Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Debut Novels of 2021

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The official topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday involved participants listing the top books on their Summer 2021/22 to-read-list.  However, I already produced that list a few weeks ago, so I thought I would take this opportunity to continue my foray into highlighting the absolute best books of 2021.  This is an end of year tradition I do each year with several Top Ten Tuesday list, and I started this year’s version last week when I listed some of the best pre-2021 releases I checked out this year.  In a continuation of my end of year highlights, for this week’s list I have decided to look at my absolute favourite debut novels of the year.

I mentioned multiple times throughout the year that 2021 was a pretty awesome year for debuts and boy did I mean it.  There were an incredible number of new authors releasing some impressive and entertaining debut novels this year, and I was lucky enough to receive a huge bundle of them to review.  I always love checking out new authors as they produce their first book or take a foray into a whole new genre, and I was blown away with some of the talent this year.  As such, I am really glad that I can highlight some of the absolute best in this Top Ten list.

To be eligible for this list, the book had to be either the first novel from a new author released in 2021, or a novel that was extremely different from an author’s previous work (their debut in the genre).  I ended up reading a huge collection of debuts this year, so I had a bit of a hard time coming up with the list, as there were a lot of good options.  I was eventually able to whittle it down to a manageable list of 10, with my typical generous Honourable Mentions section.  The result was an excellent list that I feel perfectly captures my favourite debuts of the year and highlights them accordingly.  So, let us see what made the cut.

Honourable Mentions:

Falling by T. J. Newman

Falling Cover

An interesting and fast paced thriller debut that follows a pilot whose family is kidnapped in order to force him to crash his plane.  Intense and exciting.

Small Acts of Defiance by Michelle Wright

Small Acts of Defiance Cover

Small Acts of Defiance was a great Australian historical drama from new author Michelle Wright set in occupied Paris.  This book had a brilliant and powerful story about resistance no matter the odds and is really worth checking out.

Breakout by Paul Herron

Breakout Cover

This year urban fantasy author Paul Crilley came up with a new writing handle, Paul Herron, to produce his first thriller, Breakout, a fast-paced and ultra-exciting novel about an inmate trying to escape a flooded prison filled with the worst killers in the country.  One of the most action-packed novels of the year, this was an interesting change of pace from Crilley, so I am treating it as a debut.

City of Vengeance by D. V. Bishop

City of Vengeance Cover

One of the more interesting historical fiction debuts of 2021 was City of Vengeance by D. V. Bishop.  This cool book follows a historical investigation in Renaissance Florence and proved to be an intriguing and dark murder mystery with some clever flashes to a real historical case.

Top Ten List:

The Frenchman by Jack Beaumont

The Frenchman Cover

The first book on this list is the brilliant and compelling thriller debut, The Frenchman by Jack Beaumont.  Written by a former French intelligence operative, The Frenchman has an exciting tale of intrigue, espionage, and betrayal, as a French spy attempts to gain information on a chemical plant in Pakistan while also trying to balance his professional and personal lives.  An outstanding and clever novel with a ton of realism to it.

The Mask of Mirrors by M. A. Carrick

The Mask of Mirrors Cover

Readers were treated to a fantastic fantasy debut this year from the author M. A. Carrick, with The Mask of Mirrors, a complex and powerful read about a con artist attempting to infiltrate high society in a corrupt and dangerous fantasy city.  Carrick is actually the joint pen name of established authors Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms, but as this is their first collaboration and they are using a pseudonym to do so, I am treating it as a debut from a new author.  This was an excellent fantasy debut, and I was lucky enough to recently receive a copy of the sequel, The Liar’s Knot, which I am hoping to read very soon.

Inscape by Louise Carey

Inscape Cover

After previously writing fantasy fiction with her family, the incredibly talented Louise Carey had her solo debut this year with Inscape, a compelling and exciting cyberpunk, dystopian thriller.  Set in a future world where everyone has advanced technology loaded into their brains, this book follows a young corporate agent as she attempts to discover who is attacking her parent company.  Containing a brilliant story and a great new universe, this was a fantastic read that is really worth checking out.

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became the Sun Cover

One of the most highly anticipated debuts of 2021 was She Who Became the Sun by Australian author Shelley Parker-Chan.  Set in the chaotic Yuan dynasty of China, this book follows a girl who takes up the identity of her dead brother to steal his great destiny.  A clever reinvention of a famous Emperor’s rise to power, containing some intriguing gender swapping and fantasy elements, She Who Became the Sun rightly deserves all the praise it received, as it is a fun and amazing book.

The Councillor by E. J. Beaton

The Councillor Cover

Another great debut from an Australian author, The Councillor was a captivating and impressive fantasy novel that I deeply enjoyed.  Following a troubled palace scholar who rises to a position of power after the death of her queen, The Councillor is filled with a ton of captivating political intriguing, fascinating magic, and some complex and manipulative characters.  An awesome and powerful read, I cannot wait to see where Beaton takes this great series next.

Fire Made Flesh by Denny Flowers

Fire Made Flesh Cover

Written as part of the Necromunda sub-series in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Fire Made Flesh is Denny Flowers’ first full-length novel, and it takes the reader on a wild adventure to a haunted and chaotic underground settlement where various eccentric beings fight for power.  A really entertaining read that fits perfectly into the cool Necromunda setting, I deeply enjoyed this novel and it was one of the craziest books I read all year.

Lies Like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Lies Like Wildfire Cover

There was no way I could exclude the outstanding young adult thriller, Lies Like Wildfire from this list.  Lies Like Wildfire was Jennifer Lynn Alvarez’s first foray away from middle-grade fiction and features an incredible plot about a group of friends who accidently start a devastating wildfire and attempt to cover up their actions.  A powerful and dramatic novel filled with lies, betrayals and jealousy, Lies Like Wildfire was an exceptional read, and I cannot wait to see what Alvarez writes next.

Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn

Among Thieves Cover

Easily one of the best debuts of 2021 was the excellent Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn.  Essentially a compelling fantasy heist novel, this book follows several unique and entertaining characters as they attempt to steal a powerful artefact from an impregnable magical fortress.  However, every member of the crew has their own motivations for being there, and all of them are planning to betray the rest.  This was an outstanding and deeply entertaining read which really sets Kuhn up as a rising star in the fantasy genre.

The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield

The Apollo Murders Cover

I had an absolute blast reading The Apollo Murders, the first fictional book from astronaut turned author Chris Hadfield.  Set in 1973, this book envisions a 18th, fictional Apollo mission, filled with all manner of espionage, disaster, and stowaway Soviet cosmonauts.  Incredibly intense and loaded with a fantastic amount of information about space flight, The Apollo Murders was an amazing read and I deeply enjoyed all the different genres that Hadfield was able to feature in his debut novel.

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox

The Dying Squad Cover

The final debut on this list was the clever supernatural murder mystery, The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox.  Following a dead police detective and his feisty ghost partner as they attempt to solve the protagonist’s murder, this was an excellent and clever read that I had a wonderful time with.

Well, that is the end of this list.  As you can, there were some incredible debut novels that came out this year and I had a blast getting through all of them.  Each of the above debuts are really worth checking out, and I had an amazing time exploring these talented authors’ first forays into fiction.  I am really excited to see what these authors produce next, and I have a feeling that quite a few are going to become major figures in their genres.

The Frenchman by Jack Beaumont

The Frenchman Cover

Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Trade Paperback – 19 January 2021)

Series: Standalone/Book One

Length: 392 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Prepare to dive into the world of international espionage as debuting author Jack Beaumont delivers an impressive and deeply authentic spy thriller with The Frenchman.

In these turbulent times, France faces threats from innumerable international enemies and terrorist attacks, and it falls to the members of the DGSE, also known as The Company, France’s famed foreign intelligence service, to discover dangers in their infancy and eliminate them.  Alec de Payns is one of the top operatives of the top-secret Y Division of the DGSE, who take on the Company’s most dangerous international assignments.  With a speciality in manipulating targets into turning against their country or revealing their secrets, de Payns is the man on the ground in many of these missions, ensuring that terrorists operations and illegal weapons programs pose no threat to his country.

During his latest operation in Palermo, Sicily, de Payns attempts to infiltrate a dangerous terrorist group who have their sights set on attacking France.  However, before their planned contact and surveillance can begin in earnest, de Payns’s cover is blown and he is forced to flee from the scene, leaving behind two dead bodies.  Returning to Paris, de Payns begins to suspect that he was betrayed by a fellow agent, forcing himself to consider that his life and the lives of his young family may be in danger.

With the threat of a potential traitor hanging over him, de Payns is sent on another urgent mission to Pakistan to investigate a secretive biological weapons facility that is rumoured to be producing a weaponised bacteria for an attack on France.  In an attempt to gain information from within the facility, de Payns begins to establish a new identity to get closer to a person connected to the bacteria production.  However, when he is once again compromised, de Payns must find out who has betrayed him and what their sinister plans for Paris are.

The Frenchman is a clever and exciting spy thriller from an intriguing new author that takes a detailed and captivating look at French foreign intelligence.  This amazing new novel was written by Jack Beaumont, a pseudonym of a former French special operator who worked as part of the DGSE secret service.  Having relocated to Australia, Beaumont has utilised his experiences to create an enthralling spy thriller, packed full of impressive detail and with a central character strongly based around the author himself.  This results in an extremely thrilling and compelling novel that I found to be extremely addictive and which was a heck of a lot of fun to read.

This cool novel contains an epic and impressive story that sees the protagonist engage in a series of high-stakes espionage missions across the world.  Told primarily from the point of view of the main character, Alex de Payns, The Frenchman’s narrative starts of as one of standard international espionage, with the complex and damaged protagonist engaging in some standard missions.  However, the narrative quickly takes a turn into more dangerous territory when de Payns’s cover is blown and it is suspected that someone within his organisation set him up.  Now forced to not only investigate a dangerous weapons facility but also determine who betrayed him, The Frenchman quickly becomes an impressive tale of treachery, paranoia and deceit, with de Payns finding his attention drawn in several different directions.  Beaumont has crafted together an excellent and compelling narrative here, which unfolds in a methodical and deliberate pace.  Every story element is intricately connected, and the reader has an excellent time seeing the protagonist engage in his operations while also attending to his personal missions and his fears over the mysterious traitor in the organisation.  The author ensures that the story goes in some intriguing directions, with some captivating and suspenseful high-stakes scenes pulling the protagonist, his family and innumerable French citizens into lethal danger.  Beaumont sticks in some great twists, especially around the DGSE traitor subplot, and I particularly loved the clever, if somewhat dark, ending.  This amazing story blends in well with the author’s intriguing main protagonist and the insanely authentic detail to create an outstanding spy thriller that readers should be able to power through extremely quickly.

It is impossible to talk about The Frenchman without discussing the sheer level of detail that Beaumont shoves into the novel as he delves into the various aspects of spycraft and modern-day espionage operations.  Readers get a major crash course in every aspect of French intelligence work, from how the organisation works, what sort of operations they run and the sort of people who are employed as French spies.  There is also a huge focus on tradecraft, as the author meticulously details all the various tricks and procedures that operatives are required to perform during operations.  Beaumont features so many cool examples of tradecraft throughout this book, including the creation and maintenance of legends, coming up with cover stories while undercover in other nations, the manipulation and management of contacts for information and how to run a successful surveillance operation.  There is also a huge amount of focus on the various procedures operatives go through in everyday life, not just when they are on missions, including all the different countersurveillance and strategic movements that the protagonist utilises to ensure he is not being followed home.  I also liked how the story depicted espionage missions as relatively low-key and less exciting than people familiar with Hollywood blockbusters would expect.  Rather than the protagonist engaging in major action sequences or single-handedly taking out every single terrorist or spy he encounters, he instead performs complex surveillance operations or discrete undercover contacts, which allows his team to build up the intelligence they need to send in proper combat specialists.  All of this proves to be incredibly fascinating, if a little overwhelming, and I really loved the sheer amount of authenticity that Beaumont brings to The Frenchman by exploring this tradecraft.  While the story did occasionally get bogged down in jargon and acronyms, the author’s attention to detail and impressive insights made for a much more realistic story, which really stands out from some of the other spy thrillers out there.

In addition to this comprehensive examination of tradecraft and international espionage, I was also impressed with how Beaumont examined the psyche of an intelligence operative, highlighted the various struggles that people in this profession experience.  As the story is primarily told from de Payns’s point of view, the readers get a great view of how his job as a spy impacts him: increased stress, panic attacks and a major sense of guilt due to some of the deaths attributed to him.  The Frenchman also examines the strains that this job has on operative’s family life, and the author makes it clear that most marriages to spies do not last due to the constant secrecy and uncertainty.  Beaumont does a particularly good job exploring this through de Payns, as the protagonist is constantly forced to keep things from his wife, while also disappearing for days at end, reappearing mentally wearied and afraid.  These problems are further exacerbated by the overwhelming sense of paranoia that de Payns carries with him as he is constantly worried that his enemies will find out about his family and use them to manipulate or destroy him.  For example, he becomes increasingly suspicious of a new family friend who his wife and kids welcome into their lives, and he spends time investigating them and their family, trying to determine if they are threats.  Due to the story being told from de Payns’s perspective, this new character appears extremely suspicious, and the reader is uncertain whether they are an actual threat or a red herring brought on by the protagonist’s paranoia.  This portrayal of the mindset of the spy is deeply compelling, and I really liked that the author took the time to dive into this, especially as he probably utilised his own experiences to make it even more detailed and realistic.

Debuting author Jack Beaumont has produced an epic and exciting read with The Frenchman, a clever and deeply compelling spy thriller that ruthlessly grabs the reader’s attention and refuses to let go.  Filled with intense amounts of detail and dripping with authenticity, The Frenchman is an impressive and highly enjoyable novel that is strongly recommended.  I had an absolute blast with this debut and I really hope that Beaumont continues to write more intriguing spy novels in the future.

Book Haul – 13 January 2021

It has been a while since I have done a Book Haul post, but seeing that I received several interesting books today, I thought I would quickly do one to highlight some of the best books I have gotten in the last few weeks.  Each of the below books sound extremely cool and captivating, and I cannot wait to see how they all turn out.

 

The Frenchman by Jack Beaumont (Trade Paperback)

The Frenchman Cover

An intriguing debut from a former French spy, The Frenchman is a cool and impressive spy thriller novel that I finished off today.  I am hoping to get a review for this one up soon, and it is an amazing novel to check out.

 

#NoEscape by Gretchen McNeil (Hardcover)

#NoEscape Cover

#NoEscape is the awesome and ultra-exciting prequel to #MurderTrending, the young adult thriller that saw delinquent teens murdered on live television.  This prequel contains an impressive story which sees a new group of protagonists locked in a murderous escape room.  Extremely fun reading.

 

Doctor Who: Time Lord Victorious: The Knight, the Fool and the Dead by Steve Cole (Hardcover)

Doctor Who - The Knight, The Fool and The Dead Cover

A somewhat dark, but enjoyable Doctor Who tie-in novel that follows the Tenth Doctor as he attempts to stop death itself.  A very interesting read, especially for fans of the franchise.

 

City of Vengeance by D. V. Bishop (Trade Paperback)

City of Vengeance Cover

City of Vengeance is an intriguing historical murder mystery debut that I have looking forward to check out for a while now.  It has an amazing sounding story and I cannot wait to see how this mystery in historical Florence unfolds

 

The Devils You Know by Ben Sanders (Trade Paperback)

The Devils you Know Cover

A fun and intriguing thriller novel, The Devils You Know looks set to be an amazing read that I am keen to check out.

 

The Imitator by Rebecca Starford (Trade Paperback)

The Imitator Cover

The Imitator is a particularly compelling new novel that follows a young women recruited to MI5 during World War II.  Written by Australian author Rebecca Starford, The Imitator sounds extremely interesting and I think that it has a lot of potential to be a compelling and intense historical thriller.

 

The Shaman by Roland Perry (Trade Paperback)

The Shaman Cover

The final entry in this Book Haul post is the fantastic sounding thriller, The Shaman by bestselling Australian author Roland Perry.  With a really fun sounding plot that seems loaded with excitement, The Shaman should be an amazing read and I am very keen to check it out.

 

Well that’s the end of this latest Book Haul post.  As you can see I have quite a bit of reading to do at the moment thanks to all these awesome books that have come in.  Let me know which of the above you are most interested in and make sure to check back in a few weeks to see my reviews of them.

WWW Wednesday – 13 January 2021

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws): 

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Fool Me Twice by Jeff Lindsay (Trade Paperback)

Fool Me Twice Cover

I finally got around to starting Fool me Twice, the exciting sequel to Just Watch Me by bestselling author Jeff Lindsay.  This is a very fun thriller series that follows master thief, Riley Wolfe, as he attempts to steal some of the world’s most precious and heavily guarded artefacts.  In this second novel, Wolfe is compelled to steal a massive fresco that is not only painted on a wall, but which is located within the Vatican.  This should be an extremely awesome read and I cannot wait to see how it turns out.

Altered Realms: Ascension by B. F. Rockriver (Audiobook)

Altered Realms cover

I have nearly finished this cool, if massive, audiobook version of B. F. Rockriver’s LitRPG debut, Altered Realms: Ascension.  This is an extremely enjoyable book, that follows a NPC within a video game who is turned into a player and must adventure across his massive fantasy world to save everything he knows.  This is an amazing and surprisingly compelling audiobook which is well worth checking out.

What did you recently finish reading?

The Frenchman by Jack Beaumont (Trade Paperback)

The Frenchman Cover
What do you think you’ll read next?

The Return by Harry Sidebottom (Trade Paperback)

The Return 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 – 6 January 2021

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?


The Frenchman by Jack Beaumont (Trade Paperback)

The Frenchman Cover

This is a really cool spy thriller novel which is apparently written by a former French intelligence agent.  I have made some good progress on this book and I am getting pretty caught up in the clever story, especially as it is loaded with a ton of intriguing depictions of tradecraft and fascinating information about France’s intelligence agencies.

Altered Realms: Ascension by B. F. Rockriver (Audiobook)

Altered Realms cover

I was in the mood to try something a little different this week, so I thought I would check out a LitRPG novel, a fantasy sub-genre I am not too familiar with.  I ended up going with this debut novel, Altered Realms: Ascension, which follows a NPC within a video game who gets transformed into an adventurer and must quest to save his digital world.  I am about a quarter of the way through this book at the moment and it has so far proved to be an extremely fun and entertaining book that I am really enjoying.

What did you recently finish reading?

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

Call of the Bone Ships Cover


Cyber Shogun Revolution by Peter Tieryas (Audiobook)

Cyber Shogun Revolution


#NoEscape
by Gretchen McNeil (Hardcover)

#NoEscape Cover


Doctor Who: The Knight, The Fool and the Dead
by Steve Cole (Hardcover)

Doctor Who - The Knight, The Fool and The Dead 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.