Desert Isle Keeper
Coast to Coast
Hockey romance authors will generally create a fictional NHL team as the backdrop for their series, so it’s rare to find an author who digs down into the farm teams that build up the players for their chance in the spotlight. That’s what Melanie Ting has done with her Vancouver Vice series. The Vice are a team the belong to the AHL (one step below the NHL), and if you are good enough, you might make it onto their NHL team, the Vancouver Millionaires. But that’s a long way off for most of the players who are just happy to have a career in the sport they love. The series has focused on different positions on the team, from the management to the coaching staff to the players, so the characters have ranged from older couples to younger ones. Coast to Coast is another example of the author’s enjoyable writing talents with a new adult romance spanning from Sweden to Vancouver and that elusive chance for a pro-hockey career.
Lily Larson is eagerly anticipating her fall semester in Lund, Sweden. Her roots are here, her father Jesper having come from nearby and made a name for himself in Canada with the Vancouver Millionaires hockey team. Now he’s a talent scout, keeping an eye out for promising young players. Lily wants to learn about Sweden and connect with her family there, having previously only come for some family vacations. She’s finding that Swedes are not like North Americans, and is struggling to make friends when she meets Gabriel Ollsen. She appears lost enough with her campus map in hand to engender some sympathy as he helps her find her class, then agrees to go for fika (coffee) afterwards.
Gabe doesn’t know quite what to make of the beautiful, vivacious and cheerful Canadian exchange student. But he’s not about to ignore someone who clearly needs some help, even if agreeing to meet for coffee later has him a bit out of his comfort zone. Gabe is quiet and focused, and his evenings are spent as a caregiver to his mother who has early onset Alzheimer’s. He had to back off of a promising hockey career because of his mother’s illness and now plays only when he can find time to goal keep for the university team. He doesn’t really have time for a friendship with Lily but she’s compelling in a way he’s not used to and he soon finds himself getting attached. Their friendship turns into a relationship but it’s one with a definite end date – unless Gabe can find a way to turn his hockey future around and take a chance on a new country, and a new life.
Having had personal experience with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in my own family, I can say that the author does a great job of explaining the challenges of the disease from both the patient’s and the caregiver’s perspective, making this a story with some sad parts to go with the happy ones. It’s especially painful for Gabe because his mother is quite young – only in her forties – and because his parents’ divorce was in part caused by her at that time undiagnosed disease. His father has since remarried and tries to keep in touch with Gabe, but Gabe has a hard time connecting with the man whom he feels abandoned him and his mother when they needed him the most. Gabe’s mother is clearly getting worse but Gabe struggles with the idea of putting her in a personal care home with seniors who are clearly much older than her. At the same time he’s only twenty-two and has had to put his life on hold, which is something he knows his mother wouldn’t want for him if she were more lucid. All of these feelings play in the background as he gets to know Lily. Mostly he worries about getting the disease himself and doesn’t feel that he can saddle Lily with that kind of burden. So while Lily is open about her feelings for Gabe, he is determined to hold back.
If you want a current snapshot of Swedish culture, this story gives you plenty to ponder. Whether it’s their egalitarian and rule by consensus nature, their coffee culture, kanelbullar (cinnamon buns), IKEA (yes, it’s really a staple shopping place) or their attitudes towards dating and sex, it’s all covered here. Sex is more casual, and it’s common for a couple to sleep together first to determine if they are compatible before they date, unlike in North American culture. This is a bit hard for Lily to adjust to – the idea that she and Gabe might sleep together but he would treat her like any other friend afterwards. Fortunately, Gabe is interested in Lily for more than just sex and their relationship becomes a strong friendship as well, even if he does keep parts of himself hidden.
Family relationships are explored, with Lily spending time with her aunt and grandmother over the Christmas holidays, and with her father when he shows up to scout at the world junior hockey games. He gets a chance to see Gabe play in a local university game and can see that he has a strong hockey background, at which point he offers Gabe his number and tells him to contact him should he be interested in exploring getting back into training. It’s this card that jump-starts Gabe’s thoughts about a possible future in hockey, one that becomes a possibility when the reality of his mother’s condition and how fast it’s going downhill make him realize he can no longer adequately care for her.
A staple of a good hockey romance is the author’s ability to cover all the aspects that make a team successful and with this series as a whole, Ms. Ting shows that she’s a serious fan who has done her research. Gabe knows he’s lost a lot of his skills by not being put up against players of equal talent, but he is also willing to take direction and learns fast. Even when he’s not on the ice he’d make a habit of visualizing plays and shot angles, and it’s that discipline that helps him now when he takes Lily’s dad up on his offer and follows Lily to Canada. He has to contend with other players, including a Swede who is billeting with Lily’s family to help improve his playboy reputation and who might be competition for Gabe with Lily. He has to put all his focus on hockey if he wants to remake his career but with Lily’s support and some surprising circumstances, he’s well on his way by the end of the story. As Lily and Gabe are both young, the story has a happy for now ending that suits their ages and leaves the reader feeling satisfied that they’ve matured and have a real chance to go the distance. Every time I read a story by this author I’m impressed with her ability to combine exciting hockey with genuinely likeable characters. Coast to Coast is an emotional and entertaining new adult hockey romance.
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I'm a biochemist and a married mother of two. Reading has been my hobby since grade school, and I've been a fan of the romance genre since I was a teenager. Sharing my love of good books by writing reviews is a recent passion of mine, but one which is richly rewarding.