Score: 94/100 (9.4 out of 10)
Now, THIS is a romance novel! It's a perfect read for women and men alike, full of enough substance, entertainment, and drama for everyone. It is even appropriate for young adults. Wow! The key to any great work of fiction is crafting great characters, and author Domenic Melillo certainly delivers!
“A Major League Love” follows Luca Milano, a minor league baseball player hoping for his big break, and Samantha Jolene Jackson (more often called “Sammi Jo”), a young woman coming of age who loves the sport of baseball with a passion. It is almost impossible not to cheer for both of them, especially in the hope that they can be together. Both are generally good people, but not saints. That's key. Sammi Jo, for example, is naive, jumps to conclusions, and even plays more than one guy at once, but it's hard to blame her. She's still learning to love. Luca is socially awkward (if not inept), dense, and prioritizes his sport over any relationship—these things hurt him more than once, but it's hard to blame him. He's a dreamer, and his history of relationships has conditioned him to fear attachment. It's very relatable.
The two characters are drawn together in a hilarious and unexpected way, and Luca actually ends up with Sammi Jo's sister, Savannah. Savannah isn't nearly as much of a fan of baseball as the other characters are, which is understandable. She feels it's slow and boring. We can't blame her either. Baseball is far from our favorite sport as well for those same reasons. Interestingly, we wondered for a while if Savannah might be our surprise main protagonist because she's initially portrayed as a character who might undergo a large arc—coming around to the sport because of her admiration for Luca. Savannah remains a good supporting character, especially as a loving voice of reason for Sammi Jo. However, there's no voice of reason more loving, compassionate, and true than that of Henry (their father). Henry is just the dad we all wish we'd had: a man who loves his children enough to be involved in their lives but not overly domineering. He understands that, despite his strict religious upbringing, that Sammi Jo and Savannah need to be free to make their own decisions and their own mistakes, but he's there to guide them and love them along the way.
Speaking of characters, there are some great villains in this book! What's best about these villains is that they are foils for the main characters—exactly what great villains should be. For example, Bobby Curtis—Sammi Jo's boyfriend and star quarterback—is like Luca in a lot of ways. He's a promising star athlete who seemingly lives to play his sport. Both Bobby and Luca often allow their passion for their sport to eclipse the relationships in their lives. However, while Bobby becomes so narrow-minded and laser-focused that he completely, remorselessly, and cruelly blocks out Sammi Jo, Luca is haunted by the thought that his passion is coming between him and those who love him. It's this guilt and remorse that separates Luca from Bobby. It's his conscience. And, ultimately, it's Luca's conscience that makes him a likable character.
On that same note, the novel's main villain, Cynthia, is the mirror-image of Sammi Jo—at least on the outside. However, she contrasts with Sammi Jo in that she's older, more mature, domineering, controlling, and manipulative. Cynthia is despicable, but she's not the devil incarnate. You can understand why she does what she does, but that doesn't make her likable in the slightest. Something about Cynthia is that she has different gears and levels just like this book. She can come across as kind and caring at some times (especially when she wants something) but can be cruel and vindictive at other times. Cynthia's defining characteristic is her controlling nature. She insists on having her way at all times, guilting and even forcing Luca to do the things that she wants to do instead of listening to him and letting him have a say or a choice. One night, she even undresses and dresses him while he's sleeping. She constantly serves as a distraction to him and, perhaps unknowingly or subconsciously, sabotages him time and time again. She fails to see past herself and her wants and needs. She wants Luca, so she's willing to do anything and everything to get him.
Meanwhile, Luca and Sammi Jo have a relationship based on trust, mutual respect, and boundaries. They respect each other's space and never insist on one having to be with the other. They know that if they are ever going to be together, it needs to be a two-way street and a two-person decision.
This novel is anything but straight forward. Be prepared for some twists and turns! Be prepared for the unexpected!
Something happens about 3/4ths through this book that none of us saw coming, and while it didn't change how we felt about the characters, it threatened to.
Another thing that's great about this book is how accessible it is. This is not a difficult read, but it's not an elementary-level read either. It's not just a baseball book, and it's not just a romance book. It has something for everyone—action, drama, suspense, and, of course, romance.
Ultimately, it is beautiful to see these characters progress and change/grow as people, developing a deeper understanding of themselves and each other.
Be prepared for some curve balls!
Check out this great romance novel by Domenic Melillo! You'll be glad you did!