ARC received from the author in exchange for an honest review
“Hard Hitter” was my first book by Sarina Bowen (I’m not counting those she wrote with Kennedy).
I knew it would be good, and it was, but there were a few surprises. Some good. Some bad.
Let’s start with the good.
1. The inside knowledge. I always love it when a writer goes that extra mile and isn’t afraid to give us details about specific subjects. As someone living in a country where hockey is as popular as gladiator games, I know next to nothing about it. When at first fights were mentioned I was like… What The Hell is going on here? Is this stuff even legal? Why does he have to do it? Bowen did a fantastic job at portraying Patrick O’Doul’s mixed feelings towards hockey and fighting. I’ve read plenty of books about hockey (off-campus series, Him&Us etc) but never once heard of fighting. Plus, Bowen took up yoga lessons to better shape Ari’s character. That’s some serious research.
2. The sub plot. I’ve made no secret of my love for stalkers/lurking threats/crazy ex-boyfriends. I’m not gonna get into the details not to spoiler anything, but I was completely satisfied in this regard. The topic was treated with humanity, no reductionisms, showing the complexities hiding behind situations that to the outsider’s eye may seem easily solvable.
3. O’Doul’s protectiveness and his being a nice guy through and through. He’s like this big, surly bear that’s been isolated from the rest of the world (by choice) for almost his entire life. Seeing him opening up to Ari and really pursuing her was a treat to read (I’m a sucker for pursuers 🙂 ).
4. The funny moments. I think the best thing about this book are the group scenes, with all the hockey players, or Ari’s friends. Bowen really manages to wring all the fun out of these kinds of writing opportunities. Every character has its own voice and the end result is stunning. There was a scene in particular when I was in serious need of peeing my pants laughing. It was so cute/amusing!!!! If you read it you’ll know what scene I was referring to.
5. The build up to their relationship. Patrick and Ari take their time building a foundation of trust upon which to lay a relationship. I will admit that, to my standards, I would have liked to see them together as a couple a bit more, especially around the end, but all in all I thought it was a good choice for them to get to know each other since they start the book as almost strangers.
The things I wasn’t very enthusiastic about:
1. Ari’s push and pull. On one hand, I totally get where she was coming from, literally, but Patrick was so sweet to her and she pushed him away for too long. Again, I would have liked to see them together sooner.
2. Patrick’s little mistake. It was a human thing he did, but he never really seemed too concerned with the consequences. I always felt like he didn’t really care 100% about it. Which was weird since almost his whole life rested on it. It lowered the angst, but it left me befuddled about his priorities in life and his future perspectives. It didn’t seem like he cared about anything at all if not getting Ari to be with him. For other characters, it might have worked, but not for him, at least in my opinion.
3. Their chemistry. I’m not a massage kind of gal, so it took me a while warm up to the idea of them building trust through them and all that jazz. I still think they’re a good match, but at times it felt like the romance was not the focus of the novel. There were too many moments Ari was so overwhelmed by other things happening in her life she didn’t even think about O’Doul or couldn’t make up her mind about him. It didn’t read like an epic love story.
In conclusion, I liked it. The writing was really good, the plot was well-structured and there were moments I oooh-ed and aaah-ed at Patrick’s surprising romanticism, as well as funny moments regarding the team, but I can’t say I loved it 100%, hence the four stars. It’s still worth reading and it made me curious about a possible book about Nate… but I couldn’t totally relate to Ari. I felt like she wasn’t as taken with Patrick as he was with her, which is a big turn off for me. I love my MCs both smitten to the point of cheesiness with each other.
P.S.: can we please spare a word about how much more beautiful the pastel cover is? It’s unusual for me to complain about the presence of hunky studs on covers, but for the kind of book “Hard Hitter” turned out to be, a sweeter cover is way more appropriate. The sexy times were there, but it wasn’t mind-blowing or raunchy. Even the hottest scene was still sweet.