Cover Image: Running with Lions

Running with Lions

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Member Reviews

This is exactly the kind of book I'd recommend to anyone looking for a fun summer romance to read. This book has a diverse cast, a whole lot of fanfic tropes (in a good way!), and discussion of issues that often get glossed over (male body image, for example). This is definitely a character-driven story, so if you're looking for a ton of complex plot, I'd look elsewhere. I also struggled a bit with the third person present tense writing style and found it a bit choppy and underdeveloped in moments. Still, the development of both the romantic relationship and the friendships were very fun to read, and for once I actually enjoyed reading about sports (a first!).
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Running with Lions is an. engaging coming of age tale that celebrates queer identity and doesn't shy su from the complexity of adolescence. One of the refreshing things about this book is that protagonist is allowed to exist in an environment where being bisexual isn't an issue and he's accepted and protected by his peers, some of whom are also queer, and the adult mentors in his life.  Rather than struggling with queerness,  he is dealing with more common teen issues like maintaining friendship, rekindling old bonds with old friends, navigating a crush, and learning to a leader and peacemaker as a member of a soccer team. The themes are well developed and I found myself rooting for Sebastian's success in his sport and his romance.
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This book was like the sweetest, gayest-bisexual-esty of hugs (which may be the best hug, ever) and I fell in love with Sebastian, Emir, and almost every main character at least once.
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I loved this book! It was so cute, and all of the characters were to vibrant and lovable. The romance was exactly the kind of trope I tend to enjoy, so this was definitely written for readers like me! I cannot wait to read another Julian Winters novel. 5/5 stars
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4.5 Stars

Julian Winters’ debut novel, Running with Lions, is an absolute delight. There are so many words one could use to describe this book—charming, feel-good, funny, poignant, diverse, smart, honest, to name just a handful—and all of them, individually and together, would be true. I have been pumped for this book for months, and it lived up to every expectation I’ve had since first seeing the adorable cover; there are a million and one good things to say about it.

I’ll start with the characters. Every single one of Winters’ characters was unique and real. The authenticity and diversity in Running with Lions is a massive part of what makes the book so special. There are kids from all walks of life, all kinds of backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions, and they all come together for the love of soccer. The team that Coach Patrick has put together is also special in that there is no discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Lions is meant to be a safe space for everyone, queer or straight. Sebastian is bisexual, and his best friends, Willie and Mason, are gay and questioning, respectively, and it’s a complete non-issue as far as their teammates or coaches are concerned. The only thing that matters at the end of the day is their performance on the pitch.

Sebastian is in sort of a weird place in this final summer, and final soccer camp, before his last year of high school. He’s filled with uncertainty about what to do after he graduates—though he knows he wants to get out of Bloomington—and with lots of insecurities and doubt about whether he’s good enough to play after high school, and regarding his body. His body image issues stem from being bullied about his weight as a kid, and even though he’s an athlete and in good shape, he still sees “Bastian the Trashcan” when he looks in the mirror. The one thing he’s not uncertain about, at least most of the time, is his ability on the field and his place with his team. Sebastian is known as “The Responsible One” and is rumored to be the next team captain, a title he fully deserves. He’s such a good teammate and friend, in fact, that when it becomes obvious that Emir needs some mentoring and help with his game, Bastian offers to help him despite his old friend’s extremely prickly exterior.

Emir and Sebastian were thick as thieves when they were younger, but since Emir’s return from an extended family trip to London when they were in middle school, they haven’t spoken. Emir is resentful that Sebastian moved on and made new friends when he was gone, and Sebastian doesn’t fully understand Emir’s icy attitude or why he’s treating everyone like shit. Eventually he learns why Emir is at camp—to please his father—and starts to chip away at that wall Emir has built up around himself. These guys were great together. I loved their story and the romance.

I loved our main characters a ton, of course, but this was also very much an ensemble piece. Mason, Willie (I love Willie SO MUCH), Hunter, Grey, Coach Patrick—they all had very important roles to play and added so much to the story. The writing is very laid back and relatable yet is also beautifully poetic and mesmerizing in places. The author uses some gorgeous imagery to describe everything from sunsets and areas around the camp, to the game of soccer itself. Winters does an amazing job of placing the reader firmly in the setting. Whether it was camp life, a practice, or the big game, I found myself entrenched in every scene. And, he also has such a great handle on portraying teenage boys. The voice felt really authentic.

You know what? I’m gonna leave it there. Don’t walk…Run! to pick up a copy of this book. You definitely don’t want to miss this wonderful story!

