Release Reviews: Fair Catch: Leigh Carman

Fair Catch (Players of LA #2)
Leigh Carman

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Release Date March 20, 2017
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Two men.

One night of passion.

They never expected to see each other again.

They were wrong.

Tobias Bennett is a quiet and unassuming man who teaches yoga and enjoys parkour. Though he is proud to be gay, an abusive relationship with a domineering man has left Tobias wary of romance, and he keeps to himself in his tidy Los Angeles apartment.

Pro football player Sullivan Archer is Tobias’s complete opposite: loud, brash, fond of the spotlight… and deep in the closet. When a hamstring injury sends Van to Tobias as part of his therapy, neither of them is expecting to come face-to-face with his one-night stand. Now they’re stuck together throughout Van’s healing process, and the close proximity will force them to deal with some hard truths. For Tobias, it’s realizing his hookup is a celebrity. For Van, it means accepting that he likes Tobias more than he wanted. They’ll both have to acknowledge that if they choose to pursue a relationship, their lives will change in big ways.

*The Players of LA Series are standalones, but characters from each book to appear in subsequent novels. It is recommended to read in order to maximize the reading experience*

Fair Catch is my second exposure to author Leigh Carman, and it’s another dramatic storyline built around a professional athlete. In spite of the fact that the plot was largely predictable once the elements were set up and that the characters were much the same as their counterparts in other M/M novels using the same trope, the storytelling and the intensity of the connection between the main characters is what kept me hooked and ultimately led to my enjoyment of the story.

Tobias Bennett wasn’t at the gay bar looking for a hookup, but it happened, and not only was the guy incredibly hot, their connection seemed genuine. But Toby’s only real relationship was with an abusive man who now has him afraid to pursue anything—even hooking up was way out of character for him. NFL wide receiver Sullivan “Van” Archer is among the best in the game and wants to keep it that way, despite the fact that it means hiding his true desires and limits him to meaningless one-night stands. After a serious injury puts him back in the path of the hot guy his friend hooked him up with all those months ago—the guy who ran off like a spooked animal, the guy Van hasn’t been able to forget—he breaks tradition and decides to go for more. But if they’re going to work as a couple, they’ll both need to overcome their own big issues and learn how to trust one another.

Sports romances are often among my favorites in the genre of M/M romance, but I have read enough of them now so that I can say that when one of the main characters is a professional athlete (especially a professional football player) and the other is not, they are often so similar to others in the subgenre that there is a definite risk of these characters being cliché. On the surface, Van’s character fits the pro-athlete stereotype of this sort of book: he’s at the top of his game, deeply closeted, and petrified of what would happen if his secret were to become public. Toby’s character also fits the mold in many ways: he is clueless about who the athlete is, supports (to some degree) the decision to keep the relationship hidden but isn’t happy about it, and ultimately gets hurt once there is a serious threat of the secret being revealed. And probably the biggest relationship factor that’s common to this category of book comes through loud and clear in this one as well: communication is a huge problem between them.

But it’s the background plot involving Toby and his ex-boyfriend that keeps Fair Catch from being just another example of the cookie-cutter professional-athlete trope. Their past makes Toby so leery to get involved with Van that twice in the early stages of the story, Toby ends things before they can get too close. And that’s not counting the initial hookup that starts the story. This makes for a good and frustrating slow burn, because weeks and months pass between these episodes where both keep thinking of the other but neither takes the step to get back into contact. The intensity of their physical desire for one another adds to the problem. For the reader, it’s blazing hot, but for the characters, it comes at the price of overpowering their need to communicate with one another in order to keep their problems from getting worse.

While this could have made it difficult to connect with the characters, the individual character development and the pacing of the novel had me wanting these two to stop running from each other and get their acts together, both individually and jointly. The conflict between them is also the common formula the subgenre—Toby doesn’t want to be Van’s dirty little secret, Van knows Toby deserves better but doesn’t think he can be that man, and so on—but then throw in the ugly drama of Toby’s abusive and domineering ex into the mix and things get quite angsty. Powder keg, meet lit fuse. From a broad-brush standpoint, this part of the plot is also largely predictable, but because I had developed an attachment to the characters and their tumultuous relationship, the inevitable explosion kept me flipping the pages until it was resolved because I wanted everything to work for them, both individually and together.

Fair Catch had all the makings of a book that should have been only meh for me. But instead, it was a sizzling, intense, and dramatic read that had just the right amount of vulnerability and sweetness in the characters that I couldn’t put it down. I think the reason was simple: instead of what we might expect out of such a pairing in the real world, here it’s Toby, as the everyday guy, who inspires Van, the guy at the top of the heap, to become a better person not only for Toby but for himself. And that’s the sort of thing that keeps me reading romance as a genre.

The author and/or publisher generously provided me a complimentary copy of Fair Catch in exchange for this fair and honest review.
When Van meets Toby and shares a hot club encounter, they never expected to see each other again. But when Van gets assigned to a yoga class by his trainer due to a healing injury, he is surprised to see his hook-up is the instructor. Thus begins the angsty back and forth between these two men who could not be more different.

Sullivan Archer is is living a double life. "Van" is gay and just wants to be in a real relationship, but "Sullivan" is a closeted football player who is worried that coming out would ruin his career.  He is funny, caring, bold, protective, burly, and imposing. But he is afraid of truly being himself in public, and has to be aware of media attention. He struggles with what he wants and needs, and what he feels like he can really have. He never expected to have the kind of reaction he did to Toby, but feels stuck due to his fear and career.

Toby is quieter, centered, and avoids attention. He is gay, out, and fit, but smaller in stature. He is a yoga instructor and likes the adventure of parkour. He has been in an abusive relationship, so has trust issues and does not respond well to being dominated. His reaction to Van scares him. He's good at avoiding, running, or turning Van away and he has plenty of reasons and excuses.

Oh my... These two...The angst, the running, the fear, the lack of communication. Their chemistry was volatile so they would combust together, but then blow apart again. Toby didn't want to be a dirty secret. Van knew Toby deserved more, but still wanted him. Things would happen to cause issues, guilt, or hurt feelings and they would separate again. This roller coaster kept going on for months But it gave Van a reason to want to be a better man and to try to get a hold of his life. And for Toby to try to get his own life back and quit living in the shadow of his past. It wasn't easy and it did not happen overnight. There was heartbreak, separations, some really raw moments, and unpleasant scenes.

There were people against them. But they also had some good ones on their side. I loved Toby's flamboyant bestie, Leo, and Van's friends, Cal, and Griff. I wanted to cause bodily harm to Toby's horrible ex. 

This was a love story between two opposites who weren't really looking but found a connection that they couldn't deny. But unfortunately they had a lot to straighten out in their lives in order to have  a chance at anything more. Sometimes circumstances got in their way and other times they did with their own decisions or fears. I really liked Van and Toby even when they were driving me crazy. It was told in dual points of view that was especially important due to their internalized fears and communication issues. They never expected each other, but they changed each other's lives. But they both had risks to take in order to move forward.

I will admit that sometimes it felt a bit repetitive...in the beginning it was their physical descriptions, and later on it was the sex scenes that often got in the way of them actually talking about their problems.  But overall it was an enjoyable sexy, sweet, dramatic, and emotional M/M story about a pro football player trying to find his way and the man that inspires him.

This is a complete stand alone and not related to the first book in the series. The male lead of the third book was briefly mentioned at the end of this one, but he was not part of the story. 

I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review.

STANDALONE books in a series. However, characters do make cameos in other books and it may add to the experience to read in order.

Match Point (Players of LA #1)
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Jay and Kim's 4 star reviews

Two stubborn men.

One is a rude jerk. The other, the life of the party.

It was hate at first sight.

Pro beach volleyball players Finn Callahan and Dexter Savage have been rivals since college. While Finn always comes out on top on the court, Dexter’s carefree and fun-loving personality earns him scores of adoring men and women. And as much as Finn fights to deny it, there’s another reason for the tension he feels when Dex is around. Hate wasn’t the only thing he felt when he first laid eyes on his opponent.

When they’re forced to team up, the two men must bury their differences—on and off the court—if either of them is going to succeed professionally.
Leigh Carman (Heather C. Leigh) 
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Leigh Carman was born and raised in New England with all of its fall foliage and winter snow. She escaped to the South, where she currently lives outside Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, two kids, and French Bulldog, Shelby.

She loves the Red Sox, the Patriots, and anything chocolate (but not white chocolate—everyone knows it’s not real chocolate so it doesn’t count), and has left explicit instructions in her will to have her ashes snuck into Fenway Park and sprinkled all over while her family enjoys beer, hot dogs, and a wicked good time.

Leigh also writes M/F dark romance under the name Heather C. Leigh. She also loves exploring the underbelly of fame and the crushing weight of those under the microscope 24/7.


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