Listicle

Saturday Smutty Six: Football Season = Football Romance

Football season is upon us! (American football, that is.) Here are some fun reads featuring professional football players. 

If Erin actually knew anything about football, she’d include a football pun here. Because she doesn’t, have some books:

The Game Plan by Kristen Callihan

This isn’t the first book in a (great) series, but it’s the first that involves a pro athlete. Ethan and Fiona have known each other since college, and they still float around each other because Ethan’s best friend married Fiona’s sister. Oh, also, Ethan is a virgin who has secretly been pining for Fiona since college. He wants forever, she wants to get the promotion at her job that is in a completely different state to his. There’s plenty of angst in this book, and the third act is a doozy (involving non-consensual release of nude photographs by a third party, be advised), but Callihan is really good at digging into those feelings and creating complex situations for characters who want to be together but don’t necessarily know how to navigate their own messy feelings to take care of their partner’s also messy feelings. 

His Convenient Husband by Robin Covington

Isaiah is a widower and single dad trying to get things right. When Isaiah takes his son to meet his idol, out and proud Russian danseur Victor, sparks fly, and they have a one-night stand, but it’s supposed to be nothing more. Then Victor’s request for asylum is denied, and his life will be in jeopardy if he goes back to Russia after his gay rights advocacy in the US, so Isaiah proposes a marriage of convenience to keep Victor in the US legally. If you can suspend your disbelief about the green card marriage, this is an engaging marriage of convenience story featuring two gay men with very different outlooks on how they want to live their lives but who are more and more drawn to each other the longer they’re married. 

The Blueprint by S.E. Harmon

Best friends to lovers bi-awakening, but make it football? After an awkward breakup, Kelly finally decides that it’s time for him to buckle down and get over the unrequited crush on his best friend so he can have a life. Blue is not a fan of his best friend avoiding him, and when he walks in on Kelly about to get some, he starts having some thoughts, which he acts on after a night of drunken jealousy. When Blue’s knee injury creates an excuse for him to recuperate at Kelly’s house, the two men really enjoy playing house (among other things *wink*), but Blue doesn’t want to change his life plan—marry a woman, kids, etc—and Kelly doesn’t need to be someone else’s problem. This is the first in a duology and ends with a secret-relationship HFN, but it’s playfully angsty with relatively low-stakes drama and lots of supportive friends.


Rookie Move by Riley Hart and Neve Wilder

Okay, so the premise for this one was what hooked me. Garrett realized he was bi when he met his brother’s best friend, Warner, as a teen. He’s had a crush forever but never acted on it, and Warner is basically part of the family. After his brother’s career ends with an injury, Garrett graduates and gets drafted not only to fill his brother’s shoes, but also onto the same team as Warner. Even better, they’re both bi, but only Garrett’s brother/Warner’s best friend knows, and he’s being a good human and not sharing. So if dancing around each other to we definitely shouldn’t be hooking up to secret relationship is your jam, this one’s for you.

Beauty and the Baller by Ilsa Madden-Mills

The title might make you think of a Beauty and the Beast retelling, but this book definitely has some Cinderella vibes, at least at the beginning. Ronan has a drunken one-night-stand with Nova on the anniversary of his finacee’s death and his career-ending injury. He calls her by his fiancee’s name, and she disappears into the night, and the way he feels about that night is what he needs to turn his life around. Nova meets him again when she moves home to take care of her younger sister after their mother’s death, but the football coach who can do no wrong in the small town’s eyes doesn’t even remember her. Antagonism leads to grudging respect leads to fake dating leads to real feelings. You know the drill. Bonus points for extremely entertaining small town worldbuilding. 

Can’t Catch Me by Alexandra Warren 

This book is a really fun read. Books often feature protagonists who banter, but often the banter doesn’t click with me—in this case, it was super fun to read and a fun component of the relationship dynamic between these estranged best friends who become lovers as adults when Briyana is forced to move home after a series of unfortunate events. Meanwhile, Lance is living the good life as the local football team’s hometown sweetheart. When their rekindled friendship becomes a no-holds-barred relationship, Lance starts thinking of happily ever afters, but Briyana is still holding on to her career dreams—that will take her right back out of state. Bonus points for sneaker enthusiasts. 

Listicle

Saturday Smutty Six: M/M Sports Romance

Our Smashdown can’t be limited to only 8 duels and a few other reviews! In order to showcase some more lovely sports romance, we need listicles! 

This week Erin’s spotlighting some of the M/M sports romance that she’s read but hasn’t reviewed for the blog:

(I will note that because of the very small number of out queer players in professional sports, a lot of these narratives (in general) involve secret relationships, internalized homophobia, and coming out stories.)


Game Changer by Rachel Reid

At the time of publication, there were no out professional hockey players in the NHL, so Scott’s story is a what-if exploration of big feels. At first, Kip is happy just to be falling in love, and Scott can’t believe he’s so lucky as to have what he never thought he would, but before long the pressure of keeping the relationship a secret wears on the couple. The close narrative focus on Scott and Kip helps create the sense of isolation that the relationship has created for the protagonists. The lovely thing is, they never doubt their love for each other; this is a story that illustrates that love doesn’t magically make everything perfect, but it does provide support and safety when the world is scary and decisions are tough. 

The Endgame by Riley Hart

Game Changer but make it football. I kid! But it is a sports coming out story. Anson is carrying a lot of internalized homophobia and is living a lie, sleeping with women so no one suspects his secret. It’s extremely taxing on his emotional health. Weston’s extremely conservative parents sent him to conversion therapy camp as a teen, so even though he’s a successful out and proud senator now, he understands that Anson needs a friend and keeps reaching out to let Anson know he’s not alone, even after Anson shoots him down. Then their friendship becomes physical, and everything changes. Weston knows that love alone won’t make the secret relationship last, but he’s braced for heartbreak. Seeing what Weston is willing to do for him makes Anson realize not only what he’s willing to do in return for Weston, but for himself as well.

Blindsided by Eden Finley

If you love a book where the LI uses a different name than everybody else, look no further! Miller’s been low-key in love with Talon since they were in college together. When they’re on the same team again years later, Talon seems to think everything is just fine, but revisiting their old group sexcapades proves it’s really not. Talon can’t figure what’s wrong, but when Miller is injured and facing the possible end of his career, Talon refuses to let go of their dream of winning the Super Bowl together just as much as he refuses to let go of the friend who’s burrowed so deep in his heart that he moved to Chicago instead of winning another ring with his old team. Their dynamic is just the sweetest.


Empty Net by Avon Gale

Can I interest you in some angst? There’s a lot in this book, between Isaac’s history of sex work due to his economic and housing insecurity (possibly discussed more in Power Play than in this book, but still discussed) and Laurent’s history of abuse and his eating disorder. There’s a lot here that warrants content notes. BUT when Laurent is traded to Issac’s team as a punishment, he finally finds a safe harbor with a man who should be his rival. They’re both goalies who need to be the one in the net in order to succeed, and yet they are able to support each other in really lovely ways, even as the story is fraught with emotional tension. Also, these are professional hockey players, but they’re playing ECHL hockey, which is a feeder for AHL hockey (a.k.a. the “farm teams” for the NHL), so they’re getting paid almost nothing and playing hard in hopes of being selected for an AHL spot.

Undone By You by Kate Meader

This story was teased in So Over You, so of course I immediately bought it and then Bad Decisions Book Clubbed it. And its sequel. If bedding-the-boss, secret-relationship: hockey edition interests you at all, I would recommend this book. Cade isn’t out – he doesn’t think his dad would take it well, and that’s scary, plus being the first out NHL player is not his dream – but he knows he really wants Dante, so he makes his play. Dante, who’s defending his dream job of being GM of a pro hockey team, really doesn’t want to risk anything by fooling around with a player. But Cade is just SO irresistible. Cade plays Dante really well to get what he wants – Dante’s a caregiver, and their age gap emphasizes that – but at the end of the day, they take care of each other, so the relationship is not one-sided.

Dirty Slide by Lauren Blakely and KD Casey

If you’d like to read a short, sexy romance without a lot of angst, this is a very fun book. I really love that runners and basemen can, like, have a little chat while they’re waiting for the next play. Anyway Chris and Josh are rivals on different teams, and they totally flirt during games together until Josh gets super grumpy about losing the World Series and kinda sorta has a snit about Chris playing dirty. Chris, being much more sunshiney, brushes off Josh’s grumbling because he a) won the World Series and b) still knows they could be great together. And he proves it when they have a quickie in a room where, let’s be honest, anybody could walk in. *Fans self* 

Bonus points: if you’ve read Unwritten Rules, you’ll note that Zach and Eugenio are playing the World Series against each other. So that’s fun.