The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Cover

Publisher: Scholastic Audio (Audiobook – 19 May 2020)

Series: The Hunger Games – Book 0

Length: 16 hours and 16 minutes

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It is time to return to Panem as bestselling young adult fiction author Suzanne Collins presents the thrilling prequel to her acclaimed The Hunger Games series, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

It has been 10 years since the third and final book in The Hunger Games trilogy was published. Since then the series has gone from strength the strength, thanks to the four films that converted these books into an ultra-popular franchise. Like many, I jumped onto The Hunger Games bandwagon after the first film was released, and I ended up listening to all three of the novels in quick succession. This of course turned me into a pretty major fan of the franchise, and I eagerly watched the next three films as they were released. As a result, I was extremely intrigued when I heard that Collins was writing a prequel novel, and I have been looking forward to it for some time. I ended up listening to the audiobook version of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes right after its release, and it proved to be an extremely interesting book that I rather enjoyed.

It has only been a decade since the Capitol won the war that ravished Panem, defeating the Districts and forcing them back under Capitol control. As punishment for their crimes, every year two children from each of the 12 surviving Districts are forced to compete in the Hunger Games, a brutal fight to the death from which there is only one survivor. While many in both the Capitol and the Districts view the Games as distasteful, for one young man it represents an invaluable opportunity.

Coriolanus Snow is a young academy student whose family has fallen on hard times after the war. Coriolanus’s one chance to get into the Capitol university and have a chance at wealth and prestige is to successfully mentor one of the tributes in the annual Hunger Games and ensure that they win. The odds seem to be against him when he is given the female tribute from District 12, generally considered the lowest tribute with the worst odds of surviving. However, when his tribute, the wild and alluring Lucy Gray Baird, sings on stage at the reaping, Coriolanus’s hopes rise, as her antics capture the attention of everyone in the Capitol. Determined to succeed no matter the cost, Coriolanus soon finds his fate entwined with that of Lucy Gray. But as he gets closer and closer with his tribute, just how far is Coriolanus willing to go, and how will his decisions now affect the future of Panem forever?

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a captivating and entertaining read that serves as a fascinating prequel to the original Hunger Games novels. Collins comes up with a fantastic, character-driven story that focuses on the main antagonist of the first trilogy, President Snow, while also diving back into the past of her unique dystopian future, showing the early days of the Hunger Games. I have to admit that I had rather high expectations going into this novel, and I ended up being a little disappointed at times with how it turned out. This was a rather less exciting read than the previous Hunger Games books, as Collins spends a lot of time exploring society, human nature and the psyche of the villainous protagonist. It was also way too long, and I think it could have been shortened down a little. Despite probably being my least favourite Hunger Games novel so far, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is still a really good book that I had an amazing time listening to it.

This book contains an intriguing plot that follows the protagonist as he becomes involved in the events of the 10th annual Hunger Games. The story is broken up into three distinctive parts, each of which takes up about a third of the book’s narrative. The first part deals with the lead-up to the Hunger Games, the second part follows the actual Hunger Games as Snow watches from the outside, while the last third of the book details the aftermath of the games, and features a new adventure for the protagonist. Each of these three parts proved to be enjoyable in their own right, and together they formed a rather compelling overall narrative. I was a little surprised that the actual Hunger Games ended about two-thirds of the way into the story. When the novel suddenly jumped to a post-Hunger Games storyline with third of the book still to go, I honestly thought that Collins had made a mistake, and would have been better off portraying an extended Hunger Games. However, this third part served as a rather good conclusion to the entire novel, and I actually really liked some of the major plot elements that occurred there, especially as they were the most transformative part of the novel for the main character. There are a lot of cool moments within this story, as well as a bevy of supporting characters, many of whom Collins is able to give a bit of depth to with a few short paragraphs. I actually really enjoyed where this story went, and while I did envision it going in a different direction, I think that Collins did a good job with it in the end.

One of the key things about The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is that it serves as an origin story for President Snow, the main antagonist of the original Hunger Games trilogy. It features an 18-year-old Snow as the main character and is told completely from his perspective. I understand that quite a few people were not exactly thrilled that President Snow was the focus of this novel, and many did not want to see a book that followed a young version of him. While I can understand their feelings about this, I personally enjoyed seeing something that focused on Snow and his early history. I have read and enjoyed many stories in the past that focus on a villain, or which features them as a major protagonist, and it can often be quite fun to see their perspectives and motivations. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a good example of this, and I found it fascinating to see a younger Snow and watch his involvement in his first Hunger Games.

Collins has an interesting take on the character of the young President Snow, and presents the reader with some key moments from his life, as well as some of the people who helped shape him into the villain we know in the later books. The author spends time exploring elements of his childhood, such as showing how he suffered during the war, not only losing both his parents, but also nearly dying from starvation as the Districts besieged the Capitol. There are also some intriguing examinations of his family, such as the grandmother who gifted him his love of roses, and the revelation that the character of Tigress, who appeared in the third book (fourth movie), is actually Snow’s cousin and closest living relative. However, despite these more humanising elements, Snow is shown to be a truly irredeemable person even before the transformative events of the novel. From the very start of the book, Collins portrays him as a manipulative and conceited individual, constantly sucking up to people in order to get what he wants, resentful of those around him who have more than he does and concerned most of all with status. While there are some intriguing nature versus nurture elements to his early behaviours, Snow is shown to be just an unpleasant person. This of course makes him a hard protagonist to get behind for this book, and for most of the story you really were not rooting for him to succeed. Despite this, I found his story to be rather compelling and I enjoyed seeing this mostly amoral teenager attempt to succeed, while presenting the reader with various, weak or selfish justifications for his actions in his mind.

While he is already a pretty despicable person, it is the events of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes that truly turn him into the cutthroat person that takes control of the Capitol in the future. Thanks to a combination of his experiences and some perceived betrayals (which are always worse from his point of view), as well as the mentorship of the Capitol’s sadistic head gamemaker, Doctor Gaul, Snow becomes much more ruthless and ambitious, and some of his actions towards the end of the book show just how evil he has become. It was also cool to see him embrace the philosophy around the Hunger Games, as well as developing a hatred of District 12 and certain other symbols and songs, all of which the character would carry with him to the main trilogy 60 years in the future. All of this analysis of Snow’s character formed a captivating heart to the story, and I liked the more villain-centric novel, even if this great antagonist did come across as a winy child at times. I will be intrigued to see more of the events that influenced Snow in the future, although I can appreciate that many others would prefer stories based around Collins’s protagonists.

The other major character that I have to discuss is Snow’s tribute from District 12, Lucy Gray Baird. Lucy Gray is an entertaining and likeable character who steps off the page right at the moment of her introduction and sticks in the mind. Lucy Gray is a very different tribute to that of Katniss from the main trilogy, being a singer and rebellious entertainer who effortlessly makes everyone fall in love with her, and who relies on cunning and underhanded tactics to survive rather than martial prowess. She also serenades both the reader and the other characters with a variety of different songs, and I quite enjoyed seeing several of the musical numbers she came up with, especially as you find out the origins of one of the musical pieces that appear in the original trilogy. Lucy Gray is the character who the reader is most drawn to, and you find yourself even hoping that Snow succeeds, as this will ensure Lucy Gray’s survival. Snow and Lucy Gray end up having a bit of an awkward romance, which on the surface seems nice, although you only see it from Snow’s point of view, and he becomes rather possessive of her in his own mind. I would have been interested to see Lucy Gray’s thoughts on Snow, as it could have really changed the whole dynamic of their relationship. Overall, though, Lucy Gray is a great new character, and the way her arc in this book ends really helps drive home how terrible Snow can be.

The thing that I think most people, especially established fans of The Hunger Games novels, will enjoy about this prequel novel is the substantial world building that Collins does. The author does an outstanding job showing off an early version of Panem, which is still recovering from the impacts of the war, and where control over the Districts is not yet complete. This is a rather different Capitol to what you see in the other The Hunger Games books, as there are no elaborate costumes, outrageous styles, strange cosmetic surgery or excessive luxuries. Instead it is a far more subdued Capitol, with less food, traumatised people and rubble still in the streets. This made for a curious contrast to what we see in the future books, and it was interesting to see the differences and similarities. There are also some exciting flashbacks to the war itself from the memory of Snow, and it was cool to learn a little more about that. Naturally, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes contains a lot of foreshadowing to the events of the original Hunger Games trilogy, and fans will enjoy seeing historical views of certain key events, locations and people.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this world building is the author’s exploration of the early Hunger Games and how they took place. These Games are very different to the elaborate affairs shown in the original trilogy. Up until this point the Hunger Games are rather basic, with the tributes simply thrown into an abandoned sports arena with a bunch of weapons. There are some great comparisons between these more basic games and the games that we are more familiar with, such as the way that the tributes are treated, as rather than the luxurious train with all the fancy food that Katniss and Peeta travelled in, the tributes for these Hunger Games arrive starved and injured in a livestock train. This is also the games where they start to experiment with some of the elements that are recognisable from the main games, such as having a mentor, brief interviews with a Flickerman (in this case, Lucky Flickerman, the local news weatherman and amateur magician), gambling and sponsors. It was really cool to see the origins of these ideas, and why they were implemented, and it makes for a truly fascinating addition to the book. Collins also really dives into the philosophy behind the Games, and why the leaders of the Capitol were so eager for them to succeed and why they believed that they helped control the Districts. The origin of the Games is also revealed, as well as some of the key players, and I think it served as an invaluable piece of this universe’s lore. I quite liked learning more about the early days of the Hunger Games, and I imagine that a lot of readers will love to find out how such a terrible event came to pass.

The actual Hunger Games that took place in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was a shorter and more barebones affair than what we have seen before. The tributes are fighting in an actual sporting arena, rather than a terraformed zone, and most of them spend the time hiding in the tunnels. Due to the fact that we are seeing it from Snow’s point of view, and because the arena only has a couple of cameras that only cover a fraction of the area, there are a lot of periods of inactivity and blank time, where the reader has no idea what is going on. This made for a much more disrupted experience, and while it was interesting to see the games unfold from the outside (something we saw a little bit of in the movie, but not in the books), it was nowhere as exciting as it could have been. That being said, there are still some really cool moments of child murder, and I did like seeing the mentor’s role in winning the games. The way in which the games came to an end was also rather clever, and it played into the events occurring outside with Snow. While it could have been longer, more exciting and perhaps more intense, this was still a fun part of the novel, and I look forward to seeing more fights to the death in any future Hunger Games novels Collins writes.

As I mentioned above, I ended up listening to the audiobook version of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes rather than grab a physical copy, and I am rather glad that I did, as it proved to be a great way to enjoy this book. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes audiobook is narrated by Santino Fontana and has a run time of just over 16 hours. This was a rather extensive run time for a Hunger Games novel; it was around five hours longer than any of the previous audiobooks in the series. That being said, I was able to get through this audiobook in a rather short period of time, and I found myself really engaged by this format, as it helped explore all the elements of this earlier version of Panem. Santino Fontana proved to be a very good narrator for this novel and he does an excellent job bringing the book’s large host of characters to life. The various voices he does fit the characters rather well, and I thought that his narration helped to highlight how horrible Snow could be at times. I also liked how Fontana’s narration worked with the multiple songs that Collins featured throughout the novel, and his spoken version of them sounded rather cool. As a result, I would definitely recommend the audiobook version of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes to people interested in checking this book out, as it was a wonderful format to enjoy this great story with.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was a curious and unique new addition to The Hunger Games franchise, which I thought turned out to be a rather good read. Collins ended up writing an intriguing, character-based narrative that showed a new side to the main antagonist of her original trilogy. While this book is not without its flaws, I had a wonderful time reading it, and once I got into its plot I had a hard time putting it down. Ideal for those fans of the previous Hunger Games novel, this book should make for an interesting movie in the future, and I am planning to grab any future novels from Collins set in this universe.

WWW Wednesday – 3 June 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?

Lionheart by Ben Kane (Trade Paperback)

Lionheart Cover

Over the last week or so I have been on a roll when it comes to awesome historical fiction novels, so I thought I would quickly check out the new book from Ben Kane which sounded really cool.  I am very glad that I decided to read Lionheart as it is an outstanding read, full of action and historical detail.  I have made a lot of progress with Lionheart over the last few days and I should finish it off soon.

What did you recently finish reading?

Viennese Girl, Songbirds and Snakes Covers

The Viennese Girl by Jenny Lecoat (Trade Paperback)

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (Audiobook)

I ended up really enjoying this Hunger Games prequel and I will try to get a review for it up as soon as I can.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Aurora Burning, We are the Dead Covers

Aurora Burning by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Trade Paperback)


We Are The Dead
by Mike Shackle (Audiobook)

 

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 – 27 May 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?

Viennese Girl, Songbirds and Snakes Covers

The Viennese Girl by Jenny Lecoat (Trade Paperback)

The Viennese Girl is an intriguing historical drama that chronicles life of a Jewish refugee trapped on the British Channel Islands during the Nazi occupation.  I only started reading this interesting debut today, but I have made some great progress and should hopefully finish it soon.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (Audiobook)

The much anticipated prequel to The Hunger Games, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is an interesting novel that follows the life of a young President Snow during the 10th annual Hunger Games.  I am about two hours into this book at the moment, and so far it’s quite good.  I am enjoying seeing the early days of the Hunger Games, and I am intrigued about where this story is going.

What did you recently finish reading?

Firefly: The Ghost Machine by James Lovegrove (Hardcover)

Firefly The Ghost Machine Cover
Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst (Audiobook)

Race the Sands Cover
The Grove of the Caesars by Lindsey Davis (Trade Paperback)

The Grove of the Caesars Cover
What do you think you’ll read next?

Aurora Burning by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Trade Paperback)

Aurora Burning Cover

 

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

Top Ten Tuesday – Autumn 2020 TBRs

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 need to list the top ten books on their Autumn 2020 (or Spring 2020 for those up in the Northern Hemisphere) to be read (TBR) list.

There are a huge number of novels coming out in the next couple of months which I have my eye on. Many of these are very impressive sounding books, and I am extremely excited for several of them. As a result, I was able to come up with a good list of Autumn TBR books, and each of the entries below are some of my most anticipated releases coming out in March, April and May 2020. I have previously addressed several of these books before in my weekly Waiting on Wednesday posts, and there is also likely to be some crossover between this list and some of my previous Top Ten Tuesday lists, such as My Most Anticipated Book Releases for the First Half of 2020 list and my Predicted Five Star Reads list. So let’s get to it and see which books I am most looking forward to reading in the next three months.

Honourable Mentions:


Providence
by Max Barry (31 March 2020)

Providence Cover


Execution
by S. J. Parris (30 April 2020)

Execution Cover


Lionheart
by Ben Kane (14 May 2020)

Lionheart Cover

Top Ten List (By Release Date):

Cyber Shogun Revolution by Peter Tieryas (3 March 2020)

Cyber Shogun Revolution


The Grove of the Caesars
by Lindsey Davis (2 April 2020)

The Grove of the Caesars Cover


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

Usagi Yojimbo Bunraku and Other Stories Cover

There was no way that I wasn’t going to include the new Usagi Yojimbo on this list (especially after I just did Throwback Thursday posts for the first three volumes in the series, The Ronin, Samurai and The Wanderer’s Road). This has been one of my favourite series for years, and I really enjoyed Sakai’s last two entries, Mysteries and The Hidden. This upcoming volume, Bunraku and Other Stories, has a lot of potential and some cool features to it. Not only is it the first volume to be released completely in colour but it sounds like it is going to have some fantastic stories, including one that revisits the very first Usagi Yojimbo comic.

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett (21 April 2020)

Shorefall Cover


Firefly
: The Ghost Machine by James Lovegrove (28 April 2020)

Firefly The Ghost Machine Cover


The Kingdom of Liars
by Nick Martell (5 May 2020)

The Kingdom of Liars Cover


The Lion Shield
by Conn Iggulden (14 May 2020)

The Lion Shield Cover

Iggulden is one of the top historical fiction authors in the world today, and he has created some exceptional novels in the past, including his Emperor and War of the Roses series, as well as the 2018 standalone novel The Falcon of Sparta. I have deeply enjoyed Iggulden’s work in the past, and I cannot wait to check out his new novel later this year. The Lion Shield is the first book in a new series that will focus on the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. This is an extremely fascinating historical conflict that is criminally underutilised in the historical fiction genre. I cannot wait to see what outstanding novels Iggulden weaves around this conflict, and I am sure that The Lion Shield is going to be an impressive first entry in this series.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (19 May 2020)

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Cover


Eagle Station
by Dale Brown (26 May 2020)

Eagle Station Cover


Fair Warning
by Michael Connelly (26 May 2020)

Fair Warning Cover

Michael Connelly is an author that needs very little introduction, having produced some amazing and creative murder mysteries over the years. I have only recently started reading his books, but I loved his last two novels, Dark Sacred Night and The Night Fire (the latter of which was one of the best books I read in 2019, as well as one of my favourite audiobooks of 2019). As a result, I am extremely keen to check out his next novel, Fair Warning, which will be his third Jack McEvoy novel. Fair Warning sounds like it is going to be a thrilling and exciting novel, and I cannot wait to see Connelly’s reporter protagonist go up against a deadly and well-hidden serial killer.

Well that’s my latest top ten list. I am very happy with the final list that I pulled together, especially as this is a great mixture of impressive sounding novels. I think each of the books listed above have incredible potential, and I cannot wait to read each and every one of them. Let me know which of these books interests you the most in the comments below.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books on my TBR I Predict Will Be 5 Star Reads

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly series that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. In this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, we need to list the top ten upcoming books on our to-read list that we think will be five-star reads. To that end, I have scoured through those upcoming books that I want to read for those exceptional sounding entries that I think I will end up awarding a full five stars rating to.

There are actually quite a few novels I am planning to read that I think have the potential to get a five-star rating from me. I have already identified several of these books in my Waiting on Wednesday posts, as well as in my prior Top Ten Most Anticipated Book Releases for the First Half of 2020 list. Not only do all of these books have amazing-sounding plots, but quite a few of them are either written by an author I really like or part of a series that contains entries that I have previously awarded five-star reviews to.

There were quite a few upcoming books that I felt could have been included this list, but I ended up culling it down to my top ten favourites (in addition to my usual honourable mentions section). I decided to only include those books whose titles and plot synopsis have been officially revealed, as that made it easier to determine whether I am likely to award it a five-star rating. This does mean that I had to exclude several books that are coming out in the next year which have not been officially announced or which we know very little detail about. This includes sequels to some of my favourite books of 2019, include Rage, The Bone Ships, Starsight and A Little Hatred, which, while I know nothing about them now, I am extremely confident that they are going to be incredibly awesome. In the end, I was able to come up with a great list of books that I am happy with, so let us get to it.

Honourable Mentions:


The God Game
by Danney Tobey – 14 January 2020

The God Game Cover

The only book on this list that I currently have a copy of, The God Game sounds like an amazing read, and I have heard some great things about it from some other reviewers. I am planning to read this book next, and based on its cool plot, I think this book has a real shot of getting a full five stars from me.

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett – 21 April 2020

Shorefall Cover


The Kingdom of Liars
by Nick Martell – 7 May 2020

The Kingdom of Liars Cover


Daughters of Night
by Laura Shepherd-Robinson – 25 June 2020

Daughters of Night

Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s debut book, Blood & Sugar, was an outstanding piece of historical crime fiction that got a full five stars from me and was one of my favourite debuts of 2019. This second book is set to explore another intriguing murder in 18th century London, and I am hopeful that the author’s second novel will be just as good as her first.

Top Ten List (By Release Date):


False Value
by Ben Aaronovitch – 20 February 2020

False Value Cover


Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising
by Timothy Zahn – 7 May 2020

Thrawn Ascendancy - Chaos Rising Cover


The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
by Suzanne Collins – 19 May 2020

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Cover


The Obsidian Tower
by Melissa Caruso – 2 June 2020

The Obsidian Tower Cover


Demon in White
by Christopher Ruocchio – 9 July 2020

Demon in White Cover 1


Queen of Storms
by Raymond E. Feist – 14 July 2020

Queen of Storms Cover

This is the sequel to 2018’s excellent King of Ashes, which is written by one of my favourite authors, Raymond E. Feist. I am a huge Feist fan and I have been looking forward to this book for a long time. I really enjoyed the intriguing new story that Feist came up with in his previous novel and I cannot wait to see where the story goes from here.

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It by K. J. Parker (cover not yet released) – 25 August 2020

One of my favourite books of 2019 was Parker’s exceptional fantasy novel, Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, which featured a desperate attempt to save a besieged city by a bunch of engineers and their duplicitous commander. This new novel, How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It, appears to contain a similar story, except that this time the book will focus on a playwright whose talents are utilised to win a siege. Based on how incredible his previous novel with, I am really excited for this upcoming book, and I fully expect it to be another funny and compelling five-star read.

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

The Evening and the Morning Cover

There is absolutely no way that the new epic novel from Ken Follett is not going to get a full five stars from me when it comes out later this year. Follett is another one of my favourite authors, and he has produced some incredible pieces of historical fiction over the years. The Evening and the Morning is the prequel to Follett’s iconic The Pillars of the Earth, and is set over 100 before during the Dark Ages. This is sure to be another captivating examination of history that explores the lives of several great characters over a period of years, producing a truly compelling story. This is going to be a massive read, but I am sure I will deeply enjoy every single page of it.
Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff – 17 September 2020

Empire of the Vampire precover

The next book on my list is an incredible-sounding novel from Australian author Jay Kristoff. Kristoff, who is best known for his young adult fiction, is working on an adult fantasy novel which focuses on a world where vampires rule after the sun failed to rise one day. This book will apparently chronicle the life of the last vampire hunter, who attempted to save the world but is now imprisoned by the vampires and awaiting his execution. I have to admit that I really like the sound of this upcoming book, and I think that Kristoff is onto a real winner with this intriguing story.

Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke – 1 December 2020

Hollow Empire Cover

Hawke’s debut novel, City of Lies, was a fantastic story about a family of poison experts as they tried to win a siege and keep their king safe from treachery, which was easily one of my favourite books of 2018. I have been looking forward to Hawke’s sequel for a while now, and Hollow Empire is currently set for release later this year. I have really high hopes for this sequel, especially as Hawke is apparently branching out into witchcraft and war in this new book.

Well, that’s it for this week’s list. I truly think all of the above books have the potential to be five-star reads, and I cannot wait to get my hands on all of them. Let me know what you think of the above books in the comments below, and tell me which upcoming pieces of fiction you think have the potential to be five-star reads.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Most Anticipated Book Releases for 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. In this first Top Ten Tuesday for the year, participants need to list their most anticipated book releases for the first half of 2020. The upcoming year is full of some very impressive sounding novels, and there are quite a few out there that I am really looking forward to getting my hands on.

I actually managed to pull together a substantial list of books that are coming out between January and June 2020. I was eventually able to narrow it down to my top ten absolute favourite upcoming releases (that have been announced), with a few honourable mentions included. I have already featured the vast majority of these books in some of my Waiting on Wednesday posts, but there are a couple of inclusions I have not had the chance to talk about yet. I like how the list below turned out and I hope you enjoy it.

Honourable Mention:


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

Song of the Risen God Cover


The Warsaw Protocol
by Steve Berry – 25 February 2020

The Warsaw Protocol Cover


The Kingdom of Liars
by Nick Martell – 5 May 2020

The Kingdom of Liars Cover


The Return
by Harry Sidebottom – 11 June 2020

The Return Cover.jpg

Harry Sidebottom has been on a fantastic roll over the last couple of years, producing some amazing Roman historical fiction novels which take inspiration from various modern thriller sub-genres. His previous two books, The Last Hour and The Lost Ten have been very impressive, and his new upcoming novel, The Return, is set to mix Scandi-noir elements with the ancient Italian countryside. This sounds like quite an exciting and enjoyable novel, and I am really looking forward to it.

Top Ten List (by release date):


To the Strongest
by Robert Fabbri – 2 January 2020

To the Strongest Cover


Highfire
by Eoin Colfer – 28 January 2020

Highfire Cover 3


False Value
by Ben Aaronovitch – 25 February 2020

False Value Cover

While I was really hoping to read this book last year, its release date was knocked back to February 2020. Still, it is only a short while until this book comes out and I have no doubt it is going to be another five-star novel from Aaronovitch.

Cyber Shogun Revolution by Peter Tieryas – 3 March 2020

Cyber Shogun Revolution


Shorefall
by Robert Jackson Bennett – 21 April 2020

Shorefall Cover


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

Firefly The Ghost Machine Cover.jpg

Lovegrove has already produced two amazing Firefly novels in the last year or so, with Big Damn Heroes and The Magnificent Nine both proving to be outstanding reads. This new upcoming Firefly book, The Ghost Machine, sounds extremely compelling, and I look forward to seeing what interesting adventures Lovegrove takes the crew of Serenity on next.

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising by Timothy Zahn – 5 May 2020

Thrawn Ascendancy - Chaos Rising Cover


The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
by Suzanne Collins – 19 May 2020

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Cover


Eagle Station
by Dale Brown – 26 May 2020

Eagle Station Cover


The Obsidian Tower
by Melissa Caruso – 2 June 2020

The Obsidian Tower Cover
I think that the above list is a nicely varied and intriguing collection of novels, and I like how I am interested in such a wide variety of different genres and authors. All 10 of the featured books (as well as the honourable mentions) are sure to be excellent, first-rate reads, and I have high hopes for all of them. Let me know which of the books above you are most interested in, as well as which upcoming novels are your most anticipated for the first half of 2020.

Waiting on Wednesday – The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

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. In this week’s Waiting on Wednesday entry, I look at the young adult novel that I am most excited to read next year, the upcoming prequel to Suzanne Collins’s epic The Hunger Games series, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Cover.jpg

For those of you who have been living under a literary and cinematic rock for the last 10 years, The Hunger Games books were a trilogy of extremely popular young adult dystopian novels. Starting in 2008 with The Hunger Games and followed up with 2009’s Catching Fire and 2010’s Mockingjay, The Hunger Games books followed the adventures of protagonist Katniss Everdeen in Panem, the nation that formed in the ruins of North America. Katniss, a sixteen-year-old girl from District 12, is forced to compete in the titular Hunger Games, a yearly spectacle that sees 24 teens from the 12 districts fight to the death in an elaborate arena for the amusement of the Capitol. The Hunger Games are a designated punishment for the districts after their defeat in a brutal civil war by the Capitol 74 years before. The books are pretty amazing, and they were quickly adapted into a series of four extremely popular movies, resulting in a huge following for The Hunger Games franchise.

As a result, I think that it is fair to say that The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, which is set to be released on 19 May next year, is probably going to be biggest young adult fiction release of 2020. Not only is this the first book that Collins has written since Mockingjay (with the exception of the children’s book Year of the Jungle) but it will return readers to the world of Panem and show a whole new side of this dystopian future.

Goodreads Synopsis:

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes will revisit the world of Panem sixty-four years before the events of The Hunger Games, starting on the morning of the reaping of the Tenth Hunger Games.

I admit that this is a rather sparse synopsis that does not give a lot of plot details away. While I imagine that a much more comprehensive synopsis will be released in the future, the details released above, combined with information contained within the original three books, allows us to make a number of educated guesses about the plot of this book.

The most important detail contained within the synopsis is that this book will feature the 10th Hunger Games. To me, this is a very exciting development, and I am really glad that we are getting a prequel. While I am sure that Collins would be able to write a compelling sequel to The Hunger Games trilogy, I think that most readers will be keen to see an earlier adventure that contains a Hunger Games (I suppose a sequel could also contain a Hunger Games, but I do not think that would work). The whole battle royale concept of the Hunger Games is pretty darn compelling (I mean, if you don’t mind stories about fictional children murdering each other), and the idea of checking out some of the historical Hunger Games in any format is pretty awesome. I personally would love to see a book or movie based around the 50th Hunger Games, the second Quarter Quell games, in which fan-favourite character Haymitch Abernathy won, as I reckon you could get a pretty fun and dramatic story out of it, even if it is based on only a few pages from Catching Fire.

Focusing on the 10th Hunger Games is a very interesting choice from Collins for a number of reasons. First of all, this is going to be fairly early edition of the Hunger Games, and it will be intriguing to see how different it was during the initial games, and whether it is viewed with as much spectacle as the later games. As it is only 10 years removed from the end of the civil war, I imagine it might be viewed differently, and be less about entertaining the denizens of the Capitol. It also seems likely that Collins is going to explore the events of the civil war and the origins of the Hunger Games in a lot more detail in this book, especially as the events of the war are going to be in all the competitors’ living memory.

Another cool thing that I like about setting The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes during the 10th Hunger Games is that Collins will have to come up with a whole new group of characters from both the districts and the Capitol. Due to the 64-year gap between this book and The Hunger Games, none of the characters who were featured in the original trilogy are likely to appear in this book. The original series’ oldest character, Mags, won the 11th Hunger Games, so it is very unlikely we will see anything from her. We also won’t have President Snow as the book’s antagonist, as he was only 12 years old during the events of the 10th Hunger Games. Instead I reckon that the book’s antagonist will be the person who originally came up with the concept of the Hunger Games, which is a very tantalising prospect. This lack of known characters also means that there are no spoilers for who is going to win the 10th Hunger Games and how they are going to do it. While you would assume that whoever narrates this new book is going to be the eventual winner (if Collin’s uses the same first-person perspective that she used in the original trilogy), it is going to be very interesting to see how the winner ties into the future games and books and what adventures they are going to have. Perhaps they train Mags in the next book, or maybe they are responsible for Snow coming to power. It is going to be very exciting to find out.

I think that is enough theorising for now. Suffice to say, I am pretty thrilled and curious about this new entry in The Hunger Games franchise. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes has some real potential as a novel, and I cannot wait to see what Collins comes up with in this prequel. This is definitely one of my top anticipated reads for 2020 and I am really looking forward to returning to this dystopian universe.