Rachel Reid's 2023 romance novel, Time to Shine, offers a delightful holiday read with a hint of sizzle. Set in Canada during Christmas, the novel follows the journey of two hockey players: Casey Hicks and Landon Stackhouse. When a regular player gets injured, Landon, the reserve goalie, steps into the NHL spotlight, setting the stage for an endearing story of sports and love.
Playing for the fictional NHL team the Calgary Outlaws, Landon befriends Casey, the star left-wing who’s openly bi — though it might be more accurate to say that Casey befriends Landon. The two couldn’t be more different: Landon is serious and quiet, and Casey is warm and chatty, but despite this, the two men end up living together. It’s convenient for both of them: Landon needs somewhere to stay while he’s in Calgary, and Casey has plenty of extra space in his new home (and hates being alone).
From there, Casey and Landon end up closer than either could have imagined, which makes Landon’s temporary NHL position all the more bittersweet. Reid's work keeps us on our toes, having us wonder if they'll take the plunge or if their relationship stands a chance to begin with. Their attempts to navigate these difficulties, alongside their own personal demons, are both touching and heartbreaking.
Before diving into the review, readers may want to be aware of the following CONTENT WARNINGS: this novel features sexually explicit scenes; it also grapples with the trauma of unexpectedly losing a family member. Though this loss happened a few years before the start of the novel, the characters’ grief is a key subplot but not the focus of this review.
The sports-centric storyline in Time to Shine immediately caught my attention as a former athlete. Though I didn’t play hockey, Landon’s gripes about traveling long hours by bus felt familiar, as did his hours in the weight room and his desire to have his whole life scheduled so he didn’t have to think about anything but sports. (Avoidance, my favorite coping mechanism!)
I mention this because Time to Shine, labeled on Reid’s website as part of her "cute smut" collection, diverges from my typical reading choices with its more sexually explicit content. As someone who’s both bi and demi, I often feel disconnected from sex scenes, but despite this, it was gratifying to see how Reid centered characters’ consent and comfort every time.
This sex positivity worked on another level, too. Casey enjoys sex and hookups, and throughout the course of the novel, he sleeps with men and women. Though it could hint at the cliché of a promiscuous bi character, the novel avoids boxing Casey into that stereotype. It portrays him as someone who enjoys intimacy with both men and women without tying his bisexuality exclusively to his sexual desires or assuming that all bi individuals must share similar preferences. It’s a small distinction, but an important one to make.
Romance aside, the most gripping part of the novel for me was Landon’s character and his growth over the course of 300+ pages. In chapter one, readers are introduced to a man who narrates, of himself: “He didn’t like being seen, and only truly felt comfortable when he was wearing fifty pounds of goalie gear.” Landon then spends the next forty chapters trying to take off that metaphorical gear. It happens in fits and starts. He asks for advice from his hero, an older goalie named Antton Niskanen. He tries to trust, and relax with, his temporary teammates. He begins to acknowledge his sexuality. He reconnects with his parents. All the while, Landon is also dealing with the pressure of his NHL debut — which means he has a lot going on, both externally and internally.
By the end of the novel, Landon has grown an incredible amount, both on and off the ice. Sure, his problems don’t magically disappear, and his life isn’t perfect. Though he’s undeniably the same character at the end, he’s learned a lot about himself in the process of living with Casey. As early as chapter sixteen, Landon begins to realize that he doesn’t need to be someone else in order to be happy. Instead, he starts to imagine “a different version of himself”. Not a different version of Antton, and not of Casey either, but of himself.
Though I enjoyed Time to Shine, it is worth noting that Casey and Landon’s anxieties dovetailed so perfectly that they seemed, in many ways, meant to be (a fact that heightens the tension around these two men trying to make their relationship work). For my personal taste, some of this felt a little too perfect. Part of me would have liked Landon and Casey to struggle a little more in terms of their needs and wants.
But maybe I’m missing the point of the romance genre, in saying that. I’ve always thought of romance novels as simplistic, but romance author Imogen Crimp argued the reverse: Today’s romance novels are more complex than their predecessors because they ask different questions, such as “whether or not you actually should be with a person, and what sort of life might be better to live”. These bigger questions are precisely what Landon and Casey struggle with as Landon’s temporary NHL position comes to an end, and their complexity appealed to me for all the ways they mirror the real-life difficulty of choosing (or not choosing) a partner — talk about making a story about professional hockey relatable!
Does Time to Shine live up to the myriad expectations of romance novels? It’s hard to say without spoiling the whole book — so you’ll have to read it to decide for yourself! All in all, Reid’s novel is a fun read that doesn’t shy away from hard topics. It’s perfect for the holiday season, from the wintery Canadian weather to the decorations: I loved imagining all of Casey’s Christmas lights, and their soft glow at night.