Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Okay, so I’ve been trying to figure out why J. Sterling’s sports romances, more specifically baseball romances, intrigue me. I mean, I do love the sport of baseball. I am a college professor at the university that inspires Fullton State, the fictional university of her series, and I’ve had baseball players in my classes over the years. In fact, I have a former student with a World Series ring on his finger and several who are currently playing Major League Baseball. Even more, I grew up in a family where baseball reigned supreme: my brother played and my father coached. My father had season tickets to college baseball, and our family holds College World Series tickets. Why am I telling you all of this in my review of J. Sterling’s newest book, Behind the Plate? Because I think the reason I enjoy J. Sterling’s baseball romances is they hit upon my feelings of nostalgia about baseball and they connect me to the experiences of my baseball athletes. I think this is what makes J. Sterling’s Perfect Game series and her current series, The Boys of Baseball, interesting to me. Yes, she creates steamy, exciting romance with her characters. In Behind the Plate, she offers an homage to the fans of her successful Perfect Game series. Chance Carter is the son of her hero and heroine of that series. Now, I haven’t yet read that series. It’s a trilogy that feels like a journey, a journey that I will inevitably take based on the first two books of her The Boys of Baseball series. Yet, for me, reading these books feels like going home. She can clearly write romance, as evidenced by this book and others, but, almost above that, she can write baseball in a way that feels different than most sports romances. This is interesting because many romances categorized as sports romance rarely deal with the sport. And I have to be honest, the ones that don’t are usually not as strong as the ones that do. If you are going to construct a hero or heroine who is an athlete, then I believe you need to deal with the sport instead of letting it be an anomalous feature of the proposed story.
For me, J. Sterling writes baseball well. Like really well. You see HOW demonstrative it is in Chance Carter’s life, which is important because it shades his characterization. We understand why he makes the choices he makes because Sterling shows how baseball can overtake his world. This causes the story to feel very very real. When Chance and his heroine, Danika, are faced with a dilemma for their future, as a reader, you feel the tension in that decision. It makes you uncomfortable wondering if they will find their happy ending while you note that these two are fated for each other. Without understanding the depth of the world of baseball, you cannot fully feel the depth of their decision making. And this is where other sports romances don’t do the genre of sports romances right. Thankfully, J. Sterling does.
Along with Sterling’s apt depiction of the world of college baseball, in Behind the Plate, you are treated to a hero and heroine who, quite frankly, are adorable. On the one hand, Chance Carter is NOT his father. Well, he is his father in talent. However, he is a good mixture of his father and mother. He is passionate about his sport and he is careful with his intention with women. He is not a womanizing hero like his father; he leans more into the empathy and spirit of his mother. I love this depiction; it makes for the dreamiest of heroes. Even more, Danika is his “little spitfire.” I ADORE a heroine who can stand toe-to-toe with a hero and put him in his place. This is necessary for this story. It’s what sets her apart from other women. She is intelligent and insightful about others. Her kryptonite is her boyfriend, Jason. This is where I was disappointed with Danika’s depiction. I would have liked to see a bit more consistency in her depiction. For all that she dishes out to Chance, she becomes passive with her boyfriend. That being said, this is any person afraid to make choices that potentially change their status quo, so it doesn’t feel out of place in the context of the story. And in the end, she remedies her conflict when she recognizes her heart belongs with Chance. I love that J. Sterling made this a slow-burn for these two. When they finally fall, it’s quite glorious and perfectly timed.
Based on the first book of this new series, I knew I was going to adore Chance Carter, but I didn’t know how much until I was grabbed by J. Sterling’s story. Behind the Plate feels real; it’s beautifully crafted; and it will grab your heart. If you have never read the Perfect Game series, you will not be lost. I wasn’t. Instead, you will fall for Chance Carter and Danika’s journey, and it feels like a grand slam in the end.
In love and romance,