Dueling Review, March Smashness

March Smashness: Football Week

Scoring off the Field by Naima Simone (2018)

Heat Factor: Sex. But we have feelings about it.

Character Chemistry: Is it love or is it codependence?

Plot: Angst, horniness, confrontation, angst

Overall: Readers of this need to love a mess as much as Marie Kondo.


On the Line by Liz Lincoln (2018)

Heat Factor: These kids are very horny.

Character Chemistry: Organic (good thing she’s a science teacher!)

Plot: Carrie is Seth’s nanny so they absolutely can’t act on their attraction. (Again.) (Oops, but okay for real this time.)

Overall: Cute and engaging but you have to like nanny books.

What do we know about football?

Holly:  I know about football everything you learn when you binge watch Friday Night Lights as a graduate student who is tired of writing her dissertation.

Erin: I honestly feel like I know nothing about football, and I should, because I spent every weekend in the stands as a marching band member? And also, going to Super Bowl parties is an American pastime. But, like, I don’t really know what a down is?

H: I’ve been to one Super Bowl party as an adult, but I know what a down is.

Ingrid: I personally can’t go to Super Bowl parties because the sound of the game is the equivalent of the noise of an airplane engine and I can’t stay awake. And I know what a down is.

E: You guys are very judgy.

I: I learned about football when I was bartending. If you work in restaurants where you’re watching the game, you learn.

What do you think is the most salient information a reader should know before getting Scoring off the Field?

I: Readers should know that this is a very formulaic book. You’ll also probably walk away positive that these characters need to be in therapy.

E: Simone is on pointe with her similes. Those similes were killer. Also though, I felt like the narrative was like…a flat line for most of the story and then a giant peak and plunge.

H: It would have been the exact same book if Dom were a rockstar instead of the quarterback for a football team.

What do you think is the most salient information a reader should know before getting On the Line?

H: This is probably the nerdiest sports romance I’ve ever read.

E: I mean. That doesn’t say much because you haven’t read that many?

I: I thought this book had fairly spicy heat, but that the characters were actually pretty well-developed. And I thought that the storyline was relatively believable. So I totally bought into it. 

E: This is very much a single-parent / nanny book with relevant angst that entails. So if it’s a deal breaker for you as a reader, it probably won’t work for you.

What is it with the Jason Momoa references?

H: So I didn’t pick up on this in the books, but your question made me think of this:

I:  Obviously it’s because both of these guys have long hair. IDK how we’re pairing this so well, but an early amount of the heat comes from them both having long hair. 

H: AND they’re both exactly 6’5”, is Jason Momoa 6’5”? (Google tells me he’s 6’4”, boo.)

I: Aren’t they both blond? 

E: Also they both have a zillion pack abs. My takeaway about these characters is that they have long flowing locks and are totally ripped.

These books seem to rely on men athletes being incredibly cut with a-zillion-pack abs. Is the athlete archetype just an excuse to glorify a certain type of body?

H: Um, probably?

E: Although have you seen a football player’s body? They have a tight ab. As in not necessarily plural.

H: And Seth is a linebacker? His whole job is sacking the quarterback. Isn’t he supposed to be huge?

I: I think that while the athlete archetype does glorify a certain type of body, there’s also a kind of personality trait that goes with the archetype. Like CEOs and Billionaires have that ruthless cold calculating persona. These athletes have single-mindedness, the team above all else, sacrifice, and work ethic. Their bodies are their livelihoods so it’s like a temple. So the type of body is almost more like part of something that’s part of a larger image. 

E: It just really struck me cause I’m all in on the sports romance this month. They all have at least a six-pack and a v-cut, but they’re all like 200-300 pounds. Looking at actual photos of these athletes, especially the football players, it’s about having mass and being fast—this is about thick thighs. Not v-cuts.

I: Like big, aggressive meatballs.

E: So it was really striking to me that they all have six-packs and v-cuts when it didn’t match their sport. Of course a quarterback is probably going to have amazing arms and chest, but he doesn’t need an eight-pack.

I: If I’m honest with you, I’d love a romance with an aggressive meatball.

H: But also, all romances have six-packs and v-cuts? Like regency dukes have six-packs and v-cuts, and we KNOW no real lords in that time had those. They were too busy having gout to have a six-pack.

E: Valid.

H: But I think that points to a larger thing that there’s only one type of beauty for men that we want to see in romance. I think football romance would be a great opportunity to have highlander tree trunk thigh guys. Why aren’t we talking about Seth’s sexy tree trunk thighs?

How much did the hero being a professional athlete shape the narrative? What does the “work” of sports look like in each of these books?

H: I thought it was really striking because in SotF, him being a quarterback is basically him having little hissy fits when the team loses; him being paranoid that they’re going to replace him with a hotter, younger quarterback; and his bajillion endorsement deals. There was one scene when he was punching a bag, but not a ton of working out. 

But then in contrast, in OtL there’s a lot of talk about him studying the plays. Not just working out but he’s watching tape and doing the mental work. And there’s a lot of emphasis on how many calories he has to eat every day. 

E: The other thing that I would add about OtL in particular is that, while it’s not necessarily a different story than a military or other family that has to move a lot for a career, Seth’s need to worry about where his contract might take him, the constant travel to away games—including being unable to spend Thanksgiving with his daughter—impacts his relationship with his kid. The fact that Seth’s job is “professional athlete” directly impacts all his most important relationships in ways that few other job-related archetypes do.

When you said that SotF could have been a rockstar romance, at first I wanted to disagree, but it’s true. Especially when we consider Dom’s love ‘em and leave ‘em behavior. And the only things that really made it stand out as a sports romance were the injury and the contact negotiation. 

H: Although, I’m thinking about what Ingrid said about the athlete archetype—the single-mindedness and so on. In that sense SotF is more of a sports romance. A rockstar romance wouldn’t have so much of that “need to sacrifice for your team” or “be replaced by another player worry.” 

I: I was really interested in all the football in OtL. The football part is frequently just background noise, but Seth had so much going on beyond the romance. EVERYTHING was On the Line, not just the romance or his career. It wasn’t overt, it was a nice delicious ball of everything. 

In SotF, I was told Dom’s motivations, but it felt very flat to me. It wasn’t something that I could uncover—it didn’t feel like a developing “anything” to me. I think part of it really did come back to that Dom’s character was a lot flatter than Seth’s (and than Tenny’s) and if there was more of his life as a football player there may have been more there.

Sports injuries and contract negotiations as a plot device?

I: Because both of them are present in both books!

E: I was like, “OH! are they gonna get hurt!?”

I: I don’t think you can 100% compare Dom and Seth because Seth’s so different maturity-wise, which was odd to me because I thought the quarterback should be more mature.

E: They’re the same age! But yes, Dom seemed way less mature.

I: But when you look at how they handle the injuries and how they handle the contract negotiations.

Dom is at practice and is spiraling inside and ends up with a concussion and twists his ankle. Seth injures his hip tackling a quarterback during a game.

In both cases, you can see the injury coming (and so do the characters). Seth has this old injury and knows that one day it’s going to catch up to him. Dom knows his head’s not in the game. One is very hot-headed and one is very rational about it.

E: It’s almost like you could forget that Seth even had an injury, he was so calm about it. Even though in both cases it spurred an emotional moment for the heroine and made her acknowledge her feelings, Seth was so calm about it that I remembered Dom’s injury more.

H: I think the emotional meltdown piece is really interesting because Tenny has this big moment because she goes to see Dom at the hospital (her mom had Munchhausen by proxy, so she is terrified of hospitals, for good reason). So it’s not that she finds that she’s in love with Dom, because she knows that. It’s that going to the hospital reveals to Dom how she feels about him. When Carrie experiences Seth’s injury, what happens is her internal realization that she’s been fooling herself that she can keep it casual. 

The injuries do different things for the plot. 

I: I liked it in OtL when she was in the bathroom and heard the other women talking about how hot Seth was and got all jealous but was mature enough not to react. It was different from other books, where she would have said something because she was so jealous. 

E: I think that’s a big divergence. OtL relies more heavily on mature behaviors of the characters, whereas SotF relies on old-school beats—angst, failure to communicate, grand gestures, displays of possessiveness—that we (in our reading and in the sections of romancelandia we inhabit online) find less and less appealing.

H: That’s not surprising to me because Naima Simone also writes for Harlequin, and this was Liz Lincoln’s debut in 2018. So they’re coming at the genre from different perspectives.

I: Well and that’s what I’m referring to with the formulaic comment. If you enjoy that Harlequin style, it was a reliable, solid plot. 

Okay, let’s talk contract negotiations.

I: That really is what did it for me with not necessarily liking SotF so much, because I understood the logic of Tenny being done sacrificing herself and then Dom making a sacrifice to put his contract on the line. But they should be working together–their reunion did not feel like the resolution to this struggle they were going through that would result in their HEA.


I: Seth processes all options in play, assesses his budding relationship, takes everything into consideration… the maturity levels—completely different.

E: Yeah. I thought it was interesting that in the one case Seth has a very supportive agent, while Dom does not; his agent is a plot device, which is not an uncommon thing in sports romance. If the agent gets mentioned at all, it’s not unusual that they’re a plot device (whether for good or bad). I think that expresses one component of the difference in tone between these books. Both Seth and Dom are looking at the end of contract. Seth is having a great season, but he’s an older player with an injury. Dom at least believes he is having a so-so season. They have different mental states going into their contract negotiations, but they both theoretically have the same amount on the line: in order to keep their jobs, they have to perform. Even though it’s treated differently in both books, it’s still used as a plot device in both books.

H: It’s an interesting and effective plot device because this is basically a forced life change, where they might have to move, they might have to switch careers entirely (which might necessitate a change in their standard of living). Basically I’m saying it makes complete sense to use contract negotiations as a plot device to up the stakes.

E: It’s largely unique to sports romance, right? It’s part of their job. Like Ingrid said, I was just so upset with the way that Tenny and Dom just didn’t communicate with each other at all. And he’s been effectively taking care of both of them? He’s financially responsible for both of them? For their entire adult lives? And he’s jeopardizing that job security?

From OtL: Did Carrie’s conflation of comic books and graphic novels detract from her geek cred?

E: The answer is yes. They are not the same. 

H: Can I just say, sorry, but that’s not how academia works. You don’t just get to be like, “Hey can I teach a cool course about comic books?” six weeks before the semester starts. And if you’re a nobody adjunct, you’re going to be teaching Intro to Science or How to Write Good. Also they’re going to pay $4000 for a 3-credit class, and I don’t think she’s going to move off her brother’s couch for $8000 for three months of work. 

I: I think based on what we know about football and our answers to this question, everyone’s going to know the makeup of our little team. I felt a little bad for Carrie because how many jobs did she apply to and didn’t get hired? How bad of a teacher were you?

E: She gets laid off. And she’s a science teacher? 

I: It’s not like the author gave her a good reason. I’m just going to flat-out suggest that she was portrayed as a bad teacher.

H: And then she’s like, “I didn’t like the politics of teaching.” And I’m like, “YOU are going to have a lot of fun teaching at a small liberal arts college.”

E: Your academia is showing, Holly.

Lack of boundaries / assertion of boundaries.

E: Let’s talk about boundaries. I want to know what Holly thinks about boundaries. I want to know what Ingrid thinks about boundaries. Let’s talk about them.

H: None of these characters had any healthy boundaries. Like zero. Zero. Considering how much we’ve been talking about Seth and Carrie, and how they’re more mature, I want to see her nanny contract. Because she’s doing a lot of things that seem like they should not be in her job description. Like staying up late and making sure that Seth has a meal when he got home. And she never had a day off. And I get that this is an “I’m in love with the single dad I nanny for” book…but the way she was like, “Oh, this is just what it’s like to be a homemaker” was deeply uncomfortable for me.

E: I thought she had Friday nights off? Which, I agree, is not enough time off. 

H: I guess she spends all her time watching daytime TV, so I guess she gets 9–3 off every day.

I: Having actually been a professional nanny with contracts, let me weigh in here. The schedule was odd, when she gets time off depends on when he’s traveling, but given his career I’ll buy it. I thought that her having the daytime hours off made sense—in one job I had, I was on first thing in the morning, off the entire school day, and then would stay until bedtime. It isn’t an unheard of schedule. But what I thought was weird, was doing an adult’s laundry. That had never been part of any of the agreements. If she’s also the housekeeper, that’s a very different position and should get paid more. She clearly wasn’t making enough money if she ended up going back to sleeping on her brother’s couch. 

E: And if he’s a millionaire, how does he not have a cleaning service?

I: I did the kids’ laundry, but I never touched a pair of adult unmentionables. She’s ruminating on what it would be to be his significant other. It was forced intimacy—a playing house book.

E: With me, for Carrie and Seth, sure it’s a job, but we’re suspending disbelief because it’s a romance novel. They continuously say “We’re not doing this,” but they keep engaging in this naughty / flirtatious behavior that they both agreed not to do.

