Hannah Grace Lights a 'Wildfire' with Maple Hills Sequel
November 12, 2023
My love for hockey romance began with none other than our queen, Elle Kennedy. I’ve read every book in the Off Campus, Briar U, and even the new Campus Diaries series. What can I say? The Briar University hockey boys have stolen my heart. So when Icebreaker came out last year and created a ton of buzz on social media, I knew I had to try it out. But sadly, I wasn’t a huge fan. I spent most of the book rooting against the main character as she continuously made stupid choices, but I decided to give the author another shot with the newest installment in the Maple Hills series, Wildfire.
While I give the author, Hannah Grace, extra credit for breaking the mold of a typical hockey romance to center the story on a player that’s less focused on playing pro and more focused on working at a summer camp, I still found myself caught up in avoiding cliches instead of enjoying the story entirely. But overall, it was a fun, spicy, beach-style romance perfect for a summer weekend.
What I Liked
Unique Twist on Typical Hockey Romance Genre
Authentic and Compelling Characater Development
Homage to 'Icebreaker' Characters
College hockey romance stories tend to follow a simple formula. The star hockey player falls for a girl during his senior year when he’s trying to go pro, and she’s trying to figure out what she wants to do with the rest of her life. They spend the first semester begrudgingly falling in love, working through their differences with various tests and reconciliations, until sometime around the conference championship when a completely avoidable issue tears them apart and threatens their future. And sometime before the big game (or right before the big game in the team locker room) the two make up, and they live happily ever after.
According to the formula, I wouldn’t technically consider Wildfire to be a hockey romance book; it’s more of a summer romance where one of the characters happens to be a hockey player, but we get to reconnect with the teammates and girlfriends we met in Icebreaker and hear all the goofy banter from the team.
Russ and Aurora meet at a hockey party right before break, but their connection becomes complicated when they find out they are going to be camp counselors together for the entire summer. Fraternizing with other counselors is forbidden. Russ can’t afford to lose his job, and Rory is determined to quit her habit of self-sabotaging. So friends it is…right?
I enjoyed the character development, watching Russ and Aurora learn to trust themselves by first trusting each other. I connected with Aurora’s relationship with her family, and was genuinely happy to see her stick up for herself at the end of the book. In some spicy romance books, personal growth falls to the wayside and focuses too much on the immediate relationship for my liking. But this book struck a good balance, and kept me engaged with the characters and the plot, along with the relationship.
Plus, the final chapter was honestly perfect. I couldn’t imagine a sweeter ending for this couple, and I love how the author weaves in future tidbits about other couples to keep us guessing about what stories are next for the loveable group of friends.
What I Wished For
No Misscommunication Trope
More Drama or Excitement During the Conclusion
More Complex Friend Relationships
One of my biggest pet peeves in romance is the miscommunication trope, so I was kind of thrown for a loop when the author uses the plot device and then calls it out right in the story (Rory: “You made us miscommunicators.”) To me, it seemed like an easy way to use the trope but then bow out of any criticism from readers. But I will say, it was super meta to see a character currently written within the trope call out said trope right there on the page. So if that's what she was going for, than I salute her, because it did catch me off guard, and it was definitely unique.
I also wish the story had more of a focus on the side characters. There were a ton of scenes with the side characters, but most of the plot and character growth focuses on the relationship between Russ and Aurora. I was hoping for more summer camp adventures and hijinks, but it didn’t take away from the overall story.
And while I loved the final chapter, I wish there was more of a complex conclusion to round out the plot. I enjoyed the steady growth between Aurora and Russ, but everything seemed to fall into place at the end. The final predicament lasted maybe ten pages, and I was really hoping to have my heart ripped out so it could be put back together again.
Overall, I enjoyed Wildfire - enough to finish the entire book in one night. I don’t think it will break my top 50, but it’s a great recommendation for beach and spicy romance readers. If you liked Icebreaker, you’ll like the second installment. And if you have an affinity for shy hockey players, I can’t recommend this enough.
I will most likely tune in for the next book, so I’ll keep you posted on release information. Happy reading!