CHECK, PLEASE! BOOK 1 : #HOCKEY by Ngozi Ukazu

Helloooo, Internet Land. Bitty here!

Y’all… I might not be ready for this. I may be a former junior figure skating champion, vlogger extraordinaire, and very talented amateur pâtissier, but being a freshman on the Samwell University hockey team is a whole new challenge. It’s nothing like co-ed club hockey back in Georgia! First of all? There’s checking. And then, there is Jack—our very attractive but moody captain.

A collection of the first half of the megapopular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: #Hockey is the first book of 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.


Title : Check, Please! Book One : #Hockey
Author : Ngozi Ukazu
Series : Check, Please! (book one/volumes one & two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 288
Genre : YA LGBTQIA+ sports graphic novel
Publisher : First Second
Release Date : September 18, 2018

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 5 star review

This rating isn’t much of a surprise for me, and maybe not for those who follow me on GR, as this was a reread and I already gushed about this back in 2018. I had initially read this via the author’s website, as it was (is?) being posted as a webcomic, but decided to reread this one as I prepare to read the most recent bundle/release now that my library has it.

And okay am I as gushy the second time around? Maybe not quite. But this is still the sweetest, purest, funniest, most adorable, graphic novel.. ever. This is everything hockey, everything pure and soft, but also very realistic, and watching Bitty become more of himself as he starts college, as he bakes, belts out Beyoncé, and maybe harbors a bit of a crush? Just a delight. The whole cast is, really.

If you want a fun feel good experience, look no further.

ALL THE STARS AND TEETH by Adalyn Grace

As princess of the island kingdom Visidia, Amora Montara has spent her entire life training to be High Animancer – the master of souls. The rest of the realm can choose their magic, but for Amora, it’s never been a choice. To secure her place as heir to the throne, she must prove her mastery of the monarchy’s dangerous soul magic.

When her demonstration goes awry, Amora is forced to flee. She strikes a deal with Bastian, a mysterious pirate: he’ll help her prove she’s fit to rule, if she’ll help him reclaim his stolen magic.

But sailing the kingdom holds more wonder – and more peril – than Amora anticipated. A destructive new magic is on the rise, and if Amora is to conquer it, she’ll need to face legendary monsters, cross paths with vengeful mermaids, and deal with a stow-away she never expected… or risk the fate of Visidia and lose the crown forever. 


Title : All the Stars and Teeth
Author : Adalyn Grace
Series : All the Stars and Teeth #1
Format : Paperback
Page Count : 416
Genre : YA Fantasy
Publisher : Titan Books
Release Date : August 4, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 4.5 star review

This book wowed me on a number of fronts, I found it a totally unexpected YA fantasy with very little resting on predictable tropes or plot directions. I thought Adalyn Grace was a fresh voice and I didn’t realise how much I was ready for that kind of palate cleansing until I read this.

ALL THE STARS AND TEETH was unapologetically gory and blood-thirsty in parts, there was no smoothing of the gritty and I embraced this world masked by secrets. The protagonist, Amora was the most un-princessy princess I’ve come across in a while. She was fiesty, uninterested in appearances, she wanted to be a fighter and a sailor. She also had serious wanderlust.

The start of the story had her world come crashing down and everything unleased from there, dark magic, sea monsters, a pirate, a mermaid and some very shady characters. The characters that became the crew of Keel Haul found their way into my heart, so that by the end I was so fond of them. Alongside Amora, Bastian was a great character, his secrets and magic were fascinating. The low-level romance was pitched just right.

One of the best things about this book was the feminist tone throughout. I’m about to drop a mild SPOILER in here, so skim on if you don’t want to read that. In the story, Amora had a very obvious period accident on her clothing…we do not read these things enough in books and I commend Adalyn Grace for including this and also for how she wrote the guys’ reactions to it. Everything about Amora was generally feminist and the male characters in the Keel Haul crew had feminist undertones too.

This gorgeous cover contained a great debut and series starter all rolled into one. I simply cannot wait to be back with these characters and read on with the series. This is definitely a 2020 read I’m going to remember.

Thank you to Titan Books for the review copy.

BOYFRIEND MATERIAL by Alexis Hall

Wanted:
One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.


Title : Boyfriend Material
Author : Alexis Hall
Narrator : Joe Jameson
Format : audiobook
Page Count : 13 hours 10 minutes
Genre : LGBTQIA+ contemporary romance
Publisher : Dreamscape Media
Release Date : July 7, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 5 star review

This audio gave me all the feels, most of the time and there just isn’t anything better than a read that does that. Two guys, a few complications, lots of chemistry and a fake romance. Everything about this book worked for me, the story depth, the characterisation and the Bridget-Jones-ness of the whole feel.

Luc(ien) and Oliver were complete opposites and both a bit relationship-stunted. They both needed a relationship of convenience and their friends conspired to connect them for this purpose. There wasn’t a lot of common ground or like initally with these two but there was banter for days. I adored Oliver’s intelligence with ten slices of awkward and Luc’s foot in mouth tendencies and emotional ineptitude.

Their move to friendship was pretty gorgeous to witness. As they moved into feeling more connection, I had all sorts of swoon gifs running through my head. Behold…

There were some serious storylines running through. Luc’s dad and that story resonated very much with a personal experience and it felt wholly realistic to me. The friendship circle made me giggle with exasperation and fun but they were also there when it came to need.

The narration was simply perfection. The accents, dialogue and tonation raised this to exceptional and for me, this is the format for this book. Joe Jameson held the stage and I listened to every word. Alexis Hall has outdone himself with this story and I am off to purchase myself a physical copy as it’s become rather precious to me.

Hollis already read the eARC of this and we have a very chalky cheese experience! Her review is here.

Thank you to LibroFM for the ALC.

https://libro.fm/audiobooks/9781662016738-boyfriend-material

BETTER THAN PEOPLE by Roan Parrish

It’s not long before their pet-centric arrangement sparks a person-centric desire…

Simon Burke has always preferred animals to people. When the countdown to adopting his own dog is unexpectedly put on hold, Simon turns to the PetShare app to find the fluffy TLC he’s been missing. Meeting a grumpy children’s book illustrator who needs a dog walker isn’t easy for the man whose persistent anxiety has colored his whole life, but Jack Matheson’s menagerie is just what Simon needs.

Four dogs, three cats and counting. Jack’s pack of rescue pets is the only company he needs. But when a bad fall leaves him with a broken leg, Jack is forced to admit he needs help. That the help comes in the form of the most beautiful man he’s ever seen is a complicated, glorious surprise.

Being with Jack—talking, walking, making out—is a game changer for Simon. And Simon’s company certainly…eases the pain of recovery for Jack. But making a real relationship work once Jack’s cast comes off will mean compromise, understanding and lots of love.


Title : Better Than People
Author : Roan Parrish
Format : eARC
Page Count : 256
Genre : LGBTQIA+ romance
Publisher : Carina Adores
Release Date : August 25, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

I wish I had loved this one because pretty much everything about it should’ve worked. It’s a sweet m/m contemporary, features a lot of pets, and is authored by Parrish. But right from the get-go this was giving me some vague THE REMAKING OF CORBIN VALE vibes (and, spoiler, it’s set in the same ‘world’ I guess? as the self-titled character of said book is mentioned) and while I was utterly wowed by the writing in that book, it wasn’t my favourite by this author, either. I think I just prefer this author’s darker or angstier work? I don’t know what that says about me.

Not much really happens in BETTER THAN PEOPLE. One of our MCs breaks his leg, necessitating the need for a dog walker for his many dogs (and cats), and in walks the love interest. Simon is more than just shy, he has crippling anxiety, and yet somehow, and actually miraculously, considering Jack’s near constant grumpiness, they connect. I found the progression of that very sweet but it also transitions from tender and tentative to like.. (fire emoji fire emoji) very quick. Jack is seriously into Simon and he lets him know. Which, great! But, I don’t know, it almost didn’t fit the vibe?

Characterization-wise, I found Jack a little all over the place but he’s dealing with some setbacks, has stuff to navigate, however the dynamic with his brother just kind of baffled me. I felt like we saw his true colours when dealing with Charlie and it would sort take the sweetness out of the moments with Simon. I don’t know. In some ways this is very soft, with some real meat to some of the topics and issues needing to be navigated, but.. it wasn’t a book I could really lose myself in and maybe that was because of the characters. I could feel for them both but didn’t think they were a good fit, I guess? Mostly I was just wishing for better for Charlie. I hope he gets a book.

If you are a fan of THE REMAKING OF CORBIN WALE, I think you’ll love this (in fact, I think I actually liked that one more? the rating is definitely higher..). I think a lot of readers will love this. But it’s just not going to be a favourite.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

NICK AND CHARLIE by Alice Oseman

A short novella based on the beloved characters from the graphic novel Heartstopper and Alice Oseman’s debut novel Solitaire, which was praised as ‘The Catcher in the Rye for the digital age’ by The Times.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?

CHARLIE: “I have been going out with Nick Nelson for two years. He likes rugby, Formula 1, dogs, the Marvel universe, the sound felt-tips make on paper, rain and drawing on shoes. He also likes me.”

NICK: “Things me and Charlie Spring do together include: Watch films. Sit in the same room on different laptops. Text each other from different rooms. Make out. Make food. Make drinks. Get drunk. Talk. Argue. Laugh. Maybe we’re kind of boring. But that’s fine with us.”

Everyone knows that Nick and Charlie are the perfect couple – that they’re inseparable. But now Nick is leaving for university, and Charlie will be left behind at Sixth Form. Everyone’s asking if they’re staying together, which is a stupid question – they’re ‘Nick and Charlie’ for God’s sake!

But as the time to say goodbye gets inevitably closer, both Nick and Charlie question whether their love is strong enough to survive being apart. Or are they delaying the inevitable? Because everyone knows that first loves rarely last forever …


Title : Nick and Charlie
Author : Alice Oseman
Series : Solitaire #1.5
Format : Paperback
Page Count : 176
Genre : Contemporary YA
Publisher : Harper Collins Childrens UK
Release Date : August 6, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Being back with these guys a little older, was a delight. Nick was 18 and Charlie 17; with University and long distances afoot, their relationship moved to a position of insecurity for the first time in a while. Their journey in this novella was a bit painful to read for fans, seeing them go through couple stuff was hard. It all felt super realistic to that age group.

That said, I loved reading about later teen life. Their routines, their coupledom and how they were perceived by others as a couple. The changes in their future unsettled Charlie the most and his anxiety seemed to become overwhelming. I appreciated the bits of insight we got into where Heartstopper 3 had left Charlie and his problems. I’m wondering if we’ll get more of this in focus in Heartstopper 4.

I don’t want to visit the plot too much and its a short novella so a shortish review is inevitable. This novella, these characters made me feel everything (not unexpected) and even though this wasn’t a graphic novel, I enjoyed it just as much. There were pages with some Alice Oseman classic illustrations though, which I really brought these guys to life, like always.

My fandom for Nick and Charlie continues and will probably never abate. This novella adds something special to the Heartstopper world. Seeing them older was everything.

Thank you to Harper Collins UK for the gifted copy.

CHALLENGER DEEP by Neal Shusterman

A powerful and captivating novel about mental illness, Challenger Deep is a tour de force by New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman.

Caden Bosch is on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.

Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behaviour.

Caden Bosch is designated the ship’s artist in residence to document the journey with images.

Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.

Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.

Caden Bosch is torn. 


Title : Challenger Deep
Author : Neal Shusterman
Format : eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : Contemporary YA
Publisher : Walker Books
Release Date : August 6, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 3.5 star review

3.5 stars

I started this a while ago and picked it back up today, powering through to the end. This was an ambitious and brave project by Neal Shusterman as it plunged the reader from page one into a teen’s mind amidst a psychotic episode as he experienced severe mental illness.

The protagonist, Caden thought he was on a ship with a mundane task as part of the crew, at the same time, there was some awareness of family life, school life and someone who was out to kill him. It was a confusing start, if I’m honest, I didn’t know up from down and the chapters were really short, adding to that abrupt feeling. However, I did settle into the read more the second time I picked it up.

Having some professional experience of delusional states, I realised very quickly how well Shusterman had assembled this character, his delusional world. The world on the high sea was actually quite engaging after a while, but I was constantly looking for the chinks of reality in his sea-life, what might be analogy for what was going on in real life. I did find some ideas of reality in his imagined world; it was all pretty tragic.

I have to say this was discomforting reading, seeing a young man in crisis like this was not easy. Shusterman did not shy away from this theme and I commend him for this. I did however find the pacing slow and difficult to keep going with at time. There were chinks of hope though that helped me push through.

I don’t think this is a read that everyone will appreciate but I do think some will identify with or be curious about this experience that some young people go through. I also think this could be triggering for some readers, so do look closely at the blurb and reviews if you have experienced significant mental illness.

Thank you to Walker Books for this early review copy.

HERE IS THE BEEHIVE by Sarah Crossan

it happened,
again and again
and
again and again and again.

Together
apart.
In love
in aching.

Tangled
unravelling.

Ana and Connor have been having an affair for three years. In hotel rooms and coffee shops, swiftly deleted texts and briefly snatched weekends, they have built a world with none but the two of them in it.

But then the unimaginable happens, and Ana finds herself alone, trapped inside her secret.

How can we lose someone the world never knew was ours? How do we grieve for something no one else can ever find out? In her desperate bid for answers, Ana seeks out the shadowy figure who has always stood just beyond her reach – Connor’s wife Rebecca.

Peeling away the layers of two overlapping marriages, Here Is the Beehive is a devastating excavation of risk, obsession and loss.


Title : Here Is The Beehive
Author : Sarah Crossan
Format : eARC
Page Count : 272
Genre : Literary Fiction/Verse
Publisher : Bloomsbury Circus
Release Date : August 20, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★


Micky’s 2 star review

If ever there was a case of a book putting you off doing something in your real life, this book is it. Anyone tempted to cheat on their partner, would think twice after reading this unpleasant depiction. Strangely, the blurb was appealing and the cover was gorgeous.

My impressions on finishing this was that this was morose, depressing, disjointed and unfortunately, I have very little that is positive to say about this novel told in verse (other than it was told in verse). This wasn’t the strongest book I’ve read in verse but it did flow.

THIS IS THE BEEHIVE was a rather hideous story of deception, cheating, desperation, grief and blackmail. I hated pretty much all the characters and none more than the protagonist Ana. In fairness, she was left in a very difficult situation but her inner monologue of processing and looking back was uncomfortable and unpleasant reading.

The formatting of the arc was awful and this didn’t help the lack of sense between past and present transitions (which were non-existent). I only got through this because it was a short read but realistically what doesn’t work for me, might work for others.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for the early review copy.

TRADE DEADLINE by Avon Gale & Piper Vaughn

It’s a reunion to remember…

Don’t miss this friends-to-lovers hockey romance from Avon Gale and Piper Vaughn.

Daniel “Bellzie” Bellamy should be on top of the world—a Stanley Cup is the perfect topper to his fourteen-year NHL career. But despite the post-win high, something’s missing. When the chance to play for his hometown team, the Miami Thunder, comes along, he’s open to it. And when he runs into an old friend from his past soon after he makes the move, he wonders if it might be kismet.

Micah Kelly never thought he’d see his childhood crush—and first kiss—again. Danny Bellamy moved on to bigger and better things when they were teenagers, and the idea that Micah’s relationship with the professional hockey player could be anything more than one-sided Instagram thirst seems too good to be true.

Maybe too good to be true is the new reality, though. As the season goes on, Micah teaches Daniel to surf, and Daniel introduces Micah to his lovable pack of rescue dogs and the world of being a hockey boyfriend. Life is good. But when things on the ice don’t go as planned, they’ll have to decide if their rediscovered romance is built to last.


Title : Trade Deadline
Author : Avon Gale & Piper Vaughn
Series : Hat Trick (book three)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 304
Genre : LGBTQIA+ sports romance
Publisher : Carina Press
Release Date : August 17, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a bad book, but it was definitely the least enjoyable of the series so far. I’ll always have a soft sport for hockey/sports romances, particularly m/m, but this one just didn’t have any real tension or intensity going for it. Which isn’t to say it’s a requirement for me but when nothing else is really egging me on to read, either..?

Huge gold star, though, should be awarded for having a non-evil ex element at play, particularly in the form of an ex-spouse, even more importantly because kids were at play here, too. Everyone was lovely, kind, understanding.. it was all so amicable. Which might be a great paralell to the story itself. It was all just.. fine. So courteous. So considerate.

I know I have a loud voice.
You definitely do. I could always hear you yelling at my games.”
That’s because there were only ever eight people watching. And six of them were cheering for whoever the other team was.”
Too soon, man.”

Not helping matters was the fact that I wasn’t really into the love interest, so, I had one foot out the door kind of early on.

Bellzie’s got a new boo?
Do not say ‘boo’. You’re not a ghost. Or a thirteen year old girl.”

I love me an ensemble cast, all the group scenes featuring previous couples and a character who is sure to get his own feature moment in book four, were a good time. But overall this was just okay. I will continue to read on in hopes book four rekindles the spark of my enjoyment and also because this genre is my weakness. I have no control.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

THE TRUEST THING by Samantha Young

Nine years ago, Emery Saunders moved to Hartwell to start her life over as a bookstore owner. Her inability to trust people made it hard for her to find a place in the small community until Jessica Lawson moved to town and befriended the shy beauty.
But there was one person in Hartwell who tried to befriend Emery long before Jessica arrived…

Jack Devlin has his secrets. One of them is that he fell hard for Emery the moment she appeared in Hartwell. Another is that his father blackmailed him into covering up a dark family tragedy. It forced Jack to sever his relationships to protect the people he cared about. Yet, staying away from Emery has not been easy throughout the years and he hasn’t always succeeded. When Jack’s mixed signals hurt Emery once again, she puts him out of her heart for good.
Until the Devlin family secret is finally revealed, freeing Jack from his father’s machinations. What Jack wants more than anything is to repair his relationships, starting with Emery.

However, Emery isn’t ready to forgive and Jack’s not ready to give up.
And when the town’s latest scandal ties Jack and Emery together, Jack is not above using their new reality to prove to Emery once and for all that their love is worthy of the legend of Hart’s Boardwalk.


Title : The Truest Thing
Author : Samantha Young
Series : Hart’s Boardwalk
Format : eARC
Page Count : 380
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Piatkus
Release Date : August 18, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Fans of this series have been waiting for this book, for Emery’s story in particular. She’s been a rather special side character, present in most of the book and I have needed to see her story in focus. Thus the joy at this precious landing on my kindle.

I liked the style of storytelling for THE TRUEST THING, it started nine years ago and edged its way through Emery and Jack’s hurtful dance around one another to the present time. It was frustrating, slow-burnish and traumatic all at once but I couldn’t put it down.

The best thing about this story for me, was Emery’s slow emergence from her shell, her shyness and beginning to form friendships to eventually standing up for herself. The female friendships in this group were great reading and felt real to me. There was a moment, a line from Cat that completely cracked me up.

“Dana Kellerman is a pile of shit frosted in diamonds.”

Jack on the other hand, I really struggled at times with him. He frustrated the heck out of me. Yeah, yeah, he had all the reasons but how Emery stayed the hopeful distance is beyond me. I came to a place of grudging acceptance with Jack but I never really liked him.

This series has been a favourite of mine and each book has delivered on story, couples to cheer for and a building groups of characters across Hart’s Boardwalk. THE TRUEST THING really did feature all the couples from the other books and I loved their involvement.

If you’ve not started this series, or you’re not up to date, get on that, so that you can read this final (I think) instalment.

Thank you to the author for the early review copy.

 

THE BLACK KIDS by Christina Hammonds Reed

Perfect for fans of The Hate U Give, this unforgettable coming-of-age debut novel explores issues of race, class, and violence through the eyes of a wealthy black teenager whose family gets caught in the vortex of the 1992 Rodney King Riots.

Los Angeles, 1992

Ashley Bennett and her friends are living the charmed life. It’s the end of senior year and they’re spending more time at the beach than in the classroom. They can already feel the sunny days and endless possibilities of summer.

Everything changes one afternoon in April, when four LAPD officers are acquitted after beating a black man named Rodney King half to death. Suddenly, Ashley’s not just one of the girls. She’s one of the black kids.

As violent protests engulf LA and the city burns, Ashley tries to continue on as if life were normal. Even as her self-destructive sister gets dangerously involved in the riots. Even as the model black family façade her wealthy and prominent parents have built starts to crumble. Even as her best friends help spread a rumor that could completely derail the future of her classmate and fellow black kid, LaShawn Johnson.

With her world splintering around her, Ashley, along with the rest of LA, is left to question who is the us? And who is the them?


Title : The Black Kids
Author : Christina Hammond Reeds
Format : e-ARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : Contemporary YA
Publisher : Simon & Schuster UK
Release Date : August 4, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

THE BLACK KIDS is a compelling look back at a black teen’s life in the Rodney King riots era. This couldn’t resonate more with recent events if it tried, but this was more so focused on Ashley’s realisation about her personal identity. I loved the era and the music but it was hard to like Ashley’s crew of friends.

Ashley was living a less usual life for a black teen, living in a white neighbourhood, going to a mainly white school and choosing to have only white friends. Both at school and at home, she lived a life of privledge and had lost some of her black identity along the way, as her parents aimed to keep her safe, well educated and give her a ‘better’ life.

My parents and grandparents have made it so that Jo and I know nothing. We know nothing of crack or gangs or poverty….We are, according to my father, spoiled rotten little brats.

This story was the unfurling of contemporary events at the time, prompting Ashley to pause, think about who she was, who her friends were and what direction she wanted to go. She had a pretty eclectic family mix and I really liked her sister and that side story. The school friends however, were all superficial friendship with a bit of vile mean girl under the surface. I welcomed seeing Ashley spread her friendship wings.

“Since when do you listen to so much black shit?”
“I’m black,” I say.
“Yeah, but you’re not, like, blackity black,” she says.

This was a full and deep story despite it coming from a seemingly flighty teen. There was great character development and weaving in of the riots of that time. I was absorbed throughout and I really enjoyed the writing. Highly recommended.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster UK for the early review copy.