Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️+
Warning: This is an ode to A.S. Teague, so read carefully. The feelings are strong here.
I’m going to share a personal value with you about me related to romance blogging and a value related to my teaching of writing. One of the best moments of romance blogging isn’t reading books and reviewing them. That can be an onerous task: finding the words to convey your thoughts and feelings about a book that helps other people decide to read it AND honors the writer’s storytelling is difficult. Some people don’t care about the words they splay on the page about a writer’s baby (which is a travesty). Instead, one of my favorite moments as a blogger is finding a new to me author and falling in love with their ability to create fiction that grabs my heart and soul. I will promote, review, and work hard to push their work out to the masses, even though my own following isn’t large. But I’ll work it for them.
In terms of teaching writing, my favorite moments don’t revolve around incredible pieces of writing. Instead, the best moments of my teaching career have centered around moments when the growth of a writer is apparent to me and to the writer. It’s a moment when you recall their first essay and read their current one, and they’ve found their voice and owned it.
Why am I sharing these thoughts in the space of a book review? Because A.S Teague has illustrated both of these ideas with her newest book, The Hardest Play, and it feels like pride (not in any condescending way) and peace in my soul. You might be saying, “Professor A, why do you care so much?” Quite simply, writing always comes from the soul of a writer. When our favorite authors bleed words onto the page for their readers to enjoy, and they do it brilliantly as A.S. Teague has done with this book, I want to shout for them, celebrate them, and encourage them to keep doing it because I want more of it. And boy, does The Hardest Play make me want more of Teague’s storytelling.
I found Teague with the first book of her Hardest series, The Hardest Route. Here’s the thing: I thought it was good, but in my review for that book, I noted that she had incorporated too many plot points so it muddled Griff and Brooke’s connection. It was still a good story, but it lacked “the thing” that tells my gut the book is great. Still, I knew that I wanted to read the other books in the series because there was something in THR that invested me. Then, Teague published Aidan and Mel’s story in The Hardest Hit, and she broke my heart and mended it over and over again in that story. The issues that I thought plagued her first book were not present in THH. Instead, my admiration for her grew because her storytelling was impeccable (by my estimation) as she crafted Aidan’s anguish and Mel’s inextinguishable strength. The Hardest Hit quickly became my favorite of her series (and one of my favorite sports romances), and I didn’t think The Hardest Play would overcome it. Boy, was I wrong.
The Hardest Play offers the story of Quinn, one of the more serious friends of Griff and Aidan and their crew. Griff and Aidan count on him to be serious and thoughtful in his assessment of their lives. In this book, Quinn has been traded to Atlanta after a disappointing season and a string of personal mishaps. Once there, he runs into Georgia, the sister of Aidan’s orthopedic surgeon, who we meet in The Hardest Hit. In that story, sparks fly between Quinn and Georgia, and the same happens again in The Hardest Play. Quinn is enamored with Georgia from their first meeting, and they quickly entangle themselves in each other’s lives. However, Quinn has a secret that threatens to derail their journey. In order to handle the ramifications of that secret, Quinn will have to trust Georgia with his truth, something he only does with his friends. Will Quinn and Georgia make it to the endzone, or will their romantic journey end in a punt at the 3rd down, missing the endzone by a few feet?
Why is The Hardest Play my new favorite A.S. Teague book of this series? Oh, there are so many reasons.
- Quinn. Quinn Miller is a dream hero. A DREAM HERO. I will not divulge his secrets in this review because it will ruin the story. Instead, you need to know that while Quinn is formidable in his persona, he has an intuition in his character that allows him to anticipate Georgia and her needs, both physically and emotionally. Undermining Quinn’s formidable exterior with the sensitivity of his internal values reads like cat-nip for romance readers (at least for this romance reader). The only moments where he sabotages their romantic journey exist because Quinn protects above anything else. In revealing his truth, he worries about the effect of it on Georgia. He would rather end their burgeoning relationship than hurt her. And this theme runs deeply through his characterization. Quinn has a seriousness and depth that Griff and Aidan don’t have. Griff comes closest to it, but Quinn’s empathic and compassionate nature transcends Teague’s other heroes. I fell in love with Quinn from the very beginning. He’s protective, insightful, and steady.
- Georgia. Because Teague constructs Quinn as self-sacrificing, she must have a heroine who is stubborn and fiery to protect her hero. Georgia is strong and tenacious, and this allows her to break through Quinn’s walls to the depths of his heart and soul. These two are fated for each other. Once Georgia learns Quinn’s truth, she becomes as protective as Quinn, and their connection becomes elevated. I am so thankful that Teague uses other aspects of the story to complicate Georgia and Quinn’s romance. Once these two commit to each other, they remain there. That creates this emotional impact that feels safe for the reader and the story’s characters.
- The story. There is a depth to this story that deals with a difficult real-life problem. Again, I won’t divulge because I think it would threaten the power of the story. Readers should read the book, knowing that The Hardest Play’s story, in my opinion, is the heaviest of the three books. It’s the gravity, though, that I fell in love with. The emotional gravitas of this book will slay you, but Teague does this, not through issues between Georgia and Quinn, she achieves this with the secrets of the story. That is the driving force of this book, and Teague’s topic is a worthy one.
- The epilogue. Oh my goodness. I’ve felt this feeling only a few times when reading romance. It’s a feeling of nostalgia, like saying good-bye to old friends and knowing you can see them again, but it will never quite be the same. Teague’s epilogue in The Hardest Play creates that feeling and leaves you with a sigh in your heart. There is a part of me that hopes this story is the last one of the Hardest series even though we have never explored Shane and Trav because it’s such an emotional powerhouse of a book that it feels right to move on. Yet, the feeling created in this epilogue makes my heart want more of the same. I’m both ready to go and hating to leave this crew of some of my favorite characters.
Now, that I’ve waxed poetic on my love for A.S. Teague, ultimately, why should you read her newest book? Simply put, The Hardest Play is a story of allowing love to heal and support us. This truth may seem simple, but, especially in a world right now that feels so singular and isolated, a reminder that love can connect us, heal us, and uplift us feels necessary and essential.
In love and romance,