A review by missanniewhimsy
Game Misconduct by Ari Baran

challenging dark emotional funny hopeful sad 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


God I feel like I need to send Ari a thank you note. I don’t read romance as much as I used to, and I miss it constantly. Something about the ennui of the times, the reading for comfort, reading to feel good not being as fulfilling. It’s a me-problem, I’m being pretentious, I know, but it doesn’t stop the disappointment each time I pick up a book and it’s not only unfulfilling, but it’s unfulfilling in the exact same way that the last three books I tried were. It’s part of why I stopped reviewing, stopped requesting ARCs. I’m sorry. This is a positive review, I promise. I’m out of practice. I just want the time I’m taking on books to matter, I want the journey the characters are taking to mean something, to feel fulfilling, and god did this deliver. Fucking finally. 

I kept coming across things that had bothered me recently in other books and not minding them, to be reminded that it wasn’t the trope, just bad writing before, and a relief to see it done so well here. (No, I don’t dislike the miscommunication trope, I just get annoyed when they’re so goddamn stupid about it). This book is written (and edited--I don’t get to say this very often!) so fucking well. The sex is hot, obviously, no one needs to worry about that. The hockey is super well-researched. Full disclosure, part of the reason I wanted to review this was because I’d heard the author talk about how much, and what kind of research they did for it (I’m a librarian, I couldn’t resist!), and it shows.

This story is so lovely because the relationship, the sex is the easy part, but the conflicts are perfect and horrible because no one can know but the other person. Like why it’s so hard to discuss work woes with a partner in an entirely different career field. No one but another hockey player could understand the need to be on the ice in spite of everything, the horrible justification for a dependence on alcohol and pain meds to keep going, the fear and isolation of feeling like there are no other options. It’s devastating to read, and I kept repeating “it’s a romance, it has to have an HEA” like a mantra during the worst scenes, because I’m a hockey fan and you see these stories play out constantly in real life. 

But my favorite is the character development. It progressed so naturally and realistically! These characters are all so good and well-developed, even the side characters. Danny is devastating, and I adore his weird little overeager and earnest rookies, Landry and Gears, I hope to see them again. His relationship with his sister and niece give great insight into the isolation he’s feeling, Mäkelä and Bee being there for Mike in such distinct ways, and of course Mike, who I’m irreversibly attached to at this point and will protect to the death. His growth wasn’t as dramatic as Danny’s maybe, but god I loved being in his head for it. “It was one of those months where he was having more than one emotion at the same time for more than one day and that alone kind of made him furious.” Like you come out just feeling so proud of him, because Garcia gets through it because he has Mike, but Mike gets through it because he decides it’s the only option. He’ll help Danny out of pure determination, out of spite, out of love. 

I came out of this book wanting to keep reading and I can't think of a higher compliment than that.

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