Breaking Out – Lise MacTague

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
This was my first time reading MacTague and I have to say I really loved this book. It was the perfect mix of sport and romance for my tastes, and with the intricacies of both main characters it just made for the perfect read.

KJ loves hockey. It’s her sanity. She considers herself lucky that her hometown has a rink and a women’s team. She’s the best player on the team and loves joining up with her defensive line-mate in pursuit of winning her team a championship. There’s only one problem – her line-mate is pregnant.

Adrienne has moved into town to work as the school counsellor. She’s recently divorced and just looking for stability for herself and her son, Lawrence. She agrees to join the team reluctantly, especially when she and KJ don’t exactly hit it off.

This isn’t a full blown enemies to lovers, but it’s definitely reluctant acquaintances to lovers. It’s also a great slow burn as they get to know each other first on the ice, then as friends before admitting their attraction to each other.

I particularly enjoyed the slow burn of the romance and the way both characters grew through the narrative, both together and as individuals. KJ coming to terms with her family situation is particularly well done.

Lawrence is a great character. I love the way his relationship develops with KJ, first as a friend and then as his Mom’s girlfriend. As to be expected, that’s a hard transition for him, but I thought MacTague did a great job of illustrating this and the disappointment all parties feel, and then the joy. I also love his relationship with KJ’s dog Chester.

The other secondary characters play their parts. The rest of the hockey team are fun, KJ’s family are difficult but redeemed and Adrienne’s family are pretty great.

If you like sports in your sapphic books, you’ll love this, but even if you aren’t a sports fan and like a good romance you should enjoy this one as it has so much going for it. There is some on ice action, but it doesn’t take up too much of the book and it’s more used to discuss their relationship and feelings, than for the actual action itself.

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Clinch – Nicole Disney

Rating: 5 out of 5.
I’m not an MMA fan, but I loved this book. It’s the perfect mix of action and romance with some family drama thrown in for good measure.

Eden is the undefeated MMA champion in her weight class. She runs a Taekwondo dojang in a difficult neighbourhood and is dedicated to her training and the local kids.

Brooklyn is an up and coming fighter from a long line of jiu-jitsu specialists. As the only woman and the youngest one in her family she’s under a lot of pressure to take Eden’s belt and be the first Shaw to claim a world title.

I love so many things about both characters. The inclusion of Taekwondo and Jin as her Eden’s martial arts master allows us to see a different side to MMA than you might presume, with honour and discipline shown through Eden and her approach to life.

Brooklyn is passionate and out to achieve everything she can as quickly as possible, but underneath the bravado and brashness she’s soft, loving and conflicted. Her family are extremely homophobic and her love for Eden is something she struggles to reconcile with her desire to fight and make her family happy.

The chemistry between the two of them is really steamy and I loved how there is balance between tension, desire and love throughout the storyline.
The descriptions of the MMA action really make you feel like you’re in the heat of the moment with them, somehow without feeling too violent, which really impressed me.

Disney has created something special here, and even if you don’t love sport, or martial arts, I highly recommend you try this, it’s a definite re-read for me.

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Home Ice Advantage – K.R. Collins

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Yet another great instalment in this series. I find myself both loving the idea that this series is going to continue for some time as I enjoy the books so much, but also equally worried that we’re going to be kept waiting even longer for the thing I most want to happen!

I enjoyed that the narrative of this book takes place both in the main hockey league and at the winter games, breaking things up a little and ensuring that we aren’t revisiting the same thing over and over. The hockey scenes are always written well and this hasn’t changed in this book. There’s plenty of action off the ice in this book too, which provides a nice interlude.

I find Sophie’s feelings about her career, her family and Elsa both immensely frustrating and completely relatable. I love that whilst Sophie is an adult, with a high pressure career, she’s experiencing the feelings that many feel when discovering their sexuality as teenagers and it’s here where I most love Collins as a writer. Her writing about hockey is fantastic and also shines, but her ability to bring out Sophie’s feelings without making her appear as a whiny child are great.

I love that Collins doesn’t write all of the characters to be the same, just because they are hockey players. She teases out parts of each of the women in the league so they are both great friends and foes for each other. I also really liked that this book explores the relationship Sophie has with her coach in more depth.

I enjoyed the discussions about ensuring the locker room was inclusive and the addition of some bi representation as well as a gay male character.

If you’re a fan of the series you’ll enjoy this instalment, and if you haven’t started this series yet – pick up Breaking the Ice as you’ll need to start at the beginning.

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Glove Save and A Beauty – K.R. Collins

Rating: 4 out of 5.
I caught up with the previous books in this series recently in anticipation of this one’s release day and I have to say I thought this was a worthy addition to the series, despite it being about Gabrielle instead of Sophie. In fact, I think adding this shorter book before we read the next chapter in Sophie’s journey will keep the series fresher.

When I was little I was a huge hockey fan. Despite growing up in the UK I was lucky enough to grow up in a town with a team in the top league in the country and I could be found at the rink for every home game. However I wasn’t allowed to play. I desperately wanted to be a goaltender. Reading this is a small glimpse into all the things I enjoy about keeping goal in any sport. The writing on the psyche of those of that choose to stand in front of a puck for a living is great. It’s detailed enough to allow understanding but not so detailed that non-fans will be put off.

I wasn’t sure I’d like the decision to present the narrative in a non-chronological order, but actually that works too. For me it increased the understanding as to why Gabrielle is the way she is. The pressure on her is different than that on Sophie – which is hinted at in Sophie’s books, but it’s nice to have that explored further. There isn’t as much hockey action in this book – which is probably why it’s shorter, so non sports fans may prefer this instalment.

My only real gripe is with the front cover – this is a book about a goaltender – put a goaltenders mask on the front cover. They’re unique and interesting – Gabrielle’s is even described in the book.

Fans of the series should enjoy this, as should any hockey fans, sports fans and people that enjoy queer fiction. I think you could read this as a standalone – whilst it’s definitely strengthened by having read the other books, they aren’t necessary to enjoy this one.

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When Sparks Fly – Annie McDonald

Rating: 4 out of 5.
3.75 stars. Had I not read others reviews I would not have been expecting this story to be rooted in hockey in the way that it is. No complaints from me though as I love hockey and the setting works really well with these characters.

Luca is an iron sculptor. She used to play hockey until an incident on the ice left her career heading in other directions. She’s had to put a lot of her own dreams aside to support others, but has found a niche for herself coaching and working on her art.

Daniella is returning to her hometown to work as the team doctor for the local hockey team after working as a doctor in Guyana. She’s not well and is keeping everyone at a safe distance until she can resolve her feelings about her time in Guyana.

I love the diversity in the book, I learnt a lot through reading this and it has definitely piqued my interest in certain aspects of Canadian history. I enjoyed how the history was told through the secondary characters.

The relationship between the two leads is complicated. They have a history but it’s not the one you would expect. They’re attracted to each other but have their reasons to stay away. It makes for an interesting slow burn between two passionate characters.

McDonald has a way with words that mean the descriptive passages about skating and sculpture are almost moving to read. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more McDonald in the future.

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.