- 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.
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 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.
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-
“You curse at me, walk away from me, or do anything to irritate me, and I’ll do this again,” I whispered. “You’d better believe I’m going to take it a little further every time.”
My angry tirade had turned into a seduction.
OK. So. A book should (a) make me happy; (b) piss me off; or (c) bore me senseless. Please note these choices do NOT include (d) all of the above.
Binding Arbitration left me CONFLICTED. I do NOT LIKE feeling conflicted about a book.
The novel picks up seven years after the novella, with Aidan secure in his big-league career as a Cubs pitcher (heh) and Libby representing pedophiles and Mafia bosses as a big-time criminal defense attorney (hence the title).
Libby is also a single mother to a six-year-old son named Cass. Yes, you did the math correctly: Secret Baby. Aidan did know Libby got pregnant from their one night of intimacy – but, under the assumption that Libby was giving the baby up for adoption, he signed away his parental rights at the same time he signed his major league contract.
Unfortunately, Cass has leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant, and Aidan is the little boy’s best hope for a donor. And that means Libby is forced to confront Aidan with the revelation that she kept the baby — and the fact that they’ve been living across town from him for several years.
The first third of the novel is a seamless continuation of the novella, with Libby and Aidan both struggling with Cass’s illness and their own unresolved issues as they renegotiate and rebuild their relationship.
Libby is understandably pricklier than ever, and she’s terrified that Aidan will swoop in to become Cass’s hero and then abandon them again:
In that fragile moment, I witnessed the miracle of the man Aidan Palowski had become. All the smug conceit vanished, the athletic ego evaporated. He could express tender emotions and gentle ministrations, where nothing predatory lurked in any part of his touch. I closed my eyes with relief for Cass — but terror for my own withered heart.
But Aidan has matured enough to know that he was — and still can be — a selfish ass, and he’s determined to prove his worth to mother and son.
“You’re the only thing I’ve been afraid of in my life.” I ran my hands through my hair my mind worked quickly, putting words together in neat little lines. “I’ve been scared of having you and going on without you. I’ve failed you when you needed me the most, and I was frightened that if I found you, you’d reject me. But more than all that, I’ve been afraid that if I can’t learn to love you, I’ll never love anyone.”
Libby and Aidan’s wicked arguments over the past — with their passion still flaring beneath — carry their voices and motivations through from the novella to the novel, and I was still in my Book Trance.
But it didn’t last. And two days later, I’m still bitter about it.
From the moment Aidan and Libby begin to reconcile, this book completely loses cohesion and focus.
For some ungodly, unknown reason, the author begins to introduce an endless parade of Stock Characters and Soap Opera Sub-Plots that eventually push the story really close to the border of the Land of WTFery.
I’d give you a list, but you wouldn’t believe me, so I’ll just sneak in this quick teaser:
Libby uses her legal skills to aid an undocumented single mother who claims sanctuary in a church to avoid deportation.
This is accomplished by arranging for mother and son to live under the protection of Libby’s Italian mobster client.
This arrangement proves to be fully logical when we learn that the mother (a jazz singer) is fleeing the infamous Peruvian drug lord who fathered her child.
Libby’s son befriends the jazz singer’s son, which leads to tragedy, which leads to visitations from angels (plural), which leads to more (not secret) babies (plural).
Let’s back up a bit to catch some of the Declarations of Cosmic Truth from Cass Tucker, the Oracle of Plot Moppet Precociousness:
…”Those females are kissing maniacs.”
…”She’s always kissing me. If you could get her to kiss you some of the time, that would keep her lips off me.”
…”I’ve been working on this deal for six years. It’s what I’m supposed to do.”
…”Mister Pole-ow-ski, if you could love her, I think that would be nice, just in case if I’m not here no more.”
…”Once that kind of mark seeps in, it never fades away.”
…”Sometimes life throws you curveballs.”
…”Judgment comes from experience, and sound judgment comes from bad experience.”
The child is supposed to be SIX. The vocabulary of a real six-year-old boy consists primarily of burping the alphabet and inventing new fart jokes.
Aidan’s Inner Umpire of Doom might scare off some readers, but I actually liked him. He was pretty smarmy in a philosophical sort of way.
OH! Almost forgot! Libby’s bipolar mother regularly appears costumed as her adorable alter ego of… wait for it..
“I don’t know your grandma, but I’m Hildy, the Hillbilly Clown.”
Yeah. I know. I don’t want to go there right now.
I will, however, go here:
|…run the gamut||…run the gambit||230, 413|
|…marauding Viking raider||…maundering Viking raider||1591|
|…coffered ceiling||…coiffure ceiling||6096|
I almost didn’t finish the novel, because the letdown from that first book trance was soooo disappointing. Did I mention that I’m STILL BITTER? Marx’s story-telling skills and main characters are amazing – but she needs a good editor to help her understand how to keep all that talent reined in.