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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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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

24 Comments

  1. Loosheesh
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 12:16:37

    Really. You had me at “I got to watch as the two actually fall in love.” No need to turn it into a double whammy with “It’s one of my favorite books of the year.”

    *sniffs and flounces off to check the stores*

    ReplyReply

  2. cleo
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 12:23:17

    @Loosheesh: I know right? I’m a sucker for couples actually falling in love in a romance. And they’re grownups.

    ReplyReply

  3. Jamie
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 12:39:27

    Jane,

    Is she an actual employee of the team? If so, is this conflict acknowledged? In real life, a relationship with a player would be a big no-no. I know that fact is routinely ignored in romance novels, but I have a hard time getting past it.

    ReplyReply

  4. Jane
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 12:43:05

    @Jamie: They pretty much keep it secret. I know it is a conflict but I suspect it goes on quite a bit in real life. After all, Troy Aikmen married a Dallas Cowboy publicist.

    But if that is a bugaboo for you, then no, it’s not really addressed.

    ReplyReply

  5. Readsalot81
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 12:46:26

    I really enjoyed this one as well. I thought Kelly was a remarkable heroine, and I believed in Matt’s transition from surly bastard to a more likeable man. The eating disorder subplot was shown more as a process in my opinion, more than anything else. Kelly has days where she has to remind herself to not do that, no matter how tempting it is, and I thought that was remarkably true with how the illness presents itself. I used to compete in several sports where I saw women purge and damn near starve themselves to get thinner, and her reactions rang true from what I’ve seen and experienced. I was a little less impressed with Angie and JT – thought that part of the book was filler at best.

    ReplyReply

  6. Sunita
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 12:50:59

    Oh yay, I’m so glad to see this! I thought the previous books showed a lot of promise and I enjoyed it, and this sounds even better.

    The player-employee thing is definitely a conflict, but as you say, it happens in real life. And neither is in a direct supervisory position, so it’s not as egregious as some. Given how many HPs I read with billionaire-employee romances, I’m not really in a position to be demanding here, either. Off to buy. ;)

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  7. jmc
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 12:56:36

    Jane, you’ve talked me into trying a baseball romance after I’d sworn them off. (The last one I tried was offensively bad, with infodumpery of baseball that didn’t actually make sense.)

    ReplyReply

  8. Jane
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 12:57:09

    @jmc: Sorry?

    Nah, not sorry at all.

    ReplyReply

  9. jmc
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 13:48:31

    @Jane: As long as this one doesn’t have a rookie starting pitcher who skips the minors and pitches a no-hitter on his first start, it’ll be a step up.

    ReplyReply

  10. Kati
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 15:39:34

    Chiming in to say that I really, really enjoyed this one too. It’s very well written and as Jane says, the couple does slowly, but surely fall in love. And, they’re grown ups about it. Which is quite refreshing.

    ReplyReply

  11. Jamie
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 17:33:26

    @Jane:

    Thanks, Jane. Yep, not for me. I’ll leave it at that.

    ReplyReply

  12. Angela Booth
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 19:49:19

    Wonderful Jane, sounds like just my thing. I love well-done sports romances. I’m buying it…

    ReplyReply

  13. Mary
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 20:30:05

    Your description of this book is making me overcome my dislike of baseball and baseball romances and I’m going to buy it!
    (I like sports romances but I’ve never been able to get into baseball-I’m just unamerican I guess- so baseball romances don’t usually appeal to me).

    ReplyReply

  14. hapax
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 21:04:05

    Your review managed to overcome my general apathy towards sports romances, to the point I was about to click through and buy — only to find that it appears to be another Kindle exclusive.

    I know this isn’t a big deal for most of the readers here, but is there some way you can signal this in the tags?

    ETA: Wait, posted too soon. It seems to be available through Kobo in ePub as well.

    ReplyReply

  15. Charlotte Russell
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 22:39:55

    You are evil. I have plenty of reading material and I normally don’t “do” contemporaries but I love baseball and when you say this one does both the baseball and the relationship right, I have to click. Thanks for being evil.

    ReplyReply

  16. Jane
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 22:46:38

    @Charlotte Russell: You are welcome, she sings!

    @hapax: It’s a Carina Press book. it should be everywhere.

    ReplyReply

  17. annie
    Jul 16, 2013 @ 11:04:36

    i just finished reading this and the B+ grade is very apt. I just wanted maybe ONE more page after the ending. i sort of felt i was left hanging after the I Love You’s.

    nevertheless, i really enjoyed it and look forward to J.T’s book. Poor guy…i wonder what happened between him and Angie. And then theres Katherine and Tom…it was truly a first for me where i actually cared about the secondary characters.

    ReplyReply

  18. Amy
    Jul 17, 2013 @ 00:47:59

    Exactly what Annie just said. Thanks for the recommendation. Off to see what other books she has written. (I am not interested in the TV star sister’s story as I am not a fan of stalker stories.)

    ReplyReply

  19. Amy
    Jul 17, 2013 @ 01:01:58

    I see this is only this author’s second book. Bummer. Those of you who read and liked this: could you recommend other books — “if you liked this, you’ll probably like . . . .”

    ReplyReply

  20. Lisette
    Jul 17, 2013 @ 13:18:50

    I liked this book a lot except that I felt like there was a fair amount of slut shaming. And like others I wanted a little more closure on some of the storylines, especially concerning her intern. But overall it was pretty good.

    ReplyReply

  21. Zoe York
    Jul 17, 2013 @ 14:32:34

    Amy, I really liked her first book, so I’d recommend that! (I haven’t started this one yet, I’m hoping to get to it this weekend). The stories that come to mind as similar are Jaci Burton’s Kent Brother series of novellas, and Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski series. Which are both edited by Angela James, according to Goodreads, so that explains that. :)

    ReplyReply

  22. Kate Sherwood
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 08:33:08

    I picked this up after reading the review, and I’m glad I did!

    I really liked the characters and believed the relationship. I was a bit disappointed by the final climax, though – it seemed like it was just kind of shoehorned in there because there needed to be an obstacle rather than because it was something the hero would actually do. And then, given that he DID do it, I felt like the relationship wasn’t really as strong as I’d thought it was, which made the ending a bit less sweet, at least for me.

    Still, glad I read it – thanks for the review!

    ReplyReply

  23. library addict
    Jul 23, 2013 @ 13:43:42

    @Jamie: If it helps, they keep it a secret but it is stated at one point the team did not have a formal policy prohibiting front office personnel from dating the players. And [spoiler]Their relationship is not a secret at the end[/spoiler]

    ReplyReply

  24. Jane’s Best of 2013
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 17:44:05

    […]  The Winning Season by Alison Packard.  There was so much to love about this book from the tall, confident heroine to the journey of the […]

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