Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Books from 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.  The task for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was originally to list the reasons why I love reading, however I am going to go off topic and instead look at something else.  We have just crossed into the second half of 2021, which has already proven to be a pretty fantastic year for 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, I thought that I would take the time to work out what my top ten favourite books from the first half of 2021 were.

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 in (or extremely close to) the first half of this year.  I have also excluded any books released during this period that I have not so far read, although a couple of releases I have my eye on might have appeared on this list if I had 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 2021, and I would strongly recommend each and every one of them.  So let us see what made the cut.

 

Honourable Mentions:

Prodigal Son by Gregg Hurwitz

Prodigal Son Cover

 

The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer

The Warsaw Orphan Cover

 

Later by Stephen King

Later Cover

 

The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

The Girls I've Been Cover

 

Top Ten List (no particular order):

The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

The first book on this list is the incredible and wildly addictive fantasy masterpiece, The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell.  Serving as the sequel to last year’s amazing The Kingdom of Liars (which was one of my favourite books, audiobooks, and debuts of 2020), The Two-Faced Queen continues the compelling adventures of its angsty and relatable protagonist, Michael Kingman, as he attempts to uncover the mysteries and conspiracies of his home city.  Containing a wild mass of unique opponents, plots and hidden secrets, this book holds your attention from beginning to end and is one of the best sequels I have ever read.

 

Star Wars: Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

Next up we have the obligatory Star Wars entry on this list, Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed.  While there have been several other great Star Wars releases this year (Light of the Jedi and Greater Good were both fantastic), none of them were as impressive as Victory’s Price.  Serving as the third and final entry in the Alphabet Squadron series (which previously featured Alphabet Squadron and Shadow Fall), this incredible book features a powerful, character driven narrative that provides readers with tragedy, amazing character development and a full-on war story amid the Star Wars universe.  Beautifully written and incredibly moving, Victory’s Price perfectly wraps up the Alphabet Squadron trilogy and is one of the best Star Wars novels out there.

 

Relentless by Mark Greaney

Relentless by Mark Greaney Cover

Epic spy thriller author Mark Greaney returns with the 10th book in his outstanding Gray Man series, Relentless.  I have been deeply enjoying the Gray Man novels over the last couple of years (check out my reviews for Mission Critical and One Minute Out), so I knew I was going to be in for a good time with Relentless.  This was another particularly thrilling tale of international espionage and plots, as Court Gentry and his comrades go up against a sinister, world-changing conspiracy.  A fantastic and action-packed read that comes highly recommended.

 

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

Next of this list we have the fantasy novel that everyone was talking about this year, The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne.  Set in a Norse inspired dark fantasy world shattered by warring gods, The Shadow of the Gods contains a powerful and addictive narrative which sets three amazing protagonists on quests for redemption, honour, and family.  Containing some extraordinary world building, great characters, and a really impressive story, this was one of the best fantasy books of the year, and I loved every second I spent reading it.

 

Artifact Space by Miles Cameron

Artifact Space Cover

Superstar author Miles Cameron made his science fiction debut earlier this year with the captivating Artifact Space.  Containing an epic voyage throughout the stars, Artifact Space was an awesome read, that takes its damaged protagonist to some amazing places as they try to save their ship from a dangerous alien conspiracy.

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 35: Homecoming by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo - Homecoming

I doubt anyone is too surprised that the latest Usagi Yojimbo volume has appeared on this list.  Written by one of my favourite authors, Stan Sakai, this latest volume of the long running series was extremely moving and deeply compelling, as Usagi goes through some harsh adventures near his long-avoided home province.  With incredible art, powerful character work and some very elaborate stories, this was another excellent addition to one of the best comic series out there.

 

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary Cover

Another new to me author who blew me away this year was the outstanding Andy Weir, who produced one of the best science fiction novels of 2021.  Project Hail Mary contains an extraordinary tale of an amnesiac scientist sent out into space to find out how to save the sun from burning out.  Containing a deeply enjoyable and addictive story, I powered through Project Hail Mary in no time at all and loved every second of it.  One of the easiest books of 2021 to recommend, you must check Project Hail Mary out.

 

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

The Bone Maker Cover

After deeply enjoying her 2020 novel, Race the Sands, I was eager to explore another fun standalone fantasy novel from bestselling author Sarah Beth Durst, and boy was I in for a treat with The Bone Maker.  This clever novel follows five former heroes who are once again drawn into a deadly battle for their nation.  Readers will fall in love with the novels damaged heroes, especially after they once head the call to battle, even after all the loss and trauma they have suffered.

 

Colonyside by Michael Mammay

Colonyside Cover

Now, technically this novel was released in 2020, however, considering it only came out 31 December (which was technically 1 January 2021 in Australia), I am choosing to count this as a 2021 release instead.  Colonyside is the third novel in the fantastic and impressive Planetside science fiction thriller series.  Following on from the amazing Planetside (one of the best books of 2018) and Spaceside (one of the best books of 2019), Colonyside places its infamous protagonist in the middle of another dangerous conspiracy, as he searches for a missing person on a hostile alien planet.  A masterful and thrilling novel, I deeply enjoyed this amazing book.

 

Protector by Conn Iggulden

Protector Cover Final

The final entry on this list is the outstanding Protector from Conn Iggulden, which follows on the from the great 2020 novel, The Gates of Athens.  Featuring an awesome story about some of the key battles between the Greeks and the Persians, this was a fantastic piece of historical fiction that is really worth reading.

 

 

That is the end of this list.  As you can see, I have already read some amazing and epic books so far in 2021 and we are only halfway through the year.  I am pretty happy with how this list turned out, especially as it features some extraordinary reads.  It will be interesting to see which of these books ends up being amongst my top reads of 2020, and while I would assume all the above will make the cut, there is some pretty hefty competition coming up in the second half of 2021.  Let me know what you think about the books that made my Top Ten list, and also let me know what your favourite releases from the first half of 2020 are.

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 35: Homecoming by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo - Homecoming

Publisher: IDW Publishing (Paperback – 13 April 2021)

Writer, Artist and Letterer: Stan Sakai

Colourist: Tom Luth

Series: Usagi Yojimbo – Volume 35

Length: 192 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It is that time of the year again when I absolutely gush about the latest volume of the epic and outstanding Usagi Yojimbo comic series by the infinity talented Stan Sakai.  This time I look at the 35th volume in this incredible long-running series, Homecoming, which presents the reader with a rich and emotional tale of regret and loyalty as Usagi returns home.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time reading my blog will already know of my deep love for the amazing Usagi Yojimbo series.  Following the adventures of the rabbit ronin Miyamoto Usagi, this series is set in an alternate version of Feudal Japan populated by anthropomorphic animals, and features incredible stories about samurais and honour.  Homecoming, which contains issues #8-14 of the IDW run on the Usagi Yojimbo series, is the second volume printed completely in colour, and features the work of colourist Tom Luth in addition to Sakai’s writing and drawing.  This latest volume follows on shortly after the events of previous volume, Bunraku and Other Stories, and continues three intense and powerful unique stories.

The first story in this volume is the two-issue entry TatamiTatami sees Usagi return to the lands of his former master, the late Lord Mifune, now ruled over by nefarious series villain, Lord Hikiji.  Journeying through a now hostile countryside, Usagi finds himself following an armed procession who are transporting high-quality tatami mats to the castle of one of Lord Hikiji’s rivals.  Usagi finds the caravan under attack by the Neko Ninja, who are determined to destroy the tatami.  When Usagi’s long-time ally and former Neko Ninja head, Chizu, appears, it soon becomes apparent that Hikiji has dispatched the ninja to destroy the tatami in order to damage his rival’s reputation.  Determined to defy Hikiji, Usagi and Chizu travel with the caravan to help guard the tatami from attack.  However, Chizu soon comes into conflict with her rival, Kagemaru, as they fight for leadership of their clan.  Can Usagi and Chizu disrupt the plans of Hikiji and Kagemaru, or will the dark lord continue to reign supreme?

Anyone who thinks it impossible to write a compelling story with death, politics and ninja around tatami mats has clearly never had the joy of reading one of Sakai’s stories before.  Throughout the Usagi Yojimbo series, Sakai has written some thrilling and intense stories around unique elements of Japanese culture, including seaweed farming, pottery making, sake brewing, and giant kite making, just to name a few.  This latest example, Tatami, is no exception to this, as Sakai crafts together a fascinating story that not only highlights the importance and prestige of tatami mats but which also perfectly ties into the wider Usagi Yojimbo universe.  Tatami starts strong, with a fantastic and exquisitely drawn sequence that shows the crafting process behind the tatami, from harvesting the reeds, to the lengthy weaving process.  The story then introduces Usagi to the narrative, also providing some key background for the main storyline in the Homecoming volume.  The action swiftly follows with the tatami caravan under attack from cunning ninja, and Usagi is convinced to help guard the tatami with the help of Chizu.  This all leads up to an epic night fight as Usagi and his allies face off against a horde of ninja.  This fight scene is particularly well drawn and features some great examples of sword play, a beautiful scene of fire and intensity as Usagi appears to stand alone in front of a swarm of ninja, and several massive explosions as the ninjas detonate black powder bombs.  This all leads up to a rather poignant finale, as Usagi suffers from a rare and moving defeat and people he respects are called upon to sacrifice everything for their samurai sense of honour.

In addition to the main story surrounding the tatami, there is also a rather interesting side-plot surrounding Chizu and her battle with Kagemaru for control of the Neko Ninja.  This has been a long-running conflict going back all the way to 11th volume, Seasons, and it was great to see some more progress on it, especially as it ties Tatami into some of the wider Usagi Yojimbo storylines.  This subplot proves to be pretty damn cool, as Chizu works to manipulate Kagemaru and her former followers, using the catspaw of Usagi and the other tatami guards.  This ends up in a fun ninja duel, as Chizu faces off against Kagemaru and another ninja, Kimi, above the plain where Usagi is fighting.  This is a fast-paced and deadly fight which makes use of several different ninja tricks and weapons, and which proves to be an exciting and cool addition to the plot.  There are a couple of intriguing, if slightly predictable, developments within this narrative, although it does hint that we are getting closer to a conclusion of this long-running Neko Ninja plot line.

The real highlight of the Chizu subplot, and indeed the entire story, is the outstanding epilogue where Kagemaru meets with Lord Hikiji’s main advisor, the giant serpent Lord Hebi.  While Kagemaru is initially expecting praise for his actions, it becomes apparent that Hebi and Hikiji are displeased that Chizu continues to disrupt their plans when Kagemaru is offered unique sake, brewed using poisonous serpents.  There is an incredible amount of menace in this entire sequence, especially once Hebi pours out the dead serpent from the sake, and then proceeds to eat in front of Kagemaru (nothing is more intimidating that some light cannibalism).  Hebi’s simple warning: “Do not ever fail us, Kagemaru,” is an amazing way to end this scene, and the mighty ninja leader is left absolutely shaken as he leaves Hebi’s presence.  This epilogue was perfectly written and drawn, and it proves to be an outstanding way to end this story arc, while also hinting that the Chizu-Kagemaru rivalry is about to heat up.  I absolutely loved this great first story, and Tatami proves to be an exceptional start to the entire volume.

The next story in this volume is the moving and intriguing Mon, which also follows Usagi’s travels through the land of his former lord, Mifune.  However, Usagi soon encounters much fear and resentment from the people he encounters, many of whom try to avoid his attention.  He soon discovers that they are shunning him because he still wears the mon (crest) of his former lord on his clothes, reminding people of the costly war that Mifune fought and lost against Lord Hikiji.  The tense situation gets even worse for Usagi when several Hikiji soldiers notice him and attempt to take their anger and resentment out on him, which does not go well for them.  Further, when a desperate innkeeper and former Mifune soldier works out who Usagi truly was, various ambitious Hikiji soldiers gather to claim the substantial bounty of Usagi’s head.

This was another fantastic entry, and one that proves to be rather touching and dramatic.  Sakai does a wonderful job setting up the main story around the Mifune mon and why it is currently feared and hated throughout his former lands.  The impeccably loyal Usagi is forced to deal with unexpected hatred and concern from those he encounters, which once again makes him think about the past with great regret and concern, especially as he continues to battle with his own conflicted loyalties about whether he should continue to serve a dead master.  There are several fantastic references to Usagi’s role in the war’s final battle, as shown in Volume 2: Samurai, and it was interesting that there is still fallout after all these years.  It was also great to learn more about mons and the importance that they can have to the people wearing them.  This is explored to a degree within the story itself, but Sakai also includes a detailed author note at the end of Mon which describes the history behind mons in general and their current role in Japanese society, while also discussing Usagi and the Sakai family mons.  I particularly liked the story surrounding the innkeeper, who, after years of desperation, finally loses his loyalty to the Mifune cause by informing on Usagi.  The final encounter between Usagi, the Hikiji troops and the bartender is also amazingly drawn, and the dramatic cliffhanger helps turn this into a pretty impressive story.

The final story in Homecoming is the powerful tale, The Return, which finds Usagi in the one place he has been trying to avoid the most, his old home village.  After the conclusion of Mon, Usagi washes up in his village and soon finds himself in the care of the love of his life, Mariko, and her husband, Kenichi.  As the usual feelings of regret, anger and resentment quickly grow between the childhood friends once more, Usagi finds himself forced into a far more serious conflict.  A cadre of former Mifune samurai have arrived in town and captured all the villagers.  Led by the fanatical Kato, these samurai seek vengeance for their lord and plan to destroy Hikiji’s influence and power by attacking an emissary of the Shogun as he travels through the village.  Torn between loyalty to his dead lord and the survival of his village, Usagi must work with Kenichi if there is any chance to save the people they love most in the world.

The Return is an exceptional and moving story which serves as the centrepiece and main entry of the Homecoming volume.  There is a lot going on in this final story, and Sakai manages to craft together an outstanding narrative that continues the dramatic and touching arc surrounding the failed love between Usagi and Mariko and the multiple complications accompanying it, and which also places Usagi and everyone he loves in great danger.  The Return continues immediately after the events of Mon, and Usagi is quickly engulfed in both the drama surrounding Mariko and Kenichi and the overall danger of the former Mifune samurai.  This soon results in a conflicted Usagi forced to bluff his way through the encounter in order to try and save his village from the samurai’s deadly revenge plot.  Working together with Mariko and Kenichi, Usagi’s plan eventually results in a bloody, extended battle against the invading samurai.  This proves to be a pretty epic and intense narrative, and Sakai really amped up the action and the stakes of the entire story by setting Usagi up against some of his former comrades.  There are so many great elements to this story, although you have to love the extended battle sequence at the end, especially once recurring characters Katsuichi and Jotaro make their appearance.  The final parts of this entire story are pretty touching, as the various characters say their goodbyes, and Sakai leaves this entire volume on an intriguing note, as for the first time it hints at another fencing master Usagi trained after, and which makes me eager for the next volume in this series.

The most intriguing elements of the entire story are the complex antagonists that are former comrades of Usagi who are willing to commit atrocities in the name of their dead lord.  For years, the former followers of the late Lord Mifune are seen in a bit of a tragic light, with most of them, especially Usagi, portrayed as extremely honourable men, much in the vein of their deceased lord.  As a result, it is extremely jarring to see former Mifune samurai engage in such vile actions, especially as they justify as part of their oaths to their lord: “A samurai cannot live under the same sky as the killer of his lord!”  There are some clear 47 Ronin inspirations here, with former samurai gathering after many years to achieve a final vengeance, even if this story is a little darker than the classic Japanese tale.  There are also some deep and compelling discussions about honour and loyalty throughout The Return, especially as Usagi is forced to balance his loyalty to his late lord against his own personal honour, feelings about his childhood village, and his own memories about Lord Mifune’s character.  The inevitable confrontation between Usagi and his former comrades is pretty harsh, and it was interesting to see a fight between two different groups of Mifune supporters who believe that their way is the right way.  I felt that the use of colour was particularly effective in The Return, as it made the final battle sequence really pop.  It was also very memorable to see Usagi face off against samurai dressed in the same Mifune clothes and colours that Usagi has worn in every comic.  Seeing a group of similarly coloured and clothed characters facing off against Usagi makes for a very different battle sequence, and it was really interesting to see.

