One-Quote Reviews: Strangers on a Train

I’d go with an “All Aboard!” intro, but that would be too cheesy even for me. Beware of CAPSLOCK OF RAGE and FANGIRL SQUEE (not in the same story, thank god.)

<whining>

Before we get to the good stuff, a brief plea to Samhain Publishing: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, FIX YOUR EBOOK FORMATTING. The default 6pt font and forced sans serif is beyond annoying — it makes me cringe every time I open a recent Samhain title. I’m willing to put up with it for trusted authors, but it is a definite barrier to trying new ones.

</whining>

Continue reading

World Series of Romance: Stealing Home by Allison Pittman

Get your protective choir robes or holy underwear or whatever ready, because it’s going to be RAINING SQUEE AROUND HERE.
Stealing Home by Allison Pittman

  • Title: Stealing Home
  • Author: Allison Pittman
  • Series: The Baseball Novels, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Historical, Inspirational
  • Publisher: Multnomah Books, April 2009
  • Source: Amazon ($9.99 ebook)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • Trope(s): Celebrity & Commoner(s), Unrequited/Reunited, Beta Hero(es), Plot Moppet (but in a good way),
  • Quick blurb: A staid and “dry” small town in Missouri is turned upside down when a newly-sober ballplayer arrives to continue his recovery.
  • Quick review: The Music Man + The Natural + Field of Dreams + Places in the Heart = BIG FAT WIN.
  • Grade: A+

“Don’t worry. This is baseball. There’s always a second chance.”

Read With Me Vicariously: Status Updates

11/18/12 – 25%:
Shut up and quit bothering me, I’m reading a REALLY GOOD BOOK.

11/18/12 – 50%:
I love this book soooooo much. If this tanks in the second half like my last three books, I’m going to be upset. VERY upset.

11/19/12 – 75%:
Dear God — and I mean that in both the holy and blasphemous connotations — I love this book.

11/19/12 – 90%:
Never mind, I HATE this book.

11/19/12 – 100%:
I am going to need several days to recover from this one, and the full review is going to be a completely incoherent mess of stupid.

Let the mess of incoherent stupidity commence. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This is also very long, so go ahead and make a trip to the kitchen for Diet Coke and cookies before we get started. Or communion wafers and wine. Whatever floats your boat.

The set-up

Picksville, Missouri – March 1905:

Dave was sending her a man. And he was coming on the two-o’clock train.

Dave Voyant is our heroine Ellie Jane’s older brother. He’s a Chicago sportswriter who somehow got himself involved in getting Duke Dennison, the league’s most die-hard drunk, dried out enough to return to the Cubs’ starting lineup.

1905 Spalding Bseball GuideWith “dry” being the key word, Dave offers up his hometown of Picksville as an ideal place for Duke to continue his recovery when he’s released from the “sanatorium.”

No saloon. Just like Voyant told the doctor. Some kind of small town ordinance. Welcome to Picksville. Doctor’s orders. For at least thirty days.

When Duke steps off the train, he makes quite an impression on his welcoming committee, especially Morris Bennett, an ambitious “Negro errand boy” enlisted by Ellie Jane to carry the royal baggage:

Now I know a rich white man when I see one. But this guy — he is almost pretty. He’s wearin this suit the color of molasses cake and one of those dandy hats and more jewels than I’ve ever seen any man wear — diamond rings on each hand, gold watch, pearl tie clip and cuff-buttons.

When the big-league city slicker turns his charm on Ellie Jane, the exchange is almost too much for our hero Ned, who’s watching from across the platform:

Ned cringed at Ellie Jane’s girlish reaction, bringing her other hand up to capture what must be a lovely giggle while allowing herself to languish in this forward embrace.

If you were expecting the Duke the Magnificent Manly-Man to be the hero of this story, you might be disappointed – but don’t be, because Ned has “hero material” written all over him. Trust me.

And yes, this is going to be one of those reviews that’s one quote and excerpt after another. Suck it up and keep reading. You’ll thank me later.

Continue reading

World Series of Romance: Just a Little Faith by Amy J. Norris

Just a Little Faith by Amy J. Norris

  • Title(s): Just a Little Faith
  • Author: Amy J. Norris
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Inspirational
  • Publisher: Astraea Press, May 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($2.99 ebook)
  • Length: 237 pages
  • Trope(s):  Celebrity & Commoner, Halo Heroine, Magical Bible Verse, You’re Not Worthy Enough For My Love Until You’re As Godly As Me
  • Quick blurb: Jaded ballplayer Sebastian finds personal and spiritual renewal when he meets Paxson, a shy but intriguing non-profit organizer.
  • Quick review: Promising first half, blah/blech/oh-NO second half.
  • Grade: C

Once again, I get the squee bucket ready, and then…. Never mind. *~*SIGH*~*

The completely believable set-up, likeable characters, and low-key spiritual themes carried me through the first half. I came >thatclose< to giving this a B- because it’s definitely memorable, and I loved the meet-cute and early relationship-building.

Maybe she was boring him to tears? Was this his standard behavior? If so, his looks must be what attracted others to him, because as far as Pax could tell, his conversation skills were clearly lacking.

Sebastian turns out to be a good beta hero, and Pax even has some fun with her internal prayers:

“And also, give me the strength not to kill Sebastian when this is over. I don’t think the team would appreciate him not being there this season.”

But then the tragedy and the angst and the drama went into overdrive, and the “oh no, please please please don’t go there” moments became more frequent. The tone of the story completely changed from an intimate character study to a generic sermonizing soap opera.

It was a precarious path she was treading down. How do I show Seb Your love for him without entangling myself into a web of emotions I might never escape?

Somehow showing Seb the distinction between going to church for her, and going with the intent of worshipping God could be difficult.

QUESTION: How will she know when this transformation takes place? Will God send her a text message?

More than that, she needed to decide if waiting on Seb to change was worth the turmoil raging in her heart.

[emphasis mine]

When the heroine started polishing that holier-than-thou halo, I almost quit reading, but I managed to make it to the end. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a good thing, because I hate the “Magical Bible Verse” trope, and this was a particularly cringe-worthy example in the form of a page-long speech by the newly-FULLY-repentant hero, who is FINALLY God-ified enough for Her Holiness the Heroine.

I’m finding that the “You’re Not Worthy Enough For My Love Until You’re As Godly As Me” trope — which I detest even more than the Magical Bible Verse — is much more prevalent in contemporary inspirationals than historicals, which makes me very reluctant to try new inspie authors.

I read inspirationals because I love stories of faith and doubt and trust and redemption. But those elements need to happen on both sides of the h/h relationship to make it worth reading about in the pages of a novel.

[NOTE: I gave a little extra credit for that lovely cover.]

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: Cutters vs. Jocks and Binding Arbitration by Elizabeth Marx

Cutters vs Jocks and Binding Arbitration by Elizabeth Marx

  • Title(s): Cutters vs. Jocks (prequel novella) and Binding Arbitration (full-length novel)
  • Author: Elizabeth Marx
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Self-Published (CreateSpace), December 2011
  • Source: Amazon ($2.99 novel, free novella)
  • Length: 396 pages (novel), 65 pages (novella)
  • Trope(s): Baseball, Single Mother, Big Misunderstanding(s), International Intrigue, Crime Lords (no, not TIME Lords, CRIME Lords), Secret Baby, Plot Moppet, Angstifyingly Angsty Angst (did I mention THE ANGST?), Celebutante with Purse Dog, Lawyers, Snotty Sibling, More Lawyers, Hummer (the automotive kind, you pervs), Love Handcuffs (the glittery kind), Visitations from the Beyond
  • Quick blurb: Libby and Aidan’s unexpected and intense college friendship ends abruptly after a drunken night of passion – but their relationship is reluctantly renewed seven years later when Libby is forced to reveal a long-kept secret.
  • Quick review: The novella was AMAZING. The novel started out REALLY, REALLY GOOD, but turned into Bad Lifetime Movie with a Side Order of Extra Cheezy Melodrama.
  • Grade (averaged): C

I’ll start with the good stuff, to better demonstrate my frustration with the bad. Also, my bitterness. My LINGERING, FESTERING BITTERNESS.

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

Cutters vs. Jocks: A Prequel Novella

What I had done, I had chosen to do.  But expecting more than what it was would be fruitless, so I snaked off into the cold morning light, leaving him to his dreams that didn’t include me.

Cutters vs. Jocks by Elizabeth MarxThe set-up:

Aidan is, big surprise, the Jock – a college baseball star being scouted for the majors. He’s also a self-centered, rich-kid frat boy with all the usual bimbos flinging themselves into his bed.

Libby is the “Cutter” – a local girl who makes it across the big campus divide.  But Libby insists on keeping her academic and personal lives strictly separate, for reasons she refuses to share with anyone.

(NOTE: According to the author, “cutter” is the equivalent of “townie” in Bloomington, Indiana, where our heroine and hero attend Indiana University. “Cutter” derives from the local stone-cutting industry, NOT the emo kind.)

When Aidan and Libby meet up at a local bar over a game of pool, he assumes she’s free for the taking…

I would find a way to make her interested. I mean, I was a stud on campus. And yeah, she’s smoking hot, but she’s a cutter, a townie. They usually roll around at my feet like practice balls.

…but she shuts him down with a few choice multi-syllable words and some non-verbal communication…

I took hold of her hand and stroked her palm; it drove almost every girl I’d ever touched crazy. “You have the prettiest hands. You talk with them.” I’d learned that girls loved modest compliments and observations.

But not this snooty cutter. She flipped me off and strode away.

…but only to mask her terror at the brain-melting attraction between them:

Now that I’d met Aidan, I had a glimmer of understanding of what Jeanne felt for my father. Love is a kind of madness — and crazy runs in my family.

The hits:

The level of story-telling and world-building and emotional intensity in these 65 pages is unbelievable. The short chapters of alternating POV work perfectly as a narrative structure, and the chapter titles and epigraphs are spot-on.

The characterization is driven by equal parts dialogue (smartass banter, my *favorite*) and internal monologuing in which the characters actually reveal important things instead of rehashing what just happened. I know, right???

Libby and Aidan are anything but cardboard college clichés – “prickly” doesn’t even begin to describe Libby’s hands-off vibe, and we learn quickly that Aidan’s super-stud reputation is a pretty brittle façade.

Also, the chemistry. Did I mention THE CHEMISTRY? Holy. Shit. (*fans self*)

“What exactly are you trying to win?”

Your heart. I swear to God, I thought it, wondering where that was coming from. I’d never have the guts to say it. So I did what most guys would do. “Your body for a night.”

Her crestfallen expression lasted all of three seconds, before she came back with more confidence than I would have expected. “I assure you, just one night would not be enough.”

She stared directly at me, defying me to respond.

Now I was having a hard time swallowing. When I threw up my hands in mock defeat, she deftly changed the direction of the conversation to more neutral topics.

I never analyzed what happened that lazy afternoon until it was too late. Something between us changed. We had crossed some invisible barrier we built up brick by brick the semester before. She knew I wanted her, but she had known that from the first moment I met her. But now, I knew that she wasn’t as immune to my charms as I thought.

She had thrown down the gauntlet. It lay at my feet. If I had been wise, I would have left it there, but she had issued the challenge. I had no other choice than to pick it up and aim it right for her heart

I threw it at her with all my might, but I was the one bleeding, a drop at a time and ever since, because she had pierced me with those simple words. “Just one night.”

That was just the verbal foreplay, for crying out loud.

The misses:

A few minor editing glitches were a little distracting, but the story and characters sucked me in so much I chose to ignore the errors.

Yes, I actually just said “I IGNORED THE EDITING ERRORS.” Yes, I’m a hypocrite. Get over it.

But, ultimately, that story-telling trance also set my expectations for the full novel much too high.

The final score: A-

Continue reading

World Series of Romance: The Off Season

I’m avoiding finishing a baseball-hero-but-not-really-about-baseball book that just threw me a fucking curveball and I’m kinda pissed about it, so here’s what I’m doing to procrastinate, even though I really shouldn’t even still be reading because it’s almost midnight but insomnia SUCKS and NO I did not over-caffeinate and YES I took my meds today, WHY ARE YOU ASKING?

I need a boyfriend who will drink beer and watch baseball with me

Come, I will explain "third base" in the park.

No oral sex whatsoever going on at third base.

Baseball is fucking boring without handjobs

An excuse to admire how big your package looks while wearing a cup

Something you can wrap both hands around that's big, long and hard

More action in Wrigley Field locker room

World Series of Romance: Squeeze Play by Kate Angell

Just so’s you know….

This started out as a One-Quote Review, and then four hours later I found myself in the throes of a Full Snark Bitchfest.

Shh! Mom's on the warpath!

You’re damn right I am. Also, if you give me
cake to relax, it better not be made of Ivory Soap.

