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REVIEW: Time Out by Jill Shalvis

Dear Ms. Shalvis:

I’ve read much of what you’ve written in the past five years. I’ve found quite a few of your contemporaries irresistible: Animal Attraction and The Sweetest Thing were two of my favorite reads in 2011. I’ve been less enthralled with your Harlequin Blaze books; they seem to me to be more formulaic than your longer novels. But, then again, they should be, right? The Blaze series has a formula—I know this because I went and looked it up on the Blaze website.

The Blaze line of red-hot reads is changing the face of Harlequin and creating a continual buzz with readers. The series features sensuous, highly romantic, innovative stories that are sexy in premise and execution. The tone of the books can run from fun and flirtatious to dark and sensual. Writers can push the boundaries in terms of characterization, plot and explicitness. Submissions should have a very contemporary feel — what it’s like to be young and single today. Heroes and heroines should be in their early 20s and up. We want to see an emphasis on the physical relationship developing between the couple: fully described love scenes along with a high level of fantasy, playfulness and eroticism are needed. And don’t forget, secondary characters and subplots contribute to the richness of story and plot action we look for in a successful Blaze novel.

Are you a Cosmo girl at heart? A fan of Sex and the City or Red Shoe Diaries? Or maybe you just have an adventurous spirit. If so, then Blaze is the series for you!

I am not a Cosmo girl at heart—I’m more of a Slate.com adult—and I think that’s why your book, though well-executed and entertaining, left me feeling unsatisfied.

Time Out Jill ShalvisIn Time Out, the very masculine, absolutely gorgeous hero with “silky, dark” attractively tousled hair is Mark Diego, the “youngest, baddest, sexiest” head coach in the NHL—he coaches a fictional team, the Sacramento Mammoths. Mark is a typical Harlequin leading man: wealthy, in superb physical shape, authoritative, and utterly self-assured. He’s the kind of guy who only needs to level “a long, hard look” at anyone who challenges him in order for the person to fall quavering back in fear. The Mammoths, who just lost the Stanley Cup finals on a controversial call to their archrivals the (real) Anaheim Ducks, are currently all over the news for a “seedy bar fight”–are there any other kinds of bar fights?–a few of their players instigated against the Ducks. The fight came to an abrupt end when Mark “strode up out of nowhere,” shoved his behaving badly boys out of the bar and into his big black SUV. Mark and the Ducks’ coach have managed to keep their players from being suspended by proposing “a solution that would involve giving back to the fans who’d supported the two teams”: the brawlers will spend their summer doing volunteer labor in their home communities. The Mammoth players will be working in Santa Rey, a working class town devastated by wildfires the previous summer. Mark grew up in Santa Rey and left it as soon as he could, determined to “do something big, something to lift him out of the poverty of his upbringing.”

Now he’s back, driving that big black SUV, and pretty pissed about the whole thing. He’s been working his ass off for the past seven months and really should be on vacation. But no, rather than lounging on a Caribbean beach, a scantily-clad babe on one arm and a drink in the other, he’s stuck babysitting his two youngest players in a low-rent town. There’s an upside, however. The minute he pulls into town, headed to the community center his brother Rick runs—his players are going to coach summer league ball there in the evenings—he runs into Rainey Saunders (she’s the junior sports coordinator of the center), she of the “perfect body,” with whom he shares—big surprise here—a past.

Rainey fell hard for Mark when she was in her teens; he was four years older and the brother of her friend Rick. The night of her 16th birthday, Rainey, wearing a titillating teddy and some borrowed CFM heels, shows up uninvited at Mark’s apartment, determined to confess her love and unload her virginity. Unfortunately for all parties concerned, Mark’s not alone. He is, in fact, slouched in a beanbag chair getting a blowjob from a chick named Melody. (I felt sorry for Melody—Mark is so startled to see Rainey, he sits straight up so fast, “he nearly choked his date.” That can’t have been pleasant.) Rainey runs out—running smack into the door, spraining her ankle, and ends “with her pride and her confidence completely squashed.” The two have occasionally run into each over the past 14 years, but, Rainey, despite the chemistry that “crackles” between them, can’t get over her embarrassment about the past and, every time he expresses “interest in every hard line of his body,” runs away from him.

Now that’s he’s in town for a while and Rainey’s no longer jailbait, Mark’s thinking it’s finally time to nail her. “One look in her fierce blue eyes and he’d felt… something. Not even in the finals had his heart taken such a hard leap.” (I rolled my eyes at this—I saw the Stanley Cup final the year the Hurricanes beat the Oilers; I’ve never seen such crazed people in my life.) Plus, upon meeting her again, he’d pulled her into his arms, hugged her and—and I thought this was a bit forward—bit her ear. That “sexy little startled gasp she’d made” decided him. This time, he’s not letting her ignore him. Mark always plays to win and he’s got 21 days in Santa Rey to win Rainey out of her tight shorts and into his bed.

Mark’s and Rainey’s sex life certainly meets the Blaze criteria in this book. You’ve unquestionably written “fully described love scenes with a high level of fantasy, playfulness, and eroticism.” The first time Mark and Rainey start rounding the bases, they’re in a supply closet; it’s definitely a fantasy the tiny room would be a comfortable place to make out—he’s jamming her back against a “hard, cold steel” shelving unit. The two have lots of pre-consummation playful banter and, when they finally rip off each other’s clothes; the sex is hard and hot and up against a door. Your text is superbly sultry.

She threaded her hands into his hair as he thrust deep inside of her. He made a rough sound of sheer male pleasure, his fingers digging into her soft flesh as she rocked into him. Again he thrust, slowly at first, teasing until she was begging. It was glorious torment, hot and demanding, just like the man kissing her.

They moved together, her breasts brushing his chest, tightening her nipples. She could feel his muscles bunching and flexing with each thrust, sending shock waves of pleasure straight to her core. When she came again, it was with his name on her lips as she pulsed hard around him, over and over again, taking him with her.

A bit later, there’s a fervently ardent shower scene that made me want to find Dr. Feelgood and use up all our hot water. I give you total props for the blazing part of your book. It’s steamy, sweetened by honeyed hot trash talk, and seductive.

You also have appealing subplots about Mark and his father and about the kids at the community center. There’s a fine amount of humor in your tale. Your portrayal of Casey and James, the two Mammoth players doing public works penance, is really funny.  I loved the scene where Mark is first driving them to the dive of a motel the two will be staying in while in Santa Rey.

“So we’re not going to the Biltmore?” James asked. “Cuz there’s always plenty of hot babes there.”

“James,” Mark said, “What did I tell you about hot babes?”

James slumped in his seat. “That if I so much as look at one you’re going to kick my ass.”

“Do you doubt my ability to do so?”

James slouched even further. “No one in their right mind would doubt that, Coach.”

“And anyway, you’re not allowed back at the Biltmore,” Casey reminded James. “That’s where you got caught with that redhead by her husband. You had to jump out the window and sprained your knee and were out for three weeks.”

“Oh yeah,” James said on a fond sigh. “Madeline.”

So what let me down?

It was obvious Mark would seduce Rainey—she’d never really stopped loving him—and once he did, it was just a brief matter of time before he realized she was the one. I never felt the barriers their happily-ever-after faced were substantial. You establish at the beginning of the book she’s still crazy about him, he’s sexually and emotionally drawn to her, and the two are grown-ups.  (The latter, by the way, is a good thing.) Yeah, Mark thinks he’s not ready to settle down but from the moment he sees Rainey again, that’s all he does. It’s not a stunner that by the book’s end the two have professed their undying love to each other.

Mark and Rainey are excessively fictional characters—neither of them seemed as though they’d ever exist in real life. They also were overly familiar–I felt as though I’ve encountered the two countless times in contemporary romance. He’s the powerhouse of guy whom all women want and all men respect. She’s the incredibly sexually responsive, feisty, committed to her do-gooder job babe who, despite sleeping somewhat casually with Mark, is looking for the kind of relationship that leads to marriage and kids. She’s got a mom worried Rainey’s eggs are going to dry up; he’s got a dad who won’t take his charity. Even the debacle of Rainey’s Sweet Sixteen Seduction seemed pat. (And, the almost exact same “barging in on the blow-job” scene happens in Victoria Dahl’s Talk Me Down.)

Your novel’s plot is this: an extraordinarily handsome and magnetic player hero finds (monogamous) joy with a lively, modern heroine. The two have hot sex, but, the sex is a high-speed one way street to true love. And while you’ve done that trope well here, it’s a tired trope.

But, Time Out is a Blaze, not a more complex contemporary. It’s not interestingly innovative or especially enthralling, but it’s enjoyable and competent. As B- books go, it’s not bad. And the sex is smoking. I give it my bathroom wall recommendation: for a good time, pick up Time Out.

~ Dabney

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I loved romances when, back in the mid 70's, in junior high, I read every Barbara Cartland novel I could check out from the library. Then, thanks to a savvy babysitter, I got my hands on the hot stuff. To this day I can remember how astonishingly steamy I found Rosemary Rogers' Sweet Savage Love. I abandoned romance when I went to college and didn't pick one up again until 2007 when I got my first Kindle. Since then, I’ve read countless romances; loved many, liked more, hated some. Most of what I read is historical and contemporary romance, but I’m open to almost any genre. I like my books to have sizzle, wit, and plots that make sense. I’d take sexy over sweet any day. I’m a sucker for smart heroes and smart-mouthed heroines. When not reading or writing about reading, or wishing I could rule the world, I'm meddling in the lives of my kids--I have four, ages 17 to 21--, managing my husband's practice, doing bossy volunteer work, and hanging out with Dr. Feelgood.

37 Comments

  1. Carin
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 07:54:19

    Thanks for the good review! I can tell clearly what you thought of the book and also WHY, which makes a good review for me. I suspect I wouldn’t be bothered by the things that bothered you, so I’ll probably buy this one.

    It was interesting that the main couple had the same history as in Talk Me Down. TMD is an all time fav of mine, so I assume everyone has read it. I can’t imagine the author would use that same history/scene if she’d read it in another book, though. Right?

  2. Dabney
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 08:00:53

    @Carin: It was so similar I feel sure Ms. Shalvis wasn’t aware of it. I too like TMD although my favorite in that series is Lead Me On. I love Chase and Jane!

    Time Out was a fun read–it’s just not as rewarding as her contemporaries. Buy it and enjoy it. Lots of it is very funny which is always a gift, no?

  3. Mandi
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 08:04:52

    I agree…I liked it but both characters had traits that were so excessive. Mark was a little too alpha for me- the multiple times he invaded heroine’s dates annoyed me a bit.

    Still a fun read..but a fun fictional read if that makes sense.

  4. Laura Vivanco
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 08:06:36

    I’ve been less enthralled with your Harlequin Blaze books; they seem to me to be more formulaic than your longer novels. But, then again, they should be, right? The Blaze series has a formula

    Hmm, but according to the “formula” you quoted,

    The series features sensuous, highly romantic, innovative stories that are sexy in premise and execution. The tone of the books can run from fun and flirtatious to dark and sensual. Writers can push the boundaries in terms of characterization, plot and explicitness. (emphasis added)

  5. Dabney
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 08:10:58

    @Laura Vivanco: This rendition of that formula wasn’t especially innovative. My very personal opinion is that many Blazes focus on pushing the explicitness rather than plot innovation.

  6. Carin
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 09:16:02

    I will buy it. The the comedy plus good sex scenes is a win for me. And then add in that it’s at Harlequin prices? Absolutely.

  7. BarkLesssWagmore
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 09:24:47

    I stopped reading the Blaze line about a decade ago because they were all so similar. But back then it was all about the supposed bad girl acting out her fantasies. It got old real fast for me. I’m surprised they haven’t changed the “Red Shoe Diaries” and “Sex In The City” bit. Didn’t they go out of fashion a few years back? Or at the very least when people saw (or should I say ignored) the second SITC movie?

  8. Diane
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 09:33:40

    So a book to pick up when you’re sitting in the dentist’s waiting room, for a quick read.

  9. cbackson
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 09:43:38

    I couldn’t get past the comical Mammoths! On ice! visuals. I mean, of COURSE they start fights with other players. It’s like being a boy named Sue.

  10. Dabney
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 11:39:21

    @Diane: I was thinking plane ride….

  11. Bronte
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 19:06:43

    Unfortunately this book has lost me at hockey and sacramento. A prejudice of mine I wont be able to get past which is a shame cause there’s a scarcity of well done hockey romances.

  12. Lynn S.
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 22:32:52

    Not sure from the review if you’re interested in a Harlequin Blaze with something more to offer. If you are, give Kathleen O’Reilly or Sarah Mayberry a try. They both fit the “blaze” aspect of the line but also offer emotional depth and strong characterization.

    Regarding Shalvis, I’m thinking that if an author is writing category and full-length novels, something has got to give and, more than likely, it’s going to be the category work.

  13. SonomaLass
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 01:59:33

    I enjoyed the humor in this book, and the various relationships outside the main romance. I agree the stakes were not high between the two main characters, but I thought the book really captured some things about under-privileged kids, damaged communities, and the people who work to improve those situations. I also have a real soft spot for “jail bait grown up” stories; I used to search those out for reassurance when I was a LOT younger, and the guys I liked we’re all too old for me.

    I agree this is a very good review. I think that if I hadn’t already read the book, I would have known from this review that the book would fit my taste. Thanks!

  14. Amy Andrews
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 03:54:55

    Okay, can I please object to the f word? Did the Blaze website state what you quoted from it was “the formula” or did it say guidelines?
    Haiku’s are formulaic. Sonnets are formulaic.
    Harlequin series have guidelines that authors do what they like with. I personally find the word formula insulting as I bet many of my fellow authors do. Gosh, if you look at it almost any genre fiction can be classified as such. Hell, reviews are pretty damn formulaic too for that matter.

  15. Heidi Rice
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 04:51:49

    Yup, fellow author *waving hand in air*. I was pretty insulted by use of the ‘f-word’ too…

  16. anna cleary
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 05:48:00

    Every coherent piece of writing requires a structure. Whether it be a Year 6 Social Studies assignment, a sonata, or as Amy points out, a Shelley sonnet. In my experience the f word is often linked with category series to put category down, and often by people who’ve never read a category series romance in their lives. Sometimes these are people who don’t ever actually read novels of any sort.
    I think this perpetuates the old ‘guilty pleasures’ theme associated with reading category stories. I frequently come across reviews that start with ‘I never usually read category, but…’
    As if to admit to reading a series story is to somehow risk being sent directly to hell or to being struck off the NY 400 list.

    I’ve read some brilliant category novels in my time, by awe-inspiring authors who have used the editorial ‘structure’ to create a unique work of art.

    It’s a pity to see the f slight being perpetuated here, on a site surely devoted to engagement with women who enjoy reading romances of all sorts, including category.

  17. Dabney
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 06:48:07

    @Lynn S.: I have enjoyed both of those authors. Sex Straight Up is on of my favorite books ever and I think Sarah Mayberry is terrific.

    @Amy Andrews: That’s fair. I think I was trying to get across, especially about the way the leads were written, that neither of them seemed very believable. In the future, I will avoid the word “formulaic” and write instead about distictiveness.

    @Heidi Rice: Hate to offend an author–I’d have no fabulous books to read without their works! Sorry.

    @anna cleary: I’m not dissing category novels, or at least that wasn’t my intent. I felt this book was a bit stale and I’ve read other of Ms. Shalvis’s books I felt were more nuanced. I prefer nuance, but still enjoy the expected.

  18. Heidi Rice
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 07:11:38

    Apology much appreciated, Dabney.

    Not your fault but the old ‘f-word’ is a hot button for me and I’m sure a lot of category authors. It gets really tiring defending what you write against the old ‘well it’s all just written to a formula, right?’ comment. I wish!

  19. Estara
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 13:11:49

    hugged her and—and I thought this was a bit forward—bit her ear.

    I LOLed! You know, I hope you’ll review for DA for a good long while, you have an incredibly entertaining way with words and a real gift for the quote that nails your impressions of what worked and didn’t. Even books that I have no interest in at all (and I quite liked the first two Lucky Harbour books by Jill Shalvis, by the way) get entertaining reviews to read.

  20. Dabney Grinnan
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 14:00:41

    @Estara: Thank you. That’s lovely to hear. DA is a great place to review–I feel lucky they’ll have me!

    I really liked the first two Lucky Harbor books but couldn’t get very worked up about Chloe’s story. I’m not sure why. Her character didn’t resonate with me. Have you read the Animal Magnetism series? I’ve enjoyed both of those a lot and am eagerly awaiting the third, Rescue My Heart due to come out in the fall.

  21. Review: Time Out by Jill Shalvis | Smexy Books
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 15:01:16

    [...] Reviews: Love to Read for Fun – B+ Dear Author – B- Hanging With Bells – 4.5/5 Wit and Sin [...]

  22. Amy Andrews
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 15:30:13

    Yes, thanks Dabney. Heidi’s right – such a hot button. If I had a buck for every time somone’s asked me “so isnt there a formula that you just upload to your computer and it just spits the book out” or “when are you going to write a proper book”….. It gets exceedingly frustrating/tedious.

    And Sarah Mayberry? That woman is divine. So, so talented. I want to be Sarah when I grow up! :-)

  23. Laura Vivanco
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 16:05:50

    @Amy Andrews:

    It gets exceedingly frustrating/tedious.

    For a bit of light relief, if you haven’t read it you might like this post by Deborah Hale (who writes Harlequin Mills & Boon historicals), in which she takes a mathematical approach to explaining the formula. I took a culinary one when the Pink Heart Society allowed me to write a guest post for their deadline recipe slot. Hers is better, I think.