Easily the thing I was most looking forward to in this volume was the emotional fireworks that would occur when Usagi eventually returned to his home village.  This has previously happened in two separate occasions, in Volume 1: The Ronin and Volume 6: Circles, both of which proved to be utterly heartbreaking.  Much of this revolves around the complicated love triangle between Usagi, who is still deeply in love with Mariko, who is married to his old rival, Kenichi.  While Mariko still has great feelings for Usagi, she is bound to Kenichi by her honour, and will not leave them, especially as it will shatter her whole family.  At the same time, Kenichi, who has always resented Usagi for his talent and luck, knows that Usagi and Mariko have feelings for each other, which breaks his heart, as he has also always loved Mariko.  All this is further complicated by the fact that Mariko and Kenichi’s son, Jotaro, is really Usagi’s child, who Kenichi willingly raised as his own son.  This has resulted in much conflict and despair amongst the three in the past, and it honestly does not take long for the anger and resentment to build up once more in The Return, especially as Kenichi is angry that Usagi encouraged Jotaro to seek out his old fencing master rather than go to the school Kenichi learned from.  While there are several great sequences where Usagi and Mariko once again display their unspoken love, much of the focus of The Return revolves around the intense rivalry between Usagi and Kenichi.  The story starts with their usual resentment and anger towards each other, but the two eventually start to work on their differences, especially as they prepare to save their villages.  There are several fun flashbacks to some of their adventures as children, which showed their early rivalries, as well as the two of them achieving great things together.  This comes to the fore as the story progresses, and the two are once again able to set aside their differences for the greater good.  This was an amazing thing to see, especially as they have been mostly antagonistic to each other throughout the entire series, and I liked how Sakai worked to resolve their conflict.  There were also several touching scenes between Jotaro and both of his fathers, which really represented one of the most important things the two former rivals have in common, and I loved that Sakai included Jotaro in this story.

There were some amazing moments in The Return, and I was deeply impressed with the incredible story that Sakai used as the centrepiece of this volume.  I really liked how Sakai successfully blended together so much action and intrigue with a powerful character-driven narrative, and I loved the cool examinations of honour and loyalty as a formerly bitter rivalry started to come to an end.  This final entry really delivered on all the potential of Homecoming and Sakai has done an exceptional job here crafting this story together.  I also really appreciated the way in which the other stories within Homecoming served as prequels to The Return, with key plot elements introduced in the earlier entries in the volume.  This was some extremely clever storytelling, and it really helps Homecoming to stand out as an exceptional and fantastic volume in this epic series.

As usual, the art of this Usagi Yojimbo comic was absolutely exquisite, and Sakai has worked his typical visual magic, creating several striking and powerful sequences throughout the entire volume.  In addition to some of the impressive action sequences and scenes I have mentioned above, Sakai produces some outstanding shots of the iconic Japanese landscape, with some incredible drawings of forests, mountains, towns and plains.  Each of these is pretty breathtaking, especially now that they are in colour, as the recently introduced colour work of Tom Luth really adds some new depth to the already awesome drawings.  I absolutely love the way in which Sakai matches his simple yet beautiful drawings with the complex storylines contained within Homecoming, and readers are in for a fantastic visual treat when they check this volume out.

Even after 35 outstanding volumes of the Usagi Yojimbo series, the amazing Stan Sakai continues to show why he is one of the best comic creators in the business with the incredible Homecoming.  Featuring several touching and powerful stories, which are backed up with some exceptional character work and stunning artwork, Homecoming is another superb collection of Usagi Yojimbo tales.  Fans of this long-running series are going to have an absolute blast reading this latest volume and it is very much worth checking out.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Comic Series

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 get a freebie when they get to do any topic of their choice.  While there were a few interesting topics that I was tempted to write about, I decided to write a list about my favourite comic book series.

We are currently in a golden age of comics and creativity and there are some truly amazing comics coming from all the various publishers.  Over the years I have had the great pleasure of reading or collecting quite a few different series, including quite a few superhero comics.  While I tend to easily enjoy most comics that I come across, there are several great series that I would consider my absolute favourites, either because they are exceptionally written and drawn, or because something about that series draws me back in time and time again for a reread.  So I thought that this freebie week would be a good opportunity to highlight these epic and addictive comics, especially as there are some real gems that all comic fans should really try out.

To pull this list together, I went through some of the best of most entertaining series that I have read and picked out my 10 absolute favourite comics, with a generous honourable mentions section.  For this list, I chose to focus purely on ongoing series rather than one-offs or limited series, although I will probably feature a different list for them in the future.  I also avoided several great long-running series, mainly because I have not read all the entries in them.  I think that I came up with a rather good list in the end, containing an interesting collection of comics from several different publishers and universes.  I quite like how this list turned out and I think it encapsulates what my favourite comic series are.

Honourable Mentions:

Batman (Volume 3)

Batman The War of Jokes and Riddles

One of the series I have most recently gotten into was this recent Batman series.  Starting in 2016, this great comic follows Batman as he faces off against some of his most iconic foes, while really getting to the heart of the Dark Knight and his relationship with his rogues’ gallery.  I have not finished this series off yet, but I have deeply enjoyed several key storylines within it, including the exceptional The War of Jokes and Riddles, and it will be interesting to see where this series lies once I finish all the main volumes in it.

 

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra

Doctor Aphra Volume 1

I had to include the excellent and amazing Doctor Aphra series in this article somewhere as it is one of the most impressive Star Wars comics in recent years.  Featuring the outstanding adventures of original character, Doctor Aphra, this series contains a huge number of heists, betrayals, and deep introspection from the titular character as she spreads chaos across the galaxy.  I loved this outstanding series, and it has some amazing volumes in it, such as Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon and A Rogue’s End.

 

Y: The Last Man

Y - The Last Man Cover

Anyone who has read this iconic series from Brian K. Vaughan will appreciate why I had to feature it in this article.  Following the last man left alive after a disease kills every male on the planet, Y: The Last Man is an intense and powerful comic with an amazing story to it.  This was one of the first non-DC or Marvel comics I ever read and it has definitely stuck with me over the years as one of the best comics out there.  If they ever manage to get around to adapting this series into a television show, it is going to be the next big hit.

 

All-New Wolverine

All New Wolverine Cover

A brilliant and self-contained series that follows one of my favourite comic characters, X-23, as she claims her place as the new Wolverine after her father’s death.  This was an amazing series with a unique feel, fantastic emotional edge and outrageous humour, which I loved it so much I kind of wished that Wolverine would stay dead for just a little bit longer.

Top Ten List:

Usagi Yojimbo

Usagi Yojimbo Bunraku and Other Stories Cover

So I very much doubt that anyone is going to be surprised that the first entry on my list is Stan Sakai’s masterpiece series, Usagi Yojimbo.  Following a rabbit samurai as he adventures through an alternate version of Feudal Japan, the Usagi Yojimbo series is easily one of the best comics I have ever read, and I am currently reviewing every single volume of it (for example check out my reviews of the 11th volume Seasons or the 34th volume, Bunraku and Other Stories).  I absolutely love this simple but powerful and exciting comic, especially as Sakai pours all his love for Japan and Japanese culture into it and produces some epic adventures. 

 

Teen Titans (Volume 3)

Teen_Titans_v.3_1

There is no way I could do a list about my favourite series without talking about one of the earliest comics I ever got into, the third volume of the outstanding Teen Titans series.  Staring in 2003 and helmed by Geoff Johns, this series featured former members of Young Justice, Robin, Superboy, Wonder Girl and Impulse, as they step up and join long-term members Starfire, Cyborg, Beast Boy, and Raven in a whole new incarnation of the team.  This was an exceptional series which revitalised a lot of interest in the team, especially as they ended up playing key roles in the Infinite Crisis crossover.  While the series did dip a bit in quality after Geoff Johns left, this was an overall epic series, and it is one that I have read an insane number of times.

 

The Punisher (2004)

The Punisher Cover

While there are many great Punisher series out there, the best one in my opinion is the dark and violent 2004 series, also known as The Punisher MAX.  Primarily helmed by Garth Ennis, of Preacher and The Boys fame, this was an epic series that followed a grizzled Frank Castle as he pursues his bloody, never-ending war on crime.  Released under the adult MAX imprint, this Punisher series was particularly over-the-top and gruesome in places, but it is so much fun to read, especially as Ennis comes up with some insane and utterly compelling storylines.  This is the definitive series for all fans of The Punisher, and you will not regret checking this comic out.

 

Green Arrow (Volume 3)

Green Arrow Quiver

Another incredible DC comic that I really love is this Green Arrow series.  Starting back in 2001 with Quiver, this series resurrected classic comic character Green Arrow, taking him back to his roots and providing him with an epic and captivating series.  Featuring an array of great writers, including Kevin Smith, Brad Meltzer and Judd Winick, this was an outstanding series that really revitalised the Oliver Queen Green Arrow, brought in some great new characters and contained some impressive and powerful storylines.  I have so much love for this series and one of the storylines, The Archer’s Quest by Meltzer, is one of the best comics I have ever read.

 

X-Factor (Volume 3)

X-Factor Cover

X-Factor is a long-running X-Men title that has had many incarnations with varying success.  However, one run on the comic ended up becoming an amazing and powerful series that I was lucky enough to stumble across some years ago.  Running between 2005 and 2013, this X-Factor series followed X-Factor Investigations, a combined mutant superhero team and private investigation firm, as they become embroiled in some weird conflicts and adventures around New York.  Primarily written by Peter David, this was a very unusual and clever series that was overshadowed by the major Marvel titles but ended up lasting longer than most and producing some exceptional storylines.  Featuring fantastic, if underused mutant characters, including Multiple Man, Strong Guy, Wolfsbane, M, Rictor, Siryn and the mysterious Layla Miller, this was a great, character driven comic that really dived into the hearts of its diverse and unique cast.  I loved this comic so much, and it is one of the best X-Men comics that has ever been written.

 

Darth Vader (2015)

Star Wars - Darth Vader Volume 1 Cover

I had no choice but to feature the outstanding Darth Vader series by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca on this list due to how impressive and amazing it is.  This series follows one of the greatest villains of all-time right after the events of A New Hope as he fights against rivals and old enemies to secure his place within the Empire.  This was easily one of the most consistent and epic Star Wars series out there, especially as it also includes the spectacular Vader Down crossover.  There are so many cool elements to this series, such as the introduction of Doctor Aphra or the intense scene where Vader finds out Luke’s true identity and realises that the Emperor has been lying to him for years.  I love this great series and it is the reason I am currently so in to Star Wars comics.

 

Runaways

Runaways Cover

I have long been a major fan of the iconic Runaways series by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona.  Following a group of teens who find out their parents are supervillains, this series, which mostly avoids the main events and characters of the Marvel universe, is a fantastic and powerful comic with some real heart to it.  Introducing a colourful team of teenage heroes with some great powers, this is one of the most distinctive comics to come out of Marvel and is always going to remain a huge favourite of mine. 

 

Robin (Volume 4)

Robin_Vol_4_1

One of my favourite Batman associated comics is the long-running fourth series of Robin comics that followed my favourite version of the character, Tim Drake.  Set shortly after the death of Jason Todd in the infamous A Death in the Family, this comic introduced a whole new Robin, who swiftly won fans over.  Tim Drake, who relied more on his intelligence than his fighting ability, was an outstanding hero, and the creative team came up with some great stories for him which ensured he kept his spot at Batman’s primary sidekick for 20 years.  This entire comic is pretty epic, and while I deeply enjoy the post-Infinite Crisis Robin comics (all the way up to the really good Red Robin sequel series), his earlier stories are also pretty good and are very much worth checking out.  A great series that will appeal to comic fans young and old, I love this take on the classic sidekick.

 

New Avengers

New_Avengers_Vol_1_1

Over the years there have been an immense and wide-reaching collection of Avengers comics, from the classic storylines to weird and short-lived spin-offs, all of which I have tended to buy and read.  So for an Avengers comic to really stick out to me, it would have to be pretty damn exceptional, and that is exactly what the New Avengers was.  Created by Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch, this series brought back a cooler and more modern version of the iconic team after the Avengers Disassembled storyline.  Bringing in beloved characters such as Spiderman, Wolverine and Luke Cage, this series helped to redefine the Avengers.  There are several amazing phases to this comic over the years, especially as it ran through some of the key crossovers like Civil War, Secret Invasion and Dark Reign, and it was an absolute joy to read from start to finish.

 

Secret Six (Volume 3)

Secret Six Volume 3 Cover

The final comic on my list is the often overlooked but incredibly fun Secret Six series.  Following on from the Villains United limited series, Secret Six follows a dysfunctional team of supervillains, including Deadshot, Bane, Scandal Savage, Ragdoll and Catman, as they engage in several morally grey mercenary jobs around the world.  Helmed by Gail Simone and featuring some rather insane, if touching, storylines, this was an amazing series that is near and dear to my heart, especially as Simon manages to turn eternal joke character, Catman, into the biggest badass ever.

 


Well, that is the end of my latest Top Ten List.  I think that I came up with an interesting list of comics, especially as it features such a wide range of titles.  I will admit that I did stick heavily to the Marvel and DC titles, and I also seemed to have primarily featured comics from the early 2000s.  Despite this obvious preference form me, I think this turned out to be a great and diverse list, and it definitely represents the comics I enjoy the most.  I think this might be a list I come back to in the future, especially as I will read some additional comics in the next year, and it will be interesting to see how this list changes.  In the meantime, let me know what your favourite series are in the comments below.

Book Haul – 8 May 2021

It has been a while since I have done a Book Haul post, so I figured it was a good time to look back at some of the amazing books that I have received in the last couple of weeks.  I have actually received quite an impressive haul recently, made up of a number of exciting and intriguing books, including a few novels that I have been looking forward to for some time.  Each of the books below have a lot of potential and I am really keen to check them all out as soon as I can.

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 35: Homecoming by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo - Homecoming

Let us start this post off big with one of my most anticipated reads of 2021, the latest volume of the incredible Usagi Yojimbo comic series by Stan Sakai, Homecoming.  I absolutely love Usagi Yojimbo and each new volume of this comic series is a major highlight of the year.  I got this latest volume a couple of days ago and I pretty much read it as soon as I got it.  I will hopefully get a review up soon, but I don’t think anyone will be surprised that it was pretty damn awesome.

Firefly: Life Signs by James Lovegrove

Firefly Life Signs

Next up we have the latest Firefly novel by bestselling author James Lovegrove, Life SignsLife Signs is the fifth Firefly tie-in novel that has been released in the last couple of years (previous releases include Big Damn Hero, The Magnificent Nine, The Ghost Machine and Generations), with Lovegrove being the most active writer of this series.  This latest book, Life Signs, makes use of an intriguing unused storyline from the television show and sets the cast of characters on a dangerous heist into a notorious prison planet.  An outstanding read that I will review in the next few days.

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became the Sun Cover

I was very intrigued to receive this copy of She Who Became the Sun, the much hyped debut novel of Australian author Shelly Parker-Chan.  She Who Became the Sun is a historical novel, apparently with some fantasy elements to it, that follows a young second daughter in China who attempts to claim a much more favorable destiny by impersonating her dead brother. I had not heard much about this book before I received a copy, but from what I understand there is a lot of buzz surrounding it.  I look forward to checking this cool sounding novel out and I have a feeling it is going to be one of the better debuts of 2021.

The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer

The Warsaw Orphan Cover

Next on this post we have The Warsaw Orphan by Australian author Kelly Rimmer.  The Warsaw Orphan is a gripping and dark historical drama that explores the various horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto, as well as looking at two brave characters who tried to make a difference.  A powerful and captivating read, I was really happy to receive this book and I have already been blown away by its exceptional and moving narrative.

Red Wolves by Adam Hamdy

Red Wolves Cover

It looks like I am going to have a fun thriller in my future as I was luck enough to receive Red Wolves by Adam Hamdy.  Following on from his previous novel, Black 13, Red Wolves will follow protagonist Scott Pearce as he attempts to stop a deadly toxin from being unleashed.  I am very much looking forward to checking out this cool sounding read and I know that I am going to have an amazing time reading it.

Saint Death by Mark Dawson

Saint Death Cover

Another awesome sounding thriller I have received is Saint Death by intriguing author Mark Dawson.  Saint Death follows a former MI6 agent as he starts a fight with drug gangs down in Mexico.  I really like the sound of this fantastic new book and I cannot wait to see what happens in it.

The Paris Collaborator by A. W. Hammond

The Paris Collaborator Cover

I also received a copy of The Paris Collaborator by A. W. Hammond, a fantastic sounding historical thriller that forces a man to work for both the Nazis and the French Resistance to find two missing people.  This looks set to be a lot of fun and I am very keen to check it out.

#MurderFunding by Gretchen McNeil

#MurderFunding Cover

The final book on this list is #MurderFunding by Gretchen McNeil, an older book that I ordered in.  #MurderFunding is the sequel to the very fun #MurderTrending, an awesome young adult thriller that set a bunch of teens against a group of deranged, costumed killers on national television.  I really enjoyed #MurderTrending when it came out and I have been meaning to reader #MurderTrending for some time.  After reading McNeil’s exciting prequel novel, #NoEscape, earlier this year,  I thought this would be a good time to check #MurderFunding out.  I cannot wait to see where the series goes next and this should prove to be fantastica and fast-paced read.

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

Top Ten Tuesday – Books on my Autumn 2021 TBR

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 Top Ten Tuesday, participants need to list the top releases that they are looking forward to reading in Spring (or Autumn for us down here in Australia).  This is a fun exercise that I have done for each of the preceding seasons, and it is always interesting to highlight the various cool sounding books that are coming out in the next few months.

For this list I have come up with 10 of the best novels that are coming out between 1 March 2021 and 31 May 2021.  I have decided to exclude novels that I have already read, so that took a couple of key books off the list.  Still, this left me with a rather substantial pool of cool upcoming novels that I am excited for, which I was eventually able to whittle down into a great Top Ten list (with a few honourable mentions).  I have previously discussed a number of these books before in prior Top Ten Tuesdays and Waiting on Wednesday articles and I think all of them will turn out to be some really impressive and enjoyable reads.  I am actually really excited for the next three months as there are some incredible novels coming out, several of which I already know are going to be amongst the best books of 2021.

 

Honourable Mentions:


Blackout
by Simon Scarrow – 30 March 2021

Blackout Cover

 

Crusader by Ben Kane – 27 April 2021

Crusader Cover

 

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – 4 May 2021

Project Hail Mary Cover

 

Gamora & Nebula: Sisters in Arms by Mackenzi Lee – 1 June 2021

Gamora and Nebula - Sisters in Arms Cover

 

Top Ten List:


The Councillor
by E. J. Beaton – 2 March 2021

The Councillor Cover

The first entry on this list is a rather intriguing fantasy debut from Australian author E. J. Beaton.  The Councillor looks set to contain a thrilling and clever tale about politics, murder and betrayal in a cool new fantasy realm.  This book has a lot of potential and I am rather keen to check it out.

 

Star Wars: Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed – 4 March 2021

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

I had to include at least one Star Wars book on this list (it’s practically a tradition for me at this point), and while I was very tempted to include the new Thrawn Ascendency novel, Greater Good (especially after how much I enjoyed the previous book, Chaos Rising), I instead decided I am a little more excited for Star Wars: Victory’s Price.  Victory’s Price is the third and final entry in Alexander Freed’s excellent Alphabet Squadron series which follows a rag-tag group of New Republic pilots in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi.  The last two books, Alphabet Squadron and Shadow Fall, have been really exceptional reads, and I am very excited to see how this amazing series ends.

 

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst – 9 March 2021

The Bone Maker Cover

Last year I was lucky enough to enjoy fantasy author Sara Beth Durst’s work for the first time when I checked out her 2020 release, Race the Sands, which featured a captivating conspiracy around monster racing.  Race the Sands was an epic read that I deeply enjoyed and it ended up being one of my favourite books (and audiobooks) of 2020.  As a result, I have been rather keen to check out Durst’s next standalone fantasy book, The Bone Maker.  I actually started reading The Bone Maker today and have made a fair bit of progress already.  So far it has been pretty amazing and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

 

Breakout by Paul Herron – 9 March 2021

Breakout Cover

Another intriguing debut, Breakout is a fantastically fun sounding thriller which sees a mostly innocent man attempt to escape from the most secure prison in the planet, whilst it is in the process of getting flooded during a raging storm.  This has so much potential for action-packed fun and I am sure it is going to be an absolute blast to read.

 

Firefly: Life Signs by James Lovegrove – 16 March 2021

Firefly Life Signs

Another fantastic tie-in novel that I am looking forward to reading this month is the awesome sounding Firefly: Life Signs.  I have been really loving the awesome batch of Firefly novels that have been released recently (Big Damn Hero, The Magnificent Nine, Generations and The Ghost Machine), and Life Signs sounds particularly good, especially as they revisit an interesting, unused storyline from the show.  This should be an outstanding read and I am looking forward to it.

 

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

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

Last year, Nick Martell had one of the best debuts of 2020 with The Kingdom of Liars, a clever and captivating fantasy novel, set in a world where magic steals people’s memories.  The Kingdom of Liars was an exceptionally amazing read and I have been really keen to see how the sequel turns out.  I have already heard some intriguing things about this book and I am hoping that it will be just as good, if not better, than Martell’s impressive first novel.

 

A Comedy of Terrors by Lindsey Davis – 30 March 2021

A Comedy of Terrors Cover

I am always very happy when a new Lindsey Davis novel is released, and her current body of work, the Flavia Alba Roman historical fiction series, has featured some exceptional novels in recent years (check out my reviews for The Last Nero, Pandora’s Boy, A Capitol Death and The Grove of the Caesars).  The next book in the series, A Comedy of Terrors, has an incredible sounding story to it, with murder and treason occurring during a popular festival.  I am extremely keen to unwrap this latest historical mystery and I am hoping for another clever and entertaining read.

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Homecoming by Stan Sakai – 14 April 2021

Usagi Yojimbo - Homecoming

It has been a long year, but my favourite comic book series, the incredible Usagi Yojimbo series by the legendary Stan Sakai, is finally releasing another volume.  The upcoming Usagi Yojimbo comic, Homecoming, is the second volume to be released completely in colour (the other being last years Bunraku and Other Stories), and has an intense sounding story and will no doubt be filled with exciting characters, impressive art work and Sakai’s trademark love for Japanese culture and heritage.  I already know that I am going to deeply love this amazing comic and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

 

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

The Girl and the Mountain Cover

Last year I finally got around to reading one of Mark Lawrence’s impressive fantasy novels, The Girl and the Stars, which followed a young women forced to survive in the dark and dangerous world beneath a desolate ice planet.  I had an outstanding time reading this book and I am now extremely keen to read Lawrence’s next novel, The Girl and the Mountain.  This cool sounding upcoming sequel looks set to continue the epic story started in The Girl and the Stars, and I am really excited to see what happens next.

 

Protector by Conn Iggulden – 18 May 2021

Protector Cover Final

The final book on this list is Protector, the next novel from the always incredible Conn Iggulden, who is one of the best authors of historical fiction in the world today.  Protector is the sequel to last year’s awesome read The Gates of Athens and is part of a great series that will chart the rise and fall of ancient Athens.  This next book will continue to detail the war against the Persians while also highlighting some of the leading figures in the city, and I already know that this is going to be an exceptional and epic read.

 

Well that is the end of my Top Ten list.  I think it turned out pretty well and it does a good job of capturing all my most anticipated books for the next three months.  Each of the above should be pretty epic, and I cannot wait to read each of them soon.  Let me know which of the above you are most excited for and stay tuned for reviews of them in the next few months.

Top Ten Tuesday – Most Viewed Posts 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 official topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was to list a participant’s favourite purple, yellow, and/or green Book Covers in honour of Mardi Gras, however, I really did not have any great book covers to feature on this list so I am going to do something a little different and list my top viewed posts of 2020.

Over the last month or two I have been having fun listing some of the top releases I enjoyed in 2020, including my favourite debuts, audiobooks, new to me authors, pre-2020 novels and books that I read last year.  However, it is probably time to finish this line of Top Ten Lists off and move onto different topics, so I thought that I would do something new as a closing act and decided to take a quick look at which of my posts got the most views in 2020.  Not only this a fantastic way to finish highlighting some of the best novels released last year, but I am also genuinely curious to see which posts people were most interested in last year as this may some impact on what I try and read going forward.

