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>

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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.

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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-

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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