REVIEW: The Hot Shot by Kristen Callihan
Dear Kristen Callihan,
I’ve been a fan of the Game On series from the beginning. The books never disappoint me. I know I’m going to get snappy banter, sexy heroes and amazing heroines, with lots of funny lines and awww moments. And, as expected, the latest release in the series, The Hot Shot, delivers yet again.
I did think the pacing died off a little at the end and I’d have liked a touch more detail in some areas but they are small criticisms in an otherwise great book.
First though, I should probably let DA readers know that you and I are BFFs now since we met in Melbourne at the Australian Romance Readers Convention in February. Of course, we only spent a sum total of about an hour in each other’s company but time isn’t really a factor in a true friendship is it? Plus, you did invite me to your house recently. :P
Those readers who read The Game Plan, featuring Fiona and Dex, might remember a certain naked calendar photo shoot. Chess Copper (really, her parents ought to be harshly disciplined for naming her Chester after the character from Goonies) was the photographer. And Finn Mannus, the quarterback of the unnamed and fictional New Orleans NFL team, is one of the first members of the team to be photographed. (If DA readers haven’t read The Game Plan yet, fear not. The Hot Shot stands alone very well.)
And that brings me to the cover. Oh. My. I am not ashamed to admit I spent a lot of time looking at that cover. And possibly also searching for the full version online. (It is a Michael Stokes picture if anyone else wants to go and spend some quality time in admiration). I actually, seriously, love it when an author is able to link a book cover to the story. I know Julie James did it with one of her covers – changing the colour of the dress in the story and it’s certainly also been done by other authors too. It’s almost like a little Easter egg to read about it inside the book. In this case, Finn’s character came first (I asked on Twitter and you kindly replied) and then the photograph. I loved the story you made up about the tattoo. I also liked what you saw in the model’s expression and how you translated that into the story. Really. I had a moment.
Finn is a super talented quarterback and has been blessed with a loving family, a gorgeous physique (though he does work at it) and an extremely handsome face. He’s also a nice guy. He was raised right and generally thinks about his interactions with people. He hasn’t had any romantic relationships, mainly sticking to hookups which are very easy for him to find. He’s wary of people who want a piece of his fame but aren’t really interested in him. Even though he’s a nice guy, he hasn’t always treated women well in the sense that he’s been a one and done man. My sense was that he tried to give the girl a good time and didn’t make false promises but at the same time he did fall into the trap of thinking of them as somehow disposable. On the other hand, there have also been plenty of occasions where girls have been more interested in fucking a quarterback than being with him so the bad behaviour isn’t by any means one-sided. I still think he’s a nice guy. (Maybe that seems contradictory but I figure if a girl wants a one-time hookup and she gets one from a hot guy who treats her kindly in the moment and doesn’t bad mouth her after, well, she signed up for it so it’s all good. The girl ought not be slut-shamed for hooking up and neither should he. That’s my take anyway.)
Chess Copper is a stranger to relationships for other reasons.
Years of shitty dating experiences and not one glimmer of commitment have left me feeling defective and brittle.
She’s not into hooking up, finding sex without a relationship unsatisfying. It’s not a judgement, just her personal taste. In fact, my impression was that sometimes she wished she could be different.
“It’s been so long since I’ve had good sex, I swear I heard the mournful sound of ‘Taps’ coming from the vicinity of my vagina last night.”
Even though Chess starts off feeling a little jaded when it comes to romance, when she meets Finn, the sparks fly between them. At first it’s more in the nature of bickering – Finn isn’t terribly happy to be doing the photo shoot (I couldn’t blame him actually) and his discomfort makes him prickly. However, there is certainly chemistry that he feels as well.
It would be easy for me to say she isn’t my type. But I’m fairly certain that goes both ways. And I’m beginning to think my “type” has just changed.
When Chess realises just how uncomfortable Finn is, she does her job to set him at ease, even all the while feeling very unprofessional because her lady bits are getting all tingly – a reaction she didn’t get when she photographed, Dex, Jake or Rolondo, who are all, in their own way, superb specimens of manly beauty.
Finn quickly decides he wants more from Chess than a hookup and Chess doesn’t do hookups anyway. So he charms her into becoming his friend.
“This makes two times now we’ve run into each other,” he says.
“I’m still not convinced about the whole stalking thing.”
He leans down a touch, so we’re nearly face-to-face. “I think it’s fate telling us to hang out.”
“Hang out, huh?” The truth is, I don’t want to go home now. I want to linger on this humid sidewalk and hear what ridiculous thing will come out of him next. But I have gelato melting. “I don’t know why. We’ve been at each other’s throats since we met.”
“Ah, Chessie, that’s just the way we play.” He nudges my shoulder again.
“Tell me you haven’t had any fun with me. Come on.
He feels better around her. More settled and peaceful and he just plain likes her. They laugh and talk together. She’s not star struck that he’s a quarterback – she doesn’t spend time with him because of his fame. If anything, the intrusion into her life by the press and fans who seem always to be watching is a barrier. But she likes him too. She’s prepared to put up with that intrusion because he’s worth it.
What follows is a slowly developing friendship* between the two. There is always sexual heat between them but it is not acted upon for quite a way into the story.
“I want to know you, Chess Copper. I don’t know why. I just do. I could make a play to get in your pants. But I don’t want to. A one night stand with you doesn’t appeal to me.”
“Oh, well thanks.” It’s one thing to agree that sex is a bad idea. It’s another be told you’re unappealing.
Finn shakes his head as if I’m slow. “Pay attention, Chester. I said I want to know you. I don’t get to know my hookups.”
“So were going to…What? Be friends.”
He looks almost boyish then. “Yeah. We are.” His eyes spark. “Fair warning. I’ll still be picturing you naked half of the time. So get used to a bit of leering.”
I snort. “You just had to go and ruin the moment, didn’t you?”
“Probably should get used to that too.”
(*When I say slow, in terms of actual time, it probably was only a few short months, but in terms of page time, there was a lot of relationship development that wasn’t to do with sex. The intimacy between them was always palpable though and I just loved it.)
Finn is terrified that he will screw things up by taking their relationship to the next level and it takes a while before either of them are prepared to take the risk. But the draw between them is too powerful and further intimacy becomes inevitable.
A short while in, circumstances leave Chess homeless and Finn offers her a place to live while she gets back on her feet. I’m all over plot devices which force characters into close proximity – it’s one of my favourite tropes and I have always been a sucker for a rescue so this worked really well for me. Finn got to be all heroic and demonstrate he would be there for Chess. Chess was responding to some difficult circumstances which would throw anyone – I never felt she was weak even when she had moments of vulnerability.
And, speaking of vulnerability, Finn has his fair share too. I won’t go into it here too much but there is something in his recent past which is cutting him up inside. I understood it and felt for him (and the other person involved) even while I found it personally difficult to read about.
I liked that Chess and Finn didn’t allow misunderstandings to fester and for the most part, they talked to each other and didn’t jump to wrong conclusions. I like it when characters are intelligent and respect each other. That’s actually really attractive to me.
While Finn and Chess are both new to the relationship game, each has a fairly different approach. Finn is sure Chess is it, but he’s happy not to have everything mapped out. Chess would like things locked down more than that. I got that too, having had some personal experience with it.
There’s always a conflict in a romance book of course and I knew there would be something which would tear them apart and test their mettle. While I understood what that conflict was and why they were both afraid, I couldn’t help but think they had stopped talking to each other the way they had been. Given how much I like it when characters do talk out their problems, I was a little disappointed when it stopped. That said, I get that they did need some time apart to really understand how they felt about each other (been there, got the t-shirt) and it was only a few pages in book time, so I coped.
I was curious as to whether Chess’s photography project had actually ended/got to a point where she could do it remotely right near the end, and I’d have generally liked a little more of Chess succeeding in her chosen field, especially after the setback she’d experienced earlier in the book. Just about everything had been stripped away from Chess in the course of the story for one reason or another and it felt a little unbalanced.
Heroes who are totally gone on their lady are like catnip to me. Finn has no problem telling Chess how he feels and opening himself up to her. I just loved that. There’s plenty of wonderful conversation between Chess and Finn, as well as Chess and her bestie, James, and between Finn and his teammates. Again, Finn seemed to have more in terms of volume but he acknowledges to himself that his world is fairly narrow until Chess comes into it.
“Everyone in my life is connected to football. I don’t get true interactions very much. And, if I do, they’re fleeting. But I have them with you.” A line creases between his brows. “Does that make sense?”
I liked that not everything was tied up with a neat bow at the end. There are some things which will work themselves out one way or another in Finn’s and Chess’s future. I didn’t need to know about them to be sure of their HEA.
“Oh, fuck, Chester Copper, I’m so gone on you. There’s no coming back from it.”