Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Books from the First 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.  The task for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was originally to list the top Books That Make Me Smile, however I am going to go off topic and instead look at something else.  We have just crossed into the second half of what has been a rather interesting year, and while most aspects of 2020 have been pretty crummy, I think that we can at least agree that this year has been pretty amazing when it comes to 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, and because it goes well with my recent Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2020 list, I thought that I would take the time to work out what my top ten favourite books from the first half of 2020 are.

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 between 1 January 2020 and 30 June 2020, and I have not included any novels released before or after this date even if I read them during this period.  I have also excluded any books released during this period that I have not so far read, although I imagine The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso or Cyber Shogun Revolution by Peter Teiryas would have appeared on this list somewhere if I’d 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 2020, and I would strongly recommend each and every one of them.  So let us see what made the cut.

Honourable Mentions:


To the Strongest
by Robert Fabbri – 2 January 2020

To the Strongest Cover


The Holdout
by Graham Moore – 18 February 2020

The Holdout Cover

House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas – 3 March 2020

House of Earth and Blood Cover


Lionheart
by Ben Kane – 28 May 2020

Lionheart Cover

Top Ten List (By Date of Release):

 

Into the Fire by Gregg Hurwitz – 28 January 2020

Into the Fire


Song of the Risen God
by R. A. Salvatore – 28 January 2020

Song of the Risen God Cover


One Minute Out
by Mark Greaney – 20 February 2020

One Minute Out Cover


The Grove of the Caesars
by Lindsey Davis – 2 April 2020

The Grove of the Caesars Cover


The Girl and the Stars
by Mark Lawrence – 20 April 2020

The Girl and the Stars 2


Race the Sands
by Sarah Beth Durst – 21 April 2020

Race the Sands Cover


Usagi Yojimbo
: Bunraku and Other Stories by Stan Sakai – 21 April 2020

Usagi Yojimbo Bunraku and Other Stories Cover


Firefly
: The Ghost Machine by James Lovegrove – 28 April 2020

Firefly The Ghost Machine Cover


Fair Warning
by Michael Connelly – 26 May 2020

Fair Warning Cover


Devolution
by Max Brooks – 16 June 2020

Devolution Cover

 

That turned out to be a rather exciting and diverse group of books, and I am surprised about how many different genres are represented amongst them.  I think that this list is a fantastic example of some of early 2020’s top releases, and each of these books is really worth checking out.  Overall, I happy with how this list turned out, and I look forward to seeing which of these books end up being amongst my top reads of 2020.  In the meantime, what do you think about the books that made my Top Ten List?  Let me know if you enjoyed these books in the comments below and what your favourite releases from the first half of 2020 are.

WWW Wednesday – 22 April 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?

To Kill a Man, The Unsettling Stars Covers

To Kill a Man by Sam Bourne (Trade Paperback)

I have been meaning to read some of Sam Bourne’s stuff for a couple of years now, but never quite had the time.  So when I was lucky enough to receive a copy of his latest book, To Kill a Man, earlier this week, I jumped at the chance and started reading it.  I am about halfway through at the moment, and so far I am finding it to be a fantastic and clever political thriller.

Star Trek: The Unsettling Stars by Alan Dean Foster (Audiobook)

I’ve been really getting into Star Trek extended fiction over the last year, so it didn’t take make to convince me to look at the latest Star Trek book to come out.  The Unsettling Stars is set in the alternate timeline that the 2008 Star Trek film created and follows the young crew of the Enterprise right after the events of the movie.  I am really enjoying this audiobook, and it has an intriguing story to it.


What did you recently finish reading?

Gathering Dark by Candice Fox (Trade Paperback)

Gathering Dark Cover


House of Earth and Blood
by Sarah J. Maas (Audiobook)

House of Earth and Blood Cover
Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp (Audiobook)

Lords of the Sith Cover


What do you think you’ll read next?


Night Lessons in Little Jerusalem
by Rick Held (Trade Paperback)

Night Lessons in Little Jerusalem 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.

House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas

House of Earth and Blood Cover

Publisher: Bloomsbury/Audible Studios (Audiobook – 3 March 2020)

Series: Crescent City – Book One

Lenght: 27 hours and 50 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Prepare to meet your new obsession! One of the world’s top young adult fantasy fiction authors, Sarah J. Maas, breaks into the adult fantasy fiction genre in a big way with the first book in her brand-new Crescent City series.

Sarah J. Maas is an author that needs very little introduction. She is one of the most highly regarded young adult fantasy authors in the world today, having written two major bestselling series and a couple of standalone young adult novels. Maas debuted in 2012 with Throne of Glass, the first novel in her acclaimed seven-book long Throne of Glass series, and she has since gone on to write a second major series, A Court of Thorns and Roses. I have been meaning to check out some of Maas’s main series for a while now, especially Throne of Glass, as I have heard some very good things about them. Unfortunately, the only book of Maas’s that I have so far read was her DC Comics tie-in novel, Catwoman: Soulstealer, which I really enjoyed, especially as Maas had an amazing understanding of some iconic comic characters. As a result, I was interested when I heard about her new book, House of Earth and Blood, and I was curious to see how her first adult fiction novel would turn out. This is the first book in the Crescent City series, which presumably will be the author’s main body of work for the next few years. I received a physical copy of this book to review, although I eventually decided to listen to the audiobook format to fit it into my reading schedule, and I have to say I was rather impressed.

Welcome to Crescent City, a bustling metropolis where magic and technology meet in a world ruled over by all-powerful godlike creatures. Bryce Quinlan is a half-Fae, half-human, party girl at the low end of her world’s magical hierarchy, content to live her days clubbing and celebrating with her best friend, the powerful werewolf Alpha Danika Fendyr. All that changes the night Danika and her entire wolf pack are brutally slaughtered while Bryce is out partying. Bryce arrives home just in time to encounter the demon that committed the act, chasing it out into the streets before it escapes, never to be seen again.

Two years later, Bryce is a shell of her former self. Still reeling from the death of the closest person in her life, Bryce finds herself without direction or purpose. However, the revelation that a fresh wave of killings that mirror the bloody way Danika and her pack were taken out quickly changes that. Due to her experiences with the unknown species of demon and her intimate knowledge of Danika’s movements and history, Bryce is tasked by the governor of Crescent City to find who or what is summoning the destructive demons and unleashing them upon seemingly random members of the populace. However, Bryce will not be working on this case alone, as she finds herself teamed up with the governor’s personal assassin, the brooding, dangerous and surprisingly attractive fallen angel, Hunt Athalar.

Begrudgingly agreeing to work together, Bryce and Hunt start to scour the dark underbelly of their city, attempting to find any leads to who summoned the demon. However, they soon run afoul of many of Crescent City’s inhabitants, some of whom do not want the pair to uncover the truth. As they dig further, they begin to uncover a terrible conspiracy with terrible connections to Bryce’s traumatic past and which threatens all of Crescent City. However, the closer they come to the truth, the more pain and torment the two damaged souls uncover, especially as both of them try to fight the intense feelings blooming between them. With the fate of Crescent City hanging in the balance, can Bryce and Hunt get to the bottom of these killings, or will they be overwhelmed by all the hurt that is about to come their way?

Well damn, that turned out to be one hell of a book. I do have to admit that I’m not usually a fan of major romantic subplots in the novels I read (I know, typical male, Bryce would probably be calling me an Alphahole), and I was a little apprehensive that the romantic angles described in the book’s synopsis would overwhelm the fantasy story. However, any doubts I had about whether I was going to enjoy House of Earth and Blood were quickly blown away in the early stages of the story, especially once I hit the major plot development about 70 pages in. From there I was absolutely hooked on the story, as Maas kept piling on revelations, shocking moments, character development and an impressive murder mystery. I ended up really loving this amazing novel, and I ended up giving it a five-star rating.

I really enjoyed the way that Maas told this story, and this book contained an expansive and deeply addictive narrative that proved hard to put down at times. House of Earth and Blood is told from several character perspectives, most notably Bryce and Hunt, although quite a bit of the story is shown from the perspective of Bryce’s half-brother, Ruhn Danaan. Having these three main point-of-view characters results in a much more expansive story, as each of them has their own contributions to the plot, although there is a huge amount of crossover between each of their storylines. While Mass tends to focus most of her character development and storylines around Bryce, Hunt and Ruhn, there are a number of additional supporting characters, some of whom have some rather interesting roles throughout the book. Maas also includes a huge amount of foreshadowing throughout the book, hinting at several things that are to come further along in the narrative. While it is obvious where some of this foreshadowing is going, some of it was only noticeable in hindsight, and some of these more subtle inclusions made me really appreciate the author’s clever writing style.

