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Alison Packard

REVIEW:  The Winning Season by Alison Packard

REVIEW: The Winning Season by Alison Packard

Dear Ms. Packard:

I liked everything about this book from the tall, athletic heroine who had some body issues but still loved herself to the baseball hero who was coming out of a bad place in his life. Most importantly for me, I got to watch as the two actually fall in love. The couple begins, not from a place of immediate attraction, but one of real antagonism.

The Winning Season by Alison PackardKelly Maxwell’s sister, a beautiful actress, marries pro baseball catcher Matt Scanlon’s best friend in the book Love in the Afternoon. At the wedding, Matt says something terrible to Kelly about her looks. Even though Kelly started the barbed exchange by warning him that his behaviors would result in a trade, she doesn’t easily forgive and forget his remarks because Kelly has had body images all her life beginning with an eating disorder that ruled her teen years. Today, thirty years old, Kelly has leveled her nemesis (the eating disorder not Matt), landed her dream job as a publicist for the San Francisco Blaze, and is enjoying life with her friends and family.

Kelly’s life is made infinitely more complicated and less congenial when Matt Scanlon is traded to the Blaze. He was a former model baseball citizen and then a year ago went off the rails, lost his game and ended up getting traded to a team he doesn’t even like. Kelly is in charge of his rehabilitation. Not only does she remember how cruel he was to her back at the wedding, but he negates her every opportunity needs him to do more interviews, make him more likeable, but he refuses. What he wants to do is concentrate on his game.

There are two great conflicts here. The external conflict between Matt not wanting to do interviews and Kelly’s job which is to make the team look good through interviews, amongst other things, and the internal conflict involving Matt and Kelly’s emotional issues. The two spill over into each other.

Their work and their home life (they live within walking distance of each other near the stadium) bring them in regular contact. Matt feels chagrined about his treatment of Kelly and wonders why she, all six feet and sharp tongue, is getting under his skin. His usual type of small and blonde and perky is starting to lose their appeal. He can’t seem to stop staring at her long legs and her amazing backside. He realizes that he admires her dedication and her competitive spirit. Kelly is an awesome girl and so it pleases the reader to see Matt wise up.

Kelly is smart about her job and is shown both to be competent in dealing with reporters and athletes.  She stands up for herself but also isn’t afraid of intimacy.  Her body issues are recognizable but don’t over power the story.  She’s a tall girl with a solid, athletic build and while she can feel the occasional pang of envy at someone smaller and curvier, she doesn’t allow those feelings to bring her down.  I thought Kelly presented a great balance between insecurity and confidence.

Matt shows himself to be more than just a pretty face or an athlete. He hits it off with her parents and he comes to her with a genuine apology (not a grovel but a sincere, I’m sorry, I was an ass).  Matt does have a reason for his bad behavior and the past is part of his emotional journey.

What makes this even greater for me is that the sports in the book was so well done (and well integrated into the story):

“What’s your problem, Scanlon? You look like someone kicked you in the nuts.” Rizzo shot Gentry an amused smirk. Gentry was smart enough not to grin back.

“You’re my problem.” He fixed Rizzo with his patented stink eye. He’d perfected it over the years and had intimidated many of his opponents with it.

“Me? What’d I do?” Rizzo’s eyes widened with mock innocence.

“Don’t fuck with me,” Matt snapped. “If you pull that shit the next time you pitch I’ll leave you on the mound twisting in the wind.”

Rizzo shot him a confident grin. “I doubt that.”

“You shouldn’t.” He put his hands on his hips and glared at him. “What you know about the hitters in this league couldn’t fill a shot glass. And if you start questioning my calls again you’ll find out just how much I know about them because they’ll be hitting jacks off you all night. Or at least until Morgan pulls you out of the game.” He stared pointedly at Gentry. “The same goes for you too, rookie. I know what I’m doing. Don’t make me come out to the mound as many times as I did last night.”

“You’re full of shit,” Rizzo said with a sneer. “The Dodgers kicked your ass to the curb and we had to take you because Taylor’s out for the rest of the year. None of us want you here, Scanlon.”

“I’m here, so deal with it. And you know what? I don’t give a fuck what you think about me. I’m here to play and I’m here to win. If you cross me or question my pitch calls again, I’ll make you pay.” He paused to give Gentry a look of warning. “You want to test me? Go right ahead. I can be your best friend out there, or your worst enemy. It’s your decision.”

This was a trifecta for me – a great heroine, a realistic courtship, and the added benefit of a well integrated backdrop.  I hope readers pick this up. I think they’ll be thrilled with the adult romance.  It’s one of my favorite books of the year. B+

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW:  Love in the Afternoon by Alison Packard

REVIEW: Love in the Afternoon by Alison Packard

Dear Ms. Packard:

When I saw that your debut novel was set in the world of soap operas, I couldn’t resist. I watched soap operas with my grandmother when I was a little immigrant kid, newly arrived in the US, and I only gave them up completely a few years ago. Plus, Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s Again is one of my all-time favorite novels. So it didn’t surprise me that when I read the blurb for Love in the Afternoon, I was hooked. Despite some stylistic flaws and plot contrivances, this was a promising debut and a very enjoyable read.

coverKayla and Sean are actors on the LA-based soap opera, A New Dawn. Sean has been one of its most popular stars for a decade, while Kayla is a relative newcomer. Her character Shay’s first job was to break up a popular couple, which did not endear her to fans, but Shay’s next storyline is much more promising: she and Sean’s character Jared will slowly fall in love, even though Shay is pregnant by her former lover and Jared is grieving over the recent loss of his beautiful and beloved wife (how can you not love soaps, with storylines like these?).

Kayla is thrilled to have a steady job on a popular program after years of guest appearances and a couple of starring roles in horror movies, and her unaffected pleasure in her new popularity is in sharp contrast to Sean, who avoids publicity as much as he can. Sean is the son of a legendary film and stage actor, but they have been estranged since the death of Sean’s mother when he was thirteen. His father James thinks that Sean is wasting his talents in soaps, but Sean rejects every parental overture, whether personal or career-related.

Sean and Kayla are immediately attracted to each other, and their Shay-Jared storyline reinforces that attraction with every scene they play. Both are wary of relationships, though. Kayla is a few months out of a relationship with an narcissistic, scarily possessive actor and is only slowly regaining her self-confidence, and Sean refuses to date other actors because he’s been used to try and get closer to his father. But their offscreen attraction is matched by their onscreen chemistry, and as they work together their initial lust deepens into respect, friendship, and a strong emotional connection.

They overcome their early suspicions and start seeing each other, and everything would be great if it weren’t for a stalker who hates Shay and seems to know where Kayla lives. And while the two are busy trying to protect Kayla and discover who is behind the threat, James returns to LA and (intentionally or unintentionally?) drives a wedge between them. In addition, there is a subplot involving Sean’s best friend, LA Dodgers’ star catcher Matt Scanlon, who is self-destructing because of a recent trauma but who won’t even talk about it with Sean, let alone seek professional help.

If this sounds complicated and over-stuffed, it’s not. The romance between Sean and Kayla develops slowly; they get to know each other, as does the reader, and the supporting characters are well integrated into Sean and Kayla’s lives. Sean’s friendship with Matt helps to create a richer context for his character, and I liked the backstory details, like the reason each drove a vintage car. When Sean and Kayla finally get together, the sex is steamy, but it’s also romantic, and we know them as people, not just hero and heroine.

The myster subplot is pretty predictable if you read much romantic suspense, and even I figured out who the stalker was (although I didn’t figure out all the twists). But it gives shape to the storyline and provides opportunities for Sean and Kayla to get together apart from work. I appreciated that while Kayla had a couple of TSTL moments, for the most part she was taking care of herself and fighting back. The conflict triggered by James is also predictable but competently done. The soap opera world is well developed, although it comes and goes, with more richness and detail in the early part of the book than we get later on. You nail the crazy plotting of the soap world, but you do it with affection:

Kayla looked up from the letters. “Wait. Did you say love interest? It’s just a couple of scenes. I don’t think I’m Sean’s—I mean Jared’s—new love interest.”

Amanda’s brows furrowed. “I thought you said you watched soaps.”

“I did. I watched A New Dawn when I was in high school. But not since I moved to L.A.”

“Okay, I’ll give you a pass then.” With a good-humored grin, Amanda folded her arms on her desk. “There aren’t any random scenes, Kayla. They’re chem testing you and Sean. If they like what they see then you can bet your ass Jared and Shay will be hooking up.”

“But…but Shay’s pregnant.”

Amanda shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. Besides, she’s not even past her first trimester. Anything could happen to that baby. It’s a soap. Outrageous stuff happens all the time.”

“That’s true,” Kayla said. “I mean how many people do you know who’ve come back from the dead?”

There are some writing blips and odd choices. I’m undoubtedly the last person who should be criticizing the overuse of commas, but I was mentally removing them on a regular basis. And sentences frequently contained extra clauses which repeated or reinforced a point that had already been made or told us information we didn’t need. Substantively, I didn’t understand why the Dodgers were called the Dodgers but the SF team was called the Blaze rather than the Giants. I read an ARC, so maybe this is changed in the final version, but in my copy the inconsistency was jarring.

Those points aside, I’m happy I took a chance on a new author. I’ve been doing that less and less often lately because I’m tired of being burned, and I almost passed again. I’m glad I didn’t, and I look forward to the sequel, featuring messed-up Matt and Kayla’s take-no-prisoners sister, Kelly. Grade: B-

~ Sunita

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