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Thursday, October 23, 2014

'The Hook Up' Game On #1 by Kristen Callihan

From the BLURB:

The rules: no kissing on the mouth, no staying the night, no telling anyone, and above all…

No falling in love. Anna Jones just wants to finish college and figure out her life. Falling for star quarterback Drew Baylor is certainly not on her to do list. Confident and charming, he lives in the limelight and is way too gorgeous for his own good. If only she could ignore his heated stares and stop thinking about doing hot and dirty things with him. Easy right?

Too bad he’s committed to making her break every rule… Football has been good to Drew. It’s given him recognition, two National Championships, and the Heisman. But what he really craves is sexy yet prickly Anna Jones. Her cutting humor and blatant disregard for his fame turns him on like nothing else. But there’s one problem: she's shut him down. Completely.

That is until a chance encounter leads to the hottest sex of their lives, along with the possibility of something great. Unfortunately, Anna wants it to remain a hook up. Now it’s up to Drew to tempt her with more: more sex, more satisfaction, more time with him. Until she’s truly hooked. It's a good thing Drew knows all about winning.

All’s fair in love and football… Game on

Drew ‘Battle’ Baylor is star quarterback on his college football team, winner of a Heisman Trophy and frequent topic of conversation on ESPN for future draft picks. There is no reason for him to fall so fast and hard for Anna Jones – buxom redhead, former high school wallflower now one half of the most gossiped about hook-up at their college.

‘The Hook Up’ is the first book in a new contemporary romance series (do I have to say ‘new adult?’) from Kristen Callihan – author of the wonderful fantasy/paranormal romance series ‘Darkest London’.

So, I was a huge fan of ‘Friday Night Lights’. On occasion, I get totally bummed that it’s not on anymore (and hasn’t been since 2011 – where has the time gone?). I miss not being able to return for new stories with my favourite characters in Dillon, Texas – and sometimes not even re-watching the box-set always appeases me (though having Connie Britton’s hair return in ‘Nashville’ helped a little). Point being: I miss stories around the small town mythology of school football. I miss stories about young demi-football-gods and how playing the game they love sometimes creates moral and ethical conundrums for them – and all this without me knowing jack-all about American football! I just love the stories, and have done since ‘Varsity Blues’ – but ‘Friday Night Lights’ was really just the ultimate for me. But I have found that what the box is lacking in providing me football stories as gritty and romantic as ‘Friday Night Lights’, contemporary romance books more than make up for. Case in point: Kristen Callihan’s new series ‘Game On’ and this first book in particular.

In this football story, our female protagonist is Anna Jones – a young woman who is still haunted by the emotional bullying she experienced in high school, particularly concerning her appearance. When Anna bumps, quite literally, into Drew Baylor in their philosophy class, sparks fly – but Anna has a hard time believing that infamous ‘Battle Baylor’ (star QB, local hero) would be interested in her and is determined to keep their relationship casual, despite Drew’s protestations.

Drew knows that he wants Anna – and not just as a one-time only hook-up. The trouble will be in convincing her that he’s in it for the long-haul: despite what may be coming his way with a promising football career. Because Drew knows a thing or two about going after what you want – his parents dying when he was 18 gave him some serious perspective on not taking anything for granted, and going after what you want. 

My mother once told me that the most important moment in my life wouldn’t be when I won the National Championship or even the Super Bowl. It would be when I fell in love. 
Life, she insisted, is how you live it and who you live it with, not what you do to make a living. Given that she told me this when I was sixteen, I basically rolled my eyes and worked on practicing my pass fakes. 
But my mother was insistent. 
“You’ll see, Drew. One day, love will creep up and smack you upside the head. Then you’ll understand.”

Yes, this is total fantasy contemporary romance – a really intriguing flip in which the female protagonist wants casual, while the male yearns for forever. This, even though Drew admits that young women are constantly throwing themselves at him and his teammates. But Callihan gives Drew enough dark back-story to actually make this dynamic seem halfway credible – losing his parents at a young age, an ex-girlfriend who told relationship lies to the media … it all adds up to Drew getting quite serious about Anna very early on and liking the idea of starting something serious and long-haul with her.

I also really liked Anna as a protagonist (the story actually flips between both their POVs) – she’s a curvaceous young woman who has only just recently started embracing her feminie body, but still struggles with a lack of confidence because of her particularly hellish high school years. I loved that Callihan doesn’t actually write Anna body-shaming herself (no endless diatribes about fat thighs, or bulging tummy) – we read Anna disbelieve or brush aside Drew’s comments about her physical beauty, but that’s really it. On the flipside, readers get Drew’s interiority about how much he appreciates Anna’s body – and it’s for all the reasons we can imagine she’d consider flaws.

This book is H-O-T. Callihan, as she did in ‘Darkest London’, writes really beautiful sensual scenes – in this contemporary romance there’s a lot more sex on the page, but Callihan never lets it get tiresome or repetitive. And she integrates Anna and Drew’s physical intimacy with their emotional really, really well.

I was about two chapters into this book when I started recommending it to my romance reader friends – it was that good! (and they concurred). I’m going to call this a favourite book of 2014, which is kind of great considering I bought it on a whim based on the strength of Callihan’s totally different paranormal romanceseries, and because I was having ‘Friday Night Lights’ withdrawals. This was a wonderful romance and I can’t wait for the next two books in the ‘Game On’ series.


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