Waiting on Wednesday – Red Dirt Road by S. R. White

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.  For this latest entry, I check out an intriguing and fantastic upcoming new Australian murder mystery novel with Red Dirt Road by S. R. White.

Red Dirt Road Cover

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Last year I was lucky enough to receive a copy of a fantastic novel from a new-to-me author, S. R. White, with PrisonerPrisoner was an awesome and compelling crime fiction read that featured a complex and deeply impressive investigation in the remote Australian outback.  Emphasising interrogation scenes and clever crime scene investigation, this was an extremely good piece of Australian crime fiction that I had an outstanding time reading.  As such, I have been very interested in reading more books from White, and I was very happy to find out that he has a new novel coming out in a few months’ time.

This new novel from White is Red Dirt Road, which is currently set for release in January 2023.  Red Dirt Road has another great sounding narrative to it that will see White’s recurring protagonist, Detective Dana Russo, travel to a new town and investigate two crazy murders.  Set in a very remote location, it appears that Russo will be trapped in town with the potential murderer and must work to uncover why and how this crime occurred.  I really love the sound of the cool plot that White has come up with for Red Dirt Road, and I have a strong feeling that this is going to be one of the better Australian novels of 2023.  I love the sound of this unique case and I look forward to grabbing this book next year.

Synopsis:

One outback town. Two puzzling murders. Fifty suspects.

In Unamurra, a drought-scarred, one-pub town deep in the outback, two men are savagely murdered a month apart – their bodies elaborately arranged like angels.

With no witnesses, no obvious motives and no apparent connections between the killings, how can lone police officer Detective Dana Russo – flown in from hundreds of kilometres away – possibly solve such a baffling, brutal case?

Met with silence and suspicion from locals who live by their own set of rules, Dana must take over a stalled investigation with only a week to make progress.

But with a murderer hiding in plain sight, and the parched days rapidly passing, Dana is determined to uncover the shocking secrets of this forgotten town – a place where anyone could be a killer.

A gripping and vividly atmospheric story from the international bestseller, this is a searing story perfect for fans of Jane Harper, Chris Hammer and Garry Disher.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books on my Spring 2022 TBR

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 Top Ten Tuesday topic for this week was around books I got for my personal library, however, I decided to instead move up my quarterly post about the best upcoming books to read (TBR) for the following three months.  This is a regular post I do at the start of each season, and as this Tuesday is just before Spring (Autumn for folks in the Northern Hemisphere), this is the ideal time to put this up.

For this list, I have come up with 10 of the most anticipated novels that are coming out between 1 September 2022 and 30 November 2022.  There are quite a few very cool novels set for release in the next few months that I am extremely excited for, including some of my most anticipated books of the year.  Due to how impressive some of these upcoming books are, it took me a little while to finalise my list but I was eventually able to whittle it down into a Top Ten list (with a few honourable mentions).  I have primarily used the Australian publication dates to reflect when I will be able to get these awesome novels, and these might be somewhat different to the rest of the world.  I have previously discussed a number of these books before in prior Top Ten Tuesdays and Waiting on Wednesday articles and I think all of them will turn out to be pretty incredible reads.  I have extremely excited for the next three months as quite a few up these upcoming reads are easily going to be amongst the best books of 2022.

Honourable Mentions:

Falling Sky by Harry Sidebottom – 13 October 2022

Falling Sky Cover

An epic adventure from one of the best current authors of historical fiction, Harry Sidebottom.  Set to bring back his best protagonist for a ton of historical action and intrigue in the Alps, Falling Sky is going to be a lot of fun and I cannot wait to read it.

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The Boys from Biloxi by John Grisham – 18 October 2022

The Boys from Biloxi Cover

After having a fantastic time with Grisham’s latest legal thrillers, The Judge’s List and Sparring Partners, I am quite keen to read something else from this iconic crime fiction author.  Luckily his new book, The Boys from Biloxi, sounds very impressive and I know I am going to have a blast getting through it.

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Friends Like These by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez – 1 November 2022

Friends Like These Cover 2

Last year, Jennifer Lynn Alvarez greatly impressed me her first young adult thriller, Lies Like Wildfire, which ended up being one of the best debuts of 2021.  I loved the complex and clever story that Alvarez featured in Lies Like Wildfire, and it looks like she’s set to continue her awesome young adult thriller ways with the upcoming Friends Like These, which explore the deadly consequences of a drunken party.

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Death to the Emperor by Simon Scarrow – 8 November 2022

Death to the Emperor Cover

I will of course be grabbing the latest historical fiction epic from one of my favourite authors, Simon Scarrow, when it comes out in November.  Scarrow’s last few books have all been very exciting and I cannot wait to read Death to the Emperor when it comes out, especially as it sets his long-running Roman protagonists against a massed rebellion in Britain.

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Top Ten List:

Fairy Tale by Stephen King – 6 September 2022

Fairy Tale Cover

First on this list is the upcoming fantasy novel from legendary author Stephen King, Fairy Tale.  I have been deeply enjoying King’s last few books, such as the fantastic Later and the epic Billy Summers, and I am very keen to see King dive into a dark fantasy novel.  Set around a young boy who finds himself drawn into a dark realm of fairies and magic, Fairy Tale promises to be an exceptional read, and I know I am going to have a blast with it.

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Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – 13 September 2022

Nona the Ninth Cover

Since her impressive debut in 2019 with Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir has been one of the most intriguing science fiction authors out there.  Not only was her first book a ton of fun with its dark story around a group of space-faring necromancers, but her sequel, Harrow the Ninth, was a truly exceptional read that ended up being one of the best books and audiobooks of 2020.  I am exceedingly excited to see what happens in the third book, Nona the Ninth, and it looks let to continue the fantastic body-swapping antics of the previous two novels.  Nona the Ninth is likely to be one of the best and most distinctive science fiction reads of 2022, and I am very excited for it as a result.

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Oath of Loyalty by Kyle Mills – 13 September 2022

Oath of Loyalty Cover

There are some excellent long-running spy thriller series at there now, but one of my favourites is the action-packed Mitch Rapp novels.  Originally written by Vince Flynn, the Mitch Rapp novels follow the titular spy and assassin as he lays waste to America’s enemies around the world.  The last several novels, such as Red War, Lethal Agent, Total Power, and Enemy at the Gates, have been written by Kyle Mills and feature some amazing narratives to them.  I have been having an outstanding time getting through this series recently, and the next novel, Oath of Loyalty, looks set to be another awesome read.  Oath of Loyalty will continue the feud between Rapp and the new US president and will force Rapp to defend his family when they are sold out to a deadly and unstoppable group of assassins.  I love the sound of this epic read and I know I am going to have an amazing time with it.

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The Bullet that Missed by Richard Osman – 15 September 2022

The Bullet That Missed Cover

There was no way I can possibly exclude the upcoming Richard Osman novel, The Bullet that Missed, from this list.  The third book in the Thursday Murder Club, which follows on from the exceptional The Thursday Murder Club (one of the best debuts of 2020) and The Man Who Died Twice (one of the best books and audiobooks of 2021), The Bullet that Missed will bring back Osman’s fun group of crime solving senior citizens and set them on a new case.  I love the sound of this amazing book and I can’t wait to start reading it.

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The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik – 20 September 2022

The Golden Enclaves Cover Better

Easily one of my most anticipated books coming out in the next few months is The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik.  The third and final book in Novik’s exquisite and epic Scholomance trilogy, The Golden Enclaves will finally provide some closure to readers following the impressive first two novels, A Deadly Education and The Last Graduate.  Both books have had perfect, dark magical school narratives, and I have had such an incredible time reading them.  However, I have been dying to check out The Golden Enclaves for a year now, especially after that brutal cliff-hanger at the end of The Last Graduate, and I am just going to absorb this book the moment I get my hands on it.

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Khaos by Jeremy Robinson – 18 October 2022

Khaos Cover

I have no doubt that one of the most exciting and action-packed novels of the next three months is going to be Khaos by Jeremy Robinson.  Following on from Robinson’s fantastic and fun novels, Tribe, The Dark, and Mind Bullet, Khaos will set three groups of Robinson’s protagonists on a joint mission to Hades to free the gods and titans for an upcoming war.  This book has so much damn potential and I can’t wait to see what chaos happens in Khaos.

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Usagi Yojimbo: Crossroads by Stan Sakai – 25 October 2022

Usagi Yojimbo - Crossroads Cover

After already being blessed with one volume of the incredible Usagi Yojimbo comic series this year with Tengu War!, I am exceeding happy that we are getting another volume with CrossroadsCrossroads looks set to enthrall readers with several great new stories, and I am very excited to see how Sakai continues his iconic comics.  There is a very good reason why this is one of my favourite comic series of all time, and I cannot wait to get another volume extremely soon.

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The Voyage of the Forgotten by Nick Martell – 3 November 2022

The Voyage of the Forgotten Cover

Another epic trilogy that is coming to an end in the next few months is Nick Martell’s Legacy of the Mercenary King series with the third and final book, The Voyage of the Forgotten.  I have been absolutely and incredibly impressed with Martell’s first two novels, The Kingdom of Liars and The Two-Faced Queen, both of which have been exceptional five-star reads.  I am extremely excited for the final book, and I cannot wait to see how Martell will wrap up the multiple complex and captivating storylines.  There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that The Voyage of the Forgotten is going to be one of the top books of the year and it is going to be something truly epic.

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Desert Star by Michael Connelly – 8 November 2022

Desert Star Cover

Another must-read I must include on this list is the next book from acclaimed crime-fiction author Michael Connelly.  His new book, Desert Star, is the latest entry in his Ballard of Bosch series, which has already featured three amazing reads, Dark Sacred Night, The Night Fire and The Dark Hours.  This new book sets the great protagonists on another intriguing case, and I look forward to seeing how Connelly sets out his new great mystery.

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Star Wars: The High Republic: Convergence by Zoraida Cordova – 15 November 2022

Star Wars - Convergence Cover

The final book I want to highlight on this list is the new upcoming Star Wars novel, Convergence by Zoraida Cordova.  Convergence is part of The High Republic sub-series and will set up the entire next phase of the High Republic.  This new phase serves as a prequel to the previous High Republic novels, and I am very curious to see how everything ties together.  This should be a very awesome Star Wars novel and I am sure I am going to have a lot of fun reading it.

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Well, that is the end of my Top Ten list.  I think it turned out pretty well and it does a good job of capturing all my most anticipated books for the next three months.  Each of the above should be extremely epic, and I cannot wait to read each of them soon.  Let me know which of the above you are most excited for and stay tuned for reviews of them in the next few months.  In the meantime, it looks like I have quite a few books to get through soon and they should all be pretty awesome.

Quick Review – Conviction by Frank Chalmers

Conviction Cover

Publisher: Allen & Unwin Australia (Trade Paperback – 5 July 2022)

Series: Standalone/Book One

Length: 354 pages

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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The Australian crime fiction debut hits keep on coming with the excellent and highly exciting first novel from Frank Chalmers, Conviction, with takes the reader on an amazing journey back into 1970s rural Australia.

Plot Synopsis:

A town ruled by fear. A cop who won’t be broken. A pulse-pounding debut thriller that pulls no punches.

A STUNNING NEW VOICE IN CRIME FICTION

Queensland in 1976 churns with corruption. When Detective Ray Windsor defies it, he is exiled deep into the state’s west. It’s easy out there to feel alien in your own country.

Royalton is a town on its knees, stricken by drought, riven by prejudice, and plagued by crimes left largely uninvestigated by the local police chief, Kennedy, and his elusive boss.

Mutual dislike between Kennedy and Ray gradually turns ugly as Ray and his new partner, Arshag, uncover a pattern of crimes that no one seems concerned about solving. But when two girls from local immigrant families are found dead and another disappears, Ray and Arshag are forced to take the law into their own hands. Not knowing who to trust, nor how deep the corruption runs, how long will it be before their lives are also threatened?

A spare and uncompromising crime thriller that pulls no punches.


Conviction
is a compelling and fun crime fiction thriller that sets a bold protagonist against a brace of criminals and dirty cops in a remote and hopeless town.  Essentially reading like a contemporary Australian western, with protagonist Detective Ray Windsor acting as the new sheriff in town, Chalmers crafts together a compelling read that is very easy to get through.

Conviction has a very interesting and complex story to it that sees the new cop arrive in the remote town of Royalton and get caught up in a series of crimes.  Not only is he forced to deal with the corruption of his peers and a local crime ring that has been stealing stock and damaging the local farms, but he is also investigating two recent violent deaths of young immigrant women.  This results in quite a fantastic series of investigation elements, as Detective Windsor attempts to solve these crimes while being constantly hampered by his colleagues.  The novel also deals with Ray’s attempt to integrate into the Royalton community, and he soon finds some unexpected connections and friends which draw him in.  Taking place over the course of several months, Conviction’s plot goes in some exciting and intense directions, and the reader is provided with intriguing plotlines that are loaded with action and excitement.  The eventual reveals lead to some big moments, and while the identity of the book’s villains is well-foreshadowed and not especially surprising, watching the protagonist attempt to overcome them is fun.  This ended up being a great and enjoyable piece of Australian fiction, and I had a good time getting through this awesome debut.

Like many impressive Australian crime fiction novels, one of the best things about Conviction is its excellent setting in a rural Australian town.  Royalton is a compelling location, which even in the 1970s, is starting to fall apart and feel the strain as more and more people left the country to live in the big cities.  Royalton has many of the best features that make up a small-town setting, from the sunburned countryside, the various surrounding farms, the neglected buildings within the town itself, as well as a colourful cast of people living in it.  I felt that Royalton in Conviction was a pretty good example of this compelling Australian setting, and the intriguing historical context makes it stand out from other recent Australian crime fiction books.  I particularly liked how Chalmers depicted the town as having a large migrant population, which is an accurate representation of most of Australia, and the stratification of classes that resulted based on nationality and culture gave the story another fascinating dimension that I felt added a lot to the story.  The farms surrounding the town are also under siege by an organised group of criminals who are working to bankrupt them for their own nefarious reasons, and this adds to the tension in Royalton.  All this proves to be rich ground for the intense and compelling crime fiction narrative that Chalmers crafted together, and I felt that this was an amazing setting for Conviction.

However, the best thing about Conviction was the eclectic and troubled group of characters who can be found within.  The author comes up with some great and flawed figures throughout Conviction, and the reader soon gets some intriguing views of the sort of people who would live in such a remote and troubled town.  Naturally most of the focus is on Detective Ray Windsor, who immediately finds himself in all manner of trouble once he arrives in Royalton.  Now, I must admit that I had a hard time liking Windsor in this book, as he is a bit of an over-the-top hero who is prone to violence at a drop of hat.  While this attribute does help him out in some of the situations, I was never too attached to him as a character, especially when he flew off the handle.  Still, I liked the compelling background that Chalmers attributed to Windsor, especially his dark childhood, and the portrayal of an honest cop sent out to the country as a punishment was well explored.  There are some great moments with Windsor in the book, and I did enjoy seeing his take on the case and the corruption going on around town.  The author also did a good job setting up Windsor’s growing attachment to Royalton, especially once he gets to know the people within.  This, as well as his commitment to getting the job done, eventually win the reader over, and you are rooting for him to succeed as the story continues.  The rest of the cast are also really good, and I deeply enjoyed some of the other characters featured within Conviction.  I felt that Chalmers did a particularly good job with the villains of this book, and it was satisfying to see Windsor standing up to them and finally bringing them to justice.  An awesome group of characters that Chalmers did a good job bringing to life.

Overall, I felt that Conviction was a pretty awesome novel that the debuting Frank Chalmers should be proud of.  This fantastic novel has a great crime fiction narrative that not only crosses into historical fiction territory but which works as an exceptional example of a rural Australian story.  All these elements work extremely well together, and I had a blast getting through Conviction, which is really worth checking out.

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The Unbelieved by Vikki Petraitis

The Unbelieved Cover

Publisher: Allen & Unwin Australia (Trade Paperback – 2 August 2022)

Series: Standalone/Book One

Length: 373 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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Debuting author Vikki Petraitis delivers an impressive and deeply moving Australian thriller skilfully set around the powerful subject of sexual violence with The Unbelieved.  This is Petraitis’s first novel, which has been receiving a large amount of buzz, including some awards.  As such, I was very interested in checking it out, especially as it had a very interesting plot, and this ended up being one of the most compelling and memorable Australian debuts of 2022.

Senior Detective Antigone Pollard has spent many years investigating terrible and destructive crimes in Melbourne.  After one case goes horribly wrong, Antigone decides to seek the quieter life and moves to her grandmother’s house in the Victorian coastal town of Deception Bay, where she was raised.  However, her attempts at finding peaceful policing quickly go up in smoke when a series of drug assisted sexual attacks occur throughout Deception Bay and the neighbouring towns.

After a sting operation at the local pub reveals a suspect who attempts to drug her, Antigone believes that they have perpetrator dead to rights.  However, they are soon forced to let him go when the male witnesses to the event refuse to cooperate and her superior attempts to brush the case under the rug.  Reaching out to the community, she finds a wall of silence and shame surrounding sexual crimes in Deception Bay, which has failed to lead to any convictions in the town.

Determined to stop the attacks no matter what, Antigone continues her investigation against her superior’s wishes, and uncovers a series of attacks across town.  Attempting to break through the fears of the women of Deception Bay, Antigone and her partner begin closing on the information they need.  However, Antigone also finds herself under threat from all corners and must work swiftly before she is shut down for good.  But can she succeed before another girl is attacked, and what happens when the darkness from her past rears its ugly head again?

Wow, I was not prepared for just how good and moving The Unbelieved was going to be.  Vikki Petraitis has really shown off her skill and talented as a writer with her first book, presenting a powerful read on an extremely relevant subject that strikes the reader hard.  Featuring an exciting and very clever mystery storyline that also intensely examines violence against women in Australia, The Unbelieved is an outstanding novel that gets a full five-star rating from me.

At its centre The Unbelieved has an exceptional multifaceted narrative that follows detective Antigone Pollard as she finds herself investigating terrible events occurring around Deception Bay.  Detective Pollard initially attempts to stop a series of sexual attacks, but she soon becomes involved in several other cases while trying to fit in to the community, despite opposition from some of its male residents.  As her case develops and more victims come forward, Pollard also finds herself investigating a suspicious death, a historical murder-suicide, a series of domestic violence cases, and more.  These investigations are often hampered by her superior and problematic members of the community, and Pollard also finds herself being threatened or attacked as she attempts to do her duties.  At the same time, elements from her past in Melbourne are revealed through a series of well-crafted flashbacks that expand on her motivations and begin to bleed into her current cases, especially once a prior suspect is brought back into the light.

Petraitis takes the story in some interesting directions throughout the course of The Unbelieved, and I loved the fantastic combination of the compelling yet heartbreaking cases that are explored throughout.  This investigation angle is well balanced with the character development of the protagonist, as well as the emotional exploration of several interesting supporting characters, and you really get involved in the narrative and the character’s fates as The Unbelieved continues.  The story becomes more complex as the book unfolds, and the protagonist finds herself caught up in a devious local conspiracy that seeks to take her down at the same time.  There are some brilliant twists and reveals throughout the plot, and I loved how several of the storylines developed.  The entire book was very well paced out, and I found myself getting really absorbed in so many key elements of the plot, especially as the author blends compelling investigations with dark, emotional examinations of the victims.  This all leads to up to a moving, thought-provoking and extremely satisfying conclusion that will leave every reader caught up in the plot happy.  I particularly enjoyed the final twist that Petraitis left the story on, and the way it was hinted at through the rest of the novel was extremely clever.  I honestly had such a remarkable time reading this great narrative, and there are so many excellent story elements to enjoy within it.

Easily the most distinctive part of The Unbelieved is the author’s detailed and powerful examination of the current situation of sexual and domestic violence in Australia.  Most of the book’s plot revolves around the investigation and attempted conviction of multiple sexual predators, and the author does not hold back in showcasing just how dark and damaging these sorts of cases can be.  Multiple viewpoints of the impacts of these crimes are examined throughout The Unbelieved, and readers are in for some emotionally devastating moments as you see so many of the different aspects of them.  There is a particularly good and dramatic look at how police investigating sexual crimes are impacted, especially when they are unable to get justice for the victims.  More importantly, Petraitis spends a lot of time exploring how Australian society perceives sexual crimes, and the book is loaded up with characters who don’t see them as a big deal or attempt to blame the victim.  There are multiple interludes within The Unbelieved that show short transcripts of interviews with people involved with these crimes, either as a witness or the accused, and the unguarded and unsupportive comments they make are both enlightening and a little infuriating.  Throw in some comments and interviews by the author’s accurate depiction of a typical Australian radio shock jock, which really boil the blood, and you have an excellent depiction of some of the main issues and attitudes towards sexual crimes, such as victim blaming.  These issues become a key part of the book’s plot, especially when the system fails so many victims, and it leads to some extremely emotional and painful moments.  I felt that Petraitis did a spectacular job working this confronting subject into the plot of her novel, and it certainly gave The Unbelieved a powerful edge that is hard to ignore.

I also really appreciated Petraitis’s examination of regional towns in Australia, which proves to be a great setting for this compelling book.  Rural and remote settings are always an excellent feature of Australian fiction, and I think that Petraitis used it extremely well in The Unbelieved.  The transfer of a big-city cop to the small town she grew up in results in a great change of pace for the protagonist, and the change in priorities and issues helps to add to the narrative complexity of The Unbelieved.  The use of this small-town setting comes into play throughout The Unbelieved in multiple intriguing ways, from the constant spread of rumours, the lack of secrets, and the fact everyone knows each other, and I liked how this affected several aspects of the police investigation plot line.  However, the most important part of this setting is the wall of silence that springs up during the book.  Many people know about the sexual and domestic violence going in in Deception Bay, but are unwilling to talk for various reasons, often keeping secrets from the police.  This becomes a key complication in the investigation, and it was fascinating and moving to see the protagonist attempt to overcome it.  As such, I felt that this small-town setting worked extremely well for The Unbelieved’s plot, especially with its specific criminal focus, and it definitely enhanced the story for me.

The final thing that I need to highlight is the excellent protagonist that Petraitis works the story around in Detective Antigone Pollard.  Pollard is an emotionally charged badass who has returned to her hometown after a devastating case in Melbourne, and now finds herself amid all manner of dark criminal activity.  While she is raw from the impacts of her last case and there are some dramatic moments surrounding here, the author portrays her as a practical and very capable cop, who takes charge and starts to clean up Deception Bay.  I really do think that Petraitis hit the right balance of vulnerable and determined in Pollard, and you grow quite attached to her as the book continues, especially once you learn the full extent of her last case.  Combine Pollard with several other fantastic characters in The Unbelieved, such as her partner, Detective Senior Constable Warren “Wozza” Harvey, and her loyal dog, Waffles, as well as some slimy villains, and you have a great cast for The Unbelieved that really add to the overall quality of this remarkable book.

With her impressive debut novel, The Unbelieved, Vikki Petraitis has set herself up as an exceptional talent in the Australian crime fiction game and she is a major new author to watch out for.  The Unbelieved has an outstanding crime fiction narrative to it that does an amazing job balancing a compelling mystery storyline with powerful dive into a sensitive and highly relevant subject.  Thanks to its well-written plot, clever mystery, distinctive setting and great characters, The Unbelieved comes together perfectly, and it proves to be extremely hard to put down.  While this book might be best avoided by those readers triggered by depictions of sexual violence, I cannot recommend this powerful novel enough, and it stands as one of the better Australian crime fiction books and debuts of 2022 so far.

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Upgrade by Blake Crouch

Upgrade Cover

Publisher: Macmillan (Trade Paperback – 7 July 2022)

Series: Standalone

Length: 341 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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The master of the high-concept science fiction thriller, Blake Crouch, returns with another exceptional and deeply addictive standalone read, Upgrade, which takes the reader on a deep journey into the world of genetic engineering.

In the near future, Earth is facing multiple threats and catastrophes that are slowly destroying the human race.  However, the greatest threat to humanity may come from within, as advances in genetic engineering and manipulation have allowed scientists to change DNA itself.  Following a massive genetic disaster that led to the destruction of an entire food supply and the deaths of hundreds of millions of people, all genetic research has been made illegal and is strictly policed by world governments.

Logan Ramsay is an agent in the newly created Gene Protection Agency that enforces the research ban in the United States and which comes down hard on anyone illegally modifying genes.  The son of the scientist responsible for the last crisis, Logan works to atone for his role in her work and no longer believes in the benefits of genetic research of that kind.  However, when a raid goes wrong and Logan is targeted by a bomb designed to inject an unknown gene hack into him, Logan’s entire life and grasp on humanity is changed forever.

With enhanced physical and mental capacities, Logan has been upgraded into something superhuman.  Forced to leave his family behind and flee from his own agency, Logan soon finds himself caught up in a war for control of humanity’s future, with dangerous forces seeking to change everything about the species.  To survive and prevent another genetic catastrophe, Logan must dive deep into his past and his family’s legacy.  But the more upgraded he becomes, the harder it is for him to care about everyone’s fate.

Wow, Crouch does it again with Upgrade, combining an intense and compelling thriller storyline with an outstanding and highly detailed scientific principle, to create an exceptional and extremely addictive story.  I knew that I was going to enjoy Upgrade when I got it, especially after having such a brilliant time with Crouch’s previous novel, Recursion, and the author really did not disappoint.  Upgrade is a gripping and powerful read, and I ended up powering through it in very quick order once I got addicted to its excellent plot.

I absolutely loved the exciting and clever science fiction thriller narrative that Crouch featured in Upgrade, which swiftly drags you in with its unique story and compelling concepts.  Crouch really kicks everything off in high gear right from the start, providing a quick but efficient introduction to the protagonist, Logan Ramsay, and the dystopian future of the novel, before kicking off the key plot events.  The protagonist is almost immediately placed into danger from a booby trap that alters his genetics, and he is forced to deal with the side effects as he is upgraded to superhero levels.  Forced to escape from his own employers, Logan must come to terms with the changes being done to him, while also diving into some deep family drama as he realises his connection to the person behind it.  After a journey of discovery, Logan ends up in a war to decide the future of humanity’s genetics, as he goes up against a group determined to alter humans against their will.  This led to some big and intense sequences as genetically enhanced beings face off in some powerful and cleverly crafted moments.  Everything is wrapped up in a compelling and emotionally heavy way, and readers will come away very happy after getting caught up in Upgrade’s elaborate and highly entertaining story.

I felt that Crouch did a brilliant job setting out Upgrade’s narrative, and it is perfectly designed to keep the reader absorbed in the plot.  I loved the faster pace of the book, which ensured that you power through the novel very quickly, although it isn’t so fast that you lose sight of its many featured scientific elements.  There are several time skips throughout the course of the plot, which help to move the story along and set up some interesting changes in the character’s situation.  The story is set in a near-futuristic dystopian setting which has been rocked by a series of environmental and genetic disasters.  Seeing some of the author’s suggested futures for certain famous cities (a semi-abandoned Las Vegas and a partially flooded New York), was very interesting, and it worked well with some of the other cool science fiction elements featured throughout.  I also appreciated Crouch’s interesting philosophical take on what it means to be human and the depths of human nature.  There are multiple discussions between the key characters in Upgrade, as they debate the changes being undertaken, as well as humanity’s overwhelming self-destructive tendencies.  This becomes a rather interesting overall theme for the book, and a captivating motivation for some of the characters.  I also must highlight the awesome action sequences spread out through the book, which add some exciting punch to the narrative.  Not only are these very entertaining, but I loved how they were showcased through the protagonist’s eyes, especially once his upgrades take over, and the clinical detail he attributes to various actions give them a fun twist.  This fantastic narrative really comes together well throughout Upgrade, and I felt that this was an exceptional read.

I deeply enjoyed the compelling and intense scientific framework that went into Upgrade.  Crouch does an impressive and expansive dive into the world of genetics for this book, and the reader is soon inundated with information about DNA, genes, and genetic research.  It is very clear that the author has really done their research when it comes to this subject, and this combined with his immense imagination results in some intriguing story elements.  Crouch postulates multiple potential genetic upgrades to humans and other species throughout this book and how such manipulations could be brought about.  As such, you see a lot of very cool stuff throughout Upgrade, particularly enhanced human beings who move and think at superhuman rates.  The author paints a very interesting and compelling picture about what such enhanced humans would be capable of, and it was fascinating to experience them throughout the course of the plot especially as you see them happening through the eyes of someone going through these changes.  There are various evolutions of these genetic upgrades throughout the novel and watching the characters become more and more powerful while simultaneously losing their humanity is a fantastic and captivating element.  Crouch also presents some compelling and thought-provoking discussions about whether genetic engineering should be allowed and would humanity benefit from it.  The different points of view and the resultant debates are an outstanding part of book, and I am sure that many people will come away from Upgrade with a different opinion on the subject.

While Crouch does dive deep into the science for Upgrade, I found that I was able to follow along with the various premises without too many issues.  The author really tries to explain the genetic science to the reader in an interesting way, which I really appreciated.  There were no points in the book where I couldn’t follow what was happening, and I ended up getting really interested in all the potential genetic manipulations that might be possible in the future.  I also felt that these scientific elements were worked into the plot of Upgrade extremely well, and the awesome thriller narrative really wrapped around it.  Overuse of genetic manipulation is a real potential threat in the future, so having government agencies, underground labs and world-affecting schemes in place isn’t too far-fetched, and these science elements serve as a rich ground for the cool storylines.  I loved seeing upgraded humans facing off against agents and SWAT teams, and it resulted in some brilliant scenes.  The underlying message about the responsibility of those involved in genetic research played well with the action-packed narrative, and I was once again really impressed with how the author can seamlessly combine science with fiction.

Another outstanding element of Upgrade was its fantastic protagonist and point-of-view character, Logan Ramsay.  Logan is quite a fascinating and complex character, especially as Crouch establishes him as the son of the brilliant genetic scientist who caused the ban and was partially responsible for the resulting mass deaths.  For most of the novel he is trying to redeem himself for these actions, mainly through his work as a government agent.  However, his entire life changes when he becomes genetically enhanced, and there are some deep emotional scenes and narrative threads that are explored because of this.  While he is initially horrified by the changes, Logan soon realises they are exactly what he always wanted, and he must reconcile that with his perceptions of humanity and the damage he has already caused.  At the same time, he is also finding himself changing, and the continued and detailed examinations of all his upgrades and altered perceptions are showcased in an excellent way by the author.  The increased physical and mental capacities are worked into his character well, and it was fascinating to see the first-person perspective of everything that happens to him.  I particularly appreciated the slow loss of his emotional self and as the book proceeds, he becomes less and less human in many ways, unable to connect with the people around him.  This is sad in a lot of ways, especially as he must give up his family, but you get an impressive understanding of everything the protagonist is going through and grow closer to him as a result.  There is some excellent character work around this protagonist in Upgrade, and I really appreciated the emotional depth that it brought to this already captivating story.

With Upgrade, Blake Crouch continues to shine as one of the most creative and brilliant authors of science fiction in the world today.  The compelling, science-based ideas he comes up with combine perfectly with his exciting and emotionally powerful storylines to create an excellent narrative with amazing characters.  I had such a great time with Upgrade, and it is one of the better science fiction novels I have read so far in 2022.  I also think it was also really good in comparison to the other Crouch book I have read, Recursion, which I hold in really high regard.  While I think that Recursion had the better overall narrative, I appreciated the scientific elements of Upgrade a little more and I felt it fit into the plot a little better.  As such, I think that Upgrade is another five-star read, and it comes very highly recommended by me.  A must-read for all science fiction fans in 2022!

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Book Haul – 1 September 2022

I have been having an absolutely fantastic couple of weeks for books, as I have been lucky enough to receive several incredible and amazing new novels from some of my local publishers.  These novels include some truly awesome new releases, some of which rank amongst my top books of 2022.  I am extremely keen to check out all of the books below and they should make for some amazing reads.

Blowback by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois

Blowback Cover

The first book I was lucky enough to receive was Blowback by the wonderful team of James Patterson and Brendan DuBois.  A clever and interesting new thriller about a power-hungry US president who uses his position to launch an insane course of action against the rest of the world. This was an excellent and action-packed book that takes the reader on a very wild ride. I have already finished it off and I will hopefully get a review together for it soon.

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All of Our Demise by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

All of Our Demise Cover 2

I was also lucky enough to receive a copy of All of Our Demise, which I have just started reading.  The sequel to last year’s fantastic All of Us Villains, the team of Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman have done an excellent job of continuing the narrative here, expanding on the death tournament concept and taking the compelling, damaged protagonists on an even darker journey.  I can’t wait to see how this epic book comes to an end, and I am very confident this will turn out to be one of the best young adult novels of 2022.

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Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Nona the Ninth Cover

I was extremely happy to receive a copy of Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir out of the blue.  The third book in The Locked Tomb series, Nona the Ninth continues the excellent storylines about spacefaring necromancers started in the previous two novels.  I have loved the outstanding and elaborate first two entries in the series, Gideon the Ninth (one of my favourite debuts of 2019) and Harrow the Ninth (one my favourite books and audiobooks of 2020), and I cannot wait to see how this complex series continues.  I have very, very high expectations for Nona the Ninth and I know I am going to have an exceptional time reading it.

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The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman

The Bullet That Missed Cover

There are few books in 2022 I am as excited for as The Bullet that Missed by comedian Richard Osman.  The sequel to The Thursday Murder Club (one of my favourite debuts of 2020) and The Man Who Died Twice (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2021), The Bullet that Missed promises to be another exceptional and captivating mystery novel with some amazing characters and a fantastic sense of humour to it.  I have no doubt that this will be another five-star book and I will hopefully read it soon.

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Star Wars: The Princess and the Scoundrel by Beth Revis

Star Wars - The Princess and the Scoundrel Cover

There have been some great Star Wars tie-in novels coming out this year but one of the ones I have been most interested in checking out is The Princess and the Scoundrel by Beth Revis.  Set immediately after the events of Return of the Jedi, The Princess and the Scoundrel will show the wedding and honeymoon of Han Solo and Princess Leia, all set to the backdrop of the formation of the New Republic.  I can’t wait to see what happens in this awesome sounding book and I reckon it will be one of the top Star Wars novels of 2022.

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Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris

Act of Oblivion Cover

I was very happy to also receive a copy of the new Robert Harris book, Act of Oblivion, which I reckon is going to be really interesting.  Harris has been tearing it up with some fascinating historical fiction novels lately, including the 2020 release V2, and I really like the sound of Act of Oblivion.  Based on real historical events, Act of Oblivion will follow two of the men responsible for the death of Charles I as they attempt to hide from the English in the American colonies.  I love this impressive concept and I am very excited to see Harris’ take on these historical fugitives.

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Lion by Conn Iggulden

Lion Cover

I was in the mood for some awesome historical fiction, so I went out and grabbed a copy of Lion by Conn Iggulden.  The follow-up to Iggulden’s last two novels, The Gates of Athens and Protector, Lion will continue to tell the story of ancient Athens, this time showcasing the rise of Pericles. I have had an exceptional time reading the previous books in this series and I cannot wait to see how Iggulden continues it.

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No Country for Girls by Emma Styles

No Country for Girls Cover

I was extremely intrigued by one of the cool books I received in the last week with the Australian thriller No Country For Girls by Emma Styles.  Set in the Australian outback, this awesome sounding book will follow two strangers who get thrust into a deadly situation and must flee into the wild bush to survive. I really love the sound of this book’s amazing story and I am very curious to find out how this fantastic novel goes.

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The Killing Code by Ellie Marney

The Killing Code Cover

Another compelling novel I received was the young adult, historical murder mystery, The Killing Code by Australian author Ellie Marney.  Set during World War II, this book follows several American codebreakers as they attempt to find out who is murdering their colleagues.  The Killing Code has a fantastic and very appealing narrative, and I am very keen to check out Marney’s writing style.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Volume One by Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz, Dan Duncan and more

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Volume One Cover

The final book I recently grabbed was the awesome first volume of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IDW comics.  I have been a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise for a long time, primarily the television series, and I have been meaning to check out some of the comics for ages, especially considering how much I enjoy the related Usagi Yojimbo comics. As such I splashed out and grabbed volume one of the IDW run on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which is the current version of the comics.  Including Issues #1-12 of the series, as well as a couple of character-focused issues, this proved to be an excellent introduction to this current series.  I had a brilliant time getting through this comic, and it was interesting to see this new take on the characters and the universe.  Featuring a great writing team in Kevin Eastman (one of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles creators) and Tom Waltz, as well as art from Dan Duncan, this was an excellent and impressive comic, and I will try and do a Throwback Thursday post about it soon.

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Well, that’s the end of this latest Book Haul post.  As you can see I have quite a bit of reading to do at the moment thanks to all these awesome books that have come in.  Let me know which of the above you are most interested in and make sure to check back in a few weeks to see my reviews of them.

WWW Wednesday – 31 August 2022

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?

All of Our Demise by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman (Trade Paperback)

All of Our Demise Cover 2

I just started reading All of Our Demise today, one of the most anticipated young adult releases of 2022.  The sequel to last year’s epic All of Us Villains, All of Our Demise serves as the conclusion to the events of this previous book and continues to follow the unique, magical death tournament taking place. I haven’t made a lot of progress on this book yet, but the first 50 pages are pretty entertaining.  The authors are doing an excellent job of continuing the complex and captivating story from the previous book, and I am already pretty hooked, especially as each of the point of view characters have their own compelling storylines.  I cannot wait to see how this book turns out and I am expecting a lot of heartbreak and betrayals before All of Our Demise comes to an end.

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Glacier’s Edge by R. A. Salvatore (Audiobook)

Glacier's Edge Cover

I am still going with the latest fantasy novel from R. A. Salvatore, Glacier’s Edge.  The sequel to last year’s excellent Starlight EnclaveGlacier’s Edge is the second book in The Way of the Drow series, which falls into Salvatore’s larger collection of Drizzt Do’Urden books (such as Timeless, Boundless and Relentless). I am currently over halfway through this audiobook, and I am really enjoying its complex and addictive narrative.  Glacier’s Edge has a pretty wide focus and is following a range of great characters that Salvatore has introduced over his career, each of whom have their own unique plot threads.  Everything looks set to come together extremely well and I am very curious to see what final note Salvatore leaves everything on.  It wouldn’t surprise me if there is a fun cliffhanger towards the end, especially as one of the main storylines is gearing up for a full-on Drow civil war.

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What did you recently finish reading?

Blowback by James Patterson and Brendan Dubois (Trade Paperback)

Blowback Cover

I managed to finish of Blowback on the weekend, and boy was it a very fun read.  Containing an impressive story about a US President who goes mad with power and decides to destroy the world, Blowback was really intense and action-packed, and I loved its entertaining and unique thriller narrative.  One of the more exciting novels of 2022, this was an excellent read that you can really sink your teeth into.

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Upgrade by Blake Crouch (Trade Paperback)

Upgrade Cover

I also managed to get through Upgrade, the latest science fiction thriller by Blake Crouch.  I had some very high expectations for this book, especially after loving Recursion, and Crouch really did not disappoint me.  I loved its captivating tale about genetic engineering gone mad, and the elaborate and extremely compelling thriller narrative written around it was extremely good.  I had an outstanding time with Upgrade, and it was one of the better science fiction novels I have read this year.  Review to follow soon.

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What do you think you’ll read next?

Dark Rooms by Lynda La Plante

Dark Rooms Cover

Based on my current collection of books, I think that the novel I will try to check out next is Dark Rooms by leading crime fiction author Lynda La Plante.  The latest book in the bestselling Tennison series (which has included awesome reads like Murder Mile, Blunt Force and Unholy Murder), Dark Rooms looks set to contain another fantastic and thrilling murder mystery which I know I will get very wrapped up in.  I have no doubt that I am going to love Dark Rooms, as La Plante’ captivating writing style has never disappointed me before.

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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 – Khaos by Jeremy Robinson

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 latest Waiting on Wednesday, I check out one of the most awesome upcoming books of 2022 the utterly insane sounding Khaos by Jeremy Robinson.

Khaos Cover

Amazon

Over the last year I have been getting very attached to the writings of the very skilled and highly inventive Jeremy Robinson.  Robinson has been a fantastic fixture of the science fiction thriller genre for years, writing several impressive series and standalone reads, including the Nemesis Saga and Chess Team novels, both of which sound really cool.  However, the novels that I have been getting into are part of Robinson’s latest series, the massive and elaborate Infinite Timeline series.

The Infinite Timeline books are a collection of epic and over-the-top reads that initially started off as standalone reads.  However, as the series continued, the books gradually became more interconnected, with characters from previous novels appearing in later entries, and the storylines started to merge.  This series was broken into three loosely connected groupings of books, all of which will lead up to combined novels.  So far, I have all enjoyed the excellent entries Tribe, The Dark and Mind Bullet (the latter two were amongst my favourite books and audiobooks of 2021), which were part of the same connected sub-series.  All three of these novels were very fun in their own right, with Tribe’s action-packed take on Greek demigods, The Dark’s intense and powerful horror narrative, and Mind Bullet’s ultra-fun adventure story about a telekinetic hitman.  I had an incredible time with these books, and I especially enjoyed Robinson’s fantastic style, especially as he combines some compelling concepts with intriguing characters, insane storylines, side-splitting humour, and a ton of crazy action, which is just so epic to behold.

As such, I have been very excited to see what awesome novels that Robinson planned to release this year, especially as the novels that combine some of the standalone plots and characters together were set for release this year.  Robinson has already released one book in 2022 with The Order, which had a very awesome concept to it.  Unfortunately, I didn’t end up reading The Order, mainly because I haven’t read the three books leading up to it (The Others, Flux and Exo Hunter), although I should probably also go back to the very start and read Infinite.  However, there is no way in hell that I am going to miss out on Robinson’s next book, Khaos.  Set for release in October 2022, Khaos will bring together all the characters from Tribe, The Dark and Mind Bullet in one exceptional sounding narrative.

Synopsis:

Several months after his neighborhood was cloaked in darkness and invaded by the demon-like denizens of a hellish world, life has returned to normal for Miah Gray, aka: Laser Chicken. No longer burdened by PTSD, he is free to enjoy his family and to help pick up the pieces of a pillaged world. And at night, he trains with his eight-year-old companion, Bree, aka: Demon Dog and their neighbors, Henry and Sarah, the god-like descendants of Helen of Sparta and the mythological Zeus.

All is calm…until new neighbors move in across the street and shatter the peace. Jonas, aka: Mind Bullet, a telekinetic assassin, and his artificial intelligence, Bubbles, are pursued by strange and powerful enemies. The neighborhood is rocked by sudden violence, but the unlikely heroes band together to save the residents once more. However, their victory is short-lived when it’s interrupted by the appearance of a superhuman figure who has been influencing their lives for years: Linda.

Aka: Zeus.

In classic mythology fashion, Zeus, supreme god of Olympus, sends them on an urgent quest: descend into the underworld, travel through the realm between worlds—Khaos, face whatever trials await, find the gate to Tartarus, and summon the gods and Titans residing there to war. A grave evil is coming, and only Earth’s oldest and most powerful heroes can stop it.

TO SAVE MANKIND…

…THEY MUST RAISE THE GODS.

Now this is a very awesome sounding book that is very typical of Robinson’s history of theatrical storylines.  I love the idea of a bizarre group of established protagonists coming together and then heading straight to hell (well Tartarus) to unleash the gods and Titans for the upcoming fight against the long-hinted series big bad.  There is so much potential for action and outrageous moments in this fantastic sounding story, and I can’t wait to see what happens during the travel through the Khaos and the eventual descent into Tartarus.  You have to imagine there are going to be a ton of obstacles and monsters straight out of Greek mythology there, as well as some hints at the upcoming big-bad that is going to need every hero in the Infinite Timeline to face off against.  I have a lot of faith that Robinson is going to come up with some very wacky and powerful, and I will no doubt end up getting very caught up in the story.

One of the other major aspects that I am interested in for Khaos is how Robinson is going to bring together the protagonists of three of his previous novels.  Tribe, The Dark and Mind Bullet had their own distinctive blend of characters, styles, and storylines, so seeing all this combined into one single story is going to be quite interesting.  This is probably going to result in several different point-of-view perspectives, and it will be intriguing to see how all these big personalities are going to get along and how they will perceive the weird people they are suddenly working with.  Throw in some potential interpersonal issues, such as one hero being a Titan and two others being Greek Gods whose ancestors are responsible for his parent’s imprisonment, and I imagine you are going to have a few bust-ups and fights.  I am extremely confident that Robinson will use this opportunity to continue the fantastic character development contained in the preceding three books, and it will be awesome to find out what happens to these damaged and unique protagonists next.

After having so much fun with the three Jeremy Robinson books leading up to Khaos, there is no chance that I will miss out on this upcoming book.  I loved everything about Tribe, The Dark and Mind Bullet, and I cannot wait to see how this chaotic combination with work out.  I am expecting The Dark to be one of the funniest and most action-packed novels of 2022, and I am very excited to see what new insanity and over-the-top adventure that Robinson will come up with next.  I will probably end up checking Khaos out in its audiobook format (due to the presence of one of my favourite narrators, R. C. Bray), and this is easily one of the books I am most looking forward to in the next few months.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Books with Magical Schools

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this latest Top Ten Tuesday participants are given a School Freebie to with what they will.  That means its up to me to come up with any sort of list about a school, which left me pretty open to list the best books with one of my favourite settings, a magical school.

I have long had a great love of the magical school setting in fantasy fiction (just check out the name of this blog).  In many ways, magical schools are the absolute backbone of some of the better examples of fantasy out there, and who doesn’t love a fun and wonderful story set within the halls of a magical environment.  There are so many cool stories and scenarios that can be imagined in these sorts of scenarios, and I have always had an amazing time with these sorts of settings from some of the earliest fantasy books I have read.  As such, I thought it only fitting to examine the absolute best examples of this setting here.

In order to appear on this list, the book in question needed to have either a school, academy or university of some description magic is taught or the school itself is magical and fantastic in nature.  This school must be a major setting of a descent part of the plot and must feature some sort of magical teaching or some variety of magical education in it.  I have been a little lenient in places throughout this list and I have included a few examples where rather than the traditional magical school, you have a bit of an interesting or dark reimagining, which can often be quite fun.  I ended up with an interesting collection of books in the end that I was able to whittle down to my top ten.  All these books are really fun, and I think that they use their magical school setting extremely well.

Honourable Mentions:

The Witches of Eileanan series by Kate Forsyth

Dragonclaw Cover

All the books in Kate Forsyth’s fantastic The Witches of Eileanan series featured some cool magical learning and school elements in them, and the author sets some impressive storylines around them.  However, I would probably recommend the first book in the series, Dragonclaw, as the best example of this magical training.  Not only are their multiple scenes of the protagonist learning magic, but it also features a fantastic magical trial scene at her initial place of learning.

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Master of Sorrows by Justin Call

Master of Sorrows Cover

Features an interesting ninja school where the participants learn to recover magical items.

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Magician by Raymond E Feist

Magician Cover

Many of Feist’s Riftwar Cycle books featured a magical school of some description, but nothing compares to the various magical learning scenes that occur in the fantasy classic Magician.  The protagonist learns from several schools and teachers in this book before starting the path to create his own magical school.

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The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

The Tethered Mage Cover

A fun recent fantasy book that revolves around a fantasy nation where all magicians are captured and leashed so that they aren’t in complete control of their faction.  Known as Falcons, these mages are sent to the Mews, where they learn to control their magic for the greater good of the nation.  An interesting, if darker, take on the magical school system that worked really well.

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Top Ten List:

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

The Order of the Phoenix Cover

Let’s face it, it would be impossible to write a list about magical schools without featuring the Harry Potter books here.  J. K. Rowling created something very special with Hogwarts, and it is now the magical school setting that all others are measured up against, for very good reasons.  All seven books in this series used the Hogwarts setting extremely well, from the introduction in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to the epic final battle in Harry Potter in the Deathly Hallows.  It is honestly very hard to single out one in particular for their use of the magical school setting, however, if I had to, I would probably go with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, because it had some great scenes where the protagonist took over teaching, as well as the extended sequence with the O.W.L.S test.

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The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind Cover

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss gets a lot of credit from fantasy fans for many of its elements, but one of my favourites is the setting of the University, where the protagonist winds up is as a teenager.  The centre of knowledge for this fantasy world, the university teaches many subjects, including various forms of magic, including runic metalworking, sympathy (magic that links one object to another for manipulation), and the ultimate magic, naming, where one calls something’s true name (for example the wind) and takes control of it.  This proves to be an exceptional setting for much of this book, and the protagonist spends a substantial amount of time with some great narrative results.  While the University is also a major setting of the sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear, I think that it was used a little better in The Name of the Wind and is one of the better magical school settings out there.

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Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett

Moving Pictures Cover

Yeah, there was no chance I wasn’t going to feature a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett here.  So many of his books feature the epic and entertaining setting of the Unseen University, where the world’s wizards gather to learn magic and get up to all manner of other shenanigans.  Most of the books feature the Unseen University as a setting, however, I’m going to limit myself to two entries on this list, the first of which is Moving PicturesMoving Pictures is one of the more entertaining Discworld novels Pratchett wrote, and part of the reason is how he utilises the Unseen University in the plot.  After several books with a rotating cast of senior wizards, Pratchett settles on a permanent staff for the university in Moving Pictures (helped by the introduction of an unkillable Archchancellor) and starts strongly developing their various members here.  There are many brilliant scenes set around the university, especially ones that show the eccentric new Archchancellor setting in and upsetting the delicate wizards with his wild ideas.  This book has some of the funniest scenes set in the Unseen University, and this book is a major favourite of mine.

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A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education Cover

Easily the series that has been featuring magical schools the best recently is the Scholomance books by acclaimed author Naomi Novik.  This series in the deadly Scholomance, an automated enchanted school where vulnerable magical teenagers are educated and partially protected from various monsters who want to eat them.  Introduced perfectly in the first book, A Deadly Education, you soon get to know all the unique quirks of this fantastic school, as the protagonist tries to survive the lethal lessons, killer fellow students, and multiple monsters living within.  I have so much love for the setting in A Deadly Education, and the exquisite story that Novik set around it made it one of my favourite books of 2020.  The sequel, The Last Graduate, also featured the school extremely well, but I think that A Deadly Education is the best example for this list.

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Van Horstmann by Ben Counter

Van Horstmann Cover

You can’t be too surprised that I managed to slip a Warhammer novel in here somewhere.  Van Horstmann was an awesome Warhammer Fantasy novel that explore the origin and problems of the human magical colleges that sprouted up in the heart of the Empire.  In particular, Van Horstmann explores the College of Light through the eyes of enigmatic new student, Egrimm van Horstmann, who has his own nefarious reasons for journeying to the school.  This is an excellent and captivating take on the classic magical school setting, as you get to watch this obvious villain learn everything about the school, all so he can gain ultimate power and gain revenge for a past wrong.  A very clever Warhammer Fantasy novel that makes perfect use of its magical school setting.

Amazon

 

Cold Iron by Miles Cameron

Cold Iron Cover 1

Another great fantasy book from recent years that featured a cool magical university setting is Cold Iron by Miles Cameron.  Much the narrative of Cold Iron takes place in The Academy and its surrounding city and follows the protagonist as he excels as a student, while also attempting to unravel a massive conspiracy that threatens the lands.  I deeply enjoyed the use of the Academy setting in Cold Iron, and while there is a substantial focus on learning sword work, the character does spend time learning magic, which comes in help during this book.  I loved many of the more classic fantasy elements featured in Cold Iron, especially the cool school setting, and this is a must-read book for all fantasy fans.

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Homeland by R. A. Salvatore

Homeland Cover

I had to slip something in from R. A. Salvatore on this list, and naturally that book ended up being one of my favourite Salvatore novels, Homeland.  Set in the Drow city of Menzoberranzan, Homeland follows the childhood of Salvatore’s long-running protagonist Drizzt Do’Urden.  While there are a lot of excellent settings and locations in, I loved the multiple scenes that take place in the combat school of Melee-Magthere.  While technically not a magical school per say, it is filled with dark elves with inherent magical talent, who often use magical techniques to complement their swordcraft, so I think it deserves to be on this list.  Personally, I just love the various tournament scenes set in this school, and it was a fantastic and epic setting for this great fantasy book.

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It Ends in Fire by Andrew Shvarts

It Ends in Fire Cover 2

Another fantasy book that had a great alternate take on the magical school concept is It Ends in Fire by Andrew Shvarts.  Featuring a compelling fantasy world where wizards rule over the non-magical, this book follows a rebellious young magic user who infiltrated the premier magical school, Blackwater Academy, to burn it down from the inside.  This was a fun and compelling read with many fantastic homages to Hogwarts, and it was an outstanding book to check out.

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Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Hogfather Cover

The other Discworld book that I had to include here was Hogfather, which makes fun of many aspects of Christmas.  While there is a focus on Death and his granddaughter, quite a lot of the book takes place in the Unseen University and shows the eccentric faculty attempting to understand the constant creation of multiple new minor gods around their grounds.  The outrageous antics of the senior faculty blends well with the more education focused ambitions of the students, all with the Archchancellor watching on in exasperation.  I loved all the university scenes in Hogfather and it was one of the better uses of it in the Discworld series.

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Eldest by Christopher Paolini

Eldest Cover

The final book I want to include on this list is Eldest by Christopher Paolini, the second book in his Inheritance Cycle.  While the first book from Paolini, Eragon, featured a lot of magical tutelage, it didn’t really feature a school setting.  The sequel though, Eldest, does, as it shows the protagonist journey to the homeland of the elves to learn magic there.  The protagonist spends a substantial chunk of the book there expanding his magical knowledge and skills.  While most of this tutelage does occur one-on-one, there is enough alternate teachers and characters to qualify it as a magic school in my mind, and I feel that Paolini did a great job introducing it and using it to expand the character’s knowledge.  An overall epic book that made really great use of the magic school concept.

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Well, that’s the end of this latest list.  As you can see there are some great books out there that feature a fun magical school concept in their plot.  It is no surprise that many of my favourite books of all time feature a magical school in some capacity and there are so many exceptional stories that can be set around it.  All the above books come very highly recommended and if you love magical schools, all of them are worth checking out.