Facebook informed me that today is my “Friendversary” with Rachel Spangler. We have been connected on Facebook for 10 years. Since I’ve been on Facebook for 10 years and a few weeks, this makes Rachel one of my first contacts on the social media platform. I’m not sure what made us connect. I can’t remember who initiated the friend request. I hadn’t yet attended a GCLS conference. We hadn’t met in person. I’d yet to read her debut novel. But something caused us to become Facebook friends. The following Spring, that connection helped schedule a reading in Chicago – I whined that things didn’t happen here, Rachel said, “I can make it happen.” The following summer, at my first GCLS conference, I got to sit in the audience while Rachel won a Goldie Award for Debut Author. Being able to say, “Hey! I’ve met her!” was a cool thing.
Spangler’s 13th novel, Love All, was published by Bywater Books. It’s a sports novel, as is obvious when looking at the book’s cover. It’s a romance. It’s a damned good book.
I think Spangler may have found her niche – she’s really quite good at writing romances set in the sporting world. Edge of Glory, set in the world of Winter Olympic sports, is one of my favorite Spangler novels. I think Love All has joined Edge on the podium.
Now, I’m not really a sports-minded person. I don’t dislike sports. In fact, I played them when I was younger, from the time I was 10-years-old until I graduated from college. As a kid, it was softball and tennis. I even took tennis lessons one summer. I wasn’t that good, but I had fun. While in college, I attended every home basketball (men and women) and football game, and I spent all 4 years participating in intramural sports – as a player, as a referee/official, and as a tournament scheduler. But, as I got older, sports just fell off my radar. It happens.
What I truly appreciate about Spangler’s sports novels is that she does her due diligence with the research. I learned a lot about downhill skiing and snowboarding in Edge, and I learned a lot about tennis in Love All. The really fantastic part about that? Her novels don’t read like handbooks or rule books for the sport. That would be so easy to do, you know? But Spangler takes the time to integrate her research into the action and her characters. That’s takes some skill. She shows us the sport rather than telling us about the sport. 15-Love.
Once again, we’re treated to some really fascinating characters. While Spangler focuses on Jay and Sadie as the two romantic interests, and the third-person narration gives us their perspectives, Spangler sweetens the pot by adding Destiny – Sadie’s daughter and Jay’s doubles partner – as a third main character. At least, I consider Des a main character. Without her, there really isn’t much of a story. She is the source of the conflict, right from the get-go. (I won’t tell you how or why she’s the source of the conflict. You need to read the book to find out.) And what’s really fascinating is that her role in the conflict is ever changing. Like the athletes in the novel, the reader is running the baseline and charging the net, trying to keep up with the lobs that Destiny tosses into the story. 30-Love.
The character growth in Love All, is so well done. What’s lovely is that there are no sudden “Ah-ha!” moments for the characters, which we see so often in novels. The growth and change is subtle and organic. It happens over time. Jay eventually learns to let herself open up to trust others again. Sadie gradually realizes that she wants more for her life than being a tennis mom. Destiny goes from being a petulant teenager to a young adult willing to accept the responsibility for her actions – and the subsequent consequences. We even see growth from Hank and Peggy, two secondary characters, as they stand by Jay through her current turmoil – making up for when they didn’t stand by Jay through her past turmoil. 40-Love.
Overall, this is just a nice roller coaster of a romance. The meet-cute is fun. The building attraction is natural and well played. The conflict and obstacles are believable and laid out well. The inner turmoil of the characters is apt and not over-the-top. The resolution and epilogue are satisfying. Spangler’s writing just keeps getting better and better with each book. The language is tight and engaging. She keeps the reader right on track with where – geographically – the action is taking place at any given moment. Truly, I am giving this novel a pretty strong recommendation.
Game, set, match. Ms. Spangler wins with Love All.