Diamond Ring
Grade : B

I read Unwritten Rules, KD Casey’s début for Carina Press, back in October 2021, and I’m afraid I wasn’t very impressed – I gave it a C-. I found the romance lacklustre, the chemistry lukewarm (at best) and the characters ill-defined – although it was very clear that the author has a great deal of talent. Because of that – and because I like, when I can, to give authors a second chance – I decided to give Diamond Ring, book three in the Unwritten Rules series, a try and I’m pleased to report a much more favourable result this time around.

Diamond Ring is a second-chance romance between catcher Alex Angelides and rising star pitcher Jake Fischer, who are both called up to play for the Oakland Elephants and arrive on the same day. They’re very different personalities – Jake is good-natured and enthusiastic (a bit like an excited puppy!), seemingly a bit more media savvy than Alex, who is quiet, prickly and maybe just a bit bewildered by it all. He’s surprised when Jake makes a point of including him in the interview he’s doing, although Alex can’t help but be a bit miffed that he, Alex, is so obviously an afterthought. But that’s the way it is with baseball; as he says later, pitchers get all the glory, catchers do all the work”. Alex isn’t quite sure why Jake seems to want to be his friend, but as the weeks and months pass, that’s what happens; as their working partnership develops, so does their personal one, blooming into a strong friendship with the potential for something more. Their first season goes well… until it doesn’t, and a missed play in the Fall Classic leads to losing the game and the championship, to harsh words and the makings of an estrangement.

Not long after Jake has returned home for the off season, he undergoes surgery for a torn ligament in his elbow, which means he’s going to be out of action for quite some time. Unfortunately, however, his recovery and rehab don’t go as well as hoped – some players make a full recovery from this, some don’t – and Jake is released from his contract and spends the next decade bouncing around minor league teams until he receives a call from the Elephants asking him to come back and play another season for them. He knows that for them, he’s only a stopgap, a last minute signing to fill a gap – and that for him, it was Oakland or nowhere. He knows that Alex is returning to Oakland this season, too. He doesn’t know how to feel about that.

Alex has had a decent career and has decided that this season will be his final one – altbough if he’d known, when he signed with Oakland, that Jake would also be returning, he’d have gone somewhere – anywhere – else. Ten years may have elapsed, but the reasons that led to the collapse of their friendship – arguments over how the series ended, how Jake’s arm got injured and their unresolved feelings of guilt, anger and frustraion – are never far from the surface, and their initial encounters are frosty and fraught with tension. Paired together as pitcher and catcher once more, they’re going to have to find a way to work together and talk to each other, even if their friendship is a thing of the past. But as they rediscover their ability to communicate on the pitch, they begin to rediscover it off the pitch as well, slowly re-learing each other as they begin to let go of ten years worth of resentment and start finding their way back to each other.

Alex and Jake are complex, flawed, three-dimensional characters and their romance is beautifully bittersweet, full of longing, care, deep affection and love. One of the aspects of the story I particularly liked is that they’re not ‘top-flight’ athletes; they work hard to be the best they can be, but Jake’s career is derailed by injury and for Alex, it’s always been more about being able to provide for his family than any deep-rooted passion for the game, and he’s a ‘solid’ player rather than a star.

Jake’s story is particularly heartbreaking as he deals with the disappointment of a failed career and dashed hopes, but he shows incredible resilience as he does so, continuing to play the sport he loves while also coping with depression and an anxiety disorder. Jake’s issues are never underplayed or magically cured, and I appreciated the depiction of the work he does, day in, day out, to maintain his mental health. The author shows how the anti-depressants he is prescribed, while helpful, can affect his appetite and his sex drive – both common side-effects – and the importance of having a partner who is patient and understanding enough to accept the situation and prepared to work through it together to find imaginative and fun ways to spend their ‘alone time’.

Jake’s Jewish faith quietly permeates much of the story, and it’s very clear that both his family and Alex’s are caring and supportive, and are play very important roles in their lives.

I liked the way the story is structured, with the first thirty percent focusing on Jake and Alex Ten Years Ago, and the rest on their second chance romance. Two of my major complaints about Unwritten Rules were that the first-time romance wasn’t well developed enough and that there was hardly any real chemistry between the leads; thankfully, neither is the case here because the chemistry between Jake and Alex absolutely leaps off the page and there’s a nice chunk of page time given to developing their initial relationship. But on the downside, we don’t learn much about what actually happened to both men in the intervening decade, and Jake, in particular, feels quite different in the second part. He’s obviously been through a lot, but we don’t get to see any of it, and all we learn about Alex during that period is that he had (and split up with) a long-term boyfriend. And as with Unwritten Rules, there’s just too much baseball. I fully accept that’s probably a ‘me’ thing, but the problem – again – is that for those of us who enjoy sports romance without necessarily knowing all that much about sport, the minutiae of it can become dull and repetitive, but most importantly, means that we may not understand what’s at stake for the characters. I honestly didn’t realise that the game that begins the rift between Alex and Jake was the final of the World Series (a misnomer if ever there was one!) and all the detail about the games and stats of their final season together went completely over my head, so I didn’t realise how amazing their eventual victory really was.  And that’s annoying for me as a reader. I’ve read and enjoyed romances featuring hockey players, football players, ice-skaters and tennis players – among others – but I didn’t feel as ‘left out’ with those as I did with this one.

But even with those reservations, I enjoyed the book and would definitely recommend it. Although it’s the third in the series and the previous couples make cameo appearances, I believe the books can be read in any order, and this one certainly works as a standalone. Diamond Ring is a well-written, deeply emotional and heartfelt story about dreams not realised, about perservering in the face of defeat and about love lost and found, featuring characters who are easy to like and root for. Alex and Jake’s HEA is hard-won, but that just makes it all the more satisfying. If this is what KD Casey is really capable of, then I’m going to be checking out whatever they come up with next.

Reviewed by Caz Owens

Grade: B

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : April 13, 2023

Publication Date: 04/2023

Recent Comments …

  1. Personal impression is subjective. What works for one person doesn’t always work for others, as we all know. However, when…

  2. I appreciate your comments, I find their tone completely in line with the tone of the review itself, not an…

Caz Owens

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two gorgeous young women who are without doubt, my finest achievement :)I’ve gravitated away from my first love – historical romance – over the last few years and now read mostly m/m romances in a variety of sub-genres. I’ve found many fantastic new authors to enjoy courtesy of audiobooks - I probably listen to as many books as I read these days – mostly through glomming favourite narrators and following them into different genres.And when I find books I LOVE, I want to shout about them from the (metaphorical) rooftops to help other readers and listeners to discover them, too.
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