Hopefully, this is a travesty that I can fix as soon as possible-- maybe even in time for Wednesday's usual post, although I cannot promise that. HOWEVER, I do have something to hold you over for today's post at least...
Nancy Warren wrote a Harlequin Blaze named Face-Off in which three siblings each get a short-ish story. I read this book several years ago and was so irritated at one of the stories that I wrote a review of it for friends (and as a potential piece for a blog that never came to be called "Two Minutes for Bitching", but which eventually, in a small way, became this blog.)
Remember that I wrote this before any of the other reviews on this site, which is why there are places I could have referenced things on this blog but I didn't know them yet....
Enjoy this standalone and wish me luck to find the time to write some more posts!
-----"Ice Time" from Face-Off by Nancy Warren-------
The basic premise is that Jarrad MacBride has just seen his NHL career cut short, at 35, due to a head injury that left him without peripheral vision. (If you’re suddenly having Cutting Edge flashbacks, you’re not the only one, but while there is one figure skating reference in the story, that’s not the path that Jarrad takes.) He’s feeling useless now that his career is over, and to top it off, his swimsuit model ex-wife has made the news as she’s become engaged to an NBA superstar. To avoid the paparazzi camping out at his LA home, he heads back to where he played hockey, Vancouver. (The story never explicitly states that Jarrad played for the Canucks, probably due to copyright, but that’s the implication.) Jarrad’s friend, an amateur hockey player who we never actually see, has asked him to coach his team for an upcoming Firefighters vs Police hockey game. Meanwhile, school-teacher Sierra has been coaxed into playing hockey, with a friend we never see again, but she hasn’t skated in years and doesn’t know how to play. After leaving the firefighters to their practice, Jarrad wanders from one sheet of ice to another and spies Sierra, clinging to the boards in fear as all the other women leave her there, and he helps her off the ice, pleased that she doesn’t recognize him. From here, the two form a relationship that overcomes Jarrad’s uncertain future and Sierra’s lack of self-esteem.
As short romantic stories go, that’s a pretty good set up. And since the story is only 50 pages, the author does a very nice job of getting these two characters together (emotionally) in a way that works within the genre. The writing is generally strong, too, which frankly is never a sure thing with Harlequins.
That said, given that the point of this review is hockey, how was the hockey?! You might be asking. Despite the genre, I actually had pretty high hopes because the book opens with a letter to the reader wherein the author informs that she used to be a freelance journalist and she interviewed “every one of the of the Vancouver Canucks for a feature in their magazine” (4). I took this to mean she knows hockey and has been around it a lot. (I’m also guessing, between that aforementioned information and a few turns of phrase that she’s Canadian, which would mean being surrounded with more hockey than the average American, too.) But upon rereading the opening letter, I’m now thinking that maybe she only interviewed the Canucks team members the one time for that one gig and that her only real interest in hockey players are that they are “fit, tall and hot!” as she put it in the letter. And fair enough, but it makes me feel a bit better about my issues with the story.
These are not issues who will bother anyone who doesn’t obsess over hockey, I expect.
The first I can handwave away as something a Canadian, particularly one once in the media, might understandably make. Our hero, Jarrad MacBride, is hounded in Los Angeles because his ex-wife is dating an NBA player. Now, if she’d left him for the NBA player, which is not the implication, and if the NBA player is a top star and maybe currently playing in the … whatever the NBA championship is called and for an LA team, this might all make some sense. But after watching the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals and seeing the LA media consistently get the names of the players on their own hockey team wrong, not to mention the name of their own team (the Kings inexplicably became a basketball team at one point in the Finals, according to the LA media—the Sacramento Kings, to be precise, magically playing … on ice and in LA?) I have a really hard time thinking that there would be news vans camped outside the house of a former player from Vancouver. Oddly, the character actually thinks that the media will be less troublesome when he’s home in Vancouver, to which I say, Bwuh? Vancouver is obsessed with their players and I’d actually believe those reporters hounding him, but there he only gets a blogger. So that all struck me as odd.
The second part I found troublesome was the meet-cute. Okay, so meet-cute is inherently troublesome, but again, in the genre I can forgive the hero, disgruntled with his own life, disgusted by the lack of teamwork amongst the firemen he’s supposed to coach, suddenly swept into fascination by a woman in hockey gear clinging to the boards. Sure, fine, whatever. Suspension of disbelief and all that—it is, after all, a 50 page romance delivering what it’s supposed to. But somewhere in all of that, I get the suspicion that Nancy Warren doesn’t actually understand hockey and may not have ever seen a hockey rink.
It starts with Sierra skating on a “breakaway” – and I’m honestly not sure that Ms. Warren knows what a breakaway is because Sierra “skated straight over to the boards and started up the rink” (20). And “She had to guess the direction of the puck, since she never took her eyes off her skates” (21). That’s… not a breakaway. Somehow, the puck gets to the goalie who stops it and then the practice is over, everyone leaves the ice, “except the woman with the breakaway” (21). You keep using that word! I do not think it means what you think it means! But fine, sure, whatever. And this is all from Jarrad’s—the former professional hockey player—perspective, so it’s not like Sierra is just thinking that a breakaway is something that it isn’t.
Anyway, Jarrad helps her off the ice, and they flirt, and then he goes and buys her a cup of coffee. Which leads me to my next point, which I will fully admit is a nit-pick. I admit it! But Sierra has magic hockey gear. I’m serious. It apparently dissolves AND wicks away sweat. I need to get me some of this gear.
I once read a novel (a tv show tie-in, to be precise) in which the main characters spent time nearly every chapter parking their car. And I don’t mean that in some sort of interesting euphemistic sense, I mean, they literally, every chapter, spent time looking for a place to stash their 1967 Impala before they could go and do, y’know, stuff to forward the book’s plot. Apparently, this obsession over parking the car came from the author’s annoyance that on the tv show, the characters always had no trouble finding parking. It did not, however, make for particularly interesting reading. So I’m not suggesting that Ms. Warren needed to spend every other page describing hockey gear, or the basics of how a non-professional ice rink works, but as someone who actually plays (very) amateur hockey, I was thrown when every time the Sierra gets off the ice her gear apparently melted away.
We know she’s wearing gear; it was borrowed from her brother (whom we never see.) When Jarrad returns with the coffee, Sierra is unlacing her skates—there’s no mention of her gear being taken off before or after this moment. Now, it is theoretically possible to take off all of your gear before taking off your skates. It’s unlikely—you usually take off the helmet, gloves, shoulder pads, and elbow pads before the skates, but the shin guards, hockey socks, and breezers afterwards. You’d have to seriously stretch your hockey socks to get them on or off over your skates (ask me how I know!) and while it’s definitely possible to put the breezers on over your skates (my coach recommends it, actually), it’s difficult, and would be twice as difficult afterwards. Nit-picky, I know, particularly since the author does say “once she had her street shoes back on and the padding off” (23) but this isn’t the only scene in which the two practice hockey, and I want to know how this magic gear works. Not to mention that apparently Sierra doesn’t sweat. Oh, sure, her hair gets messy from the helmet: it “picked up some static from the cold and was levitating in places” (21). This is with her helmet on. How does her hair levitate with a helmet on top of it? Not to mention that maybe this is too much information about your humble reviewer, but when I play hockey, my hair doesn’t stick up. Why? Not only because there’s a helmet on top of it but because just the act of putting all the gear on is generally enough to get people to start sweating. I know that, despite her “breakaway”, Sierra wasn’t exactly tearing up the ice, but she’d still be getting a bit full of perspiration. So.
They get back on the ice, with no mention of putting on gear for either of them, until she falls and it doesn’t hurt because she’s wearing (magical!) padding. (Note, I’m suggesting it’s magical because it’s suddenly there, not because it works. The part where it doesn’t hurt when you fall—generally—is true, when you’re wearing gear.) Things work much better this time around because Jarrad coaxed the staff into giving her better skates. On one hand, I will admit that bad skates are going to make skating much, much harder. On the other, I have a hard time believing that there’s a super-secret stash of not-sucky skates behind the counter, just waiting for former NHLers to ask for them. (Also, the skates she had on before were described as dirty white, which suggests that she was trying to play hockey in figure skates.)
Anyway, they go and have a date and then they have typically mind-blowing romance novel sex. Then they get breakfast at a diner where Jarrad eats multiple platefuls of unhealthy food. I mention this because later in the story Sierra makes him breakfast in bed and “it was healthier stuff than he usually ate and maybe the proportions were a little skimpy” (56). Now, I don’t know any professional hockey players. But they are athletes. Highly trained, highly paid athletes who put their bodies through hell each season. And from that alone I would think they would eat better than the “West Coast Trucker,” apparently a diner specialty that combines everything on the menu. In fact, because the summer hockey news is slow, I know that both the Vancouver Canucks prospects and the Phoenix Coyotes prospects were treated to seminars and lectures (and in the latter’s case, a trip to a grocery store) to learn about healthy eating. So while I get that athletes eat a lot, I would think that Sierra’s choice of “muesli and yogurt, or an organic fruit compote” wouldn’t be a foreign concept.
My last complaint is that after another round of mind-blowing sex, they go back to the rink at about midnight in order to have some private hockey time (no, that’s not a euphemism) and then afterwards they have sex in the locker room showers. Why is this an issue to me? First, no other time that Sierra has changed out of her hockey gear has she even been in a locker room, which is odd to me because every rink I’ve been to, be it for practice or just for stick time, has had players use locker rooms, if only to keep the giant bags of gear out of everyone else’s way, I should think. Maybe Vancouver rinks are different. Second, upon being told to shower, Sierra says “Okay, I’m not sure where the women’s change room is” (50) which makes sense, given my earlier point about her just (having magical gear and) lacing up her skates rinkside. But again, no rink I’ve been to (at this point, in my limited experience, that would be 7) has separate male and female locker rooms. And third, ewwwwwww, sex in a locker room shower? In an NHL rink, sure, I guess—they have people to clean those up, I should think. But an amateur rink (admittedly one where apparently they have magical hockey gear and super-secret skates and lots of free time on the ice, apparently, because whenever these two want to have stick time they never need to check a schedule) no thanks. Just the freakin’ locker rooms tend to smell horrifically (oh right, people don’t sweat in this book—when Sierra sees herself in a mirror after skating, before the shower sex, she sees her hair is rumpled and her face is red from cold), I can’t imagine that the showers would be clean. Ew ew ew.
Anyway, post-sex Sierra makes a comment about how Jarrad will only be in town for two weeks, so it’s okay that he’s hiding her away from everyone, and he says he can stay forever because he’s retired and he’s not hiding her away he was keeping the Prying Paparazzi from her. They then chat with a blogger and meet his family (the stars of the next two stories) and aww, it’s cute. Jarrad has his sense of purpose restored (in that he’ll coach amateur hockey? And be with Sierra?) and Sierra has her sense of self-esteem restored (because even though Jarrad should be out of her league, he has fallen for her) and they presumably live happily ever after.
I leave you with the quote of the novel: “She tried to hold on to sanity long enough to remind him of the importance of protection, but he was already reaching for the night table and she relaxed, knowing that he might take chances on the ice, but he wouldn’t take chances with her” (40).