Cover Shot! Thrown by a Curve by Jaci Burton

Cover Shot! is a regular feature here at the Café. I love discovering new covers, and when I find them, I like to share. More than anything else, I am consumed with the mystery that each new discovery represents. There is an allure to a beautiful cover. Will the story contained under the pages live up to promise of the gorgeous cover art?

I love the covers for Jaci Burton’s Play by Play novels.  There is just something about a lean, sweaty athlete that demands a second (and third) glance. 

 

Sports medicine specialist Alicia Riley has the job of her dreams, until she’s assigned to star pitcher Garrett Scott. Undergoing shoulder rehab, it’s make it or break it time for Garrett, and he needs to focus to get back on the mound in time for opening day. But close proximity and combustible chemistry is a dangerous combination, and both Alicia and Garrett have a lot to lose if this doesn’t work.

In stores March 2013

 

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Review: Sports Illustrated Kids Pro Files: Baseball

 

Title: Sports Illustrated Kids Pro Files: Baseball

Publisher:  Time

ISBN: 9781603202381

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

A must-have for every young baseball fan and player, "Pro Files: Baseball" showcases 15 of the big league’s hottest stars and fathers through "Sports Illustrated: Kids’" signature content: great writing, fun trivia, amazing statistics, and dynamic photography. Full color.

Review:

Even though I am not a huge sports fan, I enjoy reviewing these SI Kids books.  They are attractively packaged, engagingly written, and filled with glossy action shots.  In addition to giving tips on how to play like a pro, each featured player has an introduction which includes their stats and career highlights.  While this is nice, I appreciated the background information for each player even more.  The human interest elements made the book accessible to me, a self-admitted non-fan of baseball.  Each player also has a selection entitled Inside Information, which lists their favorite foods, movies, cartoon characters, and even video games.  That’s the stuff that I’m interested in.  It’s great to know all of Justin Verlander’s stats, but since I don’t get into the game, those are just random numbers to me.

I took this book to work to show to a co-worker, and he really liked reading through it, too.  He is a huge baseball fan, and while he questioned some of the players that were included, overall he agreed that the featured athletes were among the top of their game.  He liked the photographs, which are printed on bright, glossy paper and capture a variety of intense action shots. He agreed that the text will interest both fans and those not so enthusiastic about the game.  The tips are fun to read, too, though I doubt that I will ever be able to advance my skills to the level of Ichiro Suzuki or Dustin Pedroia.  Chris, on the other hand, insists that with practice, he will be able to pitch just like Verlander.  I remain slightly skeptical.

If you have a baseball fan at home, this would be a great purchase for them.  I bet that even reluctant readers will be cheerfully engrossed learning about the players, their backgrounds, and the secrets behind their moves. 

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

 

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Review: Time Out by Jill Shalvis

 

Title: Time Out

Author: Jill Shalvis

Publisher: Harlequin Blaze

ISBN: 978-0373796731

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Sign up for recreational adult programs now!

Class: How to Drive Him Crazy

Instructional program for women unexpectedly facing the totally dishy guy from their past. Everyone welcome!

NHL coach Mark Diego’s plan to spend his off-season volunteering in his hometown goes awry when he learns that not only is he coaching teenage girls, but that the program is coordinated by energetic (and five feet two inches of trouble) coordinator Rainey Saunders, his childhood friend—and the woman he could never stand to see dating any other guy….

When their tempers flare, Mark and Rainey discover their fireworks don’t just burn angry—they burn very, very hot! But that’ll just sweeten the victory. Because Mark always plays to win. And with Rainey, he’s planning on playing very dirty, too…

Review:

I loved this book!  Time Out is the first Harlequin Blaze that I’ve read, and the only reason I gave this one a try is because it’s written by Jill Shalvis.  I enjoyed Animal Magnetism, and when I saw that Time Out is about an NHL coach, I was all excited to give it a test drive.  I gobbled this up in record time, and didn’t want to put it down.  The characters are fun, the dialog is snappy and clever, and it features one of my favorite romance tropes – the second chance.  Or Hero was too stupid to see a good thing when it’s right in front of him.  Ah, maybe that is a little wordy for a romance trope…

Rainey works at a rec program for disadvantaged teens, and when a nightmare from her past resurfaces in the form of Mark Diego, she finds herself on thin ice.  She has been attracted to Mark forever, and the night she finally worked up the nerve to confess her feelings to him ended in disaster.  She’s been trying to avoid him ever since, even though sparks still flare out of control whenever they are together.  When her boss, a close friend from childhood – and Mark’s younger brother – informs her that Mark will be volunteering for the off-season, her world starts to spin out of control.

I loved the character interactions in Time Out.  From the sizzle between Rainey and Mark, to Mark’s endearing attempts to whip his team of teenaged girls into shape for the softball season, there is a lot of humor and laughs packed into this book.  It is brain-candy of the best sort, and I wanted to eat the entire book in one sitting.  I was able to completely disconnect from my reality and get totally sucked into Rainey’s, and I didn’t want the fun to end. 

If I had one quibble with the read, it’s the abusive parent that was worked into the plot.  I just didn’t feel that this plot thread was developed as thoroughly as it could have been, and aspects of it came out of left field.  This is the only story element that didn’t convince me to suspend my sense of belief, and it just didn’t work for me.

Aside from that one plot device, Time Out is an engaging, funny read, and I am looking forward to discovering more Blaze gems like this one.

Grade: B+

In stores February 21

Review copy provided by publisher

 

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Review: Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

 

Title: Catching Jordan

Author:  Miranda Kenneally

Publisher: Sourcebooks

ISBN: 978-1402262272

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

ONE OF THE BOYS

What girl doesn’t want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn’t just surrounded by hot guys, though- she leads them as the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. They all see her as one of the guys and that’s just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university.

But everything she’s ever worked for is threatened when Ty Greeen moves to her school. Not only is he an amazing QB, but he’s also amazingly hot. And for the first time, Jordan’s feeling vulnerable. Can she keep her head in the game while her heart’s on the line?

Review:

I love college football, so I was interested in Catching Jordan when I discovered that it’s about a high school senior who dreams of playing college ball.  Since Jordan is a girl, I was even more intrigued about the story.  With no encouragement from her father, a professional quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, Jordan doggedly pursues her dream.  She is the team captain, her mom and brother both support her, and she has the best stats of any quarterback in the state.  There was that little problem during last year’s State finals, but she has worked hard to get a handle on her nerves and she longs for a second chance to prove herself.  With her hopes pinned on attending Alabama and being a part of their program, she is aiming for the stars. 

For the most part, I liked Jordan and her determination to prove to everyone that she is a great quarterback, regardless of her gender.  She has an uphill battle,  because even though she is tall and strong, she still isn’t as powerful as the top high school players.  She has wrapped herself in the protective bubble of her teammates, and she has only one friend who is a girl.  Instead, she prefers to hang out with the guys.  She thinks that in order to keep their respect, she has act like one of the guys, too.  That is the aspect of Jordan’s character I wasn’t so fond of.  She is so hung up on football and so hung up on herself that she almost ruins every friendship she has. 

When new student Ty shows up at practice, Jordan has an unpleasant discovery – Ty is an even better quarterback than she is.  At first she is completely freaked out about Ty.  Will he be the starting quarterback, bumping her to be the lowly backup?  Jordan has some serious self-doubts once he’s on the scene, but she possesses a confidence in her skills that keeps her from allowing Ty’s presence on the team from destroying her concentration and drive to stay on top of her game.  It’s only after her personal relationships go down the toilet that Jordan’s ability to shake off her worries goes down the toilet as well.  Suddenly, she is messing up everything in her life – she’s fighting with her best friend, she is botching important games, and worse, she has slipped into a depressed funk and she is skipping practices. 

I did get frustrated with Jordan and many of her decisions. She started letting her frayed relationship with her father dictate some of her choices, and she let new guy Ty take control, too.  For possessing such a strong character and for being so driven to succeed, Jordan displayed an appalling lack of common sense.  Once she hooked up with Ty, she lost sight of herself, and that upset me.  Instead of staying committed to her dreams and steadfast in her resolve to be the best she could be, she started to give up, and that made me so disappointed.  Her determination dissolved into a spiral of angst.  She started getting hung up over the past, instead of staying focused on her future.

Despite my disappointment with Jordan’s emotional development, I did find Catching Jordan to be a compelling read.  I admit that I had a hard time believing that she would be so successful on a varsity football team, or that she would be recruited to play college ball.  Still,  I breezed through this book and became invested in Jordan’s success.   Jordan is an engaging and unique character; she is someone I feel I haven’t met in previous forays into YA contemporary fiction, and she left me wishing that there was a greater variety of characters, of both genders, in all of the books that I read.  

Grade:  wavering between a B and a B-

Review copy provided by publisher

 

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An Early Look at Sports Illustrated Kids 1st and 10

 

 

Title: Sports Illustrated Kids 1st and 10: Top 10 Lists of Everything in Football

Publisher: Sports Illustrated

ISBN: 978-1603202107

 

 

From Amazon:

Get everything you ever wanted to know about America’s most popular sport in 1st and 10. Presented in the format of Top 10 lists, this book is a comprehensive yet fun look at the greatest aspects of the game. From the top Super Bowl moments to the best-looking uniforms, SI Kids ranks 50 different topics from the gridiron. Readers are guaranteed to love the big, exciting action photos from the Sports Illustrated collection and the insider knowledge of SI Kids. Filled with trivia and information, this dynamic book will be the definitive kids book on football.

My thoughts:

This isn’t a review, as much as it’s a brief tour through this handsomely produced photo book about football.  While I am not a die-hard football fan, I do possess more than a passing interest in the game.  I was dismayed to see my hometown team, the Lions, at the #1 rank for the biggest losers list, but I certainly can’t dispute that they have delivered more than their share of disappointment to Detroit.  So, being a fair weather fan, I usually root for the Buffalo Bills or Denver Broncos.  Why? They have the coolest uniforms, in my humble opinion.

If you have a young football fan at home, this book should tickle their funny bone.  It is packed full of bright, colorful photographs, with intense action shots on almost every page.  The page layouts are visually appealing, with eye-catching bursts of color from the pictures contrasting with cleverly placed text and white spaces to lend more drama to the action taking place on the pages.

Interested in knowing who are the smallest of the NFL players?  How about the biggest?  Who makes up the best Passer-Receiver Duo?  All of that information, and more, is jammed into this book.  Some of my favorite lists, though, have nothing to do with the game, but instead have everything to do with the vivid personalities that make up the game.  Most memorable hairstyle?  Best accessories?  Most colorful personalities?  You will also find all of those and more in this book.

1st and 10 will appeal to football fans, and even if you aren’t totally enamored with the game, you won’t be able to stop yourself from flipping through this book.  The included trivia is interesting, and covers so many topics that even the most casual of fans will find something to catch their attention.

Review copy provided by publisher

In stores October 25, 2011

Review: Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams

 

Title: Now is the Time for Running

Author: Michael Williams

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

ISBN: 978-0316077903

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Just down the road from their families, Deo and his friends play soccer in the dusty fields of Zimbabwe, cheered on by Deo’s older brother, Innocent. It is a day like any other . . . until the soldiers arrive and Deo and Innocent are forced to run for their lives, fleeing the wreckage of their village for the distant promise of safe haven. Along the way, they face the prejudice and poverty that await refugees everywhere, and must rely on the kindness of people they meet to make it through. But when tragedy strikes, Deo’s love of soccer is all he has left. Can he use that gift to find hope once more?

Relevant, timely, and accessibly written, Now Is the Time For Running is a staggering story of survival that follows Deo and his mentally handicapped older brother on a transformative journey that will stick with readers long after the last page.

Review:

Now Is The Time For Running is a heartbreaking book.  Thinking of the horrible way that people treat each other is sobering and distressing.  I don’t know how Deo, a 14 year-old boy, was able to keep struggling to survive.  His life in Zimbabwe with his mother, grandfather, and brother is hardly an easy one.  They don’t have much other than each other.  Deo has a homemade soccer ball, and he lives to play the game in his dusty village.  His life is shattered when soldiers come to visit, destroying everything that he has in just few awful moments of blood and senseless violence.  Some of the villagers voted against the ruling Zed party, and those treasonous votes, in a sham of an election, have brought death to everyone.

Deo and his older, mentally challenged brother, Innocent, flee from the only home that they have ever known.  They have nowhere safe to go.  They have no relatives to care for them.  In an effort to save them both, Deo decides that they will make the dangerous border crossing to South Africa, a terrifying and perilous journey that almost gets them killed.  There are crocodiles, lions, hyenas, and the scariest predator of them all – men with guns – to evade.  Once in South Africa, they face a different kind of hell – xenophobia from native South Africans and people who won’t hesitate to take advantage of them.

Based on current events, including the 2008 riots in Alexandra, the life of a refugee is not kind to Deo or Innocent.  The book is so gripping because it is set against a backdrop of recent events.  It’s hard for me to think of a child being put through these terrible challenges.  I don’t think I could have survived the crushing poverty or the devastating heartache chronicled in this book.  Deo is forced to age beyond his years, and he must also live with the consequences of his decisions.  Guilt almost destroys him, but ultimately, soccer saves him when he has hit rock bottom.  The game gives him the strength, and most importantly, the hope, to continue living.

Grade: B+ leaning towards an A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Crimson Hero Vol 14 by Mitsuba Takanashi


Title: Crimson Hero Vol 14

Author: Mitsuba Takanashi

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 978-1421532301

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

In an attempt to stop the vicious rumors spreading at Crimson Field High School, Nobara ended her relationship with the boys’ team captain Yushin. But when she runs into Haibuki, a talented boys’ team player who mysteriously left school when he found out about Nobara and Yushin’s romance, Yushin is the first person she calls. Can Nobara and Yushin convince their heartbroken teammate to return to Crimson Field?

Review:

Lots of conflict resolution in this volume of Crimson Hero, and I enjoyed every melodramatic moment of it.  The focus this time around is on Haibuki and his efforts to repair all of his damaged relationships.  Instead of dealing with the difficulties between himself and Nobara and between him and Yushin, he’s ready to throw away his spot on the Crimson Field team and run away from his problems.  He’s been scouted by a stronger team, and the coach has promised to built a strategy with Haibuki as the key player.  Though they are almost guaranteed a shot at winning the National Championship, there’s something missing.  All of these great players lack heart, and victory seems to come a little too easily for them.

When Yushin shows up to convince Haibuki to return to Crimson Field, he has to show his estranged friend just how badly he wants him back on the team.  One of the aspects of sports manga that I enjoy the most is the determination the characters show in the face of defeat.  They refuse to give up, even when the odds are stacked so high against them.  They have this incredible persistence and belief in themselves that doesn’t allow them to quit.  I wish I had half of their drive and optimism, because then there would be little that I couldn’t accomplish.

Haibuki and Nobara come to an understanding as well, which leaves me hopeful that there is room in the next volume for Nobara and Yushin to repair their troubled relationship.  It bothers me that Yushin just let her walk away, and I thought he would at least try to talk some sense into her.  They have been through so much together, and it is a shame that they are willing to just give up on each other.  Hopefully, there will be some advancement in their relationship in the next volume of Crimson Hero.

Grade: A-

Review copy purchased from Rightstuf.com

Review: Crimson Hero Vol 13 by Mitsuba Takanashi

 

Title: Crimson Hero Vol 13

Author: Mitsuba Takanashi

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 978-1421527970

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Girl power on the volleyball court!

Fending off a secret admirer with less-than-admirable intentions only intensifies Nobara’s feelings for boys’ team captain Yushin. As the two ace players grow closer every day, the boys’ and girls’ volleyball teams of Crimson Field High also grow closer to their goal of competing in the Spring Tournament. But when scandalous gossip about the volleyball club rocks the campus, Nobara is forced to reexamine her priorities.

Review:

Life is so complicated for Nobara!  Why can’t the poor girl just play volleyball and struggle with her studies, like a normal high school student? Nope, she is the heir to the super fancy restaurant that’s owned by her family, and her path was already set down in front of her.  Only Nobara decided to rebel and to follow her own way, much to her strong-willed mother’s dismay.  Kicked out of the house, she has been working in the Crimson Field Boys’ dorm, cleaning and cooking, while chasing her dreams of playing volleyball.  If nothing else, this girl has guts.  Too bad she never gets a break.

Ugly rumors surface that Yushin and Nobara as living together, which throws the campus into an uproar.  The principal and faculty are not happy to have the morals of their volleyball star, Yushin, questioned.  Nobara is the one who is forced to take the fall for this, and it’s not fair.  Neither she nor Yushin have done anything wrong, but nobody will listen to them.  I felt bad for Nobara, but she did find support in a surprising corner.  I was happy to see that plot development, because, in the past, the only understanding Nobara seemed to be able to find was from her teammates. It was nice to see her family finally step up to the plate and offer her some much needed emotional support.

Haibuki has disappeared, and Nobara feels responsible for his absence.  Again, she accepts all of the guilt and responsibility for something that isn’t her fault.  It’s a good thing she has such broad shoulders, because she is carrying around so much guilt that anyone else would have been crushed under its weight.  Everything she does is for her sport.  She knows how important volleyball is to Yushin, so she sacrifices everything for him.  I think it is so unfair that the adults at her school think so little of her ambitions, just because she is a girl.  That just infuriates me.

Even though I dislike volleyball, Crimson Hero has become a manga series that I look forward to reading.  The characters are so intense that it’s hard to not get caught up in their dramas, and Nobara’s determination to follow her dreams, no matter the cost, will suck you in and not let you go.

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher