Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Rachel Reid - Common Goal

Veteran goaltender Eric Bennett has faced down some of the toughest shooters on the ice, but nothing prepared him for his latest challenge—life after hockey. It’s time to make some big changes, starting with finally dating men for the first time.
Graduate student Kyle Swift moved to New York nursing a broken heart. He’d sworn to find someone his own age to crush on (for once). Until he meets a gorgeous, distinguished silver fox hockey player. Despite their intense physical attraction, Kyle has no intention of getting emotionally involved. He’ll teach Eric a few tricks, have some mutually consensual fun, then walk away.
Eric is more than happy to learn anything Kyle brings to the table. And Kyle never expected their friends-with-benefits arrangement to leave him wanting more. Happily-ever-after might be staring them in the face, but it won’t happen if they’re too stubborn to come clean about their feelings.
Everything they both want is within reach… They just have to be brave enough to grab it. 

Comment: This is the 4th installment in the Game Changers series, featuring hockey players who are gay or bi and who enter gay relationships, this changing the game of acceptance of gay athletes in sports. The books are more focused on romance than society rules, though.

In this story we follow Eric Bennet, a veteran goal keeper who is about to be 41 and he certainly feels his good years are gone. He plans on retiring by the end of the current season and, perhaps, going with the new flow of some players now being openly gay, he will try to explore his bisexuality with men. He was married and was faithful to his wife but he also feels attracted to men and wants to see where this side of him will take him... and that is how Kyle enters the picture. 
Kyle works at Kingfisher, a gay bar Eric's fellow player Scott now attends frequently. Kyle is friends with Kip, Scott's fiancé and that is how Eric starts talking to him and, by confessing his bisexuality, Kyle doesn't mind giving him a few tips and advice on dating men. However, what starts as just some flirting and easy friendship soon evolves to something else, which neither truly recognizes at first... but as their feelings deepen, can they notice they are actually perfect for each other?

Again, the author plays on the emotions here with characters we can like and want to see happy. The stories aren't plain nor superficial but there's a certain simplicity to how things are played out that somehow makes reading very easy.

In this story a new relationship dynamic is portrayed, that of an older guy with no experience dating men and a younger but more experienced partner who also guides things in terms of intimacy. I'm no expert on relationships and even less on labels but I would say this was a little bit like a very light BDSM kind of scenario in the bedroom. Nothing along BDSM happens, but it's clear Eric, the older character, cedes control to Kyle, the younger one, while they are together in intimate moments. I think it's an interesting way to portray this type of relationship, a sort of mentorship backwards to the traditional, and while I'm not fond of this in books (BDSM types of relationships I mean), I was invested in Eric's happiness enough to not be bothered by it.

I liked Eric a lot. He reminded me a bit of Ryan, the protagonist of the previous installment, in the sense they are both a bit shy and unsure of themselves out of the hockey ring and neither is really comfortable with how to try to be with someone they like. Of course this makes it easier for the reader to feel sympathetic, to want to see them succeed.... in Eric's case, he had been married but he wanted to see if his attraction to men would be any different. It's no surprise that falling in love makes everything different!

I liked Eric and his initial lack of confidence. I liked how he slowly came out of his shell and started to make decisions, started to think about his happiness and the things he wanted to do after retirement. His scenes with his colleagues were endearing and his thoughts on what he was going through really made me root for him and understand his attitude and choices.

Kyle reads as a more cynic character. He didn't have a great experience coming out, he has felt the weight of many past decisions and although he is quite young (25 to Eric's 41) he has reached a level of maturity only disappointments can really force on you. Of course that is was cute to see him fall for Eric, especially because Eric is a sweet man and proves to Kyle not everyone would mistreat them. In fact, the small conflict between them seemed a bit out of hand considering how things had evolved with them until then, but thankfully it was close to the end and nothing complicated had to be solved.

I liked Eric more than Kyle but it was cute to see them together. The age gap was quite a theme throughout the book and I can see how it would make them nervous. I don't mind this trope, after all, age isn't an exclusive synonym of maturity but it certainly makes HEAs easier to accept when we imagine they might together for longer if they have similar ages. Yes, I know it doesn't have to be so, many people die young for instance, but it's just easier to picture.

I also liked seeing secondary characters a lot. Fans of the series will certainly smile like I did when they showed up. Overall, I think the author has created a pretty solid cast and the world building will make it hard to say goodbye to this group. I'm now eager to read the next one!
Grade: 8/10

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