I love books about professional athletes, probably due to the fact that they are often the modern equivalent of the Regency rake. Talented, usually wealthy, with women throwing themselves at their feet, these beautiful men are ready to be reformed through the love a good woman. At least in books. 🙂
But this personal preference of mine relies on an author who can make the world of professional athletes come alive, like Jaci Burton. Whether from choice or editor’s decision, Kayla Perrin not only doesn’t dwell on this aspect, but she misses the emotional mark in terms of her two characters in Surrender My Heart.
Natalie Hart Cooper is reeling from her husband’s betrayal. He has left her for her supposed best friend and now the tabloids are saying that they are engaged to be married. Consider that the divorce papers she received unexpectedly in the mail are barely dry, this is a blow to Natalie’s self-esteem, but she’s got bigger fish to fry.
Her sister, Callie, was just in a car accident resulting from the Hart sisters attempting to find their mother. She left all three of them over twenty years ago and the women want to know what happened. Callie fell in love with cop Nigel in book #1 in the series after the three sisters reconnect after a decade of estrangement. Successful singer Deanna and Natalie had a falling out over a guy and not even mother hen Callie could keep the three of them together. The catalyst for their reunion is the death of their beloved Aunt Jean and as they gather for the funeral and to help their uncle, wounds are healed.
The backstory is well-done, not feeling heavy-handed or drowning you in exposition, and you certainly feel Natalie’s emotional betrayal when she gets the divorce papers. Her lack of pondering whether or not she still cares about her ex-husband Vance has the reader wondering if Natalie is ready to be the heroine of a romance or if she runs the risk of simply having a rebound relationship. I could have used some more insight as reassurance.
When Michael Jones spots Natalie shopping near a restaurant he owns he immediately turns on the charm. With little physical description of either of them, the reader is still given the impression that he’s a gorgeous wide receiver and she’s built on the side of curvy supermodel. But Natalie blows him off, her professional athlete “player” bell dinging a warning, and he’s shocked and intrigued. When fate throws them together in the form of a local charity asking Natalie to help plan a benefit gala (she was a very successful fundraiser in Texas with her ex), she can’t say no. Michael and Natalie end up spending time together and she begins to thaw toward him, frightened by her physical attraction, but willing to take a chance.
One of the reasons I enjoy romance novels is the chance to have two points of view. Unfortunately, practically the whole book, with only a few memorable exceptions, is from Natalie’s standpoint even though Michael seems like the more empathetic character. Natalie is undoubtedly a caring, elegant woman but with all the time she spends comparing Michael and her ex-husband, I’m worried about the success of her relationship. And how did she become a successful fundraiser after a mere two years of marriage to a professional basketball player? Did she have a degree in marketing beforehand? What kind of job did she have before getting married? If she thought her husband was cheating on her six months into her marriage, did she insist on counseling? Hire a private investigator?
What comes across is that Natalie is a very private, almost uncommunicative individual, scarred from her mother’s abandonment when the sisters were children. Aside from her good looks and competence as an events organizer, I actually don’t see why Michael is attracted to her, other than her telling him “no”. He doesn’t really ask her any questions about her marriage, which would had offered an opportunity for him to discuss his own past and condemn cheating in a relationship, or we could have seen Natalie playing with her young family members and Michael thinking about what a good mother she would make to gain a little insight. A real opportunity missed would have been for Natalie to meet Michael’s brain-damaged mother – I can see a sweet scene of Natalie rubbing lotion into the older woman’s hands or caring for her that would have revealed her nurturing character while also showing him her softer side.
I also was dismayed that so little was actually said about Michael being a professional athlete. I assume it wasn’t football season since there was no discussion of his actually playing in games, but what of his training schedule? Professional appearances? No mention of a personal assistant? In this case, it seems making him a professional athlete is more of a trope designed to help the reader understand why Natalie would assign Michael a character of being a playboy and not trust him, rather than to lend a depth of understanding into his character. Since athletes are often disciplined, college-educated individuals who come from a variety of backgrounds, this is also a missed opportunity to flesh out Michael’s character.
From a writing standpoint the dialogue frequently felt stilted. I’m not saying either character had to be a poet, but sandwiching everyday conversation with descriptions that tap into the five senses would have helped me understand the underlying attraction better between the two of them. The search for the Hart girls mother is a clever story arc that clearly does a good job tying the books together. When Michael drives Natalie on the spur of the moment from Cleveland to Philadelphia to follow up on a lead about her mother, it shows a great side of his loyal character (but sadly a rather unattractive and withdrawn side of Natalie, as much as you understand intellectually what she’s going through).
In the end, I came away with the impression that Kayla Perrin’s editor had stripped out a decent amount of description in order to meet a word count or that Ms. Perrin wrote this book really quickly and was unable to give it a couple more revisions that would have added in layers of emotional depth. This is a shame since the story potential was quite good, but in the end, it didn’t make me Surrender My Heart at all.