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Thursday, May 2, 2013

'Game. Set. Match.' Outer Banks Tennis Academy #1 by Jennifer Iacopelli

Received from the Author 

From the Blurb:

Nestled along the North Carolina coast, the Outer Banks Tennis Academy is the world's most elite training facility. In this pressure-cooker environment, futures are forged in blood and sweat, and dreams are shattered in an instant.

Penny Harrison, a rising female star, is determined to win the French Open and beat her archrival, Zina Lutrova. But when her coach imports British bad boy Alex Russell as her new training partner, will Penny be able to keep her laser-like focus?

Tennis is all Jasmine Randazzo has ever known. The daughter of two Grand Slam champions, she's hell-bent on extending her family’s legacy and writing her own happily-ever-after...until her chosen Prince Charming gives her the just-friends speech right before the biggest junior tournament of the year, the Outer Banks Classic.

With a powerful serve and killer forehand, newcomer Indiana Gaffney is turning heads. She’s thrilled by all of the attention, especially from Jack Harrison, Penny’s agent and hot older brother, except he keeps backing off every time things start heating up.

With so much at stake, dreams—and hearts—are bound to break. Welcome to OBX: Where LOVE is a four-letter word, on and off the court.

Indiana Gaffney is returning to tennis after a year hiatus, following her mother’s death. She’s taking up an offer from legendary coach, Dom Kingston; US and Australian Open winner, twice over. Indiana ‘Indy’ will be moving to North Carolina and boarding at the nation’s most prestigious tennis training academy (founded by the Randazzo’s themselves!) Outer Banks Tennis Academy – reverently nicknamed OBX. 

Indy gets off to a bad start with her fellow junior girl OBXers . . . and then things get progressively worse. She manages to piss off OBX Queen-Bee and tennis-royalty, Jasmine Randazzo, without even trying. And while she makes fast friends with new tennis star, Penny Harrison, Indy’s instantaneous crush on Penny’s 23-year-old brother/agent, Jack, is anything but convenient. 

Seventeen-year-old Jasmine Randazzo has just tanked in the first round of the Madrid Open; this is a particularly hard blow, since Jasmine is the daughter of tennis’s most famous couple and great things are predicted of her. 

And to top off a bad week; Jasmine decides to profess her unrequited love to her best friend, Penny’s twin brother and OBX-Lothario; Teddy Harrison . . .  only to have him shoot her down, hard. Now she has to watch as Teddy continues lusting after everything with boobs (except her, that is, because he doesn’t want to wreck their ‘friendship’). Adding salt to the wound is Teddy expressing interest in the new OBX girl, Indy. 

Penny Harrison is marked as the new golden-girl of US tennis. She’s just beat the World #1 in the Madrid Open, and now the scene is set for an explosive French Open showdown. Penny is willing to do whatever it takes to win, but when Coach Kingston suggests a new training partner in Alex Russell, Penny is more than a little hesitant. . . 

Alex Russell is the British bad boy of tennis. At 17 he was the first British man to win Wimbledon since 1936 and the youngest man to do it, ever. But as easy as his climb up the tennis ranks was, his fall down was even grander – marked by alcohol-fuelled nights, paparazzi snaps with supermodels, a knee injury from a motorcycle accident and the loss of all his sponsorship deals. But that’s not what’s making Penny pause – rather, it’s the fact that she and Alex had a heated one-night-stand at the Australian Open, and haven’t talked since.

The Outer Banks Tennis Academy is a cut-throat environment; everyone wants to be the best and beat the best. But these up and coming star players are quickly coming to realize that tennis is as much a physical sport as it is a mental game – and, sometimes, life and love get in the way of a good match. 

‘Game. Set. Match’ is the first book in a new contemporary young adult/new adult sport series from debut author Jennifer Iacopelli.

I used to play tennis – from age seven to 17 – and I'd like to think I wasn’t too shabby at it. I had a killer backhand, passable serve but I'd always choke in my smash . . . still, I played smart and would make the other player work for me; I was great at strategic placement and consistent-hits. I still love tennis, and occasionally have a hit when the mood takes me. I love watching the Australian Open, and I’ll forever think that it’s the most interesting sport to watch live. So when I got wind of this new young adult sport series based at a tennis training academy – I got crazy excited. This made perfect sense to me. Tennis, like most sports, is one of those industries that churns out young protégées who have to be dedicated to the game throughout their teens if they hope to win Grand Slams. And, tennis has produced some fine-looking young players over the years (Marat Safin, Andy Roddick, Anna Kournikova and Ana Ivanovic. . . to name a very few). A tennis young adult/new adult series just struck me as fertile ground for competitive melodrama in a pressure-cooker environment and featuring attractive young players. I had high-hopes for this series going in, based purely on my belief that tennis is fascinating on the court, so it must likewise be on the page . . . and, luckily, Jennifer Iacopelli has proven me right. 

First off, much as I looked forward to reading a sports series that laid the ground-work for competitive friendships and heated courtships, I wouldn’t have been interested if it didn’t deliver on the sports front (as some novels have disappointed me in the past). This is especially important since three female protagonists are carrying this series – and I'd have hated to read only about their romantic entanglements, with tennis being a convenient plot backdrop to the boy-drama in their life. I'd have had no interest in such a series, so I was relieved to read Penny Harrison smashing it at the Madrid Open within the first few pages. And within a few paragraphs, Iacopelli showed that tennis would most certainly be a serious focus in this book. She writes some great, tight and punchy paragraphs detailing the games being played, and as a tennis fan I have to say she nailed the adrenaline information; 

One bounce, then two, three and four in perfect rhythm. Her body weight shifted forward and then back, arms up, racket ready, the ball suspended above her head. She pushed into the ground then sprung up and out, racket face hammering a clean stroke, skimming it off the white chalk T in the centre of the court.

As the story progresses the girl’s heads get clogged with real-life worries that they can’t help but bring onto the court. Iacopelli does a really good job of clouding the commentary and bringing life metaphors into the game; 

There was no way to predict how a player would respond to the pressure of an important match. Some players, like Penny, were immune to it. Others battled with the nerves until they learned how to deal with them, and some players, no matter how talented, never overcame the fear of the big moment.

All three girls are in it to win it. Penny, Jasmine and Indy are all competitive and egotistical about their game (as they should be!) these are real tough sportswomen and I loved that Iacopelli gave them serious ambitions coupled with guts and determination. Sure, the boy-drama is there. . . 

Long before there were sponsorships and British bad boys, there had just been tennis and her simple love for the sport. She still loved it, of course, but everything was just so complicated now.

. . . But I never once thought that any of the girls were sacrificing their careers for their love lives, and that made them stellar heroines, and turned this into one of the best sports series I've read in a long time. 

Now, as to the girls – Jasmine was my favourite, for a number of reasons. I feel like when the book opens, Jasmine is on very unsteady ground and her status as OBX queen-bee and royalty is in question. When we first meet Jasmine she’s presented as this underdog – home after bombing out in the Madrid Open, turned down by the boy she has been crushing on for ages, and pitted against the new girl at the academy. Funny thing though, is that we then learn she’s the daughter of the two most famous tennis players – the Randazzo name being reverential in the tennis world. We get the impression that prior to all this upheaval, Jasmine had it pretty sweet and easy. I loves me an underdog, but an unconventional underdog is even better. And I appreciated the fact that the Randazzo name hangs over Jasmine’s head – I sympathised that, while she loves tennis and trains her heart out, the natural talent is just not there and she has to work twice as hard. Jasmine just fascinated me from the beginning – her famous name and losing streak, the boy who turned her down and the love she still has for him. I’m definitely Team Jasmine.

Indy and Penny, on the other hand, I thought were verging a bit on Mary-Sue at times . . .  these are the two girls who Coach Kingston thinks have the most natural talent. These are also the two girls who seemed to have only minor-hiccups in their boy-dramas and who are repeatedly referred to as gorgeous, beautiful and basically, are a sponsors’ wet dream. But I admit – that was only my first impressions, and my opinion changed towards the end of the book. Penny’s boy drama ratcheted up a notch with Alex Russel (who’s basically Andy Murray, only; better looking, not Scottish and he didn’t choke at Wimbledon). 

I will say that Penny’s love life didn’t gel with Indy and Jasmine’s romantic trials – Penny talks about great sex and an intense love affair, but Jasmine admits to not having kissed many boys and Indy is all about longing looks and shy advances . . . Penny is definitely where the ‘new adult’ aspect comes into it, but Jasmine and Indy’s story felt young adult and that was a clash for me (sometimes I even wondered if Penny’s story was needed in this first book  - or if we could have just focussed on Indy and Jasmine?) 

Only in the last few chapters does Iacopelli hammer home the fact that Indy recently lost her mother, and is all but estranged from her father. This is actually kinda a big deal and if I'd felt Indy struggle with this more throughout the book, I probably would have warmed to her character quicker – but Iacopelli leaves explorations into Indy’s sad history for the end, and it came a little late for me. 

I raced to finish this book, because I was so engulfed in the game, the dramas and the girls’ respective sagas. I’m definitely excited to read Outerbanks Tennis Academy #2 and I’m making an early declaration that Jennifer Iacopelli’s YA sports series is one of the best out there – with tough girls who have their eye on the ball and boys at their beck and call – I’m definitely coming back for more.



  1. This sounds interesting! I can totally see how this book resonates with you as a tennis person. I'm glad you liked the book! Wonderful review.

  2. Even though I'm not big into sports, I can really appreciate (and even enjoy) other's passion and enthusiasm for their favorite sport. I really think I will enjoy a book that sounds as good as this despite not having a love of the game (although I did like playing tennis back in high school during phys ed). I really enjoyed your review and I can't wait to get a chance to read this.

    1. I'm not a HUGE fan of sports (and, by extension, sports books) but I am a tennis fan and I am realising more how important it is to have YA books with female sports-star protagonists. So this one checks lots of boxes for me.

  3. I so want to read this! I've been seeing it around a bit and it looks good.

    1. It's wonderful :) so glad it's the first in a series too!

  4. This sounds like a lot of fun, I played tennis from childhood until i was a teen, too, so it's cool to see a book (and a series) dedicated to the sport.

    1. It is a lot of fun :) I think the tennis drama was well-balanced with the 'life dramas' and romances, so people who don't know squat about tennis will enjoy this too (but there's enough tennis-action to keep us players happy too)

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  6. I wanted to thank you for this excellent read!! I definitely loved every little bit of it. I have you bookmarked your site to check out the latest stuff you post.

  7. I do know this was a very interesting post thanks for writing it!


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