"Where there's smoke, there's fire..."
Since 9/11, Brooklyn firefighter Griffin Muir has wrestled with impossible feelings for his best friend and partner at Ladder 181, Dante Anastagio. Unfortunately, Dante is strictly a ladies' man, and the FDNY isn't exactly gay-friendly. For ten years, Griff has hidden his heart in a half-life of public heroics and private anguish.
Griff's caution and Dante's cockiness make them an unbeatable team. To protect his buddy, there's nothing Griff wouldn't do... until a nearly bankrupt Dante proposes the worst possible solution: HotHead.com, a gay porn website where uniformed hunks get down and dirty. And Dante wants them to appear there-"together." Griff may have to guard his heart and live out his darkest fantasies on camera. Can he rescue the man he loves without wrecking their careers, their families, or their friendship?
Why We Read this Book:
Brianna: I’ve never read a M/M romance before and I was curious. A lot of people whom I know that read the genre LOVE the genre, and I wanted to find out why that is. I put a call out to Twitter (as I always do when I’m looking for a book recommendation) to find out what the best M/M romance would be to dip my toes in (so to speak) and the most recommended book was Hot Head by Damon Suede. And Hot Head got bonus points because the two male leads are firefighters. So I asked J9 to read along with me (to hold my hand really) and here we are.
J9: I’m always excited to convert a traditional romance reader to MM romance so I jumped at the chance to joint read Hot Head with Brianna, even though contemporary romance isn’t normally my thing.
What We Liked:
Brianna: I now understand the appreciation of men in kilts! Before reading Hot Head, I didn’t understand all the jazz about men in kilts. One of the first scenes in this book features Griffin in a kilt (commando, I might add) in the restroom with a chick. *fans self* And as Griffin so delicately puts it, “It’s a kilt, dumbass. It’s only a skirt if I wear underwear.”
J9: Yep, stellar intro! And I loved these characters. The first half of the book is clearly Griff’s book as readers are privy to his unrequited love and Dante just comes in and out of the story. Then the second half is shared equally by Dante and Griff as they begin an odd dance of courtship. This was a great balance for me.
Brianna: It was a good balance.
I have never heard so many euphemisms for the male form of masturbation in my life! Burp the worm, pump the meat, tug the pug, flog the log, salty handshake ... I could go on. I was LOLing quite a bit.
J9: LOL, yeah, this book’s language is sexually raw, like the constant reference to Griff’s, ahem, mammoth equipment. The author is a man, unlike a lot of MM romance which is written by women, and I wonder if this contributed to the raw language.
Brianna: It was so very different (and interesting) reading about these male characters written from a male author’s POV. Even the most mundane stuff like “Dante’s stream hit the water loudly”. Most of the romances I read are written by women and as much as a writer can research, personal ‘hands on’ experience trumps that research. I have a feeling I’m going to look out for more male M/M authors. Men obviously have the necessary tools and equipment, along with the experience, and I think that helps give validity to the characters and their quirks.
It was also interesting to watch Griffin discover his sexuality. It wasn’t black or white for him; he was once married (to a woman) and when he goes to a gay bar, no one there really tickled his fancy. So I liked that it was more about falling in love with the person rather than the sexual orientation of the person.
J9: I agree that this is a complicated romance and one I couldn’t stop reading. Both Griff and Dante have to first figure out their love for each other and then what that loves means for them on a personal level. But the best part of the book for me was that the emotional denouement wasn’t the book’s end, instead the book shows how these men are going to build a life together. To me that’s more romantic than the bow-chicka-wow-wow (not that it wasn’t super sexy bow-chicka-wow-wow!)
Brianna: I think it was more of Griffin telling us how they are going to build a life together rather than showing. I was left wondering how the fire department was going to take the news of their relationship. Sure, Griffin plans it all out in his head, what actions they’ll need to take if their relationship is not accept by their Fire Chief, but as a reader I never saw it play out. I felt a void there in that aspect.
J9: I’d agree with that, the how-do-they-tell-their-firefighter-frat was totally avoided and that was a miss but at least the family thing was shown, as well as housing and lifestyle.
I was pleasantly surprised by the nuanced secondary characters, Beth included. Beth was fun and just what Dante needed. Also, Dante’s family were lovely and didn’t quite fall into the too-storybook-perfect. They play very significant roles in the story and in who Griff and Dante’s characters are as men and a couple. In fact, I love the emotional scene at novel’s end with Dante’s mom and dad...sigh worthy in my opinion. And one other quick thing, I adored the Brooklyn setting. Being a native of the borough, it was awesome to revisit home a bit. No, it wasn’t exactly my neighborhood but it was damn close enough. And it was also a little emotional for me since this book has 9/11 elements and Brianna and I read it around the anniversary.
Brianna: I loved Beth! For such a minute character, she was quite memorable. I liked her no nonsense personality and she didn’t take Dante’s shit. It was a bit emotional for me as well, being that we just so happened to read this right around the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
What We Didn’t Like:
Brianna: This book painted such a bleak picture of the love lives of the NYFD firefighters. The notion is that firefighters are known for their cheating ways and that divorce is not uncommon due to infidelity. I have to wonder if this was a tactic used to diminish straight relationships in order to highlight and glorify Griffin and Dante’s relationship. In any event, it cast a dark rain cloud over the NYFD for me. And yet, there was so much emphasis on fidelity put into Griffin and Dante’s relationship; it even went as far as making Dante a crazy jealous caveman.
J9: Actually, according to lots of research, first responders have higher divorce rates than the general public so this didn’t ring false to me. It’s sad certainly but given the long, unpredictable hours, vast times away from their mates, and emotional isolation from those they perceive as “civilians”, this isn’t a surprise the book shows this.
Brianna: I guess I’m so used to my HEAs that this caught me a bit off guard. I’ve read series with firefighter heroes and I’m used to them all getting (and keeping) their HEA. But I can see what you’re saying; it makes sense.
I didn’t like the Dante we saw in the ending of the book. He was too possessive and overbearing. It didn’t match up with his easy going personally in the first part of the book. His jealousy was a little over the top.
J9: Yeah, he was a bit of a caveman but that didn’t bother me too much because Griff had such low self-esteem that Dante’s possessive jealousy was a bit of a balm to Griff.
Brianna: Another thing I don’t like is the mention of armpits in a love scene, whether it be during a love scene between a straight couple or a same-sex couple. Armpits are smelly and gross.
J9: LOL, yeah, not an armpit fan myself but this author certainly writes some good raunch!
“Just moving equipment out on Avenue X. Heavy equipment. G[riffin] thinks I’m being a hothead.”
“This belongs to me. Only me. No one else can have it. Not even you. It’s mine. You’re mine.”
“You’re the nice boy. I corrupted you and I want full fucking credit for that, Griffin Muir.”
Brianna: Those who recommended Hot Head as a gateway to M/M romance, hit the proverbial nail on the head. It was a great book for me to test the waters with. Griffin and Dante are two masculine men who, when together, make for an intense and explosive combination. That right there made it impossible for me to put this book down and itch to pick it up when I did. There was a time or two when I was outside of my comfort zone when it came to sexual scenes but for the most part I saw it as a romance between two people instead of two men. It was different from what I normally read and I enjoyed the contrast. I’m ready for more! 3 ½ frogs for Hot Head from me.
J9: Muah, ha, ha! My mission here is complete! Seriously, I think this was a great intro into MM romance for a newbie like you, Brianna, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. As a seasoned MM romance I agree this is in the top tier that I’ve read so I’d agree with the 3 ½ frog rating.
Brianna’s and J9’s Rating: