Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Debut Novels of 2021

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 involved participants listing the top books on their Summer 2021/22 to-read-list.  However, I already produced that list a few weeks ago, so I thought I would take this opportunity to continue my foray into highlighting the absolute best books of 2021.  This is an end of year tradition I do each year with several Top Ten Tuesday list, and I started this year’s version last week when I listed some of the best pre-2021 releases I checked out this year.  In a continuation of my end of year highlights, for this week’s list I have decided to look at my absolute favourite debut novels of the year.

I mentioned multiple times throughout the year that 2021 was a pretty awesome year for debuts and boy did I mean it.  There were an incredible number of new authors releasing some impressive and entertaining debut novels this year, and I was lucky enough to receive a huge bundle of them to review.  I always love checking out new authors as they produce their first book or take a foray into a whole new genre, and I was blown away with some of the talent this year.  As such, I am really glad that I can highlight some of the absolute best in this Top Ten list.

To be eligible for this list, the book had to be either the first novel from a new author released in 2021, or a novel that was extremely different from an author’s previous work (their debut in the genre).  I ended up reading a huge collection of debuts this year, so I had a bit of a hard time coming up with the list, as there were a lot of good options.  I was eventually able to whittle it down to a manageable list of 10, with my typical generous Honourable Mentions section.  The result was an excellent list that I feel perfectly captures my favourite debuts of the year and highlights them accordingly.  So, let us see what made the cut.

Honourable Mentions:

Falling by T. J. Newman

Falling Cover

An interesting and fast paced thriller debut that follows a pilot whose family is kidnapped in order to force him to crash his plane.  Intense and exciting.

Small Acts of Defiance by Michelle Wright

Small Acts of Defiance Cover

Small Acts of Defiance was a great Australian historical drama from new author Michelle Wright set in occupied Paris.  This book had a brilliant and powerful story about resistance no matter the odds and is really worth checking out.

Breakout by Paul Herron

Breakout Cover

This year urban fantasy author Paul Crilley came up with a new writing handle, Paul Herron, to produce his first thriller, Breakout, a fast-paced and ultra-exciting novel about an inmate trying to escape a flooded prison filled with the worst killers in the country.  One of the most action-packed novels of the year, this was an interesting change of pace from Crilley, so I am treating it as a debut.

City of Vengeance by D. V. Bishop

City of Vengeance Cover

One of the more interesting historical fiction debuts of 2021 was City of Vengeance by D. V. Bishop.  This cool book follows a historical investigation in Renaissance Florence and proved to be an intriguing and dark murder mystery with some clever flashes to a real historical case.

Top Ten List:

The Frenchman by Jack Beaumont

The Frenchman Cover

The first book on this list is the brilliant and compelling thriller debut, The Frenchman by Jack Beaumont.  Written by a former French intelligence operative, The Frenchman has an exciting tale of intrigue, espionage, and betrayal, as a French spy attempts to gain information on a chemical plant in Pakistan while also trying to balance his professional and personal lives.  An outstanding and clever novel with a ton of realism to it.

The Mask of Mirrors by M. A. Carrick

The Mask of Mirrors Cover

Readers were treated to a fantastic fantasy debut this year from the author M. A. Carrick, with The Mask of Mirrors, a complex and powerful read about a con artist attempting to infiltrate high society in a corrupt and dangerous fantasy city.  Carrick is actually the joint pen name of established authors Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms, but as this is their first collaboration and they are using a pseudonym to do so, I am treating it as a debut from a new author.  This was an excellent fantasy debut, and I was lucky enough to recently receive a copy of the sequel, The Liar’s Knot, which I am hoping to read very soon.

Inscape by Louise Carey

Inscape Cover

After previously writing fantasy fiction with her family, the incredibly talented Louise Carey had her solo debut this year with Inscape, a compelling and exciting cyberpunk, dystopian thriller.  Set in a future world where everyone has advanced technology loaded into their brains, this book follows a young corporate agent as she attempts to discover who is attacking her parent company.  Containing a brilliant story and a great new universe, this was a fantastic read that is really worth checking out.

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became the Sun Cover

One of the most highly anticipated debuts of 2021 was She Who Became the Sun by Australian author Shelley Parker-Chan.  Set in the chaotic Yuan dynasty of China, this book follows a girl who takes up the identity of her dead brother to steal his great destiny.  A clever reinvention of a famous Emperor’s rise to power, containing some intriguing gender swapping and fantasy elements, She Who Became the Sun rightly deserves all the praise it received, as it is a fun and amazing book.

