Novel Imagines an All-Male Romance Book Club

Posted by Cybil on November 1, 2019
Lyssa Kay Adams' new romantic comedy, The Bromance Book Club, was inspired by some rather unfunny topics: broken marriages, "bouts of pillow-punch fury and cake-eating fatalism" as the #MeToo movement exposed male predators, and toxic "locker room" masculinity.

The former journalist took all of that and turned it into a tale of an all-male romance novel book club, with a group of men who comb through HEAs to figure out what went wrong in their own relationships. Adams talked to Goodreads about the power of the romance novel and the risks of real intimacy—and even shared her "starter" kit for men who'd like to start their own Bromance Book Club.

Goodreads: Do male romance book clubs exist? How did you get this idea for your twist on a second-chance romance?

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Lyssa Kay Adams: I am not aware of any existing male romance book clubs but would love to find out! And if someone is inspired to start one after reading The Bromance Book Club, I definitely want to know. So, you know, hit me up with an email.

The seed for this book was planted a few years ago, when I was brainstorming a marriage-in-trouble story, which is one of my favorite romance tropes. I wanted the story to be funny, but how the hell do you make a crumbling marriage funny? I thought it could lead to some hilarious mishaps and poignant breakthroughs if the husband character (Gavin Scott) decided to seek help from the romance novels his wife (Thea Scott) loved to read.

But as the idea evolved, I realized I wanted to do more than write a single funny book. Like many women, I spent much of 2016 and 2017 alternating between bouts of pillow-punch fury and cake-eating fatalism as the #MeToo movement exposed an entire roster of celebrity sexual abusers. And that was after we endured the nightmare of listening to a certain presidential candidate boast on tape (while his buddy laughed) that he thinks women’s genitals are literally up for grabs.

By 2018, I was fed up. Fed up with a code of masculinity that teaches men to bond over the shared sexual degradation of women. Fed up with an acceptance of “locker room” talk as normal discourse for groups of men. Fed up with the idea that men shouldn’t be expected to be better because boys will be boys.

After telling my husband that I was having visions of pummeling random men on the street until they cried, I realized I needed an outlet for my anger. That’s how The Bromance Book Club was formed. I envisioned an entire club of men who were actively helping each other shed the toxic handcuffs of misogyny and machoism by reading a genre that celebrates equality, consent, open communication, and sex positivity for everyone.

GR: In your book, men are reading romance novels in an attempt to repair their love lives. What do you think men could learn by reading romances?

LKA: Let me first say that of all the criticisms that get tossed at romance novels, the one I find most telling is that they somehow give women (only women, of course) unrealistic expectations about relationships. It’s such a self-own to admit you think it’s unrealistic to expect respect, equality, and good sex. Romance novels can teach you how to talk to your partner, how to touch your partner, and how to find out your partner’s preferred methods for talk and touch.

As for sex? Romance novelists help to strip away the mixed messages men and women are taught about pleasure. Pop culture and pornography tend to center the penetrative male gaze. Women are taught that their pleasure has to be earned, but male orgasm is a given.

But romance novels celebrate the full intimate experience, sometimes from the male point of view. We give men permission to be vulnerable, to admit that they are nervous, insecure, and emotional. We give women permission to embrace their sexuality, to expect equal satisfaction, and to ask for what they want.

The most important thing both my characters have to learn is that they both have to do some internal unpacking to fix their marriage. Both characters have dragged some heavy baggage into the relationship but initially resist cleaning out the lingering dirty laundry in their individual suitcases.

As the Bros tell Gavin at one point in the book, sometimes you have to open a vein to clean the wound. The thing you’re most afraid to talk about is the thing you must talk about. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be uncomfortable. But intimacy—real intimacy—requires both partners to poke at the things that hurt.

Those aren’t lessons that matter only to cis-het couples. These are important lessons for everyone in a relationship.

GR: What romance novels would you recommend for male readers?

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LKA: I have a romance starter kit!

For a celebration of nontoxic masculinity, I currently recommend the Dreamers series by Adriana Herrera, the Spindle Cove series by historical author Tessa Dare, and a new series launching next year about an all-male knitting club by Kwana Jackson. There’s no way you can read any of those authors and walk away still clinging to the notion that nontoxic men are any less manly, strong, or desirable.

To see what enthusiastic sexual consent looks and sounds like, try anything by contemporary author Rebecca Brooks or fellow rom-com authors Avery Flynn and Meika Usher. All three authors know how to make consent hot, sexy, and fun.

If you prefer your romance with a side dish of danger and dead bodies, I recommend Laura Griffin’s Tracer series.

GR: How did you address the differences between how men and women approach romance and winning back a love interest?

LKA: I dealt with the difference by showing that there shouldn’t be one. We need to shed the myth that there is a biological reason behind the way men and women approach relationships. Men aren’t born suppressing their emotional needs any more than women are born suppressing their physical ones. We’re taught to do so. So not only does the myth lock men into the role of uncommunicative, strong men and paints women as overly emotional—neither of which is fair—it also reinforces a restrictive, discriminatory gender binary.

Though the Bros have some funny conversations about learning to speak their wives’ unique love languages, ultimately what they learn is that respect, honesty, and vulnerability are genderless values.

GR: Of course, we love book clubs. Did you draw from any of your own observations being part of a book club when writing this book?

LKA: Do I lose author points if I admit that I’ve never belonged to an organized book club? I’ve always wanted to, but what I actually think I want is a “let’s swap books, drink wine, and eat cheese” club. Sign me up for that.

GR: What are some of your all-time-favorite books?

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LKA: My all-time-favorite book is called Prima Ballerina by Gladys Malvern. It’s an out-of-print novel published in the 1950s that tells the story of a ballerina on her first national tour with a ballet company. I discovered it in a library in Florida while on vacation with my aunt and uncle when I was 12 years old. It was the first book that truly transported me to another world. I read it twice in one week and never returned it. My dad finally sent the library a check to pay for it. I still read it sometimes.

Another all-time fave is a memoir called The Bullpen Gospels by former major-league pitcher Dirk Hayhurst. His stories about life as a minor leaguer made me laugh so hard that I had an asthma attack. I literally almost died from laughter. I read it while suffering a major allergic reaction to my mom’s cat, and the double whammy of unrelenting laughing and sneezing sent me to the hospital with blue lips.

My favorite romance is Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. It’s my security-blanket book. I read it once a year, and it’s like visiting old friends.

GR: What books are you currently reading and recommending to friends and family?

LKA: My favorite question! I love helping people discover new authors.

There’s a book coming out next spring that you should put on your radar screen called You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle. It’s another “relationship in trouble” story about an engaged couple who are having doubts about their upcoming wedding. It’s a funny, poignant, and sexy story, and I think anyone who has ever been in a relationship will see at least a part of themselves in the book.

I mentioned Adriana Herrera earlier. I’m currently reading her latest, American Love Story. I want to just buy a hundred copies of this book and hand it out to people on the street.

Finally, I just finished a new nonfiction book called For the Love of Men: A New Vision for Mindful Masculinity by feminist filmmaker Liz Plank. It’s a page-turning must-read for anyone who wants to do the hard work of untangling our lives from the creeping vines of toxic masculinity. I read it in three hours while waiting for Discount Tire to dig an industrial staple out of my tire, and the conversation it sparked among the nearly all-male customer base was enlightening, hilarious, and kind of awkward.

GR: Tell us about the next book in this series. What can readers expect?

LKA: The next book is called Undercover Bromance and features two characters from the first book. The Bromance Book Club founder Braden Mack joins forces with Liv Papandreas, Thea’s cranky sister in book one, to expose and bring down her celebrity chef boss after Liv discovers he’s a serial sexual abuser. It’s an enemies-to-lovers escapade with a man-hating rooster, an ill-timed fart, and an HEA with a swoony kiss for the ages.

Lyssa Kay Adams ' novel The Bromance Book Club will be available on November 5. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)

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message 1: by Rainbowheart (new)

Rainbowheart All that sounds great, but the blurb describes the men as "alpha." How can you claim to write a feminist romance novel and then perpetuate some of the worst elements of toxic masculinity right in the summary? This is nothing but Red Pill and pick-up artist culture, sorting men into "alpha" and "beta."

~☆~Autumn♥♥☔ Rainbowheart wrote: "All that sounds great, but the blurb describes the men as "alpha." How can you claim to write a feminist romance novel and then perpetuate some of the worst elements of toxic masculinity right in t..."

Excellent point! I try to never vote on those LIstopias with "alpha" males as right off those are skewed.

message 3: by 'Nathan (new)

'Nathan Burgoine I've belonged to all-men book clubs, and we've definitely read romance. Mind you, we tended to stick to gay romance, but still. We exist. ;)

message 4: by Drew (new)

Drew Humberd It's interesting that the author throws out there that these lessons don't apply only to cishet relationships. Are there any non-cishet relationships in the book?

message 5: by Jaye (new)

Jaye After just finishing a particularly disturbing romance novel, this arrived in my in-box at exactly the right time. I actually did a search for "woke romance novels" the other day and came up blank.

message 6: by Nick (new)

Nick Ziino Rainbowheart wrote: "All that sounds great, but the blurb describes the men as "alpha." How can you claim to write a feminist romance novel and then perpetuate some of the worst elements of toxic masculinity right in t..."
You're right.She should have said "strong".I'm a man,and I do sometimes read romance novels with strong male leads,like Navy SEALs,soldiers,policemen,and firefighters.

message 7: by MK (new)

MK So happy to see a mention of The Bullpen Gospels. Those and the sequels really shed a light on a lot of the performative masculinity that exists in sports. Hayhurst really lays his struggles bare and we're better for it.

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