away from his wife Thea and their twin daughters. Enter Braden Mack, best friend, club owner, and a man who is known to have a way with the ladies. Mack also has a secret; he is the founder of a very special book club, one that uses romance books as instruction manuals on how to relate to women – relationships, romance, and sex. Mack and the gang take Gavin under their wing and with the help of a bodice-ripping romance work to open Gavin’s eyes to how he can please Thea and rekindle their relationship. Will Gavin save his marriage? Will Gavin learn to love himself, and in essence let others love him?
I was blown away by the book. I was incredibly impressed how Adams could so artfully take on the male psyche and write in a way that is totally relatable. I felt like she was using my voice and language and I found that so engaging and encouraging for romance as a whole. And lucky for me since I’m a bit late coming to the series there were more books for me to read without waiting.
Undercover Bromance, book two, explores the question, “Who is Braden Mack?” What do we know (or what do we find out in chapter one?) Braden is:
-a debonair bachelor
-a club owner
-the founder of the most exclusive underground book club in Nashville
-a man who will spend $1,000 for a cupcake on a date
Yes. Yes he does spend $1000 on a cupcake to impress a date. But he’s also
-a guy who really doesn’t have his life together.
This is a simple story of sexual harassment, spying, and love – more or less in that order. The story and discovery goes a little something like this:
-Girl (Liv, Thea’s sister) hates boy (Mack)
-Girl gets fired by her sexually-harassing boss and reluctantly turns to boy and his gang for help to bring down the big-bad.
-Girl still hates boy, but boy catches feelings for girl.
-Boy must turn to the BBC for help!
This is the story of Mack and Liv – they are loveable, stubborn, pains in the butt, and as you can imagine that means they are totally made for each other. To get the girl, Mack needs to not only help Liv expose her former boss, but also shed his reputation of a serial dater who can’t stay in a relationship and deal with his past so he can show Liv who he really is (and maybe also be okay with who he is). Will he succeed and will they live bromantically ever after?
I enjoyed Mack’s story and growth (and not just because when I look in the mirror I totally imagine myself as being debonair and willing to spend $1,000 on a cupcake). It’s nice to see his veneer of machismo disappear and see him as a relatable everyman rather than alpha male. As Mack learned, and something that most of us struggle with, we aren’t and can’t be perfect. Giving up that notion opens the door to happiness and building a successful relationship. Some books tell great stories, some books give us great life lessons, and some manage to artfully do both – well played here!
Adams also does a really nice job here of setting us up for the next books, so we’re not just talking about a one hit wonder. She’s on a roll with these funny and lovable guys.
Crazy Stupid Bromance is all about cybernerd Noah, new member of the BBC, and Alexis, Liv’s friend from the previous book. Noah is a cybersecurity expert who joined the gang in the previous book and now consults for many of Nashville’s rich and famous. Alexis is the owner of ToeBeans, a local cafe that has become relatively famous because of Alexis’s role in taking down the sexually harassing chef who tried to ruin Liv’s life in the last book.
Through the trials and tribulations of book two Noah and Alexis form a friendship, like one of those friendships that everyone around them is thinking “so when are these guys going to realize that they like each other and get on with it” type of relationship. They hang out all of the time, geek out to the same tv shows and movies, share tons of meals on the couch, and are basically there for and with each other ALL OF THE TIME.
Things are never that simple, are they? You see Noah lost his father when he was a teenager and is pretty angry about that all of the time. Alexis was raised by a single mother who sacrificed everything for her daughter with no support from her father. They’ve got some baggage, but just to make things more challenging for them, Alexis is approached by her father’s daughter (yes, her half-sister,) the child of the man she never met. Well he needs a kidney and nobody else is a match, so maybe Alexis will be. Of course, Alexis turns to Noah for moral and emotional support, which just brings them closer…and closer…until they fall into each other’s arms. This would be a very nice and clean happy ending, but as often happens there are complications and misunderstandings that derail their relationship, so can the BBC help Noah fix things with Alexis?
There is a lot that speaks to me here. The whole boy and girl like each other, but are afraid of ruining their friendship and are just incredibly stupid about it all is something I know about very well from first hand experience (see Cheryl’s description of our relationship here). Seeing how Noah and Alexis have to tear down the walls that they built overtime to protect themselves from pain is something that I’ve struggled with (I, too, lost my father at a young age, so I feel like I get Noah here), and speaking from experience it leads to a better and happier life. You can probably imagine how the book ends, but the journey is worth it!
And finally coming to a bookstore, library, and eReader near you soon, Isn’t it Bromantic?, the story of the Russian (Vlad) a bear-sized man and pro-hockey player who has the tenderest of hearts, and a wife he’s never lived with but loves.
<Side note: Vlad, oh Vlad! You may be my favorite character so far – your love for cheese, small furry animals, cheese (did I say that already), and your ability to cry at just about anything makes me want to be your friend and give you a hug.>
When Vlad is injured in a season-ending hockey play and his estranged wife comes to town to help with his recovery, things get complicated. Just like all the other members of the book club, Vlad and his wife Elena have a lot of emotional baggage that they need to deal with to get to their happily ever after. I mean we’re talking stuff with the Russian mob here, let alone Nashville’s underground cheese scene. In a great twist, it’s not just the Bromance Book Club that intervenes, but also Vlad’s divorcee neighbors who help these crazy kids open up to each other…and also help Vlad finish writing his very own romance story. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but this one may be my favorite book in the series so far.
There’s a lot to unpack here with the books.
First, in all of the stories and one of the lessons that the BBC bros discuss all of the time are inflection points. You know those moments where something really important happens and you need to make a big decision. The great thing with the BBC is that they talk about these critical moments in the romance books they read, and then of course they have the opportunities to apply them in their own lives. Not everything in life needs to be as dramatic as some of the scenarios they face, but the lessons hold just as true.
Second, I think that this niche really appeals to me for a number of reasons. I think the idea of coming at relationships and romance from the male perspective – that it’s not about how hot or sexy someone is – but it’s a lot more about believing that everyone is worthy of love speaks to me. It is easy for people to have a hard time loving themselves, and because of that they have a hard time believing they are worthy of someone else’s love.
Finally, I’ve got a thing for brassy women. This is something I love about Cheryl and it was reinforced by the female characters in this book (not to mention other romance books that I’ve read). One of the things that Cheryl and I discussed before I delved into this genre is how romance books have heroines that don’t need saving. They have strong, independent voices and know what they want (and what they deserve). It takes some time for each member of the BBC gang to see the woman that he loves not as somebody in need of saving, but somebody who deserves the best that he can offer of himself – not money or power, but love and vulnerability.
As I was reading the books, I started casting the characters as DC area notables (Netflix, since you’re turning this into a TV show you can use my ideas). It’s not a one-for-one, but I imagine the likes of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Zimmerman, Vernon Davis, Spike Mendelsohn, Bradley Beal, and of course Alex Ovechkin are in the club. Between Doolittle’s love for books and Ovi as the Russian Bear (sorry, Russian Machine), how could this not be the best book club ever?
When I was telling Cheryl about my take on the books, she said “It’s group therapy,” and she’s right. These men show the power of friendship and vulnerability. They are building lives that we can all aspire to – healthy, loving, and equal. And maybe the most important lesson is this – We all deserve to be loved, but that can never happen until we know who we are and can love ourselves.
So men, whether you read these romance books or others, get over yourselves. I want to be a better man and a better husband, because Cheryl and I both deserve it, and I’m going to say that reading romances will help.
The Bromance Book Club, published 2019
Undercover Bromance, published 2020
Crazy Stupid Bromance, published 2020
Isn’t it Bromantic?, expected release date: July 20, 2021
<A note from your friendly neighborhood blogger/librarian (aka Cheryl): Are you also a gentleman who might be interested in exploring this stereotypically female genre? Never fear! Lyssa Kay Adams is here to help you! She is starting a subscription box focused on men who want to read romance. Check it out:
I am totally signing Mr. Librarian up for this!!!>