One of the best things about this book was the incredible and intriguing new fantasy world. The Crescent City series is set on a version of Earth called Midgard, which was invaded thousands of years ago by vast armies of various magical creatures, ending humankind’s dominance of the planet. The modern world of Midgard is a chaotic and fascinating place, filled will all manner of magic and creatures who live in a hierarchal system, with all-powerful beings at the top and humans at the very bottom. There are so many cool elements to this world, from the unique magical systems, the different factions and organisations, and a vast multitude of different magical creatures with their own traits and characteristics. Maas dedicates a substantial amount of time exploring all these different elements of her new world, and the result is an impressive and vast setting which serves as a fantastic backdrop to this exciting story. I also liked the rather fun similarities between this fantasy world and the modern world, and it was interesting to see fantasy creatures running around with modern technology such as phones and guns. I also had a rather good laugh at some of the television shows that the author featured in the book, including a rather trashy-sounding True Blood inspired television show, which was made fun of relentlessly for its sexual content (which is kind of ironic considering how much sex was in this novel). Maas is clearly a master of universe building, and she has come up with a really great fantasy world that holds a lot of potential for future novels in the series, as well as opening up the possibilities of spin-off stories around some of the fantastic side characters introduced. I personally would love to see a novel based around the character of Fury Axtar, the mysterious assassin friend of Bryce, who has a minor role in the book.

In addition, Maas has also come up with a rather clever murder mystery storyline that I had an outstanding time unwrapping. The vast majority of House of Earth and Blood’s plot revolves around the murder of Danika Fendyr and her pack, as well as the similar murders that are occurring in the modern day. The subsequent investigation by Bryce and Hunt turned into a rather captivating storyline, as they explored the underbelly of their fascinating city, trying to find leads and uncover who had a motive to kill Danika. This whole mystery storyline goes to some very interesting places, and Maas comes up with a number of red herrings, alternate suspects, potential leads and side mysteries (a missing magical horn and a new street drug), all of which come together into a pretty incredible and clever narrative. I was actually rather surprised about who the culprit turned out to be, although Maas does set up the reveal rather well, and there are some rather clever hints in hindsight. That being said, while I didn’t know who the culprit was in advance, I totally knew where the final showdown with them was going to take place, and how the whole confrontation was bound to go down (there was a literal Chekov’s gun there). Still, it turned into quite a good confrontation scene, and I had a good laugh at the over-the-top way that the villain was taken down for good. This was a rather impressive element of the story, and I hope that Maas includes some more clever mysteries in her future books.

While I really loved the fantastic story, incredible world building and captivating mystery, the true centre of this book are the two compelling and exceedingly damaged main characters who Maas sets the story around, Bryce Quinlan and Hunt Athalar. Maas does some outstanding work setting these characters up, exploring their pasts and developing their personalities and emotions throughout the book. Bryce starts House of Earth and Blood as a seemingly carefree party girl with major daddy issues. However, the loss of Danika in the book’s first act severely changes her, as she has to deal with an extreme amount of guilt, isolation and social hatred in the following two years. This really alters her as a character and turns her into an extremely vulnerable person with a real emotional investment in the case, who hides all her true feelings behind a sassy and angry façade. Hunt, on the other hand, is a powerful fallen angel who lost his freedom and the love of his life in a failed rebellion against the ruling gods of the planet, and has spent the last several decades being tortured and used by the victorious archangels, and is now the personal assassin of the governor of Crescent City. Now known throughout the city as the Umbra Mortis, the Shadow of Death, Hunt is a simmering pot of anger who is resentful of how he has been treated all his life, and who is determined to be set free. Like Bryce, he is deeply invested in solving the case, as its resolution will allow him to take a serious step towards freedom, and on the surface he is the more serious of the duo. However, also like Bryce, Hunt has some major vulnerabilities and he is hurting deep inside. Both Bryce and Hunt are incredibly interesting protagonists, and I am really impressed with the layers that Maas was able bring to their characters, which added a significant amount to the story.

While Bryce and Hunt are amazing characters in their own right, the real magic comes when they are paired together. It is obvious from the start that these two are going to hook up at some point, but the journey to get there was written extremely well. The combination of these two exceedingly vulnerable and complex characters in the story is great, and it makes for some incredible and dramatic story moments, as Bryce and Hunt slowly work out all their issues and history. The way they slowly go from dislike to mutual respect to lust/romance is accompanied with a slow exchange of secrets, facts and personality reveals, and I had an amazing time seeing them come together as a couple. This turned into quite a good romantic subplot, although the two of them have some major bumps and betrayals along the way. Still, there are some rather nice moments in their relationship, from the way that they take care of each other after traumatic events, to funny reveals and mutual moments of protecting one and other. Bryce and Hunt make for a great pair, and I am really impressed with the way that Maas portrayed them and the complex story she wove around them. It looks like there are more secrets and backgrounds about both coming up in the future books, and I am looking forward to seeing where Maas takes them in the future.

While this book had some amazing elements, I did find this novel to be a tad trashy at times. As I mentioned above, this is Maas’s first foray into non-young adult fiction, and she certainly did not shy away from adding all manner of adult content into her book. While I can certainly appreciate Maas wanting to differentiate this book from some of her young-adult fiction work, I honestly think she overcompensated. This book is filled with a huge amount of adult language and sexual content, as pretty much every character in this book is crude, rude, oversexed and incredibly thirsty. While some of this served a purpose, such as showing what sort of party-girl character Bryce was before the traumatic incident, the sheer amount of stuff that Maas included was a bit over the top, and I found it to be somewhat distracting at times. This book also introduced me to the brand-new term, Alphahole. In the context of this book, an Alphahole is the term that Bryce gives to any magical male who thinks that their abilities and power give them the right to control women and run their lives, especially those women with less magical power than them (i.e. humans and half-humans like Bryce). Unfortunately, in this book pretty much every male that Bryce encounters is an Alphahole in her opinion; even the more redeemable characters like Hunt or Ruhn are deemed Alphaholes at the start of the novel, especially once they venture an opinion about her behaviour or actions. While I appreciate that this dislike for domineering men is part of Bryce’s character due to her father, and controlling guys really aren’t that cool in either fiction or real life, I do think that Maas kind of overdid their inclusion just a bit and I was honestly getting sick of hearing Alphahole as a descriptive term by the end of the book (although it became less apparent as the story progressed).

As I mentioned above, I ended up listening to the audiobook version of House of Earth and Blood. This audiobook has a runtime of 27 hours and 50 minutes and is narrated by Elizabeth Evans. I am rather glad that I decided to check out this format of the book. While I probably would have finished it off faster if I had read a physical copy (it took me a few weeks to get through the audiobook), I always feel that I absorb more of the novel when I listen to it, especially with longer books. This proved to be really useful when listening to House of Earth and Blood, as Maas packed so much plot and world building into this immense novel, and I think I ended up getting more out of this book by utilising this format. I have to say that I was also immensely impressed with Elizabeth Evans’s narration. Evans did an incredible job bringing the story to life, and her steady and emotional dictation of the story really helped me get to the end. I really loved the cool voices that Evans was able to come up with for all the characters, and I think that each of them matched the distinctive personalities of each character. Evans produced a huge range of different voices for these characters, and I really liked how she was able to alter them to reflect the ethereal or magical nature of some of the characters featured in the book, as well as hint at how powerful some of these creatures were by modulating her tone and adding a commanding quality to it. This was an impressive and deeply enjoyable audiobook adaptation, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone interested in enjoying House of Earth and Blood. That being said, be careful where you listen to this book, as it can be a little awkward to hear some of the steamy sex scenes when you are out in public. I somehow managed to be out shopping during two separate and particularly graphic scenes, and it proved very hard to keep a straight face while I was trying to grab groceries.

House of Earth and Blood is an incredible adult fiction debut from Sarah J. Maas, who has produced another outstanding and captivating read. There are so many excellent and enjoyable story elements in this book, and I absolutely loved every second I spend listening to it, even though some parts were a little over the top at times. This was an awesome start to Maas’s new Crescent City series, and I cannot wait to see what impressive and addictive story the author comes up with next. This novel comes highly recommended, and it gets a full five-star rating from me.

Top Ten Tuesday –Longest Audiobooks That I Have Listened To – Part II

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, I’m veering away from the official topic (this week it was Top Ten Books I Enjoyed but Rarely Talked About), and instead choosing to revisit and update a fun post I did last year. I have always been a major fan of audiobooks, and in my mind it is often the best way to enjoy a good book. I have been lucky enough to listen to quite a substantial number of audiobooks over the years, and some of them have been quite long, often taking me weeks to get through. About a year ago, I started getting curious about all the audiobooks I had listened to, and I wanted to know which ones were the longest ones that I had every listened to. As a result, I sat down and worked out which ones had the longest run time. This turned into such an interesting endeavour; I ended up wanting to share it, and turned it into my first Top Ten Longest Audiobooks I Have Listened To list. I actually had an amazing time coming up with this list, and I ended up expanding it to cover 20 books, all of which were substantially long reads.

Now, I always intended to come back to this list and see how the new books I listened to recently stacked up against the books already on the list. In the year since I published that original list, I have managed to listen to quite a few new audiobooks, several of which had a pretty lengthy run time. As I just finished a rather substantial audiobook over the weekend, I thought that this would be a good time to update this list and see what differences have been made in the last year. The list below is going to be pretty similar to the list I posted up last year, just with a few new additions added in, and I’ll make sure to highlight them. This will no doubt change the order around a little, and I am interested in seeing how the new list turns out.

