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: 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 >>

World Series of Romance Tripleheader: Hard Ball series by Abigail Barnette

Before we get started, let’s take a closer look at the covers, shall we?

Long Relief: Hardball, Book 1 by Abigail Barnette

Double Header: Hardball, Book 2 by Abigail Barnette

Just ignore the aluminum bat.

Triple Play: Hardball, Book 3 by Abigail Barnette

Drooling? Who, me? Shut up, I am a SERIOUS baseball fan, dammit.

  • Series: Hard Ball
  • Author:  Abigail Barnette (aka Jennifer Armintrout)
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Erotica, GLBTQ
  • Publisher: Resplendence Publishing, 2012
  • Source: ARe ($3.99 ebooks)
  • Trope(s): Athletes, Lust in the Workplace, Beta Heroes, Coming Out, Menage/Polyamory, MC/IR/AA
  • Quick blurb:  Interconnected novellas featuring the fictional Grand Rapids Bengals.
  • Quick review: Each story has its pros and cons, but likeable characters having good sexy times are always worth a read.
  • Grade(s): B- average (B+, C, B-)

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Continue reading

Fontana by Joshua Martino

Fontana by Joshua Martino

  • Title: Fontana
  • Author:  Joshua Martino
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): GLBTQ, Contemporary (NOT a romance)
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books, July 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($9.99 ebook)
  • Length: 264 pages
  • Trope(s): Closeted Athlete, Hard-Bitten Sports Reporter
  • Quick blurb: Attention-whore sports columnist outs closeted slugger during record-breaking hitting streak.
  • Quick review: First-person POV from unlikeable narrator didn’t work for me AT ALL.
  • Grade: DNF

“A coach once told me that if I’m polite to you guys, you’ll save the tough questions for the other players,” he said. Charmed by his frankness, I laughed and told myself that from then on, I would save my worst for his teammates.

I DNF’d this pretty quickly, primarily because it wasn’t what I expected, but also because the stupid Cardinals put me in a cranky mood even before the narrator pissed me off.

Blame my immersion in Romancelandia, or the fact that I didn’t finish it, but this book would have worked much better for me with a little more sensitivity and a little less heavy-handed sensationalism.

I knew this wasn’t a romance, and I was actually looking forward to a different perspective, but I wasn’t prepared for the first-person POV from the sleazy reporter/blogger. Jerry’s unrelenting assholery came through loud and clear in just the first few pages, and his character and voice pushed me away instead of engaging me in the story.

This admission may discredit this entire review, but I bailed on the story even before The Dramatic Big Reveal. In addition to my aversion to the narrator, the lack of POV from the title character made me feel he was nothing more than an empty prop. I needed to know something — anything — about Ricky Fontana beyond Jerry’s alcohol- and ego-skewed observations and the inevitable abuse from fans.

A few other issues raised my inner red flags, even from the first chapter:

I remembered those knuckles, that grip, decades younger, squeezing each grain of pine in his bat….

A PINE bat? Really? That kind of “huh???” moment — in the second sentence of the book — killed the scene-setting and character-building for me immediately. And it wasn’t just in the e-galley I read, it was in the published sample on Amazon as well.

A few pages later, we get this:

Men cheered for his batting eye, and women serenaded him for batting his eyelashes.

This was followed by a sample of a supposedly humorous column written by the skeevy reporter, with the cringe-worthy headline of “Female Fans Fond of Fontana.” This hard-hitting essay featured phrases like “a gaggle of Gotham girls would gladly fill his passenger seat” and “October can’t come quickly enough for some ladies.”

Not done yet….

He smiled with broad lips and brilliant teeth that could melt the frostiest woman into a puddle of desire.

Oh, BARF. I fully admit to making tongue-in-cheek comments about player appearance (good god, get rid of those playoff beards, FFS), and I know that scene was intended to set up the narrator as a smarmy dickhead and demonstrate the pressure on the gay slugger, but for me, the misogyny went too far. One or two references to “fawning lady fans” would have been enough — after that, I felt alienated as a reader and disrespected as a true baseball fan.

A general tip for all authors of sports-theme books: Women who read books about sports are in all likelihood fervent and knowledgeable fans. In fact, women currently comprise nearly HALF the MLB fanbase. PLEASE do not dismiss us as brainless bimbos. In other words: Don’t. Piss. Us. Off.

This last bit of whining is really just a personal quirk for me, but I prefer fictional sports teams and player names in novels. The closeted phenom played for the Mets (at least not the Yankees, thank god), and the repeated references to Jeter and A-Rod and other real-life A-list players kicked me out of my reading trance. Jeter was name-dropped SEVEN times. Naming current players will also date this story quickly — especially considering A-Rod’s disastrous 2012 season.

I lied….

One more bit of whining: paragraph breaks. For GOD SAKE, break up the three-page-long paragraphs of internal monologuing. This should be a no-brainer for digital formatting.

This contemporary drama was definitely intriguing and worth the attempt, but I think I’ll stick to historicals, non-fiction and fluff with HEAs for a while.

One-Quote Review: Second Hand by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton

I have to do a One-Quote Review for this because anything longer would be nauseatingly sycophantic.

  • Second Hand by Heidi Cullinan and Marie SextonTitle: Second Hand
  • Author(s): Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton
  • Series: Tucker Springs, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, GLBTQ (M/M)
  • Publisher: Riptide Publishing, September 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($6.99 ebook, available 9/10)
  • Length: 175 pages
  • Trope(s): Friends-to-Lovers, Rebound, Angst, Gay for You, Dysfunctional Families, Beta Heroes
  • Quick blurb: Lonely and jaded pawn shop owner falls for seemingly-straight customer.
  • Quick review: The dog’s name is MoJo. See his begging eyes and wistful expression? He wants you to read this book.
  • Grade: A

“I just want to be the first choice for someone for once. Just once.”

So, Heidi and Marie, just go ahead and push all my buttons, and THEN reach in and pull my guts out. You both seem to be good at that sort of thing.

ALSO: Hurry the hell up with your next books, so I can fling myself on the altar of your brilliance ALL OVER AGAIN.

I guess that last bit crossed the “sycophant” line, huh? Oh, well. I HAVE NO SHAME.

Love, Hypothetically by Anne Tenino

Love, Hypothetically by Anne Tenino

  • Title: Love, Hypothetically
  • Author: Anne Tenino
  • Series: Theta Alpha Gamma, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, GLBTQ (M/M)
  • Publisher: Riptide Publishing, August 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($4.99 ebook, available 8/27)
  • Length: 100 pages
  • Trope(s): Reunited, Big Misunderstanding, Guilt & Groveling, Nerds vs. Jocks, Coming Out, Unrequited Love
  • Quick blurb: Cranky grad student finds it difficult to forgive and forget when the high-school boyfriend who betrayed him shows up unexpectedly.
  • Quick review: 100 pages, 60 “damn, that’s good” highlights – you do the math.
  • Grade: B+

Once again, I am forced to abandon my beloved and lazy One-Quote format because there were just too damn many good ones to choose from.

“How does one go about about changing one’s life?” he asked. Toby seemed to know a lot of useless crap, maybe he’d know the answer to this question.

It takes a lot of skill to turn a villain into a worthy hero. Yes, Paul was an evil little worm in the first book. But he freely admits his worminess (I just made that up) and he does something about it.

“I’m a prick. A prickly, bitter volatile prick, destined to splat on the floor of life.”

“…So stop being one.”

“…What, you think it’s that easy? I just decide to stop, and bam! No more prickliness? It takes action, man. I have to do things, take positive steps. I have to apologize and obtain forgiveness.”

For a relatively new author, Tenino is remarkably good at the elusive art of showing instead of telling. She avoids cheesy angstifying and lets Paul stumble through his anger and confusion and guilt with his usual dark humor:

Just…. How in the hell did one prepare oneself for apologizing? Was there some kind of training program? Had Tony Horton produced an exercise video about it?

Paul eventually figures it out, and – with reluctant forgiveness and help from Brad and Sebastian – finally gets the guy:

“All those years without you, I never had anything happen worth remembering. You came back and that all changed in a few days.”

So by the time we get to that hard-won HEA, it’s easy to share Frat Boy Brad’s protective stance:

“…I don’t have to threaten to kick your ass if you’re a dick to Paul, right, dude? Because up until yesterday, I didn’t even really like him, but you know, I’d do what needs to be done.”

The only issue that kept Love, Hypothetically from being an A grade was a formatting annoyance with the titular “well, hypothetically speaking” scene in the bar. The long monologue paragraphs were difficult to read on my Kindle Touch – which means it would be even more of a struggle on a smaller device. I had to page back to read a few of Paul’s charmingly convoluted explanations a second time because I missed an important bit of self-discovery on the first pass.

But that won’t stop me from reading it again.

One-Quote Review: Skybound by Aleksandr Voinov

  • Skybound by Aleksandr VoinovTitle: Skybound
  • Author: Aleksandr Voinov
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): M/M, Historical (WW2)
  • Publisher:  Riptide Publishing,  August 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($2.99 ebook)
  • Length: 44 pages
  • Trope(s): Military,Virgin, Beta Hero, Unrequited Love
  • Quick blurb: German plane mechanic longs and lusts for his unit’s ace fighter pilot.
  • Quick review: Despite the setting, this novella  somehow manages to be quiet, intimate and very, very romantic.
  • Grade: A-

We stand there and just kiss, and with every touch, we seem to explain and apologise, and bridge that gap that yawned between us.

I love it when I can just sink in and wallow in the language, and let it take me along wherever the author wants to go. And so far, I’m willing to follow Voinov wherever he’s heading.

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I lied….

This will be more of a Six-Quote Review.

…Everything stops existing when he takes off, as if he takes it all with him when he goes up there, to places I’ll never see again.

…I can’t exactly run after him, so I tighten my fingers around the bullet. It felt like I owned it when I pulled it from his seat, like that one polished stone amidst a million on a beach that catches your attention and feels like it’s meant for you alone.

…If the world ends tomorrow, how will I go? Without ever having risked anything, or having done the one thing I can’t stop thinking about?

…We race towards something so amazing and precious it strikes me dumb with its immenseness. I lose every sense of myself, every thought; there’s just emotion and utter fulfillment.

…”I’m not going anywhere. Not while you’re still hurt. Not ever, if I can help it.”

It took me an hour to finish this pathetic excuse for a rave recommendation because I had to keep re-reading my notes and highlights.