WWW Wednesday – 8 July 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?

The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde (Trade Paperback)

The Constant Rabbit Cover

The Constant Rabbit is the weird and entertaining new novel from bestselling author Jasper Fforde.  Fforde is an extremely clever writer who comes up with some unusual stories (such as his last release, Early Riser).  I only just started this book today, but so far it is a fun read that I am rather enjoying.


Star Trek: Agents of Influence
by Dayton Ward (Audiobook)

Agents of Influence Cover

I am still going with this Star Trek audiobook and I am hoping to finish it off in the next couple of days.  This has been a really good read so far, and I cannot wait to see where the rest of the story goes.


What did you recently finish reading?

Fair Warning by Michael Connelly (Trade Paperback)

Fair Warning Cover

Out of Time by David Klass (Trade Paperback)

Out of Time Cover
What do you think you’ll read next?

Star Wars: Shadow Fall by Alexander Freed (Trade Paperback)

Star Wars - Shadow Fall 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.

Waiting on Wednesday – Colonyside by Michael Mammay

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings. Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them. For this latest Waiting on Wednesday I take a look at one of my most anticipated books for the second half of 2020, Colonyside by Michael Mammay.

Colonyside Cover

Mammay has been absolutely killing it over the last couple of years ever since he debuted in 2018 with the excellent and action-packed Planetside. Planetside featured a fantastic narrative that combined inventive science fiction elements with a first-rate thriller and military fiction story to create and epic and captivating read that was capped off with one heck of an ending. I absolutely loved Planetside, and not only was it one of my favourite books of 2018 but it is also one of the best debut novels that I have ever read. Mammay did an incredible job following up his first novel last year, as the sequel, Spaceside, was another impressive and clever read that ended up being one of my favourite books of 2019. Thanks to these two amazing books, I have been eagerly keeping an eye out for Mammay’s next release, and I was really excited when I found out that it was also going to be part of the Planetside series.

This upcoming release from Mammay, Colonyside, is currently set for release on 29 December 2020, and it should prove to be an amazing read for the end of the year. While this book does not come out for several months, some exciting details have already emerged, such as its eye-catching cover and a detailed plot synopsis. This synopsis sounds like a lot of fun, and it will be great to see what adventure series protagonist, Carl Butler, finds himself involved with this time.

Goodreads Synopsis:

A military hero is coming out of disgrace—straight into the line of fire…

Carl Butler was once a decorated colonel. Now he’s a disgraced recluse, hoping to live out the rest of his life on a backwater planet where no one cares about his “crimes” and everyone leaves him alone.

It’s never that easy.

A CEO’s daughter has gone missing and he thinks Butler is the only one who can find her. The government is only too happy to appease him. Butler isn’t so sure, but he knows the pain of losing a daughter, so he reluctantly signs on. Soon he’s on a military ship heading for a newly-formed colony where the dangerous jungle lurks just outside the domes where settlers live.

Paired with Mac, Ganos, and a government-assigned aide named Fader, Butler dives head-first into what should be an open and shut case. Then someone tries to blow him up. Faced with an incompetent local governor, a hamstrung military, and corporations playing fast and loose with the laws, Butler finds himself in familiar territory. He’s got nobody to trust but himself, but that’s where he works best. He’ll fight to get to the bottom of the mystery, but this time, he might not live to solve it.

I really like the sound of Colonyside’s plot; it looks like it is going to have another really cool and exciting story behind it. Based on this synopsis, Butler will be running another intense and dangerous investigation on an alien planet where everyone is trying to kill him. I look forward to seeing what unique circumstances come up as a result of Butler’s meddling this time, and I am sure that whatever results will be filled with all manner of action and intrigue. I am also curious about the new setting that is being utilised for the story: a newly formed jungle colony. The previous two books have had some great locations, including an occupied alien planet and the heart of humanity’s military industrial complex, and it will be interesting to see if this new location will measure up.

I am also looking forward to learning about what has happened to the protagonist in the years following Spaceside. Spaceside ended on another major cliffhanger, as Butler risked everything to save an alien species and then entered cryostasis, not knowing how his gamble was going to pay off. It seems like Butler’s life is going to take another blow, as he is apparently going to start this next book off living as a recluse, and it will be interesting to see what happened in the aftermath of the previous book.

Colonyside is sure to be another impressive and exciting addition to this outstanding series. Based on how much I enjoyed Mammay’s previous two novels, I know that I am going to have an incredible time reading Colonyside, especially as this upcoming book has an amazing-sounding plot to it. I have high hopes for this book, and there is an exceptionally good chance that this one will be one of my top books of 2020.

Top Ten Tuesday – Authors I’ve Read the Most Books By

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 authors who they have read the most books by.

This proved to be a rather intriguing list to pull together, and it required a bit of research on my behalf to work out. It turns out that I have a somewhat scattershot approach when it comes to authors and I tend to only read a few books from each, rather than sticking with some authors with larger series and reading every single one of their novels. Still, there are a few exceptions to this rule, and there are several authors who I have read many books from. Thanks to some digging through my bookshelves and some examination of online bibliographies, I was able to work out how many of their books I have read and then translate that to a top ten list. I liked how this list turned out and there are some interesting overlaps between this and other lists I have previously done, such as my Top Ten Auto-buy Authors list. So let us see which authors I have read the most books by.

Honourable Mentions:

John Marsden – Eight books

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The total includes the seven books in Marsden’s Tomorrow series and his standalone novel South of Darkness.

Lindsey Davis – Eight books

The Grove of the Caesars Cover

The total includes all eight books in Davis’s Flavia Albia series, including The Third Nero, Pandora’s Boy, A Capitol Death and The Grove of the Caesars.

Top Ten List:

Terry Pratchett – 42 books

Moving PIcture Cover

The total includes 37 Discworld novels (including Moving Pictures), the three novels in The Nome trilogy, and the standalone novels Strata and The Carpet People.

Stan Sakai – 36 books

Usagi Yojimbo Bunraku and Other Stories Cover

The total includes all 35 volumes of the main Usagi Yojimbo series (including The Ronin, Samurai, The Wanderer’s Road, The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy, Lone Goat and Kid, Circles, Gen’s Story, Shades of Death, Daisho, Mysteries, The Hidden and Bunraku and Other Stories) and the associated graphic novel, Usagi Yojimbo: Senso.

R. A. Salvatore – 31 books

The Crystal Shard Cover

The total includes 27 novels set in the Forgotten Realms universe (including Timeless and Boundless), The Coven trilogy (Child of a Mad God, Reckoning of Fallen Gods and Song of the Risen God) and The Highwayman.

Raymond E. Feist – 26 books

King of Ashes Cover

The total includes 25 novels from The Riftwar Cycle (including The Empire Trilogy he cowrote with Jenny Wurst) and King of Ashes.

Simon Scarrow – 22 books

Traitors of Rome Cover

The total includes all 18 books in the Eagles of the Empire series (including The Blood of Rome and Traitors of Rome), Arena, Invader, The Field of Death and Hearts of Stone.

Bernard Cornwell – 19 books

War of the Wolf Cover

The total includes Sharpe’s Tiger, all four books in the Grail Quest series, all 12 books in The Last Kingdom series (including War of the Wolf), The Fort and Fools and Mortals.

Brian Jacques – 17 books

Redwall Cover

All 17 books were entries in Jacques’s Redwall series.

Jonathan Maberry – 10 books

Rage Cover

The total includes eight books from the Joe Ledger series (including Patient Zero, The Dragon Factory, The King of Plagues, Assassin’s Code, Extinction Machine, Code Zero, Predator One and Deep Silence), Rage and Nights of the Living Dead.

Kate Forsyth – Nine books

Dragonclaw Cover

The total includes all six books in The Witches of Eileanan series and all three books in the Rhiannon’s Ride series.

Robert Fabbri – Nine books

To the Strongest Cover

The total includes seven books in the Vespasian series (including Rome’s Sacred Flame and Emperor of Rome), Magnus and the Crossroads Brotherhood and To the Strongest.

 

It turned out to be a rather fun and insightful list to pull together, and I liked figuring out which authors I have read the most books from. I think I will come back to this one in the future, perhaps when I have read more from certain authors. Until then, let me know which of the above authors are your favourites or let me know which authors you have read the most books by in the comments below.

Fair Warning by Michael Connelly

Fair Warning Cover

Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Trade Paperback – 26 May 2020)

Series: Jack McEvoy – Book Three

Length: 404 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Prepare for another incredible murder mystery from leading crime fiction author, Michael Connelly, as he brings back one of his more intriguing protagonists, reporter Jack McEvoy, for another fantastic novel, Fair Warning.

Following several of his past misadventures, veteran reporter Jack McEvoy is now working for the independent reporting website, Fair Warning, investigating scams and consumer issues. However, McEvoy’s true passion is the murder beat, which he once again finds himself dragged into when LAPD detectives accost him one night, asking him questions about a woman he had a one-night stand with several months ago. The woman has been murdered in a particularly brutal manner, and McEvoy is seen as a key suspect in the case.

Against the wishes of the police and his editor, McEvoy begins to dissect the case on his own, and discovers that several women across the country have died in a similar manner. Investigating each of these deaths, he manages to find a unique connection between the victims that points to a serial killer that has been operating unnoticed for years and who has a disturbing way of finding his next kill.

Determined to hunt down this murderer and bring him to justice, McEvoy recruits his old flame, former FBI agent Rachel Walling, to help his investigation. However, this is no ordinary killer they are hunting. Calling himself the Shrike, their prey is brilliant, meticulous and utterly devoid of any compassion. Can McEvoy and Walling bring him to justice, or have they just painted a target on their back?

Wow, Connelly really knocks it out of the park again with Fair Warning, another excellent and captivating piece of crime fiction. I have been really getting into Connelly’s books over the last couple of years, ever since I read his 2018 release, Dark Sacred Night, which was followed up by one of my favourite books of 2019, The Night Fire. Fair Warning is the 34th book in Connelly’s shared universe of crime fiction (which includes his Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller novels), and it is the third book to feature Jack McEvoy as a protagonist. This latest release proved to be an exceptional read, and I was able to power through it in a short period of time. I loved the fantastic mystery that was featured within it, and Connelly has included several unique features that make it stand out from his main police investigation novels, resulting in an amazing and enjoyable read.

At the heart of this amazing novel lies an impressive and clever murder mystery storyline that proved to be a lot of fun to explore. The book focuses on a hunt for a wicked and terrifying serial killer who has been hunting women across the country and getting away with it. The subsequent investigation into the killer is a compelling and multilayered affair, as the protagonist becomes obsessed with solving the case. The entire mystery storyline is an epic and intriguing affair, and Connelly lays it out in a methodical manner that helps to draw the reader right into the middle of the investigation. I really liked where the investigation goes, and it contains some interesting leads, opposition from law enforcement agencies who do not want a report snooping around and several other unique challenges. Just like with the other Jack McEvoy books, Connelly has come up with a distinctive and driven serial killer for the protagonist to pursue. This killer is a ruthless and intelligent hunter with a terrifying method of eliminating his prey, which he parlays into his disturbing but apt moniker the Shrike. He serves as a worthy antagonist for this excellent mystery, and it proved to be really intriguing to fully investigate and unwind all his actions and intent, although there is still some mystery around this antagonist towards the end of the book. I personally liked the occasional glimpse into the killer’s mind that Connelly provided, as there were a few short chapters told from his perspective, which proved to be rather intriguing. An additional chapter from a third character’s point-of-view also introduced the reader to a couple of witnesses, who, while not directly involved with the killings, had their hands in their case in an interesting but messed up way, which added compelling wrinkles to the entire mystery, and also ensured that the reader had additional villains to wish some comeuppance upon. Overall, this was an excellent and enjoyable murder mystery storyline, and I had an amazing time following it from one end to the next.

Connelly has the rare ability to keep coming up with great and distinctive protagonists for his crime novels, and Jack McEvoy is one of his more intriguing characters. McEvoy is a bit of an autobiographical character for Connelly, as both the author and his creation were crime journalists for the Las Angeles Times. He has been utilised as the main character of two previous novels, The Poet and The Scarecrow, and has also had appearances in some other Connelly books, such as A Darkness More Than Night and The Brass verdict. Long-term fans of Connelly’s writing will enjoy learning about how his life has progressed in the intervening years, and about his current journalistic endeavours. It was great to see him once again involved in a murder investigation, especially another one where he has an emotional attachment to the case, having briefly known the first victim. McEvoy is portrayed as a somewhat reckless and impassioned investigator throughout the book, and he ends up riding some moral lines as he attempts to work out what is more important, the story or catching the killer. It was also great to see the return of Rachel Walling, who has served as the main supporting character and love interest of the previous Jack McEvoy books. McEvoy and Walling’s complex relationship is once again a central piece of this story, and the two of them struggle to work together with their romantic entanglements and complicated past. After all this time the reader cannot help but hope that the two of them will end up together, although there are significant barriers to this happening, such as McEvoy’s suspicious and cynical personality, and their often-opposing viewpoints. Both characters are fantastic additions to the story, and their personal issues serve as pleasant emotional backdrop to the murder mystery angles of the book. I really liked their complicated partnership and it looks like Connelly may have some plans for them in the future.

I was also a big fan of the reporting angle that Fair Warning had. The protagonist is not cop, instead he is a reporter who finds himself involved with the story. As a result, while the protagonist does want to bring the killer to justice, he is also interested in writing the story behind it. This leads to several distinctive differences between this investigation and the more traditional police inquiry, including different ways of obtaining information, being less bound by legal procedures and a different way of dealing with potential witnesses or sources. The book also features several faux journalistic articles (which must have brought Connelly back to his reporting days) that cover key events of the book, and there are some great discussions about the techniques behind writing a newspaper article.

One of the most interesting parts of this reporting element, is the fact that the McEvoy is employed at the reporting website, Fair Warning. Fair Warning is an actual real-life website that provides independent watchdog reporting on consumer issues, which features Connelly as a member of the website’s board of directors. The website’s real-life founder and editor, Myron Levin, appears as a character within the book, and I think that it was a fun inclusion from Connelly that did a great job of showing the current state of journalism in the world today. This is the first Jack McEvoy book written in the era of ‘fake news’, and Connelly spends some time exploring how traditional newspapers are suffering and how the role and status of reporters is changing. This proves to be an intriguing background element to the story, and I am glad that Connelly spent the time raising it within the novel, as well as highlighting the importance of an impartial and observant journalists. Other great parts of the reporting aspect of the book include several fun reporting anecdotes (I really, really hope that the story about one of Levin’s articles distressing a grifter so much that he sued the paper claiming the article caused him rectal bleeding, is true), as well as the examination of other parts of other parts of journalism, such as the emergence of podcasts as a source of media.

Another fantastic element to the story was the author’s examination of the massive industry that has formed around DNA testing for criminal, scientific and personal reasons. Through the course of his investigation, McEvoy discovers that the connection between several of the victims is due to DNA testing. This prompts him to investigate the DNA testing from a consumer watchdog perspective, which allows Connelly to examine a number of potential issues behind the current craze of DNA testing, and he shows it to be an extremely unregulated industry where a lot of unethical actions and behaviours can occur. This proves to be an extremely fascinating part of the book’s plot, especially as Connelly puts forth several different ways that such an industry could be abused for personal or criminal purposes, some of which are rather disturbing in their implications. Connelly did an amazing job exploring the downsides of DNA testing in this book, and it was both extremely fascinating and little scary (it made me glad that I’ve never sent my DNA in for testing, that’s all I’m saying), especially in the way that it was tied into Fair Warning’s mystery.

Michael Connelly has once again showed why he is one of the world’s preeminent authors of crime fiction as he has written another outstanding and highly addictive novel. Fair Warning contains an excellent and captivating story that I could not get enough of. I had an incredible time reading this amazing and clever novel and it comes highly recommended. It has also got me extremely excited for Connelly’s next novel, The Law of Innocence, which comes out later this year.

Star Wars: Queen’s Peril by E. K. Johnston

Queen's Peril Cover

Publisher: Random House Audio (Audiobook – 2 June 2020)

Series: Star Wars

Length: 6 hours and 10 minutes

My Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

Prepare to dive back into a galaxy far, far away, as bestselling young adult author E. K. Johnston presents the very first Star Wars novel of 2020, Star Wars: Queen’s Peril.

Padmé Naberrie has always wanted to serve the people of her home planet of Naboo, and she knows that the best way to do that is to become Queen. Entering the competitive election, the 14-year-old politician is elected as ruler of Naboo. Casting aside her real identity for the protection of herself and her family, Padmé takes on a new name, Amidala, and moves into the royal palace, determined to bring change to Naboo. However, even a ruler as brilliant and diplomatic as Padmé is unable to do everything by herself, and she finds out that she is going to need help.

