Top Ten Tuesday – Favourite Audiobooks of 2020

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 needed to list the top ten books they hoped that Santa would bring them, however, I am going to do a slightly different topic.  As we are nearing the end of 2020, I have decided to once again produce a series of lists that highlight my favourite books for the year, judged by several different criteria.  I have previously listed my Top Ten Pre-2020 novels I read this year and now I am going to focus on something else, my Top Ten Favourite Audiobooks of 2020.

Readers of my blog only need to check out my extensive audiobook category to know that I have a lot of love for the audiobook format.  In my opinion, the audiobook is often the best way to experience a good book, and in many cases this format makes a book more enjoyable for me.  As a result, I listened to quite a few audiobooks this year, and while several of them are books that had been released before 2020 and featured in my Throwback Thursday posts, a large majority of them were released this year.  There were some outstanding audiobook adaptions this year, and while I had a few books to choose from, I was eventually able narrow my absolute favourites down to a top ten list.

For this list I have only included audiobooks released in 2020 that I have listened to and completed, so I am excluding a few books that probably had some great audiobook productions (for example, I am sure that audiobooks of The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett or Devolution by Max Brooks were amazing, but I ended up reading a physical copy of them instead).  While all of the books that made the top ten are outstanding novels, I have tried to take overall audiobook production into account while choosing my list.  Each of the books that I included below had great narrators and I think that for most of these novels the audiobook format actually enhanced the story and helped me enjoy the book even more.  I am extremely happy with how this list eventually turned out (with my typical extended honourable mentions section), and I had an amazing time coming up with this latest Top Ten article.

 

Honourable Mentions:

 

The Salvage Crew, written by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and narrated by Nathan Fillion

The Salvage Crew Cover


House of Earth and Blood
, written by Sarah J. Maas and narrated by Elizabeth Evans

House of Earth and Blood Cover


Star Trek: Discover: Die Standing
, written by John Jackson Miller and narrated by January LaVoy

Die Standing Cover

I was also strongly tempted to use Star Trek: Picard: Last Best Hope, but I felt that Die Standing had a stronger and more exciting story that worked well with the audiobook format.


Song of the Risen God
, written by R. A. Salvatore and narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds

Song of the Risen God Cover

Top Ten List:


Battle Ground
, written by Jim Butcher and narrated by James Marsters

Battle Ground Cover


The Thursday Murder Club
, written by Richard Osman and narrated by Lesley Manville

The Thursday Murder Club Cover


Harrow the Ninth
, written by Tamsyn Muir and narrated by Moira Quirk

Harrow the Ninth Cover


Race the Sands
, written by Sarah Beth Durst and narrated by Emily Ellet

Race the Sands Cover


Into the Fire
, written by Gregg Hurwitz and narrated by Scott Brick

Into the Fire


Star Wars: Doctor Aphra
, written by Sarah Kuhn and narrated by a full cast

Doctor Aphra Audio Cover

While a couple of other 2020 Star Wars tie-in novels did have more compelling or original stories, I felt that the combination of the fun adapted narrative in this audio drama and the excellent full voice cast made Doctor Aphra the best Star Wars audiobook of the year.


The Trouble With Peace
, written by Joe Abercrombie and narrated by Steven Pacey

The Trouble with Peace Cover


Ink
, written by Jonathan Maberry and narrated by Ray Porter

Ink Cover


The Kingdom of Liars
, written by Nick Martell and narrated by Joe Jameson

The Kingdom of Liars Cover


One Minute Out
, written by Mark Greaney and narrated by Jay Snyder

One Minute Out Cover

 

Well that is the end of this latest Top Ten list.  All of the above novels are extremely good, and I would highly recommend each of them in their audiobook format.  There is still time for me to listen to a few more great audiobooks this year, and I am planning to listen to either A Fool’s Hope by Mike Shackle or Cyber Shogun Revolution by Peter Tieryas next.  Let me know what your favourite audiobooks of 2020 were in the comments below, and I might try and check them out.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books for a Holiday Road trip

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 have a Holiday/Seasonal Freebie, meaning that we can do whatever topic we want, preferably with a seasonable twist to it.  Well, down here in Australia, summer has just rocked up and this usually means long drives to family homes for Christmas or to some magnificent stretch of beach for a well-deserved break.  While I myself do not have any upcoming travel planned, this topic did get me thinking about trips and I had the idea to try and help those people with upcoming road trips, or any form of extended travel, choose an audiobook to keep you and any potential passengers entertained.

People familiar with my blog will know that I am a big fan of audiobooks; in many ways, they are some of the best way to enjoy a book from a talented author.  However, not all good audiobooks make for great entertainment on a road trip.  With that in mind, I have scrolled through some of my favourite audiobooks to find the ones I think would be the best for anyone taking a long trip.  To make this list, the audiobooks I chose had to not only be amazing novels but also had to have an excellent narration and the ability to keep a driver or passengers’ attention on a long trip.  While I know that some people are going to be experiencing particularly long trips in the coming weeks, I tried to feature audiobooks with shorter runtimes so that those who are taking shorter excursions (say a roundtrip of eight or nine hours) can get through an entire book without trying to make time at home to finish it off.  That being said a few longer novels did end up making the cut, but all of these are great for longer trips.  I also tried to avoid any novels that would require a great deal of prior knowledge or hard-to-obtain background information so that everyone in the car could enjoy the book without any need for explanation or lectures from those people more familiar with the series.  To that end, I have tried to avoid any novels that are later entries in a series or which require some form of assumed knowledge about a franchise.  While I have included a couple of tie-in novels, I tried to use those books that require only a smidge of familiarity with their respective franchise to enjoy, and I am confident anyone can easily enjoy any book I ended up featuring.

While I did have quite a few criteria to meet, I was eventually able to come up with a good list for this topic, including several honourable mentions.  I am pretty happy with how this list turned out and I have personally really enjoyed each of the below audiobooks.  I honestly believe that all of them would make for a great listen during an extended bit of travel or a road trip and each of them comes highly recommended.

Honourable Mentions:


The Black Hawks
, written by David Wragg and narrated by Colin Mace – 12 hours and 9 minutes

The Black Hawks Cover

Those in a mood for an exciting time of their road trip could do worse than check out this excellent and entertaining debut from last year, The Black Hawks by David Wragg.  The Black Hawks is a great read that takes several compelling characters on an action-packed adventure across a dangerous landscape.  Filled with betrayal, battle and clever twists, listeners will be well entertained with is book.

Star Trek: Picard: The Last Best Hope, written by Una McCormack and narrated by Robert Petkoff – 11 hours and 40 minutes

Star Trek - Picard Cover

While there are several cool Star Trek novels that could make for great road-trip listening, I would personally suggest this fantastic tie-in to the recent Picard television show.  Serving as an introduction to the darker Star Trek world Picard encounters in his new television series, there is a lot to love about this book and it is well worth checking out.

Star Wars: Ahsoka, written by E. K. Johnston and narrated by Ashley Eckstein – 7 hours and 4 minutes

Ahsoka Cover

After recent developments in the phenomenon that is The Mandalorian, one of the Star Wars audiobooks I would strongly recommend is Star Wars: Ahsoka.  The Ahsoka audiobook helps to expand on the character and presents listeners with a compelling and personal adventure.  Narrated by Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka in the animated television series, this is a fantastic and timely audiobook to check out on the road this holiday.

Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, written by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham, and narrated by Kristen Bell – 8 hours and 43 minutes

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line Cover

Speaking of audiobooks that feature iconic characters being voiced by their actors, listeners will have an awesome time with this Veronica Mars tie-in novel, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line.  Written by series creator Rob Thomas and narrated by Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell, this is an outstanding tie-in to the clever television show that also contains a compelling crime fiction story and people will be able to quickly power through this on the way to their destination.

Top Ten List (maybe add listening times):


The Salvage Crew
, written by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and narrated by Nathan Fillion – 8 hours and 21 minutes

The Salvage Crew Cover

The first entry on this top ten list is The Salvage Crew, a very clever and intense science fiction novel that is guaranteed to keep everyone entertained on your trip.  Featuring the silky voice of the one and only Nathan Fillion, you will find yourself entranced with this audiobook, especially as the author backs up the awesome narration with a top-notch science fiction adventure story.

Race the Sands, written by Sarah Beth Durst and narrated by Emily Ellet – 15 hours and 45 minutes

Race the Sands Cover

Those readers with a particularly long drive in their future and who are in the mood for an excellent standalone fantasy novel would do well to check out Race the Sands by the always impressive Sarah Beth Durst.  Race the Sands is an extremely exciting and compelling novel that features great characters, political intrigue and clever worldbuilding, all set around people racing monsters in the desert.  This is a very easy book to listen to and the miles will fly away as you listen to Race the Sands.  Just don’t let the race scenes inspire you too much on the road; I don’t want to be responsible for you getting a speeding ticket!

Redshirts, written by John Scalzi and narrated by Wil Wheaton – 7 hours and 41 minutes

Redshirts Cover

If you want to laugh your way through an entire road trip you should definitely check out Redshirts by acclaimed science fiction author John Scalzi.  Redshirts is a very entertaining parody of Star Trek and is essentially one big sendup of all the tropes, bad writing and over-the-top characters The Original Series is known for.  Despite being a parody, Scalzi comes up with an incredibly clever story that gets extremely meta in places, while also introducing the listener to some very interesting characters who you become surprisingly attached to.  Top that off with the narration of Wil Wheaton (who else would you want narrating a Star Trek parody), and you have yourself an exceptionally fun audiobook to listen to.  My wife and I recently listened to this on a road trip ourselves and we were absolutely cracking up the entire time, and this comes highly recommended as a result.

The Holdout, written by Graham Moore and narrated by Abby Craden – 10 hours and 15 minutes

The Holdout Cover

Those drivers who would prefer a crime fiction novel should think about checking out The Holdout by Graham Moore.  The Holdout is a standalone crime fiction novel that follows an infamous jury who found a notorious murderer not guilty and who must now find out who killed one of their members years later at a reunion.  This is an extremely captivating book that features an amazing split-timeline narrative, showing the original trial and the murder investigation set in the present.  This is a great novel and listeners will be on the edge of their seat for the entire trip.

Legend, written by David Gemell and narrated by Sean Barrett – 13 hours and 13 minutes

Legend

Now if I had a particularly lengthy road-trip on the horizon one of the books I know I would be loading up Legend by David Gemell.  While this might not be too practical for shorter trips, I would gladly do a trip twice if it meant I could finish this epic book in one go.  Featuring an extended and desperate siege, Legend is one of the better fantasy novels I have had the pleasure of listening to and it does not take long for readers to get utterly enthralled with its impressive and thrilling story.

Star Wars: Scoundrels, written by Timothy Zahn and narrated by Marc Thompson – 13 hours and 57 minutes

Star Wars Scoundrels Cover

While there are a number of awesome Star Wars tie-in novels I could have included on this list, I decided in the end to go with Star Wars: ScoundrelsScoundrels is an exceptional novel from one of the top authors of Star Wars fiction in the world today, Timothy Zahn.  This is an excellent book that features fan favourite characters Han Solo, Chewbacca and Lando engaging in an elaborate heist with a team of rogues and thieves.  This is a perfect read for a longer car trip, and it is filled with several fantastic characters engaged in some good-old fashioned thievery in the middle of the Star Wars universe.  Requiring very little knowledge about the Star Wars extended universe, this audiobook can be enjoyed by anyone even vaguely familiar with the series and is really worth a listen to.

Tomorrow, When the War Began, written by John Marsden and narrated by Suzi Dougherty – 7 hours and 20 minutes

51olD9QEIEL

Those looking for a new series to get obsessed about should use any upcoming road trips as an opportunity to try out the first book in the acclaimed Tomorrow series, Tomorrow, When the war Began.  Essentially Australia’s answer to Red Dawn, this book follows a group of teenagers as they try to survive a sudden invasion of Australia by a foreign power.  This is one of my absolute favourite series of all times and is probably some of the best Australian young adult fiction ever written.  It is extremely easy to power through these audiobooks in a short amount of timer and they would be among some of my first choices if I had a long trip planned.

Any Discworld novel, by Terry Pratchett

The Colour of Magic Cover

I am kind of cheating by including an entire series here, but I could honestly listen to any of these books again and would not hesitate to recommend the entire Discworld series to anyone in the mood for a book that is wacky, clever, compelling and wildly entertaining.  Practically any of these books would make for excellent entertainment during a car ride and I find it hard to believe that anyone would be bored while listening to them.  While I love each of these books, I would probably recommend either Moving Pictures or Guards! Guards! (both with a runtime of 10 hours and 8 minutes) as they are great entry points to the series for new readers.  An incredibly series to get into, you will not regret listening to them these holidays.

Planetside, written by Michael Mammay and narrated by R. C. Bray – 8 hours and 38 minutes

Planetside Cover 2

Another great read with a shorter runtime is Planetside by Michael Mammay.  Planetside is an incredible novel and it is probably one of my favourite debut novels of all time.  Mammay packs an intense and addictive story into this shorter audiobook, and listeners are treated to an outstanding and clever science fiction mystery novel, which sees an old veteran attempt to find a missing soldier on an occupied alien planet and instead uncovers a massive conspiracy.  Listeners are guaranteed to be transfixed from start to epic finish with Planetside and it would be an exceptional novel to listen to while on a long drive.

The Anomaly, written by Michael Rutger and narrated by Brandon Williams – 9 hours and 41 minutes

The Anomaly Cover

For the final entry on my list, I have included The Anomaly by Michael Rutger.  The Anomaly is a great horror novel that follows the makers of a web series as they explore an ancient cave in the Grand Canyon, only to find it filled with ancient terrors.  This is a great novel for those who are in the mood for a scary book to listen to on their way home and readers will really love this amazing audiobook.  I was particularly impressed with the dark, claustrophobic atmosphere that this audiobook produced and horror buffs will have an amazing time listening to this.  That being said, maybe turn it off if you have to drive at night.

Well that’s my latest Top Ten Tuesday list.  I think it turned out extremely well, and if you have some upcoming travel planned (or even just some time to kill in lockdown), you would do well to try any of the above books.  Let me know which of the featured novels you enjoyed the most, as well as what audiobooks you would recommend for a car trip in the comments below and makes sure you drive safe these holidays.

Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst

Race the Sands Cover

Publisher: HarperAudio (Audiobook – 21 April 2020)

Series: Standalone

Length: 15 hours and 45 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Bestselling author Sarah Beth Durst returns with a pulse pounding and compelling new novel, Race the Sands, an excellent fantasy novel that has a really great story to it.

In the kingdom of Becar, the most important thing to a person is the state of their soul. Guided by the augurs, priests who can read people’s aura, the inhabitants of Becar do all they can to better themselves, as who you are in this life determines your future lives. The purest souls come back as humans or a great animal, while those more corrupt individuals come back as something lower, such as insects or vermin, a state that can only be redeemed after several lifetimes. However, for those truly evil beings, their punishment is to come back as a monster, as a kehok. Kehoks are chimera-like beasts who spawn out in the wilds and who live existences of pure anguish and pain. These monsters have no hope of redemption or salvation and each time they die they will come back as a different type of kehok. The only way that a kehok can break this hellish cycle of resurrection is to become grand champion of the Races, the favoured pastime of the Becaran people. The Races pit several kehoks and their riders against each other to find out not only who has the fastest kehok but which rider has the greatest mental control over their charge.

Tamra used to be an elite kehok rider, but now she scrapes a living as a professional trainer. After several setbacks, including a tragic accident at the previous year’s Races, Tamra is in need of a win, not only to get back on top but to get the prize money that will allow her to pay for her daughter’s expensive augur training. As none of the professional riders will trust her, Tamra is forced to take on and train an unknown street girl, Raia. Raia recently ran away from home to escape her terrible family and a potentially deadly arranged marriage, and she is desperate to find a way to make a living.

Together, Tamra and Raia make an unlikely pair, but with Tamra’s experience and Raia’s natural talent, they might stand a chance, especially as Tamra has managed to obtain a swift and unusual kehok. As Tamra, Raia and their new kehok all attempt to change their destinies, events from around Becar start to impact them. Chaos is engulfing the kingdom, as the former emperor’s reincarnated vessel has yet to be found. Without the vessel no new emperor can be crowned, and the kingdom is on the brink of collapse and invasion. Can this team succeed in the chaos, or will their success have unexpected consequences?

This was an extremely compelling and deeply enjoyable book from a very talented author, Sarah Beth Durst. Durst is a veteran author who has produced a number of young adult and adult fantasy fiction novels since her 2007 debut, Into the Wild. Durst is probably best known at the moment for her Queens of Renthia series, which started in 2016 with her highly acclaimed novel, The Queen of Blood. Durst is actually a new author to me, and I have not had the pleasure of reading any of her previous novels. I have to admit that checking out Race the Sands was a bit of an impulse choice for me; while I was aware that this interesting sounding book was coming out, it was not one that I was initially planning on reading. However, I heard some rather good things about it from a bunch of other reviewers and their glowing praise convinced me that it would be worth reading. I am extremely glad that I did read it, as it turned out to be an excellent read that I deeply enjoyed.

Race the Sands is a standalone fantasy novel that tells a complex and intriguing story completely separate from Durst’s previous works of fiction. Durst does an outstanding job coming up with a deeply compelling and exciting novel that combines a clever fantasy story about racing monsters with an inventive setting and a cast of great characters to create an overall fantastic read. Despite being a book primarily for the adult fantasy fiction crowd, Race the Sands reads a lot like a young adult fiction novel at times, and it has immense appeal for a huge group of different readers, no matter where your interest in fantasy fiction lies.

At the centre of Race the Sands lies an amazing story of action, intrigue and character growth, all based around the really cool concept of people racing monsters out in the desert for glory, money and redemption. This story starts off extremely strong, introducing the high-stakes world of kehok racing and the intriguing main characters, and I would have happily read a whole book based around the races. However, while all the race sequences are extremely exciting, the book ultimately morphs into a much larger narrative, that revolves around the fate of the entire kingdom of Becar. I really liked how the entire story unfolded, especially as all the political intrigue and overarching threats resulted in an epic and impressive conclusion, that was well presented and which showed the book’s protagonists in the most awesome light possible. This was a truly compelling and memorable story, and Durst does a fantastic job packing so much plot and action into a single, standalone novel.

In addition to the excellent story, I was also really impressed with the clever setting and background that Durst came up with for Race the Sands. Becar is an intriguing nation with ancient Egyptian overtones to it, and its two most distinctive features are its obsession with racing monsters and its complex system of reincarnation. I have already mentioned the kehok races above, and they are a really great highlight of Race the Sands. Durst expertly introduces the races and the key concepts behind them early on in the novel, and every single aspect about them is an extremely cool part of the story. However, I really want to emphasise the story element of the Becaran reincarnation system and soul reading that dictates how the populace acts and behaves during their lifetime. This whole system of good and bad souls, which are read by the benevolent augurs, is an important part of the narrative, and is routinely examined by all of the major character throughout the course of the book. In essence the reincarnation system sounds simple: lead a pure life and you come back in a better form in your next reincarnation; be a bad person and come back as something worse. However, it soon becomes clear that there is something rotten at the heart of the whole system, and quite a lot of the story is dedicated to exploring what is wrong and who is behind it. It leads to some real metaphysical discussions about choices, ethics and corruption, which proves to be an excellent and clever part of the book. All of this makes for a great backdrop to this story, and it was a truly fascinating to see how the author explores and utilises these elements throughout the book.

Durst also spends a good amount of time setting up several great characters, who are the heart and soul of the novel, and who each add their own unique elements to the story. There are around five main characters, each of whom serves as a point-of-view character for much of the book, as well as several significant side characters, with one or two of these also serving as lesser point-of-view characters, and each of them add their own unique perspective to the story. At the top of this list is Tamra, the tough as nails, no-nonsense kehok trainer who is haunted by her mistakes and who is eager to redeem herself by training a new racer, which will also allow her to hold onto her daughter. Despite her rough and powerful exterior, Tamra is really a caring and motherly character, who is willing to compromise her own soul and beliefs if it ensures that the people she cares about are safe and happy. Tamra is a fantastic central character, and I loved her raw determination and notable cynicism about the world she lives in. I also have to mention the awesome part she plays in the outstanding conclusion, where she comes across as an amazing badass, completely changing everything in one of my favourite parts of the entire book.

In addition to Tamra, the next major character is the racer Raia, whom Tamra takes under her wing. Raia is introduced as a flighty and scared creature, a failed augur student who is fleeing from her terrible parents and her murderous future fiancé. Despite having no experience, Raia’s only option to survive and make a living is to get involved in kehok racing, and her natural connection to the lion kehok that Tamra buys, ensures that she is taken on as a student. Due to plot circumstances, Raia is given a crash course in kehok racing, and it is through her eyes that we see a lot of details about the Races and what it takes to become a successful rider, which is an exciting part of the book. Raia is also the character who goes through the most growth throughout the course of the book, as she attempts to leave the shadow cast over her by her terrible parents, and quickly gains confidence thanks to her success as a racer, her mentorship under Tamra, some new friendships and the connection she has with her kehok. I really liked seeing Raia’s growth, and she is one of the more inspiration characters within the book.

Another great character is augur Yorbel, the friend and confidant to the heir to the throne, who sets out to find the late king’s reincarnated host in the most unlikely of places. Yorbel, who starts off as a rather naive and sheltered character due to his upbringing in the temple as an augur, finds himself involved in secrecy and intrigue as he attempts to undertake his mission. However, throughout the course of the book, Yorbel finds himself learning more and more about the dark side of humanity, and the difficulties involved with keeping a pure soul. Despite being one of the nicest and most innocent characters, Yorbel has quite a few ethical dilemmas during this book, and the conclusion of his arc was somewhat shocking and intense. I also have to mention Lady Evara, the rich, noble sponsor of Tamra and Raia. I went into Race the Sands knowing to look out for Lady Evara, as several other reviewers identified her as their favourite character. I can definitely see why, as she was easily the most entertaining character in the entire book. Coming across as a snobbish, self-serving master manipulator, it was a lot of fun to see her interact with characters like the serious Tamra or the passive Yorbel. However, Evara also has a lot of depth to her character as well as some interesting backstory, and the parts of the book that featured her were a real treat. I really enjoyed all the main characters in this book, and this great cast of protagonists helped to turn Race the Sands into a first-class read.

I chose to listen to Race the Sands’ audiobook format, and I found it to be a fantastic way to enjoy this excellent book. The audiobook has a run time of 15 hours and 45 minutes and it is narrated by the talented Emily Ellet. I absolutely blew through this audiobook in only a few days, and it became harder and harder to turn it off the more I got engrossed in the story. I thought that the audiobook format really brought all the intense race scenes to life in all their glory, and I especially loved hearing some of the epic moments from the book’s conclusion. I really liked the various voices that Ellet came up with for the books various characters, and I felt that her portrayals of characters like Tamra, Raia and Yorbel were pretty perfect and really reflected how they were written. I also enjoyed the voice that the narrator provides to all of the book’s highborn women, including Lady Evara and the female augurs, put me a bit in mind of Inara from Firefly, i.e. very posh, confident and in complete control of every situation. That being said, all the highborn women do sound very similar to each other, although I didn’t find that to be too distracting. Overall, I had an outstanding time listening to Race the Sands, and it is an amazing format for any potential readers to utilise.

Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst is a deeply impressive and highly enjoyable fantasy read which comes highly recommended. This book contains an exciting and addictive narrative that makes great use of its complex characters and intriguing plot elements to tell a story full of action, adventure and brilliant character development. I had an awesome time reading this book, and it gets a full five stars from me. I am really glad that I decided to check this book out, and I will be definitely be checking out some of Durst’s other novels in the future.