ARC Review: Tough Guy by Rachel Reid

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Pro hockey star Ryan Price may be an enforcer, but off the ice he struggles with anxiety. Recently traded to the Toronto Guardians, he’s determined to make a fresh start in the city’s dynamic LGBTQ Village. The last thing he expects to stumble upon in his new neighborhood is a blast from his past in the fabulous form of Fabian Salah.
Aspiring musician Fabian loathes hockey. But that doesn’t stop him from being attracted to a certain burly, ginger-bearded defenseman. He hasn’t forgotten the kiss they almost shared back in high school, and it’s clear the chemistry between them has only intensified.
Fabian is more than happy to be Ryan’s guide to the gay scene in Toronto. Between dance clubs and art exhibits—and the most amazing sex—Ryan’s starting to feel something he hasn’t experienced in a long time: joy. But playing the role of the heavy on the ice has taken its toll on his body and mind, and a future with Fabian may mean hanging up his skates for good.

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Heated Rivalry was one of my favorite romances of 2019 and I loved it so much that I read it more than once 🙂 So, when I found that there was going to be another book in the series, I was very very excited and so glad when I received the ARC.

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The author’s writing style is very easy to read and once I start, I just don’t wanna put it down despite whatever I’m feeling. Because I thought Game Changer was an okay read but Heated Rivalry was excellent, I didn’t exactly know what to expect from this book, but this turned out to be a good one too. There were quite a few moments which were heartbreaking and touching and made me very emotional – there may have been tears involved. I also thought the author did a good job of representing the difficulty of being a professional sportsperson while also suffering from mental health issues – the stigma attached to it, undue pressure to conform to certain masculine stereotypes which don’t include talking about mental health, playing through pain and maybe even getting addicted to the pain medication – I truly didn’t expect so much commentary on such important issues from a romance novel and I think that’s great.

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We only met Ryan very briefly in Heated Rivalry, so I wasn’t sure if I would like him as a main character, but I almost fell in love with him instantly. He is an enforcer on the ice, a big intimidating presence but in reality, he hates flying, has severe anxiety and panic attacks, is in therapy and is very very awkward and shy. He is such a sweetheart and even though I’m probably a foot and a half shorter than him, I wanted to give him a hug and protect him. It was heartbreaking to see him struggle with not finding anymore joy in his sport, and also unable to talk about his feelings and issues, but still try very hard to overcome them all. He deserves the world.

I can’t say I liked Fabian a lot. I initially loved that he was very considerate towards Ryan and his shy nature, slowly trying to get him out of his shell. But as the book gradually went on, I just couldn’t get past his hatred of hockey and not trying to understand Ryan’s perspective at all. I understand he had baggage of his own from his unsupportive parents, but I thought it was unfair to judge Ryan because of that. While there were so many beautiful moments between them, Fabian’s insensitive behavior really made me forget about them. Thankfully, the conflict between them was predictable and was resolved nicely, but it went on longer than I liked.

I really liked the friend group in this book. Fabian’s three best friends are a delight, always teasing and being over the top but also giving solid advice even when he wasn’t ready to listen to them. Ryan on the other hand has never had friends because of constantly being traded, so it was heartwarming to see him make a close friend on the team in Wyatt. He was such an understanding and caring friend and I absolutely loved their conversations, and the time they spent teaching hockey to kids. And last but not the least, I was so happy to see the extremely short cameos of Ilya and Shane. It’s such a nice feeling to see them be happy and do good with their foundation.

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To conclude, this was a nice romantic read but also a bit darker in tone and definitely more angsty. But just keep in mind that it’s very different from the previous books in the series. It’s also great to see some good mental health rep and discourse in a sports romance. If you like reading love stories where the hero is a gentle giant, this one is perfect. While I didn’t always like the love interest, Ryan was an absolutely wonderful MC and I would totally recommend this book just to get to know him better. And I have no clue if the author has started writing the next book, but I know it’s rest of Ilya and Shane’s story and I’m already extremely excited for it.

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PS: Thank you to Netgalley and Carina Press for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

6 thoughts on “ARC Review: Tough Guy by Rachel Reid

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  1. You won’t believe I was just wondering how they handled the anxiety issue and the stereotype that comes with being an athlete. I’m so glad you mentioned it and that it was done well. I’m glad the book spoke about an athlete that’s not you know all cocky and perfect and what ever else typically comes with being an athlete. Love love loved your review. I’m so glad there are books coming that’s speaking so much about mental health issues and people who suffer from it coming from all stratas of life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was actually very surprised by the way it was handled too… very nicely done. And the character is an absolute sweetheart 😍😍😍 it’s definitely nice to see sports romance handling mental health issues… it’s quite rare (atleast from what I’ve seen)..

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