Reviewed by Jules
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This is a really cute book. It deals with LGBTQ characters but it's not really a coming out story. It focuses on Sebastian and his fellow teammates on the soccer team. Their coach is incredibly supportive of his players and whatever sexuality they identify with, which was refreshing to find in a YA story. The book features a diverse cast of characters, not just in regards to sexuality, but also religion and backgrounds. This is a great book for teens to read to see that not only can LGBTQ kids be accepted and out in a team sport, but that sexuality is only a small part of a person's character and identity.
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This is an absolutely endearing and amazing ya story. I love the romance and the friendships and how much they cared for each other it was such a great read
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*~~*ARC kindly provided to me for an honest review *~~*

- Review to come

Review originally posted on my blog with added content on Mikku-chan / A world full of words
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Sebastian, Erir, Mason, Willie and the rest of the soccer team are great lads, friends for years but each with their own secrets and feelings. The soccer team is one place they can be themselves and be judged on their ability, not their sexuality, race or colour - it brings out the best in them.

As a coming of age story it is good, as an LGBT+ coming of age story is is one of the best I have read.

I can't wait to read more from Julian Winters.
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Such great representation, writing, pacing, characters, plot, just such great everything. I really loved this and I will definitely be checking out more of Julian Winter's work in the future.
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The beginning was a bit slow but I enjoyed Bastian, Emir and all the Lions’ journey through their summer camp. The slow burn romance was perfect, and I now actually need more YA sport romance in my life.
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"And that's the thing, life is sometimes just another day, and sometimes it's moment after moment after moment that only paralyzes you if you let it." 

This was so incredibly precious!!!! From the cover to the first and last pages, I absolutely loved everything about this book. Highly, highly recommend reading it. It had an amazing romance between ex-best friends so there was a bit of the friends-to-lovers while also having the enemies-to-lovers trope. Sebastian and Emir's relationship was so soft and pure. Then you have the most wonderful cast of side characters with their own adorable friendships and romances. Willie is the cutest human ever, Hunter was great, Mason was a bit of a mess who we still adore, and I loved Grey so very much. Even Zach turned out to be a really good guy. The team was so accepting and I loved Coach Patrick's reason for making it that way. So many stereotypes were taken down, and it was done in such a great way. Sebastian's mom was so supportive and sweet. I loved the summer camp setting and the way it was described. Overall this was such a lovely book to read!!!
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Y’all! It’s a queer YA book about sports! It’s like a mashup of realistic, romance, and sports. How great is that? Obviously, I was dying to read it. It was so adorable. I’m from Alabama, which is Southern football country. This book felt almost like fantasy to me, but I hope I’m wrong and teams like the Lions really do exist. I want there to be coaches out there who don’t care that some of the guys on their team are gay or bisexual. It’s not even that he doesn’t care, either. He never expects anyone on the team to hide who they are. Of course, there are moments of homophobia and fear from the boys. One teammate isn’t pleased by the number of queer kids on the team. Another team taunts them about the queer kids on their team. A couple of the boys worry about holding hands in public. So, as much as it felt like a fantasy (a great one), there were some great moments of reality that pulled things together. I loved seeing Sebastian and Emir’s relationship grow from animosity to friendship and then to something more. They really were sweet. I’m really excited to see what Julian Winters writes for us next. Highly Recommended.
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I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Okay, so before I read this book I was kind of afraid I wasn't going to love it because quite frankly, I'm not the biggest soccer fan. So that being said I didn't expect to be so hooked and invested in the story. I didn't intend to become so addicted and so attached to this world, and oh look, now I'm here. It's kind of ridiculous how I dragged reading the book because I didn't want it to end. I didn't want to say goodbye to these amazing characters.

What really caught my attention at first was its cover. This cast of characters is so diverse and it has so much LGBTQ´+ rep. Our main character is bisexual, and a lot of people in his team (including his coach) are gay. We have Hispanic and Muslim rep and the author of this character is both black and LGBT as well. This was such an amazing fluffy read and it was exactly what I needed to get into the summer spirit (also uh the world cup is going on, so reading about soccer is just great). I'd definitely recommend this book and I'm sure I'll re-read it sometime in the future.
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This book - the debut novel of author Julian Winters - is touching, heart-warming, wise and hopeful. In short, it's remarkable. And yes, I teared up at the end of the book which made me fall in love with it that much more.



Sebastian is a star soccer player in his senior year of high school. He's surrounded by a cast of quirky friends (who you wish were your friends that's how cool they are) and dealing with all the challenges life throws at us during the final year of high school. Add to that someone from his past, a long lost friend has re-surfaced at soccer camp and has really thrown Sebastian's world a curve-ball. Emir is a loner, painfully shy and quick to be picked on for his differences. He's not athletic and has never played soccer. What we have here is a recipe for a tender tale about two people navigating life and being confused like everyone else as they try to stay on top of their game. You'll be rooting for these two before too long into the book, believe me. And the intensity of the relationship between Sebastian and Emir is smoldering and beautiful.

A few topics/ideas/threads stood out to me that I have deemed worthy of discussion. On this soccer team the players are encouraged to be themselves - gay, straight, bi, trans, Muslim, jock, geek, etc. For a moment this book felt surreal to me. I grew up in the eighties/nineties when we knew who was gay, tagged them that way but never discussed it or avoided them or branded them a black sheep. The LGBT lifestyle, from my seat, was part of the world but one that we were barely recognizing at the time. So reading this amazing story where being gay is so normal that everyone is casual about it, made me take pause. We've come a long way as a society in that this is how gay life is now portrayed - accurately and honestly, especially in the formative teen years when all the world is a bundle of confusion.

The other piece that stood out to me is that this book really is a model for how we should interact. We mess up. We wonder lost. But love and kindness and a cool head rule the day. These characters get into arguments but instead of dragging each other through the mud they own it, fix it, learn from it and move forward in a constructive manner. Perhaps that is one of the many reasons this book spoke to my soul. I want to live in this world. And little by little we are getting there.

On top of all of that I love a good romance story and watching how to characters grow and unfold like a flower greeting the day. Before long we are treated to something so beautiful and tender that we sigh in appreciation for having been lucky enough to witness it. Julian Winters delivers a tale that will stick with you for ages and is so full of love, acceptance and encouragement that you'll want to hug more often and smile a whole lot more. A remarkable debut novel! I am eager to see what the future brings for Mr. Winters!
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I loved this book. Emir and Sebastian are both great lead romantic characters and everyone around them is so fun to read. Whether they’re arguing over soccer or messing around in camp, this book offers a little bit of everything. It’s like a lovely summer day and teenage fun. The romance between Emir and Sebastian is sweet and passionate. Would definitely recommend this book to anyone.
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Unfortunately, we will not be able to provide a review for this title as the reviewer is unable to finish due to the style in which this is written (3rd person present tense). We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause but hope you understand. Thank you.
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Unfortunately, I couldn't click with this book. It's got a great plot and the bonus points is it's diverse, featuring bi, gay, Muslim and other MOC characters. But the biggest part of this book for me is the writing ... which I did not click with. 

I found the writing very clunky and awkward. Much of the dialogue was awkward and cheesy and all I could think was 'No teenage boy would ever speak this way.' I found myself taking a lot of breaks from this book - in fact it took me over a month to read, which never happens. However, this is a debut novel so some of these issues are understandable. I might keep an eye out on Julian Winters' other books.
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Running With Lions is one of those YA LGBT+ books where nothing terribly bad happens. If you like your books with more angst or drama, then that might be a problem, but I think it’s a good thing. Not all LGBT+ stories need to be full of difficulties. That’s not to say that everything is always easy for Sebastian, Emir, or the others on his soccer team (whether they identify as LGBT+ or not). They have their typical high school problems, as well as a few surrounding their sexuality because no matter what, “coming out” is usually never a breeze.

While I’m not a huge sports fan in real life, I do like reading books about certain sports and soccer would be one of them! This is a sport that I played myself growing up, so it’s one I can usually understand when reading about. Most of Running With Lions takes place over the summer when the soccer team attends a camp run by their coaches so they can practice, practice, practice for the upcoming year – which also happens to be Sebastian’s final year of high school. I enjoyed reading about the soccer aspects even though I was inwardly cringing at all the running and playing they had to do in the summer heat! I’m glad I’m not them!

One thing that I really liked about Sebastian is that he’s worried about life after high school. I could really appreciate this, because not everyone knows what they want to do when they grow up. It was easy to understand Sebastian’s confusion and worry. As for his relationship with Emir, I thought they were really cute together. Emir is a bit of a grump, but he’s super adorable when you get to know him, and I like that he tried to make Sebastian feel better about himself – it just showed that neither of them were perfect and that they made a good pair!

This was a fun read, and I’m curious to see what Winters releases next!
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I'm not usually one who goes for books about sports, it's not easy for me to care about the action if I'm not actually seeing it happen, but Running with Lions kept me riveted from start to finish. 
What I liked: Sebastian dealing with his own self-esteem and forcing himself to not listen to the voice in his head bringing him down, that the relationship between the friends that seemed more important to the story than Sebastian and Emir's, Emir finally letting his guard down and accepting that not everyone is going to hate him for being who and what he is.
What I didn't like: I might have to go back and find out what made Emir and Sebastian stop talking to each other near the end of the book. Either it happened so quick that I can't remember or it was never fully explained. But that's literally all I didn't like about this book.

I truly enjoyed that Sebastian and Emir got to regrow their friendship before starting anything more. You got to see a bit of what their relationship was like before it fell apart in the pre-book era, and that was important.
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