Holiday Romance Binge, Part 3: More Contemporaries

A few anthologies, a few novellas, a novella from another anthology, and one I thought was a novella but was actually a novel which is probably why I got pissy with it.

I kinda forgot about the “Naughty & Nice List” theme, but I can’t think about that right now because I need to figure what to take to the office potluck tomorrow that won’t require cooking or baking. Or buying ingredients. I’m thinking Mint M&Ms. Unless I eat those for breakfast again.

ANYWAY….

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Tripleheader: Carina Press Historicals

A Dream Defiant by Susanna FraserA Dream Defiant by Susanna Fraser

  • Title: A Dream Defiant
  • Author:  Susanna Fraser
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Carina Press, July 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: ~85 pages
  • Trope(s): Forbidden Love, War Heroes and Widows, Family Matters
  • Quick blurb: Black soldier delivers spoils of war to new widow and marries her for her protection
  • Quick review: Too much story for the short format.
  • Grade: B

He caught her hand. “Wait.” He slid his hands to the back of her neck, fumbling for the necklace’s clasp. He undid it and held the chain of rubies up, red and gold in the flickering candlelight. “No shackles for us,” he said, “no matter how rich.”

Loved the characters and premise, and Fraser managed to get a lot of emotion into less than 100 pages. But this story deserves more than a novella to avoid the rushed romance and resolution.

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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: 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.

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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-