Editorial Articles, Writing/Articles

NJGENTERTAINMENT’S Most Romantic Books

Valentine’s Day is soon upon us—at least as I create this article—and that means romance is in the freezing winter air and couples of all shapes and sizes are going all out in order to feel the love on that special night!

For those like me who love a good book with a bunch of heartfelt romance, I decided to help my fellow booklovers out and create a list of some of my more memorable titles over the years and (hopefully) help someone find a new story to get their hands on and swoon over all the passionate confessions, the scorching love scenes, and enjoy it all as much as I have!

As you read the titles below, are there any on here that you agree with? Are there other books/series you recommend? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me a message on one of the many social media platforms I’m on! To find those, simply scroll back up to the top and find the “Contact Info” page on the main menu; I love to hear recommendations and just talk about books with people in general.

Enjoy the list I created below, it is in no particular order!

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What If It’s Us: by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

This was such a sweet, adorable contemporary LGBT+ title that was co-written by two of the most prolific authors in YA fiction. Two young guys meet during summer break in New York City, and of course EVERYTHING that goes wrong actually happens before these guys can possibly have a happily ever after! I’ve been meaning to reread to be able to give a better book review on here, especially with the more recent news that there’s going to be sequel!

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From Blood And Ash series by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Also known as the best series of 2020 for me, these books have just taken me in mind, body, and soul! A Fantasy-Romance series that is oh-so bingeable, I can’t recommend these books enough, and with the third book coming out in April, those who’d just be starting these books wouldn’t have to wait as long as other members of the fandom for it to release already!

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Caraval Trilogy by Stephanie Garber

These books have been such a more lighthearted, fun, and enchanting series to read. You’ve got dangerous scavenger hunts, mysterious figures, handsome men with plenty of secrets, great romance, and plenty more where that came from. I’m going to start the third and final book soon and can’t wait to also post my Fancast soon too!

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It Ends With Us: by Colleen Hoover

This book has a more serious tone than most of the others on this list, and has subject matter that may not be suitable for more sensitive readers, but the love story that is interwoven into the darker moments of this story will utterly take your breath away; I can’t recommend this book enough!

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The Off-Campus Series by Elle Kennedy

One of my favorite romance series ever, it’s a hilarious and sexy college romance series that I think anyone who’s a fan of the genre will enjoy. Elle Kennedy certainly knows how to write stories that are equally part sweet and scorching moments with all her couples in these gems; anyone who enjoys snark, smut, and smoking hot hockey players will really enjoy these!

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Him duology by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy

Another LGBT+ romance title, these books were amazing to find when I enjoyed Elle Kennedy’s other stories like the Off-Campus books. I absolutely had to read these when I learned she wrote about more hockey players, but this time it was M/M. A great second-chance romance when two former best friends return to the summer camp of their younger years and new passions are soon discovered!

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Serpent & Dove series by Shelby Mahurin

A surprisingly great debut, I loved the first book of this YA Fantasy/Paranormal Romance series when it was released. It has so many great romance tropes like “Enemies-to-Lovers,” “There’s Only One Bed,” “Marriage by Convenience,” and plenty more! I’m a little hesitant to start the next book because it’s gotten really mixed reviews (seems to have suffered from “second book syndrome”), but the third and final book’s cover was just revealed, so I’ll have to get to it soon by the time “Gods and Monsters” releases in August!

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Red, White, & Royal Blue: by Casey McQuiston

A M/M LGBT+ romance genre MUST READ! It was my favorite book of 2018 and was the kind of book I wish I had growing up back when queer titles weren’t as mainstream as they are now. I adored the love story that developed between the (fictional) first son of the president of the United States with the Prince of Wales! Ugh….PLEASE just read it.

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The Song of Achilles: by Madeline Miller

Totally expect waterworks with this book! It’s a beautifully written take on a classic greek tale that we’ve all heard before, but with a completely new take on it while being told from the perspective of a character who never really got the spotlight in “The Iliad” until now. Even though you know the eventual fate of the hero of this tale, the love that blossoms between Achilles and Patroclus makes you yearn for a possible chance that they’ll overcome all that comes between them!

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The Edge of Never duology by J.A. Redmerski

These books made me believe in soul mates…I’m totally serious! The story of Camryn and Andrew as they meet on a cross country bus ride is a story that I can’t believe isn’t more popular with other readers. They’re literally perfect for each other, and both discover new passions for life and each other along the way; this is such an underrated duology in my opinion!

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Again, But Better: by Christine Riccio

A lighthearted, beachy read about second chances with a shy, introverted girl moving abroad in order to find herself; this was a great book to lift my spirits! It was a little cheesy, not gonna lie, but I say it’s definitely worth a look at if you’re looking for an incredibly sweet romance adventure!

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River’s End: by Nora Roberts

I remember snagging my mom’s copy of this off the shelf back when I was in 7th grade and fell in love with this story. It has literally everything: Hollywood, Murder, Family, Mystery, Suspense, and a magnificent romantic journey over the course of many years for both Noah and Olivia. I was obsessed with this book as I grew up, and the copy was ragged over the many times I reread it, I definitely had to buy a new copy in order to keep it on my shelf!

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Chasing Red duology by Isabelle Ronin

I’m always a little skeptical of anything that gets published off Wattpad, but this New Adult romance duology was actually pretty decent! Caleb was at first a total player, but once it was obvious how smitten he was with Veronica, aka “Red,” he became a total book boyfriend to add to the list!

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From Ashes: by Molly McAdams

An utterly addicting book, I loved this book for the romantic storyline about Gage and Cassidy. The female main character definitely had a “Mary Sue” kind of vibe a couple times and has WAY too many guys that are so obsessed with her, but I had to keep reading every time until they got together! Lots of frustration over all that happens that possibly keeps them apart, but what a great romance title!

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The Hookup: by Kristen Ashley

This was an alright title, there wasn’t as much angst and drama to really keep my eyes glued to the pages, but the relationship that develops between Johnny and Izzy was certainly enjoyable nonetheless! An easy, beach read of a romantic story set in a small town was worth mentioning on here.

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The Hook Up: by Kristen Callihan

I know…it may be confusing to list two books with really similar titles and both authors are named Kristen, but this one is also such an amazing romantic story! It’s another college romance that New Adult fans will enjoy, Anna and Drew are another amazing couple that I discovered and think a lot of other romance fans will also enjoy!

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A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas

Of course I had to recommend something from my favorite author! This Fantasy series is such an immersive and addicting story to get into, and the romance is considered top tier amongst many other fans. As I type this, I cannot wait for the fifth book to be released on February 16th; you know I had a copy pre-ordered way in advance!

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Fangirl: by Rainbow Rowell

For anyone who’s been a part of a fandom of any kind, you will for sure relate to the main character, Cath, in this YA/New Adult romance standalone. She’s starting her freshman year of college, and she must learn to live outside of her dorm room and in the pages of her fanfiction WIP’s of Simon Snow!

The Roommate: by Rosie Danan

An impressive debut novel, this book has hilarious sitcom written all over it with an uptight, east-coast WASP living under one roof with a male porn star! The banter is hilarious and sexy, and both characters are a ton of fun to read as they learn valuable lessons in sex positivity and where they belong in the world.

The Bargainer series by Laura Thalassa

A Fantasy/Paranormal Romance series that’s highly recommended for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Richelle Mead, these books have a love story that is worth checking out! Many years ago, Callie made a deal with a mysterious winged being known as “The Bargainer” and now he’s come to collect! The romantic relationship was the major highlight of these books.

Caroline and West duology by Robin York

This duology was a surprise for me at how much I actually really got into the story! With titles like these, I thought they were going to be pretty trashy smut, but the storyline is actually incredibly solid and both main characters really develop as they get closer and reveal their unrequited feelings for each other! Caroline deals with a vicious act from her ex, who posts explicit photos and videos of her all over the internet, and she finds herself running into West and finding comfort with him at his early morning shifts at a local bakery.

Check, Please! duology by Ngozi Ukazu

A hilarious and absolutely adorable LGBT+ sports graphic novel revolving around Eric Bittle, a figure skater who loves to bake and vlog, gets a scholarship to an Ivy League college, but has to join the Varsity hockey team! Crisp & clean artwork, and an engaging and relatable coming of age storyline, Bittle learns a lot about himself from his new circle of teammates, and tries to ignore the fact that he has a huge crush on his captain!

Crescent City series by Sarah J. Maas

Another addicting book from my favorite author, this first part of her newest series has just about everything: murder, suspense, plenty of twists and turns, heartbreak, and some serious slow burning sexual tension between the two main characters of Bryce Quinlan and Hunt Alathar as they hunt down the demon who murdered her best friends. What they discover is another perfect example of how deep something like this plot can truly go!

The Kiss Quotient: by Helen Hoang

A scorching romance between a product trend forecaster and a male prostitute, what truly is noteworthy is how the female main character is actually Autistic! Having her have Aspergers made this romance title feel fresh within a genre that has a surplus of overly familiar tropes and clichés!

Anna and the French Kiss: by Stephanie Perkins

It’s a coming-of-age story about Anna, who moves to Paris for a year to study abroad, and finds herself falling in love with Etienne St. Clair. Yeah, his name sounds pretentious, but he is actually a total sweetheart who’ll have anyone swooning after him like our main character, but of course he has a girlfriend already!

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy by Jenny Han

A widely popular trilogy in the YA reading age group, the themes of family, first love, and dealing with change are incredibly relatable, and the relationship between Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky is super sweet; Peter is a total sweetheart when it’s obvious he is crazy about her and will do just about anything for her in a moment’s notice. Sure you can just watch the Netflix movies, but seriously…the books are a whole lot better. Definitely give them all a read if you can!

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe: by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Another popular book title that has also won quite a few awards, any book lists with notable LGBT+ titles more than likely includes this book because of the story between Dante and Aristotle and the summer they meet that changes both their lives. The prose feel so rhythmic together and makes you think it’s one gigantic poem, the ending will melt your heart and make you believe in happily ever afters for sure!

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda: by Becky Albertalli

This was such an adorable book to read! If you’ve seen Love, Simon you’ve got the whole jist of the book, but of course the book is always better, so why not look even further into the storyline of Simon and his secret messages with Blue?

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Perfect Chemistry trilogy by Simone Elkeles

These were a total guilty pleasure when I was younger, and they are also kind of a more modern take on the Grease-like setup of the blond popular girl falling for the bad boy from the wrong side of town. I know it sounds super cheesy, but the banter that usually goes with each of these storylines was well worth it! Those Fuentes boys have quite the colorful vocabulary!

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Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Legendary (Caraval #2): by Stephanie Garber

Publish Date: May 29th, 2018

Number of Pages: 451 Pages

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

***Warning!!! This review contains spoilers from the previous book in this trilogy, continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!!!***

Too see my review of book #1 – Caraval – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

This was why love was so dangerous. Love turned the world into a garden, so beguiling it was easy to forget that rose petals were as ephemeral as feelings, eventually they would wilt and die, leaving nothing but the thorns.

— Stephanie Garber, “Legendary”

A much lighter and whimsical tale amongst the many that fall under the YA Fantasy genre, Legendary utterly sweeps you away, takes you on an enchanting quest, much like the previous book in this trilogy, Caraval. Both are filled with exotic locations, mysterious twists and turns at every street corner, gorgeous men with devilish smirks full of secrets, magical gowns that can transform based off the emotions of whomever is wearing them, and dazzling lights of the stars and streets as those who play the game and enter a hunt for the hope of something more.

Caraval was a fun summer read that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, but there were definitely some things I had to say that I think could’ve made it better. I wanted more danger, more mischief and dark aesthetics; the stakes needed to be raised in order to add even more the excitement of this annual game. For me, Legendary seemed to have added all that to enhance the whole reading experience of these books! It was obvious that Stephanie Garber, the author, had decided to focus more on the storytelling aspect and less on the imagery and how it was described.

I’m sure it’s an added bonus for many readers that this time around, there’s less focus on Scarlett and more on her younger sister, Tella. Scarlett was our protagonist in Caraval, and the goal of the game was for her to find and rescue her sister, who’d been kidnapped as soon as she’d stepped foot on the island town where the game of Caraval was played. Not too many readers seemed to have liked Scarlett as the protagonist; she made some not-so-smart decisions, was cautious and sheltered, and was constantly the damsel in distress who needed the mysterious Julian to come and rescue her…It’s hard to get behind a character like that when there are so many stories out there now that have strong, fierce females who don’t need no man to help them out whenever things get rough. Tella is the complete opposite of Scarlett; she’s much more impulsive and daring, she’s more charismatic, and seems much more adventurous and courageous. I have to say she did make for a much more interesting story this second time around.

There was a much larger sense of worldbuilding in this book too that has to do with a larger story involving much mythology and lore that the author hadn’t included in the previous book. It involves the sister’s long lost mother, a deck of cards, and these ancient & immortal beings called “The Fates” that used to rule the world long ago, but have disappeared until recently. This had such a huge impact on the story and added so much to the overall depth of much more intricately crafted plot, and helped raise the stakes a large amount that the previous book needed.

I’m very curious if the author had all this planned out before she wrote the first book, or if all these new features were thought up afterwards as a way to keep the story going somehow. How much did she truly know before the first book?

Much like the last book, there were also a vast array of riddles and twists that I’m sure quite a bit of readers didn’t see coming, but there was also a fair amount of foreshadowing that I also think more seasoned readers would be able to catch so long as they’re paying attention. Some are more surprising than others, of course, but they get seriously much more juicy around the climax of the story. It all leads to a very cliffhanger-like ending that will make you want to get your hands on the third and final book ASAP!

I also love the theme that these books have become so consistent with; the whole play on what’s reality and what’s all just a part of the game. Everyone has secrets, everyone has their own motives behind their actions, and some are so much easier to read than others, and it’s actually so much fun to see how things play out, like, who are really allies? Who’s really an enemy? What are their true feelings for that character? Who the EFF is Legend already? The author asks so many questions about so many aspects of the story, it almost drives you completely insane at how much is going on behind the scenes and the rate in which they reveal themselves to Tella and you, the reader. I saw a comparison to HBO’s Sci-Fi thriller, “Westworld”, and it’s actually so true how the show and these books have such a similar theme driving the story. The whole idea of a park that draws people in, the cast of “actors” that enhance the experience, the story the audience experiences is entirely based on their choices, and there’s the scavenger hunt to find the ultimate prize at the end of the maze. It all raises some interesting points on the mysteries of the world and the human condition.

One thing I didn’t particularly like was how the romance building between Tella and Dante felt too similar to how it was built up between Scarlett and Julian in the second book. It was still enticing and a well drawn out slow-burn, but it lacked originality and just felt repetitive. I’m not sure if it’s the only setup the author is able to do in the romance department, but I hope for future stories that she can switch it up a lot better.

I’m happy to say these books are becoming a perfect choice for anyone who’s looking for a circus/theatre/performing arts-like story. Like Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles, these books have the unpredictability and angst of “The Phantom of the Opera,” mixed with the over-the-top campiness of “Moulin Rouge.”

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

A heart to protect.

A debt to repay.

A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister, Scarlett, from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice, but now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever…

Welcome, welcome to Caraval . . . the games have only just begun...

She loved the feeling of doing something bold enough to make her future hold its breath while she closed her eyes and reveled in the sensation that she’d made a choice with the power to alter the course of her life.”

— Stephanie Garber, “Legendary”

What I Liked:

  1. Donatella Is Now The Protagonist! The most consistent complaint anyone had about Caraval was how a lot of fellow readers found they didn’t like Scarlett Dragna. She made bad decisions, she constantly got into trouble and needed a man to get her out of it, I’m sure the list goes on for more readers, but you get the point. Tella is the exact opposite of Scarlett, and she is much more courageous and impulsive, and it seems like a lot more readers prefer her over her older protective sister. Personally, I liked them both and didn’t mind as much, but I have to agree I did love seeing more of Tella this time around.
  2. The Stakes Have Been Raised! There was definitely a higher dose of danger this time around that the books really needed, and it was nice to see how the lines between performance and reality continued to become even more murky, the plots became more sinister, and even more mystery shrouded the carnival event with people’s lives and the fate of the world on the line this time around. The question “Is this really still just a game?” was asked a lot throughout the story, and I love how the author crafted so much mystery and left so much up in the air. It also helps that there’s a for sure villain this time around too: You’ll meet Jacks, who has some seriously twisted thoughts inside his blond, bleeding silvery-blue eyed head. I’m not going to give too much away, but read the book and see for yourself!
  3. The Theme: What Is Reality? With the added danger I mentioned before, it also goes into what I also mentioned of whether this is all still just a game, or if now it’s real. You’re constantly questioning the motives of so many characters and all that’s going on behind the scenes, I liked the comparison I saw somewhere with someone comparing this story to “Westworld.” Now, some may think that’s a reach, but let’s think about it: the theme of “what is reality?” There’s the idea of a park where people go and become someone else, they let the game take them over, there’s actors surrounding you playing roles to only enliven the atmosphere, and then there’s the hunt to win the heightened scavenger hunt to find the prize at the end of the game or the maze.
  4. More Mythology/Lore: The Fates! Another aspect of the story that made this so much more impressive of a story was how the author added these ominous figures known as “The Fates.” Spoiler Alert as I explain who they were:…………. ………………… …………….. Centuries ago, they were these immortal beings who ruled the world and were agents of chaos, but were banished into a deck of cards by a powerful witch. There’s much more to it, like who each one is and a list of magical objects too, but that’s the main gist of it, and I don’t want to ruin the full experience of you reading it for yourself. It all does nothing but add to the story and continue to heighten the drama of how the story develops.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. I’ve Seen This Before…I do love Dante; he was in Caraval but was a minor character. He was the pompous, hot, mean guy, so I was happy to see him receive much more attention this time around. I also thought he was a great love interest for Tella, but I noticed with him and Tella that it basically just felt like a total repeat of the whole dynamic between Julian and Scarlett in the previous book. It seems like Stephanie may only be able to write YA versions of alphaholes with a Mr. Darcy kind of vibe in her dashing male love interests, and I was hoping for maybe something with more original between Dante and Tella.

Conclusion:

Everything that I said needed to be added to Caraval happened in this book; Legendary was like a new and improved version on it with so a much more intricately drawn plot filled with much more sinister plots, daring twists, enchanting magic, and of course scorching romance!

If you enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, you’ll definitely love this sequel too. It’s not grimmdark, epically high fantasy, or anything too serious. These books are just a more fun. light-hearted, whimsical tale that can still entertain and enthrall all the same! I’d say just about everything about Legendary was bigger and better, all except for whether I can’t decide whether Dante or Julian is the better love interest.

Like I said earlier, I wonder if Stephanie Garber had everything all planned out in advance before she wrote the first book, or if she came up with it all later on or as she was working. I must say, she really does know how to expertly weave an intriguing story together with just about everything I love in a story: mystery and lore, unexpected twists, mysteries galore, second guessing everyone and everything, and of course scorching romance. You can bet I am going to for sure be reading what is sure to be an epic conclusion with Finale being the next title.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Editorial Articles, Writing/Articles

NJGEntertainment’s Top 5 Reads of 2019!

Image created with canva.com

The year 2019 is quickly coming to a close, and the 2010’s are almost behind us! Frankly, it’s a gigantic relief and it makes me start to look back on the year I’ve had as a human being. I will admit it and say that it wasn’t necessarily an easy year, but I won’t bore any of my readers with the tragic details…

One thing it did teach me was who would really be in my corner when the going gets tough, and while I have my own inner circle, squad, tribe, fam, whatever slang term is appropriate for the times, books are always a warm presence in my life! Why not follow the trend and end the year with my top picks that I enjoyed throughout the last 11 months!

Looking back on the year of books that I’ve read—My Goodreads Reading Challenge was 65 titles—I’ve noticed a lot of the books I was drawn towards tended to be within the Romance genre. There were plenty of Fantasy genre selections too, but Romance kind of owned it this year; I believe it is because I am so happy to see how many LGBTQ+ titles are now out there on the market. Back when I was an angsty young lad trying to survive just growing up and figuring out my place in this crazy world—I totally still am by the way—there weren’t as many available, nor were the ones that were really marketed that well and/or showcased like they are now. Representation matters (in all positive forms)!

Below are my top five titles that really seemed to have stuck with me, and left a huge impression on me amongst the many titles I got my hands on. They are in no particular order because I simply loved all of them as they continued to ignite my passion for books, reading, storytelling, and be sure to click on the linked titles to see my full reviews (who knows, you may discover your next favorite title!)

I hope you all enjoy my selections, have a great holiday season and happy new year, and Thanks for Reading!

Red, White, and Royal Blue: by Casey McQuiston

An excellent addition to the ever-growing LGBTQ+ representation in literature, this book is an enemies-to-lovers romance between the bisexual first son of the president of the United States (who’s also half-latino) and the Royal Prince of Wales. Alex and Prince Henry were complete couples goals, and so much fun to read! This was Casey McQuiston’s debut novel, so I can’t wait to see what she comes out with in future book titles!

Check, Please! Book 1: # Hockey: by Ngozi Ukazu

Another LGBTQ+ romance to add to my selections, this time in Graphic Novel form. This story follows figure skater, vlogger, and baker–Eric Bittle–as he goes off to start his freshman year of college to continue competing on the ice, but instead joins the hockey team! It’s an adorable coming-of-age story as he juggles adjusting to a whole new world on the ice with bro-ey hockey jocks, discovering more about his sexuality, and deal with his growing crush on Jack Zimmerman, the Junior Hockey team captain! The hilarious, memorable characters and the gorgeous illustrations were what really drew me in, and I absolutely loved this first volume! I am also so excited for the second volume to release in print in Spring 2020!

New Camelot Trilogy (American Queen, American Prince, and American King): by Sierra Simone

A scorching, seductive retelling of the iconic Arthurian tale that involves a passionate, secret affair amongst the President of the United States, his wife, and the Vice President. Excellently written from multiple perspectives as the whole story is slowly revealed; these books are freakin’ hot and unlike any other romance/erotic title(s) I’ve ever read before! I can’t recommend these enough to anyone looking for something 1000x better than Fifty Shades of Grey!

Again, But Better: by Christine Riccio

A debut work of YA-Contemporary fiction from a well-known Youtube Book Reviewer, this novel was an ultimate feel-good, coming-of-age uplifting story that reminds us to live life to the fullest, even when we aren’t always allowed a second chance to do over our past mistakes! A little amateurish in terms of prose and plot, but this title helped me out of a rough patch and has an amazing message that can really speak to just about anyone who reads it!

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1): by V.E. Schwab

Probably my favorite Fantasy genre book I read this year, V.E. Schwab really impresses with this book for its unique, imaginative, multi-universe London setting based on color, a magical being who can travel between them to send messages while wearing a transforming overcoat, a cross dressing female pirate who hopes for more, and dangerous, dark magic that makes a surprise return after being believed to have been lost long ago…

There are my personally selected Top 5 picks for the year! It was hard to condense the many titles I’d read down to these 5, so maybe next year I’ll raise it to my top 10! There were plenty of other titles that I really enjoyed, and so I’m granting them their own little section of this post, check them out below! (The titles with links attached are ones that I’ve previously reviewed, the others are ones that will be on here soon!

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BONUS CONTENT:

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2019 Honorable Mentions:

The Wicked King & The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air #2 & #3): by Holly Black

Ninth House (Alex Stern #1): by Leigh Bardugo

Him (Him #1): by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy

Caraval (Caraval #1): by Stephanie Garber

It Ends With Us: by Colleen Hoover

The Captive Prince Trilogy (Captive Prince, Princes Gambit, and Kings Rising): by C.S. Pacat

The Kiss Quotient: by Helen Hoang

Verity: by Colleen Hoover

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So, there you have it! 2019 was filled with many amazing titles that made for a great year of reading! 2020 is just around the corner, and with the new year fast approaching, my plan is to get even more heavily into Fantasy genre titles/series to not only enjoy them, but to also start narrowing in on ideas on what I want another future writing project to be about: Yes, I want to write a fantasy novel/series sometime!

So far, all I’ve got is that I want it to include queer romance, mermaids/sirens, more found family dynamics as a group embarks on some sort of journey, animal companions/guardians, half-bird folk, possibly two ancient dragons destined to return and battle it out, and a secret school of female assassins! We’ll see what happens!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Caraval (Caraval #1): by Stephanie Garber

Publish Date: January 31st, 2017
Number of Pages: 407 Pages
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Romance

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Your running through the streets of Venice, Italy at night with thousands of colorful lights dancing on the edge of your vision. The gondolas are traipsing through the canals, and a menagerie of people in glamorous costumes walk past. The sweeping feeling of adventure and slight danger as you turn towards the sailor that brought you there, the one that you know is hiding something, but you’re curiosity to find out overpowers the dread of the unknown. They take your hand, your heartbeat accelerates with attraction mixed with distrust as you run towards what you think may be the answer to the next clue on the list, and you forge on because it means getting that much closer to whatever it is you want most…

Thats some pretty cool sounding visuals, right?

This title is filled with aesthetically pleasing images and beautiful words that sweep you off your feet, take your breath away, and bring you on a magical adventure that so many readers, authors, and reviewers have praised since it’s initial release back in 2017.

I’d actually owned this book twice to be completely honest; I bought a copy earlier on, but gave up before I even opened it and sold it to a used book store, thinking that it sounded too juvenile for me and not worth my time, so that was it and I’ll never open those pages or even think about them ever again. But as time went on, and the other titles of this trilogy, Legendary & Finale, released and more and more praise rang out. That, plus a personal recommendation from my old store manager, I reluctantly bought another copy and decided to give it another chance, and was happy with that decision upon finishing this book!

This book was escapism literature in some of its finest form. I so easily got lost inside the pages; letting the imagery overtake my senses, and give me excitement over what would happen next, even as it got late into the night and I had to get up early for work the next day. It was nothing too dark or too serious of a read, and I think that’s what made it so much fun, honestly. There was danger, but nothing too dramatic or gritty as its essentially people playing this scavenger hunt in order to win an ultimate prize from its mysterious host.

What It’s About:

Our main protagonist’s name is Scarlett Dragna, and she lives on a tiny island somewhere what feels like some land thats similar to Italy or Greece, and she has one younger sister as they are the daughters of the Governor. Over the years, she’s dreamed of escaping his harsh rule, and has imagined going to Caraval, a once-a-year event where the audience is specifically chosen to arrive and to participate. She’d written letters to its mysterious host, Legend, at least once a year for many years, but to no response every time. Those dreams suddenly evaporate into a cloud of mist as the wedding day of her arranged marriage draws closer, but then the unthinkable happens…

She receives a letter from Legend. Inside, she finds three personal invitations to this years Caraval; one for her, her sister, and her betrothed.

Her younger sister, Tella, has always been the exact opposite of her. While Scarlett is cautious and sheltered, Tella is much more bold and impulsive. She allows herself to have more fun and to give into her desires. When Scarlett goes searching for her with the news of the letter, she discovers her down in the whiskey cellar in a compromising position with a handsome stranger. Fed up with their father’s unfairness, they decide to escape into the night and go towards their dreams, towards Caraval

Plans quickly change, and Tella ends up being kidnapped as soon as they set foot on the island where the magical event takes place, and it turns out that that she will revolve around this season’s contest as the winner will be whoever can find her first. With the help of a charming but aloof sailor, Julian, Scarlett races across the coastal town in search of her missing sister, swept up into the elaborate performance of it all. She will find out that things are NEVER as they appear to be, secrets are the way of currency, that everyone has some sort of motive and should be weary of being trusted.

How much of a game is it all, really?

What I Liked:

  1. The Aesthetics! Like the image I painted in the very first paragraph, the visuals this story paints for you are so incredibly gorgeous; I imagined Venice Italy celebrating Mardi Gras with Cirque du Soleil performers running around. Plus, coastal towns right on the ocean back in what I imagined as 17-1800 era Europe, and dress-wear that changes form and color with your emotions make for the overall setting of this story quite memorable.
  2. The Romance! Some people would say they didn’t like it or that it cheapened the story a bit, but I personally was a fan of it. A huge part of the book was the developing love story that was taking place while the game was escalating, and the mystery surrounding it along with everything else. I thought it developed rather well and I became invested with it as it was a great addition towards the enemies-to-lovers trope.
  3. Julian! I have to give him then MVP award of this book, because he was probably my favorite character out of everyone. Scarlett kind of took the heroine protagonist spot a little backwards, as she constantly got into trouble and needed a man, usually Julian himself, to come rescue her. It’s true its a part of her character arc, but I’d read too many badass female characters already to revert back to the damsel. Julian is bold, rugged, charming, secretive, and it was good to see him become a more important role to the overall plot instead of just being eye-candy. He’s constantly grappling with what he wants to do versus what he should do, and it’s great to see him usually choose the later, especially when it came to Scarlett.
  4. The Mystery/Lore of Caraval! It’s never really explained how the annual event came to be or how it disappears every year, along with the rumors and stories that surround the host, but the lore behind it all did add a whole lot to the story, making it more intriguing and fun to read! Hopefully, more answers come in the next books!
  5. Scarlett’s Terrible Decisions! The girl makes a ton of bad calls, no joke…if anyone’s seen the first Scary Movie, where Carmen Electra comes to a fork with two signs that point towards safety or death, I think you know which one Scarlett would probably take. I know A LOT of criticism towards this book is because of that, but honestly, I found it actually pretty realistic. She’s never done anything like Caraval before, she has a hot-but-distrustful sailor working with her and she’s constantly worried about her sister…whose mind would be in the right place during all that?! I’d for sure be making those bad calls too, and I thought it was endearing how she makes a lot of mistakes but still learns from some of them and finds an alternative path towards what she’s after.
SCARY MOVIE, Carmen Electra, 2000, ©Dimension Films/courtesy Everett Collection

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It Needed More Danger…While her sister is taken from her and the threat of what may happen drives Scarlett forward towards finding her, I still felt like the stakes could have been raised even higher with this story. It hardly felt like there was any actual danger as it’s supposed to be one big show/game/performance, but I can say there are a couple scenes that change this around. I wished the author added more scenes like those ones to give this book an even sharper edge.
  2. The Abusive Father…With all the lore, all the mystery, all the magic, I still found having an abusive father like Scarlett and Tella’s to be a little more ridiculous part of the story. It made their decision to run away almost too easy, but what really made me scoff was how he didn’t even try to hide the fact that he was abusive…Usually, abusers try to hide that little tidbit towards the public or anyone else; he’d only leave bruises on areas of the body that wouldn’t be seen, he’d try to keep up the persona that everything’s okay and normal, and wouldn’t dare try to strike anyone else in front of others either. Nope, he smacked his daughters around for everyone to see; he even struck other characters later on in the story, and it felt like cheap plot manipulation just to easily makes us hate him, and we do, but it could’ve been done better.

Conclusion:

Overall, this book was a fun, entertaining, magical, escapist read that is safe, but a great addition to the YA Fantasy genre nonetheless. I haven’t read this other title yet, but it has what I imagine to be a similar vibe to Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus. Even just reading the blurb, I feel like they have similar themes, aesthetics and story arcs (Not a bad thing, and I do plan on reading that title as well some day!)

I will definitely be reading the next books in this trilogy because while the ending was satisfying, it left some things open ended and hints at much more to come, and I want answers! This title isn’t too dark, ominous or creepy, and even the romance is pretty tame, but that’s totally okay! It’s supposed to be not be taken so seriously; a little more lighthearted, fun, fairytale-like and dreamy as it left images of lights, cobblestone streets at night, laughter in the air, and the chills that creep onto your skin as you sneak away into the night about to do something you know is wrong, but it feels so right!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell