Game On by Tracy Solheim
Series: Out of Bounds series #1
Also in this series: Game On, Foolish Games, Foolish Games
Published by Berkley, Penguin
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Genres: Contemporary Romance
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The only way to win is to score…
With a reputation for fast moves on the gridiron and even faster moves off the field, Shane Devlin was a player in every sense of the word. Unfortunately, his bad-boy persona has made him a risky prospect as a quarterback, and only the Baltimore Blaze are willing to give him a chance. And he’s about to take a hit he never expected.
Working for the Blaze, Carly March knows too well how jocks think—and what they think with—so she’s always made a point of keeping them at arm’s length. But when she shares a kiss with the devilishly handsome Shane, she finds it hard to play by her own rules—and even harder to resist him.
Can a football hero and a business-minded beauty take it all the way? Or will their mutual attraction cost them the big game?
Shane Devlin is an NFL quarterback desperately in need of a team, and he’s thrilled when the Baltimore Blaze decide to take a chance on him after their quarterback is injured. The Blaze management want their players to be upstanding, moral examples for the community, though, and Shane has a very checkered past. The tabloids have had a field day with various (mostly untrue) accusations of illegitimate children, sexual harassment, and general playboy behavior. He has to be on his best behavior on and off the field because he really, really wants the starting QB spot. Carly March is the assistant to the Blaze’s general manager, and she too has a very rocky history with the press, reaching all the way back to her childhood. She finally has some anonymity and just wants to live a normal life. She and Shane have an immediate attraction, but they know that any sort of relationship with each other would jeopardize both their careers and reputation with everyone at the organization.
Shane has PILES of daddy issues. His father was also a professional football player, not to mention a lousy dad, and Shane has spent most of his life hating his dad and trying to get as far away from him as he can. Despite the fact that his dad remarried and had another son and repeatedly reached out to him, Shane can’t get past his dad’s previous treatment. He’s learned to mistrust everyone and to keep his feelings bottled up, to what I felt was a ridiculous degree. It’s hard to talk about Shane’s anger without spoilers, so I’ll just say that he kept bouncing back and forth between being a seemingly sweet guy and being an angry jerk, and I was never quite convinced which one was the real Shane. Carly talks about how he is so “vulnerable”, but he’s also a grown man. A lousy childhood doesn’t give someone an eternal pass to act selfish, and I had a hard time excusing Shane’s behavior when it went on for so long. His step brother, who ostensibly helps bring about Shane’s transformation, felt more like a plot device than a developed character, too. I just wasn’t convinced either of them were headed in a new direction.
Another weak point of the book was the stalker subplot. A weirdo has become obsessed with Carly, and he quickly escalates from creep to full on stalker. At first I was on board–a little bit of danger can be an effective way to bring a hero and heroine closer–but I felt like the plot just went off the rails later on. This guy keeps getting to her, despite many precautions (including restraining orders, arrests, etc). It was hard to believe because he’s just a regular guy, not some sort of ex-military guy where you could understand how he could be so clever, and there’s no real explanation of how he does all this. The whole subplot felt forced, awkward, and poorly explained.
In fact, there were all kinds of unexplained things in this book. For instance, Carly has been dealing with the new wife of the Blaze’s injured quarterback, who is arguing over his contract. Based on the details the book gives, it seemed like there was some sort of sub-story (why is the wife arguing? where is her husband who is supposedly good friends with Carly? etc), but then absolutely nothing comes of it. These kind of unresolved issues come up several times. Another thing that didn’t make sense was the beginning. The book starts out in a Mexican resort town where both Shane and Carly are staying, only Shane doesn’t know Carly works for the team he’s hoping to join. Shane is there trying to relax, but there’s no real explanation given for why Carly is there. Did she follow Shane there for some professional reason (to spy or something?), and if so how would she know he was going there and why would her going be beneficial? In fact even the main early conflict in the book–the fact that the Blaze organization demands such perfect behavior–is barely addressed once Carly and Shane get involved. All of this left the story feeling forced rather than natural.
The thing that definitely had me really rolling my eyes is the ending, though. The book uses my own personal least favorite mechanism for “proving” that the hero has changed. Aside from my own personal bias against this particular plot device, what happens seems out of character for Carly in particular, overly convenient, and syrupy sweet. It just annoyed the hell out of me, and by the time I got to the epilogue and its blatant sequel bait I was ready to be done with these characters.
The book wasn’t a total loss. I thought Carly’s back story was interesting, and I wish we had gotten to hear a bit more about it. Shane had some really tender, wonderful moments, and I liked the sports setting. Still, I felt like this story had too many holes and cliches for me.
Grade: 2.5 out of 5