Editorial Articles, Writing/Articles

NJGENTERTAINMENT.COM’S Top 10 Books of 2021

Hello Readers!

2021 has been quite a year full of ups and downs, a few achievements and also a few downfalls, but it’s always good to say it was another great year of reading under my belt too. I’m definitely noticing a pattern with some of my book choices and it is definitely ENEMIES-TO-LOVERS, which is definitely the most popular romance trope out there, so no surprise there! I’m also glad to be able to find a lot more M/M romance too, both those kinds of stories are totally my weakness…

Below is my list of the top books I read this year, and they are in no particular order, so enjoy!

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1. The Supernatural Beasts & Bullies (Zodiac Academy) Series by Caroline Peckham & Susanne Valenti

Image courtesy of Instagram account @kaythebooklover

First thing I can say is WOW, these books sucked me in like a black hole, because while I was reading these back to back to back, I honestly couldn’t tell you what else was going on in my life because they were the only thing on my mind. If I was at work, I was thinking about these books and the characters, and if I wasn’t bathing or sleeping, odds are I was reading these books. The story itself is alright, but it’s the characters and all the intertwining relationships that really drive the whole series for me, along with the two forbidden romances also happening. What a whirlwind of a series, I can’t believe the final book already is coming out…

To see my review of book #1 – Zodiac Academy: The Awakening – Click HERE

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2. A Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns & Roses #4): by Sarah J. Maas

Image courtesy of emmasbibliotreasures.com

It should absolutely not be a shock that a Sarah J. Maas novel made it onto this list, but SJM is that author where I don’t even have to read the blurb or even know what it is about and she can take my money. I know the bookish fandom is really torn on her, and that’s cool, but this reader is on the side that absolutely loves her stories! Besides, the inner struggle that Nesta faced was absolutely astounding, mental health was a big theme of this book, and the romance was SJM’s spiciest yet! Absolutely loved this addition to her ACOTAR series…

To see my review of A Court of Silver Flames – Click HERE

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3. The Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash #3): by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Image courtesy of booksamillion.com

By far one of my most anticipated releases this year, it absolutely did not disappoint, and JLA really impressed me with how she’s made every book in this series bigger than the previous one in this series. I was floored with that tremendous final chunk of the book that had me in what has to be the biggest reading hangover I ever experienced in quite awhile! These books are such a bookish obsession for me, I can’t recommend them enough…

To see my review of The Crown of Gilded Bones – Click HERE

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4. The Bridge Kingdom (Bridge Kingdom #1): Danielle L. Jensen

Image courtesy of Instagram account @danielleljensen

This book honestly surprised me the most out of this list because I was not expecting to like it as much as I did! The enemies-to-lovers dynamic between the two main characters was done so well and I wasn’t expecting how strategic and militaristic the author got with the politics and dueling kingdoms in this fictional world. Definitely a lesser known title to check out…

To see my review of The Bridge Kingdom – Click HERE

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5. Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked #1): by Kerri Maniscalco

Credit to owner

I’m very curious about the world this author has created, plus I do love the spicy and spooky vibes this book gives off mixed in with a murder mystery of the witch and demon variety. The demon prince, Wrath, is way too hot for YA Fantasy so I’m glad that Kerri Maniscalco revealed that the second book—Kingdom of the Cursed—will be even more spicy, which makes me definitely interested, and I had to include an image of the Fairyloot edition because I own a copy and it’s probably one of the most gorgeous books on my personal shelf…

To see my review of Kingdom of the Wicked – Click HERE

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6. Iron & Fire (Silk & Steel #2): by Ariana Nash

I’m loving how intense these books and how morally grey the characters are, it’s like a queer romance Game of Thrones—so Gay of Thrones?—especially Lysander! He’s easily the best character out of these books so far, and even better that he’s a dragon-shifter prince. The romance was more apparent and absolutely scorching in this 2nd installment in this series, and with all that happens, I gotta get the third book on my kindle ASAP…

To see my review of Iron and Fire – Click HERE

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7. It Happened One Summer (The Bellinger Sisters #1): by Tessa Bailey

Image courtesy of underthecoversbookblog.com

As soon as I heard that this was a “Schitt’s Creek” inspired romance, I knew I had to get my hands on it and read it! This was just a light, fun, and even a little spicy romance that I really enjoyed and of course recommend. Piper and Brendan made an adorable couple, and I’m even looking forward to the sequel coming out in 2022!

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8. Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked #2): by Kerri Maniscalco

Credit to owner

Okay, but I was not expecting Kerri Maniscalco to go so hard on this sequel, but I am oh so glad she did! She did such a spectacular job that I had to include KOTC as it’s own entry. The story continues with Wrath and Emilia traveling back to Hell, and it’s taken a steamier and more New Adult direction that really makes the story even better!

To see my review of Kingdom of the Cursed – Click HERE

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9. The Hating Game: By Sally Thorne

Image courtesy of allbooksaboard.com

There has been a lot of hype around this enemies-to-lovers office romance novel, and theres even a movie with Lucy Hale and Austin Stowell out now, so I decided I had to read this at least once. It was cute, it was funny, and it even had a little spice which I always appreciate! I thought it was a fun book that is perfect to fill in time waiting for a darker and heavier installment to any series you may be reading, or if you’re just looking for a light romance to enjoy.

To see my review of The Hating Game – Click HERE

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10. A Kingdom of Shadow and Light (Fever #11): by Karen Marie Moning

Image courtesy of Karen Marie Moning’s Twitter profile

The crazy ride that is the “Fever” series by Karen Marie Moning had come to an end with the 11th installment, and things certainly end with a bang with Mac, Barrons, Cruce, and company as Mac has many, many, many things all going on at once while she’s coming to terms with her new powerful position! A good ending that could’ve been great, but still a fitting end to an extraordinary story!

To see my review of A Kingdom of Shadow and Light – Click HERE

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Honorable Mentions:

Try (Temptations #1): by Ella Frank

Wicked (A Wicked Trilogy #1): by Jennifer Armentrout

A Shadow in the Ember (Flesh and Fire #1): by Jennifer Armentrout

Four Letter Word (Dirty Deeds #1): by J. Daniels

A Touch of Darkness (Hades and Persephone #1): by Scarlett St. Clair

One Time Only (One Time Only #1): by Lauren Blakely

Collide (Blackcreek #1): by Riley Hart

Fake It ‘TIl You Break It: by Meagan Brandy

Crosstown Crush (Sins in the City #1): by Cara McKenna

The Play (Briar-U #3): by Elle Kennedy

The Dare (Briar-U #4): by Elle Kennedy

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Well, there you have it!

What a year it was with so many great titles that released, and it reminds me of how there are already a few titles set to release in 2022 that I am MAASively looking forward to! If there’s not a link to some of the books above, it just means I haven’t posted a review YET. Thats a goal for me going into next year: getting back on top of trying to post a review or post an article more often than I have this past fall and into winter. It’s a crazy time of year, but once the holidays are over and done, and things begin to calm down, I’ll have more time to get caught up on a few reviews that I’m behind on!

Have a wonderful holiday season, stay safe and have fun with your loved ones, get plenty of sleep and drink plenty of water, and we’ll hear from each other in the coming new year!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: The Bridge Kingdom (The Bridge Kingdom #1): by Danielle L. Jensen

Publish Date: August 13th, 2019
Number of Pages: 354 Pages
Publisher: Context Literary Agency LLC
Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

A princess who’s secretly a trained assassin…

An ACTUAL enemies-to-lovers where one of them tries to kill the other at one point…

A marriage of Convenience…

Twisty political intrigue and espionage…

Lots of exciting action scenes…

Slow burning sexual tension mixed with distrust up the WAZOOOO…

Tropical and lush scenery…

Snarky grandmas…

Um…Yes, LOVE that journey for me!

The Bridge Kingdom was a book that’s been thrown around multiple Facebook groups I follow for Sarah J. Maas and Jennifer Armentrout, and I’ll admit that upon looking into this book that I was definitely curious! I hadn’t heard much about the author nor have I read anything by her—Although I do have a hardcover copy of Dark Shores on my shelf at home to be read soon!—but with how often I saw this title brought up, I knew it’d eventually end up in my hands.

I must say this book surprised me because I was instantly hooked! We have a Game of Thrones Red Wedding-esque scene almost right away in the beginning of the story, and within the first three chapters I’m slightly terrified of our heroine, and emotionally invested in her when a big secret is revealed right away afterwards in explanation of her shocking scene beforehand, and can’t wait to see what else she can do!

The story itself is nothing too groundbreaking or unique or innovative, but my higher rating simply is because of how this story is told. I feel like I’ve read plenty of ‘deadly girl infiltrates enemy kingdom and plans to kill the king after marriage-by-convenience, but falls in love instead,’ but the author just tells it so well; it really draws you in. She also has vivid descriptions of the world as you explore it with one of the main characters, and the pacing keeps you riveted and turning the pages when you convince yourself “Just 1 more chapter…” like 5 chapters ago. The action, plus the agonizingly slow romance building between the two main characters kept my attention, then thankfully making me satisfied when it finally happens (Although, it would’ve been fine to have happened, like, fifty pages ago too, but whatever…) The growth that the main character goes through was also fun to read, both her and her love interest discover the important lesson of how maybe we shouldn’t give in to certain prejudices about people from another culture, but then again, if there’s tension and the threat of war between the two kingdoms, it’s kind of inevitable…but there’s also the idea to consider that you also shouldn’t believe everything someone tells you about a certain group of people either.

Despite how short the book appears, it felt like a really long story; It was like there was a lot more words crammed in on every page than most other published books, so after reading fifty pages it actually felt like I’d read an additional hundred with all the material that fits just in that small chunk of pages.

