Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Books 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.  In this final Top Ten Tuesday for the year, participants are tasked with listing their top books of 2021, which is something I look forward to every year.  This is a bit of a continuation of a series of lists I have been doing over the last month which have highlighted some of the authors and books I have been most impressed with this year, including my favourite audiobook, favourite debuts and my top pre-2021 books I read this year.  However, this list here is the big one as it covers my absolute favourite releases of the year, of which there are quite a few.

Just like with 2020, 2021 has been pretty shitty in places, but thankfully readers got a bit of solace from the fact that this was an amazing year for books, with a huge range of incredible releases coming out across the genres.  Not only did several outstanding new series start but we had some exceptional debuts and several incredible trilogies conclude in a big way.  I have had an amazing time reading or listening to so many outstanding books this year and quite a few releases have become instant favourites.  I must admit that I somewhat struggled to pull this list together, as there were so many books that deserved to be mentioned.  Therefore, because I am a very soft touch, and because the quality of the books I read this year was so impressive, I have decided to expand this list out to 20 entries (just like I have the last two years).  These 20 books are my absolute favourites from 2021, and I would strongly recommend every one of them to anyone interested in a great read.

To make it onto this list a book needed to be released here in Australia during 2021 (one minor exception) and I had to have read it.  I have excluded Never by Ken Follett, as I am only partway through it, and there are many awesome-sounding books I sadly didn’t squeeze into my reading schedule for this year, although I am sure that several of those would have made the cut.  I decided to leave off my usual Honourable Mentions section as the extra 10 entries kind of make it unnecessary.  There will be a bit of crossover between the below entries and some of my previous lists.  Several novels also appeared on my Top Ten Favourite Audiobooks of 2021 list and my Top Ten Favourite Books from the First Half of 2021 list which I ran back into July.  Overall, I am fairly happy with how this Top 20 list turned out and I think it contains a pretty good range of novels that really showcases the different types of books that I chose to read this year.  So without further ado, here is the list.

Top 20 List (no particular order):

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

Last Graduate Cover

Let us start this list off strong with the awesome fantasy novel that I still haven’t gotten over, The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik.  The sequel to her 2020 hit, A Deadly Education, The Last Graduate continues the impressive Scholomance series in a big way , making full use of its cool characters and uniquely dangerous magical school setting.  There were some major developments in this second novel, including an epic and heartbreaking cliff-hanger that is guaranteed to make me pick up the final book next year.

 

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary Cover

Next we have one of the best science fiction reads of the year.  Written by the exceedingly talented Andy Weir (of The Martian fame), Project Hail Mary is a very clever, entertaining and science heavy novel that sees a man travel to a distant star to find a way to save Earth when the sun starts to lose energy.  A brilliantly written and deeply captivating read that features a great, surprise supporting character and an awesome twist around the protagonist.  Highly recommended!

 

The Pariah by Anthony Ryan

The Pariah Cover

I had a great time this year checking out new authors, and one of the best was fantasy author Anthony Ryan, who started his Covenant of Steel series with The Pariah.  Featuring an epic and captivating tale that follows a young protagonist as he explores a war-torn, religiously ruled landscape, The Pariah was an impressive fantasy read that I could not put down, no matter how hard I tried.  I deeply enjoyed this cool book and I cannot wait to grab the sequel, The Martyr, next year.

 

Relentless by Jonathan Maberry

Relentless Cover

For the fourth year in a row, one of Jonathan Maberry’s amazing books has achieved a spot on this list (Deep Silence was one of the best books of 2018, Rage was one of the best books of 2019 and Ink was one of the best books of 2020).  Relentless, was one of his best, sending his legendary protagonist on deadly revenge mission against his worst enemies as they attempt a new world-ending master plan.  I loved this latest science fiction/thriller hybrid from Maberry, especially due to the exceptional character work, and this was a captivating and exceedingly exciting read.

 

The Wisdom of Crowds by Joe Abercrombie

The Wisdom of Crowds Cover

There was no way that I could exclude the incredible latest book from the legendary Joe Abercrombie, The Wisdom of Crowds, from this list.  This exceptional fantasy read perfectly wrapped up the brilliantly dark Age of Madness series (which previously featured the excellent A Little Hatred and The Trouble With Peace).  Featuring some of the best and most complex characters you are likely to see in fiction, and an intensely dark tale of revenge, betrayal and revolution, The Wisdom of Crowds is relentlessly entertaining without a single dull moment.  I had an incredible time with this book and I cannot wait to see what Abercrombie comes up with next.

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Homecoming by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo - Homecoming

Even after 35 volumes, Stan Sakai’s bestselling Usagi Yojimbo comic (which is one of my favourite all-time comic series) continues to shine with the exceptional HomecomingHomecoming was another beautifully drawn and narratively rich volume that takes the protagonist on a dramatic journey back to his home village and the many pains that reside there.  An exceptional and fun read; I cannot wait to get my hands of Sakai’s next volume, Tengu War, in a few short months.

 

The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

After producing one of the absolute best debuts of 2020 with The Kingdom of Liars, talented rising author Nick Martell continued his impressive Legacy of the Mercenary King series with The Two-Faced Queen.  Featuring deadly assassins, a vengeful queen and even a couple of murderous dragons, The Two-Faced Queen was even more exceptional than his first novel, deeply expanding the cool overarching narrative and adding in even more twists, reveals and surprises.  This was one of the best sequels I have ever read, and readers will be quickly drawn into the book’s many mysteries, unique magic and deeply captivating storylines.

 

Star Wars: Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

2021 was an amazing year for Star Wars novels, especially with the launch of the High Republic sub-series (Light of the Jedi and The Rising Storm were particularly good).  However, one of the absolute best Star Wars books had to be the amazing Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed, which brought the compelling, star fighter focused Alphabet Squadron series to a beautiful end.  Perfectly wrapping up the story contained in the first two novels, Alphabet Squadron and Shadow Fall, Victory’s Price was a powerful and intense character-driven war story that focused on five damaged Rebel pilots fighting in the war after the end of Return of the Jedi.  This was easily one of the most exciting and moving Star Wars novels I have had the pleasure of reading and it is a must read for fans of the franchise.

 

The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly

The Dark Hours Cover 2

After producing two brilliant reads last year (Fair Warning and The Law of Innocence), bestselling crime fiction author Michael Connelly continues his outstanding Ballard and Bosch sub-series with The Dark Hours.  This amazing novel contained another fantastic murder mystery combined with several other great police procedural story lines to create an outstanding overall narrative, expanding the fun partnership established in Dark Sacred Night and The Night Fire.  I deeply enjoyed this latest Connelly book and I powered through extremely quickly.

 

The Bone Ship’s Wake by R. J. Barker

The Bone Ship's Wake Cover

One of the best current authors of fantasy fiction, R. J. Barker, brings his exceptional Tide Child trilogy to a moving and captivating end with The Bone Ship’s Wake.  Perfectly following on from The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships, this epic nautical fantasy perfectly wrapped up all the trilogy’s captivating story arcs and character development with some big, emotional moments.  I loved every twist and devastating moment in this novel and, thanks to this captivating conclusion, the Tide Child series ended up being one of the best trilogies I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

 

Colonyside by Michael Mammay

Colonyside Cover

Amazing science fiction author Michael Mammay continued his brilliant Planetside series (made up of Planetside and Spaceside) with Colonyside.  This latest novel dragged Mammay’s entertaining and gruff protagonist out of retirement once again to investigate a shady corporate mystery on an alien planet.  This book swiftly devolves into an exceptional conspiracy storyline, filled with twists and giant monsters.  I had such a wonderful time with this book that it was my one exception to the 2021 release date rule (it had a very late December 2020 release).  An impressive and clever read.

 

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

Another amazing new author I checked out this year was the insanely talented John Gwynne, who produced an incredible first entry in his Bloodsworn Saga, The Shadow of the Gods.  This amazing first novel contained a brutal and compelling Norse-inspired fantasy tale that followed three awesome central characters as they engaged in their own deeply personal quests.  Filled with some outstanding fantasy combat, amazing character moments and a deeply impressive narrative, this was an exceptional and addictive read that made me an instant fan of this author.  I have no doubt that the sequel, The Hunger of the Gods, is going to top this list next year and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

 

The Dark/Mind Bullet by Jeremy Robinson

The Dark and Mind Bullet Cover

2021 was the year that I first tried out some books from compelling author Jeremy Robinson.  I actually read two of his books, The Dark and Mind Bullet, both of which were amazing in their own way.  While The Dark was a darkly compelling and slick horror read that showcased a brutal invasion from Hell, Mind Bullet was a funny and entertaining science fiction thriller that followed a psychic assassin being hunted by the world’s most unusual killers.  Both were outstanding reads that got easy five-star ratings from me, so I had a very hard time choosing between them for this list.  Therefore, I decided to include both, as I had such a great time with them and are equally worth checking out.

 

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

The Man Who Died Twice Cover

Comedian Richard Osman followed up his 2020 debut, The Thursday Murder Club, with another fun and entertaining murder mystery book, The Man Who Died Twice.  This compelling and hilarious sequel thrust Osman’s elderly protagonists into another complex investigation, this time involving spies, stolen diamonds, and drug dealers.  This book had some amazing moments and ended up being another fantastic read.

 

Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson

Cytonic Cover

I have been waiting a couple of years for Sanderson to continue his Skyward series and I was very happy to finally get my hands on Cytonic.  The third entry in this impressive young adult science fiction series, Cytonic was an exciting and inventive read that continues the captivating tale started in Skyward and Starsight.  Taking his eccentric protagonist to a fantastic and unique new setting, Sanderson produced an epic and moving narrative that had me glued from the very first second.  There are some big, if sad, moments in this novel and I had a wonderful time listening to it.  I am a little miffed that I might have to wait another couple of years for this series to come to an end, but if it is anywhere as good as Cytonic, it will be worth it.

 

The Housemate by Sarah Bailey

The Housemate Cover

One of my favourite crime fiction books this year had to be the dark and exceptional Australian thriller The Housemate by Sarah Bailey.  This wonderful and intense read contains a complex and multifaceted mystery that keeps the reader guessing while they watch the central protagonist become even more unhinged by the revelations from her past.  I honestly could not put this great book down and I will be grabbing more of Bailey’s clever novels in the future.

 

Artifact Space by Miles Cameron

Artifact Space Cover

After wowing the world with his fantasy and historical fiction reads, author Miles Cameron had his science fiction debut this year with Artifact Space.  This powerful and deeply captivating read transports the reader to a massive spacecraft on a multi-year trading mission.  However, the protagonist, a girl with a past and a fake identity, soon finds that her ship is under attack from outside forces and must do everything to save her new home and friends.  This was a compelling epic which perfectly shows how talented Cameron is, no matter the genre.

 

Billy Summers by Stephen King

Billy Summer Cover

The master of horror and thrillers, Stephen King, had a great year in 2021 releasing two brilliant reads.  While I really must highlight his clever coming-of-age horror read, Later, his best book was the cool thriller, Billy Summers.  Billy Summers is a compelling, character driven read that follows a skilled hitman, as he attempts to engage in his last kill, only to run into a ton of surprises and complications.  A wildly enjoyable and captivating read that has convinced me to check out more Stephen King books next year.

 

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil by Timothy Zahn

Star Wars - Thrawn Ascendancy - Lesser Evil Cover

The other really good Star Wars novel of 2021 was Lesser Evil, the third book in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Ascendancy series.  Set before his impressive Thrawn trilogy (made up of Thrawn, Alliances and Treason), Lesser Evil perfectly wraps up the Thrawn Ascendancy series (made up of Chaos Rising and Greater Good) while also exploring the early history and greatest victory/defeat of Zahn’s iconic Grand Admiral Thrawn.  Featuring excellent characters, cool universe expansion and some of the best tactical space battles you are likely to see, Lesser Evil was an exceptional read and I really hope that Timothy Zahn has some more Star Wars novels in the works.

 

Relentless by Mark Greaney

Relentless by Mark Greaney Cover

Last, but definitely not least, was the latest epic Gray Man novel from Mark Greaney, Relentless.  This awesome novel sets Greaney’s dangerous protagonist on another intense spy mission as he attempts to stop a terrorist attack in Germany.  I deeply enjoyed this fast-paced, action-packed and captivating spy thriller, especially as Greaney went out of his way to produce a clever and realistic narrative.  I had such a blast with Relentless and I cannot wait to see what deadly adventures occur in his next Gray Man novel.

 

 

Well, those are my 20 favourite books of 2021. It turned out to be quite a good list in the end, and I am very glad that I was able to highlight so many fantastic books.  2022 is set to be another excellent year for amazing reads, and I will be examining some of my most anticipated books for the first half of the year next week.  In the meantime, let me know what your favourite books of 2021 were in the comments below, and make sure you all have a happy and safe New Years.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Audiobooks 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 list was Books I Hope Santa Brings, and, while this did sound like a fun topic, I instead decided to continue my annual end of year wrap up of some of the best books of 2021.  In previous weeks I highlighted some of the best debuts of 2021, as well as the best pre-2021 novels I read in the last year, but this week I am going to look at something near and dear to my heart, the best audiobooks of 2021.

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 a lot 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 2021 and featured in my Throwback Thursday posts, a large majority of them were released this year. There were some truly outstanding and impressive audiobooks released this year, and I already know that I am going to have an extremely hard time coming up with the final version of this list. 

For this list I have only included audiobooks released in 2021 that I have listened to and completed, so I am excluding a few audiobooks that were probably pretty awesome, but which I didn’t have a chance to listen to.  Despite this, I still ended up with a long list of extremely good audiobooks, all of which were extremely worthy of appearing on this post.  To help cut this down, I too into account a range of consideration, including quality of the original novel, skill of the narrator, production value, pacing and other factors, including any featured music or sound effects.  Looking at all this I was eventually able to cut the list down to the absolute best 10 audiobooks (as well as an extended honourable mentions section).  I had to make some very hard decisions here, and I ended up losing several extremely good audiobooks from this list.  Still I think it really represents the best audiobooks I enjoyed this year, and there are some amazing productions down below.  So let us see what made the cut.

Honourable Mentions:

Mind Bullet, written by Jeremy Robinson and narrated by R. C. Bray

Mind Bullet 2

Jeremy Robinson’s brilliant talent for writing incredibly entertaining novels once again combined perfectly with the fantastic narration of R. C. Bray (who gets a few mentions in this article) to produce an excellent and impressive audiobook production.

 

Relentless, written by Mark Greaney and narrated by Jay Snyder

Relentless by Mark Greaney Cover

A clever and intense spy thriller from the master Mark Greaney that is extremely well adapted by veteran narrator Jay Snyder.

 

The Man Who Died Twice, written by Richard Osman and narrated by Lesley Manville

The Man Who Died Twice Cover

After his sensational first novel/audiobook, The Thursday Murder Club, blew everyone away last year, comedian Richard Osman continued his cool series with The Man Who Died Twice.  This second book featured another brilliant audiobook adaption narrated by the talented and perfectly cast Lesley Manville, which is really worth checking out.

 

Colonyside, written by Michael Mammay and narrated by R. C. Bray

Colonyside Cover

Following on from Planetside and Spaceside, Michael Mammay produced another exceptional science fiction thriller with Colonyside, which was massively enhanced by R. C. Bray, whose voice works incredibly well for the gruff, military characters.

Top Ten Tuesday:

Relentless, written by Jonathan Maberry and narrated by Ray Porter

Relentless Cover

There was no way that the latest epic Joe Ledger audiobook by Jonathan Maberry, Relentless, was not going to make this list, especially as it once again features the fantastic narration of Ray Porter.  Relentless is the sequel to Rage (one of the best books and audiobooks of 2019), and contains an impressive story about Mayberry’s iconic protagonist, Joe Ledger, going on a revenge rampage.  Porter, who is one of my favourite audiobook narrators, once again expertly inhabited the main characters of this book, ensuring that listeners get a real sense of Ledger’s pain and torment.  An incredible production that perfectly brings this novel to life.

 

The Wisdom of Crowds, written by Joe Abercrombie and narrated by Steven Pacey

The Wisdom of Crowds Cover

Joe Abercrombie’s outstanding dark fantasy Age of Madness trilogy came to an incredible end this year with the captivating and moving The Wisdom of Crowds.  Containing a brilliant story and some wonderfully dark and complex characters The Wisdom of Crowds is a terrific read that did a fantastic job wrapping up the stories started in A Little Hatred and The Trouble With Peace (one of the best books and audiobooks of 2020).  The excellent Steven Pacey’s amazing voice helped to turn this into an excellent and compelling production, and I cannot wait to grab Abercrombie’s next book in this format.

 

Star Wars: Victory’s Price, written by Alexander Freed and narrated by January LaVoy

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

After enjoying physical copies of the first two novels in Alexander Freed’s Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron trilogy, Alphabet Squadron and Shadow Fall, I checked out the third novel, Victory’s Price, on audiobook and was absolutely blown away by it.  The Victory’s Price audiobook was just exquisite, combining a perfect and dramatic narrative with amazing Star Wars sound effects, music, and the exceptional voice work of January LaVoy.  This resulted in such an amazing audiobook, especially with the iconic Star Wars score working to enhance some of the more intense scenes.

 

The Bone Ship’s Wake, written by R. J. Barker and narrated by Jude Owusu

The Bone Ship's Wake Cover

Another great trilogy that ended this year was The Tide Child trilogy by R. J. Barker (previously consisting of The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships), which finished with the impressive The Bone Ship’s Wake.  Containing an exceptionally moving narrative, The Bone Ship’s Wake was an incredible book that takes the readers on a wild emotional ride.  I really enjoyed the audiobook adaption of this cool book.  The Bone Ship’s Wake was voiced by the talented Jude Owusu, who expertly brought the compelling characters and brutal nautical setting to life through his narration.  The Bone Ship’s Wake was an incredible audiobook that will really drag listeners into this brilliant series.

 

The Dark, written by Jeremey Robinson and narrated by R. C. Bray

The Dark Cover

Earlier this year I listened to my first Jeremey Robinson novels, The Dark, something that I am extremely thankful I did.  The Dark was a clever and entertaining novel that followed a group of characters as they attempted to survive an invasion from hell.  I have a lot of love for this book, not only because of the great story, but because the exceptionally talented R. C. Bray narrated the audiobook.  Bray does a beautiful job with this book, expertly narrating the crazy story and enhancing all of Robinson’s unique humour and over-the-top characters, with his great voice work.  A fast-paced and brutal novel, The Dark audiobook was a lot of fun, and Bray will ensure you stick to this bonkers story right to the end.

 

The Pariah, written by Anthony Ryan and narrated by Steven Brand

The Pariah Cover

Leading fantasy author Anthony Ryan produced an excellent brand new fantasy series this year that started with The PariahThe Pariah followed a complex and interesting protagonist as he tells the reader the story of his life through a chronical narrative.  Not only is this a great story, but the audiobook is narrated by the excellent Steven Brand, who perfectly portrays this central figure and ensures that the reader really gets to grips with Ryan’s powerful and detailed story.

 

Cytonic, written by Brandon Sanderson and narrated by Sophie Aldred

Cytonic Cover

After wowing us with Skyward and Starlight, one of the best authors in the world today, Brandon Sanderson, dropped the third entry in his epic Skyward young adult science fiction series, CytonicCytonic is another captivating read that takes its unique characters to an incredibly weird setting and pits them against impossible odds.  Narrator Sophie Aldred is just great here, especially when it comes to portraying the novel’s unpredictable point-of-view protagonist or highlighting the many awesome fighter combat sequences.  Cytonic was a brilliant addition to the series and I am extremely glad that I checked it out on audiobook.

 

The Shadow of the Gods, written by John Gwynne and narrated by Colin Mace

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

Acclaimed author John Gwynne produced a brand new fantasy novel this year with the much-loved The Shadow of the Gods.  Split into three separate storylines that followed some great characters as they traversed a dark fantasy world, each narrative thread was greatly enhanced by the excellent narration from Colin Mace.  Not only does Mace perfectly portray all three amazing point-of-view characters, but his impressive voice really brings you into the Norse-inspired fantasy world the story was set in.  This was such an amazing audiobook production and I would greatly recommend this format to anyone interested in reading this outstanding fantasy novel.

 

The Two-Faced Queen, written by Nick Martell and narrated by Joe Jameson

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

Last year, Nick Martell produced one of the best debuts of the year with The Kingdom of Liars, a truly awesome and exceptional read.  Martell followed this debut up in a big way with the sequel, The Two-Faced Queen that featured an exceptional narrative, loaded with an unbelievable number of twists and reveals.  The Two-Faced Queen was one of the best books of the year, and I had an incredible time listening to it on audiobook thanks to the talented Joe Jameson.  Jameson, who has been narrating some awesome novels lately (such as the Warhammer 40,000 book, Fire Made Flesh) did a great job of enhancing this fantastic novel, and I loved the cool voice and personality he gave to the central character.  Jameson’s brilliant narration also helped me follow the many, many complex elements of this novel, and this was a great way to enjoy this impressive novel.

 

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil, written by Timothy Zahn and narrated by Marc Thompson

Star Wars - Thrawn Ascendancy - Lesser Evil Cover

The final audiobook on this list is another Star Wars novel.  This time it is the final entry in the Thrawn Ascendancy series by Timothy Zahn, Lesser Evil.  Following on from Chaos Rising and Greater Good, Lesser Evil was a brilliant and powerful novel that perfectly wrapped up a great trilogy.  Like Victory’s Price, Lesser Evil made exceptional use of the iconic Star Wars music and sound effects, but it also features the notable talents of narrator Marc Thompson.  Thompson does a great job coming up with cool voices for the various characters of Lesser Evil, especially its protagonist and villain, which helps to tell the book’s amazing narrative.  That, combined with the production values of a Star Wars novel adaptation, helped to turn this into a compelling and enjoyable audiobook that was just amazing.

 

 

Well that is the end of this latest Top Ten list, and as you can see, I have been lucky enough to listen to some awesome audiobooks this year.  All the above audiobooks are extremely good and I would highly recommend each of them in their audiobook format.  There is still a little time for me to listen to a few more great audiobooks this year, and I cannot wait to see how they all turn out.  Let me know what your favourite audiobooks of 2021 were in the comments below, and I will have to try and check them out as well.

Relentless by Jonathan Maberry

Relentless Cover

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (Audiobook – 13 July 2021)

Series: Rogue Team International – Book Two / Joe Ledger – Book 12

Length: 18 hours and 29 minutes

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

One of my absolute favourite series returns with an absolute bang as Jonathan Maberry produces another incredible, intense and thrilling Joe Ledger novel with Relentless, the second novel in the Rogue Team International series.

Readers of my blog will be well aware of how much I love Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series.  This science fiction thriller series, which follows the titular protagonist and his team of elite soldiers as they fight all manner of crazy scientific and supernatural threats, is so much fun and is one of my favourite series.  After reading one of these fantastic books a few years ago, I sat down and listened to the entire series, from Patient Zero, all the way to the final entry, Deep Silence.  It also led me to some of Maberry’s other novels, including last year’s excellent horror novel, Ink, which was one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2020.  The author also started the Rogue Team International series in 2019 as a sequel series to the original Joe Ledger books, featuring the same characters and universe.  The first entry in this sequel series, Rage, got a five-star rating from me and was one of the best books and audiobooks of 2019.  Due to Rage’s epic conclusion, as well as how much I enjoy Maberry’s writing, I have been eagerly awaiting Relentless for some time now and I ended up being blown away by how awesome it was.

During Rogue Team International’s (RTI) first mission, Joe Ledger and his team faced off against the dangerous pairing of criminal mastermind Kuga and his fearsome enforcer Rafael Santoro, barely managing to stop their insidious, world-changing plot.  However, their victory came at a terrible price, as Santoro delivered fiery vengeance on his foe by killing every member of Ledger’s family in a revenge attack at Christmas.  Santoro and Kuga hoped that their destructive blow would mentally destroy their hated enemy forever; instead, it unleashed their worst nightmare.

After returning to the field, Ledger leads an RTI team to an advanced laboratory where terrible genetic, biological and cybernetic experiments are being performed.  While the mission begins as a textbook RTI operation, everything changes when Ledger comes across a room full of deformed lab subjects and their cruel tormentors.  With his already fragile psyche pushed to the limit by the death of his family, Ledger finally snaps and lets something dark and dangerous from deep within take control.  With blood and bodies trailing in his wake, Ledger abandons his team and goes truly rogue.

