Blog Tour: Podium Finish by Beth Pond

Rating: 3.5 stars
Pub Date: November 14, 2013
Publisher: Astraea Press
Genre: young adult contemporary, sports (ice skating/hockey)
Format/Source: DRC, from the publisher
Status: standalone

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review as part of the blog tour, which was organized & hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer. The full tour schedule can be found HERE. Please go give my fellow tour hosts some love!

With six months until the Olympic Games, seventeen-year-old Harper's life is pretty much perfect. She's fighting for the starting spot on Team USA Women's Hockey, and for the first time ever, she has a crush on a guy who likes her back. She feels like the luckiest girl in the world, until she runs a risky play at practice and breaks her knee, thereby sentencing herself to six weeks in a cast and possibly ending her Olympic dream before it even starts.

For seventeen-year-old Alex, being anything less than the best is unacceptable. That's why, after a miserable debut season at the senior level, the former junior national singles champion switches to ice dance. Her skating partner, Ace, is an "all skating all the time" type of guy, which would be fine, if he'd stop keeping secrets about the real reason he and his former partner broke up. Now is not the time for second thoughts, but how can Alex skate her best if she can’t trust her partner…or herself?

As the pressure to make the Olympic team builds, the girls must rely on each other, because if there’s one thing they both know, it's that the only thing harder than skating to the top is staying there.

Reading Podium Finish so close to Being Sloane Jacobs made it impossible to not draw some comparisons between the two books, but I found that once you get past the ice skating and the hockey, both books stand by themselves, and I hope readers will give both a chance, not dismiss them merely for having so many surface similarities. Being Sloane Jacobs is more of a typical contemporary ya with sports allowing for the hijinks of its wacky Parent Trap-esque primary plot, while Podium Finish is more of a straight-up sports novel, and that's why I was so excited to read it and be part of the tour. I am a HUGE sports fan. I do research and watch as many as I possibly can, especially during the Olympics, which are happening SOON. I love everything about sports, including those dramatic athlete stories. In fact, I watched one tonight of Davis and White, the US's top ice dancing couple, who are primed and ready to take the gold medal in Sochi. Podium Finish is incredibly cinematic. It's like reading two of those athlete profiles, one focused on hockey player Harper and the other on ice dancer Alex (and her partner Ace) and the two girls' not-quite-together-but-not-quite-separate journey(s) to the Olympics.

What I really liked about this novel is that sports took top priority. Podium Finish is not one of those novels where the characters spend their time wondering if their sport is really for them and wanting out. Oh, no. Harper and Alex both want the Olympics, they both want gold, and they both are willing to sacrifice everything else to get there. Well...almost everything. I love that Beth spends so much time detailing all their intense preparation. The repetition of drills and  the almost-monotony of practices designed to get one tiny move smoothed out, the early morning workouts, the long days of traveling...I truly loved how this novel is basically an inside look at the requirements and sacrifice of being an elite athlete. Often, novels about sports contain characters with great talent but relatively low drive. You can't be one of the best if you have no motivation. Talent won't get you everywhere. Podium Finish does a great job of showing just how much work goes into this life.

I also really enjoyed both Alex and Harper's individual stories. Both are looking for a comeback, in a way. Harper is a young hockey sensation, but she faces great trials when she blows out her knee only a few weeks before Olympic team selection. As someone with chronic ankle issues, I could 100% empathize with Harper's frustrations to get off her crutches and back on the ice, but I was worried at how much time she spent arguing with her coach and her trainer to get her out earlier. I may have yelled at her several times because I was truly worried she'd do something way stupid. Meanwhile Alex is attempting to move up the rungs of the ice dance ladder after giving up on a solo skating career. Although Harper is on a 20-person team, much of her time is spent worried about herself, not the team as a whole, so I actually felt more for Alex and Ace's teamwork troubles than I ever did for the hockey girls.

Another high point of this novel was the guys: Harper's crush-turned-boyfriend, a strapping speed skater named Rye (who is seriously darling!) and Alex's mysterious and often infuriating partner Ace. Watching Rye and Harper's relationship develop was a joy because it occurs pretty naturally and develops at a "normal" pace. It's not crazy instantaneous making babies, but it's not a slow creeper either. They go at their own pace, which is refreshing to witness, and their scenes together were delightful and charming. Ace and Alex's relationship, well, talk about refreshing. Imagine: a guy and a girl who AREN'T romantically involved! CRAZY. I loved watching their friendship, rather than romance, grow from their intially distant partnership. I do believe that their skating improved so greatly over the course of the novel because they finally learned to trust AND be honest with one another, and that led to their becoming good friends rather than just partners.

I do have a few complaints about Podium Finish that knocked it down to 3.5 as opposed to a higher rating. The biggest element I was disappointed with was pace. 1. Podium Finish spans several months so it stands to reason that not every moment would be important enough to be included. It just seemed like occasionally time would jerk by unevenly rather than slide by fluidly. The passage of time just didn't feel quite natural. 2. I felt like the individual scenes weren't always paced well. I'd say about 60% of the scenes left me somewhat unfulfilled when they ended. I always wanted more There wasn't always a natural end paired with a smooth transition to the next scene.

All in all, however, I was extremely satisfied with Podium Finish. It was sweet, funny, and extremely sporty. I had a lot of fun while reading it, and by the end, I found myself hoping that Alex and Harper were real girls on their way to the Olympics in Sochi. I do recommend Podium Finish to anyone who enjoys sporty books at all or even if you don't, you might be surprised at this one. If you have the chance to pick it up, you should!


Ace knocks a couple minutes later.
"He-ll-o, Juliet," he says.
"Wrong routine, Genius."
"Oh, that's right. We already kicked butt at that one."
Ace and I are sitting in fifth place, by the narrowest of narrow margins. Lindsay and Cory are behind us in sixth, 1.22 points back.
"Have you ever seen such a narrow margin in the Olympics?"
"No," he says. "That's crazy close, eh?" He sits down on my bed. This is the first time he's been in my room here.
"How'd you know that was my bed?"
"All the pink." He tosses a pillow at me. I brought two of my pillows with me to make this place feel a little more like home — my OTC home, not my Connecticut home. That place hasn't felt like home since I left, maybe even before that.
"Well, make yourself comfortable because we need to talk strategy."
"World domination strategy?"
"Would you stop joking? And yes, if we win the Olympics that would sort of be like world domination."
"Sorry. Jokes are just how I deal with the stress," he says. "I don't know what you want to strategize about. We need to skate as well as we can. Hopefully as well as we did at Nationals. Obviously this is a much bigger competition."
"Okay, what score do you think we'll need to make the podium?"
"At least tie our PB from Nationals to have a chance, but ideally higher. It's gonna be tough, Alex."
"No one ever said winning an Olympic medal would be easy."
"Look, I know you like to de-stress by crunching numbers, but if you try to predict everyone's scores, you're going to drive yourself crazy, lose sleep, and it will all be for nothing, so how about another kind of crunching numbers?"
"Like what?"
He shifts his weight to his side, digging his elbow into the mattress and pulls a deck of cards out of the back pocket of his jeans.
"Poker. If you win, we do a spy routine next year. If I win, it's a western theme."
"Western? What am I going to wear? Daisy Dukes?"
"You better win then."

Book Praise:

"Podium Finish is unlike any other book I have read, period. It is amazing that Ms. Pond could take two very different characters who are pursuing two completely different sports and tie them together as roommates at the Olympic Training Center." –Crystal, Books are Sanity

"This is a great, fun book! This story is really 2 stories in one - bonus!" –Shelley Walker, Goodreads

"This book was truly enjoyable to read." –Michele, Amazon Review

"Podium Finish is one of the best books I have read in a very long time. I couldn't put it down once I started reading it." –Ana, Amazon Reviewer

Book Buy Links:

About the Author:
Beth Pond author pic Beth Pond graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa from Hendrix College in 2012. In 2013, she taught in South Africa for 9 months as part of a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship Grant. Pond is currently completing her coursework at the University of British Columbia’s Creative Writing MFA program. Her debut novel, Podium Finish, was released from Astraea Press in November 2013. When she’s not writing, Pond enjoys martial arts (she’s a black belt) and serving as a volunteer coach for her brother’s special needs baseball team.

Author Links:

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Ends: 2/9/14
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  1. I have not read Being Sloane Jacobs, so I didn't have anything to compare it to. Great review! I just loved the book! It just made me so excited for the upcoming Olympic games!

  2. I really enjoy ice skater stories so this might be one I'll have to add to my TBR pile!

  3. This is one that is definitely going on my wishlist. Perfect timing with the Winter Olympics starting in 12 days.