Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review of Empty Net by Toni Aleo

Toni Aleo
Empty Net (Assassins #3)
Loveswept | April 23, 2013 (first published January 1st 2012) | 451 pages

Author’s website | Goodreads | Buy book here

Definition of an Empty Net: When a team pulls the goalie for an extra attacker, desperately seeking a goal.

Audrey Parker was in a horrible place.
She hated her job, her sister was getting married and moving out, but worst of all, she was in love with a total jerk. No matter what she did, every guy she met hurt her. All she wanted was her happily ever after. Her Prince Charming. Her Lucas Brooks! She didn’t know how to change her life but she knew she needed too.

Feeling like she was about to hit rock bottom, Audrey wakes up next to Tate Odder.

Tate Odder had lost everything.
After being brought up from the Assassins’ farm team, the Florida Rays to the Nashville Assassins, Tate hopes he’ll forget everything he has lost. He doesn’t. Each day gets harder to live in a place he doesn’t know. Even being the first rookie goalie to shut out an opposing team three times during the Lord Stanley Cup Finals, he still felt empty. With the loss of his parents and sister still heavy on his heart, Tate isn’t sure how to live like everything is okay.

But when he wakes up beside Audrey Parker, things start to change. She turns his life upside down with her kooky sense of humor and her bright clothing. She is intelligent and beautiful, and for once, he doesn’t feel empty.
Will Audrey be the person to fill the holes in Tate’s heart, making him whole again? Or will another player ruin everything, leaving him feeling forever like an empty net?

Genre & Keywords: Contemporary Romance, M/F, Sports, Ice Hockey, Life Choices, Loss, Pregnancy, Abusive Ex, Violence

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Heat level: 2 out of 3 flames

I'd heard good things about this series and it's hard for me to pass up on an ice hockey story when the opportunity presents itself. I love contemporary romances with a sports setting and in that regard Empty Net didn't disappoint at all. We get a hero who's an ice hockey goalie and we see some of his and his team mates' actions on the ice in this novel, which gives this story the interesting backdrop I was looking for.
Although it's the first book I've ever read from this author, it's the third book in the Assassins series already. It can be read as a stand alone but the characters from the previous books are playing a big role in this installment since they are all connected to the ice hockey team in some way or other. It makes me want to read the other books too. And the couple of the next in the series is already been introduced and sounds interesting as well. I like this kind of interconnection between stories very much, especially when the main and secondary characters are written so well as they are here.

The fact that the characters are written so well, with multiple layers and flaws, doesn't mean that I like them equally though. For more than the first half of the book I found it difficult to like the heroine Audrey. Very difficult. I understood where she was coming from, because the author succeeded very well in conveying that, but I still felt that she was rather whiny and blind for the obvious choice, while she kept repeating herself to convince herself to not choose for something good. It got me frustrated with her and more than sympathetic with Tate. It got me to a point that I wanted to scream at Tate to find himself someone more deserving of his attention and patience. But luckily for the story's happy ending he didn't listen to me and kept on his determined path to Audrey's heart.

I actually liked the slow build-up of the relationship. Audrey's choice for a friendship only conveys that their personalities fit perfectly much better than when they would've continually scorched the sheets from page one. If only Audrey wouldn't deny their potential as a couple for so long... An important part in how Audrey feels about a relationship stems from the treatment her ex-boyfriend's given her. And still gives her. He's a classical bad guy, to the point that he becomes somewhat stereotypical. Everybody sees he's trouble with a capital T and so wrong for Audrey, except for Audrey. I think his character is maybe a little bit over the top, his only function in the plot seems to be to cause conflict and angst. And I'm just not a big fan of external conflict, especially when it's delivered in a mean and violent package like it is here.

What I rather enjoyed was the fact that the story wasn't wrapped up with a quick I love you and a they lived happily ever after, shortly after Audrey finally gave in to her feelings for Tate. No, after that turn in the story, we weren't done with the plot at all. Quite some more events were waiting to happen and it was nice to see Audrey and Tate solidify their love over that period of time. However, some of the events that occur later on are not easy to read about, because of the violent nature. But I have to admit that, no matter how predictable some of these plot turns are, they are written in a way that was gut-wrenching and heart-breaking. The angst level rises high towards the end of the story and you have to be a hard-ass to not be moved by it at all. No matter how annoyingly frustrating Audrey might have been during the first half of the book, this last part affected me no less.

Although I can see the flaws in Aleo's writing, like the repetitive and endless flow of thoughts from Audrey - and I'm not counting the many editorial mistakes, because I read an uncorrected proof -, I must confess that these flaws didn't bother me too much in the light of Aleo's well done characterization and her ability to create a interesting setting with many engaging side characters, which make up for a three-dimensional world in which a moving romance takes place. A romance that was engrossing and entertaining, not in the last place because of its lovable, wildly sexy, to-die-for ice hockey hero. I can't wait to read more books about Aleo's sports stars!

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