March Update: Hockey Romance Read

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.

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.

March Reads:

  • Save of the Game by Avon Gale, #2 in the Scoring Chances series. (contemporary m/m romance novel) I enjoyed this the second time around. I liked watching the romance build between the MCs, and enjoyed the contrast of their perspectives. This was a compelling reread, had great pacing and was a great ride.  Just like with my first read, I found the coming out experience (in terms of recognizing their own queerness) described in this story rather baffling and quite different from my own. (Rep: Bisexual men MCs. Bi/demirom/grayace woman author.) (Read 3/2-3/3)
  • The Tao of Hockey by Melanie Ting, #1 in the Vancouver Vice series. (contemporary m/f romance) This didn’t work for me; the romance arc felt forced and while I love a prickly heroine with lots of emotional armor, and I really liked Josie as a character, the way he pursued her was creepy and I couldn’t root for them as a couple. I never warmed to or connected with the hero, unfortunately, and I think that made it a hard read for me. I found it difficult to read about the intensely toxic team environment and the hero’s arc was not satisfying; it didn’t feel like a full arc to me. (Rep: Hero with trauma. Japanese-Canadian woman author.) (Read 1/14-3/3)
  • Check, Please by Ngozi Ukazu (contemporary m/m romance graphic novel) I highly recommend this, it was utterly delightful. Most adorable gay boy hockey player ever. He figure skates! He bakes pies! He has a crush on the captain of the team! Slowest of burns, romance element is rather light, but still present. (Rep: Gay man MC. Nigerian American woman author.) (Read 3/2-3/3)
  • Until You by Jeannie Moon (contemporary m/f romance novel) This age gap romance between a newly divorced mom and a younger hockey player reads a bit like a soap opera. The writing was oddly compelling but this book was very much not for me, as the central antagonist was the heroine’s abusive ex husband, and the abuse continues throughout the book and is described in a lot of detail. That alone makes it not my kind of story, but the abuse and the threat of the antagonist are not portrayed in a realistic way, and as a survivor reader who also worked in the intimate violence field for a long time, I find these kinds of depictions and simplifications frustrating, especially when they are combined with a hero that leans toward protection and rescue. There is more that didn’t work for me with this story, but that’s one of the bigger pieces. (Read 3/4-3/5)

Hockey Romances I Began Reading in March

Two Man Advantage by Samantha Wayland

Two Man Advantage by Samantha Wayland (contemporary m/m polyamorous romance novel) This is book two in the series, where the m/f couple are long distance and they open up their relationship for him to be with another man; who knew it would be his (presumably heterosexual) BFF teammate? I liked book one quite a bit, but I got irritated with the way the first m/m sex scene was handled (so much gender binarism and cissexism) and I just wasn’t up for slogging through that at that time, so I put it down, figuring I’d pick it up again. I haven’t yet, but I still may. (Began 3/2, put down 3/2)

Hockey Romances I DNF’d in March

  • puckedPucked by Helena Hunting (contemporary m/f romance novel) (A) The best things about this were Muffy Newtown’s narration (I disliked the other narrator), the open discussion of the heroine’s masturbation and general investment in her own sexual pleasure, her social awkwardness and the hero’s affection for it, and the surprisingly good consent negotiation in the sex scenes (especially the early ones) which managed to make incremental consent really very hot in a way I generally have not seen. Those things, some of the humor, and my investment in reading a range of hockey romances to get a sense of what the subgenre is like had me hanging in despite the really intense amount of slut shaming and misogyny (both externalized and internalized) that was so deeply embedded in the heroine’s POV that it was seeped into pretty much every moment of the story. I held on way past when I should have, as it was a train wreck in so many ways and very clearly not for me and full of problematic elements (check the CWs on the link above for more details). It was the rather lengthy joking exchange between the MCs that was full of intense trans hatred that snapped me out of listening to this, and led me to DNF. (Began 3/2, DNF 3/5)

My April Hockey Romance TBR

Reflections

I did not have the best of luck with m/f hockey romances in March. I DNF’d my first one, and pushed myself to finish two others that I didn’t like. So I started questioning whether I wanted to continue reading hockey romance, or if perhaps this project wasn’t for me. I had a bit more luck with m/m. I reread Save of the Game, which I’d enjoyed quite a bit the first read, and liked it still, and I fell really hard for Check, Please, which was adorable and charming and made me feel hopeful that there was hockey romance that would work for me, I just maybe needed a break. That was confirmed when I tried a polyamorous romance that I just ended up not being up for right then. So after the first week in March, I took the rest of the month off from reading hockey romance, with the thought I might be into reading it in April again, and a game plan that catered more to my reading preferences.

So, for now, the project continues. I do think that the level of misogyny, gender binarism, cissexism, and toxic relationships has been higher in the hockey romances I’ve tried than I am generally willing to tolerate in romances in general, and I’ve been pushing myself to read it anyway, which is not the right tactic. So, going forward, I am going to DNF more, and be more careful in my choices of which books to try. I’m hoping that will help.

6 thoughts on “March Update: Hockey Romance Read

  1. Hi,

    I’m enjoying your reviews and reflections on hockey romances, but it’s not clear to me how familiar you are with high level amateur and professional hockey, and I think that background with real world hockey and in hockey Real Person Fanfiction might help you understand and anticipate some of the issues you’ve noted, both with misogynies and issues around race.

    Would you like me to share some background?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know very much about hockey at all, or about real person fanfiction around hockey, I am coming to this subset of romance with little experience; I only started reading sports romance a couple years ago, despite reading romance for most of my life. I wonder how many hockey romance readers do know about those things. If you wanted to share further context, I’d be glad to hear it.

      I will say that whatever the reality might be with hockey in life, authors make choices about the worlds they create, who they include and who they exclude, how they write, and what kinds of dynamics they create for their characters. Similarly, publishers make choices about what they print. These authorial and publisher choices may be influenced by a range of things including readership and the cultures of the sports they are representing, but this does not make authors and publishers less accountable for them. In other words, misogyny and overwhelming whiteness in hockey culture in life does not need to translate to those things in fiction.

      I do also want to say that these issues do not solely exist in hockey romance, they exist across romance as a genre, & in other genres as well. I am noticing them anew and developing strategies for navigating these writing trends anew because this corner of Romancelandia is new to me.

      Like

    1. So I liked book 1, though I do rec looking at the CWs. Here is my mini review:
      https://coreysbookcorner.wordpress.com/2019/03/05/february-update-hockey-romance-read/

      My thing with book 2 is a really common thing that happens in m/m romance that may not bug other people as much as it bugged me in that moment. I just really dislike the thing where they make blanket statements about how men’s bodies feel vs women’s bodies. I don’t think this was worse than the zillions of other times I’ve seen that, I just am not feeling tolerant of it these days.

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  2. So, professional and amateur hockey are very white. Just under 50% of players are Canadian*, about a quarter are from the US (and over represented by long winter Northern states like New England, Minnesota, the Pacific Northwest, which are whiter than the US overall.) European players also come from extremely white places like the Nordic countries and Russia. The latest statistic I saw is that the league is 93% white (and that’s just players, coaches and GMs and other officials are drawn from the ranks of those who used to play (when the league was even whiter) and those who are rich enough to be friends with a guy who is rich enough to own a hockey team. (And even as “rich enough to own a professional sports team” goes, you have to be really rich to own a hockey team, because they make relatively little money for men’s pro sports.)

    *Most of the players of color who have played in the NHL have been Canadian. Canada is not all white and everyone plays hockey there.

    Also, hockey fans continue to be publicly racist (the clever ones tell the black players to play basketball, the dumb ones offer bananas), there’s a team called the Blackhawks with an Indian as their mascot, and the NHL has a month long public spectacle of acceptance called Hockey is For Everyone that is just not particularly convincing.

    The actual big point is that a player of color on an NHL team is ISOLATED. They are probably the only black, Asian, or Latino guy on their team, and may easily at any given time be the only person of color. To the best of my recollection, no pro hockey players knelt during the anthem while that was a thing, One guy raised a fist and got some fan blowback.

    Additionally, hockey has a very overt culture of “it’s bad for a guy to be a distraction for his teammates, let’s just focus on hockey.” PK Subban, who is a black Canadian, and extremely flashy guy (which fans like, but which sometimes becomes an accusation that he’s a selfish player), was traded by the Montreal Canadians after he pledged to raise millions of dollars for a children’s hospital but didn’t coordinate the flashy announcement with the team. (He also literally got in trouble for too enthusiastic goal celebration, but this also happens to other players. [Russians]) The Canadians traded him for a formerly great defenseman who was clearly about to fall apart because he was very old in hockey years and then that defenseman (Shea Weber) was not as good at hockey and then missed half a season to injury. A distraction appears to be having any sort of personal problem or renown except assaulting other people. (By which I mean, being arrested and convicted of assaulting someone is a problem, being credibly accused is not. But being assaulted makes you a distraction [happened to a Russian player in Montreal])

    Further, hockey culture stereotypes Russians in similar ways to American racism. The stereotypes are about laziness, selfishness, and the assumption that some guys never really commit to a NHL team because they can go play in the KHL (Russian pro league.) Some teams avoid drafting well-regarded draftees because they are Russian, and the teams worry they’ll never convince them to come play in the US.

    Also, hockey is the only professional men’s sport where fighting is allowed/encouraged. It’s dropped off substantially at the NHL level (because they’ve finally recognized that fighting doesn’t score goals), but at the high amateur level, it still goes on. Most of the other pro men’s sports which aren’t themselves fighting have some sort of substantial monetary penalty and an ejection from the game for an onfield fight. For hockey, you can’t play for five minutes and then you’re good to go.

    Also hockey is one of the most expensive amateur sports for an individual, the equipment is expensive and you need a lot of it and it can break in the course of ordinary play. That means hockey is weighted towards people who are well-off.

    The stuff above applies to real life NHL hockey, what I’m going to tell you below comes from Hockey RPF, which has more or less credibility as a source of info, but definitely informs the tropes of m/m hockey romance. (I think m/f romance is less connected to fanfiction culture, and, from the outside, it appears that m/f writers who are hockey fans thought they could do the same thing as, like, NASCAR romances with a sport they actually enjoy.)

    Anyway:

    For Canadians (and, to a lesser extent, Northern Europeans and Russians), a kid who has serious and realistic chance at professional hockey gets trained with a sort of life encompassing dedication the nearest closest US example I can think of is gymnastics or figure skating.

    Starting roughly middle school age, you may be invited to a high level travel team, at 16 (if you are extraordinary) you may end up moving away to join a theoretically amateur major junior team, where you live with a billet family and try to cram in school work around your practices and games, but nobody cares that much because if you do major junior, your plan is to go pro. (Only in the last 5 years has there been provision made to try to support these guys into a Canadian college, if they don’t make it pro.)

    Combined with a hockey culture which emphasizes things like “playing through pain”, “you should fight on ice sometimes”, the “Stanley cup trophy is the best trophy in sports because you have to literally break your body to try to win it” is also the hockey culture of not standing out off the ice, conforming to the group, intra-team courts to enforce proscribed with behavior with fines (they do the courts thing at the NHL level.)

    So, you have a bunch of adolescent boys who get cut off from the social milieu of normal humans and are brought up with a bunch of hypermasculine tropes, and slash fans assume that they basically all have the maturity of 13 year old boys. And these guys set the tone in all NHL locker rooms, because they are more than half the league. (Serious foreign players may do Major Junior hockey, although they may alternately play US College hockey or play in a pro men’s league in Europe.)

    Further, Canadians actually follow Major Junior hockey, so that some of those players are nationally known and undergo media training, etc. (In the media training, they are taught to be quiet, team first, give extremely bland and meaningless sound bites, and avoid having a personality.)

    To the best of my knowledge, there has been one trans pro hockey player, and Harrison Browne played in the US women’s pro league, the NWHL The women’s game at the top level is not as fast as the men’s game and doesn’t allow intentional checking, so a trans player who tried to switch leagues in either direction would have to make serious adjustments to their game (except maybe a goalie). The NWHL policy for trans men is that they can’t be taking testosterone while they play.

    To date, no current or former NHL player has come out as queer, although in the women’s game, there have been at least 3 instances where there’s been a marriage or long-term partnership between a US and Canadian Olympian, let alone the intrateam and “queer without dating other hockey players” players.

    From what little NFL and baseball romance I have read (and it’s very little, as I don’t care for either of those sports), they have more players of color (sometimes even as the heroes), but are much whiter than their leagues actually are.

    You are right that all authors make choices about how much of this they choose to reflect (for instance, the Atlanta Thrashers [which were later moved to Winnipeg MB] had a roster with 5 black players at one point. Another Southern team could try that strategy in a hockey romance writers fake pro league. Or a Southwest team could look for Latino or Spanish players.)

    Anyway, I hope this is helpful for you in considering what hockey romances are likely to look like, and if you have any questions, my twitter is @zviltv, feel free to @ me.

    Liked by 1 person

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