Title: In the Penalty Box
Author: Riley Shane
Cover Artist: April Martinez
Publisher: Loose Id
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Contemporary M/M/Sports
Length: Novella/135 PDF pages
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Review Summary: A romance between a closeted hockey player and an openly gay writer is realistically portrayed, with lots of action on the ice.
For four years, writer Landon Quinn has struggled to forget the one night he spent with Seattle Marauders defenseman Gregory Samson. Then Landon’s life takes an unexpected turn, and he finds himself back in Seattle and face-to-face with the man who broke his heart.
Samson doesn’t know what he did to run Landon off all those years ago, but he’s sure Landon’s leaving was for the best. The bright, beautiful young man Landon had once been was far too adoring, far too open, for the closeted hockey player’s peace of mind. The intervening years have only made Landon an even sexier temptation — and Landon’s return presents Samson with a whole new set of problems.
Attraction sizzles between them, but having been burned once by Samson has left Landon twice shy. Even as Samson convinces Landon to let him out of the penalty box and into his life, Samson has to face the fact that his closely guarded secrets may come to light. Caught between the ghosts of his past and the promise of a future with Landon, the hockey star must decide if now that he’s come off the bench, he’s ready to come out of the closet.
If you follow my reviews you know that I’m a sports fan and although hockey is not on top of my list of spectator sports (baseball is) 🙂 a well written romance in the National Hockey League with actual sports action makes me very happy. I read the first book in this series Two Man Advantage 15 months ago and reviewed it here. I was generous and gave it a pass by rating it 4 stars but I was not that enthusiastic about the book because I had a few issues with the writing, although I liked the plot overall and the characters. In addition it wasn’t really a book about hockey since Kyle Harper who was one of the MCs, was no longer left winger for the Seattle Marauders – he had retired because of a career ending injury.
In the Penalty Box is book 2 in the series and this is a huge improvement and a book I can recommend with no reservations. The story is told in both MC’s third person POV but most of it is narrated by Landon. Four years ago he had been an avid fan of the Seattle Marauders and he had a one night stand with defenseman Gregory Samson with whom he had been in love throughout high school and college. The hook-up didn’t go well as Gregory committed the ultimate faux pas – he called Landon by Kyle’s name when he came, which of course broke Landon’s heart. Gregory had been injured on the ice earlier that day and it could have been the result of the drugs he had taken for the hit on the head that clouded his judgment, but Landon could not forgive him and he left Seattle as soon as he could so he wouldn’t have to see him anymore.
An older and wiser Landon returned home 4 years later and he had to face the music i.e. Gregory Sampson who he thought of as Samson, since it was more impersonal and the “Gregory” he had been in love with was dead to him. Landon, currently a sports writer, pitched a proposal to the team for a series of articles on the players which would run during the playoffs. Of course once this was approved it meant that he would have to see Samson who was co- captain of the Marauders and would be one of the players interviewed.
Samson could not understand the cold shoulder he was getting from Landon since his return because other than that one night they had sex they were once friendly. Landon had never told him what happened that night and because he was groggy from the drugs Samson had no idea what he had done. Also, while Landon’s crush years ago had the potential to expose Samson’s sexual orientation it had been rather sweet. Now the tables were turned. He was attracted to Landon who had no time for him although the emotions between them were palpable. He was over his unrequited love for Kyle who he never told he was gay and in any event Kyle had moved on and was very much in love with someone else. Samson was deep in the closet and very few people knew about his sexual orientation, only the men with whom he had sex, and he trusted them implicitly since they were in a similar situation. Of course being in the closet meant that he didn’t have any relationships or casual dates and this would definitely be a problem if he pursued Landon who was openly gay.
As I said earlier in the review, this is a much better book than Two Man Advantage in many ways. Best of all there is a lot of hockey action which made the story come alive. The players Landon hung around with were long time friends and their personalities were engaging, especially Flynn, and I felt like I was actually in the locker room or out clubbing with them. The action on the ice and behind the scenes was believable and being in a pennant race for the Stanley Cup gave the book a feeling of realism and excitement. The book had enough hockey for the true sports enthusiast but it was a backdrop for the romance and not the main event so if you’re not into sports you can enjoy it just as much.
Landon’s and Samson’s romance was hot once they resolved their issues but Riley Shane didn’t sugarcoat the difficulties facing our heroes. Being in love with a sports figure who was in the closet was a big issue for Landon who was not accustomed to hiding, and the stress wore on both of them as they tried to figure out how to navigate a relationship in the glare of the spotlight and still be together without the press and fans finding out. Samson’s horrible childhood and the tragedy that shaped his life into who he was made him a much more three dimensional and vulnerable character and the story was a cut above the usual sports romance. Landon’s growth was evident, from the very young man who had crushed on Samson all those years ago to an adult who realized that being with the man he loved and wanted meant sacrifices – like not being together during the holidays, not going out for a simple dinner date, not staying over at each other’s homes, not being invited to friends’ homes as a couple, etc. Ultimately, loving Landon was the key to Samson’s turnaround as he realized that he was worth the sacrifice of his private life.
I liked all the hockey action in the book and even the chapters were named after easily recognizable hockey terminology which I thought was pretty cool. 🙂 The author seemed to have listened to the criticisms about Two Man Advantage and made many improvements in her writing and characterizations.
It was great to see Nate and Ryan again a year later as an established couple.
I have no hesitation recommending In The Penalty Box which had a lot of complexity and three dimensional characters that I loved.