Tigerland by Sean Kennedy

Tigerland by Sean Kennedy

  • Title: Tigerland
  • Author: Sean Kennedy
  • Series: Tigers & Devils, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, GLBTQ (M/M)
  • Publisher: Dreamspinner Press, October 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($6.99 ebook)
  • Length: 295 pages
  • Trope(s): Established Relationship, Smartass Hero, Celebrity Athlete Hero, Beta Hero (x2!), Evil Ex
  • Quick blurb: Just as their lives are moving beyond the celebrity-coming-out scrutiny, an attention-whore asshole ex resurfaces to prey on every insecurity.
  • Quick review: I think everyone should read this book. But first read Tigers & Devils. And then read them both again because they’re THAT GOOD.
  • Grade: A

I reached forward and grabbed Dec’s hand. It pulled him back a little, and he turned, surprised. Then he smiled, a smile so full of love and tenderness it seemed to be brighter than everything around us — the white sand, the sun reflecting off the surface of the waves — it could envelop me and swallow me whole. The mantra I often repeat to myself in one of these rare moments of PDA begins: This is for those times when I want to take his hand, or he wants to take mine, but we don’t feel safe enough. This is for those times other couples get to take for granted, but we have to snatch in limited amounts when they become available to us. This is for those times when I can’t do such a simple thing as hold the hand of Dec as the tiniest gesture of affection and to show him how much I love him.

Simon is the best wanky smartass EVER and Dec is a saint for putting up with him, and I want every couple who feels ashamed or afraid to have lovely intimate moments like these and big fat happily ever afters. Holy CRAP, I love these guys.

One-Quote Reviews: The Druid Stone and Galway Bound by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane

I have officially lost my Urban Fantasy Virginity. I feel so dirty. But in a very good way.

The Druid Stone by Heidi Belleau and Violetta VaneThe Druid Stone

  • Title: The Druid Stone
  • Author(s): Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
  • Series: Layers of the Otherworld, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, GLBTQ, Urban Fantasy
  • Publisher: Carina Press, August 2012
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 278 pages
  • Trope(s): Time Travel, Other Paranormal Stuff About Which I Have No Clue
  • Quick blurb: Tortured by murderous recurring dreams, “Sean from America” needs help from paranormal investigator Cormac to rid himself of a cursed Druid artifact.
  • Quick review:  Stayed up until 3 a.m. finishing this, and I don’t even LIKE paranormals.
  • Grade: B

…Sean realized if he wanted to now he could push back, any time, because there was nothing holding him to the wall anymore. Nothing but Cormac’s unspoken expectation and Sean’s unspeakable desire to meet it.

I really hate it when I have to stop reading in the middle of a sex scene because I have to go back and highlight everything because the writing is so fucking good.

For the urban fantasy elements, I must admit that I am in no way qualified to judge the world-building, and I was pretty intimidated when the heavy-duty paranormal stuff kicked in. But after a few chapters, I figured out that reading the Irish mythology as a history lesson with some Harry Potter analogies helped keep me in the story.

I still hate time travel, though. All the “what if?” and “but what about…??? GAH!” moments put my brain in overdrive trying to make everything line up properly.

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Galway Bound by Heidi Belleau and Violetta VaneGalway Bound

  • Title: Galway Bound
  • Author(s): Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
  • Series: Layers of the Otherworld, Book 1.1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, GLBTQ, Erotica
  • Publisher: Self-Published, October 2012
  • Source: All Romance eBooks, 99c (part of the Cyber Monday Binge)
  • Length: 32 pages
  • Quick blurb: Sean and Cormac indulge in a weekend away to reconnect and celebrate their first year together.
  • Quick review:  If you think BDSM can’t be romantic, THINK AGAIN.
  • Grade: A

Cormac knew he should pull back, delay this, let himself savor Sean’s submission just a little longer, but the truth was — the truth was  even though Sean gave him the drive to be strong, he also gave him the permission to be weak. And Cormac was weak. He was torturously, deliciously weak.

I read it, and then I read it again. Because OH. MY. GOD. *~*swoon*~* <thud>

Catching Up: Men of Smithfield, Books 2-4 by L.B. Gregg

Men of Smithfield series by L.B. Gregg

  • Title(s): Seth & David, Max & Finn, Adam & Holden
  • Author: L.B. Gregg
  • Series: Men of Smithfield, Books 2- 4
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, GLBTQ, Suspense
  • Publisher: Carina Press, September-November 2012
  • Source: NetGalley (Seth & David, Adam & Holden), Amazon ($3.39 ebook)
  • Length: 89/108/150 pages
  • Trope(s): Age Difference, Beta Heroes, Asshole Heroes, Uncontrollable Penises, Insta-Lust, Virgin,
  • Quick blurb: More m/m stories from small-town Connecticut.
  • Quick review: A downhill slide from the humorous angst of Book 1, with an emphasis on skeeviness and shallow suspense.
  • Grade: C, C-, D

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Men of Smithfield: Seth & David (Book 2)Book 2: Seth & David

Uptight guardian of six-year-old niece gets the hots for his hippie-esque new massage therapist.

He was everything I had never ever wanted.

I didn’t really connect with Seth — I would have loved to read the story from David’s POV. And the “meet-cute” was NOT cute or humorous AT ALL.

Grade: C-

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Men of Smithfield: Max & Finn (Book 3) by L.B. GreggBook 3: Max & Finn

Prep-school teacher and security expert reunited when they must protect a celebrity student from a stalker.

I stumbled along as best as I could, channeling Scout in her ham costume á la To Kill a Mockingbird.

I had to pick that quote because I just watched To Kill a Mockingbird last night, and I like to be reminded of Gregory Peck whenever possible. ANYWAY, I read Max & Finn right after Mark & Tony (Book 1), and I was not expecting the suspense elements — this one is long on plot and less on character.

Grade: C

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Book 4: Adam & HoldenMen of Smithfield: Adam & Holden (Book 4) by L.B. Gregg

House-bound writer finally gets to meet his sexy new landscaper when a dead body turns up in the garden.

But this was right. I felt reborn. Renewed. I felt free with him – as if the future was finally at hand and I could at long last set into the light of day. All the pain and the fear of two years had somehow brought him to me…and he was worth everything.

Asperger’s (Adam) + Agoraphobia (Holden) = Magical Orgasm Cure². Yay!

Grade: D (“yay” = /sarcasm/)

World Series of Romance: Four Corners by Kate McMurray

  • Four Corners by Kate McMurrayTitle(s): Four Corners
  • Author: Kate McMurray
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, GLBTQ
  • Publisher: Dreamspinner, August 2012
  • Source: DreamspinnerPress.com ($4.89 ebook w/30% off discount)
  • Length: 220 pages
  • Trope(s): Reunited, I Hate You Except When We Kiss, Coming Out, Baseball, Big Misunderstanding, Friends-to-Lovers
  • Quick blurb: The Guy Who Left returns to the old neighborhood to attempt a reunion with The Guy Who Stayed.
  • Quick review: Another tired premise and unlikeable heroes.
  • Grade: C-

I didn’t want his words to make my heart soar. I didn’t want my skin to tingle where his palms rested. I didn’t want to get aroused by the way he smelled. I didn’t want the proximity of our bodies to make me shiver. All of those things happened anyway.

A no-go on this one too. The writing mechanics are good (sometimes really good), but I found the high school flashbacks to be really intrusive, the present-day interactions were repetitive, and Jake (The One Who Stayed) was a whiny, self-righteous wanker. He did get a bit of redemption in the end, but he needed a smackdown. The “four corners” baseball friendship theme could have been a great connecting thread, but I needed a lot more of it to hold this story together.

World Series of Romance: Out in the Field by Kate McMurray

Out in the Field by Kate McMurray - Loose Id, April 2012

  • Title(s): Out in the Field
  • Author: Kate McMurray
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, GLBTQ
  • Publisher: Loose Id, April 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($6.39 ebook)
  • Length: 246 pages
  • Trope(s): Baseball, Celebrities, In the Closet, Coming Out
  • Quick blurb: Young infielder realizes more than one dream when he’s traded to a team led by his boyhood idol.
  • Quick review: Overplayed premise was predictable and forgettable.
  • Grade: C+

“Can I try something?” he asked.

Iggy raised an eyebrow. “Okay.”

“Give me your hand.”

Iggy held his hand out, palm down. Matt pressed it onto the table, and then he threaded their fingers together.

Iggy looked at their tangled hands for a long time and then said with no small amount of awe in his voice, “We’re holding hands.”

I’ve read a few other McMurray books, and so far only one (Blind Items) has crossed my “Must Be Memorable” threshold for a “B” grade — and as you can see, this one didn’t make the cut. The premise, main characters and story arc were pretty predictable, and nothing about the writing wowed me. A few moments at the end may or may not have made me a little sniffly, but it wasn’t enough to make this a recommended read.

[NOTE: I'm reading McMurray's latest, Four Corners, right now, so it'll be interesting to see if maybe I'm drawn in more by her Dreamspinner stories than the Loose Id ones.]

World Series of Romance: Caught Running by Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban

Gay High School Baseball Coaches: A Doubleheader

In case you missed it, be sure to read the wrap-up of Game 1: Pine Tar & Sweet Tea by Kerry Freeman. Also, full disclosure on this one: I’ve read this approximately 17 times, so put on your squee-proof panties.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Game 2, featuring the veteran Gold Glove power hitters:

Caught Running by Urban and Roux

Caught Running by Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban

  •  Title: Caught Running
  • Author(s): Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, GLBTQ
  • Publisher: Dreamspinner, December 2007
  • Source: Amazon ($5.38 ebook)
  • Length: 326 pages
  • Trope(s): Athletes, Beta Heroes (x2!), Teachers, Friends-to-Lovers, Lust in the Workplace
  • Quick blurb: Science teacher reluctantly accepts assignment as assistant baseball coach, putting him on the field with the all-star jock from his own high school days.
  • Quick review: Dear Jake and Brandon: You can coach my team ANYTIME. Love, Kelly.
  • Grade: A-

The soft words made Brandon’s insides clench, and the sentiment spurred him to clasp Jake’s face between both hands and kiss him with a hint of desperation, a tinge of hopefulness, and more than a little agreement. When he pulled back, he murmured, “Would have been more than kisses.”

The set-up:

Jake is the jock, former two-sport college standout now coaching at his high school alma mater after injuries put him permanently on the DL. He’s also permanently in the closet about his bisexuality — until his new assistant coach makes him re-think his lonely life.

Brandon is the nerd, with two master’s degrees and an acceptance to med school. He returned to his hometown when his parents were killed, and he’s learned to love his unexpected career as a science teacher — and his unexpected acceptance into a jock’s world.

Oh, as the authors say in their dedication:

“Caught Running” is for everyone who didn’t become what they thought they would, but still found happiness.

The hits:

Oh, lordy, where should I start? I believe this requires a list:

(1) Two – count ‘em, TWO (2) – beta heroes

They’re both flawed and conflicted and cautiously optimistic and really quite yummy.

(2) The relationship-building

Pacing is perfect, By the time the first kiss happens, it’s a huge rush of “oh, thank GOD.” And then it just gets better.

(3) The sexy times

The racing through the front door, shoving up against the wall sexy times.

And the post-practice locker-room workout…

He yanked at Brandon’s jersey, hearing a seam rip somewhere and not caring as he continued to pull at it and kiss the man messily. It still wasn’t enough, and he pushed Brandon toward the nearest hard surface, slamming him brutally against the empty bulletin board.

And the hood of the car….

There was no way Brandon was going to summon the strength to resist this. It was everything he wanted to be reassured. Wanted. Craved. Oh God.

Excuse me for a sec, I’ll be right back.

We now interrupt this blog post for a brief pictorial interlude:

*ahem*

All righty then, where were we?

(4) The extremely effective use of alternating POVs

Sometimes the head-hopping changed with every paragraph, and yet I never had any doubt whose head I was in.

The BRAIN kind of head, sheesh. Pervs.

(5) The funny bits

Like the very unwanted late-night run-in with the on-the-prowl cheerleading coach in the grocery store.

Also, the Flip-Flop Scene:

How could he have said something like that, anyway? Wanting to know what was happening next when they’d only kissed for the first time about ten hours ago?

Jake watched him go down the walk with a frown, but smiled slightly as he had an idea. He reached down, took off his flip-flop, and chucked it at Brandon as he walked away, hitting him right on the back of the head.

Brandon’s eyes bugged out, and he whipped around to look at Jake in amazement. “Did you just do what I think you did?” he exclaimed.

“Depends on what you think I did,” Jake shot back with a signature grin as he thumped down the front steps and strolled forward to retrieve his flip-flop. “That’s what we do. You think and I throw things,” he explained. “So I’ll make you a deal. You stop thinking,” he drawled, bending to pick up the shoe and wave it around threateningly, “and I’ll stop throwing things.”

(6) Completely believable teacher/coach world-building

Trust me on this. I know from which I speak.

(7) Great scene-setting and secondary characters

Jake and Brandon live and work in a small Southern town, but they aren’t surrounded by clichéd empty props. I know exactly what their school and houses look like, and their friends, co-workers and stalkers (well, just one, the horny cheerleading coach) are unpredictable and yet integral to the story. This is contemporary world-building done really, really well.

That’s probably enough squee for now.

The misses:

Only two items on this list:

(a) The too-convenient absence of family interference or anxiety

Caught Running was one of the first M/M romances I read, so I didn’t really notice it while I was reading it the first time(s).

But on second and third (and maybe fourth and fifth) reads — after inhaling Heidi Cullinan and L.A. Witt and K.A. Mitchell and Marie Sexton and others (a LOT of others) — it felt like an important source of external conflict was missing. But I wouldn’t want Roux/Urban to change anything, so, you know, there you go.

This is why I am terrible at writing squeeful reviews. I sound like a freaking idiot.

(b) The kinda sorta anti-climactic* HEA

I wasn’t expecting a Grand Gesture or anything schmaltzy, but it left me wanting more. As in, you know, like, maybe…A SEQUEL???

Pretty please, Ms. Roux and Ms. Urban? Ty and Zane have about 17 books each now. I think Jake and Brandon need some attention again. Or maybe I need attention from them. Either way, I’m asking nicely.

There’s that slobbering idiot thing again. I know you’re all grateful I don’t write romance novels.

* I almost typed that without giggling.

The final score: A-

World Series of Romance: Pine Tar and Sweet Tea by Kerry Freeman

Gay High School Baseball Coaches: A Doubleheader

First up, Pine Tar & Sweet Tea, a recently published novella with a title and cover that caught my eye, and then Caught Running, a novel that I’ve read several…[*counts on fingers*] numerous times.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Game 1, featuring an up-and-coming* utility infielder:

Pine Tar & Sweet Tea by Kerry Freeman

Pine Tar & Sweet Tea by Kerry Freeman

  • Title: Pine Tar & Sweet Tea
  • Author(s): Kerry Freeman
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, GLBTQ
  • Publisher: Loose Id, October 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($4.99 ebook)
  • Length: 118 pages
  • Trope(s): Athletes, Insta-Lust, Lust in the Workplace, In the Closet, Family Drama
  • Quick blurb: High school coaches hook up at the end of the state tournament, but their one-night-stand turns into something neither is ready for.
  • Quick review: Interesting. Intriguing, even. I think I need to read more from Ms. Freeman.
  • Grade: B

* The opportunities for ridiculously obvious double entendres are endless around here these days.

