Thursday, August 11, 2011

Playing the Game of Life: Hardball by V. K. Sykes

After years of hard work and keeping her nose firmly to the grindstone, Dr. Holly Bell has finally achieved her dream: a position as a pediatric surgeon at a prestigious teaching hospital. Children’s lives rest in her skilled hands. That means total dedication to her work and her patients without letting anything or anyone get in the way. And a hot affair with a superstar athlete is most definitely getting in Holly’s way.

Nate Carter, star pitcher for the Philadelphia Patriots, has the world in the palm of his baseball glove. He’s at the height of his game, a west coast team is about to lure him with even greater riches, and the most gorgeous women in town are in full pursuit. Nate has everything he wants, or at least he thinks he does, until he meets the beautiful and brainy Dr. Holly Bell. He’s totally up for a hot affair, and Holly turns out to be the hottest.

But will Holly be willing to play his game? When the lovely doctor starts changing the rules, Nate realizes he just might be playing for keeps.

Coming from a family with a confirmed baseball "fanatic" as a husband, this book was one that I found extremely interesting as it involved a professional baseball player as the hero. My hubby is still talking about the great players of the old Brooklyn Dodgers even though he is now a LA Dodger fan (and his all-time favorite is Sandy Koufax, a pitcher), and I found it interesting that the hero, a star pitcher, was considering possibilities with the LA Dodgers. So it was with a great deal of background that I came to this story. Add in my own involvement with the medical community as a nurse in past years, and I felt I could sit down and find something I understood contextually.

Having said that, I must say that I was truly impressed by this novel. I have not read any works by this team of writers before and so came to this reading task with no preconceived notions about "good, bad, or indifferent." Yet the story held my interest from the first paragraph. (I have a particular bias that good writers need to do as much to grab their readers with the first paragraph as they do about the rest of the story.) Doctors must deal with lots of issues that are, in many ways, side issues to the actual treatment of patients. In this doctor's case, she was new to the teaching hospital, was taking over patients from a retiring pediatric surgeon, and was getting to know the hospital personnel as well. Add in the long days, getting settled in a new living setting, and dealing with parents who know almost nothing about her, and you have a pressure cooker of context before she even lays a single hand on a single patient. So it was with Holly Bell, a young woman who had finally reached one of her life goals--be a pediatric surgeon in a well-known teaching hospital. It took lots of time, study, sleepless days, and working with lots of other professionals and patients to get to this place, and she was confident she could meet any challenge given her. That is, until she met a parent who absolutely refused to allow her to operate on his son, a youngster who needed an artificial heart valve to not only prolong his life but to increase the quality of his life. But it wasn't just the parent's refusal; it was the violent nature of that refusal and the threats that went with it--threats that kept on increasing in tone and intensity. Not a good beginning for Dr. Bell.

Now she has come face to face with Nate Carter, professional baseball pitcher, charmer par excellence, and reputed all-round ladies' man. He was the last person she needed in her life, but she was captured by his open manner with her patients, his apparent love of kids and concern for their morale as they lay in the hospital, as well as feeling an unaccustomed physical response to his nearness. As for Nate, he was bowled over by the good Dr. Bell and determined to find a way to begin some kind of friendship with her, hopefully leading to a more romantic involvement. He was quite up front about that.

This novel is about the clash of two worlds--professional baseball and surgical medicine--and the cultures that surround them. There was no doubting the sparks that flew between them and the fire those sparks ignited. But it didn't take too long, just a matter of a few weeks, for the realities of their lives to intrude on their love affair. But I think there was far more going on with these two. Nate was a joyful pro athlete, making buckets of money, enjoying all the perks of being the darling of his fans, and able to select just about any woman he desired for however long he chose. His life was all about fun and women were all about fun, too. He loved to play! And considering the fact that he was being paid millions to play what was originally a child's game, Nate took the concept of play to the maximum degree. Consider Dr. Holly Bell: a woman who had effectively expunged "play" from her life in her efforts to reach the lofty goals she set for herself. She also came from a family where she dealt with an absentee father and a mother whose acidic "drip, drip, drip" of bitterness about the untrustworthiness of men shaped and formed her attitudes whether she was aware of that fact or not. There was lots more to overcome than the gap between their professional worlds. And those life issues were the very ones that threatened this relationship.

Perhaps it is also a book that might pose the question of whether or not love really can conquer all. I sometimes wonder if that is a truism we all want to believe but are loath to recognize that there are situations where just loving someone falls short of what is needed. Certainly Holly came to love Nate, but their values, their approach to living and relationships, their view of fidelity and trust were so different. Add in the need for a mature understanding of oneself and life's challenges, and you have, in my opinion, the core issues that drove this story and out of which grew the crisis in their togetherness.

This is a wonderful story that certainly embraces the reality of a very hot love affair, filled with erotic loving and descriptions of encounters that were steamy, to say the least. Yet there were the raw realities of a dying child, an angry and threatening parent, the inadequacies of law enforcement to provide safety for those who are threatened, the necessities of trust and fidelity between two people, the pressures of a professional team management, the worries surrounding an incapacitating injury, and the prospect of a long-distance relationship. All gave balance to a story that was certainly romantic, but one that is rooted in real life and its stresses. I found the characters to be very realistic, edgy, clearly defined and able to stand on their own, with strength and with a sense of who they were. Even the secondary characters were quite wonderful even though several of them were "on stage" only briefly.

Sports-based novels can be a drag when they contain so much about the sport that readers are turned off. That is not the case here. This is really about people and relationships. Ultimately, that is what romance fans are looking for, and that is what the reader will find here. There are surprises, and certainly I was thrilled to see that the plot took some twists and turns that were unexpected. Kept me on my toes, to be sure. I was delighted to have the opportunity to read and review this novel, and I highly recommend it as being a story that is well told, characters that are engaging, a novel that is vastly entertaining, and one that is well-worth the time to read. I give it a rating of 4.5 out of 5.


Aurian said...

I really love your review, you totally explain your thoughts about this book and that just loving is not always enough. Thank you very much. And now, I want to read it :)

Tracy said...

Sounds like a really great book - I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the review!

Teresa said...

Hardball is a great book. Here's the link to buy it:

Pat L. said...

Love baseball and the LA Dodgers, so would really love this book.

I remember Sandy Koufax very well and whenever it was his turn to pitch, I thought of it as an automatic win. Was shocked when he did lose, even tho how seldom it was.

And I will never forget Orel Hershiser in '88 and Kirk Gibson's trot around the bases and when they scanned the dugout and played the music from The Natural. Awesome.

Pat L. said...

Forgot to mention, we come from a big baseball family and my Dad got scouted by the 3 NY teams, Dodgers, Yanks and Giants, but he got drafted and that was that (WWII).

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