ARC Review: Empty Net, by Avon Gale

Advance Review Copy generously provided by the author
in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:

cover-avongale-emptynetSpartanburg Spitfires’ goalie and captain Isaac Drake ended last season with an unexpected trip to the playoffs. He’s found a home and family with his coach and mentor, Misha Samarin, and he’s looking forward to making a serious run for the Kelly Cup. But things take an interesting turn when Isaac’s archnemesis, Laurent St. Savoy, is traded to the Spitfires. After Laurent’s despicable behavior in the playoffs last year, Isaac wants nothing to do with him – no matter how gorgeous he is. But that changes when Isaac discovers the reason for Laurent’s attitude.

Laurent St. Savoy grew up the only son of a legendary NHL goalie in a household rife with abuse, constantly treated like a disappointment on and off the ice. When a desperate attempt to escape his father’s tyranny sends him to the Spitfires, the last thing Laurent wants is to make friends. But there’s something about Isaac Drake that he can’t resist, and Laurent has an opportunity to explore his sexuality for the first time, but he’s cracking under end-of-the season pressures. When facing the playoffs and a rivalry turned personal vendetta, Isaac’s not sure he’s enough to hold Laurent—or their relationship—together.

Please be advised: This book does contain some non-graphic references to past childhood physical/emotional abuse as well as issues relating to ED (bulimia and restricted eating, disordered thoughts about eating).


Stats:

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Dates read:
Edition read:
September 2, 2016
Dreamspinner Press
Contemporary, M/M, LGBT+
200 e-book pages
3rd person
Scoring Chances, book 4
August 2-4, 2016
Kindle Edition
See the book on GoodReads.

Rating:     ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ratings are 1 to 5 stars and based mostly on GoodReads standards.
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Review:

I have had the best time with the Scoring Chances series. I love hockey, I love the South, I love Avon’s writing, I love her characters, the humor, and all the things.

Empty Net broke me…seriously I cried, and I laughed, and I laughed while crying. I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, that I get a huge kick out of authors redeeming nasty characters, and that happened here in a HUGE way.

Lemme talk about Isaac for a minute because we got to know him a little bit in the last book, Power Play. He’s just adorable, always was. The kid snatched my heart right up with his blue-haired, lip-ringed snarkiness. He pulled himself up from a shitty early adulthood, went from living on the streets to playing professional hockey. He’s hilarious, kind, unapologetic, knows himself, and not afraid to ask for help when he needs it. I couldn’t wait for his story. He’s amazing. Still is. BIG hearts for Isaac.

Laurent, goalie for the rival team, the Ravens, was a nasty piece of work in the last book from the little bit we got of him. He was hateful, bigoted — truly despicable. But…even then there was this inkling that that wasn’t the real him. Even with a wee little inkling, I wasn’t sure how he could be redeemed enough for me to like him. Boy Howdy. Digging into Laurent was painful and gut-wrenching. He’s so much like an abused animal who’s been backed into a corner and abused some more. When a kind hand reaches out he doesn’t know what to do, so he snaps, snarls, and bites because that’s all he knows. He’s never, not once in his entire life, been treated or touched with kindness. Doesn’t know affection,  doesn’t know anything but cruelty, isolation, and being under the thumb of a cruel, tyrannical parent who is also his coach. Gah! Can you even imagine? I can’t…I just…trying to imagine, reading it here and in other books, hearing about it elsewhere, they’re just a glimpses that I can barely stretch my brain around but bring tears to my eyes every time. Laurent’s background shredded me.

BUT. He’s finally in a place that’s safe. With the Spitfires, potentially the gayest team in the ECHL, and with a team that’s really a TEAM. They build each other up, work together, and treat each other with respect. It’s a whole new world for Laurent and Isaac has made it his mission to be a friend to the guy who literally spit on him. SPIT. ON. HIM.

And, well, it grows beyond friendship as Romance is wont to do.

Isaac’s patience is that of a saint…fitting (and you’ll see why). He was so tuned into Laurent and quickly learned his cues and expressions, learned how to alleviate some anxiety, always showed him kindness. Was careful without being condescending. Watching Laurent grow, blossom, figure himself out, become stronger, take charge of his life. It was a beautiful thing.

This was a slow build with fits and starts while Laurent learned some interpersonal skills and how to navigate basic social settings…no magical healing cock here swooping in to save the day. Though the sex was pretty freaking hot, gotta say.

I’m mostly sure this isn’t the first book I’ve read where a character identified as demisexual, but I think it’s the first where it was addressed directly and discussed to any degree. I’ll admit I was worried that, when it came up, it would be chalked up to Laurent’s abusive past. That’s not how it works for everyone, though might be a factor for some since there’s no one true path. And while that part wasn’t discussed a whole lot, I never felt that this story played the blame-game for the motivation of sexual orientation. It just was. And I appreciated that beyond measure.

Also, while I’m talking serious stuff. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH GETTING HELP FOR ANYTHING, EVER. MENTAL ILLNESS, EATING DISORDERS, ANXIETY, PTSD, ABUSE, YOU FUCKING NAME IT. If life is too hard, and I know it damn well is sometimes, get help, get help, get help, get help. There are people all over who are on your side, who see you, who want you here and healthy. Ya gotta open the door a crack, open your eyes to all the hands reaching out to you, then grab one, grab a hundred. Sometimes it’s you making that first phone call, email, passed note in class, DM, PM, Morse-fucking-Code, whatever and admitting the need for help. But it’s there. Promise.

So yeah…..…I’ve made myself cry. Again.

Back to happy?

We get plenty of Max & Misha from Power Play. They’re the best coaches ever with some awesome banter. Misha, the big aloof Russian, has such a huge heart and Max is too adorable for words. They’re probably my favorite characters in the series. Maybe. ‘Cause they’ve all been fantastic.

I love Avon’s style with loads of wit and taking on some serious topics with respect. The hockey is fast-paced fun and shows her love of the game. Her characters are gorgeously flawed, redeemable (eventually), hilarious, colorful, and nuanced with so much personality I want to adopt them all. I just don’t think I could afford the grocery bill for a hoard of athletes.

Also, I’ve got it stuck in my head that one of these books needs to be a big huge hockey player falling for a fuzzy cutie-pie mascot. Not in a kinky way. Unless….

Is the world ready? Can I bribe Avon with bourbon? Can we start a petition?

This review also posted on GoodReads.


Other Books in the Series:

1) Breakaway
2) Save of the Game
3) Power Play

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