Reviewed by Christine
SERIES: Love of … #1
AUTHOR: Phetra H. Novak
PUBLISHER: Beaten Track Publishing
LENGTH: 290 pages
RELEASE DATE: April 1, 2017
Johannes is starting his new life as a rookie in the best hockey league in the world, the NHL. His new home for the next four years is Montreal, Canada, and he’s excited to get to his destination when a storm arrives, stranding him in Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France.
In the airport lounge, he tries to amuse himself the best he can. He’s nursing a lukewarm beer, and about to head back to join his parents at their table, when the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen, with piercing green eyes, buys him a drink. He swears he has never been so instantly turned on as he is in that moment. The man flirts openly with him, making no secret of what he wants from Johannes as he invites him to meet in private. Not being out only makes Johannes hesitate for a moment before accepting the beautiful stranger’s come-on.
Charlie, a cocky and opinionated, ex-submissive and reporter is leaving Paris after being on vacation when the studly jock just happens to appear out of nowhere – served on a silver platter. Charlie sees no reason to deny himself a last rendezvous before he gets on his plane back to Canada.
What he doesn’t expect is this stranger to see the real him. Charlie’s normal plan of attack is to take charge. But when it backfires, and the studly stranger not only takes control but makes him want more, Charlie does the only thing he feel comfortable doing. He runs!
NHL newbie Johannes is 23 and at the brink of a successful hockey career when he has a chance encounter with Charlie at the airport in Paris. What should have been a one-off turns into something more as their paths cross again back home in Canada. Charlie has demons, though, which cause him to continually run from Johannes and his attempts to get closer.
I was quite intrigued by the blurb on this one. Hockey and BDSM? Sign me up! However, what actually transpired on the pages left me disappointed and frustrated as a reader.
There were engaging scenes, such as the main characters’ first encounter at the airport. This drew me in, creating a wonderful hook with the knowledge that though these two were under the impression they’d never see one another again, the reader knows otherwise. There is instant chemistry and connection with the characters here, and a wonderful promise for more.
However, that is where the intrigue, interest, and excitement pretty much ends. What I thought would be a development of a BDSM relationship laced with some great hockey scenes turned out to be a constant frustration over the lack of both.
As the story progresses, Charlie and Johannes spend very little page time together. The relationship has no opportunity to develop. In fact, Charlie doesn’t even give Johannes the time of day until about 75% into the story, and the two only have a couple of scenes together up until that point (and not BDSM, mind you). Unfortunately, Charlie’s backstory of abuse is simply told, with very little emotional development for his character. His thoughts, feelings, and actions gain him little sympathy throughout the majority of the story, and he simply comes off as an unlikeable, immature jerk. It is difficult to find his redeeming qualities, let alone to understand the kind of attraction Johannes has for him that compels him to constantly pursue a relationship. More page time is spent with his friends Luc and Marc, a device I am sure is meant to help the reader gain better understanding of Charlie’s issues and the reality of a twenty-four/seven, D/s relationship. However, it falls short of its purpose, instead creating a diversion away from the development of his relationship with Johannes.
Johannes is likable enough but a bit unbelievable. Though this is a generality and it works in some cases, his character feels much too mature for his age. It is hard to understand his need for Charlie, who continually runs and doesn’t seem to want anything to do with him. The scenes he has with his teammates feel more developed than those with Charlie, so it is difficult to understand the connection he has with the man, other than the chemistry they have in the first scene of the book. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like enough to warrant his near obsessive interest. There is more page time spent on Johannes in the locker room, at press conferences, and speaking with Luc and Marc in the bar, and less with Charlie throughout the bulk of the story.
Although there is little time devoted to the actual game of ice hockey, the one on-ice scene is exciting and well crafted. The coming-out aspect of gay athletes is also well developed, and I think this is the best part of the novel, hands-down. The relationship between Johannes and his teammates and his difficulties in coming out would have made an interesting and engaging novel on their own, in my opinion.
The premise of this novel is quite intriguing, but unfortunately the story as a whole fails to deliver on significant aspects. From the blurb, it is expected there will be a development of a loving D/s relationship; however, the main characters never seem to get around to it except to discuss the possibility. Perhaps this is going to be a focus of the second installment of the series, as much about the relationship and where they are going as a couple is left in an unresolved HFN. A large portion of page time is spent away from the characters, never really convincing the reader of their need for and emotional connection with each other. Additionally, a final and completely unnecessary conflict thrown in during the last few pages of the story feels completely and utterly contrived, with dialogue that borders on the ridiculous.
Overall, Love of the Game has clean writing and good bones, with some quite solid scenes surrounding hockey and gay athletes. However, the odd story arc and lack of relationship and character development, along with its unfortunate final conflict make this a disappointing read.