Quick Review – Stay Awake by Megan Goldin

Stay Awake Cover 2

Publisher: Michael Joseph (Trade Paperback – 16 August 2022)

Series: Standalone

Length: 352 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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One of Australia’s most talented crime fiction writers, Megan Goldin, returns with another powerful and captivating read, Stay Awake, a unique and gripping novel that deals with memory, murder and a ton of traumatic suspense.

Over the last few years, crime fiction fans have been getting more and more impressed with the outstanding writings of Australian author Megan Goldin.  Goldin has so far written several epic and clever thrillers, and I have had a lot of fun reading two of her most recent books, The Escape Room (one of the best Australian books of 2018) and The Night Swim (one of the best Australian books of 2020).  Both of these books had outstanding plots, whether it was The Escape Room’s twisty tale of revenge or The Night Swim’s deep and emotionally charged story of justice for women, and I cannot recommend them enough.  After having such an epic time with her previous novels, I was very excited when I received a copy of Goldin’s latest book, Stay Awake, last year.  Featuring an outstanding story with an awesome hook to it, Stay Awake was an epic read that lived up to all my expectations.

Plot Synopsis:

Liv Reese wakes up in the back of a taxi with no idea where she is or how she got there. When she’s dropped off at the door of her brownstone, a stranger answers―a stranger who now lives in her apartment and forces her out in the cold. She reaches for her phone to call for help, only to discover it’s missing, and in its place is a bloodstained knife. That’s when she sees that her hands are covered in black pen, scribbled messages like graffiti on her skin: STAY AWAKE.

Two years ago, Liv was living with her best friend, dating a new man, and thriving as a successful writer for a trendy magazine. Now, she’s lost and disoriented in a New York City that looks nothing like what she remembers. Catching a glimpse of the local news, she’s horrified to see reports of a crime scene where the victim’s blood has been used to scrawl a message across a window, the same message that’s inked on her hands. What did she do last night? And why does she remember nothing from the past two years? Liv finds herself on the run for a crime she doesn’t remember committing as she tries to piece together the fragments of her life. But there’s someone who does know exactly what she did, and they’ll do anything to make her forget―permanently.

In the vein of SJ Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep and Christopher Nolan’s cult classic Memento, Megan Goldin’s Stay Awake is an electrifying novel that plays with memory and murder.

This was a fantastic and captivating read by Goldin that really highlights her amazing ability as an author.  Stay Awake is a fast-paced and exceedingly addictive novel that grabs your attention early on and refuses to let go thanks to its very clever story.  Starting off with the main character, Liv Reese, finding herself covered in blood and with everything she thought she knew gone or altered around her, Goldin sets up an incredible introduction that sets up an amazing follow up story.

The book gets even more interesting once the author introduces Liv’s peculiar situation: thanks to a past trauma, her mind resets itself each time she goes to sleep and she cannot remember anything from the past two years.  This results in a brilliant story, which features three separate intriguing perspectives of events.  Not only do you get the exciting main story of a confused Liv running through New York City, attempting to get to grips with her lost life, but you also see events from two years in the past which led up to the trauma that claimed her memory.  At the same time, the book also follows Detective Darcy Halliday, who is assigned to investigate a dead body connected to Liv, and soon becomes obsessed with finding the amnesiac protagonist.  These three major plot lines are expertly weaved together as the book continues and you soon find yourself drawn into the exciting mystery of who Liv is and whether she committed the murder that Darcy is investigating.  Goldin also amps up the story by having Liv being chased by a mysterious figure who is intent on finding and killing her to protect their secret.

However, the real highlight of Stay Awake’s story has to be the continued memory lapses experienced by the protagonist throughout the course of her chapters in the present.  Due to her condition, Liv actually loses her memory several times throughout the course of her storyline, causing her mind to completely reset to two years in the past.  This is a very fascinating character element, and I felt the author used it extremely well.  It is very compelling and a little scary to watch Liv make the same mistakes and visit the same people repeatedly, especially as she has no knowledge of the last two years, such as certain deaths or relationships.  Watching her come to grips with her chaotic life, only to lose it again in the next chapter, is simultaneously heartbreaking and fascinating, and you honestly cannot tear yourself away from this gripping book.  Thanks to the killer using Liv’s condition against her, the story further devolves into a dark and unique game of cat and mouse, with Liv forced to find answers about her life while avoiding a danger that she unaware exists.  Everything comes together extremely well as the book concludes, and I loved the clever solution to the main mystery of Liv and the various murders, especially as the hints to it are subtly laid down in the three alternate plot lines, even if the protagonists doesn’t remember them.  A truly awesome crime fiction narrative that is expertly written by its talented author, who has produced another very unique crime story.

Overall, I was once again deeply impressed with Goldin, and I felt that Stay Awake was a particularly great novel from her.  Goldin really pulls together a distinctive crime fiction story in this standalone thriller, and I was really glad that the amnesia angle of her plot paid out so effectively.  Stay Awake really helps to cement Goldin as one of Australia’s, and the world’s, most inventive new authors, and I cannot wait to read her next book, Dark Corners, which is set for release later this year.

Stay Awake Cover

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Quick Review – 36 Streets by T. R. Napper

36 Streets Cover

Publisher: Titan Books (Trade Paperback – 19 January 2022)

Series: Standalone/Book One

Length: 433 pages

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

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One of the most unique reads by an Australian in 2022 had to be the action-packed and deeply compelling cyberpunk thriller, 36 Streets by new-to-me author T. R. Napper.

Plot Synopsis:

Altered Carbon and The Wind-Up Girl meet Apocalypse Now in this fast-paced, intelligent, action-driven cyberpunk, probing questions of memory, identity and the power of narratives.

Lin ‘The Silent One’ Vu is a gangster and sometime private investigator living in Chinese-occupied Hanoi, in the steaming, paranoid alleyways of the 36 Streets. Born in Vietnam, raised in Australia, everywhere she is an outsider.

Through grit and courage Lin has carved a place for herself in the Vietnamese underworld where Hanoi’s crime boss, Bao Nguyen, is training her to fight and lead. Bao drives her hard; on the streets there are no second chances. Meanwhile the people of Hanoi are succumbing to Fat Victory – a dangerously addictive immersive simulation of the US-Vietnam war.

When an Englishman comes to Hanoi on the trail of his friend’s murderer, Lin’s life is turned upside down. She is drawn into the grand conspiracies of the neon gods – of regimes and mega-corporations – as they unleash dangerous new technologies.

Lin must confront the immutable moral calculus of unjust wars. She must choose: family, country, or gang. Blood, truth, or redemption. No choice is easy on the 36 Streets.


36 Streets
was a particularly unique and ultra-exciting novel that tells a powerful and memorable story of intrigue, conspiracy and the various families you make in life.  Set in a futuristic Hanoi in the midst of a Chinese occupation, 36 Streets begins as a cyberpunk gangster tale following Lin Vu, a deadly enforcer and fighter for a Vietnamese street gang.  Raised in Australia before being deported to Vietnam, Lin is a damaged and angry figure who has found purpose as an ultra-violent gang member, and is somewhat content with her current life of drinking, drugs and womanising.  However, her latest job for a mysterious English executive leads her and her gang into the middle of a dark conspiracy that could influence the entirety of Vietnam and which pits her against a deadly rival gang, the Chinese government, and a corrupt corporation.

Napper tells a fast-paced and compelling story in 36 Streets, and I was constantly intrigued where the plot was going, especially as the author blends interesting character work, futuristic cyberpunk elements and an intense conspiracy storyline to create a great overall read.  Lin’s attempt to find answers and discover the full and terrible truth of the events she has been dragged into serves as an outstanding base to the story, and the author throws in some great twists and swerves as the story continues.  Brutal and sharp action scenes are interspersed with a compelling street-based investigation, as well as fascinating showcases of the cool cyberpunk technology, including a trippy video game that shows an alternate version of the Vietnam War, all of which creates a distinctive and dark overarching tone for the book, which I felt matched the compelling conspiracy story extremely well.  Napper further adds to intensity of the plot by diving into his complex protagonist’s past, which includes unique family dynamics, rejection from every country she has ever lived in, and some of the most brutal training sequences you are ever likely to find in a fiction novel.  Everything comes together in a shocking and bloody conclusion, which leaves the reader satisfied, saddened, and wanting more.

There are so many great elements to this book that I could talk about, but a true highlight of 36 Streets is Napper’s intriguing examination and portrayal of the soul and culture of Vietnam, as well as the beautiful historic city of Hanoi.  The intrepidness and distinctive personality of the Vietnamese people are on full display throughout the entirety of 36 Streets’ story, and the author spends substantial time exploring the history and culture of Vietnam through his complex characters.  This dive into the Vietnamese people and their mindset, actually becomes a key and intriguing part of the book’s overall plot, and I loved how the conspiracy that Lin is investigating ties into elements of the Vietnam War and country’s inbuilt ability to resist.  I was also quite impressed with Napper’s outstanding portrayal of his version of Hanoi, especially as he perfectly blended the new cyberpunk elements of his story with the distinctive historical elements and culture of the city that exists today.  Another intriguing setting element he included was the fictional future Chinese invasion and occupation of Hanoi and greater Vietnam, especially as it results in a second Vietnamese War, with a new Vietcong now fighting and beating the Chinese from the other side of the country.  All of these outstanding elements, including the unique futuristic setting and the powerful examinations of Vietnam and its people, add a memorable impact to the larger story, and I felt that this book benefited greatly from Napper highlighting the Vietnamese people in this way.

I honestly was not sure how 36 Streets was going to turn out when I initially started reading it.  However, after enjoying everything about its cool story, fantastic insights and brilliant character work, I have to say that this was a pretty amazing read and one that I am very glad I grabbed a copy of.  Australian author T. R. Napper has created something very impressive with 36 Streets and I cannot emphasise what a powerful and compelling book this turned out to be, especially with its Vietnamese setting and fantastic cyberpunk inclusions.  Highly recommended!

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Warhammer 40,000: Grim Repast by Marc Collins

Warhammer 40,000 - Grim Repast Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 25 September 2021)

Series: Warhammer Crime

Length: 9 hours and 52 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Prepare for a gruesome and dark murder mystery novel in the gritty Warhammer 40,000 universe with the incredible and awesome Warhammer Crime novel, Grim Repast by Marc Collins.

I have made no secret of the fact that I am currently in the middle of a big Warhammer reading frenzy, having recently reviewed several awesome books, including two novels in my last Throwback Thursday posts (Xenos by Dan Abnett and Deus Encarmine by James Swallow).  However, I am still not done with the tie-in books in this very cool franchise as I have just finished another outstanding read, this time a book which is part of the Warhammer Crime sub-series.

The Warhammer Crime books are a fantastic and captivating series which, as the name suggests, blends crime fiction storylines with the epic Warhammer 40,000 universe.  All set within the tortured and sprawling human city of Varangantua, these great novels tell a range of entertaining and complex crime stories, including dark murder mysteries and elaborate thrillers, which make great use of the gothic futuristic setting.  I have so far enjoyed two Warhammer Crime entries, Dredge Runners and The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley, both of which were pretty epic reads.  These initial awesome reads really sold the Warhammer Crime series to me, and I have been interested in enjoying another entry.  I ended up choosing the great sounding read, Grim Repast, by rising Warhammer author Marc Collins.  One of Collins’s first full-length novels, Grim Repast is an exceptional read with one of the darkest crime narratives I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

“This city eats men….”

Veteran probator Quillon Drask thinks that he has seen all the dangers, depravities and villains that Varangantua has to offer, but he is about to discover a whole new level of horror.  Already traumatised and ostracised after his last lethal case and the betrayal that accompanied it, Drask’s first new investigation is not the simple job he was hoping for, as a body has been found in the dying district of Polaris.  The victim, a businessman on the wrong side of town, has been gruesomely mutilated, the implications of his injuries have frightening implications.

As more bodies are discovered, Drask finds himself chasing after a deadly killer who murders and dismembers without compunction and who has a sudden obsession with tormenting Drask.  Forced to play a deadly game that uncovers the corruption of his own organisation and sets him against the city’s elite, Drask finds himself alone and afraid against an enemy he doesn’t understand.  Only his twisted insights into the criminal mind, as well as the lessons of his career and devious dead mentor, offer the answers that he needs to solve the case and stop the killer.  However, not even Drask’s dark mind can comprehend the true horrors that lie beneath his city, one that connects to Varangantua’s past and a dangerous hunger that has always controlled people like him.

Wow, Marc Collins really came out swinging with this epic and outstanding Warhammer Crime entry.  Grim Repast is probably one of the best pure mystery novels set in the Warhammer universe that I have so far read, and I loved how seamlessly Collins was able to blend a dark, psychological crime fiction narrative with the grim and repressive atmosphere of a Warhammer 40,000 city.

Collins has cooked up a pretty wicked story for Grim Repast, which brings together multiple elements from across the genres to really highlight just how epic and complex a Warhammer story can be.  Following the compelling and damaged protagonist and narrator Probator Quillon Drask through the deadly streets of Varangantua as he chases after a lethal serial killer, Grim Repast is first and foremost a crime novel, and one that really grabs the reader’s attention.  Coming off as a dark psychological thriller with classic noir detective elements to it, the protagonist is forced to delve into the darkest heart of his massive, gothic city when he investigates several connected murders whose victims have been butchered in inventive and dark ways.

Collins sets up the case extremely well and then adds some intriguing complications to it where Drask is forced to investigate against the opposition of his bosses and their corporate controllers.  Bringing together a ton of character growth, disturbing developments in the murder case, as well as some fun action as Drask comes face-to-face with the killer in disguise, the plot moves quickly, and you are soon very hooked on finding the killer and the people pulling the strings behind them.  Forced to contend with the interference of a giant corporation, the protagonist finds himself in the middle of a dark conspiracy and, after the typical cop requirement of being suspended without his gun or badge, investigates on his own.  The mystery itself is well-set out and slowly unfolds, even if the overall culprit behind it isn’t too surprising.  However, the obvious suspect isn’t a narrative weakness, as the power of the story revolves around the protagonist fighting through the corruption and the insanity to confront his suspect, as well as the wider implications and horrors his investigation reveal.  The last third of the story is particularly brutal and grim as the protagonist uncovers some pretty horrendous crimes tied into the dark past of Varangantua, and is forced to face them by himself.  Everything ends in a pretty bloody manner, and I had a wonderful time seeing how this entire awesome crime narrative came together.  I loved the cool conclusion of this book, and the hints at some potential adventures for this character is something I would be extremely keen for.

This was a very well written book, and I really appreciated how Collins was able to tell such an effective and powerful story.  Featuring a quick pace and a brilliant focus on a very damaged protagonist, Grim Repast keeps you on your toes the entire time, and I loved how well it blended multiple crime fiction elements for the story while also making full use of the grim Warhammer setting.  The crime itself has some outstanding elements to it, and I was getting some major Jack the Ripper vibes from the plot as Drask receives several taunting notes from the killer.  Collins really brings about a dark and desperate tone around the characters and the city itself, and this lends itself perfectly to the complex crimes, especially as the murders have far deeper meaning and consequences than are initially seen.  The use of corruption and dangerous corporations helped to ensure that the character had even more mysteries and obstacles to overcome, which I thought was an outstanding bonus hook to the story.  The fantastic focus on murder and mystery rather than on wider universe elements ensures that Grim Repast also serves as a pretty good entry into Warhammer 40,000 fiction, especially for crime fiction lovers.  While some elements of the story hint or briefly discuss larger events or bits of the universe’s wider lore, you really don’t need to understand it to enjoy this book, and anybody who loves a complex and gloomy crime fiction can easily have their first taste of Warhammer fiction here without any issues.

Perhaps one of the best elements of Grim Repast that Collins featured was the setting of Varangantua itself.  While the continent-spanning city of Varangantua has appeared in the other Warhammer Crime books, I don’t think I fully appreciated just how good a setting it is until reading Grim Repast.  Collins sets out to make the city as dreary, deadly and dark as possible, and you find yourself getting lost amongst its constricting streets, compelling people and many hidden dangers.  The author honestly sets the city up as a character in itself, and it is quite powerful to see the protagonist move amongst its streets as Varangantua works to consume him, mind, body and soul.  To just make things a little grimmer, Collins chooses to set most of the story in the section of the city known as Polaris, an icy, desolate part of town that is slowly dying due to a lack of commerce.  I love how Polaris’s fortunes seem to match that of the protagonist himself, and Collins really amps up the noir vibes of Polaris with a ton of neon signs, dingy apartments and corrupt cops, making it feel that little bit more like a classic police story.

However, no matter how dingy and gothic Varangantua may be, it is still a futuristic city, so the universe’s advanced technology and other wider Warhammer elements are integrated into the city as well.  There are some great scenes where the city’s law enforcement utilises interesting investigation methods to solve the brutal murders, and I liked seeing the set up of a police force within the Warhammer 40,000 setting, especially as it is as corrupt or degraded as most things within the Imperium of Man.  I also really enjoyed how Collins was able to tie the mystery into the history of the city itself, with key parts of Varangantua’s past coming to the surface during the course of Grim Repast.  This gives the book a lot more substance when it is fully revealed, especially as it increases the overall stakes of the book, and I really appreciated and enjoyed how Collin’s utilised this brilliant setting throughout his book.

I also have to highlight the outstanding central protagonist and point-of-view character, Quillon Drask.  Collins created a wonderful character in Drask, a beaten down and emotionally damaged cop, reminiscent of classic pulp or noir detectives and investigators.  Still emotionally traumatised by the betrayal of his mentor during the last case, Drask attempts to find some normalcy in his work.  However, Drask is now isolated from the rest of his force, not just because of his propensity for finding the weirdest cases, but because of the taint surrounding his mentor.  Drask channels much of his anger and trauma into the new case, but he soon confronts forces that even he can’t fight through.  His obsession with this new case, his well-founded hatred of the aristocracy, and his desire for redemption, lead him to continue his investigation despite his boss’s orders, which leads him into all manner of trouble.  Collins did an outstanding job showcasing this character’s intense mental trauma throughout Grim Repast, and he really comes across as a complex and dark individual.  Despite being a troubled soul, you can’t help but like Drask, as his grim stubbornness just keeps forcing him towards the abyss, and nothing he does in the book, not even solving the murders, brings him any real comfort.  I loved how Collins also explored his penchant for getting into the darkest parts of the human mind and empathising with killers, and he reminded me a bit of Will Graham from the Hannibal Lector franchise, which isn’t too surprising considering that there are some major Thomas Harris influences in this book.  Drask gives a great running commentary on his dark observations of the city around him, and Collins really dives into the mind of his character throughout the course of the book.  This really adds to the book’s overall tone and quality, and I absolutely loved how Collins set out his central protagonist.

If I were to make one major complaint about Grim Repast, it would be that Collins relied a little too much on people reading his short story, Cold Cases, first.  Appearing in the Warhammer Crime anthology book, No Good Men, Cold Cases was the previous (and first) appearance of Quillon Drask, in which he hunted down another notorious killer.  Collins brought up Cold Cases multiple times throughout the course of Grim Repast, as the events helped form the protagonist and led to his mental/profession state in Grim Repast.  While I appreciate that Collins was trying to tie his new book back into this introductory story, I found it a bit confusing and irritating at times, mainly because I haven’t read Cold Cases.  I kind of got a little tired of the continued references to Cold Cases throughout Grim Repast, as it messed with the initial flow and enjoyment of this novel.  While you can pick up the events of Cold Cases through context as Grim Repast continues, I felt that Collins could have either eased up on the references a little or featured a better summary of this short story at the start, especially as it was such a big part of the protagonist’s motivations.  While this wasn’t a massive issue in my enjoyment of Grim Repast, it bugged me the entire way through, and it is something readers interested in Grim Repast should be aware of.  Overall, though, this was a pretty epic read, and I would recommend it, even with this issue.

To no-one’s surprise I ended up listening to the Grim Repast audiobook, which was pretty damn awesome.  I have so much love for Warhammer 40,000 audiobooks, especially as they are always so successful at capturing the dark tone of the settings as well as the complex stories.  I felt that Grim Repast was a particularly good example of this, as its audiobook really drew the reader into the cold surrounds of Varangantua and refused to let you leave.  It helped that Grim Repast was narrated by the highly talented Richard Reed, who previously impressed me with his narration of Nate Crowley’s The Twice-Dead King books, Ruin and Reign.  Reed has a naturally tough and rugged voice that does Grim Repast’s story a lot of justice, as his tones perfectly fit the noir-esque city of Varangantua.  I especially enjoyed how he portrayed Quillon Drask throughout the book, giving him a very gravelly tone that showcased his gruff exterior, while also expertly conveying the protagonist’s inner turmoil and pain.  You really get the full sense of who Drask is through Reed’s great voice work, and I really cannot emphasise how much value Reed’s narration added to this awesome audiobook.  With a runtime of just under 10 hours, Grim Repast is an easy audiobook to quickly power through, and you will really find yourself getting dragged into this elaborate and powerful tale in this format.

Fans of crime fiction, Warhammer fiction and everything in between should look no further than Grim Repast by Marc Collins for their next epic read.  Bringing together a complex and twisted murder mystery with the iconic setting of Varangantua in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Grim Repast is an outstanding amalgamation of mystery, a dark psychological thriller, and the madness of the grim Warhammer 40,000 future, all of which makes for one hell of a dark and emotionally charged story.  I had an amazing time reading this powerful read, and it comes very highly recommended.

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WWW Wednesday – 18 January 2023

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

#MurderFunding by Gretchen McNeil (Hardcover)

#MurderFunding Cover

After having it on my to-read list for years, this week I finally started reading the awesome young adult thriller, #MurderFunding by Gretchen McNeil.  The bloody sequel to the outstanding novel, #MurderTrending (which also had a prequel, #NoEscape), #MurderFunding deals with the insane consequences of the first book, while a nefarious group organize a new, bloody reality tv show.  I have made a bit of progress with this book in the last couple of days, and so far it is proving to be a very fun and compelling read.  I will hopefully finish it off by the end of the week and I am looking forward to seeing what insanity McNeil loaded into this fantastic novel.

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Warhammer 40,000: Malleus by Dan Abnett (Audiobook)

Warhammer 40,000 - Malleus Cover

After absolutely loving the first book in Dan Abnett’s Eisenhorn series, Xenos, I just had to see how the story continued so I started reading the intense and brilliant Malleus.  Continuing the adventures of the determined Inquisitor Eisenhorn, Malleus is an incredible read, loaded with action, intrigue, and a thrilling plot of galaxy-spanning corruption.  Abnett is widely considered one of the best Warhammer 40,000 authors for a reason, and this exceptional novel looks set to get another five-star rating from me.

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What did you recently finish reading?

Warhammer 40,000: Grim Repast by Marc Collins (Audiobook)

Warhammer 40,000 - Grim Repast Cover

A moody and captivating Warhammer Crime novel, Grim Repast effortlessly combines elements of a psychological thriller with the awesome setting of a dark and dying Warhammer 40,000 city.  Highly recommend with my review to follow soon.

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What do you think you’ll read next?

Downfall by Louise Carey (Trade Paperback)

Downfall Cover

I’m hoping to start Louise Carey’s latest science fiction novel, Downfall, next and boy is it going to be something special.  The thrilling final installment in Carey’s Inscape series, Downfall will pit a small team of rebels against a powerful, mind-crushing corporation in a dystopian future. Sure to be an epic read, I am very excited for Downfall.

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That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.

Waiting on Wednesday – Fire With Fire by Candice Fox

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  In this week’s Waiting on Wednesday, I check out an awesome upcoming thriller from a particularly talented Australian author, Fire With Fire by Candice Fox.

Fire With Fire Cover

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Over the last few years, I have been lucky enough to read several books from one of Australia’s premier authors, Candice Fox.  Fox is an exceptional author who has been wowing Australian crime fiction audiences since 2014 with her Australian crime fiction books, including the Archer and Bennet series and the Crimson Lake books (recently adapted into the Australian television show, Troppo).  In recent years, Fox has moved on to a larger international audience with several amazing books set in America, as well as some great collaborations with legendary thriller author James Patterson, including her Detective Harriet Blue series.  I personally have had the pleasure of reading her last three books, the standalone novels Gathering Dark, The Chase, and 2 Sisters Detective Agency (co-written with James Patterson), and all of them were exceedingly good reads (2 Sisters Detective Agency was one of my favourite Australian books of 2021).

After how incredible her last three books were, there is no way I am going to miss out on her next epic read, and luckily for me, there is only a couple of months until her new book, Fire With Fire, is out.  Set for release in early April 2023, Fire With Fire is another gritty crime-read set in America that will push several complex characters over the edge.  I absolutely love the sound of the epic plot below, especially the idea of desperate parents holding an evidence lab hostage, and there is no way that this doesn’t result in an intense, emotionally powerful crime fiction read.  With Fox’s proven writing ability, Fire With Fire is sure to be an outstanding novel and it wouldn’t surprise me if it becomes one of the best books by an Australian author released in 2023.

Plot Synopsis:

A married couple launch a deadly plan to find their missing child.
A half-dead man washes up on a Los Angeles beach.
A rookie cop is fired on her first day.

Ryan and Elsie Delaney don’t accept the official line that their young daughter drowned on Santa Monica beach. Her body has never been found and their pleas for a proper investigation are rejected.

So now the desperate pair are raining hellfire on the police.

Taking three hostages at the Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, they give law enforcement an ultimatum: if Tilly isn’t located in the next 24 hours, they will destroy evidence in several major cases.

Detective Charlie Hoskins only just survived five years embedded with the ruthless gang known as the Death Machines. All his work is in that lab. If the police won’t look for Tilly, he will. Even if that means accepting help from Lynette Lamb, the rookie officer sacked for blowing his cover – and having him thrown to the sharks.

Finding Tilly is now a matter of life and death – for the Delaneys, for their hostages, for Charlie and Lamb, and for the little girl who one day simply vanished . . .

Top Ten Tuesday – Top New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2022

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The official topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was Bookish Goals for 2023.  While this was an interesting topic, I have a slightly different Top Ten Tuesday schedule planned and instead I will be moving forward the official topic from next week and looking at New-to-Me Authors I discovered in 2022.  This is a list I have covered for the last couple of years (make sure to check out my 2019, 2020 and 2021 versions), and it is one that I always have fun doing.

Each year I am lucky enough to read a great number of awesome novels and this often includes some that were written by authors whose work I was previously unfamiliar with.  2022 was a particularly good example of this as there were an incredible collection of amazing novels written by authors who were completely new to me.  This included some debuting authors, as well as more established writers whose work I only got around to this year.  Many of these new-to-me authors produced some truly exceptional reads, some of which I consider to be some of the best books released in 2022, and I really feel the need to highlight them here.  As a result, this list may feature a bit of overlap with my top bookspre-2022 books and audiobooks lists of 2022 that I have previously published on this blog.

To appear on this list, the book had to be one I read last year and be written by an author who I was unfamiliar with before 2022.  If I had not read anything from this author before last year, it was eligible for this latest list, although I did exclude debut novels as I had another list prepared for them.  Despite this, I ended up with a massive list of potential inclusions on this list, as it appears that I read a ton of great new authors in the last year.  Despite my best efforts, I had a very hard time whittling this list down, so in the end I decided to face the inevitable and leave it as a top 20 list.  While I still had to exclude several great authors whose books I really liked, I think that I came up with a good overall list that represents which authors I am really glad that I decided to try out for the first time last year.

Top Twenty List:

Andy Clark – Steel Tread

Steel Tread Cover

One of the first new-to-me authors I check out in 2022 was Andy Clark, who immediately blew me away with his impressive writing skill in the Warhammer 40,000 novel, Steel Tread.  A gritty and character driven war story set in the close confines of a tank, Steel Tread was an exceptional read and one that I was instantly addicted to.  Easily one of the top Warhammer books of 2022, I loved Steel Tread so much and I will be diving back into Andy Clark’s catalogue of Warhammer novels when I get a chance.

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Sarah Barrie – Unforgiven and Retribution

Unforgiven Cover

I actually enjoyed two books from talented Australian crime fiction author Sarah Barrie this year, her 2021 book Unforgiven and the sequel Retribution.  Both were excellent dark crime thrillers that saw a damaged vigilante go after the very worst criminals Sydney had to offer.  I deeply enjoyed both books and their unique style has made Barrie a must-read Australian author from now on.

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Adrian Tchaikovsky – Day of Ascension

Day of Ascension Cover

It seems ridiculous that it took me until 2022 to finally read something from acclaimed science fiction and fantasy author Adrian Tchaikovsky, but that’s what happened.  While I have had the opportunity to read some of his other established series before, my first experience with Tchaikovsky’s writing was his debut Warhammer 40,000 novel Day of Ascension.  A complex and captivating read that sees a Genestealer Cult rise to overthrow a despotic government.  This was an outstanding book that combined Tchaikovsky’s unique writing style with the iconic Warhammer 40,000 setting.  I loved the gruesome and impressive story that resulted and I will have to make an effort to read more of Tchaikovsky’s books in the future.

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Boyd and Beth Morrison – The Lawless Land

The Lawless Land Cover

This was an interesting entry that actually features two new-to-me authors with the writing duo of thriller author Boyd Morrison and historian Beth Morrison.  Together these talented authors wrote one of my favourite books of 2022, The Lawless Land, an exciting and deeply entertaining historical epic that followed a fallen knight on a quest around war-torn Europe.  I had so much fun with The Lawless Land, which featured intrigue, betrayal, duels, jousts, war and so much more, and I ended up coming away a big fan of this brother/sister writing team.  There is a sequel to The Lawless Land coming out later this year, and I will make damn sure to get a copy of it when it comes out.

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Steve Lyons –Krieg

Warhammer 40,000 - Krieg Cover

Steve Lyons was a new-to-me author who particularly impressed me this year with his compelling and concise Warhammer 40,000 audiobook exclusive, Krieg.  Following one of the more iconic regiments of Imperial Guard in the franchise, the Death Korps of Krieg, Krieg is an excellent read that combines a harrowing modern war tale with an intriguing dive into the history of the planet Krieg and its deadly soldiers.  A tight and effective audiobook, Krieg comes highly recommended and I had an outstanding time listening to it.

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Dan Koboldt – Silver Queendom

Silver Queendom Cover

I was very lucky to enjoy the latest works from awesome fantasy author Dan Koboldt this year with Silver Queendom.  A deeply entertaining fantasy heist read, Silver Queendom was a lot of fun and I will be making a huge effort to read more of Koboldt’s work in the future, especially if he comes up with a sequel to this great book.

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Justin D. Hill – The Bookkeeper’s Skull

The Bookkeeper's Skull Cover

Justin D. Hill is a very well-known author in Warhammer circles, and I was very happy to finally read one of his books this year with the Warhammer Horror novel, The Bookkeeper’s Skull.  A compelling read that told a harrowing tale of murder and mutilation on a cursed farm, The Bookkeeper’s Skull was a great horror read centred around a clever mystery.  I was really impressed with the dark and tangible feeling of dread that hung over everything, and I think it really speaks to the author’s skill that he was able to tell such a compelling read in such a concise book.  I cannot wait to try out some of Hill’s other books in 2023, and I already know I am going to love them.

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Neil Gaiman – The Sandman

Sandman Act 1 Cover

I finally got around to reading something from epic author Neil Gaiman and boy was it a doozy of a tale.  I actually listened to the audiobook adaptation of his iconic The Sandman comic, which was such an incredible and dark story.  Following the immortal Dream, The Sandman features a complex and captivating tale all read out by an all-star cast.  Gaiman really showcases his incredible, if slightly insane, inventiveness in this comic and I loved how well this new format portrayed this fantastic story.

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Robert Rath – Assassinorum: Kingmaker

Assassinorum Kingmaker Cover

Few 2022 Warhammer books impressed me as much as the excellent and highly addictive Assassinorum: Kingmaker by new-to-me author Robert Rath.  A complex and action-packed tale of assassins, royal politics and mecha warfare, Assassinorum: Kingmaker is very over-the-top, even for a Warhammer 40,000 novel, and I loved every damn second of it.  The entire intense story came together perfectly and Robert Rath is definitely an author I will be reading more Warhammer books from in the future.

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Gillian McAllister – Wrong Place Wrong Time

Wrong Place Wrong Time Cover

Gillian McAllister had a brilliant year in 2022 when she released her compelling science fiction thriller, Wrong Place Wrong Time.  A twisty and complex novel that saw a mother forced back through time as she attempts to uncover the dark story behind the murder her son committed.  This was such a clever read and I have a feeling that McAllister is an author I am going to see a lot of in the future.

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Ben Counter – Van Horstmann

Van Horstmann Cover

A lucky find in a second-hand bookshop introduced me to the writings of Ben Counter when I grabbed a copy of his Warhammer Fantasy novel Van Horstmann.  An intense and entertaining read that followed a magical student’s quick slide into darkness, Van Horstmann was one of the better Warhammer Fantasy books I have ever had the pleasure of reading and I cannot wait to see what other delicious and impressive reads Counter has produced for the Black Library.

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Zoraida Cordova – Star Wars: Convergence

Star Wars - Convergence Cover

Outstanding new Star Wars author, Zoraida Cordova, ensured that the second phase of The High Republic sub-series started off in a big way with her amazing Star Wars novel Convergence.  An exciting and powerful novel that perfectly sets up future storylines while following several complex characters, Convergence was a brilliant read and one that really sets up Cordova as an author to watch out for.

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C. L. Werner – Runefang

Runefang Cover

Another new-to-me Warhammer Fantasy author I deeply enjoyed in 2022 was C. L. Werner, who wrote the gritty adventure novel Runefang.  An awesome book, Runefang followed a band of doomed heroes on a quest to recover a legendary sword to stop an undead horde, in a great, classic fantasy narrative.  Loaded with twists and surprise deaths, Runefang was an excellent read and Werner really shows off his talents with this great book.

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Justin Woolley – Catachan Devil

Catachan Devil Cover

I had to include Justin Woolley on this list, especially after I had such a fun time with his Warhammer 40,000 book, Catachan Devil.  A compelling and thoroughly entertaining story that completely explored the legendary Catachan Imperial Guards regiment, Catachan Devil was a brilliant, soldier-focused story that is really worth a read.  I look forward to seeing what other brilliant books Justin Woolley has coming out, especially if they are as good as Catachan Devil.

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Jon Hollins – Fool’s Gold

Fool's Gold Cover

One of the more entertaining new authors I tried out in 2022 was fantasy writer Jon Hollins (Jonathan Wood), as I started his epic Dragon Lords trilogy with Fool’s Gold.  A comedic and relentless fantasy heist book, Fool’s Gold followed a group of desperate adventurers as they attempt to steal a tyrannical dragons hoard.  However, when their plans go terribly wrong, they find the fate of the entire realm resting on their shoulders and must come up with an even more elaborate plan to survive.  A sharp and very, very fun book, Fool’s Gold was pretty damn awesome and I cannot wait to see what craziness Hollins featured in his other Dragon Lords novels.

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Graham McNeill – Storm of Iron

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One Warhammer author I am particularly glad I got the chance to read in 2022 was Graham McNeill with his awesome standalone novel, Storm of Iron.  A brutal and captivating siege tale that sees a giant army of Chaos Space Marines besiege an impregnable space fortress, Storm of Iron was a blast from start to finish and was near impossible to put down.  I always intended to read all of McNeill’s books at some point, but Storm of Iron ensured that I will be moving most of his novels to the very front of my to-read pile.

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M. L. Spencer – Dragon Mage

Dragon Mage Cover

I finally got around to reading M. L. Spencer’s Dragon Mage in 2022, a book I have had my mind on for a while.  Dragon Mage was an elaborate and classic fantasy tale about heroes and dragons which really showcased Spencer’s imagination and writing talent and took the reader on a complex, character-driven ride.  A great book from an exceptional author.

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Alec Worley – Dredge Runners and The Wraithbone Phoenix

The Wraithbone Phoenix Cover

Another exceptional new-to-me Warhammer author I read for the first time in 2022 was Alec Worley, who really impressed me with his outstanding work.  I actually read two things from Worley this year, the fun novella Dredge Runners and the exciting and compelling full novel The Wraithbone Phoenix.  Both books followed a unique duo of criminals in a futuristic Warhammer city as they engage in a series of bungled heists and cons against a range of outrageous foes.  Both of these entries were pretty damn exceptional, and Worley really showcased his amazing writing ability with them.  A very talented author who I am very glad I came across.

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Tessa Gratton and Justina Ireland – Path of Deceit

Star Wars - Path of Deceit Cover

The cool team of Tessa Gratton and Justina Ireland pulled out an awesome and solid young adult Star Wars book with Path of Deceit.  Serving as an outstanding prequel to the previous High Republic novels, Path of Deceit was an amazing novel from these authors, and I had a wonderful time reading some from this cool team for the first time.

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Edoardo Albert – Kasrkin

Warhammer 40,000 - Kasrkin Cover

I doubt anyone is too surprised that the final author on this list, Edoardo Albert is yet another writer of Warhammer fiction.  I was very happy to come across Albert’s latest novel in 2022, Kasrkin, which follows an elite unit of soldiers as they brave a desert planet, only to face off against a series of dangerous foes.  Tight, action-packed, and making excellent use of its Warhammer 40,000 elements, Kasrkin did a good job of highlighting Albert’s superb ability and I had an outstanding time with this great book. 

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Well, that’s the end of this latest Top Ten list.  I think it turned out rather well and it encapsulates some of the best new authors I checked out in 2022.  I look forward to reading more books from these authors in the future and I have no doubt they will produce more epic and incredible reads.  Make sure to let me know which new authors you enjoyed in 2022 in the comments below and make sure to check back next week for another exciting list.

Friends Like These by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

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Publisher: Penguin Books (Trade Paperback – 15 November 2022)

Series: Standalone

Length: 377 pages

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

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Hot off her impressive debut in the world of young adult thrillers, outstanding author Jennifer Lynn Alvarez presents another intense and deeply addictive read with Friends Like These, a compelling and twisty novel about secrets, lies, and teenage mistakes.

In 2021 I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Lies Like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, which I instantly fell in love with.  The author’s first foray into the young adult fiction genre, Lies Like Wildfire told the story of a close group of teenage friends whose lives are torn apart when they accidently start a fire that destroys their hometown.  Desperate to avoid the consequences of their actions, the group tries to keep their involvement secret, but they soon turn on each other with tragic consequences.  I loved Alvarez’s powerful and relatable story and Lies Like Wildfire was one of the best debuts I read in 2021.  Due to her strong first young adult novel, I was very eager to see how Alvarez would follow it up, and I was very happy when I received a copy of Friends Like These.

For the teenage residents of Crystal Cove, California, the annual end of summer beach party is the social event of the year, the party that heralds the upcoming start of the senior year.  However, for three young people, this party will be the most pivotal event of their lives, which they will never recover from.

Jessica Sanchez has never been a fan of big parties and really has no desire to attend this latest big bash, especially as it is being hosted by her nemesis, Tegan Sheffield, the ex of her current boyfriend, Jake Healy.  However, Jake is always keen for a drunken bash and manages to convince Jessica and their friends to attend.  While Jessica girds herself for confrontation and awkwardness, nothing will prepare her for a terrible video prank that breaks her heart and destroys any trust she has in the man she thought she loved.

However, the worst is yet to come, as the video prank goes viral and everyone is dragged into the resultant chaos.  Not only are the police and the FBI looking into the video but they are investigating the disappearance of Tegan, who hasn’t been seen since the party.  As the case gains media attention and the whole nation is transfixed by their plight, Jessica and Jake attempt to weather the storm surrounding them, which only worsens when a body is found in the water.  However, both teenagers are hiding dark secrets, and as the investigation continues, the truth will be unleashed, and nothing will be the same again.

Alvarez continues to shine as a brilliant new voice in the young adult thriller genre, with another exceptional read.  Loaded with intrigue, drama and powerful characters, Friends Like These is an epic and powerful read that will leave you hanging until the very end as you grow deeply attached to its dark and personal tale of teenage woe and bad decisions.

I was deeply transfixed by the epic and captivating story in Friends Like These as Alvarez has woven together another complex tale of betrayal, murder and the loss of teenage innocence.  Alvarez cleverly tells the story from three separate perspectives based on her three main characters, Jessica, Jake and Tegan.  Jessica and Jake’s chapters are told in the present and follow the events of the party and its tragic consequences from their perspectives.  Both experience very different events and consequences as a result of the party and the subsequent disappearance of Tegan, which completely destroys their lives and places them in a terrible situation.  At the same time, Alvarez alternates some chapters from Tegan’s perspective in the weeks leading up to the party.  These prequel chapters give some compelling extra context to the main story and help to provide deeper meaning behind the motivations and actions of all the characters as you get a better look at the relationship the missing Tegan had with everyone.

The story proceeds at a pretty quick pace after the party, and Alvarez loads in a good combination of mystery, suspense and emotionally charged scenes as you try to unwrap everyone’s actions.  Jessica and Jake are both forced to deal with the consequences of the video prank and Tegan’s disappearance in their own ways, especially as their lives are being effectively destroyed as a result.  While Jessica attempts to discover what really happened to Tegan, while also hiding her own involvement in the events, Jake finds himself breaking down as he finds himself the main suspect in Tegan’s disappearance.  The story goes in some intriguing and dramatic directions, and Alvarez loads in a ton of compelling and well-executed twists and reveals that constantly shock the reader and completely throw them off the scent.  While I was able to predict a few of the reveals, I honestly did not see every twist coming, and I was constantly wondering what was going to happen next.  The intriguing mystery, the excellent use of alternating timelines, and the complex and emotionally charged characters really served to keep me hooked the entire way through and I honestly could not put the novel down in places.  The entire book ends on a fantastic, if dark, note as the final reveals about who was behind both the infamous prank and the subsequent disappearances and murders really leave you shocked.  None of the characters come out unscathed, and you will come away from Friends Like These extremely thoughtful as you contemplate the character’s actions, as well as your own teenage mistakes.

One of the things I most liked about Friends Like These was how Alvarez wrote a complex and captivating read that will really appeal to a wide range of readers, especially its intended teenage audience.  Just like with Lies Like Wildfire, Alvarez attempts to dive into the mindset of a group of teenage characters with a dark cautionary tale about the lifelong impacts of bad decisions.  Alvarez presents the reader with a plausible, terrible scenario that could potentially happen to modern teenagers, and shows both the events that led up to it, and destructive impacts that follow.  Alvarez covers a huge range of heavy topics in this book, including drinking, grief, obsession, drugs, abusive relationships, online videos, teenage sex, rape, and more.  It also prominently covers the malicious sharing of intimate videos, and showcases the many different ways it can impact people involved, whether it’s the emotional damage or the legal troubles the participants can find themselves in.  The author pulls no punches when it comes to these terrible topics and shows all the different ways that the characters attempt to deal with the consequences.  I really appreciate how Alvarez really doesn’t talk down to the young adult audience this book is targeted at and instead she tries to engage her audience and really hammer home how things you think might be harmless can actually destroy lives.  This is really highlighted in the way that all the characters are severely impacted by events they originally think are harmless, and it isn’t until the full impacts of their actions emerge that they realise just how much trouble they are in and panic as a result.  Not only does this ensure that the young adult audience are going to strongly engage with the story, but it also helps older readers connect as it brings them back to their own turbulent teenage years and the many mistakes they no-doubt made there.  Alvarez really has a gift when it comes to portraying complex teenage issues and it is definitely one of the things that makes her such an incredible young adult author.

Finally, I must highlight the outstanding characters that Alvarez wove such an amazing and heartfelt story around, especially the three central point of view protagonists, Jessica, Jake and Tegan.  Alvarez came up with some amazing character arcs for these three protagonists, as each of them are far more complex than initial impressions would let you believe.  Just like any real-life teenagers, all three come into the book with some emotional baggage and relatable damage, which are fully explored and become a major part of the plot as Friends Like These continues.  Jake, for example, is highly traumatised by the recent death of his father.  Despite the help of his family, friends and girlfriend, Jake has turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism, and this leaves him wide open to the terrible events of the party.  While initially shown to be a bit of a cad, Jake is actually a victim, especially as he is forced to suffer all the consequences of a terrible video prank.  Even though he is a major suspect in the subsequent murders, you can’t help but feel for Jake the entire way through, and Alvarez wrote a particularly captivating and emotionally rich narrative around him.

