Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Hockey superstar Joey Luciano has always been good at being whatever people needed him to be. The fans want a good-looking fast-living party boy? Enter ‘the Looch,’ Joey’s carefully created public persona. But the cracks in his mask are starting to show, and he’s begun to lose touch with who he really is. It’s going to take someone who’s been there from the very beginning, to help him find his way home.
Coach Liam O’Reilly always had a very clear picture of what his life should look like. Falling in love with the infuriating, passionate, stubborn, and endlessly fascinating boy next door was not part of the plan. But when Liam’s carefully constructed life fell apart one Christmas Eve, Joey Luciano was there to pick up the pieces. Now Liam can’t stop wanting him.
The passion blazing between them on the ice and behind closed doors could leave both of them badly burned. But through the smoke, Liam can see glimpses of a future brighter than any he’d imagined, a future worth risking his career and reputation for, if only he is brave enough to reach for it.
But Joey’s got a secret he’s keeping from everyone. If it gets out, it could be the end of everything.
I really enjoyed the Boy Next Door (Hot Off the Ice #5) by A. E. Wasp. It has so many elements I love in a contemporary romance, starting off with hockey players and hockey coaches in love combinations. Or just a hockey element. That always draws me in. Wasp also has another aspect to this series and story I adore. Large families that support the main characters!
Families easily identifiable by location (Boston), ethnicities (Irish and Italian), long association (neighbors), and even intertwined relationships. This extended main cast is a huge factor in connecting the reader to the character of Joey Luciano (the Italian family) and Liam O’Reilly (the Irish one), In a totally current and hilarious format, we often see the family members communicating with each other via group text. It’s never overdone, totally funny, and very realistic. It’s has the feel of family and truth. And it brought these people and their lives right into my heart.
Joey, “the Looch” Luciano, is a 25 year old with a lot of issues. On the outside, he’s let this “Looch” character he’s created take over his life (brash, outgoing to the extreme that it seems like he’s hogging the media and outshining his teammates. No one is happy with him, including himself. On the inside it’s worse. Wasp has created Joey as a insecure person, low self esteem to the point that he seeks approval from every source and everyone without asking himself why he needs it so. This is an enormous issue, obviously. Not his only one. On top of this Joey is dealing with the fact that he has loved Liam since he can remember, a love that he has never looked at what that meant. Why? Because he shrinks from being called gay or even bisexual. Which imo is totally misused here with regards to Joey.
Joey is someone who has lacked self examination for most of his life and it’s not until he gets involved with Liam that he smacks into some hard realities for himself. At about 51 percent, we get these musing from Joey…
“What did people see when they looked at him? Could they tell he was having sex with a guy? Probably not. He looked as normal as Paul and Robbie. And he wasn’t gay gay. If anything he was bisexual like Liam.”
There are so many flags in those sentences that show exactly how messed up Joey is over not only his sexuality but homosexuality in general. Being gay isn’t “normal”? He also has issues with femme versus masc. And as is worked out down the story, Joey really doesn’t enjoy sex with women, so no, not bisexual. Yes, some of this flags get addressed, not as many as I wished but a lot.
There are so many broken layers to Joey, it’s just one right after enough. Panic attacks, health issues, and more that need to be seriously addressed. Are all given the depth of attention I would wish or deserve? Perhaps not but they aren’t blown off either. Believable, authentic cracks in this man. Kudos to A.E. Wasp for creating such a character.
Liam is a strong character, older by 10 years than Joey. I liked him and their relationship but honestly wondered if the author was going to use their hot, and admittedly kinky sex life as a bandaid for all of Joey’s deep problems. Thankfully, the answer is no. Wasp let me wonder about that, while I enjoyed Joey and LIam working out their relationship and then gave me everything I hoped for in the ending of this story. That included my Washington Caps winning the Stanley Cup this year! And therapy for Joey. Win win.
The humor here had me cackling! Whether it’s Knock Knock jokes or Liam’s younger brother Patrick trying to get Liam to switch out his posh furniture for a huge leather sectional that all the young hockey players can come over and watch TV on saying”
“It’s the traditional furnishings of our people!”
Well, this book and dialogue crackles with fun, the knowledge of what it is like to be young, in love, or a hockey player, or to just do dumb things. And all of the above.
Yes, plenty of angst too.
If I also have a complaint, its the actual lack of hockey.
We get headlines, sports feeds, but little actual ice time. These men are passionate about ice and hockey. So where is the time on the ice? Where is the sense of team?
We get little of that except towards the very end in the important game. I wish so badly we had had lots more of that action throughout the story. Then we could understand why Joey and Liam’s actions carried the weight of the love of ice behind them that they did. I felt that was missing because we never really saw Joey on ice for the majority of the book. We were told about it but never actually “felt” it through the character. And I felt that was a mistake.
But did I love this story? Yes I did. I thought the author did a tremendous job with the characters, actualizing a man on the brink of a life change for himself and letting us travel some of the journey with him. Scary, messy, not totally complete, a work in progress as they say. I think Joey would agree with that and be happy. So would Liam and the rest of the two families.
I definitely look for more in this series. I recommend this one for all lovers of contemporary romance and hockey and even a little love of spanking!
Cover art: Ana Phoenix. Nice cover but doesn’t quite get the age difference.
Buy Links – Available in Kindle Unlimited
Kindle Edition, 462 pages
Published September 21st 2018
SeriesHot Off the Ice #5