In order to keep her safe and to assist her with her needs, Padmé is introduced to a group of talented young women who will serve as her handmaidens. Acting as her assistants, confidantes, bodyguards and decoys, each of her handmaidens brings something different to the group, and it is up to Padmé to turn them into an effective team. Together, Padmé and her new friends seem capable of dealing with any challenge that may impact them.

However, there is a dark plot at work within the Republic, and its mastermind has Naboo in their sights. Soon Naboo is invaded by the armies of the Trade Federation, who seek to capture Queen Amidala and force her to sign away the planet. Forced to flee in disguise, Padmé sets out to reclaim her home and will do anything to free her planet. While Jedi, soldiers and a young chosen one may rally to their cause, the fate of Naboo ultimately rests on the shoulders of a young queen and her loyal handmaidens.

Queen’s Peril is an intriguing and enjoyable new addition to the Star Wars canon from bestselling author E. K. Johnston. I have been rather enjoying some of Johnston’s recent Star Wars releases, and I had a fun time reading her 2016 novel, Ahsoka, as well as last year’s fantastic release, Queen’s Shadow. Queen’s Peril is the first of several Star Wars books being released in 2020 (although some have been delayed), and I have been looking forward to seeing how this book turns out. This new novel acts as a prequel to Queen’s Shadow and is set both before and during the events of the first Star Wars prequel film, The Phantom Menace. This ended up being a fun and interesting read that explores some unique parts of Star Wars lore.

This latest Star Wars novel contains an intriguing tale that starts from the moment that Padmé is elected queen and takes on the Amidala persona. The first two thirds of this book follow the early days of Amidala’s reign, introducing Padmé and her handmaidens and showing how they became such a tight-knit team. There are a number of great moments during this first part of the story, and it was interesting to see the origin of a number of elements of the Amidala character that are shown in The Phantom Menace, such as her voice, the establishment of the decoy system, and a huge range of other compelling features. There are also several scenes that are dedicated to exploring why the Trade Federation decided to target Naboo and what the origins of their conflict were. I really enjoyed the first two thirds of this book, and I feel that the final third kind of let it down a little. The last part of the book focuses on the invasion of Naboo and follows the events of The Phantom Menace. While it was cool to see some different perspectives on the events of the film, this part of the book felt rather rushed, as the narrative jumped between a number of sequences from the movie in rather quick succession. Despite the problems with the ending, this was still a rather compelling story, and I did enjoy Johnston’s additions to the Star Wars universe.

While on the surface this book appears to be purely about Padmé, Queen’s Peril is actually about a number of different characters who made Padmé’s role as Queen Amidala possible. Padmé is naturally one of the main characters of the book, but all five of her handmaidens are just as important to the story. Johnston previously introduced each of these handmaidens in Queen’s Shadow, and briefly explored their unique skills and what they brought to the group. She does this again in Queen’s Peril, although this is done in greater detail, as this book shows each character’s history and how each of them became a handmaiden. Each of the handmaidens is given a distinctive personality, and all five get a number of scenes told from their point-of-view. I really enjoyed learning more about these characters, and it was great to see them come together as a group and work towards ensuring that Padmé was protected and an effective queen. While each of the characters are explored in some detailed, the biggest focus is on Sabé, Padmé’s first handmaiden and her main decoy (played by Keira Knightly in the film). The author spends time showing the unique relationship between Sabé and Padmé, and it was captivating to see the trust between them grow. Because she was so heavily focused on in the movie, Padmé does not get a lot of scenes in the last third of the book, so quite a bit this part of the story is told from the perspective of all the handmaidens. It was rather interesting to see how each of these characters went during the course of the film, and it was particularly cool to see some scenes with Sabé as she pretended to be the Queen.

In addition to Padmé and her handmaidens, Queen’s Peril also featured point-of-view chapters or scenes from pretty much all the key characters from The Phantom Menace film. The use of all these extra characters was an interesting choice from Johnston, and I liked how it expanded the story and showed some fresh perspectives and backstory for several major Star Wars protagonists. Most of these appearances are rather brief, with characters like Anakin, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn only getting a few minor scenes. However, other characters do get some extended sequences, especially Captain Panaka, the head of Amidala’s palace guards. Several chapters are told from Panaka’s perspective, and he becomes quite a key character within the book, mainly because he is the person who finds and recruits all of the handmaidens. Panaka is a major driving force of the plot, and it was interesting to see his role expanded from the films, especially as you get more insight into why he is so dedicated to the Queen. I also really liked how the book features several sequences told from the perspective of Senator Palpatine/Darth Sidious. These scenes were fun, as they showed a lot of Palpatine’s earliest manipulations, including how he was able to organise the invasion of Naboo. Overall, I rather appreciated how the author utilised all the characters within Queen’s Peril, and watching their development and interactions proved to be quite compelling.

Like the author’s other Star Wars novels, Queen’s Peril is intended for a young adult audience, and Johnston does a fantastic job tailoring it towards younger readers. This book has a lot of great young adult moments to it, especially as it focuses on a group of teen girls working together to outsmart a variety of adults and then eventually save their entire planet from an invasion. Queen’s Peril has some fantastic portrayals of these teen protagonists, and there are a number of sequences which show them stepping up or dealing with complicated issues that younger female readers will appreciate. While it is intended for younger readers, Queen’s Peril, like most young adult Star Wars novels, is also very accessible to all readers who are major fans of the franchise, and it is easy for older readers to get into and enjoy the plot of the book and its intriguing new additions to the Star Wars lore.

I did have a minor complaint about the release order of the books in Johnston’s series about Padmé. While I enjoyed both Queen’s Peril and Queen’s Shadow, I really do think that it was an odd decision to release Queen’s Shadow first, and then release a prequel novel a year later. It would have been better to release Queen’s Peril first to introduce the various handmaidens and help build up the emotional connection between them and Padmé, making their use and inclusion in Queen’s Shadow a bit more impactful. It might also have made a bit more sense to have Queen’s Peril only focus on events before The Phantom Menace, have another book focus exclusively on what was happening with the handmaidens and Padmé during the course of the film (which would have ensured that Queen’s Peril did not feel as rushed as it did towards the end), and then release Queen’s Shadow. While I am sure that there is some reason why the order for these books was a bit off, probably at the publisher level, I think they could have planned this out a little better.

I ended up grabbing the audiobook version of Queen’s Peril, and I had a great time listening to this book. Queen’s Peril has a short run time of just over six hours, so it is rather easy to get through this book quickly. Like all Star Wars audiobooks, this version of Queen’s Peril was a real auditory treat, due to the excellent use of the iconic Star Wars sound effects and scores from the movies, which are used to enhance each of the scenes. While it was great to once again hear all the fantastic music and intriguing background noises, Queen’s Peril’s greatest strength as an audiobook comes from its fantastic narrator, Catherine Taber. Taber is the actress who voiced Padmé in The Clones Wars animated television show, and, short of getting Natalie Portman in, is the perfect person to narrate a novel about the character. Taber also narrated the previous Johnston book about Padmé, Queen’s Shadow (indeed all of Johnston’s Star Wars books have featured the character’s voice actor as a narrator for their audiobook), and it was great to see her return. She naturally does a perfect voice for the character of Padmé, as well as for the handmaidens, who had similar speaking patterns due to their role as decoys. There are some great vocal scenes between these characters, especially when they are trying to perfect the Amidala voice, and they go through several variations throughout the book. In addition, because Queen’s Peril features nearly every major character from The Phantom Menace, Taber also had to voice several different people who were brought to life by some amazing actors in the original film. I felt that Taber did a fantastic job as imitating some of these voices, and it proved to be a real showcase for her skills as a voice actor. Overall, I had an amazing time listening to this audiobook, and I would strongly recommend this format to anyone interested in checking out Queen’s Peril.

Star Wars: Queen’s Peril is an intriguing and exciting new young adult Star Wars release from E. K. Johnson that acts as a sequel to her previous awesome novel, Queen’s Shadow. Johnston comes up with another compelling story that explores the early life of Padmé/Queen Amidala and her loyal handmaidens. While it does have some flaws, it is a very good book, and it should prove to be a fun read for established fans of the franchise and younger readers who are interested in breaking into the expanded universe. I had an amazing time listening to this book and I look forward to seeing what sort of Star Wars story Johnston produces next.

Throwback Thursday: Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 9: Daisho by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo Daisho Cover

Publisher: Dark Horse Books (Paperback – 1998)

Series: Usagi Yojimbo – Book 9

Length: 215 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.

Usagi Yojimbo Mirage - #7

It has been another good week of reading and reviewing for me, so I thought I would reward myself by doing a Throwback Thursday review of Daisho, the ninth volume in the outstanding, long-running Usagi Yojimbo series from one of my favourite authors, Stan Sakai.

Daisho is an impressive and exciting entry in the series, which unsurprisingly gets a five star rating out of me (full disclosure, every volume of this series is going to get five stars from me, it is just that damn good). This volume contains Issues #7-14 of the second run on the Usagi Yojimbo series, which was originally published by Mirage Comics (Issues #7 and #8 are only partially represented in Daisho as some stories from these issues were used in the prior volume, while a story from Issue #13 appears in the tenth volume that I will review next), and which has been collected into this volume by Dark Horse Books. This ninth Usagi Yojimbo volume is filled with several fantastic and creative stories that follow Usagi as he journeys across the land, getting into all manner of trouble and misadventures in this version of feudal Japan populated solely by anthropomorphic animals. Daisho serves as a significant inclusion in the overarching series, due to its connections to previous stories, and its introduction or resurrection of several key characters.

Usagi Yojimbo Mirage - 8

This volume starts off with an inspiring and tragic story, The Music of Heavens, which once again sees Usagi traversing the wilderness. His solitude is broken when he encounters the pack of Tokage lizards who he unwittingly befriended in a previous story, The Lizards’ Tale (which was featured in Volume 8: Shades of Death). While Usagi is less than thrilled to see the Tokages, they end up leading him towards another traveller who is making their camp in the woods. The traveller, Omori Kazan, is a mendicant Buddhist priest and skilled musician, who invites Usagi into his camp and talks to him about the various forms of music he studies. However, someone is stalking their camp, determined to get revenge and unafraid to kill an innocent bystander to get it.

I really liked The Music of Heavens and it proved to be a compelling first entry in this volume. The story is based on Usagi’s encounter with a new character, Omori Kazan. Kazan is an intriguing person due to his position as a komuso monk (the monks of emptiness) of a particular sect of Buddhism, which lends him a very distinctive look thanks to the woven basket hat (tengai) he wears on his head disguising his features. Kazan has an amazing arc that delivers a lot in a short while, as he introduces himself to Usagi and the reader, discusses music and religion, and then simultaneously meets his end while also experiencing the divine for the first time. This entire character arc is both beautiful and tragic at the same time, and it provides both Usagi and the reader with some significant emotional moments, especially when it comes to Usagi’s farewell to the Tokages. I also liked how Sakai utilises an antagonist from a previous story, and the fight between Usagi and this character was swift and well-drawn. This was an excellent introductory entry for this volume, and it is a story that I really enjoyed.

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The second story in Daisho is the entertaining and clever entry, The Gambler, the Widow, and the Ronin. This story reintroduces the gambler from the previous story, The Duel (featured in Volume 6: Circles), who is up to his old tricks of organising deadly sword duels and cashing in on the bets of the local townsfolk. After the death of his previous samurai accomplice, Shubo, during a duel with Usagi, the gambler has been forced to find a new partner, the brutish and less skilled swordsman, Kedamono. However, Kedamono’s greed has convinced the gambler that it is time to end their partnership, and he quickly finds the ideal solution when Usagi arrives in town. However, as the gambler plots, he fails to realise that he is being stalked by Shubo’s widow, who is determined to get her revenge for the role he played in her husband’s death.

This was another amazing story that serves as a fantastic follow-up to a great prior Usagi Yojimbo story. I always get a real western vibe out of The Gambler, the Widow, and the Ronin, due to its title and the premise around a duel, it proves to be an excellent entry in this volume. Usagi is once again drawn into the plots of the gambler, and thanks to his humility, honour and good manners, which are mistaken as a weakness, both Kedamono and the local villagers are convinced that Usagi is a poor swordsman. However, the gambler, who has seen Usagi in action before, manipulates the odds so that he wins all the money when Usagi defeats his opponent, in a fun reversal of the events of The Duel. This was an incredibly entertaining scene as Usagi is again forced to deal with a bloodthirsty crowd, while the gambler feigns being saddened by the loss of his companion, despite being secretly delighted. However, the gambler ends up getting his comeuppance, and the widow, whose sad final scene was so memorable in The Duel, finally gets a small measure of justice. This was a very clever and enjoyable story, and I really loved how Sakai dived back to a prior standalone story to provide some closure and a fun continuation.

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The next story is called Slavers, and it is a longer entry made up of two separate issues. In Slavers, Usagi encounters a young boy being pursued by bandits. Usagi defeats them and learns that the boy was attempting to get help for his village, which has been taken over by a gang of bandits who have enslaved the villagers as part of a destructive scam to steal their harvest and make a small fortune. Deciding to help the villagers, Usagi infiltrates the gang and attempts to rally the villagers to his cause. However, the gang’s leader, the villainous General Fujii, discovers the deception and captures Usagi, planning to kill all the villagers to make good his escape. Slavers is an amazing story that is not only intriguing in its own right but which also expertly sets up the series of follow-up stories that make up most of this volume. While the standalone narrative of Slavers gets a bit dark at times, due to an extended capture scene surrounding Usagi, it is a rather compelling story filled with action, deception and struggles against adversity.

Slavers is quickly followed up by three separate but distinct stories that can be combined together with Slavers into one large narrative that wraps up all the loose ends from the initial entry. The first one of these stories, Daisho Part One, sees Usagi in hot pursuit of General Fujii, who is in possession of Usagi’s precious swords. Due to the brutal actions of Fujii, Usagi loses his quarry and is forced into an extended hunt for him, eventually coming to a ransacked village. It turns out that the village had recently been raided by Fujii’s new gang, and Usagi must make a hard choice between recovering his soul or helping those in need.

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I have a lot of love for Daisho Part One; it is probably one of my favourite entries in this entire volume. The story starts out with a magnificent and beautifully drawn sequence that shows the various elaborate processes by which a samurai’s swords are created. This impressive opening sequence is one of my favourite pieces of Usagi Yojimbo art from the entire series, and its creation highlights not only Sakai’s skill as an artist but his ability to research and portray intriguing parts of Japan’s unique culture and heritage. This sequence also shows the important a samurai’s swords to their wielder, as they are reflections of that warrior’s soul. This key concept is then brought to life in the main story, as it sees a somewhat unhinged Usagi risking everything to reclaim his swords from Fujii. Sakai does an outstanding job showing off how frustrated and enraged Usagi is at having his swords stolen from him, and he comes across as being quite frightening several times through the story. Usagi’s anger comes to a head when he reaches the village and his initial decision is to abandon the villagers and immediately follow Fujii and his men. However, a local village girl is able to shame him into thinking of others, and the old Usagi returns, providing aid to the villagers. This was an extremely compelling story that does a wonderful job combining a powerful, character driven narrative, with some exquisite artwork and some intriguing aspects of history, into an exceptional entry in this volume.

The next story in this volume is Mongrels, a quick story about a recurring Usagi Yojimbo side character, the bounty hunter Gen, which occurs around the same time as Daisho Part One. In this story, Gen enters a village and starts asking questions about his current bounty, General Fujii. However, he is not the only bounty hunter in town, as he soon encounters the notorious hunter Stray Dog, who is also hunting for Fujii. After a tense conversation, the two-part ways; however, both are determined to capture Fujii and outsmart their competition. This was a fun story that not only brings Gen into this multi-issue narrative but also introduces a couple of great recurring characters. Stray Dog is a fantastic character in the Usagi Yojimbo universe, and he often appears as a compelling rival (and sometime partner) to Gen (such as in the latest Usagi Yojimbo volume, Bunraku and Other Stories). This story serves as a swift and clever introduction to the character, and it was fun to see the rivalry between Gen and Stray Dog form so quickly. Mongrels also introduces the extremely entertaining side character, the Snitch (also called Toady), a sneaky, greedy character who provides information to the highest bidder. While the Snitch has only a short appearance in this story, he is going to start appearing in a lot of follow up volumes, and it is always fun to see where a character starts out. Overall, this was a great story that fits a lot of significant introductions and events into a few short pages.

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The final story in this arc surrounding General Fujii is Daisho Part Two, in which Usagi and his guide meet up with Gen and Stray Dog right at the end of Mongrels. The three samurai decide to team up to raid General Fujii’s lair, and they engage in an all-out fight for money and honour. However, not everyone on the team is keen to work together, and betrayal is afoot. This was an excellent conclusion to the entire storyline, which I really enjoyed. This is a story chocked full of action, as the entire narrative sets up a massive fight between multiple combatants within an abandoned temple. There is some great character work within this story, not only from the protagonists, who bicker and fight amongst themselves, but also with the major antagonist, General Fujii. There some intriguing scenes that show Fujii’s efforts to lead and control a gang of bandits and cutthroats, and I also liked how Sakai shows him being haunted by thoughts of Usagi, whose swords he is holding onto. Usagi and Fujii finally get their showdown in this story, and it served as a fantastic end to this whole extended narrative. There are also some compelling moments surrounding Stray Dog, as he seeks to cheat the others out of the reward money for Fujii. While this initially paints him in a bad light, the source of his need for money is quickly shown, and it highlights just how complex and multifaceted this new side character is. I really liked how this entire story narrative ends, and Daisho Part Two is an excellent part of this volume.

The next story in this volume is the two-part entry, Runaways. In Runaways, Usagi journeys through a small town, when he finds himself in the path of a procession of the local noble lady. Hearing the lady’s name, Usagi is thrown back into the past as he remembers an adventure that occurred many years prior, when he was in the service of Lord Mifune. After finding out that the love of his life, Mariko, has married another man, Usagi is given a seemingly simple mission as a distraction. His task, to escort the young Princess Kinuko to the lands of her future husband, becomes infinitely more complicated, when their party is ambushed by a horde of Neko Ninja. Escaping with the princess, Usagi disguises Kinuko as a peasant in an attempt to hide her from their pursuers. However, the more time that Usagi and Kinuko spend together, the closer they become, until the lines of duty, honour and station become extremely blurred.

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This was another exceptional story within the volume, and I liked how it flashed back to an adventure during his pre-ronin life. Set during the period when Usagi served Lord Mifune (as shown in Volume 2: Samurai), Runaways contains a powerful and emotional narrative that is actually based on Roman Holiday (Sakai is a massive Audrey Hepburn fan), which sees a princess run away with a strong male protagonist and grow close to him, despite her responsibilities and their differences in station. This proves to be a fun, if extremely loose adaption of the movie, and Sakai builds up a complex relationship between Usagi and Kinuko, as the two characters, both tragic victims of circumstances when it comes to love, grow closer to each other. However, despite their feelings, this relationship is fated to never be, and it ends in heartbreak, with the memories of it haunting both Usagi and Kinuko years later. I really liked how this story played out, and it was interesting to see aspects of samurai honour folded into the narrative from Roman Holiday. Other fantastic highlights of this story include the multitude of impressive fight scenes between Usagi and the Neko Ninja, starting with a major battle between two large groups of samurai and ninja. I also liked the exploration of the traditional Tanabata Matsuri festival that the two characters find themselves attending, especially as Kinuko has fun experiencing local customs, foods and activities that someone of her station will never get to enjoy. It was also cool to see an early adventure from Usagi, especially as this entry foreshadows events that have occurred in other volumes, including the return of several now-dead characters, such as Shingen (future leader of the Neko Ninja, who was introduced in Volume 3: The Wanderer’s Road, and died in Volume 4: The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy). An overall exciting and impressive story, Runaways is an amazing highlight of this volume.

The final entry is the short story, The Nature of the Viper. In this tale, a local fisherman finds the badly injured body of Usagi’s recurring foe, Jei, after he was thrown from a cliff during the climatic events of Circles. Bringing him back to his hut, the fisherman tends to Jei and manages to save his life. When Jei awakens, he shows his gratitude to the farmer be recounting a tale of viper and a peasant (a version of the classic fable, The Farmer and the Viper), before killing him and resuming his hunt for Usagi. This is a good, short entry that shows the fate of Jei after his last appearance. Jei comes across just as villainous and creepy as ever, and it was fun seeing the fisherman slowly realise just how much trouble he is in as the story progresses. While having a villain recount The Farmer and the Viper as justification for why they are killing a person is somewhat cliched at this point (although to be fair, this story was written back in the 90s), it was still a fantastic sequence. I think that this was an excellent way to end the volume, especially as the reader is left knowing that Jei has returned and that Usagi will be encountering him once again in the future.

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Sakai has once again knocked it out of the park with the ninth volume in his series. Daisho contains several outstanding and memorable stories that are all wildly entertaining and contain some clever links to past and future entries in this series. I had an absolute blast reading this volume, and it is an extremely strong addition to the incredible Usagi Yojimbo series that comes highly recommend.

WWW Wednesday – 1 July 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?

Fair Warning by Michael Connelly (Trade Paperback)

Fair Warning Cover

The latest book from bestselling author Michael Connelly, Fair Warning sees the return of maverick reporter Jack McEvoy, and features an intriguing murder mystery.  I am just over halfway through Fair Warning at the moment, and I am really enjoying it’s clever mystery and excellent storytelling.


Star Trek: Agents of Influence
by Dayton Ward (Audiobook)

Agents of Influence Cover

I only just started this audiobook about an hour ago, and so far it is proving to be an awesome and compelling new Star Trek novel.  Agents of Influence is the second of three fantastic sounding Star Trek novels I have been looking forward to, and so far it has not disappointed.  Written by one of the most prolific Star Trek tie-in fiction authors, Dayton Ward (whose 2019 release Available Light I really enjoyed), Agents of Influence has a very cool story concept that will drag the cast of The Original Series into a deadly espionage mission against the Klingons.

What did you recently finish reading?


Last Survivor
by Tony Park (Trade Paperback)

Last Survivor Cover


Star Wars: Queen’s Peril
by E. K. Johnston (Audiobook)

Queen's Peril Cover

 

What do you think you’ll read next?


Out of Time
by David Klass (Trade Paperback)

Out of Time Cover

I am in the mood for a fun thriller novel next, and this amazing sounding debut looks like it will hit the spot.


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.

Waiting on Wednesday – Ink by Jonathan Maberry

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings. Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them. For my latest Waiting on Wednesday article, I am going to take a look at Ink, an intriguing upcoming standalone supernatural novel from one of my favourite authors, Jonathan Maberry.

Ink Cover

Maberry is an extremely impressive and talented author who has been writing science fiction and horror novels since in 2006, with his debut novel Ghost Road Blues. He has since gone on to become one of the leading authors of horror in the world today, with such series as the Rot & Ruin series, the Dead of Night series and the Pine Deep trilogy. I myself am a massive fan of his Joe Ledger series of books, which pitches military operatives against various science fiction and horror scenarios, including manmade zombies (Patient Zero and Code Zero), genetically mutated vampires (Assassin’s Code) and other inventive scenarios (such as Air Force One getting turned into a weaponised drone in Predator One). The latest Joe Ledger novel, 2019’s Rage, started a whole new series of books, the Rogue Team International series, and I am eagerly waiting for the next Joe Ledger book. In the meantime, Maberry has come up with a brand-new supernatural mystery novel, Ink, which, due to how much I love his other work, I thought would be intriguing to check out.

In this upcoming novel, Maberry returns to his fictional town of Pine Deep (a crossover town that has been featured in several of Maberry’s novels, a bit like Castle Rock or Derry in Stephen King’s works), for a whole new set of mysterious occurrences.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Tattoo-artist Patty Cakes has her dead daughter’s face tattooed on the back of her hand. Day by day it begins to fade, taking with it all of Patty’s memories of her daughter. All she’s left with is the certain knowledge she has forgotten her lost child. The awareness of that loss is tearing her apart.

Monk Addison is a private investigator whose skin is covered with the tattooed faces of murder victims. He is a predator who hunts for killers, and the ghosts of all of those dead people haunt his life. Some of those faces have begun to fade, too, destroying the very souls of the dead.

All through the town of Pine Deep people are having their most precious memories stolen. The monster seems to target the lonely, the disenfranchised, the people who need memories to anchor them to this world.

Something is out there. Something cruel and evil is feeding on the memories, erasing them from the hearts and minds of people like Patty and Monk and others.

Ink is the story of a few lonely, damaged people hunting for a memory thief. When all you have are memories, there is no greater horror than forgetting.

Now this sounds like quite a fascinating new novel from Maberry and I am very curious to see what sort of story he comes up with here. The whole concept of someone or something stealing the memories of the protagonists is quite compelling, and it has quite a lot of potential as a story element, especially if the characters end up losing key memories or forget big story moments. Maberry has always had an ability to turn complex story ideas into amazingly entertaining narratives, and I am curious to see what sort of supernatural mystery he creates in this upcoming book.

Due to how much I have enjoyed Maberry’s prior work, and because of how interesting this new novel sounds, I am now rather excited for this upcoming standalone book. Ink, which is currently set for release on 17 November 2020, is sure to be a really fascinating read, and I think that it has some real potential to be one of my top books for the year. I will probably end up getting the audiobook version of this novel when it comes out, due to the fact that Ray Porter, the impressive narrator of the Joe Ledger audiobooks, is once again lending his vocal talents to Maberry’s latest novel. However, if I can score an early copy of this from the publisher, I probably will not be able to help myself. I cannot wait to immerse myself in Maberry’s new intense novel, and I am really looking forward to checking out Ink a few months time.

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

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

2020 has so far been a pretty amazing year for books, with some outstanding and impressive novels coming out and blowing me away. However, the year is far from over, and there are a number of incredible and epic-sounding novels set for release in the second half of 2020. In order to fill out this list I have scoured my list of anticipated upcoming releases and tried to work out which of the books coming out between the start of July and the end of December I am most looking forward to.

This proved to be a rather hard list to finalise, mainly because of how many awesome novels are coming out in the next six months. I had to make some hard decisions for this list, and I ended up cutting out several upcoming releases that I am really looking forward to. Despite this, I am rather happy with the eventual choices that I made, and I think that this upcoming list reflects which upcoming novels I am going to have the most fun reading. Due to how impressive they sound and because they have already caught my attention, several of these books in my weekly Waiting on Wednesday articles, and some of them also appeared on my recent Winter TBR list. However, there are also some interesting new books that I am discussing for the first time here, so that should give this list a bit of variety. So let us get to my selections and find out which upcoming novels are my most anticipated releases for the second half of 2020.

Honourable Mentions:


Total Power
by Kyle Mills – 15 September 2020

Total Power Cover


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

The Devil and the Dark Water Cover


Hollow Empire
by Sam Hawke – 26 November 2020

Hollow Empire Cover 2

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


Colonyside
by Michael Mammay – 29 December 2020

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

Top Ten Tuesday (By Release Date):


Demon in White
by Christopher Ruocchio – 28 July 2020

Demon in White Cover 1


The Gates of Athens
by Conn Iggulden – 4 August 2020

The Gates of Athens Cover

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

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

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It


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

Thrawn Ascendancy - Chaos Rising Cover

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

The Evening and the Morning Cover


The Trouble with Peace
by Joe Abercrombie – 15 September 2020

The Trouble with Peace Cover 2

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

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

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars Cover


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

Assault by Fire Cover

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

 

The Law of Innocence by Michael Connelly – 10 November 2020

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


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

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

 

That’s the end of this list. I am extremely happy with how my latest Top Ten Tuesday article turned out, and my Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2020 list contains an intriguing list of upcoming books that should prove to be incredible reads. I think that every one of the books I mentioned above has the potential to get a full five-star rating from me and I cannot wait to see what amazing and exciting stories they contain. While I am waiting to get my hands on these books, why not let me know if any of the above interest you, and let me know what your most anticipated releases for the next six months are in the comments below.