Thursday, August 8, 2013

Review of The Winning Season by Alison Packard

Alison Packard
The Winning Season
Carina Press | July 15, 2013 | 241 pages, 95,000 words

Author’s website | Goodreads | Buy book here

Kelly Maxwell has finally landed her dream job as publicist for the San Francisco Blaze. But the team's newest member, handsome bad boy catcher Matt Scanlon, is refusing every interview. She's got to get him to open up before the season ends, or she may not be back next year. And after everything she overcame to achieve her dream, Kelly's not about to let that happen.

Matt Scanlon just wants to be left alone to rebuild his life and his career. After a year of masking the pain of a recent loss with hard partying and fast women, he finally hit rock bottom and was traded to a team he's loathed his entire life—a team with little to no chance at the post-season.
Butting heads is getting Kelly and Matt nowhere but annoyed, and with the team's schedule on the road, they can't avoid close quarters—or their surprising attraction to one another. As the season winds down, Matt finds his growing feelings for Kelly have brought his numbed emotions back to life. But when betrayal shatters their fragile trust, winning it all seems more impossible than ever.

Genre & Keywords: Contemporary Romance, M/F, Sports, Baseball, Enemies to Friends, Eating Disorder, Loss, Secret

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Heat level: 2 out of 3 flames

My first acquaintance with Packard's work was definitely a pleasant reading experience. Not only, did I enjoy the setting of The Winning Season immensely, I also thought the relationship development and overall pace were very well done. Additionally, her writing style is clean and entertaining with quick dialogues and vivid descriptions. However, what kept me from rating this novel with 5 stars is the presence of a few predictable plot elements.

This is a sport romance with a baseball hero. Accordingly the story takes place on and around a ball field. I loved this baseball setting. Especially since it was not only a decor, it felt very real and authentic. The heroine also works for the PR department of the baseball team, so we learn different aspects about what's going on behind the scenes of a major league team and competition. I'm not an American so the concept of this specific sport is somewhat foreign to me, although I've heard of the World Series of course and I've been to a Padres game when I was in San Diego last May. So I can say that I know a lot more about baseball after reading the novel than I knew before. But I gained this knowledge in a playful manner; I didn't feel overwhelmed with baseball lingo at all. I just really enjoyed the insider’s perspective on this sport.

As for the romantic developments in this novel, the pace of the falling in love part was slow and nearly perfect. It would've been perfect with a less rushed ending. But what I liked immensely is that this couple starts out hating each other and then, slowly but steadily, they fall in love. This is done credibly and convincingly, in a way that you can actually see them get there. I rather enjoyed this phase, especially when they weren't that much into each other yet and had these amusing banters, bickering and cussing at each other at every opportunity. When their mutual attraction starts to surface more and more, it results in some very steamy encounters, which are also a pleasure to read. I think an important part of my enjoyment is due to the author's ability to write vivid and evocative scenes, mingled with great and often witty dialogue.

However, as much as I liked this author's voice and the way the feelings developed between the main characters, I have to address the several predictable plot turns the romantic arc takes. The enemy-to-lovers trope has a dramatic secret as a centerpiece right there in the middle of it, being the reason for the transformation from hate to love. Albeit a not very original take on the trope, nonetheless it turned out to evoke quite some emotions as well.
Furthermore, the big secret becomes the catalyst for The Big Misunderstanding when it's unwillingly unveiled in the media and some accusations are made. Especially this plot element was a bit of a disappointment for me. I kept thinking, long before it happened, 'no the author won't go there' and yet, she did! I regretted she went for this obvious and predictable choice and actually thought she altogether could've skipped the big, big drama that followed if she intended to rush through a reconciliation as quickly as she did anyway.
Also a bit predictable was that most of the secondary plot lines - like Matt's role in the new team, his future as a catcher for the Blaze, the medical condition of Lily, the outcome of the last series of games - were rounded up neatly with no real tension or threats. They felt a bit artificial to me but maybe that's because I don’t think that everything has to end well.

One secondary plot line however, didn't get this neat treatment: that of the eating disorder and more specifically the plot line of Kelly handling her intern. Some may cynically say because it served its purpose already being a means to Kelly's end, namely winning Matt's sympathy and admiration, so that he would share in return. But I actually liked how the author handled this topic and left the ending open where it concerned the plot of Kelly's intern. We don't really know how she's doing after she left the hospital with her parents but we can only hope she acknowledged her problem and got help. Like Kelly did. I think the topic of the eating disorder and Kelly's experience with it come across as realistic and authentic. In real life stories like this don’t always end well either. I actually think the way that this topic is dealt with here makes this an above average novel, along with the earlier mentioned positive elements.

Overall, I can certainly recommend this sport romance. It has a great setting, a well-paced, believable romance, quite a few emotional moments, a lack of fear for some harsh scenes between the main characters and, most importantly, skillful writing. I will definitely pick up another book by Alison Packard in the future!

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