If you read all the way to the end, you’ll see why.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
Squeeze Play (Richmond Rogues Book 1) by Kate Angell

  • Title: Squeeze Play
  • Author: Kate Angell
  • Series: Richmond Rogues, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: First published June 2006 by Love Spell; re-released as self-pub ebook December 2011
  • Source: Amazon (99¢ ebook)
  • Length: 318 pages
  • Trope(s): Angsty Athlete, Flaky Heroine, Friends-to-Lovers, Big Misunderstanding(s), Dumped in Public, Rebound, Small Town, Plot Moppets, Weight-Shaming
  • Quick blurb: Big-league ballplayers return to hometown for charity bachelor auction.
  • Quick review: A lot of eye-rolling and some major ::HEADDESK::ing.
  • Grade: D

The first in a steamy new series of romances featuring a hunky baseball team and the sirens who challenge the players in the game of love.

I have two positive things to say about this book:

(1) It was only 99 cents.

(2) It wasn’t Sweet Jesus! Honey Dews! bad.

But it was close.

I know I shouldn’t judge an entire series by the first book, but since it had a multi-arc storyline, I figured one book was more than enough.

You don’t believe me, do you? DO YOU? Well, all I can say is READ THIS:

My nipples picked you out of the crowd.

Him: “Your first blow on my coffee turned me on.”
Her: “My nipples picked you out of the crowd.”

My first idea was to do this as a Rogues vs. McCoys box score, but I’m kind of charted-out for a while. So this is going to be a Heroines vs. Heroes play-by-play with color commentary instead.

The match-up:

  • Home: The Small-Town Girls — Jacy the Wacky Coffee Shop Owner, Stevie the Low-Self-Esteem Tomboy, and Natalie the Big City Slut Who Tries to Throw the Game.
  • Visitors: The Richmond Rogues — Pro baseball players, in town for a celebrity bachelor auction, known by their on-field nicknames of Risk, Zen/ Einstein, Shutout, Romeo, Chaser and Psycho. Collectively known as “The Bat Pack.” No, really.

The scouting report:

  • Small-Town Girls Jacy and Stevie have the home-field advantage, and they know the value of well-timed coffee-inspired innuendo-laden puns.
  • Richmond’s local-boys-done-good Risk and Shutout have history with and insider knowledge of their opponents, but mental trips down Memory Lane might weaken their defenses.
  • Natalie the Slut, unexpectedly called down from her big-city penthouse, may throw both teams off their game with her wild pitching and penchant for crowd-baiting.
  • Irrational jealousy resulting from big misunderstandings will dominate play, but players will also need to be prepared for numerous distractions from both sides of the bench in the form of cleavage- and/or ass-flashing and baseball-metaphor sexual propositions.

The pre-game show (aka the prologue):

Bottom of the ninth in Game Seven of the World Series – Rogues down one against Tampa Bay, two outs with a runner on third.

After whiffing a backdoor slider¹ and a curve, veteran hitter Risk Kincaid proves his nickname by — wait for it —  CALLING HIS SHOT (see image at right).

And of course he knocks it out of the park. But it’s not just any ol’ game-winning hit! It’s a homer to the left field bleachers aimed straight at the scantily-dressed and vividly-coiffed female fan who taunted him on the Jumbotron.

While the 80,000² Tampa Bay fans pout, cry and head out to riot in the streets, Risk makes nice with the reporters for his SportsCenter highlight reel:

“What about the girl with the pink hair?” someone asked.

“What about her?” he shot the question back.

“You nearly slammed the ball down her throat³.”

A corner of his mouth turned up slightly. “She needs to learn to duck.”

Classy, huh? But I suppose taking her head off with a line drive homer is better than yelling “TAG” in the middle of a rodeo bar.

¹ Yes, “backdoor slider.” Take a WILD guess where my dirty mind went with that one.

² Yes, EIGHTY THOUSAND fans. Which is very impressive, because the largest pro baseball venue (Dodgers Stadium) has a capacity of only 56,000. I thought maybe the anticipated crowds forced a cross-town move to the Ray-Jay, but that only seats 65,000. So it must have been a cross-country displacement to Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles.

³ Intentional or unintentional? You decide.

First inning (chapter one):

Oh, bloody HELL — I’m balking on the first pitch.

This stupid book has 13 chapters, and I don’t have the time or patience for extra innings. I have more angsty athletes to read about, dammit. I also have difficulty maintaining extended metaphors.

We’ll go with some obscure stats and random trivia instead.

Continue reading

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

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

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

Caught Running by Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban >>