Catching Up: Men of Smithfield, Books 2-4 by L.B. Gregg

Men of Smithfield series by L.B. Gregg

  • Title(s): Seth & David, Max & Finn, Adam & Holden
  • Author: L.B. Gregg
  • Series: Men of Smithfield, Books 2- 4
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, GLBTQ, Suspense
  • Publisher: Carina Press, September-November 2012
  • Source: NetGalley (Seth & David, Adam & Holden), Amazon ($3.39 ebook)
  • Length: 89/108/150 pages
  • Trope(s): Age Difference, Beta Heroes, Asshole Heroes, Uncontrollable Penises, Insta-Lust, Virgin,
  • Quick blurb: More m/m stories from small-town Connecticut.
  • Quick review: A downhill slide from the humorous angst of Book 1, with an emphasis on skeeviness and shallow suspense.
  • Grade: C, C-, D

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Men of Smithfield: Seth & David (Book 2)Book 2: Seth & David

Uptight guardian of six-year-old niece gets the hots for his hippie-esque new massage therapist.

He was everything I had never ever wanted.

I didn’t really connect with Seth — I would have loved to read the story from David’s POV. And the “meet-cute” was NOT cute or humorous AT ALL.

Grade: C-

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Men of Smithfield: Max & Finn (Book 3) by L.B. GreggBook 3: Max & Finn

Prep-school teacher and security expert reunited when they must protect a celebrity student from a stalker.

I stumbled along as best as I could, channeling Scout in her ham costume á la To Kill a Mockingbird.

I had to pick that quote because I just watched To Kill a Mockingbird last night, and I like to be reminded of Gregory Peck whenever possible. ANYWAY, I read Max & Finn right after Mark & Tony (Book 1), and I was not expecting the suspense elements — this one is long on plot and less on character.

Grade: C

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Book 4: Adam & HoldenMen of Smithfield: Adam & Holden (Book 4) by L.B. Gregg

House-bound writer finally gets to meet his sexy new landscaper when a dead body turns up in the garden.

But this was right. I felt reborn. Renewed. I felt free with him – as if the future was finally at hand and I could at long last set into the light of day. All the pain and the fear of two years had somehow brought him to me…and he was worth everything.

Asperger’s (Adam) + Agoraphobia (Holden) = Magical Orgasm Cure². Yay!

Grade: D (“yay” = /sarcasm/)

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.

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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: 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.

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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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Cowboy’s Triplet Trouble by Carla Cassidy

  • The Cowboy's Triplet Trouble by Carla CassidyTitle: Cowboy’s Triplet Trouble
  • Author: Carla Cassidy
  • Category/Series: Romantic Suspense, Top Secret Deliveries
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Suspense (???)
  • Publisher:  Harlequin,  October 2011
  • Source: Amazon, $3.82 ebook
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Trope(s): Cowboy, Single Mother, Plot Moppets (x3!!!), Beta Hero, Sibling Drama, One-Night Stand, Secret Babies (x3!!!)
  • Quick blurb: Single mother of triplets tracks down Baby Daddy to Oklahoma ranch, where she mistakes his identical triplet brother (yes, really) as her one-night stand.
  • Quick review: I am clearly MUCH too cynical to enjoy books like this.
  • Grade: D+

The only thing he knew for sure was that a man brandishing a gun shouldn’t be inside Grace’s house.

Full disclosure….

The reason I chose this book was because there are triplets in my family. I’ve seen and experienced first-hand what it takes to survive parenting multiples. I knew there would be numerous “oh, NUH-UH” moments that I could giggle over and share with snarky glee.

And those expectations were fulfilled in oh so many wonderful ways – primarily because THESE BABIES ARE CYBORGS. They are mini robots programmed to be the Perfect Plot Moppets:

  • They are named alphabetically (Abby, Bonnie, Casey).
  • They wear color-coded outfits.
  • They fall asleep and wake at the exact same time, without a whimper.
  • They sit quietly on the floor and play with toys.
  • They wait patiently for meals and baths.
  • They nap peacefully in their car seats during long road trips.

But wait – there’s more! These babies NEVER CRY. Ever. Except when tears and wailing are useful to the plot in the second-to-last chapter.

Example:

Hero and heroine take triplets out for dinner and have long, intimate, soul-baring conversation. While the babies eat spaghetti.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

These babies are so Stepford perfect that at TEN MONTHS their SINGLE MOTHER is completely comfortable driving them to their UNKNOWN BABY DADDY’S HOUSE hours away and STAYING IN A MOTEL. But then, having magically-appearing baby gear and a car bewitched with an Undetectable Extension Charm like Hermione’s purse or Mary Poppins’ carpet bag probably helps.

Example:

The three car seats can be easily removed from Grace’s car and installed in (a) bench seat of a king-cab pickup AND (b) backseat of a cop car. Within minutes. With no swearing.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

So, now for the not-funny parts….

I recently read another Carla Cassidy book, and while it wasn’t mind-blowing, I did enjoy the suspense and the characters. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen at all with this book.

I found it boring because the cardboard protagonists never change. From start to finish, he’s the Stoic Cowboy with a Heart of Gold and she’s the Perfectly Perfect Schoolteacher (except for that one-night moment of drunken weakness, of course). These two have a very noticeable lack of personality.

Even worse, the internal angstifying was unbearably repetitive:

She wasn’t expecting instant happiness from Justin, but what she was hoping for was some sort of acceptance of the situation and the happiness would come later.

By the end of the first chapter, WE KNOW that she’s not after money or marriage. But we’re still confronted with her thoughts on it over and over and over. The hero’s inner drama is just as numbing:

He’d spent most of his life shouldering responsibilities to make life easier on everyone else around him. Now what he wanted more than anything was just to be left alone.

How often are we reminded of this? The word “alone” appears in the book FORTY-FOUR (44) times. My god, we get it already, all right?

I have a few other Carla Cassidy books on my “maybe” shelf and most are rated highly, so I’m hoping this one was just an anomaly.

Before the Scarlet Dawn by Rita Gerlach

  • Before the Scarlet Dawn by Rita GerlachTitle: Before the Scarlet Dawn
  • Author: Rita Gerlach
  • Series: Daughters of the Potomac, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Historical, Inspirational (this is NOT a romance!)
  • Publisher: Abingdon Press, February 2012
  • Source: Free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley ($9.99 ebook)
  • Length: 326 pages
  • Trope(s): Angst, Big Misunderstanding
  • Quick blurb: Young English couple make a home in 1770s Virginia.
  • Quick review: This didn’t work for me AT ALL.
  • Grade: D

Ugh. About halfway through, I found myself thinking “This isn’t working for me on any level.” And then it got worse. Which means that this review will be incoherent, because I don’t want to have to read the book again to find examples of everything I didn’t like.

I was so intrigued by the colonial setting promised in the blurb, but it played out like a strange conglomeration of Gone with the Wind, The Scarlet Letter and Jane Eyre.

I found the heroine to be wildly inconsistent, veering from naive preacher’s daughter to vain seductress to proto-feminist to groveling martyr. I *never* understood her motivations.

The general consensus among other reviewers is that the heroine’s husband – who is NOT a hero by any means – is a complete and utter tool. But what annoyed me even more than his despicable deceit near the end was that NO ONE ever called Hayward out for his own significant role in contributing to Eliza’s “moment of weakness.”

AND the death of a major character in the book was tossed away in a single sentence from a stock character who appeared in only that one scene.

Ugh. I struggled to finish this, and the other book I have by this author (a Kindle freebie) is going to the bottom of the TBR queue.

One-Quote Review: Redemption of a Hollywood Starlet by Kimberly Lang

  • Redemption of a Hollywood Starlet by Kimberly LangTitle: Redemption of a Hollywood Starlet
  • Author: Kimberly Lang
  • Series: The Marshalls, Book 3
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher:  Harlequin (Presents Extra), June 2012
  • Source: Free from the publisher via NetGalley ($2.99 ebook, $4.99 MMPB)
  • Length: 192 pages
  • Trope(s): Movie Stars, Parental Pressure, Manwhore, Slut Shaming, Misogyny
  • Quick blurb: Slut-shamed Hollywood princess attempts a comeback in a film produced by the ex who led her down the path of wickedness.
  • Quick review: Promising premise, but the execution was a huge missed opportunity.
  • Grade: D

“I think we’ve proved that you can raise hell and people will still respect you, but I can’t. It’s a horrible double standard, so I’ve worked very, very hard to clean up my act.”

The set-up for the oh-so-promising premise was there, but the story never even came close to being the “redemption” I was looking for. The HERO was the one who needed to get his head out of his ass, not the titular Hollywood Starlet. Exalted Manwhore + Slut-Shaming = Misogyny Wins Again.

Lady Alexandra’s Excellent Adventure by Sophie Barnes

  • Lady Alexandra's Excellent AdventureTitle: Lady Alexandra’s Excellent Adventure
  • Author: Sophie Barnes
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (er, Mistorical)
  • Publisher: Avon Impulse, May 2012
  • Source: Borrowed from public library ($3.99 at Amazon)
  • Trope(s): Regency, Virgins, Beta Heroes, Spies, In Disguise, TSTL, Mistorical
  • Quick blurb: TSTL hoyden teams up with worst spy ever to rescue brother who may be a traitor.
  • Quick review: Spectacularly unsuccessful mashup of Julia Quinn and Joanna Bourne.
  • Grade: D-

Lady Alexandra’s Excellent Adventure popped up on the “Recently Added E-Books” list at my local public library. I figured, “Hey, it has a cheesy title, but you never know.”

Oh, I should have known.

It didn’t take long to get to the second of many What. The. Fucks. in this book (I’m counting the title as the first). By the middle of chapter two, I was double-checking the front matter to see if my library had been suckered into offering vanity press titles.

Oh, Avon Impulse, if this is what you’re publishing as “fresh, exciting content,” I don’t think I’m the kind of “evolved” and “savvy” reader you had in mind. Unless, of course, “Insulting Mistorical” is one of your new subgenres.

But before we get into the CAPS LOCK OF INDIGNATION (to paraphrase The Book Smugglers – this wasn’t quite rage-inducing, but I’m definitely indignant), let’s go on an Excellent Adventure with Lady Alexandra & Friends.

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