  24. Jane
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 17:18:31

    @Dabney Grinnan We are lucky to have you.

    My big problem with this book was the inconsistent character motivation. In fact, I felt the tension was so contrived as to be non existent and that was very frustrating because the characters were likable and I wanted them to get together but the emotional schism between the characters seemed so fake and it really impaired my ability to enjoy the story.

  25. Dabney Grinnan
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 18:40:27

    @Jane: I think the problem for me was something well-articulated by Janine in her recent Carolyn Jewel review. Janine wrote, when I wondered how she defined conflict in a novel:

    A conflict can be internal, which means it takes place largely in a character’s heart and/or mind (anything that causes conflicted feelings, for example, fear of commitment, anger at the other person for something he or she did, emotional baggage from a previous relationship, believing one isn’t worthy enough for the other person or that the relationship could harm the loved one, etc.).

    Or a conflict can be external, which means it’s an obstacle outside the character’s feelings (for example, class difference, a big age difference, interfering relatives who intercept letters, a villain who kidnaps the heroine, war, engagement or marriage to a third party).

    Often a romance will have both internal conflict and external conflict. For example, in the movie Casablanca the internal conflict is that Rick believes that Ilsa didn’t love him because she dumped him in Paris without explanation, the external conflicts are that Ilsa is married and her husband is a hero of the Resistance during World War II.

    I’ve thought about her definition and think the lack of this sort of genuine conflict is what made the romance in this novel comparatively weak.

  26. Jane
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 18:43:09

    @Dabney Grinnan I don’t mind a novel with little conflict. The problem for me in this book was that there wasn’t any conflict and the author tried to shoe horn in conflict to make it more interesting so you had the hero on one page saying that he didn’t want anything serious and then three pages later was having hurt feelings because the heroine was kicking him out after sex.

    And then it would seesaw back and forth in an effort to prolong the tension.

  27. Dabney Grinnan
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 18:47:42

    @Jane: I don’t disagree. I think the issue of conflict is interesting to think about though. Etymologically, conflict is like friction which causes heat. (I’m winging it here.) The best books for me have conflict and heat. This book manufactured the former, but did, sexually, have the latter.

  28. Jane
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 18:50:29

    @Dabney Grinnan Agree 100%. Weirdly, though, the Jewel book and the other Julie Anne Long book which were frictionless (kind of) worked for me. I think because of the consistency problem. I would have liked this book so much more had the characters just been allowed to be okay with fooling around, worried about how they were going to proceed, and then recognize their love for each other. The chemistry, likeeability, and sexiness would have carried it just fine.

  29. Amy Andrews
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 19:14:32

    Thanks Laura great posts but I think the fabulous Jenny Crusie says it even better in this essay.

    http://www.jennycrusie.com/for-writers/essays/so-bill-i-hear-you-write-those-little-poems-a-plea-for-category-romance/

  30. Dabney Grinnan
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 19:17:27

    @Amy Andrews: This is so wonderful, I’m awestruck.

  31. Amy Andrews
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 20:07:36

    Well she’s pretty awesome :-) All her essays are worth a read.

  32. anna cleary
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 20:10:49

    I’m glad Dabney. Category authors know there’s a lot more to their books than the fulfilment of the guidelines. When editors draw up those guidelines I think they intend that authors will interpret them in their own ways and add weight according to their own tastes and styles. Just use them as reference points.

    Well I HOPE that’s what editors expect, because if you’ve ever tried to fulfil one of these charming little sets of guidelines, you’ll understand why so many category authors walk around with cricks in their necks.

  33. Laura Vivanco
    Feb 22, 2012 @ 03:55:47

    @Amy Andrews: That’s a great essay; I quoted it in my book.

  34. Dabney Grinnan
    Feb 22, 2012 @ 10:32:31

    @Laura Vivanco: Laura, what book?

  35. Laura Vivanco
    Feb 22, 2012 @ 10:50:20

  36. Dabney Grinnan
    Feb 22, 2012 @ 13:33:22

    @Laura Vivanco: Thanks! I’ll check it out!

  37. Time Out by Jill Shalvis | the passionate reader
    Mar 01, 2014 @ 12:28:33

    […] that’s why your book, though well-executed and entertaining, left me feeling unsatisfied. In Time Out, the very masculine, absolutely gorgeous hero with “silky, dark” attractively tousled hair is […]

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