Fence, Vol. 3 by C.S. Pacat & Johanna the Mad

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1.) Vol. 1 ★★★★★
2.) Vol. 2 ★★★★

I truly feel like this graphic novel series just gets better and better each installment. I feel like after I finished the last page of this volume, I felt like the story (and real angst) is just now going to be starting and I truly cannot wait. This truly has been such a purely joyous serotonin ride getting to this point, and I already can’t wait to see what happens next. And I also predict the next issues will have a much different tone, as well.

But if you don’t know what Fence is all about, it basically follows some kids trying to join their boarding school’s fencing team! And some of the kids need to make the team in order to be able to stay at the school! And some kids are really just trying to live out their dreams of becoming famous fencers. In this installment in particular, we get to see so many of the kid’s families! And we also get to see some really pivotal matches that will dictate the future for some of these fencers!

The stars of this graphic novel are for sure Nicholas and Seiji, who are currently maybe having the slowest burn romance of all romance! But Bobby and Eugene must be protected forever and I vow to make it my new life mission. And Harvard is my favorite character, and not only would I give my life for his, I also want to remind this fictional character that he deserves the world and to never settle for the best. [rest]

I always do a breakdown on my thoughts and feeling of each individual issue for Fence. So, the next portion of this review will have SPOILERS! Nothing too pivotal, but I will talk about some of the themes and events that each issue had inside.

➽ CHAPTER NINE
Aiden lost to Harvard! Nicholas has a chance at making the team, he only has to win against Kally! Seiji is still very much still thinking about Jesse, and him and Nicholas get in quite the confrontation speaking about him.

➽ CHAPTER TEN
Bobby has my whole entire heart. I love the seeing all the diverse families of color and their relationships! Yet, both Nicholas and Seiji do not have families there.

➽ CHAPTER ELEVEN
Jay vs. Aiden (and maybe they hooked up before this match). I love Eugene and his family a lot. Truly like so much pure friendship going on this issue, please hold my bursting heart. And when coach says “I’m proud of you” I still can’t stop crying. I’m too attached to these kids.

➽ CHAPTER TWELVE
Seiji and Nicholas and their dorm situation. Two reserves = friendship. “Welcome to the fencing team!” and the pure serotonin this issue gave me. And then Jesse shows up and makes me question everything and where this next part of the story is going to go.

Overall, this is really just a top tier graphic novel series if you’re looking for a diverse cast of sports gays! I really recommend it with my whole heart, and it is truly one of my favorites of all time! And again, I really can’t wait to see what happens in Vol. 4, because I truly suspect that the entire story has just now started to begin!

5

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The Risk (Briar U #2) by Elle Kennedy

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ARC provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

#1.) The Chase ★★★★★

I’m not sure what the world has done to deserve Elle Kennedy and all the amazing stories she keeps giving us set around this hockey team, but we are so damn blessed, friends. I hope she continues to write them forever. And The Risk was so sexy, so funny, and so phenomenal. Reading this was pure joy, and my biggest complaint is that I wish we had an extra epilogue, because I want and I need more. The Risk perfectly plays with the enemies to lovers trope, but also adds the fake dating element, and I was truly living my best life while reading this story.

Brenna Jensen – Daughter of Briar’s head hockey coach, and a bit of a bad girl. Even though she has had some awful things happen in her past, she is strong, confident, and isn’t going to let anyone boss her around. Plus, she is focusing on getting a jumpstart with a hockey news internship.

Jake Connelly – Captain of the Harvard’s hockey team, and already all-star. He has signed with the Oilers for the next season, but is trying to win it all his last year in college, and cannot risk any distractions for him or his team.

“I know you’re Chad Jensen’s daughter. I know you would take any opportunity to mess with my players’ heads. I know we’re probably going to be facing off with Briar in the conference finals in a few weeks”

And Brenna and Jake’s paths cross when Jake meets up with Brenna to tell her that she is being a distraction to one of his players. Which, Brenna obviously doesn’t listen to, even if she isn’t really romantically interested in the other Harvard player. But it is the perfect set up for Brenna and Jake’s paths keep crossing as enemies, even if they can’t stop thinking what it would be like if they were lovers.

Plus, we have seen the chemistry between these two characters brewing for so dang long, and even when they are disagreeing on something, their banter is perfection. And they are both the perfect amount of hard and soft, I’m not even going to hint at it, I’m just going to say this: this book has the best sixty-nine sex scene I’ve ever read. Like, there were so many elements that made it so sexy, but it was amazing.

In this story we really see a lot of people in the sports industry be very nasty and hold some very misogynistic views. Sadly, Brenna experiences this first hand when trying to enter the field she eventually wants to work in. But even more sadly, this is something that so many women deal with in our world, too. I’m sure most of who have been to a sports bar, you have heard people say some gross stuff about women interviewers for any pro-sport. But I really loved and appreciated Brenna, and a few other women, trying to break those toxic cycles.

I also loved how this book constantly discusses how bad things that have happened to you in your past are not your fault, even if you can’t help but feel an immense amount of guilt over them. People make bad choices all the time, and just because you love someone and were a part of their life when they were making bad choices, does not mean that those bad choices are your fault whatsoever. This is constantly brought up throughout the book, and I think survivor’s guilt is something that we should talk about more in society, and I really appreciate how it was handled in this book.

I’ll be honest with you, I thought this installment was going to be my favorite out of everything that Elle Kennedy has written, and I truly kept thinking that until around the 85% mark. I just didn’t love the ending of this one, and I felt like the coach being a jerk was just a quick and kind of dumb bump in the road to give us one like little unnecessary angst plot. Which I would have been able to overlook, if we would have seen a really romantic or sexy scene after. But it just got wrapped up, and the Epilogue was more about personal success than relationship success, so it left me wanting so much more. I don’t know, I feel bad saying this, but because the book was so freaking amazing and unputdownable for 85%, that last 15% just felt like such a letdown and left me a bit sad upon closing the book. But I still loved this story as a whole.

Overall, Brenna is, without question, my favorite protagonist from the entire Off-Campus world. And I honestly might even go as far as to say that Jake is my favorite love interest of them all, too. They are both the characters that I would want to date the most, but they are truly so damn perfect for one another. I won’t lie though, I am dying to get Hunter’s book, so I am ready to pray every night that The Play will end up being his book. Also, side note, I do not want Hazel to come back into the story or be a love interest. So, I’m extra crossing my fingers and limbs for that not to happen. But yeah, this was a wonderful installment. I read it in twenty-four hours because I couldn’t put it down. The sex was mind-blowing. The set up was glorious enemies to lovers perfection. And I truly can’t wait to see what comes next.

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The quote above was taken from an ARC and is subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for explicit sex, a lot of misogynistic comments (always challenged), talk of past loss of a loved one, drug addiction and substance abuse, use of the word cr*zy, talk of past miscarrying, and a panic attack.

#1.) The Deal ★★★★
#2.) The Mistake ★★★
#3.) The Score ★★★★
#4.) The Goal

❤ I also read this for Contemporary-a-thon!

 

Check, Please!: #Hockey (Check, Please!, #1-2) by Ngozi Ukazu

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This ARC was given to me by my beautiful friend Lilly from Lair of Books!
(Thank you so much! I love you!)

You all, this was the cutest. No, scratch that – Bitty is the cutest! And this graphic novel was nothing short of a joy to read! Hockey games, behind the scenes practices, a slow-burn attraction, an adorable romance, the most heartwarming main character ever. I mean, what else could you really ask for? Ngozi Ukazu has given us such a bright light of pure sunshine!

So basically, this is a published version of a very popular webcomic that so many of my friends have been following and adoring for so very long. It stars a boy named Eric Bittle, AKA: Bitty, who is leaving his southern home to go to college in the north to play hockey, and he is gay and not yet out! He is also a very talented ice skater, but he has a little improving to do on the ice with hockey. And this book is broken up in two parts that are following him during his freshman year and sophomore year at Samwell University.

Bitty also makes video blogs where he talks about everything that’s going on his life. We get to slowly see the seasons change, and Bitty change as well during his vlogs. And he especially likes to talk about the captain of the hockey team, Jack, who he is pretty sure dislikes him, even though he is constantly helping him improve on the ice.

“Never fall for a straight boy.”

But we also get to see Bitty interact with the rest of his team: Ransom, Shitty, Holster, Chowder, Nursey, Lardo, and Dex (ew)! And Bitty builds some really beautiful friendships. Shitty (Lord, I will never get used to typing that name) is such a sweetheart who was so accepting and wonderful. Easily my favorite side character and my favorite brewing side romance with a certain someone.

I also loved getting to see Bitty move into the team house his sophomore year and really embrace his love for cooking. While his team also embraces their love for eating his baking. Seriously, seeing him build friendships and bond with others was so pure and so wonderful.

Lastly, I really want to talk about Ngozi Ukazu’s banter and how it is so perfect and so realistic. I legit tried to read this in public, and I was smiling so big and giggling out loud while sipping my coffee. The dialogue is on a tier above most graphic work out here, and the art is so beautiful and lovely on the eyes, too. I am in awe.

Overall, I just thought this was adorable perfection. The only reason I’m giving it four stars is because I feel like the story just started to really begin right before it ended. But the slow burn m/m romance is very precious, and I will scream from the highest rooftop that Bitty deserves the entire world forever and ever. I have such high hopes for junior and senior year! This is easily the best sports graphic work I’ve ever read.


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Content and triggers warnings for underage drinking, panic attacks, hazing, and a lot of sexual content comments (mostly about hooking up with girls).

❤ I read this for Contemporary-a-thon!

 

Fence Vol. 1 by C.S. Pacat & Johanna the Mad

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Friends, I love this story, this art, and these characters with the sum of my being. This is such a diverse cast, from sexuality (seriously, I think everyone is queer), to race, from social and economic backgrounds, to different family dynamics; there is so much to love about Fence. Like, C.S. Pacat’s writing and Johanna the Mad’s art is honestly a match made in Heaven, and these four issues were absolutely perfection.

Fence surrounds a boy’s boarding school, where many of the students are trying out for the fencing team. They all come with different levels of experience, with different strengths and weakness, but they are all competing for one of three open spots on the varsity team. And even though everyone wants to make the team, it is absolutely dire for Nicholas Cox.

“I know I can fence.”

I so very easily fell in love with each and every single one of these characters. And I found these amazing character layouts on C.S. Pacat’s Twitter!

And the “treasure” and “trouble” are honestly a gift from a higher power. And, don’t be me wrong, Nicholas and Seiji and their dynamic is perfection, but I honestly fell the most in love with Harvard and Aiden. Like, I can tell you all right now that that is going to be the ship I go down with. But my favorite character is easily Bobby! He completely made the comic for me, and everything about him just felt like a shining light at this boarding school!

Okay, so like with every graphic novel that I review, I always do a breakdown on my thoughts and feeling of each individual issue. So, the next portion of this review will be a little more SPOILER-Y! Obviously, I won’t give away anything too pivotal, but I will talk about some of the themes that each issue had inside.

Trigger and content warnings for minor bullying and for abandonment.

CHAPTER ONE
Oh my gosh, this first issue was everything! I loved being introduced to these characters, and I loved how Nicholas and Seiji literally first meet because they have to fence one another. I also loved getting to see a little more into Nicholas’ backstory and why he wanted to fence in the first place, and seeing him try to healthily fill that abandonment void with something positive.

CHAPTER TWO
This issue lets the reader see the boarding school that is really going to be the starting point of this story. It is six months since chapter one, and Nicholas is finally at Kings Row Boys School, where he hopes to get a scholarship from making varsity fence. We are introduced to a ton of new amazing characters that completely captured my heart; Bobby, Harvard, Aiden. And seeing the juxtaposition of Nicholas and Jesse Coste was really moving and powerful. I just want the best for my fence babies. Oh, and Nicholas also finds out who his roommate is going to be, and I actually screamed with pure joy.

CHAPTER THREE
We learn in this issue that there are only three available spots on the varsity team. And we also get to see all the people trying out’s different weaknesses and strengths. Nicholas is still hurting from an emotional wound that has never healed his entire life. Seiji still thinks he is God’s gift to fencing. We get introduced to Dante and Kally, who I easily fell in love with, too. And the round robin tournament for the three spots at stake begins.

CHAPTER FOUR
We get to see the fencer’s matches and that’s all I really want to say. But the ending of this bind-up volume was so damn brutal. Like, I need so much more! And I don’t want to way for Volume Two in January. I loved this, and it is easily my favorite graphic novel of 2018, so far.

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The Chase (Briar U, #1) by Elle Kennedy

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ARC provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

“I feel like too many girls fail to remember one vital truth: we deserve someone who gives us one hundred percent. Half-assed effort isn’t effort. Half-assed love isn’t love.”

Elle Kennedy and her steamy hockey romances are back. And, like, what a damn blessing. This is the happiest I’ve been reading a book all damn year. These new characters completely won me over. All the cameos from the people we already love were perfection. The banter and jokes literally had my sides hurting from giggling. And, this book actually had some really important topics like ADHD and how learning disabilities can impact you in college, how growing up in the middle of abusive parents can have detrimental effects, how judging people based off their looks is really gross, and how you should always go with your gut feeling, especially when it comes to creepy men in a position of power.

You all, I loved this. The ARC hit my kindle at about 8 PM last night, and I quickly ate dinner and spent the rest of my night completely immersed in this college that I missed so much! And like I said above, we get to see Garret, Logan, Tucker, and Dean, but this is a whole new hockey team, even if a couple of the guys have had minor parts in the original quartet. And The Chase really focuses on:

Colin Fitzgerald – Tatted, video game loving, hockey player. Like, the dream, right? But Fitz is struggling with abuse from his past, and never allowing anyone in. That is, until he meets a girl who he wishes, more than anything, he didn’t want to let in so badly.

“In college, I’ve made more of an effort to be social, but deep down I’m still the guy who wants to remain invisible. Summer is the most visible person I’ve ever met.”

Summer Di Laurentis – Dean’s littler sister has just transferred to Briarwood! She’s pursuing a degree in fashion, but she unapologetically loves it (and herself), regardless of the judgement people want to throw her way. The only problem is, she doesn’t have a place to live since she transferred schools so quickly. But Dean talks to Fitzy, Hollis and Hunter, since they are living in his old house, which totally has room for his baby sister.

And all that good angst ensues.
*clutches pearls forever*
The sexual tension. Lord, help me.

“…He just happens to be THE UNICORN. The tall, sexy, tattooed, hockey-playing unicorn of a man who I might have a teeny-weeny itsy-bitsy crush on. Okay, fine. A big motherfucking crush on.”

But we also get to see a lot of Hunter, which is deserving of a whole other paragraph. Okay, here is the thing about this book; I loved it with my entire heart and soul, and I don’t even have a word combination for how happy it made me while reading, but, if I was Summer, I would have wanted to date Hunter over Fitz. There I said it. I’m terrible. But it’s the truth. It’s honestly the only “negative” thing I can say about this book, and I loved it so much that it’s not really a negative.

The other character that we are newly introduced to is the hockey coach’s daughter, Brenna! And like… Hi, my name is Melanie and I really want to date Brenna. Like, in the bar, with her black bralette? I was swooning, friends. I was like, “there are hockey boys at this table, too?” She deserves the entire world, and I support her (probable) traitorous ways!

Summer was easily my favorite in this book though. Gosh, I feel like 2018 is just the year of me writing too many personal reviews, but Summer just really resonated with me. I know others won’t feel this way, but Summer really meant a lot to me. I’ve been judged because of the way I look forever, and people always form these terrible, awful, superficial, opinions of me, especially at bars and parties. And I get it, people are like, “wow, you have it so rough being (with some people thinking that you’re) pretty” but like, people can be really horrible and nasty. Also, I’m loud, and outgoing, and passionate, just like Summer. And people judge her for that, too, but seeing how she handles it, very realistically, warmed my heart. Seriously, Summer is easily one of my favorite characters of 2018.

“You know who else was viewed as a fluffy sorority girl?” she challenges. “Elle Woods. And you know what she did? She went to law school and showed everyone how smart she was, and then she became a lawyer and everybody loved her, and her slimy ex tried to win her back and she sent him on his way. The end.”

This book also tackles rape culture, especially in colleges, where it is easier to tell the girl she over reacting, than to break the cycle of the abuser. Also, obviously because Summer is comfortable with her sexuality, she was asking for it. And Elle Kennedy always delivers these points in a negative light, showcasing how gross our world can be and how hurtful stereotypes are. And having this be in a book set in college? It’s even more important.

Summer’s ADHD and learning disabilities are also always at the forefront of this story, and I was living for it. Seeing Summer being insecure and embarrassed about needed more help, time, and attention, is something so important and I wish more people could read this book for that alone, honestly. Everyone learns differently, and medication doesn’t always impact lives for the better, and Summer’s voice is so dang important. I just love her and everything about her character. Seriously.

“Loving yourself is hard enough. Silencing the inner critic borders on impossible.”

Yet, this book is light, and fun, and I honestly never laugh at books, but I always get tears in my eyes from laughing at this series. I just feel like the banter is written expertly, and so realistically. And this book is really sexy. Like, there isn’t a ton of sexual content, if I’m being honest, but the build up is perfection. And the few scenes that it does have? Pretty damn hot, I’m not going to lie.

“With any other guy, I’d probably take the bull by the proverbial horns. As in, put my literal hand on his literal penis.”

Oh, and another thing I want to praise this author for was the use of video games and nerd culture in general. I always get apprehensive that I’m going to dislike books that have this element, because they never feel “Authentic” or whatever, but Elle Kennedy did such a damn good job. Even with Twitch and streaming! And oh my gosh, Fitz has a popular MMORPG friend who has a stream, and his name was Morris, and maybe it was just a coincidence, but it makes me feel like Elle knows who Sodapoppin is! And it brought me so much unreasonable joy! But she also talks about the toxic masculinity in the community and how some dudes will think girls like Summer are “faking it” or “not nerdy enough” and all the other gross accusations stereotypes. Seriously, this book is so well done. Also, I’d totally play Fitzy’s game in a heartbeat.

Overall, I just love this series. It’s seriously a tier above anything else out in the NA Romance genre. Seriously, Elle Kennedy is truly the queen of the genre at this point! And The Chase is my favorite thing she’s ever written. I can’t wait to read The Risk next year. Especially because Elle has so many things brewing, I can’t wait to see Brenna and (hopefully) a certain rival and I need to personally get to know. Thanks.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Trigger and content warnings for sexual content, use of the term “spirit animal” (in 2018, really?), drug use, attempted sexual assault, a weird comment about audiobooks that had me side-eyeing, girls on girl hate (always challenged though), a lot of gross and judgmental comments, a little body shaming towards men in bathing suits and what “looks good” or whatever, a lot of rape culture comments (again, always challenged), and shitty parents.

#1.) The Deal ★★★★
#2.) The Mistake ★★★
#3.) The Score ★★★★
#4.) The Goal

 

Long Shot: A HOOPS Novel (Hoops #1) by Kennedy Ryan

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First and foremost, I really want to emphasize that this is a book about abuse and what it is like to be in a very dangerous and abusive relationship. MAJOR trigger and content warnings for a lot of graphic rape, stalking, being trapped, and a lot of very graphic physical, emotional, and mental abuse. This read is not easy or light, but it very importantly talks about taking back your own body after someone has been forcefully taking it for so long. Also, if you need help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233.

“I spoke because maybe there’s some girl like me. Young. Vulnerable. Naïve. Flattered by his attention. Maybe she thinks his jealousy means he loves her more or that it’s cute. Does she realize that slowly, surely, she’s being cut off from her friends? Isolated from her family? Being molded into something she’s not? Into what he wants her to be?”

This book also puts on display how difficult it can be to leave an abusive relationship. We live in a world where people never want to believe a woman’s word, on top of the hundreds of other factors that come into play when someone is trying to leave their abuser. The author put in a lot of research and interviewed a lot of survivors, social workers, and women’s shelters and it shows on the pages. This book feels so real. But again, this is a book about reclaiming your body and your mind from your abuser. And if you are in the right mindset, I very much recommend this read.

“Strength. Dignity. Courage. All these things belong to you. Take them back. Your soul is yours. Your heart is yours. Your body is yours. Yours to keep and yours to share.”

Long Shot is a basketball, sort of second chance romance that starts with one night at a bar that changes two people’s lives forever. It is the night before August’s big college final game, and Iris is a basketball fanatic that came to the bar to catch her beloved Lakers play. August was just looking to blow off some steam, but he wasn’t planning on meeting someone who he would never forget. The chemistry is instant and so damn good. I truly believed that these two characters were real and were soulmates and it was a damn treat to be inside their heads.

This is also an ownvoices for the two black main characters that the points of view shift between. Actually, both August and Iris are biracial (white and black) and this book always holds an important discussion about growing up biracial and never feeling like you belong to either half of yourself.

Also, this book talks about Hurricane Katrina and how so many families were broken apart and forced to flee New Orleans, and become refuges in their own country. I’m telling you all, Kennedy Ryan packed this beautiful romance novel with some important topics and discussions that so many writers wouldn’t dare bring up. She’s made a fan for life.

But after having an amazing night just baring their souls to one another in a bar, Iris confesses that she has a boyfriend, so their relationship can go no further than friendship. And August is a standup guy and understands, until he realizes the next night at his game that Iris is dating his childhood nemesis.

From there we get to see how Iris and August’s lives go on different paths; him in the NBA and her with her abuser, but somehow their paths always connect back to one another. And the abuse I prefaced this review with? It starts out suddenly, with Iris being told what to wear, then telling Iris how her future should go, to eventually trapping Iris into something that changes her life forever. Again, this is a hard book to read, but I promise it is so rewarding.

“The heart speaks in whispers, but sometimes by the time we listen, it’s too late. I learned that the hardest way. And maybe that girl can change her course before it’s too late.”

The romance in this book is so damn swoon-worthy. August West is a God among men, and Iris is one of the strongest protagonists I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about, and August is so deserving of her. And not only is the romance perfect and the sex amazing, Iris and August’s friendship is always on display and seeing it grow into something more was something more beautiful that I have words for.

“I’ll never take this for granted. Not his kindness, when I’ve known cruelty all too well. Not his tenderness, when I’ve been handled roughly in the past. Not his love, when I’ve been possessed and owned and mistreated.”

And this book is just a love letter to why it is so important to surround yourself with people who have your back and will always unconditionally love you. The love between Iris and her cousin, Lotus, was so important to me. And seeing Iris reconnect with her grandmother was also one of my favorite moments in the book. Yet, again, this book showcases the important of found family and how important it is to cut out toxic family members from your life, because blood is just that; blood, and nothing more.

This is a real and raw novel, and I know a lot of people won’t be able to read it because it is so triggering, but I also think this book has so much power to heal abuse victims. I will be forever thankful for Kennedy Ryan for creating this masterpiece and using her voice for so much good. And for somehow writing this novel that will evoke every emotion out of you, but will leave you believing in love again. If you are in the right mindset, and are looking for a good romance, I completely recommend Long Shot, and I anticipate it making many people’s best of 2018 lists. And I can’t wait to see if we get a story about Lotus. *crosses fingers forever* And girls? Make sure you always get a partner that always plays you at the five.


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I loved this interview from Steph so much that I knew I had to finally pick something up by Kennedy Ryan!