Desert Isle Keeper
It’s hard for me to write a review that is as enthusiastic and upbeat as this book deserves, because things are so tough everywhere right now. But that means when I tell you it transported me out of my home and made me extremely happy for a few hours of coronavirus social distancing, you should take it as even stronger of a recommendation. I’m harder to distract and relax now than ever, and it’s great praise to say Julianna Keyes’ Bench Player thoroughly accomplished both.
Connor Whitman was on top of the world as the right fielder for the Charleston Thrashers – at least, until an ignorant stock deal landed him in jail for two years for insider trading. Now he’s out again, but a thirty-four-year-old ex-con isn’t exactly prime baseball material. Connor needs an image rehab.
Allison Whyte is the PR manager for the Thrashers, and the latest victim of blame-shifting by the idiot GM Kimball Dean, who has inherited his dad’s team. In a Hail Mary to save her job, Allison tells him she can do the impossible and get Connor’s poll numbers up. Although Kimball sends her to try, it’s with the guarantee that Connor isn’t up for a spot on the team. Spring Training is the best he can hope for – which Allison decides not to tell Connor.
The author tells this story in alternating first-person perspective chapters, and this is the rare case where it doesn’t just work, but actively enhances the story. We first meet Allison from Connor’s point of view, and she is utterly awful. I could not imagine how this woman could turn out to be the heroine. Then we get a couple of chapters from Allison’s point of view, and not only was I suddenly completely empathetic to her, but now I wanted to shake Connor for his stubborn resistance to her advice. Over the course of the book, their perspectives gradually converge, until each point of view shows the other as appealing and attractive. That’s remarkable writing.
Allison’s deal with Kimball is of course the looming Big Mis, but Keyes surprised and delighted me by pulling the trigger on that storyline early and making Allison and Connor work their way back from it. I also loved the sex scenes. Connor is one of those grumpy, taciturn heroes who are utterly focused on their partners, and yeah, that’s a weakness of mine.
I appreciate an older character written to be a person in their own right, not just to push the plot for younger people, and in this capacity. I loved Allison’s grandfather Biff, a legendary baseball player of the 1950s. Yes, Biff helps Connor get perspective, but given the rarity of major league ballplayers, that makes sense. Other supporting characters, like the flashy Ibanez or a behavior-challenged rival for Connor, are also well developed and credible.
I also love a well-developed setting. The author is clearly a huge baseball fan, and she makes sure Connor acts like a pro athlete, working out and watching his diet. She understands the nuances of the process of making a team, and how the American MLB works, with its minor league affiliates and seasonal schedule. Although her protagonists so far have been white Americans, she has a diverse supporting team, which is accurate to the league (I want to read about both Ibanez and the South Korean pitcher, Jae Hwa Kim, who talks smack through his locker room interpreter). Similarly, Allison’s PR world is developed, and I liked the idea of the whole team living in terror at the click of her shoes in the hallway.
What could be improved? While I understood that Connor is supposed to have completely accepted his guilt and worked through it, a man coming out of prison could have had at least one scene where he expressed opinions on/anger at the system (he got two years for insider stock trading but, say, Brock Turner got three months for felony sexual assault, and sentences for people of color for minor marijuana offenses can be over a decade). I like to think that once he got his career back on track, Connor became involved with employment advocacy for ex-cons.
Also regarding the ending – for a very long time, I wasn’t actually sure how the story was going to end, and I really enjoyed that suspense. The ending that Keyes settles on is satisfying, but maybe a bit too neat.
Bench Player is the second book in the Charleston Thrashers series. I hadn’t read the first, Team Player, but it didn’t matter for my reading experience. Despite the fact that the protagonists of that book are planning their wedding in this one, their reappearance isn’t saccharine and purposeless, which is rare in sequels. That being said, I immediately bought Team Player after reading this and since it’s excellent, you might as well go and get it and read them in order.
This was my first Julianna Keyes, and the fact that I followed it within an hour with my second should tell you how much I enjoyed it. I strongly recommend both books in the Charleston Thrashers series.
Buy it at: Amazon
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I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.
|Review Date:||March 29, 2020|
|Book Type:||Contemporary Romance|
|Review Tags:||athlete | baseball | Charleston Thrashers series | coworkers | criminal record | enemies to lovers | South Carolina | Sports Romance|
I loved this book. Connor is a dream. Allison’s relationship with her grandfather is lovely, and the team members are all great–I too hope many of them get their own stories. Really fun!
Also, we have a baseball romance tag now! https://allaboutromance.com/review-tag/baseball/
C – if you haven’t read the Time Served trilogy, I think you will enjoy it too. I wasn’t super crazy about either principal characters in the first book, but I love how Keyes redeems ‘the villain,’ (Caitlin Dufresne) in In Her Defense. The character is at first hard to love, and then impossible not to like and root for (much like Allison). My favorite in that series.
I like TIME SERVED more than IN HER DEFENSE, so naturally I would say this, but I think you do need to read TIME SERVED to get the full arc of Caitlin’s character. Caitlin’s sister is the heroine of the third book (THE GOOD FIGHT)—and I love the fact that you get little glimpses of Rachel & Dean (from TIME SERVED) in the subsequent books.
Sounds like a great book! Hopefully someday it will be on audio so I can enjoy it, too.
I have it on pre-order! I could have asked for an arc but knew I wouldn’t get to read it before pub day. I’m looking forward to reading it in my now socially unbusy evenings! Keyes has been a fave of mine for a while too. Also she’s Canadian and I like to support Canadian romance authors since I’m Canadian too.
I love baseball and I loved TEAM PLAYER, so I’ll be downloading BENCH PLAYER first thing tomorrow (I think that’s when it drops). Keyes is pretty much an auto-buy for me—she has such a way with prickly, difficult characters, making them relatable if not always completely sympathetic. Her TIME SERVED is one of my reliable comfort rereads (although there are some problematic elements which others always point out when I mention how much I love it).
Reread Team Player while you wait!!! I wished I did that when I got my ARC. Still great!
I haven’t yet read Keyes but she’s on my list and Team Player is the book I noted last year that I need to read.
I hope you can fit her in. I think it will be worth your time!
One of my favorite contemporary authors. I recommend you just go all the way back and read her whole back catalog! (Except Bad Princess).
Loved this one too, for all the same reasons you did. Great review!