The Councillor by E. J. Beaton

The Councillor Cover

Another great debut from an Australian author, The Councillor was a captivating and impressive fantasy novel that I deeply enjoyed.  Following a troubled palace scholar who rises to a position of power after the death of her queen, The Councillor is filled with a ton of captivating political intriguing, fascinating magic, and some complex and manipulative characters.  An awesome and powerful read, I cannot wait to see where Beaton takes this great series next.

Fire Made Flesh by Denny Flowers

Fire Made Flesh Cover

Written as part of the Necromunda sub-series in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Fire Made Flesh is Denny Flowers’ first full-length novel, and it takes the reader on a wild adventure to a haunted and chaotic underground settlement where various eccentric beings fight for power.  A really entertaining read that fits perfectly into the cool Necromunda setting, I deeply enjoyed this novel and it was one of the craziest books I read all year.

Lies Like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Lies Like Wildfire Cover

There was no way I could exclude the outstanding young adult thriller, Lies Like Wildfire from this list.  Lies Like Wildfire was Jennifer Lynn Alvarez’s first foray away from middle-grade fiction and features an incredible plot about a group of friends who accidently start a devastating wildfire and attempt to cover up their actions.  A powerful and dramatic novel filled with lies, betrayals and jealousy, Lies Like Wildfire was an exceptional read, and I cannot wait to see what Alvarez writes next.

Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn

Among Thieves Cover

Easily one of the best debuts of 2021 was the excellent Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn.  Essentially a compelling fantasy heist novel, this book follows several unique and entertaining characters as they attempt to steal a powerful artefact from an impregnable magical fortress.  However, every member of the crew has their own motivations for being there, and all of them are planning to betray the rest.  This was an outstanding and deeply entertaining read which really sets Kuhn up as a rising star in the fantasy genre.

The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield

The Apollo Murders Cover

I had an absolute blast reading The Apollo Murders, the first fictional book from astronaut turned author Chris Hadfield.  Set in 1973, this book envisions a 18th, fictional Apollo mission, filled with all manner of espionage, disaster, and stowaway Soviet cosmonauts.  Incredibly intense and loaded with a fantastic amount of information about space flight, The Apollo Murders was an amazing read and I deeply enjoyed all the different genres that Hadfield was able to feature in his debut novel.

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox

The Dying Squad Cover

The final debut on this list was the clever supernatural murder mystery, The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox.  Following a dead police detective and his feisty ghost partner as they attempt to solve the protagonist’s murder, this was an excellent and clever read that I had a wonderful time with.

Well, that is the end of this list.  As you can, there were some incredible debut novels that came out this year and I had a blast getting through all of them.  Each of the above debuts are really worth checking out, and I had an amazing time exploring these talented authors’ first forays into fiction.  I am really excited to see what these authors produce next, and I have a feeling that quite a few are going to become major figures in their genres.

Quick Review – The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox

The Dying Squad Cover

Publisher: Gollancz (Trade Paperback – 27 July 2021)

Series: The Dying Squad – Book One

Length: 360 pages

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Intriguing new author, Adam Simcox, presents his compelling debut novel, the fun and fascinating supernatural crime fiction read, The Dying Squad, which proves that just because you are dead, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get justice.

The Dying Squad was a fantastic and intriguing first novel from Simcox that contained a fascinating premise about a man forced to solve his own murder as a ghost.  I loved the sound of this book when I first heard about it, and I was very glad when I received a copy a while ago.

Synopsis:

WHO BETTER TO SOLVE A MURDER THAN A DEAD DETECTIVE?

When Detective Inspector Joe Lazarus storms a Lincolnshire farmhouse, he expects to bring down a notorious drug gang; instead, he discovers his own body and a spirit guide called Daisy-May.

She’s there to enlist him to The Dying Squad, a spectral police force who solve crimes their flesh and blood counterparts cannot.

Lazarus reluctantly accepts and returns to the Lincolnshire Badlands, where he faces dangers from both the living and the dead in his quest to discover the identity of his killer – before they kill again.

This was an awesome and intriguing read and I ended up really getting into this fantastic supernatural novel.  Set initially in the apparently crime-ridden wilds of Lincolnshire, the novel quickly establishes itself by killing off the protagonist, Joe Lazarus, and introducing him to his co-lead the bombastic and entertaining Daisy-May, a member of the ghost-run investigative unit, known as the Dying Squad, there to recruit Lazarus.  The book then jumps to the Pen (purgatory), where Lazarus is given the chance to save his soul by solving his own murder.  Returning with Daisy to the real world, Lazarus must investigate his death while facing several limitations, including the fact that the real world is affecting his memories, and he must work to uncover his own past to discover who killed him.  At the same time, dangerous events are occurring in the Pen as a mysterious being leads an uprising of the seemingly mindless souls imprisoned there, while back in the real world, a dangerous creature stalks Lazarus and Daisy-May, seeking to drag them down below.

I really enjoyed the cool story featured within The Dying Squad, and Simcox has come up with something particularly unique and compelling here.  The author does a great job of quickly introducing all the relevant story elements, and the reader is soon expertly enthralled in the book’s compelling mystery.  I loved the unique investigation that takes place throughout the novel, especially as the protagonists must deal with a range of different problems, including the sinister Xylophone Man (he’s a lot more threatening than the name implies), the deceit of living humans, fading memories, and the protagonist’s desire to interfere in events, even when they’re not supposed to.  At the same time, the protagonist’s boss back in the Pen is forced to deal with a universe-ending revolt, as desperate lost souls attempt to tear down the walls of reality.  While Daisy May and some of the other characters are dragged between these two plot threads, Lazarus continues to follow the trial towards his death by investigating several potential suspects and slowly regaining his own memories.  This eventually leads to several startling revelations, including a very clever reveal about who was behind his death and their reasons why.  This investigation eventually leads back to the wider universe story about the rebelling souls, and there are some great moments, especially when the protagonists are forced to make some hard and afterlife-altering choices.  I really enjoyed this unique blend of storylines, as well as some of the cool characters featured throughout the book, and The Dying Squad ended up being quite a fun and interesting read.

I definitely need to highlight the unique world building featured throughout The Dying Squad.  Simcox has come up with a detailed and fascinating scenario, involving supernatural ghosts going back to Earth to investigate unsolved murders.  This results in several memorable and compelling settings, including the dark and dreary Pen, a version of Purgatory, where lost and forgotten souls congregate in confusion and apathy (unless roused by a dangerous soul with ulterior motives).  At the same time, you also have the setting of Earth, which ends up being an unnatural location for departed souls, even the protagonists.  As such, the characters who venture there to investigate encounter all manner of obstacles, from rogue spirits to the very air itself, which drains dead souls of their memories unless precautions are taken.  These various elements, especially the memory loss and the typical incorporeal nature of ghosts, are worked into the investigation aspect of the story extremely well, and it added a layer of complexity and uncertainty that really enhanced the mystery.  At the same time, Simcox really went for broke exploring the wider universe and the focus on the events in the Pen soon become a major part of the plot.  While I deeply enjoyed the potential universe ending event, I cannot help thinking that maybe more of the story could have been spent on beefing up the investigation angle of the book, especially as some of the culprits and twists ended up being a little easy to spot.  That being said, it was a fascinating part of the story that ended up being explored extremely well, and it really enhanced the stakes of the plot.  It will be interesting to see what the focus of the next novel will be, but I am sure that I will enjoy it.

Overall, this ended up being quite a clever read, and I think that Simcox did a great job of combining a complex murder investigation with complex and fascinating supernatural elements.  I had a lot of fun with The Dying Squad, and it is an excellent compelling new debut to check out in 2021.

WWW Wednesday – 27 October 2021

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?

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox (Trade Paperback)

The Dying Squad Cover

I just started reading the cool new book from debuting author Adam Simcox, The Dying SquadThe Dying Squad is an intriguing fantasy crime fiction novel that follows a murdered detective who is sent back from purgatory to solve his own murder.  I am having a great time with this book so far and I cannot wait to see how it turns out.

 

The Bone Ship’s Wake by R. J. Barker (Audiobook)

The Bone Ship's Wake Cover

I am still going with The Bone Ship’s Wake audiobook and I am hoping to finish it off in the next week or so. While I wish I was getting through this audiobook a little quicker, I am still having an amazing time with The Bone Ship’s Wake.  Barker has written another intense and powerful dark fantasy read that makes full use of its unique setting and clever nautical elements.  The Bone Ship’s Wake is proving to be quite an awesome read and I am extremely excited to see how Barker finishes off this epic and captivating trilogy.

What did you recently finish reading?

Lies Like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez (Trade Paperback)

Lies Like Wildfire Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

Aurora’s End by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Trade Paperback)

Aurora's End Cover

 

 

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.

Book Haul – 22 August 2021

I have had a pretty awesome week book-wise, having been lucky enough to receive several amazing novels that I am quite excited to read.  I have been waiting for several of these novels for some time now and I have very high hopes for all of them.

The Pariah by Anthony Ryan

The Pariah Cover

The first book on this list is one of the most anticipated fantasy releases of 2021, The Pariah by Anthony Ryan.  Ryan is a highly regarded fantasy author who has written some incredible sounding novels over the last few years, and his latest one, The Pariah looks to be particularly awesome.  The first entry in a whole new series, The Pariah will follow a notorious outlaw who goes a deadly mission of vengeance.  This book has so much potential and it is likely to be one of the best books of the year.

 

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox

The Dying Squad Cover

I was pretty pleased to receive the cool new debut, The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox.  The Dying Squad is interesting and fun read that follows a recently deceased detective who must solve his own murder in order to save his soul from purgatory.  I am very keen to see how this new novel turns out and I think it will be a great read.

 

The Devil’s Advocate by Steve Cavanagh 

The Devil's Advocate Cover

The master of the twisty legal thriller, Steve Cavanagh, returns with another cool and unique case.  His latest book, The Devil’s Advocate, sees his conman lawyer protagonist, Eddie Flynn, attempt to save an innocent man accused of murder from a deadly prosecutor who thrives on death sentence cases.  This should be a truly awesome read, and I cannot wait to see all the cool twists and turns Cavanagh includes.

 

Hostage by Clare Mackintosh

Hostage Cover

The thrillers keep on rolling in, as I was also lucky enough to get a copy of the new Clare Mackintosh novel, Hostage.  This intriguing novel follows a flight attendant aboard a major international flight who finds her daughter held hostage and must bring down the plane in order to save her.  I am very interested in seeing how this book turns out, and it should be a great read.

 

Rabbit Hole by Mark Billingham

Rabbit Hole Cover

I have to say that I really love the premise of this next cool book I have received, Rabbit Hole by Mark Billingham.  This novel features a murder in a secure ward, where all the patients and staff are considered suspects, and the protagonist is a former cop turned mental patient, who may have committed the crime herself.  This book sounds extremely dark and I am expecting a very intense psychological thriller/mystery.

 

Rogue Asset by Andy McDermott

Rogue Asset Cover

Get ready for an intense thrill ride with the latest Alex Reeve novel by Andy McDermott, Rogue Asset.  This new Alex Reeve novel follows the titular rogue spy as he once again finds himself dragged into an deadly conspiracy where everyone wants to kill him.  I look forward to checking this book out and I imagine it is going to be an absolute blast to get through.

 

The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters

The Swift and the Harrier Cover

Bestselling historical fiction author, Minette Walters returns with a brand new historical epic, The Swift and the Harrier.  This latest book is set in the English Civil War and looks set to portray a dark and dramatic tale of love and loss on the battlefield.  I am rather intrigued by this new release, and it should be quite a compelling and moving read.

 

Corporal Hitler’s Pistol by Tom Keneally

Corporal Hitler's Pistol Cover

The final book I have received is the rather unique and interesting Australian historical fiction novel, Corporal Hitler’s Pistol.  Written by bestselling Australian author Tom Keneally, whose previous work Schindler’s Ark, was adapted into the iconic film, Schindler’s List.  His latest book is set in 1933 Kempsey, New South Wales, and features a murder that was committed using the Luger formerly owned by Hitler during World War I.  This looks to be one of the most unique historical fiction reads of 2021, and I am extremely curious to see what happens in it.

 

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.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books on my Winter 2021 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.  For this Top Ten Tuesday, participants need to list the top releases that they are looking forward to reading this summer (or winter for us down here in Australia).  This is a fun exercise that I have done for each of the preceding seasons, and it is always interesting to highlight the various cool-sounding books and comics that are coming out in the next few months.

For this list I have come up with 10 of the best novels that are coming out between 1 June 2021 and 31 August 2021.  I have decided to exclude novels that I have already read, or I am currently reading, so that took a couple of key books off the list.  Still, this left me with a rather substantial pool of cool upcoming novels that I am excited for, which I was eventually able to whittle down into a great Top Ten list (with a few honourable mentions).  I have previously discussed a number of these books before a number of my Waiting on Wednesday articles and I think all of them will turn out to be some really impressive and enjoyable reads.

Honourable Mentions:

The Coward by Stephen Aryan – 6 June 2021

The Coward Cover

 

The Councillor by E. J. Beaton – 20 July 2021

The Councillor Cover

 

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox – 27 July 2021

The Dying Squad Cover

 

Star Trek: Picard: Rogue Elements by John Jackson Miller – 17 August 2021

Star Trek - Rogue Elements Cover

 

Top Ten List:

Gamora & Nebula: Sisters in Arms by Mackenzie Lee – 1 June 2021

Gamora and Nebula - Sisters in Arms Cover

 

The Righteous by David Wragg – 10 June 2021

The Righteous

 

Star Wars: The High Republic: The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott – 29 June 2021

Star Wars - The Rising Storm Cover

 

The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry – 30 June 2021

The 22 Murders of Madison May Cover

I am really looking forward to reading the extremely fun-sounding science fiction thriller, The 22 Murders of Madison May by Australian author Max Barry.  This fantastic novel will feature an amazing narrative about a reporter who hunts a serial killer across various alternate realities.  I am very keen to check this great novel out, and I am expecting a compelling and entertaining read.

 

It Ends in Fire by Andrew Shvarts – 6 July 2021

It Ends in Fire Cover 2

I am very, very keen to get my hands on this book, especially after how much I have enjoyed some of Shvarts’s previous novels (such as City of Bastards and War of the Bastards).  However, I may have to wait a little longer to read it down in Australia as it is coming out here a little later than in the rest of the world.  Still, I am sure it will be worth the wait, as It Ends in Fire has the potential to be one of the best young adult books of 2021.

 

Relentless by Jonathan Maberry – 13 July 2021

Relentless Cover

 

Billy Summers by Stephen King – 3 August 2021

Billy Summer Cover

 

Starlight Enclave by R. A. Salvatore – 3 August 2021

Starlight Enclave Cover

 

The Maleficent Seven by Cameron Johnston – 10 August 2021

The Maleficent Seven Cover 2

I have to say that I absolutely love the new cover for The Maleficent Seven which looks absolutely crazy and really fun.

 

The Pariah by Anthony Ryan – 31 August 2021

The Pariah Cover

The final entry on this list is the intriguing upcoming novel from bestselling author Anthony Ryan, The Pariah.  While I have not previously had the pleasure of reading any Ryan’s books before, I have heard some incredible things about his pervious series, and I fully intend to check them out at some point in the future.  In the meantime, I am keen to read his next book, The Pariah, especially as it contains an amazing sounding narrative about a former outlaw turned soldier.  Based on how beloved Ryan’s previous novels are I am fairly confident that The Pariah will turn out to be one of the top fantasy reads of 2021 and I cannot wait to check it out.

 

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 pretty 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.

Waiting on Wednesday – The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox

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 week’s Waiting on Wednesday, I look at a fantastic and fun sounding upcoming debut, The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox.

The Dying Squad Cover

I have mentioned a few times recently that 2021 seems to be shaping up to be a particularly great year for literary debuts and I have already read or highlighted several impressive examples in the last three months.  This trend of awesome debuts looks set to continue later in the year with the release of the intriguing and compelling novel, The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox.

The Dying Squad is an amazing sounding urban fantasy crime novel that is currently set for release in July 2021.  This will be the first book from English filmmaker Simcox, and will follow a murdered detective who attempts to escape purgatory by solving his own recent murder as part of the “Dying Squad”, helped by a spirit guide named Daisy May while slowly losing his memories.  I love the sound of this cool plot idea and I am curious to seeing how Simcox combines the fantasy and mystery elements together and I am hoping for an impressive and captivating read.  Based on the synopsis below, I think that this book has a fair bit of potential and I look forward to seeing how it turns out, especially as it seems the sort of novel that could  evolve into a great, long-running series.

Synopsis:

DYING IS HELL . . . SOLVING YOUR OWN MURDER IS PURGATORY

When Detective Inspector Joe Lazarus storms a Lincolnshire farmhouse, he expects to bring down a notorious drug gang; instead, he discovers his own dead body and a spirit guide called Daisy-May.

She’s there to enlist him to the Dying Squad, a spectral police force made up of the recently deceased. Joe soon realises there are fates far worse than death. To escape being stuck in purgatory, he must solve his own murder. A task made all the more impossible when his memories start to fade.

Reluctantly partnering with Daisy-May, Joe faces dangers from both the living and the dead in the quest to find his killer – before they kill again.