Waiting on Wednesday – Firefly: Life Signs by James Lovegrove

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.  I’m starting off my Waiting on Wednesday articles for the year strong by looking at the very next Firefly tie-in novel, Firefly: Life Signs, which is sure to be an epic and enjoyable read.

Firefly Life Signs

Over the last few years, Titan Books have been leading the way with tie-in fiction for Joss Whedon’s wildly popular Firefly franchise, by creating a series of fantastic Firefly novels that imagine new adventures for the various crewmembers of the spaceship Serenity.  Being the massive fan of the franchise that I am, I have gone out of my way to read all four previous Firefly novels they have released (consisting of Big Damn Hero, The Magnificent Nine, Generations and The Ghost Machine).  Each of these books have been extremely clever and exciting reads that did an amazing job of bringing the iconic characters from the television show to life, and I have deeply enjoyed all of them.  As a result, I was very happy when I found out that there was a brand new Firefly novel coming out in a few short months and instantly considered it a must-have book for the year.

This latest upcoming Firefly novel, Life Signs, is currently set for release in mid-March and is written by bestselling science fiction and fantasy author James Lovegrove, with Joss Whedon credited as a consulting editor.  Lovegrove has been the absolute star of this current run of Firefly tie-in novels, having written three of the four books.  All of these Lovegrove Firefly novels have been amazing and compelling reads, although my favourite is probably last year’s The Ghost Machine, which saw the protagonists become entrapped by beguiling visions and terrifying nightmares.  However, I have particularly high hopes for Lovegrove’s next entry in the series, as Life Signs has a really cool and intriguing plot.

Synopsis:

Some months after Inara leaves Serenity, Mal and the crew learn the reason for her sudden departure: she is dying of a terminal illness. It is Kiehl’s Myeloma, a rare form of blood cancer that’s supposedly incurable.

Through their shock and despair, they learn that there are rumors of a scientist believed to have developed a cure for her condition, but he has been disgraced: incarcerated for life on notorious Alliance prison planet Atata. Here, terraforming did not take properly, so the world is a frozen wasteland. Inmates are abandoned there with no guards and left to survive as best they can.

To save Inara, the Serenity crew must infiltrate the prison…

Ooh, now this is a very interesting synopsis that opens up a lot of great storylines for this book.  Fans of the Firefly franchise will probably know that the Inara terminal illness story element mentioned above was actually a real plotline that was going to be explored in future seasons of the television show, if it hadn’t been cancelled so soon (damn you, Fox executives, damn you to hell!).  Several inclusions in the show hinted at Inara’s condition, and there were apparently plans to do a big episode about it, although some of the revealed details about this potential episode are a tad disturbing (let’s just say that Inara was apparently going to have a very bad encounter with some Reavers).  I have to say that I am really excited to see that someone is finally going to explore this abandoned story arc in some detail, and it should result in some emotional and dramatic moments for the characters, as well as provide some addition backstory for Inara.  I also really like how, in order to solve this problem, the crew are going to embark on a reverse prison break to find and exfiltrate a disgraced mad scientist who may potentially have a cure.  Attempting to break into a desolate ice prison that is completely controlled by the inmates has so much potential for excitement and disaster and I am sure it is going to be quite a fun and enjoyable story.

As a result, I am really looking forward to checking out this new Firefly novel in March.  Based on how cool and significant the plot sounds, and due to how much I have enjoyed Lovegrove’s excellent writing in the past, I have some major expectations for Life Signs and I cannot wait to see how it unfolds.

Top Ten Tuesday – Most Anticipated Release for the First Half of 2021

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For the first Top Ten Tuesday list of the year, participants need to list their most anticipated releases for the first half of 2021.

Despite only just starting, 2021 is already shaping up to be an epic and exciting year for books with a huge range of impressive and highly anticipated novels due for release in the next 12 months.  This includes exciting debuts, anticipated sequels and the latest entries in beloved bestselling series.  The first half of the year is looking particularly awesome, with a substantial number of incredible upcoming releases that I am deeply looking forward to.

Due to how many awesome books are currently set for release between 1 January 2021 and 30 June 2021, this ended up being a rather difficult list to pull together.  There were way too many extraordinary upcoming books that I could have included, and I ended up having to make some very tough calls and cutting several novels that have an immense amount of potential.  Despite this, I am rather happy with the eventual choices that I made, and I think that this list reflects the upcoming novels and comics I am going to have the most fun reading.  I have mentioned several of these books before in my weekly Waiting on Wednesday articles, and some of them also appeared on my recent Summer 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 first half of 2021.

