Hard Knocks by Ruby Lang
Released: January 11, 2016
Reviewed by Mandi
I read Acute Reactions by Ruby Lang last year and really enjoyed it. She was a new to me author and I found her voice very fresh and smart. I was excited to see another book in this series of three girlfriends who meet in medical school and now share office space. In this book we have Helen, a neurologist and Adam, a NHL (professional hockey) player.
Adam plays for a new professional hockey team in Portland. Only on their second year, his team is not good. With a very bad record and a billionaire owner who is demanding a new stadium, the people of Portland have not embraced their new hockey team. Adam has played hockey for quite a few years, and is an okay player but not the greatest. He has retirement looming and is not sure what the future holds for him. His life at the moment feels unsure and in a rut. Then he gets into a minor car accident with a teammate.
His teammate hits his head pretty badly, so they end up in the presence of Helen, who checks them out. Adam is immediately intrigued with Helen and her professional demeanor. Adam is a huge, growly guy and Helen is very petite – with a big personality. She isn’t one you want to mess around with. Helen loves being a neurologist, but family health problems have been making her depressed. Her beloved father is battling a form of Parkinson’s from being hit too much as a boxer in his younger days. He is at the point where her mother can’t care for him anymore. Helen is in great denial over this, trying to pretend it isn’t happening – but reality is starting to sink in. She is very frustrated as she is a neurologist, yet there is nothing to do for this terminal condition. She doesn’t know a lot about hockey, but after meeting Adam, she starts to watch it on television. She realizes just how horrible hockey is to the brain – the fights, the hitting the head on the ice etc… She starts to get furious that these players are putting their future life at risk, like her father.
She was thirty-two years old; it was a Friday night; and she was in a hoodie, eating popcorn and cereal, reading about brain trauma, and hate-watching hockey.
She was getting weird.
When Adam and Helen happen to meet on the street one night, they end up going out to dinner and sleeping together. Helen is enamored by Adam – he actually listens to her when she talks and they have a lot to talk about. But she doesn’t want anything serious, so she is happy with just one night.
Helen is so upset by how physically rough hockey is, she writes a scathing opinion piece that is published in the paper, stating that hockey should be banned. Of course, this infuriates Adam, whose career is the sport Helen is calling a ban for. They start to meet on radio and other local television shows to debate this topic, eventually leading to a romance.
First, we have a hockey player who isn’t necessarily a star in the NHL world. I love this! He needs to think about his future, as he doesn’t have a gazillion dollars stored away. He is big and growly, two of my favorite things. He sees Helen and they have great chemistry together. Their banter is smart and fun.
He grinned, then looked over at her. “Aren’t you having any?”
“I ate a lot of popcorn at home,” she said. “And cereal. Maybe there were some Pop-Tarts.”
“I didn’t see you as a Pop-Tart kind of girl.”
“What does that mean? You don’t find me sweet and delicious?”
“I figured you for something more complicated and harder to pronounce.”
“Something hard to get my mouth around?”
She heard his light intake of breath even as he narrowed his eyes at her heavy-handed innuendo. When he spoke again, his voice was even.
“I thought of you,” he said, pausing very deliberately, “as a more complicated flavor.”
He bit into the bruschetta almost delicately, showing her his white teeth. Then he dabbed carefully at the corners of his mouth with a napkin.
His eyes gleamed.
Helen laughed, but her stomach felt tight and fluttery. She took a sip of wine. “This from a man who accessorizes with scarves.”
“It’s warm, not just jazzy.
“You’re never going to let me live that word down.”
He ignored her. “To sum up, I’m a sophisticated gentleman with urbane and practical tastes and you’re a Pop-Tart.”
Helen sat back and marveled. “You know, the problem with you is that you’re smarter than I’d like you to be.”
“I think that might be your problem, not mine.”
They have passionate debates about hockey and sometimes the direction of their relationship. These two have a lot of chemistry but with Adam’s career ending and Helen’s dad dying, it’s hard for them to see their future together. If I have one complaint, it’s that these two spend quite some time in the book apart. But – I appreciate it in a way as well, because the author doesn’t rush this romance. They bicker – Adam gets very upset that Helen hates hockey. But throughout it all, their chemistry and the sexual tension is on point.
While, sad, I loved Helen’s struggle with her father’s health. Her frustration, her denial. She would fight with her mom, she gets scared and won’t go see him. It all felt very real. Speaking of being real, Helen’s relationship with her girlfriends is one that I think is written so well. I think I mention this in my review of book one too. These girlfriends are supportive and there for one another – but they also challenge each other. They call out bullshit. They argue. Their banter can be cutting – but it’s all done out of love. I think the girlfriend relationship in this book is portrayed very well and different from many other books I’ve read.
Let’s end on a growly note – because yum.
“You don’t have to shadow me like that,” she said irritably. “I’m not making a quick getaway.”
“Right, because you only bolt after sex.”
“I was trying to spare you—”
“That is such utter and complete bullshit,” he growled so low and intense that the table rattled under her fingers and the sound seemed to be sucked from the room.
His last words delivered in that whisper roared so close to her ear that she could feel the warm force of his breath drive at her. Helen’s face and neck and chest prickled with fear and … something else, and she saw her fingertips grip a fork so tightly that her knuckles went white. But what she really wanted to do was turn around and kiss him, to touch him right there on his firm, broad chest. She could see it was still tense and bunched, moving up and down. She wanted to soothe him.
Adam angry was really, really something.
Really excited to have found Ruby Lang – her books are so fun and sexy. I can’t wait for another one.
I haven’t read it, but I see that the author’s Acute Reactions is available as part of the Appetite for Love: 7 Romances for Foodies anthology which is selling for 69 cents for Kindle readers.
Norma Kelly says
Usually hockey is enough to garner my interest, being a die-hard Ranger fan. But your review totally hooked me. Plays in the NHL, but he’s not a star? She’s a doctor and doesn’t like hockey? Neither are perfect? Check, check and check. Downloaded and started this last night. Loving it so far! Thanks!
yay! Hope you enjoy :)
Definitely checking this author out! I love the idea of a hockey player hero who isn’t a star. And yeah for awesome female friendships!