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 – Lies Like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Lies Like Wildfire Cover

Publisher: Penguin Books (Trade Paperback – 14 September 2021)

Series: Standalone/Book One

Length: 371 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Prepare to see the strongest of friendships burnt alive by fire, lies and deceit, in this startling and powerful young adult thriller by amazing author Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, Lies Like Wildfire.

Lies Like Wildfire was a really compelling and exciting read that ended up being one of the better pieces of young adult fiction I read all year.  This was the debut thriller novel from Alvarez, whose previous work has primarily included middle-grade fantasy novels, such as her equine-based The Guardian Herd and Riders of the Realm series.  I was actually surprised to learn that his was Alvarez’s first thriller novel, as it was really good, presenting the reader with an untenable and desperate scenario and forcing several life-long friends to make some hard and terrible decisions.

Synopsis:

The monsters have known each other their whole lives. This is their final summer before college – time to hang out, fall in love and dream about the future.

Until they accidentally start a forest fire which destroys their hometown and leaves death in its wake.

Desperate for the truth to remain hidden, the group make a pact of silence.

But the twisted secret begins to spin out of control and when one of the friends disappears they all become suspects.

We know how it starts but where does it end?


Wow, now this was such a great book.  Lies Like Wildfire has a brilliant and powerful plot that was extremely clever, emotionally rich and very shocking, all at the same time.  The book follows a group of childhood friends, known as the Monsters, who accidently start a forest fire during a summer outing.  Terrified of California’s incredibly strict fire laws that harshly punish even accidental offenders, the group attempt to cover up their actions as the fire races towards their town causing all manner of death and destruction.  As the fire rages, the group makes a pact to keep the secret, but lies, guilt and personal vendettas soon lead to terrible choices, as the truth bursts out and even more lives are ruined in the fallout.

I loved this brilliant book, and Alvarez has come up with such an impressive scenario for it.  Told from the perspective of one of the Monsters, Hannah, this entire novel unfolds in a rush, with the readers barely getting time to breathe as devastating events and terrible secrets are thrust before them as part of this addictive and powerful narrative.  Alvarez ensures that the readers are hooked early in the book, especially as the opening scene gives a sneak peek to events halfway throughout the narrative.  The story then jumps back to the events that led up to the fire, showing the mostly innocent group as a careless accident threatens to ruin their entire lives and everything they know and love.  Alveraz does a brilliant job of producing the ultimate no-win scenario, with the protagonists caught between their own guilt and the harsh consequences for their unintentional actions. 

This fantastic introduction leads to the destructive early scenes of the wildfires that ravish the protagonist’s hometown.  These scenes are pretty damn devastating and very well written, as Alvarez perfectly captures all the horror of an incoming fire and the panic and pain it can cause (it’s very realistic, and those people triggered by wildfires or bushfires might want to avoid it).  However, this destruction is nothing compared to the guilt, public shame, police prosecution, and disintegration of friendships that occur in the aftermath of the fire as the friend’s first attempt to cover up their involvement, and then limit the blame they receive as they start to get found out.  Despite their guilt in this matter, you cannot help but feel for the characters, especially as Alvarez does an incredible job making them very relatable, and the circumstances surrounding their crime could honestly happen to anybody.  However, the real meat of the story involves the powerful drama that emerges because of the fire, as this lifelong friendship is pushed to the limit, not just because of the actions of the characters, but because of jealousy, family hardship, and the stress of lost futures, that drives all of them to desperate action.

This leads to the second half of the novel, when one of the Monsters goes missing in mysterious circumstances.  Evidence soon points to members of the Monsters being involved, potentially to stop the missing person from revealing the groups involvement to the police, and the group is riven by further mistrust and interrogation.  This second half of the book is incredibly fascinating, especially as the readers are left unaware of who could potentially be involved as the only point-of-view character, Hannah, suffers from amnesia brought on by a bear attack.  While I usually dislike an amnesia inclusion in a novel, it works extremely well in the context of Lies Like Wildfire’s plot, even the bit about the bear attack (it’s a clever, if devastating, inclusion).  This lack of memory from the protagonist really keeps the reader on their toes and the sudden mystery is a compelling and fun addition to the plot.  I personally became ultra-invested in this book at this point, not only because I wanted to find out what had happened to the missing character, but because I was enjoying the complex character arcs and the quickly decaying personal relationships that bound them together.  The final reveal about who was responsible and why is brilliantly done, and I deeply enjoyed the various character reactions that occurred around it, especially from the protagonist.  This ended up being quite a complex and deep narrative, and it is one is perfect for teenagers and older readers, as everyone can get really invested in the intelligent and emotional plot. 

Overall, Lies Like Wildfire was a brilliant and powerful debut thriller from Alvarez, who came up with an amazing concept and turned it into an outstanding read.  I loved the great blend of thriller and young adult drama, especially as it produced a complex and moving tale of youth, disaster, mystery, and the tenuous ties that bind us together.  Readers will swiftly become entranced by this excellent and compelling tale, and I really found myself getting drawn into the amazing character driven tale of lies and deceit.  I am extremely glad that Alvarez decided to dive across into the thriller world, and if Lies Like Wildfire is anything to go on, she has a really bright future in it.  I look forward to seeing what other books Alvarez produces in the future, and I am definitely grabbing a copy of her next book, Friends Like These, when it comes out next year.

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.

WWW Wednesday – 20 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?

Lies like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez (Trade Paperback)

Lies Like Wildfire Cover

I started reading this interesting young adult novel by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez and I am already pretty hooked.  Lies Like Wildfire follows a group of  friends who accidently start a deadly wildfire in California and then try to cover up their involvement with dramatic consequences.  This is a very compelling story and I cannot wait to see how it ends.

 

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

The Bone Ship's Wake Cover

I am making slow progress with this audiobook but it is proving to be another exciting and enthralling dark fantasy read from this exceptional author.

What did you recently finish reading?

Viral by Robin Cook (Trade Paperback)

Viral 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 – 23 September 2021

I have been having an absolutely fantastic couple of week for books, as I have been lucky enough to receive several incredible and amazing new novels from some of my local publishers.  As I am anticipating getting some more books in the near future, I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight some of the recent releases I have received before my new book pile got too big.  These novels include some truly awesome new releases, several of which I have been eagerly awaiting for some time.  I am extremely keen to read all of the books below and I cannot wait to check them out.

The Wisdom of Crowds by Joe Abercrombie (Trade Paperback)

The Wisdom of Crowds Cover

The first book in this haul is one of my most anticipated reads for the year, The Wisdom of Crowds by Joe Abercrombie.  The third and final novel in The Age of Madness series, The Wisdom of Crowds continues the epic story started in A Little Hatred (one of the best books of 2019) and continued in The Trouble with Peace (one of the best books and audiobooks of 2020), bringing the entire series towards a dark and deadly conclusion.  I am reading this book at the moment, and so far it is pretty exceptional.  I cannot wait to see how it ends and I already know that this is going to be one of the top books of 2021.

 

The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield (Trade Paperback)

The Apollo Murders Cover

Next on this list we have the awesome and compelling space thriller, The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield. This cool book is set in 1973 and follows a top-secret space mission to the Moon, filled with murder, espionage and a ton of technical detail.  I really like the sound of this novel and I am very excited to check it out.

 

The Bone Ship’s Wake by RJ Barker (Trade Paperback)

The Bone Ship's Wake Cover

I was lucky enough to receive The Bone Ship’s Wake by RJ Barker, another outstanding novel that I have been looking forward to for ages.  Written by one of the fastest rising authors of dark fantasy fiction, The Bone Ship’s Wake is the third and final novel in The Tide Child trilogy, which follows the condemned crew of a ship made out of dragon bone.  The previous two novels in this series, The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships, have both been epic five-star reads and I have extremely high hopes for this amazing novel.

 

Viral by Robin Cook (Trade Paperback)

Viral Cover

I also received a copy of Viral, a novel about a pandemic by acclaimed medical thriller author Robin Cook.  Containing a very topical narrative, Viral sounds like a fascinating and powerful thriller, and it should prove to be quite an intriguing read.

 

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri (Trade Paperback)

The Jasmine Throne Cover

Bestselling fantasy author Tasha Suri returns with the first entry in a brand new trilogy, The Jasmine Throne.  This compelling and exciting new fantasy novel has an interesting sounding narrative filled with magic, wars and complex characters, and I look forward to seeing what awesome ideas Suri fits into this novel.

 

Lies like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez (Trade Paperback)

Lies Like Wildfire Cover

One of the books I recently received that I am particularly curious about is the young adult novel Lies like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez.  This book follows a group of teenagers who accidently start a deadly forest fire and then attempt to cover it up.  I really like the sound of this thrilling and dramatic novel, and I have a feeling that I am going to have a great time reading it.

 

Treasure & Dirt by Chris Hammer (Trade Paperback)

Treasure & Dirt Cover

The final book I received was the new thriller novel from Australian author Chris Hammer, Treasure & DirtTreasure & Dirt is another fantastic sounding outback thriller, which examines a brutal murder in a corrupt mining town.  This sounds like a very fun read and I look forward to seeing what awesome story Hammer has come up with.

 

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.