Publisher: Rebel House Ink
Date of publication: December 1st, 2023
Genre: Christmas, Horses, Young Adult, Romance
Series: North Oak
Far Turn—Book 5 (review here)
Hard Check Holiday—Book 8.5
Hard Boot—Book 9
Taking place between the events of Ride for Glory and Hard Boot, this Christmas special visits North Oak over the holidays. A happy one- finally!
At least that’s how it seems on the outside.
Inside, 17-year-old Alexandra Anderson is struggling with her heart, both physically and emotionally. She is ready to commit to a relationship with Dejado Augustun, until a minor accident with best friend Carol changes everything.
Forced to do a hard check on her life, Alex realizes chances only come once. Can she pull herself together in time to start the racing season?
Or will heartache and heart trauma hold her back?
The Triple Crown & Tiara are on the line.
HARD CHECK– definition (verb), when a jockey is forced to restrain his mount at speed to avoid catastrophe.
Laura came home for Christmas. But no one told seventeen year old Alex.Hard Check Holiday by Ann Hunter
Important things you need to know about the book:
Pace: The pacing of Hard Check Holiday was medium-paced, with the book amping up to a fast pace in certain spots. There was some lag towards the end when Alex chose between Dejado and Carol. But it was nothing that disrupted the flow of the book or my enjoyment of it.
POV: Hard Check Holiday is told from Alex’s 3rd person point of view.
Series: Hard Check Holiday is a holiday book in the North Oak series. It is 8.5 and comes after Ride for Glory but before Hard Boot. You can read this as a standalone. But, I recommend reading books 1-8 to understand Alex and other characters’ relationships and backgrounds.
Trigger/Content Warning: Hard Check Christmas has trigger and content warnings. If any of these triggers you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:
- Rape (minor, off page)
- Abandonment of a child (minor, off page)
- Anxiety & Anxiety Attacks (moderate, on page)
- Miscarriage (minor, off page)
- Death of parent (minor, off page)
- Transphobia (minor, on page)
Sexual Content: There is no sexual content in Hard Check Holiday. Alex and Dejado kiss a couple of times, but it stops there.
Language: There is mild swearing in Hard Check Holiday. There is some mildly offensive language used to describe a trans girl getting kicked off the basketball team when she told her coach she was transitioning.
Setting: Hard Check Holiday is set entirely on the grounds of North Oak (a racing barn) in Kentucky.
Tropes: Afraid to Commit, Emotional Scars, Orphan, Friends to Lovers, Found Family
Age Range: I recommend Hard Check Holiday to anyone over 16
Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):
It is Christmas, and Alex is praying that this Christmas will be the first non-drama-free one in the four years she has lived at North Oaks. And, for the most part, it is. Alex is forming a relationship with her sister, Gina, and her relationship with her adoptive parents and sister is stronger than ever. She also has two essential races to look forward to in the New Year.
But, some things are preventing Alex from thoroughly enjoying her holiday. The main issue is that she has feelings for Dejado and Carol. Alex is ready to start a relationship with Dejado, but her feelings for Carol keep getting in the way. Alex needs to make a choice and ensure it is correct. Because the more she waits, the more she risks losing Dejado and Carol. Who will Alex choose, and will that choice be the right one?
Alexandra Anderson: I liked seeing this noncompetitive, vulnerable Alex. In the other books, she is always on the go and involved in various things around the barn. But seeing her slow down a little in this book was nice. Her eye was still on the upcoming races, but Alex was able to unwind a bit and enjoy Christmas. The only issue I had with her was her treatment of Gina. But, considering that Gina was sprung on her, I didn’t blame Alex for how she acted. And she had every right to be angry with Gina after what Gina said to her in the barn.
I went into Hard Check Holiday thinking this would be another racing book set over Christmas and New Year’s. I was wrong. I didn’t expect the author to leave out the actual racing (there were mentions of the upcoming races, and the horses had cameos). So, it was different from her other books, and you know what, I liked it!
Hard Check Holiday’s main storyline follows Alex as she celebrates Christmas with her family and friends. It also followed her as she came to terms with her feelings and then chose who she wanted to be in a relationship with. It was well written, and it got emotional during parts of the book. But overall, Alex made the choice that she felt was right. My question now is, how will her friendship with the other person be affected?
As I stated above, I liked seeing Alex being more relaxed. It made her seem like a normal seventeen-year-old. However, she did have her issues, and the author addressed several of them in the book. As someone who suffers from severe anxiety, I felt for her during her panic attack scenes (the one Gina caused was awful).
Alex’s sexuality has been a big topic during the last few books. I liked how the author approached and portrayed her feelings for Carol and Dejado. I did get somewhat angry during this angle, and it was because of what Gina said. I have a very mouthy ten-year-old, and that little girl pushed the limits there. But, in a way, it pushed Alex to open up to Laura about her feelings and paved the way for Alex to make her own decision.
The author also handled Alex’s reactions to any sexual touch in a way that was appropriate for a rape victim. Dejado was gentle and respected her boundaries. He never pushed her past what she was comfortable with and ensured she was OK with anything he did, mostly kissing.
I was surprised by the end of the book. Alex’s choice was surprising because she kept going about the other person. I wonder if her decision will affect her friendship with that person (and I stated that above). I guess I’ll have to read the next book to find out.
Many thanks to Ann Hunter for allowing me to read and review Hard Check Holiday. All opinions stated in this review are mine.
Other books by Ann Hunter: