Canning the Center by Tara LainRating: 4.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | All Romance | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

Jamal Jones is young and driven. He’s wanted to play football his whole life, and finally he’s there, a part of a professional football team, the Diablos. Then he finds out he’s replacing another player as the new center—by a homophobic sleaze-ball manager. Jamal has to hide his orientation or quit. Since he provides for his family and it’s his life-long dream, he pretends to like girls.

Jamal’s friends take him to a drag club where he meets Trixie, or Trevor, who is so convincing he could pass for a woman. An attraction leads to a relationship—and Jamal faking he’s dating a girl. But how long can one lie about something so pivotal, especially when involving another person in this web of lies?

Apart from the insta-lust, I felt this story was realistic. I have no doubt the field of professional sports is exactly as homophobic and violent, scheming and cold as depicted here. There are three main adversaries here: another player, a horrible woman (naturally), and the manager. One is bad because he doesn’t know any better (aka is ignorant), another is scheming to get a better deal in life, and another because they’re pure racist evil. One is redeemed in the story, but you’ll have to read to see if the justification works for you. Trying to put oneself into another’s shoes, however, does create understanding and sympathy, which is always positive news.

The plot turns—lying to protect oneself, coming out of hiding, bad guys throwing wrenches in the works, breaking apart as a sacrifice, etc.—aren’t terribly original and are quite predictable, but the characterization, dialogue, and intense sexual heat redeem those aspects. Jamal’s personality is good, kind, and hot. This is his learning curve, not about accepting who he is, but coming out as who he is instead of cowering for a multitude of reasons.

Trixie/Trevor is a great character. He’s sweet and spicy at the same time, and powerful as a drag queen. His smarts in the story, and I don’t mean just the math, struck a chord in me when his ability to foresee problems with conniving people saves the day. I liked him a lot. The side characters, some of whom appeared in the first story in the series, added a couple of curve balls to the plot. It’s good to read about those people again instead of just names to serve as background.

Lain can write, no question of that. This tale is well worth a read, if you like to know more about sports and gay sports heroes. I’m personally not that well versed in sports, but the author knows her stuff.  I recommend this to readers of contemporary M/M who like their men strong and smart, brave, and opinionated, and able to face their troubles head-on.

A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.

susan sig


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