Cover of Check & Mate, featuring a blonde woman and a brunet man standing on a chess board amongst floating chess pieces

About the Book

Title: Check & Mate
Published: 2023
Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Cover Story: Is This Wizard’s Chess?
BFF Charm: Natalie Imbruglia
Talky Talk: Hazel-Would
Bonus Factors: Chess, Sisters
Anti-Bonus Factor: Dudes
Relationship Status: Fling

Cover Story: Is This Wizard’s Chess?

It is not.

The Deal: 

Mallory Greenleaf used to live and breathe chess. Until the day when her views on the world were rocked and chess became something that reminded her of a terrible truth. At 16, her best friend talks her into playing in a charity tournament, and she begrudgingly agrees. No one is more surprised than her when she beats the reigning world champion—and known bad boy—Nolan Sawyer, although she surprises him even more when she flees the scene.

At 18, Mal is struggling to keep her family afloat. When she loses her job at an auto mechanic, she has to turn to the only other thing that she’s qualified to do: play chess. She tries to keep her return casual, but people quickly take note, including Sawyer, who wants nothing more than a rematch with her across the board.

BFF Charm: Natalie Imbruglia

BFF charm with Natalie Imbruglia's face.

Mal is a great person with a lot on her plate. I applaud her attempts to take care of her sisters and mom, but it’s obvious that she does too much and has let their situation (her mother’s rheumatoid arthritis keep her from working regularly) take over her life. Even when things get better, she struggles with letting go of the reigns and accepting help. Because of this, she keeps most people at an arm’s length, never wanting to get too involved and chance being hurt. I get it, for certain, but it would be hard to be her friend because of this.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

If you’ve read any of Hazelwood’s adult novels, Check & Mate—her first YA—follows the formula: Small woman is in a field normally dominated by men and has an unusually large man as a rival; she thinks they hate each other, but he’s got it bad; she lets herself get close, but he’s done something questionable; they both get over it and end up together. That’s not a knock; this formula makes for a fun and easy read. But if you’re not a fan of it, you won’t love the relationship between Mal and Nolan. And unlike her adult romances, the sexy scenes are very much fade-to-black moments. 

Talky Talk: Hazel-Would

Like I mentioned above, Check & Mate follows the Hazelwood FormulaTM\. I enjoy it (but do have to roll my eyes at the continued inclusion of a Very Large Man). This book, although labeled YA, doesn’t feel any different than her adult books other than the ages of the main characters (who, technically, are not YAs) and the lack of explicit spice. Again—this is not a knock. Her stories are entertaining and the characters feel very real, with great quippy passages like so:

“Nuh-uh.” I suck on my tea. Divine. “I’ve forgotten the rules. What does the little horsie do, again?”

“Very funny.”

“No, really, which one is chess? The queen conquers Catan without passing Go—”

“I’m not asking you to do what you used to do.”

“What did I use to do?”

“You know when you were thirteen and you’d beaten all the other kids at the Paterson Chess Club, then the teenagers, then the adults? And they brought in people from New York for you to humiliate? I don’t need that.”

Bonus Factor: Chess

Wooden chess pieces on a ornate wooden board

Chess is a game I’ve never gotten into, but I find it fascinating. I’m not sure I learned much about the actual game in Check & Mate—Hazelwood admits to taking liberties—but it was fun to read about in a “this is way above my head, but that’s OK” kind of way, regardless.

Bonus Factor: Sisters

Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth March hugging each other in a scene from Little Women

The Greenleaf sisters might not consider each other a Bonus Factor, but it was hilarious reading about their relationship and antics from the outside. There’s a scene in which Mal, having reached her breaking point, calls each of them a “bitch” and then they’re all calling each other “bitch” and things go completely off the rails. I could vividly imagine watching it as though it was a movie scene.

Bonus Factor: Dudes

A young woman in a pink hat hold sup a protest sign that reads "Smash the Patriarchy"

No place is safe from the ravages of toxic masculinity, and the chess world is (apparently) no exception. Mal has to deal with a lot of sexist crap from her peers, and it’s unbelievably frustrating while being, unfortunately, totally believable.

Relationship Status: Fling

We had a good time together, Book, but I think we can agree that this is a casual thing. If we meet up again in the future, great, but no real need to keep in touch. We’ll always have the memories!

Literary Matchmaking

The Love Hypothesis (The Love Hypothesis #1)

Hazelwood’s The Love Hypothesis is the adult romance that rocketed her into the bestseller world.

Geekerella (Once Upon a Con #1)

Ashley Poston’s Geekerella is another novel about a girl who does Too Much and a boy who’s not what he seems.

How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland’s How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love With the Universe also features two people who don’t like each other (or do they?) forced together, with a magical realism spin.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Check & Mate will be available Nov. 7.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.