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

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

Fantasy, LGBT, New Adult Romance, Romance

My Review: Prince’s Gambit (Captive Prince #2): by C.S. Pacat

Publish Date: July 7th, 2015
Number of Pages: 404 Pages
Publisher: Berkley
Genre(s): Fantasy, Romance, LGBT+ (M/M)

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

To see my review for book #1 – The Captive Prince – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

To get what you want, you have to know exactly how much you’re willing to give up.”

– C.S. Pacat, “Prince’s Gambit”

So, right off the bat, it must be known that this trilogy is a total MOOD read.

It’s very niche and specific, and you have to be in a particular place to be able to really enjoy these books. I’m not going to lie, these books are kind of sleazy, perverted, and horny underneath the usual fantasy aspects of courtly intrigue, evil plots to overthrow kingdoms, oppression and slavery, epic battles, secrets revealed, complex and morally grey characters, and long journeys on horseback. A mild warning: there’s lots of penis references or penises mentioned throughout, like, everyone is aware of each others penises. It can be a turn off for certain readers, but don’t we live in a phallic dominating world anyways?….never mind, let’s not get into that.

You see a panther opening its jaws, you don’t get your dick out.”

– C.S. Pacat, “Prince’s Gambit”

As for me. this trilogy just got so much better in the 2nd book! Prince’s Gambit fulfilled everything I wanted for these books, but of course, STILL left me wanting even more!

Damen and Laurent’s relationship continues to develop at an achingly slow pace, but I love the enemies-to-friends-to-lovers story arc, so believe me when I say it’s all worth it in the end.

The first book taught me patience,
This book taught me pain
And I know the next one will teach me love–but I’m sure there will be a lot of pain with it too…

What It’s About:

Damen and Laurent are on the road with a select number of soldiers, some men are Laurent’s and some belong to the Regent: Laurent’s creepy, corrupt uncle who rules their country named Vere. In the previous title, his uncle coerced Laurent into serving a small territory close to their border, but unbeknownst to Laurent and Damen, he’s sent assassins and part of his army after them to kill them all off before Laurent comes of age and can completely ascend to the throne. Laurent’s cruel situation with his uncle comes to light, and is revealed how he may be just as captive as Damen in certain ways.

His uncle’s plan, of course, begins to backfire and causes Damen and Laurent’s alliance to only grow stronger. They begin to trust each other, confide in each other, and become inseparable. Others amongst their soldiers begin to notice, and suddenly Damen seems like the lady doth protest too much when they ask him if anything is going on between the two of them.

More characters are introduced, and some get more attention this time around, but what isn’t new is there are still plenty of hidden agendas amongst everyone. Damen’s biggest secret–his real identity as the Prince of Akielos–is still kept under wraps, which is good, because who knows what would happen if Laurent finds out that it was Damen who’d killed his older brother in battle a few years prior. It’s okay though, because the two of them spend too much time staring longingly and broodingly at each other to worry about it ever coming up!

Problem solved.

More secrets are revealed, more enemies make their presence known, plots are discovered, and even more bitter betrayals threaten everything in order to bring peace back to the realm as war appears on the horizon.

Trigger Warning: Child Abuse, Rape, Violence, Dismemberment, Heartbreak

What I Liked:

  1. The Slow-Burn Romance Continues! It’s one of the main driving points of the story, but more happens in this sequel that leans towards an eventual romantic relationship between Damen and Laurent. The first book didn’t have any; it was more about them starting off as sworn enemies turned reluctant allies, but this book has them growing closer as they travel across the land, narrowly escaping danger, and both secretly deal with their growing attraction for each other, even if they refuse to admit it to the other. It does move at an incredibly slow speed, so impatient readers will get frustrated at how little they receive from the author until the very end. There are a couple side-romances to somewhat fill the void while you wait and see what goes down between our two protagonists as the tension builds.
  2. More Battles! The first book was more about the hedonistic indulgences of Laurent’s kingdom, along with its cruelty and political intrigue; Damen figures out what a truly effed up world he’d been transported to. This title includes all that plus more with high octane, gritty battles between soldiers that makes it a much faster paced read in that regard!
  3. So Much More Complexity! The first title just set the scene for us that included the slavery, the court politics, and the underhanded scheming, but this book includes all that plus so much more! Evil plots are revealed, even more betrayals occur, complex characters and their motives being revealed, more heartbreak and violence; everything just feels enhanced and exaggerated in this second title that makes it so much more interesting of a read!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Maybe Needed More Romance?…Honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot I didn’t like about this book, but maybe I wish there was a little more romance between the two main characters? A stolen kiss here or there? Something to satisfy or tease us to help build up towards Chapter 19, and maybe not make it feel like it takes forever to get to that point.

Conclusion:

Everything about this book is so much better than the first, and the real plot is revealed that brings up the point of how nothing is truly as it seems; we as humans only see what we want to see. The author excellently crafted a well plotted, intricate piece of LGBT fantasy literature that’s hidden beneath hedonism, sexual imagery/themes and erotic undertones. I can understand that it’s not for everyone and it caters to a more specific kind of audience, but I can say I was a part of it because of how much I’d enjoyed it!

There’s slow romance to the point of it being more frustratingly slow than any other one I’ve read before, but that just makes what we’re given all that more satisfying. It’s like having ice cold water after a long journey through the desert.

I’ve grown really fond of Damen–despite the gigantic secret he keeps from Laurent–because of his courage, his honor, and willingness to do what is right even when the odds are stacked against him. It’s also just a nice change of pace to read a protagonist who’s already well adjusted into his queer sexuality, and that part of the story isn’t about him or Laurent coming to terms with it.

The ending of this title certainly raises a bunch of questions, and sets it up to have quite an intriguing next chapter in this complex story! I dove into it immediately because I had to know what would happen next! What do Damen and his friends showing up mean? How does Laurent and Damen’s relationship develop? Does Laurent know? So many questions!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fancasts/Dreamcasts

My Fancast/Dreamcast: Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Image courtesy of hollieblog.com

When his mom became the President of the United States, Alex Claremont-Diaz was casted as the American equivalent of a young prince. He’s handsome, charismatic, genius, but there’s one problem: Alex has major beef with an actual prince, Henry, across the pond.

When the tabloids get ahold of a photo involving an Alex/Henry altercation with a wedding cake, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse. Heads of both families devise a plan for damage control: Stage a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instagram-worthy friendship grows much deeper, and soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret, romantic, sexy affair with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry.

Unfortunately, life ain’t easy like a Disney movie like they make us want to believe, and everything that weighs against the two of them begins to threaten their relationship. It raises the questions: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through?

See my full book review of Red, White, and Royal Blue HERE!

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Here’s my official Fancast/Dreamcast:

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Alex Claremont-Diaz: Alfonso Herrero, Tyler Posey, or Diego Boneta

Alfonso Herrero is an Instagram model I’d discovered, and I thought he definitely looked the part. Go follow him and see all the sweet, romantic photos of him and his (real) boyfriend, and tell me you don’t get Alex-vibes from him!

Tyler Posey is a young actor who’s best known for starring in the reboot of Teen Wolf on MTV, and I got to say, I feel like he’d absolutely nail the mischievous smirk Alex gets before he says something to absolutely piss someone off!

Diego Boneta is an actor with a wide variety of roles he’s played: he’s been in the musical Rock of Ages, MTV show Scream Queens, and even played Aaron Samuels 2.0 in Mean Girls 2 (Yes, such a thing exists, and I’m sorry to those that had managed to forget about it).

June Claremont-Diaz: Clara Alonso, Ana de Armas, or Nathalie Kelley

Clara Alonso is a Victoria’s Secret model with some Spanish flair, and is absolutely gorgeous, so I could see her playing Alex’s older sister, June!

Ana de Armas did an amazing job in the film Knives Out amongst the more well known names included, so I think it’d be interesting to see her play a different kind of role like June if they make this book into a movie!

She was in Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, she played a siren on The Vampire Diaries, and is on another CW Show, Dynasty; Nathalie has the confidence in any of her roles to nail the part of June.

Henry, Prince of Wales: Wyatt Nash, Jeremy Irvine, or William Moseley

Wyatt Nash is on a lot of shows I’m watching right now! He’s guest starring on Riverdale, GLOW, and can be seen on the show, Dear White People (All these shows can be found on Netflix). He’s not British, so I hope he could imitate the accent if he got casted!

This gorgeous specimen starred in the movie Warhorse, but most recently was seen in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Jeremy is in fact British, and is incredibly good looking, so I’d personally love to see him play Prince Henry of Wales!

Yes, who wouldn’t want Peter Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia movies to play another prince all these years later?! William, who I swear was a gay-awakening for me even when I had no idea what that even was, also already plays as Prince Liam on the TV show, The Royals, so why not continue his royal streak?

Nora Holleran: Hailee Steinfeld, Brenda Song, or Janel Parrish

Hailee Steinfeld has been a popular choice for mathematician Nora, and I can kind of see it; Hailee can definitely nail Nora’s quirkiness based off how she was in the Pitch Perfect sequels!

Anyone who is a millennial and grew up watching Disney Channel knows who Brenda Song is… London Tipton anyone? She has more recently been in The Social Network, guest starred on New Girl, and even starred in some thriller on Netflix. I don’t remember the title, but they pretty much spoiled the whole thing in the trailer…

Janel Parrish played Mona Vanderwall in Pretty Little Liars, and was in the romantic Netflix movie, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.

Zahra: Lesley Ann Brandt, Zoe Saldana, or Tessa Thompson

I’ve been watching Lucifer on Netflix, and my girl Lesley here plays a demon who is a master in the art of torture, so I know she’d be amazing at the role of hardass secret service agent, Zahra!

Zoe Saldana is so great at playing sexy, badass female characters! Maybe she can step away from her Marvel movies as Gamora and play the role of Zahra in the (hopefully) upcoming release of a movie!

Another Marvel lady, Tessa Thompson also nails the role of a badass, tough-as-nails woman in so many of her roles.

President Ellen Claremont: Connie Britton

Connie is an American Sweetheart ever since she was in the Friday Night Lights TV show, and everyone wants her to be their mom, or just get close to her luxurious, iconic hair…don’t pretend like you haven’t thought about it!

Rafael Luna: Oscar Isaac, Joey Gonzalez, or Adam Rodriguez

Perhaps my favorite aspect to have come out the new Star Wars Movies–other than Daisy Ridley–Oscar Isaac is a popular choice I’ve seen to play the role of Rafael Luna.

A gorgeous man I discovered on Instagram, he’s also the CEO of mega workout program, Barry’s Bootcamp, so I guess he’s kind of big deal? I honestly don’t know, I’m not big into fitness, but look at his face!

Adam Rodriguez melted hearts in CSI: Miami, the Magic Mike movies, and even played a lustful literary professor in Jane The Virgin; Adam would be an excellent choice!

Senator Oscar Diaz: Jaime Camil

I loved this man’s extra-ness as Rogelio De La Vega in Jane the Virgin, plus he’s an incredibly handsome Mexican actor, perfect for the role of the Senator, who is also Alex and June’s father!

Mary, Queen of England: Judi Dench, or Helen Mirren

No explanation needed.

She doesn’t need one either.

Percy “Pez” Okonjo: Ncuti Gatwa

I haven’t personally seen this actor in anything, but I looked at some images of him, and he can pull off the flamboyant and fabulous style of Fez, who is Prince Henry’s best friend back across the pond.

Shaan Srivastava: Marwan Kenzari, or Rahul Kohli

Both men’s names came up on who would be an excellent fancast option for Shaan, so I couldn’t decide between the two and let them both have the spotlight!

Philip, Prince of Wales: Freddie Stroma, Harris Dickinson, or Josh Dylan

Freddie Stroma is the most recognizable guy in this bunch for me, he played Cormac McClaggen in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but Harris Dickinson is in the newest Maleficent movie!

Catherine, Princess of Wales: Emma Thompson

I haven’t seen Emma Thompson in anything for quite some time besides playing the kooky Professor Trelawney in the Harry Potter movies, I think she’d be an excellent choice for Henry’s mother!

Beatrice, Princess of Wales: Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, or Lily James

Catch Florence in the movie, Fighting with my Family, where she plays the young but talented WWE Superstar Paige! She had an edginess to her, and we see the same thing every so often in Beatrice throughout the book, so it’d be interesting to see her in this role.

I absolutely adore Emma Watson! I’d love to see her take on this role thats so different than what she usually plays, much like Lily James, but I think she’d do amazing at it either way!

I loved Lily in Baby Driver and the live-action Cinderella movie! She’s cute as a button, but I’d be interested to see how she’d play Beatrice, who has a lot of heavy issues with royal fame and substance abuse that weigh her down.

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Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell