DUAL REVIEW: Rookie Move by Sarina Bowen
Spoiler (Trigger Warning): Show
Dear Ms. Bowen,
I’ve enjoyed most of your Ivy Years NA books and when I saw that you had an adult contemporary romance spinoff series coming out, I decided to give the first book in the Brooklyn Bruisers series, Rookie Move, a try.
Georgia Worthington is the senior publicist for the Brooklyn Bruisers, but only on an interim basis. She is determined to prove herself to her boss, internet billionaire Nate Kattenberger, and obtain the position on a permanent basis when she encounters two setbacks.
First, Georgia’s father is hired to coach the team. Second, Leo Trevi, a minor league player and her one-time high school sweetheart, is also brought on board, much to her father’s objections.
Back in high school, Leo and Georgia were inseparable and snuck away to fool around at every opportunity. Georgia’s dad, then a college coach, welcomed Leo and even mentored him in the rink. Though they planned to attend different colleges, Leo and Georgia were head over heels in love.
But then Georgia was raped. In the aftermath of the crime, Leo was there for her, whether sitting by her on the couch to watch TV, or bringing her treats. They never talked about what happened or resumed their lovemaking, though, and on graduation day, after realizing they were always sad together where before they had been happy, Georgia dumped Leo, thinking he no longer wanted her.
Now, six years later, Leo is back in Georgia’s life, for worse or for better. At first it seems to be for worse. When the team captain refers to Georgia as a bitch, Leo threatens him, unaware that he is speaking into a microphone. A minor PR crisis results, and a second one follows when Leo cuts loose a date at a charity ball and she makes a scene.
Despite the workplace tension, Georgia and Leo are still attracted to each other, perhaps more than ever. Georgia is friends with Leo’s brother DJ, who convinces the pair to talk to each other. Soon after they do, Leo decides to pursue Georgia romantically. But Georgia is reticent, even when the team’s road trip brings them closer together.
Becca, a co-worker, Georgia’s roommate, and her best friend, assigns Georgia and Leo adjoining hotel rooms. Georgia must decide whether letting Leo back into her life is good idea now that they work for the same organization, she would be risking the promotion she wants, and Leo, whom her father appears to have it in for, could be traded away.
Rookie Move is the first of your romances for adults that I’ve read. At twenty-four, Georgia and Leo were younger than I expected, but I liked that aspect of it. I enjoyed the book, but with some caveats.
The premise that Georgia, Leo, and Georgia’s dad would all be hired for the same organization felt like an unlikely coincidence, but I went with it.
Spoiler (spoiler): Show
Georgia’s dad struck me as emotionally unstable and a real threat to Leo’s career, as well as to Leo and Georgia’s happiness. So when the conflict with him was resolved, the resolution felt too easy.
I also wondered whether a rape survivor who hadn’t had sex since her rape six years before, as Georgia hadn’t, would really be able to resume physical intimacy with so much enthusiasm and no setbacks whatsoever. But despite my doubts as to the likelihood of this, I was really glad of it, because she had been through enough and I wanted some joy for her.
Leo was such a wonderful hero, so very loveable, patient, caring and good-hearted. His determination to prove himself to his coach (Georgia’s father), as well as to win back Georgia, only added to his appeal. He was also a good human being, good not just to Georgia, but to others around him.
Leo was almost a little too good to be true, but I didn’t mind. In fact I liked him so much that I had some difficulty understanding Georgia’s reticence to reunite with him, especially since her reasons kept changing.
Georgia wasn’t ready to share her fears with others for much of the book, but I wanted them to be articulated better in her thoughts, at least, so that I could understand what was driving her more clearly.
But Georgia was a great character too. I loved that she took her career very seriously. I appreciated that she tried to master her fears with skydiving and tae kwon do, and that she’d been to therapy and done the work to understand that the rape was not in any way her fault.
Even with all her strengths, there was a vulnerable side to Georgia that was well-portrayed. In some ways she was very grown up and mature, and in other ways she was still the eighteen year old who had lost so much as a result of a crime. Details like Georgia’s love of filled pastries and dumplings, or the ugly couch she and Becca shared, also rounded out her character.
