For this month’s TBR Challenge, I didn’t even look up the theme until I’d already finished the book I was intending to read and miraculously, it fits! Scout’s Honor is a 2015 Harlequin Superromance in Stephanie Doyle’s Bakers of Baseball series. I think this is actually book two, but I didn’t read book one and even though that couple appears in this book, it works as a stand-alone. Here’s where the funny part comes in. This book has been on my Goodreads “currently reading” shelf almost as long as it has been on my TBR. I started it in December of 2017. I’ll explain why it sat there two-thirds finished for over a year, but first I wanna talk about why it was on my TBR in the first place.
See, Stephanie Doyle also writes as S. Doyle and she self-published a book called The Bad Assassin (now called Lovers to Enemies–yes she took a book with a great title and gave it a worse title–I don’t know I’m not in charge here). After finishing that book, which was oh my word unholy genius in terms of how clever and subversive it was, I took off on an entire backlist glom of her stuff, including the Superromances she wrote for Harlequin. Fortunately, her voice remained intact in this book. Unfortunately, there were aspects of it that didn’t work as well for me.
Doyle is one of those authors who writes incredibly emotionally intense books like Carolyn Crane and Molly O’Keefe. In a book like The Bad Assassin (I refuse to call it that other thing), O’Keefe’s Burn Down the Night or Crane’s Behind the Mask, the emotional intensity comes with a corresponding level of action that can work for me. (Well, Behind the Mask didn’t work great for me but it was objectively a great book. More on that cryptic statement here.) In this book, well, let me give you a quick plot synopsis and then explain where it went awry for me. The hero and heroine both work in baseball. The heroine is part of a baseball dynasty that includes her sister the sports agent and her father the coach of a minor league team. The heroine of this book was close with her dad to the point of worship. And when he sickens and passes away prior to the start of the book, her grief is overwhelming. This is a second chance romance where the hero was her dad’s former assistant coach. He returns to coach the team and because he agreed to check on Scout as part of her dad’s last wishes.
So far, so good. Except that Scout’s grief at her father’s death, crippling depression and anger at everyone around her was just…a lot. It’s entirely reasonable, believable, even admirable. I totally bought why she was having such a strong reaction. But then her job is also at risk because it turns out that being a talent scout in professional sports is not a super easy place to be a woman and a combination of how rough she’s taking her father’s death and sexism added an additional layer of intensity to this already super intense book. The sexism is challenged in the text, but having been through similar experiences myself, it was hard to watch happen. And then there’s the hero, who honestly felt like a little bit of an afterthought in the swirling maelstrom of Scout’s family and work drama. And while I enjoy quite a bit of angst in my romance and I will tolerate an awful lot of melodrama for a truly brilliant book (why I referenced Bad Assassin, Burn Down the Night and Behind the Mask), I have less patience for it in a book where the romance felt a little trite, weak and uninspired.
Another thing that didn’t totally work for me and continually robbed the story of narrative momentum if not intensity was the constant flashbacks to Scout’s previous relationship with Jayson. I’m a long-time romance reader. I understand second chance romances and how they function within that trope. The flashbacks did not provide anything I didn’t already know or surmise about the relationship and could have been left out almost entirely except for the Superromance page count. They felt like wasted space.
What carried the book was the heroine (utterly par for the course with Doyle in any of her guises) and the author’s voice. She has a tremendously dry, even macabre, sense of humor which I could just eat with a spoon. For instance:
“I want you to know before you say anything that I would run face-first into a brick wall for you,” he said quietly as her stroked her cheek with his finger.
“Dude, you ran face-first into a brick wall to catch a fly ball. That’s not saying much.”
So yeah her voice is very distinctive and absolutely pitch-perfect for me as a reader. And the heroine is a gem, even in her grief. She eventually punches her sister in the face, then almost hits a cop and gets arrested toward the end of the book. Probably any time a heroine has to be bailed out of jail, that book’s going to get an extra star from me, making this one closer to a four than a three for all its faults.
While Scout’s Honor took me over a year to plow through, I will continue to read Doyle. Practically speaking, she’s been rather hit-and-miss for me, but when she hits, she hits BIG so I’m willing to endure both some mediocrity and some swing-and-a-misses. Either way, I’m vastly relieved to have cleared another book off my TBR, indeed perhaps more precious, a book that had been languishing where it should not have been for a very, very long time. Now to knock out the rest of The Windflower, which has been on my currently reading shelf even longer!