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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World Series of Romance: Going for It by Elle Kennedy

Going For It by Elle Kennedy

  • Title: Going For It
  • Author:  Elle Kennedy
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Samhain Publishing, November 2008
  • Source: Amazon ($2.10 ebook)
  • Length: 62 pages
  • Trope(s): Athlete, Friends-to-Lovers
  • Quick blurb: Struggling bar owner seduces retired ballplayer before she’s forced to sell her business.
  • Quick review: Nothing to recommend about this predictable novella – and a few annoyances that almost ruined it.
  • Grade: C-

Starting new would be good for her. She hoped. But she had no intention of leaving town with regrets, and not jumping Riley’s bones would be the biggest regret of all.

The heroine has lost her family-legacy business and her apartment, forcing her impending move across the country to live in her sister’s basement. But no big deal — her most important priority is to get laid by a jock.

While I didn’t have much respect for the heroine or the hero (no spoilers!), the friends-to-lovers romance was realistic and kind of sweet, I loved that the heroine did the seducing, and the grand gesture HEA was really good.

This would have been a solid C, but a few “Oh, FFS” moments kicked me out of my reading trance:

  • No-condom sex with a self-admitted manwhore. Twice. But it’s OK, because she’s on the Pill.
  • The irrelevant and unnecessary inclusion of the heroine’s BFFs — their Sex and the City drunken tell-alls were pretty eye-rolling.
  • The hero mentally describes the heroine as “saucy.” I added that adjective to to my List of Patronizing Ways to Describe Your Heroine. I haven’t decided if “saucy” is better or worse than “sassy.”
  • The heroine feels “waves of pleasure in her womb.” Let’s review: Womb ≠ Vagina. Womb =  UTERUS.
  • The hero’s only defining traits as a former pro athlete are his swagger (he swaggers a LOT) and his preference for “the three B’s…blonde hair, blue eyes and big tits.”

This was one of Kennedy’s early efforts, and reviews of her recent books have been much more positive, so I’m not going to let this short “meh” scare me off this author yet.

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.

World Series of Romance

Stupid Cardinals.

OK, now that we got that out of the way…. A few days ago, I instigated a raging Twitter debate about which World Series team is collectively cuter. [Answer: Tigers. Giants have that creepy Unabomber beard thing going on.]

Oh, all right, it wasn’t really a “raging” debate, but I did feel a little guilty for perpetuating a stereotype. So to redeem my cred as a bona fide, knowledgeable fan, I’ll be blogging a barrage of baseball books. Be prepared for cringe-worthy cliches and awkward analogies.

1950s vintage illustration baseball players and spectatorsWhy, yes, I am qualified to review baseball-themed media, thank you for asking:

  • I was married to a baseball fanatic for 11 years. Our belated honeymoon was a road trip to Cooperstown. My first online username was “Baseball Widow.”
  • My daughter had her picture taken with Stan Musial and Bob Feller when she was three weeks old.
  • My son’s middle name is Henry, in honor of Hank Aaron and Hank Greenberg.
  • My dog is named for Jackie Robinson.
  • Paul Molitor is my third cousin once removed. Or something like that. We’re definitely related, I swear.
  • I saw Field of Dreams on the Field of Dreams. Kevin Costner performed with his “band.” They were gawd-awful. You’ll notice I didn’t say he “sang.” He tried to get the crowd to sing along with Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” In the middle of an Iowa cornfield full of drunk people and not enough port-a-potties.
  • I sat right behind Buck O’Neil at a Royals game against the Orioles and watched over his shoulder as he kept score. At the end of the game, O’Neil added a notation with a big circle around it on the upper left corner of his scorecard: “Ripken 0-5, 43 games from Gehrig.”
  • The night before his 3000th hit, Tony Gwynn bumped into me as he was leaving Busch Stadium and almost knocked me to the ground. He grabbed my arm and asked if I was OK, then apologized. I think I mumbled something incoherent in response. I also may have swooned a little. The ex refused to admit that it really was Tony Gwynn. Then he got mad that I didn’t get an autograph. No sexy times for him that night. In retrospect, that might have been the beginning of the end. I’ll stop with the TMI now.

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