Tigerland by Sean Kennedy

Tigerland by Sean Kennedy

  • Title: Tigerland
  • Author: Sean Kennedy
  • Series: Tigers & Devils, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, GLBTQ (M/M)
  • Publisher: Dreamspinner Press, October 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($6.99 ebook)
  • Length: 295 pages
  • Trope(s): Established Relationship, Smartass Hero, Celebrity Athlete Hero, Beta Hero (x2!), Evil Ex
  • Quick blurb: Just as their lives are moving beyond the celebrity-coming-out scrutiny, an attention-whore asshole ex resurfaces to prey on every insecurity.
  • Quick review: I think everyone should read this book. But first read Tigers & Devils. And then read them both again because they’re THAT GOOD.
  • Grade: A

I reached forward and grabbed Dec’s hand. It pulled him back a little, and he turned, surprised. Then he smiled, a smile so full of love and tenderness it seemed to be brighter than everything around us — the white sand, the sun reflecting off the surface of the waves — it could envelop me and swallow me whole. The mantra I often repeat to myself in one of these rare moments of PDA begins: This is for those times when I want to take his hand, or he wants to take mine, but we don’t feel safe enough. This is for those times other couples get to take for granted, but we have to snatch in limited amounts when they become available to us. This is for those times when I can’t do such a simple thing as hold the hand of Dec as the tiniest gesture of affection and to show him how much I love him.

Simon is the best wanky smartass EVER and Dec is a saint for putting up with him, and I want every couple who feels ashamed or afraid to have lovely intimate moments like these and big fat happily ever afters. Holy CRAP, I love these guys.

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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: 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-

One-Quote Review: Wrestling with Jesus by Stephen Osborne

  • Wrestling with Jesus by Stephen OsborneTitle: Wrestling with Jesus
  • Author: Stephen Osborne
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, M/M
  • Publisher:  Dreamspinner Press, April 2012
  • Source: Digital ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($5.38 ebook)
  • Length: 210 pages
  • Trope(s): Beta Heroes, Big Misunderstanding (heh)
  • Quick blurb: Small-time pro wrestler hits the big-time when his under-hypnosis recitation of the Sermon on the Mount in Aramaic is sold to the tabloids.
  • Quick review: The author was able to pull off the satire, but the head-hopping and character inconsistencies drove me crazy.
  • Grade: C

“All I know is that I tried hypnosis to stop smoking, and the next thing I know I’m in a tabloid proclaimed as the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.”

The satirical premise was inspired (heh), with some truly funny scenes and dialogue. If only the rest of the writing held up – every character, no matter how minor, gets a POV, and the language of the internal monologuing is often inconsistent with the character. I kept comparing the main characters to Larry and Al in J. L. Merrow’s brilliant Muscling Through, and Randy and Kyle are just pale imitations.

One-Quote Review: Complete Faith by Sue Brown

  • Complete Faith by Sue BrownTitle: Complete Faith
  • Author: Sue Brown
  • Series: Morning Report, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, M/M
  • Publisher: Dreamspinner Press, April 2012
  • Source: Digital ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($5.38 ebook)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • Trope(s): Coming Out, Cowboys, Virgin
  • Quick blurb: Preacher inspires young ranch hand to come out of the closet.
  • Quick review: Not a lot of emotional depth considering the race and religion themes.
  • Grade: C

The pastor of St. Mark’s was a walking wet dream as far as Tommy was concerned: smooth chocolate skin that fascinated him, and huge dark eyes that seemed to know everything there was to know about him.

I LOVED that one of the heroes was a gay black preacher, but the characters and storytelling seemed really simplistic and superficial, and even the sex was perfunctory. I was expecting a lot more emotion, both romantically and spiritually – Marie Sexton’s Between Sinners and Saints set my expectations, and Complete Faith just felt completely lackluster in comparison.

One-Quote Review: Gambling Men by Amy Lane

  • Gambling Men by Amy LaneTitle: Gambling Men
  • Author: Amy Lane
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, M/M
  • Publisher:  Dreamspinner Press, May 2012
  • Source: Free from the publisher via NetGalley ($5.38 Kindle, $14.99 paperback)
  • Length: 220 pages
  • Trope(s): Friends-to-Lovers, Alpha Male, Beta Hero, Gambling
  • Quick blurb:
  • Quick review: A few too many heavy-handed metaphors take the focus away from the characters.
  • Grade: B-

And it was poker – the water they swam in; the air they breathed; the language they spoke; the solid, bass, masculine sound of love that had no soft edges.

I always love Amy Lane’s characters and gorgeous writing, but the combination of poker AND hunting metaphors got to be too much by the end.

Also: I think hairless dude on the cover must spend a LOT of money on manscaping.

Galley Proof by Eric Arvin

  • Galley Proof by Eric ArvinTitle: Galley Proof
  • Author: Eric Arvin
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, M/M
  • Publisher: Dreamspinner Press, January 2012
  • Source: Digital ARC via NetGalley ($5.38 on Amazon)
  • Trope(s): Angst, Family Drama, Commitment Issues, Fictional Author
  • Quick blurb: Cranky reclusive writer gets the hots for his new editor and goes on Roman Holiday.
  • Quick review: Great premise, entertaining first half, cracked second half.
  • Grade: C-

I was hooked by the title, cover and blurb, and had it on my wish list for months, so when I saw it on my first cruise through NetGalley I kinda geeked out a little bit.

It’s nice that I can still be optimistic about a new book, but sometimes it can come back and bite me in the ass. (NO comments or editorializing, please. Thank you.) Galley Proof  has some really good writing, but it was overshadowed by numerous distractions that kicked me out of my reading trance again and again and again.

It’s two different stories: The angsty, romantic Budding Relationship in the first half and the campy, shallow Shame Spiral in Scenic Surroundings in the second half. And I didn’t like the hero in either environment.

The blurb:

Fiction writer Logan Brandish is perfectly happy in his peaceful small-town routine with his best friend, his cat, and his boyfriend—until he meets the editor of his next book, the handsome Brock Kimble, and the lazy quiet of everyday living goes flying out the window….

Our heroes are Logan and Brock. The frat-boy/soap opera names should have been a red flag.

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