Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Elizabeth Harmon - Pairing Off

American pairs figure skater Carrie Parker’s Winter Games dreams were dashed when her philandering partner caused one of the greatest scandals in skating history. Blacklisted from competing in America, her career is over…until she receives a mysterious invitation and is reunited with the most infuriating, talented—and handsome—skater she’s ever met.
Russian champion Anton Belikov knows sacrifice. He gave up a normal life and any hope of a meaningful relationship to pursue his dream. And he’s come close—with a silver medal already under his belt, the next stop is the gold. All he needs is a partner. While he’s never forgotten the young American skater he seduced one long-ago night in Amsterdam, he never expected to see her again…never mind skate with her.
When what starts as a publicity stunt grows into something real between them, Carrie and Anton’s partnership will test their loyalties to family, country, and each other. With only a few months to train for the competition of a lifetime, can they master technique and their emotions, or will they lose their footing and fall victim to the heartaches of their pasts?

Comment: I saw some good opinions on this book somewhere and the idea of a romance with figure skating characters is alluring enough, had I not loved another book with this theme. Thinking on that, of course I added this one to my TBR and now, I finally got to it.

In this story we meet disgraced Carrie Parker, right after she and her partner Cody are disqualified when her partner is found with a judge. She becomes a pariah as well, even though she had no idea of what Cody was doing behind her back. Months later, she is invited by a Russian coach to partner up with one of their athletes and Carry decides to accept, so she can have the chance to redeem herself in the eyes of the public. At first she can't believe who will be her partner but as her experience in Moscow and with the training becomes better, so does her relationship with her partner Anton. However, both her and Anton have issues to go through before they are able to reach their HEA. Will they succeed, whether personally or professionally?

This is a romance which happens to feature figure skating athletes and, as expected, a good part of the novel is immersed in how much dedication, talent and time is spent on training and sacrifices for reaching perfection in the sport. I liked the fact, if this is an integral part of the story, how much was mentioned and how many details about figure skating were included. I mean, perhaps more could have been added, but thinking about this being a romance which happens to have figure skating athletes as protagonists, I think things went pretty well.

Nevertheless, the focus is definitely on Carrie and Anton's lives and personalities, how much they match, how much they clash. I confess I was surprised by how serious the story was, how it wasn't fluffy nor too sweet as the cover seems to indicate. The two of them have issues in their lives and that affects everything, including their performances, and I was not expecting this level of personal development, so on one hand I was caught unaware on how serious the tone would be, but at the same time it was something I truly appreciated.

The whole situation regarding the disqualification and the outcome caused was quite realistic, I suppose, and I can see how it would have affected the characters, especially someone genuine like Carrie is described. However, Carrie had other issues, namely the memory of her mother's death, the difficult relationship with her father and the fact he is a well known person in the country, so more people are paying attention than if he wasn't and when she changes countries to practice and to perform, that is something many have something to comment about.

In fact, the story had a much more serious tone than what I would imagine. I keep saying in many comments on other books how I wished some could have a more serious tone but here it seemed, at times, it was a little too much. I say this because, comparing to the amount of romance or romantic moments, it did feel as if the focus wasn't on that as much as one would think. Besides, the relationship between Anton and Carrie felt a little too complicated, because of how they met, of how they always behaved as antagonists (not enemies) on the ring and the difference of their culture. On the other hand, it was really great to learn a few things about Russia, it was wonderful to see Carrie trying to learn the language, to sight see while she was staying in Moscow to practice with Anton.

All the thoughtful elements aside, though, I ended up liking them as a couple, mostly for the idea that different people could, indeed, find happiness. I don't think the development of their romance was always as cute as it could be, I think some lighter scenes or happier ones were missing to make things a little more balanced, but overall, I was glad on how the story ended for them.
Grade: 7/10

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