Accompanied only by his loyal combat dog, Ghost, Ledger rampages across Europe, killing and destroying anything related to Kuga’s operation and questioning anyone who knows where he and Santoro are.  Even more concerning for the villains, Ledger is also beginning to get close to their next major operation.  Utilising cutting edge technology, Kuga’s group have developed biologically enhanced super soldiers, equipped with some of the most destructive weapons available.  Their next plan will unleash a devastating attack within America that will change the political and social landscape for generations to come.  However, not even their most advanced troops may be enough to stop the dark thing that Ledger has become, and Kuga is soon forced to make a Faustian deal with someone, or something, whose evil eclipses Ledger’s insanity.  Can Ledger defeat his hated foes and save his own soul at the same time, or will he finally be overwhelmed by his own inner darkness?

Once again Maberry shows why he is one of the most exciting and impressive thriller writers out there as Relentless was another epic and wildly captivating novel.  This latest Rogue Team International novel contains a complex and thrilling narrative that sets its already complex main character into a horrific quest for vengeance and redemption.  Throw in an incredible amount of action, a very clever and well-written story, and some memorable characters, and you have an outstanding novel that gets a full five-star rating from me.

In Relentless, Maberry produces an extremely intense and fast-paced novel that is both character driven and loaded with some of the best action you will ever read.  Following up from the dramatic conclusion of Rage, Relentless is one of the darker and more inventive books in the Joe Ledger franchise, presenting the reader with a brutal revenge story as the protagonist puts the rogue in Rogue Team International to kill anyone associated with his foes.  Maberry once again makes great use of the unique writing style that has been such a hallmark of this series, with the novel made up of shorter chapters told from a vast number of different perspectives, including several interludes set in the past, to produce a more complex and multifaceted tale and showcase the elaborate plans of the antagonists.

However, the author also tries something new in this book, with a noticeable change of focus away from the protagonist for a good portion of the early novel to highlight some major character developments.  This results in a bit less humour during the first part of the book, but this is more than made up for with a darker and more powerful storyline.  The story focus does eventually revert to the series’ usual form about halfway through the novel, just in time for the protagonist to find himself with information about a complex and intriguing evil plot that only he can stop.  This leads to a pretty epic conclusion with some fun twists and several major moments of worry and surprise, especially as you get some massive concurrent scenes as Ledger and his allies battle the enemy in several destructive and dangerous battles.  The action throughout Relentless is typical Maberry, with some very detailed and graphic depictions of the techniques and damage done, and it is near impossible not to get sucked in the combat as the powerful scenes unfold.  Readers should be warned that parts of this novel can get a little dark and gruesome as Maberry pulls no punches, but it is very much worth sticking through the blood and guts to see the captivating narrative unfold.  I quickly became sucked into his awesome story, and I loved every second of it, managing to finish it off in extremely short order.  It looks like Maberry has some intriguing plans for the future of this series, and I for one am extremely excited for that.

Like most of the Joe Ledger/Rogue Team International novels, Maberry has made Relentless extremely accessible to new readers.  While I personally would suggest reading Rage first, due to the tragic ending that plays into the events of this novel, people unfamiliar with the preceding books can jump in here and still have an excellent time reading this book.  Maberry does an amazing job recapping all the key events of the prior novels, including character bios, descriptions of technology and summaries of various cases.  As a result, the reader is never left in the dark about what is happening and who is being talked about, although the certain significance of some characters or revelations might be slightly tempered until the protagonist describes them.  One thing I would note after having read all the Joe Ledger books in the last couple of years is that Maberry tends to reuse the same phrases and terms when it comes to describing certain characters or events.  While this was fine the first few times, by book 12 in the overall series, it is very noticeable and slightly detrimental to the flow of the story.  However, this was an overall incredible novel with more than enough unique features to make it really stand out from the rest of the books in the series.

One of the best parts of any of Maberry’s novels are the complex and likeable characters featured within them.  Over the years Maberry has produced some truly great and memorable characters for the Joe Ledger novels, and it was great to see so many of them return for Relentless, especially as most of them go through some major development.  The most prominent of these is titular protagonist Joe Ledger, who has one of his most significant roles here in Relentless.  Ledger has always been an extremely troubled and damaged protagonist, which has grown more and more apparent as the series progressed as he is forced to deal with additional traumas.  However, this is the book where he truly snaps, as he is dealing with the brutal death of every member of his family.  While Ledger starts the book mostly fine (by his already low standards), it doesn’t take him long to lose the plot.  Fans of this series will understand Ledger’s mind is already broken up into three distinct personalities, the Cop, the Modern Man, and the Killer, which together form his mostly balanced psyche.  However, the events of Rage have resulted in a fourth personality, the Darkness, which subverts Ledger’s mind and leads him to commit acts of terrible violence and destruction while massively freaking everyone out.  The Darkness completely takes over Ledger, ensuring that you don’t see into his head for a good portion of the novel, which is an interesting change considering that Ledger is the only character in the series with a first-person perspective.  While this really changes the tone of this novel, it perfectly highlights just how far-gone Ledger is.  Even when he regains control of his mind and becomes a prominent point-of-view character again, the Darkness is still there, and he has to fight hard to control it.  All this makes for quite a fantastic and deep read, and it was captivating to see the protagonist deal with the traumatic events of a previous novel in such a dramatic and destructive manner.  Maberry really amps up how dangerous Ledger can be in this novel, and there are some truly disturbing and concerning scenes when the Darkness takes over.  It will be really interesting to see how Ledger comes back from the events of this book in the future, and I am extremely curious to see what happens to the character next.

In addition to the outstanding central protagonist, Maberry fills up Relentless with great supporting characters, most of whom have been introduced in previous Joe Ledger novels.  Maberry really likes a wide spread of characters throughout his novels, resulting in an interesting group of perspectives as the various supporting characters and minor inclusions experience the events of the narrative.  It was great to see many long-running side characters return in Relentless, especially as they are severely impacted by Ledger’s walk on the dark side.  While a couple of usually major characters only have a couple of scenes in this book, the usual DMS/RTI mainstays are all there.  Ledger’s squad mates, Top and Bunny, have a particularly intriguing storyline in this novel, which sees them go undercover to infiltrate Kuga’s operation while being conflicted about Ledger’s actions.  It was also great to see more of mysterious RTI leader, Mr Church, the guy who totally isn’t some sort of avenging angel or benevolent god (those are my two top guesses at this point).  While Church doesn’t get as much focus as he has in previous books, he is still a major presence, and there some more hints at his past with one of the antagonists.  There are also a couple of fun new unique characters introduced who Ledger meets up with as he pursues his quest for vengeance.  Several of them are cool, and I look forward to seeing if they show up again.

Out of all the many supporting characters, there are two that I particularly want to focus on as they had some very strong arcs within this book.  The first is Alexander Chismer, better known as Toys, the former villain who is seeking redemption and is now a close friend of Ledger’s partner Junie.  Toys goes back into the field to find Ledger, even though they really dislike each other.  Toys is a pretty smooth operator, and it was fun to see him go back to his criminal roots, even though it was for a good cause.  When he eventually catches up to Ledger, their meeting doesn’t go amazingly well (someone gets shot), but they do end up having a rather fantastic and entertaining heart-to-heart.  The comparison between their respective paths to redemption is rather deep and fascinating, and it was very intriguing to finally see these two characters interact in an extended way.  The other character I absolutely must talk about is Ledger’s dog, Ghost, the bestest boy in all of fiction.  Ghost has a pretty rough time in this novel, as he is Ledger’s only companion during his master’s dark spells and ends up getting into some very violent confrontations.  Maberry is extremely good at writing canine characters, and most readers will find it next to impossible not to fall in love with this savage, sassy cuddle monster.  Due to the many bad circumstances that Ledger and Ghost finds themselves in, I found myself feeling a lot of worry for Ghost, especially as Ledger seemed crazy enough to hurt him at times.  The fact that I felt strongly anxious for a fictional dog should tell you all you need to know about Maberry’s ability to write likeable characters, and readers should be warned that they will be experiencing feels in this novel.

It wouldn’t be a Maberry book without some impressive and complex antagonists, and this novel is chock full of villains with an intriguing master plan.  The main antagonists of Relentless are the same as Rage, with the fun combination of Kuga and Rafael Santoro.  Both Kuga and Santoro are recurring Joe Ledger antagonists (Kuga was the main villain of Kill Switch under a different name, while Santoro was a significant antagonist in The King of Plagues).  As a result, they have an amazing amount of history with Ledger and the RTI, which makes them quite dangerous foes.  Both are a bit more unhinged in this novel, especially once it becomes clear that a deranged Ledger is on their tail, and it was great to see them slowly become a little more desperate.  Despite this, they have a pretty intense and detailed plot to make a large amount of money through the sale of their advanced weapons, technology and enhanced mercenaries.  Their master plan for destruction and manipulation is very clever and takes a while to fully become apparent to the protagonist and the reader.  Maberry lays the groundwork for this plan perfectly throughout his narrative and the eventual reveal of what they are hoping for is pretty cool and leads to several amazing scenes that play off current events really well.

In addition to the antagonists that appeared in Rage, Relentless also features one of Maberry’s most mysterious and sinister villains.  Going by the name of Mr Sunday in this book (which I assume is a fun little nod to Mr Church’s fake name), this antagonist is a very creepy and dangerous being who has had some impressive appearances before (Assassins Code, Predator One and Dogs of War for example).  The moment he appeared in this book, I knew that I was going to be in for a good time, as this character is essentially the devil incarnate (there is a strong chance he is the devil).  Maberry does an incredible job building him up once again in this novel, and he ends up terrifying his potential allies just as much as his enemies.  This character’s appearance has some major implications for Ledger and Mr Church, and it is highly implied that his appearance is causing some of Ledger’s instability.  While he is mostly just coasting off Kuga and Santoro’s plans in this book, he also has his own sinister plans which come into fruition perfectly.  As a result, he is a pretty fantastic addition to the plot, and I loved the entertaining interludes that featured his elaborate sales presentations.  It looks like Maberry has some big plans for this character in the future, and I am very excited to see what chaos he has in stall for the world next.

Aside from the main villains I mentioned above, Maberry also utilises some great supporting antagonists who act as assassins and henchmen.  This includes the deranged Eve, who was introduced in Rage and who lost her partner and lover, Adam, to Ledger.  This loss has driven her even more insane, and there are several crazy chapters shown from her perspective, and she represents the typical sexual degenerate antagonist that Maberry likes.  There is also a new henchman character in Michael Augustus Stafford, a hired gun considered one of the best assassins in the world and is often referred to as the anti-Ledger due to his similar appearance to the protagonist.  Stafford leads Kuga’s hunt for Ledger throughout Europe and America and is a dogged tail for much of the book.  There are some very intense cat-and-mouse scenes occurring between the two as they attempt to get the upper hand on each other.  I really appreciated the way in which the author took the time to building up these less prominent antagonists throughout the novel, and you get a great sense of their personalities and abilities.  I would say that they don’t live up to their full potential at the end of the novel, but it was still fantastic to see their entire storyline unfold.

Another hallmark of a great Maberry book is some of cool technology featured in the story, especially as it results in some excellent and over-the-top fight scenes.  The villains get some impressive and over-the-top toys in this novel, including biological enhancements, advanced body armour that has a lethal kick to it and massive armoured exoskeletons loaded with giant guns.  Maberry has some fun building up the capability of these devices through several of the interludes, and they do not disappoint, causing all manner of chaos and destruction around the world.  That ensures that when the protagonists encounter them they are in for a real fight, as it gives their enemies an edge against RTI agents who usually have the most advanced tech.  It was really cool to see this technology in action, and Maberry dreams up some outstanding scenes around them.  All the fight sequences featuring them in Relentless are ultra-impressive, and readers are in for some great scenes, especially as many of them involve the less destructive and sleeker RTI technology versus the purely destructive Kuga weapons.  I really enjoyed seeing these advanced weapons in use, and it helps to give some of the action scenes a major boost.

Just like I have with every other Jonathan Maberry book I have enjoyed, I ended up grabbing the audiobook version of Relentless.  I have a lot of love for the Maberry audiobooks, and in my opinion it is the best way to enjoy these cool novels.  The main reason for this is the amazing recurring narrator, Ray Porter, who has lent his voice to the audiobook versions of nearly every single one of Maberry’s novels.  Porter is one of my absolute favourite narrators, and if he is voicing something, I know I am going to love it.  This narrator always manages to deftly drag the listener in and keep their complete attention throughout the entire production.  He really dives into the various characters, ensuring every one of them has an appropriate voice, with cool accents and relevant speech patterns.  He is also extremely good at portraying emotion, and he always goes out of his way to highlight a character’s feelings in their speech patterns, whether it be excitement, grief, anger, or something darker.  This is particularly noticeable with protagonist Joe Ledger.  I have noted before at how effortlessly Porter inhabits the role of this complex character, ensuring that the reader gets his full range of feelings, including his boundless rage and outrageous sense of humour (he really gets Ledger’s sarcasm).  Porter does another amazing job in Relentless, and it was really cool to hear his take on the more unhinged Ledger, and he really helps to add an extra sense of menace and anger during the scenes where Ledger is out of control.  Each of the voices used in this book are extremely good (I would critique the voice of one Australian character, but it’s a fairly minor role), and it was an absolute joy to once again listen to his narration.  With a run time of just under 18 and a half hours, this is a rather long Joe Ledger novel, although I powered through it in less than a week due to how much fun I was having.  This version of Relentless comes highly recommended, and it is already one of the best audiobooks I have listened to all year.

Well, that was a damn impressive novel.  As you can see from my rather long and happy review above, I had an outstanding time reading Relentless by Jonathan Maberry, and I found it to be an incredible read.  The Rogue Team International series continues to be one of the most thrilling series out there, and I loved the complex damaged characters and intense storyline this latest novel contained.  Easily one of my favourite books of the year, Relentless gets a five-star rating from me and is highly recommended to anyone wanting guaranteed action, fun and comprehensive darkness.

WWW Wednesday – 4 August 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?

Billy Summers by Stephen King (Trade Paperback)

Billy Summer Cover

After deeply enjoying Stephen King’s other 2021 release, Later, earlier this year, I have finally been able to dive into his latest book, Billy Summers.  This new novel follows the titular Billy Summers, a hitman with a moral code, who takes one final job.  I have only just started this book, but so far King is setting up a rather intriguing tale.  I look forward to seeing where this awesome narrative goes, and it should prove to be really cool.

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix (Audiobook)

The Final Girl Support Group Cover

I had been hearing some good things about The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix, so I thought I would check it out.  This fascinating novel follows several “final girls”, the victorious survivors of some of your favourite slasher movies, and acts as a bit of a deconstruction of the horror/slasher genre.  I am making some decent progress on this book, and it has a really cool story to it.  I cannot wait to see what awesome ending Hendrix has come up with, and I reckon it will be extremely fun.

What did you recently finish reading?

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan (Trade Paperback)

She Who Became the Sun Cover

Relentless by Jonathan Maberry (Audiobook)

Relentless Cover

First and Only by Dan Abnett (Audiobook)

First and Only Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

Blood Trail by Tony Park (Trade Paperback)

Blood Trail 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.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Audiobooks from the First Half 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 is Books I’d Want With Me While Stranded on a Deserted Island, but I am going to do something a little different and instead look at my favourite audiobooks from the first half of 2021.  This is a continuation of my Top Ten list from a few weeks ago that featured my favourite overall novels from the first half of 2021.

People familiar with my blog will know that I have a great deal of love for the audiobook format, and it is one of the main ways that I tend to check out books.  Each year I enjoy a great number of different audiobooks and use the format to check out recent releases and older novels.  I have been enjoying audiobooks for years, and it is amazing the various ways in which listening to a book can enhance your enjoyment.  A great narrator can really bring you into the story, and I find that listening to a book enhances the amount of detail that you can take in.  In addition, other features, such as great voices, music and sound effects can really make an audiobook something special, and there some great examples of that out there.  This year alone I have listened to several outstanding audiobooks, includes some of my favourite books from early 2021.  Because I love this format so much, I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight my favourite audiobooks from the first half of the year.

