Top Ten Tuesday – Australian Books of 2020

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, participants were supposed to list their top new-to-me authors that they read in 2020, however, I am going to do something a little differently here at The Unseen Library.  I have actually already completed and published this list a few weeks ago as I knew in advance that I would be doing an alternate list today.  The reason for this is because 26 January is Australia Day, so I thought that I would take this opportunity to highlight some of the top pieces of fiction written by Australian authors that I read in 2020.

Each of year talented Australian authors produce an impressive and exciting range of amazing fiction from across the various genres, many of which I am lucky enough to get copies of from the local publishers.  As a result, I tend to read and review a ton of novels by Australian authors, most of which turn out to be some outstanding reads that I deeply enjoy.  While I have previously listed my absolute favourite pieces of Australian authored fiction, I thought that this year I would change it up and examine which Australian novels were the best in 2020.

To qualify for this list, a novel had to be released in 2020 and written by an Australian author, which I am defining as anyone born in Australia or who currently lives here (Australia is very good at adopting talented people as our own).  This resulted in a surprisingly long list, including several novels that I considered to be some of the best reads of last year.  I was eventually able to whittle this novel down to the absolute cream of the crop and came up with a fantastic top ten list (with my typical generous honourable mentions).  I really enjoyed how this list turned out, especially as it features novels from a range of different genres, all of which ended up being very awesome Australian novels.

 

Honourable Mentions:

 

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London Cover

 

Finding Eadie by Caroline Beecham

Finding Eadie Cover

 

Last Survivor by Tony Park

Last Survivor Cover

 

Where Fortune Lies by Mary-Anne O’Connor

Where Fortune Lies

 

Top Ten List:

 

Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke

Hollow Empire Cover 2

Let us start this list on a very high note with Hollow Empire by Canberran author Sam Hawke.  Hollow Empire was the exciting and much-anticipated sequel to Hawke’s epic fantasy debut, City of Lies, which continued the fantastic adventures of two poison-eating siblings as they attempt to save their city from war and intrigue.  This second novel was an exciting and deeply compelling read filled with new dangers, new enemies and an amazing selection of clever twists and reveals.  A deeply enjoyable novel that was one of the best fantasy novels of the year, I cannot talk up Hollow Empire enough.

 

A Testament of Character by Sulari Gentill

A Testament of Character Cover

The second entry on this list is the 10th historical murder mystery book in Gentill’s long-running Rowland Sinclair series, A Testament of Character.  This fantastic novel sent the titular protagonist and his bohemian friends on a captivating adventure in 1930’s America as they attempt to find out who killed an old associate of theirs.  I always have a great deal of fun when I read the Rowland Sinclair novels, and A Testament of Character turned out to be an impressive and highly enjoyable entry in the series which I deeply enjoyed.

 

Stormblood by Jeremy Szal

Stormblood Cover

Next up we have the exciting and creative science fiction debut, Stormblood, by brilliant new author Jeremy Szal.  This great new novel serves as the impressive first entry in a bold new series that follows a former soldier who was purposely infected by alien biological enhancements as he attempted to uncover a massive conspiracy on an elaborate space station.  Stormblood was an excellent and amazing read that perfectly sets up this cool series and which is really worth reading.  A sequel, Blindspace, is set for release later this year, and I am rather looking forward to it.

 

Either Side of Midnight by Benjamin Stevenson

Either Side of Midnight Cover

I only recently finished off this dramatic and compelling Australian murder mystery, but I had to include it on this list due to its clever mystery and complex characters.  A fantastic sequel to 2018’s Greenlight, this is Australian crime fiction at its best and comes highly recommended.

 

The Erasure Initiative by Lili Wilkinson

The Erasure Initiative Cover

One of the most unusual but extremely captivating pieces of Australian fiction this year was The Erasure Initiative by the infinitely talented Lili Wilkinson.  Wilkinson, who previously wrote the exceptional After the Lights Go Out, produced another high-concept and darkly creative young adult science fiction thriller that sees several strangers will no memories of their past locked in a bus by someone with a strange and lethal agenda.  Clever, intense and highly addictive, The Erasure Initiative was just amazing, and I ended up really loving it.

 

The Queen’s Captain by Peter Watt

The Queen's Captain Cover

One of my favourite historical fiction authors, Peter Watt, finished off his action-packed Colonial series on a high note with the amazing The Queen’s Captain.  Serving as a great conclusion to the story featured in The Queen’s Colonial and The Queen’s Tiger, this latest novel took the protagonist on another set of deadly adventures in the Victorian empire and was a very awesome book to read.

 

Hideout by Jack Heath

Hideout Cover

I had to include the fantastically fun and incredibly exciting Hideout by another Canberran author, Jack Heath.  This was the third novel in Heath’s fantastic Timothy Blake series.  It follows a cannibalistic protagonist as he attempts to kill and eat a house full of sociopathic killers.  An excellent read that you can really sink your teeth into, this is an awesome one to check out.

 

Aurora Burning by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Aurora Burning Cover

If you are in the mood for an exceedingly fast-paced science fiction read, you need to check out the latest outstanding young adult read from the dream team of Australian authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.  The epic sequel to 2019’s Aurora Rising, this latest novel continues an impressive tale that follows several cool teen protagonists on a wild adventure in space with the entire universe gunning for them.  Thanks to the epic cliffhanger at the end, I will have to grab the third entry in this series when it comes out, and I cannot wait to see how it ends.

