Book Review by Jude: Coach’s Challenge by Avon Gale

Coach's Challenge Coverdinge1

It’s been decades since blackmail forced Troy Callahan to retire from playing professional hockey, and he’s built a successful career behind the bench. When he’s offered the opportunity to coach the Asheville Ravens—the most hated team in the ECHL—he’s convinced that his no-nonsense attitude is just what the team needs to put their focus back on hockey. But Troy is disheartened when he finds that the Ravens have signed Shane North, a player known for his aggression—especially when Shane’s rough good looks give Troy inappropriate thoughts about a player, even if Shane’s set to retire at the end of the season.

Shane’s career in the majors never quite took off. Wanting to quit on his own terms, Shane agrees to a one-year contract with the Ravens and finds himself playing for a coach who thinks he’s an aging goon and with a team that doesn’t trust him, the coach, or each other. Despite his determination to not get involved, Shane unwillingly becomes part of the team… and is just as unwillingly drawn to the gruff, out-and-proud coach. As the Ravens struggle to build a new identity, Shane and Troy succumb to the passion that might cost them everything.

Purchase links: Dreamspinner Press / Amazon / Barnes & Noble
See Annie’s review.
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For the sake of transparency, I’ll state upfront that I had the opportunity to read this book in its first draft form, and was therefore familiar with it ahead of time (if you read the dedication, you’ll know this. Thank you Avon, you are amazing).

I did not, however, get to see what happened between the first draft and the final form of this book. Getting to read this book in it’s published form was a wonderful gift.

I’ve been a fan of Gale’s work, particularly this series, for years. Our first introduction to Coach Callahan — Cally and/or Troy depending on who he was talking to — immediately signaled to the reader that Gale was shifting tone and direction for the characters in this novel. Cally doesn’t take any shit, he doesn’t mince words, but he really cares about hockey and his team. He’s a well-balanced character; writing someone with his edges and straight-forwardness could easily have created a one-dimensional man. Gale gives us glimpses through a variety of moments and plot points that peel back that exterior and show us the ways in which he cares and who he is without outright telling us.

I believe this is what made the romance between Shane and Troy work for me. This book definitely felt like the raunchiest of the books in the series, and the initial focus of their relationship is purely sexual, with a dash (or a big ol’ dollop) of danger loving exhibitionism on both of their parts (What can I say? These guys obviously get off on the threat of being caught). Moving these men from this set up to falling in love is executed really well. At no point did I feel as though I was just being told they were falling in love but wondering when I missed it. Instead it’s revealed in several lines and moments — often very tiny moments — that showed the progression of their relationship. In a few scenes (when Troy comes to Shane’s apartment while Xavier is there), I felt so intimately present in the scene. Their banter worked so perfectly to reveal the growing fondness and care between them.

This book really hit me at my romantic core at the end; which I definitely wasn’t expecting. The side plot with Quinn seemed like a set up for a big payoff and plot twist — but honestly the payoff in that side story is how it enables the turn in Shane and Troy’s relationship, especially the scene in which  Shane and Troy end up laying down their cards in Gabriel’s office as they figure out their next moves.

As an author, I admit that Gale has many skills as an artist that I admire and am envious of. Her skill in writing banter. Her humor, and how those work so well for characterization and for relationship building is one of those things that seems like an easy skill. But humor in writing doesn’t come easily or naturally to everyone, and when I see it done well, I really want to give that author kudos for it.

I definitely recommend this book, and this series.


Avon Gale HeadshotAvon grew up in the southern United States, and now lives with her very patient husband in a liberal Midwestern college town. When she’s not writing, she’s either doing some kind of craft project that makes a huge mess, reading, watching horror movies, listening to music or yelling at her favorite hockey team to get it together, already. Avon is always up for a road trip, adores Kentucky bourbon, thinks nothing is as stress relieving as a good rock concert, and will never say no to candy.

At one point, Avon was the mayor of both Jazzercise and Lollicup on Foursquare. This tells you basically all you need to know about her as a person.


Genre: Contemporary Orientation: Gay Pairing: M/M Publisher: Dreamspinner Press Review Tag: Part of a series Tag: Sports

Jude Sierra View All →

Jude Sierra is a Latinx poet, author, academic and mother who began her writing career at the age of eight when she immortalized her summer vacation with ten entries in a row that read “pool+tv”. Jude began writing long-form fiction by tackling her first National Novel Writing Month project in 2007.

Jude is currently working toward her PhD in Writing and Rhetoric, looking at the intersections of Queer, Feminist and Pop Culture Studies. She also works as an LGBTQAI+ book reviewer for Queer Books Unbound. Her novels include Hush, What it Takes, and Idlewild, a contemporary queer romance set in Detroit’s renaissance, which was named a Best Book of 2016 by Kirkus Reviews. Her most recent novel A Tiny Piece of Something Greater was released in May of 2018. Shadows you Left, a co-written novel with Taylor Brooke will arrive spring of 2019 from Entangled Press.

Twitter: @JudeSierra
Instagram: /judemsierra/

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