New Adult, New Adult Romance, YA Contemporary Fiction, YA romance

My Review: Fangirl: by Rainbow Rowell

Publish Date: September 10th, 2013
Number of Pages: 438 Pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre(s): YA Fiction, YA Romance, New Adult, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

Real life was something happening in her peripheral vision.”

– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”

It may sound ironic, but this has to be one of the most popular books that I’ve come across that doesn’t have an actual fandom for it. Those who’ve read it all have said it’s a great story to enjoy and that they really enjoyed it, so why isn’t it referred to by many more avid book readers? Why don’t I see it showcased more on the many #Bookstagram accounts I follow? There’s also the later released book Carry On by this author too but everyone who’s read both said that this book comes first, so here we are!

I will say that besides other’s recommendations with that reading order, I had my own curiosity with this title for personal reasons. For those not aware, I’ve been on-and-off working on a coming-of-age college story of my own over the last two years, and this title popped out at me to what to check out to gather intel, see how the story works, what worked well and what didn’t, what I would change, help make some of my own college memories resurface, etc. For anyone interested, go check out my story’s progress on its page titled “When In Doubt (WIP Fiction Series)” on the main menu bar. It’s had its ups and downs and with a lot going on in my personal life at the time I’m typing this review, I haven’t worked on it as much as I’d liked to, but enough self-promotion, back to this review!…

You’re never going to find a guy who’s exactly like you—first of all, because that guy never leaves his dorm room.”

– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”

I liked but didn’t love this book, even as I found it to be one of the more unique stories I’ve read in the YA reading level. the main character, Cath, who is a lot like most of us who have our heads in a book: she’s awkward, weird, complex, anti-social, and full of her own inner stories based off her favorite franchise, which is called Simon Snow and is basically a Harry Potter knockoff. Being a total Potterhead myself, even if the books no longer have an author (Shame!), I could totally relate because the Harry Potter franchise is what started it all for me! They’re the books that really got me truly passionate about books, about film, about storytelling in general, and is the catalyst that truly made me think “I want to do that” for the first time in my younger years.

As for why I didn’t love this book, it just felt like there could’ve been more that happened in terms of the plot? I think it just had too many slower moments that made it somewhat harder to keep my attention from wandering, and even the conclusion I felt like could’ve been bigger. It just felt like not as much as I’d thought would happen by the end had actually done so. I did love the growth that the main character went through as the story in all aspects: her family, finding her first love, and of course friendship, and felt like she was definitely a different person once we got from point A to point B, but I was hoping maybe there would be a bigger, and grander ending of some sort? Maybe the story works the way it is, but part of me felt like there was some buildup with Cath’s writing that got a conclusion that just fell a little flat for me.

Now despite all that, there is plenty to praise the author as well! Rainbow Rowell’s characters and her work on them are a major highlight; I think just about everyone can read this story and have most if not all the characters remind them of someone they know in real life because of how real they feel. She even has the ability to make them all so complex, even as they stand on opposite ends of the social spectrum. What I mean by that actually is by comparing Cath to her twin sister, Wren, and how they interact as the story moves forward. Cath is a totally anti-social introvert who stays in her dorm to write fanfiction, but Wren has totally embraced the college party scene and wants to drift apart from her sister, but they meet up several times and while obviously Cath has a lot of inner depth to her, you even see it in her sister in little moments and as their family is put through the emotional wringer. It was the little moments like these that made me believe that the author truly knew her characters in and out.

I was also a fan of the romance—of course—that develops in Fangirl as well! What I liked about it the most was how realistic it felt. Sometimes, the romance genre can go so over the top and make it feel like we have to bend hand-over-knee or whatever that phrase is for our significant others, and those grand gestures are the one answer it takes to show them our true feelings. Well, life ain’t like that nor is it some spanish telenovela, and what we need to remember is that even the simplest of things can get the message across just as effectively. The little things do matter!

She smiled, and her eyes started to drift downward.

‘Cather…’

Back up to his eyes.

‘You know that I’m falling in love with you, right?'”

– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”

Besides the characters, it’s the nostalgia that was the most powerful thing for me to come out of reading this book. It was the nostalgia of my own freshman year of college—perhaps the greatest year of my life—and of course all the fandoms that I’ve been a part of over the years. Whether we admit it or not, we’ve all been obsessed at one point or another with something much like Cath is with Simon Snow. We’ve read the books, we bought the (sometimes) overpriced merch, the action figures, we went to the midnight premieres in costume, we had those heated debates with friends, we shipped those couples that never become canon, we joined the fanclubs, etc. Some of them we can openly admit to and maybe can even still say we belong to it, but I can agree that there are probably some that we blush and stay mum about and keep it a total guilty pleasure. I’ve been like that, but as a way to end this section of this review, I’ll put myself out there and list off all the fandoms that I can remember that I’ve been a part of:

Disney’s Little Mermaid, Spongebob Squarepants, Winnie the Pooh, Power Rangers, Pokémon, Digimon, Sailor Moon, Bratz Dolls, Kids Next Door, WWE, Yu-Gi-Oh, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Throne of Glass (or any book by Sarah J. Maas honestly), From Blood and Ash series, Dexter’s Laboratory, Scooby Doo, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, Batman and Batman Beyond, Dragon Ball Z, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra, Superman, Ariana Grande, Britney Spears, The Pussycat Dolls, Star Wars films, Teen Titans, Fairly Odd Parents, Danny Phantom, Choices, Schitt’s Creek, Samurai Jack, Finding Nemo, Stranger Things, MCU, Tomb Raider, Greek Mythology, The Powerpuff Girls, Shonen Jump manga, Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, An Ember in the Ashes series, The Vampire Diaries, MTV’s The Hills, The Folk of the Air series, Rocket Power, Rihanna, Ed Edd ‘n’ Eddy, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Looney Tunes, N*Sync, The Backstreet Boys, Kim Possible, That 70’s Show, Hannah Montana, Mean Girls, That’s So Raven, Phil of the Future, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Spy High, The Falling Kingdoms series, The Cheetah Girls, The Sims, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, The Nanny, Full House, Friends, New Girl, The Emperor’s New Groove, The Proud Family, Jesse McCartney, Lizzie Mcguire, Goosebumps, Totally Spies, Family Guy, The Land Before Time, Hocus Pocus, Boy Meets World, Duck Tales, Monster’s Inc, The Rugrats, Zoey 101, Drake and Josh, Zoobooks, The Black Cauldron, Roller Coaster Tycoon, The Lion King, The Fever Series, Queer Eye, Riverdale, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Pretty Little Liars, Once Upon a Time, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Pizza, American Horror Story, 13 Reasons Why, The Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight, and I’m sure plenty more that I can’t even remember! Here’s a crazy thought to leave you with: think of how the very person you are, your beliefs and personality and maybe even your soul is influenced by all the things like these that you grew up with, with the messages they sent you, the lessons you learned, and all that makes up who you are!

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan..

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

What I Liked:

  1. The College Nostalgia! Oh man, did this book bring me back to my own college days! I actually started my freshman year the fall of 2012, which is actually the school year after the timeline that this book takes place in, so I found a lot of the pop culture references, clothing choices, etc. to be really relatable. Even the time at the bowling alley reminded me of the many Thursday nights I went to the UW-Stout Alehouse for 50 cent bowling nights. My freshman year of college is what I consider the best year of my life so far, so the fact that this book made me think back to some really fond memories gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling right in the chest.
  2. The Themes! Family, isolation, love & sex, writing, drugs & alcohol, and of course coming of age are the themes I got while reading, and I thought they all commingled rather nicely into a realistic and touching story. Cath is so dedicated to her family even when she feels like everything is moving on without her which leads into the isolation. She’s not a partier like her twin sister and is totally content to stay in every night and just write more fanfiction because of social anxiety and the uncertainty of it all, I get it. Cath noticing boys in a new way, plus her growing relationship with Levi focuses on the love and sex aspects, add in a side note with Reagan as being involved with Levi in that regards too, but not in the way you might expect right off the bat. Creative Writing is a huge part of Cath’s life, plus the story follows her struggles with her writing course with Professor Piper and Nick. College and drinking go hand in hand—my two underage tickets can attest to that—and Wren really seems to embrace the party culture on campus with her blonde roommate, Courtney. Cath worries about her, but Wren continues to blow her off and downplay how far she goes whenever she goes out on the weekends.
  3. The Romance Between Levi and Cath! The budding relationship between these two was a little insta-love on Levi’s part, which actually wasn’t too bad since he wasn’t the protagonist, but it was actually kind of sweet how it was so obvious he was totally smitten for Cath since day one. Reagan, Cath’s roommate, plays an interesting role as the thing that initially keeps them apart in the beginning. What I really loved about their relationship and all that happened within it was just how realistic it felt. He never judged her for her quirks, he broke through her walls and pushed her in a non-manipulative and genuine way, and always offered his support no matter what. Usually with romance novels, it can go a little over the top with grand gestures to win someone over and heart wrenching confessions of love with gorgeous prose, and it wasn’t like that this time and it was actually rather refreshing. Sometimes the sweetest thing a guy can do is bring their girl a specialty starbucks drink when they meet up after his shift, he offers to drive you home to see your sick dad in the hospital even though it’s hours away, or he’s a total gentleman who admits he’s in love first and says he won’t do anything sexually that she doesn’t initiate first. This romance just simple, and that should be enough!
  4. The Author’s Character Work! Rainbow Rowell is really good at writing those quirky, oddball characters with plenty of complexity and a method to their madness. Each of them have their own distinctness to them, and you’ll never get confused with any of them or get their names mixed up. there’s an honesty about them in the sense that I feel like just about everyone in real life has met people who remind them of each and every one of these characters. There’s definitely a line straight down the middle and you either like a character or you don’t, there’s not a whole lot of in between, at least that’s the impression I got!

Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity.”

– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Her Sister Wren Abandoning Her…Wren was a real piece of work throughout this book, and I was so frustrated with her most of the time! How could she so easily ditch her sister without a second thought, especially when she knew the anxiety issues Cath has and all that they’ve gone through together growing up, then just replaced her with Courtney, which no offense to her, wasn’t really an upgrade. I get her behavior to a certain degree: with college and new beginnings, it is a normal reaction to want to strike out and try new things, to test the waters and experiment, but know where you come from and don’t take the people who actually care about you for granted!
  2. Their Mother…What a bitch-a-rooney-dooney she was! I was totally on Cath’s side with this whole situation, even if a small chunk of me understood Wren’s need to have her come back into her life. But seriously… who ditches their family on 9/11? Like, the actual 9/11?!
  3. Too Much Fanfiction…So it sucks to say this about the book considering a huge them about it was about writing fanfiction, but I was not a fan of the passages of Cath’s story that we got. I know it would’ve been worse to not have any of them at all in the story, especially since there’s such an emphasis on it, but I thought there was just too much of it. I liked the parts when Cath read it to Levi for the most part, but I also never really got a gay vibe from Simon and Baz that everyone was totally gushing about. Not that I’m not for a gay relationship between a fictional wizard and vampire, but I wasn’t sold on the execution of what we were given.
  4. The Plot Felt Too Slow In Parts…This story did feel like it dragged in quite a few places, which can be a side effect of a character-driven story such as this one. Maybe it could’ve been a shorter story in general, or something totally shocking could’ve been added?
  5. The Ending Could’ve Been More Grand…For some reason I was totally picturing a much bigger way to end the story, like the author of the Simon Snow franchise found Cath’s fanfiction on the internet and offered her a publishing collaboration deal or something like that. It felt like not as much actually happened by the time the actual ending took place, and it’d been a whole ten months of the school year!

Conclusion:

‘No,’ Cath said, ‘Seriously. Look at you. You’ve got your shit together, you’re not scared of anything. I’m scared of everything. And I’m crazy. Like maybe you think I’m a little crazy, but I only ever let people see the tip of my crazy iceberg. Underneath this veneer of slightly crazy and socially inept, I’m a complete disaster.’”

– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is a cute, genuine, and real take on growing up during an eventful moment in a young girl’s life: starting her freshman year of college and having to deal with major change from what she’s grown up used to. It’s a coming-of-age story filled with distinct characters, humor, angst, fanfiction, and first love that I really enjoyed for the most part, but still felt like something was still just missing that keeps it from becoming a hit classic that would have a lot more people refer back to it. It’s character-driven, and maybe it just had too many slower moments to keep it from really picking up, plotwise. However, It invokes feelings of nostalgia from either your own college days or from the fandoms you grew up being a part of; the memories this book helps invoke certainly does feel like a little gift from the past to warm your heart, which I think is the main reason that a lot of readers really enjoy this title.

One addition I would to make is that the author has teamed up with Gabi Nam, and almost paying homage to her fandom roots and themes with this book, they’ve transformed this story into a manga! Check it out in the link HERE and I can say I’d definitely be interested to check out this version of the book myself! Maybe it’ll translate better into this format, who knows!

Another addition is that now that Fangirl is under my belt is how I now get to read Carry On, which stars Simon Snow, the author’s knockoff version of Harry Potter, and how it reads like the work that Cath was working on in this book! Someone told me it’s basically a gay version of HP and I was sold! I have a copy on my shelf to read, and once I have a few other titles read under my belt first, I can’t wait to see what Rainbow Rowell did with this idea.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

graphic novel, LGBT, New Adult Romance, YA Contemporary Fiction, YA romance

My Review: Check, Please! Book 2: Sticks and Scones (Check Please #3-4): by Ngozi Ukazu

Publication Date: April 7th, 2020
Number of Pages: 352 Pages
Publisher: First Second
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, YA Romance, LGBT

***Warning! This book review contains spoilers from the previous book, continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of Book #1- Check, Please! Vol. #1 – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

A fair warning is needed for anyone who’s about to start this next installment in the Check, Please! story: expect some tears. Expect tears both sad and happy to flow down those cheeks of yours because of how touching, how tender, how pure of a storyline this has come to be and just about everything else about it, but also because it’s coming to a close.

I was someone who’d discovered this story when the hardcover Vol. 1 came into the bookstore where I work one day, and I immediately fell in love with the cover and decided to give it a chance, then discovered something to truly fangirl over and completely stan.

The characters!

The banter!

The found family dynamic!

The coming of age tale!

The LGBT representation!

The slow burn romance!

All of it was just about perfect in my eyes, and these books were the YA LGBT graphic novel I wish I had growing up, or even just going through college myself. It makes me so happy to see so many more LGBTQ+ stories and books coming out for the younger readers that desperately need them in order to feel heard and understood.

After finishing the first book, I never really followed the webcomics posted (the original source of this whole story), and told myself to wait until this sequel was to be released in hardcover format almost a whole year later. Why, you may ask?…I’m not sure, but the best way for me to describe it is how I can’t watch a show by only viewing the one episode a week now. Netflix ruined that for me, and I’d rather just wait for it all to be released as a complete set rather than torture myself waiting to see what happens next with the little bit I’m given every week, if that makes sense? It’s all or nothing for me!

So fast forward, and it’s finally the time I can read this next volume, which contains main protagonist Eric “Bitty” Bittle’s Junior and Senior year of college. It felt like a reunion to get to go further into the story and see what happens after the VERY cliffhanger of that kiss him and Jack shared the day of Jack’s graduation! It was a whirlwind of past and present bunched together as we move forward in the story, but also are given lots of flashbacks to small scenes that happened before the start of book #2. It was a little jarring at first, but once the school year started, it was smooth sailing from there on. You’re reunited with a lot of familiar faces, and are also given a crop of new characters with the new incoming freshmen joining the team and Lardo trying to find her replacement once she graduates.

The bigger change in this book is Eric Bittle’s handling of his sexuality with his family, and I mean his biological family (I.E: his mom and dad). It has some heavier moments, but still keeps the usual lighter tone and mood of the whole series throughout, and leaves you with a sense of hope that our actual lives can turn out alright too.

There were a few issues I did have with the story this time around, which was odd for me considering I didn’t really have much if any from the previous book. One of which was the handling of a certain storyline involving Bitty and a newer face, Whiskey. I’ll go further into details with that below, but despite any issues I had, I still tremendously loved this book and was so happy with how it all ended: Where Jack goes, where Bitty goes, where their relationship goes, where everyone else goes, and just pretty much everything that happens.

Reading something like this can seriously help someone who’s struggling feel less alone in this world. It goes over so many issues that people around that age deal with: the anxiety, the pressure, the relationships, high expectations both set on yourself and others, love, thinking about your future, independence, leadership, and of course the joys and pains of coming to terms with your sexuality if you’re queer. Even if you’re not a hockey fan—or any sports in general—I feel like anyone who’s looking for a story like this one can enjoy it!

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

Bitty is heading to junior year of college and though he has overcome his fear of getting ‘checked’ on the ice, he and Jack now face new challenges. They must navigate their new relationship while being apart, and also decide how they want to reveal their relationship to those around them. Not only that, but Jack and the Falconers are now a big part of the NHL–and Bitty’s life! It’s a hockey season filled with victories and losses.

A collection of the second half of the mega-popular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: Sticks and Scones is the last in a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life.

What I Liked:

  1. It Truly Makes You Laugh & Cry While Reading! I’m not someone who gets overly emotional whenever I read something. I can get incredibly emotionally invested in some things, sure, but that’s different. I can 100% full honesty, full disclosure admit that I both laughed out loud and actually teared up when I was reading this. If something can evoke so much emotion from a reader, that only proves that it’s something worth checking out!
  2. There’s Great Closure! Lately over the last couple years, a lot of series for me have come to an end, and I’m always so deeply disappointed when I feel like something didn’t end well. The Folk of the Air series by Holly Black, Game of Thrones, the IT movies just to name a few…but it seems like a lot of these popular books/movies/tv shows just can’t end on a perfect high note when the series itself was so spectacular through the journey. Check, Please! was thankfully not something I needed to add to my list of disappointing endings because the author actually did a great job of tying up all her loose ends, had the right endings for each of her characters, and it all just came together almost perfectly. Anyone who’s already a fan of the story will adore it!
  3. Bitty’s Development! Eric Bittle, or “Bitty” has really come into his own through the series. He’s become more confident in himself and his abilities on and off the ice, his relationship with Jack, his coming to terms with being gay, and to him all of a sudden being a senior on the team and is thrust into a position of leadership amongst the other players. I saw a bit of myself in Bitty sometimes along his journey, what with his whole self discovery and coming out in college amongst all his friends. He was a great protagonist to follow throughout the four years that they totally called it: they go quicker than you think!
  4. It Reveals Realistic Coming-of-Age Issues! I’d kind of mentioned it above, but this book tackles so many issues that really resonated with me, and I feel like relate to a lot of people around my age: anxiety, depression, acceptance, financial woes, fear and uncertainty of what comes after college and the future in general, coming out, friendships, first love…there’s plenty more, but if that doesn’t convince you, what will? Each issue is addressed and handled incredibly well; I’d almost even say there doesn’t even need to be a trigger warning for any of it because the book keeps its lighter tone throughout.
  5. The Found Family Trope! I’m such a sucker for the story arc of a group of diverse people coming together because of a certain cause or similar interest, and how they get closer over time and learn so much about each other…and eventually notice certain faults each person may carry, but loves them anyways! They support each other, they love to be around each other, and always enjoy each other’s company. The group also grows as more people join in over the years and the bond just continues to keep growing while they never lose touch of that original base that the group dynamic was founded on…I just love found/chosen family story tropes, they get me every time!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Too Many Flashbacks In The Beginning. The book starts off with many flashback scenes of certain things said or certain events that happened before the start of the book, all the while being mentioned or referenced in current time. I found this to be a little jarring, disorientating, and a confusing way to start for a graphic novel. Mainly, I think I just got a little overwhelmed and couldn’t tell what was past and present; maybe if the flashbacks had a certain difference in color tone or grading to make it visually less confusing, that would’ve been helpful!
  2. The Issue with the Player, Whiskey! Whiskey is a newer character introduced in this book, and he’s introduced as Bitty is talking about him to Jack over the phone, saying that the guy seems to want nothing to do with him and he has no idea why (kind of like how Jack first treated him tbh, but at least that got better). There’s a scene that happens at a college party, and then it’s entirely left alone until close to the end of the book when Bitty and Whiskey finally address it. To be honest, this whole storyline irked me a little bit! It never really fully gets addressed and felt like it’d gotten shafted under everything else going on, and even the final confrontation left a lot to be desired in terms of how is this going to be handled moving forward…Plus, it showed Whiskey’s character to not be in the greatest light, and I’d just hoped for more to come out of this whole storyline…

Conclusion:

It’s always sad when something comes to an end, and Check, Please! is no different than any other book, tv show, or movie that you adored and suddenly it’s over. What’s the hardest part is that hangover-like feeling of being lost and wondering to yourself: What now? Do you wallow and mope about how it’s over and worry if you’ll ever find something to love as much as you loved that story? Or, do you get excited at the anticipation of that hunt to find that next thing to obsess over? I guess it depends on the specific reader…

A truly great conclusion to an incredibly uplifting, joyful story of a little queer baker/figure skater/vlogger who turns into a hockey player, overcomes his fears, and finds true happiness with those he ties up his skates next to on the bench and shares the ice with. So many feels…but just what an amazing series! Can’t recommend enough!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

graphic novel, LGBT, YA Contemporary Fiction, YA romance

My Review: Check, Please! Book 1: #Hockey (Check, Please! #1-2): by Ngozi Ukazu

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Publish Date: September 18th 2018
Number of Pages: 288 Pages
Publisher: First Second
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, Sports, LGBT, YA

Total Star Rating: 4.35 Stars

Okay, so if you love hilarious, heartwarming, coming of age story with college male athletes who love to party, and a gay little figure skater who loves to bake and joins the team, this graphic novel is totally for you!

Before this story literally fell into my hands, I never really read graphic novels before. Not that I ever had anything against them, they were just something that I never really looked into, plus they seemed like something that Marvel took over for the most part. This book just so happened to fall into my hands one day while at work in the bookstore, and I was immediately drawn towards the artwork, the blurb on the back, and I thought it would be great material to not only enjoy, but to get some possible inspiration towards my own story that I’m working on, which also takes place on a college campus.

After some resarch from my ever curious, erudite Ravenclaw mind, Check, Please turned out to have started out as a webcomic on the author’s Tumblr and/or Twitter accounts, and it gained so much popularity with it’s growing fandom, that she eventually turned to Kickstarter to be able to make printed copies of it to send to interested parties. It eventually went on to become the most funded webcomic to ever be put up on the site, making an astounding $74,000 when her goal was only $15,000.

I’m so sad to say that before I stumbled upon the book that I’d never even heard of the franchise, and thats because it turned out to be one of my favorite stories that I’ve read in recent memory! Its got sports, it’s got friendship, it’s got brotherhood, it’s got it’s laughs and tears, romance, hot male athletes, witty and hilarious banter, sexual tension, and it’s such a great story to get behind. It’s got some extremely relatable themes like coming out, collegiate stress, overcoming fears, friendship, growing up, athletes, and eventually graduation. I’m only sad that I have to wait until Spring of 2020 in order to read Vol. 2 (at least a printed copy of it, which I want to hold off on anything until the physical copy comes out, I know the third and fourth years are available to read online).

What It’s About:

Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a vlogger and baker, enrolls as a new freshman at Samwell University, a private college over in Massachusetts. He’s a former figure skating champion, but is actually at Samwell to play on the boy’s Hockey team, who all begin to warm up to through his cheery demeanor, his excellent baking skills, and overall kindness and compassion.

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Eric Bittle, image courtesy of tvtropes.org

Four other characters meet Bittle and become a big part of his overall story; there’s his teammates Shitty, Ransom and Holster, Jack, and Lardo.

B. “Shitty” Knight is a typical cocky, chill, go with the flow kind of guy who is actually pretty intelligent, but wants to keep it on the down low. Despite being a junior who’s actually double majoring in Political Science and Sexuality, Women and Gender studies, he is very much what some people may consider to be a “stereotypical” hockey bro, at least by appearance and first impressions.

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Shitty, image courtesy of tvtropes.org

Adam “Ransom” Birkholtz and Justin “Holster” Oluransi are the dynamic duo; they’re not an actual gay couple, but they might as well be. Both are each other’s best friend, they play off of each other and are always there for a good laugh, or get into “deep” philosophical debates like whether flow actually helps a hockey player’s performance or not, how nicknames are created and earned, the perfect shape of Jack’s ass (which has its own parody twitter account), and plenty of other hilarious and random qualms that come up. They are total bro’s, but lovable bro’s in a beautiful bromance.

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Holster and Ransom, image courtesy of tvtropes.org

Larissa “Lardo” Duan is the snarky and moody female team manager. She is an art major in her sophomore year, based off her sculpture and painting work done that’s referenced, and though she doesn’t always say much, she usually knows what needs to be said. Initially best friends with Shitty since they’re from the same hometown, she also befriends Bitty and gets closer to him.

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Lardo, image courtesy of tvtropes.org

Finally, we have Jack Zimmerman. Considered by most as a “prodigy” with his dad being a hockey legend, Jack always felt the pressure coming from all sides, and it’s led to issues with stress and anxiety and other things down the road. A junior at the beginning of the story who’s a History Major, he’s incredibly driven, brooding, moody during the preseason and is a natural born leader with a no nonsense attitude. He initially dislikes Bitty, but grows to like him over the course of the two years that they are teammates. Jack even begins to tease Bitty about his mannerisms and his obsession with Twitter and baking, and they develop a fun dynamic because Bitty reminds him to take joy in the little things in life.

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Jack Zimmerman, image courtesy of tvtropes.org

As the story develops, you discover that Bitty learns to come to terms with his sexuality when he discovers that he has a major crush on Jack. No one else really knows, and he’d prefer to keep it that way. This first volume covers Bitty’s freshman and sophomore years at Samwell University, while the second volume (releasing Spring 2020) will of course feature the last two years, and hopefully/most likely feature some characters that graduated and moved away in this first part.

What I Liked:

  1. The Characters! Honestly, it’s the characters and their whole group dynamic that steals your heart in this story. They’re just such a fun group of people to read about, and you feel like you’re immersed within their inner circle. They say funny and stupid things, and actually do funny and stupid things too; the author absolutely nails the banter and the camaraderie amongst the teammates. Her characters were surprisingly so fleshed out and dynamic, and it was so great to see how they grew as time went on. Yes, to some, they’re just the typical alpha jocks on campus, and sure, sometimes they say things that may seem problematic or stupid, but I can appreciate the fact that the author nailed their authenticity to a T, and still made them likeable all the same. With that said, I suppose there are some slight trigger warnings for some readers: there’s underage drinking, panic attacks, hazing, and the misogynistic guy talk about hooking up with girls, and frankly other sexual content. Personally, I didn’t mind any of it as I thought it added to the authenticity of the characters and who they are (boys who are athletes in college), but I could see others not be too keen on it.
  2. The Slow-Burn Romance! Yes, there is a romance, and oh….it is so agonizingly drawn out, much like someone who is a giant wuss and makes tearing off a bandaid an absolutely horrendous experience. It’s fun to see it slowly develop, but also so satisfying when it finally goes somewhere. There’s plenty in between to keep you interested at least! You can’t help but love Bitty and want him to get everything he wants in the world; he is the literal definition of a human cinnamon roll!
  3. The Author! the author took her time studying the sport of Hockey for three months at Yale back when she was writing a screenplay that was similar to Check, Please, but much darker in tone. afterwards, she wanted something lighter, more fun and uplifting, when she witnessed the friendship amongst the athletes and their own group dynamic, and so Check, Please was created. Also, she unintentionally became a huge fan of the sport after all the research she did for her works of fiction, which is awesome! She went above and beyond because she wanted it to be authentic, realistic and show that she knew what she was talking about. Any writer, author, etc should do the same sort of thing in order to make their work stronger. I also just love that from what I’ve heard, she’s just as much a part of the fandom while also being the main contributor of it all. She literally just sits and draws little three-part comics, sketches, character’s, you name it. She does her own fanart for her own comic, which just sounds adorable. It’s awesome to hear about a creator who loves her work so much, that she’s also such a huge fan as well!
  4. The Artwork! The artwork is done in such a beautiful, fun way, and the panels are smartly done in a seamless way that easily moves you within the story the next box. It’s simple and cartoony, but effective and enjoyable all at the same time.
  5. Bitty! I mean, he’s a short, gay little baker who was a figure skater who joins the hockey team. Imagine Spongebob Squarepants making it into the Salty Splatoon. He’s also from the south and says “Y’all,” “Bless your heart,” “Girl, Please” and uses people’s full names like an angry mother whenever he needs to make a point. So, he’s a gay little southern baker who’s on the hockey team, and he’s officially too pure for this world.

What I Didn’t Like:

Nothing…I didn’t dislike anything…it was all so so so so perfect….I am WAY too excited for Spring 2020 for it to release! I don’t even care, I’m rolling up in my 2004 Mercury Sable at Barnes & Noble and paying full price like:

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Conclusion:

Oh my lord…What can I say? This story is a treat. A delicious, sweet, cavity inducing treat that most fans of LGBT!, sports, M/M romance and college story lovers will immensely enjoy. It’s mainly character driven, so it’s a little on the slower side towards the middle, but like I said, the author has created a truly amazing dynamic with her characters with their unique personalities, their banter and conversations, and how they develop for not only themselves, but for you, the reader. They truly may shock you at some points when you think you have them all figured out.

It’s funny, its heartfelt, its deep, and it’s another great coming of age story for anyone to enjoy! If you couldn’t guess, I am currently in countdown mode for the release of vol. 2 in the spring of 2020, and refuse to read what happens before then on the internet, because who doesn’t like the long, drawn out torture of waiting for the next book in a series to come out a year later?

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Contemporary Fiction, YA romance

My Review: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before #1): by Jenny Han

Publish Date: April 14th, 2014
Number of Pages: 355 Pages
Publisher: Simon Schuster Children’s Publishing
Genre(s): Teen Fiction, Contemporary Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

Yes…I am a part of the bandwagon with this franchise after it had gained some major popularity becoming a Netflix original movie. I both watched and enjoyed the dynamics of the film, and the cast of characters were fun to watch, so knowing that the book was probably better–like it usually is–I decided to give it a shot.

While it’s not action packed and adventurous like The Hunger Games, or plenty of other popular YA/Teen series, it’s still enjoyable with a more realistic, simple coming-of-age approach that talks about everyday themes like family, first love, the joys and sorrows of high school, and maybe writing fake letters to anyone you’ve had feelings for, only for them to somehow get all sent out, thus making it seem like your life is over…totally normal, right?

If anyone reading this is friends with me and sees what I read based off my other reviews and my “Read” shelf on Goodreads: it’s pretty obvious I like contemporary romance if not Fantasy. Not that I need to justify or defend what I like to read because no one should, I’m a hopeless romantic at heart and I want it for myself one day so I enjoy reading about it, and Lara Jean and Peter have an engaging dynamic for me. Lara is the quiet, preppy girl who keeps her head down in the halls and bakes on weekends instead of partying, and while Peter is the typical popular jock who runs the school, I do enjoy reading his interactions with Lara Jean and how he still tries to be the cool, cocky jock, but stops his act whenever he’s alone with her and shows a side of him that no one else has ever seen before. I get warm inside about that shit. They have a relationship where I sincerely hope it works out in the end.

What It’s About:

Lara Jean has never openly admitted any of her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, then sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed to never see the light of day ever again…

All that goes down the toilet when one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed out, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh.

As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all…

What I Liked:

  1. The “Fake Relationship” Trope! So a big part of the story was how one of the boys LJ had a serious crush on was actually her older sister’s boyfriend, Josh. He’s literally the boy next door to her, but LJ decides to pretend to already be in a relationship instead of dealing with that confrontation. She makes a deal with the popular Peter Kavinsky to “fake-date” as it turns out he’s trying to get over his ex too, Jen, and Peter was a recipient of one of LJ’s letters anyways. It’s a cute setup, and the fake-relationships-to-make-someone-else-jealous-but-ends-up-falling-for-pretend-bae is a familiar trope that I never get tired of! It just leads to some really hilarious moments throughout the story, some awkward instances of almost getting caught, and the thrill of will others find out about it?
  2. The Theme of the Importance of Family! One very important theme in the book is family. Laura Jean is incredibly family-centric and it’s probably the most important thing in her life. She loves her older sister, Margo, and is devastated when she leaves to go to college overseas. She adores her younger sister, Kitty, even though her childish antics and moodiness gets on her nerves, and is always looking out for her father and making sure everything within their house runs smoothly. Their dynamic is one of healing because their mom passed away and it’s obvious it was a big shock to everyone, and all have been affected in different ways.
  3. It’s Light, Easy, Fun Reading! TATBILB is just a light, fluffy, and a totally different change of pace from the angsty, heavier material I also read with the Fantasy genre and lately, Paranormal Romance. This book is what some call a total “beach read” as in it’s easy to follow along and constantly toss that bookmark inside, and come back to later without having to worry about trying to remember a thousand tiny details.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Leaves On A Cliffhanger…The ending just ends so abruptly, and was so unsatisfying compared to the pacing of the whole rest of the book. To a degree, I get it: you need to keep the series going and have people want to keep reading on for sales and all that, but I still felt like it could’ve ended differently and not feel so out of the blue and sudden.
  2. Laura Jean Doesn’t Develop…LJ is a total Mary Sue character in my opinion. she is seemingly perfect by being the perfect daughter who helps around the house, bakes on the weekends instead of going out to parties and getting drunk. Part of me gets it though…she is pretty innocent and has little life experience other than being the middle born child with an older sister who has a textbook type-A personality. Either way, it just seems like her interests and what drives her in the story seems really boy-obsessed and shallow, and by the end of the book, it doesn’t feel like she really learns all that much.

Conclusion:

I can see why the All The Boys I’ve Loved Before franchise has become so popular with the younger audiences in YA fiction: it’s fun, it’s light, it’s romantic and is pretty relatable with the characters and the inner turmoil and constant worry that goes through the lead character’s mind. I feel like there were plenty of instances within this book that a lot of teenage girls can relate to, and find comfort in this popular contemporary fiction trilogy.

I recommend this title to anyone who enjoys the “Fake Relationship” romance trope that continues to sweep across the contemporary romance genre, and compared to what I’ve read in the past, I feel like anyone who likes Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, or a novel I’ve reviewed on here: Again, but Better by Christine Riccio would enjoy this title.

It’s not anything deep or substantial in terms of literature, but it’s still just a light, fun read to enjoy if you’re looking for a change of pace and wanted to read deeper into the popular Netflix original movie.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

graphic novel, LGBT, YA Contemporary Fiction, YA romance

My Review: Heartstopper: Volume 1 (Heartstopper #1): by Alice Oseman

Publish Date: February 7th, 2019
Number of Pages: 288 Pages
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, Romance, LGBT+

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

Another fun, romantic, hilarious, real, personal graphic novel about friendship and the possibility of love. I had a lot of fun reading this story as it was recommended to me by fellow readers.

It’s an incredibly quick read that I easily finished in one sitting, and it’s an incredibly relatable story that really seemed to resonate with me and plenty of others who go through a similar journey of self discovery as the characters do in this graphic novel.

There’s queer representation, theres bullying, and theres an abusive relationship that really seem to stick with people, myself included, after finishing this first part of the two MC’s story. The author really excelled at showcasing her craft with her characters and made them feel distinct, engaging and so much fun to read about. She’s also pretty spot on about the bullying…at the time you have in High School, people will literally come up with ANYTHING to make fun of you about: whether you’re too thin, too fat, too smart, too stupid, too clingy, alone too much, too slutty, too prudish, etc. Anything that makes you stick out and become distinguishable, someone will make fun of you about it. It’s a sad reality for a lot of young people…it’s tragic to discover that life ain’t a Disney Channel Original Movie like they make you believe when you’re a kid.

Luckily, our characters don’t just sit back and let the abuse take over; through their personal growth in this GN, they learn to stick up for themselves and recognize their self worth! It’s a lot of fluff, it makes you go “Awwwwwwwwwe” a whole bunch of times, and positively warms reader’s hearts and believe in true love!

What It’s About:

Charlie Spring is a Year 10 at Truham Grammar School for Boys, and is the only openly gay student. It hasn’t been an easy adjustment, especially at an all boys school, but he’s made the most of it over the year since it happened. In fact, he’s almost become more popular because of coming out of the closet, and even has a boyfriend…sort of.

Nick Nelson is in Year 11 and is the complete opposite of Charlie: he’s much more relaxed and easy-going and a star athlete on the school’s rugby team. He’d heard of the openly gay student on campus, but had never actually met the poor kid who’d been bullied for it. That all changes when they wind up in the same class and end up sitting next to each other.

They quickly become great friends and hang out all the time, but Charlie finds himself doing what no openly gay male should never do–falling for their straight best friend. He truly believes nothing will ever come of it, but sometimes life really throws a curveball at you, and things like love and fate work in unexpected ways.

Sometimes it’s better to take the plunge and go forth, because how will you truly know unless you try?

What I Liked:

  1. Charlie’s Hair! The boys hair is gorgeously drawn! I’m telling you, it’s some Disney Princess level hair, and Charlie himself is such a sweetheart/cinnamon roll who deserves the whole freakin’ world.
  2. Friendship Before Love! I’ve read it before that every great love story has a great friendship as a base, and I can definitely agree with that! I’m not about to get all sappy and dive deeper into this whole idea, but basically, it was sweet to see the relationship evolve with Charlie and Nick! It was amazing how supportive Nick was of Charlie as a friend and teammate, and how Charlie wasn’t about coming to terms with his sexuality, it was more about his growing feelings for Nick because he was already out and proud.
  3. Sexual Discovery! So mild spoiler alert (or maybe not to be completely honest), but Nick going through his whole “am I straight or am I actually gay?” storyline: I think every gay male back when they were questioning themselves can relate to that part of the graphic novel. I only wish this part went on a little longer because sometimes it takes longer for some to figure themselves like that.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Overall Art Style…It’s not that I hated it necessarily, but I felt like maybe it could’ve been cleaned up a bit more? I guess you could say the overall quality didn’t exactly meet up to other graphic novels I’ve read. Some people really enjoy it for its simplicity, but in my opinion, it felt like I looked through someone’s senior thesis project. I guess I’m comparing it to the other LGBT+ romance graphic novels I’ve read, the Fence saga by C.S. Pacat and Check, Please by Ngozi Ukazu. The artwork there is much more crisp, professional and even in color.

Conclusion:

Another great comic for those who are looking for a sweet, sugar-infused m/m romance graphic novel. It’s also sports related, like, every other graphic novel that I enjoy reading! It’s an absolutely adorable story of two young men who meet and become friends, but what if there was room for more?

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell