Book Reviews

Ball Play by Isobel Starling at Decent Fellows Press

Genre Gay / Contemporary / Romance / Holiday
Reviewed by ParisDude on 06-March-2023

Book Blurb


A broken heart has kept me off the scene for a while now. I've devoted my time to work, book, and my fierce Santa-hating kitty called, Mu-Mu. But when a soccer ball lands in my garden my life takes a surprising turn. The British guy who kicked it tries to charm me with 'Hugh Grant' style fumbling and that hot accent, but I'm not playing his game.


I'm an ex-pat working in the U.S. There are a few things I miss about England, my family, my mates, and the beautiful game, especially close to the holidays! I set up a team of diverse Brits so we could bond, have a game of footie, and not feel so homesick. But after a disastrous kick the ball ends up in the garden of a stubborn American guy, and he won't give it back.

The challenge of taming Leander West could turn out to be quite a Christmas Miracle!


Book Review

Decidedly, the 2022 Advent will go down in my personal annals (gosh, no pun intented!) as a period of many won prizes. One of the many positive quirks of hanging out in a Facebook group dedicated to European writers of M/M fiction. Still, it was a happy surprise as I normally end up empty-handed whenever entering draws or contests. This novella was the first of three (!) prizes I managed to win last year, however. It tells the story of bookworm Leander, fierce twink and Tolkienist extraordinaire. He has just purchased a very rare illustrated copy of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ and settles in his lush garden to carefully leaf through it for the first time, a cup of coffee in hand. That’s when a football game (European football, mind you; the game that Americans insist on misnaming “soccer”) in the adjacent park takes a fatal turn, and the ball comes flying over Leander’s garden wall. Hits his chest, sends the cup flying, and—spills coffee all over Leander’s Precious.


He is livid. Literally livid. The book he has taken pains in finding is ruined! When a ruggedly handsome man appears on top of the wall asking him to give back the ball—in the poshest of UK accents, can one believe it!—he therefore sends him packing, in no uncertain terms. Some would even call him exceedingly rude. Dousing the Brit’s demands, somewhere between plea and mocking, by directing the water hose at him could be construed as just that. Imagine Leander’s surprise when said Brit shows up at his door shortly afterwards to apologize, single-handedly seduce Leander’s cat Mu-Mu, and turn out to be more charming than the proverbial prince of the same name. Plus, the stranger seems to be on the same gay dating app Leander uses to, as he says, “windowshop.” Could it be that the sparks flying between them during those first two encounters are more than expressions of ire?


Another novella, and another novella I really liked. The plot was sweet and straightforward, the book short, but despite that, Isobel Starling managed to pack in quite a lot: an improbable encounter, a verbose quarrel, sufficient characterization details to make both main characters become unique and three-dimensional, a selected range of lively secondary characters, a slow yet plausible-sounding reconciliation-and-taming process, and even some sizzling hot scenes. Once again, if the book had been longer (novel length, for instance), I for one wouldn’t have pouted as I liked both characters and would have liked to spend more time with them. As it were, though, the book reconciled me with the idea of novellas—sometimes, they can be sufficiently fleshed out to satisfy my need to understand what’s going on and who I’m dealing with.


Just one niggle, which is an important one. I need to mention some stylistic defaults and, alas, so many typos that I stopped counting. The book read like a first draft, to be honest, which is a pity. I know everybody cannot have the help of the same eagle-eyed proofreader I’m happy I can rely on for my own literary production, but hey, let’s be serious—this book was published by a professional publisher! The author is not to be blamed; how a publishing house can release a book, be it a novella, without thoroughly proofreading and editing it remains a mystery for me. If that had been done, smoothing clumsy formulations, replacing word repetitions, and simply correcting errors and typos, the book would have been a gem.


I still recommend it, however, as the story is as cute and nice as Christmas stories can get, thanks to the author’s imaginative mind and tender sweet-handling of the main characters.




DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the publisher or author. This book was offered as an Advent Calendar Prize by the author.


Additional Information

Format ebook and audio
Length Novella, 96 pages / 2 hours and 8 minutes
Heat Level
Publication Date 05-November-2021
Price $2.99 ebook, $5.29 audio book
Buy Link