Sunday, September 4, 2016

Book of the Week: Empty Net by Avon Gale #Review

Author: Avon Gale
Book: Empty Net
Series: Scoring Changes #4
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Publication date: September 2, 2016
Length: 219 pages

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Spartanburg 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.


There are very few authors that continue to get better with each and every book they release ... especially when their debut book was a home run. For me, Avon Gale is among my very favorite authors and her newest book, Empty Net is the reason why. Sexy, funny, and emotional is a hard combination to perfect, but Avon Gale has it mastered. Her books are ALWAYS the perfect balance of swoon and humor, of emotions and strong, well-rounded characters full of flaws and personalities. What I love most is that even though this is the fourth book in her highly entertaining Scoring Chances series, this one is completely different from the previous books, while keeping true to what her numerous and growing fans have come to expect and love. 
I have to get a major flail out of the way first before I can get to Isaac and Laurent, the focus of Empty Net. To me, a book that stays on my re-read list has a bit of everything. That feeling of comfort, the ability to allow me to escape for hours, and when I'm done, I'm left with this all out body sigh that just makes me feel so so good. One of the reasons this book in particular is at the very top of my go to books is because of the incredible and so very beautifully portrayed bromance between Misha and Isaac. We first met Isaac Drake in all his blue haired, bad boy glory in Power Play, book 3. I loved him so hard then and Misha immediately found a place in my heart among my favorite characters ever. But in Empty Net, their friendship moves to whole other stratosphere. I'm not lying when I say I would be first in line to read an entire book of nothing but Isaac and Misha talking in the kitchen or seeing them during their one on one skates. It's probably my most favorite relationship out of all them so far. There is just something so sweet and so moving to me about the connection these two men share. How Misha lets Isaac see a part of himself he doesn't even share with his boyfriend, Max (who is pretty damn awesome) and how Isaac feels so safe and so accepted by Misha he's able to let down his guard and be vulnerable. There's absolutely nothing sexual between these two, though when Isaac ogles Misha it always makes me laugh, but their absolute devotion to one another is essential to who they are as people. I'm in awe of how Avon Gale has written these two together. 
Now, onto Isaac and Laurent. It takes tremendous talent on the part of an author to make a character as reviled as Laurent St. Savoy into one who's sympathetic and likable but damn if Avon Gale didn't do this ... and then some. I was anxious that I wouldn't be able to like Laurent, and especially not with Isaac whom everyone, me included, loved so much, but I should have known that I had nothing to worry about. From Laurent's first appearance there was just something so sad and so vulnerable about him that begged for us to root for him to get his shit together. Of course, it would be Isaac who steps up to the plate and willingly takes him on. Empty Net is a bit darker than the previous books. From Laurent's abuse by his father to his eating disorder to Isaac's struggle to get over his own past, you'll find yourself crying more than a few times. I know I did. Isaac's constant comfort and support of Saint was tender and sweet. His willingness to be there, his earnestness to try to help Saint, as Isaac and the team start to call him, stand up to his abusive father was touching and emotional. 
This book, y'all. I can't really even with how fantastic it is. It has everything. Lots of the hockey action that Avon Gale writes like no other. Funny moments, sweet and tender moments, sexy and hot moments, emotional moments, and a few times where you'll be angry and upset. It's my favorite book of the series. My love for all things Lane Courtland is still strong, Misha will forever be a favorite, but Isaac and Saint are their own level of perfection. 
Laurent was standing in a group of their teammates, who all skated off—making kissy noises, the assholes—when Isaac finally made his way to him.

“Hey, Saint.” Isaac pulled him into a hug. Fuck it. “Thanks for setting a standard I’ll never be able to meet.”

Laurent didn’t laugh, but he did hug Isaac back. “It was your standard I was playing to, Isaac.”

Oh, Jesus Christ. Was everyone trying to make him cry? Sure. It was a well-known Rule that you were allowed to cry when winning or losing sporting events, be you a player or a fan. But sheesh.

“You were amazing,” Isaac said. He smiled and reached up—because Laurent was even taller on skates—to push Laurent’s sweaty hair out of his face. “I’m so proud of you. I wanted to blow you, like, eighteen times.”

“I made thirty-four saves. Weren’t you paying attention?”

Isaac threw his head back and laughed. “Oh my God. You made a joke.”

“Who said I was joking?” Laurent did have a small, contained smile on his face, though.
All. The. Feels. 
As always, the book is tightly written, the plot thoroughly engaging, the one liner's will make you snort out loud, and the sexy times will have you fanning yourself. I thought Gale's handling of Laurent's abuse and his eating disorder were handled deftly and with extreme sensitivity. It's not too heavy, this isn't that kind of book, but it's an important part of WHO Saint is and it's not brushed aside or magically made better. I LOVED that. I also really loved how Laurent's demisexuality is portrayed. It's not preachy or too trite or in your face, but as natural and genuine.  As always, all the characters are so well developed from Huxley to Ms. Bowen and even to smarmy but somehow likeable GM Jack Belsey and they all add so much to the story. 
This book is spectacular and Avon Gale just keeps getting and better. So much so, it only makes waiting for book 5 even harder!

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