Straddling the Line
This is probably going to sound far harsher than I really intend, but can we call time of death on the Play by Play series? I have read all eight books in this series, in spite of not caring a wit about sports, but the last four or so were just not very good, and the latest is the worst of the series so far. The premise and characters are unrealistic. The plot is just a rehash of the last four books with different names. I managed to crawl through this one, but I can’t help but think it might be time for Burton to consider starting over with a fresh idea.
At this point, I can basically tell you how one of these Play by Play books will go before I open it. The dead sexy, ripped professional athlete (who typically has secret insecurities) meets an above-average lady who is trying to make a name for herself in some type of job. They’ll be forced to either work together or live together. At some point, they typically end up at the athlete’s beach-side mansion where he cooks her a meal like a five-star chef from ingredients that are magically in the fridge, even though they just got into town that day. The lady flounces around in a swimsuit; they pant over each other, and spend most of the book jumping in and out of bed while denying that there is anything more than sex between them. All of this is sprinkled with random sports references and the lady going to the athlete’s games.
This book doesn’t vary from that formula at all. In this case, the lady is Haven Briscoe. Haven is trying to make a career as a sports journalist, even though she doesn’t seem to actually want to do that. She meets the pro-athlete Trevor Shay in college. Her recently deceased father was Trevor’s dorm father in college (I haven’t totally figured out what that relationship is supposed to mean because I’ve never heard of such a thing. An RA? Yes. Dorm parents? No.) So during their college days, Haven tutored Trevor and, of course, developed an unrequited crush on him. Now, it is years later and Trevor has basically agreed to do an extensive interview with Haven to cheer her up after the death of her father.
The first thing that really bugged me about this was that Trevor plays two sports professionally. It seems highly unlikely to me that an NFL and MLB team would both be willing to share a player, meaning that he misses practices and such with either team for the other. I could see him playing one sport and leaving to play the other, but both at once felt farfetched. It was like Burton was struggling with how to differentiate Trevor from his Play by Play predecessors. The second issue was that Haven moves in with Trevor in order to conduct this story on him. I really doubt that the average sports writer moves in with their subject just to conduct an interview. What an inefficient way to do business. Haven doesn’t have any other work to do besides hang around Trevor’s pool so she can ask him about two questions a day? I’m a fan of forced-living situations in my romance but this one just felt too flimsy to be believable.
There was no real chemistry between Trevor and Haven. I think they were both so uninteresting that I couldn’t bring myself to care about whether they got together. It also took a lot longer than usual for them to go to bed together. Usually Burton’s books toss in something steamy within a couple of chapters to kind of whet your appetite for more. This one didn’t do that. It took a dozen or so chapters for the pair to start having their pretty vanilla sex.
I think the issue with long series like this is that the authors feel this compulsion to have little family reunions. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the first few books in this series. When it revolved around the Riley family, there was a lot more heart to the stories. The characters were more fleshed out and things weren’t so repetitive. Since we were dealing with characters within the same tight-knit family, I didn’t mind the check-ins with the previous books’ characters. Also, it was easier to remember who everyone was when I had read three books versus eight. Now the series has run out of Rileys and we’ve moved further and further from the original family, yet Burton forces interactions with the early characters. The party in the middle of this book felt like a roll call of the fourteen previous leads with updates on who is married and who is having kids. We get it, everyone before this lived happily ever after and is starting families. I didn’t really expect anything else for them considering that this is romance. We don’t need to check in with characters whose names I forgot as soon as I closed their book to remind me that they’re still hot for each other.
Sadly, the party wasn’t the only scene that felt forced. There was also a pretty pointless trip to the zoo where Trevor talked about animals. If there’s anyone that this light animal rights talk should appeal to, it’s me. However, I don’t need it clumsily inserted into a romance novel.
I won’t spoil Trevor’s big secret for you, but it didn’t seem all that big. The evidence leading up to the reveal was dubious at best. I had pretty much guessed what his issue was but part of the clues that Haven notices was so ridiculous I actually put down the book and messaged a friend to complain about it. Even with his supposed secret, Trevor was so boring to me that I forgot his name and started calling him Travis halfway through this review and had to go back and fix it.
People who have never read one of the Play by Play books and don’t have the knowledge of how formulaic they’ve gotten might enjoy this one, but fans of the series may as well skip it.