Buzz Reviews: Breakaway, Save of the Game, and Power Play: Avon Gale

Breakaway (Scoring Chances #1)
Avon Gale
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Released November 27, 2015
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Drafted to play for the Jacksonville Sea Storm, an NHL affiliate, twenty-year-old Lane Courtnall’s future looks bright, apart from the awkwardness he feels as a gay man playing on a minor league hockey team. He's put his foot in his mouth a few times and alienated his teammates. Then, during a rivalry game, Lane throws off his gloves against Jared Shore, enforcer for the Savannah Renegades. It’s a strange way to begin a relationship.

Jared’s been playing minor league hockey for most of his career. He’s bisexual and doesn’t care if anyone knows. But he’s determined to avoid another love affair after the last one left him devastated. Out of nowhere a one-nighter with rookie Lane Courtnall gives him second thoughts. Lane reminds Jared why he loves the game and why love might be worth the risk. In turn, Jared hopes to show Lane how to be comfortable with himself on and off the ice. But they’re at different points in their careers, and both men will have to decide what they value most.

Sports romances are one of my favorite subgenres, and for some reason—gee, maybe it’s because I grew up in northern Minnesota?—hockey romances are right there at the top of the list. So when someone recommended Avon Gale’s Breakaway to me, I clicked to buy without a second thought. I was rewarded with a fun read full of cute fluff and plenty of hot stuff too.

Lane Courtnall is finally making money playing hockey after being drafted by the NHL, though to start, he’s playing on a team in the lowest level of the minor league in Jacksonville, Florida, a city that has essentially no hockey fans. But that’s okay because he’s only twenty and has a bright future in front of him. But he’s socially awkward, which means he inadvertently alienated most of his teammates right off the bat. He also feels awkward because he’s gay on a professional sports team. Jared Shore has played minor-league hockey for years and knows he won’t be moving up. As enforcer for the Savannah Renegades, he’s known for his rough, physical style of play. He’s bisexual and completely uninterested in getting into another serious relationship, and he has a rule against sleeping with other hockey players. So when Lane picks a fight with him in a misguided attempt to prove himself to his team, it’s truly laughable. When their paths cross later that night, Jared isn’t laughing at the signs that the obviously inexperienced rookie wants him bad. And after the one-nighter, it’s got Jared rethinking not just his sex life but his hockey life too.

The thing that’s most noticeable from the start of reading this book is the writing style, particularly the writing that comes during the scenes from Lane’s point of view. It’s perfect for Lane’s awkward behavior. Many times during the book, he says things that should be really offensive or just plain weird, but it quickly becomes clear the man doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He just doesn’t have a filter, so whatever he’s thinking, it’s out in the open. It’s quite humorous at times, and because he’s Canadian, his impulsive need to be nice and polite makes the things he says and does even more odd and funny. Once you get past the awkward, he’s impossible not to love. But his awkwardness comes from more than just his lack of social grace. He has a lot to overcome to be comfortable in his own skin.

Jared is a fun character to read as well, especially his dealing with Lane’s idiosyncrasies. But even apart from that, as the story reveals Jared’s past, along with his having to make decisions about his hockey career, I found myself enjoying him even more than Lane. They work well together, not only because of the scorching hot sex scenes (that yes, have a fun bit of awkwardness to them too) but also because they bring out the best in each other, helping each other realize what’s important and how to be better individually.

One of the reasons I enjoy hockey romances so much is that the game itself is almost like a secondary character, or at least I like it when that happens. That’s certainly the case in this book, and the author’s use of the game to wrap around the challenges Lane and Jared face made it all the more entertaining. In addition, a real secondary character, Zoe, befriends Lane near the beginning of the book, and she turns out to be a great addition to the story as well.

When I read Breakaway six months ago, it was my first exposure to Avon Gale. I understand this is a much lighter and fluffier work than some of her previous writing, but that’s fine with me. I can’t resist a hockey romance, not just because it’s hot men being hot together but because I like hockey too. This was definitely a winner for me.

I purchased a copy of Breakaway before I started reviewing for this site.

Save of the Game (Scoring Chances #2)
Avon Gale
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Released January 29, 2016
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After last season’s heartbreaking loss to his hockey team’s archrival, Jacksonville Sea Storm goalie Riley Hunter is ready to let go of the past and focus on a winning season. His new roommate, Ethan Kennedy, is a loud New Yorker with a passion for social justice that matches his role as the team’s enforcer. The quieter Riley is attracted to Ethan and has no idea what to do about it.

Ethan has no hesitations. As fearless as his position demands, he rushes into things without much thought for the consequences.Though they eventually warm to their passionate new bond, it doesn’t come without complications. While trying to financially help Ethan, Riley must hide his family’s wealth so as not to hurt Ethan’s immense pride. For their relationship to work, Ethan will need to learn when to keep the gloves on and let someone help him—and Riley will have to learn it’s okay to let someone past his defenses.

Immediately after I finished Breakaway, the first novel in Avon Gale’s Scoring Chances series, I bought and excitedly dove into the second book, Save of the Game, because while hockey romance is my favorite within the subgenre, hockey romances about goalies are the ones I like best because, frankly, goalies are weird. Something about weird always appeals to me.

Riley Hunter’s last season ended on the disappointing note, just missing out on the coveted Kelly Cup. As a goalie, he has an extra impetus to make sure the team is successful: being with another team would mean being forced into back-up role again, needing to prove himself just to get the chance to get back on the ice. So he’s ready to move on and do what he does best to make this a winning season. Ethan Kennedy is the new enforcer for the team, a role that suits him perfectly, as he’s always been the sort to stand up and protect those in need. He’s also Riley’s new roommate, and the unapologetically brash New Yorker is the complete opposite of Riley’s quiet, neat, and solitary existence. And it turns out Riley’s attracted to Ethan and has no idea what to do with it. After an innocent event leads Ethan to suspect the attraction, he responds as he does with so many things in his life: he dives in without thinking about what might be the result. And of course, things like this never come free from challenges.

Goalie stories work for me because of the obvious metaphor of goalies defending things from reaching their target. In addition, this one is an opposites-attract story. Early on, the reader learns that Riley grew up in a fantastically wealthy family with access to anything he might want except, of course, for the most important thing a child needs, love. As an adult, the fact that he’s a billionaire has made it difficult for him to get close to people; he’s always felt like when everyone knows, they assume he’s bought his way onto a professional sports team, and he thinks the only people who want to be his friend only do so for his money. So he keeps it a secret, trying his best to help those who are important to him. On the other hand, Ethan’s family is tight-knit and supportive in spite of their meager surroundings. He’s a man with a huge heart who’s not afraid to help those in need, but his pride makes it difficult to accept help from others.

There is a lot to like about their relationship, starting with the fact that while neither of them has been with a man before, neither makes a big deal about the discovery that they’re bisexual. They also don’t hide it from anyone either. It’s unusual, since so often in life—and, thus, in M/M romances, being an artistic reflection of real life—these issues are the source of so much angst and drama. Here, the relationship between Riley and Ethan is probably one of the healthiest I’ve read: they weren’t afraid of what was developing between them nor of what others would think, and most importantly, they communicated! Talk about refreshing! Of course, that also means the book was missing a good bit of the conflict familiar in M/M romances. The result is a light and fun story, but also one that can focus on what makes them different as a way for the characters to grow individually and together.

As with Breakaway, the hockey storyline in Save of the Game is just as interesting as the romance. This book also has some good secondary characters, probably the best of which is the team’s coach, who has some of the funniest lines in the book. It was also nice to see cameos from the previous book’s characters, even though their appearances were mostly throw-away scenes that didn’t further the plot of this story much.

Save of the Game makes the second book I’ve read from Avon Gale, and so far, it’s two for two. I’m really looking forward to reading the next one.

I purchased a copy of Save of the Game before I started reviewing for this site.

Power Play (Scoring Chances #3)
Avon Gale
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Released May 9, 2016
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A freak accident during the Stanley Cup Playoffs put an end to Max Ashford’s hockey career. Despite everything, Max gets back into the game he loves—only this time, behind the bench as an assistant coach of the Spartanburg Spitfires, the worst team in the entire league. But nothing prepares him for the shock when he learns the new head coach is Misha Samarin, the man who caused Max’s accident.

After spending years guilt ridden for his part in Max’s accident, Russian native Misha Samarin has no idea what to do when he’s confronted with Max’s presence. Max’s optimism plays havoc with Misha’s equilibrium—as does the fierce attraction that springs up between them.

Not only must they navigate Misha’s remorse and a past he’s spent a lifetime trying to forget, but also a sleazy GM who is determined to use their history as a marketing hook. But when an unwelcome visitor targets a player, Misha revisits his darkest days, and that might cost him and Max the beginning they’ve worked so hard to build.

Power Play is a book that I really looked forward to after reading the first two books in Avon Gale’s Scoring Chances series, and it taunted me for over three months on my tablet before I finally found the time in my overbooked reviewing schedule (yes, definitely my fault) to read it. Now that I have, it was definitely worth the wait.

Max Ashford’s NHL career ended in a freak accident during a playoff game, but it didn’t end his love for the game nor his involvement in it. Now he’s accepted a position as an assistant coach for the worst team in the minor league’s minor league, part of a whole new coaching staff in an effort to make the team successful. The meeting to introduce him to the new head coach, Misha Samarin, is a shock for both men: Misha is the man whose hit ended Max’s career five years ago. And it’s made more awkward with the realization that the team’s owner thinks their past will be a perfect way to spark team interest in a city where hockey has almost no fans. Misha’s guilt over inadvertently cutting Max’s promising future short didn’t end when Misha chose to retire that same season. As much as he wants Max’s wrath, Max makes it clear he doesn’t hold Misha responsible, but that does nothing to assuage Misha, and the realization that they’re attracted to each other makes it no better. Misha’s troubled by more than just his part in the accident, though. The secrets he’s been running from for far longer threaten to darken the new beginning both men are trying to make.

After two books following members of the Jacksonville Sea Storm, Power Play moves to a different team, the Spartanburg Spitfires. And unlike any other book that I have read in the sports-themed subgenre of M/M romance, this one involves two coaches instead of players. The dynamic caused by their past when they’re unwittingly thrust together is not what I was expecting it to be, though how it is handled makes for an interesting plot. And while the romance that forms between Max and Misha is the main focus, the process of turning a losing team into an unexpected contender makes up a good portion of the book, which, of course, suited me just fine. It means lots of the same sorts of great hockey scenes I have become accustomed to in the series.

There is one other plot line that becomes important as the book proceeds, involving one of the players being harassed by someone from his past. The background for this harassment brings Misha’s troubled past to the forefront as well. Both of these situations highlight a theme used throughout the book, and it turns out to be a powerful testament to confronting things from our past, letting go of our negative feelings about them, and focusing on the present and the future.

As with the first two installments of the series, the writing is smooth and without any confusion in point of view, and the characters are interesting, well developed, and entertaining. In addition, the main characters’ sexuality is not a source of messy internal drama, nor is it much of an issue to those around them. Furthermore, at least one of the main characters in each of the books so far has been bisexual. It’s refreshing, particularly since gay-for-you seems to be such a popular trope, to see bisexuality appear so comfortably in M/M romances. And just like the first two books, the sex here is passionate and often scorching, and since Max is rather inexperienced, there’s that extra aspect of discovery that makes it all the hotter.

Three books into the series, Avon Gale has become one of my favorites for fun and sweet reads that aren’t too angsty. Power Play does touch on some issues that could have become heavy and dramatic, but they aren’t here. How the author handles it fits perfectly with the feel and flow of the rest of the series. It also serves to introduce us to a character who will become one of the main characters in the next book of the series. I can’t wait!

I purchased a copy of Power Play before I started reviewing for this site.

Overtime (Scoring Chances #3.5)
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Released July 26, 2016

This short story (approximately 4000 words) takes place after the events of Power Play and before Empty Net. It features Spartanburg Spitfires' goalie Isaac Drake -- as well as a few other familiar faces -- and is available as a bonus for Avon's newsletter subscribers. 

You can access the story in three different formats here:

Empty Net (Scoring Chances #4)
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Expected September 2, 2016
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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.

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).
Avon Gale
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Avon Gale wrote her first story at the age of seven, about a "Space Hat" hanging on a rack and waiting for that special person to come along and purchase it—even if it was a bit weirder than the other hats. Like all of Avon's characters, the space hat did get its happily ever after—though she's pretty sure it was with a unicorn. She likes to think her vocabulary has improved since then, but the theme of quirky people waiting for their perfect match is still one of her favorites.

Avon grew up in the southern United States and now lives with her very patient husband in a liberal Midwestern college town. By day, Avon is a hair stylist who loves her job, her clients, and the opportunity to spend her time being creative and making people feel happy and look fabulous.

When she's not writing, she's either doing some kind of craft project that makes a huge mess, reading, watching horror movies, listening to music, or yelling at her favorite hockey team to get it together already. Avon is always up for a road trip, adores Kentucky bourbon, thinks nothing is as stress relieving as a good rock concert, and will never say no to candy.

At one point, Avon was the mayor of both Jazzercise and Lollicup on Foursquare. This tells you basically all you need to know about her as a person.


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