REVIEW: The Risk by Elle Kennedy
Dear Ms. Kennedy:
I recently read the first book in your Briar U series, The Chase, and gave it a B+, mostly on the strength of an appealing heroine. The heroine of The Risk first appears in The Chase as Summer’s friend Brenna, and the hero, Jake, is featured in a few scenes of that book as an antagonist to Brenna (so, obviously, a future romantic interest).
Brenna Jensen finds herself stood up for a date at the local diner; just as she’s about to leave, Jake Connelly shows up and somehow figures out what’s happened. This adds insult to injury; the sting of being stood up is compounded by having it witnessed by someone Brenna emphatically does not like. Jake is the captain and star player for Harvard’s hockey team; Harvard is a rival for Briar University, and thus Jake is The Enemy. It doesn’t help that the two have traded barbs in their previous encounters.
Brenna is not just any fan of Briar hockey – her father coaches the team. Thus she is particularly sensitive to the rivalry, and tries to treat Jake like he’s toxic sludge. Unfortunately, she can’t help but notice that for toxic sludge, Jake is damn hot.
Jake uses the unexpected encounter with Brenna to warn her off one of his teammates, a “cute, goofy” kid named Josh McCarthy. McCarthy and Brenna have fooled around a few times, and she considers him a “solid candidate in terms of FWBs.” But Jake thinks that McCarthy is serious about Brenna, and that his mooning over her is distracting him from the upcoming college hockey playoffs. Jake wants Brenna to break things off, and because Brenna doesn’t take well to being told what to do, especially by the Harvard hockey team captain, she refuses.
Jake then point-blank tells McCarthy to dump Brenna. When he complies, Brenna is outraged – even though she didn’t consider what she had with him to be a relationship per se, who is Jake Connelly to interfere?
What follows is a slightly tedious period where the two encounter each other and verbally spar. I’m not into the squabbling-but-attracted dynamic. It feels both artificial and immature. Obviously, in New Adult romances the characters are a lot younger than me, but even at that age I don’t think I could relate to a love-hate relationship. (I’ve probably loved a number of *serious* love-hate romances over the years, due to all the angst potential. I’m speaking specifically of silly, low-stakes love-hate, more often found in contemporary romance than sturm und drang historicals.)
Jake does feel somewhat guilty for interfering, which I guess is to his credit? He also finds himself more drawn to Brenna with each encounter. The two run into each other again during a weekend in Boston when Brenna is there for a disastrous internship interview. Brenna ends up at a dive bar; Jake is there supporting a musician friend who is playing a set. Jake, thinking he’s rescuing Brenna from a stranger who is coming on to her, pretends to be her boyfriend and they kiss.
It may be that encounter that gives Brenna the impulsive idea to pretend that Jake is her boyfriend for Ed Mulder, an obnoxious hockey network executive. Mulder is a huge Oilers fan, and Jake’s been drafted by the Oilers, and when Brenna blurts out that Jake is her boyfriend in an attempt to salvage her second interview with him, she and Jake are invited to a dinner party. Brenna then has to ask Jake to come with her as a favor, which is hard for her, given their previous interactions and her personality. He finally agrees, on the condition that they go on a real date after their fake one.
The basic conflict is pretty light…Brenna isn’t a girlfriend type, Jake isn’t a boyfriend type. Brenna would be horrified if anyone found out that she was (eventually) “sleeping with the enemy”, especially her father, which whom she has a contentious relationship. (Jake doesn’t actually seem to care about whether people know that he’s with the daughter of a rival coach.) A lot of the story deals with Brenna’s internal issues and how they manifest with Jake, who, until a predictable late freakout, settles into the boyfriend role easily.
Brenna had a bad relationship with her high school boyfriend, Eric, a drug addict who still occasionally hits Brenna up for money or help. They had a traumatic breakup that led to Brenna messing up her last years of high school. She got her act together, went to community college, and has now transferred to Briar as a junior. She has a stereotypical tough girl facade – wears all black, hooks up with impunity – but of course the reality is more complex. Brenna doesn’t actually hook up *that* much, though she’s not averse to a little fooling around. (This leads to a super-gross, ignorant exchange between her and Jake in the middle of sex about how “tight” she is. I would expect Jake to be a dumb meathead who believes promiscuous women have loose vaginas, but I wish Brenna had been shown to be smart enough – and feminist enough – to correct him, even in flagrante delicto.)
Brenna’s conflict with her gruff father can be traced back to her bad boyfriend, their bad breakup, and her subsequent bad behavior. She feels like he hasn’t trusted her since, and their interactions are invariably prickly on both sides. Things get even more complicated when Brenna’s basement apartment floods and she has to stay with her dad while it’s being cleaned up.
I liked Brenna – she wasn’t nearly as lovable as Summer, the heroine of The Chase, but she was relatable and worth rooting for. I felt for her when her dreams of working in hockey broadcasting were continually frustrated by the old boys’ network.
Jake was very bland. In his few scenes in The Chase he had a spark – a certain quiet confidence that left me wondering what was underneath. But in this book he reads like every NA hockey jock I’ve read about, with a few exceptions. Hockey is his life. He likes sex, but not with the same girl twice (yuck). There is nothing, really, beneath that. He has a good relationship with his parents – his only complaint is that they aren’t interested in hockey and sometimes don’t come to important games. He has a female best friend, Hazel, who he refers to several times as his best friend so you know that they’re best friends and that Jake is unusual enough to have a female best friend, but they aren’t shown together much and don’t seem to have much friend chemistry that I could detect.
I am trying to avoid saying “I’m not a prude, but” because such statements are often followed by prudery. I read these NA hockey books because they’re untaxing and usually get B range grades from me; I know what I’m getting. I also find the Ivy League setting interesting (I don’t think Briar is supposed to be Ivy League but it reads like a rich-persons’ college, if not necessarily an academically elite one).
My problem is that besides the focus on sex and lustful thoughts, there’s a certain crudeness in the way sex is talked about that – well, it doesn’t make me clutch my pearls but it does put me off. I don’t know if it’s my age or having read enough sex scenes to set me for life, but I could do with less of it. And while I long despaired of overly-euphemistic descriptions of body parts and sexual acts in the past, I’ve decided there’s a happy middle ground between euphemism and Jake straight-up (if facetiously) suggesting that Brenna and her friends are “teaching each other how to eat pussy” on their girls’ night. I just find it gross for a guy to graphically suggest that you’re having sex with your female friends, even kiddingly. Just like their early exchange about Brenna calling him “daddy” is gross, especially given that Brenna has daddy issues (though not of the gross kind, luckily).
The most entertaining storyline was a sort of secondary romance between hockey player (and former one-time hook-up of Brenna) Mike Hollis and a Briar freshman named Rupi Miller. Rupi introduces herself to Brenna and Summer at the local diner and cadges Hollis’ phone number, then announces to Hollis that he’s taking her on a date. The whole storyline is kind of bananas and wouldn’t work if the genders were reversed, and probably wouldn’t work as a full storyline, much as I wanted to see more of them. Rupi and Hollis are immature and super-dramatic, given to stupid fights, but they brought some needed verve to the book. (I liked that Rupi was half-Indian, though I couldn’t decide if the fact that her mother was “a former Bollywood star” was a colorful detail, or too much of a stereotype.)
The Risk wasn’t my favorite NA hockey romance, but it passed the time. I’ll give it a B-.