Rating: 2.75 stars
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Matthew is a successful photographer and he thinks his newest job promoting Armani’s latest fragrance will be a breeze—that is until he can’t seem to check his attraction to the fragrance’s spokesmodel, hockey star Todd Carty. Todd’s straight, and Matthew’s still nursing a broken heart, but that doesn’t keep sparks from flying.
Star forward for the New York Rangers, Todd “Pretty” Carty doesn’t expect attraction to flare between him and the photographer for the Armani photo shoot, but surprise isn’t enough to make him back off. When casual conversations turn into hanging out and then into friendship, Todd realizes that there could really be something there, if he’s not too scared to reach for it.
Despite several fits and starts, a relationship builds between the two men. Matthew must learn to let go of his painful heartbreak and Todd must be willing to commit himself to all the questions and press coverage when he reveals he’s dating a man if they’re ever going to make the relationship work.
To be perfectly honest, I had a really hard time getting into this one. There were a few little things that put me off right at the beginning and had the rest of the story been great, I might have overcome them, but instead there was absolutely nothing here to draw me in and I just ended up having a really tough time taking anything about this book seriously. It is unfortunate because the premise is one that would have really worked for me if not for all the other issues here.
Probably my biggest concern with this book was the writing style and the spotty editing. This was a story about hockey and as a lifelong hockey fan I noticed immediately that several of the terms and little details about being a pro hockey player were wrong. It was one thing for the POV character, who is not a hockey player, to not know something, but when the pro athlete starts using incorrect terms about the sport he gets paid to play, then things are a little suspect. Inversely, Matthew, our POV character is British, so it makes sense for him to think and use “Britishisms” in his speech, but he waffles between using the British and American words for things and all the American characters in the book also slip a few British phrases into their speech. This seems like something that would be nit-picking, and had only occurred a few times it would be, but it started off by simply jerking me out of the narrative, quickly devolved into annoying, and eventually became ridiculous by the end of the story.
The sex scenes were also a real miss for me. The descriptions are just confusing and at certain points I had no idea what was going on. I also found it really unbelievable that Todd, who has never been intimate with another man, is a gay sex expert. I know this is fiction, and that intimate scenes are always sprinkled with a fair bit of fantasy, but Todd was borderline adult film star good in the sack with absolutely no experience; it was all just a little too much for me. Also, there was one scene where they were intimate right after Todd is released from the hospital for injuries sustained on the ice and the whole time I wasn’t thinking, “how hot,” I was only thinking, “ouch!” The language used during the sex scenes was frankly, just plain odd. The dialogue was kind of silly, but really it paled in comparison to the descriptive language used. Take this passage for example:
Cum boiled in my scrotum. Soon I would climax. It was there, waiting, being jostled and adored by his teasing fingers on my balls.
I’ll just let that speak for itself.
I also had trouble connecting to the characters. Which seemed to be a real shame in the case of Todd, because had things been slightly different I think I maybe could have really fallen for this character, which surprised me as he wasn’t the one I went into this book thinking I’d connect with. The problem here is that we only see Todd through Matthew’s POV, and so we only see Todd as Matthew sees him—a nice smile and some muscles attached to a penis. Seriously, Todd is so objectified in this book it actually made me uncomfortable in several scenes. I know physical attraction is important in any romance, but the only attributes that are ever described about Todd are his looks and his hockey skills. Heck, his hockey nickname is “Pretty”—which I won’t go off on a tangent about how unrealistic that is, but, yeah. The really sad part is that at one point Todd says he’s looking for someone who sees past his good looks, and I get the feeling that he was trying to show Matthew that he was more than a pretty face for a good portion of this story, and Matthew just didn’t want to see that. He wanted Todd to stay firmly in that “hot guy” box he’d put him in. We didn’t ever go more than a page without Matthew thinking about how hot Todd was and how aroused Todd made him. Even Matthew’s friends can talk about nothing but how attractive Todd is and ask Matthew no questions about his personality. It was ridiculous. Especially as there were flashes of a softer, sweeter side underneath the testosterone driven athlete, and a vulnerability about the friend and former teammate he had confusing feelings for. Most of this just left me wanting more for Todd. He seemed like he really deserved better.
Then there’s Matthew. It’s hard for me to really analyze his character because other than the fact that he objectified the crap out of Todd I never got a sense of who he was. His personality seemed to change to suit the current scene and I would be hard pressed to describe him any more informatively than that. I also really had a problem with his main “flaw.” In the beginning, we’re told that he’s still heartbroken over his ex, but he doesn’t really act like he’s heartbroken, jumping into a relationship with a man he assumes is straight without much more than a few passing reservations. He’s supposed to be an adult male whose past relationship has left him with a slew of trust issues and fears about starting a new relationship and somehow he’s so overcome with lust for Todd that he forgets all of that. Yet, at the end, his trust issues from this breakup are the main obstacle between him and Todd. It just didn’t fit together for me.
All of which ignores the fact that neither of them ever act like grown men. If I had not been told beforehand what I was reading, I would have sworn throughout the entire thing that I was reading a novel about high school aged guys. Their reactions to adult situations are absurd, almost every interaction is fueled entirely by their hormones, even their romance feels very teenage puppy love, led entirely by physical attraction with no actual substance. There were several scenes that had me thinking “grow up,” the entire time. I think it’s worth noting too, that their views on sexuality are somewhat childish as well.
The side characters didn’t fare much better. They were all cardboard cutouts, adding nothing of real value to the story. They were all perfectly predictable from the ex-teammate and friend Todd used to have a crush on, to the current homophobe teammate, to the sassy gay friends in Matthew’s inner circle. Also, many of the hockey players very closely resembled actual hockey players to the point that I could tell exactly who they were supposed to be, including Todd, and that was just a little too weird for me.
The plot was also a real miss for me. The setup required a touch of suspended belief. I can see a photographer and his subject interacting during the shoot enough to become friendly acquaintances, but close enough to start inviting each other to dinner and each other’s apartments? They also jump from ‘we just met’ to ‘making out on a couch’ really quickly, which doesn’t make sense for either character, since Todd is supposed to be just coming to terms with his sexuality and Matthew is still nursing a broken heart and some serious trust issues.
The middle of the book was no better. The conflict was terribly cliché. For most of the book Todd, who appears to have the most to lose by being public with their relationship, seems unconcerned with any of the fallout and Matthew is the one insisting that they stay a secret, which makes it feel like he’s ashamed of Todd at times. The way Todd handles coming out to friends and teammates is frankly ridiculous and childish and further reinforces the impression that he hasn’t matured past his teenaged years. The other really frustrating thing was that this book raised a lot of issues that actually might have made good plot points, but they were all just glossed over. In fact everything was glossed over. Homophobic teammate? There’s one confrontation and then it’s handled offscreen. Paparazzi gets an incriminating photo? No big deal. Todd’s family isn’t really supportive? Oh, suddenly they are, so no worries. Every single “conflict” other than the thing with Matthew’s trust issues is never really resolved, it just goes away on its own with only a passing mention.
So I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me that the ending was pretty much the same way. One of the main concerns throughout the book was the fear of what things would be like when the media found out about Todd’s sexuality, and then they do find out and we get a little taste of the fallout and Todd insisting he doesn’t care about any of that, and then the book just ends. There’s a short epilogue, that’s actually mostly sex, in which Todd makes a grand gesture and magically, the last of Matthew’s trust issues melt away, and that’s it. It was incredibly unsatisfying and had I actually been remotely invested in this story emotionally it would have really upset me.
The significant issues with this book make me reluctant to recommend this one. This is the first book I’ve read by this author, so I don’t know if this is typical or just an aberration, but if you were thinking about checking her out I’d try another title.