Reviewed by Tori
Hip Check is the tenth book in Ms. Martin’s sports series which focuses on the lives and loves of a fictional hockey team-the New York Blades. A romantic contemporary that addresses the real life concerns and issues facing two completely different individuals who have found themselves drawn together over the well being of a little girl. Written in a strong conversational style format, we watch our two protagonists, Esa and Michelle, lock horns and lips in a battle of wills that becomes a battle for their hearts.
This installment carries a deep vein of sadness to it that isn’t present in the previous books. Esa Saari has a lot on his plate. His contract is up for renewal and the Blades aren’t knocking down his door to resign him. His antic in his personal life has not reflected well on him. He has also just gained custody of his niece, Nell. A confirmed playboy bachelor, he has no idea what to do with an 8 year old little girl. His friends come through for him in the form of Michelle Beck-professional nanny.
Michelle, a former school teacher turned nanny with some deep seated issues of her own, just got out of a job from hell and was looking to take a break but cannot help but feel for the motherless child. The sparks fly when Esa and Michelle first meet. He just wants to get back to his lifestyle sans pre parenthood and she can’t believe he has no clue to what he is doing and doesn’t seem to want to learn.
Martin does a good job of pairing two characters together who, at first glance, seem the exact opposite of each other. Esa lives a carefree life while Michelle is more grounded and stable. Yet, as you get to know them, you realize they are more alike than you think. Both Esa and Michelle’s childhoods have caused them to seek careers that give them a sense of family without actually having to make the commitment to one. As we watch their interactions with others, you can see the walls they have erected. Both of them try hard to be what they think others expect of them, yet you can feel the dissatisfaction with their lives in general.
While I liked this book overall, there was a flatness to it. Martin writes a good story with plenty of emotional scenes, but the emotion doesn’t always translate well from paper to reader. The premise hints at the potential for an epic battle of wills; with plenty of humor, lust, and good intentions to keep the reader engrossed. But that’s not what we get. The plotlines and romance are formulaic and while I found myself interested in the protagonists journey, the interest was vague. There are no real surprises in here. Nothing that made me sit up and take notice. Both characters had potential but I never felt they fleshed out fully. Michelle’s judgmental and rigid attitude was amusing at first but the thaw I expected never comes. I understood her needing to lay down the law with Esa and making sure he realized that she was a nanny and he was the parent, but when she starts a relationship with him, I never felt her initial feelings towards him change. It made me question the validity of their romance. Even at the very end, I sensed her respect and understanding of his past behavior but I still didn’t feel like she liked him.
Esa was a little more convincing with his overall feelings of guilt and unworthiness towards his career and family. His transformation comes about in a believable fashion; his ability to actually want a relationship with both Michelle and Nell was a huge step for him. But a part of me still felt the both of them were just going through the motions.
I have noticed with Ms. Martin’s books that she is much more playful with her secondary characters. They are better developed and more versatile than her protagonists. Michelle’s father and brother are solid figures in Michelle’s life though she even keeps them at arm’s length, choosing to ignore certain things for the fear they will come true. The Blade teammates are always a gregarious group, offering advice and censure whenever they feel you need it. Whether you want it or not.
The ending is predictable as issues are addressed and conflicts resolved. We aren’t left with a concrete HEA, but you have a feeling this family will certainly try their best. While Hip Check didn’t blow me away, it is a solid installment that fans of this series are sure to enjoy.
Overall Rating: C