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A surprising genre of romance novels is gaining popularity

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Tonight, the Florida Panthers face off against the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. But wait - it's not time for sports. It's time for hockey romance novels...

(SOUNDBITE OF CELINE DION SONG, "MY HEART WILL GO ON")

SIMON: ...Titles like "Icebreaker," "Taking A Shot," "Body Check" and "Pucked." Oh, my. Hockey romances, hot literature right now. Can't you see the ice steaming? Washington Post reporter, Rachel Kurzius is a student of the romance subgenre and joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

RACHEL KURZIUS: It's an honor. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Do you have to be a hockey fan to like hockey romance novels?

KURZIUS: You do not have to be a fan. In fact, I would say, for me, it was the novels that got me interested in hockey, rather than the other way around.

SIMON: I confess - and I'm not proud of this - I've never read one. What am I missing?

KURZIUS: Romance, in general, can be so thrilling, and hockey as a sport ups the ante in so many ways. There are a lot of moments of drama. We're talking about attractive athletes who make a lot of money at the pinnacle of success.

SIMON: They have no teeth.

KURZIUS: (Laughter) You know, I think that...

SIMON: I say that with respect, but, yeah.

KURZIUS: Oh, of course. But the level of fantasy that comes into it is most of the romantic leads, I would say, have their teeth or are seeing dentists, or they're getting at least fake versions of those teeth back.

I also think that there becomes a contrast between the brutality of the sport and the softness that the romance brings out in the player or the coach or the hockey person. And that kind of gets at the fantasy that a lot of romance novels are telling us, which is that in the places you least expect it, you can find this thrilling connection.

SIMON: Gosh, I've been missing something.

KURZIUS: Have you ever, but you can fix this.

SIMON: I gather hockey romance novels have been around for a while. What makes them suddenly popular?

KURZIUS: I wouldn't say that they're necessarily suddenly popular. I mean, I think that as soon as - and this is true in publishing as it is in so many different areas of life - as soon as there seems to be some sort of formula for success, you see a lot of people then try and work on that. So I think it's a bit of a self-reinforcing cycle. As soon as hockey romances reached some degree of popularity, other people thought, hey, maybe I should set my next novel in this world of hockey. So once it got a little bit of success, that just continued and continued.

SIMON: You have a section for us, a reading, right?

KURZIUS: I do. And it is from the book that got me into hockey romance. It's what I would call my sacred text. It's called "Heated Rivalry" by Rachel Reid. And it is about two hockey players who are rivals who - and I'm not spoiling it for you because all romances have happy endings - but they do find love. But before then, they're kind of in denial of their feelings. And this...

SIMON: You mean they find love with each other?

KURZIUS: Yes, they do. The - a subgenre of the hockey romance would be gay hockey romance, where its players are two men or two women. I mean, any formulation that you could imagine a romantic partnering, you'll find in this subgenre.

But so "Heated Rivalry " is about Shane and Ilya, and I'll read you this section.

SIMON: Yeah.

KURZIUS: And know that I am not using any of the curse words that may be in there.

(Reading) Why was Shane Hollander so hard to shake? They'd hooked up once months ago. It'd been a mistake, obviously, or at the very least, something that should be forgotten about - not a big deal. On the ice, it was easy enough to focus on the game. Ilya actually loved playing against Hollander. He would never actually tell him, but Hollander was really good. He challenged Ilya in ways that Ilya wasn't used to. He loved taking the puck from Hollander. He loved slamming him into the boards. He loved smack-talking him because his eyes would get all squashed up in anger, and his pink lips would curl into an adorable little attempt at a snarl, like an angry kitten. OK, I wasn't entirely easy to focus on the game.

SIMON: I can see where this would become hypnotic for people, right? You keep coming back.

KURZIUS: Very much so. The other thing that I would be remiss not to include when we're talking about hockey is that the romance genre - as with publishing more broadly - has faced some struggles when it comes to diversity of authors, of main characters. And hockey is a broadly white sport, and I think that for some people, that could be some of the appeal, or at least it's worth noting.

SIMON: Can we have a recommendation?

KURZIUS: Well, "Heated Rivalry," which I just mentioned, is one that, like I said, is wonderful to me. And anything by Rachel Reid, I highly recommend. Another that I read recently and loved was "The Fake Out" by Stephanie Archer.

But what I would also say is that if you are a fan of romance - let's say you love rivals to lovers, friends to lovers - whatever trope suits you - if you search that plus hockey romance, you're bound to find something that you'll like.

SIMON: Rachel Kurzius is a reporter for The Washington Post. Thank you so much for being with us. I think you've changed the way I see the world.

KURZIUS: Love to hear that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY HEART WILL GO ON")

CELINE DION: (Singing) Near, far, wherever you are... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.