Tag Archives: baseball

New Author Alison Packard Packs Emotion Between the Covers of Her Two New Novels

25 Jul

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.

hollywood-116225_640Sean 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.

The Winning Series by Alison Packard (Carina Press, July 15, 2013)

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.

golden-gate-bridge-59612_640Matt 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!

Thrown by a Curve by Jaci Burton Delivers a Solid Sports Romance

16 Apr

Thrown by a Curve (Play by Play #5 – Garrett and Alicia’s story) by Jaci Burton (Berkley, March 5, 2013)

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.

One Sweet Ride (Play by Play #6) by Jaci Burton (Berkley, June 4, 2013)

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.

Series Review: Who Did She Bribe for the Sexy Covers? The Play-by-Play Series by Jaci Burton

6 Mar

Today was the release date of the latest book in Jaci Burton’s Play-by-Play series, which has to be, hands down, the HOTTEST covers in contemporary romance. I had her first book, The Perfect Play, on my to-read list for a while, but always choked at the full retail price for the ebook. Normally I lean toward ebooks under $6 for my romance addiction, but I will pay full price for a known entity who I trust and can’t live without. Not having read anything by Jaci before, I wasn’t sure if it would be worth the risk, but the continued good reviews on Goodreads convinced me to chance it. It was worth it!

Sexy, professional quarterback Mick Riley is at yet another glittering party when a gorgeous woman catches his eye. Tara Lincoln is the up and coming event planner who doesn’t immediately fawn all over him, which Mick realizes is just what he’s been missing. They tumble into bed for a passionate one night stand, but after she sneaks away in the morning to go back to her teenage son and her work, he realizes that he wants more. Much more.

I loved this book – the characterization was outstanding and Jaci manages to introduce the whole family effortlessly (remember, this is a series), making the reader fall in love with the Riley clan.  Tara and Mick both have their baggage, but it’s nothing each other can’t handle.  As they prove that to one another, they fall deeper in love, but Mick’s career, specifically his dedicated agent who isn’t sold on Tara’s role in his life, could cause these two to part.

Having adored the first book, I was sincerely worried about the second one, Changing the Game, considering the focus was the romance between Gavin Riley, Mick’s professional baseball playing brother, and the cold agent who represents them both, Liz Darnell.  Liz was portrayed in the first book as very calculating (exactly what a good agent should be) but someone who nevertheless cares about the players she represents.  Liz realized at the end of the last book how she betrayed Mick’s trust and attempted to make amends, but he has dropped her and gone onto another agent.

Liz has secretly been in love with Gavin for years, but never wanted to mix business and pleasure.  Coming from an abusive home, Liz has used her brains and devastating beauty to claw her way to the top but in losing Mick’s friendship she is beginning to worry about the cost of her life decisions.  Jaci does an amazing job showing the vulnerability of Liz as well as the tough family dynamics that have shaped Gavin’s personality.  My worries were totally unfounded as this couple hit a home run for me!

Just today, the third book in the series, Taking a Shot, focusing on Jenna Riley, the edgy sister who has stayed home to manage the family sports bar, debuted.  Readers were introduced to ice hockey player Tyler Anderson in the previous book when Liz takes him on as one of her clients and the sparks fly when when he and Jenna lay eyes on each other.

The only problem is that Jenna wants nothing to do with professional sports figures, having quite enough experience with her brothers and the testosterone soaked environment she works in. Jaci’s formula works fabulously well here again. Jenna has a ton of suppressed creativity that didn’t get nurtured in a house with a focus on sports while Ty is still nursing the scars of his parents disastrous divorce.  Neither is looking for love, but slowly begin to realize that there is something more than incendiary chemistry between them.  The question is: can they make it work?

Like so many writers, Jaci mentioned in a recent interview that she was in love with romance from an early age and considers herself influenced by not only classic authors of the 70s and 80s like Kathleen Woodiwiss, Johanna Lindsay, and Jude Deveraux but also modern powerhouses like Nora Roberts, Maya Banks, and Jill Shalvis.

Jaci’s voice is an extremely modern one and has a tone that reflects the truly modern contemporary romance novel.  While many readers are used to the degree of sensuality that is seen in Harlequin Blaze or some Berkley historicals, this series is published by Heat (a division of Berkley) and this house is comfortable treading into what many readers would call erotic romance.  Make no mistake, there is still a lengthy, amazing story here, but the sex scenes don’t shy away from language and occasionally go beyond just different positions.  This doesn’t bother me at all (I love how comfortable the characters are with their sexuality, actually) but for a reader expecting the standard romance euphemisms might need a cold ice tea and a fan!

While she’s written in a variety of subgenres, Jaci has stated she always comes back to contemporary romance because it’s what she most enjoys.

“Writing is my full time career and something I love so much I can’t imagine a day that isn’t filled with hot, sexy heroes who save the day, strong, capable heroines who don’t need a man to save them, and the happily ever afters in every book.” (from Jaci Burton’s website)

I for one, am extremely glad that Jaci Burton listened to her husband and began writing romance novels as she is a talent that anyone can enjoy.  Her fourth book in the Play-by-Play series will focus on Riley cousin, Cole (also a professional football player) with a fifth book planned starring his sister Alicia.  The teaser at the end of Taking a Shot was fantastic and I cannot wait to see bad boy Cole get an image makeover courtesy of the beautiful but cool Savannah.  Their book, Playing to Win, will be available September 2012.  You can bet your boots I’ll have this one pre-ordered as soon as I can.

Jaci has an active Twitter presence and publishes her blog not just on her website, but also to her Goodreads account, so if you are on there, you really should become a fan or friend her to keep up with the latest news.  If you are looking to keep all her characters and details in place, you might want to take a look at the page on her website which details the series list of characters, etc.  It’s helpful if it’s been a while since you’ve read one of the previous books and you need a quick refresher.

Can someone please hit the blaring siren for Jaci Burton?  She has scored yet another goal with her latest novel, Taking a Shot.

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