graphic novel, LGBT

My Review: Heartstopper (Vol. 2): by Alice Oseman

Publish Date: July 11th, 2019
Number of Pages: 320 Pages
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
Genre(s): LGBT, Graphic Novel, YA Fiction

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

To see my review of Heartstopper, Volume 1 – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

I Like Charlie Spring! In a romantic way not just a friend way!

– Alice Oseman, “Heartstopper (Vol. 2)”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Nick and Charlie are best friends. Nick knows Charlie’s gay, and Charlie is sure that Nick isn’t.

But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is discovering all kinds of things about his friends, his family … and himself.

~~~

A charming, sweet, and absolutely heartwarming second volume to this warm and lovable story, Heartstopper continues to steal my heart!

These graphic novels are the perfect amount of light-reading and feel-good material to make you believe in true love and happiness in this wild and unpredictable world. I am just so happy that there are stories like this that are so easily available to find for those looking for LGBT+ books to enjoy, and their such a nice change of pace from the heavier and more action-packed fantasy I also read. I know I repeat myself so much on here about this with books like these, but it’s all so true, just call me grateful I guess!

The story continues literally right where we left off in the previous volume that ended on a very dramatic, soap-opera-esque cliffhanger with Nick kissing Charlie at a party, but then freaking out and leaving him behind because of his confusion over his feelings/sexuality. Charlie is crestfallen until Nick meets up with him later to talk and hash things out, and—spoiler but not really—admits he likes Charlie and wants to try being with him. He’s still not sure what his orientation is or what this all means, all he does know is that he enjoys being with him and he wants to act on his feelings that he has!

One complaint I had in the previous volume was how rushed Nick’s revelation was that he wasn’t entirely straight. To me, it just felt rushed or that not enough emphasis was put on it, so I was very happy to see it explored further in this book, and it was nice to see how despite being unsure of himself and what his orientation was, Nick still wanted to be with Charlie and kiss him and be a happy couple with him, even if he wasn’t exactly ready to go public with it.

That brings me into another interesting subject that this graphic novel brought up: dating someone who hasn’t come out or has even fully come to terms with themselves and their sexuality. It’s a slippery slope and both sides in the relationship have so much pressure on their shoulders in figuring it all out. Everyone deserves to come out on their own terms and at their own choosing, but how long until the other one loses patience and can no longer be kept a secret? This issue is handled incredibly well throughout the story, and Charlie somehow becomes an even bigger sweetheart than how he already is with the patience and tenderness he shows Nick as he’s figuring things out. A major highlight for this specific volume indeed! On the other hand, I’m also glad it’s challenge a little bit in one of Charlie’s friends, who thinks Nick is just using him or that it’s some elaborate prank Nick and his friends are pulling on him. It’s a lot of amazing tension that really adds to the story, and really puts a test on Nick and Charlie’s relationship!

The story is character-driven, so the pacing is a little slow at times, but the soft and tender moments definitely make up for it, and before you know it, you’ve finished this volume too and are already online to get the next volume ASAP—guilty!

There are many issues faced in this story so far that are so relatable to anyone in the LGBT+ community who has come out at a young age; the pressures of two people at different points in their lives, friends who question the legitimacy of their relationship and miss them because they don’t spend as much time with them like before, homophobia from people you thought were your friends, and even the whole coming out to your parents and not being sure how they’ll react. It’s a lot, but anyone who’s been in similar situations to these characters understands what it’s like and it just makes the story so real and so relatable; it’s like a voice being heard after being ignored for so long.

…honestly I’m having a proper full-on GAY PANIC.

– Alice Oseman, “Heartstopper (Vol. 2)”

What I Liked:

  1. Nick’s Not Sure What His Sexuality Is! While I’m sure there are a few guys in the queer community who can complain about a guy who they really liked but didn’t really know what his sexuality was, I really liked this storyline for Nick. It was explored a lot more in this second volume and I kind of liked how he still didn’t have a concrete answer, but it didn’t stop him from wanting to be with Charlie and act upon these feelings he had that were a little strange for him, but still felt so right. There’s a kind of beauty in that; not letting the fear of the unknown keeping you from experiencing joy and happiness from something that so obviously makes you feel those emotions!
  2. Charlie Continues To Be so Freakin’ Adorable! I still love how Charlie is this kind, sweet, awkward, shy, and all around lovable guy who just wants to be happy. We’ve all felt like him at some point in our lives, and my heart just warms at how he has such a loyal and strong circle of friends and family who have his back whenever he may need it. He has the strength to move forward on his own, but there’s nothing wrong with having some help from others who care about you.
  3. Friendships Are Tested! Things get a little tense with Charlie and one of his friends at one point in this volume, and to be fair, it’s not entirely unjustified. It comes from a place of love and compassion, and I thought it was a great representation on the theme of friendship that these graphic novels also showcase.
  4. The Representation! Okay, but people are going to love all the queer representation that’s in these books. It feels like there are more gay people than straight people at times, and the fact that there is a nonbinary character along with even having queer POC characters is also great to see! People looking for this specifically in their reading material should pick these up for this reason!
  5. The Scene With Nick & His Mom! So heartwarming and touching, It reminded me of the scene in Love, Simon when Jennifer Garner tells him that he can breathe and be who he wants to be….it’s just something that every kid who remembers the fear of the anticipation of coming out to their parents and not knowing how they’re going to react needs to hear. It may have also been all the pollen in the air lately, but my eyes were freakin’ watering up when I read this scene.
  6. There’s A LOT Of Kissing! Nick and Charlie are such an adorable couple, and even though Nick has quite a few questions about himself, that certainly doesn’t stop him from being with Charlie and enjoying the pleasures of what romantic couples experience. He definitely makes up for lost time, and seems to really like kissing Charlie, which who can blame him when Charlie is just so…Charlie!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Homophobic Bullying…While it’s actually a pretty accurate portrayal of how certain teenagers react towards homosexuality or anything that’s outside the realm of heteronormativity, it’s still just so tiring to see it and the I still continue to hope that one day it goes away—the hatred and exclusion of LGBT+ people—but this has nothing to do with the author including it in her story. For that alone, this conflict works because it’s real and it’s something queer teens—and adults—deal with sometimes on a daily basis! It’s more me putting it on here to say how I just can’t wait for homophobia and hatred of queer people to go away as time moves forward.
  2. It Felt Like Not Much Had Happened…By this point in reading the graphic novels, part of me thought to myself that for how many pages it is, it felt like not a whole lot actually happened, or I just wanted more to happen that what actually did. The pacing can be a little slow, but to be fair, that’s usually the case with character-driven plots much like this one, so it was a little expected. I think it was more along the lines of I just want the story to move even further along, but there are still two more volumes of these books too!

Conclusion:

Overall, I continue to gush about these graphic novels because they’re such an uplifting and seriously adorable story; I know I repeat that word a lot on here, but it’s also the one word I’d use to describe these books if someone asked me! The story continues on and gets better and better as Charlie and Nick grow closer and their bond become stronger.

I’ve got the next volume in this 4-part series, so I can say it’ll be sooner rather than later to when I’ll start that one and include it on my blog too! Stay tuned!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Erotica, LGBT, Romance

My Review: Collide (Blackcreek #1): by Riley Hart

Publish Date: November 8th, 2013
Number of Pages: 286 Pages
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing
Genre(s): Romance, LGBT, Erotica

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

This wasn’t ending, and he didn’t know if it would ever end, and Coop didn’t know if he wanted to celebrate, cry, or destroy the whole fucking world.

– Riley Hart, “Collide”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

At ten years old, Noah Jameson and Cooper Bradshaw collided mid-air when they dove for the same football. For three years, they were inseparable…until one day when Noah and his parents disappeared in the middle of the night.

Noah and Cooper never knew what happened to each other. Now, seventeen years later, after finding his boyfriend in bed with another man, Noah returns to Blackcreek looking for a fresh start. And damned if he doesn’t find his old friend grew up to be sexy as sin. Coop can’t believe Noah—the only person he trusted with the guilt over his parents’ death—is back. And gay… Or that Cooper himself suddenly wants another man in his bed for the first time.

There’s no denying the attraction and emotion between them, but can they overcome the ghosts of their pasts to have a future together?

~~~

This was a nice, short, lighter read to enjoy while I’m taking a small break from Fantasy; I don’t know why, but lately as I’m typing this review, I’m noticing that I only seem to be in the mood to read smutty romance novels. I have tons and tons of Fantasy-genre tales on my shelf, and on my desk, and on the floor near my bed, and on my dresser (basically my room is a giant pile of growing books that will hardly shrink anytime soon), but that doesn’t matter because I just want simpler, lighter, and just overall easier to read right now.

Back to this book, but it was a great addition to my growing collection of M/M romance titles.

It was far from perfect and actually there are quite a few things I wish could’ve been better about it, but it still fulfilled what I wanted out of it: it had some really good smutty sex scenes and also just an overall swoon-worthy romance between the two main characters, and even between two side characters too. It was cute, it was absolutely so funny with the banter, it was heartwarming, it was sexy and sizzling, and isn’t that all we really want in a romance novel?

It was the perfect distraction for Cooper to ignore the flood of…contentment… Hearing that their friendship had meant to Noah even a portion of what it had meant to Coop. Which, as a kid, had been everything.

– Riley Hart, “Collide”

What I Liked:

  1. The Smut! If you’re looking for a quick but super hot and smutty book to read, this is a great choice for you! The smut in this book is super well done and really hot content, especially with the whole dynamic of the two main characters with Noah and Cooper. Noah being openly gay for much longer has him kind of in the role of the “mentor” or teacher in a way with how he takes Cooper through the ropes of what they do and what he’s willing to try out as they explore their relationship. Which brings me to my next point…
  2. The Relationship Between Noah and Cooper! I really liked their dynamic for the most part in this story. I like romance stories with the tropes like “second chance,” “small town romance,” “keeping it a secret,” and “friends-to-lovers” and reading about how much these two guys care about each other and the moments where their friendship shine through are so soft and affectionate and heartwarming, which is also so cozy when in comparison to all the scorching hot sex scenes. I find it funny I’m saying this when I’m also a reader who usually doesn’t turn towards a specific story for its fluff versus steam.
  3. The Friends/Side Characters! Both Cooper and Noah have a friend on the side that really be there for them when they individually need it, and even better that they actually end up hooking up! Wes and Braden’s romance gets introduced in this story, but they’ll get the spotlight in the next installment which will be fun because I want to see more of their certain dynamic too!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. How Cooper Is Only Gay For Noah…So the whole “GFY” is an iffy one because sometimes I feel like it’s not the most realistic storyline, but I guess it depends on your own personal views of sexuality. It’s such a fluid subject nowadays, and their are so many different terms and identities that are out there now, and while I can say I support it all and hope anyone who’s questioning who they are has the courage and confidence and support to figure it out, I feel like the “gay for only this person” is a little questionable, or maybe it’s because it’s not explored far enough in this story. Before Cooper reunites with a returning Noah, he was sleeping around with women and never really questioned his sexuality (at least that’s the impression I got). Noah coming back into his life calls a lot into question, and just like that, Cooper is no longer the straight guy he’s always been known as. I also know that there’s no set time of when you are supposed to have this all figured out; some people discover their sexuality at a young age while some may not discover it until they’re 50 with a wife and kids….but the point I’m trying to make is that maybe I just feel like the shift was too quick and not a whole lot of it was explained or explored as much as I wanted it to be. Maybe the author didn’t want to make it that deep of a story at the time this was written, but I guess I was just hoping for more answers in this regard. Like I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the fact that a label isn’t put on a whole lot of him or their relationship was frustrating! I’m never one who needs to compartmentalize stuff like that, so I’m confused at myself about it too, like maybe I’m not as open minded about it all?
  2. The Homophobic Side Characters…With Cooper being a firefighter and sort of coming out of the closet in a sudden way, he deals with some homophobia with some of his fellow coworkers and even a little bit from his uncle. It’s not really an outright hatred of gay people, but it’s more these snide, rude comments and jokes they all make that any gay guy has heard in their life and has made it hard to come to terms with yourself if you yourself are questioning or in the closet. It brought back terrible memories of times in middle school and high school casually say the word “f*g,” or “that’s so gay…” as a way to instead say how something is stupid. I know there are still people who are honestly just against gay people and don’t accept it, but part of me always wishes we didn’t have to face this kind of rejection in fiction, like why can’t books with gay characters at the forefront just not deal with homophobia?
  3. WAY Too My Flashbacks…I’m never someone who’s a big fan of them to begin with, and this book had wayyyyyyyy to many as well. I get it, a lot of the story revolves around Noah and Cooper meeting as kids and how their friendship/relationship has blossomed from it all, but I feel like the amount of flashback scenes could’ve been reduced. I know the past is important to learn from in order to grow and move forward, but in this case I’m falling under the whole “the past is in the past and let’s leave it that way.”
  4. Grammar Issues…The book felt a little amateurish with all the many commas and just simple grammar issues that popped up throughout the book. I mean, I’m not perfect at it all the time either, but when you read a published book you just expect more and hold this sort of thing to a higher standard. You’d think the editors and multiple sets of eyes who look over these words before they’re sent to print would fix this sort of thing.

Conclusion:

Overall, “Collide” by Riley Hart wasn’t as good as it could’ve been, but this was still an enjoyable story that’s a great consideration to anyone who loves M/M romance with plenty of fluff mixed with steam. It’s so great for fans of “second chance” romances or “friends-to-lovers,” or “gay only for you” type of stories. Noah and Cooper have quite the story here, and while it wasn’t exactly mindblowing, that hopefully doesn’t detract from when I say I still really enjoyed this book too, and plan to read on in this series with the two friends who hooked up in this book who also get the spotlight on them too!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

LGBT, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: Damaged Like Us (Like Us #1): by Krista Ritchie and Becca Ritchie

Publish Date: June 27th, 2017
Number of Pages: 347 Pages
Publisher: Everafter Romance
Genre(s): New Adult Romance, LGBT

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Another book to check out for those who love M/M romance novels, Damaged Like Us was a fun addition to the genre. The relationship that grows between a hollywood heir and his roguish bodyguard is one that can be absolutely addicting to other readers to binge-read.

That relationship is, of course, the main driving force for most of those who’d want to read this book; it was also my favorite aspect of the book as a whole. The two main characters complimented each other very well, and helped each other grow as the story developed. The banter was funny, playful, sexy, and also just so spectacularly done. As you can probably tell by now in this review, It’s hard to say anything bad about the romance of this book.

The theme of family was also something important to take out of this book as Maximoff goes to extraordinary lengths for those he truly cares about. It may not seem like it to some who know me outside of this website and in real life, but the idea of a warm, close knit family is so incredibly important to me, and I always love to see it shown in even fictional families like the one in this book, who are also really popular reality TV stars. The main character even alters his appearance and carefully chooses what color clothes he wears in order to show his pride and loyalty to his father!

There are some parts of the story that I was less than enthused about as well. The writing was questionable in one aspect with the author’s going into 2nd person when describing a character’s path to fame and how you (the reader) should feel about them as a character. It’s a very minor critique from me, but this happened more often than I’d hoped in the story, so I wanted to point it out. The conflict of fame and the downsides to it seemed way too dramatic and over the top at some points as well, and the fact that this new series is actually a spin-off of not one, but TWO other series that are written by the authors. Some readers would love that, but as someone who hasn’t read the others, I also thought this was worth pointing out. I go into more detail on these matters below!

Overall, this was a fun book to read, and a great M/M romance for anyone to check out if they like those kinds of stories. Fans of Him by Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen and Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston will probably really like this book too!

What It’s About:

This story revolves around Maximoff Hale, the oldest son of what appears to be American royalty with his family being well known reality TV stars, and all his life he’s had to deal with having absolutely no privacy from the public. Paparazzi constantly follow him and his family around; even going to the gas station to fill up a car would have him end up all over the tabloids as “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” (Basically, picture his life as being like the Kardashians mixed with the actual British royal family).

Because of this, him and his family have always had bodyguards to keep them safe and protected, but Maximoff’s longtime bodyguard is retiring after the many years they’ve been together. Anxious, he learns he’s getting a new one almost immediately after. Enter Farrow Keene, who’s Maximoff’s crush from his teenage years, and of course is now his new personal bodyguard whom he’s going to be spending countless hours a week with.

Almost immediately, they bash heads together about basically EVERYTHING…but beneath the snarky and cynical remarks, there’s definitely something building between the two. Romantic feelings soon resurface, and sexual tension boils to the surface, but are they willing to cross a line, break a integral code to end up together?

What I Liked:

  1. The Romance Brewing Between Maximoff and Keene! It’s hard to believe this is the writer duo’s first M/M romance title! It was an obvious highlight of this book, the romance that develops between these two characters was one of my favorite parts of the whole story. They start off as reluctant partners as Farrow is assigned to be Maximoff’s new personal bodyguard, they get on each other’s nerves, sure…but as they spend more and more time together, they start to see sides of each other that no one else sees, and they understand each other a lot better. The attraction only becomes more intense from there, and soon they find themselves in a sexy, secret romance that they must hide from not only the public, but also they’re colleagues and Moffy’s family. Is it worth it? What if someone finds out?
  2. The Theme of The Importance of Family! Besides the secret, forbidden romance, family is another huge theme to take away from this book, and probably the rest of the series as well. Even with fame, Maximoff is extremely close to his family and will do just about everything he can to help them, protect them, and make them proud. For every 10,000 fans, there’s probably another 1,000 that hate them, and some people will go out of their way to bring them down, and Maximoff will literally break his back in order for that to not happen. From his many siblings, to his best friend and cousin, and his father with a spotty past, Maximoff is so proud of his family, and I found it to be incredibly noble of him and is so obviously a huge part of his character. Very admirable how far he goes for those he loves.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. This Series Branches Off from Others…So I first notice there’s A LOT of side characters in this book, like, way too many even to keep track of at some points. It turns out, this series is a continuation off both the author’s two other book series: The Addicted Series and the Calloway Sisters. The parents, the uncles, and basically all the other older adults are actually stars of previous works, and that’s why they’re so prominent in this book because it’s going off the fans who’ve read their previous books and are familiar with all of them. Unfortunately, I am not one of those readers…the book is still enjoyable and is able to be read despite this, but you definitely feel like there’s quite a bit that goes over your head in reference to this fact. It’s also annoying because all the books in total equate to, like, 13 books to read, which is commitment I’m honestly not feeling up to doing at this moment.
  2. The Instances of 2nd Person Narrating…This is a small tidbit that kind of bugged me because it happened more often than it probably should’ve, at least in my own opinion. It was lines that felt like: “You know this person because of….You feel this way about them because…” It just felt like lazy storytelling and could’ve been shown to me and not told to me, you know?
  3. The Fame Seemed Over The Top…It feels bad to be criticizing this aspect of the story since it’s the cause of the whole story taking place, but it simply felt like it was overly dramaticized at times. Maximoff is like an American version of Prince Harry, but it seems like even an actual royal prince is able to live a somewhat low-key life. The paparazzi are constantly following Maximoff around, always chasing him in cars on the freeway, and sometimes even going out of their way to offend him and get a rise out of him. Sure, this stuff may actually happen in real life—I don’t truly know since I’m not famous—but the amount of it all that Max has to deal with felt over the top and highly exaggerated.

Conclusion:

A great M/M romance for anyone looking for that kind of story to read, I think readers will love how Farrow and Maximoff’s relationship forms and deepens as the story develops. It’s got the perfect amount of steam and heart that any great romance needs, and that any reader absolutely eats up. It’s not the perfect book; parts of it are way over the top and overly dramatic, but I do believe this book is incredibly enjoyable as long as you can’t take it too seriously. It’s just fun, sexy romance.

I can definitely say that even though there’s a HEA-style ending, I plan to read on in this series to see what happens next. There’s a few things that are left up in the air that will be answered in later books, and I’m interested enough to keep going to find out some of those answers that I specifically seek. Plus, I do really like both the main characters and see where their relationship will go next!

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

LGBT, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: Us (Him #2): by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Publish Date: March 8th, 2016
Number of Pages: 322 Pages
Publisher: Rennie Road Books
Genre(s): New Adult Romance

***Warning!! This book review contains spoilers from the previous book in this duology, read on at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review for book #1 – Him – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Love is friendship set on fire.”

– Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy, “Us”

I absolutely adored the first book, Him, by these two amazing authors! They’re my go-to writers for anyone who’s looking for a funny, raunchy, well written, and overall entertaining contemporary new adult romance series to get into! Looking at a few reviews of this sequel, I was curious why some people were hesitant to start it…I mean, the first book could totally work as a standalone with how it ended, but if people loved it so much, wouldn’t they want to keep seeing what happens next? Sure, some people brought up the cash cow argument, and I can understand that argument, but kept an open mind as I’d opened this book and got back into the world of Ryan Wesley and Jamie Canning.

Overall, I wasn’t disappointed in this book and enjoyed it immensely! It had all the characteristics of what I’d enjoyed so much about the first book besides the obvious “second chance” and “friends to lovers” romance tropes. If anything, this sequel showed an incredibly realistic portrayal of the struggle of finding ones place in the world as the newly emerged adult group aged 18-25. The struggles of finding that dream job, financial worries, even still the coming to terms of one’s sexuality and their first serious relationship. The relationship is explored and shows how both people need to work in order to make the relationship work past its initial honeymoon phase.

While I enjoyed this book a lot, I can say I just didn’t enjoy it as much as the first book too. I felt like Him would’ve been just fine as a standalone novel, and despite the relatable issues the characters dealt with in this title, I felt like maybe this book was a way for the authors to possibly bridge into another project of theirs, and I’ll go more into that later on in this review. The main thing I dislike the most about this book was the issue of the lack of communication between Jamie and Wes, but it wasn’t for the same reasons I usually dislike that conflict.

There also was a big emphasis on a fictional lamb disease that was treated similarly to the bird flu and even the 2020 COVID-19 situation, but on a much smaller scale. I was scratching my head about this plot point, mainly because it really makes a bigger presence in the story than I thought it needed to, and with how the world is right now with the novel virus, I was hoping for less and less focus on this sort of issue…

There were a great amount of side characters, a lot more this time around than in Him which is great! The main characters had more people to really interact with that were around their age and for us to get to know and fall for too! Blake in particular is an acquired taste, and is a lot to take in at first, but he does eventually grow on you.

I would argue that this next title is actually a stronger novel than the previous book, but maybe because of it being too realistic with the real world issues, it’d diluted the entertaining factor and was less “fun” I think. That, along with repetitive issues we thought were solved in the first book, and with my thought on it being a bridge into more future projects amongst these authors, maybe that’s what people didn’t like as much this time around.

Despite all that, It’s still an incredibly well written continuation of an amazing queer love story!

What It’s About:

Book #2 has us brought back into Wes and Jamie Canning’s world five months after they reunited at the end of Book one. They’ve confessed their love for each other, they’ve moved in together into their apartment in Toronto, Jamie introduced Wes to his family, and Wes started his rookie season in the NHL and is absolutely KILLING it on the ice!

Everything seems perfect for the two childhood best friends-turned boyfriends in love, except for how they have to keep their whole relationship a secret…there’s never been an openly gay player in the NHL, and who knows how it’ll go if a rookie were to come out of the closet and cause a media field day. While it isn’t the greatest set up, Jamie and Wes both agree to wait with the news until his first season is over and their schedules aren’t both so hectic. It starts off easy enough, but soon the secret becomes a much bigger burden to carry on their shoulders.

Jamie’s job isn’t exactly what he signed up for either, and the hiding really takes a toll on him especially, but at least when it’s just him and Wes in their apartment, everything goes back to euphoric bliss and they can just be themselves…at least, until Wes’s noisy teammate moves in upstairs and pops up at their door without any warning!

The world seems to want to keep them apart, and is constantly throwing just about everything it can between the two of them, so can they overcome it all? Their relationship will definitely be put to the test…

What I Liked:

