Reviewed by Chris
TITLE: Coach’s Challenge
SERIES: Scoring Chances #5
AUTHOR: Avon Gale
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner Press
LENGTH: 200 pages
RELEASE DATE: June 26, 2017
It’s been decades since blackmail forced Troy Callahan to retire from playing professional hockey, and he’s built a successful career behind the bench. When he’s offered the opportunity to coach the Asheville Ravens—the most hated team in the ECHL—he’s convinced that his no-nonsense attitude is just what the team needs to put their focus back on hockey. But Troy is disheartened when he finds out the Ravens have signed Shane North, a player known for his aggression—especially when Shane’s rough good looks have Troy thinking inappropriate thoughts about a player, even if he’s set to retire at the end of the season.
Shane’s career in the majors never quite took off. Wanting to quit on his own terms, Shane agrees to a one-year contract with the Ravens and finds himself playing for a coach who thinks he’s an aging goon, and with a team that doesn’t trust him, Troy, or each other. Despite his determination not to get involved, Shane unwillingly becomes part of the team… and is just as unwillingly drawn to the gruff, out-and-proud coach. As the Ravens struggle to build a new identity, Shane and Troy succumb to the passion that might cost them everything.
It’d be fair to say that after their last season there were very few people left in the ECHL who liked the Asheville Ravens–including most of the Ravens themselves. But a new year means a new start…with a coach who not a blackmailing abusive jackass. That doesn’t mean that Troy Callahan isn’t a bit of a hardass, though. He might, however, be just what the doctor ordered to bring the ailing team back to life.
Shane North doesn’t know much about what went on with the Ravens last year, since his team played in a different league, but even he can see that not everything was on the up and up. A bunch of hockey players refusing to talk in the locker room is never a good sign. But this is Shane’s last year as a player, and his old coach–now the GM for the Ravens–is willing to let Shane go out on his own terms. That’s good enough for him.
Troy and Shane don’t start out on the best of terms, though. Troy, thinking Shane is nothing more than an aging goon, is less than cordial about his (late) arrival. Shane mostly thinks that Troy is an asshole. Unfortunately, they also both think that the other one is just about the best thing since man first put skate to ice. Having hots for your player–and vice versa–is never a good idea, but after the scandal that befell the team last year, another one could very well kill both their careers. And probably any chance of the Ravens getting back to the playoffs. So they will just have to keep their hands–and mouths–to themselves.
Yeah…and penguins can fly.
I knew going into this that it was going to be a good book. There was zero doubt about that. The only way I could see that happening is if Avon Gale somehow got alien body swapped w/o everyone noticing. Which, would make an interesting story, but not exactly a likely one. So. The story is good. No surprise there.
What I really wanted to know was what we would be in store for after the last few books. The series had taken a more serious turn with Power Play and Empty Net, and I was curious to see where this one fell in the emotional arc that has been this series. And I found this book to not be nearly as dark as the last couple books…but perhaps not as light as Breakaway. Though how anyone could top Lane, I have no idea. Coach’s Challenge is probably more along the lines of Save of the Game (the second book in the series). A bit of humor, but with characters that have a bit more of an edge to them.
And while the whole Alpha-male thing really isn’t my style, I found it worked well with Troy and Shane. They are both combative and assertive, but you can also tell just how much they like that about each other, so it didn’t feel suffocating to read about. I at no point wanted to start slapping any of the (main) characters. In fact their chemistry was perfectly balanced, and so readily apparent, that when they finally break it is heart-stopping. And more than a little hot. The we-can’t-but-we-bloody-well-are-gonna-anyway was very well written. It didn’t tip too soon or make you wait too long. It got you right where you were wanting it as badly as them…and then swept you along for the ride.
The, omg, they aren’t really going to do that in the…oh, I guess they are, ride.
I will say though that as I was getting near the end I was feeling a little bit let down. Not because of the story, or the writing, or the characters, but I am so used to being wowed by the author, that all I was getting here (which was pretty damn good) wasn’t quite at that level.
And then it happened.
The thing I have always bloody well wanted to happen in this particular situation (which, yeah, spoilers, so not saying) every time I have read it in a story. And it never does. And I’m left annoyed and unfulfilled and wanting. But not here. Not fucking here. Here the characters do the thing, and it is perfect and awesome. It lifted the story out of the “great” and into the “fuck yeah!”. And I was left feeling just so incredibly satisfied. Not only because they do the thing, but because for them to have not have done it would have been such a betrayal of everything they had been in the story up until that point. For them to act any differently, to take the cliched and easy way, would have just ruined the story for me. Because that wasn’t who they were. But they didn’t. They were just. Fucking. Awesome.
And that right there is my summation of how I feel about this book. Fucking awesome.
Go out and read it. You know you were going to anyways.