A fair heads up, not really a warning, but despite this being within the Fantasy genre, there’s not a whole lot of typical Fantasy elements: namely, a magic system and mythological creatures. It’s a tropical climate setting with islands that makes me think of exotic destinations like Hawaii, Thailand, or the Caribbean with a lot of snakes that inhabit the land while the sharks make several appearances when the characters travel by boat through the water. Not that I’m trying to knock the worldbuilding because it’s still a fictional land and is still wonderfully done, but let me just say that you shouldn’t go into this book expecting wizards casting spells or any dragons flying around. While these aspects of Fantasy may be lacking, the world is still rife with lots of political intrigue and militaristic strategies being made around a particular landscape phenomenon referred to as “The Bridge” (hence the title of the book/series), and for any of you visual learners, the bridge is like the Chinese Wall that travels for miles and miles, except this time it’s not man-made.

Like I said, this book surprised me by how much I found myself enjoying it, and I even already ordered the sequel because that ending……oofda! I need to read on and get some more answers and just see what will possibly happen next! I loved how the author tied in the very beginning of the book to let you see how much the character has changed throughout the story and how the stakes have changed so drastically. If this is the first book I finish reading in 2021, I can happily say that the new year for books is already looking pretty bright!

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

What if you fell in love with the one person you’d sworn to destroy?

Lara has only one thought for her husband on their wedding day: I will bring your kingdom to its knees. A princess trained from childhood to be a lethal spy, Lara knows that the Bridge Kingdom represents both legendary evil – and legendary promise. The only route through a storm-ravaged world, the Bridge Kingdom controls all trade and travel between lands, allowing its ruler to enrich himself and deprive his enemies, including Lara’s homeland. So when she is sent as a bride under the guise of fulfilling a treaty of peace, Lara is prepared to do whatever it takes to fracture the defenses of the impenetrable Bridge Kingdom.

But as she infiltrates her new home – a lush paradise surrounded by tempest seas – and comes to know her new husband, Aren, Lara begins to question where the true evil resides. Around her, she sees a kingdom fighting for survival, and in Aren, a man fiercely protective of his people. As her mission drives her to deeper understanding of the fight to possess the bridge, Lara finds the simmering attraction between her and Aren impossible to ignore. Her goal nearly within reach, Lara will have to decide her own fate: Will she be the destroyer of a king or the savior of her people?

What I Liked:

  1. The Characters, Especially Lara Veliant! I personally liked them and thought lara especially went through a lot of growth as the story developed. I liked that she was already an established assassin by the time the story takes place, and you aren’t treated to her training and coming into her deadly skills. She gives me some major Aelin Galathynius-Whitethorn vibes with her looks, her attitude, and her physical prowess. I liked Aren too, but not quite as much and didn’t feel like he changed except for his feelings towards Lara. I also feel like he didn’t stand out as much from other male hero/love interests in these types of stories. Sure, he’s brave and noble and caring and charming, but so is every other male character in his position! Hopefully he gets more characterization in the second book.
  2. Good Pacing! There was a lot of action to keep you excited that mixed perfectly with the slower moments where dialogue and character is revealed. I found this surprising since they’re wasn’t an actual villain present for a large chunk of the story; it was more about Lara’s change in attitude and swerving of which side she truly belonged to by the end of the story. I think this also added to why I found this book so easy to want to keep reading, even if I was so familiar with basically all the story’s elements.
  3. They’re Actually Enemies-to-Lovers! A lot of the time people say a romance storyline is this trope when in actuality it really isn’t…I don’t feel like going into examples, but what I liked about this story with the trope is that the two characters actually almost kill each other on several occasions. When they say “enemies,” I want instances where they’re nearly coming to blows, they plot to assassinate the other, and actually have an animosity towards the other…sure, it eventually burns into a passionate love, but they always love and hate have a varied line between them!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Not As Much Romance As I’d Liked… What I mean is that it’s a really really slow slow-burn of a romance, which if I think about it, makes total sense. Lara and Aren are from two different kingdoms and have been raised to believe certain prejudices about each other, so I can say the romance grew rather realistically, but I don’t know…I kind of just wanted some more romance scenes. Maybe there will be a lot more in the next book!
  2. Not Many Fantasy Elements… I mentioned this earlier, but for a book that falls under the Fantasy genre, there’s not a whole lot of elements that show up in this story. There’s no magic, there’s no mythological creatures, no charmed/cursed item or relic, and so on…The world is entirely fictional, but that’s about it. The animals are snakes and sharks; I feel like the author could’ve reimagined them as some sort of creature that’s similar, but more on the mythological side.

Conclusion:

The Bridge Kingdom is an adventurous and exciting enemies-to-lovers tale with plenty of distinctive characters, slow burning romance thick with tension and distrust, bloody action and military strategization, and of course beautiful and exotic locations that are used incredibly well into the story: you could say I definitely recommend this title, just maybe…

…no but actually, READ this book!

Specifically, if you loved books like The Falling Kingdoms series by Morgan Rhodes, Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin, The Folk of the Air series by Holly Black, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, and of course, just about ANYTHING by Sarah J. Maas or Jennifer Armentrout, I know you’ll most likely also enjoy this book as well. It’s got all the same elements that these other authors offer to the genre, and is yet another beautifully told story that will wrap you up and drag you in without a second thought.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell