Waiting on Wednesday – Deep Strike and Assault by Fire

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. This week, I’m in a real thriller mood, so I thought I would look at two exciting upcoming military thrillers, which I am really looking forward to.

Until a couple of years ago, I had never really read any contemporary military thrillers. However, I’ve recently enjoyed some excellent military thrillers, including Red War by Kyle Mills, The Moscow Offensive and The Kremlin Strike by Dale Brown and Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger novels, and it is now a subgenre that I find myself really drawn to. There are several incredible military thrillers coming out later this year, such as Eagle Station by Dale Brown, which I have already featured in a Waiting on Wednesday post, and I want to highlight another two upcoming military thrillers that I personally think are going to be absolutely exhilarating reads, and I cannot wait to get my hands on them.

Deep Strike Cover

The first of these books is Deep Strike by Rick Campbell, which is the sixth book in his Trident Deception series. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the previous book in this series, Treason, last year, and I thoroughly enjoyed the fast-paced story, excellent action sequences and intriguing military scenarios. As a result, I am quite keen to get a copy of Deep Strike, which is currently set for release in mid-August 2020, and Campbell has cooked up another compelling-sounding scenario for his new thriller.

Goodreads Synopsis:

A shoulder-launched missile attack on a convoy of vehicles leaving the U.N. headquarters in New York kills several diplomats, including the American ambassador. Security footage reveals that the killer behind the attack is a disgraced former special forces operative, Mark Alperi. But before U.S. intelligence operatives can catch up with him, Alperi is already onto the next phase of his plan.

With funding from the nearly shattered ISIS, Alperi plans an attack on the U.S. that will be more devastating than 9/11. He bribes a desperate Russian submarine commander with access to an expensive experimental drug for his daughter who is suffering from a rare disease. In exchange, the Russian commander will take his submarine to the Atlantic Ocean and launch a salvo of missiles at various targets along the East Coast of the United States. The commander lies to his crew that it’s a secret mission, with dummy missiles, for a training exercise. At the same time, unbeknownst to the commander, Alperi has arranged for four of the missile warheads to be replaced with four surplus nuclear warheads and arms them.

When the Russian submarine sinks the U.S. sub that is tracking it, the U.S. military is alarmed. When Intelligence uncovers Alperi’s plot, though, it becomes a race against time–find the Russian sub and sink it before it can launch a devastating nuclear attack.

Thanks to this epic synopsis, I have to say that I am quite excited for Deep Strike, and I really like the sound of this fantastic new addition to the series. Campbell has come up with a deeply intriguing plot for his new book, and I cannot wait to see how this compelling plot unfolds. This book has so much potential, especially as it looks like it is predominantly going to be set aboard several submarines. The author is a former US Navy Commander and submariner, and as such has an impressive amount of knowledge when it comes to submarines and underwater combat. This knowledge shined through in Treason, and some of the most memorable scenes in this previous book were set aboard a submarine, including several elaborate underwater naval combat sequences. Treason honestly featured some of the best examples of submarine-on-submarine battles that I have ever read, and I cannot wait to see what Campbell has in store for Deep Strike. This upcoming book sounds like it is going to be a lot of fun, and I look forward to grabbing my copy in a few months.

Assault by Fire Cover

The other book that I wanted to feature in this article is Assault by Fire, written by Lt. Col. Hunter Ripley Rawlings IV, which will serve as the first book in Rawlings’s new Tyce Asher series and is his debut novel. Set for release in late September 2020, this book has one of the most interesting and exciting plot synopses I have recently read, and I am quite excited for it, especially after how much I enjoyed Rawlings’s previous work. While Assault by Fire is Rawlings’s first solo novel, he previously co-wrote a military thriller, Red Metal, with bestselling author Mark Greaney, which was released last year. I absolutely love Red Metal due to its epic and invigorating depiction of a conflict between the United States and Russia around the world. It was one of my favourite books (and audiobooks) of 2019, and I cannot wait to see what sort of story Rawlings follows through with.

Goodreads Synopsis:

ASSAULT BY SEA
U.S. Marine Tyce Asher knew his fighting days were over when he lost his leg in Iraq. He thought he’d never see action again–certainly not on American soil–until the Russians attacked us by sea . . .

ASSAULT BY LAND
With so many troops stationed in the Middle East, the U.S. government is counting on Tyce and other reserve fighters to step up and defend their country–when Russian boots hit the ground . . .

ASSAULT BY FIRE
This is much more than a surprise attack. It is a full-fledged invasion orchestrated by a military mastermind hellbent on destruction. As the Russians move inland, killing and maiming, Tyce has to enlist every patriot he can find–seasoned vets, armchair warriors, backwoods buckshooters, even mountain moonshiners–to unleash their 2nd Amendment rights . . . on America’s #1 enemy.

Ok, now is this book doesn’t turn out to be 100% pure fun and adrenaline pumping action, I do not know what will. Assault by Fire has an incredible-sounding plot, which, just like Red Metal, will see the United States go up against an invading force of Russians. However, unlike in Rawlings’s previous book, this invasion is taking place on American soil, rather than in Europe and Africa. I love a good invasion story, no matter the genre, but I cannot wait to see how Rawlings envisions the Russians successfully invading the United States. I am also really looking forward to seeing the advanced Russian army facing off against a rag-tag force of American irregular troops, and it should make for a rather compelling guerrilla warfare scenario.

Honestly, after how much I enjoyed Red Metal, I was going to grab anything new that Rawlings released, especially if it was another military fiction novel. While I was kind of hoping for a sequel to Red Metal, Assault by Fire sounds so very awesome and I cannot wait to see how this story unfolds. I am expecting a lot of amazing action sequences throughout this novel, especially as Rawlings’s military knowledge and experiences helped make the battles and combat in Red Metal seem even more realistic. I am also excited that this book is going to kick off a whole new series, and I cannot wait to see what epic battles and amazing military scenarios Rawlings has planned for the future Tyce Asher books.

The military thriller genre is looking very strong at the moment, especially with two fantastic sounding books like Deep Strike and Assault by Fire on the horizon. Based on both upcoming books’ captivating plot synopses, and my positive prior experiences with Campbell and Rawlings, I am extremely confident that both of these upcoming books are going to be first-rate reads. I think both of these novels have a heck of a lot of potential, and I cannot wait to read both of them later in the year.

A Testament of Character by Sulari Gentill

A Testament of Character Cover

Publisher: Pantera Press (Trade Paperback – 3 March 2020)

Series: Rowland Sinclair – Book 10

Length: 337 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Acclaimed Australian author Sulari Gentill returns with the 10th book in her bestselling Rowland Sinclair series, A Testament of Character, an intense and compelling new entry which was a lot of fun to read.

Gentill is an excellent Australian author who has written several amazing books since her 2010 debut. While her main body of work is the Rowland Sinclair series, Gentill has also written The Hero trilogy, a young adult fantasy trilogy based on classic Greek stories, and the standalone novel Crossing the Lines. I am mostly familiar with her Rowland Sinclair books, however, as I have read the last several books in this series, all of which have been extremely enjoyable due to their fantastic blend of history and mystery. The Rowland Sinclair books follow the adventures of the titular Rowland Sinclair, a wealthy left-wing Australian gentleman artist, and his three artistic friends in the 1930s, as they find themselves in the middle of several murder investigations. Each Rowland Sinclair book is a fun and entertaining part of my yearly reading calendar, and I have been looking forward to checking out A Testament of Character for a while now.

In 1935, after the horrors they experienced in Shanghai, Rowland and his bohemian friends Edna, Clyde and Milton are enjoying a leisurely holiday in Singapore before heading back to Australia. However, their travel plans are dramatically changed when Rowland receives tragic news. An old friend of Rowland from his Oxford days, Daniel Cartwright, has died suddenly, and he has appointed Rowland as the executor of his vast estate.

Detouring from Australia to Cartwright’s home city of Boston, Rowland and his companions arrive for the funeral and find themselves in the midst of controversy and familiar conflict. Not only was Cartwright estranged from the rest of his family, especially his brothers, who disapproved of his lifestyle choice, but it turns out he was murdered, and the police have yet to find any suspects. Even more mysteriously, Cartwright had only just written every member of his family out of the will, leaving all his money to an unknown man everyone claims does not exist.

Determined to carry out the last wishes of his dear friend, Rowland attempts to find the man who apparently meant so much to him. However, his investigation quickly turns sour, as he runs into numerous people who do not want Cartwright’s will to come to pass. Forced to scour Boston, New York and other parts of post-Depression America for leads, the four friends encounter all manner of dangerous and eccentric characters as they pursue their quest. However, none of them are prepared for the terrible truth they encounter, especially now that Cartwright’s killer has them in their sights.

A Testament of Character is an exciting and compelling novel that proves to be a fantastic new addition to the Rowland Sinclair series. Gentill has done an amazing job coming up with another captivating story that not only features an exciting and gripping mystery but which takes an intriguing look at America in the 1930s. This story contains the series’s usual blend of fun, intrigue and action, as the four exceedingly liberal protagonists get into all manner of trouble across conservative America. There are some rather impressive and at times dark scenes throughout this book, and Gentill has also included some major character developments that will appeal to long-term readers of this series. The end result is an exceedingly enjoyable and thrilling story of love, adventure and revenge which proved extremely hard to put down.

At the heart of this book lies a clever mystery storyline that revolves around the murder of the protagonist’s friend and the identity of the mysterious beneficiary of the will. Gentill crafts an excellent multi-layered mystery, with a number of surprising twists, turns and false leads on the way to the exciting conclusion. While I was able to guess a little bit in advance who the main perpetrator turned out to be, all the revelations that came out in the final confrontation were really impressive and helped wrap up the entire mystery storyline extremely well. I also thought that Gentill came up with a very compelling and memorable motivation for the various crimes featured within the book. Some of these reveals were a bit dark and shocking, but they did make for some very dramatic and captivating sequences throughout the book. Overall, I thought that this was one of the strongest mysteries to have so far been featured within one of the Rowland Sinclair books, and it served as an amazing centre to this entire fantastic book.

One of the most distinctive features of this whole series is the way that Gentill dives into the history and culture of the period in which the books are set. She has previously done a wonderful job of exploring parts of 1930s Australia, Europe and occupied Shanghai, and in A Testament of Character Gentill’s characters explore post-Depression America. This proves to be an excellent backdrop to the book’s superb story, and I loved the examination of the key cities of Boston and New York, as well as some rural areas of the country. Gentrill provides the reader with a fantastic and at times in-depth look at various parts of the 1930s American culture and society. This is done in two distinct ways, the first of which involves the protagonists exploring America as Australians, providing an outsider’s perspective of the events or places they visit (while constantly getting complemented for speaking such good English!). The second way is through Gentill’s inclusion of historical newspaper clippings at the front of every chapter. The use of these newspaper clippings is another recurring trait of the Rowland Sinclair series, and I have always enjoyed the way in which the articles relate to some cultural or historical aspect of the chapter the clipping fronts. Through the use of these methods, the author paints an intriguing picture about America during this period, which I think worked extremely well as a background to the main mystery plot. This is especially true as some of the motives and elements of the mystery revolve around the social attitudes and cultural expectations of the time, which the reader will need to have a bit of an understanding about. I have to say that I was glad that as part of this examination of historical America, Gentill also had a look at public opinion around the Nazis and fascists in the lead up to World War II, as this has been one of the more interesting story threads to follow throughout the series.

Another distinctive aspect of the Rowland Sinclair series is the way that Gentill writes a number of historical figures into the story, either as cameos or in major roles. The best previous example of this is easily the author’s inclusion of Eric Campbell and The New Guard (an ultra-right-wing Australian organisation in the 1930s) as recurring antagonists in some of the books, as these real-life historical figures are great foils to the progressive protagonists. Gentill continues to do this in A Testament of Characters, making great use of several iconic American historical figures to flesh out the story and create several memorable inclusions. Several of these historical figures have pretty major roles in the plot, including Joseph Kennedy, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife and fellow author, Zelda Fitzgerald. There are also some fun cameos from several other notable people, including Errol Flynn, a young JFK, Marion Davies, Randolph Hearst and Orson Welles, as well as several other characters who were in Boston or New York during the 1930s. There are also a ton of references to other unique figures in America during this time, including the Parker Brothers Company (Monopoly was released in 1935, and the protagonists of course end up playing a game), as well as a unique goat competition that was held in Central Park, of which Gentill of course names the winner. This is an extremely fun and amusing part of A Testament of Character, and I always enjoy seeing Gentill’s protagonists run into these real-life historical figures, especially as the author does a fantastic job examining and showcasing their personalities and motivations. I love how Gentill effortlessly works these people into the plot, and the reader is always left wondering who is going to appear next.

A Testament of Character is a superb and exciting new addition to the outstanding Rowland Sinclair series that is really worth checking out. Sulari Gentill has once again produced a fantastic mystery storyline that strongly benefits from the author’s clever dive back into 1930’s history. This results in a powerful and exhilarating novel which makes amazing use of its fun, distinctive inclusions and intriguing characters. I cannot wait to see what misadventures Rowland Sinclair and his friends get up to in their next book, and this is a truly wonderful Australian series with a real unique flair to it.

Throwback Thursday: Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 4: The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy

Publisher: Fantagraphics Books (Paperback – September 1991)

Series: Usagi Yojimbo – Book Four

Length: 179 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.

For this slightly belated Throwback Thursday, I continue my trend of the last couple of weeks by checking out another volume of Stan Sakai’s ground-breaking and utterly addictive Usagi Yojimbo series with the fourth volume, The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy. Reviewing all these Usagi Yojimbo books has proven to be a lot of fun, and I am really glad that I have been able to show off my love for this series (make sure to check out my reviews for volumes One, Two and Three). The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy is another excellent early volume in this long-running series, which features a fantastic full-volume-length story.

Usagi 13

A storm is brewing throughout feudal Japan, as war and revolution against the Shogun lie just beyond the horizon. In his fortress, the ambitious and dastardly Lord Tamakuro has been plotting. Despite appearing to be a loyal supporter of the powerful Lord Hikiji, Tamakuro has his own plans to take control of the country and rule as Shogun, utilising an army of ronin armed with teppo, black powder guns imported from the barbarian lands outside of Japan.

However, despite his best attempts at discretion, Lord Tamakuro’s actions have not gone unnoticed. His neighbour, Lord Noriyuki, has sent his trusted advisor and bodyguard, Tomoe, to investigate Tamakuro’s castle, where she discovers the hidden armaments he is planning to use in his upcoming revolution. At the same time, Lord Hikiji, suspicious of Tamakuro’s true loyalties, has sent the notorious Neko Ninja clan to infiltrate his castle. When both Tomoe and the Neko Ninja are discovered, Tamakuro makes ready for war against all his opponents.

Usagi 14

Into this vast conspiracy walks the wandering ronin Miyamoto Usagi. A friend to Lord Noriyuki and Tomoe, Usagi witnesses Tomoe being captured and rushes to Tamakuro’s castle to save her. Despite his best efforts, Usagi finds himself outmatched by the powerful forces Tamakuro has pulled together. His only chance at saving his friend and averting a civil war is to team up with the Neko Ninja, a group he his fought many times in the past. Can Usagi and his new allies succeed, or will Tamakuro’s greed engulf the entire country? And what role will blind swordspig Zato-Ino and the bounty hunter Gennosuke play in the final battle?

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 4: The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy is an outstanding and highly enjoyable comic that I have a huge amount of love for. Containing issues #13-18 of the Fantagraphics Books run of the Usagi Yojimbo series, this fourth volume is broken down into seven separate chapters. It is a major early edition in the series, as it contains a massive and wide-reaching story. This is the first storyline that takes up an entire volume (several notable stories do this later, such as the two Grasscutter volumes and the 33rd volume, The Hidden), and it presents the reader with an epic tale of war, friendship, honour, loyalty and uneasy alliances, while featuring a number of the best Usagi Yojimbo characters.

Usagi 15

The entire story contained within this fourth volume is quite spectacular and comes with minimal build-up from the Usagi Yojimbo issues that preceded this volume. Sakai does an amazing job introducing the relevant plot and new key players surrounding this storyline, and then telling a complex and detailed narrative within the confines of this one volume. In addition to the main conspiracy storyline, the story follows several different character-based storylines, all of which come together for one big epic confrontation. I really enjoyed where Sakai took the plot of this volume, and I liked how the story was broken up into several distinctive chunks defined by the respective chapter (the chapter names, which refer to parts of a storm, identify the intensity and importance of each chapter). The entire story is rather self-contained, and I think that the author did a great job wrapping it up and giving it several satisfying conclusions.

Like many of the Usagi Yojimbo issues out there, the true heart of The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy’s story is the outstanding characters, many of whom have appeared in prior issues in the series. Usagi once again accidently finds himself in the midst of a vast conspiracy and must risk everything to save his friend and stop a war. If I am going to be honest, Usagi has one of the weaker arcs in this volume, with several of the side characters getting much more interesting storylines and more development. That being said, parts of Usagi’s story are fairly intriguing, such as when he manages to infiltrate Lord Tamakuro’s castle as a new retainer in order to rescue Tomoe, or his guilt-ridden dream sequence where his regret over his perceived failure manifests itself as a series of ghosts and monsters. Usagi also has the fun job of recruiting reluctant and unusual allies to his cause, such as the Neko Ninja or his old foe Zato-Ino. Indeed, his whole storyline is similar to classic Japanese films such as The Seven Samurai (the inspiration for The Magnificent Seven) or The Hidden Fortress (which served as an inspiration for the first Star Wars movie), as he recruits or forms alliances with various people in order to take down an evil opponent (in a castle, no less, for The Hidden Fortress fans). He also has some rather fantastic interactions with several different characters throughout the volume, and it results in some major developments in his relationships with them.

Usagi 16

While Usagi’s storyline is quite enjoyable, several returning supporting characters also have some substantial and impressive arcs throughout this book, and I really loved the way in which Sakai brings back a number of key characters from earlier issues in the series. The best character in this entire volume is the blind swordspig, Zato-Ino. Both of Ino’s previous storylines have been extremely impressive, so it was great to see him return again for another volume. Ino, who had already found some measure of peace thanks to his new companion, the tokage lizard Spot, finds some major redemption in The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy, and he easily has the most character development. An entire chapter of this volume is dedicated to the eventual fate of Ino, and it was fantastic to see him finally find what he has been desperately searching for, even if he has to lose his only friend along the way. The rhino bounty hunter, Gennosuke, once again proves himself to be a fun and endearing character throughout this volume. Initially involved in a rather humorous hunt for Ino’s bounty, he finds himself working with him to fight Lord Tamakuro’s forces, although he always intends to betray him. However, Ino’s heroic actions end up changing his mind, and he once again reveals his hidden good nature by secretly assisting Ino and selflessly helping him. This is also the volume where Gen loses his horn, with all future versions of him appearing with just a small stump on his nose. His cut-off horn is quite an iconic look for the character, and after seeing him without out for all these years in later volumes, his earlier horned appearance just looks odd.

Recurring female samurai, Tomoe, also has an extremely strong appearance in The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy, as she finds herself captured within Lord Tamakuro’s castle quite early in the volume and is forced to resist his abuses. Tomoe has some great dialogue with Usagi about how her mission and her loyalty to Lord Noriyuki are more important than her own life, and she has to talk Usagi into abandoning her for the greater good. She also has a rather fantastic sequence where she manages to remain hidden in the fortress, right after she rides through various parts of the interior on a horse. I also really liked Shingen, the Neko Ninja chief who Usagi teams up within this volume. Shingen previously appeared in the Volume 3 story, The Shogun’s Gift, where he formed a great rivalry with Usagi. While the two clash in this volume, they eventually reach a level of mutual respect and work together for the greater good. Shingen gains multiple dimensions as a character in this volume, and it was interesting to see his discussion with Usagi about honour, and how even ninja have a code of duty. His story comes to a fantastic close towards the end of the volume, but Sakai really made him one of the standout characters of the volume: “A ninja’s duty in life is death!”

