Tag Archives: sports romance

Wags Series: Good Boy by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

When the hero of Good Boy was introduced in Us, I referred to him as the World’s Largest Plot Moppet.  I was wrong, clearly he is the world’s biggest puppy. I have seen very mixed reviews of this contemporary romance as there are troubling elements at the same time as it is also frequently charming. YMMV, as the kids today say.

Blake Riley and Jessie Canning hooked up several months ago and while it was mutually satisfying, she isn’t looking for more. Brought together again for her brother’s wedding to Blake’s teammate (Wes and Jamie of Him and Us), Blake is eager to start something with Jess and willing to leverage more casual sex, if that will get things moving for them.

Jess has been a bit lost. In a career experiment she (successfully) planned her brother’s nuptials, but has decided that she actually wants to be a nurse. When she gets into university in Toronto, this contemporary New Adult sports romance moves where it just so happens that Blake is a forward for the hockey team standing in for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Returning to my puppy analogy, Blake is a big, friendly, loyal, and enthusiastic guy. He’s sincere but not terribly bright and, like your new Great Dane puppy, he tends to do things he oughtn’t and is forgiven by virtue of… I’m not sure what, because Blake does a couple of things with impunity that should be deal breakers  –

  1. After being set up to sleep on the chesterfield (that’s Canadian for couch), Blake climbs into bed with Jess while she is sleeping. She wakes up next to him and slips out of bed without immediately returning to SCREAM HIM AWAKE whilst simultaneously dousing him with ice water. He says he had asked her if it was okay he climb in with her and she said yes while she was half asleep which does not help his case.
  2. Blake sends an unsolicited photograph of his genitals to Jess after she has told him that his attentions are not welcome.

I suspect there’s more, but those two were pretty major. Blake’s interior monologue makes it clear that he’s well-intentioned and he can be a lot of fun. Were Kennedy and Bowen trying to show a hero who does all the things he shouldn’t, but succeeds anyway? Or that not every guy who crosses the line is a jerk? Is Blake the puppy that drives you crazy until one magical moment when he settles in and you realise that all of the growing pains were worth it?

Good Boy had some other story elements that I wondered about, such as the stereotypical gay friend and a truly irrational ex-fiancee, but really it all comes down to where you stand on Blake. I enjoy the occasional big lug, though not necessarily Jethro Clampett, and landed on the charmed side for Good Boy even if it wasn’t a classic.

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Scoring Chances: Power Play by Avon Gale

My quest for good romance continues with a book recommended to me on Pajiba my online home away from home.

Max Ashford’s career in the NHL was cut short when a checking accident on the ice left him with compromised peripheral vision. Working on a career behind the bench, he joins head coach Misha Samarin with the Spartanburg Spitfires in South Carolina. It’s an ECHL team – meaning a double A hockey franchise that acts as a feeder to the minors and, with any luck for the players, to the NHL itself. The pay isn’t great, but Max is paying his dues and Misha is financially secure after a long career playing for the NHL. He also happens to be the opponent who was involved in Max’s career ending injury.

Chosen for the potential publicity resulting from their NHL encounter, the Spitfire’s unscrupulous  owner hires them for  the losingest team in the league. Neither man is thrilled and only Misha is still carrying any baggage from the accident, but he and Max slowly pull the players into a solid team. Along the way they, of course, fall in love.

Overall, I enjoyed Power Play. The lead characters were both interesting and likeable, Max in particular is adorable, and Gale alternated between their perspectives really well, including Misha’s excellent, but not perfect English. For drama, the story had Misha’s angst over many elements in his past including what he had to do to get away from his monster of a father and safely out of Russia. A gay man who has largely closeted himself, he has some issues to work through and is a brooder. Cheerful, easygoing Max, on the other hand, has recently realised he is bisexual and while the attraction to Misha surprises him, he’s not fighting any battles against it, or anything else.

With Power Play, I am again wondering where I can find a romance in which both leads are just, if you’ll excuse the pun, straight up bisexual or gay. Why does this kind of relationship have to be new to one or both of the men involved? Why can’t they both have have comfortably dated men in the past? I don’t need sexual initiation scenes. I just want to read a love story about two people finding their match without drama surrounding their orientation. Having looked at other books in the series, it seems each pairing suffers from this same syndrome so I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of them. Fortunately, the same lovely person who suggested this book provided me with a long list of other LBGTQ romances to try, so I will be moving on to another novel soon.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list. I have a list of LGBTQ romances, too.

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Brooklyn Bruisers: Hard Hitter by Sarina Bowen

Sarina Bowen burst into my romance reading life in 2015 with her Ivy Years series and my discovery happily coincided with her career taking off. This has provided me with lots of reading material. Though none of her more recent books have captured the magic of those first ones I read (Blonde Date is a perfect novella), I am continuing to buy her books; however as the prices have gone up, my interest is going down. It’s one thing to be a $5 author, it’s another to be an $8 or $10 one. At this point, only Laura Florand, Lisa Kleypas, and Courtney Milan are in the latter category. I don’t want them to be lonely, I really don’t, though, to be fair, I used to have a job where I earned scads of AmEx points and consequently didn’t have to actually pay for a book for several years. It’s made me spoiled and cantankerous, but I digress.

Patrick O’Doul is the captain and enforcer on the new NHL franchise team the Brooklyn Bruisers. Purchased by a tech billionaire as a hobby, the young team is getting its skates under itself and the assorted employees are falling in love as the book series grows. Patrick’s love interest is a massage therapist for the team (I can’t remember, but I’m assuming that there is more than one for all those men) and he has been reluctant to let her, or anyone for that matter, lay hands on him.

Ari Bettini is devoted to her job with the hockey team, traveling and training with them as necessary, and it provides focus away from her long-term relationship that recently went completely sideways before crashing into a wall and bursting into flames. When she finally gets Patrick on her massage table to address his hip issue, sparks quickly fly. The two become involved and complications naturally ensue which lead, as well they ought, to a happily ever after for the couple.

Patrick  worships the ground Ari walks on and I while I love an unapologetically besotted hero, it wasn’t enough to make up for the fact that many elements of Hard Hitter felt under-explored or oversimplified. Patrick was a bit of a cipher with a cursory backstory insufficiently fleshed out to give his portrayal true heft. It was the “that poor man has secret pain” approach to character development which Bowen has fallen back on in other books as well. Ari suffers from the opposite problem.  She has been given too much baggage, but the result is similarly underplayed. He ex-boyfriend’s behavior changed greatly towards the close of their relationship and the escalation to threats of violence not only from him but from thugs he is associated with should have been a lot more traumatic for her. If either Ari or Patrick’s experiences had been more thoroughly addressed, it would have benefited the story.

After Hard Hitter and even with my qualms, I will still read the next Sarina Bowen book, but on sale or from my library. I just won’t be paying full price again until she writes a more satisfying book.

Sarina Bowen’s Catalogue gives an overview of her published works . Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list.

Thin Love by Eden Butler

I still, despite all the inconsistencies, go to online reviews to help choose books to read. Thin Love was strongly recommended, cheap, and had the added appeal of a lead character who was a person of colour which is always welcome. Unfortunately, much of the romance between Keira and Kona is centered around the kind of relationship chaos that passes for passion with teenagers and in badly written novels, and resulted in it being my first DNF (did not finish) novel of the year. I read most of it, but resorted to skimming once its bumptiousness became truly annoying. Eden Butler’s writing was trite and the viewpoint sophomoric.

“And I wouldn’t use a situation like this to take advantage of a girl.”
“I never said…”
“I don’t have to Keira.”
He hoped she caught his meaning.

Bully for you, Kona! I’m delighted to learn you don’t have to use force to get laid. What  would happen if you did “have to”? He is truly a treasure:

“Don’t fish, Tonya. It makes you look common.” And Kona realized that’s what he didn’t like about girls like her. They were common. They were all the same, clones of each other trying to stick out, each one mimicking the other until their faces were indistinguishable.”

I assume these are the same women Kona doesn’t have to take advantage of since he has just slept with Tonya owing to sexual frustration in his relationship with Keira. Kona is in love with someone else, sleeps with Tonya, and then belittles her for acting exactly the same way he has.

“He got Tonya with little effort. He got her because that morning while he ran before class, she followed, trailed behind him like a prowling cat. He gave the kitty her cream, and now? Well. he felt like shit about it.”

Oink.

You aren’t telling the reader who Tonya is, Eden Butler, intentionally or not, you are telling the reader who your hero is. I wish there weren’t so many romances saying that  sexually active women who aren’t the heroine are desperate, vapid whores, or that there’s nothing wrong with a man who sleeps with whomever he wants but regards those women as beneath his contempt as well as his body. She was good enough to be inside of, but not seen as a person.

The relationship between the hero and heroine in Thin Love is filled with jealousy, violent gestures, breakups and makeups until they truly splinter apart… only to find each other again years later for one last round of chaos before they make their way to happily ever after. I finished enough of Thin Love to be appalled by it and skimmed the rest to meet my review obligations, vexed that once again melodrama and havoc has been presented as a love story.

Links to my other reviews (including books worth reading) can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list.

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The cover is the best part of the book.

Kulti by Mariana Zapata

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When I wrote “barring a dark horse in December, I am quite sure this is going to be the best romance I read all year,” about The Hating Game, I didn’t honestly expect there to be challenger. What a pleasure it is to be rounding out the year with Kulti which is a fantastic contemporary romance and one that is on theme for 2016 with a difficult hero, c.f. Dukes Prefer Blondes, Hold Me (review to come), and Act Like It.

Correctly described to me as “terrible and magnificent” by my friend and fellow reviewer, the hero of the book is the eponymous Reiner “King” Kulti, a world-renowned, retired soccer superstar. Arriving in Houston as an assistant coach for the Women’s Professional League franchise, he’s ambivalent about his presence there and soon so is everyone else. Kulti was Sal Castillo’s childhood hero and teenage crush, the man who helped inspire her to relentlessly pursue her goal to play soccer for a living and to excel at her chosen sport.

Told from Sal’s perspective, Kulti is a longer than average romance that moves really well and is also a slow burn. Practicing in the morning, and running her small landscaping business in the afternoon to make ends meet on her meager player salary, Sal is perplexed by her brooding and silent coach whom she often refers to simply as “the German”. When she does finally get a better sense of him, it’s not a good start, but the two stumble towards friendship. Thirty-nine to her twenty-seven, Rey is terse, tough, uncompromising, and frequently tactless. What to some extent, but not completely, balances out Rey’s tendency towards being difficult is the decorum with which he treats their budding relationship out of respect for their professional roles and the fact that, while often frustrating, he is generous and willing to learn from his mistakes.

There aren’t a lot of romances in which both the hero and heroine are elite athletes. Sal and Rey are very physical people and complete jocks. They eat, sleep, live, and breath sports. Neither one was secretly bookish or nerdy.  I loved it. She just wants to play and be the best she can. Rey, retired and perhaps a little lost, is well aware of Sal’s potential and wants to help her fulfill it. He knows she could be one of the greats of their sport, despite the recognition limitations for women.

Rey can be a hard person to like at times, but the glee and directness with which Sal stands up to him compensates for a lot. He may not be the nicest man in the world, but, honestly, very few men in these books are. Steadfast and honourable, yes, but arrogance is a frequent element in romantic heroes and Zapata has the integrity to write one who remains true to himself throughout. What Kulti lacks in a soft touch, he makes up for in fierce loyalty, devotion, and willingness to have his faults brought to his attention.

Kulti is one of the best romances I’ve read this year and I’ve added it to my romance recommendations list. I will be keeping an eye on Mariana Zapata for more stories that take their time and have beautifully paced character development.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

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Brooklyn Bruisers: Rookie Move by Sarina Bowen

“His heart said, This. This right here.”

I read my first Sarina Bowen title, The Year We Fell Down, a little over a year ago and since then I have both eagerly recommended and awaited her new novels. She has two concurrent contemporary romance series at the moment, True North and Brooklyn Bruisers, as well as two M/M books co-written with Elle Kennedy, and more on the horizon. Such is Bowen’s output that I have given her a catalogue post.

Readers familiar with Bowen’s Ivy Years series may remember hockey player Leo Trevi as a really nice guy. Picking up his story when he is brought up from a farm team to join the Brooklyn Bruisers franchise, he is eager to succeed and excited to discover that his high school girlfriend, Georgia, is the team Public Relations manager.They had been entirely devoted to one another until she experienced an assault and they lost their way. Breaking up six years ago when they went off to university, she is the one that got away.

Georgia Worthington is trying to put her best professional foot forward. The Brooklyn Bruisers is a fledgling NHL franchise acquired by a Tech billionaire and she has been working around the clock to take care of the PR responsibilities. To complicate matters, her father has just been named head coach, not to mention the aforementioned arrival of Leo Trevi. During the first press conference she runs, Leo arrives and is heard on a mic threatening someone when Georgia is spoken of disrespectfully, and we’re off to the races.

I enjoyed Rookie Move while I was reading it and my recollection of Leo was correct. He’s the nicest guy in the world. A bit impulsive sometimes, but very straightforward, and he absolutely adores Georgia and I am a sucker for a smitten hero. Despite that, I am not sure that Georgia and Leo had as much dimension as they could have as balanced against her personal and professional successes, Georgia’s love life seems to have been in stasis waiting for Leo to reappear and release her from it:

“In either case, she hadn’t had a boyfriend since Leo.”

“I asked her out a couple of times and got the brushoff. Didn’t know she was waiting for you.”

Leo at least had girlfriends in university. Not nice ones though because that would mean his love for Georgia wasn’t as true somehow. I guess. I never understand it in these books when people were together when they were young, break up, and then no other person is real to them until they meet again. Georgia and Leo’s separation was not a product of inherent issues in the relationship, but of youth conspiring with trauma to drive a wedge between them. They could simply have come back together older and wiser, even if they had had serious relationships with other people.

There are two more books coming in the series and I will, no doubt, read both of them.  The Ivy Years series caught lightning in a bottle and included a classic novella, Blonde Date. I haven’t had as much luck with the True North books, but the two I tried were still worth the read, and she is a really good writer and that will keep me coming back.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

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