Title: Back in the Game by Erin Kern
Champion Valley Series Book Two
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: C+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
WHEN YOU PLAY FOR LOVE, YOU PLAY FOR KEEPS
Stella Davenport wasn’t made for small-town life. Sure, teaching ballet in Blanco Valley, Colorado, is great, but she longs for the chance to perform in a big city. Stella swore she’d never let anything get in the way of her dream-until sexy, broad-shouldered Brandon West walks back into her life. Stella is determined to resist him, even if arguing with Brandon is sexier than any foreplay.
For Brandon, it’s always been just him and his son, Matt. Knowing that love only leads to heartbreak, he isn’t looking to expand his family any time soon. Stella, with her long, gorgeous legs and infectious laugh, is a breath of fresh air he didn’t even know he’d been missing. But when she’s offered her dream job in Chicago, will he be willing to put his heart on the line?
Back in the Game by Erin Kern is a somewhat angsty romance between two protagonists who are both carrying A LOT of baggage. This second installment in the Champion Valley series can be read as a standalone but the failed date between the couple in this outing occurred in the first book in the series.
Respective events from both Stella Davenport and Brandon West’s pasts continue to affect them well into adulthood. Stella’s childhood with her flighty and inattentive mother and a traumatic event that occurred when she was a teenager have left her with claustrophobia and anxiety. Following a career ending injury and a shocking break up, she moved to Colorado where she has built a thriving business as a ballet instructor. Although it has been a year since Stella’s disastrous date with Brandon, her attraction to him burns hotter than ever.
Single dad Brandon is struggling with his son Matt’s plans to leave Colorado after graduation to attend college and play football in Texas. He is desperately hoping Matt avoids some of the missteps he made at the same age so Brandon is a little overprotective of his son. With little time, energy or desire to date since his long ago divorce, he finds it impossible to stay away from Stella but will his unresolved issues from his relationship with his ex-wife prevent him from giving a relationship with Stella chance?
Stella and Brandon are interesting characters but readers will have to suspend disbelief to enjoy their romance. They have not spent much time in each other’s company yet, with just one glance, Brandon seems to magically “know” about Stella’s struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. While their banter is initially amusing, it becomes extremely frustrating since they both use humor and sarcasm to avoid discussing their respective issues which gives their scenes together a superficial feel. Their inner monologues also lack much depth since they mainly focus on their sizzling hot desire for each other. They do not date in the traditional sense because their interactions mainly consist of accidental meetings around town. Overall, Stella and Brandon’s romance feels superficial and somewhat rushed due to the reliance on contrived encounters instead of actually dating. It also does not help that the novel takes place over a rather short amount of time.
Although the romance element in Back in the Game is underwhelming, both Stella and Brandon undergo tremendous character growth. Brandon’s son Matt is brilliantly developed and he manages to steal every scene he appears in. Erin Kern brings the novel to a heartwarming conclusion that will satisfy old and new fans of the Champion Valley series.