It was hard to tell who started the kiss, but Matt was the one who deepened it. He thrust his tongue inside René’s mouth and tasted the last bit of sweetness from the tea. René grabbed Matt’s ass and began encouraging a slow, steady grind. Soon, René shoved his hand down the back of Matt’s jeans, his calloused fingers digging into Matt’s flesh.

René pulled Matt back by his hair. “And here I thought you were mad at me.”

“I thought I was too,” Matt whispered.

“Doesn’t matter now. Just kiss me.”

The set-up:

René is a former minor-leaguer now coaching a successful high school team. He’s discreetly out, but he’s not going back in for anyone.

Matt is also a player-turned-coach, but he’s a deeply closeted preacher’s kid shamed by a lifetime of pulpit-pounding sermons and dinner table lectures.

It’s Insta-Lust from the get-go when they meet at the state tournament…

A few of the parents thought the coach was glaring at him, but René knew a fuck-me-now look when he saw one.

…and they manage sneak in a mutually-fulfilling one-nighter after the championship game.

Did I say “fulfilling”? I meant SMO.KING.HOT.

But then their best friends start in with their own smooching and smexing, and Matt and René can’t resist falling deeper into something neither is prepared for.

The hits:

Did I mention the SMOKING HOT smexing? There’s more where that came from — along with a few swoon-worthy moments:

Matt raised an eyebrow. “Well, you do speak Spanish in bed.”

Now Rene blushed. “Sorry.”

“No no no. I loved it. Meant you’d let go. What was it you said?”

“Te deseo. Te necesito. Dentro de ti es el cielo,” Rene whispered. He clasped Matt’s hands in his. “I want you. Need you. It’s heaven inside you.”

The room shrank around them, and Matt could barely breathe. “How do you say, ‘Take me back to bed’?”

For a newbie author, Freeman gives us some really well-drawn main characters, and not just in the bedroom. Or bathroom (see intro quote above). Or locker room. René is brash but charmingly vulnerable, and Matt is just bursting to let his wild side out. Yes, I chose the word “bursting” on purpose. I’m easy that way.

The angstifying is nicely balanced by some spot-on dialogue and humor, especially from René’s best friend David:

“Son of a bitch,” he muttered as he stomped off. “Biggest game of the year, and NOW he decides to take the dick out of storage.”

…and while Matt’s preacher’s-kid family drama is a common m/m trope, it never felt forced or crossed the line into melodrama. Freeman gets extra at-bats for stuff like this:

“My grandmother was devout. Rosary, hair covering, the whole thing. When I told her I was gay, she sat me down and told me to remember one thing: God is love. He wants me to love and be loved in return. She didn’t believe that he would put me on earth only able to feel true love for a man if he didn’t mean for me to love that way.”

And speaking of family drama — ooh boy, I was not expecting that twisty bit near the end.

The misses:

Like many novellas, the pacing is pretty rushed and we miss out on the relationship-building. We know what’s keeping them apart, but we never quite get into their heads enough to feel what’s drawing them together.

And that twisty bit near the end. I’m kinda still a bit conflicted on that. It worked great as a plot wrench, but something about it is still bugging me and I can’t figure out what or why. Authors, be very grateful I’m just a reviewer and not your editor, because sometimes I have no fucking idea what I’m talking about.

Random yet obligatory post-game pop-culture reference:

From Pine Tar & Sweet Tea, Chapter One….

"He'd been celibate since the season began, faithful to the players and the game."

He’d been celibate since the season began,
faithful to the players and the game.

And from Bull Durham, somewhere in the first third of the movie….

"I am, within the framework of the baseball season, monogamous."

“I am, within the framework of
the baseball season, monogamous.”

Random post-game question:

The cover: Mantitty or moobs? I’m leaning toward moobs, because they’re distracting me from the beefier delts and pecs in the background.

The final score: B

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Stay in your seats for Game 2 of the Gay High School Baseball Coaches Doubleheader:

Caught Running by Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban >>