Story Rating: 3.75 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars
Narrators: Iggy Toma and Alexander Cendese
Length: 7 hours, 5 minutes
Christopher Jacobs has worked hard on the CU Hockey team for the last three years, putting in time and effort to be an excellent player and a great leader. Now he is finally in a position to reach his goal of being team captain. So Jacobs is stunned to find out that the coaches are also considering one of his fellow players, TJ Beckett. Beck is wealthy and spoiled and puts in the bare minimum of effort. He always gets whatever he wants and Jacobs hasn’t been able to stand Beck since their freshman year. It burns him that Beck may get to be captain having done nothing to deserve it. However, the coaches won’t choose between the men, and instead decide to leave it up to the team. Jacobs knows a popular guy like Beck will easily win the team’s vote, but the players surprise them by deciding they will set up a series of challenges that will determine who they pick as captain. Of course, the challenges are inane and absurd and in no way evaluate who is best suited for the job of captain. But the guys have no choice but to go along with the foolishness.
Beck has no idea why Jacobs hates him, but he can’t help but recognize how much he delights in irritating Jacobs. Showing him up in these challenges and snagging the captain spot will be the perfect way to drive Jacobs nuts. Plus, Beck knows he has no future in hockey; his father’s insistence that Beck join the family business has seen to that. So he wants to have as much fun in college as possible while he still has some control over his life.
While the challenges may be absurd, they do end up bringing Jacobs and Beck together, giving them a chance to get to know each other better. And while Jacobs still can’t help but find Beck annoying, and Beck still can’t stop himself from poking at Jacobs, they are also slowing thawing the ice of their relationship. It doesn’t hurt that there is an attraction simmering between them, one neither man ever saw coming. As they begin to explore their attraction, the guys realize that they actually like each other quite a lot. That doesn’t stop their competitiveness, but it takes on a friendlier (and sexier) edge. But with the guys on the team all thinking Beck and Jacobs hate each other, revealing the truth could be awkward. Not to mention that neither man has ever been with a guy before. Yet the feelings between Beck and Jacobs are growing and they are realizing that this connection may be something real. They just have to stop sneaking around and embrace what they are feeling for each other.
Face Offs & Cheap Shots is the second book in Eden Finley and Saxon James’ CU Hockey series. The story picks up the summer after Power Plays and Straight A’s ends, while the team is running a hockey camp for high schoolers. Foster and Zach from Power Plays make an appearance at the start and end of this story, but otherwise the characters don’t really play an on page role here. However, Jacobs is Foster’s best friend and he has had some tentative feelings for Foster in the past. Foster also has sort of god-like status to the other CU players, so he is mentioned a lot in the book by the other guys. That said, I think this one stands alone fine and the connections between the characters and storyline are explained here well enough to start with this book.
The story sort of fell into two halves for me. The start of the book sets up the conflict between Beck and Jacobs, both the fact that they are always at odds and the competition for captain set up by their teammates. I’ll admit, I struggled at times with this part of the book. First off, Beck just comes across as such a jerk to me. I know there are reasons for his behavior, but I couldn’t help but find him unlikeable a lot of the time. He gets off at Jacobs’ irritation and can’t help but push his buttons. But rather than it feeling fun or cute, Beck comes across as just mean spirited to me a lot of the time and I couldn’t find myself connecting to him the way I think I was supposed to. I also found the challenge storyline did nothing for me. We are told that the team accepted Foster being bisexual and even welcome Zach as his boyfriend, yet they are all about the stupid gay sex jokes during the challenges. The game of “gay chicken” that leads to the guys kissing felt just so gross and offensive. The teammates come across as super immature and, while I know this is a new adult story, this was still too many obnoxious college boys for me.
I would say around the 50-60% mark it was like a switch flipped for me. At that point, the thaw really starts between Beck and Jacobs and that antagonizing, adversarial relationship begins to shift. The guys still love to compete with one another, but it is laced with affection and friendship, not hostility and meanness. It became what I love about enemies to lovers, that tension between the guys that fuels the attraction and ultimate connection. There is some nice development for each character, particularly Beck, as they start to think their futures and what they want for their lives. The authors do a nice job in this series of writing the banter and playfulness between characters, and I really enjoyed the dynamic between the guys as they start to become friends and develop their romantic relationship. Everything is a competition, but a friendly one, and it is just a fun dynamic. I also loved how the story continues after the camp is over and how the guys further develop things between them. The ending comes together really nicely and it just pulls together really well.
While I did like the ending and how Beck figures out his future in the face of his father’s demands, I did find the resolution with his dad felt too easy. Not in the sense of the work Beck has to put into figure things out, but that he seems to forgive and accept his dad’s awful behavior toward him and his sister too easily for me. The guy is a giant jerk who has hurt both his children and made them feel small. So wrapping it all up with a “he meant well” kind of resolution just didn’t work for me, particularly with regard to how he treats Beck’s sister.
I listened to this in audio with narrators Alexander Cendese and Iggy Toma. I would say most of my thoughts the Power Plays audio carry over here. Cendese still speaks a little fast for me and his narration of the coach and some of the adult men still feels kind of forced and over the top. Cendese and Toma sound quite different, so the dual narration means the characters sound different from chapter to chapter. But I think having listened to Power Plays so recently made this one go smoother for me, as I was more used to the narrators’ voices together and the transitions didn’t bother me as much. While the MCs here had somewhat similar sounding voices to the MCs in book 1, I do think both narrators do a nice job giving enough differentiation that when all four men are together, their voices are distinct. Again, I think the narrators are voicing the right MC for their style, as Cendese captures Beck’s more outgoing, brash personality and Toma does well with Jacobs’ more reserved side. So I think overall that the narration worked well here and a little better for me than in the first book.
While I struggled somewhat in the early part of the book, the story really came together well for me in the second half and it was enough to leave me feeling really satisfied with this story. I loved the interplay between the guys as they started to soften toward each other. There is also a nice sense of exploration here between them, and a sweetness that comes through as they get to know one another. So this was a nice follow up to book one and I am looking forward to the third book in the series when it comes out in audio.