The Fictional Hockey League

Critiquing hockey romance novels, of which there are many. Overthinking it is the point.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Her Man Advantage: Post 15

Chapters 11: All the Angst

The next morning, Jennifer is at the practice rink, in the conference room, in order to get some work done. Her little sister, Julia, the one whose bullying experience is driving Jennifer to get funding to make the documentary on online bullying, gives her a call.

Back when we first met Jennifer, the text described the situation with her sister only minimally, and it came up again in conversation with Axel a bit later. At that point, Jennifer described it as her 15 year old sister having a crush on an older boy. Some junior girls discovered this and made a fake Facebook page for him, and started messaging her (as him) as if he liked her. Then they printed out all the private messages and circulated them around school (which seems like an unnecessary step—why not circulate them, y’know, on facebook?) When the boy found out, he was a jerk, too, making things worse. Jennifer helped her sister get into a new school.

“I had hoped she would stay and fight through it, but she just wanted to get away. She’s at a new school now and seems to have put it behind her” (82).

Thirty pages later, when Jennifer gets this phone call from Julia, she learns that her little sister is not, indeed, settling in, but in fact hates her new school and wants to go back to her old one. Her sister is conscientious enough that she’d tried to talk her principal into giving Jennifer (who paid for the private school) a partial refund on the tuition, although he’d refused, and has decided to get a part-time job in order to pay Jennifer aback.

Jennifer’s reaction is to refuse.

“I want you to attend a school where you’ll be happy. Where you don’t have people whispering behind your back” (114).

But Julia insists and even, quite logically, explains that she’s over it and that if she hadn’t freaked out, the school probably would have gotten over it quickly.

The first time I read this, I, in fact, misread it, thinking that here Julia was claiming that Jennifer had forced her to go to a school she didn’t want. (She does say “I know you would have liked to attend a school like this, but it’s not for me” 114). Which would have irritated me as it would have meant either the author forgot what she’d written earlier (that Jennifer wanted Julia to stay and fight) or that Jennifer willfully misremembers the situation. Instead it’s a bit more nuanced, which is good. It seems like Julia freaked out, along with Jennifer being protective, and since then Jennifer has embraced the new school thing. For example, she questions Julia on how she can get decent grades “with the distraction of online gossip and negative cliques using social media to wage a smear campaign?” (114) which … is not how I think you should be chatting with a 15 year old. That reads a lot more like the pitch one throws to financial backers of your social campaigning documentary…

And speaking of documentaries, Jennifer even says she’s got a film project in the works about this sort of thing and Julia panics and demands that Jennifer not do the film. She insists she won’t be “one of [her] causes” (115).

So this leaves Jennifer in a tizzy. But as readers, we know it also leaves an open door for Jennifer to find a new project that will enable her to stay with Axel. Because there’s only 30 pages of novel left, so we’ll have to wrap things up in another 15 or so. She doesn’t get time to ponder the situation, however, as Chelsea comes in, looking for coffee.

I’m a little curious as to why a woman who works at the arena gift shop is wandering into conference rooms in the practice rink looking for coffee, but apparently she’s there a lot and knows where all the ingredients are. This isn’t explained—it may just be something she’s picked up as a Magical Groupie being allowed to go wherever she wants. Or maybe the author forgot that the practice rink and arena are two separate things.

But has Chelsea gotten her car back since it’s early the next morning? If so, where are the other groupies? If not, how did she get here? Although she did say her apartment is close to the rink, so okay, she could have walked. But if so, why bother? Given the way she left things with Vincent a few hours before, and having gotten no sleep, as she tells Jennifer in a moment, is this really a practice her groupie-self needs to be at? Is she literally at every public practice? Because if yes, that’s not being a groupie, that’s being a stalker.

(Also, it just occurred to me one of the reasons why the author might have chosen to create a fictional Philadelphia team instead of using the Flyers. The Flyers don’t practice in Philadelphia, they practice in New Jersey. Of course, paying the NHL for the rights to use “Flyers” probably had something to do with that, too, but the book does reference the Stanley Cup and the NHL specifically, unlike Body Check.)

Anyway, Chelsea, despite the narrative assuring us earlier that she’s intensely private, tells Jennifer that she had a misunderstanding with Vincent and that they’ll not be a story for the documentary. This surprises Jennifer, having seen them be all Displaying Public Affection on the plane the day before. This leads to Chelsea asking rhetorically what if they just can’t get through all the obstacles, and Jennifer is in agreement, given her own situation. So this Scene of Woe and Angst closes the chapter.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Her Man Advantage: Post 14

Chapters 10 & 11: Nonjudgmental Cows

Chapter 10 opens with Jennifer and Axel flirting via cell phone as they both drive to his house from the airport. (They’re driving separately, I mean. They’re not so odd as to be in the same car and chatting via Bluetooth.) Things are going swimmingly and Jennifer’s getting all hot and bothered until she sees his mansion when she starts to freak out a bit about his life-style.

…she felt out of depth with him suddenly. It was one thing to tease and flirt with a Neanderthal hockey player trying to intimidate her with the scent of sweat. It was another to sleep with a wealthy athlete who traveled the world acquiring exotic cars (99).

Well, actually it’s not two different things since she’s talking about Axel in both cases.

The question of Axel’s intimidating mansion gets dropped, however, in favor of debating the finer points of what sexual chemistry means, and whether it’s enough to overcome the challenges that two very different people face when they have pantsfeelings for each other.

Then the perspective shifts to Axel who is feeling guilty for his pantsfeelings because he knows he’s going to have to back off in order to keep Jennifer safe when he deals with the biker gang. Despite his guilt, though, we have the following very common romance novel trope after they have mind-boggling sex:

He wanted to pause the night right there. Make sure the sun didn’t rise for another seventy-two hours or so in order for him to get his fill of this woman. Then again, that would never be enough (105).

Why seventy-two hours? That seems fairly arbitrary.

That’s pretty much all for chapter 10 because it’s mostly sex. (And I’d be happy to comment on sex scenes if they were anything other than sex scenes, but these are just straightforward so I haven’t anything to say.)

Chapter 11 begins at the same time as chapter 10, only it’s Vincent suggesting he’ll drive Chelsea home from the airport. She wants to demure but then remembers that her car is with the other groupies on the way back from New York.

Vincent is super sweet about it. He knows she’s uncertain, so he offers to call her a cab instead, and even has his phone out before Chelsea says she trusts him and they get into his heavy-duty truck “which looked as if it would be at home on a Minnesota farm” (106).

See, ‘cuz Vincent’s just a farm boy at heart. Except that at least half the Arizona Coyotes drive trucks, too. (No, I’m not a stalker. I just saw them drive the night that the fans met the team at the airport to celebrate. Also, I’ve been to enough practices to see which cars/trucks are frequently in the lot.) And while Shane Doan does actually have a farm, the rest of the team not so much.

Chelsea is justifiably proud of her apartment, since it’s nearly impossible for a homeless person to get enough together to be allowed to rent somewhere, so this leads to Vincent asking how she went from homeless “to walking into the Phantoms’ practice rink and making half the team fall in love with you?” (107). Since we’ve only seen one other player ever say anything about Chelsea, and said player is in the process of falling for the novel’s other heroine, I can’t say whether Vincent is exaggerating or not.

I will say I’m pleased that the narrative doesn’t make it sound like hard work is all it takes to go from homeless to secure. The author did her research. If you’re wondering how Chelsea did it, she says she used gyms for showers and a place to keep her stuff and libraries to research where to get free clothes and jobs that paid by the day. The only thing that sticks out for me here is that to make fake membership badges, as she says she did for the gyms, she’d have to have some computer skills and access to equipment that it seems unlikely public libraries could provide. (Also, the only gym I’ve belonged to didn’t have membership badges but instead scanned your fingerprint. But as I said, that’s only my experience.)

Chelsea also tells Vincent of the time when she woke up in an alley being robbed. She got away safely but lost a year’s worth of savings. This upsets Vincent so much that he asks if he can hold her (they’re still in his truck) because it would make him feel better. She lets him. This leads to Vincent telling her how he doesn’t know what he’d have done in his first year without her—that seeing her in the stands kept him going through his early, bad games, so now they’d have to forcibly remove him from Philadelphia to get him to leave her. She asks what if she wants to see Minnesota and he says he’d drive her there himself. There’s some snuggling and then Chelsea declares,

“I think I’d like cows.”
“You do?” He grinned and felt her snag another piece of her heart.
“They sound very nonjudgmental” (111).

Um. Sure.

But you know what doesn’t sound nonjudgmental to Chelsea? Parents. And Vincent’s are showing up in Philadelphia next week and he wants her to meet them. Immediately Chelsea shuts down and says she should go inside. Vincent insists on walking her to her door, but he’s mindful to not touch her, knowing her issues. Even so, Chelsea gets inside, closes the door most of the way, and finishes with “You deserve a nice, normal girl. And that will never be me” (113). 

I know I said that I felt that Chelsea’s turnaround on the plane was awfully quick. So the freak-out is in character. That said, he wasn’t asking her to marry him, just to have dinner with his parents. And having dinner with the SO’s parents kinda sucks, regardless, but I’m surprised that it’s what makes Chelsea hit the brakes and flee, especially since Vincent is so solicitous. He could have immediately been all “Okay, no problem, next time maybe.” But no.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Her Man Advantage: Post 13

(Heads up! There was a bonus post yesterday! A Magical Christmas Post about a novella called Nickolai's Noel, so check it out!)

Chapter 9: Subplots On and Off the Page

After telling Jennifer about his past, Axel (off screen) tells Kyle, as well. (Unlike with Jennifer, it’s not during post-coital snuggles but during some pre-game training in New York. Apparently he’d never told his foster family before—which is weird because in previous chapters we saw him contact them to have them up their security at their “compound.” Apparently they just took that warning/request with no concern? No questions? Also, apparently Kyle has four brothers. I have no idea if that’ll be important later (although Kyle offers the five of them to fight the motor cycle gang with Axel), but I thought I’d better mention it since they’re given names.

At any rate, it turns out that Kyle isn’t surprised at this Big Revelation because his father had already researched Axel’s history before adopting him. That makes a great deal of sense to me. It makes Axel angry though—not for the invasion of privacy but because they adopted him knowing that his background wasn't pristine.

“What the hell is wrong with you people?” He slammed the stick on the floor. Twice, for good measure. “I could have been a total head case. A violent lowlife who carried drugs in my suitcase” (86).

This seems like misplaced anger given that it’s a decade late and, y’know, Axel wasn’t any of those things. But this leads to some adorable brotherly banter that suggests that Axel had fit seamlessly into the family, and the news that Axel’s news isn’t news (if you see what I mean) means that everyone is likely to be better able to keep themselves safe. Kyle suggests that Axel can either call the police, which Axel dismisses as a death wish, or he can confront the gang, so “they can settle up face-to-face rather than threatening your girl” (88).

Uh, has anyone told Jennifer that she’s Axel’s girl? She’s still planning on returning to NYC in a few weeks.

At any rate, this is where Kyle says he’d fight beside Axel who doesn’t “fight alone anymore” because he has family (89).

The scene ends with Axel determined to protect all his loved ones by facing the gang, after one more last night with Jennifer, although he fears he’ll have to leave them all to keep them safe. Aaaaaaaaangst.

The chapter switches over to Jennifer at this point, who is directing her cameramen during the game against New York. (I’m sad that the text doesn’t give us names for the Montreal and New York teams.) Here we learn that the film crew was at the date with Vincent and Chelsea the night before, but the footage is useless unless Chelsea agrees to let it be aired. (Apparently the rule is that non-players have to be aware that they’re being recorded for the blanket waiver to apply.)

Also, apparently there’s a whole bunch of other interesting subplots happening in this novel completely off-screen. (Well, off our screen/page, but on Jennifer’s, since she’s a filmmaker.) Besides Chelsea/Vincent and Jennifer/Axel/motorcycle gangs, there’s more. Leandre Archambault, the one who resents Kyle and Axel, is trying to find love but he’s been typecast as a “male bimbo” which makes that difficult.

Kyle Murphy had recently become involved with a professional matchmaker whose mother was a former pop star (91).

I guess it’s good to see that the wildly improbable isn’t limited to the main characters of this novel but also includes barely-mentioned off-screen ones.

The narrative then switches over to Vincent who has brought Chelsea on the team plane as they fly back from New York. I will admit here that I am completely clueless as to whether that is likely or not (whether players can bring groupies on the team plane.) It seems unlikely, especially since the plane already has the entire team, the coaches, the media, and now the film crew. But Vincent tells Chelsea that she belongs with them because she’s the team’s number one supporter. I’m so sure that the support staff feels the same way…

Chelsea has never flown before. And Vincent is thinking about the kiss he put on her hand-- that damn hand kiss—which leads to him suggesting she hold his hand for takeoff. Also, apparently Vincent’s love for Chelsea, despite one date, is such that he’s sure that if he had to, he could leave hockey to be with her. (I don’t know why he would have to, but it’s presented in comparison to a previous girlfriend who gave him an ultimatum and he chose hockey.)

During the flight, Jennifer comes over to them to ask Chelsea if she can use the aforementioned footage. Vincent immediately snaps “no,” which on one hand is cute in his protectiveness. On the other hand, both he and the narrative have made a big deal about how strong Chelsea is, so let her speak for herself, dude. She actually puts her hand on his knee and says she’d like to see the footage. Given they were holding hands and Vincent had his arm around her when Jennifer came to see them, and now the knee pat, Chelsea seems to be getting over her fear of men (well, this man in particular) incredibly quickly. Plus, before she follows Jennifer up the airplane to go see the footage, she tells Vincent in no uncertain terms that “last night… was one of the best things that ever happened to” her before “she sauntered her way up the aisle” (96).

I like the Chelsea/Vincent subplot and I know that Harlequins have to move fast—triply so if you’re shoe-horning in multiple relationships—but given how much was made of Chelsea’s reticence, this feels off to me.

And yet I still wanna know more about Kyle and his matchmaker girlfriend and her former pop star mother.