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

New Adult, New Adult Romance, Romance

My Review: The Hating Game: by Sally Thorne

Publish Date: August 9th, 2016
Number of Pages: 362 Pages
Publisher: William Morrow Books
Genre(s): Romance, New Adult

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

I have a theory. Hating someone feels disturbingly similar to being in love with them. I’ve had a lot of time to compare love and hate, and these are my observations.

Love and hate are visceral. Your stomach twists at the thought of that person. The heart in your chest beats heavy and bright, nearly visible through your flesh and clothes. Your appetite and sleep are shredded. Every interaction spikes your blood with adrenaline, and you’re in the brink of fight or flight. Your body is barely under your control. You’re consumed, and it scares you.

Both love and hate are mirror versions of the same game – and you have to win. Why? Your heart and your ego. Trust me, I should know.”

– Sally Thorne, “The Hating Game”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Debut author Sally Thorne bursts on the scene with a hilarious and sexy workplace comedy all about that thin, fine line between hate and love.

Nemesis (n.)
1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome;
2) A person’s undoing;
3) Joshua Templeman.

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude.

Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

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Hello readers! I am trying a new format for how my reviews will look here on my blog, so this one will be the first one to test it out (feel free to comment what you think, I’m hoping this will have it flow better by having the blurb go first then go into more details on my thoughts below that).

The Hating Game has been a title that has been tossed around quite a bit ever since it came out, and I knew I was going to read it eventually, but the news that it’s being made into a movie starring Lucy Hale and Robbie Amell only made me want to bump it up on my TBR list! So does it live up to the hype?

Honestly, Yes and No, I mean it’s not blow-your-mind amazing, but it certainly has a lot of the qualities that I really enjoy about the romance genre:

  1. Banter that is playful, sassy, saucy, and just downright hilarious
  2. The whole enemies-to-lovers romance trope
  3. Characters with hard outer shells who slowly let the love interest in and open up
  4. Heartfelt revelations and confessions
  5. Steamy sexual tension
  6. Personal growth between the two main characters

Overall, it really was an enjoyable book to read, it was a perfect lighter read that’s helping me kill time while I wait for a couple anticipated releases to come out this year. Of course, people hype the heck out of this book to the point that it couldn’t POSSIBLY live up to the expectations people put on it, but luckily I didn’t put it on a pedestal like I’m sure some readers have, and I found myself enjoying it more because of that. The characters were great even as they feel familiar to a lot of others in different books, and the dynamic of Lucy and Josh’s relationship and how it changed over the course of the story was done so well and was a major highlight.

Lucy is kind of like the ‘Jessica Day’ of the office (Zooey Deschanel’s character in New Girl for those who don’t know the reference), she’s very sweet, kind, a literal ray of sunshine around the office. Josh is literally her total opposite and her mortal enemy: he’s tightly-knit, uptight, organized to the point of being OCD because NOTHING can be out of place or no hair out of line for him. I loved learning their fears and insecurities as they grew closer and opened up, I can’t say enough how sweet and adorable this book gets sometimes.

With all the sweetness of cotton candy that is abundant in this story, there was also quite a bit of steam to add to it too! It wasn’t super graphic or descriptive to the point of calling it erotica, but what I can say is Joshua Templeman is something else….I really wanted a few chapters from his perspective, but I can also say that part of the experience of this book is NOT knowing what’s going on in his head too!

This book is nothing groundbreaking, but it’s like those early 2000’s chick flicks like Mean Girls, She’s The Man, and John Tucker Must Die and plenty of others that you hate to admit you love and keep watching over and over again, year after year. They’re not exactly Oscar worthy, but that doesn’t detract from how enjoyable they are and how many people love them, and that’s definitely how I feel this book was too.

What I Liked:

  1. The Hidden Depths of Joshua! Like a lot of the male characters in romance novels I’ve read over the years, Joshua Templeman was a little rough around the edges to say the least…sure, he’s handsome and obviously has confidence to spare when we first meet him in this book, but one thing I absolutely love is when the mask cracks and the hard edges fall away and you begin to see a softer, more vulnerable side of him. He may seem like a crude, arrogant a-hole at first, but just you wait until he starts to open up, and then get back to me on your thoughts on him.
  2. The Banter! I like sassy, saucy, and just straight up hilarious banter between two love interests, and I feel you get just exactly that in this book. Lucy and Josh have a really tumultuous relationship through the course of the story, and while their dynamic may change from workplace enemies to lovers, their teasing and bickering stays consistent and entertaining as well too.
  3. The Bonding Moments! I guess this kind of ties into the points I’ve already made, but the moments when Josh and Lucy are alone and talk and come to learn so much more about each other had to be my favorite scenes to read. They were so sweet, so genuine and I only wish I could’ve gotten into Josh’s head a couple times to see what was going on in his head, but Lucy as the narrator is just as good too!
  4. The Brunch Scene! When Lucy confronts Anthony about all his BS is just golden, like I dream of being able to take someone down a peg or two like she does in this moment, and in public in front of an audience too! It really showed how Lucy had grown over time too; gone was the too-sweet and kind girl who everyone could walk over, and here was a fierce lioness baring her teeth at someone who’s showing disrespect to someone she loves!

‘What are you imagining? Your expression is filthy.’

‘Strangling you. Bare hands.’ I can barely get the words out. I’m huskier than a phone-sex operator after a double shift.

‘So that’s your kink.’ His eyes are going dark.

‘Only where you’re concerned.’

Both his eyebrows ratchet up, and he opens his mouth as his eyes go completely black, but he does not seem to be able to say a word.

It is wonderful.

– Sally Thorne, “The Hating Game”

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. I Wish There Was More Pranks/Hijinks…For an enemies-to-lovers storyline, I was kinda hoping we’d see a little more of the “enemies” part of their relationship…I wanted more hijinks and more aggravation on both sides of Josh and Lucy’s relationship. I wanted safe for the workplace warfare! Not that I’m complaining, but I felt like the jump into the romance was too fast! I guess it makes sense once you finish the book and know what you know, but I always want “enemies-to-lovers” to go further than they usually go! She doesn’t have to have a knife up to his throat per say, but a few little staring contests and imitating each other’s sentences in that petulant voice like an annoying sibling…
  2. Would A Dual POV Have Been Better?…I like the romance novels that have you read from the minds of the two characters, and as I read this book I was wondering what Josh was thinking in so many cases of the story! I was disappointed we didn’t get into his mind in the story, but I can also say part of the experience that is reading this is knowing things through Lucy’s eyes, and learning things about herself and Josh and their relationship as she does too.

Conclusion:

The Hating Game is a fun, entertaining, and light read that any fans of the romance genre can enjoy, at least in my personal opinion! It’s a perfect book to kill time with if your (im)patiently waiting for an anticipated release or just need a quick standalone story to change your pace with. Fans of Christina Lauren novels will especially like this book too.

Romance novels are hardly ever the perfect book, so of course there are things that some people just don’t really enjoy, but I feel like some of those readers maybe make the mistake of taking these books too seriously! I mean nothing against the romance genre, but you have to admit the A Song of Ice and Fire series is much heavier and more immersive reading in comparison. I think romance novels are just lighter and easier and don’t need to be taken as seriously as other titles and other genres, and I find I enjoy titles more when I remember that. And before anyone gets on me about it, that doesn’t mean I consider the romance genre “less” than others…

If you’re curious about this title, I say go for it! I really enjoyed it and would want to reread it down the road someday if the mood struck. Any harsh critiques made on this book that I’ve seen are about really particular things, like fat-shaming and knocking “nice guys”….While I see where those readers are coming from, it personally did not affect my reading experience and I didn’t put the book down because of it. To each its own though!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell