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Published by William Morrow on March 15th 2016
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The New York Times bestselling author of Big Girl Panties and The Sweet Spot is back with a funny, sweet, and sizzling novel about the game of love, in which a hot quarterback must figure out how to score big with a beautiful and talented media analyst after a heartbreaking fumble.
Star quarterback, first-round draft-pick, and heartthrob Tyson Palmer has made a name for himself with his spectacular moves. When the head coach of the Austin Mavericks refuses to let him waste his million-dollar arm, Tyson makes a Hail Mary pass at redemption and succeeds with everyone . . . except Dani, whose negative comments about his performance draw high ratings and spectacular notices of her own.
Dani can’t forgive Tyson’s transgressions or forget the sizzling history the two of them shared in college, a passionate love Tyson casually threw away. And even more infuriating, he doesn’t realize that the bombshell with huge ratings is the cute girl whose heart he once broke.
But can a woman trying to claw her way to the top and a quarterback who knows all about rock bottom make it to the Super Bowl without destroying each other? And what will happen when Tyson—riding high now that he’s revived his career—realizes he needs to make an even more important comeback with Dani? Can he make some spectacular moves to get past her defenses—or will she sideline him for good?
True confession: I picked up The Total Package because I enjoyed both Big Girl Panties and The Sweet Spot – sometimes in spite of, but mostly because of, issues I had with both stories. So I didn’t look at the blurb before grabbing this one. And I ended up liking The Total Package in spite of the fact that “secret baby” is possibly the trope I hate most.
Then again, the fact that the main character has said secret baby doesn’t have nearly as much impact on this story as secret babies normally do. Dani Carr is incredibly lucky – not only do her parents fully support her (emotionally not financially) in her single motherhood, but they are also more than happy to take over all childcare responsibilities for her secret baby while Dani is off to Austin pursuing her career.
While trying to convince herself that she isn’t really pursuing the baby’s father.
This is not a comment about Dani’s mothering or motherhood or anything else of that nature. Her situation works for her and her family, and the baby is well taken care of and that’s all fine. I am commenting that Dani’s family’s support makes it possible for this to be a secret baby story where caring for the secret baby has little impact on the story, which is unusual and made the story work better for me, but might strike other readers as unrealistic. Your mileage may vary.
The baby doesn’t feel important until the very end, when the secret is revealed in all its (actually his, it’s a boy!) toddling glory.
Because this is a secret baby story, we do get the scene where the secret baby is created, and it is not a love scene of which romantic dreams are made. Nor should it be. When our story begins, Dani Carr is going by her slightly realer name of Ella Carrino, and the baby’s father is Tyson Palmer, a former star quarterback skidding toward the end of his career in a haze of booze and prescription painkillers.
They knew each other in college, when he was the golden boy, and she was hired to tutor him in English, so he could keep up his grades and his eligibility. They flirted, because Tyson flirted with everything that moved. But Ella turned him down, and he respected and liked her all the more for it.
But of course she fell for him anyway. So when he comes back to town to wallow in Homecoming, she carts him off for a one-night stand. She doesn’t intend it to be one night – she has very fuzzy romantic dreams of giving him her virginity and being the one true friend who can help him out of the terrible mess he’s gotten himself into.
Instead he runs away, more or less straight into the arms of an NFL team owner who is willing to spend a lot of money on Tyson’s recovery and rehabilitation if Tyson will give him three years of great playing and hopefully a Super Bowl ring.
The story flashes forward to five years later, when Tyson is signed for his fourth year. While he hasn’t gotten the Austin Mavericks that Super Bowl ring, he has brought them up from the cellar of the league to the playoffs.
The Mavericks sign one new player, a phenom wide receiver who has been Palmer’s nightmare as an opposing player, but will be a dream to throw to when they are on the same side. But Marcus comes with two big strings attached. He’ll only sign if Tyson agrees to another year, and he’ll only sign if he gets to have his own press rep. And that’s where Dani Carr comes in. Marcus is only willing to talk with the up and coming sportscaster, and Dani is pretty much informed that it is an offer she can’t refuse. Either she becomes Marcus’ press rep, or she can kiss her sportscasting career goodbye.
But working with Marcus throws Dani back into Tyson’s orbit, and that’s where the real story is. At first Tyson doesn’t remember Dani, and Dani still has enough unresolved feelings about Tyson to translate to on-air animosity and on-the-field avoidance.
It takes an entire season for the Dani and Marcus to find out where they really stand with each other. Then Dani finally tells Tyson that he’s a father, and it all goes to hell in a handbasket. Unless their “guardian angel” can figure out a last minute “hail Mary pass” to save their relationship.
Escape Rating B: The overall theme of all three of Stephanie Evanovich’s books seems to be about being true to oneself, and not letting that self be seduced by whatever the dark side of the force might be in one’s profession, even if that profession is very high-profile and comes with many, many too many seducers to that dark side. In all three of her books so far, the hero at least, and often the heroine as well, have fallen into one self-inflicted trap or another, often for the most understandable of reasons, and need help getting themselves out, along with a whole lot of intestinal fortitude.
At the beginning of The Total Package, Tyson’s rescuer sends him to rehab for six weeks, and then delivers him to the less-than-tender mercies of Logan Montgomery, the high-profile “trainer to the stars” that we met in Big Girl Panties. It’s great to see that Logan and Holly are still happily ever after, and that Logan’s original hard-ass nature has retained the humanity that Holly brought out in him.
But the story at this point is Tyson’s. He quite literally “gets with the program” and works his way out of his addictions and his depression. The man who comes out of his ordeal is better, stronger and much more grounded. The fame no longer goes to his head because he’s already been where that leads and is certain that he doesn’t want to go there again. We don’t see Tyson struggle much to overcome his demons once the story moves forward. He seems to lead a charmed life – fictional portrayals of high-profile addicts usually have one or more episodes of backsliding, (I’m thinking of both House and Sherlock Holmes in Elementary), but Tyson never wavers.
That the story fast-forwards from Tyson’s re-emergence into the spotlight to the end of that third seasons seems like a good storytelling choice. Not a lot happens in those intervening years. Tyson gets better at living his life, but the years of being knocked around on the field are taking their toll. It is time for him to retire, and he’s ready to go before his body is broken irreparably.
And this is where the story really begins. We don’t ever get to know a whole lot about Marcus, but he clearly acts as Tyson and Dani’s guardian angel. Either Marcus is a little bit psychic, or he has developed his skills at reading people to a fine art. How he managed to always know where Tyson was going to throw the ball was amazing. That he figures out instantly that Dani and Tyson have unfinished business, and even the exact nature of that unfinished business, was awesome but just a bit “out there”, at least for this reader.
The tension between Dani and Tyson fuels the story. I’ll admit that as soon as their original sex scene finished, I knew she was going to be pregnant. Virgin having unprotected sex almost always leads that way in fiction, whatever the odds in real life.
Dani’s parents were amazingly understanding – not just about the pregnancy, but also Dani’s uncharacteristic unwillingness to admit that she knew perfectly well who the father was. Admittedly, when she found out she was pregnant Tyson was incommunicado in rehab. She didn’t know where he was or even if he was still alive. By the time he emerges from his seclusion, she still isn’t sure he should be told, and her reasoning isn’t unreasonable – she’s worried that his reform is either all an act, or that it won’t take.
But by the time they both end up part of the Mavericks’ organization, it’s been five years. While he could still backslide, Tyson has done all he can to prove that he’s responsible and staying on the straight and narrow. His inability to take any painkiller stronger than aspirin or ibuprofen with lots of ice is a big part of why he wants to retire. He is in pain, and continuing to play is just creating more pains that he can’t medicate away. It’s a tough road he’s on.
So we know how Dani got to where she is, what we watch is how she deals with it. And she still can’t resist Tyson, and we understand why. The man he is today is much more irresistible, and a much better human being, than the one she seduced five years ago.
What’s interesting about the story is that Dani doesn’t seem to have changed much at all. She’s just gotten very, very good at hiding who she really is.