Publication Date: March 29, 2022
Series or Standalone: Strangers in Love #1
Links: Amazon – Barnes & Noble – Goodreads – StoryGraph
CW: Grief; depression; car accident; injury; death of a parent; alcoholism; cheating (not the main couple)
Recently, I was craving a heartachingly good sports romance, and Beauty and the Baller delivered! This book was the perfect fake dating, sports, and small-town romance that seriously gave me all the feels. I was instantly hooked as soon as I started and stayed up waaaaay too late to finish it in one sitting.
First off, I LOVED the premise of this! It has so many elements I truly adore, so I couldn’t help but be hooked by it.
The story starts with the most perfect, nerdy opening. Nova shows up to a party in Princess Leia’s gold bikini and instantly captures Ronan’s attention (he’s a Star Wars nerd), leading to a one-night stand (don’t worry, there are no surprise babies here!) And then, of course, when Nova moves back home after her mother’s death, who does she find as her new next-door neighbor? The new hot football coach, who just happens to be the sexy ex-NFL player that Nova slept with dressed as Princess Leia. Unfortunately (or fortunately), he doesn’t seem to remember her right away. With all the women in town trying to lock Ronan down so he stays the town’s football coach, he asks Nova to be his fake girlfriend to get them off his back.
This premise worked well with the romance and helped build the tension. Seriously, the romantic tension in this book? FIRE. And the chemistry! The chemistry was there from Ronan and Nova’s first meeting, which made the one-night stand element work perfectly. I was a bit worried that there could be some long-term deception since he didn’t recognize her, but luckily, that was resolved quickly enough not to cause long-term issues.
Fake dating is a trope that feels a bit overdone nowadays and one that I struggle with in contemporary romances, but it was utilized and executed perfectly here! I truly loved how Madden-Mills deployed it here. It fits the small-town vibes well and perfectly fits the overarching football plot. Plus, I loved that Nova was like, “This is a bad idea,” the whole time, as it felt very realistic. Obviously, with the fake dating trope, you always get a lot of emotional tension as the characters cannot tell what’s real and what’s fake, and I’m a sucker for that, and it was played up perfectly in this book. There is some conflict toward the end with Nova and Ronan’s relationship (and just a bit of miscommunication), but that worked really well here, given the situation and how it was set up.
Outside the romance, I truly adored both Ronan and Nova. With Ronan, he was in such a dark place in the beginning as he was overwhelmed with grief. The grief is not something that ever goes away, but watching him learn to live with it and come out of the fog of grief was heartwarming. This man also has a heart of gold, and I absolutely adored that. The relationship he has with his players – he’s sort of a pseudo father figure to some – and the contributions he makes to the town show how much he cares about Blue Belle, even if he says he’s going to leave it all behind it.
Nova is the beauty from the title, but she was not what I expected. As a former beauty queen, I expected her not to be super fleshed out as a character, but that was not the case. Like Ronan, she’s also dealing with grief after losing her mother suddenly and being forced into the parental role with her younger sister Sabine. Plus, she’s emotionally damaged from her past relationship, and being back in her hometown, face-to-face with her cheating ex, who claims he wants to get back to her, is extra challenging. I enjoyed watching her navigate this unexpected twist life threw at her, and I loved how she’s incredibly empathetic. Nova and Ronan are very similar in that way, and I think it’s why they work so perfectly as a couple.
I seriously flew through this book, leaving me with such a severe book hangover! I’ve been chasing that high for the last month or so, trying to find a book that will deliver all the emotions and the romance like Beauty and the Baller did, but falling short with so many books.
I want to check out more books from Ilsa Madden-Mills, as this one seriously blew me away! I don’t think I will read the sequel Princess and the Player because it deals with my least favorite trope – surprise pregnancy – and I know that will just prejudice me against it. But Madden-Mills has many other books on KU that sound right up my alley, so I’m excited to check some of those out! In the meantime, I highly recommend Beauty and the Baller if you’re craving a sports/fake dating romance, as it is seriously top-tier!