Amazon link: Taking Shots by Toni Aleo
As part of our Summer Book Club, I volunteered to read the next hockey themed romance novel. Don’t worry, Merrin actually likes other kinds of books, but I tend to stay firmly ensconced in the “trashy” genre. Why? I don’t know. Probably for the same reasons I really only watch comedies and action movies or ideally, comedic action movies. Besides, what’s not to like about covers like these:
From the back of the book:
No matter how hard she tries, Eleanor Fisher never thinks she’s good enough, from her job to her weight to her love life. After enduring years of abuse at the hands of an ex-boyfriend, Elli has been drifting through life in a daze. Until, that is, she meets Shea Adler on a promotional shoot for the NHL’s Nashville Assassins. Before Elli knows what’s happening, the gorgeous Shea breaks the ice and shatters her world.
A brilliant athlete inside the rink, Shea Adler is tired of the life he’s living outside of it: the women, the money, the drinking. But everything changes when he meets Elli. After laying eyes on this feisty, witty, beautiful woman, he feels like he’s just taken the hardest hit of his life. No matter how skeptical she is, Shea knows they are meant to be together–if only he can convince Elli to put her insecurities aside before she misses out on a shot at love.
What I liked:
THERE IS LITERALLY A FAKE SHEA WEBER. LOOK HIS NAME IS ACTUALLY SHEA IN THE NOVEL. EVEN BETTER, APPARENTLY REAL SHEA WEBER KNOWS ABOUT FAKE SHEA WEBER AND WENT TO ONE OF THE AUTHOR’S BOOK SIGNINGS.
This is Toni Aleo’s first novel, and for a romance novel, it was actually a pretty well written debut. Listen, when you’re paying $10 for 5 books, you’re going to have to lower your standards. In general, the romance genre isn’t going to have witty word play, or even particularly good grammar. Still, I thought the background characters were well fleshed out, particularly Shea’s sister Grace, and I enjoyed the flirting as Shea & Elli got to know each other.
Elli’s insecurities are extremely present throughout the novel, driving nearly 100% of her decision making, and they mostly revolve around considering herself “fat” at a size 10. Don’t worry, there is a backstory involving hyperthyroidism and an overbearing mother with a stick up her ass, so while I was a bit skeptical of the strength of some of her reactions, there was enough believability for me to still be sympathetic. Fair warning: Elli and her family use a ton of pejorative language about her body, which can be really difficult to absorb. As for other triggers, there is a brief flashback to domestic violence (as mentioned on the jacket), but I wouldn’t consider it explicit.
Finally, I love that Aleo chose to use a non-traditional market team (though I suspect that’s heavily influenced by actually living in Nashville…hey, write what you know).
For a hockey book, there was surprisingly little hockey. Aleo obviously watches the game (and according to her website, has season tickets on the glass for the Assassins, I mean Predators), so the details were there, but I really wanted some in-game action sequences and there was barely one.
Things I Couldn’t Get Behind:
As a size 10 myself, it’s always fun to see us curvy girls represented, but there were definitely instances in the book where her body was being compared to all the “Barbie Girls” Shea Weber…I mean Adler…used to date. Listen, it is one thing to try to lift yourself up and be happy about your body (even fictionally), but it’s another to do so while putting other women down. As I get older, my tolerance for that, even in romance novels, drops more and more.
Taking Shots seemed both too long and too rushed at the same time. The pacing of the novel was definitely off, starting with a love-at-first-sight scenario with Shea trying to convince Elli to move in with him after just 2 (rocky) months of dating. Yet, the end of the book had about 50 extra pages of nonsensical drama just to create a bigger climax. I suspect Aleo had an ending for the book before she wrote the middle, and just shoved the extra stuff in to make it work.
I’m going to keep reading the Assassins series, and not just because I already bought five of them. Usually, the debut novel is the shakiest for any romance author, and while I can’t say I particularly liked Taking Shots, it had enough moments that give me hope for the rest of her work. I think it’s worth it to read for A) an intro to the series, and B) the moment where Aleo’s Find & Replace forgets to change Ryan Kesler’s name.