I received Hot on the Ice by Anna Sugden from Entangled for a free and honest review. Thank you, Entangled: Amara and NetGalley!
I love a hockey romance. In part because there two sports I can watch without absolute boredom: soccer/football and hockey. And as someone from Atlanta, the growing field for Canadian hockey teams, I’m in. When I lived back in the States, I would go to the Gwinnett (now Atlanta) Gladiator games. Inexpensive price but hella fun.
Consider the Glads third tier level. National Hockey League is first. American Hockey League is second. Then ECHL. Lower level for development. So all my older sister instincts kicked in. Seriously, hockey is a blast.
So I was excited to try a new author and series out. If unaware, episode 17 of the podcast covers another hockey romance. I’m not necessarily a search and devour sports romance reader, but I like expanding and have been trying for the six months. Lockdown goals, right? There’s so much romance put out everyday that it’s a feast of newness.
And this read was timely since the polar vortex has been making non-snowy climates everywhere. And ice. So much ice. It took around nine days for the snow to finally start thawing here in my part of Germany. All that to say: I really, really wanted a winter sport romance.
Some of favorite tropes appeared in the book, which is always entertaining. Love a good second chance. Plus friends to lovers, friendship circle, and multiple instances of forced proximity
Note: this review of Hot on the Ice by Anna Sugden full of spoilers.
To give some romance and character background. Lily and Dante were each other’s first real loves. He was new to the NHL–thanks to the Newark Dockers (I’m assuming to replace the Devils)–and Lily had just gotten away from a pretty conservative, mundane life. They both needed each other. Unfortunately, like many just starting out young people, mistakes were made. Can they have a second chance after a hurt that destroyed their friendship and relationship six years ago?
I looooved Lily as a chocolatier. I have no idea what inspired Sugden to write the profession but as someone living Germany…chocolate is delicious. I mean, it was back home; but here: yes, please. And a personalized system with custom chocolates? Yep. The book doesn’t just take place at Valentine, but it was nice to curl up and read during the extended holiday season. I wish there had been a bit more info about how the chocolate was made. Just to add in the extra element.
Speaking of cooking, the scene with the Lebanese-curry made me love Dante more than I expected. When he mentioned the yogurt dip, I was all in. Living here now, there’s a lot of that yogurt dip (or a similar variety) at Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants. Also a call to home since I used to eat at the type of restaurants at home a lot. Yogurt dip is delicious.
Dante describing the inspiration, connection, and importance, made my disdain for him drop a bit. The topic on masculine vulnerability came up on Instagram the other day. These scenes are exactly what I want to see. A man using his painful past to find a lovely moment of shared experiences. Give me more of this! Less of his domineering actions that cause a backslide.
The aroma of sautéing onions and spices filled the air, reminding Dante of when he and his mom had learned how to make this dish at a neighbor’s house.
Mom had been so excited, discovering new spices and experiencing the unfamiliar flavors. It had quickly become her favorite, the one she’d make on his father’s first night away on the road. A celebration of their peace and freedom, even if it was only temporary.
Cooking this curry always made him feel closer to his mom, as if she were with him. Somehow, he thought she’d approve of him making it for Lily.
Making the curry was a nice callback to the scene at Rodrigo’s, where Dante introduced Lily to some killer Mexican food at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. A deep resonance for a book about romance and candy. If a writer wants to get me believe the sex scenes, give me the emotional intimacy and foreplay first. Especially if you’re trying to woo me back after bad hero decisions. Lily led a smaller life in Minnesota and offering glimpses into his past are easy wins. It shows faith in the relationship growing.
Of course there were a ton of really interesting side characters. They didn’t try to talk him up as a star player for the time. His best friend Noah Flood really didn’t bother mincing words. Neither did Savannah and Jessie, friends and coworkers at the Dockers that came a support system for Lily later on. Equally Lily’s business partner Amy didn’t let Lily slide when she was acting out of character.
To be frank, the side characters absolutely made this book for me. I was bit confused on how the story flow felt in the writing, so I did some digging. This is a genre that Sugden writes often, given her Ice Cats series. Makes me wonder if the book was meant for that series but flipped when Amara published instead. Because the side characters felt already deeply connected, as if in an ongoing series. It’s also easy to see that the Devils are her favorite team. (Side note, I did like that the NHL teams they played were real ones. *tiny voice* Go Preds.)
So how does that relate to this series?
Dante was way too domineering in his decisions. He never treated Lily like a partner, even near the HEA. It didn’t feel like his groveling was something that really paid off. I have several notes with “why would you?” when Lily glosses over it. At one point I used the term ‘weaksauce’ to describe her self-preservation. I think because there’s so many plots going on and the main focus is lost. Like grand gestures didn’t matter when Dante doesn’t ever grow. It’s a bit like watching a episodic show. You can predict everything happening due to miscommunication. Lord, the miscommunication. I just. I was so done with his lack of opening up. It shouldn’t take 60% of the book to start the growth process…and mean it.
