Tag Archives: Mixed Martial Arts

Against the Ropes by Sarah Castille Takes You To Hot, Sexy, Slightly Disturbing Places

3 Sep

Against the Ropes by Sarah Castille (Sourcebooks Casablanca, September 3, 2013) – great cover although it’s missing Max’s phenomenal tattoos

In the world of romance, the only thing better than a hot, underground MMA fighter is a hot, millionaire, underground MMA fighter and that’s exactly what we get in Max “Torment” Huntingdon, the hero in Sarah Castille‘s fabulous novel, Against the Ropes.

Yet the entire book is told from the heroine, Makayla’s perspective, one that begins with her trying to help her best friend at the underground warehouse which serves as the training center and an official fight location for this local, unsanctioned MMA ring. Despite Makayla strong physical reaction to witnessing violence, the EMT in her can’t help but reach out and help when people get hurt. That she is wrestling with some very traumatic issues from her childhood regarding violence, makes this reaction easy to understand and the reader instantly comprehends Makayla’s bravery in entering into a relationship with Max despite his personality which craves the show of strength he gets by doing MMA.

Max is an irresistible yet flawed individual who you end up loving because of his flaws as much as due to his caring nature. He makes a lot of mistakes with Makayla (as she does with him) but you root for the two of them to make it work since they each give each other way more than they take. Love – true love – always creates more than the sum of two people, and this couple shows how that can become a reality. Castille’s sex scenes between Max and Makayla practically cause the pages to burst into flame and it’s not shocking she’s won numerous contests in the erotic romance category.

Should you be interested in beginning your own underground fighting ring, please note that the actual equipment can be rented easily (although I imagine you’ll have to pay extra for cleaning off all the blood).

It’s tough to go too much into the plot with a typical summary since this book lives inside Makayla’s head. There is a distinct progression in their relationship and if you like possessive alpha males you will have noooooooo problem with Max, particularly when you discover why he might be a tad hypervigilant. Makayla is also dealing with insane student loan issues (and I confess to thinking this was the most unrealistic part of the novel – underground millionaire MMA fighter with venture capitalist firm, no problem, but harassing phone calls with threats to repossess your parent’s house for YOUR student loans, not freakin’ likely). She is however, surrounded by good friends and plenty of male interest, and in the middle of trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life (she was pre-med at the top of her class). Perhaps because of that element, and since Castille uses the first person to tell this story, I actually feel that there were a lot of factors which place this novel in the “new adult” category, if that’s an interest of yours.

Castille’s writing is outstanding in the sense that this is an insightful, deeply psychological novel that delves into the heroine’s head and sifts through some pretty deep stuff. Makayla doesn’t initially realize that she craves the dominance Max offers her (although her body understands pretty quickly). Yet her hot, steamy, highly erotic encounters with him often trigger flashbacks to the violence in her childhood. At first it’s unbelievably disturbing and I found myself, like Makayla, resisting the idea that she could be sexually turned on by something that would dredge up these memories. But by the end of the book it’s clear that this tension exists because Makayla’s brain is helping her reconcile her memories of violence done out of anger by an unhealthy person with the reality in front of her – namely that Max’s violence is controlled and strategic, born of a desire to protect the people important to him.

The MMA part of this was smart – fans of Kele Moon’s Battered Hearts series would find a lot to love here – and Castille writes every character with respect and depth, no mean feat! I hate the first person (it takes an amazing author like Charlotte Stein to get me to get past that hurdle) but I loved Against the Ropes don’t plan on fighting the purchase of any future Sarah Castille books which are going right into my “must read” list.

MMA, UFC, Sports Galore, But Why Are There No Professional Wrestling Heroes in Romance?

11 Jul

The official logo of the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). At one point it was the WWF, but the World Wildlife Federation successfully sued and wrestling made a change.

It’s amazing how you change over twenty years of marriage. When I discovered that my intellectual, graduate student husband was a HUGE fan of professional wrestling, it was difficult to put those elements together.

Really? I mean, isn’t wrestling fake and not a sport? Numerous documentaries, books, and discussions later, as well as Mondays and Fridays given over to reading romance novels while in the same room as Monday Night RAW and Friday Night Smackdown and I’ve got a whole new outlook. Not only are these men and women phenomenal athletes who train for hours in the gym and in the ring, but – unlike so many athletes who are great on the field and monosyllabic at best in front of the camera – the wrestlers from WWE also embody charisma, acting ability, and an incredible teamwork ethic.

Don’t Be Snooty: Look at the Market Potential

But since I am reading those romance novels while keeping one eye on the TV screen, it’s hard not to be struck by an obvious fact. With the rise of fabulous books having MMA and UFC fighters (like Kele Moon’s Battered Hearts series), to say nothing of the many, many sports hero romance novels (Jaci Burton, for example) why has no author used the rich world of professional wrestling as a basis for a romance series?

Before you get too snooty and turn your nose up at professional wrestling, consider how many people do that same thing with romance novels. They aren’t right, just ignorant, and while the WWE may not be your cup of tea, the fact remains that there’s ample fodder for significant romance novels here. I bet you didn’t start watching MMA after reading a book with an MMA hero, right? You don’t have to be a weekly viewer (although you may end up one) but take a look at some of the key elements of WWE wrestling and tell me there isn’t serious romance potential here. Oh, and take a look at the pictures and really tell me there’s not potential!

John Cena, my favorite wrestler, who embodies his personal mission statement of “Hustle, Loyalty, Respect”.

Part of that potential are the fourteen million fans who tune in each week (36% of them women) who certainly can understand the appeal. Those fans who choose to be in the know – regarding the idea that each wrestler personifies a character and who also understand that the WWE writes the storylines and conflict between characters – are known as “smarks” (a combination of the words “smart” and “mark”). Wrestlers are considered “faces” – usually good looking good guys – or “heels” – bad guys you love to hate (who can also be good looking). Being one or the other doesn’t guarantee a role for life; major storylines often dictate a “heel turn” or someone thought of previously as a good guy allying themselves with someone horrible or making a move to the dark side him or herself.

This is an incredible billion dollar industry covering television, film (see the documentaries below for a few examples), music (each character has a signature piece of music), magazines, books (mostly biography and about the industry), and video gaming. Vince McMahon, along with his daughter Stephanie McMahon, built the WWE into an entertainment force to be reckoned with, and while his on camera persona is one of the often evil boss (who Americans of all ages and backgrounds love to hate), watching the many documentaries about various wrestlers reveal a strong businessman who deeply cares for the entertainers who make up the WWE family.

And Then There’s the Eye Candy Terrific Wrestlers

C. M. Punk, probably the strongest anti-hero currently wrestling, has talent and drive, overcoming difficult challenges in his childhood. Across his stomach is the logo “Straight Edge” embodying his lifelong commitment to avoiding drugs or alcohol.

The wrestlers themselves come from backgrounds that seem ideal for romance novel hero status. Whether it’s John Cena‘s unbelievable Make a Wish Foundation work, C. M. Punk‘s difficult family background and earned anti-hero persona, or Randy Orton‘s family legacy of wrestling and the stresses it placed on him, these are men with a depth of personal story that seem very suited to our genre. The fact they earn millions of dollars a year also fulfills a popular trope of the rich entertainer, jaded by women falling at his feet like ripe pears, who is ready to find the love of his life.

Yet, challenges for romantic entanglements are many. These wrestlers spend over 300 days on the road and divorce is understandably common. Even with strong teamwork, their bodies get incredibly battered with injuries sidelining them for months at a time. Wrestlers often start off at seedy hole-in-the-wall regional proving grounds, sometimes moving on to international wrestling venues in Mexico, Europe or Japan before the select few make their way to the national venues of the televised WWE programs. These programs take place in your local huge arena where the wrestlers perform to crowds of tens of thousands of people, sometimes upwards of 80,000 people. Rock stars, eat your heart out!

Randy Orton whose natural ability and hard work has risen him to superstardom, despite his being his own worst enemy.

The Divas (and please note that there is now a reality show about these women on the E! Network) are the female wrestlers who have been over sexualized in the past but are now attaining greater footing and equality. My husband used to fast forward through the Divas (and, no, not just because I was sitting there) since he felt that many of their story lines denigrated the women’s athleticism. As the WWE has become more family friendly (no more Stone Cold Steve Austin spraying beer on his opponents while giving them the double handed finger), I’m pleased to say the Diva story lines have risen in content accordingly. Sometimes male and female wrestlers are “involved” with each other or there is interpersonal conflict between Divas (and male wrestlers) to heighten tensions and allegiances. Not only are several of the Divas former athletes, but some come from dancing, professional cheerleading and modeling backgrounds. A wonderful plus of watching the divas is that a decent amount of them have strong, curvy and athletic figures – even the ones who are model thin seem to have that body naturally – promoting a healthier female body image for viewers.

Fandango, the hilarious heel who has begun a “dance” craze with his theme song and various antics. A perfect secondary character – just “let the ‘a’s breathe”.

Potential for secondary characters abound. Whether it’s the fans (so many adorable kids out in the audience next to rabid adult fans), caring support staff, or the wrestlers who provide villainous or comic relief (Google “WWE Wrestler Fandango video” and get ready to laugh), personalities are ripe for consideration when constructing additional characters who would support a hero and heroine and a strong story line.

So Watch Already!

Now that you have a sense of why the WWE is so interesting, your next step would be to actually watch. See if your local sports bar offers wrestling as an option or a particular WWE pay-per-view. It’s best when you’ve got a docent nearby to explain to you what’s happening (you can’t have my husband, after all) and any important backstory. It’s a lot like when your best friend in high school wanted you to get into her favorite soap opera. Remember how confusing it seemed and how over the top the story lines were? And then three weeks later you were totally into it. WWE wrestling is exactly like that.

The free shows are the easiest to access, either live or online, and introduce you to the characters and their current storyline. Please note that the WWE website is extensive and rich in information. You can look up any wrestler for biographical information, watch videos (usually “promos” where they outline their current grievance or conflict with another wrestler and promise a painful win in the ring during the next match), and look at each character’s customized merchandise. While there are many shows each week, the two most important ones are:

Each year, the pay-per-view event of Wrestlemania brings story lines to a head and sets the stage for new conflict in an epic event combining production and showmanship.

Pay-per-views are a big portion of the WWE business strategy and you get your money’s worth when the matches are so elaborately staged you find your jaw dropping. I’m definitely going to get my husband SummerSlam for his birthday in August, but it’s amazing the level of production that goes into some of these shows. Hell in a Cell actually puts a chain link kennel around the ring and wrestlers are locked inside to battle one another until one of them is pinned for the count of three or “taps out” indicating defeat. Wrestlemania is the big kahuna of the pay-per-views where several story lines come to a head, and you’ll notice if you ever watch any of the documentaries on the wrestlers that the big matches that happen during this event are the ones remembered with the greatest fondness and most emotion.

The Best Introduction: Documentaries

Speaking of documentaries, I think that watching them was actually key to getting me to be interested in the WWE as I could better identify with the hard work and background of each wrestler, as well as understand their many outside interests and talents. Sadly, while the attitude toward Divas has improved over the last years, I can’t find any documentaries that don’t look like a Girls Gone Wild video, so I’m afraid I can only recommend male wrestling superstar films. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • The Shawn Michaels Story: Heartbreak and Triumph – Shawn Michaels not only possessed a brilliant and troubled career in wrestling but is known as being someone who was able to successfully fight the evils of drugs and alcohol through his religious faith and the love of his wife and family. I confess to getting choked up during this documentary as Michaels is so unflinchingly honest about the obstacles he placed in the way of his success as well as the tough love he received from the many people in the WWE who cared about him.
  • Randy Orton: The Evolution of a Predator – While it’s not the most chronological approach to a biography, this gives a nice understanding of his dealing with the stress of his father’s legacy as a wrestler, as well as hints at his personal battle with his insecurities, which led to drug abuse. Sadly, the documentary focuses on the saving grace of his wife and daughter, but the news outlets just recently announced their divorce. After watching this you’ll appreciate why this happened.
  • C. M. Punk: The Best in the World – This is a well-produced documentary which mirrors Punk’s own unflinching acceptance of his hard childhood and adolescence in Chicago as well as the many friendships which supported him in adopting the “straight edge” lifestyle and anti-hero persona that is entirely his own. He’s a compelling, complex person who would make a wonderful foundation for a romance hero character.
  • Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson not only set the WWE Universe on its ear but also regularly demonstrates his acting chops in Hollywood to strong acclaim.

    The Rock: The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment – Many people who have never watched one minute of wrestling are still familiar with “The Rock” or Dwayne Johnson as he has gone on to have a successful acting career. Between his wrestling legacy in his family as well as his cultural heritage, this charismatic, intelligent man comes across as not only devilishly handsome and playful, but also as a multi-faceted businessman who set the bar for WWE Superstardom. WWE: The Epic Journey of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is also an excellent resource.

  • Stone Cold Steve Austin: The Bottom Line on the Most Popular Superstar of All Time – I became interested in the wrestling superstar Steve Austin when my husband wanted to watch the reality show Tough Enough, in which would-be wrestlers attempted to handle the many training sessions and challenges in order to earn a contract with the WWE. Austin reached superstardom during the height of the WWE’s more “adult” focus, but his anti-hero character embodied the hard working everyman with his tough Texas background and gritty determination in the ring. While this documentary makes no mention of his tumultuous divorce from his wife (domestic abuse and possible steroid use appeared to be factors), Austin does clearly state how he failed the most important people in his life while dealing with his own personal issues.
  • Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows – While the WWE appears to be a nurturing business, it’s still a business, and this documentary following the career of superstar Bret Hart demonstrates the tensions that can arise from a strong and talented entertainer and the business interests who may believe in a different direction for his character. What is fascinating (and this documentary intersects well with the Shawn Michaels documentary because of his involvement in the match that severed Hart from the WWE) is the ripple effect of the damage this incident caused within the wrestling world – it’s hard to find a wrestler unaffected by it.
  • The John Cena Experience – John Cena is actually my favorite wrestler, as I admire his work ethic, consistently great performance, and his many talents outside of the ring (he’s a songwriter/rapper as well as an extremely talented actor, watch the heartwarming family movie, Legendary, if you don’t believe me). This documentary not only hits on all his wrestling highlights and career but spends a decent amount of time on Cena’s amazing Make a Wish Foundation work and his commitment to entertaining members of the armed forces. Cena led the WWE in raising over $1 million for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation (which funds research to fight breast cancer) this past year. He’s really worth admiring!
  • Chris Jericho, whose good looks and wrestling ability formed a wonderful foundation for him to pursue his equal talents of music and writing.

    Breaking the Code: Behind the Walls of Chris Jericho – Chris Jericho has certainly played both sides of the face/heel fence, but one thing that cannot be denied is that this superstar has much more than just wrestling as his talent. An excellent musician and a successful author, Jericho’s business acumen has been proven time and again to lead him in a good direction. His cockiness appeals to his fans and even his WWE associates seem to be able to tolerate his attitude, probably due to the fact that it stems from genuine belief in his own abilities. While his showmanship highlights his light up clothing and bad boy persona, in actuality Jericho is probably one of the most well-rounded talents in the wrestling world.

If the WWE Were Smart, They’d Have Their Own Romance Imprint

I certainly have a few story lines bouncing around in my head inspired by this rich world of sports entertainment, but I would strongly encourage authors to consider professional wrestling as a fantastic option for a setting and/or profession for characters in romance novels. While you couldn’t call it the WWE, a composite organization could easily be invented that built upon a familiar foundation. Heck, if WWE was smart, they’d use their publishing branch and hire some good romance editors right now to launch the line themselves!

There is a lot to admire in the world of the WWE and I’d encourage anyone who enjoys drama, humor, and physical entertainment to consider taking a closer look. You just might fall in love.

In Defying the Odds, Author Kele Moon Lives Up to Her Tagline, Love Has No Rules

4 Jun

In the world of contemporary romance, it’s easy to run out of fresh ideas. Which isn’t to say that talented authors don’t give an idea their own fresh perspective, but the conflict/setting/occupations etc. of the hero or heroine often ring with familiarity. After reading literally thousands of romance novels in the course of my life, I feel like I can definitely say, I’ve seen it all.

At least, I could have said that before I took a chance in reading the startlingly fresh and romantic erotic novel, Defying the Odds, by Kele Moon.

At first glance of the synopsis, this novel can engender a “Whaa?!” response. A formerly abused small-town waitress being matched up with a UFC Champion renowned for the relentless fighting he employs to channel the rage of his past does not seem like a match made in heaven. But it is.

