Fire & Ice

– by Rachel Spangler

 

When I first found out that Rachel Spangler wrote another sports romance, only this time, it’s about a sport that I don’t think I’ve ever come across in lesfic – CURLING (!!!!) – I was like, “Whaa?!” That, in and of itself, thrilled me to no end because, firstly, it’s a sport that no one has written about in a lesbian romance, and secondly, I’ve been intrigued by curling since discovering the sport whilst watching the Olympics coverage a few years ago. My prior prejudice, prejudgement, presumptions about the sport went out the window upon discovering that there was so much strategy in the game! Like chess! Such complicated scoring criteria, too! Curling was definitely much harder than it looked! At the end of watching the entire match for the first time, I was aghast at the level of quiet competitiveness and stress, and had to admit that it was an intricately charming sport that I could easily get sucked into! *So I could relate to Max (one of the story’s MCs)’s initial scoffing of the sport! 

In this sports romance, Spangler truly characterised and epitomised the sport of curling with rigour as I learned so much about it with all the details that she weaved into the story – terms, tactics, scores, movements, strategy plays, the hard work, sports coverage. What better to tell a story about curling than having the skipper (leader) of a small town curling team and a seasoned sports reporter who was recently relegated to the bottom pit in the world of sports reporting because of a huge scandal and steadfastly reluctant to be assigned to do a coverage on an unknown curling team in a small town. Bam, that’s Spangler’s story right there with all the intricacies, conflict, and other intriguing ingredients for a well-told and written slow-burn romance between two ambitious professionals from either side of the sport’s world. An athlete and a reporter.

I immediately took a liking to Callie, the skipper of the up-and-coming curling team in Buffalo. She was a go-getter, a perfectionist, obsessive, single-mindedly focussed. Her total passion for the sport and her dream of getting into the Olympics were described and depicted with such conviction I felt her obsession with perfecting her curling skills and elevating her team’s recognition and quality of work with palpable effect. Who hasn’t had the moment in their lives where they were so passionate about something that they’d do anything to achieve their goal, eh? I was very impressed with Spangler’s commitment in portraying the world of curling and all its intricacies and nuances being a sport that was never really embraced nor understood by the nation like baseball or basketball or American football. All the difficulties involved specifically the lack of financial support and media coverage especially for small teams that weren’t top in the national ratings were depicted with authenticity and realism through Callie’s professional journey alongside her team members. In Callie’s mind, she’d do anything to showcase her team’s abilities, i.e. participation in every available competition out there that they could afford to and winning them so they could eventually raise their current profile, put their name on the map and hopefully gain enough recognition that they’d be considered as a serious Olympic curling contender.

In came Max.

Max was a seasoned sports reporter – a predominantly male-orientated profession, btw – and enjoyed the glory of being a respected member of the media in the world of sports. But, due to a major scandal in the hockey world where she was comfortably reporting on at that time that had her placed front and centre when all the ugliness stemming from the scandal broke, eventually ending up being thrown under the bus and effectively becoming a pariah in the business of sports reporting. As such, she was relegated to reporting on a sport she never cared for and never treated as a proper, serious sport – curling! So she had absolutely zero respect to anything related to it, including the curling team she was assigned to cover for a few months. And forget about preparing for her assignment since she didn’t even bother to do any prior background research about curling and its history, rules and regs, scoring criteria, etc… basically everything that a professional reporter would conduct before every assignment.

I loved the conflict that immediately personified both MCs, Max and Callie’s characters. Their POV about what to expect from either party was as dichotomous as any two different characters in any given contentious situation. In other words, they couldn’t be more polar opposites. Callie was all geared up to be showcased by a renowned sports network with a dedicated journalist charged to chronicle her team, the sport, and their goal toward being the top curling team in America, in the hopes to become a serious contender to represent USA at the next Olympics. Whereas, Max entered the “arrangement” with a complete 180° angle, altogether, much to Callie’s chagrin! Max’s total lack of respect for the sport and Callie’s team, nevermind that preposterous chip on her shoulder as a result of past mistakes on the job that lost her her reputation and stature in the sports journalism, her catastrophic relationship failure, loss of finances, etc. Her total lack of respect for the sport and Callie’s team, and her first half-arsed report about curling and the team only further inflamed the already precarious situation she inevitably put herself in with Callie and every member of the team. As a result, the backlash to her article landed her on the brink of losing her job altogether, what with being iced by Callie’s team and the entire community!

It was then that Max realised it was her wake-up call to buck up and fully invest herself in the sport and reporting on Callie and her team like any other reporting job. Additionally, it was her second chance at getting back onto the saddle as a respected journalist again. This entire second-chance journey that Max had to go through as far as her profession was concerned, was depicted with a lot of heart as Spangler took us on a ride to how Max went from being utterly dismissive of and disrespectful to curling as a legitimate professional sport to being utterly intrigued, eventually invested in it, not to mention, the root cause for her change in attitude in the first place – Callie.

I was delighted that Spangler did a thorough research on curling and the world of sport journalism because everything she learned was weaved into the developing romance between Callie and Max, grounding it in authenticity as the story progressed. Speaking of curling, I utterly enjoyed every scene involving the sport because all the training, practice and competition scenarios were written with such conviction, knowledge and thrilling effect, sparing no details, i.e. the play-by-play tactics, the strategic moves, the sweeps, the curls, body movements, not to mention, the entire glossary of curling terms, the close games, the lot. Spangler’s detailed and vivid description of the “action” was so richly visual I thought I was there watching it live, intense, exciting and fun!!

Regarding Max and Callie’s relationship, it was clearly a slow-burn development from being adversaries to mates before slowly turning into something more intimate. However, Spangler purposely injected a hint of attraction in their initial meeting and that budding flame slowly but surely spread at periods of time when it was most needed. Very realistically depicted, imo, especially during times of contentious exchanges between the two of them with the inevitable involvement of Callie’s team mates whose intentions were pure, only their way of protecting Callie. This was especially poignant when Max’s past involving the scandal that caused Max her reputation was unceremoniously discovered at the most inopportune time! That was basically the turning point to Max and Callie’s friendship in the wake of the revelation. But as we all know, we can’t help who we fall in love with, can we?

Spangler, in all her innate skill in weaving the intricacies and complexities of the human condition, especially where matters of the heart was concerned, once again had effectively nailed all the emotional nuances and struggles that both Max and Callie were experiencing as their relationship entered into the physical and emotional intimacy period. Whilst their budding romance and connection were growing and deepening, Spangler never forgot to also grow the development of their respective professions – Callie’s unceasing efforts to win in as many competitions as she and her team could under financial constraints in her quest to reach #1 and possibly a chance to qualify in the Olympics, and Max’s quest to get back to her boss’ graces in her journalistic integrity whilst making good progress with her curling reporting. To me, that just made the romance even more grounded in authenticity because Spangler, imo, managed to showcase just how complicated having a relationship is when both people are passionately and singularly focussed on their career.

Speaking of, inevitably, there was a bit of an angst toward the end just when Max and Callie’s relationship reached a level of commitment and mutual expression of love. The “should I get serious, or should I not get serious with her” between these two women, obviously for fear of getting hurt again due to their respective past, was summarily acted upon. But the thing is, these kinds of things happen IRL, too. So I didn’t have an issue with it. It was actually quite realistic given that both women were very career-focussed, both passionate about what they believed in, be it professionally or personally, and Spangler portrayed their respective dilemma and nuances with genuine fervour.

My favourite quote from the book is one that Max said to Callie:

“You embody everything good about the game of curling. You’re compelling without being overpowering. You’re competent and strong while still being approachable. You’re fierce, competitive, hungry, and yet also genuinely friendly, self-effacing and fun. You’re unexpected, inspiring and strangely hypnotising. You are fire and ice, all wrapped up in one. You shouldn’t make sense, but you do.”

This quote sums up the essence of this book, really. A romance between two strong-willed, career-driven, professional women in a world of professional sports and sports reporting.

All in all, I utterly enjoyed this story, which, imo, was enriched by Spangler’s brilliant weaving of the otherwise unknown game of curling into Max and Callie’s journey of truth, second chances and achieving a balance between their professional and personal lives in order to become a proper unit, a committed, loving relationship. I’d definitely recommend this book to all fans of lesfic romance, especially sports romance. Plus, I guarantee you that you’ll learn a lot about curling and will discover just how fascinatingly intriguing it is!! Well, I sure am even more thrilled to watch curling in the next Olympics now that I know how it works! Well done, Ms. Spangler! As for the romance, if you know Spangler’s writing and storytelling style, you won’t be disappointed with how she weaved this story together!

*Surprise sur-bloody-prise! I received a non-obligatory ARC of this book as a gift (A GIFT!!!! Blimey!) from none other than Bywater’s publisher, Ms. Salem West, herself!! Whaaaaa??!!! Cheers, Ms. West, thanks a lot for your generous gift! Much appreciated!

Get your copy from:

Bywater Books

Amazon

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