There was a pattern of non-communication in Leo and Georgia’s backstory — when they were in high school, they couldn’t talk about her rape. That was very believable and poignant, and it was great to see them begin to change that pattern in the second half of the book.
Spoiler (“spoiler”): Show
Another thing I really liked about this book was the workplace milieu. I know next to nothing about ice hockey so I can’t really judge whether the portrayal of the sport was accurate but I liked that the main characters were professionals who cared about their careers and treated them seriously.
Overall, this was an enjoyable book with very likeable protagonists. It had a lot of heart. I detect the possibility of a romance between Becca and Nate in the future. If there is one, I’ll probably check it out. For now, Rookie Move gets a B-.
*Trigger warning: rape*
Dear Sarina Bowen,
I liked Leo Trevi from your Ivy Years series and have been looking forward to reading his own story in Rookie Move, which is the start of your contemporary Brooklyn Bruisers series. I don’t think it’s necessary to have read the earlier books however (except in the sense that they’re really good).
Two years have past since Leo graduated from Harkness College. He has been playing for an AHL team and working hard to create opportunities to get his big break and play in the NHL. It’s one of the best days of his life when he is traded to the Brooklyn Bruisers – until he finds out who the new Bruisers coach is and who is their acting head of PR.
Georgia “Gigi” Worthington and Leo were that couple in high school. The couple who were all loved up and had to always be touching. The couple everyone thought would be together forever. Leo certainly thought that. But when Georgia was raped while she was away on a spring tennis camp, things fell apart. She dumped Leo after their high school graduation and he’s never understood why.
Since then, Leo has been (unconsciously) careful to only date women with whom he can form no lasting attachment; girls who never actually touch his heart. Seeing Gigi again is hard. All the heartbreak he’s been careful to bury deep comes rushing to the surface. He wants to understand why they broke up and more than anything, he wants her back.
However, given that the new coach is Georgia’s dad – who suddenly started hating him around the time Georgia was raped – Leo may not have much time with the Bruisers to win the girl, let alone cement his career.
Georgia, for her part, is extremely uncomfortable that the Bruisers’ newest player is her ex. He’s a reminder of a difficult and traumatic part of her life; something she’s worked hard to put behind her. After she was raped, she and Leo were both so sad and everything changed in their relationship. What had been joyful and fun was morose and cheerless. Georgia couldn’t handle it and broke things off. She still feels guilty and conflicted about it but it’s not like Leo chased her after she dumped him (the reason why is explained in the book by the way). Nevertheless, she is still irresistibly attracted to Leo – who has matured in the best of ways in the six years since she last saw him.
The team had a series of home games this week, and it was weird knowing that she could turn a corner at any moment and come face to face with the only man who had ever loved her.
Naked Leo would be more than her poor heart could take. She’d probably burst an artery if she spotted all six-foot-two, two hundred muscled pounds of him (thank you, stat sheet) across the locker room. Her imagination kept wanting to veer off and picture Leo 2.0 without his clothes on. As a teenager, he’d already been strong and fit. She used to admire his biceps while sitting in the passenger seat of his truck.
Now? If she stood in that locker room while he stripped, they’d have to surgically remove her gaze from his muscular ass.
She could never go in that room again. Obviously.
The conflict between Georgia’s dad and Leo – something she also doesn’t understand – makes her professional life more difficult too. Her boss took a new position some weeks ago and Georgia has been acting head of PR for the Bruisers while the team administration makes a decision about their future PR direction. This is Georgia’s chance to prove she can do it and she’s desperate for things to go right. She’s young but she knows she is capable of doing the job. When she becomes the story in her first major press conference, Georgia is mortified. On the other hand, Leo did call her “the love of his life”. Silver linings.
Hero in pursuit is one of my favourite tropes and Rookie Move has it in spades. Leo is a genuinely nice guy, deeply in love with Georgia and willing to go all out to win her back. It takes him no time at all to decide to go for it and hardly more for him to be professing his ongoing love. Perhaps he tends to a more rosy view than Georgia does, but he’s convinced they’re meant to be together. (He’s doesn’t display this conviction in any kind of stalkery way though – he’s always respectful of Gigi’s boundaries. He stays firmly on the right side of the line between dedicated and dick.)
But Leo is not just after the girl. He wants his career in the NHL and that means impressing Georgia’s dad – who has made it clear that he wants Leo gone yesterday.
There were a few things I felt were a little underdone in the book: for all their improved communication, Leo and Georgia don’t actually talk about what happened to her at the tennis camp and the conflict between Coach Worthington and Leo felt a little tacked in, it’s eventual resolution somewhat convenient. Georgia hasn’t had any sexual relationship since she was raped – she and Leo didn’t have sex again afterward as they broke up about two months after the rape and Georgia hadn’t been ready before then. It’s been six years since then. I thought Georgia’s… ease in having sex with Leo a little surprising. I’m in no way an expert here however. I’m sure it’s one of the many possibilities of actual reactions a woman might have in that position and Gigi did say that she’d never been afraid of Leo and she wasn’t “about to start now”, but I thought Gigi might have some triggers around it (so did Leo actually), particularly given she hasn’t been with anyone since the attack.
Also, there are a few references to “puck bunnies” which I feel I should mention. It doesn’t really bother me but I know it’s an issue for some readers. However, I didn’t love that Amy was portrayed so stereotypically. She seemed to have no nuance or redeeming qualities. When I think about it, it doesn’t really make Leo look good that he was with her for a year in college, even if he was deliberately trying not to get attached.
That said, I nonetheless adored Leo and how totally gone over Gigi he was. I loved how he respected her and cared for her and flat out loved her. I also loved Georgia. She’s making her way in a male dominated industry, she’s a good friend and she’s clearly more than a survivor of sexual assault – by that I mean, that her characterisation shows that while being raped changed her life, it doesn’t define her.
Also fun was the friendship and banter between Georgia and her BFF and roomie, Becca. Becca also works for the Bruisers, as the personal assistant to the team owner, billionaire tech mogul, Nate Kattenberger. I think there might be something going on with those two…
As teens, Leo and Georgia had been not great at communicating about hard things (not a surprise in the circumstances) and, in Rookie Move, they have to learn how to do that as adults. There is also explicit and implicit acknowledgement that they are not exactly the same people they were in high school so it wasn’t as simple as merely picking up where they left off. I was left in no doubt that this couple was Meant To Be however. I spent the book alternatively smiling and going “awwwwww” over all the swoonworthy things Leo says and thinks and does.
That’s when he threw in the towel. When they were together, he always let her win the fights. Georgia was a smart girl, she never steered him wrong. And the makeup sex had always been spectacular. “Fine. I think it’s pretty clear tonight that I’m an idiot. Maybe the girl made a few good points there at the end.”
Georgia’s lips twitched. Then she gave in and smiled. And it was like the sun came out. There was more warmth and humor in Georgia’s smile than he’d seen anywhere else in six years. His heart said, This. This right here.
This is not a new adult book and it took me a while to realise what was different about it – and then I twigged that it was in third person past tense instead of (dual) first person present. It’s the first book of yours that I’ve read which has been in third person and I admit it felt a little odd at first! However, I was caught up in the story very quickly and it soon ceased being something on my mind at all.
I’m very curious about the somewhat mysterious Nate Kattenberger and wondering what is going on with him and Becca. The next book however, features team captain, Patrick O’Doul (he’s intriguing me too).
Even though there are some heavy topics canvassed (but only canvassed, they’re not detailed) in Rookie Move, the book itself is more in the way of a feel-good story and it’s a definite recommend from me.
Geo-blocked. Haven’t had that happen in a while.
I usually enjoy Bowen’s writing, but I’m not sure I’d be able to go along the setup, and the puck bunnies/bitchy girlfriends are grating. Has she ever written a hero with a likable ex-girlfriend? Because the only nice ex in her books that I can think of is Skippy.
@Rose: This one is published by Berkley, unlike Bowen’s others.
Yeah, the set up was far-fetched. I haven’t come across a likable ex in Bowen’s books, but (SPOILERISH) here there’s an explanation for Leo’s string of bitchy or shallow exes, which is that he hadn’t truly moved on from loving Georgia, even though he thought he did. Even with an explanation it’s not favorite trope, and I had to laugh when one of the exes Leo’s brother mentioned Leo had in college was Stacia, Hartley’s narcissistic ex from The Year We Fell Down.
Funny you should mention Skippy, because this book reminded me a lot of The Understatement of the Year. Both books had the main characters who loved years ago but were separated by an attack, and then reunite when one is transferred to the same team another is involved with. In both one partner was traumatized by the attack and has to overcome fear of a reunion. Both books had the team’s travels and hotel stays as a backdrop for the reunion, with some of the hockey games actually shown. I can think of another similarity, too, but it would be a spoiler to mention it. Since Understatement is my favorite Bowen, I didn’t mind as much as I might have otherwise.
So it isn’t the freshest plot. If I had to summarize the book’s appeal it would be in the characters, rather than in breaking any new ground. They are both lovable and Leo is especially so.
So with you on the puck bunnies!
I see that we agreed on some points. Besides those mentioned in my review, I also agree with your comments on Amy, and I wanted to comment on this:
Georgia’s father’s reasons for disliking Leo are revealed to be different at the end than what Leo theorizes early in the book, and Leo’s theory made more sense to me as a motive than the true one did!
I’ve been slowly falling out of love with Sarina Bowen, after being all in after the first 4 Ivy Series books. This unfortunately doesn’t sound like the book for me to try to rekindle our flame.
@Rose look for a different cover. It’s being sold in Australia with an awful cover – 2 people on a bridge and nothing to do with hockey. But it is available outside the US.
And there was a nice ex in a Bowen book – Him. :)
@Janine – At least Leo’s supposition had some grounding in the plot – although I was unconvinced by that too. The reason when finally revealed was a whole new thing which felt like it was introduced too late.
But I loved Leo so much – and Georgia too – I was more than willing to overlook the flaws. Leo was a sweetie! Plus, I adore the hero totally gone for the heroine as a trope. It’s one of my favorites to read.
@Rose: here: try this link https://www.amazon.com/Rookie-Move-Brooklyn-Bruisers-Book-ebook/dp/B01IE2VHMU/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473113406&sr=8-2&keywords=rookie+move+sarina+bowen#nav-subnav
Great reviews ladies! Kaetrin, Sarina Bowen’s True North series is also third person POV (and not NA). I think you would enjoy those too.
Cleo, you should try Sarina’s True North series, I’ve really enjoyed it and it’s quite different from the Ivy League series.
I’m on your exact same boat. I don’t like her contemporary romance novels, they have never worked as well as her NA for me.. for whatever reason. And this book.. sounds like it would be hugely problematic for me. So thanks for the dueling reviews Janine and Kaetrin.. I appreciate you taking the time to review them for us :)
@Kaetrin: I was more convinced by Leo’s supposition than you were, I think, so when the truth turned out to be something different as well as less convincing, it jarred.
What did you think of the points in the spoilers in my review? I thought the first one was similar to what happened with Georgia’s dad’s change in motive, and the second bugged me a little too.
I agree on Leo. What a sweetheart of a hero! He was the book’s greatest strength.
@Readsalot81: I think Bowen’s voice is perfect for NA. She writes vulnerable characters so well, and that makes her a great fit for the coming of age element. Adult contemporaries don’t have that element, and (having not read her other adult books, just this one) I think therefore she’s not playing to her strengths to the same degree here. I still enjoyed this book, though.
I didn’t mean to be so cryptic. I’ve only read her NA, but the more I read by her, the more I think she and I dont see eye to eye on a couple points that I feel strongly about.
I don’t care for the subtle (and sometimes not at all subtle) slut shaming of her sexually adventurous female characters. So the puck bunny thing would bother me.
And (less related to the review but what the heck, I feel like getting it off my chest) I’m deeply conflicted about her m/m stories. I really enjoyed The Understatement of the Year, but I felt like it was much more focused on sex than the rest of the series (that could be a wrong impression, I haven’t done a word count or anything) and it bugged me that the only m/m in The Ivy Years was more about sex than the m/f novels. It felt a little exploitative to me.
Him (co-written with Elle Kennedy) felt very exploitative to me. I really liked the portrayal of Jamie’s bisexuality (speaking as a bi woman) but the way their relationship was written, especially the extended BJ fjashbacks, felt icky to me.
TL;DR – this book sounds like it’d be problematic for me and I just don’t have enough author trust built up to give it a try.
Kaetrin – that worked, thanks! No idea why that option didn’t appear when I was looking for it on Amazon.
I have to say that neither cover appeals to me; the pastel bridge cover seems to belong to a different story entirely, but if I never saw another shiny chest with the head cropped off it would be too soon. I realize it probably help sales, but the books all look alike, and I’d rather have a cover that’s related to the story beyond letting me know that there will be a half-naked guy in it. Unless the conflict has something to do with the guy’s steroid use, because it certainly doesn’t look natural.
I haven’t done a word count either, but my sense is that both The Understatement of the Year and The Shameless Hour had more of a focus on sex than the first two Ivy books.
@Christine Maria Rose: I have both books on the TBR of Doom. :)
@Rose: Glad you found it! I don’t mind naked torso covers myself but the purple (even though it’s the team colour) was a bit much for me. Still, way better than the bridge cover which just doesn’t fit the book at all IMO.
@Janine: Georgia’s dad never really made a lot of sense to me. I just thought he was there to add some conflict in the story rather than for any organic reason.
As for the second issue, I didn’t mind that Leo didn’t speak to Georgia right away. She was in a difficult position because she wasn’t allowed to talk about it or let on that she knew. Leo wanted to get that period over with. I actually LOVED that he was unfazed by [the thing].
@cleo: I haven’t read Him but the Elle Kennedy books I’ve read are considerably more sex-focused than Sarina Bowen’s, so I wonder if some of that might be her contribution to the book.
I agree with Rose that Understatement and Shameless had more sex than the The Year We Fell Down and The Year We Hid Away, and actually, I think Rookie Move did too. So it may just be that Bowen’s writing is evolving in that direction. Of course, I haven’t read her other adult contemporaries, and for all I know, those books might break that pattern.
@Kaetrin: POSSIBLE SPOILERS: When I mentioned the first spoiler in my review, I wasn’t referring to Georgia’s dad’s issues but rather to the reason he, Georgia and Leo all worked for the same organization. At first it seemed to be a coincidence but later in the book Nate gives a hint of a different reason. I thought that different reason was even more far-fetched (and actually, annoying) which was also how I felt about the reframing of Gerogia’s dad’s issues, and I wondered if you felt that way too. About the reason Nate gave, I mean.
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@Janine: Oh, that. I get it now! *rolls eyes at self* Um, I thought it was unlikely but I’m reserving judgement until Nate’s book. My feeling was that whatever his ulterior motive, he wouldn’t have hired Georgia’s dad or Leo if they couldn’t completely do the job. You don’t get to be a billionaire by making dumb business decisions. But Nate also seems to also consider himself something of a
Buried Comment: Show
I’m willing to see where it goes in the series. Those billionaires can be quirky. Some of the plots I’ve read lately and decided to give a pass to are way more far-fetched than that! LOL
@Janine – that makes sense about Bowen’s writing becoming sexier as she wrote The Ivy Years. I do remember that about Shameless Hour too, now that everyone mentioned it. It did really stand out to me that she got sexier with the m/m book first – but I liked the story so much that I was able to mostly let it go.
In Him, wasn’t that there was a lot of sex in it (although there was a lot of sex) it was how the whole thing was written that bugged me. I haven’t read any of Elle Kennedy’s books, so I don’t have a comparison for her m/m and m/f writing. Maybe her m/f books would feel exploitative to me too – idk.
I thought I was the only one who had reservations about Him until one of the guest reviewers for the SBTB Rita Readers’ Challenge thing gave it an F for the same reasons I thought it was exploitive (plus several I didn’t notice / care as much about). The other reviewer gave it an A. I’d probably give it a C-, so big range of opinions. (FWIW – Here’s the SBTB review, and my extensive comments on it – http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/reviews/elle-kennedy-sarina-bowen-2/)
@cleo: Thanks. I read the SBTB review and your comments but not the whole discussion. From reading the review, the book sounds problematic and it’s possible that some aspects of it might bother me but of course, I can’t be sure without reading it.
One part of the plot as described by the SB reviewer reminded me of a plot point in Kennedy’s m/f NA romance The Mistake, so I think the insensitivity the reviewer saw in that part of the plot may have been unintentional, though the reviewer’s points are still valid. The similar thing is a big spoiler for The Mistake, though, so I don’t want to mention it here. If you’re curious about it you can email me; my address is janineballard at gmail dot com.
