I picked up Deirdre Martin’s first hockey-related book simply because it was hockey-related. There’s not a whole lot of recourse for Canadian ex-pats in the land of eternal sunshine (Australia). So combining two of my great loves – hockey and romance novels – together in one cutely-covered package seemed the perfect solution. However, even my obsessive, sometimes desperate need for a hockey fix wouldn’t have kept me picking them up if the stories didn’t deliver. Lucky for me, Martin hasn’t let me down yet.
Chasing Stanley is the fifth in Martin’s loosely related series surrounding the fictional New York Blades hockey team – fictional (she snarks) because the Rangers haven’t been anywhere near the Cup since the series started. Jason, one of a pair of hockey playing twins from a small, backwater town has just been signed to his dream team under his dream captain (Ty Gallagher from Martin’s Body Check). It’s his first experience in the big city, so he wants to make the most of everything available to him, really take advantage of being young, single, and playing for the greatest team in hockey.
Delilah, on the other hand, has lived in New York her entire life, but probably would have been happier with Jason’s backwater childhood. Painfully shy, she circumvents the necessity of dealing with people by running her own dog training/walking/boarding business, surrounding herself with four-legs instead of two. Jason owns a lovable if somewhat uncontrollable Newfoundland named Stanley. The rest, as they say, is history.
Chasing Stanley is, in a lot of ways, a quiet story. There is very little angst, no torment, no deep anguish. All the blood and violence happen on the ice. To keep a reader’s interest, therefore, Martin has to create her plot with the relationship between her main characters. Fortunately, Martin has a great talent for character development.
Jason and Delilah are both very young in their own way at the beginning of the story. Each has issues and problems that they need to overcome before they can grow up – and enter a grown-up relationship. Jason is insecure in his skin at the beginning of the story, letting too much get to him, focusing on how others tell him he should be instead of on what he really wants. He’s impulsive and spontaneous, and has very little respect for others around him. Delilah, as I mentioned, is incredibly shy and utterly unwilling to try new things. She holds on to her routines with both hands and white knuckles. She’s inflexible and rigid.
While these character flaws are necessary for the story, they did detract somewhat from my ability to like them. Delilah is easy to sympathize with, but I spent a good deal of time wanting to hit Jason over the head with his own hockey stick. I also found the way each character overcomes their flaw a bit unbalanced. What saves the story, and makes the characters real and not just annoying, is the fact that they care for each other deeply, though neither is willing to compromise for the sake of their relationship.
Luckily, there’s Stanley, who forces them to continue to meet. In romance novels pets, like kids, can work really well – or backfire spectacularly. Stanley, while playing a role, is very much relegated to the role of a pet, not as a character, and therefore does not undermine the reality of Martin’s narrative. He’s cute, he definitely has his role to play, but he doesn’t take over or become saccharine in his portrayal.
I read this novel in galley form, and even that didn’t detract from my enjoyment. There were some very funny parts (centering, mainly, around Jason’s teeth), some very exciting parts, some very sexy parts, and lots and lots of very sweet parts. And it definitely helped me get over the fact that I’m going to miss the upcoming playoff season … almost. (Go Senators Go!)