Dear Ms. Bolden:
Jayne forwarded me your posting in the Open Thread and it looked intriguing. I love sports books so I wrote to you asking if you had an ARC. You kindly sent me a copy of the book which I read that evening.
This book completely charmed me and broke a lot of “rules” about what is ordinarily allowed in romances, particularly in this highly eroticized period. First, the hero is 5′ 8″ and not as attractive as his best friend. Second, there aren’t many love scenes and the ones that exist aren’t super explicit.
But Izzy Dalton and Jack Bennett’s romance is sweet, fun, tender and yes, sexy.
Izzy is an orphan who has spent her life trying to find her calling. When her mother died of cancer when she was eleven, Izzy declared she would be a doctor but when she went to college and could barely pass Freshman Bio, she turned her attention toward journalism after watching a documentary on Bo Jackson. [Thirty on Thirty is actually a really great documentary and series overall even for non sports fans]
When her dad died in a car accident when Izzy was twenty-one, her fervor in being in journalism was set. This was the way she would make her dead parents proud. In her boss, executive producer Charlie, Izzy finds a surrogate father. When he falls ill, she’s devastated and worse, because Charlie wasn’t well liked by the network’s head of programming, she gets shuttled to a small station in Portland to be the sidelines reporter of the professional baseball team.
She hates baseball and knows absolutely nothing about it.
Jack Bennett had been told all his life he can’t. He’s too small, too slow, too weak to play sports. If you tell Jack Bennett he can’t do something, he’s going to prove you wrong. The first scene with Jack aptly sums up his personality.
“Can’t doesn’t exist,” he said levelly. “Can’t is the one word in the English language that I won’t recognize as valid. You told me that I can’t put my feet up there. But I could. Very easily, as evidenced by the fact that they’re up there right now.”
She blinked, clearly a little surprised by his well-honed patter. After all, every smart big leaguer had their rehearsed cliche?s down pat. His were just a little…creative.
“You see, when I was seven years old, little Jimmy’s dad was our little-league coach, and of course, he wanted little Jimmy to play second base, but I wanted to play second base, too. He told me I couldn’t play it because I was too small. But one day, see, little Jimmy took a hit to the head and had to sit out half a game. I took that opportunity and played the best goddamned four innings of little-league second base that anyone had ever seen. Little Jimmy and his dad ate their words after that one. High school, same story. They tried sticking me on the JV team, thinking that if I was out of sight, I’d be out of mind. But you know what happened?”
Shell shock would be a generous term for the blank stare she gave him as he paused.
“Well?” he prompted.
“Obviously not,” she sniffed in annoyance, and he had to give her at least three mental points for the snotty curve of her lip. “You were in high school, I don’t have any idea what happened to you in high school.”
“I hit .458 that year and committed zero errors. Of course, they loved me on the JV team, but when the season started next year, you want to bet they didn’t leave me there. I made the varsity team, where I should have been all along.”
“Let me guess, the same thing happened in college.” The sarcasm dripping off her words gained her another few points. If he was feeling generous, she was just about to break even.
“Oh, no. I was recruited to play at Stanford, and don’t get me wrong, I loved those guys. They finally believed in me. But that wasn’t the end of it. I kept getting told I was still too small. It was like little Jimmy’s goddamn dad all over again. When I went in the third round of the major-league draft and only spent two years in the minors, I signed a ball and sent it off to little Jimmy’s dad. That was a great day.”
The flight attendant’s eyes went all calculating. Jack had a feeling she was mentally pricing out what a signed baseball by Jack Bennett would bring. So he swung for the very edge of the stands.
“See, if I’d listened to people who told me that I couldn’t do this, couldn’t do that, I wouldn’t be sitting here. I’d be back in the sticks, playing pickup ball on the weekends, wishing that I’d grown a pair and done something about my dream. But I didn’t listen to them.”
She gave up the ghost and fled right before he got to the moral of the story. “Great talk,” he murmured at her retreating back and settling back into his seat, and he couldn’t help but sigh contentedly. Peace at last.
“I see you finally managed to ditch your admirer.” Noah Fox, known to baseball fanatics and his friends as Foxy, drawled without even opening his eyes. “Now that was persistence in action. Nobody’s ever stayed long enough to hear the part about little Jimmy’s dad getting the baseball except reporters.”
When he sees Izzy, there’s one big can’t. He can’t date a reporter. Every action of Jack’s is focused on winning the pennant for the Portland Pioneers. Jake is a hometown boy and his dream is to win the World Series as a Pioneer. This year, the Pioneers need to make the playoffs or his dream will be all but snuffed out. He doesn’t care about a revolving door of women because he just wants to win games. But for the first time, he’s so interested in a woman that he’s willing to do interviews even though he hates them. And he’s pursuing her, even though it’s against the rules.
Jake is the heart of the Pioneers and a very successful second baseman. (He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting). In this new year, with Izzy on the sidelines, Jake finds himself to be the beneficiary of extraordinary luck. Despite the fact that he’s not at all superstitious, something strange is happening. He would be out of position and still manage to make a save. He should have been caught stealing but the opposing second baseman dropped the ball. He reached first on an infield single. He even had an in-park home run, an extraordinary occurrence.
Through the 162 game season and endless road trips, Jake and Izzy find themselves together repeatedly until they finally give in on all of that simmering lust between them.
There’s quite a bit of suspense in the book. What will Izzy say if she learns Jake thinks she’s his lucky charm? If they do go out, will they get caught? Can Jake’s lucky streak extend throughout the entire season?
The character growth in the story is primarily on Izzy’s side as she learns to overcome a lot of her inhibitions and starts to live a life based on what she wants instead of what she perceives others want for her.
But it really was the romance that captured me. Jake’s sarcastic, confidence was paired perfectly with his charming vulnerability when it came to Izzy. He toed the perfect line between being attractively aggressive without being overbearing. Izzy was just as authentic. She knew her flaws and faults and tried hard to be a good employee while dealing with a misogynistic boss who just wanted her to look good in front of the camera. Being away from Charlie, her surrogate father, was good for her because she had to learn to stand up for herself.
Finally, the baseball was so rich in this story. You really believed in Jake as a player:
Jack loved the way the world slowed when he entered the batter’s box.
He loved the dust settling on his tongue, the way his hitting gloves bit into his wrists, the weight of the wooden bat in his hands.
A lot of players let the pitcher set the tone of an at-bat, but Jack was somewhat fanatical about making sure that he and nobody else, was in charge when he stepped up to the plate. Sometimes that meant walking to the plate a fraction slower than good manners demanded. Sometimes that meant taking an extra moment to go through his mental and physical routine between swings. Sometimes that meant giving the pitcher one of his patented fuck-off glares.
This was a delightful romance. The characters were vividly drawn and believable. I can’t wait for more books about the Pioneers. B+