@Kaetrin: Yeah, I’m in the same place you are as far as being willing to see where it goes. I have some interest in Nate because he seems like a Mark Zuckerberg-inspired character which right there makes him a lot more believable than the all the self-made 30-year-old billionaires who made their fortunes in Manhattan real estate and other unlikely industries. But if this ulterior motive reveals itself to be a pattern in future books, I might check out.
@cleo: Thank you cleo. I read the review of Him in SBTB and your comments following, and to be honest it’s prompted quite a bit of soul-searching. I love Sarina Bowen and I’ve considered both Him and Understatement of the Year comfort reads for me, but I realize now I need to examine why I read what I read and if I need to be more discerning in my choices. Am I one of those straight women who fetishize gay men? It makes me squirm to even type that, let alone seriously consider whether that may be true of me. I’ll check out the other authors suggested in the SBTB post, and perhaps even take a break from m/m entirely.
An unexpected gift on a Tuesday from my DA family: a conscience check and a character check. Thank you, I needed that.
@cleo: I read the review when it came out (but I haven’t looked again today and read your comment though Cleo). I remember thinking that some points were well made and others misstated what happened in the book (as far as I could remember). Of course, I am a cis het woman so I realise my privilege may well be showing here. I took some of those matters on board and will watch out for them in future books (by any author) but I didn’t end up feeling guilty for my enjoyment of Him and I didn’t end up wishing to change my grade for it (not that anyone ever asked or expected me to do so of course.) At the same time, I was grateful to read an alternative view point and have some of my own views challenged.
I’ll have to go and take a look at your comment Cleo as I always value what you have to say and there are always things I miss in my reading, for any number of reasons. Ultimately, I think queer voices are always to be heard and valued when it comes to criticisms of queer literature. As a non-queer woman I expect my opinion and $5 will buy you a cup of coffee. :)
@Kaetrin – I also didn’t agree with everything in that review – I think they misread at least one thing. And I certainly don’t feel the same level of outrage.
And I really didn’t mean to imply that anyone should feel bad for liking Him. I’ve re-read parts of it over and over and I don’t feel bad for that. I just skip the parts I dislike.
I personally have been wrestling with how to reconcile the fact that parts of Him really resonated with me and parts felt really icky. And that’s kind of spilled over into my feelings about Sarina Bowen as an author – I feel like she writes some things really well but other things really bother me. And that’s ok, of course.
I didn’t mean to completely derail this thread although I appreciate everyone’s comments.
I had a horrible stomach bug last week and Sun I was finally well enough to feel bored but not well enough to do anything – a dangerous state to make comments in – my judgement was not as good as I like to think it usually is. So. My apologies.
@cleo: I don’t think you derailed the thread by any means. It’s an important discussion to have, and sometimes it’s good to share with other readers issues that they might have missed or not been aware of.
Backtracking to something that came up earlier, I’ve read Bowen’s Gravity series, and I’d place them somewhere between the first two Ivy book and her more recent NA titles in terms of the focus on sex. I don’t think she’s the only author whose NA books have become sexier with time; for example, if you read Tammara Webber’s Between the Lines and Sweet back to back, there’s a noticeable difference over time. Maybe for some authors it becomes easier or more important to focus on this part of the story and characterization as they gain experience.
Or maybe it’s market driven, like those horrid torso covers (which Webber, thank god, does not use) ;)
@cleo: Cleo, you have nothing to apologize for. Truly. I thought your comments were thoughtful and if anyone derailed the thread it was me with my speculation, which you were only replying to. And anyway conversations have a way of wandering, and that’s not necessarily bad. I think this is a valuable conversation to have, though having not read Him, my insights are limited.
@Rose: That’s interesting. Sometimes there are market-driven trends, for example if you like at historical romance over time, you can see that sex scenes have gotten longer over the decades. I don’t read that much NA; do you think the genre has become sexier over time?
@cleo: You didn’t imply anything and, as Janine said, you have nothing to apologise for. Your comments are always thoughtful and welcome and I love talking about books with you! :)