 

Honourable Mentions:

 

A Prince and a Spy by Rory Clements – 21 January 2021

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Star Wars: Doctor Aphra (2020): Volume One – Fortune and Fate by Alyssa Wong and Marika Cresta – 26 January 2021

DoctorAphra2020-1

 

Firefly: Life Signs by James Lovegrove – 16 March 2021

Firefly Life Signs

 

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good by Timothy Zahn – 27 April 2021

Star Wars - Thrawn Ascendancy - Greater Good Cover

 

Top Ten Tuesday (By Release Date):

 

Prodigal Son by Gregg Hurwitz – 26 January 2021

Prodigal Son Cover

Exciting thriller writer Gregg Hurwitz is set to return later this month with the latest entry in his awesome Orphan X series.  I have deeply enjoyed the previous two books in this series, Out of the Dark and Into the Fire, and Prodigal Son looks like it will have a fun and fantastic story to it.

 

The Three Paradises by Robert Fabbri – 2 February 2021

The Three Paradises Cover

This next novel on this list is The Three Paradises, the second entry in the Alexander’s Legacy series that examines the wars fought in the aftermath of Alexander the Great’s death.  The Three Paradises serves as a sequel to the excellent 2020 novel, To the Strongest, and it should turn out be a fun and entertaining read.

 

Relentless by Mark Greaney – 23 February 2021

Relentless Mark Greaney Cover

Following on from his 2020 hit, One Minute Out (which was one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2020), outstanding thriller author Mark Greaney returns with Relentless, the 10th entry in his Gray Man series.  In his latest novel, Greaney’s assassin protagonist will attempt to get to the bottom of a lethal conspiracy involving several missing intelligence agents.  I have extremely high hopes for this book and I think it has the potential to be one of the top books of 2021.

 

Star Wars: Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed – 2 March 2021

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

While there are several awesome pieces of Star Wars fiction coming out in the first half of 2021, the one that I am most excited for is Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed, the third and final book in his Alphabet Squadron series.  The previous two entries in the series, Alphabet Squadron and Shadow Fall, have been some of the strongest Star Wars novels in recent years and I have deeply enjoyed this intense, character driven series.  This final entry will feature the final showdown between two rival groups of pilots and should be quite the emotional thrill ride.

 

Breakout by Paul Herron – 9 March 2021

Breakout Cover

Breakout is an intriguing thriller novel that I really like the sound of.  Breakout will follow an imprisoned former cop’s attempt to escape a flooded supermax prison filled with the most dangerous convicts in the country.  This cool sounding book has the potential to be one of the most awesome and exciting releases of the year and I am really looking forward to reading it.

 

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst – 9 March 2021

The Bone Maker Cover

I had the very great pleasure of reading Sarah Beth Durst’s standalone fantasy novel, Race the Sands, last year, which proved to be one of the best books of 2020.  Since then, I have been keeping a close eye out for any new books from this acclaimed fantasy author and I was very excited when I saw she was releasing another standalone novel in a few short months.  This upcoming book will follow a group of damaged fantasy heroes, many years after their legendary victory over a great evil.  The Bone Maker sounds like it will be an incredible, character driven epic and I am deeply excited for it.

 

The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell – 30 March 2021

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

In 2020 I was blown away by Nick Martell’s impressive and clever fantasy debut, The Kingdom of Liars, which saw a fantastically flawed protagonist attempt to find the truth in a corrupt kingdom where magic costs people their memories.  This was an extremely compelling and exciting novel, and I cannot wait to get my hands on the upcoming sequel, The Two-Faced Queen, which I believe will be another outstanding read.

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 35: Homecoming by Stan Sakai – 14 April 2021

Usagi Yojimbo - Homecoming

It should as no surprise to anyone familiar with me that the entry I am most excited about is a Usagi Yojimbo comic.  The Usagi Yojimbo series is easily my favourite comics of all time and each year I eagerly await the one new volume that comes out.  This upcoming volume, Homecoming, will be the 35th overall volume of the series and the second volume published fully in colour (the first being 2020’s Bunraku and Other Stories).  Homecoming sounds like it is going to have some major storylines that will see Usagi return to his childhood village, where many enemies and painful memories await him.  I have no doubt whatsoever that I am going to absolutely love this latest Usagi Yojimbo comic and it is going to be one of the best things I read all year.

 

The Girl and the Mountain by Mark Lawrence – 5 May 2021

The Girl and the Mountain Cover

Last year I was lucky enough to get a copy of my first Mark Lawrence novel, The Girl and the Stars, which contained an epic and impressive fantasy storyline set deep beneath the ice of an unforgiving world.  I deeply enjoyed this novel, and I am quite excited to check out the sequel, The Girl and the Mountains, which looks set to continue the fantastic and captivating narrative from the first book.

 

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik – 29 June 2021

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The final entry on this list is The Last Graduate by bestselling author Naomi Novik.  The Last Graduate will serve as a sequel to A Deadly Education, a fun and addictive fantasy novel that was one of my favourite books of 2020.  I had an outstanding time reading A Deadly Education (I powered through it in about a day), and I cannot wait to see how Novik continues this incredible story.

 

That is the end of this list.  I am extremely happy with how my latest Top Ten Tuesday article turned out and this list contains an intriguing collection of upcoming books that should prove to be incredible reads.  I think that nearly every one of these books 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, as well as what your most anticipated releases for the next six months are in the comments below.

 

WWW Wednesday – 2 December 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?

Ink by Jonathan Maberry (Audiobook)

Ink Cover

This is the latest novel from one of my favourite authors at the moment, Jonathan Maberry.  Ink is a standalone novel set in Maberry’s fictional town of Pine Deep and features a horror based storyline where people’s tattoos, and the memories associated with them, are stolen by a mysterious man.  I am about halfway through this unique book at the moment and I am really enjoying its compelling story and intense characters.  A very interesting read and one I am glad I decided to try out.

What did you recently finish reading?

FireflyGenerations by Tim Lebbon (Hardcover)

Firefly Generations

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (Audiobook)

The Thursday Murder Club Cover

This was a great book and easily one of the best debuts of 2020.  I’ll hopefully get a review up for it soon.

The Emperor’s Exile by Simon Scarrow (Trade Paperback)

The Emperor's Exile Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke (Trade Paperback)

Hollow Empire Cover 2

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.

Firefly: Generations by Tim Lebbon

Firefly Generations

Consulting Editor: Joss Whedon

Publisher: Titan Books (Hardcover – 3 November 2020)

Series: Firefly – Book Four

Length: 287 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Over the last couple of years, there has been a resurgence of tie-in fiction around the Firefly television series, such as a new range of comics that was released by Boom!  However, the tie-in fiction I have been enjoying the most has been the excellent Firefly novels released by Titan Books.  I have so far had the great pleasure of reading and reviewing the first three novels in the series, Big Damn Hero, The Magnificent Nine and The Ghost Machine.  All three of these Firefly novels have been extremely fun to read and The Ghost Machine was one of my favourite books from the first half of 2020.  As a result, I have been eagerly awaiting the next novel in the series, Firefly: Generations by bestselling author Tim Lebbon.  Lebbon is an intriguing author who has been writing since the late 1990s across a variety of different genres.  Not only has he written several of his own novels and series, including Coldbrook, Relics and the Toxic City series, but he also authored an impressive amount of tie-in fiction, including a Star Wars novel, the official novelisation of The Cabin in the Woods and, most notably, the Rage Wars series, which encompassed both the Predator and Alien franchises.  Generations is the author’s first foray into the Firefly universe and it was originally set for release last year, before being temporarily delayed.  However, it was well worth the wait as this new novel from Lebbon is an extremely good Firefly tie-in novel that sees the crew of the Serenity embark on another dangerous adventure in space.

Set between the events of the television show and the Serenity movie, Generations sees the crew of Serenity once again low on cash after another poor job.  Hoping to turn their fortunes around by visiting a backwater planet with some potential smuggling jobs, the crew are disappointed by a lack of work.  However, an intriguing new opportunity presents itself when Mal wins a mysterious and seemingly unreadable map from an old mercenary.

While initially sceptical of its worth, Mal is convinced he may have something when a rival group of smugglers attack the crew, desperate to retrieve the map.  Curious, the crew investigate further and find that their wayward psychic, River Tam, can read the map and believes that it leads to an abandoned Generation ship, one of the massive vessels that brought humans to this galaxy from Earth-that-was.  With the potential for priceless salvage too much to resist, Mal and his crew decide to follow the map out into deep space, hoping for a miracle.

Arriving at the coordinates indicated on their map, they find the wreck of the Generation ship exactly where expected and loaded with valuables.  However, the ship appears to have been recently visited by the Alliance, who have made some surprising modifications to it.  Even worse, the closer they get to the ship the more animated River becomes, convinced that something is waiting for them.  Ignoring River’s cryptic warnings, Mal leads a team aboard, but what they find will haunt them to the end of their days.  Something extremely dangerous has awakened on the ship, and it is very, very angry!

Firefly: Generations is an impressive and exciting novel that sees the crew of Serenity embark on another thrilling money-making expedition in space.  This particular adventure was a rather cool one, and I really loved the way in which the author sends the characters off to explore a seemingly abandoned ship.  Lebbon sets his story up extremely well, and the subsequent action-packed narrative moves as an exceedingly fast pace as the protagonists quickly encounter all manner of problems that require them to escape from the ship before it is too late.  While this is a story that revolves around thrilling action and excitement, Lebbon makes time for several character-driven arcs, and the reader gets some excellent backstory and universe lore.  In many ways, this felt like an episode of the Firefly television show, and I had an extremely hard time putting the book down once I got drawn into the story.  Overall this was an amazing and enjoyable novel, and I had an awesome time reading Generations.

As part of this excellent story, Lebbon makes sure to bring several of the key Firefly characters to life throughout his book.  While Inara and Shepherd Book are mostly absent, the rest of the cast of the television show take part in this intriguing adventure, and I think it worked a little better with the smaller group of characters.  Lebbon did a great job with their characterisations in this novel and most of the featured characters are well utilised throughout the story, especially as they each spent time as a point-of-view character.  The always entertaining Captain Malcolm Reynolds serves as the driving force of much of the plot in this book, obtaining the map and taking his crew out on the adventure.  Mal was a lot of fun throughout the book, providing the reader with a number of clever jokes and observations about the dangerous events they are encountering and trying to work his way around it.  Wash was also particularly funny throughout this book, mainly because, out of all the characters, he was the most apprehensive about visiting the Generation ship.  Wash keeps up an amusing patter throughout the book, and there are several great scenes where he is forced to deal with some uninvited guests aboard Serenity.  I also quite enjoyed the use of Jayne and Kaylee throughout Generations, as they both get a lot of focus as they team up together.  Kaylee has a particularly deep attachment to the events occurring throughout the book, due to her fascination with the Generation ships, and this leads her into the heart of the action, somewhere she usually tries to avoid.  Luckily, she spends most of her time with the dangerous Jayne, who is up to his usual mercenary ways, attempting to loot the ship for anything valuable.  While Jayne maintains his typical gruff exterior for much of the book, there are some excellent moments when he opens up to Kaylee and shows how much closer he has grown to the rest of crew as a result of their adventures.  However, some of the most interesting scenes in this book concern River, who finds herself coming face to face with a dangerous figure from her terrifying past.  River has a unique history with the main antagonist of this book, which results in her attempting to establish a connection with him.  However, it doesn’t take long for this connection to take a dark turn, and she is forced to make some hard decisions about whether she wants to continue on with her crew or with someone she has an intense connection with.  Not only are River’s scenes quite emotionally deep, by Lebbon presents several great sequences where she uses her combat training to overwhelm the crew in order to get to where she wants to go.  I did think that Zoe and Simon were a bit underutilised throughout the novel, however, they still served vital supporting roles throughout the plot and they had some fun interactions with the rest of the characters.

In addition to his portrayal of the main characters from the television show, Lebbon also features some intriguing new antagonists for Generations’ story.  This includes the mysterious person who the crew encounter aboard the Generation ship, Silas, someone with a connection River’s past.  Silas is quite an interesting character, mainly due to the parallels between him and River, and it proved to be quite fascinating to see him in action throughout Generations, especially as he is one of the most dangerous things the crew has ever encountered.  Lebbon has also introduced a new female duo the mysterious agents known as The Hands of Blue (two by two, hands of blue).  Lebbon presents a compelling take on these two characters, and it is one of the first times fans of the show get to see inside the heads of any members of this secretive group.  I quite liked the utilisation of them in this book, especially as the author spends time showing just how bonded and weird these characters are and it was great to get some more information on this mysterious group.  Having both Silas and The Hands of Blue (with their associated Alliance backup) as antagonists in this novel really raised the stakes of this action packed novel and it was exciting to see the three-way fight that resulted between these two competing antagonists and the crew of Serenity.  I really enjoyed all the excellent character work in this book and it resulted in some amazing and intense scenes.

One of the things that I enjoyed the most about Generations was the way in which Lebbon spends time exploring and expanding on the Firefly universe.  Not only does the author do an amazing job replicating the old-west feel of this great science fiction series, continuing the cool adventures in a post-civil war landscape, but he also expands on the lore of this universe.  As part of this, Lebbon provides a lot of background and details about the transition of humanity to the star system where the Firefly series is set, including the massive Generation ships they used as transport, providing the reader with insights into their construction and how the technology has changed in the period between the exodus from Earth and the events of this book.  It was really fascinating to see the characters from the television show explore this ship and learn more about their long-forgotten history and past.  It was particularly entertaining to see them interact with some of the technology and cultural items from our time period, and there are numerous jokes around the characters not understanding certain brands or references.  In addition to this intriguing expansion of the Firefly timeline, certain reveals in the plot necessitate a deeper look into the history of River and the program that made her, and you get some other hints at what projects and military testings the Alliance does.  All of this makes for a fantastic addition to the Firefly cannon and fans of the franchise will appreciate some of the cool new additions that Lebbon brings to the table.  While Generations is probably best read by those people familiar with the Firefly show, the novel is also extremely accessible to newcomers to the series, who will no doubt enjoy the cool and enjoyable science fiction adventure.

Firefly: Generations by Tim Lebbon is a thrilling novel that takes the reader on a wild and compelling adventure into the amazing Firefly universe.  Generations contains an impressive and exciting story that makes excellent use of the characters from the Firefly television show while also exploring the franchise’s expanded universe.  A fun and easily enjoyable novel, this book comes highly recommended to all Firefly fans and you are guaranteed to have an amazing time getting through this awesome book.

WWW Wednesday – 25 November 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?

FireflyGenerations by Tim Lebbon (Hardcover)

Firefly Generations

After waiting a year for this book to come out, I finally get the chance to check out the latest Firefly tie-in novel, Firefly: Generations by Tim Lebbon.  Generations see’s the crew of Serenity follow a mysterious map to an ancient generation ship in the hope of gaining plunder.  However, something dangerous lies in wait for them, something that absolutely terrifies their resident psychic River.  I have been really enjoying the new Firefly tie-in books over the last couple of years (make sure to check out my reviews for the previous books, Big Damn Hero, The Magnificent Nine and The Ghost Machine) and so far Generations is living up to the rest of the series.  I am really enjoying this book and should hopefully finish it off in the next couple of days.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (Audiobook)

The Thursday Murder Club Cover

I started listening to The Thursday Murder Club earlier this week and I am currently about halfway through it.  The Thursday Murder Club is the debut novel from British comedian and television personality Richard Osman and follows a group of retired crime enthusiasts as they attempt to solve a brutal murder at their retirement village.  This is a very clever and extremely funny novel and I am having a wonderful time listening to it.

What did you recently finish reading?

The Tower of Fools by Andrzej Sapkowski (Trade Paperback)

The Tower of Fools Cover

The Salvage Crew by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne (Audiobook)

The Salvage Crew Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

The Emperor’s Exile by Simon Scarrow (Trade Paperback)

The Emperor's Exile Cover

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

WWW Wednesday – 18 November 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 Tower of Fools by Andrzej Sapkowski (Trade Paperback)

The Tower of Fools Cover

From the mind of Andrzej Sapkowski, best-selling author of The Witcher novels, comes the first English translation of his 2002 release, The Tower of Fools.  This is an interesting novel that blends together Eastern European historical fiction with some curious fantasy elements.  I am about 100 pages in at the moment and so far it is quite an intriguing read.  Looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

The Salvage Crew by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne (Audiobook)

The Salvage Crew Cover

The Salvage Crew is a fantastic science fiction adventure novel that I decided to quickly check out this week, mainly because it was narrated by Nathan Fillion.  The book follows a small salvage crew (bet you didn’t get that from the title) who head to an alien planet to do a routine salvage of a crashed ship, right before things get really complicated for them.  I am making some good progress with this audiobook and should hopefully finish it off in a day or two.  So far it is a pretty awesome story and I am really enjoying it.

What did you recently finish reading?

Star TrekDiscoveryDie Standing by John Jackson Miller (Audiobook)

Die Standing Cover

The Law of Innocence by Michael Connelly (Trade Paperback)

The Law of Innocence Cover

The Queen’s Captain by Peter Watt (Trade Paperback)

The Queen's Captain Cover

The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell (Audiobook)

The Kingdom of Liars Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

Firefly: Generations by Tim Lebbon (Hardcover)

Firefly Generations

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

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Books from the First Half of 2020

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The task for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was originally to list the top Books That Make Me Smile, however I am going to go off topic and instead look at something else.  We have just crossed into the second half of what has been a rather interesting year, and while most aspects of 2020 have been pretty crummy, I think that we can at least agree that this year has been pretty amazing when it comes to books.  I have read some incredible novels so far this year, including impressive standalone books, amazing new entries in established series and fantastic debuts.  Because of this, and because it goes well with my recent Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2020 list, I thought that I would take the time to work out what my top ten favourite books from the first half of 2020 are.

Once I knew what I wanted to pull together for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, I started taking a hard look at all the different novels that I have read this year.  To be eligible, a book had to be released between 1 January 2020 and 30 June 2020, and I have not included any novels released before or after this date even if I read them during this period.  I have also excluded any books released during this period that I have not so far read, although I imagine The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso or Cyber Shogun Revolution by Peter Teiryas would have appeared on this list somewhere if I’d had the chance to read them before now.

Coming up with this list proved to be a rather bigger task than I originally intended, as I ended up amassing nearly 20 different releases, all of which I consider to be some pretty outstanding reads.  I ended up being able to eventually whittle this down to an acceptable Top Ten list, although I did include my typical generous honourable mentions section.  I am rather happy with how this list turned out, although I am surprised at some of the great releases that ended up being excluded.  Still, the books below represent what I considered to be some of the best books from the first half of 2020, and I would strongly recommend each and every one of them.  So let us see what made the cut.

Honourable Mentions:


To the Strongest
by Robert Fabbri – 2 January 2020

To the Strongest Cover


The Holdout
by Graham Moore – 18 February 2020

The Holdout Cover

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

House of Earth and Blood Cover


Lionheart
by Ben Kane – 28 May 2020

Lionheart Cover

Top Ten List (By Date of Release):

 

Into the Fire by Gregg Hurwitz – 28 January 2020

Into the Fire


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

Song of the Risen God Cover


One Minute Out
by Mark Greaney – 20 February 2020

One Minute Out Cover


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

The Grove of the Caesars Cover


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

The Girl and the Stars 2


Race the Sands
by Sarah Beth Durst – 21 April 2020

Race the Sands Cover


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

Usagi Yojimbo Bunraku and Other Stories Cover


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

Firefly The Ghost Machine Cover


Fair Warning
by Michael Connelly – 26 May 2020

Fair Warning Cover


Devolution
by Max Brooks – 16 June 2020

Devolution Cover

 

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

WWW Wednesday – 27 May 2020

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

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

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Viennese Girl, Songbirds and Snakes Covers

The Viennese Girl by Jenny Lecoat (Trade Paperback)

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

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

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

What did you recently finish reading?

Firefly: The Ghost Machine by James Lovegrove (Hardcover)

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

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

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

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

Aurora Burning Cover

 

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

Firefly: The Ghost Machine by James Lovegrove

Firefly The Ghost Machine Cover

Publisher: Titan Books (Hardcover – 28 April 2020)

Series: Firefly – Book three

Length: 335 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Get ready to dive into the minds of chaotic crew of Serenity as bestselling author James Lovegrove presents the third original tie-in novel to Joss Whedon’s epic science fiction television show, Firefly, The Ghost Machine.

Since the end of 2018, Titan Books have been publishing an exciting series of Firefly novels, which follow the exploits of the infamous crew both during and after the events of the original show. Since the planned third novel, Generations, was delayed towards the end of last year, all of the released Firefly novels have been written by author James Lovegrove, who is probably best known for his Pantheon series, as well as his various Sherlock Holmes novels (which feature some intriguing and unique stories around the iconic character). I have been really enjoying these recent Firefly novels, due to my love of the franchise and the excellent quality of the books involved, and I had an amazing time reading the first two entries in this series, Big Damn Hero and The Magnificent Nine. Due to how much I have enjoyed the prior books and the franchise as a whole, I was rather excited to read The Ghost Machine, and I was not disappointed. Lovegrove (with Whedon credited as a consulting editor), has produced a fantastic and compelling novel, with a really intriguing central plot premise.

Set between the events of the television show and the film, Serenity, this novel focuses on the crew of the Firefly class spaceship, Serenity, as they tour the verse looking for work, legal, illegal and all shades in between. This time, Captain Malcolm Reynolds has accepted a contract from crooked businessman Badger to pick up package on a remote planet and bring it back to him. However, Mal is less than thrilled when he discovers that the cargo is a flightcase stolen from the notorious Blue Sun Corporation, which likely contains advanced tech designed for the Alliance military.

Refusing to let such a potentially problematic cargo aboard his ship, Mal, Zoe and Jayne are forced to kill the sellers in order to leave. However, what Mal does not realise is that Jayne has snuck the package aboard Serenity without telling anyone. As Serenity leaves the planet, each member of the crew suddenly begins to live out their biggest fantasy. Mal finds himself living a peaceful family life with Inara, Jayne is back on his family’s ranch with his little brother’s damplung cured, Wash imagines that he is the owner of a vast shipping empire, and Zoe dreams that the Independence won the battle of Serenity Valley and defeated the Alliance in the Unification War.

What the crew does not realise is that the flightcase contained an experimental urban pacification device known as The Ghost Machine. This machine causes people to fall into a fugue state while imagining their greatest desires, but the tech is dangerously faulty. Soon the crew’s visions of riches, rewards and happy lives become distorted and turned into terrible nightmares that threaten to tear apart their psyches. Worse, with Wash out of commission and not steering the ship, Serenity is on a collision course with a nearby moon. The only person not affected by the machine is River Tamm, whose own mind is dangerously askew at the best of times. But with River sedated and unconscious, can she do anything to help her friends and save the ship, or will The Ghost Machine claim its next victims?

Well, that was shiny! The Ghost Machine is an excellent and enthralling Firefly tie-in novel which was a real pleasure to read. Lovegrove has pulled together one hell of a character-driven narrative which presents the reader with a perilous situation, while also diving deep into the hearts and minds of the iconic crew members. This a clever and compelling story which would have honestly made a spectacular episode of the television show, which I think is high praise in itself. The entire book is extremely slick and captivating, and once I got into it I could not stop reading it, managing to polish off the last 300 pages in a single night. Lovegrove has honestly outdone himself with this book, and I think that The Ghost Machine is my favourite of all the current Firefly books.

As I mentioned above, The Ghost Machine is the third Firefly tie-in novel that has been released, although it was initially intended to be the fourth. Each of these Firefly novels, including The Ghost Machine, are standalone novels, and you do not need to have read any of the prior tie-in books before reading this latest release, nor are there any issues involved with Generations being released out of sequence. I found that The Ghost Machine was very accessible to all readers, and even those people who are not as familiar with the events of the television show should be able to follow and enjoy what is going on within this book. That being said, this novel, like all tie-in books, is specifically designed to be enjoyed by major fans of the franchise, and Lovegrove has filled The Ghost Machine with a number of fun references and callbacks. In particular, quite a number of minor characters from the television show are referred to or appear throughout the book, either within the various dream sequences or back in the real world, and there were even a couple of mentions of characters who only appeared in Lovegrove’s prior novel. There is also a fantastic sequence that replays the opening events of the very first Firefly episode, except with a twist, and some of the plot elements of this book have some interesting connections to the Serenity film set after the events of The Ghost Machine. As a result, fans of the show are going to have a great time reading this novel, although more casual science fiction fans will probably enjoy it as well.

Just like the television show it ties into, The Ghost Machine’s story is very character driven, and focuses on the members of Serenity’s crew. In this story, Lovegrove focuses on all seven remaining characters (as this is set between Firefly and Serenity, Inara and Shepherd Book have both left the ship) equally, and each of them serves as a point-of-view character for several chapters in the book, with one or two chapters also told from the perspective of a non-crewmember like Badger. As the story revolves around each character living out their own unique fantasy, this proved to be the best way to tell the story. I was quite impressed by the way that Lovegrove was able to create distinctive and compelling storylines for each of these main characters in the few chapters each of them had, and all of their character arcs came together extremely well to make an excellent overall narrative. I also think that Lovegrove did a fantastic job portraying all the crew members, and each of them came to live in a similar manner to how they were in the show. This excellent character work added quite a lot to the narrative, and it was great to see some more of these beloved characters.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this book is the visions that each member of the crew experiences because of the titular Ghost Machine. All the characters, with the exception of River, find themselves living a dream version of their life, where their deepest desires have come to pass. It was deeply interesting to see what each member of the crew’s desires where, and it says a lot about each of their personalities and mindsets, while also showing what some of them think about their fellow crew members. For example, Mal’s vision of a happy life with Inara speaks volumes about his true feelings for her after she left Serenity, especially as in this dream he would be willing to live on an Alliance planet just to make her happy. Jayne’s vision of a peaceful life on the family ranch with his brother cured of his terminal illness seems quite at odds with his usual gruff exterior, and it was nice to see that there is more to his character than his desire for violence and money. Simon, who misses the family life and medical career he left behind, imagines a seemingly nice sequence in which he and River are back home safe, but which also includes a relationship with Kaylee. I personally really enjoyed seeing Zoe’s vision of the Independence winning the battle for Serenity Valley and the Unification War, which made for some fascinating alternate history scenes, and which shows that she still is not over how the war ended. I also had to laugh at Wash owning a company called Pteranodon Incorporated in his dreams, due to his love of dinosaurs.

While it was really intriguing to see what each of the characters deepest desires were, it was also cool to see these desires get turned into nightmarish scenarios. The second part of the novel becomes significantly darker as each of these scenarios dissolve into truly terrible situations that play into the characters fears. Lovegrove comes up with some compelling and at times horrifying alterations to each character’s desires, and it was interesting to see each of them unfold. For example, you have a Reaver ship coming down near Mal’s new family home, Wash getting his company taken away by an unlikely source, and Simon finding himself being literally hunted by his family for pursuing a relationship with a mechanic rather than a rich, socially acceptable woman. Each of these changes in scenarios made for some great reading, and I also liked how they also revealed some more details about each character’s inner psyches, such as Simon assuming that his formal family would approve of his budding romance with Kaylee, or the fact that Zoe was always cautious of the mysterious Shepherd Book, and had suspicions about what his past could of have been. Even River, who is the only person who realises that what she is seeing is a dream, is affected by what she and the others think, which limits her ability to save the ship, adding a whole new layer of suspense to the story. Actually, the whole River character arc is actually really exciting, as she ends up bouncing around each of the other character’s nightmares. It was intriguing to see the various ways that she communicated with these characters, especially as she is significantly more mentally intact in these interconnected dreams. The inclusion of all these compelling visions and nightmares really enhances the entirety of The Ghost Machine’s narrative, and it was a fantastic and clever story element.

Overall, The Ghost Machine is an outstanding and wildly entertaining Firefly tie-in novel that was an amazing treat to read. James Lovegrove has come up with an imaginative story, full of action and excitement that also gets right to the heart of several key characters from the television show. I really loved the multiple creative dream sequences that made up most of the book, and it made for an extremely fascinating story. This was an awesome and addictive novel, and it is a must-read book for all fans of the Firefly franchise.

Book Haul – Comics – 18 May 2020

For this latest Book Haul post, I am going to do something a little different and exclusively look at the comics that I have recently gotten copies of.  Like many people at the moment, I have been stuck at home for the last few weeks, and it is starting to drive me a little crazy.  In order to alleviate the boredom, I have ordered a few comics to keep me sane, and all of them started showing up over the last week or so.  I actually have a large pile of new comics on the dining room table at the moment (it goes well with the multiple piles of books I also have), and all of them are pretty cool.  I am actually planning to review most of these comics at some point at the future, so I thought I would take the time to highlight what I have gotten and what some of my early impressions about them are.

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 34: Bunraku and Other Stories by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo Bunraku and Other Stories Cover

The first entry in this post is the latest Usagi Yojimbo volume, Bunraku and Other Stories.  I am a massive fan of this series and Sakai is easily one of my favourite authors at the moment.  I have been looking forward to this latest volume for a whole year and it really did not disappoint, containing some amazing stories, intense artwork and interesting concepts.  I am working on a review for it now, and should hopefully get it up in the next few days.

Hit-Girl: Volume 4: In Hollywood by Kevin Smith and Pernille Ørum

Hit-Girl in Hollywood Volume 4

The next comic is the fourth volume in the Hit-Girl series, Hit-Girl in Hollywood.  I have already reviewed this interesting entry in the series and it is a fun book to read, even if it is a tad extreme in places.

Firefly: The Sting by Delilah S. Dawson

Firefly - The Sting Cover

This is a fun one that I have been meaning to grab for a while.  The Sting is a cool Firefly limited series which sees the return of the murderous antagonist Saffron, who needs the female crew members of Serenity to pull off her latest heist.  This was an exciting and clever comic, written by Delilah S. Dawson (check out my review for her 2019 book, Star Wars: Black Spire), and I look forward to writing a review for it in the future.

Star Wars (2015): Volume 13: Rogues and Rebels by Greg Pak and Phil Noto

Star Wars Rogues and Rebels

The next comic is Rogues and Rebels the final volume in the excellent Star Wars comic series.  I have been loving this series ever since reading the first volume, Skywalker Strikes, and I think that Rogues and Rebels ends this current series rather well.
In addition to the four recent releases I detailed above, I also ordered in the first four volumes of the 2016 Batman series by Tom King, as well as its crossover with The Flash series, The Button.  I recently read a couple of later volumes on this run of Batman and I really enjoyed them, so I thought I would got out and grab the whole series.  I am extremely happy I made this decision, as each of the four Batman volumes are pretty damn epic, and I am planning to do Throwback Thursday reviews for each of them at some point in the future.  I haven’t had a chance to read The Button yet, but I sounds rather cool, especially as it ties into the Flashpoint and Doomsday Clock limited series.

I also have to point out the fantastic parcel that I ended up getting the Batman comics in.  Unlike the four volumes above, which I got from Book Depository, I got all the Batman comics from my local comic store, Impact Comics, who have been organising deliveries for the last two months.  When I got it, I was rather amused to find the following sketch of Batman drawn onto the packaging.  I love that the team at the comic book shop are managing to have fun during this time, and I am rather curious to see if anything will be drawn onto the next package that I order from them.

Batman Parcel

Batman: Volume 1: I am Gotham by Tom King and David Finch

Batman I am Gotham Cover

Batman: Volume 2: I am Suicide by Tom King, Mikel Janin, Mitch Gerads and Hugo Petrus

Batman I am Suicide Cover

Batman: Volume 3: I am Bane by Tom King, David Finch and Danny Miki

Batman I am Bane Cover

 

Batman: Volume 4: The War of Jokes and Riddles by Tom King, Mikel Janin, June Chung and Clay Mann

Batman The War of Jokes and Riddles

 

Batman/The Flash: The Button by Joshua Williamson, Tom King, Jason Fabok and Howard Porter

Batman, The Flash - The Button Cover

 

That’s the end of this latest Book Haul post and I hope you find this comic themed entry interesting.  Make sure to keep an eye out for my reviews of these comics in the future, and good luck with finding your own way to stay sane at the moment.