"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..." This quote from Elizabeth Barrett Browning is so fitting for how I felt after reading Jaci Burton's newest addition to her Play by Play series, Changing the Game. Simply put, I LOVED it! In fact I think it is the best Contemporary Erotic Romance I've read this year. I have mad love for Gavin and Liz...like, if I had to actually make a list of the things I love about the book, we would be here for a long, long time. I pretty much loved everything about it with one exception. It's one of those books that you can't wait to tell your romance reading friends about how great it was, and that they just HAVE to read it. At least it was for me, which is why you are about to witness my gush fest for Jaci Burton and Changing the Game.
Gavin is a sexy playboy baseball player at the top of his game. He loves pretty much everything about his life. He loves playing baseball. And would actually play for free if he had to just to be a part of a game he loves. That is the thing about Gavin that is so endearing, when he loves, he loves deeply and passionately. He loves his family, he loves his career, and he loves his life. He's carefree and fun loving....in the way that only a person who is comfortable with himself can truly be, yet he's also determined, and focused, and committed. And my book loving friends...he cooks...in the kitchen....and is really really good at it (among other things...I think you can read between the lines here).
Liz is just as driven as Gavin is, but for very different reasons. She's a big player in the world of sports agents but unlike Gavin where everything comes naturally for him, like he's blessed by the Gods or something, Liz has had to fight to prove to her colleagues in her male dominated profession that she deserves to be there. She's professional and is often referred to as a "shark" because of her aggressive and ruthless representation of her clients. People see her as cold hearted, and in case of Gavin's brother Mick, a manipulative b*@ch who is willing to stop at nothing to line her pockets at anyone's expense.
And while Liz has her faults, deep down she is a woman who has a desperate need for control and independence. She is a person who is always on the outside looking in, who is in love with a man who sees her as a predator, colleague and friend...and she is lost. She's lost her way in her life because of her dogged pursuit of success, and fears that giving in to the love that she feels for Gavin will ultimately mean losing control of her life...and losing control is not an option for Liz.
Her world is starting to crumble around her and she has no one to turn to, or to blame....except for her career; the one thing that she's always been certain of. She's lost her highest profile client, Gavin's quarterback Brother Mick, who was also one of her few friends, and fears that because of that she will also lose Gavin. Her life is her work, and she defines herself and measures her worth by her success. Her work is safety, security and fills the voids in her life, which she has purposefully orchestrated. She doesn't really have friends, and very rarely takes a lover...especially since she has been secretly in love with Gavin for years. But one night, with the fear of losing everything she holds dear, she gives in to her desire for Gavin when he sees her as more than his sexy agent, but also as a sexy woman. And that is when it really begins to get good *smile*.
One of the things that I loved most about Changing the Game was the characters. They are rich and multidimensional. And not only Liz and Gavin, but also all of Gavin's family members. Ms. Burton's writing style makes you feel like you are a part of the Riley family in all of it's loving, meddling, touching ways. But I most especially loved Liz and Gavin and their struggles to eventually admit their love to each other. It is not an easy path for them. Liz has to learn to trust in love, and that love can be caring, as well as allowing her the freedom to be who she wants to be....and trust me when I say this is unbelievably hard for her for many reasons. One of which is Gavin himself. And Gavin, God love him, he is such a guy, but a really really good one who struggles with his feelings for Liz and their complicated relationship, which is an anomaly for him since everything usually comes so easily and naturally.
Then we have the love scenes, which are numerous, exceptionally sensual, erotic and hot (and yes it`s necessary to use all of those words to even begin to describe them). It's been a while since I've read a book that I felt that the love scenes were so integral in illustrating the relationship between the hero and the heroine. The loves scenes at the beginning of the book are full of lust and passion as Gavin and Liz give in to their desires, but through the course of the book they evolve into a man and woman falling in love, yet fighting those passions and making mistakes, and at the same time desperately trying to each find their way to a happy ending. This was an emotional read for me and my heart really went out to Liz, which I know may surprise some of you who got to know her character in The Perfect Play. I have to say that Ms. Burton truly made a heroine out of a difficult character to sympathize with, and that is no easy feat.
The one exception to my complete and utter love for Changing the Game is the fact that this book never really explains what Liz did to Mick, Tara and Nathan in The Perfect Play that caused Mick to break all ties with her. Liz's actions in the previous book plays a very large part in her motivations in Changing the Game, as well as in Gavin's family dynamics, and even some of his reactions. It's referenced over and over and every time I thought I was finally going to find out what she had done, but that never happened. This wouldn't have been a big deal if only I had read The Perfect Play before reading Changing the Game, but I didn't so I was left wondering almost from the very beginning of Changing The Game what she did that was so bad to cause her possible downfall. It's the only thing that I wish would have been different about this book because I don't think you can fully appreciate Liz's character without knowing who she was before. I actually contemplated stopping reading Changing the Game in order to read The Perfect Play (in the TBR) so I could answer that burning question that was always at the back of my mind, but I was so wrapped up in Gavin and Liz's story that I just couldn't leave them until the end. Needless to say I read The Perfect Play right afterward so I now know, but I wish it would have been explained in some way in Changing the Game. That would have made Changing the Game perfect.
I began this review with a quote so I think it only fitting that I wrap it up with one as well. However, this one is specific to the book since it is on the cover of Changing the Game. Now, most of the time I am wary of cover quotes, because usually you just can't trust them, but Maya Banks is quoted as saying "Jaci Burton's stories are full of heat and heart." And honestly, truer words have never been spoken because Changing the Game is exactly that....full of heart and heat. Jaci Burton definitely brings the heat in this steamy, seductive, and emotionally stirring romance. I LOVED it! In fact, Changing the Game might very well be my favorite romance that she has written to date (but I do reserve the right to alter my opinion when Taking a Shot is released next year). It doesn't get much better than this my friends. And for those of you who are wary about a romance revolving around sports, I urge you to give Changing the Game a try because in my opinion the sports aspect plays a very small part in the story compared to the personal and emotional journeys Gavin and Liz take. Be prepared to see me mention Changing the Game again because I can guarantee you it will be making my Favorites list for 2011 at the end of the year.
Overall: 4.75 (some serious mad love for this book that was this close to being perfect in my opinion)
Sensuality level: 4.50 (hot doesn't even begin to describe this book, but even though the love scenes are explicit they aren't gratuitous. It earned a 4.5 for the shear number of love scenes)
This book was reviewed for Seductive Musings blog. An ARC of the book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.