TOUGH GUY by Rachel Reid

They have nothing in common—so why does Ryan feel most like himself whenever he’s with Fabian?

Pro hockey star Ryan Price may be an enforcer, but off the ice he struggles with anxiety. Recently traded to the Toronto Guardians, he’s determined to make a fresh start in the city’s dynamic LGBTQ Village. The last thing he expects to stumble upon in his new neighborhood is a blast from his past in the fabulous form of Fabian Salah.

Aspiring musician Fabian loathes hockey. But that doesn’t stop him from being attracted to a certain burly, ginger-bearded defenseman. He hasn’t forgotten the kiss they almost shared back in high school, and it’s clear the chemistry between them has only intensified.

Fabian is more than happy to be Ryan’s guide to the gay scene in Toronto. Between dance clubs and art exhibits—and the most amazing sex—Ryan’s starting to feel something he hasn’t experienced in a long time: joy. But playing the role of the heavy on the ice has taken its toll on his body and mind, and a future with Fabian may mean hanging up his skates for good.


Title : Tough Guy
Author : Rachel Reid
Series : Game Changers (book three)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 262
Genre : LGBTQIA+ romance / sports
Publisher : CarinaPress
Release Date : January 13, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

HEATED RIVALRY, book two in the Game Changers series, was one of my favourite reads of last year. It came as a complete surprise considering the romance and tone of book one which, while far from bad, was just nothing like the follow up. As a result I was trying to lower my expectations for book three and went in to this one just hoping it ranked somewhere in the middle. And, for the most part, I got my wish.

Ryan inwardly cringed at how rude he must have seemed. He wished he could just wear a sign that said I’m sorry. I am terrible at socializing. Please don’t take it personally.

There are a few elements in this installment that make it stand out — but I don’t want to spoil the nitty gritty of it all — but more or less the majority of my enjoyment came from Ryan. This soft cinnamon roll was dealing with so much, while also thinking so little of himself, and yet despite how contrary to his personality it was, he was always expected to be a fighter. The tough guy (heyyyoooo). He was a bundle of contradictions and I enjoyed how Reid explored that.

Opposite him is a non-hockey player but who comes from a long line of hockey supporters and, when he was young, his family often billeted players, too. But Fabian has no interest in the sport or the typically homophobic alphajerkholes who play it. Except there was that one exception from thirteen years ago..

.. who happens to be Ryan.

This was one of the cuter reunion romances, though not quite a second-chance, and while Fabian didn’t always wow me on page, I did like him. Though I’ll admit I thought he was most enjoyable when amongst his friend group.. who were hilarious. I’m such a sucker for a friend group.

Price! Thank god you are here. This goblin is bothering me.”
Eat my nuts, Rozanov!
No fucking thank you.
Sorry! Sorry. I shouldn’t laugh.
Don’t encourage Rozanov.”
I think I might love him.

The romance between these two, the intimacy involved, is one of the things that stands out to me. Beyond just Ryan, full stop. Adding to the fun were cameos by a certain Russian player and, I mean, any page with Ilya is a page you’re going to love.

So, yes, this definitely wasn’t a new favourite but I did enjoy this read. I do want to say, though, that these endings give me actual whiplash. They are the most abrupt and I don’t understand why. As a result, and because of my overall love for the series and this author, I don’t want them to end. Please will there be more. I ain’t too proud to beg.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

INSTACRUSH by Kate Meader

Theo Kershaw is the luckiest guy alive.

Roaring back from a life-threatening injury, he has the world at his skates as defenseman for his new team, the Chicago Rebels. Everyone adores his big personality, his on-ice talent, and his killer smile. Everyone but his prickly neighbor – or so he thinks. One chilly Christmas Eve, Theo will learn that maybe the girl next door isn’t such a hater after all …

Elle Butler is the most embarrassing person on the planet. 

How else can the ex-military-now-bartender explain her crush on the hot jock who lives across the hall? True, he has gorgeous green eyes and perfect cheekbones, but the filter between his brain and too-sexy mouth is permanently malfunctioning. Yet she can’t stop checking out his Instagram antics or sneaking looks at him when he’s in her bar. So. Mortifying. Running from a past filled with damning secrets, Elle’s determined that this guilty pleasure remains buried in her deepest fantasies.

Because she couldn’t possibly indulge with the Theo Kershaw or make a mistake that draws attention to her under-the-radar life. And she especially couldn’t be a mom to a pro-athlete’s baby … could she?


Title : Instacrush
Author : Kate Meader
Series : Rookie Rebels (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 319
Genre : sports contemporary romance
Publisher : Kate Meader LLC
Release Date : December 10, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

So, I wasn’t planning to review this officially because it’s sunday, almost Christmas (as I write this, it’s the twenty-second), and because we don’t really need blog content (gasp, yes, I said it). But then my mini GR review started to turn into, like, thoughts and so I just went with it.

This is book two in the Rookie Rebels series, a spin-off from the Chicago Rebels series, and reunites us with two obviously-going-to-start-something non-couple from the background of book one’s story, Elle Butler, army buddy of Levi Hunt’s, and now bartender at the local team’s bar, and Theo Kershaw, chatty sunshine defenseman with the bubble butt. And let me tell you, both of their backstories took me kinda by surprise.

This would’ve been an easy story to keep light and focus on the I-want-you-but-won’t-admit-to-it element that Elle had in regards to dealing with Theo. Instead we get a rockier history to Theo’s life, both with his upbringing and then with a major health scare, plus Elle’s got a lot of reasons for her toughness and walls; and they aren’t limited to just being in the army. I’ll admit her backstory was interesting because it was different, particularly for a sports contemporary romance, but there were also elements that felt a little unbelievable, much more in line with the soap opera storylines that a few of the players enjoy so much, and in general I felt Elle’s character arc to be less consistent. Whereas Theo was a joy and his ups and downs felt very true to form and appropriate to some of his growth.

Additionally there’s a plot element to this romance that is not my favourite, nor in how they were made to approach it, but. It didn’t piss me off, either, so, win?

What might have been my favourite part, beyond Theo and his Thirsty Instagram Stories, was catching up with all the familiar faces. I loved where some of their lives had gone, what they were doing, and I’m hella keen for Gunnar’s story as that’s clearly being set up for book three. I expect tons of angst and I want it. Particularly after this rather sugary book. Give me angst and feels.

This isn’t quite the awesome, dying seconds of overtime goal kind of winning story, but it was a fun way to pass a sunday afternoon. And I am keen to read on, so, another win.

MICHIGAN VS THE BOYS by Carrie S Allen

When a determined girl is confronted with the culture of toxic masculinity, it’s time to even the score.

Michigan Manning lives for hockey, and this is her year to shine. That is, until she gets some crushing news: budget cuts will keep the girls’ hockey team off the ice this year.

If she wants colleges to notice her, Michigan has to find a way to play. Luckily, there’s still one team left in town …

The boys’ team isn’t exactly welcoming, but Michigan’s prepared to prove herself. She plays some of the best hockey of her life, in fact, all while putting up with changing in the broom closet, constant trash talk and “harmless” pranks that always seem to target her.

But once hazing crosses the line into assault, Michigan must weigh the consequences of speaking up – even if it means putting her future on the line.


Title : Michigan vs The Boys
Author : Carrie S Allen
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 308
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : KCP Loft
Release Date : October 1, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

I would like it noted for the record that this is my do-over review after accidentally losing the first (much superior) draft. I am sad. But here we go; take two.

Wow, so. I knew going into this read that it would deal with some tough situations concerning bullying and hazing, but still. This was hard.

MICHIGAN VS THE BOYS feels like the second cousin to BEARTOWN by Fredrik Backman. Like that other story, this one also focuses on the mob mentality so often found in men, particularly in competitive sports. But that’s mostly where the similarities end.

Michigan loves hockey. So when her girls’ team is disbanded due to budget cuts, she makes the bold choice to try out for the boys’ team. Except no one wants her there. Not her coach and certainly not her teammates. But she wants to play, she is talented, and so she makes the cut.

Reading what the boys put her through, how she is ignored by the staff, and only trotted out when she out-plays, and out-scores, the boys, is so hard. Watching every hard-earned win, every success, be immediately torn down by those who are supposed to lift her up, cheer her on? Brutal. But watching her continue to push herself, to continue to succeed despite so much adversity, is remarkable. Though, ultimately, tragic because it’s so unnecessary and awful.

But for all that awful, there’s a balance of greatness, too. It’s also a story about friendship, first love, loyalty, and family. And, in some ways, so much of this is necessary. Because, as one character says, about a certain situation, which I will paraphrase, this story, the telling of it, is so important. For the girls who will see themselves in these moments; if not now, maybe in the future. For the boys who might realize that what they witness being done to others, what they don’t stop even if they don’t participate in, is wrong.

If you love hockey, if you love stories with great friendships or sibling relationships, hell, if you loved (or hated!) BEARTOWN, I would definitely recommend.

THE PLAY by Elle Kennedy

What I learned after last year’s distractions cost my hockey team our entire season? No more screwing up. No more screwing, period. As the new team captain, I need a new philosophy: hockey and school now, women later. Which means that I, Hunter Davenport, am officially going celibate…no matter how hard that makes things.

But there’s nothing in the rulebook that says I can’t be friendswith a woman. And I won’t lie—my new classmate Demi Davis is one cool chick. Her smart mouth is hot as hell, and so is the rest of her, but the fact that she’s got a boyfriend eliminates the temptation to touch her.

Except three months into our friendship, Demi is single and looking for a rebound.

And she’s making a play for me.

Avoiding her is impossible. We’re paired up on a yearlong school project, but I’m confident I can resist her. We’d never work, anyway. Our backgrounds are too different, our goals aren’t aligned, and her parents hate my guts.

Hooking up is a very bad idea. Now I just have to convince my body—and my heart.


Title : The Play
Author : Elle Kennedy
Series : Briar U (book three)
Format : eRC
Page Count : 422
Genre : NA contemporary romance
Publisher : Elle Kennedy Inc.
Release Date : October 7, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

Okay, it’s official. I’m tapping out of this series. I’ve clearly outgrown it or maybe it’s just the genre itself. I don’t know. I love hockey romances, enjoy ensemble casts that lean heavily on hijinks as the comic relief, but while I did recently reread (and love, again) the series that spawned this one, nothing since THE CHASE has worked. So I guess that was the fluke.

This is everything that you would expect it to be, both as a fan and from what it says on the box. It’s got a reformed playboy who meets a girl he has to remain platonic with both because of her boyfriend and his vow of celibacy — a vow he’s taken in order to do right by his team, to succeed and lead sans distractions, and atone for his previous mistakes. But then the boyfriend goes buh-bye, girl wants a rebound, so, you see where this is going.

I didn’t love Hunter or Demi, but neither of them annoyed me the way Hollis and Rupi annoyed me in the background of THE RISK. Even though they were both present in this one. Again. Sigh.

The conflicts were fairly predictable, the speed bumps, too, and honestly everything was pretty standard. No surprises, no real joy, no real laughs, either. Definitely sucks to have to tap out but it’s not worth reading on when it’s doing both the author and me as both a reader and longtime fan a disservice.

So, yes, I think this will satisfy and entertain many. But just like in book two, I’m not one of them. In which case, please take this feedback with the tiniest grain of salt. As always.

** I received an ARC from the author (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

THE AVANT GUARDS, Vol 1 by Carly Usdin

When Charlie transfers to the Georgia O’Keeffe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics, she struggles to find her feet, but winds up exactly where she belongs…in the school’s (terrible) basketball team.

As a transfer student to the Georgia O’Keeffe College for Arts and Subtle Dramatics, former sports star Charlie is struggling to find her classes, her dorm, and her place amongst a student body full of artists who seem to know exactly where they’re going. When the school’s barely-a-basketball-team unexpectedly attempts to recruit her, Charlie’s adamant that she’s left that life behind…until she’s won over by the charming team captain, Liv, and the ragtag crew she’s managed to assemble. And while Charlie may have left cut-throat competition in in the dust, sinking these hoops may be exactly what she needs to see the person she truly wants to be.

From Carly Usdin (Heavy Vinyl) and artist Noah Hayes (Wet Hot American Summer, Goldie Vance) comes an ensemble comedy series that understands that it’s the person you are off the court that matters most.


Title : The Avant-Guards, Vol 1
Author: Carly Usdin
Illustrator : Noah Hayes
Series : The Avant-Guards
Format : e-ARC (graphic novel)
Page Count : 116
Genre : YA
Publisher : BOOM! Studios
Release Date : 3 September 2019

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Micky’s 3 star review

A good start with potential for this new LGBTQ graphic novel focused on a newly contrived basketball team. Charlie has transferred into the school and she is ‘set upon’ by the enthusiastic recruiting of Liv, who is described in the blurb as ‘charming’ but I just thought she was too full on. The temperature of this graphic novel is a little bit funny and a little bit serious.

I really liked some of the characters that I’ve met so far, Charlie, Nicole and Jay. As a team working together, I am hoping to see more of what that brings. I must say, that I felt a general disconnection with the story line that seemed to go in strange directions at times with elements that didn’t make sense but might, I guess, when the next volume comes out. Seeing as Liv will be a main character, I am going to need some winning over to like her and connect with her. The burgeoning romance seemed to come out of nowhere and again, I will need some more convincing. I have to say the visuals were very appealing and that cover really does draw me in.

I voluntarily read an early copy of this book, thank you BOOM! Studios.

HOOKED ON YOU by Kate Meader


The steamy Chicago Rebels series returns with this racy and sassy tale of embittered hearts, second chances, and going for the goal—on and off the ice.

Violet Vasquez never met her biological father, so learning he left his beloved hockey franchise—the Chicago Rebels—to her is, well, unexpected. Flat broke and close to homeless, Violet is determined to make the most of this sudden opportunity. Except dear old dad set conditions that require she takes part in actually running the team with the half-sisters she barely knows. Working with these two strangers and overseeing a band of hockey-playing lugs is not on her agenda…until she lays eyes on the Rebels captain and knows she has to have him.

Bren St. James has been labeled a lot of things: the Puck Prince, Lord of the Ice, Hell’s Highlander…but it’s the latest tag that’s making headlines: washed-up alcoholic has-been. This season, getting his life back on track and winning the Cup are his only goals. With no time for relationships—except the fractured ones he needs to rebuild with his beautiful daughters—he’s finding it increasingly hard to ignore sexy, all-up-in-his-beard Violet Vasquez. And when he finds himself in need of a nanny just as the playoffs are starting, he’s faced with a temptation he could so easily get hooked on.

For two lost souls, there’s more on the line than just making the best of a bad situation… there might also be a shot at the biggest prize of all: love.


Title : Hooked on You
Author : Kate Meader
Series : Chicago Rebels (book four)
Format : OverDrive eBook
Page Count : 384
Genre : sports romance
Publisher : Pocket Star
Release Date : May 7, 2018

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Apparently I was so so keen to read this book in October of 2017 (even though it wouldn’t be out until May 2018).. that it took until July 2019 to actually read it. Go me!

I, more than anyone, understand how they will happily remove your heart, hold it bloodied and pulped to the sky, and offer in sacrifice to whichever gods they pray to.
Does Isobel seriously put up with this shit?
She has accused me of drama on occasion. I have no idea why.

So it’s been over a year since I was rubbing elbows with these characters but it was so easy slipping back into the Chicago Rebels universe. Which says something about the level of memorable-ness of both these characters and Meader’s world. A world which is pretty hilarious, full of hockey, hotties, and generally has at least one or two heavy topics to wield, or work through, before we see that HEA. As you do.

The beauty of AA was that no matter what city you were in or the time of day, there was usually a meeting happening nearby. Dallas was no different. [..] The team might be his brothers, but these strangers were his tribe.

This matchup between the grumpy Scot and the sassy Latina has been building for a while (see aforementioned 2017 excitement..) and I won’t say it disappointed. I definitely enjoyed this more than book two, the only other one I couldn’t round up on, because I think the balance between the humour, the joy, and the serious, was just.. right. Violet with her health scare, Bren with his alcoholism, both resisting the other for their own reasons. Throw in some single dad-ness, with two kids who were neither too overwhelmingly present or too precocious, and it was a great mix of Doing The Right Thing for the Right Reasons while still agonizing and angst-hate-flirting.

Do you have some sort of Fleetwood Mac kink?
Kink? No. I’m a fan, like any right-thinking human.

But there were also weird transitions or hiccups in their dynamic that would sometimes take me out of the moment, and I’m not quite sure why or how it happened. It was almost like being one step out of sync, things just wouldn’t line up, and it would take a moment for the record to stop skipping. But when that wasn’t interrupting my fun, there was also a lot of that ‘final book lets wrap up all couples and get hitched and/or pregnant’ cheese that, I mean, sure we know to expect it. But, again, cheese. Additionally there was a lot of evil ex behaviour syndrome. Which, fair, this is from last year (and likely written well before that) and I think we’ve since seen a down-turn, and taken strides to stop, with this trope but.. still. It existed. A lot. And suddenly.. it didn’t?

Take me to bed, Scot.
Need direction.
Been that long?
Hilarious.

This is definitely a high three, because there was a lot of strength — like Violet not giving in when you think she might, which, for example, was definitely a highlight and also bucked a convenient romance trend — and fun, but those moments holding it back, well. It held it back. I might have felt differently last year but.. shrug emoji.

I have an ARC of Meader’s spinoff for this world, though, and I’m so excited to dive in. One of the many reasons I finally caught up on this series/book, hah. Because, yeah, complaints aside, this series has been a mostly four-star experience for me and I love this female-run, while also managed and supported by the first (in this world) out gay man in hockey (or was Cade out first? I can’t remember! either way! LGBTQIA+ friendly!), hockey team.. because who doesn’t love a Cinderella, underdog, against-all-odds-like-sexism-and-homophobia success story. But at the same time I’ll be kinda glad to leave behind the daddy issues and branch out and get a new angle on things. Like, say, an angle that features a journalist and an ex-Special Forces turned rookie? Hi hello.