Title: Force Play
Author Name & Publisher: Elle Brownlee (Dreamspinner Press)
Publication Date & Length: November 9, 2015 – 200 pgs
Professional baseball player Harmon “Hawk” Kiel was a rookie sensation with dazzling talent and an arrogant attitude to match. But he’s hit his sophomore slump, and his natural talent seems to have deserted him, along with the confidence of his team and the media’s approval. During the All Star Break he hits rock bottom, gets careless, and sensational pictures of him at gay clubs go viral. All at once he’s outed, and out of a job.
When he’s dealt to the Loggerheads, a worse-than-terrible expansion team in Charleston, South Carolina, he can’t imagine he’ll get a warm reception—nor does he particularly want one. But it’s the only chance at redemption he has.
There he meets Caleb Jackson, a former player who’s part of the Loggerheads organization, someone who tries to be the friend Harmon so desperately needs. But Caleb has a secret too, one more gut-wrenching than anything Harmon can imagine. Together they try to put the past behind them, rediscover their love of the game—and maybe even find the love of their lives.
I’m not sure it would be possible to squeeze any more angst into a professional sports story. A failing career, parental rejection and public humiliation all serve to make Harmon Kiel a broken, vulnerable man at the start of this story.
This story has so many of the elements necessary for a great sports story: a tormented hero, an underdog team, a gruff but kindly mentor and a worthy love interest. At times it seems like a paint-by-numbers version of a sports story.
I loved Harmon by the end of the story. The spoilt, moody adolescent at the start of the book becomes stronger as he is tested. His journey is a difficult one but he definitely earns his stripes as a leading man by the end. He is such a brilliant character.
I’m still unsure about the chemistry between Caleb and Harmon. I’m not sure it’s a very even match. At the start, Harmon is too nasty and Caleb is too forgiving. I don’t like Harmon and I don’t respect Caleb. Things get better as the men get to know each other – at one point Caleb risks a whole lot to publically rescue Harmon, but this just wasn’t a favourite pairing.
This is a book for serious baseball lovers (or Americans at least). The author knows her baseball and I eventually had to give up trying to make cricket conversions in my head to help me understand. I’m sure baseball fans will love the details and the sports drama.
My final query is with Harmon’s relationship with his manager and his parents. I never really trusted Trent and I kept waiting for some kind of closure (reconciliation or rejection) between Harmon and his parents, but it felt like the subplot was just dropped after a while.
This was a good story – I enjoyed the characters and loved cheering for the underdogs.
Elle Brownlee has always followed her creative, adventuring spirit.
Growing up she loved westerns and taking long hikes. On these explorations she’d craft miniature worlds with moss and rocks while making up stories about everything that happened there. This often included dashing cowboy heroes. As an adult, not a lot has changed. She still loves westerns, long hikes, and allowing her imagination to roam. She also loves spending time with family and friends, rooting for her baseball team, rainy days in autumn, and the perfect cup of tea (black, steeped extra strong, with milk—please!).
Her romances feature flawed but relatable characters in immersive settings, told with wit, tenderness, and a sly note of sarcasm. Though a cynic in many ways, Elle believes love can conquer all. Every story is a little bit naughty, a whole lot of nice, and will always end with happily ever after.
Elle currently lives in New York City, where she maintains her miniature worlds in terrariums and writing. She’s so thankful to be able to share her work with a growing audience, and especially grateful to have you reading along.