Top Ten Tuesday – Books I Meant to Read in 2020 but Didn’t Get To

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 week’s topic, Top Ten Tuesday participants need to list the books they most regret not reading in 2020.  I ended up having an outstanding reading year in 2020, managing to get through a solid collection of cool new releases and older novels, most of which proved to be amazing and entertaining reads.  However, no matter how hard one tries, there are always a couple of books each year that I did not get a chance to read, either due to time constraints, lack of access or from being overwhelmed with other books that I really wanted to read.  As a result, this is a list that is rather tinged with regret, as each book I plan to mention below is one that I really wish I had taken the time to read.

In order to complete this list, I pulled together some of the more interesting and compelling sounding novels that I did not get a chance to read in the last year.  Each entry was released last year and while I knew that they were coming out, I did not get a chance to read any of them.  In many cases I have these books sitting on my shelf at this moment, silently and constantly judging me, and I think I will have to try and read them to stop their bookish glares.  I was eventually able to cull my list of regret down to 10 entries with an honourable mentions section.  The final list is an interesting collection of books from across the genres and includes a couple of big 2020 releases I did not get a chance to look at.

 

Honourable Mentions:

 

Sons of Rome by Gordon Doherty and Simon Turney

Sons of Rome Cover

 

Black Canary: Breaking Silence by Alexandra Monir

Black Canary - Breaking Silence Cover

I only found out about this book a few days ago, and I had no idea that it was coming out in advance of the end of 2020.  This is the fifth novel in the DC Icons young adult fiction series, a fantastic series that sets teenage versions of some of the biggest DC superheroes on some compelling standalone adventures (check out my reviews for Catwoman: Soulstealer and Superman: Dawnbreaker).  Black Canary: Breaking Silence sounds particularly good as it features a teenage Black Canary in a dystopian future Gotham City ruled over by the tyrannical Court of Owls, where women have no rights.  I am really keen to check this book out and I am planning to grab it in the next few weeks.  While this is a really cool sounding novel, I decided to leave this book on my Honourable Mentions section because it was only released on 29 December 2020, and even if I had known it was coming out I would have been hard pressed to read it last year anyway.  Because of that, I may try to consider Breaking Silence as a 2021 novel, but I am still a tad annoyed I did not get a chance to read it last year.

 

Fifty-Fifty by Steve Cavanagh

Fifty-Fifty Cover

 

Providence by Max Barry

Providence Cover

 

Top Ten List:


War Lord
by Bernard Cornwell

War_Lord_cover.PNG

 

Either Side of Midnight by Benjamin Stevenson

Either Side of Midnight Cover

 

The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso

The Obsidian Tower Cover

 

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

The Devil and the Dark Water Cover

 

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

Shorefall Cover

 

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and Dirk Maggs

The Sandman

This next entry is for the full cast The Sandman audio drama that was released in the second half of 2020.  I currently have a copy of this cool-sounding audio drama loaded up on my phone and I hope to listen to it soon, I have just been a bit overwhelmed with audiobooks in the last few months.  This audio drama features an amazing collection of celebrities who are helping to bring Neil Gaiman’s iconic The Sandman comic to life in a new format.  I have heard some amazing things about both the comic and the audio drama and I cannot wait to see how this adaptation turns out.

 

The Bluffs by Kyle Perry

The Bluffs Cover

The Bluffs is a grim and dark Australian crime fiction novel that came out a few months ago.  The debut novel of Australian author Kyle Perry, The Bluffs sounds like a fantastic read set deep within the wild Tasmanian bush, and I hope to get a chance to read it soon.

 

Gallowglass by S. J. Morden

Gallowglass Cover

 

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

The Bone Shard Daughter Cover

This is another debut that I am particularly sorry I have not read yet.  The Bone Shard Daughter is a very cool-sounding fantasy novel by Andrea Stewart that deals with bone magic and the fate of a nation.  I have heard some very impressive things about The Bone Shard Daughter and I will need to read it in the first half of the year in order to grab any potential sequels coming out in 2021.

 

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Black Sun Cover

The final entry on my list is Black Sun by acclaimed author Rebecca Roanhorse.  Roanhorse has released a lot of interesting novels in the last few years, and while I did enjoy her Star Wars tie-in novel, Resistance Reborn, I have not had the chance to read any of her original series.  I was hoping to check out her 2020 release, Black Sun, which served as the first entry in a new series, but alas I failed to do so.  This is a real shame, as Black Sun was another Roanhorse novel that got an immense amount of praise from reviewers.  I must try and read this one soon as I am sure it is going to be an epic and outstanding read.



Well, that is the end of my latest list and it looks like I have a lot catch-up reading to do if I am going to make a dent in it.  There are some truly amazing-sounding novels on this list and I fully intend to get through all of them at some point, although with all the outstanding books coming out in 2021, it might take me a little time.  In the meantime, let me know what books you most regret not reading in 2020 in the comments below.

 

Throwback Thursday – Star Wars: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

Star Wars Scoundrels Cover

Publisher: Random House Audio (Audiobook – 1 January 2013)

Series: Star Wars Legends

Length: 13 hours and 57 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.

If you like the sound of a widely entertaining read that combines a clever heist-themed storyline with iconic Star Wars elements, then you need to check out Star Wars: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn.

Scoundrels is set shortly after the events of A New Hope and follows Han and Chewie after they have temporarily left their friends in the Rebel Alliance to return to their old jobs as smugglers. The two are desperate to make some money in order to repay Han’s debt to Jabba the Hutt and have travelled to the planet of Wukkar to meet a contact. Instead of their contact, Han and Chewie are approached by a local businessman who wishes to recruit the pair to help him break into a local crime lord’s supposedly impenetrable vault to recover a vast fortune in stolen credits.

Lured in by the promise of a rich reward, Han sets about recruiting a team of highly skilled thieves, con artists and specialists, including their old friend Lando Calrissian, to help them pull off the heist. However, as they start to put together a master plan to enter the vault, they make a startling discovery: their target is a high-ranking member of the notorious Black Sun crime syndicate, who is currently hosting one of the organisation’s most powerful leaders. More importantly, in addition to the stolen credits, the vault now contains a collection of Black Sun’s blackmail files, which are a vital and closely guarded part of their operation.

Still determined to pull off the job, Han and his team need to work out a way to break into the unbreakable vault without painting a massive target on their backs. However, they are not the only group interested in the blackmail files, as an ambitious Imperial Intelligence agent is determined to capture them. Caught between two of the most powerful organisations in the entire galaxy, these scoundrels will need every trick up their sleeve to survive and raid the vaults. But when the stakes are this high, can any of them really be trusted?

Scoundrels is a fast-paced and well-written novel that does an outstanding job setting a compelling and entertaining heist story inside the Star Wars universe. This book was written by legendary Star Wars author Timothy Zahn, who I have mentioned several times before on my blog, especially for his recent Thrawn trilogy (Thrawn, Alliances and Treason). Scoundrels is a standalone novel that was released in 2013 and was the last Star Wars novel Zahn wrote before the Disney buyout of Lucasfilm. As a result, Scoundrels technically never happened in the current canon of the franchise and is instead part of the Star Wars Legends range.

At the heart of this novel is a complex and amazing heist storyline that sees the protagonists attempt to steal a vast fortune from a high-security vault. Scoundrels, or Solo’s Eleven, as I started to think of it, features a pretty classic heist set-up, with an impossible job offered and accepted, Solo building up a team of skilled criminals to help him pull off the job, recon, various complications, and then the attempt to break into the vault. I did find in some ways this part of the story was a bit typical and derivative of other examples of the heist genre, although I think a lot of the reason why I was having these thoughts is because I saw Rick and Morty’s excellent take-down of heist movies, One Crew over the Crewcoo’s Morty, immediately before I started reading this book (literally all I could think whenever a new crew member was recruited was “You son of a bitch, I’m in”).

However, this was still an incredibly entertaining novel and Zahn did create a storyline that was unique in a number of ways. In particular, Zahn makes excellent use of the technology (a combination of pre-introduced technology and stuff that Zahn made up himself) and the political turmoil in the Star Wars Legends universe to create a truly captivating piece of crime fiction. The story is loaded with all manner of twists, turns and doublecrosses, and I really enjoyed a number of the big reveals that were featured throughout the book (the character reveal at the very end of the book was pretty cool, for example). The entire plan for breaking into the vault and stealing its contents was also extremely clever and memorable, containing an excellent combination of subtly, manipulation, improvisation and number of massive explosive distractions. Also, the way they actually got out of the heavily armed compound was very cool, and definitely one of the best heist moves I’ve ever seen. All of this results in a first-rate heist thriller storyline which I deeply enjoyed and which has actually put me in the mood for more heist-centric books.

Another great part of Scoundrels is the fantastic group of characters that the story focuses on. Not only does the book showcase the classic partnership of Han and Chewie but we also get to see more of the suavest man in the galaxy, Lando Calrissian. Han is a great leader for the team, able to come up with a cool plan and improvise when they are faced with chaos, while Lando shines as the charismatic front man of the operation, able to charm or swindle everyone he comes in contact with. Quite a bit of time is spent exploring the turbulent relationship between Han and Lando at this point of their friendship, as several prior operations (some of which were featured in other novels and comics in the Star Wars Legends range) have fallen through, resulting in some bad blood between them. While both claim that they have forgiven the other for the sake of this operation, they both have a lot of doubts and are worried that the other is going to screw them over. This adds a whole bunch of extra drama to the story and ends in a rather entertaining and typical manner.

In addition to Han, Chewie and Lando, the rest of the heist crew is made up of some strong and distinctive characters who are a lot of fun. All of these characters bring a lot of team, and at no point did any of them feel unnecessary to the plot. Zahn also goes out of his way to establish each of these characters separate backstories and motivations, which adds a large amount of substance to their inclusion. As these different motivations mean that there is also a constant potential for betrayal and sabotage, which is another layer to the heist aspect of the book. There is also a great look at the Black Sun underboss and his main security chief as they attempt to understand the threat coming their way, while also trying to stay on the right side of the powerful Black Sun overlord, who is staying at the manor and playing mind games with them. There is a growing sense of desperation and irrationality from the two of them as the various manipulations push them closer to the edge, so much so that a deal with Darth Vader actually seems like a tempting offer. I also loved the inclusion of the Imperial Intelligence agent who attempts to utilise the planned heist for his own ends. His ambitious attempts to undermine Black Sun are interesting, and he brings a whole new edge to the overall story. All of these amazing characters add so many different things to the books plot and it was a lot of fun to see how their various character arcs progressed.

As I mentioned above, Scoundrels falls within the now non-canon Star Wars Legends expanded universe. While I have not read a lot of fiction from the Star Wars Legends range recently (with the exception of Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber), I have always been impressed with the wide range of different stories and plot lines that make it up, many of which are being utilised or referenced to in the current canon (the inclusion of Zahn’s character of Grand Admiral Thrawn in the Star Wars Rebels animated show is a prime example of this). However, there are some significant differences between the two canons, and some of these can be seen in Scoundrels.

One of the most noticeable differences between these two canons is the dominance of the Black Sun crime syndicate. While they only have a few minor appearances in the current canon (and they potentially would not have been included at all if they did not show up in a couple of episodes of The Clone Wars animated show, which remained canon after the buy-out), there were a major part of the original canon as one of the premier criminal organisations the protagonists would go up against. A lot of this comes out of the 1996 novel, Shadows of the Empire (which I actually read a long, long time ago), which showed the Black Sun leader, Prince Xizor, having nearly as much power and influence as the Emperor, and as a result, was a major rival for Darth Vader. Much of the book’s plot that involves the members of Black Sun or the Imperial Intelligence agent revolves around this rivalry, as the agent is hoping to damage Black Sun to gain favour with Vader. The protagonists, knowing this, also attempt to use this conflict to their advantage, and it becomes a major part of the book. The examination of the various criminal organisations available during this period is also pretty darn fascinating, and it serves as a wonderful, larger setting behind the main story.

In addition to this focus on the criminal underbelly that was featured in the old canon, Zahn made sure to fill his book with all manner of references to other books and comics in the Star Wars Legends canon, especially those that featured Han, Chewie and Lando. No specific knowledge of these events is needed to understand these references, as Zahn makes sure to explain the necessary parts, which mostly revolve around Han having terrible luck when it comes to prior jobs. Other examples of the history and unique storylines that existed in the old Star Wars canon are also pretty fascinating, but you do not need to be an expert on any of this to enjoy Scoundrels. Indeed, anyone who has seen the original trilogy will be fully able to appreciate the cool story contained within, although, as always, those Star Wars fans with a bit more background knowledge of the franchise will get a bit more enjoyment out of this book.

Like a great many of the Star Wars books I enjoy, I ended up listening to the audiobook format of Scoundrels. Narrated by Marc Thompson, it runs for just under 14 hours, which makes it slightly longer than most Star Wars audiobooks. Scoundrels contains all the fun features of a typical Star Wars audiobook format, with the narration permeated with all manner of iconic Star Wars music and sound effects. I love hearing the amazing Star Wars music as I have the story read to me, and in many places having the music played really enhances the emotion or the significance of a scene. Scoundrels also contains an impressive abundance of various sound effects which are utilised in nearly every scene. Having blaster fire sizzling past your ears in a fire fight or listening to the gentle susurration of the crowd in a big party sequence is just amazing, and it helps bring the story to life as you listen. I was also very impressed with the way that they showed how helmets and comm links could distort a character’s voice, and the use of sound effects for Chewbacca’s communications was a smart choice.

I also have to say how impressed I was with Marc Thompson’s narration of this book. Thompson is one of the premier narrators of the Star Wars audiobook, having lent his vocal talents to a number of novels in both the Star Wars Legends and Disney canons, including for the recently released Resistance Reborn. I have previously listened to Thompson’s narration for the first book in Zahn’s recent Thrawn trilogy, and I loved the work he did on that, especially when it came to the voice he produced for the trilogy’s titular character. He also does an extraordinary job with this format of Scoundrels, producing a huge number of unique and memorable voices for the various characters featured within it. His portrayals of Han and Lando were very accurate, especially Han’s voice, and that really helped me enjoy this novel so much more. Scoundrels was a first-rate audiobook, and I would strongly recommend this format to anyone who wishes to enjoy this book.

Star Wars: Scoundrels was an outstanding read, and I cannot praise the clever combination of a heist storyline with Star Wars elements enough. Zahn really is one of the best authors of Star Wars fiction out there, and I was never in any doubt that I would love this novel. He has a new book coming out in a few months, and I am very much looking forward to it. In the meantime, I will have to check out a few more of his earlier books, and I might also look up some other novels in the Star Wars Legends range.