Rating: 4 stars
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Stanislav Lyamin is comfortable in his role as goalie for the Harrisburg Railers. He has good friends and his English is improving every day. And if he could only get his mother and sister out of Russia, life would be nearly perfect. Of course, Stan can’t help remembering the passionate summer he shared with Erik Gunnarsson. He thought they had something special, but then Erik walked away and married someone else.
With the divorce from his sham marriage nearly finalized, Erik Gunnarsson is looking forward to starting over in a new town with a new team. His main focus is providing a good home for his infant son and the Railers are offering him a chance on the ice and decent money. He just has to face the man whose heart he broke. Life has a way of bringing people together at exactly the right time and for Stan and Erik this reunion might a second chance at love.
I’ve been a fan of the Harrisburg Railers series from the first book, Changing Lines. The writing is always consistently crisp and the characters engaging. Poke Check is generally a strong entry into the series, but I will admit I feel it may be the weakest so far. Fans of the series are familiar with Stan, the Russian goalie who has an obsession with Pokémon and whose English primarily comes in the form of pop culture references. So I was thrilled to see him get his own story. Erik is a man desperate to care for his son after his wife signed away her rights to him. Given how he left things with Stan, Erik isn’t expecting a warm welcome. Despite his somewhat foolish actions at the end of their affair, Erik comes off as a good man who tried to put the needs of his son above his own desires. And unfortunately, Stan’s heart got crushed in the process. Erik isn’t a bad man and it’s easy to find sympathy for his situation, but Stan’s anger is justified. He is alone in the U.S., isolated by a language barrier, and he’s homesick. This sense of loneliness comes through in a big way and as readers we can’t help but want Stan to find some happiness.
The book’s major misstep is one of timing. We’re told of this torrid affair between Erik and Stan, but when they finally meet again, the book seems to gloss over the idea of an actual relationship. Things move very quickly and the book as a whole lacks the detail and depth that previous entries have had. The romance is lacking because it feels as though the courtship took place off page, but readers aren’t given exposure to those events in any meaningful way. Because of this, Poke Check takes on the rather rote pattern of “this happened, then this, and then this” with descriptive but not emotive events cataloging the plot. While Erik and Stan work as a couple, something was missing from their journey and their relationship was not as strong as a result.
Poke Check is an enjoyable novel on the whole and as a fan of the series, I was thrilled to see Stan get his happily ever after. The book does founder somewhat and fails to really expand upon the romance between Erik and Stan. As a result, Poke Check lacks an emotional connection, but fans will still enjoy it. The Harrisburg Railers series is really best read in order and things might get pretty confusing otherwise, so considered yourself warned.
Thanks for the review, Sue. I own the first book in this series; I think I need to move it nearer the top of my pile!