Erotica, Fantasy, LGBT

My Review: Silk and Steel (Silk and Steel #1): by Ariana Nash

*Kindle Edition*

Publish Date: January 18th, 2019

Number of Pages: 380 Pages

Publisher: Crazy Ace Publishing

Genre(s): Fantasy, LGBT

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Warning & Reader Advisory:

Silk & Steel is not a “romance”.

This series is a DARK FANTASY intended for mature readers. While Silk & Steel is a love story, it is not for everyone. It is not categorized on Amazon, and not sold as m/m romance. It DOES feature a strong m/m LOVE STORY that develops over three books.
Silk & Steel features a gay dragon shifter, a bisexual elf, and adult themes. There is triggering content that some readers may find distressing, including implied incest, abuse, violence, dubious consent, and on-page sex. None of these instances are gratuitous. There is heterosexual sex and gay sex. The intense and star-crossed relationship between the two male leads develops over three books.

…When a blurb has this included within describing what the story is about, it really raises your eyebrows at what you may or may not be getting into! Now, the question for you is this: are you someone who immediately turns away from something like this, or does it pique your interest even further? Based off the fact that this is another one of my reviews, I bet you can guess what my answer was.

For anyone who’s looking for a dark fantasy to read, I would definitely say to take this warning extremely seriously, because while I was only more curious about this book, I can recognize that the content within this story can be extremely triggering for more sensitive readers, and this story is NOT for everyone! Yes, there is a M/M love story storyline that is what initially drew me in, but it’s a small aspect that intertwines with a lot of emotional torment, rape, assault, torture, and even implied incest that’s a lot of heavy material to take in all within one book! Seriously, this book goes further with it than even HBO’s Game of Thrones or even Spartacus from STARZ.

Besides all that carnality and absolutely vicious material, what really surprised me was an actually epic war/battling kingdoms style plot that developed. Don’t ask me to name any of the kingdoms back to you, but basically it’s a Fantasy world that Elves, Humans, and Dragon-Shifters. The Elves and Humans have been taken over and oppressed by the Draconic empire, but there are small groups of rebels from both races that are gathering supplies in order to make a stand against the dragons.

Besides sex & violence, the themes of trauma, acceptance & belonging, and even forbidden love make for an actually gripping and action packed tale between two unlikely enemies-turned-lovers: an Elf assassin named Eroan, and a lonely Dragon Prince named Lysander.

Eroan is courageous, stubborn, noble, natural born leader for his tribe. He’s a warrior through-and-through, but his troupe of assassins get captured by the dragons and he becomes the only survivor, and thus becomes a prisoner, which is where he meets Lysander, the younger Dragon Prince.

Lysander is a character your heart will break for because of all the pain he’s had to deal with in his lifetime. His mother and brother have tried to kill him several times because they consider him “broken” for his sexuality, and think he’s weak because he’s not a heartless murderer like they are. Luckily, they’ve been unsuccessful and Lysander has become the greatest warrior under his mother’s rule. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop them from still believing he’s a useless waste of space. He’s been an outcast and the runt of the litter for all he’s known, but lately he’s been absolutely sick of it, and there’s a fire threatening to explode before you know it, no pun intended.

I would agree with the author when she says it’s not a romance title. There’s attraction and sexual acts that happen, but there’s so much pain, suffering, and violence occurring all around that romance feels like too soft of a word to describe it. The love story that’s developing between those two main characters grows in an intriguing way in the sense that they feel a kindred connection to each other that grows to a reluctant mutual respect, and of course, pure lust that may or may not being blooming into deeper feelings of love. There’s still some unsettling instances of rape and death surrounding it all, so it’s not rainbows and unicorns and happily ever afters, far from it.

The world-building was so-so with not much description in the cities/kingdoms and major landmarks, but luckily there wasn’t much mentioned in that regard to kind of save it. There’s some history with the three types of people that’s revealed in a way that’s not info-dumped. I was majorly confused by the point when one character runs into a certain group, it happens around the 60-75% of the book; it felt so randomly placed into the story and was a strange wave within the pacing, but hopefully it gets explained better in the next book. There’s a surprising amount of sub-categories within even just the Dragon empire, and it features different species that make appearances in the story. There’s major dissent that is evident within both the Dragons and even the Elves, which is surprising since you usually figure Elves are all entirely on the same page.

There are plenty of questions that popped up while reading, but I have to remember this is only the first book in a series, so hopefully that means so much more gets revealed as I keep reading on!

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

The Dragon Queen’s reign is one of darkness and death. Humans have vanished under the rubble of their world and if the queen has her way, elves will be next.

Eroan, one of the last elven assassins, lives for one purpose: kill the queen.

He would have succeeded if not for her last line of defense: Prince Lysander. Now, captured and forced into the queen’s harem, Eroan sees another opportunity. Why kill just the queen when he can kill them all? It would be simple, if not for the troubled and alluring prince. A warrior, a killer, and something else…, something Eroan finds himself inexplicably drawn to.

Trapped in a life he despises, Lysander knows his time is running out.

If the queen doesn’t kill him for his failures, her enemies will. There’s nothing left to live for, until an elf assassin almost kills him. A stubborn, prideful, fool of an elf who doesn’t know when to quit. An elf who sparks a violent, forbidden desire in Lysander.

If Lysander can’t save himself, maybe he can save the elf and maybe, just maybe… one stubborn elf will be enough to bring down the queen before she kills them all.

Duty demands they fight for their people. Love has other plans...

What I Liked:

  1. The Lust/Love between Lysander and Eroan! It’s definitely not a romance, per say, but the attraction that builds between these two characters is certainly a noteworthy aspect of this story. It’s pretty erotic in some areas, heartbreaking in others, but one scene in particular stood out a lot to me. Basically, to the other characters, Eroan is about to be assaulted and raped by Lysander, who is not happy about it. He actually has feelings for the captured Elf, and being forced upon the Queen’s captive is the last thing he wants. He leans in and whispers an apology only Eroan can hear, but surprise…..Eroan whispers back “Don’t be.” It may be incredibly creepy or perverted of me, but I found that kind of hot! I mean, at least it was consensual!
  2. Dragon-Shifters! I’d never read a book with these types of characters. I absolutely love any stories with dragons/wyverns/dragon-riders/etc. so to have humans who can change into the flying, fire-breathing beasts was something new for me that I really enjoyed!
  3. MVP Character: Lysander! By far my favorite character so far, my heart goes out for him and all that he experiences just in this first book. Anyone else would’ve given up with all that he’s been through, but still he rises above it all and becomes a better person because of it. He’s never felt like he’s belonged, and has been called broken and useless by his own family, who by the way, has tried to kill him on several occasions as a quick reminder! Seriously hoping the author throws him a couples bones this next book because Lysander deserves some happiness in my opinion!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Human World…What a random introduction into this story, and it wasn’t really explained as to how it is the way that it is. I know that justification doesn’t make a whole lot of sense without more context, but I don’t want to spoil it for readers. All I will say is it happens at about the 60-75% mark in the story.
  2. Homophobia…Poor Lysander deals with it from his mother and even older brother amongst the Dragons. Luckily, they’re the only people that really show any of it, everyone literally could care less about that sort of thing, but anyone who’s in the queer community who’s had a hard home life like that growing up knows how hard and traumatizing that can be!

Conclusion:

Overall, I was actually really surprised at how much I liked this title! Besides all the sex, violence, and torture, the plot actually got pretty intense in the sense of it feeling very similar to an epic battle happening in a show like Game of Thrones! There are some dark occurrences with rape and assault and torture, but if you’re someone who watched GoT in its entirety, it’s not necessarily anything you haven’t seen before, this story is just higher up on the gay male/male romance factor. With that said, it’s not like anyone can really say they enjoyed those moments, but it’s understandable that some readers would rather avoid that triggering content. It’s not for everyone, so definitely take the author’s warning within the blurb!

I’d recommend this title to anyone who likes M/M romance, and if you really liked The Captive Prince trilogy by C.S. Pacat; I think they have a very similar vibe in the first book introducing a very ominous vibe with a lot of violence and sex involved to shock readers but then turns into an epic tale to keep your attention!

This book was one that had me up extremely late—like 3 or 4 in the morning—and has a dramatic cliffhanger of an ending, so much that I groaned into my pillow and immediately purchased a copy of the next book in this series to get on that ASAP! the forbidden/star crossed lovers aspect of the story with the two male main characters is tearing me apart because the author constantly throws things in their way to keep each other just out of reach, and ugh………….it’s torture for me too!

I do have some other titles I need to read first because I have a reader friend/coworker named Erika who I make deals with to have us read books that we pick for each other. If she wants me to read a certain book, I make sure she knows I have a title for her too so we can get what we both want out of it and to be able to talk about yet ANOTHER book we’ve both read. If you don’t have a reading buddy like that, I highly recommend it because one of the worst things a reader can suffer from is being absolutely obsessed with a book/series but having no one to talk about it with in person!

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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 37534577.jpg
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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is eric_bittle.png
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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is shitty.png
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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ransom_and_holster.png
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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is larissa.png
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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is jack_zimmermann.png
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:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is effmdb3.jpg

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

graphic novel, LGBT, YA Contemporary Fiction, YA romance

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

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

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

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

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

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

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

What It’s About:

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

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

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

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

What I Liked:

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

What I Didn’t Like:

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

Conclusion:

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

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

LGBT, New Adult Romance

My Review: Him (Him #1): by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy

Publish Date: August 2nd, 2015
Number of pages: 360 pages
Publisher: Rennie Road Books
Genre(s): New Adult Romance, LGBTQ+ (M/M)

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

This was something that everyone can enjoy; a simple feel good story! I enjoyed this title, which was the story of two friends reuniting and discovering that sometimes it’s worth testing those bonds and moving into a deeper and more romantic territory. I know the subject matter isn’t for everyone: an LGBTQ+ love story (M/M specifically), and it being revolved around sports (Hockey specifically), but anyone who can enjoy a love story with two great characters that have such great chemistry and obviously just belong together, this is a title to look into!

The two MC’s complemented each other quite well, in my opinion, and were easy to get behind and support, and were overall just a delight to read! I especially enjoyed the self discovery that one character went through in order to accept himself and how things happen in the story. It wasn’t as angsty as other books have been, which is different, but not an all that bad choice. It still felt genuine and natural with the turnout still being oh so satisfying.

This is only part 1 of a duology, but I still felt that it stood as a standalone with how things turned out in the end. There were still some things left up in the air and had a few easter eggs of what was to come, but the ending is heartwarming nonetheless!

What It’s About:

Our mouths fit together so perfectly. Everytime we kiss, I fall even more in love with him, and it has nothing to do with sex or lust. It’s him. His closeness and his scent and the way he soothes me.

– Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy, “Him”

This story stars two college hockey players, Jamie Canning and Ryan Wesley. They’re total opposites; Jamie’s the golden boy from California with laid back, lazy good looks while Ryan’s demeanor is tattoos, piercings, and smart-ass remarks that tries to hide his disdain for his east coast aristocratic background. They met at a sleepaway hockey camp when they were 13, and had become friends over the years until the summer they turned 18. The final night of camp, something happened, and they became cut off from each other. Alcohol and a stupid bet got involved, and then eventually confusion and regret.

Years later as they’re about to graduate college, Ryan and Jamie run into each other again at the Frozen Four finals in college Hockey, and all the memories and anxiety come rushing back to the surface as they come face to face once again. Ryan is now out and proud, at least to his teammates and coaching staff (his parents know too, but thats a different story), and always regretted how far things went that last night at camp years ago with Jamie. He honestly never thought he’d get the chance to try and make amends, but he does, but the lingering feelings he had for his straight friend come back stronger than ever.

Jamie has always been frustrated at the situation at that final night years prior, mainly for never getting a response or any sort of answers. Fate ends up giving them a second chance, and they wind up being coaches and roommates at the very same camp where they met, years later for the summer after graduation.

It will be there that they reconnect, and Jamie gets some answers, but new ones rise up along the way, including one about the kind of person he is…

What I Liked:

  1. It’s A Sports M/M Romance! It’s becoming a favorite romance-genre niche of mine, but I’ve figured it’s because jocks are my personal preference in a potential lover. This story is definitely one of the best ones I’d read within this specific genre, but even someone who’s not into sports can enjoy it; it never gets too wordy on the mechanics of hockey, so no worries there!
  2. The Hot Sex Scenes! For fans of smut (like myself, no shame…) there’s plenty of steamy scenes between the MC’s to fog up the windows, hand against the glass and slides down and all that… I can only shrug and laugh at this one honestly! While hot, it was also fun to read Ryan and Jamie’s connection and see how vulnerable they get with each other as they peel away layers and become their true selves with each other and develop deeper feelings.
  3. The MC’s Are Both Incredibly Likeable! Both Jamie and Ryan are great main characters to follow as you read their story. The story switched back and forth between their point of views, and it worked fairly well; it was easy to distinguish between their two voices, they have some great qualities to make them great MC’s for the story to revolve around.
  4. Ryan’s Unrequited Love Story-Arc! What I mean by this is that Ryan has known he’s gay for a long time, and he also knew he was in love with Jamie since when they first met, even when Jamie still considered himself straight. Part of Ryan always thought it’d never work out; that he was absolutely pathetic for being in love with his straight friend who’d never return those feelings. I loved it later when they start to be together and Ryan would step back and remember all those sad thoughts, but then gaze at Jamie when he thought he wouldn’t notice, wondering how he got so lucky after all. It was such sweet and tender moments in the story, it gave the hopeless romantic in me the major feels!
  5. There’s Plenty of Humor! Just what I expected with Elle Kennedy, but there were plenty of hilarious moments in the story! I won’t give too much away, but some of it does involve coming out to parents and siblings through a Facebook group chat, a condom-couch, and two jocks trying to hook up in the back of a (really) small car!

Loved you every summer since I was thirteen years old. Love you even more now.”

– Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy, “Him”

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Dialogue Can Be Juvenile…Elle Kennedy is so great with hilarious and witty dialogue between her MC’s in her romance titles, and this one doesn’t fall below that expectation, but I can say at some points in the story that it gets a little eye-roll worthy…BUT try to remember that while these guys are gay, they are also 22 year old athletes/jocks and have grown up around that locker room talk between the bro’s and the guys and all that; jocks are just kind of like that! I can attest to it; it wasn’t far off from what I’ve heard in a high school locker room while prepping for Football Games under those Friday night lights. The two authors get it pretty spot on and really, it doesn’t really mean anything; it’s pretty innocent. Luckily, things get much better when it’s just the two of them.
  2. There’s One Homophobic Character…So maybe a trigger warning, but there is a part of the story where the two MC’s have to deal with an older homophobic minor character. I kind of saw it coming; the setting for most of the story is a small lake-town (the kind midwesterners go visit whenever they spend a weekend at the cabin), so storyline-wise it was bound to happen, especially amongst a bunch of men playing a sport where homosexuality is still a sensitive subject depending who you talk to. It’s still such a bummer that similar situations still happen like that in real life, that two men who have feelings for each other can’t even hold hands for fear of judgment or persecution from other people’s ignorance and inability towards acceptance…Hopefully we’ll evolve past that someday… Luckily, I can happily add that not all the adults/coaches/parents/PR agents are like that in the story, and I give Coach Pat a huge shoutout!

Conclusion:

A definite feel good, low angst, New Adult M/M sports romance that anyone who’s looking for some more LGBTQ+ titles can enjoy! Like other titles I’ve read by Elle Kennedy, it’s filled with witty banter, funny and relatable characters, steamy love scenes, and heartwarming fluff on top of it all. It was harder than I thought it would be to get my hands on this book, but it was worth the battle; it’s a definite shelf-keeper for me!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell