So one of the things I decided to do this year was to embark upon a reading project focused on hockey romances. I am going to do a monthly post with mini-reviews of the hockey romances I’ve read this year, note DNFs in a separate section, and include general observances as I explore this new-to-me subgenre in romance. You can read January’s post here.
Note: All links to Amazon will be affiliate ones. If you buy through those links, I will make a small amount of money on that sale (which I plan to use to buy more books to review), but it will not add any to the cost of your product. It comes out of the company’s profits.
- Fair Play by Samantha Wayland (contemporary m/f romsusp novel) This is the first in a polyamorous hockey romance series which resolves to an m/m/f triad, with the seeds planted in this book; I’m definitely hooked and want to read the other books. It was riveting, I really liked the heroine’s arc around her job, and the MCs have truly explosive chemistry; amazing UST and when they finally get to it, the sex scenes are extremely hot and definitely lay the groundwork for a triad later with a ton of erotic compersion, which was lovely to see in a romance about a couple. Please do look at the CWs in the link because there are quite a few. (Rep: Woman trauma survivor MC. Bisexual man MC.)
- Kiss and Cry by Mina V Esguerra (contemporary m/f romance)I loved this romance, it’s one of my faves I’ve read in 2019, and it beat out my former favorite Esguerra romance for the top slot. This is a second chance #romanceclass romance between a hockey player and a figure skater. It has a bucket list aspect to it, with a time limit (what I think of as the ticking clock trope). I really appreciated how sweet the hero was, how he could be presented as clearly very athletic and a talented devoted hockey player without him being hypermasculine or possessive. (Rep: Filipino MCs. Filipino bisexual secondary character. Filipina woman author.)
- Game Changer by Rachel Reid (contemporary m/m romance) This contemporary m/m romance has a meet cute between a closeted hockey player and the cute guy who made the smoothies that might have helped him break a losing streak, a one night stand to lovers arc, and heavily centers out for you as the core trope. This was my first Reid book and I found it pretty compelling. It feels like the most swoony of the hockey romances I’ve read so far, except for Kiss and Cry. It felt like the story valued the romantic aspect of the relationship and centered it alongside the sexual aspect. (Rep: Gay MCs. Several secondary characters of color.)
Hockey Romances I Began Reading in February
- The Trouble With Valentine’s Day by Rachel Gibson (contemporary m/f romance) I started this on audio at the tail end of my Valentine’s Day reads but felt too oversaturated with Valentine’s Day romances, so didn’t continue. I will give it a try again soon.
- Full Contact by Andie J Christopher (contemporary m/f romance) The heroine of this story is a trauma survivor, and I wasn’t up for reading that on the day I started. I do want to finish this soon, as I liked both MCs and enjoy Christopher’s writing.
- Save of the Game by Avon Gale (contemporary m/m romance) I started this late in the month and just didn’t get a chance to finish it yet!
- Pucked by Helena Hunting (contemporary m/f romance) I started this on audio late in the month, and didn’t get a chance to finish. The audio may not be for me; I have a feeling I would enjoy this more in ebook.
My March Hockey Romance TBR
I am fascinated by how similar the covers are in this post; almost all have very dark backgrounds, or very light ones. Lots of bare chests and muscles, and a fair amount of skating feet. Only one classic clinch cover, only two illustrated covers. I am likely thinking about this partly because I was fascinated by Elizabeth Lane’s video on decoding romance covers. I’m paying a lot more attention to covers because of it!
I was really struck by how different Kiss and Cry felt from any of the other hockey romances I have read thus far; I discuss that some in my review of the book, but I also want to highlight it here because I think it’s an important thing for me to continue to contemplate. So, I want to talk about masculinity and what I’ve seen so far in the hockey romances I’ve read since I began this project, because Kiss and Cry feels like quite a departure.
Fair Play was teeming with violence of all sorts, grappled very openly with really virulent misogyny and centered an incredibly toxic team environment that was very much caught up in rather intense toxic masculinity. The hero was presented as an outlier, a protector, and rather different from much of the team. A good man, a strong man, a man who may have given a bad impression at first but was different from other boys. In several important ways, including his queerness and openness to sexual exploration that included him bottoming sexually. He was also very physically strong and big in comparison to the heroine, rarely showed emotion to the reader, himself or anyone else including the heroine, was stoic around physical pain, embodied a lot of the ways toxic masculinity wraps around ableism.
I discuss in my review of Game Changer how unusual it felt for me to read a hockey romance hero who had emotions and recognized them, thought about them, and sometimes shared them. I thought Scott’s moments of emotional vulnerability were quite notable, as it wasn’t something I have seen much in other hockey player heroes in prior reads. I noted that I wished there was more room for his emotional vulnerability, that it wasn’t notable in comparison to other romances across the board, but was very striking in comparison to hockey romances I’d read.
In Game Changer, we witness Scott struggling with the pressures of toxic masculinity in many ways. He is invested in stoicism and not showing pain, in being strong, and Kip is also invested in that image of him. For example, he feels bad that he’s injured and apologizes for not being up for sex right after an injury. He is caught up in projecting this neutral not notable image of manhood that will let his queerness fly under the radar, keep his closet door firmly locked and not allow his queerness to be scoped out by the press. And, he also yearns for queer community, has all these emotional responses to Kip that include a lot of romantic feeling, is scared to lose Kip, and is very aware of his loneliness. He struggles with toxic gender expectations, doesn’t know how to handle the jumble of mixed feelings and fears he has, sometimes being quite emotionally vulnerable, sometimes closing off or reacting explosively.
Ramirez in Kiss and Cry felt like an entirely different kind of hero. His emotional vulnerability and yearning was striking in comparison to many romance heroes. He felt like he wasn’t caught up in expectations of toxic masculinity, like he has skirted that altogether, and isn’t worried about how his manhood is perceived, or proving his masculinity, or appearing tough or stoic. I would guess that some of this is potentially cultural; this is a book by a Filipino author set in The Phillipines centering Filipino characters, and gender expectations are often culturally specific. The other hockey romances I’ve read have been set in the U.S. or Canada, and centered white characters.
Ramirez has lots of feelings, is brimming with them, and is fairly emotionally vulnerable, takes some big emotional risks. Also, he seems to be more emotionally vulnerable with the heroine than she is with him; she has a lot of emotional armor and while the reader gets to see inside, he finds her fairly inscrutable and really aches to please her and give her what she needs, adores her to pieces pretty openly. It is rare to find a hero in m/f romance that is this vulnerable, and I really appreciated it. In addition, his physical strength is not emphasized, it matches her strength but isn’t privileged over it; this is especially notable to me after reading so many hockey romances that are all about prizing the hockey player hero’s physical strength and size in comparison to his partner. I found Ramirez to be very different, genderwise, from any of the hockey player heroes I have encountered before. And I fell really hard for him, was really rooting for them as a couple in a way that I mostly have not been in my prior hockey romance reading.
Kiss and Cry really hit me in the feels in a way that felt different from my other reading experiences with hockey romance. It also felt like it carved out some space for hockey romances that are more like what I enjoy writing myself. I’m interested in checking out the next in both Reid’s and Wayland’s series’ to see where they go. I am also very interested in finding more hockey romances (& other sports, for that matter) that are like Kiss and Cry.