Recent read: The Reluctant Wag

The Reluctant Wag - cover artTitle:  The Reluctant Wag (or WAG? – it’s in all caps on the cover art but not elsewhere…)

Author:  Mary Costello

Publisher:  Destiny Romance – I’d never heard of this imprint but given the little penguin, I’m guessing it’s an Australian imprint of Penguin Publishing.

Copyright:  2013

Copy courtesy of Net Galley.

Why this book?  Because I was looking for something a little different from what I’ve been reading lately, which has been mystery-heavy.  I didn’t recognize the publisher but the title indicated sports romance of some sort.  And then the book blurb sold me — I’m a sucker for any fiction, romance or other, set in Australia’s AFL thanks for Sean Kennedy’s Tigers & Devils.

The blurb:

When model Merise Merrick is asked to star in a campaign for the Yarraside Football Club, she couldn’t be less interested. As far as she’s concerned, football players are all overpaid jocks with zero intelligence. AFL captain Cal McCoy is completely dedicated to the game. With a premiership firmly in his sights, he has no time for romantic distractions.The last thing he needs is an inconvenient attraction to the new ‘face’ of the club. But Cal soon discovers that staying focused is easier said than done, while Merise finds herself falling for the excitement and power of footy – and its biggest star. Glamour, sport and fame combine in this irresistible contemporary romance.

What did I like about the book?  The set up — non-sporty person getting over preconceptions about professional sport and professional athletes.  And the setting — visiting Australia is on my bucket list and spending time in Melbourne is high on the subset of things to do in Australia.  The secondary characters were interesting, too, if a little vague since they weren’t POV characters.

The characters:  Merise is actually not an experienced model, despite the blurb:  she’s a journalism student “discovered” at her cafe job.  Which is a fine set up for a fairytale or a category romance, which this very much felt like.  (Is Destiny a category-type imprint?)  But the way she jumps to conclusions and judges people (Cal mostly) without knowing the facts is repetitive and disappointing as a character and makes me wonder how she’ll fair as a journalist.  Otherwise, she reads as young for her age (21?) and pretty immature, I thought, but maybe everyone is like that at 21.

Cal is…a typical Presents-ish hero.  He’s got a pretty cynical and judgmental view of women generally, and I found him difficult to warm to.  At one point he tells Merise that if she’d dressed differently she wouldn’t have been harassed at a  party, then claims not be victim-blaming (I call bullshit on that).  And later, when he sees an advertisement of Merise posing with another athlete, he thinks “How could she sell herself like that?”  Which made me roll my eyes and then irritated me; how is it any different than posing in an ad with him?  And also: it’s her job.  At various other points, he thinks of her as a possible provider of “cheap thrills”.  Perhaps the only things I liked about him were his concentration on his sport and his devotion to his family.  The sport part was clear, but the family piece was pretty awkwardly introduced and handled.

What did I like not so much?  The integration of various characters and plot points was pretty awkward.  For example, family, which is supposed to drive both Merise and Cal, is absent for the most part, then inserted as deus ex machina of sorts.  Merise isn’t just a poor student, we learn:  she’s paying back loans to her poor farmer parents…who are only mentioned twice that I noticed and didn’t even have a cameo.  Cal’s parent’s are injected into the story in order to save him from a PR disaster.

The copyediting seemed okay — although I’ve got some notes on my Kindle, I didn’t highlight any egregious typos or punctuation abuse.  The writing was very much of the telling rather than showing sort.

Overall opinion:  I  loved the setting and sense of place in the book, but I didn’t really care about the main characters.  I think that readers of Harlequin Presents categories might enjoy the book.

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