Sunday, August 26, 2018

Review: Come Back to the Ballpark, Maisy Gray

Anyone who has followed this blog for even a short period of time will know that Wendy, she has a complicated history with sports romance.  Girls like sports. And when I read a sports romance that blatantly gets sports wrong - the kind of wrong that basic research would have prevented - I get cranky.  Irrationally cranky.  Because then I picture the author and/or editor sitting at the desk going "Meh, romance readers won't care. As long as the hero is sexy and the sex is smokin' hot it's all good!" 

No.  No, it is not.

Come Back to the Ballpark, Maisy Gray by Cynthia Tennent is the first in a series set in fictional Comeback, Indiana and it's got a baseball plot.  Baseball being Wendy's first love.  For the most part?  Sometimes the baseball "stuff" in this story feels "major league" and sometimes it feels "minor league."  And since it's a romantic comedy?  Minor league probably would have been a better fit.  Still, while the Inside Baseball stuff isn't perfect, it's also not egregiously terrible - and believe you me, I've read some laughably bad baseball romances in my day.  But yeah, baseball - who cares right?  What about the romance?  Well, that's also kind of a mixed bag.

Maisy Gray and Kevin Halderman were childhood sweethearts - to the point where Maisy found herself head cheerleader for "Team Kevin," shared his love of baseball, was his scout, part-time coach and champion.  Kevin went on to become a big-league pitcher for his hometown (expansion) team, Indianapolis Turbos.  Maisy was always at the ballpark, cheering on Kevin and the team. Even though her mother is living with a chronic illness and she's got her own career as a teacher.  Maisy is always there with her little rituals and her Dubble Bubble, supporting her man.

And then her man dumps her for a supermodel because OF COURSE HE DOES!

It's been three years and ever since Kevin dumped her his career has been in a spiral and she's avoided baseball.  That is, until she takes her students on an end-of-the-year field trip to the game.  Oh, and it just happens to be Kevin's turn in the rotation.  Great.  But Maisy sucks it up, after all nobody will see her sitting in the bleachers, and the kids will love it.  Then her section wins one of the in-between-innings door prizes (hello jumbotron!), Kevin pitches a no-hitter and everyone finds out that Maisy was back in the stadium.  Baseball fans and players are nothing if not superstitious.  Now it's pandemonium to get Maisey back to the ballpark.

Sam Hunter is the youngest General Manager in the major leagues and had big plans to trade Kevin and his albatross contract.  Then the guy pitches a no-hitter sending his plans up in smoke.

Aside: this is one of the things that makes no sense. Kevin actually pitching a no-hitter would make him easier to trade and Sam would probably get better prospects in return.  The only reasons he couldn't trade him would be because the fans would hate it (um, so what?) or the owner would be cranky enough to fire Sam.  But the author never really comes out and says, "Sam can't trade Kevin because the owner will fire him."  None of this felt right.  Back to our regularly schedule program:

And now there's all this talk about Maisy and her being a good luck charm and Sam is pressed into duty to get the girl to come back.  The fly in the ointment?  The girl would rather be boiled in oil.  So it's up to Sam to pull out all the stops to get Maisy back in the ballgame.

I slogged on and off through this book, mostly because I'm a baseball nerd who nitpicks everything to death and also because Sam manipulates Maisy to get what he wants.  Well, maybe not what HE wants, but to get sports talk radio and the owner off his back.  And it doesn't always leave behind the best taste in my mouth.  Where this book sings is with Maisy.  You feel for this girl from the very first page.  Here's a woman who supported her man, stroked his ego, helped him get to where he is and he dumps her for a supermodel.  I mean, how can I hate on a book that features moments like this one:
Once more, she could be the cute little sidekick. The lucky charm. What a wonderful example she was to little girls everywhere. You can't play the game, but you can smile in the stands and be the cheerleader with the magic touch. Ugh.
There's a self-awareness in this story, especially with the female characters (Maisy's Mom and her married-with-two-kids BFF, Heather are fantastic - heck, even the supermodel is pretty great!) that helped elevate this book for me.  Yes, I nit-picked the baseball stuff but the female characters are so, so good.

The writing is solid and the author has a good ear for romantic comedy.  I did feel like the pacing was off, especially at the end when I felt this book had, like, 3 natural "end points" but kept going past the first two.  "My Kindle says 75% - is this the end of the story and the rest is stuffed back matter?  No, no it is not.  There are more chapters here...."  So yeah, it felt like it kept going and going there at the end.

But still - a sports romance that I didn't want to completely set on fire, bury and then dance on the grave?  Probably not a win, but not a loss either.  There's no ties in baseball but I'm calling this one a draw.  Because I'd read this author again and I'll probably read the next book in this series.

Final Grade = C+

Footnote: If there's any justice in the world, the supermodel will get her own romance.  That needs to happen.

Edited to Add 8/31/18: Please note that at the time this review was posted the digital edition was only available via Amazon.


azteclady said...

Not a win, not a loss, and it includes well written female characters? An author to watch, then!

Wendy said...

AL: And honestly? If you're not inclined to nit-pick baseball romances, this one will probably work a lot better for you. I liked it but my nit-picking got in the way sometimes. As it does. Because I'm a freak. But there's definitely enough on the page here that I would totally read this author again, so it did it's job.

azteclady said...

Sports are not my thing at all, so I rarely feel like reading a sports romance to begin with, but you are tempting me...I may have to check the sample, see how I feel about the voice ::grin::

Mrs Giggles said...

I immediately looked up Kobo to get a copy after reading your review but nope, Amazon Kindle only, which means I'm locked out of buying one. Not going to spend $15 on a trade paperback (not rich enough), so le sigh.

Wendy said...

Mrs. G: Ugh! I used to be so good about checking that, and I've gotten sloppy in recent months. I'm going to edit my review to include that information.

The corker is that not only is this book not available to some readers because of geo-restrictions - the Amazon-exclusivity thing locks out US public libraries from purchasing a digital copy. Which means print (and I'd have to look to see if the POD is available via any not-Amazon vendors).

Authors, seriously. Think through distribution. I know Amazon is a big chunk of revenue but think "big picture."

willaful said...

So... the romance is with Sam then?

Wendy said...

Willaful: The romance is most definitely with Sam. He does wonder if Maisy is still "hurt" or pining for her ex, but there isn't a whiff of a love triangle here. At all.