Rating: 4 stars
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
Aaron Buckley has made hockey his primary focus for most of his life, from the moment he first hit the ice through his fifteen years in the NHL. Hockey was Aaron’s everything. He gave up family, friends, a social life, and, most importantly, he gave up the only man he has ever loved… Zach. Aaron knew that he wanted to play pro hockey and must stay in the closet if he wanted to make it in the NHL. Zach wouldn’t be his secret and walked away from Aaron rather than hide who he was.
Now as one of the league’s older players, Aaron knows he’s at the end of his career. A huge screwup costs Aaron his spot on his team in LA. They send him down to the minors in Manchester, NH, back to where he started all those years ago. Home in Manchester, now on a team full of young rookies hoping to make it big, Aaron has time to think and reconnect with his past. His sister makes her home and business there, as does the man he left behind.
When Zach, now a sports reporter, shows up to cover his first game home, it is clear that Aaron and Zach can have a second chance at love. But once again, Aaron must choose between hockey and love. What will his answer be this second time around?
Home Team is a book grew on me the more I thought about the characters, especially Aaron. I started out thinking that Aaron was pretty stunted emotionally. It is his voice driving the narrative of this story. But the author’s subtle maneuvering of Aaron’s character and viewpoint had me changing my mind as the story continued.
Aaron is at the end of a long career in the NHL, he is steadily losing ground to the younger players, and it’s been a year since he scored a goal. His is a voice weary, testy, and resigned. I really commend Jameson Dash for making Aaron such an irascible, somewhat unlikeable personality at the beginning of the story. At times Aaron’s voice seems flat, removed, and irritable. Then Aaron makes his costly error in judgement and his voice flattens out even further until it almost flatlines like his career.
Once Dash brings Rosie, Aaron’s sister, and Zach into the story and Aaron’s life, things start to change in Aaron’s outlook, although the movement of emotions in Aaron is almost glacial. I was puzzled over my inability to connect to this character because I love hockey players. But quite frankly, Aaron’s comes across as a jerk for the first part of this story, especially his attitude towards the “mistake” that cost him his spot in the major league. But the more I thought about it, the better Dash’s characterization got. This was a man who has shut down emotionally. Aaron is beyond tired, and stressed to his limits. He lost his spot on his team, he lost his only friend who remains with that team, he lost his home and most likely his career. And probably, most importantly of all, he is in denial. Aaron doesn’t want to recognize that his career is over and that because of his own choices, he has left himself with nothing waiting for him.
The author’s characterization of Aaron is so good, so human, that it took me a while to realize what he was trying to accomplish with keying us so intimately into the thoughts of a man like Aaron because it seems so counterproductive to our connecting with him. But again, only at the beginning. Then little by little as reality of his situation creeps into Aaron’s mindset, that along with the arrival of Rosie and Zach, propels Aaron and the reader out of his “funk” and into the warmth of possibilities and a redemptive love.
This is a spare form of narrative that works perfectly for the character and his story. Its as free of embellishment as Aaron himself. And the more I thought about this character and his growth throughout Home Team, the more Aaron and his story grew on me. I have not read other stories by Dash, this was the first. But if this story is a good indication of this author’s style and talent, then I can’t wait to see what comes next. Consider this book and author highly recommended.
Here is an excerpt as Aaron lands back home in Manchester, NH:
He finds his hat and sunglasses in his backpack, but there isn’t much of a crowd in the airport. Nobody is looking for him. Wives greet their husbands in rumpled suits, a group of teenage boys tangle in a massive hug, and Aaron spots what looks like a college basketball team, home after a disappointing tournament. Aaron wants to give the girls a high five and tell them to keep being awesome. But he’s not feeling very awesome himself. Instead, he keeps his head down out of habit and heads for the baggage carousel.
It’s different traveling alone than with the team. He’s still wearing a shirt and tie; the jacket was folded and shoved into his backpack before the flight took off from LA. He’s representing his team, even if his team doesn’t want him.
But he has to pick up his own equipment. Once Aaron gets the mammoth hockey bag and his suitcase onto a cart, stick bag balanced on top and his own backpack over both shoulders, he looks around for a chauffeur holding up his name. There’s no one waiting for him. There’s no one looking for him.
Cover art by LC Chase is just ok. It doesn’t pertain to this story, it could be any story about a hockey player. It’s just too generic.