Webcomic review: Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu

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★★★★

Some of my favorite stories feature a good amount of angst, moral greyness and Bad Things, and I honestly don’t think I could ever give that up.
But sometimes you need to immerse yourself in a world that’s positive and that shows you that good things can exist, and not everything has to be complicated (irl and in literature) to be good.

Check, Please! is the book comic that has reminded me of this.

There is only one key word here: healthy.
This is by no means set in a fictional world where Bad Things don’t happen, but they (have) happen(ed) off-screen and the relationships portrayed are actual goals.

The story follows Bittle, ex figure skater (can you hear my heartbeat?) turned hockey player, as he joins his new university team. Everyone on the team is all kinds of ‘swawsome (that’s a word) and they make him feel welcome.
Later on, love blooms between the protagonist and one of his teammates and the way their relationship is shown could be renamed “Healthy relationship 101”. It shows all kinds of different situation that normally (in most media) would be the origin of some drama, and instead turns them into a teaching moment (without being patronizing). Because, guess what, most situations are easily dealt with through communication!

That’s basically what this whole story is, it’s obviously very character driven (I live for those) and it can fill your whole day with positivity, which is only a good thing until you’re forced to face reality again.

Other things I loved were both the art (it’s just so adorable and colorful and every drawing has a ton of tiny details – I’m sure it takes a lot of time to draw each one!) and the humor (even though sometimes it references something of American culture -I suppose?- that I’m not familiar with, so I don’t get every single joke, but it didn’t bother me).

Oh, have I mentioned the story is completely free on Tumblr?? It’s also not over yet (this review is written after the episode “Dinner at Marty’s?”) and I absolutely can’t wait to read the next update!
If this ever goes into printing I’m also definitely buying it because this artist deserves to be supported.

(Also I first found out about this comic thanks to Jess @ beaucoupbooks so I want to publicly thank her for bringing it to my attention ♥)

Discussion+Series Review: All for the Game by Nora Sakavic

I knew I was going to have to write a series review from the moment I started reading The Foxhole Court. I had heard almost only positive things before starting it, and the few negative reviews I’d seen revolved around the fact that the sport elements in it weren’t realistic. To be honest I don’t care much for sports so I knew it wasn’t something that would bother me. Flash forward to after I read the whole series: I start seeing people that say negative things about it (sometimes without having even read it) that don’t make any sense to me, and (coincidence?) they are the same (or similar) things I’ve seen thrown at my other favorite series, Captive Prince. So I decided to make this post a little bit more than just a review because I feel like there are things that need to be addressed.

Please note that I’m not trying to shit on people’s opinions. Everyone is allowed to like or not like whatever they want. But. I see a trend of “opinions“, or to better put it: “reasons why I wouldn’t recommend this series” that I think is just harmful for these books, for these authors and for the people that enjoy them, and I find it problematic because it doesn’t take into consideration something fundamental to any written story: the fact that perspective is always key.

So, allow me to write a big fat disclaimer first:

I am in no way criticizing your opinion if you’ve read this series and you didn’t like it. Be it the characters, the story or the writing that didn’t appeal to you, I respect you and your opinion.

Also I need everybody who hasn’t read them to know that both series I’m talking about are ADULT series. Not YA.
With that out of the way, I want to address a few (just two really, because this post will be very long already) of the complaints that I’ve heard about both All for the Game and Captive Prince, often from people who haven’t read these series.

  • There are words like “faggot”yes, this is true for All for the game. That word is used (two times throughout the whole series) in dialogues, never in the narrative. Does it mean that every character uses that word? No. Does it mean that the author agrees with calling people “faggot”? No. Does it mean that the character that uses that word is idolized? No. Does it mean this series has zero or bad LGBT representation? Absolutely not. To give you an example of how that word is used:

    “Fuck you, faggot,” Seth said.
    “I don’t like that word,” Andrew said. “Don’t use it.”
    “I would say ‘fuck you, freak’, but then you would’t know which one of you I was talking to.”
    “Don’t talk to us at all,” Aaron said. “You never have anything useful to say.”

    As you can see, Seth is immediately called out on his use of the word. Seth is not a likable character throughout the series, and he’s the only one that uses that word. So why would you criticize this series for using this word, if you don’t know or (purposely or not) forget to mention the context it’s in? It would be nice to live in a world where nobody ever called anyone that, but the fact is, homophobic people exist, and to ignore that fact would be much more problematic than using a bad word twice and pointing out that that’s not okay.

  • But there is rape: look, yes, there is rape and (past or present) abuse in both series. Abuse (sexual or otherwise) exists and there need to be books that talk about the effects it has on a person. The abuse in both series is never used as a plot device, and both of them deal with how the persons affected by it is able to cope with it. Are they pretty, fluffy stories? Hell no. But are they important stories? Hell yes.

With this I don’t want to say that everyone should read it. There are strong trigger warnings for both series, so if that’s a problem for you, you should absolutely stay away from them. But should you denigrate these series based on the pure fact that bad things are said or done in them? I don’t think so.

I’m going to focus just on All for the Game now because that’s what I want to review today.
This series has awesome, realistic LGBT representation and is one of the best lessons in consent that I’ve ever read. I’m 24 and I’ve never read anything that takes consent more seriously than this. So allow me to be slightly pissed off when someone comes along and shits on its value, indirectly implying that it condones rape or the use of words like faggot.

I believe that we, as readers, should be able to understand that, allow me to repeat myself, perspective is key to reading any given book. End of rant.


 

But let’s come to the actual review for this.

★★★★

The main character is Neil Josten, well, he has become Neil Josten. He had to change names and countries more than twenty times, because he’s been on the run with his mother for eight years, running away from a criminal father that is on the hunt to kill them both. And indeed, he did manage to kill Neil’s mother one year prior to the beginning of the story. So Neil is alone and lying low, with only one passion: playing Exy in his high school.
Exy is a fictional sport that I won’t even pretend to have understood completely. But hey, that’s entirely my fault because I don’t follow any team sport and I don’t care much for them. So here’s a description taken from the book for all of you sports lovers: “an evolved sort of lacrosse […] with the violence of ice hockey”. Whatever that means. (I promise I have understood a little bit of how it works. Just not enough that I can explain it to someone else.)
But high school is almost over, and he gets an offer to go to Palmetto State University and keep playing Exy there with the Foxes. He accepts.
Coach Wymack selects all of his players from problematic families or situations. He saw potential in Neil and understood Neil’s profile fits perfectly within this team, despite not knowing exactly what his past looks like.
As the story continues, Neil will learn the full truth about his past, who his father is involved with, how all that is somehow connected to Exy, and he will have to trust others with half or full truths and even put his safety in their hands.

Other things you can expect from the plot, in completely random order:

  • Life lessons coming from team play and sport: well there really can’t be a book about sport that doesn’t have those, can there?
  • Seriously though, to call this a series about sport is ridiculous. Exy is obviously important, but it can be totally overlooked if you’re like me.
  • Complex, morally grey characters. Secrets. Troubled and tragic pasts.
  • Japanese mafia.
  • Lots of character development.
  • Positive and realistic LGBT representation.
  • One character is demisexual. Like, hello, have you ever seen that in a book? (Demisexuality is not explicitly mentioned, but the description of this character’s interest in romantic and sexual relationships seems to match this type of sexuality)
  • CONSENT IS A MAJOR THEME.
  • Healthy relationships.
  • Healthy, positive female friendships. 👭👭👭👭👭
  • Your morality will feel challenged by some of the things you find here.
  • A girl is the captain of the team. 😀
  • Lots of diversity.
  • Honestly there’s just too many positive things I can say about this and this should be an endless list.

But, this wouldn’t be one of my favorite series if it wasn’t character-driven, so I need to talk a bit about the characters. The Foxes are divided in two friendship groups: the Upperclassmen (Matt, Dan, Renee, Allison, Seth) and Andrew’s group (Andrew and Aaron or “the monsters”, Nicky, Kevin). Neil learns gradually to get along with both groups in different ways. He obviously has trust issues and can’t reveal all of his past.
As I mentioned, Neil is not the only one with drama in his past. As we find out the Foxes’ backstories, we learn why they ended up in this wreck of a team, and I can guarantee you that each story is heartbreaking.

Besides Neil, my other favorite characters were Andrew and Nicky.
Nicky is “the talkative” one and is cousin to the twins Andrew and Aaron. He’s hilarious, supportive, and ultimately a really good person.
Andrew…I won’t lie and say that I understand him fully even after having read the whole series. I’ve stated in my review for book one that Andrew reminded me a bit of Ronan Lynch (from The Raven Boys). After having finished the series I don’t think that’s true anymore, but I’ve somehow still felt the need to associate him with other known characters while I was reading this. I don’t know why that is, probably him being just too complex. Another character I’ve tried to associate him with is Laurent from Captive Prince, but it just doesn’t do it. Andrew is his own character and doesn’t feel like a copy-paste of any other one.
I don’t agree with a lot of things he does, but his is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve met in my reader life, and I don’t necessarily feel like I need to agree with or understand a character in order to love him. And love him I do.

If you’re looking for romance, you should know that what you’ll find here is extremely slow burn. But it will eat your soul. You will cry at night thinking about it, you will listen to songs that remind you of the characters involved in the romance and start crying in the middle of the street because of how perfect the songs fit and you just hope the characters are doing okay. I wish I was just being overly dramatic. I wish.

I’m already planning a reread of this series (probably in January with some buddies) and I feel like it’s much needed, as it often happens in character-driven stories. I know I will understand a lot more than I did the first time around. That’s not to say the story wasn’t clear; on the contrary, the story was very clear, but some of these characters (not just Andrew) are too complex to fully appreciate them if you only read the books once. Besides, these fictional people aren’t planning to leave my head anytime soon, so I might as well dedicate my full attention to them again.

If you want to read my reviews for the single books you can do so here (warning: not all reviews are complete and I’m likely to go edit them often and probably not in a way that makes much sense at all):
The Foxhole Court
The Raven King
The King’s Men

I really hope this series will gain more notoriety and recognition because it honestly deserves it all. I also hope Nora Sakavic will come up with some new books/series because I enjoyed her writing far more than it should be humanly possible.  Oh, have I mentioned this series only costs about 3€ in e-book format? Can it get any better than that? I don’t think so.

Bonus: Spotify playlist.

#T5W Top Five Wednesday: Favorite Non-Canon Ships

Welcome to my first T5W!

What is Top Five Wednesday? It’s a book meme that Lainey started and I discovered through the lovely Samantha‘s videos. I absolutely loved the idea of joining the group and making my own lists. If you’re interested you can join the goodreads group to get the topics for each week. There you can also share your posts when you’re done.

So this week’s topic is, as the title reads, Favorite Non-Canon Ships. Why are they non-canon? Because the author didn’t hear the readers’ prayers or because the two characters come from different worlds, franchises, etc.

I need to warn you that this list will contain SPOILERS for Air Awakens, The Remnant Chronicles and the Grisha trilogy! So if you haven’t read them you should stop reading or risk coming across unwanted info! If you don’t mind finding out who certain characters don’t end up with or if you’ve read these series, go ahead!

Giving non-spoilery people a bit of space so their eyes don’t wander where they’re not supposed to.

Hi.

Ready?

*points to the opposite direction* Wait, is that an unicorn??? 🦄

 

 

Okay, let’s do this.

(I want to point out that unless otherwise specified, I actually love the canon couples for these series!)

  1. Alina and the Darkling: when I went into the Grisha trilogy I had no idea what to expect in terms of ships. Eventually I ended up loving who Alina ended up with, but the first half of book one had me needing the Darkling to be endgame. It will forever haunt me that it didn’t happen, and in my mind runs a full parallel Grisha trilogy where the Darkling is redeemed somewhere around the middle of book two and has a happy ending.
  2. Vhalla and Daniel: Air Awakens is one of my favorite series and one of the (many) things I love about it is how relationships are portrayed. I find Vhalla’s feelings so realistic and I feel like Elise Kova did a great job handling her relationship with Daniel. Daniel is madly in love with Vhalla and she knows it, and in times of hardship when she can’t be with the person she loves, she finds solace in Daniel’s friendship, and constantly asks herself how it would be to let herself love him and be with him. She second-guesses her actions and constantly wonders if she is taking advantage of him and recognize her weakness. Daniel is such a great person and he knows Vhalla’s feelings for him are true but also don’t match his own, and he still helps her without expecting anything from her. This is a perfect case of “couple that would have been perfect if another character wasn’t in the picture”.
  3. Lia and Kaden: oh man. This is the only ship I’m actually mad about. The Remnant Chronicles series had me wishing for one of my favorite trope to become happen, the hate-to-love or to be more specific the assassin-to-lover trope. Sadly, that didn’t happen, and I didn’t like how Lia’s relationship with Rafe evolved, especially in the third book, where he insults her and yells at her.
  4. Mia (Nevernight) and Manon (Throne of Glass): now for some impossible ships! Oh man. Just imagine these two. They would totally kill each other. And then be one of the most badass throat-slitting couples and conquer the world. And Abraxos and Mr. Kindly would make the bestest of friends! 🐲🐱
  5. Jesper (Six of Crows) and Ronan (The Raven Boys): Can you picture them????? I mean, it’s hard to separate them from their true love interests because they’re both perfect, but just try to think about it. Jesper would totally be into car racing and maybe would give up his gambling addiction for that. Which, I don’t know what’s worse honestly. But I feel like they’d overcome their weird habits and eventually live normal lives, or as normal as it gets on Ronan’s farm.