Grade : C+

Anastasia Allen has worked her entire life for a shot at Team USA. It looks like everything is going according to plan when she gets a full scholarship to the University of California, Maple Hills and lands a place on their competitive figure skating team.

Nothing will stand in her way, not even the captain of the hockey team, Nate Hawkins.

Nate’s focus as team captain is on keeping his team on the ice. Which is tricky when a facilities mishap means they are forced to share a rink with the figure skating team—including Anastasia, who clearly can’t stand him.

But when Anastasia’s skating partner faces an uncertain future, she may have to look to Nate to take her shot.

Sparks fly, but Anastasia isn’t worried… because she could never like a hockey player, right?

AAR's Caroline and Lisa both read this TikTok sensation and are here to share their thoughts.

Caroline: I’m glad you could do a Pandora's Box review with me on this book because I was so divided on it that I could practically have done a PB with myself!

Lisa: I’m of a similarly divided mind on this one myself. There were a lot of positives in this book - specifically towards the last quarter - but the majority of the book just didn't ring true.

Caroline: At the beginning of this book, I genuinely disliked every character. Hero, heroine, supporting - they were just awful. They made jokes that were mean and unfunny, as if they were constantly posturing for a sitcom laughter track I couldn’t hear. The dialogue is aggressively 'look how cool we all are about the sex we’re all having'. Anastasia’s roommate: “Since my bedroom is next to Stassie’s and I’m going to be listening to your grunting and balls slapping all night…” Or in the Uber, where the driver can hear: “I hate you.” “Like how you hated Hawkins when you came all over his face?”

Lisa: I have a very salty vocabulary and even I was shocked by how many fucks-a-minute the book provided. These folks were AMAZINGLY crass for the majority of it and yes, it’s a crassness that permeates the book - and as a sometimes-crass person with no filter and a love of all four-letter-words, if I’m pointing this out you know how salty this is!

Caroline: It wasn’t just that it was crass, it was that it was so try-hard. 'Look how cool we are. We’re above emotional sex - we just fuck. Oh, yes, I said the f-word! Did you hear it! Fuck, I’m so cool'. They were attractive, shallow New Adult caricatures. I mean, here’s Nate: “Summer jokes the only reason I want her is because she’s not interested, and she’s the only woman who’s ever rejected me. Hearing her say she’s not interested makes me want her more, so thinking about it logically, she’s probably right.”

Lisa: Definitely, and that ended up impacting my overall grade and enjoyment of the book at large. It almost reads like a parody of a new adult romance, to the point where I wanted the book to lean into the parody tropes. It almost sounded like the author was jabbing at all of the familiar tropes here, from the roguish hero to the heroine. It even read as a little misogynist at some points.

Caroline: But about halfway through, the characters started shifting. The sex scenes stopped being about superficial body reactions and seemed to grow a heart. I saw Nate be loyal to his teammates, even at a cost to himself, and to start being really, really good to Anastasia.

Lisa: I loved it when this happened and we finally started getting a feeling for these two. The romance we get is genuinely sweet at that point. They start seeing each other as whole people, and they start realizing the sex is worth something more than clashing their genitals together. But Ryan and Anastasia had spent too many pages irritating me for me to give them credit at that point.

Caroline: Fair. Anastasia, at least, I found much more interesting when we learned that her behavior and worldview were skewed by her toxic interactions with Aaron, her skating partner. It’s Aaron’s mistreatment of Anastasia, and how she feels trapped with him because her skating dreams rely on a partner, that turn the story into something richer in the second half. Her relationship with him is one of the most realistically developed abusive/gaslit relationships I’ve read. I mean, he was literally starving her with a calorically-inadequate training mealplan she trusted him to make.

Lisa: Aaron was an interesting monster, wasn’t he? I feel like he got way too much page time I’d’ rather have spent on the actual central romance here, but he was indeed interesting. But it took forever to get to this kind of depth! So this improved the book for me; it didn’t pull it out of a full-on tailspin but it did at least make these characters likable. At last. Finally. I wish the first half of the book didn’t exist because mannnn.

Caroline: You know, I agree with you. The first half was such a low C for me that the book can’t, on average, get out of the B range, even when there is some stuff at the very end that was full A territory. That’s what made it so hard for me to grade! I guess ultimately, I’d call it a B-? But if you decide to get the book and just start about 70 pages in, it might be a B+!

Lisa: Yep, the back-half of this one is solid B+/B territory, the first half is C to C- territory. The split for me is a C+.

Grade : C+

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : February 24, 2023

Publication Date: 08/2022

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Caroline Russomanno

I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.

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