To pull this list off I had a look at all the 2021 releases that I listened to on audiobook to figure out my favourites.  It turns out that I have already gone through quite a few this year so there was a very large collection of potential additions to this list.  I was eventually able to whittle it down to the ten audiobooks I consider to be the best, as well as a generous honourable mention section.  There is a bit of a crossover with my previous Favourite Books from the First Half of 2021 list, but I think there are enough new additions to make this list worthwhile.  I did prioritise audiobook production and narration over story in a few places, as outstanding narration or use of music and sound effects can enhance the plot.  That is why so many Star Wars novels made this list, because they are awesome productions, which are really worth checking out.  I am pretty happy with how the overall list turned out and I think that the below entries really highlight what my favourite audiobooks are.

 

Honourable Mentions:

The Coward, written by Stephen Aryan and narrated by Matt Wycliffe

The Coward Cover

 

Serpentine, written by Jonathan Kellerman and narrated by John Rubinstein

Serpentine Cover

 

Prodigal Son, written by Gregg Hurwitz and narrated by Scott Brick

Prodigal Son Cover

 

The Girl and the Mountain, written by Mark Lawrence and narrated by Helen Duff

The Girl and the Mountain Cover 2

 

Top Ten List (No Particular Order):

The Two-Faced Queen, written by Nick Martell and narrated by Joe Jameson

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

One of my favourite books of the year, The Two-Faced Queen, is easily one of the best audiobooks as well.  There were actually two separate audiobook versions of this book, and I chose to go with the Joe Jameson version, since he previously narrated Martell’s debut novel, The Kingdom of Liars.  I am a big fan of Jameson, especially after his work on books such as King of Assassins by R. J. Barker, and he did another amazing job on this book.  The Two-Faced Queen audiobook is an excellent and addictive listen, and I would wholeheartedly recommend this format to anyone wanting to enjoy this awesome five-star novel.

 

Star Wars: Victory’s Price, written by Alexander Freed and narrated by January LaVoy

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

Earlier this year, impressive author Alexander Freed finished off his Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron series with Victory’s Price, and in the process created one of the best books of 2021.  This audiobook massively enhances the already incredible and moving narrative within this exceptional novel, utilising outstanding voice work from January LaVoy, as well as the iconic Star Wars score and sound effects.  Easily one of best audiobooks of the year.

 

Relentless, written by Mark Greaney and narrated by Jay Snyder

Relentless by Mark Greaney Cover

One of the leading authors of spy thrillers, Mark Greaney, produced another intense and exciting novel this year with Relentless.  Thanks to some excellent voice work from Jay Snyder, the Relentless audiobook was pretty damn impressive, and you are in for a real treat with this exhilarating novel.

 

Star Wars: Light of the Jedi, written by Charles Soule and narrated by Marc Thompson

Star Wars - Light of the Jedi Cover

Another outstanding Star Wars audiobook was Light of the Jedi, the introductory novel in the new High Republic range.  Just like Victory’s Price, Light of the Jedi makes full use of the Star Wars music and effects to produce a fantastic listen.  However, Light of the Jedi also features the incredible voice work of Marc Thompson, one of the best narrators utilised by the Star Wars franchise.  Thompson produces a raft of great voices to highlight the new characters featured within this novel and it was really fun to hear him tell this story.  Thompson is lending his vocal talents to several other outstanding Star Wars audiobooks this year, including the latest High Republic novel, The Rising Storm, which is another great audiobook to check out.

 

The Shadow of the Gods, written by John Gwynne and narrated by Colin Mace

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

After hearing some incredible things about the latest John Gwynne novel, I ended up checking out The Shadow of the Gods on audiobook.  Not only was this book one of the absolute best fantasy releases of 2021 but the audiobook format was pretty damn exceptional.  Colin Mace’s voice really fit the dark fantasy setting and he really dives into the complex characters to highlight their deeper feelings and hidden rages.  An impressive and captivating listen.

 

Later, written by Stephen King and narrated by Seth Numrich

Later Cover

I was deeply impressed earlier this year when I checked out the audiobook format of the latest Stephen King novel, Later.  Outstanding new narrator Seth Numrich really dives into this excellent novel, and I had a wonderful and freaky time getting through this fantastic audiobook.

 

The Bone Maker, written by Sarah Beth Durst and narrated by Soneela Nankani

The Bone Maker Cover

I had an absolute blast listening to the latest great fantasy novel from Sarah Beth Durst, The Bone Maker, especially as narrator Soneela Nankani does a great job bringing the novel’s damaged protagonists to life.

 

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: The Greater Good, written by Timothy Zahn and narrated by Marc Thompson

Star Wars - Thrawn Ascendancy - Greater Good Cover

The final Star Wars audiobook on this list is the second Thrawn Ascendancy entry, The Greater Good.  Thompson once again lends his incredible voice to this great book, bringing the unique characters to life.  However, his best work is reserved for main character Grand Admiral Thrawn, as Thompson perfectly replicates the character’s voice from the Star Wars Rebels animated series.  This makes for a complex and powerful audiobook, and I loved every second I spent listening to it.

 

Colonyside, written by Michael Mammay and narrated by R. C. Bray

Colonyside Cover

One of the fastest rising science fiction authors, Michael Mammay, continued to impress earlier this year with Colonyside, the third entry in the Planetside series, which was another awesome read.  You really need to listen to this novel’s audiobook format, as narrator R. C. Bray brings a certain necessary gruffness and fun to the central character.  An amazing book to listen to!

 

The Mask of Mirrors, written by M. A. Carrick and narrated by Nikki Massoud

The Mask of Mirrors Cover

The final entry on this list is the great fantasy novel, The Mask of Mirrors by M. A. Carrick.  The Mask of Mirrors is a particularly fun and intriguing read, and I found myself really drawn to its audiobook format.  This is mainly because of narrator Nikki Massoud, who strategically utilises a fantastic range of voices and accents to turn this amazing book into an incredible listening experience.

 

That is the end of my latest list.  As you can see, I have a pretty typical Unseen Library Top Ten List (I’ve got to fit in as many Star Wars novels as possible), but I really do think this represents all of my absolute favourite audiobooks from the first part of 2021.  All of the above audiobooks come highly recommended, and in my opinion, the audiobook format really enhances all of these great reads.  Let me know what your favourite 2021 audiobooks are in the comments below, and I look forward to seeing which of the above make my Top Audiobooks of 2021 list later this year.

WWW Wednesday – 21 July 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?

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan (Trade Paperback)

She Who Became the Sun Cover

I recently started reading She Who Became the Sun, a fascinating historical fiction novel that is getting a lot of buzz throughout the review community. She Who Became the Sun is the debut novel from Australian author Shelley Parker-Chan and it follows a young woman in 14th century China who steals her brother’s identity in order to survive and forge her own destiny.  I am around 100 pages in at the moment and I am quickly becoming addicted to the awesome and compelling story it contains. Parker-Chan is a very talented author and I look forward to seeing how this outstanding novel ends.

 

Relentless by Jonathan Maberry (Audiobook)

Relentless Cover

I was very excited to start listening to the latest entry in the Rogue Team International series by Jonathan Maberry, Relentless.  The Rogue Team International series, which follows on from the Joe Ledger series, are among some of my favourite books at the moment, and Relentless was one of my most anticipated reads for the year.  This latest novel follows on after the devastating conclusion of Rage and see’s protagonist Joe Ledger go on a one-man rampage while some of his worst enemies plot another massive attack.  I have made some pretty good progress with this audiobook so far and I am hoping to finish it off in the next week or so.  Unsurprisingly, I am deeply enjoying this latest novel and Relentless is proving to be an exceptional new addition to this great series.

What did you recently finish reading?

Star Wars: The High Republic: The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott (Audiobook)

Star Wars - The Rising Storm Cover

 

The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry (Trade Paperback)

The 22 Murders of Madison May Cover

 

State of Fear by Tim Ayliffe (Trade Paperback)

State of Fear Cover

 

The Enemy Within by Tim Ayliffe (Trade Paperback)

The Enemy Within Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

#MurderFunding by Gretchen McNeil (Hardcover)

#MurderFunding 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.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Books from the First Half 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 task for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was originally to list the reasons why I love reading, however I am going to go off topic and instead look at something else.  We have just crossed into the second half of 2021, which has already proven to be a pretty fantastic year for books.  I have read some incredible novels so far this year, including impressive standalone books, amazing new entries in established series and fantastic debuts.  Because of this, I thought that I would take the time to work out what my top ten favourite books from the first half of 2021 were.

Once I knew what I wanted to pull together for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, I started taking a hard look at all the different novels that I have read this year.  To be eligible, a book had to be released in (or extremely close to) the first half of this year.  I have also excluded any books released during this period that I have not so far read, although a couple of releases I have my eye on might have appeared on this list if I had had the chance to read them before now.

Coming up with this list proved to be a rather bigger task than I originally intended, as I ended up amassing nearly 20 different releases, all of which I consider to be some pretty outstanding reads.  I ended up being able to eventually whittle this down to an acceptable Top Ten list, although I did include my typical generous honourable mentions section.  I am rather happy with how this list turned out, although I am surprised at some of the great releases that ended up being excluded.  Still, the books below represent what I considered to be some of the best books from the first half of 2021, and I would strongly recommend each and every one of them.  So let us see what made the cut.

 

Honourable Mentions:

Prodigal Son by Gregg Hurwitz

Prodigal Son Cover

 

The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer

The Warsaw Orphan Cover

 

Later by Stephen King

Later Cover

 

The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

The Girls I've Been Cover

 

Top Ten List (no particular order):

The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

The first book on this list is the incredible and wildly addictive fantasy masterpiece, The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell.  Serving as the sequel to last year’s amazing The Kingdom of Liars (which was one of my favourite books, audiobooks, and debuts of 2020), The Two-Faced Queen continues the compelling adventures of its angsty and relatable protagonist, Michael Kingman, as he attempts to uncover the mysteries and conspiracies of his home city.  Containing a wild mass of unique opponents, plots and hidden secrets, this book holds your attention from beginning to end and is one of the best sequels I have ever read.

 

Star Wars: Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

Next up we have the obligatory Star Wars entry on this list, Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed.  While there have been several other great Star Wars releases this year (Light of the Jedi and Greater Good were both fantastic), none of them were as impressive as Victory’s Price.  Serving as the third and final entry in the Alphabet Squadron series (which previously featured Alphabet Squadron and Shadow Fall), this incredible book features a powerful, character driven narrative that provides readers with tragedy, amazing character development and a full-on war story amid the Star Wars universe.  Beautifully written and incredibly moving, Victory’s Price perfectly wraps up the Alphabet Squadron trilogy and is one of the best Star Wars novels out there.

 

Relentless by Mark Greaney

Relentless by Mark Greaney Cover

Epic spy thriller author Mark Greaney returns with the 10th book in his outstanding Gray Man series, Relentless.  I have been deeply enjoying the Gray Man novels over the last couple of years (check out my reviews for Mission Critical and One Minute Out), so I knew I was going to be in for a good time with Relentless.  This was another particularly thrilling tale of international espionage and plots, as Court Gentry and his comrades go up against a sinister, world-changing conspiracy.  A fantastic and action-packed read that comes highly recommended.

 

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

Next of this list we have the fantasy novel that everyone was talking about this year, The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne.  Set in a Norse inspired dark fantasy world shattered by warring gods, The Shadow of the Gods contains a powerful and addictive narrative which sets three amazing protagonists on quests for redemption, honour, and family.  Containing some extraordinary world building, great characters, and a really impressive story, this was one of the best fantasy books of the year, and I loved every second I spent reading it.

 

Artifact Space by Miles Cameron

Artifact Space Cover

Superstar author Miles Cameron made his science fiction debut earlier this year with the captivating Artifact Space.  Containing an epic voyage throughout the stars, Artifact Space was an awesome read, that takes its damaged protagonist to some amazing places as they try to save their ship from a dangerous alien conspiracy.

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 35: Homecoming by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo - Homecoming

I doubt anyone is too surprised that the latest Usagi Yojimbo volume has appeared on this list.  Written by one of my favourite authors, Stan Sakai, this latest volume of the long running series was extremely moving and deeply compelling, as Usagi goes through some harsh adventures near his long-avoided home province.  With incredible art, powerful character work and some very elaborate stories, this was another excellent addition to one of the best comic series out there.

 

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary Cover

Another new to me author who blew me away this year was the outstanding Andy Weir, who produced one of the best science fiction novels of 2021.  Project Hail Mary contains an extraordinary tale of an amnesiac scientist sent out into space to find out how to save the sun from burning out.  Containing a deeply enjoyable and addictive story, I powered through Project Hail Mary in no time at all and loved every second of it.  One of the easiest books of 2021 to recommend, you must check Project Hail Mary out.

 

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

The Bone Maker Cover

After deeply enjoying her 2020 novel, Race the Sands, I was eager to explore another fun standalone fantasy novel from bestselling author Sarah Beth Durst, and boy was I in for a treat with The Bone Maker.  This clever novel follows five former heroes who are once again drawn into a deadly battle for their nation.  Readers will fall in love with the novels damaged heroes, especially after they once head the call to battle, even after all the loss and trauma they have suffered.

 

Colonyside by Michael Mammay

Colonyside Cover

Now, technically this novel was released in 2020, however, considering it only came out 31 December (which was technically 1 January 2021 in Australia), I am choosing to count this as a 2021 release instead.  Colonyside is the third novel in the fantastic and impressive Planetside science fiction thriller series.  Following on from the amazing Planetside (one of the best books of 2018) and Spaceside (one of the best books of 2019), Colonyside places its infamous protagonist in the middle of another dangerous conspiracy, as he searches for a missing person on a hostile alien planet.  A masterful and thrilling novel, I deeply enjoyed this amazing book.

 

Protector by Conn Iggulden

Protector Cover Final

The final entry on this list is the outstanding Protector from Conn Iggulden, which follows on the from the great 2020 novel, The Gates of Athens.  Featuring an awesome story about some of the key battles between the Greeks and the Persians, this was a fantastic piece of historical fiction that is really worth reading.

 

 

That is the end of this list.  As you can see, I have already read some amazing and epic books so far in 2021 and we are only halfway through the year.  I am pretty happy with how this list turned out, especially as it features some extraordinary reads.  It will be interesting to see which of these books ends up being amongst my top reads of 2020, and while I would assume all the above will make the cut, there is some pretty hefty competition coming up in the second half of 2021.  Let me know what you think about the books that made my Top Ten list, and also let me know what your favourite releases from the first half of 2020 are.

Top Ten Tuesday – Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half 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. For this latest Top Ten Tuesday participants need to list their top anticipated releases for the second half of 2021.

2021 has so far been a pretty amazing year for books, with some outstanding and impressive novels coming out and blowing me away.  However, the year is far from over and there are a number of incredible and epic-sounding novels set for release in the second half of 2021.  To fill out this list I have scoured my list of anticipated upcoming releases and tried to work out which of the books coming out between the start of July and the end of December I am most looking forward to.

This proved to be a rather hard list to finalise, mainly because of how many awesome novels are coming out in the next six months.  I honestly had enough awesome upcoming novels on my radar to turn this into a Top 20, but I decided instead to make some hard decisions, and I ended up cutting out several impressive upcoming releases, leaving me with a list mostly featuring books from some of my favourite authors.  Despite this, I am rather happy with the eventual choices that I made, and I think that this list reflects which upcoming novels I am going to have the most fun reading.  Due to how much potential that I think the entries on this list have, several have previously appeared in my weekly Waiting on Wednesday articles, as well as on my recent Winter TBR list.  However, there are also some interesting new books that I am discussing for the first time here, which gives this list a bit of variety.  So let us get to my selections and find out which upcoming novels are my most anticipated releases for the second half of 2021.

Honourable Mentions:

Billy Summers by Stephen King – 3 August 2021

Billy Summer Cover

The Maleficent Seven by Cameron Johnston – 10 August 2021

The Maleficent Seven Cover 2

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik – 28 September 2021

The Last Graduate Cover

The Honour of Rome by Simon Scarrow – 11 November 2021

The Honour of Rome Cover

Top Ten List (by release date):

Relentless by Jonathan Maberry – 13 July 2021

Relentless Cover

This list is off to an extraordinarily strong start as it features the second awesome entry in the Rogue Team International series by the always impressive Jonathan Maberry, Relentless.  Spinning off from Maberry’s outstanding Joe Ledger series (which features such epic reads as Patient Zero, Code Zero and Deep Silence), the Rogue Team International series continues to follow action hero Joe Ledger as he goes up against crazy opponents wielding the weirdest science and technology.  The first novel in this thrilling series, Rage, was an amazing read that was one of my favourite books (and audiobooks) of 2019, and which ended on a fantastic, if tragic, note.  This sets up Relentless to be a gripping and bloody novel filled with revenge as an emotionally compromised Ledger goes up against a new breed of dangerous enemies.

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

Starlight Enclave Cover

One of my absolute favourite fantasy authors of all times, R. A. Salvatore, returns with the first book in a brand-new series that sets his iconic and long-running protagonists on a whole new adventure.  This first book, Starlight Enclave, will follow on from the events of the previous trilogy (made up of Timeless, Boundless and Relentless), and should result in a very impressive and exciting fantasy read.

The Wisdom of Crowds by Joe Abercrombie – 16 September 2021

The Wisdom of Crowds Cover

The master of dark fantasy, Joe Abercrombie, returns with the third and final entry in his intense and addictive Age of Madness trilogy.  Both previous novels in the series, A Little Hatred and The Trouble with Peace, have been incredible masterpieces with some deeply impressive stories to them and I am expecting great things for this final novel.  The Wisdom of Crowds will focus on the aftermath of the revolution that occurred at the end of The Trouble with Peace and should result in an epic and captivating tale.

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman – 16 September 2021

The Man Who Died Twice Cover

Following his incredible debut novel, The Thursday Murder Club, comedian Richard Osman returns with a much-anticipated sequel novel, The Man Who Died Twice, which will present his retired protagonists with another intriguing case.  The Thursday Murder Club was one of the runaway hits of last year, and it was easily one of the best novels, audiobooks, and debuts, I had the pleasure of reading in 2020.  As a result, I have extremely high hopes for The Man Who Died Twice, and I cannot wait to see what hilarious and clever things are featured in this new novel.

The Bone Ship’s Wake by R. J. Barker – 28 September 2021

Over the last two years, the deeply impressive R. J. Barker has been wowing me, and the rest of the fantasy community, with his epic and captivating novels about the notorious crew of the Tide ChildThe Tide Child trilogy, which has so far consisted of The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships, is an outstanding and compelling series, which places a great group of characters in a dark and bloody fantasy world, where crews of condemned men fight aboard ships made from dragon bone.  The final entry in this trilogy, The Bone Ship’s Wake, looks set to provide an epic and memorable conclusion to this incredible series, especially after Barker ended Call of the Bone Ships on such a fantastic and moving cliff-hanger.  Unfortunately, there has been no preview of The Bone Ship’s Wake’s cover yet but based on how cool the covers for the other entries in The Tide Child trilogy have been, I am sure it is going to be something extremely awesome.

The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly – 9 November 2021

The Dark Hours Cover

After a bumper 2020 where he released two fantastic crime novels, Fair Warning and The Law of Innocence, bestselling crime fiction author Michael Connelly returns with another intriguing and exciting novel, The Dark Hours.  The third entry in the Ballard and Bosch sub-series, which has so far consisted of Dark Sacred Night and The Night Fire, The Dark Hours will set its protagonists on the trail of a clever and conniving killer.  This has the potential to be one of the best crime novels of 2021 and I cannot wait to see what unique case Connelly has come up with this time.

Never by Ken Follett – 9 November 2021

Never Cover

I was a little surprised earlier this year when I saw that highly acclaimed author, Ken Follett, was releasing a novel this year, especially after The Evening and the Morning, came out last year.  However, I am not one to complain when another awesome Follett novel drops into my lap, especially as his new upcoming book, Never, looks set to be an intriguing world-spanning thriller novel.  With an intense and captivating sounding narrative, Never, should be an incredible read and I am exceedingly keen to check it out.

Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters by Charles Soule, Luke Ross and Neeraj Menon – 23 November 2021

Star Wars - War of the Bounty Hunters #! Cover

While I was very tempted to include the new upcoming Thrawn Ascendancy novel, Lesser Evil, on this list, it quickly became apparent that the piece of Star Wars fiction I am most looking forward to in the second half of 2021 is the major crossover comic, Star Wars: War of the Bounty HuntersWar of the Bounty Hunters, which is set between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, details a brutal fight to claim Han Solo’s frozen body after a major returning character steals it from Boba Fett.  Serving as a crossover between the four current Star Wars ongoing series, Star Wars (2020), Darth Vader (2020), Doctor Aphra (2020), and Bounty Hunters, this crossover series sounds like awesomeness personified, and there have already been some major twists and reveals.  I cannot wait to check this comic out, although I probably will wait until the collected edition comes out in November.  This will be one of the biggest Star Wars events of the year, and as a Star Wars mega-fan, I am deeply, deeply excited for it.

Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson – 25 November 2021

Cytonic Cover

Perhaps the greatest authors of fantasy and science fiction in the world today, the legendary Brandon Sanderson, has a new novel coming out in November, and it is one that I am particularly eager to get my hands on.  This new book, Cytonic, is the third entry in the gripping and clever Skyward series of young adult science fiction novels, which has so far featured two exceptional novels, Skyward and Starsight.  Featuring an intriguing and complex narrative around humans fighting aliens in a deadly war for survival, the Skyward series has been deeply impressive and thrilling, and I have had so much fun with the first two novels.  This next book in the series, Cytonic, looks set to take its likeable protagonist on another unique adventure, this time into a whole new dimension.  This novel has an immense amount of potential, and I already now it is going to be epic beyond belief.

A Practical Guide to Conquering the World by K. J. Parker – 25 November 2021

A Practical Guide to Conquering the World Cover

The final entry on this list is A Practical Guide to Conquering the World by K. J. Parker, which is probably going to be the funniest books I read all year.  Over the last two years, Parker has released two outstanding and hilarious fantasy novels as part of The Siege series, which takes place during an insane and long-lasting siege of a fantasy city.  Featuring two very clever and loosely connected novels, Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City and How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It, this series featured two fantastic narratives around unqualified, but devious men, taking control of the siege and attempting to win it through unconventional means.  I have absolutely loved the first two novels in this series, and I was very excited to see that a third entry, A Practical Guide to Conquering the World, is set for release in November.  While no plot details are currently available, I am extremely confident that this will be a fantastic tale political intrigue, treachery, and humorous ambition, as a new non-hero rises to the challenge of ruling the world.

That is the end of this list.  I am extremely happy with how my latest Top Ten Tuesday article turned out, and this list contains an intriguing collection of upcoming books that should prove to be incredible reads.  I think that every one of the books I mentioned above has some amazing potential, and most, if not all, will probably end up with a full five-star rating from me.  I cannot wait to see what awesome and exciting stories the entries on this list contain, and I think that I am going to have an incredible time in the second half of 2021.  While I am waiting to get my hands on these books, why not let me know if any of the above interest you, and let me know what your most anticipated releases for the next six months are in the comments below.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books on my Winter 2021 TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this Top Ten Tuesday, participants need to list the top releases that they are looking forward to reading this summer (or winter for us down here in Australia).  This is a fun exercise that I have done for each of the preceding seasons, and it is always interesting to highlight the various cool-sounding books and comics that are coming out in the next few months.

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

Honourable Mentions:

The Coward by Stephen Aryan – 6 June 2021

The Coward Cover

 

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

The Councillor Cover

 

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox – 27 July 2021

The Dying Squad Cover

 

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

Star Trek - Rogue Elements Cover

 

Top Ten List:

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

Gamora and Nebula - Sisters in Arms Cover

 

The Righteous by David Wragg – 10 June 2021

The Righteous

 

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

Star Wars - The Rising Storm Cover

 

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

The 22 Murders of Madison May Cover

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

 

It Ends in Fire by Andrew Shvarts – 6 July 2021

It Ends in Fire Cover 2

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

 

Relentless by Jonathan Maberry – 13 July 2021

Relentless Cover

 

Billy Summers by Stephen King – 3 August 2021

Billy Summer Cover

 

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

Starlight Enclave Cover

 

The Maleficent Seven by Cameron Johnston – 10 August 2021

The Maleficent Seven Cover 2

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

 

The Pariah by Anthony Ryan – 31 August 2021

The Pariah Cover

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

 

Well that is the end of my Top Ten list.  I think it turned out pretty well and it does a good job of capturing all my most anticipated books for the next three months.  Each of the above should be pretty epic, and I cannot wait to read each of them soon.  Let me know which of the above you are most excited for and stay tuned for reviews of them in the next few months.