REVIEW: Unrivaled – Hockey Ever After Book #3 – Ashlyn Kane & Morgan James

Unrivaled Book Cover Unrivaled
Hockey Ever After Book #3
Ashlyn Kane & Morgan James
Sports , MM Romance, Gay Romance
Dreamspinner Press
Feb 21, 2023

People say there’s a fine line between love and hate. If you ask Grady Armstrong, the line’s as obvious as the one across the middle of a hockey rink.

So he can’t explain why he doesn’t walk away when his Grindr hookup—a guy who accused him of impersonating himself—turns out to be Max Lockhart, a rival player Grady once punched in the face. Apparently Max can goad him just as well off the ice as he can on it.

Max Lockhart showed up thinking he was going to expose a fake. Instead he hooks up with a guy who claims to hate him. <i>And</i> has a good time. A really good time. But that doesn’t mean players from different teams can be together.

Max has always wished Grady would relax a little. When the season starts and Grady accepts Max’s offer of help with finding someone to date for real, Max gets his wish. But he should’ve been careful what he wished for, because now that he knows Grady is a big softie under that prickly shell, he’d rather keep Grady for himself.

Grady only goes on a handful of dates before he realizes he has a lot more fun with Max. But he can’t be falling for a rival player… can he?

Review by Ulysses Dietz

Member of The Paranormal Romance Guild Review Team

As I came to the end of this wry, tender romance, I had to go on the interwebs to make sure that the National Hockey League wasn’t just filled with happy gay players and couples. Apparently, right now, there is just one out NHL player.

So it was a fantasy after all.

The closest I’ve gotten to hockey in my life is that I know the NJ Devils (who are based in Newark at the Prudential Center) and have held one of their Stanley Cup rings in my hand (because they’re made by Tiffany & Co. whose archives are in New Jersey) – because I borrowed it for an exhibition I did as a museum curator in Newark.

This was not the first hockey-themed romance I’ve read, and I have read Avery Cockburn’s series on Scottish football and also her series on curling. All that has made it clear to me that me into a sports-themed romance is the players, not the game. Ashlyn Kane and Morgan James have managed this really nicely in this third installment (but my first) of the Hockey Ever After series.

Max Lockhart and Grady Armstrong are great characters. The authors dig into their hearts and minds, their personality quirks and their sports passion. They are also surrounded by a supporting cast that amplifies them and gives the reader a bigger pictures – Grady’s big sister Jess; Max’s entire hyperactive family. The teammates who matter most also are fleshed out and given vivid personalities , painting a picture of a community that extends beyond the ice.

To build on the gay-hockey-player fantasy, the authors also have imagined a world where a gay hockey player is no longer a total novelty, and a sports press that can handle a relationship between two hockey players without hysteria. The core issue of Max and Grady even having a relationship is troublesome not because they’re both men, but because the public sees them as archrivals. It is a lovely fantasy, rendered totally believable by two authors who are as good with reality as they are with romance.

I love the set-up – which I won’t detail because it’s too spoilery. Let’s just say I was reminded that I am Max and Grady’s father, age-wise, and my experience of online dating is (thankfully) nil. The back-and-forth between Max’s viewpoint and Grady’s gives us constant awareness of what’s going on emotionally, even as these two big lunks struggle to come to grips with what they’re really feeling.

There is plenty of actual hockey in this book – but used as a spice and a plot-driving element. The psychology of professional athletes is important here, and the authors use it well in the imaginary world they’re created with such love and enthusiasm.

If the previous two books are this good, I suspect you better read those, too, if you haven’t already.

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