Check & Mate by Ali Hazelwood: My Book Review

Check & Mate by Ali Hazelwood has now officially made me obsessed with Ali Hazelwood’s books!

I’m so excited that she jumped into the young adult/new adult romance category and she did it spectacularly. Check out my full book review of Check & Mate below to see why I fell hard for this romance.

*Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Check and Mate is Ali Hazelwood's young adult romance debut novel coming in 2023. Check out She Reads Romance Books' book review to see if this is a book worth reading.

Check & Mate
by Ali Hazelwood

Category: New Adult Romance
Tags: Academic Rivals to Lovers, New Adult, Chess, Virgin, Strong Heroine
Published November 2023
Amazon Goodreads
Rating: ★★★★★
Book Boyfriend: ★★★★★

Check & Mate Summary:

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 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 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…)

Check & Mate: My Review

It’s official. I’m obsessed with Ali Hazelwood’s books. It doesn’t matter if she writes contemporary adult romance, paranormal romance, or now new adult romance, this woman can write and I LOVE her work.

Young adult romance isn’t always my go-to romance category of choice (though I consider this new adult romance since they are age 18 and 20) but if Ali is writing it, I’m reading it and I’m so glad that I did because this was fantastic.

What stands out to me about this romance after finishing it is how she really drew on what I enjoy about young adult and new adult romance. It’s often more than just the central love story that makes these books so great and that’s exactly what this book includes- so much more.

The story itself revolves around the heroine, Mallory who is an 18-year-old working at an auto shop to provide for her family – her mother dealing with chronic illness and her two young sisters.

She’s forgone college because someone has to pay the mortgage and the rest of the bills and it’s fallen on Mallory’s shoulders.

Though she’s shouldering more than just the financial burden of her family. She’s also been struggling with the guilt that it’s HER fault that her family is in this predicament in the first place.

She was once a chess prodigy, groomed by her father, but she believes her love of chess is what destroyed her family and so she walked away from the sport four years ago.

Only her best friend convinces her to play in a charity tournament where Mallory ends up beating the unbeatable and current World Champion, Nolan Sawyer.

Because of her win, she’s approached to train as a chess professional and Mallory’s in a position she can’t refuse but she vows to only accept the fellowship for the money and not let herself fall in love with the game again, nor the man she bested.

Gosh, there is honestly so much to love about this book. First off is our heroine, Mallory. The young woman is dealing with some serious guilt and trauma but I loved her strength.

At times I forgot that she was only 18 as she was juggling so much and yet at other times her “youngness” came out but it was her coming-of-age story that was central to this book and so well written.

I adored how Hazelwood used her friendship with her bestie and her relationship with her sisters and mother to see how she’s been living this life of guarding her heart.

There were so many additional, great secondary characters to love as well that only added depth to Mallory’s story including her Defne, Oz, and Nolan’s friends.

Then there’s Nolan. I am obsessed with him. He is such an amazing hero. His story is subtly introduced (I would have loved more about him) but it was just enough to fall in love with him without overshadowing Mallory and her character arc. I totally fell hard for him and added him to my list of best book boyfriends of 2023.

Their romance is the kind of slow burn romance I adore that just burns and burns. I’m in awe of how Hazelwood slowly developed her relationship with Nolan where he was just biding his time and slowing clawing his way into her heart until she realized he was there all along.

I loved his patience, his kindness and the SMILES that said so much. Seriously, his dialogue was just perfect.

And as a young adult/new adult romance, Hazelwood kept this as a closed-door romance and it worked.

I’ve only dabbled in chess myself, but I find the game and strategy fascinating. I loved learning more about chess in this romance and I thought Hazelwood did an awesome job weaving in the additional focus of gender bias in the sport and the struggles women have endured in it.

If you love the academic rivals to lovers romance trope and stories that are the full package then you need to read this book.

I’m just so grateful to Hazelwood for sharing her talent and I can only wait for more.

*Thank you to Netgalley for the advanced reader copy. All opinions are my own.

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Check out She Reads Romance Books' book review of Check & Mate to see if Ali Hazelwood's new young adult romance is worth reading.
Leslie Murphy is the owner and writer of She Reads Romance Books.

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Leslie reads 150 romance books a year and has been called a "book expert" by CNN. Reading romance is her passion and she cultivates her book lists with the best books worth reading in the genre. Leslie graduated magna cum laude from Davidson College where she honed her writing skills and also holds two Master's degrees. Join her community in the She Reads Romance Books Reader Lounge.

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