Adult LGBTQIA+ contemporary sports romance
April 11, 2023
Jake Fischer has been here before: pitching for the Oakland Elephants, hiding his worries behind a smile, hoping to win it all. Ten years ago, it didn’t turn out the way he wanted. Nothing in his life did. But now he’s back—and so is the one teammate tied inexorably to his past.
It doesn’t matter how many times catcher Alex Angelides replays that moment during the Fall Classic over in his mind, the outcome never changes. He’s not sure what happened to make that pitch glance off his glove, or what happened with his relationship with Jake—and he’s not going to be the one to ask.
A whole lot may have changed in the last decade, but some things have stayed the same. Jake and Alex still can’t stay out of each other's faces on the field, or out of each other's beds off of it. They’ve got a second chance to win it all…but only if they realize what they lost.
Anyone who has listened to me talk about books at all in the last year has probably heard about how much I've been loving KD Casey's queer Jewish baseball romances, and I'm going to be super honest here: I had a mental block trying to write this review for weeks because I just loved this one so much that I'm getting intimidated trying to put it into words. It's somehow the softest and saddest and hottest book of the series, which is really quite a feat to pull off.
Casey has done some different configurations of players in their books, and while they've all been good, this pitcher/catcher pairing was my favorite because of that unique dynamic and closeness they have in the game and the way it transfers - or doesn't - to their personal lives. Jake and Alex are thrown together as rookies, build up a closeness that is then interrupted, and then wind up on the same team again years later. This time jump was really interesting because several aspects of both of their lives and careers wound up going in a different way than you'd expect, but in a way that really worked and took into account the effects that luck in both health and contracts have on players' lives. The golden boy rookie is not necessarily going to have the perfect career.
My favorite kinds of romances are the ones about people learning to take care of themselves and each other, and Casey does this so well. The main characters are both just really good people who make plenty of mistakes but are trying their best, and really learn and grow a lot over the course of the book. I jokingly call these books Sad Soft Baseball Boyfriends, but I love seeing the space given to both the sadness and the softness, especially in a genre like m/m sports romance where sometimes things can feel a bit macho. And while I think this is the spiciest of the series, as I mentioned above, I was also really impressed with the way the sexual dynamic felt so organic to the characters.
A particular strength of this book is its exploration of mental health and how it affects relationships, and Casey does a great job of avoiding all the pitfalls so many books fall into in this area. Again, I don't want to go into too many details that might spoil you, but the portrayal of Jake's anxiety was extremely relatable (including a coping technique I use that I'd never actually heard anyone mention before!), and I love love love the way Alex approached it. Without saying too much, I think I can say that it wasn't a "love magically fixes everything" situation like too many books do, but also wasn't presented as a Relationship Obstacle in and of itself.
Friends to lovers and second chance romance are two of my favorite tropes, and obviously this book is a perfect illustration of both of those, but there's another specific trope I LOVE that this book does EXTREMELY well, and I cannot think of any way to say more that wouldn't mess with the COMPLETE GLEE that I hope you have when you get to that point in your reading, so I guess I will just stay maddeningly cryptic about that. Also stay tuned for a TRULY AMAZING scene set at an important New York landmark.
This is the third in Casey's series for Carina, and while it stands perfectly fine alone - and is the best of the three, I think - they're all extremely good and I definitely recommend starting at the beginning with Unwritten Rules, because a lot of the stuff going on in this one with secondary characters will mean so much more to you if you know their history. I'm not sure if this will be the last in the series, but the ending feels incredibly well-earned, and fans of the previous books will be happy to see the updates on everyone's lives. This was truly one of the most satisfying reading experiences I've had in a long time.
Note: I received a review copy from NetGalley and am friendly with the author, but I'd never tell you I liked a book if I didn't.