Book: Player by Eddie Cleveland (2020)

Reviewer: Bethany

Age/Genre: Adult Contemporary Friends-to-Lovers Sports Romance

Reading Accoutrements: Hot cocoa or a warm bath…it’s a book about ice hockey. Stay warm.

Those of you who have read my reviews in the past know that I get most of my reading material from emails. I subscribe to several authors’ email newsletters and I get a couple of email lists of books I might be interested in reading. This book came to me – no surprise here – in an email from one of the authors I follow.

I have reviewed two Eddie Cleveland military romances on this blog in the past. This book is NOT a military romance. Nope! It’s a hockey romance!!!

I’m excited. In case you couldn’t tell.

Noah and Kaylee are best friends attending the University of Westbury, a private school in New England that is very proud of its hockey team. While Kaylee is attending on a full academic scholarship (do those even exist anymore?), Noah is at Westbury for one thing and one thing only: hockey. He is their star forward and, apparently, the reason the team won the national championship last year. Noah attends classes enough to keep his GPA at the required minimum to stay on the team, but otherwise does not care about school. His hobbies include hockey and picking up girls…that’s why his teammates call him Player.

UNTIL!

One night, Noah picked up a random girl at a bar and went home with her. How was he to know that she was his professor’s daughter? Or that she lived with said professor? Or that his professor would walk in…on them…having sex? (Yuck!)

Noah’s professor gives him an ultimatum: he either passes the midterm without any help (insinuating that it is understood that the hockey players at this school “pass” their classes by the professors’ manipulation of grades), or he is kicked off of the hockey team until his GPA increases. Since it’s Noah’s senior year and the playoffs are fast approaching, option number 2 essentially ends his hockey career.

It’s a good thing, then, that Kaylee is Noah’s best friend and taking this class with Noah! After a lot of begging, and some bribery, Kaylee agrees to be Noah’s tutor. You can guess what happens next.

There are a couple of things Cleveland flipped in this book that make the story slightly more unique than it sounds. My favorite is the fact that Kaylee taught Noah how to skate. They met as children on a pond near their houses. Kaylee had been figure skating for a while, but Noah bumbled around on the ice until Kaylee took pity on him and showed him a thing or two. Their friendship was forever solidified and Noah discovered his passion for hockey. Cute, right? And outside of the typical friends-to-lovers sports romance norm that demands the girl either not care at all about the sport, or love the sport but be bad at it. Kaylee taught Noah to skate! I love it.

I also appreciated that, before Kaylee and Noah discuss a physical relationship, both of them admit (to themselves) that they have had a crush on the other before this started. Oftentimes, I read friends-to-lovers romances where the best friends didn’t have any interest until one or both of them is drunk (blech). OR one of the best friends has been “madly in love” with the other their whole lives while the other is completely oblivious. I like that both Kaylee and Noah have seen the lovable parts of each other and fallen for them at different points in their lives. It sets the stage for this moment when they finally take their relationship to another level really well.

Of course, there has to be a misunderstanding and a lesson learned. You all know that one of my biggest irritants is internal drama, especially when brought on by lack of communication. WHY CAN’T ROMANCE NOVEL CHARACTERS TALK TO EACH OTHER??? But Cleveland did a really good job of making this struggle with communication realistic and the internal drama actually had me engaged. (This rarely happens, you guys. I enjoyed internal drama. Maybe I should blame the coronavirus or something…or, just read the next book in the series?)

The one thing that I would change about this book is the cockiness of the hockey players. Noah is a really confident manwhore. While he struggles with school and his confidence in his ability to pass his class wavers, he remains confident in every other aspect of his life. Girls are easy, hockey is his life, and his teammates are great (unless they’re getting arrested). He goes out and DRINKS DURING THE PLAYOFFS, which is VERY VERY STUPID, and enjoys the girls at the bars without really trying. Cocky. Irritating. His teammates are much the same. They each have some kind of hidden concern that they internalize, but outwardly they are manwhore jocks and I really dislike that as a characterization/stereotype.

Cleveland deals with Noah’s struggle with school really subtly. At various times while Noah is trying to figure out how he will be able to continue playing hockey without passing this class (before Kaylee agrees to tutor him), Noah mentions that he has always struggled in school. Once, he says that he doesn’t have a learning disability, because he was tested for one, but no matter how hard he tries, he doesn’t do well in school. Kaylee, says Noah, has always been able to teach him things in a way he understands. That’s why Noah is dependent upon hockey for his future; it’s the one thing he knows he can succeed in. I almost wish Cleveland had gone deeper with this part of Noah’s life, although that would’ve made the book really long…

A couple of things you should note if you are not a fan of sports (or if you’re not from a hockey-loving area and simply know nothing about hockey): You do not need to love or know much about hockey to read this book. Yes, Noah is a hockey player, so you need to know that hockey is played while skating on ice. That’s all you need to know coming in, Cleveland explains the rest or leaves it out entirely (mostly the latter; you don’t see the games for more than one play). This would usually bother me, except that Cleveland gives you a lot about the team dynamics outside of the sport because the seniors on the team all live together.

Sports fan or otherwise, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Player if you have been looking for a good friends-to-lovers contemporary romance to enjoy in the bath.

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