It’s always exciting to find a new author, particularly one who offers the promise of consistently publishing one emotion-packed book after another. When I saw all the rave reviews for The Winning Season and realized it was the second book in an unnamed series, my completionist tendencies had me purchasing both books and sitting down to see if this author lived up to her press.
Wow, did she! Alison Packard writes rich characters who change and grow throughout the books, facing down internal demons while trying to brave enough to accept love for the gift it is. The best part of her writing is that it’s damn smart – where other authors gloss over professions or details and focus on romance, the really good ones actually research in order to produce a world so rich in detail, you believe their characters truly are talented in what they do. This world-building (it’s not just for fantasy, people!) gives a veracity to the novels that makes the reader feel she could reach out and touch the characters.
Her debut novel, Love in the Afternoon, tackles the world of soap operas with such skill I was reminded of Sarah Mayberry’s trilogy, Secret Lives of Daytime Divas, my standard for romance involving this television genre. Kayla Maxwell is an up-and-coming actor on a soap opera who is getting hints that her character will soon be partnered with one of the hottest actors in the business, Sean Barrett. Even the preliminary photo shoot puts her in a twist, but she’s determined to be a professional and work through her slasher-girl past. After a particularly bad breakup with her ex-boyfriend, she’s sworn off men for a while, but Sean is quite the temptation but she’s determined to put 100% into her career. With her character beginning to rise, she’s even getting fan mail, although not all of it is positive.
Sean Barrett is concerned about his character being partnered with an actress who might be second rate. His previous “wife” was killed off to move onto bigger and better things, but she was a consummate professional. Kayla is certainly one of the most beautiful women he’s ever seen and he’s shocked to discover his body reacting during their photo shoot. More astonishing is their first rehearsal together – she’s absolutely amazing and everyone on the set appear to admire her. Sean suspects she might be a genuinely nice person, but with an incredibly famous father in the industry, he’s been used by seemingly good people before.
Both of them make a good effort to ignore the heat between them until it becomes apparent that Kayla is being threatened by a crazed fan. With one incident after another, Sean finds himself consumed with the need to protect Kayla – and just as drawn into her spell. Kayla is overwhelmed by the strong feelings she has for Sean but with her stalker pinpointing her moves on every side, Sean’s behavior reminds her too much like that of her controlling ex-boyfriend. When she realizes that, despite what they’ve shared, Sean doesn’t trust her, it’s more painful than the reality of a stranger wanting to take her life.
While the plot moves along in a fairly predictable fashion, the writing is so fantastic that there is a true freshness about this novel. Both Sean and Kayla’s characters are well-drawn and the heat between them goes from simmering to boiling quickly. Great secondary characters not only flesh out the hero and heroine, but – in the case of Sean’s tortured best friend, baseball star Matt Scanlon and Kayla’s sister, Kelly – also set up the next book extremely well. I adored this couple and their love story and fell for Packard’s writing.
If the first book was great, the second book was amazing. Nothing was predictable about The Winning Season, which has been garnering rave reviews all over the blogosphere and it’s obvious why after reading it. Matt Scanlon has gone from all-star catcher for the Dodgers to hot mess, released from his contract and picked up by the San Francisco Blaze when their catcher broke his leg in a motorcycle accident. Matt suffered a tragedy a year ago, one that he’s kept a secret while drowning his emotions in women and brawling.
Kelly Maxwell, PR official for the Blaze, is not only horrified to get such a baseball nightmare handed to her but also has to deal with some nasty personal history with Matt. When they both went out to dinner with her sister and her boyfriend, Matt’s best friend and soap star Sean Barrett, Matt managed to make some pretty horrendous comments to Kelly, mostly about the fact that she’s tall and athletic rather than petite and gorgeous like her actor sister. Considering that Kelly had severe eating disorder when she was younger, this was even more hurtful and seeing his attitude upon arrival in San Francisco, he doesn’t seem much better.
Matt really is trying to pull himself together, but it’s not easy. One run in after another with Kelly Maxwell and he’s annoyed that he can’t stop thinking about her. A few encounters with her family and he begins to see the woman behind the hard ass, and even Matt has to agree that he’s been a total douche to her. He’s slow to come out of his shell but it’s time with Kelly and the heat between them that has him slowly coming back to himself, paralleling the Blaze’s rise in the standings. He and Kelly both know Matt’s only there until their regular catcher returns, and they decide to give into their desire for one another. Feeling closer to Kelly than any woman in his life, Matt reveals the depth of his loss and only to suffer the ultimate betrayal and the loss of his new relationship.
There was so much damn emotion in this novel that there is no way for a reader not to be utterly gripped by the characters and the plot. Once you discover why Matt has been such a prize-winning ass it’s impossible not to empathize with him and Kelly is a strong, wonderful character who doesn’t take any crap while never being cold. Her family is awesome and the secondary characters of her softball team, co-workers, and the charity the team runs lend further depth to both the hero and heroine. I don’t even like San Francisco as a city and yet the setting was a terrific backdrop to this love story. I can’t wait for Matt’s friend and fellow player J. T. to be the hero of the next story with Kelly’s friend from accounting.
The sole criticism I can level on these two books is – why no series name? There is no way for someone on Amazon or Goodreads to tell these two books are related to one another and considering their intertwined characters and story lines, that’s a disservice. Both books can obviously be read as stand-alones, but with writing like this, who on earth would want to? Since the books are put out by Carina Press, they have the Harlequin empire’s trademark affordability, with the price for each hovering around the three dollar mark. That is a steal considering the quality of both these books.
If you enjoy contemporary romance, do yourself a huge favor and add these books by Alison Packard into your ereader as soon as possible. You will not want to delay enjoying this new author!