Body Check

Fair Play

The Penalty Box

Total Rush

Chasing Stanley
by Deirdre Martin
(Berkeley Sensation, $7.99, PG-13)ISBN 978-0-425-21447-3
I like some romances for their swashbuckling heroes; others for their feisty, independent heroines. Still others get me with their tear- wrenching love stories or their complicated plot twists. Fifth in Deirdre Martinís loosely connected series about hockey, Chasing Stanley has none of these top-ranking qualities, and yet it is a near- winner. This is largely due to its highly entertaining portrayal of neurotic New York City life.

The title plays on the heroís, Jason Mitchell, two obsessions: the Stanley Cup, coveted by all professional hockey players, and Stanley, the mischievous Newfoundland dog he canít handle. Enter Delilah Gould, a New York City dog trainer who agrees to educate Stanley or rather, as she points, his owner. The humans fall for each other, but despite their obvious affection and lust, there is too much tearing them apart. Jason wants to make the best of his recent transplantation to the Big Apple and to spend more time on the town. Delilah, who prefers canine company to the human sort, would rather stay at home, even on the few nights her professional commitments give her a choice. Jason is impulsive and spontaneous, which creates problems because he doesnít consult her. Delilah is reclusive and socially gauche, which makes it difficult for her to bond with his friends.

Then there are the sticky family situations they both have to deal with. Jason wants to upstage his overly competitive three-minute- older twin brother, Eric, who also plays professional hockey. Delilah has overbearing parents who, despite their recent divorce, continue to entertain passionate feelings for each other. The fact that her sixty-something-year-old father is engaged to twenty-something Brandi doesnít seem to effect matters.

It is in these minor details about family, neighborhood and community life that Martin really excels. Even as she exploits the standard plot of the dysfunctional family, she gives it some refreshing twists. Although Delilahís reliance on her gay actor friend for fashion advice has a much too familiar ring, it is nicely done and sometimes even laugh-out-loud funny. The portrait of Jewish Long Island here isnít as broad and detailed as the Brooklyn Italian neighborhood in Fair Play, but it is recognizable without being caricatural, entertaining but not degrading. In fact, the successively outlandish fiascos of Mrs Gouldís Hannukah dinner is one of the high-points of this novel. Nor is this outstanding treatment limited to Delilahís preoccupations. As in her other novels, Martin shows her fine hand at humor when detailing action in and out of the hockey ring.

Where Chasing Stanley is less successful is with the two main characters and their romance. Delilah and Jason are extremely likeable despite, or perhaps because of their very human flaws. Still, they have little in common except for their genuine feelings for each other and his dog. While it was wonderful to see them act as grown ups and face up to their issues without too much angst and turmoil, I wasnít entirely convinced they had resolved everything at the end. With little more to go on than their vows to try harder, I can only surmise that they are heading for a repeat of the same.

I am quite ready to overlook this problem. I may be a romance reader, but that doesnít make me narrow minded. Sometimes itís not the one- plus-one-equals-two that matters, but everything that comes in between. On that score, Chasing Stanley is a real winner.

--Mary Benn

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