BOOK REVIEW: Check & Mate by Ali Hazelwood

BOOK REVIEW: Check & Mate by Ali HazelwoodCheck & Mate by Ali Hazelwood
Purchase on: AmazoniBooks
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Mallory Greenleaf is done with chess. Every move counts nowadays; after the sport led to the destruction of her family four years earlier, Mallory’s focus is on her mom, her sisters, and the dead-end job that keeps the lights on. That is, until she begrudgingly agrees to play in one last charity tournament and inadvertently wipes the board with notorious “Kingkiller” Nolan Sawyer: current world champion and reigning Bad Boy of chess.

Nolan’s loss to an unknown rook-ie shocks everyone. What’s even more confusing? His desire to cross pawns again. What kind of gambit is Nolan playing? The smart move would be to walk away. Resign. Game over. But Mallory’s victory opens the door to sorely needed cash-prizes and despite everything, she can’t help feeling drawn to the enigmatic strategist....

As she rockets up the ranks, Mallory struggles to keep her family safely separated from the game that wrecked it in the first place. And as her love for the sport she so desperately wanted to hate begins to rekindle, Mallory quickly realizes that the games aren’t only on the board, the spotlight is brighter than she imagined, and the competition can be fierce (-ly attractive. And intelligent…and infuriating…)


It pains me to say that I struggled to find anything to love within these pages….besides Nolan. If the characters would have been older, I would have labeled this Women’s Fiction on Goodreads. Sigh. So here are the top three reasons I struggled with this book……

“You’re not being fair to either of us,” he says calmly. Maybe he’s right, but I’m past caring.

Nolan, the romantic interest, was barely a side character….
I adored Nolan.  The tiny bit of time we got to spend with him in this book made me realize he was kind, thoughtful, caring and understanding.  Unfortunately time would fly by and we wouldn’t see or hear from him.  Three weeks here.  Two months there.  Etc.  We barely got to see, let alone spend time with Nolan.  And it felt like we spent less time with him than side characters in so many other countless stories.  That’s why this book gave me strong Women’s Fiction vibes, other than the ages were all wrong. 

“Ah. I’ve seen your press conference, by the way. Nice job making it look like you totally despise him even when he said nothing but super- nice things about you.”
“I didn’t.”
“Yes, you did,” Darcy and Sabrina say in chorus, without tearing their eyes from the TV.

I didn’t like Mallory….
From page 10 and her slamming gluten sensitivity, I was hoping that that was just a weird fluke with me not liking what she was saying or how she acted.  Yet I never found that connection to her, or the ability to like her.  Even though she helped her family and was financially responsible for her mom and two younger sisters.  Yes she gave up her dreams, but her words, actions and lack thereof made me just not like her.  She ran away from situations.  She lied to others.  She could be so harsh.  And when others helped her, she lacked the simple common decency to say thank you.  And there was a situation at the end of Chapter 17 that just left an ick factor and a bad taste in my mouth towards her.  Granted she is 18, but there are so many YA books where the character is immature or has qualities about them I don’t like in the beginning of the story.  Yet they show growth as the story progresses, and by the end of the book I am so proud of how far they have come!  Yet by page 263 she took a step.  And then by page 334 she seemed to to grow a little.  But at those points it felt like it was too little too late, and also not enough.

“He’s cute,” Mom whispers while I’m loading the dishwasher.
“Cole Sprouse?”
I huff. It doesn’t come out as indignant as I’d like. “No, he’s not.”
“And he seems to have great taste.” “Because he ate a stomach- pumping amount of your meat loaf?”
“Mostly that. Only secondarily because he doesn’t seem to be able to look away from my most oblivious daughter.”

The naming was just too much….
I read to escape reality.  And while reality can bleed a little into the pages for me, I prefer not to have political people or pop references throughout a book.  A few I have no problems ignoring.  But when they’re in almost every single chapter and multiple times within that chapter, I just can’t anymore.  By page 25 we already heard Obama, Harry Styles, and I’m forgetting what else.  And it continued that way till the end.  But here’s the thing, I need a break from the real world at times *cries*.  And this book definitively didn’t allow me to have that.

So what did I love besides Nolan?  I loved Nolan’s friends.  And Oz.  Especially on page 281!  That scene right there had me clapping my hands for Oz!  Also, for me this book was NA.  It’s set in the summer after she graduated High School, and her friend was leaving for college.  And then it followed her life through what would have been her first year of college, if she would have accepted.  For me, that’s NA.  So yup.  This one definitely didn’t work out for me.

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  1. Sophie

    OMG I am so sorry you didn’t love it except Nolan!

    • Jen

      Thank you *sad eyes*. I loved her other release this year, this one sigh. It just wasn’t for me at all.

  2. Lisa+Mandina+(Lisa+Loves+Literature)

    Aww! So sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy this one. I think it is just part of the type of people these characters are. That they’re representing neurodivergent people, both of them. But that was my take! I can definitely see how they could come across as unlikable. I wonder sometimes if I come across the same way in real life until people get to know me maybe. But this is why there are so many books out there, something for everyone! Still, great review!

    • Jen

      It definitely felt more like a women’s fiction book, if the characters were older. We got so little time of the romance or even building the romance. And I try my best to avoid women’s fiction because I am ALL here for the romance lol. That was my hugest struggle *cries*.

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