Game of Hearts by Cathy Yardley

When a hipster man comes into Summer Auto Garage and is greeted by a woman asking him questions about the problem with his vehicle, he’s incredibly dismissive. Of course he is. Why is this secretary asking about his van? Because Kyla is the co-owner of the auto garage and practically runs the place alone while her brother, the other co-owner, runs around with his girlfriend and takes loads of time off. Kyla is a mechanic, orders parts, and does all billing on the computer.

But when she receives a phone call from her brother saying he’s broken his arm on a ski trip and can’t help at all (not even the billing, Billy? so lazy…), Kyla panics. It’s not just the auto garage. She’s also a costume designer, making one-of-a-kind pieces for cosplayers at comic conventions, and the big Comic Con in San Diego is coming up. With a chance to win a costume contest and land free advertising in a magazine, Kyla isn’t screwing around with Billy’s idiocy.

The only mechanic she can afford (that is, a volunteer) is Jericho, a traveling mechanic who customizes motorcycles. When he was a teen, Jericho and his mother fought like crazy, so he spent most of his time on Kyla and Billy’s family couch — and even more time at their house after Jericho’s mom threw him out. But chosen family is still family, so Jericho heads to Summer Auto Garage to be of assistance.

One of the first things I noticed about Cathy Yardley’s Game of Hearts is she has a diverse cast of characters, but never adds labels to them in a ham-handed way. She doesn’t write, “Jericho is a 6’7″ Native American with a white mom.” Information about his parents and heritage aren’t clear until around 2/3 through the novel. Other characters — a gender fluid person, a person with agoraphobia, or even Kyla in regards to her size — are all introduced as people first, and then context clues tell readers the rest. I’ve read some pretty exhausting books that work really hard to make sure you know their characters aren’t all straight, white, cis people, which always takes me out of the story. Plus, that’s not how I am introduced to people in real life, so it reads awkwardly. Yardley does an excellent job writing a diverse cast of folks who are individuals before labels.

The author also encourages all of her characters to be decent. When Billy says to Jericho that he’s not worried that his friend would date his sister, because Kyla is not Jericho’s type, Jericho is confused. Billy’s reason: because she’s “heavy.” Yardley’s choice to write contrasting male characters demonstrates she knows how people tend to be — Billy is selfish, shallow — and how people can be — Jericho admires Kyla for her work ethic, loyalty, and creativity — creating foils for a refreshing romantic comedy with a fat female character treated with dignity and isn’t fetishized.

Game of Hearts include a few steamy scenes and plenty of playful dialogue. There are characters we root for and those we can hate, so the tension between people drive the plot forward. When you pick up a rom-com, you know you’re in for a happy ending, and Yardley leads us predictably there. Well, except that part where Kyla disables a potential kidnapper and then puts him a costume contest. Fresh yet obvious, Game of Hearts is a fun read that will fill a few hours of your time.

Can’t get enough? Yardley wrote more books about the characters you meet in Game of Hearts. At this time, I don’t plan to read them, but if you’re in the headspace for romance, nerds, and comedy, Yardley provides. Bonus: no need to read them in order.

14 comments

  1. I’m glad you’re finding success in your quest. Do you think Kyla needed to validate her femininity by designing clothes as well as being a competent mechanic? And, I might be a bit disconcerted if I had been imagining Jericho as a weedy 5’6″ white boy and then suddenly he’s a very tall Native American.

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    • I felt like Kyla was pretty feminine as a mechanic, too, though there was a section in which she thought about how designing costumes allowed her to express her femininity, so I thought that was interesting.

      Jericho is always described as tall, and I had a fair sense of what he looked like, but I didn’t know he was tribal until later. The author does a good job of blending details in.

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  2. Ooh, always nice to see books that use the same cast of characters but don’t have to be read in order! I wish that was a more common trend. This must be the book you mentioned to me featuring diverse characters who are introduced as people first, not labels. Lovely to see that done well. Great review!

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      • The first example that comes to mind for me is Helen Hoang’s romances with autistic characters, which feature the same cast of characters but can be read in any order. I wonder if that kind of series is a romance novel trend, or if it just seems obvious because that’s the genre we’re talking about at the moment? Hmm. I can see why it’s so conducive to romance though, it’s easy to get invested in the characters in that genre without needing a continuous plot!

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        • It might be a romance thing, especially since the whole point of romance is the happily ever after. A genre like fantasy is more episodic, with those long journeys being more the point, so I don’t see a lot of room for each book being a stand alone.

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  3. I’m glad this was a good read! My initial reaction to your first paragraph was that this was a book about a character who Isn’t Like Other Girls (a trope that always bothers me) but it sounds like it’s actually a fun read with interesting characters.

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  4. Sounds cute, and I so know what you mean about authors trying too hard to label their characters as diverse. I have so much more respect for a writer when we learn these things naturally about a character as we get to know them better, not just right off the bat to check a box.

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  5. This sounds fun and well done in its portrayal of diverse characters – hooray! Her books are available on Kindle here but I’m not sure they’re not too geeky for me, i.e. I won’t understand the context. But I’m glad they exist anyway.

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    • The most geek thing the characters mentioned were Game of Thrones, which I’ve not seen or read, but I still followed along easily. Kyra creates three costumes of characters I didn’t know, but the characters don’t matter so much, either.

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