Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars
Narrator: Nick J. Russo
Length: 5 hours, 8 minutes
Court Henderson is a semi-pro hockey player nearing the end of his career. His current team cut him at the beginning of the season, his agent just released him, and he’s returned to Elmwood, Vermont to lick his wounds and re-group. Thankfully, there’s a robust hockey community growing in Elmwood, fronted by two retired hockey legends–Vinnie Kaminski and Riley Thoreau–who have recently settled down in the small town with men of their own.
Ivan Carmelo returned to Elmwood to start a coffee shop with his childhood best friend after they got tired of the grind in NYC. He’s out and proud, but a bit lonely, as there aren’t many gay locals to whom he’s attracted. However, Ivan has a good collection of friends, some solid social activities, and his business is thriving. Meeting his old crush, Court, is a little bit kismet. Court’s family owns the bakery next-door to Ivan’s coffee shop, and they click while reminiscing and later chatting about pairings of specialty teas/coffees and Henderson’s delectable pastries. It blows Ivan’s mind when Court reveals his bisexuality, and then…well…the blowing of other things follows rather soon after.
Holiday Crush is the third book in the Elmwood Stories series, but can be enjoyed as a standalone. This is a sweet, small-town reconnection romance. Ivan and Court were friendly in school, but never had any intimacy. Court didn’t acknowledge his bi side until college, when Ivan and he were long separated. Now, Court’s in Elmwood for an indeterminate amount of time. He’s agreed to assist coaching with Vinnie and Riley, in exchange for training to improve his game and a meeting with Vinnie’s agent. He could be signed to another team before New Years, if things go according to plan. Or, Court could just retire altogether. It’s almost Thanksgiving, and these two decide to make the most of whatever time Court has in town.
I really liked the story, and the narration by Nick J. Russo is solid. He has great inflections and intonations for the characters, so they don’t sound alike. The pacing is enjoyable, with just the right cadence to keep the story flowing. As with all the books in this series, the hockey is on the side with very little in the prose. Court has a scene of playing time at the very beginning, and then he’s mostly talking about hockey or coaching little kids in hockey for the rest of the book. The story is centered on the development of the romance between Ivan and Court, which is fun and sexy by turns.
Elmwood has turned out to be a fun place for me to visit, which is why I keep going back to these books. Friday bingo, holiday bazaars, and celebrations with family are all staples of the town that has fully embraced their increased gay population. Fans of the series will enjoy the cameos from Vinnie, Riley, and JC, who’s always giving Ivan good-natured crap about his questionable latte art. Expect a solid happy ending that still leaves room for one more book when the bisexual realtor will find his (hockey?) partner.