Usagi 17

In addition to the excellent inclusion of several amazing returning characters, The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy also featured a couple of terrific new characters, who really helped bring this story together. The evil Lord Tamakuro was a really good villain for this volume, and Sakai did a fantastic job of showing of his greed, brutality and utter disregard for anything except his own power. Needless to say, he was a rather vile character who the reader cannot help but dislike, making his eventual comeuppance all the sweeter. The best new character in this volume has to be the leader of Tamakuro’s samurai army, Captain Torame. Torame is a loyal and capable warrior, who is forced to serve an evil lord who takes him for granted. He forms a bond with Usagi when the protagonist infiltrates the fortress under the guise of a mercenary ronin, and they have several discussions about bushido, loyalty and the ways in which a samurai must serve his lord. Usagi’s subsequent betrayal in order to rescue Tomoe enrages Torame, who takes it as a personal afront. This leads to a fantastic duel later in the volume, although not before Usagi and Torame have one final discussion, in which Usagi attempts to talk Torame into abandoning Tamakuro. Torame however refuses, as his strict adherence to the samurai code forbids him betraying his lord, even if it is clear he disagrees with Tamakuro’s plans:

“is samurai honour so important?”

“Yes”.

The result of the quick and brutal duel that follows visibly saddens Usagi, who was once again forced to fight a man he respected. This volume also sees the brief introduction of the Neko Ninja Chizu, a major recurring character in later volumes of the series, whose one scene in this book was rather fun.

The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy is an extremely action-packed volume that actually features some of the best action scenes in the entire Usagi Yojimbo series. I absolutely loved all the action sequences in this book, as Sakai did an incredible job illustrating them and bringing the fights to life. The main action set piece of this volume has to be the assault on Lord Tamakuro’s fortress by Usagi, Ino, Gen, Shingen and a force of Neko Ninja armed with explosives, as they attempt to rescue Tomoe and put an end to Tamakuro’s ambitions. This entire extended action sequence is exceedingly impressive, and it was really cool to see all the characters engage in a massive battle throughout a castle complex. I also have to say how incredibly awesome it was to see a force of ninja face off against an army of samurai, predominately armed with European muskets. This made for some incredible fight scenes, all of which I really and truly loved. I also have to highlight a couple of duel sequences that occurred earlier in the volume. The first of this was a great fight between Usagi and Shingen, as the two face off against each other in a quick fight to the death. This duel focuses on the extreme clash of styles between the two, as Usagi had to contend with all manner of traps and ambushes before he got anywhere near this foe. However, this duel pales in comparison to the awesome fight between Ino and Gen that occurred towards the middle of the volume. This two engage in an incredible and beautifully drawn fight that lasted several pages. This fight did a fantastic job showing of their respective skills with the sword, and this fight helps feed into Sakai’s love for classic Japanese films, as this duel was essentially Zatoichi vs Yojimbo. This volume featured some first-rate action, which is really worth checking out.

Usagi 18

In addition to the extremely well-drawn action sequences, Sakai has filled this volume with some truly incredibly examples of his artistic style. This volume features so many impressive and iconic Japanese buildings, landscapes, traditional outfits and other aspects of the country, that the reader can’t help but feel they have been transported back to feudal Japan. I particularly loved the way he included a number of stormy backgrounds throughout this volume. The continued artistic rendering of rain, clouds, mud, wind and storms throughout the entirety of The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy really helped to set the mood of the entire volume, and I loved how the intensity of the storm seemed to match the volume’s story. I really enjoyed how a number of pages were streaked with massive bolts of lightning across cloudy or darkened skies, and several scenes, particularly the duel between Ino and Gen, were majorly enhanced by this artistic inclusion. As usual, this art does an amazing job backing up the volume’s fantastic stories, and I was once again left stunned by Sakai’s obvious and incredible artistic talent.

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 4: The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy, is another exceptional and captivating comic which I am awarding a full five-star rating. Sakai is a truly incredible writer and artist, and this fourth volume did a fantastic job highlighting his talents for both. Not only does this volume feature some amazing and distinctive drawings, but it also contains an outstanding and enjoyable story backed up by some awesome characters. Sakai did an awesome job bringing together several key recurring characters into a compelling and well-written narrative, which I once again fell in love with. The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy is really worth checking out, and is a must read for fans of the masterpiece that is the Usagi Yojimbo series.

UY_Book_4_HC_cover

WWW Wednesday – 18 March 2020

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

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

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Riptides, Predator One Covers

Riptides by Kirsten Alexander (Trade Paperback)

Riptides is a compelling and tragic historical drama set in 1970’s Australia from Kirsten Alexander, the author of one of my favourite debuts from last year, Half Moon Lake.  I am about a third of the way through this book at the moment, and I am already really enjoying the complex and powerful story it contains.

Predator One by Jonathan Maberry (Audiobook)

I was in the mood for another fun and over-the-top science fiction thriller, so I went back to Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series, which I have been really enjoying over the last year or so (make sure to check out my review for the previous book in the series, Code Zero).  Predator One is another exciting addition to this great series, and I am flying through it at the moment.

What did you recently finish reading?

Where Fortune Lies, Dooku Cover

Where Fortune Lies by Mary-Anne O’Connor (Trade Paperback)

Star Wars: Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott (Audio Play)

What do you think you’ll read next?

Hitler’s Secret by Rory Clements (Trade Paperback)

Hitler's Secret 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 – To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

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 am going to take a look at an upcoming science fiction novel that I extremely and relentlessly excited for, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars Cover

Can I just take a minute to express how awesome it is that a new Christopher Paolini book is coming out in the next few months. Paolini is a bestselling author who wrote The Inheritance Cycle, an epic young adult fantasy that featured dragons, magic and battles for freedom in an expansive fantasy world. I have a lot of love for The Inheritance Cycle, as I read the first book in the series, Eragon, when I was quite young and instantly fell in love with the book’s cool story and the vast imagination of the author. I absolutely devoured the next three novels when they were released, and this has long been a favourite series of mine. This love of The Inheritance Cycle has continued in recent years, and it is one of those series that I will take the time to regularly reread (or re-listen to, as I have taken to enjoying the audiobook format of this series). I even did a Throwback Thursday review for the entire series back in 2018, which you can check out here. The Inheritance Cycle ended back in 2011, and Paolini has not released any additional novels since, except for a collection of short stories (The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm) that was published at the end of 2018.

As a result, when I heard that Paolini was releasing a new novel this year, I was extremely intrigued and immediately attempted to find out more details about it. Rather than continuing The Inheritance Cycle (although he’s apparently planning to work on a fifth book next), Paolini has written a brand new story which is set for release on 15 September 2020. To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is going to be a lengthy science fiction epic that will explore a disastrous first contact between humanity and an alien race. In addition to a recently revealed cover, there a short plot synopsis is currently available:

Goodreads Synopsis:

A brand new space opera on an epic scale from the New York Times bestselling author of a beloved YA fantasy series.

It was supposed to be a routine research mission on an uncolonized planet. But when xenobiologist Kira Navárez finds an alien relic beneath the surface of the world, the outcome transforms her forever and will alter the course of human history.

Her journey to discover the truth about the alien civilization will thrust her into the wonders and nightmares of first contact, epic space battles for the fate of humankind, and the farthest reaches of the galaxy.

Based on the way that I gushed about how much I enjoyed Paolini’s previous series above, it’s pretty obvious that I was going to get a copy of this book no matter what. However, I do have to say that I am also quite intrigued by the cool new premise that Paolini is coming up with. A massive space opera is a bold new step for Paolini and I am extremely interested in seeing how he works with this new genre. Paolini has previously shown that he has an incredible and expansive imagination, so I am really looking forward to finding out what wonders and epic sequences that he is able to come up with this time. I am also curious to see how much he has evolved as an author in the last nine years. While I deeply enjoyed his first four novels, Paolini’s writing was a bit rough in places, and I hoping that the time he has taken for this latest novel will help produce a much more well-rounded read.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is set to be a major and fantastic release for the second half of 2020, and it is one that I am particularly excited about. Words cannot express how much I am looking forward to reading a brand new Christopher Paolini book, and I have high hopes that he has produced another expansive and compelling universe to get lost in, equipped with a powerful and adventure-packed story. I really think that To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is going to be an awesome read and I look forward to diving into this book as soon as possible.

Star Wars: Dooku: Jedi Lost

Dooku - Jedi Lost Cover

Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio (Audio Production – 30 April 2019)

Script: Cavan Scott

Cast: Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Morton, Pete Bradbury, Jonathan Davis, Neil Hellegers, Sean Kenin, January LaVoy, Saskia Maarleveld, Carol Monda, Robert Petkoff, Rebecca Soler and Marc Thompson.

Length: 6 hours and 21 Minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Prepare for another deep dive into the Star Wars canon with an audio drama that explores the past of one the biggest villains from the prequel movies, Count Dooku, with Dooku: Jedi Lost.

Dooku: Jedi Lost was one of the more interesting pieces of Star Wars fiction that was released last year. Based on a script written by Cavan Scott, an author who has written a multitude of comics, novels and radio drama tie-ins for several different franchises, Jedi Lost was originally released as an audio production featuring several different actors, with the script also released in novel format a few months later. I have been meaning to check out this unique story for some time, as it was one of the few pieces of Star Wars fiction that I did not read in 2019. This is actually one of the first entries I am ticking off my Books I Wish I Read in 2019 list (barring The Russian by Ben Coes, which was an honourable mention), and I am really glad I decided to check this piece of fiction out.

For many in the galaxy, Count Dooku of Serenno is one of the most dangerous and evil villains that ever lived. The leader of the ruthless Separatists during the Clone Wars, apprentice to Darth Sidious and master of several ruthless assassins, Dooku is rightfully feared and hated by many. However, he once was one of the most respected and powerful members of the Jedi Council. A former apprentice to Yoda himself, and the mentor to two exceptional Padawans, Rael Averross and Qui-Gon Jinn, Dooku dedicated decades of his life to the Jedi, before suddenly leaving and taking a different path. But how did such a revered Jedi turn to the dark side of the Force? That is a question that Dooku’s new apprentice, Asajj Ventress, is trying to understand when she is given a mission to find Dooku’s missing sister. Searching for leads through Dooku’s journals and messages, Ventress is given unprecedented access into Dooku’s past.

The son of the ruthless Count of Serenno, Dooku was abandoned as baby by his father the moment his abilities with the Force were identified, only to be rescued by Yoda. Upon learning the truth about his birth years later, Dooku struggles with balancing his duties as a Jedi with his connections to his family and home planet. Conflicted, Dooku finds comfort in his friendship with the troubled young Jedi Sifo-Dyas and the mysterious Jedi Master Lene Kostana, whose mission of locating and studying Sith artefacts fascinates Dooku and leads him to his first experiences with the dark side of the Force. As Dooku rises through the ranks of the Jedi Order, he finds himself stymied by the bureaucracy and corruption of the Republic and the hypocrisy of the Jedi Council. As the first waves of darkness fall across the galaxy, how will the younger Dooku react, and what will Ventress do when she realises what sort of person her new master is?

Dooku: Jedi Lost is an incredible and deeply captivating piece of Star Wars fiction that cleverly dives into the past of one of the franchise’s most iconic villains to present a compelling and intriguing story. I ended up listening to the full cast audio production of Jedi Lost, and I really enjoyed this fantastic and intriguing book. The plot of Jedi Lost is uniquely set across several different time periods, with the details of Dooku’s life being relayed to a younger Ventress at the start of her Sith apprenticeship through journal entries, detailed messages, oral histories and even some visions of the past. Scott did an excellent job of setting his story across multiple time periods, which allowed Jedi Lost to showcase the life of the titular character while also presenting an exciting, fast-paced and at times dramatic narrative that includes several plot threads that jump from timeline to timeline. All of this results in an excellent Star Wars story which features some fascinating inclusions to the franchise’s lore and which is enhanced by the incredible audio production.

At the centre of this book lies an intriguing and captivating exploration of one of the most significant antagonists in the Star Wars canon, Count Dooku. Jedi Lost contains quite a detailed and compelling backstory for this character, and you get to see a number of key events from his life. This includes his complicated childhood, the forbidden communication he had with his sister, the connection he maintained with his home planet, parts of his apprenticeship under Yoda, the tutelage of his own two apprentices, his time on the Jedi council, his first brushes with the dark side of the Force and finally the chaotic events that led him to leave the Jedi order and take up his position as Count of Serenno. Every part of this background proved to be extremely fascinating and it paints Dooku as a much more complex character, with understandable motivations and frustrations. He actually comes across as a much more sympathetic person thanks to this production, and readers are going to have an amazing time finding out what events and betrayals drove him away from the Jedi and towards his new master. The storytelling device of having Ventress read and analyse Dooku’s old messages and journal entries ensures that the story quickly jumps through the events of his life, and no key events really seem to be missing. I personally would have like to see some more detail about Dooku’s training under Yoda or his teaching of his apprentices, although I appreciate that this was already an expansive production and there was a limit on what could be included in the script. I also wonder what sort of story this could have turned into if this was told exclusively from Dooku’s point of view, however, this first-person narration probably wouldn’t be as feasible as a full cast audio production. Overall, those fans who check out Jedi Lost are in for quite an in-depth and fascinating look at the great character that is Count Dooku, and I am sure many will enjoy this exciting examination of his backstory.

In addition to exploring the character of Count Dooku, Jedi Lost also presents those dedicated Star Wars fans with a new canon look at the Star Wars universe before the events of The Phantom Menace. You get an intriguing look at the Republic and the Jedi Order in the years leading up to events of the Skywalker Saga, and it was fascinating to see the similarities and differences between the various eras in the Star Wars lore. In particular, I found in interesting to see that the groundwork for the Clone Wars and the fall of the Jedi order had already begun, with ineffectual leadership, corruption in the Senate and complacency in the Jedi Council all eventually leading the dark events of the future. Jedi Lost also shows the earlier days of several Jedi who were supporting characters in either the movies or the animated shows. In particular, this entry focuses on Sifo-Dyas, the Jedi who foresaw the Clone Wars and was manipulated into creating the Republic’s clone army. The story explores how Dooku and Sifo-Dyas were close friends growing up, while also showing the origin of his prescient powers, and he proved to be a rather compelling side character. Jedi Lost also saw the introduction of Jedi Master Lene Kostana to the canon. Lene Kostana was a rebellious Jedi who scoured the galaxy for Sith artefacts in the belief that the Sith were going to rise again. She proved to be an interesting mentor character for Dooku, and her recklessness and unique way of thinking had some major impacts in Dooku’s character development.

I also liked how this piece of Star Wars fiction focused on the early career of Asajj Ventress, one of the best Star Wars characters introduced outside of the movies. Much of the story is set immediately after Dooku claims Ventress as his apprentice and personal assassin, which allows the reader a compelling view of Ventress’s early brushes with the dark side of the Force and the initial corruption and manipulation she experienced under Dooku. This proved to be quite an interesting part of the novel, especially as the reader got to see Ventress’s thoughts and reactions to several revelations about Dooku’s past. Thanks to the way that the audio production is set out, Scott also included a rather cool element to Ventress’s character in the way that she is hearing the voice of her dead former Jedi Master and mentor, Ky Narec. While Ky Narec’s voice was mainly included to allow Ventress to share her thoughts in this audio production without becoming a full-fledged narrator, this ethereal character gives the reader a deeper insight into Ventress’s character. I also enjoyed the discussion about Ventress’s past with Narec, and it helped produce a much more in-depth look at this fascinating character from the expanded universe.

Like most pieces of expanded universe fiction, Jedi Lost is best enjoyed by fans of the Star Wars franchise, who are most likely to appreciate some of the new pieces of lore and interesting revelations. This production also bears some strong connections with another piece of Star Wars tie-in fiction that was released last year, Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray. Master & Apprentice was one of the most impressive Star Wars novels released last year, and it featured a story that focussed on Dooku’s apprentices, Rael Averross and Qui-Gon Jinn. Jedi Lost heavily references some of the events that occurred or are represented in Master & Apprentice, and it was interesting to see the intersections between the two separate pieces of fiction. I particularly enjoyed seeing more of the unconventional Jedi, Rael Averross, and it was great to see some additional interactions between the proper and noble Dooku, and this rough former apprentice. Despite all of this, I believe that Jedi Lost can easily be enjoyed by more casual Star Wars fans, although some knowledge about the prequel films is probably necessary.

People familiar with this blog are going to be unsurprised to learn that I chose to listen to the audio production of Jedi Lost rather than read the book that was produced from the script. I have a well-earned appreciation for Star Wars audiobooks, which are in a league of their own when it comes to production value; however, Jedi Lost is on another level to your typical Star Wars audiobook. As I mentioned above, Jedi Lost was released as a full cast audio production, which is essentially an audio recording of a play. This was the first piece of Star Wars fiction I had experienced in this medium, and I really loved how it turned out. The cast did an amazing job with the script, and they acted out a wonderful and highly enjoyable production which I thought was just incredible. The production runs for just over 6 hours and 20 minutes, and they manage to fit a lot of plot into this shorter run-time (in comparison to normal Star Wars audiobooks), as the use of dialogue results in a lot less narration. Due to the way Jedi Lost is structured, with Ventress reading out journal entries or having Dooku’s tale told to her, there is a little more narration of events then a production like this would usually have. I think this was necessary to ensure the reader was clear on what was going on at all times, and it didn’t ruin the overall flow of Jedi Lost in any way.

Jedi Lost features a very impressive and talented group of actors who go above and beyond to make this an awesome audio production. As you can see from the cast list above, this production made use of 12 separate narrators, each of whom voice a major character (with some of the actors also voicing some minor characters as well). Many of these narrators have expansive experience with voicing Star Wars audiobooks, and I have actually had the pleasure of listening to several of these actors before, including Euan Morton (Tarkin by James Luceno), Jonathan Davies (Master & Apprentice), Sean Kenin (Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber), Robert Petkoff (multiple Star Trek novels, most recently Picard: The Last Best Hope by Una McCormack) and Marc Thompson (Dark Disciple by Christie Golden, Loki: Where Mischief Lies by Mackenzi Lee and Scoundrels and Thrawn by Timothy Zahn).

There is some truly outstanding audio work done in this production, with several actors producing near-perfect replication of several iconic characters from the Star Wars franchise. I particularly have to praise Orlagh Cassidy for her exceptional portrayal of Asajji Ventress; her take on the character sounded exactly like the Ventress that appeared in The Clone Wars animated show. I was also deeply impressed by Jonathan Davis’s Qui-Gon Jinn and Marc Thompson’s Yoda, both of which were incredible replications of the characters from the movies. Davis also did a great job once again portraying Rael Averross, a fun character who he first brought to life in Master & Apprentice, and I loved the somewhat laidback voice he provides for Rael, especially as it reminds me of an older cowboy character from a western (I personally always picture Sam Elliott when I hear it). Other standout stars in this production include Euan Morton, who came up with a great take on the titular character Count Dooku. Morton was able to produce an impressive and commanding presence for this character, and he did a great job modulating the character’s voice to represent the various jumps in age that the character experienced. The same can be said for Saskia Maarleveld’s Jenza and Sean Kenin’s Sifo-Dyas, whose characters also aged extremely well throughout the course of the production. I also really loved the voice that Carol Monda provided for new character Lene Kostana, and I felt that it fit the character described in Jedi Lost extremely well. I honestly loved all the rest of the voices that were provided throughout this production, and each of them brought some real magic to Jedi Lost.

Just like with a normal Star Wars audiobook, one of the standout features of the Jedi Lost production was the incredible use of the franchise’s iconic music and sound effects. I really cannot emphasise enough how amazing it is to have one of John Williams’s epic scores playing in the background of a scene. Not only does it really get you into the Star Wars zone, but this music markedly enhances the mood of any part of the book it is playing in. Hearing some of the more dramatic scores during a touching or tragic scene really helps the reader appreciate how impactful the sequence truly is, and nothing gets the blood pumping faster during an action sequence than Duel of the Fates or some other fast-paced piece of Star Wars music. The sound effects utilised throughout this production are not only really cool but they also have added significance for an audio production like Jedi Lost which relies on dialogue rather than narration to establish the scene. Having the various classic Star Wars sound effects reflect what is going on can be really helpful, and often the clash of lightsabers and the pew-pew of blaster bolts give life to a battle sequence. I always appreciate the way that certain sound effects can help paint a picture of what is happening in the room that the dialogue is taking place. Having the susurration of a crowd or the light hum of a starship engine in the background always makes a book seem more impressive, and it makes for a fun overall listen.

Dooku: Jedi Lost was an incredible and wonderful production which I had an extremely hard time turning off. Cavan Scott’s clever and intricate script, combined with the outstanding audio production, is a truly awesome experience which I deeply enjoyed. I loved learning more about the character of Count Dooku, and I think that Scott came up with a fantastic and intriguing background for the character. Jedi Lost is an excellent piece of Star Wars fiction, and I am extremely happy that I listened to it. Highly recommended to all Star Wars fans, and if you decide to check out Jedi Lost, you have to listen to the spectacular audio production, which is just amazing.

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.