Having greatly enjoyed the previous installments of Jaci Burton’s Play by Play series as excellent representations of the athletic-centered romance, I was looking forward to Thrown by a Curve. Starring Alicia, the hard working sports therapist working for the Rivers baseball team where her cousin Gavin is a player (and whose smoking hot romance with his agent, Liz, comprised the focus of the second book in the series, Changing the Game), this woman trying to make it a man’s world is assigned to rehabilitate the incredibly difficult pitcher, Garrett.
Burton has an incredible strength in the world of romance stories focusing on sports, namely, she clearly does her research. Her sports content is outstandingly accurate and you can tell that she has a host of notes about sports therapists and their actual job description in addition to her baseball knowledge. Combine this with strong plotting and the ability to weave secondary characters who have already had (or will have) their day in the sun, and you end up with a enjoyable read.
Unlike some readers who have reviewed the book’s tropes as a bit “tired”, I’m still okay with the formula of previously commitment-phobic characters who are committed to their profession and worried about the toll a relationship might bring. What I struggled with was that, unlike the first three books in the series, this one and the previous book appear to have less emotional description, particularly surrounding the sex scenes. They are still smoking hot, do not doubt that for a moment, but a really good sex scene shows the characters truly connecting and advances the plot to a bigger degree than I saw in this book.
Since I didn’t notice it in the previous books, this choice feels almost like an editing decision, as does the glaring mistake in one of the final chapters where there is a misprint and “Gavin” is requesting a trade (Gavin is Alicia’s cousin, not her love interest, Garrett, who is the one actually making the request in an effort to not violate their non-fraternization clause in the contracts which would endanger Alicia’s job).
This lack of emotional content bleeds into the reader having less of a connection to the characters, particularly after Garrett retreats into his pitcher head space (seriously, NEVER get involved with a pitcher) and ditches Alicia professionally for the head trainer who claims to be able to get him on the mound faster. Yes, Garrett apologizes and informs Alicia that he has in fact fallen in love with her – after about a week or more just working alongside her and not saying anything. She understandably believes that their “fling” is over and he’s broken up with her. WTF? I’m not saying I don’t understand where he’s coming from but it makes his character far less appealing.
In the realm of statistical improbabilty, Garrett meets up in the course of the novel with several roommates from his university in Oklahoma where he had a baseball scholarship and they all are professional athletes in various sports. (I know, right?) This is clearly Burton’s way of giving us some athletic fresh meat for future novels and it seems like Garrett’s good friend, Gray, a baseball player who switched to NASCAR racing will be the next protagonist in her upcoming book, One Sweet Ride, coming out on June 4th. Since the complication and conflict stems from Gray’s father being a prominent Senator running for the presidency, I’m interested to see if Burton’s facile handling of athletics (in this case car racing, which I know very little about) will extend to the political arena. I still have enough faith in her to try it, but I’m hoping for some stronger emotion and better editing.