Sweet Young Thang | Theta Alpha Gamma #3 | ISBN 9781626490321 | Riptide Publishing, 2013 | 5 out of 5 Points
Thanks to Collin Montes, Theta Alpha Gamma now welcomes gay and bisexual students. Persuading his Uncle Monty, president of the TAG Alumni Association, that the open approach won’t adversely affect TAG’s reputation is Collin’s own first step toward coming out. As long as there are no repercussions, he’ll escape the closet by graduation.
Enter repercussions, stage left: someone rigs the TAG House water heater to launch through the ceiling, then plants a bomb—thankfully unsuccessful—in the fraternity’s basement. Now Collin has his hands full not only trying to convince his uncle that this might not be the work of homophobes, but also dealing with a fratful of brothers worried about their kegger fridge.
Paramedic Eric Dixon can’t stop thinking about the kid he met during a call at his former college fraternity house. The age gap between them is trumped by sexy eyes, so when Eric sees Collin again at the bomb scene, he pursues him. Soon, Eric is dreaming of being a househusband, fighting to keep Collin safe from whoever’s trying to destroy the fraternity, and helping his sweet young thang realize that repercussions sometimes have silver linings.
I absolutely love Anne Tenino’s works. I’ve still not read all of her stuff, but I already know that I will soon run out of her stories, and then I’ll be a very whiny and very impatient Ludo. Tenino just has this ability to combine hilarious humor, gut-wrenching drama and smoking hot sex into stories that grab you by the neck and pull you all the way through them.
Sweet Young Thang is the third book in the Theta Alpha Gamma series I’ve read, and I honestly think that it’s the best in the series so far. Though I might be a bit biased here, because age difference in M/M romance is kind of my thing, and it’s done absolutely beautifully here. Eric is just the kind of caring, sweet older guy that I adore in this kind of romance, and Collin is so full of energy and potential even though his self-esteem has been eroded by a childhood and youth spend under the influence of an extremely controlling authority figure; they just seem to be what the other needs, and I love this kind of relationship in my romance novels. Of course they have some hang-ups – but they also both know when to apologize, even when they weren’t outright being dicks, just disagreeing on something that’s an important part of the life for both of them.
It’s just this beautiful, sweet relationship that starts with a bang and keeps smoldering until both Eric and Collin are burning for each other for good. Both the romance scenes and the sex scenes are absolutely lovely, if a little on the vanilla side (if you read books from Riptide Publishing regularly you might know that this is definitely not true for all of their books), and it’s just incredibly cute how they keep discovering new things about each other. For example, Eric lives in a little house with a working fireplace, and he keeps stoking the fire before Collin comes over so that he can just feed it a log or two and have it going in a minute or so for that extra romantic touch, and it’s just such a cute detail??? I loved this so much. Also, Collin sometimes teasingly calls Eric his cuddle bear, which is just, god – my heart basically melted onto my bedsheets whenever he’d say that.
But even though the romance is awesome, we all know that there has to be conflict in any story. And if the romance plot itself doesn’t give enough conflict, there have to be outside forces. Which leads us to…
THE HOUSE FIRE MYSTERY
The setup for Eric and Collin to meet is a house fire at the TAG frat during which one of Collin’s frat brother’s is hurt. They basically meet over a bone sticking out of another guy’s leg, which is not very romantic. The house fire also isn’t exactly romantic, especially because it is very likely that if somebody started that fire, it was because of homophobic resentment against the TAG’s new member policy of allowing openly gay, bisexual and questioning members into the frat (they’re still working on the trans part of that equation). They already had gay frat members before – the protagonist of the first book in this series, for example, or Eric, back when he was at college – but through this new policy, they have not only become the place to go for queer boys who want to rush for a fraternity, but also a target not only for the other frats, but also for their own Alumni Association, which is headed by Collin’s own homophobic uncle, Monty.
Now, Monty is not your typical kind of homophobe – I guess he doesn’t really care about gay people as long as they don’t affect his career – but he is very displeased by the fact that TAG has now become the ‘gay frat’, which might have a negative impact on the reputation of the Good Old Boys of the Alumni Association. If the fire actually is a result of homophobia, Monty tells his (closeted) nephew that the Alumni Association will stop paying for the frat’s cook, internet, cable and – worst of all – kegerator. So Collin tries to find out who actually started the fire.
Anne Tenino definitely doesn’t just know how to write a good romance novel; the mystery part of this book was quite a bit of fun too. It’s not exactly the kind of mystery that makes you go ‘OH MY GOD’ and reread the entire book, but it is solid and has the kind of surprising solution that makes you think back to earlier parts of the book and think ‘Oh yeah, I should have noticed that, that makes sense’. It also leads to a really cool and really climactic ending for the book, and I’m just SUCH a sucker for well-written endings.
SENSITIVITY-TRAINED FRAT BROTHERS AND INSENSITIVE UNCLES
Romance and mystery aren’t even the extent of Anne Tenino’s bag of tricks. This book made me laugh out loud with all the shit the fraternity brothers get up to (especially when they are trying to prove just HOW acceptant they are of queer people and how well they were listening during the sensitivity training class they all took last year), but it also made me fume in silent, impotent rage at the utter shithead that is Uncle Monty.
Collin’s big internal struggle is to get out of his uncle’s controlling clutches and find out what he actually wants to do, since he never even thought about that before he met Eric. And it’s a good thing that he finally started struggling against his uncle, because Uncle Monty is an unfeeling, self-righteous, homophobic, narcissistic piece of shit. He might have raised Collin, but it is very obvious for the reader (if not for Collin) that this was definitely not a selfless good deed. He has molded the poor baby in his image, but of course he didn’t think about the possibility that his nephew and hopefully heir to his company would be more into hot, prematurely grey firefighter paramedic bears than into sweet high-society sorority sisters.
Collin’s story also includes his mother and his sister, and his relationship, memories and feelings about his dead father, and it’s an absolutely beautiful and heart-wrenching story of letting go of what you always thought was true and right and fighting for the things that you really want, even if you’re not quite sure whether you will be able to get them. Eric, who, at 36, has his priorities pretty well figured out, is a rock in the turbulent sea of Collin’s emotional life, and their relationship eventually helps Collin to stand on his own feet – because suddenly there is somebody else in his life beside Uncle Monty who will make sure he won’t crash if he tries to fly, which is just what Collin, who is so used to solving everybody’s problems but his own, needs in a relationship.
I just really liked this book, like I’ve liked all of Anne Tenino’s books before, and, honestly, if you like fluffy, funny, steamy M/M novels, you really should be devouring her books. Collin’s and Eric’s story was just all I want from a gay romance novel. I felt that this story was a little more serious than the former two books in the series, and I do have the feeling that Tenino is developing a lot with every book she puts out, so I will definitely keep an eye out for the next book she publishes.
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