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Pairing Off (Red Hot Russians) Kindle Edition
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Mass Market Paperback
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"What I've Done" by Melinda Leigh
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The book begins with a hook-up between a man and a young woman in Amsterdam. That hook-up will play a significant role later on.
Seven years later, at the World Figure Skating championships, the American champion pairs team of Carolyn Ann “Carrie” Parker, the heroine of the book, and her partner, Cody DeWylde, are stripped of their gold medal due to a scandal. Humiliated, Carrie flees to Russia to become the partner of Anton Belikov, the hero of the book, a Russian pairs skater whose former partner of 10 years, Olga Zelenskaya, has joined forces with a new partner.
When Carrie and Anton begin practicing, things don’t go well for them, and their coach, Galina Borisova, raises the possibility of replacing Carrie. This change does not occur; one that does, however, is Carrie and Anton changing their long program from Evita to a James Bond program, much to Galina’s dismay.
As the book goes on, Carrie and Anton realize that they have much more in common than just skating, falling in love with each other and later marrying.
Despite their many challenges, Carrie and Anton make their marriage a success and have their Happily Ever After.
Upside:: Ms. Harmon did a phenomenal job bringing me as a reader into Carrie and Anton’s world; it wasn’t always pretty, but it was emotional. They are both wonderful, fully developed characters who have issues-mostly with their respective families- but found a way to work through them and find love with each other. I especially learned a great deal about the male partnership side of skating, which is usually ignored by many in the skating community. “Pairing Off” doesn’t have a Cinderella ending, which I was afraid it would and appreciate that it doesn’t. If Ms. Harmon is so inclined to not be chronologically correct, there is a young teenager in the book who wishes to be a pairs skater who would be perfect for her own book. Ms. Harmon appears to adopt from several sources: the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the "Cutting Edge" movie franchise, a little dash of the 2010-2014 television series "Make it or Break it" and Russian pair skating history.
Downside: There isn’t a great deal to criticize here, but the Winter Olympics are being staged in PyeongChang, South Korea in 2018, NOT in Lake Placid, New York (which staged the 1980 Winter games). This may not bother other readers, and it didn’t bother me that much, but I found this kind of factual inaccuracy to be unnecessary. I feel Ms. Harmon could have devoted more time to focusing on the skating, which feels at times to be glossed over.
Sex: A few love scenes that were fairy hot, especially the last one.
Violence: Carrie’s father threatens Anton, but nothing more comes of it. Anton later hits Cody; I wish he had done more to the sleazeball! My sincere hope is that Cody DeWylde gets his much-deserved comeuppance at some point in the series.
Bottom Line: One small crack in the armor doesn’t diminish the excellence of “Pairing Off”.
The heroine of this book is Carrie Parker who was part of a pairs team full of high expectations. Unfortunately, her dream was destroyed when her partner (and boyfriend) was caught sleeping with a judge and she was forbidden from competing for the United States ever again. Figure skating is the only thing that ever made Carrie happy so she still continued to hold out hope for glory within the sport. To achieve her dreams, she needs a new partner and ends up being asked to work with Anton Belikov, a Russian superstar. Anton and Carrie decide to give this new partnership a try which is complicated by the fact that they were once anonymous lovers and there are new feelings starting to develop.
I liked the fact that, in this book, the heroine is the tortured one with the past while the hero had a more stable upbringing. Carrie is difficult to like at first, but I believe that was by design so readers could understand how much her ex-partner's betrayal affected her. I came to admire her mental strength to keep going for her dream despite all the odds being stacked against her. Anton was very likable and a great partner for Carrie. He is super sweet and protective without being overbearing. He seemed to understand her issues early on and respected her hesitations.
I will admit that I was not sure about the romance at the beginning due to Carrie's emotional baggage and the fact that Anton had a girlfriend. Thankfully, there is not cheating in this book and the love story actually doesn't start until the girlfriend is out of the picture which I appreciated. I felt like Carrie and Anton worked well as a couple. They are put in some difficult situations, but learn to trust and rely on one another.
The first part of Pairing Off focuses on Anton and Carrie getting to know one another as friends and partners. There is a lot of detail about the rigors of figure skating training which was interesting. It felt accurate to me, but I am just an observer of the sport so experts may have to weigh in on the finer points. I liked the way that the story focused on their relationship moving from partners to friends before the romance kicked in. The second half concentrated on their love story and their attempts to get to the Winter Games. I, of course, liked the romance aspect and the journey they went on to compete. I did not care for the over-the-top villain at the end. They were in the perimeter for much of the book, but I didn't feel like the story needed their involvement.
Overall, I did enjoy Elizabeth Harmon's writing and I can tell why it was nominated for a RITA. I am excited to try out the other books in the series. Long-time readers of my blog will know that I am very picky when it comes to contemporaries, but I have really gotten into some of the smaller press romances lately which makes me very happy. And Pairing Off is a good example of one that I enjoyed reading.
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