Man of the Year

Lisa Ruff
June 2008, Series Romance
Harl American Romance #1214, $4.99, 209 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373752180

Grade: B
Sensuality: Warm

I love baseball and haven’t read a Harlequin American Romance in years, so when I saw Man of the Year on the list of books to be reviewed, I asked for it. Lisa Ruff’s debut novel turned out to be a pleasant read indeed.

The Seattle Rainiers baseball team is not popular at all. Scandals over the past few years, combined with losing seasons and lackluster play, have cost them whatever fan loyalty they had. Elliot, the team owner, begins the season by cleaning house. He fires the most egregious offenders and brings in new talent. One of the new players is Jarrett Corliss, a pitcher who is superb when he is healthy. However, Jarrett had rotator cuff surgery in the off season and his arm is still a bit sore. The Rainiers are willing to give him a chance, but Jarrett knows this is his last chance.

Now that they have a nice new team, the Rainiers have to get a new image to bring fans back to the ball park. Enter Samantha James, owner of Emerald Advertising. Samantha knows baseball – her brother Boomer is a hot slugger with the Rainiers – and she arranges to meets the team. She wasn't expecting the coach to take her into the locker room, but business is business. Jarrett zooms in on her at once and Samantha shows she can dish it out with the best of them. She leaves filled with ideas for an advertising campaign, one that will feature Jarrett as one of the stars. Jarrett vows he will get Samantha to go out with him no matter what he has to do.

Jarrett finally does convince (blackmail) Samantha to go to dinner with him and they have a wonderful time. However there’s a problem – Elliot has forbidden his players to fraternize with any of the employees of Samantha’s ad agency. The scandals of the past have burned him badly and he wants the team to have a clean image. Samantha needs this account for her business. She has turned aside other work to focus on the Rainiers and this could be her big chance. However, Samantha and Jarrett continue to meet - and grow closer - but a scandal from a totally unexpected source may cost them their new relationship and Samantha’s business too.

Man of the Year wasn’t anything new, but I enjoyed myself reading it. Samantha was a great character – smart and funny and from the descriptions of her business, she seemed like she actually knew what she was doing. I’ve read romances set in the business world where it seemed as though the characters were just playing around. The atmosphere at Emerald Advertising felt authentic.

Equally well-written was Jarrett. For a long time he defined himself only by how good he was at baseball, but since his surgery, he’s had to look outside the game. Jarrett's devotion to baseball remains, he's become a more interesting and mature man. He is also funny, and a good friend with enough cockiness to make him endearing, not obnoxious.

Some of the events in the book are over the top, including Jarrett's pitching a perfect game, a feat so rare that only 17 pitchers have ever accomplished it, but since Man of the Year has a slightly fairytale quality, I didn’t mind. If you like baseball, this book will be perfect. And if you don’t like baseball, read it anyway – the characters are too good to be kept to just sports fans.

-- Ellen Micheletti

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