Top Twenty List:

1. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading – 45 hours and 48 minutes

WAY OF KINGS MM REV FINAL.indd

2. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, narrated by Nick Podehl – 42 hours and 55 minutes

The Wise Mans Fear Cover

3. Magician by Raymond E. Feist, narrated by Peter Joyce – 36 hours and 14 minutes

Magician Cover

4. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice – 33 hours and 45 minutes

A Game of Thrones Cover

5. Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurst, narrated by Tania Rodrigues – 32 hours and 1 minutes

Mistress of the Empire Cover

6. Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, narrated by Gerrard Doyle – 31 hours and 29 minutes

Inheritance Cover

7. Servant of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurst, narrated by Tania Rodrigues – 30 hours and 42 minutes

Servant of the Empire Cover

8. The Ember Blade by Chris Wooding, narrated by Simon Bubb – 30 hours and 40 minutes

the ember blade cover

The first new entry on this list is the rather good fantasy novel by Chris Wooding, The Ember Blade. The Ember Blade was an interesting-sounding novel that I had included on my Top Ten Books I Wish I Read in 2018 list and which I managed to get around to listening to last year. It took me a while to get through, but it was really worth it, as this proved to be an excellent book that I really enjoyed. I ended up including this novel on a couple of my best-of lists of 2019, including my Top pre-2019 Books list, and I included Wooding on my Top New-To-Me Authors list. I am eagerly awaiting a sequel to this great book, although nothing has been announced so far.

9. Brisingr by Christopher Paolini, narrated by Gerrard Doyle – 29 hours and 34 minutes

Brisingr Cover

10. Howling Dark by Christopher Ruocchio, narrated by Samuel Roukin – 28 hours and 3 minutes

Howling Dark Cover

This was another fantastic audiobook I checked out last year. Howling Dark was the incredible sequel to Empire of Silence, and I ended up having an amazing time listening to this second audiobook from Ruocchio. This book was one of my top books and audiobooks of 2019, and I strongly recommend checking out its audiobook format. I am looking forward to the third book in the series, Demon in White, which is set for release later this year, and I may end up listening to the audiobook version of that as well.

11. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, narrated by Nick Podehl – 27 hours and 55 minutes

The Name of the Wind Cover

12. House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas, narrated by Elizabeth Evans – 27 hours and 50 minutes

House of Earth and Blood Cover

The latest addition to this list, I only finished House of Earth and Blood a couple of days ago. This was an incredible audiobook that took me a few weeks to get through, but it was really worth it. I ended up really enjoying this outstanding novel, and I’m hoping to get a review up of it in a few days, but it comes highly recommended from me.

13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale – 27 hours and 2 minutes

The Order of the Phoenix Cover

14. Red Seas under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, narrated by Michael Page – 25 hours and 34 minutes

Red Seas Under Red Skies

15. The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch, narrated by Michael Page – 23 hours and 43 minutes

The Republic of Thieves Cover

16. Eldest by Christopher Paolini, narrated by Gerrard Doyle – 23 hours and 29 minutes

Eldest Cover

17. Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie, narrated by Steven Pacey – 22 hours and 38 minutes

Before they are Hanged

18. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, narrated by Steven Pacey – 22 hours and 15 minutes

The Blade Itself

19. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, narrated by Michael Page – 21 hours and 59 minutes

The Lies of Locke Lamora Cover

20. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale – 21 hours and 36 minutes

Deathly Hallows

 

Hmm, well that turned out to be a rather interesting result. I was honestly expecting more than three new entries onto the list, but those were the only ones that made the cut. Ironically, three substantial books I had listened to throughout the year, Red Metal by Mark Greaney and Hunter Ripley Rawlings, A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie and Tiamat’s Wrath by James S. A. Corey would have made the old top twenty list, if they hadn’t been booted off by the new entries above. Still, the three new additions altered the list a bit, and it was interesting to see that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Cold Iron and Promise of Blood ended up getting knocked out of the top twenty.

Well, that’s it for this latest Top Ten Tuesday. I plan to revisit this list in another year or so and I will make an effort to listen to some additional audiobooks with a long run time in order to add them to the list. In the meantime, let me know what you think of the results above; I am curious to see what the longest audiobook you ever listened to was. Also, if you are stuck at home, you might want to check out some of the novels above. Each of them are really good and can help pass the time, especially in their audiobook formats, which are a lot of fun to listen to.

WWW Wednesday – 8 April 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?

Gathering Dark, House of Earth and Blood Covers

Gathering Dark by Candice Fox (Trade Paperback)

I have made a bit of progress with this one, and I am quite enjoying it.

House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas (Audiobook)

I am still getting through this behemoth of a book and loving every second of it.  Hoping to finish it off in the next day or so.

What did you recently finish reading?

I am going to have leave this section blank this week, I didn’t get around to finishing any books off.  Should have a few new additions to this section next week, so stay tuned.

What do you think you’ll read next?

The Bear Pit by S. G. Maclean (Trade Paperback)

The Bear Pit 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 – 1 April 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?

Gathering Dark, House of Earth and Blood Covers

Gathering Dark by Candice Fox (Trade Paperback)

I just started reading this fun thriller from Australian author Candice Fox, and so far it is pretty interesting.  Gathering Dark follows four very different women in Los Angeles as they team up to save a lost girl, and it is a rather cool concept so far.  Looking forward to seeing how this one ends up.

House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas (Audiobook)

I am still getting through this massive book, but it is still really good.  I love the vast new fantasy world Maas has created, and the epic story weaving through it is extremely compelling.

What did you recently finish reading?

Hitler’s Secret by Rory Clement (Trade Paperback)

Hitler's Secret Cover

Rules for Perfect Murders
by Peter Swanson (Trade Paperback)

Rules for Perfect Murders Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

The Bear Pit by S. G. Maclean (Trade Paperback)

The Bear Pit 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 – 25 March 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?

Hitler's Secret, House of Earth and Blood Covers
Hitler’s Secret by Rory Clements (Trade Paperback)

This is the fourth book in Clements’s Tom Wilde series of historical thrillers, a series that I have been reading from the start (check out my reviews for the last two books, Nucleus and Nemesis).  I am about halfway through Hitler’s Secret at the moment, and so far it is  probably my favourite book in the series.

House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas (Audiobook)

I started listening to this book earlier in the week, and I am only a few hours in so far.  Maas is one of the author’s I have been meaning to read more of, especially after I had such a good time with her comic book novel, Catwoman: Soulstealer.  I am actually really enjoying this book at the moment, and Maas has come up with a compelling story inside a vast new fantasy world.  I am very curious to see where this story ends up, although it might take me a little while to get through.

What did you recently finish reading?

Riptides, Predator One Covers

Riptides by Kirsten Alexander (Trade Paperback)

A short review of Riptides will appear in Thursday’s Canberra Weekly.

Predator One by Jonathan Maberry (Audiobook)

I am putting a Throwback Thursday review for this book up tomorrow night.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Gathering Dark by Candice Fox (Trade Paperback)

Gathering Dark Cover

That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.

Book Haul – 29 January 2020

Another week, another awesome haul of books for me to read.  Now I don’t mean to gloat (well maybe a little a bit of gloating is appropriate), but I have managed to pick up a pretty incredible collection of books in the last week.  I have featured several of the below books in my Waiting on Wednesday articles so I am very excited to have picked them up.  That being said, each of the below novels sound really amazing and I cannot wait to get through all of them.

Highfire by Eoin Colfer

Highfire Cover 3

I have already started reading Highfire and I am nearly finished.  It is really good and I will try to get a review up for it soon.

Alexander’s Legacy: To The Strongest by Robert Fabbri

To the Strongest Cover

The first book in a brand new series by one of my favourite historical fictional authors.  I am probably going to check this one out next.

One Minute Out by Mark Greaney

One Minute Out Cover

The Shadow Saint by Gareth Hanrahan

The Shadow Saint Cover

The God Game by Danny Tobey

The God Game Cover

Now this one sounds like quite the epic book and I am planning to read it very soon.  I have heard some very good things about The God Game and I am really excited to check it out.

House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas

House of Earth and Blood Cover

The latest novel from one of the biggest names in young adult fiction, Sarah J. Maas, House of Earth and Blood is an absolutely massive piece of fantasy fiction that I am going to have to really buckle down and read as soon as possible.

Agency by William Gibson

Agency Cover

This is an awesome sounding science fiction thriller involving alternate timelines, time travel and a rogue AI.  I reckon that this one is going to be a fantastic read and should prove to be very interesting.

The Museum of Desire by Jonathan Kellerman

The Museum of Desire Cover
That’s it for this latest Book Haul.  As you can imagine, I am very, very happy with all the above books I was lucky enough to receive, although I really need to pick up my reading speed if I am to get through them all.

Catwoman: Soulstealer by Sarah J. Maas

Catwoman Soulstealer Cover.jpg

Publishers: Penguin Random House

                        Penguin Random House Audio

Publication Date – 7 August 2018

 

One of DC Comics’ most iconic and badass female antiheroes is re-imagined in this bold new novel from young adult fiction bestseller Sarah J. Maas.

Selina Kyle is a rough street kid growing up in the slums of Gotham City.  She looks after her sister while scraping a living as a gang member and pit fighter.  When her luck finally runs out, her potential is seen by the mysterious Talia al Ghul who saves her and recruited into the League of Assassins.

Two years later, Selina has returned to Gotham City with a plan to turn the city on its head as Catwoman, the master thief and criminal mastermind.  Using the alias of the spoiled socialite Holly Vanderhees, Selina has returned at an ideal time; Batman is not in the city, away on a vital mission, and he has left his protégé Batwing behind to safeguard the city.  Initiating a series of high-profile thefts, Selina soon has the attention of Batwing and GCPD, especially when she starts teaming up with her new BFFs Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn to wreak havoc around the city.

While Batwing searches the city for this mysterious new villain, his alter ego, Luke Fox, encounters his mysterious new neighbour, Holly, and the two find themselves drawn to each other as their alter-egos battle in the night.  While Selina is able to outfox Batwing, a far more destructive force is about to be unleased upon Gotham.  Catwoman stole something from the League of Assassins and now a cadre of their most lethal assassins are descending on the city.  Will Selina be able to survive their deadly attentions, what is Catwoman’s plan, and who will be left standing in the aftermath?

This is the third book in the DC Icons series, a series of young adult books that provide re-imagined origin stories for younger versions of DC’s most iconic characters outside of the other established DC universes.  Featuring a range of different authors, the first book in the series, Wonder Woman: Warbringer, focused on Wonder Woman before she left Themyscira to become a hero, while the second book, Batman: Nightwalker, followed a teenage Bruce Wayne as he attempts to stop a series of murders in Gotham City.  A fourth book in the DC Icons series, Superman: Dawnbreaker, is currently set to be released in March 2019 and will follow a young Clark Kent as he investigates strange happenings in Smallville.

Soulstealer is the first of these DC Icons books that I have read, and I was quite impressed with the new and unique Catwoman story that it contained, as well as the cool new versions of several DC characters, including Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn and Batwing.  I listened to this book in its audiobook format, read by Julia Whelan.  I quite enjoyed having the story narrated to me, especially as it only took around 10 hours to get through.  While I initially had misgivings about whether I would like this series, after reading and loving Soulstealer I will definitely be getting a copy of Dawnbreaker when it is released next year, and Warbringer and Nightwalker will both be appearing future versions of my Throwback Thursdays reviews.

The author of Soulstealer, Sarah J. Maas, is one of the biggest names in modern young adult fiction, having written two best-selling young adult series in the last six years.  Her long-running Throne of Glass series finished earlier this year, and she has also created the A Court of Thorns and Roses series.  Soulstealer is the first Sarah J. Maas book that I have had the pleasure of reading, but after really enjoying the intricate story and fantastic characters within the novel I am keen to see what her fantasy books are like.  As a result, her Throne of Glass series is high on my list of books to check out in the future, especially after seeing just how awesome the artwork is on some of those covers and collected box sets.

Maas has installed a fantastic and clever story into her debut DC novel, and I really enjoyed how she re-imagined the origins of prominent comic book character.  Soulstealer contains a younger version of Catwoman, introducing her as a teenager gang member and focusing on her initial life of crime.  After the introductory paragraph, the story jumps ahead two years to Selina’s return to Gotham and her initial adventures as Catwoman, while also featuring several flashbacks to her training with the League of Assassins.  This main story is then told from two separate point-of-view characters, Selena and Batwing, and shows the characters in both their costumed adventures and as the people behind the masks in their civilian identities.  Soulstealer has a tight and intricate storyline that contains the perfect balance of comic book action, relationships, backstory, references and variations to comic lore, as well as a number of heists and intricate plots.  I loved Catwoman’s overall plan, as she engages in a play to take over Gotham while really nursing an ulterior motive that pits her against the League of Assassins.  I loved the slow reveal of this complex and insane plan, as well as the lengths she goes to bring her plan to pass, including making some dangerous partnerships.

One of the most interesting and significant changes that Maas makes to Catwoman’s origin story in this novel is the fact that she never meets or associates with Batman.  In nearly every previous iteration of Catwoman, her story has always been intertwined with Batman’s, as the two were usually each other’s main love interest, either as Batman and Catwoman or Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle.  However, in Soulstealer, Catwoman is substantially younger than Batman, who starts his crusade years before she is trained by the League of Assassins.  In addition, Batman is not present in Gotham when she returns to the city and throughout the book the two characters have no interactions at all.  Instead, Catwoman’s main love interest is the Luke Fox version of Batwing, who has been defending Gotham in Batman’s absence.  This results in a similar romance plot to some of the classic Batman and Catwoman storylines, where the two characters meet and start to fall in love with each other in both of their personas, despite their apparently different personalities.  This is a fun little romance that does get serious at times, as the two characters are mirrored by their personal traumas and backstories, such as a Selina’s life on the streets and with the League, versus Luke’s PTSD as a result of his time as a marine.  There are also some great moments when the two characters face off against each other, and some of the book’s best laugh-out-loud moments came when Catwoman messes with either Batwing or Luke, sometimes at the same time.  To my mind, the funniest scene in the book had to be when Batwing, after getting injured and rescued by Catwoman, awakens half-naked in a darkened room, only to find out that he is actually in Commissioner Gordon’s spare bedroom.  The moment Luke walks out to find Gordon and his family staring at them was pretty darn funny, especially when Batwing attempted to play it off nonchalantly while silently cursing Catwoman.

One of the elements of Soulstealer that I really appreciated was the references and re-imagined versions of several DC comics characters that appeared throughout the novel.  A huge range of DC characters, many tied into the Batman comics, appear throughout the book in a number of different capacities.  The characters that appear range from the iconic to the obscure and are enough to delight both hardcore comic fans and those with a more casual knowledge of these comics.  Several major Batman characters appear throughout the story; I will refrain from mentioning the full roster of characters to cut down on spoilers, although there is one appearance that was particularly awesome.  While a number of these characters have key or interesting differences between their mainstream comic book counterparts, it is clear that Maas has a real understanding and appreciation for the lore behind these characters.  It is also incredibly fascinating to see how Maas changes these characters for the purposes of her story, and the subtle tweaks that are made to accommodate this different universe.

Of all these additional characters, two of the best and significant inclusions are fellow supervillains Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, who team up with Catwoman to bring a little chaos to Gotham.  In the comic universe, these three supervillains occasionally form a team known as the Gotham City Sirens, and it was great to see them together in this book.  Like Catwoman, both Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn are quite young and have slightly altered origin stories which somewhat mirror the new origin story of Catwoman.  However, some of the key elements that made these characters so great in their comic book origins remain alive in these book adaptations of the characters and which work extremely well with Maas’s fantastic Soulstealer storyline.  For example, in this story, Harley is still obsessed with the Joker, no matter how much it impacts her relationship with the others, and there are a lot of discussions between Catwoman and Ivy about the roots of her obsession and insanity.  There is also a very clear and acknowledged romantic connection between Ivy and Harley that adds a really interesting element to the story, especially as Harley’s insanity stands in the way of the more serious relationship Ivy desires.  The inclusion of these characters adds in a defining friendship for a main character who has never had the option of friends before, and it’s also a lot of fun seeing these three characters work together, especially as they have such diverse skill sets and range of attitudes.  Overall, I really loved the fact that Maas included Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn as key characters in her novel, and it was a lot of fun to see her version of these young villains banding together for the first time and forming an outstanding partnership.

Rather than read a physical copy of this book, I grabbed the audiobook copy of Soulstealer and listened to that instead.  The audiobook is narrated by Julia Whelan, who does an amazing job capturing the essence of the book’s main character, Catwoman/Selina Kyle.  When focused on Catwoman’s point of view, the listener gets a real sense of the character’s emotions and attitude, and the voices that Whelan assigns to the other main female characters, Ivy, Harley and Talia, are fairly distinctive and fit well with the character.  I thought that the voice that the narrator used for the book’s other point-of-view character, Batwing/Luke Fox, was very serviceable and conveyed the character well enough.  However, I was a tad disappointed that the narrator did not do too much with several of the other iconic Batman characters in the story, such as Alfred, Batman or Commissioner Gordon, especially as these major characters have all been portrayed by amazing actors or voice actors in the past.  Still, the audiobook version is a great way to enjoy this story and it certainly helped me power through this novel quickly without forcing me to skip over any of its important elements.

Catwoman: Soulstealer is an excellent young adult superhero novel from acclaimed author Sarah J. Maas.  This book is a fantastic standalone novel that re-imagines an iconic DC comic book character.  No great previous insight into Catwoman or the DC universe is required, and those with even a glancing knowledge of the comic book characters will be able to enjoy this novel to its full potential.  This serves as a very good young adult novel that will hopefully draw in a younger generation of readers into this established universe, and I appreciated Maas’s casual inclusions of a number of LGBT+ elements.  Soulstealer comes highly recommended and it has certainly sparked my interest in checking out all the other books in the DC Icons range.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars