The Fictional Hockey League

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

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Body Check: Post 5-

Chapter Three: The Locker Room

Meanwhile, in the Warriors’ locker room, Brody is being warned by multiple teammates to stay away from a player on the opposing team between his own musings about the night of fantastic sex with Hayden.

(A note- During the spring 2010 playoffs, two Nashville Predators players got into trouble with their team and coach while in Phoenix because they’d gone out to a bar in Scottsdale—reputedly under the guidance of Coyotes’ ‘bad boy’ Paul “BizNasty” Bisonnette—and came back to their hotel not only after curfew but accompanied by some of the bar’s little people staff. While the details are unconfirmed, their behavior was problematic enough that they were suspended (by the coach) for a game (oddly, the only game the Predators won in that series.) Teams/coaches/players take the playoffs very seriously (it’s not all wacky playoff beards), so it strikes me as odd that Brody was at a bar and then went home with Hayden for the night, the whole night. Granted, this Vipers vs Warriors series is taking place in the Warriors’ home city, so the team isn’t staying all together in a hotel. (Although teams have been known to do so in their home towns during playoffs to keep the players focused.) Still, Brody made a point of how he’s dedicated to keeping his nose clean and focusing on the playoffs in order to make a good showing when he enters free agency at playoffs' end. I’m not saying that he couldn’t have been swept off his feet, so to speak, when he saw Hayden and lost control of himself, but this sort of thing never comes up.)

One of the things that comes up for Brody while he’s preparing for the game is how he’d woken up cuddled up with Hayden, that he’d even pulled her closer during the night. He muses how this is odd because normally “he gently rolled his companion over, needing space and distance in order to fall asleep” (36). Once again, the fact that he is, through no control of his own, reacting differently to Hayden than to any other woman he’s ever met tells him (or will, eventually) that she is the One. It’s a very common romance novel trope. Of course, despite all the “evidence” telling both of these characters that they are Meant For Each Other, I’m sure there’ll be wacky hijinks before reaching a happily ever after (what with there still being 100 pages to go.)

While in the locker room pre-game, we meet some of Brody’s teammates. When they find out that he’d slept with someone new the previous night, they rib him about it, asking if he’d bothered to get her name. Until now, Brody has been the team’s Casanova. He ponders this, wondering if they’re reluctant to see him in a new light because each member of the team fits a niche—there’s the super serious captain, the wise mentor, the prankster, etc. This is convenient—in one passing thought, Brody’s subconscious can paint an image of the team for the reader while acknowledging that it is, in some ways, a clichéd and one-dimensional view, thus clearing the author from blame. (Mind you, in a novel this short there’s just no likely way the author could introduce and flesh out every teammate. Instead, they are pared down to their function, just as Darcy functions as instigator of Hayden’s sexual liberation.)

The captain is Mr. Serious, probably an allusion to “Captain Serious”, Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks. (See, for example this article) I’m not a Blackhawks fan (in fact, there’s only team in the NHL I dislike as much as I dislike the Blackhawks) but even I knew that Toews is called Captain Serious. That article says that Patrick Sharp is that team’s prankster, and a quick google search confirms as much. So I’m beginning to think that the author is a Blackhawks fan.

While I’m talking about labels and pranksters, a moment here on the Warriors’ team prankster, Derek Jones. The caliber of his pranks are wildly disparate, since we only learn of two. The first is hypothetical- he declares he wants to toilet paper the team owner’s soon-to-be-ex’s house because she keeps making allegations about the team. Brody’s response was similar to mine, “Grown men don’t toilet paper people’s homes” (38). Brody probably means that Derek needs to grow up, and the narrative does say that the prankster is only 21.

The other prank Derek has performed is replacing the team’s goalie’s pads with “pink Hello Kitty ones” (38). On first glance, this seems like a reasonable prank, but in actuality it really isn’t. First, when would he have done this? There’s no way that someone wouldn’t have been in enormous trouble with the team (to the point of fines) if this had happened to the point where the goalie had actually had to wear them for a game. (Professional sports are big business.) At best the goalie could have been forced to wear them for warmups (although even that is unlikely), more likely for practice. (Also, he probably would just have worn his practice pads, if the prankster wasn’t smart enough to hide those too.) But far more important is that Hello Kitty pads simply don’t exist. I talked my equipment-loving goalie friend Flurry about this to be sure. When I mentioned them, her eyes got big and she wanted them. The only way to get them would be to have a company like Brian’s to make a custom set, and even then my guess would be they’d refuse unless they could get a license. This prank would be prohibitively expensive if at all possible. Yes, Derek is a professional athlete, but at 21 he’s probably making the minimum salary. That’s a hell of an expenditure, which would also require the participation of the equipment manager and others, for a prank that could have lasted maybe a few minutes’ worth of enjoyment. Granted, Derek could have taken a set of pads and painted them pink and put Hello Kitty stickers on them, but it would still require quite the expenditure (even used goalie pads are costly) and help.

This is also quite the spectrum of pranks, from musing on toilet papering to paying thousands of dollars for custom pink pads to make fun of the team’s goalie.

Anyway, Derek the Prankster is angrier at Sheila-the-soon-to-be-ex for her allegations of sleeping with one of the Warriors players than the illegal gambling accusations. The team immediately looks at Brody to see if it was him, and he deflects onto a Russian right winger named Zelig, who is “one of the few openly gay players in the league” (38). If this is meant to be the NHL, well, I’m impressed by this fictional league’s acceptance and social equality. In real life, the You Can Play Project ( did start with hockey players, and is very impressive, but has yet to lead to any gay players coming out while in the NHL.

I’ll finish up these locker room musings by adding to what we’ve learned about the Chicago Warriors and their league. Evidently their team colors are “blue and silver” (32). Furthermore, while the narrative still does not reference the “Stanley” in the “Stanley Cup,” the patriarchal character on the team has “two championship cups and a career that rivaled Gretzky’s” (35). So the NHL and the Stanley Cup might not exist, but Gretzky does. Methinks maybe there was a licensing issue and Harlequin didn’t want to pay to use certain terms?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Body Check: Post 4-

Chapter Three: Post-Coital Day

Darcy checks in with her best friend as Hayden’s driving across Chicago to meet her father at a Warriors game. (You can see where that’s going, right?) And she insists on knowing “How many?” How many what? Well, orgasms. You always demand to know how many orgasms your best friend had during her most recent one night stand, right? Of course you do! The answer is “Five,” and Darcy is shocked.

“Five!” Darcy went silent for a moment.  Then she offered an awe-laced obscenity. “You’re telling me the hunk gave you five orgasms last night?” (32 emphasis original).

What I don’t understand about her surprise is that the narrative flat out told us that Darcy has emailed Hayden in the past to tell her that she had seven orgasms in one night. In the battle of the orgasms, Darcy is still winning. It’s not like she thought women being multi-orgasmic was a myth, given she has personally experienced a seven-climax night.

During Darcy’s interrogation of Hayden, we also learn that in the morning (after the wake-up sex), Brody wanted Hayden’s number but she refused to give it to him (although she did accept his.) Of course, it’s not like he doesn’t know where she’s staying.

When Darcy criticizes Doug (the off-again boyfriend back in California) again, Hayden takes time out to admit that “maybe his comparison of sex to a bridge was bizarre” (32). I mention this only because a few sentences later we get the following:

And somehow the words sleeping with Brody seemed unsuitable, as if they described a bland, mundane event like tea with a grandparent (33 emphasis original).

Methinks bringing up grandparents in the same sentence as sex with the super hunk is a mistake, even if you’re using it as a contrast. Also, the closeness of these sentiments makes me wonder if the author is entirely comfortable with her own use of analogies/descriptions.

At any rate, Hayden spends the rest of her drive to the arena wondering if she’d made the right choice to keep the sex no strings attached and lamenting the fact that she now has to spend the night “watching sweaty men skating after a black disk” (35). (Considering that as I write this I’m waiting for a ride to go watch prospects scrimmage, because I’m that desperate for hockey, I don’t sympathize with poor Ms Hayden. Of course, Hayden’s distaste for the sport when we as readers know the man she’s falling for (and she is falling for him because this is a Harlequin) is one of those “sweaty men” is simply dramatic irony.)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Body Check: Post 3-

Chapter Two: Musing on Age and Education. Also, sex.

It’s a Harlequin Blaze, so there has to be sex scenes, and this chapter is the first of those. After all, Brody and Hayden did leave the bar in order to go to Hayden’s hotel for a “night cap” so it’s not exactly a surprise. And while there’s some oral sex while Hayden stands against the wall and Brody… bends over? Behind her? which leaves me questioning anatomy to some extent, there’s really not a lot, overall, to say about this chapter.  (Which, given how much I wrote about the first chapter, is probably a good thing.)

First, let’s talk about getting to the hotel. They take Brody’s BMW SUV to the Ritz-Carlton and Brody asks what Hayden does.

“I’m a junior professor at Berkeley. I teach art history, and I’m also working towards a Ph.D.” (22).

No. No, no, no, no, no, no. There is absolutely ZERO chance that Berkley would hire Hayden as a junior professor (presumably an assistant professor, the lowest rank but tenure track) without her having her Ph.D. There is a very small chance they would have hired her without her Ph.D. in hand, meaning that she’d finished her coursework and passed her exams into candidacy but hadn’t quite finished her dissertation. That’s pretty rare these days because there are way more qualified Ph.D. students graduating each year (dissertation finished) than there are job openings, but it’s still possible, if Hayden had published multiple kickass articles as a student in very prestigious academic journals, had a 4.0 (almost all grad students do), and a lot of successful teaching experience. (This last is just as unlikely as the first—most English and Math graduate students get a lot of teaching experience because universities have hundreds of classes required for first-year students in those fields. Art history? Not so much. She’d be lucky to have had a break-out section and been allowed to guest lecture once a semester.) And IF she was incredibly lucky enough to get a job as an assistant professor (at Berkeley! Ha!) while still working on her dissertation, she’d have been expected to finish it within one year. Chapter one specifies that Hayden went to Berkley three years ago (10), so her dissertation ought to have been finished. In fact, since it’s not at the end of three years, Berkeley would then not renew her contract. (She can’t get tenure without having her Ph.D., even if the job is “tenure track.”)

Without a Ph.D., Hayden could still lecture at Berkeley (if they wanted her), as an adjunct, although that seems unlikely in an art history department (as opposed to, say, composition.) However, the narrative tells us that she accepted the “full-time position” and adjuncts are not full-time (even if they’re teaching multiple courses. Universities don’t want to pay benefits to adjuncts.) Furthermore, most of the time (albeit not all the time), adjuncts aren’t referred to as professors. And even if they are, it’s “adjunct professor”, not “junior professor” because adjunct professors can’t get tenure (without switching to a different job line) so there’s no “senior professor” to get to.

Lastly (and then I’ll shut up about this, at least for now), the narrative does not tell us where Hayden is getting her Ph.D. The assumption, then, is that the author wants us to think she’s getting it from Berkeley as she’s also a full-time junior professor. However, there’s multiple problems with this scenario. First, that means she was hired without any doctoral level graduate work. We can assume she has a masters degree in Art History (although to be fair, some students get their masters in passing while working on a doctorate, but that makes it even less likely for her to be hired at Berkeley—or anywhere else except a community college) from …somewhere. Presumably one of the schools in Chicago, since it seems when she left for California it was the first time she’d left her father. If Hayden was accepted as a graduate student, she could be teaching some classes, too, but certainly not the full-time that the narrative insists. (And she wouldn’t be a junior professor, she’d be a Teaching Assistant, or with a masters, a Teaching Associate). Second, even if she got her Ph.D. from Berkeley, the school would then not hire her. Academic institutions, particularly those involved in research work, hire from outside their own students in order to get new ideas and research, not just have students parroting what their professors at the same school taught them. (Also, because it’s very difficult to go entirely from being someone’s student to being their colleague.)

This actually brings me to another question—how old is Hayden? The narrative hasn’t explicitly said. Her mother died when she was a baby and then her father didn’t remarry for 20 years of his coaching career. He did remarry 3 years before the novel opens (to a woman 29 years his junior, so that’s awkward for them). So Hayden is at least 23. Since Brody is 29, and these novels are pretty traditional, she has to be less than 29. Assuming she graduated from college at 22, went straight into a masters program, she’d have graduated that at 24, then moved to Berkeley immediately and now be 27 (as long as we ignore everything I pointed out about Berkeley in no way hiring her as a professor unless there’s a Berkeley Community College). That would make her quite young for a professor, even a junior one, but that’s because it doesn’t require a Ph.D. apparently. If her father had her when he was, say, 30, that would make him 57 now, and the step-mother/soon-to-be-ex would be 28. The narrative hasn’t said that the soon-to-be-ex is about the same age as Hayden, something that would be useful in vilifying her (as the narrative has already explicitly done).

All right, all right, you came here for the sex, not the diatribe on the state of academia. But first, a quick note that when Brody is surprised at the fact that not only are they at the Ritz-Carlton but they have the penthouse, Hayden declines to explain that it’s her father’s and that he owns a hockey team. Ostensibly she does this because when people have found out in the past, all they wanted to talk about was hockey and then badgered her for tickets. “…just once it would be nice if she were the source of a man’s infatuation” (23 emphasis original). I have a hard time buying this. Yeah, it could be annoying if the significant other knew ahead of time and was only dating you for the tickets or whatever, but I have a hard time believing it was a constant thing. And it can’t possibly matter in a one-night stand situation where Hayden doesn’t care if Brody wants her romantically, because, after all, one night stand. In other words, she doesn’t tell him because the narrative device—that these two are connected because she’s the daughter of his employer but they can’t know that yet—demands it. But requiring that means that the character has to make the choice not to tell Brody, and just lets him believe “You must make good money at Berkeley” (23) and the reader believe that all men who date Hayden are hockey-mad leeches.

Anyway, they get to the penthouse and have sex in a hallway. (They’re heading for the bed but Brody sees Hayden’s tattoo and somehow this makes him unable to wait. See post #2 about loss of control. Speaking of tattoos, apparently Brody has a “badass tribal tattoo” on his bicep (28). This book was published in 2009. Were tribals honestly still considered “badass” that recently? He also has scars (presumably from hockey, but we’re not told) that make Hayden find him even more appealing because he’s “dangerous.”

I don’t have much to say about the sex, as I mentioned, except for one point that I think the author did well. First the narrative plays into the dominating, alpha male hero trope when Brody tells Hayden to undress for him, and even directs which article of clothing she should take off at any given time. Hayden even thinks to herself that he’s commanding. The whole alpha male stereotype is pretty standard for romance novels and not exactly surprising when the hero is a professional athlete, either. (Most readers of romances, after all, are doing it for escapism and there’s a desire for the controlling, dominant male. The main character of Fifty Shades of Grey is a stalking, abusive, jerk, but the series has outsold everything ever. One of the series we’ll read later, the Dartmouth Cobras, seems to be entirely about kinky, hockey-playing, dominant males, so it’s not like this book is alone.) However! Hayden insists that Brody kiss her, and he complies, likewise when she insists on a bed (although they don’t actually get there.) When the chapter/scene switches to Brody’s point of view, he describes her as “deliciously demanding.” I’m not sure that the author and the narrative 100% convinces me that they’re equally demanding or in control, but I’m impressed that it attempts to.

On the other hand, after Brody gives her an orgasm (in the hallway), he gets up to retrieve his condoms. Hayden doesn’t bother to get up from the floor, and she’s described as follows.

[S]he looked ridiculously sexy lying there on the floor beneath him. Sexy and trashy and so damn appealing his cock twitched with impatience (29).

Wow, the narrative lost me at trashy. Really? Now’s the time for the hero to make a judgment call on the woman he’s sleeping with? What makes her trashy? The fact that she’s about to have sex with the hero? Well, then, the hero’s trashy too, no?  Yes, apparently “trashy” is a compliment here? I guess? But… no.

Trashy or not, she gives him a blow job and then they have earth-shattering sex on the carpet, and the chapter ends with the promise of more sex, this time in bed.