Super Star
Grade : B-

I’ve picked up a few of Kate Meader’s Chicago Rebels hockey books before. Generally, they’re fine, but not great.  This label fits Superstar perfectly.

Pepper (yes, Pepper) Calhoun is the disaster-prone daughter of the Rebels’ hockey coach. She’s got a reputation as a jinx after her ex-boyfriend Kent had a career collapse following their breakup, and that reputation has prevented her from pursuing the career in early childhood education she was previously working on. Meanwhile, Bastian (Bast) Durand had his wrist broken in a collision with his estranged brother Reid last year. While he’s glad to be on better terms with Reid now, he’s desperate to get back on the ice.

A chance and anonymous conversation at a bar between Pepper and Bast shows promise - until Bast learns who Pepper is, and also that she knew who he was all along. It’s only a second contrivance - sorry, encounter - that really gets things going. Pepper, dressed as the mascot, crashes into Bast and re-injures his wrist. After a disastrous press conference, the two flee together (again, a contrivance - Pepper’s coach dad demands she drive the injured Bast) to a snowbound cabin in Michigan, where they both learn things are not always what they seemed.

The first half of this book is laborious. I dislike ‘cutely incompetent’ heroines in general, but on top of that, it’s so annoyingly not believable that Pepper couldn’t find a job in early childhood education because Googling her name turns up that she was supposedly a bad girlfriend to a hockey player. First, early childhood is woefully understaffed; that’s not a reason to reject people. Second, the ACTUAL reason to reject Pepper is that she didn’t complete the last six credits of her credential and therefore doesn’t have legal eligibility to work. This is never brought up.

And then the re-injury. I can’t figure this section out. It can’t be comedy, because Bast’s wrist is enormously important to his life and future. It can’t be drama, because Bast gets run over by Pepper in a mascot costume while she’s ogling his name tattooed on the boobs of a fan behind the glass. The author doesn’t handle the fact that it’s a lousy situation all around very effectively, with the characters alternately blaming each other and themselves and nobody ever pointing out that ‘more evidence that Pepper is a jinx’ is nowhere near as bad of a consequence as ‘Bast might never play hockey again’.

The snowbound cabin is where I started enjoying myself. We learn more about Pepper’s backstory, and in a genre that normalizes ‘info-dump everything to all your buddies for narrative purposes’, I respected that she keeps tight-lipped about her sexual history with Kent. That history is intertwined with the reason for their break-up and Kent’s career struggles, and I liked the author showing us Pepper threading the ethical dilemma of ‘what was private relationship business’ vs ‘what do I have the right to say because it affects my life and my current relationship’.‘ I was frustrated that the author never pushes Pepper to make the big call, though. The epilogue declares that someone else has told Kent’s secret - or at least, I think that’s what supposed to have happened, because the epilogue uses the wrong name. Perils of self-publishing, I suppose.

I liked watching Bast and his brother negotiate their relationship. Clearly, this situation began in a previous book (his brother was the first to injure Bast’s wrist), but the author does a good job exploring how it isn’t finished. I always enjoy it when a previous protagonist comes back in an interesting and flawed way. The same cannot be said for the brother’s wife, however, who is absolutely bot-like and completely dull. I also cannot give credibility to the brother and sister-in-law driving to Michigan from Chicago in bad weather to personally check on Bast just because he didn’t promptly answer a few texts. That definitely felt contrived so that the author could push the character confrontation.

Overall, with a stronger second half, Superstar was a decent read. The sex scenes, especially, are spicy. But this doesn’t reach the pinnacles of hockey romance (for that, you’ll need Sarina Bowen), or even match the best of Meader’s own work in this series.

Grade : B-

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : June 3, 2023

Publication Date: 04/2023

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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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