  1. The Hint of More to Come! What I mean by this is there is a spinoff book series that gets going that I definitely saw coming after a few interactions between two secondary characters: Wes’s teammate, Blake, and Jamie’s sister, Jess. There’s a few moments between them that had me guessing, but then they both disappear for awhile, and part of me wondered what’s going on there…turns out, plans for them to start a spinoff were happening! The first book is called Good Boy, and based off some other characters, there’s a slew of stories coming our way for the WAGS series these authors have going for us!
  2. What Comes after the HEA! We all know the first book could actually totally be a standalone with how much of a Happily Ever After we get with Wes and Jamie! This book showed us what goes on after that moment, after the honeymoon phase, and how a relationship needs work in order to survive. Both guys try to do so much to make each other happy, and both realize how hard the real world can be, even for a pro hockey player. I thought the idea of them trying different things and trying to work at their relationship was an intriguing and realistic portrayal that anyone in the New Adult age range can relate with, queer or straight.
  3. Just as Sexy as Book #1! While there’s plenty of fluff to melt out hearts with the soft and tender confessions of the heart from both male main characters, BUT there is plenty of raunchiness and sexiness in this book that smut lovers can also appreciate.
  4. Great Secondary Characters! There were actually quite a bit of fun side characters that added to this sequel, and more people closer to Wes and Jamie’s age than the coaching staff at the camp, and the teenage players they coach. There’s Blake, Wes’s teammate who moves into their apartment complex (I go more into him below), there’s Jess Canning who is always finding some new business venture to try out, and there’s Wes’s other teammates who tease him for his bright green dress shirt. They added a lot to the story, and I can see some of them starring in the spinoff WAGS series I’d mentioned above too!
  5. Jamie Canning’s Struggle! Wes was kind of the star of the first book for me, so I’m glad it got switched over to Jamie for book #2. Let me also make it clear that I’m not happy about Jamie’s suffering in this story—I’m not really a sadist, masochist or whatever term you say—but more with how it was handled and the issues that were brought up. I get Jamie’s growing frustration with him and Wes having to keep their relationship under wraps. With it was a growing fear of losing each other, and whether they’ll be able to overcome all the adversity, and some of the communication issues with that. A lot of people struggle with talking about that emotion: fear. Those fears turned to doubt on both the situation and themselves: Do I sound unreasonable?…Am I being selfish?…Is it worth bringing it up?…Am I asking too much?…Do I love the person enough to put them through this?…Do they love me enough to stick by me not matter what? Both guys ask themselves these questions, and both are terrified of ending up having their hearts broken in the end, and adding the fact that they hardly see each other as much as they’d like, neither guy wants to bring up these heavy topics with the time they are allowed, and thats totally valid and a realistic worry we all can relate to. These communication issues I can get behind…
  6. Jamie’s Mom! The woman continues to be a total saint who doesn’t change this time around in the net book, and continues to be a great mom for both Jamie and Wes, especially for Wes since his parents are pretty much MIA and have left him behind to rot.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Repetitive Lack of Communication…Now, I usually get annoyed by this being a big issue in ANY romance novel, which is ironic because I know I am someone who is terrible at communicating my feelings. I am such a moody bitch sometimes, and will do the passive aggressive act with the silence or the “I’m fine.” line—I can’t help it, it’s a character flaw of mine, but that doesn’t mean I don’t lie awake at night kicking myself for it—and for a m/m romance I can see why it’s an actual plot point. Speaking as a guy myself, I can say that guys are not the greatest when it comes to sitting down and communicating that stuff…it’s just the way we’re programed, and I’m not trying to make this a toxic masculinity thing; it’s just not all guys like talking about that stuff, even if they’re queer. Not all girls like to either, so don’t get at me! The issue I have with the communication issues in this book in particular are because we’ve already dealt with the same issue in the previous book. They’d already gone through it, so I’d hoped they’d learned their lesson this time around…yeah, not so much I guess.
  2. Blake’s Immaturity…I like Blake; he really grows on you. At first, he’s pretty obnoxious and does the text lingo in his dialogue and gives people lame nicknames (example: Jamie is “J-Bomb“… #lame) Plus, he’s yet another obstacle that gets in the way of Jamie and Wes’s happiness, so that alone instantly makes you annoyed with the guy. Like I said, he grows on you, but it takes a while for that to happen.
  3. The Use of Illness and Medications for the Plot…Maybe it’s because as I’m typing this, America is in a pandemic with COVID-19 and I’ve been in the whole isolation and #socialdistancing, but this whole part of the story didn’t resonate all that well with me, and also just became a bigger thing than I thought it needed to be. I understand the whole thing that happened with Jamie and his meds, it’s happened to me in the past and is an actual side effect for certain people and medications they’re prescribed, but it felt like the whole thing could’ve been handled differently to make it better for the story.

Conclusion:

A good sequel to an iconic LGBTQ+ m/m sports romance, but not as strong as its predecessor; I still enjoyed the real world struggles Jamie and and Wes faced not only with themselves, but also their relationship and the steps they both needed to take in order to keep their relationship still working past the HEA. It felt incredibly realistic and is completely relatable to anyone who’s close to their age and trying to find out where they exactly belong in the world today as a new adult. The issues they both face are great examples of the emerging genre between Adult and YA, and prove it can be more than just the angsty romance that has filled a lot of the genre itself.

While showing more of Jamie and Wes’s relationship, it also lays some easter eggs for the next project the authors are working on, which is a WAGS series that most likely will star the notable side characters you meet in this book as well, which just means us readers can remain in this world of queer hockey players, and the romance on and off the ice!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell