Lord of the Fraternity

Todd Gregory returns to Polk State for Games Frat Boys Play (Kensington Books), the sequel to Every Frat Boy Wants It and the homo action is as hot as ever at Beta Kappa house.  Good thing our hero, Jordy Valentine, has just gotten a high-priced Swiss boarding school education that allows him to sail through his classes while scarcely opening a textbook.  Jordy was originally headed to Harvard, but he decided he wanted the experience of being “normal.” “But,” as his father points out, “that’s just it, Jordy.  You aren’t normal, son.”  Apart from his genius IQ and fluency in four languages, his parents are also Bill and Melinda Gates-type billionaires.

Games Frat Boys Play

Nonetheless, Jordy is a poor little rich boy whose nouveau riches weren’t enough to keep him from being royally snubbed by all the blue-blood bastards back at St. Bernard’s. He’s hoping that he will just blend in at California State University-Polk, stuck in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley.  And he tells his skeptical father, “I want to experience it. Besides, I think it will make for an interesting anthropological study.”  He wants to test the psychological theory that the need for a group leader’s approval would seduce a group of ordinary college students into doing things they normally would never do, even things they know to be wrong.

Though he had hoped to slum it in the dorms, Jordy’s parents insist he move into a luxury apartment complex, where his designer student flat boasts a Lindsey Smolensky.  He quickly befriends the romantic heroes from Every Frat Boy Wants It—pole dancer Jeff Morgan and Blair Blanchard, son of Hollywood royalty, just your typical Cal State students.  They persuade Jordy to rush for the gay-friendly Beta Kappa fraternity.  He reasons, “I wanted the college experience, and what better way to get that than to join a fraternity.”

Enter the most intriguing character in the novel, the handsome but devious rush chair, Chad York.  Chad, along with his two minions, Brandon and Rees, terrorize the more ordinary frat brothers at Beta Kappa, like the adorkable, slightly pudgy Roger Devlin, who warns Jordy that Chad is “the personification of evil.”  But too late, Jordy is already smitten, despite Chad’s open disdain for our cute but only of average build protagonist.

Chad York is beautiful but manipulative and cruel.  Although Roger tells Jordy that Chad is motivated by envy for Jordy’s wealth, that hardly seems convincing since Chad’s own boyfriend looks like Steele from last season’s “Love in the Wild” and is a wealthy architect.  Petty vanity as a motive for his cruelty is ruled-out; Chad is too beautiful to be intimidated by the less God-like Jordy.  Besides Jordy is putty in Chad’s hands, Chad could simply seduce Jordy for his money, if he wanted.  Chad is like an Iago, destructive and petty but unfathomable in his jealousy.

There follows one of those corny transformation sequences where Jordy beefs up and slims down between semesters in a vain attempt to win Chad’s love, or at least attention.   Unfortunately, the more Jordy’s body begins to resemble Chad’s, the more his personality also falls under Chad’s sway.  Pretty is, as pretty does, and suddenly our poor little rich boy is acting more Chad like than Chad.  Gregory has successfully won our sympathy for Jordy in the novel’s first section.  Sure he’s cute, but he’s surrounded by A-team gays who “could be underwear models.”  Sure he’s wealthy and intelligent, but he seems like the underdog in the face of Chad’s petty cruelty.  But in the second part, after Jordy’s abs are hardened from jelly roll to six-pack, his personality is also hardened into a self-pitying bitch whose revenge plot against Chad is so over-the-top mean-spirited that Chad’s petty cruelty pales in comparison.  A further reversal of fortune that undermines our identification with Jordy and creates an incipient sympathy for Chad is that unlike poor little rich Jordy, it turns out that Chad truly is from a humble background, he’s not just slumming it, like Jordy.
Jordy comes close in his obsession with Chad to becoming even crueler than Chad, but Gregory ultimately grants him a “proper perspective” in his life, freed from his obsession for revenge and his happily ever after is generous enough to include his former nemesis.

Pygmalion

Teach Me Tonight is the latest installment in Neil Plakcy’s Have Body, Will Guard romance adventure series from Loose ID featuring bodyguard team and romantic duo, Liam McCullough and Aidan Greene.  The plot is straightforward and well-written.  Liam and Aidan live and work as bodyguards in Tunisia.  Liam is a former Navy SEAL who was discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Aidan is a former English teacher who became Liam’s working and romantic partner through some very comic misadventures in the debut novel in the series, Three Wrong Turns in the Desert, a Lambda Award finalist in Romance for 2010.  In the second novel, Dancing With the Tide, Plakcy showed that he could maintain his comic pace and bring on the action without sacrificing believable romantic concerns between the two lovers, as Aidan worries about being able to keep up with Liam, as a bodyguard and as a lover. Plakcy also deftly wove into the story larger issues about gayness and the Muslim Middle East.  In Teach Me Tonight Aidan is called back to his teaching vocation when he and Liam accept an assignment from Madame Habiba Abboud, head of Aidan’s old school, the École Internationale de Tunis, to guard the head-strong 17-year-old son of a wealthy Turkmenistan businessman.  The boy, named Maksat Bazarov, wants to learn English before entering an American college in the fall, so his father sends him to Madame Abboud’s school, but his real motive is to whisk the boy away from mysterious threats on his life back in Turkmenistan.

Liam is reluctant to accept the assignment because of his distrust of Madame Abboud and the hazy explanation given of why Maksat’s life is endangered.  But Aidan looks forward to the opportunity to teach again, so the two are soon in charge of a group of international ESL students at an ancient monastery founded by St. Augustine of Hippo in Bizerte, a resort town

Teach Me Tonight

on the Mediterranean coast.  Their scholastic idyll is soon interrupted by kidnapping attempts, Molotov cocktails, and car-jackings.  All in a day’s work for Liam, but he senses that Aidan has become distant from their bodyguard and romantic partnership.  Aidan is rediscovering his sense of competency and independence as a teacher, while Liam is beginning to discover his sense of dependence on Aidan.  Even sexually, Aidan is more assertive while Liam becomes more vulnerable.

Enter Liam’s old Navy SEAL buddy, the square-headed and square-chested Joey Sheridan.  Liam’s way of operating is to “just blast into a place and twist the guy’s nuts until he talks” and he doesn’t appreciate Joey’s intrusion into the operation, even though Aidan points out they could use his help.  But soon it becomes apparent that Liam is more concerned about “having his past and present lives come together.  Joey and Aidan, being a SEAL and being a bodyguard.  Being in the closet and being open about his sexuality.”  Liam also discovers himself having some very erotic fantasies about his straight buddy stumbling in upon his and Aidan’s love-making.  When he speaks with Joey about their friendship he finds his throat tightening with emotion the way it does sometimes with Aidan.  Meanwhile, Aidan feels some pangs of jealousy, not so much romantically, but as Liam’s professional partner; he thinks, “As soon as Joey showed up, he’d become Liam’s second in command.  Sometimes it was as if Aidan didn’t exist except as an errand boy.”  Again, Aidan wonders if he will ever be Liam’s professional equal.  Plakcy knows how to mix things up without violating the romance reader’s expectation of fidelity between our two heroes.

The action sequences, especially a car chase, are clearly written and exciting, but I appreciate that Plakcy doesn’t make this action adventure a simple shoot ‘em up.  When Liam is forced to kill a villain it affects him as a man and shows us a deeper part of his character.  We also discover more about Liam’s past when Joey reveals Liam’s full name to Aidan.

Even Plakcy’s secondary characters like Madame Abboud and the police chief, Faisal, are full-blooded and add to the texture of the story:

Faisal drove up as the ambulance was leaving.  He looked tired to Aidan, though the creases in his military shirt were crisp, his black shoes spit shined as always.  ‘You will have an explanation for all of this,’ he said to Liam in Arabic.  Liam bowed slightly.  ‘Of course.’

As always, Plakcy sketches a lush, romantic background in the cobbled streets, Mediterranean beaches, ancient buildings and modern resorts of Tunisia.  It will be interesting to see if he incorporates the Arab Spring uprising in Tunisia into his next Have Body, Will Guard adventure, although he hints that a trip to Italy may be in Liam and Aidan’s future.  To keep up with Liam and Aidan, visit Plakcy’s website at www.mahubooks.com.



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  • Michael Craft

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