REVIEW: Game On by Kelly Jamieson
Dear Ms. Jamieson:
This is the ninth book in the Aces Hockey series and the fourth that I’ve read. It starts with a premise that I don’t love. Cam Brickley sees Olivia Lockwood in a bar and ends up in a bet with his teammates: he’ll date her for two months and not fall in love. On the one hand, it’s not the worst “hero ends up pursuing heroine because of a bet” premise I’ve read. He’s just betting that he won’t fall in love, after all, not that he can get her into bed or something sleazy like that. But the fact is he has ulterior motives for dating Olivia, other than the fact that he likes her (and he does like her; there is an immediate and strong mutual attraction between them). It felt squicky to me.
Olivia has a bit of an ulterior motive herself, which I guess is supposed to balance things out, though her motive and approach are somewhat nobler than Cam’s. Olivia runs a charity dedicated to encouraging physical activity in children through running. When she realizes who Cam is, it occurs to her that he would be a great spokesperson for her charity, which has stagnated a bit. Their donations have dropped off and they recently lost out on a grant they’d applied for. Olivia really wants to make the charity successful – not only is it her passion project, but she has issues with her high-achieving family that make it important to her to be successful at something.
Olivia and Cam go on a date and are both struck with food poisoning. This sets up a mildly humorous bit where their first couple of dates are kind of disasters. After the food poisoning incident, on the next date a chair breaks under Cam at a restaurant, and then Olivia (who’s a bit of a klutz) spills a glass of water all over him. It was sort of cute (and unusual) to see two attractive, wealthy and successful people go through these mishaps.
Eventually, they get it right, and before you know it, they’re sleeping together. To Cam’s credit, he does try to tell Olivia about the bet before they first have sex, but she brushes him off. The bet storyline isn’t drawn out too long, though, which I had mixed feelings about. On the one hand, since it was distasteful to me, it was for the best that it wasn’t belabored. On the other hand, had it been, it might have provided a bit more dramatic tension and angst, both of which I felt the story lacked.
I really liked Olivia. I liked her insecurity, which felt very real and relatable. She’s beautiful and smart and likable, but she’s never felt good enough, and it’s affected her relationships (somewhat unrealistically, it appears all her previous beaus were only into her for her money or connections – her family owns a big conglomerate called Lockwood Industries). She’s a bit neurotic – for instance, she’s scared of dogs, even Cam’s dog Magnum, who is described as a golden lab mix. I realize I can’t relate to the fear of dogs, but the idea of someone being scared of a LABRADOR made me laugh.
Cam I liked less. He was okay, I guess. He was somewhat crude – on their first date he makes a joke about how he’d like Olivia’s hands on his balls. I guess I expect slightly more PG-13 behavior on a first date. He jokes (?) that Magnum is named after the condom brand. I will cop to being a little prissy, so YMMV. To be fair, Olivia seems to find his crudity charming.
In general Cam just seemed very basic. He’s Canadian; he grew up with sisters. His family doesn’t have any stated dysfunction. He’s a very typical romance hero who “doesn’t date” but essentially has one-night stands or maybe goes out a few times with a woman (presumably just for sex).
I’ve gotten less and less patient with that type of hero over the years. I may never have been very fond of them in the first place, actually. I spent a lot of my early romance reading career reading historicals with “rake” heroes, and while they sometimes (often?) bugged me, at least it made sense that those men hadn’t had “relationships” in the contemporary sense. But the contemporary hero who gets to a certain age and has never had a relationship, and doesn’t have any trauma or a backstory to explain it annoys me. It either feels like a device to have a hero who doesn’t have any baggage, and/or it’s supposed to be romantic that a hero never knows what love is until he meets the heroine.
Very late in the book there is a mention of a high school girlfriend who took their breakup hard, and even later Cam’s father posits a reason for Cam’s unwillingness to do relationships. But still, in real life if I were a 30-year-old woman and met a guy of a similar age who’d never had a real adult relationship I’d think the guy was likely a stunted man-baby and I’d run in the other direction.
(Thank you for coming to my TED talk.)
Anyway, the story unfolds pretty predictably – the ulterior motives give way to feelings, but reasons (albeit, paper-thin ones) keep the two from thinking their relationship can be anything but short-term.
I do like that the author obviously has a real love for the city of Chicago and includes details about the city in the series. There were a couple of times in this book where some of the “facts about Chicago” felt a bit shoehorned in, but all in all, I appreciate an author creating a real sense of place.
Overall, though, Game On was pretty blah for me. Readable enough, as most competently written contemporaries are, but lacking in any real dramatic heft. The denouement felt like it was pretty much the same as in the three previous books I’ve read in the series (I’ll spoiler-tag it since it comes so late in the book but it won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has read more than two romance novels):
I’m giving Game On a B-. I’ll probably still read the next book in the series.
I’m completely distracted by that cover: how much lower he can pull down his pants before ALL is revealed?
Thank you for coming to my TED talk: “Visual Vocabularies: The Female Gaze in Romance Novel
@Jennie: Maybe it’s because of Dangerous Liaisons but I actually love the wager trope when it’s done well. But I’m not sure if it would work for me in a contemporary and your spoiler makes me feel the handling isn’t very deft. There are better ways to have the truth come out than that.
@Janine: I also like the wager trope when done well. I don’t mind an aashole main character if they have an arc. Which books featuring wagers have you liked?
@Jo Savage: My favorites are Knaves’ Wager by Loretta Chase and The Duke’s Wager by Edith Layton. Avoid reviews and the kindle edition blurb for the second and read it in print (Signet edition) if possible. It’s easy to spoil so best to go into it without knowing much.
There is also a Balogh traditional regency that Sunita recommended to me a long time ago and that I need to read. I believe it’s The Incurable Matchmaker. It’s only available in print at this time.
What about you? What are your favorite wager books with good arcs for the main asshole, er, hero?
@Janine: To be fair, the truth actually comes out before that. I still thought it was lame and predictable.
I do think I can handle the wager trope better in a historical romance. Maybe that’s because I am more accepting of rake/jerk heroes in historicals? There are probably some complicated reasons for that, but basically it boils down to the fact that it’s a different era and I have some distance from the mores and behaviors of the characters.
In a contemporary, I’m going to judge the characters based, more or less, on what I might judge a person on IRL. Though in fiction I can better accept internal reasons for bad behavior if there is redemption. Which is why I wish a hero like Cam had more of a backstory/motivation for not having relationships, besides having one teenage girlfriend who was overly clingy.
@Jennie: Yes, I agree that it works better in historicals. I think that has to do with Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Chodelros de Laclos, the classic novel which has been made into a play and multiple movies. It has a hand in the trope, for sure. For my part, I think that even within historical settings, the trope is more suitable to the Georgian era (which is when the book was published) than the Victorian era.