Book Review

Hard Hitter by Sarina Bowen


Genre: Contemporary Romance, Romance

Theme: Sports

Archetype: Athlete

Sportsball romances are usually not my thing because my understanding of professional sportsing is very limited. All I know is that it usually involves a ball of some kind and that it’s acceptable for the dudes to pat each other on the butt. The last sports book I read was League of Denial so that should tell you something right there.

Now, I make an exception when it comes to hockey for two reasons. 1. my husband is a huge Chicago Blackhawks fan and some of that has trickled over to me and 2. Patrick Sharp.

This is Patrick Sharp, formerly of the Blackhawks, now of the Dallas Stars:

Patrick Sharp is sitting in front of a book case, looking as delicious as an iced mocha on a summer day.


Wait, there’s more:

Now Patrick is standing on a Chicago rooftop, wearing a navy blue sweater that looks like probably cost a million dollars, and generally just being a hottie.

Patrick Sharp, ladies and gentlemen. The reason Elyse watches hockey. I mean, I still couldn’t tell you what icing is or any of the rules other than the puck goes into the other guys’ net and you stop fighting when the ref intervenes or someone goes down. Therein lies my hockey knowledge.

So anyway, when I saw Sarina Bowen had a hockey romance with a hero named Patrick I had to read it–and I’m glad I did because it works really, really well as a contemporary romance and it has some incredibly hot sex scenes (light role-playing and tantric sex anyone?). I liked it so much that I’m going to go back and pick up the first book in the series Rookie Move (although Hard Hitter totally works as a standalone).

Patrick O’Doul is the team captain and enforcer for the fictional Brooklyn Bruisers. He’s not having a great time of it lately. Patrick is in his mid-thirties which is getting up there for a professional hockey player, especially one who is expected to get into fights. He’s struggling with his pain, over-relying on prescription medication, and having feelings of anxiety and dread before games.

Patrick is a loner and he likes it that way. He had a tough childhood and he doesn’t let people in close to him. He’s ordered to spend time with the team massage therapist/ yoga instructor for pain relief, which he definitely doesn’t like because he has a huge crush on Ariana Bettini, so having her rub down his naked body is a little bit awkward. Also Patrick shies away from physical contact of the affectionate type.

The first part of the book is Ari trying to figure out why Patrick is being such a dick-waffle to her and trying to get him to accept massage as a way of alleviating his pain. Ari also has her own shit to deal with, namely that her asshole ex is stalking her. She finally broke it off with him when his abuse turned physical, but now he’s terrorizing her from the shadows. Ari, like a lot of victims of abuse, feels shame that she “let this happen” or didn’t end it sooner, and she’s afraid to talk about what she’s going through.

Rookie Move
A | BN | K | AB
Patrick and Ari are forced to spend a lot of time together because she travels with the team and because he’s supposed to be getting massaged regularly. The intimacy of the massage setting (I seriously get this–I swear I use my massage therapist for talk therapy, poor woman) creates a little bubble where romance blooms. Pretty soon it’s grumpy, evasive Patrick who is madly in love with Ari and trying to woo her.

Ari for her part isn’t ready to be in a relationship because she just got out of (and is still dealing with) a really, really shitty one, and I think that’s excellent rationale on her part. The conflict isn’t that her ex is lurking around being an asshole (although that’s part of it), it’s that she isn’t ready for something new after that kind of trauma. This actually makes a lot of sense to me and seems like a very sound decision.

Another thing that I liked is that Patrick is incredibly gentle for a guy who is paid to beat up other guys. He’s also patient and understanding with Ari. At one point he buys her a gorgeous birthstone necklace and she feels like she can’t keep it because it’s too much. She tells him they need to stay friends and quit being lovers:

An hour ago he would have thought it would be devastating to be rejected by the only woman he ever really wanted. But there she sat, two feet away, needing him to understand. So while he wished her decision were different, it wasn’t hard to agree. Sliding down the sofa a foot or so, he gathered her into a giant hug against his favorite tie. “I care about you too much to say no.”

“Thank you.” She took a deep breath and wrapped her arms around him. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t you be sorry. I’m a big boy. But can you do me a favor?”


“Keep the pendant, unless you don’t like it.”

“I love it.”

“Then wear it sometimes, and remember that your birthday is coming. Because by the time August rolls around, I’m betting a whole lot of the bullshit in your life will be finished. You’ll be out to dinner with your girlfriends and thinking, hell, that year sucked. But things are looking up.”

A little bit later:

“Thank you,” she whispered, her hand on the knob.

He didn’t have to ask what she meant. It sucked that she didn’t want everything he wanted to give her. But if she wanted to be friends, he’d do it. He’d do anything she asked. He bent down and kissed her forehead. Just once. It was enough to fill his head with her lavender scent, he had to hold back a sigh. “You’re welcome. Now let’s go eat rich food and rub elbows with the owner.”

You know what’s sexy? A man who respects boundaries.

There were a couple other things that I really liked about this book. At first I thought that because Patrick was this big tough guy, the solution to Ari’s stalking problem would be him going all caveman and pounding the shit out of her ex. While that would be satisfying on some level, it would also be solving toxic masculinity with toxic masculinity. Patrick doesn’t do that. He helps Ari take correct and legal steps to get rid of her ex. He makes sure she doesn’t go home alone and that the door is locked before he leaves. He loans her and her girlfriends his apartment when she needs sanctuary.

Which brings me to the other thing I loved–Ari has girlfriends! She has supportive female friends who take care of each other! Imagine that! We need more girlfriends in romance, seriously.

So for a non-sports romance type of girl, I was totally swept up by Hard Hitter. I’m adding Sarina Bowen to my auto-buy list. This was the mature, sexy, intelligent contemporary romance I so wanted and a great way to start the new year.

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Hard Hitter by Sarina Bowen

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  1. 1
    Kati says:

    I really enjoyed this one. I liked the slow burn of the romance, which I thought was really well done. I love a good sports romance, and this definitely qualifies!

  2. 2
    DonnaMarie says:

    Oh, how we miss Patrick Sharp here in Chicago. Just check out how much coverage there was his first time back here in a Stars sweater. The NHL salary cap is a real bitch.

    Off to go one click this, because hockey romance. And I’m getting feels just reading the review. Thanks Elyse.

  3. 3
    nicole says:

    Sarina Bowen is on my auto buy too!! Love her!

  4. 4
    Gigi says:

    Sarina Bowen became an autobuy after Blonde Date. Love, love her!

  5. 5
    Leigh Kramer says:

    I loved Rookie Move and have been looking forward to reading this one, even more so after reading your review.

  6. 6
    Manda Collins says:

    Reading this one right now. (Can’t read the whole review because I don’t want spoilers, but dang, that Patrick Sharp!) Sarina Bowen has been an autobuy for me since THE YEAR WE FELL DOWN, which was one of THE best portrayals of disability in romance ever.

    I’ve been in a reading slump since November but Hard Hitter is doing it for me, thank goodness.

  7. 7
    Cerulean says:

    I am also not a fan of sportsball. But I LOVE Sarina Bowen’s hockey romances. “The Year we Fell Down” is amazing, as is “The Understatement of the Year”. And her collaboration with Elle Kennedy on “Him” and “Us” is bonkers-good. “Rookie Move” is terrific, too. So I’ve come to enjoy hockey romances via Sarina.

  8. 8
    Caitlin says:

    Totally putting this on hold on Overdrive. Now I wish somebody would write mature, intelligent basketball romance, because ’90s Chicago kid here.

  9. 9
    Joan says:

    I can’t resist a Sarina Bowen book. Her True North series, Bittersweet, Steadfast and Keepsake are set in Vermont and are great for non-sports fans.

  10. 10
    Lizzy says:

    I’m completely uninterested in sportsball, but Sarina Bowen is a totally different story. I loved the True North series. I don’t typically like first person romance but she’s so good I’ll make an exception.

  11. 11
    KateB says:

    I am also not a sports fan, but I am a Wisconsinite so am oftened bouyed by the successes of the Packers. It’s a communial joy I can’t resist.

    So, I might pick this up! Or find a football romance with a hero named Aaron or Clay….

  12. 12
    qqemokitty says:

    Another big time Sarina Bowen fan here. She writes some seriously flaming ghost pepper hot sex scenes but also a lot of really poignant emotional scenes. I even like her first person stuff which I normally don’t care for in romance. I really liked her series about cops and undercover criminals. And Blonde Date was so sweet. I never read sportball romance but maybe it’s time! Thanks for the review.

  13. 13
    qqemokitty says:

    After posting I realized I’d conflated sarina Bowen and Tessa bailey in my mind. Sorry. They’re both awesome though. :p

  14. 14
    Chelle says:

    Re Sharpie.
    Last season there was a darling picture tweeted by the Stars of Sharpie saying hello to his young daughter before a game. SO sweet! What a nice ‘dad’ thing to do.

    In her Gravity series, Sarina has a paraplegic hero. Having a paraplegic dad while growing up, I felt she got a lot of the challenges right.

    Count me another fan-girl!!

  15. 15
    KF says:

    I liked this one better than Rookie Move (although I would have still given that a B-). I think Bowen’s writing works better for me in the first person though. I don’t know why, maybe because most of her work has been dual-perspective first person and I’m just used to it.

  16. 16
    Robin says:

    Some more real life in our art: A NYT story about women working in ice hockey:

  17. 17
    Jacqueline says:

    Day 2 of the Hunt For Books To Break My Reading Slump annnnnd…BOOM

    Just bought this because dude, it sounds like ALLL my catnip. GET IN MY FACE, BOOK!

  18. 18

    Yesterday I was crashing really hard with M.E./CFS and desperately needed a wildly romantic book with a happy ending and characters I could care about, for escape reading. I started looking through the SBTB archive of “A”-rated books, found this…and I LOVED this book SO MUCH! By the time I was halfway through, I’d bought Book 1 in the series, too, and when I finished, I pre-ordered Book 3, because I can’t wait for more.

    Thank you so much for this review!

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