Review: Unwritten Rules by K.D. Casey (2021)

Heat Factor: I mean, it is technically explicit sex, but it’s done in a vignette style until nearly the end, when it feels much more traditionally written

Character Chemistry: I had big feels, but it was because of Zach’s journey, not because of Zach and Eugenio together

Plot: Baseball players fall in love, but one refuses to come out and things fall apart. Until they get a second chance.

Overall: Y’all. I have just been on a whole emotional roller coaster.

Zach starts off a little sad. He’s the guy that you look at and think, “He’s doing great! Look at that successful MLB player living the dream!” And his stats are really good, so why is he so…miserably pathetic? He lacks the self-confidence that might convince you to buy into the idea that he’s really cool and chill. You know the type, yes? An average sort of person, I suppose, at the end of the day. Someone who you’d think has it all, but is really not happy. And the narration is 3rd person, but it’s Zach’s POV the whole time, so this feels like the story of a closeted gay Jewish baseball player who has a hearing impairment…not like a sweeping romance? Eugenio’s biggest problem, as far as I know, is Zach’s unwillingness to acknowledge to anyone anywhere that they have a relationship. 

Okay. So. The tone is set. As the story opens, Zach is excited that he finally gets to be in an All-Star game, but he can’t even get to the field because of construction (and what even are detours?!), and although he’s excited, his career is in such a totally blah place – to say nothing of his life after Eugenio left him – that even being in the All-Star game is a sad thing. Like, “Oh, ha, yeah, even my crummy team had to send someone – so here’s crummy me!” (FWIW between flashbacks and this OMG WOW thing that happens toward the end, it’s pretty clear that Zach is a really good player stuck in league politics and his own misery, so this perception is largely his own and isn’t necessarily based on an outward reality.) Bottom line, we are starting from an emotionally blurgh place, okay? And the book needs to carry us through to the happy ending from there.

Does it get there?

Y’all. I cried. There were some beautiful moments that I simply perfectly connected with because it is such a human thing to find oneself in an emotionally terrible situation created by oneself and to desperately need a good friend without (much) judgement when things fall apart. 

And then I finished the book and texted Holly and Ingrid to ask how I could be unsatisfied after such an emotional roller coaster. HOW?!

HFN is how, I guess. I had some unanswered questions (of the all caps variety), but I clearly am not entitled to answers, which, I mean, if you didn’t want my nosey nose all up in these characters’ business, then…? I really wanted that HEA after the pretty intense drama and breakup that was…the whole rest of the book. Perhaps this book made me realize that, for me, if we’re dealing with a really angsty breakup and a second chance romance, a contemporary romance-style HFN is not good enough. I want a little more security and finality in my ending.

Aaaanyway. Let me help you decide if this book is good for you. 

How I decided to pick it up: “Oh, a closeted gay Jewish baseball player has relationship problems with his teammate and they break up only to get a second chance years later?!”

I’ve been on a queer sportsball romance binge (mostly hockey…thank you, Heated Rivalry, I was going to read other books but now, no), and when I was feeling at loose ends, K.D. Casey and Carina Press came through for me. Plus Zach is Jewish and I have also been looking for more Jewish protagonists. 

Now that I’ve read it, here’s what else I can tell you:

  1. There’s that HFN I mentioned. You might very well end up in the same emotional boat as me. I don’t think the question here is: “is it a good book?” It is. I think the question here is: “is it a satisfying romance?” YMMV depending on how you like your bows tied.
  2. Also as mentioned, Eugenio is a mystery. If you want your protagonists to get through some troubles and come out on the other side stronger for having each other… I mean, I guess arguably that happens, but it’s because Zach does all the emotional work after being such an emotional wreck for the vast majority of the book. 
  3. It’s super duper in present tense. I thought that maybe the present chapters would be in present tense and the past chapters would be in past tense (it had that kind of lit fic-esque vibe, ifyouknowwhatImean), and that would have been exciting, but no. All present tense. I am typically an equal opportunity verb tense reader, but this was a combination of immediate and detached, as if someone was standing next to me, explaining what was happening around me, and it was EXTREMELY noticeable. 
  4. The narrative jumps back and forth between the present and the past, and it’s not even (which I appreciated because it transitioned when it needed to, not because there was a formula for its construction). This means we don’t hop to the past sometimes, we spend time there, so sometimes the development of the relationship in the past took precedence over the reconciliation in the present. I needed to be invested in their past in order for the present to have an emotional impact, but a large chunk of the emotional engagement and growth is pre-breakup. This, in combination with the conclusion, might have led to my dissatisfaction with the story’s close.

I was extremely invested in this book. I struggled to put it down. I appreciated the premise because you can still, in this year 2021, count on one hand the number of out major league baseball players and have fingers left over. And because sportsball is apparently my new favorite kind of romance I guess. Just…maybe be mindful that the conclusion is not sweeping and dramatic, but it is honest and happy and very optimistic.

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

Buy Now: Amazon

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