Release Reviews: Empty Net: Avon Gale

Empty Net (Scoring Chances #4)
Avon Gale
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Released September 2, 2016

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).

Empty Net is the fourth installment in Avon Gale’s Scoring Chances series. After spending the last few days refreshing myself on the first two books and reading books three and four, the hockey lover in me is sated (for now), and the romance junkie in me continues to be very pleased.

The last year has been pretty good to the goalie and captain of the Spartanburg Spitfires, Isaac Drake. His past that tried to take hockey away from him is now firmly where it belongs, his coaches have become the family he had been without for so long, and the team made an unexpected run to the playoffs after starting as the worst team in the league. They also made an archrival, the Asheville Ravens, who ended their season in a truly disgusting fashion that had nothing to do with the game itself. So when the Ravens’ goalie, Laurent St. Savoy, is traded to the Spitfires during the off-season, it’s obviously a problem for the whole team. But it’s personal for Isaac. Despite the fact that the trade means Laurent is no longer under the thumb of his tyrannical father, the coach of the Ravens, his atrocious behavior guarantees he’ll have no friends on his new team, least of all the team’s blue-haired starting goalie. This should have been fine with him, but something about Isaac draws his attention in a way he’s never felt before. But a laundry list of problems stands between him and ever feeling worthy of someone else’s affection, let alone his own.

I love hockey romances, especially with a goalie as one of the main characters. But two goalies? Double yay! I love them because goalies are weird in general, but when they’re weird with baggage, even better. Laurent is, by far, the character with the most issues in the entire series thus far. I remember thinking at the end of the previous book, Power Play, that it seemed odd for Isaac’s issues to be resolved before the start of his own book, but considering the extent of what Laurent must overcome, it makes perfect sense now. There are big-time daddy issues to start with, nasty abusive stuff that fortunately we don’t have to see firsthand much. I can also mention, because the blurb does, that this has resulted in him developing an eating disorder. While neither of these plays a particularly graphic role in the story, take note if descriptions of past physical and emotional abuse and narration about eating disorders are triggers for you. The most obvious result, though, is the fact that Laurent is truly an asshole. He can’t help himself. So, if you’re like me, and enjoy reading characters grow to overcome their plight, there’s a lot here for you.

The romance in this book is my favorite of the set so far. Sure, it’s full of the same sort of hot hockey sex I’ve come to expect in the series, but I thought the progression here was the most interesting for many reasons. A couple of them stem directly from Laurent dealing with his issues, but Isaac’s manner for handling him, as a friend first and then into a lover, was beautifully perfect. My favorite, as it turns out, is that Laurent is demisexual, something I have limited experience reading about—I admit, I didn’t know what the term meant until about a year ago—but when I have, I’ve found the concept and development when it’s used for one of the main characters to be enjoyable, a fact that holds true here as well. It surprises me a bit, considering how commonplace the gay-for-you trope is in M/M romance, that the “only-for-you” nature of demisexuality is rarely used. But I digress. The result here is that, once again, we have a sexually inexperienced character, something that I always love to read. Not only do I get my first kisses and other firsts I love so much in romance, but I get to read the awkward fun of these things being actual firsts for the character. Pardon me while I get this squeeing out of my system.

Fans of the series—and seriously, if you haven’t read any of them by now, you really should go take care of that problem—will recognize the smooth and relatively light writing style, along with the ample humor common to the previous books. The author and her editing team continue to excel at making sure the story is told in a way where there is no problem with knowing whose point of view is being used. As with the previous books, the secondary characters add a wonderful extra dimension—Hux and Murph are just what I imagine good teammates/friends should be—and the hockey scenes continue to be a thrilling element in the plot development. It’s easy to tell the author loves the sport. One more compliment is needed, something I haven’t been able to do with the previous books, in that for the first time in the series, the appearance of the main characters, Max and Misha, from a previous book was done in a way that made them essential to the plot instead of just being a hat-tip to loyal readers. Of course, if she hadn’t used them so, I would have been surprised, considering they are the team’s coaches and Isaac lives with them. See how easy it can be? I ought to take a moment to note, though, that this book certainly can be read as a standalone, but take my advice and just read them all. They're too good to pass up.

Empty Net solidifies this series as one of my favorites. This book, and the whole series really, is a wonderful combination of believable story, interesting characters, and low-angst fun. And it’s hockey, so that makes it all the better. I don’t know if there will be more books in the series or not. I’m hoping for more because it feels like maybe Avon Gale has set things up for the adventure to move to Asheville for a book five (and six?). Can I say “pretty please”?

The author generously provided me a complimentary copy of Empty Net in exchange for this fair and honest review.

Isaac Drake, Team Captain and goalie of the Spartanburg Spitfires just found out a new goalie is joining their team...and he is someone he despises. Laurent St. Savoy pissed off Isaac, his coaches, and their whole team last year. He is sullen, confrontational, and hateful. His rude behavior, slurs, and poor sportsmanship have not made him any fans. 

Isaac is vibrant, outgoing, and well liked. He has had a shady past, but has found his footing. He is mad about the situation, but then begins to realize he cannot let a new negative influence disrupt his team. So he tries to take the higher road and get to know Laurent. He convinces Laurent to explain some of his actions, and he begins to see that he uses defense mechanisms and keeps himself isolated. Laurent is anxious, awkward, broken, and lost. He's never really had any support or friends. His former NHL playing father/coach has made his life a living hell. He does not even know who he really is or what he wants or likes. His life never held any happiness or pleasure. He lives in fear of his father continuing to ruin his life or anything that has potential to make him happy. 

Isaac is understanding, empathetic, funny, and has a charismatic personality. He's been lost before and without support, but now has a home with Misha and Max. He tries hard to help Laurent fit in and lose some of the negativity. He wants to help him figure out more of what could make him happy. They forge a friendship and develop a bond. Tentative explorations lead to new passions and discoveries. I loved the dynamics and chemistry between these two. It was a slow burn and Isaac was so patient and supportive of Laurent and his issues.

Laurent has a lot to learn about himself. He was never allowed to explore anything he wanted or to truly enjoy life. He has deep seated issues that need to be addressed, and is finally in a place that may allow him to explore those and have some support.  I loved seeing Laurent come alive and find pieces of joy. But his problems are deep and have been devastating, and his healing process is not easy or without challenges. He has triggers and physical and emotional scars from his past, but begins to see that he needs to deal with them.  He has many firsts and definitely shows growth. 

I enjoyed getting both of their points of view and seeing how their thought processes and emotions changed over the course of the story. Isaac was so easy to like and Laurent is one of those characters that sneaks up on you and steals your heart. He really had some unique issues and qualities that made him a stand out in this genre. The side characters of Misha, Max, Hux, Murph, and Mrs. Bowen added support and comic relief. The antagonists made me so angry that I wanted to stand in line with the others that wanted to take them down.

This is the first book I have read of the series and I was able to enjoy it as a stand alone due to the fact that the author did do important recaps, but I think I might have enjoyed it even more if I had at least read Power Play first.

This is about the power of positive thinking and support. Lauren is a man in need of hope and redemption. It is really his journey towards achieving his full potential, finding passion, standing up for himself, and taking control of his life. It pulled me in and I did not want to put it down. It is heartbreaking, frustrating, humorous, emotional, and inspiring. I think there was a little tease who might be the next book and it is already interesting. And now I want to go back and read the first three in the series. 

I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review. 
Breakaway (Scoring Chances #1)
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Released November 27, 2015

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.

Save of the Game (Scoring Chances #2)
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Released January 29, 2016

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.

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Released May 9, 2016

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.

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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:
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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