 

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

The Last Smile in Sunder City

The Last Smile in Sunder City is a sensational fantasy thriller that follows a depressed private investigator as he attempts to find a missing girl in a city tragically devastated by the destruction of all magic.  Arnold’s debut was pretty damn awesome, and he has already followed it up with a sequel, Dead Man in a Ditch.  A clever and inventive read from a fantastic new author, this is a great book to check out.

 

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

The Night Swim Cover

Last, but certainly not least, was the moving and dramatic thriller The Night Swim, by acclaimed up and coming Australian author Megan Goldin.  Goldin is a talented and dramatic writer who previously wrote the bestselling thriller The Escape Room.  This latest novel from Goldin was a clever and powerful read that examined two haunting crimes taking place over two generations.  The Night Swim was an impressive novel, and I cannot wait to see what Goldin will come up with next.

 

 

Well, that is the end of this latest list and I am really happy that I got a chance to highlight some of the cool Australian releases of 2020.  The above books represent an outstanding collection of fiction from talented Australian authors, and each of them comes highly recommended by me.  I had a lot of fun coming up with this list and I plan to examine my favourite Australian novels of 2021 this time next year.  Until then, stay tuned for more epic reviews and lists, and make sure you let me know who your favourite Australian authors are in the comments below.

Canberra Weekly Column – Holiday Reads – 17 December 2020

Canberra Weekly Column - Holiday Reads 1 - 17 December 2020-1

Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 17 December 2020.

The review can also be found on the Canberra Weekly website.

Reviews of Hollow Empire and The Emperor’s Exile were done by me, while the reviews of Unrestricted Access, The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home and Box 88 were done by my colleague Jeffrey over at Murder, Mayhem and Long Dogs.

Make sure to also check out my extended reviews for Hollow Empire and The Empire’s Exile.

Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke

Hollow Empire Cover 2

Publisher: Bantam Press (Trade Paperback – 1 December 2020)

Series: Poison War – Book Two

Length: 560 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

After a two-year wait, we finally get to see the epic sequel to Australian author Sam Hawke’s impressive debut novel, City of Lies, with her blockbuster new novel, Hollow Empire.

Two years after the siege of the city of Silasta, where the oppressed Darfri minority were manipulated into attacking the capital by an unknown outside force, the city has started to recover.  While the city focuses on rebuilding and reconciliation with their former besiegers, the poison-eating siblings Jovana and Kalina Oromani, secret protectors of the Chancellor, continue their efforts to work out who was truly behind the attack on their city.  However, to their frustration, no-one else in the city shares their concerns; instead they have grown complacent with the returned peace.

But no peace lasts forever, especially as Silastra celebrates the karodee, a grand festival, to which representatives of all the nations surrounding the city state have been invited.  While the focus is on peace and forging ties between nations, the siblings begin to suspect that their unknown enemy is using it as an opportunity to launch a new attack against Silastra.  In order to determine what is happening, Jovana attempts to hunt down a dangerous and deadly killer that only he seems to have noticed, while Kalina navigates the treacherous world of politics and diplomacy as she works to determine which of their neighbours may have been involved in the prior attack on their city.

Working together with the Chancellor Tain and the Darfri mystic Hadrea, the Oromani siblings get closer to finding some of the answers that they desire.  However, both siblings find themselves under attack from all sides as their opponents attempt not only to kill them but to discredit their entire family.  Determined to protect Silasta no matter what, Jovana and Kalina will risk everything to find out the truth, even if the answers are too much for either of them to bear.

Hollow Empire was another awesome novel from fellow Canberran Sam Hawke, which serves as the compelling and enjoyable second entry in her Poison War series, which follows on from her 2018 debut, City of Lies.  I am a big fan of Hawke’s first novel; not only was it one of my favourite books of 2018 but it is also one of my top debuts of all time.  As a result, I have been looking forward to seeing how the story continues for some time now and I was incredibly happy to receive my copy of Hollow Empire several weeks ago.  The wait was definitely worth it, as Hawke has come up with another impressive and clever novel that not only serves as an excellent sequel to City of Lies but which takes the reader on an intrigue laden journey into the heart of an exciting fantasy city filled with great characters.

Hawke has come up with an excellent narrative for this latest novel which takes the protagonists on a wild journey throughout their city and beyond as they attempt to uncover a dangerous conspiracy threatening to destroy everything they love.  Told from alternating perspectives of the two main characters, Jovana and Kalina, Hollow Empire’s story was a clever and exciting thrill-ride of intrigue, lies, politics, crime and treachery, as the protagonists attempt to find out who is targeting them and plotting to destroy their city.  This proved to be a fun and captivating narrative, and I liked how Hollow Empire felt a lot more like a fantasy thriller than the first book, which focused a bit more on the siege of the city.  The protagonists must dig through quite a few layers of lies, hidden history and alternate suspects to find out what is happening in Silasta, and while there was a little less focus on the fun poison aspects that made the first novel such a treat, I really enjoyed how the story unfolded.  Hawke comes up with several great twists and reveals throughout the book, some of which really surprised me, although I was able to guess a couple of key ones.  I did think that the eventual reveal of the ultimate villain of the story was a tad rushed, but it resulted in an intense and fast-paced conclusion to the novel which also opens some intriguing avenues for any future entries in this series.  Readers may benefit from rereading City of Lies in advance of Hollow Empire, especially as there has been a bit of gap between the first and second novels’ releases.  However, for those wanting to jump right in, Hawke did include a fun recap at the start of the book, which sees the protagonists watching a theatrical recreation of the events of City of Lies.  Not only is this a rather entertaining inclusion (mainly due to how Jovana is portrayed) but it also serves as a good summary of some of the book’s key events, and readers should be able to follow through this second book without any trouble, even if they have not had a chance to read City of Lies.  Overall, this was an epic and impressive story, and I really enjoyed seeing how the Poison Wars continued in Hollow Empire.

I really enjoyed some of the cool writing elements that Hawke featured in Hollow Empire which added a lot to my overall enjoyment of the book and its great story.  The most noticeable of this is the use of the split perspectives, with the main protagonists, Jovana and Kalina, each getting alternating chapters shown from their point of view.  These split chapters worked extremely well in City of Lies, and I am really glad that Hawke decided to use them once again in her second book.  While the primary use of these alternate chapters was to show the different angles of investigation that the siblings were following, it does result in some additional benefits to the narrative.  I particularly liked the way in which the author uses the split perspectives to create tension and suspense throughout the novel, such as by one protagonist lacking information that the other character (and the reader) has knowledge of, or by leaving one protagonist’s fate uncertain.  It was also interesting to see the different opinions that the protagonists had on various characters and the specific relationships and friendships that they formed.  I also liked the way in which Hawke placed some intriguing in-universe poison proofing notes before each chapter, which recounted various poisonings that Oromani family has prevented or investigated over the years.  These notes were quite fun to check out and it really helped to highlight the importance the main characters place on protecting the Chancellor and their city from poison attacks.  These clever elements enhanced an already compelling narrative, and I imagine that Hawke will continue to utilise them in some of her future novels.

One of the major highlights of this book was the return to the author’s great fantasy setting that is the city of Silasta and its surrounding countryside.  Silasta is an extremely woke city full of artists, inventors and scholars who believe in equality between genders and acceptance of all sexualities and gender identities (for example, Hawke introduces a non-binary character in Hollow Empire).  While this was a fun city to explore in the first novel, especially as it was besieged for most of the book, I quite like how the author has altered the setting for Hollow Empire.  There is a significant focus on how Silasta has changed since the ending of the siege two years previously, especially on the attempted reconciliation efforts between the somewhat elitist citizens of Silasta and the Darfri, who were previously treated as second-class citizens doing the menial jobs.  While there have been changes to this relationship since the end of the first book, much is still the same and the difficulties in reconciling these two groups becomes a major and intriguing plot point within Hollow Empire.  Hawke also adds in an intriguing crime element to the novel, as several criminal gangs have used the chaos following the siege to build power within the city, peddling new drugs to the populace.  These new elements make for a different city than what the reader has previously seen, and I really liked how Hawke explored the negative elements of the aftermath of the first book and implemented them in Hollow Empire’s narrative, creating a fantastic and intriguing story.

In addition to focusing on the changes to the main city setting, I also really enjoyed the way in which Hawke decided to expand out her fantasy world.  This is mainly done by introducing emissaries from several of the nation’s neighbouring Silasta and bringing them to the city, resulting in the protagonists learning more about their respective histories and cultures, especially as they are convinced that one of them is responsible for the attack against them.  The story also explores the history of Silasta itself, with several storylines exploring how the city came into existence and its hidden past.  The author also worked to expand the magical system present within her universe by examining the spirit magic that was introduced in City of Lies and exploring more of its rules and limitations.  This results in several intriguing scenes, especially when one of the major characters, Hadrea, finds new ways to manipulate her magic.  In addition, some new forms of magic are introduced within the book.  These new magics have an origin in some of the new realms that are further explored in Hollow Empire and included an interesting and deadly form of witchcraft that differs wildly from the magical abilities that the characters utilised in the first book.  Not only are these new and inventive world-building elements quite fun to explore, but their inclusion becomes a key inclusion to the narrative.  All of this results in an enjoyable expanded universe, and it looks like Hawke has plans to introduce further lands and histories in the next Poison Wars book.

Another great part of Hollow Empire is the complexity of the characters, all of whom have evolved in some distinctive and compelling manner since the first novel.  As mentioned above, the main protagonists are the Oromani siblings, Jovana and Kalina, who serve as the book’s point-of-view characters.  Jovana is the Chancellor’s poison proofer, his secretive bodyguard who prepares his food and ensures that everything he eats is poison-free.  However, since the events of City of Lies, Jovan has become a lot more well-known throughout the city due to the role he played during the siege.  This requires him to adjust his role in society, especially as many people are now questioning how he and his family gained such prominence.  Jovan is also a lot more cautious when it comes to the Chancellor’s security after several near misses in the first novel, so that he appears almost paranoid at points throughout Hollow Empire.  This paranoia serves him well as he is forced to fight against an assassin who is using some clever means to attack his family and allies.  Jovan has also entered into a mentoring role within this book as he takes his young niece, Dija, as his new apprentice, teaching her the ways of proofing and ensuring that she has an immunity to toxins by poisoning her himself, in a similar way to how his uncle raised and taught him.  All of these add some intriguing new dynamics to Jovan’s character, and I really enjoyed seeing how he has changed since the first book.  Kalina also proves to be an excellent character throughout Hollow Empire, and I quite enjoyed reading her chapters.  Like her brother, Kalina has become a much more public figure in Silasta, although she is seen more as a hero than a suspicious poisoner like her brother.  Kalina’s chapters mainly focus on her attempts at finding out the truth through diplomacy as she interacts with the foreign delegations visiting the city.  Her investigations are just as dangerous as Jovan’s, and I really enjoyed seeing how her distinctive narrative unfolded, as well as how her character has also evolved, including with a fantastic new romance.  Both protagonists serve as excellent centres for the story and I look forward to seeing how they progress in later books in the series.

Hollow Empire also boasts a raft of fantastic side characters, many of whom have some exceptional arcs throughout the book.  The main two supporting characters are probably Chancellor Tain and Hadrea, both of whom were significant figures in City of Lies.  Like the main protagonists, Tain has also changed a lot since City of Lies, where he was the young and bold ruler thrust into a chaotic position.  Now he is a much more measured and cautious man, especially after narrowly avoiding death by poisoning in the first novel.  Tain continues to be the focus of the protagonist’s advice and protection throughout the novel, and the friendship he has with Jovana and Kalina becomes a major part of the book’s plot, resulting in some dramatic and powerful moments.  Hadrea, the young Speaker whose spirit magic saved the city in the first novel, also gets a lot of focus throughout Hollow Empire and is quite a major character.  In addition to being Jovan’s love interest, Hadrea also serves as the protagonist’s magic expert as they attempt to understand some of the mystical elements attacking them.  Hadrea’s magical power ends up becoming a major story element of Hollow Empire as she attempts to find new ways to use her magic while also chafing under the instruction of her superiors.  It looks like Hawke has some major plans for Hadrea in the future books, and I am curious to see what happens to her next.  These characters, and more, end up adding a lot to the story, and I quite enjoyed the way that Hawke portrayed them.

Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke was an impressive and deeply enjoyable novel that serves as an excellent sequel to City of Lies.  Featuring a thrilling and clever main narrative, great characters and an inventive, if damaged, fantasy setting, Hollow Empire was an epic read from start to finish that proves exceedingly hard to put down.  I had a wonderful time reading Hollow Empire and it ended up being one of my favourite books of 2020.  A highly recommended read, I cannot wait to see how the series continues in the future.

Top Ten Tuesday – Favourite Books of 2020

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  In the final Top Ten Tuesday for the year, participants needed to list their favourite books of 2020.  This is a bit of a continuation of a series of lists I have been doing over the last month which highlighted some of the authors and books I have been most impressed with this year, including my favourite audiobooks and my top pre-2020 books I read this year.  However, I am extremely excited to showcase my absolute favourite releases of the year, of which there are quite a few.

While most of 2020 has been absolutely shitty, I think we all got a little bit of solace out of the fact that it was a pretty amazing year for books, with a huge range of incredible releases coming out across the genres.  I have had the great pleasure of reading or listening to so many outstanding books this year, and quite a few of this year’s releases have become instant favourites of mine.  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 soft touch, and because the quality of the books I read this year is so impressive, I have decided to expand this list out to 20 entries.  These 20 books are my absolute favourites from 2020, and I would strongly recommend every one of them to anyone who is interested.

Now, I should mention that there is going to be a bit of a crossover between the below entries and some other previous lists I have done before.  In particular, several of these novels appeared on my Top Ten Favourite Audiobooks of 2020 list and my Top Ten Favourite Books from the First Half of 2020 list which I ran back in July.  To make it onto this list, a book needed to be released here in Australia during 2020 and had to be a top quality read.  I have not included any novels that I have not read this year, even they sounded awesome, and I am sure that several, such as The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso, would have made the cut.  I have also excluded Call of the Bone Ships by R. J. Barker, as I am only partway through it at the moment.  I decided to leave off my usual Honourable Mentions section, as the extra 10 entries kind of make it unnecessary.  Overall, though, I have 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 I chose to read this year.  So without further ado, here is the list:

Top 20 List (no particular order):

 

The Trouble With Peace by Joe Abercrombie

The Trouble with Peace Cover

Let us start of this list with the masterclass in dark fantasy fiction that was The Trouble With Peace by the always awesome Joe Abercrombie.  The sequel to last year’s A Little Hatred (which also made last year’s Top 20 Favourites list), The Trouble With Peace presents the reader with another exceptional and deeply entertaining read that places its damaged protagonists onto a whole new battlefield.  Easily one of the best books I read all year, I have no doubt that the final book in this trilogy is going to top all my 2021 favourites lists.

 

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett

The Evening and the Morning Cover

The moment I heard that a new Ken Follett book was coming out in 2020 I knew that it was going to be one of the best historical fiction reads of the year, and boy was I right.  The Evening and the Morning is an addictive and deeply compelling read that serves as a clever prequel to Follet’s iconic The Pillars of the Earth.  Featuring an impressive historical backdrop and some great point-of-view characters, The Evening and the Morning was an exceptional novel that is really worth checking out.

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Bunraku and Other Stories by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo Bunraku and Other Stories Cover

There was no way that I could exclude the latest Usagi Yojimbo from this list.  Readers of this blog know I am a major fan of the awesome and criminally under-read Usagi Yojimbo comic series by the masterful Stan Sakai, which follows a rabbit samurai in an alternate version of Feudal Japan.  2020’s entry, Bunraku and Other Stories, was another impressive entry in the series which easily made it onto this list due to its fun collection of stories, including one great entry that re-imagines the original Usagi Yojimbo comic (as seen in Volume One: The Ronin).  This was a great read, and I cannot wait to get my next fix of Usagi Yojimbo.

 

Battle Ground by Jim Butcher

Battle Ground Cover

I have long meant to check out the highly acclaimed Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, and 2020 was the year that I finally did, with the action-packed Battle GroundBattle Ground was an exceptionally fun and exciting read that puts the protagonist in the middle of a massive supernatural war to decide the fate of Chicago.  Epic in every sense of the word, I powered through Battle Ground in extremely short order and had an outstanding time listening to it.  I am now a mega fan of this series and I plan to go back and listen to some of the older novels in the series next year.

 

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

The Thursday Murder Club Cover

Next we have one of the best debuts of 2020, The Thursday Murder Club by comedian Richard Osman.  The Thursday Murder Club was a captivating and awesome murder mystery novel with strong comedic elements that sees a group of retirees attempt to solve a series of murders taking place around their retirement village.  Funny, sweet, and containing an impressive mystery, this was a fantastic book from a great new author.

 

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Harrow the Ninth Cover

After writing one of my favourite debuts of 2019, Gideon the Ninth, up and coming author Tamsyn Muir, rockets her way onto my favourite reads of 2020 list with Harrow the NinthHarrow the Ninth is an exceptional read that follows a group of half-insane necromancers deep in space.  Containing an extremely complex but ultimately exceptional narrative, this second book in the series proves to be an amazing read that I deeply enjoyed.

 

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It by K. J. Parker

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It

You have no idea how excited I was when I heard that bestselling author K. J. Parker was releasing a sequel to Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, which was one of my favourite books of 2019.  This sequel is an awesome and entertaining continuation of the first book’s story, and this time it follows an actor who attempts to con everyone to save his city.  Easily one of the funniest books I read all year, How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It was an automatic inclusion on this list, and I cannot wait to see if Parker is going to continue this fantastic series in the future.

 

The Grove of the Caesars by Lindsey Davis

The Grove of the Caesars Cover

Another great read from one of my favourite historical fiction authors, Lindsey Davis, The Grove of the Caesars was a compelling historical murder mystery which sees a sassy private investigator hunt a serial killer in ancient Rome.  Highly recommended.

 

Demon in White by Christopher Ruocchio

Demon in White Cover 1

For the third year in a row, science fiction supernova Christopher Ruocchio makes his way onto my favourite books of the year list with the epic and impressive Demon in White.  Serving as the third entry in his Sun Eater Sequence (which has also featured Empire of Silence and Howling Dark), this was an expansive and powerful science fiction novel that follows a doomed protagonist across a dark gothic universe.  An absolute masterpiece, I guarantee that the next book in the series will be one of my top books of 2021.

 

Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst

Race the Sands Cover

Another new author I decided to check out this year was Sarah Beth Durst and her standalone fantasy novel, Race the Sands.  This was an incredibly fun and intriguing read that sees the future of a distinctive fantasy realm decided with monster racing.  I had a great time reading this fast-paced and exceptional book and I cannot wait to see how Durst’s next novel, The Bone Maker, turns out.

 

Ink by Jonathan Maberry

Ink Cover

I do not think anyone is surprised that I included the latest Jonathan Maberry novel on this list.  Ink was another captivating, if disturbing, novel from Maberry, who provides a more horror based read about a memory-stealing, tattoo-absorbing vampire who is hunting the haunted town of Pine Deep.  I really enjoyed this book, and it proved to be another exceptional release from this clever author.  Make sure to keep an eye out for Maberry’s next novel, Relentless, which will serve as the second entry in the Rogue Team International series (the first entry, Rage, was one of the best books of 2019), which will no doubt appear on this list next year.

 

Star Wars: Darth Vader (2020): Volume One: Dark Heart of the Sith

Darth Vader - Dark Heart of the Sith

What is an Unseen Library Top Ten list without a piece of Star Wars tie-in fiction on it?  While there were some great Star Wars novels and comics this year (Doctor Aphra and Shadow Fall come to mind), this first volume of the new Darth Vader comic book series was easily the best piece of Star Wars fiction I read all year.  Diving into the psyche of Darth Vader right after he reveals his identity to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back, Dark Heart of the Sith is a deep and rich Star Wars tale that was one of the best comics of 2020.

 

The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell

The Kingdom of Liars Cover

Another great debut from 2020, The Kingdom of Liars was an impressive and inventive fantasy novel that sets a traitor’s son on a journey of redemption.  Loaded with a compelling story and set in a great new fantasy setting, The Kingdom of Liars was an addictive read, and I think Nick Martell has a very bright future indeed.

 

Fair Warning by Michael Connelly

Fair Warning Cover

I read quite a few good murder mysteries this year, but one of my favourites was Fair Warning by the always amazing Michael Connelly.  Featuring his journalist protagonist Jack McEvoy, Fair Warning features a superb mystery that I had a wonderful time unravelling.  While I did also enjoy Connelly’s other novel of 2020, The Law of Innocence, I think Fair Warning had the stronger story and it was another classic from Connelly.

 

The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde

The Constant Rabbit Cover

If you are need of a laugh after 2020, do yourself a favour and check out this wacky and weird new novel from Jasper Fforde.  Set in an alternate Britain where rabbits have become anthropomorphised and are now demanding equal rights, The Constant Rabbit is a wildly entertaining and amazingly clever read that contains some comedy gold.  While I am a big fan of Fforde’s unusual novels (such as his last book, Early Riser), I was surprised by how funny I found The Constant Rabbit to be, and I honestly could not stop laughing as I read my way through it. 

 

One Minute Out by Mark Greaney

One Minute Out Cover

One of my favourite thrillers of the year was this latest entry in the Gray Man series by veteran author Mark Greaney (who made last year’s list with his military thriller Red Metal).  One Minute Out sees Greaney’s assassin protagonist hunt down a group of human traffickers and engage them in all out war.  An enjoyable, action-packed read, One Minute Out is an amazing novel and I cannot wait to read Greaney’s next book, Relentless.

 

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education Cover

An extremely fun fantasy novel set in a deadly magical school where everything tries to kill the students, need I say more?  This was an epic and captivating novel that I ended up reading in a single night.

 

The Gates of Athens by Conn Iggulden

The Gates of Athens Cover

One of the top authors of historical fiction, Conn Iggulden, returned in 2020 with a brand-new series that chronicles the various wars the plagued ancient Athens.  The first book in this series, The Gates of Athens, was an exceptional read that showed a whole angle to war against the Persians and which was an absolute treat to read.  Highly recommended.

 

Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke

Hollow Empire Cover 2

While I still have to pull a review together for this book, I had to include Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke on my favourites list.  The sequel to one of my favourite books of 2018, City of Lies, Hollow Empire is loaded with intrigue, assassinations, and poison eaters in this great fantasy thriller.

 

Devolution by Max Brooks

Devolution Cover

The final entry on this list is the deeply thrilling horror novel, Devolution, which sees a small community cut-off from the rest of America attempt to survive an ancient terror, Sasquatches.  Devolution was a fantastic novel from Max Brooks, author of World War Z, and it was another fun book that I smashed out in a day.  I loved the action-packed and extremely clever narrative that Brooks cooked up for this novel and it was one of the most exciting and enjoyable books of the year.

 

Well, those are my 20 favourite books of 2020. 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.  2021 is set to be another excellent year for amazing reads (and let us face it, we all want out of 2020), 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 2020 were in the comments below, and make sure you all have a happy and safe New Years.

WWW Wednesday – 16 December 2020

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?

Call of the Bone Ships by R. J. Barker (Trade Paperback)

Call of the Bone Ships Cover

 

Star Wars: Poe Dameron: Free Fall by Alex Segura (Audiobook)

Star Wars Poe Dameron Free Fall Cover

 

What did you recently finish reading?

Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke (Trade Paperback)

Hollow Empire Cover 2

 

Star TrekMore Beautiful than Death by David Mack (Audiobook)

Star Trek More Beautiful than Death Cover

 

Hideout by Jack Heath (Trade Paperback)

Hideout Cover

 

Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer (Trade Paperback)

Instant Karma Cover


What do you think you’ll read next?

Fool Me Twice by Jeff Lindsay (Trade Paperback)

Fool Me Twice 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 – 9 December 2020

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?

Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke (Trade Paperback)

Hollow Empire Cover 2

I was extremely glad when I got my copy of Hollow Empire the other day as I have been looking forward to reading this book for some time.  I was a major fan of Hawke’s debut novel, City of Lies, and Hollow Empire continues the great story started in the previous book.  I have made a great deal of progress on this book and I am having an amazing time reading it, especially as Hawke has come up with an elaborate and compelling conspiracy storyline.  This is an epic novel and I am hoping to finish it off in the next day or so.

Star Trek: More Beautiful than Death by David Mack (Audiobook)

Star Trek More Beautiful than Death Cover

I was in the mood for a good tie-in novel so I thought I would check out another of 2020’s Star Trek novels, More Beautiful than Death.  This is the second Star Trek novel set in the Kelvin timeline (the timeline used in the recent series of films) following on from The Unsettling Stars released earlier this year.  I have only listened to an hour or so of this book at the moment, but it looks set to be an exciting and compelling novel.

What did you recently finish reading?

Ink by Jonathan Maberry (Audiobook)

Ink Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

Hideout by Jack Heath (Trade Paperback)

Hideout 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 – 2 December 2020

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?

Ink by Jonathan Maberry (Audiobook)

Ink Cover

This is the latest novel from one of my favourite authors at the moment, Jonathan Maberry.  Ink is a standalone novel set in Maberry’s fictional town of Pine Deep and features a horror based storyline where people’s tattoos, and the memories associated with them, are stolen by a mysterious man.  I am about halfway through this unique book at the moment and I am really enjoying its compelling story and intense characters.  A very interesting read and one I am glad I decided to try out.

What did you recently finish reading?

FireflyGenerations by Tim Lebbon (Hardcover)

Firefly Generations

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (Audiobook)

The Thursday Murder Club Cover

This was a great book and easily one of the best debuts of 2020.  I’ll hopefully get a review up for it soon.

The Emperor’s Exile by Simon Scarrow (Trade Paperback)

The Emperor's Exile Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke (Trade Paperback)

Hollow Empire Cover 2

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 – 15 November 2020

I have had a pretty awesome week book-wise, having been lucky enough to receive several amazing novels that I am quite excited to read.  I have been waiting for most of these novels for some time now and I have very high hopes for all of them.

Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke

Hollow Empire Cover 2

The first entry in this Book Haul post is Hollow Empire by Canberra author Sam Hawke.  Hawke’s first novel, City of Lies, was one of my favourite novels of 2018 and I am really looking forward to seeing how she follows up her epic debut fantasy novel.

The Emperor’s Exile by Simon Scarrow

The Emperor's Exile Cover

The Emperor’s Exile is the latest novel in the captivating Eagles of the Empire historical fiction series (check out my reviews for the last two entries in the series, The Blood of Rome and Traitors of Rome).  Scarrow is an extremely talented author and I cannot wait to see how the latest entry in this action-packed historical fiction series continues.

Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen

Nophek Gloss Cover

This book is an intriguing debut from new author Essa Hansen.  Containing an exciting sounding science fiction story, Nophek Gloss is quite an interesting novel and I am curious to see how it turns out.

Hideout by Jack Heath

Hideout Cover

Another entry from a Canberran author, Hideout is the latest book from Australian crime writer Jack Heath and the third book in the Timothy Blake series.  These books follow the adventures of a cannibal who serves as a consultant to the FBI, and Hideout features a cracker of a story idea, with the protagonist trapped in a house with several other psychopaths, one of whom is murdering everyone else, one by one.  Hideout sounds incredibly fun and I cannot wait to check it out.

Firefly: Generations by Tim Lebbon

Firefly Generations

Generations is the fourth entry in a series of Firefly tie-in novels that have been released over the last couple of years.  I am a major fan of the Firefly franchise, and all three prior novels (Big Damn Hero, The Magnificent Nine and The Ghost Machine), have been extremely enjoyable reads.  I have been waiting for this latest novel for a very long time and I am planning on reading it next.

The Return by Harry Sidebottom

The Return Cover

The final entry on this list is The Return by Harry Sidebottom.  Sidebottom is an impressive historical fiction author who has been doing some intriguing things over the last couple of years.  His prior two novels, The Last Hour and The Lost Ten have all combined Roman historical fiction storylines with various thriller/crime fiction sub-genres.  This new novel looks set to be an intense and gripping historical murder mystery story and it will be interesting to see what unique story Sidebottom comes up with this time.

Well that is it for this latest Book Haul post.  I certainly have a lot of great books to read at the moment and I better get to it.  Let me know which of these books you are most excited for and I will try to get to them as soon as possible.  Until then, happy reading.

Waiting on Wednesday – Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For this week’s Waiting on Wednesday entry I take a look at Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke, an excellent sounding upcoming fantasy novel that serves as a sequel to one of my favourite books from 2018, City of Lies.

Hollow Empire Cover 2

City of Lies was an impressive and clever debut from Australian author (and fellow Canberran) Sam Hawke that I absolutely loved when it came out.  Hawke’s first book was an amazing fantasy novel that followed a pair of siblings trained in the art of poison detection as they attempted to save their friend and their city from an invading army and the sinister conspiracy behind it.  I loved the combination conspiracy and siege storyline and it proved to be an outstanding and deeply captivating read.

I have been hoping a sequel to City of Lies for some time now and I was deeply excited when I saw that Hollow Empire was coming out soon.  This second book from Hawke, which will be the second and final entry in her Poison War duology, is currently set for release in early December 2020, and it looks like it is going to be another epic and enjoyable read.

Synopsis:

You never get used to poisoning a child . . .

Two years after a devastating siege tore the country apart, Silasta has recovered. But to the frustration of poison-taster siblings Jovan and Kalina, sworn to protect the Chancellor, the city has grown complacent in its new-found peace and prosperity.

And now, amid the celebrations of the largest carnival the continent has ever seen, it seems a mysterious enemy has returned.

The death of a former adversary sets Jovan on the trail of a cunning killer, while Kalina negotiates the treacherous politics of visiting dignitaries, knowing that this vengeful mastermind may lurk among the princes and dukes, noble ladies and priests. But their investigations uncover another conspiracy which now threatens not just Silasta and the Chancellor but also their own family.

Assassins, witches and a dangerous criminal network are all closing in. And brother and sister must once more fight to save their city – and everyone they hold dear – from a patient, powerful enemy determined to tear it all down . . .

I really like the sound of the above synopsis as it looks like Hawke has come up with another compelling and fanatic story.  I love the idea of the two siblings once again investigating a complex, multilayered conspiracy that is set to engulf their city and loved ones, and having it set around a massive festival playing host to various dangerous parties and rivals sounds really intriguing.  I am really hoping that this sequel features more of the poison-based plot elements that made City of Lies such a distinctive read, as seeing the protagonist countering the various poisoning attempts was a fantastic highlight of the first book.  I am also really curious to see how the author continues the story from City of Lies as well as how she intends to finish off the series.

Based on the strength of Hawke’s debut alone, I am already excited for Hollow Empire and I am extremely confident that I am going to enjoy this next entry in the series.  When combined with the fantastic sounding plot, I have no doubt that Hollow Empire is going to be an impressive and exciting read and I fully expect it to be one of the best fantasy novels of 2020.

Top Ten Tuesday – Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2020

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. For this latest Top Ten Tuesday participants need to list their top anticipated releases for the second half of 2020.

2020 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 2020. In order 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 had to make some hard decisions for this list, and I ended up cutting out several upcoming releases that I am really looking forward to. Despite this, I am rather happy with the eventual choices that I made, and I think that this upcoming list reflects which upcoming novels I am going to have the most fun reading. Due to how impressive they sound and because they have already caught my attention, several of these books in my weekly Waiting on Wednesday articles, and some of them also appeared on my recent Winter TBR list. However, there are also some interesting new books that I am discussing for the first time here, so that should give 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 2020.

Honourable Mentions:


Total Power
by Kyle Mills – 15 September 2020

Total Power Cover


The Devil and the Dark Water
by Stuart Turton – 1 October 2020

The Devil and the Dark Water Cover


Hollow Empire
by Sam Hawke – 26 November 2020

Hollow Empire Cover 2

Hollow Empire was a book that I was really hoping to read last year, but it has faced some delays. Luckily it looks set for release in a few months time and I am rather excited to check it out, especially after how much I enjoyed Hawke’s first novel, City of Lies.


Colonyside
by Michael Mammay – 29 December 2020

This is the third book in the incredible Planetside series of science fiction thriller novels that I have been having an outstanding time reading the last couple of years. The first book in this series, Planetside, is one of my favourite debuts of all time, and last year’s follow-up book, Spaceside was also really impressive. Colonyside is set to be another amazing addition to this series, and I cannot wait to see what sort of complex and clever space mystery Mammay cooks up this time.

Top Ten Tuesday (By Release Date):


Demon in White
by Christopher Ruocchio – 28 July 2020

Demon in White Cover 1


The Gates of Athens
by Conn Iggulden – 4 August 2020

The Gates of Athens Cover

I actually got a copy of this book last week and I am planning on reading it soon. Gates of Athens is set to be one of the top historical fiction releases of the year, and it should prove to be an epic and detailed read.

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It by K. J. Parker – 18 August 2020

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It


Thrawn Ascendancy
: Chaos Rising by Timothy Zahn – 1 September 2020

Thrawn Ascendancy - Chaos Rising Cover

The Evening and the Morning
by Ken Follett – 15 September 2020

The Evening and the Morning Cover


The Trouble with Peace
by Joe Abercrombie – 15 September 2020

The Trouble with Peace Cover 2

I used The Trouble with Peace’s more recent cover for this article because it looks extremely cool and is a nice contrast to the cover I used in the linked Waiting on Wednesday article.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini – 15 September 2020

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars Cover


Assault by Fire
by Hunter Ripley Rawlings IV – 29 September 2020

Assault by Fire Cover

I just want to point out that Assault by Fire is the only debut novel that I have featured in this article. Not only does it have an awesome and exciting story concept behind it, but I really loved the book that Rawlings cowrote with Mark Greaney last year, Red Metal. If Rawlings’ first solo book is anything as good as Red Metal, then this should prove to be a fantastic read that I know I am going to enjoy.

 

The Law of Innocence by Michael Connelly – 10 November 2020

I have been really enjoying Michael Connelly’s books over the last couple of years, including Dark Sacred Night and The Night Fire, both of which were exceptional pieces of crime fiction. I am also in the middle of reading his latest book, Fair Warning, which is so far pretty amazing. Because of this, I was rather excited when I heard that Connelly had another book coming out later this year. The Law of Innocence sounds extremely interesting as it sees the return of the Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller, as he faces the trial of his life. Also set to feature his most iconic protagonist, Harry Bosch, The Law of Innocence should be a particular impressive read and I am very much looking forward to it.


Call of the Bone Ships
by R. J. Barker – 24 November 2020

The final book on this list is a book that I know that I am absolutely going to love, and which is pretty much guaranteed to get a full five stars from me. Call of the Bone Ships is the upcoming sequel to one of the best books of 2019, The Bone Ships, by the always amazing R. J. Barker. This new book will continue the epic nautical fantasy adventures started in The Bone Ships, and I for one am extremely eager to see what outstanding and inventive new narrative that Barker comes up with this time.

 

That’s the end of this list. I am extremely happy with how my latest Top Ten Tuesday article turned out, and my Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2020 list contains an intriguing list of upcoming books that should prove to be incredible reads. I think that every one of the books I mentioned above has the potential to get a full five-star rating from me and I cannot wait to see what amazing and exciting stories they contain. 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.