All is fair in love and hockey… Claire O’Connor is back in Juniper Falls, but that doesn’t mean she wants to be. One semester off, that’s what she promised herself. Just long enough to take care of her father and keep the family business—a hockey bar beside the ice rink—afloat. After that, she’s getting the hell out. Again. Enter Tate Tanley. What happened between them the night before she left town resurfaces the second they lay eyes on each other. But the guy she remembers has been replaced by a total hottie. When Tate is unexpectedly called in to take over for the hockey team’s star goalie, suddenly he’s in the spotlight and on his way to becoming just another egotistical varsity hockey player. And Claire’s sworn off Juniper Falls hockey players for good. It’s the absolute worst time to fall in love. For Tate and Claire, hockey isn’t just a game. And they both might not survive a body check to the heart.
I'm always pretty excited to read a new Julie Cross book because I know I'm in for a great time. Nobody does character development and steamy YA quite like she does, and "Off the Ice" was no exception. I devoured this book in a couple of days and thoroughly enjoyed my time with it, but most of all, I'm completely stoked for more of this series! If "Off the Ice" is an introduction to the world of this little Minnesota hockey town and all of the folks in it, then sign me up for the rest right now - I need more!
Some things I loved:
- Claire is an "older woman"! How cool is that? Not to mention that Tate is her best friend's little brother, not that he's so little anymore. It was cute to see how Tate's long-term unrequited crush was finally turning into something more.
- Tate's ex is not painted as "evil". She is actually portrayed as a nice person, someone who both Tate and Claire are or could be friends with. She just needed to realize that she and Tate were no longer a good fit, and I like how Julie Cross was able to realistically write about their evolving relationship without over-the-top angst.
- Tate has a pretty great relationship with most of his hockey teammates. I imagine this is what some kids on hockey teams experience, although it hasn't been my personal experience. That's a story for another time! Either way, it was nice to see Tate had some awesome friends to back him up and support him.
- The cover! It's pretty perfect.
- Tate's relationship with his stepfather. This is something that is new, but like Tate's relationship with his ex, it's still evolving, and I might have shed a tear or two when Tate and Roger had their breakthrough moment.
- Tate's coach. Okay, actually, I hated his coach! That guy seriously needs to be banned from any coaching activities whatsoever. His behaviour was demeaning and abusive and just plain wrong! Unfortunately, this character is all too similar to coaches I've seen or heard of, and because they produce results, people (parents and players both) tend to turn a blind eye to this type of abuse. While I sincerely despise this style of coaching, I commend Julie Cross for shining a spotlight on this darker aspect of amateur hockey.
And some things I didn't love (most of these fall into the category of "I wish there was more information/development around this):
- Claire's friends, or lack thereof. We get to see a lot of Tate with his group of hockey friends, but we hardly get to see Claire with anyone other than Tate. Besides Tate's sister, ex, the hockey team's ex-goalie, and a thrown together band of merry old men, Claire didn't really have anyone to pal around with. There was mention of her hanging out with the weird kids while she was in high school, but I guess she didn't keep in touch with any of them, because they weren't given any other page time. It was strange - she didn't seem antisocial or reclusive, and yet she didn't have any old friends to support her during this tough time.
- Claire's relationship with her mom and dad, and even her other relatives. These relationships didn't seem fully developed to me. I loved some of the scenes with Claire and her dad, but they were overshadowed by my many questions. Like, what was Claire's dad's prognosis? Why did they need to keep the bar open? Was Claire's dad a fantastic cook? Did they have a close relationship while she was growing up? What were his tattoos all about? And then Claire's mom was present, but I didn't really get a feel for her. Like, it's been less than a week since I finished reading this book, and I can't even remember her name. She had a few good moments with Claire, but they felt rather shallow.
- Tate's relationship with his dad. I needed more information on this, like what kind of things his father had done. There was the main incident in the very beginning of the book, but there must have been more. What were they? Whenever there's a villain in a book, I need the author to convince me of their motivation, even if it's just that they were born that way. Was Tate's dad always a jerk, or did hockey groom him into one? Why was Tate's mom even attracted to him in the first place, or why did she stay with him so long?
These are just little things that I noticed, things I felt could have been improved upon. However, they didn't really damper my enjoyment of this book. If you are a fan of YA sports romances, I think you're really going to love "Off the Ice". It's got all the steam, banter, and hockey you could ask for!