“You just don’t see it, do you?” She shook her head sadly. “Yes, you are a good man and a loyal friend— I admire those qualities. But there is one glaring difference between them and me. You and they are a team. You talk tactics and strategy. And, no matter how it turns out, you win or lose together. In my case, you made those decisions for me, without my input. Or my permission.”
“I had to act quickly. I didn’t have time to consult. I had to try to preempt disaster— for all the good it did.” She shrugged . “If you’d talked to me, included me, we could have weathered the storm together. Instead , your Lone Ranger mission has practically destroyed everything.”
“But the plan we have in place now will fix that.”
“I hope so. A plan, you’ll note, that our friends came up with by discussing it with me and Amy and then fine-tuned with our help. We had the final say.”
Ever watched The Mighty Ducks and listened to Gordon Bombay’s comments about his dad? That’s what I kept hearing whenever we rehashed the same thoughts over and over. Not a compliment for a romance happening six years later with little hero growth. Lily deserved better. While she wasn’t a twirling rage of personality, she did know herself and made some pretty hard decisions in the past. She knew herself to the point that she was far older mentally than he was.
They had chemistry, which was great. Just felt a bit hollow because of Dante’s behavior. I think the romance could have used a bit less rushed kissing and sexy times and more chances to rebuild with Dante learning about the new Lily. A Lily he helped create. Sometimes she felt like his plot device.
There were a few areas that I felt like needed some work outside the romance.
Sheree, the villain, was a bit over the top. When speaking to my husband, I called her very Cruella DeVil. All this for social media influence and hot sex. Felt a bit too pointed and not enough nuance to the danger she really posed against Lily and Dante. Maybe a better comparison would be Alicia Silverstone in The Crush. Not quite Fatal Attraction Glenn Close levels yet.
You know…Glenn Close plays unhinged really well it seems. News for this reviewer apparently.
But I really did like the social media influencer aspect since that position took over the Paris Hilton circles of the late 90s/early 2000s. Talking about the business impact of a viral post felt organic. (Run a social media account for a small business. It’s hard. Trust me.)
I couldn’t really engage in how Dante kept ignoring the warning signs about Sheree, either. So many red flags. Realistic at times but made him seem really shallow. That kind of dragged the relationship rating down since it showed a deep regression. I wasn’t quite sure how easily Lily trusted him after so many schemes, only to ruin the outcome.
Also “for sure” was used by almost every character, sometimes multiple times a chapter. Not matter where they’re from. Is that a New Jersey thing? Growing up, it was always shown as more Californian. Very surfer heavy. It’s a nitpick. Just jolted me out pretty regularly. I’m not gonna ding the writing for that.
I was pretty meh on the chocolate business side. It felt like the operation went from a two woman crew to gigantic overnight. I know being connected to the Dockers and having investors helped, but still. The success felt too sudden. I’m not sure this book worked as a first in the series.
The Eli storyline felt unnecessary. It didn’t go anywhere. I was half expecting him to be working with Sheree as a plot twist. Or maybe a letter from her Aunt June falling out of a paper to show the decision to not offer entire support was so that Lily could stand on her own. Plot line just faded away for the most part. He shows up to be a slimy asswipe and that’s it.
Overall, I waffled on how much I enjoyed the book. Dante’s constant backslides happened way too much. And I wanted Lily to stand a little firmer after his actions kept hurting her. The romance itself felt a bit rushed near the end but felt solid at least. I trusted them to have a connection, especially after their talk at Rodrigo’s. (Seriously, can someone send me some proper Mexican food to Germany, please???)
I kept putting the book down then picking it back up a few days later. Not a normal reading trait. Something just felt off. Hot on the Ice felt a bit tepid at times. Like a mug of tea that been left out for a bit too long.
The question now is how does all that information break down on a scale? I use the CAWPILE method with a bonus of a ‘romance’ section. Seemed rather wise to add a section for the area this podcast talks about.
- Characters: 5.5/10
- Atmosphere: 6.5/10
- Writing Style: 6.0/10
- Plot: 5.0/10
- Logic: 6.0/10
- Enjoyment: 6.0/10
- Romance: 5.0/10
- Total Rating: 5.0
A 5.0 rating is a low 3 star. I’m rounding a bit because some of the issues I have are personal and nitpicky. That shouldn’t work against the author or the story. And Hot on the Ice is a fairly solid. An easy read for hockey fans since Sugden takes the time to explain ice time. I love a good explanation. And that’s why the writing got a 6.0
If Sheree had been a bit more nuanced and Eli’s story eliminated, the book would have probably earned a 3.25-3.0. Dante dinged the rating down the most, I think. I couldn’t cheer for a man that never learns from his mistakes. Savannah and Jessie were great parts of his circle but I felt like they didn’t always hold him accountable in the best ways. In part because Van was too connected to his generosity years go.
Hot on the Ice is available for purchase on Feb 22, 2021.
Will I read another book by Anna Sugden? I want Noah and Jessie’s story, so absolutely. Sign me up for that one. I love a heroine who takes no shit and herds a group of fussy workers everyday.
You can find more succinct reviews on Instagram and Goodreads.