One of the other major characters is Tegan, who is initially shown as the villain of the story and Jake’s bitter ex.  However, as the book progresses and you see more and more preceding chapters from Tegan’s perspective, you begin to realise that Tegan isn’t as mean or as manipulative as you are initially led to believe.  Instead, she is a loyal friend who has been emotionally abused by her mother her entire life and one of the few good things she had, Jake, was taken away from her by circumstance.  Bitter over that and egged on by her peers and rivals, Tegan impulsively initiates the events of the party without fully knowing how everything would unfold.  Her entire arc was an outstanding part of the overall plot of the book, especially as it paints her in a much more flattering light, and I am very glad that Alvarez ended up featuring them here.

The final character is Jessica, who in some ways is the main protagonist.  A seemingly normal girl who is caught up in terrible circumstances, her story revolves around her trying to escape the events of the party while also making big mistakes due to her conflicted feelings for Jake.  While she initially appears to be a suitable and stable protagonist, Alvarez eventually reveals some hidden secrets about Jessica that completely change your view of her and make the reader question everything you’ve seen her do up until that point.  I deeply enjoyed how Alvarez would continually change your expectations about her protagonists as the book proceeded and the resultant development and portrayals helped to turn Friends Like These into quite an exceptional read.

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez continues to shine as one of the most complex and talented authors of young adult fiction.  Her latest novel, Friends Like These, is another clever and captivating thriller that explores the powerful consequences of teenage choices.  Loaded with outstanding characters, a highly relevant plot, and a compelling mystery, Friends Like These was one of the best young adult reads of 2022 and I cannot recommend it enough.  I look forward to seeing what brilliant and relatable story Alvarez features in her next gripping novel, and I already know it is going to be quite impressive.

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Star Wars: The High Republic: Convergence by Zoraida Córdova

Star Wars - Convergence Cover

Publisher: Del Rey/Penguin Random House Audio (Audiobook – 15 November 2022)

Series: Star WarsThe High Republic

Length: 13 hours and 28 minutes

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

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The next phase of the High Republic is in excellent form as outstanding author Zoraida Córdova presents a particularly awesome new tie-in novel with Star Wars: Convergence.

For last couple of years, the focus of the Star Wars extended universe has been The High Republic, an intriguing prequel series of tie-in media that expands and explores the iconic Star Wars universe in the centuries before the Skywalker Saga.  Set hundreds of years before The Phantom Menace, the High Republic series examines the Republic and the Jedi at the height of their influence, as well as the many dangers they encountered during this time.  I have had an awesome time with the High Republic series, and there are some excellent stories contained within this elaborate prequel sub-series, written by a great collection of writers.  Highlights so far include the main novels Light of the Jedi, The Rising Storm and The Fallen Star, as well as great young adult novels such as Midnight Horizon, all of which come very highly recommended.

The latest batch of High Republic books are currently part of the second phase of the series, which acts as a prequel to the first and upcoming third High Republic phases.  Set even further back in the Star Wars timeline, the second phase provides intriguing context to the previous entries, including the origins of the main antagonists and the reason for their hatred of the Jedi.  I have so far read the preceding second phase novel, The Path of Deceit, a fantastic young adult read, and I have been excited for Convergence for some time.  Written by talented new Star Wars author Zoraida Córdova, Convergence was an amazing read that I had a wonderful time listening to.

It is a time of great expansion, exploration and diplomatic strides in the galaxy as the Republic seeks to expand its influence.  Led by the Jedi, Republic pathfinder teams are constantly journeying out into the furthest reaches of the galaxy, seeking out new civilizations and planets.  However, not everyone is excited to see the Republic or the Jedi, and chaos is always around the corner.

Nowhere is this clearer than the closely neighbouring planets of Eiram and E’ronoh, which have been at war for generations.  Bound to the fighting by hatred and years of conflict, the end of both planets looks to be near, as the war has resulted in nothing but drought, starvation and despair.  However, after an unexpected tragedy brings the two heirs of Eiram and E’ronoh together for the first time, a solution to the ongoing war comes clear and the mediating Republic are able to broker a marriage alliance between the two royal families.

But before wedding preparations can begin, an attempt is made on the lives of the young couple, which once again brings the planets close to war.  Determined to keep the peace, young Jedi Knight Gella Nattai is chosen to act as the couple’s bodyguard and journeys across both planets with them as they attempt to sell the peace to their people.  A serious and dedicated Jedi, Gella is unprepared for another companion for the journey as Republic Chancellor Kyong also sends her son, Axel Greylark, to represent the Republic.  A rogue and cad of the highest quality, Axel swiftly gets under the group’s skin, especially as his disdain for all Jedi, including Gella, is plainly evident.  However, the new companions need to work as a team, as they find themselves caught in a deadly conspiracy that can impact not only the warring planets but the entire Republic.  Can they get to the bottom of this plot before it is too late, and are they truly ready for the consequences if they do?

Damn, now this was a pretty awesome Star Wars novel from a very talented author.  Córdova came up with a remarkable and powerful narrative for Convergence that not only contained its own brilliant character-driven plot, but which also sets up some awesome narrative threads for the future.  I had an amazing time getting through Convergence, and it was one of the better Star Wars books I read in 2022.

Córdova brings out an impressive and complex story for Convergence that drags you in quickly and hits you with a ton of great elements from this new High Republic era.  Primarily set around the war-torn twin worlds of Eiram and E’ronoh, Convergence starts off with the two once again on the brink of war after an unfortunate space battle.  However, the battle leads to the intervention of the Jedi and the Republic, who attempt to force peace, as well as the chance meeting between the planet’s two royal heirs.  What follows is a compelling bout of political intrigue, as the two planets negotiate, while various elements with ulterior motives try to sabotage it.  This early part of the book is pretty damn compelling, as the author spends a good amount of time introducing the complex characters as well as the well-crafted background setting and war story arc.

Thanks to some mysterious murders and sabotages, the middle of Convergence evolves into an exciting road-trip narrative, as the two royals, their new Jedi bodyguard and the unrepentant party boy Axel Greylark, embark on a goodwill mission to both planets, which results in further action and adventure, while also taking the time to build up the four main characters and establish some intriguing relationships between them.  After some excellent and often heartbreaking sequences, the story enters a whole new phase as the deadly outside influences trying to disrupt the peace process are revealed.  There are series of great twists and turns around here, including one massive reveal that severely impacts a major character, and everything you think you know about the plot is changed as hidden motivations are revealed.  The last third of the book is easily the most exciting, as you wait for the various characters to explode when everything is brought to the light and the full scope of the various plots are revealed.  The author really amps up the action towards the end, including one of the most chaotic wedding sequences in Star Wars history, and there is no shortage of intense interactions as certain characters come face to face.  Everyone walks away from Convergence with their emotional and excitement buckets filled and I really appreciated the fantastic swings that Córdova took in this major High Republic book.

I deeply enjoyed how this excellent narrative came together, and Córdova has a great writing style that lends itself to an intense character-driven plot.  Told from multiple compelling character perspectives, Córdova has produced an excellent narrative that combines adventure, intrigue and character growth with the lore-heavy Star Wars universe.  While there is plenty of action and some great universe building featured here, most of the book is constructed around intense character emotions as the central protagonists attempt to overcome their pasts and the dangerous secrets they all hide.  The author keeps the pace of Convergence’s narrative pretty constant throughout, and there were no major areas that slowed down or got stuck, and I enjoyed the continued build-up of disasters and betrayals that occurred.  The various action scenes featured throughout a very well written and make sure to highlight both the emotion behind each battle, but the iconic Star Wars elements such as the Jedi.  There is also a great sense of mystery and betrayal throughout the book that gives it a powerful overarching tone, and you really get drawn in trying to see how the characters are going to implode with their own inner chaos.  It really proved quite impossible not to enjoy this captivating read, and I really think that Córdova showcased just how impressive her writing ability is with this outstanding read.

In addition to having an outstanding story, Convergence also serves as a great entry in the second phase of the High Republic and I loved how it continued certain awesome storylines as a key novel in this sub-series.  I have mentioned a couple of times previously on my blog that I was surprised they started off the second phase of this sub-series with the young adult book, Path of Deceit.  However, after getting through Convergence, I now completely understand why they did this, as the more subtle Path of Deceit really helped to set up certain key overarching plot elements, as well as the wilder aspect of this period of the Star Wars timeline.  Convergence had a narrower narrative focus which, which really benefited from not having to introduce a whole new batch of major antagonists in too much detail.  Córdova was able to expertly utilise and then expand some of the elements from Path of Deceit throughout Convergence’s narrative, which I think really enhanced the overall story, and made it a bit more gripping and connected with the wider series.  I do think that at this point in the High Republic, Convergence is a very hard novel for those non-Star Wars fans to easily jump in and fully appreciate.  A lot of the joy of Convergence and the other books in the prequel second phase is in seeing the origins of key characters, organisations or events that are featured or discussed in the first phase.  As such, you can only fully appreciate this book if you have read a few of the key novels from the first phase, and this makes Convergence a little less accessible as a result.  Luckily, Convergence really is geared towards established fans of the franchise, who are guaranteed to have a wonderful time with this book.

I really must highlight the outstanding settings that were such a key part of Convergence’s narrative and tone.  Part of this comes from the even earlier timeline that the book is set in, as this period of the High Republic is a lot wilder and less civilized in places, more resembling a space western than the golden age seen in the first phase.  While the story doesn’t spend a lot of time in the wider Star Wars universe, you get an idea of the different society and times in this new phase, and it really feels like a period of flux and new ideas.  However, the story primarily takes place on the twin worlds of Eiram and E’ronoh, both of which have been featured to a degree during the first phase (Into the Dark and The Fallen Star for example).  Both planets are shown in even more detail in Convergence, especially as the characters spend most of the book there.  Stuck in an endless cycle of war and destruction, both Eiram and E’ronoh are in very dire straits when Convergence begins, which adds a great layer of politics, strife, and desperate characters to the narrative.  The protagonists are forced to dive into the history and culture of both planets to resolve the war, which reveals some major emotional edges as the dark similarities and differences between them make peace seem impossible.  Córdova does a remarkable job highlighting both planets throughout the course of Convergence and I really cannot emphasise how impressive they were as a background setting, especially as there is a tangible tension and threat of violence permeating both.  I deeply enjoyed this cool setting and I look forward to seeing another author’s take on these planets, and the wider Star Wars universe at this time in the next High Republic books.

While I loved the epic story and impressive Star Wars elements, the best part about Convergence for me was the exceptional characters that Córdova introduced and strongly featured throughout the course of the narrative.  Each character is pretty intriguing in their own way, and many are clearly set to become central figures in this second phase and will no doubt be reutilised again by other authors in the future.  The plot of Convergence, however, primarily rests around four complex and well-written protagonists who tend to serve as the main point-of-view characters of the book.

The first two characters I need to talk about are Jedi Knight Gella Nattai and political scion Axel Greylark, who form an intriguing odd-couple pairing for much of the book.  Gella is naturally the more serious and stoic Jedi character, who is dealing with regrets and uncertainty after a failed mission that saw the order lose confidence in her.  Now forced to work under more experienced Jedi Masters, Gella is uncertain what her future holds, but her impulsive nature brings her into the middle of the conflict on the two warring planets.  She is eventually relegated to the role of bodyguard for the royal characters and is teamed up with Axel, who is easily the most entertaining and fun character in this entire book.  The son of one of the Supreme Chancellors, Axel is a pampered rogue and troublemaker who spends most of the book gambling, flirting and doing irresponsible things (think Lando dialled up to 11).  Introduced in a very entertaining early chapter which ends with him shooting up an illegal casino, Axel is sent by his mother to the twin planets as her envoy and is recruited as an extra bodyguard when things go bad.  He immediately goes to work annoying Gella, not just because of her uptight personality, but because he also has a great dislike of the Jedi in general after they failed his family as a child.  While it is easy to see Axel as a one-note character, he is one of the most complex figures in the entire novel and he has one of the best character arcs.  I loved the unique partnership he formed with Gella, which initially begins with great antagonism but eventually morphs into something else, that really changes both for the better.  Of course, there is a further great twist around Axel that changes the entirety of his story, and it will be fascinating to see how that evolves in some future books.

The other two major characters are the heirs to Eiram and E’ronoh, Princess Xiri A’lbaran of Eiram and Prince Phan-tu Zenn of E’ronoh, who suddenly find the fate of both worlds resting on their shoulders when they have a chance meeting.  Both are very different from each other as Xiri is a tough and practical warrior from a proud lineage, while Phan-tu is a kind and somewhat gentle former orphan who was adopted into the royal family.  Despite their differences, both are dedicated to their respective planets and initiate the peace process through an arranged marriage that will unite their houses.  While initially uncertain of each other, the two begin to grow closer as the book continues, not only because of their duty but because of their legitimate feelings as they prove themselves to their future spouse.  The author features a slow-burn romance between the two that builds throughout the course of the story and has a lot of roadblocks to it, including both characters’ families and pasts filled with tragedy.  Xiri and Phan-tu prove to be exceptional partners as the book proceeds, and I also really enjoyed the fantastic friendship group they formed with Gella and Axel during their travels, as the four stay to play off each other perfectly.  These four end up really carrying the book on their shoulders, and I really must compliment Córdova on how well they were crafted and the amazing stories woven around them.  Backed up by an amazing supporting cast of big personalities, this was an amazing character-focused book, and I cannot wait to see how some of these figures are featured in future High Republic works.

I doubt that anyone who is familiar with my blog and my love for Star Wars novels is going to be too surprised that I chose to check out Convergence on audiobook rather than reading the physical book I received.  I love, love, love all the Star Wars audiobooks, especially as the production team behind them always features iconic Star Wars sound effects and music throughout the runtime, which I find adds to the overall ambience and emotional impact of the plot.  Convergence was another exceptional example of this, and I especially enjoyed how the awesome music made every major scene feel that little more epic.  At the same time, Convergence also featured the outstanding voice work of Marc Thompson, who is easily one of the best Star Wars audiobook narrators of all time.  I always enjoy Thompson’s brilliant voice work in Star Wars fiction (such as in the audiobooks for Thrawn, Chaos Rising, Greater Good, Lesser Evil, Scoundrels, Dark Disciple and more), and he once again hit it out of the park in Convergence, giving each of the characters their own distinctive voice that really brought out their personalities and inner emotions.  I really loved some of the cool voices that Thompson brought out for Convergence, especially as they were well tailored for the relevant characters and their backgrounds, and this ended up being an epic performance from him that allowed listeners to power through the audiobook.  Coming in with a runtime of roughly 13 and a half hours, Convergence has a decent length, but dedicated listeners should have no trouble powering through it quickly.  I personally thought this was an outstanding way to enjoy this amazing book, and I even featured Convergence on my favourite audiobooks of 2022 list before I’d even finished it.

The brilliant High Republic series of Star Wars fiction continues to roll on at an unstoppable pace with the latest epic read, Convergence by Zoraida Córdova.  Featuring an exceptional plot, amazingly complex characters and serving as an intriguing prequel to the previous run of High Republic books, Convergence was an outstanding read that I cannot recommend enough.  One of the best Star Wars books of 2022, Convergence was extremely impressive and captivating and I am now very excited to check out all the High Republic entries of 2023.

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