🎧 Check & Mate by Ali Hazelwood @EverSoAli @KarissaVacker @BerkleyRomance @BerkleyPub @PRHAudio #LoveAudiobooks #JIAM

Posted June 7, 2024 by KC in Book Review, JIAM / 13 Comments

Review copy was received from Library. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

🎧 Check & Mate by Ali Hazelwood @EverSoAli @KarissaVacker @BerkleyRomance @BerkleyPub @PRHAudio #LoveAudiobooks #JIAMCheck & Mate by Ali Hazelwood
Narrator: Karissa Vacker
Published by Listening Library on November 7, 2023
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary Romance
Length: 9 hours, 31 minutes
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
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One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

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...)

Ali Hazelwood is a genius when it comes to the Smart Romance genre.  She doesn’t simply pay lip service to her subject, such as with a bio-physicist heroine that never actually does anything bio-physicist-y (yup, that is a word).  The science she writes about is always an integral part of the story and the characters themselves.  Check & Mate is a little different than her normal STEM-focused stories; as the name suggests this one take place in the world of Competitive Chess.

Mallory Greenleaf is carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders.  She’s the only one keeping her family afloat; and has sacrificed her future, thanklessly at times, to keep food on the table and the lights on at home.  The prologue hints that Mallory has the potential for greatness; but it will take facing past trauma, learning to accept help, and coming to terms with how she really feels about Chess to step into that destiny.  She sets off a series of life-altering events when she agrees to play in a charity Chess tournament, and defeats the world’s best player, the “Kingkiller” Nolan Sawyer.

Nolan Sawyer is the bad boy of chess; there is plenty of historic footage of him turning over chessboards, throwing tantrums, and even punching an opponent.  But any time Nolan appears on the page, he’s thoughtful with a dry humor and unyielding determination.  As the story progresses, the reader is able to better understand the aloof Grandmaster; who is a fierce competitor, but an even fiercer friend.  It is pretty clear that Nolan is really just a cinnamon roll and it is hard not to fall in love with him.

This is probably my favorite book by Ali Hazelwood so far.  I am not a chess player (much to the chagrin of my spouse and children), but I learned much about the competitive side of chess, including the physical toll on the players, and have ever more respect for their mental and physical stamina.  But Check & Mate wasn’t all serious stuff.  This book was seriously funny.  From the characters’ quirks to the witty dialogue, if I wasn’t laughing out loud or shaking my head, I was probably listening with a big grin. There were a few ‘misunderstandings,’ especially towards the end, between her and Nolan that frustrated me as a reader, but I understand the need to build tension and that made the ending so much sweeter.

Ali Hazelwood openly addresses the issue of gender inequality in STEM and uses her stories to educate as well as entertain.  While Competitive Chess isn’t precisely a STEM field, the sexism and harassment faced by women in the sport continues to be a significant problem.  Koch (fittingly pronounced C*ck) and his cohorts personify this problem and are easy to hate as the villains in the story.  I think fiction has the ability to influence and I appreciate it when authors, like Ali Hazelwood, use their platforms to incite positive change.

Check & Mate was a well-written, story full of humor and excitement.  After reading it, I think I have a better appreciate of competitive chess and might even attempt playing again.  The perfect blend of romance, humor, and a nerdy charm.



Karissa Vacker does an excellent job with the narration. She delivered a youthful and earnest performance as Mallory, which I think was the most important part to get right. She also did a great job with the other characters and I was able to easily distinguish them from each other.

Listen to a clip:  HERE


About Ali Hazelwood

I’m Ali, and I write contemporary romcom novels about women in STEM and academia. I love cats, Nutella, and side ponytails. I’m also currently learning to crochet, so as you can tell I’m a super busy gal with an intense and exciting life!

Rating Breakdown
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Narration (Audio)
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Overall: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star
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Posted June 7, 2024 by KC in Book Review, JIAM / 13 Comments

13 responses to “🎧 Check & Mate by Ali Hazelwood

  1. I read one book by Hazelwood and really enjoyed it and I like the sound of this one. I like the sound of the premise and the fact that it is funny is definitely a selling point.

    • KC

      I didn’t even realize it was YA! More like a New Adult. It is pretty clean, but there is language and adult themes. Not as much angst as a YA for sure.

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