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Binding Arbitration - Elizabeth Marx Grade: D+(NOTE: Before you call me a mean girl, please note that I gave the prequel novella [b:Cutters vs. Jocks|13033739|Cutters vs. Jocks|Elizabeth Marx|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1330621894s/13033739.jpg|18197232] a "Holy CRAP that was GOOOOOD 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 set-up: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 hits: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 days later, I’m still bitter about it.The misses: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 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 characters are amazing – but she needs a good editor to help her understand how to keep all that talent reined in.