Clay Powers has lived in the small town of Garnet all his life, the last twenty or so years devoted to becoming a Hall of Fame champion UFC fighter. He had a crappy childhood filled with foster homes and if it weren’t for his best friend since middle school, Sheriff Wyatt Conner, and Wyatt’s sister Jules, he’d be even more of a cranky bastard than he already is.

When the new waitress of Hal’s Diner, a sweet, blond beauty who looks like an angel, treats him to a piece of pie during a lonely Thanksgiving dinner, something cracks open inside. Clay has never had anyone do something nice for him expecting nothing in return (Wyatt and Jules are as hard-nosed as Clay) and the more he finds out about the waitress, Melody Dylan, the more he wants to know her better. Much better.

But Wyatt warns him that Clay is the last person who should pursue Melody. She escaped an abusive husband by the skin of her teeth and is still hiding from him, working herself to exhaustion and learning to not live in fear all the time. What the sheriff doesn’t know is that Clay Powers is the best part of Melody’s day when he comes to the diner. In her gut, she knows that, despite his six and a half foot frame and plethora of muscles, she can trust Clay not to hurt her. The burn of desire she feels for him is a welcome change from her past and she wonders if she can take a gamble in getting to know him better.

An example of the mixed martial arts fighting style of the UFC.

Kele Moon gives us a strong sense of place with the small town of Garnet and the people who inhabit it. Garnet grows Marines and UFC fighters and while I feel comfortable with Marines, I’ll confess to not knowing the first thing about UFC. A little research revealed that this sport, begun in the 1990s, involves two fighters employing Mixed Martial Arts fighting, a style that consists of traditional boxing, a variety of martial arts and wrestling techniques. It is a full-throttle sport with a devoted fan base who appreciates the barely leashed violence of the men who make this fighting their career. Through Clay and Wyatt, the reader gets a strong sense of what draws people to love UFC.

While this is termed an erotic novel and Moon does an amazing job of building the sexual tension between our characters, I think that this is a book which would be a wonderful introduction to the erotic novel subgenre for someone a little tenuous about escalating the sensuality in their romance reading. There’s isn’t anything kinky or beyond what you would read in a traditional romance novel in terms of sexual content, just language that is a little franker than your average euphemisms, and the author keeps the emotional connection ratcheted so high, you’ll be doing a lot of sighing while drinking a cold drink and fanning yourself vociferously.

It’s been a long time since I fell for two protagonists with whom I had less in common, but Clay and Melody crawled right into my mind and took up permanent residence. I had to re-read the book a couple days after the first read just to prove to myself it was as good as I remembered (and it was!). Through both action and strong internal monologues, Kele Moon draws three-dimensional characters who walk off the page and into your heart as you root for them to find their much-deserved happily ever after. She is one hell of a writer! You can bet your boots that I’ll be buying her other books, which I’ve already added to my Goodreads “to-read” list.

And can we talk about the beautiful cover for a minute? Erotic novels often get the low budget book covers, sometimes demeaning their high quality contents (can someone PLEASE reissue better covers for Lisa Marie Rice’s Midnight series?), but I’ve been elated recently with publishers like Entangled and, in the case of Defying the Odds, Loose Id. Finally, here are smaller presses who realize that well-produced book cover can not only inspire confidence in the author’s writing, but look so good as to not constantly remind the reader that the book is not from a big six publisher. Smaller presses who really “get” cover art are bound to find a strong readership, particularly when the people making the purchase realize that the writing quality and editing back up that beautiful first impression.

This book is first in Moon’s new Battered Hearts series, and I am looking forward to the next installment in the series (due out in 2012 according to her Goodreads page) which will star fiesty lawyer, Jules Conner and the UFC contender we met in Clay’s championship match, New Yorker Romeo Wellington. Wyatt Conner’s book was hinted at in the epilogue of Defying the Odds when he referred to a woman he cared about, Tabitha, who had experienced as a hard a life as Clay but left their small town due to feeling judged. I assume we’ll get the pleasure of her coming back at some point soon.

I would encourage anyone who loves great characters and an unusual pairing to put themselves in the capable hands of contemporary erotic romance author Kele Moon. This is one gamble where everyone is a winner.

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