breaking the iceRating: 3.5 stars
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Length: Novella

Matt Wasko’s favorite time of year is ice fishing season. His home overlooks Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin, and for two weeks a year he takes off work and spends his time ice fishing and sturgeon spearing along with his friends. Matt loves nature and the outdoors, and fishing connects him with his grandfather who helped raise him.

As fishing season begins, Matt brings his shanty out onto the ice. His friends all surround him and he is ready for some fun, relaxation, and a bit of competitiveness. But Matt’s mood sours when John Lutz shows up. John works at Matt’s company and hangs out with a bunch of homophobic jerks who are always picking on Matt. Matt wants nothing to do with John and refuses to let him ruin Matt’s good time. But when a freak storm hits and John is unprepared, Matt has no choice but to let him into his shanty for the night. And when he does, Matt learns there is much more to John and his behavior than he ever knew. Now that they are getting to know one another, there just might to a chance for something more between them.

Breaking the Ice is part of Dreamspinner Press’ States of Love collection, a set of stories that each take place in a different state. Tali Spencer describes this book as “a love note to Wisconsin” and I think that is a good way to explain it. The state, the people, and the sport of ice fishing are all lovingly detailed and I think that really helped make the story work for me. We get a great sense of the culture and the vibe of the people who live near Matt, and the story feels very grounded in the sense of place. We also get lots of information on ice fishing. I am totally unfamiliar with the sport, so I found it quite interesting to hear all the little details, from how Matt furnishes his shanty, to the various regulations, to the parties they have out on the ice. If you aren’t into this kind of thing, I think this book may not work as well for you, as fishing is an extensive part of the story. But for me, I found it really interesting and it is what made the book for me.

The relationship end, however, fell a little flat. This isn’t a particularly long story, but it takes a while before Matt and John ever really interact more than superficially. The first part of the book is primarily focused on ice fishing and giving us the set up between the guys. It isn’t until they end up spending the night in Matt’s shanty that they ever really even have a conversation on page, and from there things escalate with breakneck speed. We go from Matt hating John and thinking him a homophobe to Matt seeing a potential future with John after what is just a couple of hours. After that, it isn’t so much that the relationship moves fast, as that we barely see any of it. Things are just told to us to sort of recap where the guys are in their relationship (even the one sex scene is told partly in recap), so I never feel like I really go to know these guys as a couple. I honestly think this story would have worked a lot better if Spencer didn’t try for the HEA and instead just let us see a thawing out of the tension and the moving forward, instead of taking these huge relationship leaps.

Aside from not connecting with the relationship, I think the other part of the issue is that these guys just read as very two dimensional to me. Matt is basically perfect. He is cute, fun, kind, generous, and maintaining the memories of his beloved grandparents. I could find pretty much nothing about him that isn’t wonderful and charming, which makes for a great person, but not such an exciting character. He is such the “good guy” to contrast with John’s “bad guy.” For his part, John is the stereotypical homophobe who is hiding that he is gay. This is revealed in the blurb and fairly early on in the book, and John’s reasons for his behavior make sense, even though they aren’t particularly noble. John is a little bit more of a complex character than Matt, and I did enjoy seeing him embarrass himself with his lack of fishing knowledge as he tries to impress Matt. But I just didn’t feel these guys are particularly well developed or move beyond their basic character set ups.

As I said, I think that what pulled the book together for me was the nice sense of place that Spencer infuses into the book. It gave more layers to the story and I enjoyed learning about ice fishing and getting a sense of the camaraderie between Matt and his friends. I wish as much depth had been given to Matt and John themselves and to their relationship to really make the book shine. But overall, I found this one interesting and a quick, easy read, but not a story that really grabbed my attention.

A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.

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