Title: The Lucky Charm (Portland Series #1)
Author: Beth Bolden
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Publication Date: April 30, 2014
Event Organized By: Literati Author Services, Inc.
IT ’S THE BOTTOM OF T HE NINTH . . .
Izzy Dalton’s about to strike out. Her new job as the sideline reporter for the Portland Pioneers major league baseball team is problematic on several levels:
AND A FULL COUNT. . .
Jack Bennett couldn’t be more uninterested in a little sideline action. He just wants to show up at the park and win baseball games. Izzy is the one woman he should steer clear of, but she’s also the key to his success–and his heart, too.
All Izzy has to do is convince her misogynistic boss she’s competent, learn what the heck an RBI is, and stay away from Jack Bennett. Izzy tells herself it’ll be a snap, but 162 games is longer than she ever imagined and Jack more irresistible than she counted on.
Inspiration Behind The Lucky Charm
I know that for so many authors, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where a story idea begins—and normally, that’s true for me as well. But in the case of The Lucky Charm, I actually know the exact moment I came up with the idea.
Three years ago, I was sitting in construction and reading articles aboutthe Boston Red Sox on my phone (bad, I know), and saw that HeidiWatney, NESN’s sideline reporter, was leaving the broadcast for a football assignment in California. Pretty standard course of events. Sideline reporters never stick around for long, mostly because the position isusually a stepping stone to bigger, better things. In this particular case, there’d been rumors swirling for about a year that Heidi, who’s a ridiculously attractive blonde, had been romantically involved with several Red Sox players—specifically Jason Varitek, who is maybe the one player so revered by the organization that she could maybe get away with dating him if they were discrete. I can’t tell you why my mind went “huh” at this connection, but then the article talked about Jenny Dell, her replacement,and I was instantly struck by how different she was than Heidi Watney.
Jenny’s definitely attractive, but she’s got a more serious, girl-next-door thing going on. She also happens to be brunette.
As we writers tend to do, my mind wandered as I drove and I kept coming back to the same thought: what if the circumstances Heidi left the job under were more dramatic than was probably the truth? And what if Jenny was coming into a more difficult situation than the job actually appeared?
Plots bloom when you ask yourself those kind of questions. I have to reiterate that I have literally no knowledge of why or how Heidi Watneyleft NESN, and I’m sure she did it with their blessing. And Jenny Dell ended up with a really plum position that she’d no doubt been working for since she graduated from college.
But the questions still lingered in my brain.
I worked with so many different reasons why Izzy Dalton, the “new” reporter ends up with the Portland Pioneers, but being a smaller market team, and one, in fact, that’s actually struggling, I knew it was legitimate that there’d be much less competition for Tabitha King’s old spot. Maybe some of that also had to do with the fact that Toby, the executive producer, turned out to be a real tool. But I knew Izzy had to be new, she had to be replacing Tabitha, and the circumstances Tabitha left under had to be somewhat mysterious and unpleasant.
I also decided fairly early on that baseball wouldn’t be a favorite of Izzy’s and that as a result, she wouldn’t know much about it. But to make that work, I had to devise a reason why she’d be sent to be a sideline reporter for a sport she was pretty clueless about. And that conundrum proved to be one of the hardest parts of writing The Lucky Charm.
At first, and for a good part of the first and second drafts, Izzy is actually sent to Portland as punishment of sorts. I went through a few different reasons for this, but the one that stuck the longest was that, in a bid for attention and a promotion, she was planning on outing a fairly famous NFL player for being gay.
I liked the part about homosexuality and sports because that’s such a hot topic right now, but the problem was it made Izzy look like a terrible person, plain and simple. And I didn’t have room in the first chapter to set up a desperation that would drive even a good person to do something like that.
For a long time, I struggled with how to revise the first chapter to make it better, and it wasn’t until last November that I realized—I had to just start over and come up with whole new stakes for the first chapter. So I took the entire situation out of Izzy’s hands and assigned the blame to someone else entirely, and suddenly she wasn’t so intensely unlikable. She was a real person, caught in a bad situation, trying to do the best she could. It’s amazing how even a small tweak can make an enormous difference.
On the other hand, Chapter Two—Jack’s introduction—is almost word for word the same from when I first wrote it three years ago. I’ve tweaked a bit of the language here and there, but he bloomed almost fully-realized in my head and hasn’t really shut up for the last three years.
Long after I’d finished writing what would really become the final draft, I read another article.
This time, the article was about Jenny Dell, and the Red Sox’ third baseman, Will Middlebrooks. Apparently they’d been dating secretly for months, but on New Years Eve had come out officially as a couple.
There was quite a bit of speculation in the article about how this would impact Jenny’s job. Even though I sincerely felt for Jenny (and I suspect I probably did more than a lot of people, because I had spent the last two years examining this exact same issue from every angle I could), I couldn’t help but do a fist pump of pure vindication. Because I had worried that the main conflict of The Lucky Charm, which is that Izzy and Jack can’t date because she’s a reporter and he’s a player, was nowhere near as serious as I was presenting it. And if your main conflict doesn’t carry any real life weight, let’s face it, you’re totally screwed.
But it did carry real life weight. Enough weight that for this baseballseason, Jenny was actually reassigned to “other projects” for NESN.
That kind of broke my heart. It’s a big deal to give up a major stepping stone of your career, even if it’s for someone you really care about. All I could think was that Jenny Dell deserved better from NESN and that Will Middlebrooks had better put a ring on it.
Character Inspiration for Izzy Dalton
While Jack appeared on the page almost intact, a living, breathing, joking, smiling pain in my ass, Izzy was a bit more difficult.
She came crawling and biting and kicking—fighting me every single step of the way. She wanted so many things, desperate forlove and success, that she made things harder on herself, and so much harder on me as a writer.
I saw an author say once, “the best conflict is one you can’t figure out how to solve.” Izzy’s fanatical dedication to her career and her love for Jack were two incompatible forces that as the writer, I had to figure out how to reconcile and as it turned out, that was the least of my worries.
From the earliest draft, Izzy was someone who craved success. In fact, as I originally wrote her, she goes in search of a story that she knows could potentially detonate in her face—all for a potential promotion. As it turned out, this made her even moreunlikeable and I had to change it, but the scenario stayed in the draft long enough to solidify how vital professional success wasto Izzy.
It was really important to me from the very beginning to make sure that Izzy didn’t just lose her work drive just because she meets Jack. I loathed books that compromised the heroine that way, and I had very firm ideals about how that part of her personality wouldn’t change necessarily, but evolve instead. It turns out this is easier said than done. My mother reads my first drafts, mostly because she is really good at catching all the stupid things I put in and the bad mistakes and the third arms and the totally improbable events. She’s also super tough, which I need. And she’s my mother, which means she’s honor-bound to love me even when I write a shitty book.
I’ll remember probably forever how she called me when I was driving home from work and she said, so bluntly, “I really hate Izzy.”
Now, I expected some resistance to Izzy’s personality. She’s not an easy person to like—she can be cold, unfriendly and annoyingly focused on work. Compare her to Jack, who’s got a great sense of humor, is gregarious and sweeter than a 5 poundbag of sugar, and I knew I’d have an uphill climb to make my readers appreciate her.
But I certainly didn’t expect that she would be hateful.
That was a wakeup call. I knew then that when Izzy told Jack, “we can’t date”—she had to really mean it. None of this waffling or weak moment crap. She was going to stick to her guns because she has a backbone of steel. And because Jack was who he was—honorable and respectful and so head over heels in love with Izzy that he’s willing to just be friends if that’s what it takes to be close to her—the book was going to become even tougher to write. She’s just not the kind of girl who toys with a man like Jack. She’s not the kind of girl who toys, period.
I also didn’t set out to give Izzy such a tragic backstory. At first, her dad was very much alive, but then I realized that somethinghad to give her that unbendable spine and those sky high emotional walls.
As it turned out, the fact that Izzy’s an orphan solidified who she was as a character and gave her a very real reason to act the way she does. She does it because she’s made a promise to herself and to her dead parents that she’s going to do something worthwhile with her life. And that promise is worth more than a few passing moments of pleasure, even if Jack is a very tempting distraction.
Character Inspiration for Jack Bennett
I’d really love to take full credit for Jack Bennett, the lead male protagonist of The Lucky Charm, because I’ve been told more than once that he’s a pretty awesome guy. Not only is he a baseball player, which let’s face it, is a pretty kick ass profession, but Jack plays second base. I have a serious thing for second basemen.
Okay, honesty time, I have a thing for one second baseman in particular, and he was my original inspiration for Jack Bennett.
Meet Dustin Pedroia. Or the Muddy Chicken, as he’s fondly called.
Yes, you read that right. I based my romantic male lead on a mannicknamed the Muddy Chicken. I might actually be crazy.
Here’s the thing about Dustin, or Pedey as he’s also known. He’s short. He’s not the most athletically gifted individual on the earth. But there’s one thing he does have and it’s determination and guts. Last year, he tore a ligament in his thumb in the first game of the year and helped the Boston Red Sox win the World Series by playing through the injury. He’s one of the guys you look at and just know, he’s the heart of the team.
But it wasn’t just Pedey’s undersized body and oversized ego that made me want to write a character inspired by him.
He’s also got the wickedest sense of humor and isn’t shy about displaying it. He’s always got a sly, funny response to every stupid press question.
Like when his teammate David Ortiz was having a rough time at the plate, and reporters kept asking Dustin what he thought. Finally he says, “It happens to everybody, man. He’s had 60 at-bats. A couple of years ago, I had 60 at-bats, and I was hitting .170, and everyone was ready to kill me, too. And what happened? Laser show. So, relax.”
This particular quote was the first time Dustin ever referenced himself as having “laser-like” line drives and home runs, and it’s become his catchphrase.
We hear a lot at the beginning of The Lucky Charm about how Jack likes playing his own games with the press, but when he meets Izzy, suddenly he wants to be interviewed.
Of course, we see the real evidence of Jack’s playful personality later in the book when Izzy interviews Corey Rood, who complains about a particularly annoying pastime of Jack’s. I won’t give spoilery details, but while I’d love to take credit for this particular plot point, I have to give major props to my husband, who actually suggested it.
And speaking of my husband, that’s really where the third part of Jack Bennett’s personality comes into play. I never set out intentionally to write characters that remind me of people in real life, especially people I know, but I ascribe to the belief that as an author, parts of your real life will seep into your books in unexpected and often surprising ways. I certainly didn’t set out to insert my husband into Jack, but it happened anyway. It wasn’t until I finished the first draft and was talking about it with some of my beta readers that I realized the streak in Jack that makes him so attractive to Izzy—that caring, sweet, loyal streak—that is pretty much exactly how my husband is.
So many books I’ve read over the last few years have substituted seduction and sexiness and flirtation for love. Don’t get me wrong; I totally love reading about seduction and sexiness and flirtation. I just don’t confuse those particular aspects of a connection with love. So when I set out to write Izzy and Jack’s love story in The Lucky Charm, I consciously thought about what means love to me and tried to write that.
That’s why Jack doesn’t push Izzy to have sex before she’s comfortable with the idea. He courts her, takes care of her when she needs it (even when she doesn’t want it), supports her when she’s down, and values the things about her that make her her—her intelligence and her gutsiness, along with her dark hair, gray eyes and great legs.
I really believe that these beliefs of Jack’s, along with his crazy strong sense of self, are what makes him so unique and why so many readers have fallen in love with him.
“Izzy Dalton reporting from Sarasota Florida, at the Portland Pioneers Spring Training facility. I’m here with Noah Fox, starting center fielder for the Pioneers, and Jack Bennett, starting second baseman. Thanks for joining me today.”
Jack had to give Izzy credit for how bravely she faced the camera, especially since he’d discovered she’d never done much on-camera work. The first hundred or so times that he’d come face-to-face with a camera, he’d froze, which pretty much explained all those inane interviews that he’d given. When you had no idea what to say, sometimes the worst possible bullshit came out of your mouth.
“Welcome to the Pioneers, Izzy.” Noah smiled, ladling the charm on thick, and Jack resisted the urge to elbow him hard in the ribs.
Her first few questions were all to Noah—about his College World Series title, how he felt about the upcoming season. Izzy was pretty stiff, but Foxy seemed to settle her down after a few minutes.
He’d expected her to take her time with Noah. After all, he was a great interview; he acted like he actually wanted to be here. It wasn’t any big surprise that Toby would pick Foxy for Izzy to break her teeth on. Instead, she switched her attention to him after only three questions, her focus narrowing in on him until he felt like the entire world was going to see him perspiring—every glorious bead of sweat in high definition.
“Jack,” she said coolly, though by this point he’d figured the wintry act was all a big lie. She wasn’t cold; inside, she was a volcano, and because he was inevitably masochistic, he wanted all that icy self possession to melt away. “What’s your goal for this team?”
“Hell, we’d love to have made the playoffs last year, me more than anyone,” headmitted, and for the first time, he could think about the collapse last year without his vision going all red and blurry with rage, “but good things are worth the wait. This year, we’re not only going to make the playoffs, we’re going to the World Series.” He paused, and was so strangely, innately comfortable, he couldn’t help poking a bit of fun at her. It wasn’t mean, he told himself, just…playful. Never mind that he wanted to play with her. The intelligence and spirit in her eyes challenged and intrigued him so much that he couldn’t seem to help himself. “You know,” he said conspiratorially, “that’s the Super Bowl of baseball.”
She froze in place, her expression nearly panicked, and then he watched as she forced herself to relax, molecule by molecule. He wanted to make her melt, and unearth the woman beneath the stiff facade until he discovered her real smile. “And how important is making your World Series debut with the Pioneers? Wouldn’t it be easier, don’t you think, to play for a team that’s been there before?”
“The Pioneers were my first-choice team and it was a great day when they picked me in the draft. Going with this team to the World Series is the only thing I think about,” he said, as if he could feel any differently. “A World Series is a World Series, but the Pioneers are near and dear to my heart.”
Her expression was a mask. “Have you heard the rumors about Ismael Butler moving the team to Las Vegas?”
Jack could feel everything inside of him still and then speed up rapidly, his heart beating so fast he was sure she could see it through his thin T-shirt. This was why he hated interviews; there was always a question that managed to work him up. This time she’d unearthed the one question that not only made him see red, but freaked him thefuck out.
“That’s crap,” he managed to croak out. “The team isn’t going anywhere.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” she said and he wanted to hate that she was the lightest, most relaxed at the moment she’d made him the most uncomfortable. “But Mr. Butlerwas in Vegas last week.”
But even though he’d just met her, hate wasn’t anywhere in the equation.
“Mr. Butler has a lot of business in Vegas,” Jack shot back.
“I’m sure that’s true,” Noah added with a hopeful voice and Jack wanted to smack him for not sounding more confident, but he supposed the damage was already done.
Deep down, Jack suspected that point of no return had already come and gone long ago, maybe even the moment he’d opened the door to the media trailer to find Toby, and had discovered Izzy instead.
“Izzy, this is going to be great for you. I know it seems scary…”
She and Charlie had returned to their regular floor and their regular lives—at least for now—and the first thing he’d done was drag her into his office. Unlike her rickety cubicle, it had a door and he closed it, shuffling over to his chair and plopping down into it.
“Scary?” Her voice was so high pitched she was surprised she didn’t hear any glass shattering. “Scary doesn’t even begin to cover it! I’m not a reporter! I don’t do the camera, Charlie. I’m horrible at the camera! And baseball? The Pioneers? In Portland?”
“I think you’ll be great,” he said quietly. But even through his support, she could hear the note of doubt in his voice, and that was even more horrifying. Charlie wasn’t even sure she could do this.
“I don’t know anything about baseball,” Izzy spat out. “Like, literally nothing.”
“You’ve worked here for six years, how could you not know anything about baseball?”
She could only shrug. “It’s so dull. Endlessly long, with a lot of stupid rules and complicated statistics.”
“You’ll be fine. It’s not that complicated, actually. You’ll catch on in no time.”
Crossing her arms over her chest, Izzy could only glare. “I love how everyone thinks I’m some kind of Wonder Freaking Woman. Just because I’m good at my job doesn’t mean I can do every other job in the entire world.”
Charlie leaned forward, the pressure of his elbows sending the desk into protesting creaks. “I meant it when I said this was going to be good for you. You need experience. You want to stay with this organization. This is your ticket to make yourgoals a reality.”
“I don’t understand.” On a normal day, she probably could have, but Mitch’s announcement had caused her brain to short circuit.
“You succeed in Portland, I bet you that you could have any job you wanted at the network. And Mitch will be the first one to hand it to you.”
“So, this is a test.”
Charlie shrugged. “It’s an opportunity.”
“But it’s baseball,” she whispered plaintively. “It’s worse than watching paint dry.”
“And if Mitch had asked you to paint the wall and watch it dry, you would do that, too. You have too bright of a future to waste it with all this nonsense,” Charlie said sternly. “You’re made of better stuff than that. Besides, it’s only for a season, then you’ll be back up here, and better for it.”
A shadow crossed Charlie’s face for a split second and then Izzy remembered what other bomb Mitch had dropped today. “I can’t promise, Iz, you know that. I don’t have the power anymore. But I’ll see what strings I can pull. I’m not out entirely. That helps.”
“I’m more concerned about you actually signing the contract and not throwing your career away.”
“I guess I don’t have much of a choice,” she said bitterly.
Charlie’s expression softened. “Don’t ever let yourself believe that,” he insisted. “You’re your own person, Izzy Dalton. You always have a choice. I want you to remember that.”
“Even when I’m suffering in Portland?”
“Even when you’re suffering in Portland.”
About the Author
Beth Bolden lives in Portland, Oregon with one cat and one fiance. She wholly believes in Keeping Portland Weird, but wishes she didn’t have to make the yearly pilgrimage up to Seattle to watch her Boston Red Sox play baseball. If only the Portland Pioneers weren’t only figments of her imagination.
After graduating from university with a degree in English, Beth unsurprisingly had no idea what to do with her life, and spent the next few years working for a medical equipment supplier, a technology company, and an accounting firm. Now Beth runs her own business as a Girl Friday for small business owners, assisting them with administration, bookkeeping and their general sanity.
Beth has been writing practically since she learned the alphabet. Unfortunately, her first foray into novel writing, titled Big Bear with Sparkly Earrings, wasn’t a bestseller, but hope springs eternal. Her first novel, The Lucky Charm, will be available in the beginning of 2014.
In her nonexistent spare time, she enjoys preparing overambitious recipes, baking yummy treats, cuddling with the aforementioned cat and fiance, and of course, writing. She’s currently at work on the The Lucky Charm‘s sequel, featuring Noah Fox. She hopes he’s a lot easier to wrangle than Jack Bennett was.
Top 10 Books That Inspired Me to Write The Lucky Charm
This is a really hard list to compile because I am a huge readerand have been for almost as long as I can remember. I’ve been reading romance since I was about 14 and found my mom’s few romance novels buried behind the Anne McCaffrey and Terry Brooks she normally favored. I can’t remember exactly but like so many others my age, Nora Roberts was probably one of the first romance authors I read, and one I still read today. I think she’s had the kind of career we all dream about when we fantasize about being a romance author—and I can’t deny the influence she’s had on me as an author. But she hasn’t been my sole influence. I read a lot and it was really tough to narrow this list down to only ten books.
This is one of my most beloved novels. I revisit it at least every year or so. It’s a testament to just how great this book is that while the other books in this trilogy are fantastic too, this is the one that really sticks with me. Nora writes such wonderful, human, real characters. They’ve got their own little idiosyncrasies that make them tick, that turn them into so much more than broad-stroked caricatures. But the thing that I love the most about Tears of the Moon is the fundamental respect and support Shawn and Brenna show each other. Sometimes they might not agree with what the other is doing, but they’re never not supportive. When I was writing Jack inThe Lucky Charm, I wanted him to never give Izzy a reason to doubt his love and his support. He knows what kind of difficult position she’s in with her job and even though it’s hard as hell on him to keep his hands off of her, he doessimply because she asks him to.
Susan Elizabeth Phillips is probably my soul-twin. Yeah, that’s not creepy at all. If she reads this by some miracle, Susan, I promise, I’m not as weird as that came out! But the first time I read her Chicago Stars series, and this was probably ten years ago at least, I knew I had to write a similarseries someday—but about baseball. So I’ve been thinking about the Portland Pioneers (or in whatever iteration they existed in before they even had a name) for a long time.
Nobody’s Baby but Mine is such a strong book, with so many great undercurrents running through it, but they don’t distract, they only emphasize the main plot and the main conflict. Plus, I love how Jane never lets Cal get away with anything and I confess to thinking about a few of their scenes together while I was writing and echoing some of that strong self-reliance in Izzy’s personality. Also the cereal killer part is literally one of the funniest scenes in a romance ever.
Loretta Chase writes such amazing heroes. Even when a book of hers isn’t on par with one of my very favorites of hers, it’s still pretty damn fabulous. A lot of her heroes tend to be more alpha, but she can write a great beta, like Rupert Carsington from Mr. Impossible. Rupert tries to pretend he’s just a big, dumb brute, and maybe in comparison to the brilliant Daphne, he is a little, but he’s really so much more. He brings quickness and humor and heart to the story. And that’s what I really wanted to bring to the page when I wrote Jack Bennett. Someone who infuriates with his sometimes kooky, sometimes slightly off-kilter sense of humor, but can’t help but make you smile.
Like I said earlier, Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Chicago Stars series gave me my first taste of how good a sports romance could be, but a lot of her later books didn’t have as much of a football flavor as I wanted—I’d later discover why she did this, because it’s freaking hard to write a romance that takes place during a sports season when one of the main characters plays the sport in question. A book that does this amazingly well, and does it for quite a bit of the continuing series isBody Check. Focusing on the fictional New York Blades NHL team, you can practically smell the sweat in the locker room. Plus major points for a totally authentic plot that brings the hero and the heroine together.
Julie James is a comic genius. Her books pretty much define romantic comedy in the modern age for me. She only writes one book a year, but they are always worth the wait and I am never, ever disappointed. Her workplace romances are also always amazing. Practice Makes Perfect is one of her earliest books and the story between two rival lawyers trying to make partner at a top firm is pure sugary froth with just enough of a solid base. But Something About You is a masterpiece of situational comedy, one hot FBI man and a smart ass districtattorney, and crazy chemistry they have together. So many people don’t realize just how difficult it is to write comedy, but man, it’s tough. Especially to make it feel so effortless, and that’s something Julie James does brilliantly. You never feel her behind the scenes, pulling on the characters, trying too hard to be amusing. Her books just are. I can’t tell you how many times pre-readers and betas told me, “this just isn’t funny. Isn’t it supposed to be funny?” Or people laughed at all the wrong places. I worked on the humor in The Lucky Charma lot, and was pretty satisfied when I ended up with “mildly amused” as the main reaction. But I guarantee you will literally laugh out loud when you read Julie James.
I don’t read a lot of NA or college-age romance. My sister is just graduating from college this year, and I spend a lot of time worrying about her. It’s not very reassuring to read about all the shenanigans she could get up to. Nevermind that I was far, far worse. I found Tammara Webber on Dear Author, and literally devoured her Hollywood trilogy in one or two days. But Good For You left such an undeniable impression on me, it’s hard to even express it in words. I remember so vividly curled up on my couch, reading the scene of Dori and Reid’s first kiss over and over and over, with tears literally rolling down my face. It’s not a sad scene, by any means, but the way Webber expresses Dori’s emotions in that particular moment struck such a chord in me that I still go back and revisit this book all the time.
Sometimes I think we read so much romance that we can forget how truly strong and transformative love can actually be, and it’s the very best writers that can remind us. I hoped to impart a little of that strength into The Lucky Charm.
Sherry Thomas is, hands down, my favorite author. The things she does with language do unspeakable things to my heart. And even more amazing, English isn’t even her first language. I remember the first time I read Private Arrangements, her first novel, and being absolutely blown away by the power in the story. When Cam and Gigi clash and love and suffer, it feels so much bigger than just their private lives. Their love affair is epic, but it’s the dialogue, especially the understated and unspoken thoughts we glean from her characters, that does all the heavy lifting.
It’s so difficult to figure out how much of a character’s inner thoughts we should share with the reader—you have to impartsomething, but if you overshare, the flow of the novel becomes heavy and droopy. Sherry Thomas has never been guilty of this in her entire life. I know I am, but then I’d be happy to write a novel even half as powerful as Private Arrangements.
The question is, could I have limited myself to only one Nora Roberts book on this list? It was kind of inevitable that I’d fail there. But Happy Ever After is very much a different book than Tears of the Moon. It’s got none of that dreamy, fantasy feel to it; it’s very much a “real-life” book and one I looked to for inspiration when I created a female character whose career ambitions were a very real and prominent part of her personality. Parker in Happy Ever After isn’t going to change in any real way; she’s always going to work like a demon, but with Malcom, she learns to find some balance. And that’s exactly what I strived for when I wrote Izzy. Work is always going to be a significant part of her. She’s not just going to give it up to be with Jack. That’s not who she is, and he probably wouldn’t love her as much as he does if she was that person. So when I wrote Izzy, balance inspired by Happy Ever After was really what I was going for, and I like to think that by the end of The Lucky Charm, Izzy’s begun to find that tricky balance.
Laura Florand’s books are a rather new discovery to me, but in a rather short amount of time, she’s become one of myfavorite authors. The Chocolate Thief, the first book in her Chocolate in Paris series is awesome and hilarious and a whole score of other fabulous things, but I think The Chocolate Touch is where Florand really shines. In fact, she takes a truly horrific incident in the past of the heroine and is able to both portray just how impacted her life is by it but not let it ever define her. Tragic backstories seem a dime a dozen now, but I loved how Jaime never lets her past control her present. She struggles against the fear and the restrictions it might place on her, and you can’t help but have massive respect for her. Izzy’s story is rather sad too, and while it does still have an impact on her present, she ends up in a place where she finally fights the restrictions she’s let it put on her ability to choose what she wants to do with her life.
Like so many other authors on this list with fabulous, extensive backlists, I struggled with which of Mayberry’s books to put on this list—there are just so many wonderful ones. But I finally settled on Hot Island Nights because it’s a great story and I thought it really illustrated the concept of setting so brilliantly. The book opens in a rather drab, staid area of London, but by the time Elizabeth leaves England and heads for sunny Australia, the mood of the book shifts. As the sunshine grows more intense, she seems to shed more and more of her own inhibitions. The Lucky Charm takes place over summer, as the baseball season does, and so much of the book takes place outside, mostly at ballparks but at a few other outdoor locations as well. And I wanted the sun overhead and the green grass below to be as much of a character as Jack and Izzy.
Three Favorite Quotes from The Lucky Charm
It was so hard to pick only three; it was also so hard to pick quotes that didn’t give away any huge spoilers. So here are three that give a taste of the book, but don’t give too much away.
Jack Bennett and Noah Fox, players for the Portland Pioneers major league baseball team, have just landed at the airport in Sarasota, Florida for Spring Training.
“Hey. Check out that girl with Palmer. You think that’s the new reporter?”
Jack glanced over at Noah’s lazy gesture. He spotted Toby’s graying head right away, and the lanky brunette next to him.
“She’s definitely nothing like Tabitha,” Noah observed with a trace of disappointment. Jack, on the other hand, was immensely grateful that from a distance she wasn’t blonde or overly tanned. Both positive steps in the direction of her being nothing like Tabitha King. He was pretty damn sure that the team couldn’t survive another Hurricane Tabby.
“She’s pretty, though,” Jack admitted. And she was. Her skin was extraordinarily fair, even from this distance, and Jack was sure he could see a smattering of freckles on her nose. She brushed the mass of dark, straight hair over her shoulder impatiently, as if she just couldn’t be bothered.
Fox did a double take. “Seriously?”
“Well, yeah. I guess she is,” he said defensively. “She’s supposed to be, isn’t she?”
“I guess. I just can’t believe that you wouldn’t admit that the flight attendant was cute, and yet here you are, salivating over Toby’s new reporter.”
“I’m not salivating.” Jack tried for bored, and settled somewhere north of annoyed.
There’s so many reasons I love this exchange, but there’s one that trumps all the others: Jack is pretty much putty the moment he sees Izzy. He’s just gotten through worrying about another female reporter and the havoc she could wreak on the team, and yet he still can’t take his eyes from Izzy. And I like how he figures out how no-nonsense she is right away, but he likes her anyway.
Izzy and Jack have just tried having a friendly dinner in a strange city, but he gets recognized and she freaks out, worrying she’ll be outed in the press for dating a player.
“Listen, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to trivialize your feelings,” Jack said, turning toward her, a trite expression on his face. “I just like hanging out with you and I don’t want to lose that. Even if that means we eat in a tiny box of a hotel room and I have to eat what room service calls a steak.”
His blue eyes shone with sincerity and that alone should have sent her running away, but even Toby witnessing this entire forbidden conversation couldn’t have moved her an inch.
“You really mean that,” she said softly, gazing up at him. He wasn’t the tallest guy in the universe, but she wasn’t tall either, and if she tilted her head up just right, she could almost imagine how well they’d fit together. Only a few steps closer, and she’d be able to find out.
“I told you. You’ll get nothing but the truth from me,” he said in a low voice. She thought he might have taken a step closer, too, because suddenly he was practically on top of her and it was both the best thing in the world and the worst.
One of my early reviewers called Jack a “prince of a hero” and this early exchange between him and Izzy I feel perfectly illustrates all his “princely” qualities. He’s not a smooth charmer, but he’s always going to be honest with her and never give her a single reason to doubt his intentions or his feelings. And to me, that is the most attractive quality a man can have—true transparency.
Jack loved the way the world slowed when he entered the batter’s box.
He loved the dust settling on his tongue, the way his hitting gloves bit into his wrists, the weight of the wooden bat in his hands.
A lot of players let the pitcher set the tone of an at-bat, but Jack was somewhat fanatical about making sure that he and nobody else, was in charge when he stepped up to the plate. Sometimes that meant walking to the plate a fraction slower than good manners demanded. Sometimes that meant taking an extra moment to go through his mental and physical routine between swings. Sometimes that meant giving the pitcher one of his patented fuck-off glares.
Baseball is such an integral part of The Lucky Charm that it didn’t feel right to not include a quote from Jack’s head as he’s at the plate in a game. Before he meets Izzy, baseball is pretty much the sun, the stars and the moon for Jack. There’s a part of him that will always live and breathe the sport, even after he’s forced to retire. And I hoped to communicate some of that love through his thoughts.
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