I: She saw that coming, and was like “He can’t come to C3PCon, because if he sees me in this outfit we’re going to have a problem.” I had a moment of “Hey now!” when he got mad at Carrie when his daughter freaked out. He pursued her the whole time and then he kicked her out. That was pretty callous. 

E: I had a lot of feelings about that moment. It was honestly everything I don’t like about single parent books. *sigh* I guess he got there in the end.

I: His daughter—she was dead on as a depiction of a 12-year-old girl. The moodiness, the eyerolling, the “I hate her”/“I never said that.” Verbatim. Realistic.

H: So then in the other book they were extremely codependent. Dom pays for Tenny to move to Seattle with him when he gets drafted, pays for her apartment and school, hires her, crashes her dates, and gets really upset when she wants to leave his employ. (I described the situation to my husband and he was like, “Nope, that’s not codependence, that’s the hero being manipulative.”) They just have no boundaries. 

At the end, Tenny has one speech where she finally stands up for herself and I found myself pumping my fist, but in the end they didn’t actually resolve any of the boundary issues. 

E: This is one of those books where I’m not sure I wanted them to end up together. There are so many problems…there’s a point where she says “You don’t respect me.” She’s so angry with him, she doesn’t even really like him at that point. And we’re supposed to go from there to happily-ever-after? They don’t talk it through, neither one of them—she doesn’t talk about stuff, and he refuses to admit he hurts her. And then BAM, we’re at the grand gesture. I was not convinced I wanted them to be together.

I: And I will say that I felt like it was almost worse that she was like “I want to go to therapy for this hospital stuff and I want you to make sure you help me follow through on that.” WHAT ABOUT EVERYTHING ELSE. He names her by name in his grand gesture on national television, outing her to the media. Is she going to be able to work for Child Services after that? No. It does not feel like substantive change. When they went back to Seattle and one of his terms was that she move into his place…If I were her friend, I would have been like, “Is that a good idea?”

E: Especially because her argument for the whole story is, “I want to be independent.”

I: There’s no evidence that that’s going to happen or that’s happening. There are ways the author could have indicated that, but the point is that didn’t happen. He has the power in their relationship, and she does not, and it’s a very unhealthy power dynamic. There are some readers who would really like that dynamic, but for me it didn’t hit the mark. In a romance, for me, it needs to be that she’s willingly choosing to give him the power, and in this book that’s not clear. It’s like in BDSM where the sub’s the real one in charge.

E: So, I agree with all of this, but I also mentioned that in the grand gesture, the way he’s putting her first is by essentially sacrificing everything that he has valued in his life up to this point. And I think the power dynamics of their relationship are super yikes but also I didn’t like that at the end of the day there was this ultimatum factor in their relationship. Because that’s not healthy either.

H: Follow up question: I think we’re all agreed that they have an unhealthy relationship. But what’s the pleasure in reading about a relationship like this?

I: I think readers legitimately enjoy reading about people who are so destined to be together that they will do crazy things that you’d never do in real life but you love seeing it on paper. That’s why people like grand gestures–because it’s not real life, but they can’t help themselves. I think in this book there’s a lot of the cant-help-themselves manic pull. And there’s a lot of descriptive, super-charged sex. They can’t quit each other. I completely get why a lot of people would love it.

About the sex…

E: The time they had sex in the closet… She goads him into having sex with her by telling him she hates his guts. And the sex scene where he was talking about how beautiful she is. Oof.

I: Can we end the “she’s so innocent and untouched and doesn’t know she’s beautiful until I, the swashbuckling man whose penis has touched a thousand vaginas, tell her so” scenes?

Final Thoughts

H: I find myself surprised that in both this week and last week, I found the book with WAY more sports detail than I ever thought I wanted to know to be the more interesting and richer read.

E: I think for me these two hung on the other tropes—I was more into the single-parent/nanny dynamic. I also had bigger feelings about the single-parent/nanny dynamic. I was also having feelings about the extremely complicated and messy relationship dynamic of Dom and Tenny. So these almost didn’t factor in specifically as sports romances because I was more invested in their other plot lines.

I: I was a little bit underwhelmed by this week, but I did enjoy OtL. I agree with Holly that it was in large part due to the richness of the plot and details. So I’ll be curious about next week, see if we can find some trends.

Next week’s sport was invented by a Canadian, but you know we all had to learn it in gym class: Basketball. 

Buy Now: Scoring Off the Field | On the Line

3 thoughts on “March Smashness: Football Week”

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