Editorial Articles, Writing/Articles

NJGEntertainment’s Top 5 Reads of 2019!

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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

Mystery/Thriller, Romance

My Review: Verity: by Colleen Hoover

Publish Date: December 20th, 2018
Number of Pages: 314 Pages
Publisher: Independently Published
Genre(s): Mystery/Thriller, Romance

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

They say there are three sides to every story; one person’s side, another person’s side, and the actual truth. Now, this quote can be or can not be actually related to this book, but I will admit that after reading it, this idea certainly came to mind.

This is a novel about the truth, different versions of the truth, what is true versus what is fiction, the characters an author can create, and when the line between them is called into question.

How well do we really know the truth? Do we think we know absolutely everything, do we think we have a grasp on everything in our lives? What if you discover that it was all a lie? It could be earth shattering, inconceivable, traumatizing, horrifying, and make you want to scream into the dark at the absurdity of it all.

This book is so unlike any other Colleen Hoover book you’ll ever read. It was fuucked up to say the least, and unlike her other titles, it leaves you staring at your ceiling late into the night, maybe even afraid of turning out the light. It explores a darker side of some of her complex, traumatized, and morally grey characters, but remains as binge-worthy and addicting as any of her lighter romance titles.

I will forewarn anyone who is heavily triggered by stories with child abuse and graphic violence should avoid this title!

I mean, I was kind of at a loss for rational thought as I finished this title…the ending absolutely tears you a new one; the final line pierces your heart and leaves you in an unstable state where you don’t know if you’re alright and question the stability of everything around you. It leaves you in a conundrum because it gives us an idea that will never be answered, it will remain up in the air in in our minds like a parasitic bug that will never be squashed.

It was a mindfuck, to be perfectly blunt about it.

I was totally not expecting this style from the author, who’s more known for New Adult Romance titles instead of psychological thrillers. She expertly leads us down a path of lies, manipulation, sex and betrayal as the story escalates, and it’s crazy to think that the story is about a writer who is reading up about another writer to work on their book series, all the while the author of this book is telling this to you; its a bit of a feeling of inception, and makes you question how reliable are all the sources you’re reading from? Is Colleen herself lying, is it the main character, or is it the author the main character reads about?

What It’s About:

Struggling author Lowen Ashleigh is in a tight spot; her mother had just died of cancer a week before, she received the pink slip of eviction from her apartment, and to make matters worse, the opening scene is her witnessing a random stranger’s head popping open like a champagne bottle when it’s squeezed beneath the wheel of a moving car, blood splattering all over her clothes as a nice souvenir for the free show.

FML, right?

It turned out she was on her way towards a meeting with her agent at a publishing company because she’s about to be offered the deal of a lifetime: Jeremy Crawford, husband of the bestselling mystery/thriller author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen to finish his wive’s book series as she’s no longer physically able to continue it herself due to a life-threatening injury in a car accident.

How ironic…

After the contracts are signed and everything seems sorted out, Lowen goes up to Jeremy and Verity’s expansive estate up in Vermont in order to work through all the paperwork, the plot lines, the character sheets, and other ideas in order for her to feel confident enough to continue Verity’s books.

What she doesn’t expect to uncover is an unpublished autobiography from Verity about the days from when her and Jeremy first met all the way towards the deaths of their twin daughters, both of which died at separate times. Among that, things Lowen could never have thought of in her wildest imagination comes to light, thoughts Verity had kept beneath the surface until now, and what may have really happened on the day one of their daughters died. Disgusted and devastated, Lowen keeps the manuscript from Jeremy; he’s been grieving long enough, surely he didn’t need this startling discovery on top of everything else, right?

As she continues to dig through the chaotic office, her feelings for Jeremy begin to grow, and she finds herself struggling between that and whether she should really share the truth she found hidden in that office. It would make her life a lot better for him to learn the truth, and stop being the loyal, devoted husband he is towards his bed-ridden, human vegetable wife…

Whats a girl to do?

What I Liked:

  1. The Romance! True to her usual line of work, there is a romantic subplot through the story while Lowen slowly loses her fucking mind like the rest of us. While sorting through his wife’s office, she develops feelings for Jeremy Crawford and together they become closer and closer as she remains living in his home. Even the way they met was a great addition, even if it resulted from such a bloody opening scene!
  2. The Unreliable Narrator! This novel is told entirely from Lowen’s point of view, and as things progress, she tells us what she sees, or what she thinks she sees, and the author did an amazing job at using this to add tension to the story; make Lowen question her own sanity quite a bit, but also add tons of creepy vibes in order to make this book unable to be put down!
  3. IRL vs. Manuscript! After she discovers the manuscript of Verity’s autobiography, the chapters start to switch back and forth between what’s going on in the house, and the actual chapters of the manuscript itself. We see the actual words Verity typed up for her twisted tale. It started off sweet and innocent, but began to unravel and deeply disturb us as the chapters continued, revealing Verity as a much darker character than you’d come to realize.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Final Words…If you couldn’t guess by the way I describe it above, the final message this novel gives you is a one-way ticket to Mindfuckopolis, because I was NOT OKAY after reading it! It’s not a badly written ending at all, it’s just so unnerving and chilling! I loved that it evoked so much emotion from me, but I felt like the meme of Kelly from The Office as I sat there and shook me head repeatedly trying to figure out what the real truth of it all was. It’s not even funny how much my expression matched hers shortly after I set this book down:

Conclusion:

So it’s not all stickers, rainbows, ponies and myspace.com in this book like some of Colleen’s other romance titles; it’s dark, it’s twisty, it’s disturbing and unnerving and I am both HERE FOR IT but also low-key terrified at the promise this novel gives us…If this is something Colleen Hoover can deliver us from her first psychological thriller, imagine what else she could possibly come up with?!

I recommend this title for those looking for something absolutely chilling and creepy to read underneath the covers late at night. The tone of this book is so much darker and ominous that I anticipated from this author, but wound up loving how it drew me in and up late into the nights I read it. It felt subtle yet chaotic all at the same time, everywhere you turn will lead to more questions, more disturbing images, and make you take a second to glance around and observe the people closest in your life.

Whats truly boiling beneath the surface? Are they entirely honest, or is something much more malicious and benevolent hiding within?

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell