Top Ten Tuesday – Unseen Library’s Top Australian Fiction

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 Top Ten Tuesday the assigned topic was a freebie associated with book covers; however, I decided to do something a little different. Because it was Australia Day on Sunday, I thought it would be good to highlight some of the best pieces of Australian fiction I have read in the last couple of years. To that end, I am raiding the Australian fiction category of the Unseen Library and presenting my Top Ten favourite entries from it.

Each year Australian authors produce a huge range of amazing fiction across the various genres, and I am usually lucky enough to receive copies of some of these from the local publishers. As a result, I tend to read a lot of Australian fiction (which I am defining here as either fiction written by an Australian author or fiction with an Australian setting) most of which turn out to be pretty awesome reads which I review either here on in the Canberra Weekly. I am happy to once again highlight some of the top pieces of Australian fiction I have reviewed since I started the Unseen Library, as several of these outstanding books might not have gotten the international attention they deserved.

Due to huge plethora of fantastic Australian fiction that has fallen into my lap over the last couple of years, this list actually turned out to be a really hard one to pull together. I had way too many choices when it came to the best pieces Australian fiction I have read from the last couple of years, so in a few places I have combined a couple of books into one entry. In the end, I was able to work out what my top ten favourite pieces were, although I did also have to include a generous honourable mentions section. So let us see how this list turned out.

Honourable Mentions:


In a Great Southern Land
by Mary-Anne O’Connor

In a Great Southern Land Cover


Aurora Rising
by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Aurora Rising Cover


Ghosts of the Past
by Tony Park

Ghosts of the Past Cover


Blood in the Dust
by Bill Swiggs

Blood in the Dust Cover

Top Ten List (No Particular Order):


Tomorrow
series by John Marsden

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There was absolutely no way that I could write a list about my favourite Australian fiction without having John Marsden’s Tomorrow series at the very top. Individually the books in the Tomorrow series are amongst some of the best pieces of Australian fiction I have ever read, and together they are a perfect series. Words cannot describe how much I love this amazing series (although I tried really hard in the review linked above) and I have no doubt that it is going to remain my favourite Australian series for a very long time.

Deceit by Richard Evans

Deceit Cover

Deceit is an extremely clever thriller revolving around Australian politics that came out in 2018. Thanks to its incredible realism and excellent story, I really enjoyed this book when it came out, and it ended up getting an honourable mention in my Top Ten Favourite Books of 2018 list. I absolutely loved this book and I have been meaning to read the sequel, Duplicity, for a little while now, especially as I suspect I will be just as good as this first fantastic book.

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

City of Lies Cover

Another book that featured on my Top Ten Favourite Books of 2018 list. City of Lies was an incredible fantasy debut which featured a superb story about a family of poison experts trying to keep their king alive during a siege. This was an awesome read, and I cannot wait for the sequel to this book, which is hopefully coming out later this year.

The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

The Escape Room Cover

The Escape Room was the second book from rising thriller star Megan Goldin, who has gotten a lot of positive attention over the last couple of years. The Escape Room was a very compelling novel that contained a clever revenge plot against a group of ruthless Wall Street traders. Goldin did a fantastic job with The Escape Room, and her upcoming book, The Night Swim, will hopefully be one of the reading highlights of the second half of 2020.

Restoration by Angela Slatter

Restoration Cover

Restoration was the third book in Slatter’s Verity Fassbinder series (following on from Corpselight), which follow the titular character of Verity Fassbinder as she investigates magical crimes in modern day Brisbane. Restoration was a really fun read that got an easy five stars from me due to its incredible story, great use of an Australian setting and fantastic humour. Slatter outdid herself with Restoration, and I hope we get more Verity Fassbinder novels in the future.

All-New Wolverine series by Tom Taylor

All-New Wolverine Volume 1 Cover

Tom Taylor is an Australian-born author who has been doing some amazing work with some of the major comic book companies over the last few years. While I have read a bunch of his stuff (such as his run on X-Men Red), my favourite piece of his work has to be the All-New Wolverine series. All-New Wolverine was a deeply entertaining series that placed one of my favourite characters, X-23, into the iconic role of Wolverine. Not only did this series do justice to both X-23 and Wolverine’s legacy (before his inevitable resurrection) with some well-written and heavy storylines, but it was also a lot of fun, especially thanks to the introduction of Honey Badger.

The Queen’s Colonial and The Queen’s Tiger by Peter Watt

Peter Watt Covers

Peter Watt has long been one of the top authors of Australian historical fiction, and I have been a big fan of his work for a couple of years now. While I was tempted to include his Frontier series (make sure to check out my reviews for While the Moon Burns and From the Stars Above), in the end I thought it would be better to feature his current Colonial series. The Queen’s Colonial and The Queen’s Tiger are excellent pieces of historical fiction containing an exciting and compelling story.

After the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson

After the Lights Go Out

After the Lights Go Out is one of the few pieces of Australian young adult fiction which I feel matches up to the Tomorrow series in terms of quality and substance.   This book about a family of survivalists being thrust into an actual doomsday scenario was extremely captivating, and I loved this extraordinary novel. Really worth checking out.

Half Moon Lake by Kirsten Alexander

Half Moon Lake Cover

Half Moon Lake is an amazing historical drama that was one of my favourite debuts from 2019. This book is a clever historical drama that was inspired by the real-life historical disappearance of a child and the tragic events that followed. A gripping and memorable book that comes highly recommended.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

The Last Smile in Sunder City

The most recent addition to my Australian fiction category, The Last Smile in Sunder City is another impressive debut which I had an incredible time reading. Arnold has come up with an excellent mystery set in an inventive new fantasy world with a conflicted central protagonist. This was an amazing first book from Arnold and I will hopefully be able to read his follow-up books in the future.

Well, that concludes my list. I am so happy that I got the chance to highlight some of the great pieces of historical fiction I have been fortunate enough to enjoy over the last couple of years. Each of the above books are exceptional reads, and I had a wonderful time reading all of them. While I was a little disappointed that I had to leave a few great books off this list, such as Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson, DEV1AT3 by Jay Kristoff and The Secret Runners of New York by Matthew Reilly, I really like how my list turned out. I think that I will come back and update this list in the future, probably close to next year’s Australia Day. I am highly confident that this next version of my list will contain some new books from 2020, and I look forward to seeing which pieces of upcoming Australian fiction I am really going to enjoy next. In the meantime, I hope all my fellow Australians had a great long weekend and please let me know which pieces of Australian fiction are favourites in the comments below.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Top Ten Favourite Debut Novels of 2019

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 Top Ten Tuesday I continue to look at what some of my favourite books of 2019 were. I have already looked at my favourite audiobooks of 2019, as well as my favourite new-to-me authors, so this week I am going to list my Top Ten Favourite Debut Novels of 2019.

2019 has been a good year for debuting authors in a number of different genres, and I have been lucky enough to check out some remarkable debut novels that I have really enjoyed. As a result, I think it is only proper that I highlight some of these great debuts, all of which I would strongly recommend. I was very impressed with a number of these debut books, and I am looking forward to seeing what these authors come up with in the future.

I was able to come up with 10 amazing novels for this list, although in one or two cases I might have slightly stretched the definition of debut. I am also very aware that I missed a number of terrific sounding debut novels in 2019, which, if I had read them, may have appeared on this list. No doubt several of these books will appear on a future Top Ten Books I Wish I Had Read in 2019 list I am planning. However, I am very happy with the list I have come up with, and look forward to checking out some more awesome debuts in 2020

Honourable Mentions:

Red Metal by Mark Greaney and Lieutenant Colonel Hunter Ripley Rawlings IV (USMC)

Red Metal Cover

I have included Red Metal in my honourable mentions because it was the debut novel of one of the authors, Lieutenant Colonel Hunter Ripley Rawlings IV (USMC). This was one of my favourite books of 2019; however, as it was co-written with an established author, I decided to leave it off my main list. I really hope that Rawlings continues to write, and I would love to see some form of sequel to Red Metal in the future.

Shadow of Athens by JM Alvey

shadows of athens cover

Shadow of Athens was another fantastic book, and I really liked the amazing historical mystery it contained. However, it is not technically a debut as the author has already written a number of fantasy books under the name of Juliet E. McKenna. That being said, I decided to give it an honourable mention as it was the debut novel of this pseudonym, and it was also the author’s first historical fiction novel.

Top Ten List (in no particular order):


Master of Sorrows
by Justin Call

Master of Sorrows Cover

Let us start the list with one of the best fantasy debuts of the year. Master of Sorrows was a compelling new fantasy adventure that focused on a school that trained operatives to steal and contain dangerous magical artefacts. Featuring an inventive new fantasy world and an intriguing story, this was a great start to a new series, and the sequel, Master Artificer, is coming out in August next year.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth Cover

The second book on my list is Gideon the Ninth, which is certainly one of the most entertaining books I read this year. Gideon the Ninth is a madcap blend of science fiction and fantasy, with necromancers in space, which also features a great murder mystery storyline and a fun collection of characters. The sequel to this book, Harrow the Ninth, is coming out in June, and it sounds like it will be a pretty amazing read.

We Are Blood and Thunder by Kesia Lupo

We are Blood and Thunder Cover

This was a really clever and well-written young adult fantasy read that featured an excellent use of two separate character perspectives to tell a captivating story. Lupo’s second novel, the upcoming We Are Bound by Stars, will be set in the same universe as We Are Blood and Thunder, and should prove to be an intriguing follow-up to this fantastic novel.

Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

Blood & Sugar Cover

To my mind, Blood & Sugar was the best historical fiction debut of 2019, and I had an outstanding time reading it earlier this year. This book featured a complex and addictive murder mystery storyline set during the height of the English slave trade. Really worth checking out and I am looking forward to the author’s next book, Daughters of Night.

Legacy of Ash by Matthew Ward

Legacy of Ash Cover

This is actually the book I am reading at the moment, but I am enjoying it so much I had to add it to this list. Legacy of Ash is a massive read that blends great fantasy elements with some exciting political intrigue. It is a really fun novel, and I am intrigued to see how it finishes up.

Half Moon Lake by Kirsten Alexander

Half Moon Lake Cover

Half Moon Lake is another excellent historical fiction novel that provided an amazing account of a shocking kidnapping case from history. This was a deeply compelling story, and well worth checking out.

The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

the gutter prayer cover

The Gutter Prayer was one of the most anticipated fantasy debuts of 2019, and it actually lived up to its hype. With an outstanding group of characters and some truly unique and memorable new fantasy elements, this was a terrific and dark read, and the upcoming sequel, The Shadow Saint, should prove to be a fantastic follow-up to it.

Blood in the Dust by Bill Swiggs

Blood in the Dust Cover

Bill Swiggs’s debut novel, Blood in the Dust, was a cool Australian take on the western genre that I knocked off in one long night. An action-packed and dramatic historical adventure, this was a compelling Australian read which I was really glad I checked out.

Star Wars: Force Collector by Kevin Shinick

ForceCollector-Cover

I only just put up a review for this last night, but it was a brilliant Star Wars adaption that ties together the events of a number of the films into a fantastic young adult novel. This debut is well worth reading, and I hope that Shinick revisits the Star Wars universe in the future.

Warrior of the Altaii by Robert Jordan

Warrior of the Altaii Cover

The final book on my list is Warrior of the Altaii by Robert Jordan, which is Jordan’s previously unpublished first novel. Technically, this isn’t a debut novel per se, as his first published novel was released in the 1970s. However, as this novel is one of the first things Jordan wrote, and it helped him break into the fantasy genre and eventually produce one of the best fantasy series of all times, I think it is appropriate to include it on this list, and the old-school adventure it contains was actually pretty good.

That’s my Top Ten list for this week. I am pretty happy with the varied collection of debut novels I read this year, and I think that all the above authors are going to go to do amazing things. Let me know what your favourite 2019 debut novels are in the comments below.

Half Moon Lake by Kirsten Alexander

Half Moon Lake Cover.jpg

Publisher: Bantam Press (Trade Paperback Edition  – 2 January 2019)

Series: Standalone

Length: 320 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5

 

Debuting Australian author Kirsten Alexander presents a dramatic, captivating and hard-hitting novel of desperation and loss loosely based around a real and shocking historical event.

In the summer of 1913, a young boy, Sonny Davenport, walks into the woods around his family’s summer home at Half Moon Lake, Louisiana, and never returns.  Despite a widespread search of the surrounding area by an army of volunteers, no trace of the boy can be found.  As the search grows in volume, the disappearance becomes headline news across the country, especially as Sonny’s parents, John Henry and Mary Davenport, are wealthy and influential members of their home town of Opelousas.  For the next two years, the Davenports engage in a desperate hunt for Sonny across the south, offering a massive reward for information on their missing son.  But with no substantiated leads, the Davenports slowly lose hope and Mary sinks more and more into her despair.

However, just when everything seems lost, a boy matching Sonny’s description is found wandering around several southern towns in the company of a tramp.  As the world watches, Mary meets the child and claims that he is Sonny.  But is he truly her missing son?  There are a number of differences between the two boys and many are convinced that the Davenports have taken in the wrong child and the real Sonny is still out there.

As the people of Opelousas, including many of the Davenport’s friends and servants, debate the true identity of this young boy, a kidnapping trial for the tramp begins.  However, the proceedings are thrown into chaos when Grace Mills, an unwed farm worker, arrives in town, claiming that the boy is her son.

This is an outstanding first book from Alexander, who has created a powerful and memorable story based partially around real-life events.  Half Moon Lake is a fantastic and dramatic story that dives deep into the hearts and psyche of its characters and the historical elements of the time to create a lasting impact on the reader.  I was very surprised about how addictive I found this book to be, as the intense character emotions and the dramatic actions that they take to alleviate their grief and the grief of their loved ones was just incredible.  I am still reeling from several of the revelations and developments that occurred towards the end of the book, many of which will stick with me for a long time.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this book is that is partially based on a real-life historical event, the disappearance of Bobby Dunbar, which took place in America’s south in the early 20th century.  Bobby Dunbar disappeared when he was four.  After months of searching, a young boy was found some distance away who appeared similar to Bobby and was claimed by Bobby’s parents, despite many people voicing their doubts about the boy’s true identity.  In addition, a second woman attempted to claim the child as her own son, and a legal case was initiated to determine the identity of the child.  I was unfamiliar with the Bobby Dunbar case before I read Half Moon Lake and did not look up the details of it until after I finished the book.  As a result, I was amazed that the intense story was so closely based on a real story.  This case and its eventual results are absolutely fascinating, and I felt that Alexander did a fantastic job of capturing the essence of this event and installing it within her story.

For example, the author does an excellent job of portraying the probable emotions, feelings and opinions of people who would have been involved in the real-life disappearance, as she utilises a number of different character perspectives throughout her book.  Readers of Half Moon Lake get a great idea of the despair all of the parents in this story would have experienced, the fear and confusion of the children, and the bewilderment and conflicted emotion of everyone else involved in the case.  I felt that Alexander’s portrayal of the missing child’s mother was done particularly well, as the readers gets to see her so filled with realistic fear, grief and despair that it drives her to try and claim a child that might not even be hers.  I also quite enjoyed the way that the author explored the highly publicised nature of the child’s disappearance and how the media at the time covered the case, dividing those following the case as they try to determine the true fate of the missing child and the real identity of the discovered child.  I also loved the way that the author looked at how the media scrutiny of the time might have affected the individuals involved in the case, and how this could have potentially influenced their actions and decisions.

I also really liked the way that the period’s ideas of class came into effect during this book.  There are some key examinations of the different ways that the rich and the poor were treated during this time, and how this would have impacted the investigation, the search for the missing child, the media scrutiny and overall results of the big trial that served as an important scene at the end of the book.  Also significant and intriguing was the way in which Alexander looked at how concerns for personal and familial reputations might have come into these events, resulting in several characters undertaking various actions that they knew to be wrong, all in the name of protecting someone’s social standing and reputation.  The story is set in America’s south during the early 20th century, and as such there are a number of African American characters who are involved with the case.  Race and the perception of certain ethnicities came into this book a lot more than I thought it would, and I thought that Alexander did a fantastic job capturing how these characters might have been ignored or disciplined for trying to get involved in proceedings.  All of these elements result in an amazing historical tapestry which forms an excellent setting for this story.

Overall, this is an amazing debut from Australian author Kirsten Alexander, who uses the inspiration of a fascinating real-life case to craft an epic and powerful story.  There are so many great story elements spread throughout Half Moon Lake, as the character’s emotions and despair drive them to desperate and immoral acts.  It features a narrative that is at times sad and at other times darn right appalling, and several reveals and character decisions at the end of the book will leave you shocked and will stick in your mind long after you finish reading it.  I loved this spectacular first book from Alexander and I am looking forward to seeing where she goes next.