Check & Mate / Ali Hazelwood / Book Review


Mallory Greenleaf gave up chess years ago. But when her best friend begs her to join an amateur chess team for an upcoming charity event, she can't really say no. Not for a one-off, one-day even that she can immediately forget about. But when Mal's first match turns out to be against reigning Chess World Champion, "Kingkiller" Nolan Sawyer, everything changes. Because Mal actually wins.

Suddenly, everybody wants to know who Mallory Greenleaf is, but Mal doesn't want anybody to know about her. She especially doesn't want her family to know she's back in the chess world, not after what happened with her dad. But when she loses her job (and her means of supporting her mom and sisters), she has to take the chess fellowship an elite chess club in NYC has offered. Even if that means competing. It's not like she'll ever reach a rank that anybody will care about.

Except somebody does care. Somebody named Nolan Sawyer.



A book isn't Young Adult just because it has a "young" main character. A romance isn't YA just because it is closed door. This book isn't YA. It is not suitable for the market. It is too mature. The sex might not be entirely on the page, but that doesn't make much of a difference. On top of being something I would never recommend to someone shopping in the teen category, this book tries too hard to cater to Gen Z (newsflash, Gen Z doesn't like try-hards). Aside from the fact that a good half of Gen Z falls into the "adult" category already and doesn't need to be catered to in this way, this book utterly fails at being age-appropriate for the category into which it has been published. Age ratings do mean something, or at least they should. 


Voicey This book might read like a trainwreck, but the animated narrative voice makes it un-put-downable. It's like popcorn at a movie theatre. You grab it on impulse. The first few bites might be better than the rest, but you'll compulsively finish it no matter what.

Niche I do appreciate a book that takes the time to highlight a niche hobby. Chess is, most certainly, niche. Thought Hazelwood does apologize for slight inaccuracies in her author's note, I do appreciate that she thought to bring the world of chess to the page nonetheless.

Balance Romance books are rarely my favorite read. I prefer plot to relationship most of the time. And so I really appreciate here just how well Hazelwood balanced plot with romance. This book is undoubtedly a romance. The attraction is there right from the beginning. But the chess arc doesn't get lost for all that. There's a definite competition-book high that comes with this story.


At eighteen and twenty, this couple is just too old for an audience that starts at twelve years old. Sure, there are books aimed at the higher end of the YA range, but even then, we're talking 14 to 17. These characters are older, and they act that way. There's way too much talk about sex in this book, even from the main character's twelve-year-old sister! I appreciate that Mal is a liberated woman, but there's a lot of hooking up for this to be appropriately YA--not to mention Mal's sexual "freedom" plays into a very anti-bisexual stereotype that I'd rather not see played up. In reality, this is just a really, really tame adult romance that could have and should have had a spicy scene or two thrown in to help age it up. Young characters do not make a book YA. This book is too adult in a lot of ways. Too Mature

Mal does a lot of things a parent should realistically be doing, not a daughter and a sister, but you know what? She's a full grown adult. If she wants to be a responsible member of her household, I say go for it. That's her prerogative. But even as she steps up and takes charge, she's particularly whiny and wallowy about it. She's not fifteen, and I found myself more annoyed than moved by her plight. She just needs to get over herself. Parentification

Fantasy books are usually the ones with this problem, so it is kind of refreshing to read such a horrendous and extraneous prologue in a romance. This prologue was just absolutely, one-hundred-percent not necessary. Unless it was meant to clinch this book as YA (which, I mean, see critique above). Maybe the editors felt like she needed to be in high school at some point for this to be marketed correctly, but honestly, it was just a waste of paper. I can honestly say I've never so quickly regretted picking up a book. Prologue



Fans of Ben Philippe's Charming As A Verb will like this friendly-competition romance. Those who enjoyed J.C. Peterson's Lola At Last will love this voicey, hot mess of a romantic lead.


Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books For Young Readers
Date: November 7, 2023
Series: N/A
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Note: I was provided with an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions here are my own.


  1. I had my eye on this one but given your review and the fact it is so steamy I’m going to pass. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Sounds like this book does have potential but fell short in the end!

    Corinne x

  3. That's such a shame it's not as billed - I agree with you, it sounds far too adult for a YA audience.

  4. I did really enjoyed the Love Hypothesis but I think I might pass on this one.

  5. I haven't read any books by Ali Hazelwood, but I'll definitely be giving this one a pass. It does sound like it shouldn't have been marketed as YA!

  6. Neither Check Nor Mate

  7. I've read a couple of her adult novels, and that was enough. Great, informative review -- which convinces me that I don't need to read this book.


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