A review by _isabel_
Game Misconduct by Ari Baran

challenging dark emotional sad tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


Well, this was absolutely gripping.
Angst-filled, tough and complex, "Game Misconduct" stole my heart; and Mike Sato stole my soul.

This isn't a light-hearted read: Mike and Danny's romance, their road to a much-deserved HEA (although, I admit, it's more of a HFN), is filled with rage and doubt and pain and addiction, but it's also fueled by care and deep, wonderful, helpless affection and the joy of slowly discovering one another after years of rivalry and violence.

There's nothing I love more than enemies to lovers, and since I absolutely adore hockey romances, I knew (and I hoped) I was going to love their story from the very first chapter.
Mike and Danny's relationship wasn't easy, and their whole dynamic was volatile from the very start: don't go into this book expecting sweetness, because these two, at least in the beginning, have an obsessive, toxic dynamic; and yeah, punching and slapping each other is their own form of foreplay.
To be fair, the (non-negotiated) kinky aspect of their relationship stays rough and violent, but it's also intersected by the love and affection they slowly develop for one another.
Needless to say, they were absolutely explosive together and I loved them, so much.
And actually, their romance does get sweeter and softer, and that is solely down to the utter gem, the disastrous, precious boy, that is Mike Sato.

Mike Sato stole my heart and soul: he's angry and hurt and confused and unsure, but he's also so damn sweet and eager and needy and starved for affection that I literally wanted to jump into the book and cuddle him to death. He's so unexpectedly sweet and unsure and soft at times, so damn thoughtful, I kept myself from sobbing through sheer will. His character growth was exceptional: I have to applaud the author for how they handled Mike, and his wonderful growth throughout the book.
So yeah, I loved Mike to bits, and I also thought, maybe uncharitably, that he deserved better than what he got. Or at least, he deserved a good ol' grovel from Danny near the end.

So yeah, while I did love Mike and I did love Danny in the beginning, after a bit I got really frustrated with how Danny was acting. I know, addiction isn't easy; I know, he was going through hell and he was in constant pain. I know I'm being unreasonable here, but still!
I think that's the reason I can't give this book the full five stars it would have easily deserved. I think I kept expecting them to reach a breaking point or, in the very least, a third act break-up: yes, I know, I shocked myself too. I usually don't like them, but I feel like it would have been justified here and it would have made Danny and Mike's HEA much more sweeter and definitive. And yeah, a grovel scene would have been welcome too. I kept waiting for something like that, so I was disappointed there wasn't.

Anyway, apart from this minor thing, I loved this book and I absolutely adored the writing: it's relentless and emotional and vivid.
I also loved the side characters to bits: from Bee to Celi, to all their other teammates. I'm very excited to see if there will be another book of Ari Baran's about certain two oblivious, BFF teammates: I sincerely hope so.
In the meantime, I thoroughly recommend this book: it was wonderful.

TWs/CWs: alcoholism, drug abuse, injury, rough sex, suicidal thoughts, SA (brief description), homophobia and racism (mentioned).

I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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