To fill out this list I checked out the nifty stats section of my WordPress website to see which of my posts got the most views last year.  While some of the posts I wrote before 2020 did get a lot of attention last year, I decided to limit this list to those blog entries that I published in 2020 and I only ranked them by views received last year.  This resulted in a rather interesting collection of posts and I was so intrigued by this I decided to expand the selection out to my top 20 posts rather than 10, which I think created a much more varied and captivating list.  The final list contains a great combination of different posts, including reviews, Waiting on Wednesday posts and even a few other Top Ten Tuesday lists.  I am really happy with how this latest list turned out, so let us see which posts made the cut.

Top Twenty List:


Waiting on Wednesday – The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett – 940 views

The Evening and the Morning Cover

The top scoring post was the Waiting on Wednesday post I did for the latest Ken Follet novel, The Evening and the Morning.  I was a little surprised that this Waiting on Wednesday did so well last year, especially as a lot of the views on it occurred after the book got released, but the view count on this post has continued to grow and grow.  A lot of this is probably down to how impressive each of his massive novels are, as readers know they are in for a good time and keep an eye out for the latest Follett book.

House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas review – 449 views

House of Earth and Blood Cover

After the fantastic first entry there is a bit of a drop in views, but second place is held strongly by my review for House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas.  This is not too surprising, considering that Maas has a pretty substantial fanbase, and House of Earth and Blood was one of the most anticipated fantasy releases of 2020.  This was only the second novel from Maas that I have read (the other being Catwoman: Soulstealer) and the first adult fantasy novel from an author that specialises in young adult fiction.  I ended up really enjoying the complex and lengthy story that Maas created for House of Earth and Blood and I am looking forward to seeing how the series continues in the future.

Lost by James Patterson and James O. Born review – 317 views

Lost Cover

Number three on this list was a bit of a surprise.  While I enjoyed Lost, I must admit that it was not one of my favourite books of 2020 and I did not expect my review of it to get as much attention as it ended up getting.  Still, with Patterson’s immense number of fans and followers, I guess it makes sense that people would be interested in seeing how one of his books would turn out, and I really need to check out some more of his novels this year.

Waiting on Wednesday – Relentless by R. A. Salvatore – 265 views

Relentless Cover

The next entry on this list is the Waiting on Wednesday article that I did for legendary fantasy author R. A. Salvatore’s second 2020 novel RelentlessRelentless was a particularly cool fantasy novel from last year which followed on from Salvatore’s previous novels Timeless and Boundless.  There ended up being a good amount of interest in this post, and it looks like there are a lot of fans of Salvatore and his amazing fantasy novels.  I actually just posted a slightly belated review of Relentless, and it will be interesting to see how much attention it gets this year.

Waiting on Wednesday – 2021 Thrillers – 229 views

Thriller Covers

Next up we have a Waiting on Wednesday post of three thrillers released in early 2021.  Each of these novels, Relentless by Mark Greaney, The Kaiser’s Web by Steve Berry and Prodigal Son by Gregg Hurwitz, are the latest entry in a popular and established thriller series, and each of these authors already have a lot of dedicated readers.  I have already read Prodigal Son (review coming soon, but in short it is pretty awesome), while I have copies of Relentless and The Kaiser’s Web currently sitting on my table.  It will be interesting to see how they turn out, but I am predicting some epic and amazing reads from them.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik review – 224 views

A Deadly Education Cover

Naomi Novik is a talented fantasy author with a lot of buzz surrounding her, so it is no surprise that a lot of people were interested in her latest book, A Deadly EducationA Deadly Education was an outstanding and captivating read that proved to be extremely inventive and addictive.  I deeply enjoyed reading and reviewing A Deadly Education last year, and Novik’s upcoming sequel, The Last Graduate, is one of my most anticipated reads of 2021.

Top Ten Tuesday – Favourite Books of 2020 – 223 views

Trouble with Peace and Battle Ground Cover

This post listed my absolute favourite books of 2020.  Featuring 20 novels, including impressive reads like The Trouble With Peace by Joe Abercrombie and Battle Ground by Jim Butcher, this was always going to be a post that a lot of people would be interested in, and I was very happy with how many views it got in closing days of 2020.  I cannot wait to list my favourite books of 2021 in 10 months’ time.

One Minute Out by Mark Greaney review – 222 views

One Minute Out Cover

Considering how much attention that the above Waiting on Wednesday for Greaney’s next book got last year, it is not surprising that a lot of people also checked out my review for One Minute Out.  Serving as the ninth book in Greaney’s impressive Gray Man series, this was a fantastic read that got a full five-star rating from me.  I cannot wait to read the next book, especially if turns out to be as good as One Minute Out.

Top Ten Tuesday – Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2020 – 208 views

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It and Call of the Bone Ships Covers

Another Top Ten List with a lot of major and popular entries in it, including How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It by K. J. Parker and Call of the Bone Ships by R. J. Barker.  This was a fun and intriguing list to pull together, especially as I ended up reading and loving every book featured on it.

The Gates of Athens by Conn Iggulden review – 205 views

The Gates of Athens Cover

It looks like a lot of people were interested in historical fiction last year as my review for The Gates of Athens by the always impressive Conn Iggulden got viewed more than 200 times.  The Gates of Athens was a particularly awesome novel as well, and I am looking forward to reading the sequel, Protector, soon.

The Law of Innocence by Michael Connelly review – 196

The Law of Innocence Cover

I actually reviewed two books from iconic crime fiction author Michael Connelly last year, Fair Warning and The Law of Innocence.  While both were fantastic reads, it seems more people were interested in my review of The Law of Innocence, which saw the return of the Lincoln Lawyer.  This was a particularly fun and enjoyable read and I am glad that so many people were keen to see what I thought about it.

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 34: Bunraku and Other Stories by Stan Sakai review – 173 views

Usagi Yojimbo Bunraku and Other Stories Cover

I did quite few reviews of Usagi Yojimbo comics in 2020, all of which proved to be rather popular, which was great considering how niche these comics are.  Out of all these, the one that got the most attention was for the 2020 release, Bunraku and Other Stories.  I had an amazing time writing a passionate review for this comic, the first to be released completely in colour, and it was great to see so much interest in it.  My Waiting on Wednesday article for the next Usagi Yojimbo volume, Homecoming, has already gotten a substantial number of views in 2021, so hopefully readers will also enjoy my review for this upcoming volume.

Top Ten Tuesday – Longest Audiobooks That I Have Listened To – Part II – 166 views

WAY OF KINGS MM REV FINAL.indd

A continuation of a previous Top Ten Tuesday list I did, I spent a bit of time working out the longest audiobooks I have ever read.  This is a post I will probably revisit again this year, although I very much doubt that the current longest audiobook, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, is going to be unseated from its top position on the list.

Waiting on Wednesday – Colonyside by Michael Mammay – 150 views

Colonyside Cover

Another Waiting on Wednesday that got a lot of attention last year was one I did for the cool science fiction thriller, Colonyside.  Serving as the third book in Michael Mammay’s Planetside series (which also includes Planetside and Spaceside), this article got a bit of attention after a timely retweet from Mammay.  I recently read and reviewed Colonyside a few weeks ago and it really lived up to the hype.

Demon in White by Christopher Ruocchio review – 143 views

Demon in White Cover 1

Now, this was a fun book to review.  Demon in White is the third epic entry in impressive new science fiction author Christopher Ruocchio’s outstanding Sun Eater Sequence, which previously featured Empire of Silence and Howling Dark.  Considering how amazing this latest entry in the Sun Eater series was, I am very glad that my review for his book got some attention last year, and I would strongly recommend this impressive, gothic read.

Waiting on Wednesday – Ink by Jonathan Maberry – 124 views

Ink Cover

I always really enjoy reviewing or promoting anything written by Jonathan Maberry, and this Waiting on Wednesday I did for his standalone horror novel, Ink, ended up getting a lot of attention in the end.  Maberry has a new novel coming out in a few months, Relentless, which I am very excited for, and I anticipate a lot of views for that review when I get it written up.

The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde review – 113 views

The Constant Rabbit Cover

One of the funniest books of 2020, The Constant Rabbit was a lot of fun to review and I am glad that a lot of people checked it out last year.

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett review – 111 views

The Evening and the Morning Cover

While it may not have gotten as many views as its Waiting on Wednesday article, my review for The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett did make the Top Twenty list.  Serving as a prequel to Follett’s iconic The Pillars of the Earth, this was one of the best historical fiction novels in 2020 and is a strongly recommended read.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Horror Novels – 110 views

Into the Drowning Deep Cover

The penultimate post on this list was an interesting Top Ten Tuesday I did for Halloween, listing my favourite horror novels I have ever read.  I honestly am not the biggest fan of the horror genre, but I was able to rustle up a good Top Ten list for this post, including some great reads like Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant and Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry.  It looks like a lot of horror fans were out in force last Halloween as people were quite interested in this list, and I hope I recommended a few good reads for any fans of the genre out there.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Books from the First Half of 2020 – 107 views

Song of the Risen God Cover

The final entry on this list was a Top Ten article that highlighted some of the best books from the first half of 2020.  Featuring some particularly cool reads, including Into the Fire by Gregg Hurwitz and Song of the Risen God by R. A. Salvatore, this one got a bit of attention early in the year and it was interesting to see which of the books featured eventually made their way onto my overall favourite reads of 2020 list later in the year.

While mainly a conduit for my ego, I think this list turned out pretty well, and I really enjoyed seeing which of my posts got the most views last year.  I had a lot of fun pulling this list together and I think this might be something I will revisit in the future.  In the meantime, I hope everyone has a happy and safe Mardi Gras.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books Written Before I was Born

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  In the latest Top Ten Tuesday, participants have been given the intriguing task of listing their favourite books that were written before they were born.  This is one of the more interesting Top Ten Tuesday topics that I have had the opportunity to complete, and I was rather intrigued to see how many great novels I love were written before I was born.

While I am still very much young at heart, I do have to admit that I was born some 30-odd years ago in 1991, which, now that I have written it down for all the world to see, is starting to make me feel a tad old.  Nonetheless, I really want to complete this list, so I have moved on and scoured through some of the best books I have read in my long life to see how many of them were written before 1991, which should hopefully open up an excellent list of great reads for me to talk about below.

This ended up proving to be a rather difficult and interesting list to come up with, especially as it quickly became obvious that I really have not read a great variety of novels written before 1991.  While it did require me to feature multiple books from several authors, I was eventually able to come up with 10 impressive entries for a complete list, as well as some great honourable mentions.  Each of the novels below are particularly good novels and comics, and most of them were written by some of my absolute favourite authors, whose early work I have gone back to check out.  This ended up becoming quite an intriguing and varied list, and I am rather pleased with the entries featured below.

 

Honourable Mentions:

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 1: The Ronin by Stan Sakai – 1987

Usagi Yojimbo The Ronin Cover

 

The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett – 1971

The Carpet People Cover

 

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien – 1937

The Hobbit Cover

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 3: The Wanderer’s Road by Stan Sakai – 1989

Usagi Yojimbo The Wanderer's Road Cover

 

Top Ten List:

 

Legend by David Gemmell – 1984

Legend

Let us start this list off with a novel that is epic in every sense of the word.  Legend is the debut novel of the impressive and exciting fantasy author David Gemmell and features an intense and massive siege that sees a gigantic, unbeatable army attempt to conquer the world’s greatest fortress.  Serving as the first entry in Gemmell’s The Drenai Saga, this is an amazing and awesome novel filled with action, adventure and outstanding characters, including Gemmell’s major series protagonist, Druss the Legend, who has a particularly poignant and memorable tale.  This is an exceptional must-read for all fans of the fantasy genre.

 

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett – 1989

Guards! Guards! Cover

Considering the name that I chose for this blog, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I am a major fan of the late, great Terry Pratchett’s iconic and hilarious Discworld series.  I could have honestly filled this entire list with the 10 Discworld novels that were eligible entries.  However, I have shown some remarkable restraint and only featured my absolute favourite earlier novels from this long-running series.  The first book I am featuring on this list is Guards! Guards!, which came out in 1989.  Guards! Guards! is an extremely fun and fantastic novel that expertly and effortlessly melds fantasy, murder mystery and comedy elements into an exceptional and awesome novel that follows a seemingly useless city watch as they attempt to solve the biggest case of their careers: who is summoning a dragon to attack their city?  This was an absolutely captivating and hilarious novel that I could read time and time again without getting bored in the slightest, especially as Guards! Guards! sets up my favourite Discworld sub-series.  An incredible, outrageous and highly recommended read.

 

Magician by Raymond E. Feist – 1982

Magician Cover

Another pre-1991 epic debut that is essential reading for fans of the fantasy genre is Magician, the first novel in Feist’s long-running Riftwar Cycle.  This is an exciting and clever fantasy classic that I have had the great pleasure of reading several times.  Not only does it contain an inventive and compelling tale set across two separate worlds that find themselves at war with each other but it also serves as the first novel in a massive major fantasy series that ran for over 30 years.  I have a lot of love for Magician and I am still a major fan of Feist, especially as he continues to write great fantasy novels like King of Ashes and Queen of Storms.

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 2: Samurai by Stan Sakai – 1989

Usagi Yojimbo Samurai Cover

There was no way I could do this list without featuring one of the Usagi Yojimbo comics that I have been having so much fun re-reading and reviewing over the last couple of months.  There were three separate volumes that I could have included on this list, but I decided to promote the second volume, Samurai, which features a captivating and detailed examination of the titular character’s backstory.  Filled with an amazing story and some excellent artwork, Samurai is one of the best entries in my favourite comic series and is a fantastic and wonderful read.

 

Streams of Silver by R. A. Salvatore – 1989

Streams of Silver Cover

Another author who was bound to appear on this list is fantasy legend R. A. Salvatore, who has authored a metric ton of novels since his debut in 1988.  There were several good options from Salvatore that I could have featured on this list, including all three novels in his debut series, The Icewind Dale trilogy, but the first one I decided to go with was his second novel, Streams of Silver.  While I love Salvatore’s debut, The Crystal Shard, I felt that Streams of Silver was the stronger novel, so I included on this list.  Featuring some intense action sequences, a deeper dive into the characters introduced in the first book, an outstanding antagonist and a fantastic cliffhanger conclusion, Streams of Silver is great novel from Salvatore that still really holds up.

 

Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett – 1990

Moving Pictures Cover

The next Pratchett Discworld novel I included on this list was the comedic masterpiece, Moving PicturesMoving Pictures is a deeply impressive novel that sees the ancient art of moving pictures return to the Discworld and then promptly drive everyone crazy.  This entertaining and captivating read serves as an incredible parody to the film industry and is loaded with so many jokes and witty observations that you will be laughing yourself silly for days.  One of the strongest Discworld novels written before 1991, this one is very much worth reading.

 

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli, Todd Klein and Richmond Lewis – 1987

Batman_Year_One

While there were a number of great comics written before 1991, one of my favourites is the 1987 classic, Batman: Year One by graphic novel icon Frank Miller and his talented team of artists.  This is an outstanding read that re-imagined Batman for an entire generation and ended up being the character’s key introductory comic for one of the best periods of DC comics.  Serving as the main inspiration for the Batman Begins film, Batman: Year One is an exceptional comic that any true Batman fan will love and adore for years to come.

 

Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts – 1987

Daughter of the Empire Cover

While Magician served as a particularly impressive introduction to the Riftwar Cycle, one of my favourite entries in the entire series was Daughter of the Empire, which Feist cowrote with Janny Wurst.  Set on an Eastern-culture inspired fantasy planet, Daughter of the Empire is the first book in the Empire trilogy, a captivating companion trilogy to the Riftwar novels.  While all three books in this series are great, the best is easily Daughter of the Empire, which sees a noble-born daughter forced to survive and lead her house after her family is murdered by a powerful rival who wishes to crush her.  Thanks to its enjoyable and dramatic narrative of survival against all the odds, Daughter of the Empire is a particularly amazing novel that has a very special place in my heart and which I have gone back and re-read several times.

 

Homeland by R. A. Salvatore – 1990

Homeland Cover

My second Salvatore novel on this list is Homeland, the first book in the Dark Elf trilogy, which explores the early life of Salvatore’s most iconic character, the dark elf ranger Drizzt Do’Urden.  Homeland follows the birth of Drizzt and follows some of his earliest experiences living with his race, the evil Drow, in their homeland underground, where murder, betrayal and personal ambitions are the natural way of life.  Watching the noble and selfless character of Drizzt grow up amongst murders, cowards and fanatics is just fantastic and Homeland is easily one of my absolute favourite Salvatore books of all time.

 

Pyramids by Terry Pratchett – 1989

Pyramids Cover

The final book on this list is another Pratchett novel, Pyramids, a subtly clever and hilarious read.  Set in a parody version of ancient Egypt, Pyramids follows a modern king as he attempts to bring plumbing, feather beds and progress to his decaying country, only to face opposition from his priests, his fellow gods and his greatest adversary, geometry.  With some major laugh-out-loud moments, including one scene where multiple Egyptian-inspired gods engage in a football-style match to control the sun, and some amazing original characters, Pyramids is an incredible read and the perfect note to end this list on.

 

I rather liked how this list turned out and I was so glad that I was able to find several great books to feature above.  I do wish I had a bit more variety when it came to authors, and I might have to think about going back and checking out some earlier entries from authors I am fans of, especially if they published novels before 1991.  Each of the novels I mentioned above is really exceptional, and I would strongly recommend them all to anyone looking for a fantastic read.  Hopefully, some of the authors I mentioned won’t be too disconcerted about the fact that they have been writing for a longer period than I have been alive, and if they are I apologise deeply.  Let me know what your favourite novels written before 1991 are in the comments below and I will be interested to see if there are any great books that I missed.

Throwback Thursday: Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 11: Seasons by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo Seasons

Publisher: Dark Horse Books (Paperback – 1999)

Series: Usagi Yojimbo – Book 11

Length: 198 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.

It has been a while since I have done a Usagi Yojimbo Throwback Thursday, but after doing a Waiting on Wednesday for the next upcoming volume in this epic series, Homecoming, I was in a Usagi mood and decided to write something extra.  As a result, I check out the 11th Usagi Yojimbo volume by the legendary Stan Sakai, Seasons.

Seasons is a fantastic and spectacular entry in the series that presents the reader with a series of great Usagi Yojimbo adventures that follow the rabbit ronin Miyamoto Usagi as he traverses his version of feudal Japan during the various seasons of the year.  This is a key entry in the series as it sets up a number of storylines for the next several volumes while also introducing some great new characters.  Needless to say, I had an incredible time reading this volume of the series and I have a lot of love for a number of the stories contained within it.  Seasons contains issues #7-12 of the Dark Horse Comics run on the Usagi Yojimbo series, as well as stories taken from the Usagi Yojimbo Colour Special.  This results in 11 separate stories throughout the volume, made up of single-issue entries and a couple of shorter tales, all of which contain an impressive and deeply enjoyable story with beautiful artwork.

USagi #7

The first story featured within Seasons is The Withered Field, an epic story of samurai honour and the warrior’s way.  In this story, Usagi is visiting a famed fencing school with the hope of challenging some of its instructors to test his skill.  However, before he can issue his challenge, all of the school’s instructors are beaten by another ronin, Nakamura Koji, a skilled swordsman who demands a fight with the school’s master.  As he waits for his challenge, Usagi befriends him and discovers that he was once a famed sword master himself, who began the warrior’s pilgrimage after suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of a mysterious and unconventional swordsman.  Now determined to find this swordsman and rechallenge him, Nakamura Koji shows great interest in Usagi, especially when they must content with treachery from the fencing school.

The Withered Field is an outstanding story that serves as a compelling and powerful start to this volume.  I really enjoyed the amazing narrative that examined honour and martial prowess, with Usagi encountering a famed warrior who is even better than he is.  This great story does an excellent job of introducing the character of Nakamura Koji, who becomes a major figure in some of the future volumes in this series and who has an interesting connection to Usagi and his past.  The entire storyline around the two ronin facing off against the fencing school is extremely cool and action packed, and it appears to take a lot of influence from the second entry in the iconic 1950s Samurai film trilogy (which follows the adventures of Miyamoto Musashi, the historical samurai who serves as an inspiration for Usagi), Duel of Ichijoji Temple, with the students attempting to stop the wandering ronin from defeating their master.  There are amazing action sequences throughout this story, with Usagi and Nakamura Koji engaging in several awesome duels.  I particularly loved the opening sequence where Koji goes through the pre-fight forms before facing off in his sparring match against a fencing school instructor.  The eventual reveal that the samurai who defeated Koji when he was younger was Usagi’s mentor, Katsuichi, comes as little surprise, but it sets up an amazing story later in the series which makes this great story a must read for fans of Usagi Yojimbo.

Seasons’ second story is the thrilling but haunting A Promise in the Snow, which sees Usagi travelling through a snowy mountain pass during the height of winter.  As he trudges along, he comes across bandits attacking an innocent merchant and his servants.  Intervening, Usagi is able to slay all the bandits, but not before they severely wound the merchant.  Usagi finds the merchant’s young daughter and promises to save her father, carrying him back to his village.  However, the mountain passes are treacherous, and Usagi must contend with harsh weather, a pack of hungry wild tokage lizards and a dangerous avalanche.  But no matter what the mountain throws at him, nothing will prepare Usagi for the great shock awaiting him at the end of his journey. 

Usagi #8

This is a great entry in this volume that features a desperate struggle for survival in a dangerous location.  Sakai came up with an epic story for A Promise in the Snow, and I really love seeing Usagi power through great trials and tribulations to keep his promise to a young girl.  There are some beautifully drawn scenes throughout this story, and Sakai does a fantastic job bringing the snowy landscape to life in all its wondrous, deadly glory.  I also loved the way in which Sakai’s drawings highlighted Usagi’s struggles to get through the tough terrain; you can see him get more and more weary with each obstacle he encounters.  This story has a fantastic ending that is reminiscent of a lot of classic ghost tales, and looking back you see that Sakai set this twist up brilliantly, with tons of little clues.  Overall, this was an exceptional story which is a true highlight of this volume.

Next up with have the action-packed, intriguing story, The Conspiracy of Eight.  In this entry, Usagi is visiting the temple of his friend, priest Sanshobo, when an injured samurai wearing the crest of the notorious Lord Hikiji arrives at the gate.  The samurai bears a dangerous letter that names eight conspirators who are plotting against the Shogun.  As Usagi and Sanshobo debate what to do with the information, a large force of ronin arrives at the temple, determined to claim the injured samurai and kill all witnesses. 

This is another fantastic entry in Seasons that once again sees Usagi drawn into a major conspiracy impacting the realm.  There are a lot of cool elements to this story, such as Usagi and Sanshobo being forced to mount a defence of the temple from a dangerous siege.  This is a great, fast-paced story, and I really liked the unique battle scenes, especially the monks with staffs facing off against sword-wielding bandits.  Many of the plot elements contained within this tale come into play in several later Usagi Yojimbo stories, including one featured later in this volume, and I think Sakai did an exceptional job introducing them in The Conspiracy of Eight.  I also liked seeing the return of Sanshobo, the wise and noble priest and former samurai general.  Sanshobo serves as a good foil to Usagi’s more impulsive nature, cautioning him about acting in the affairs of great lords and counselling him that his proposed actions could lead to the death of many people.  While mainly a figure of wisdom, Sanshobo also serves as a great leader, utilising his experiences as a general to defend his temple and keep his monks alive.  The Conspiracy of Eight ends up being a very solid and enjoyable entry in this volume and I very much enjoyed seeing Sakai solidify a great new side character.

Usagi #9

Right after The Conspiracy of Eight comes another intriguing story that is primarily set within Sanshobo’s temple, Snakes and Blossoms.  In this entry, Usagi tells two short tales to Sanshobo: one that describes a crazy misadventure he had, and another that describes some important lessons from his past.  This two shorter tales work as sub-stories to Snakes and Blossoms and ensures that it is a distinctive entry in Seasons.  The first of the shorter tales is titled Hebi, which is set shortly after the events of the final story in Volume 7: Gen’s Story and sees Usagi and Gen once again lost following one of Gen’s shortcuts.  As the two ronin wander the unused paths, Gen saves Usagi from a wild snake that attempts to kill him.  However, Gen’s heroic actions has unexpected consequences when the two travellers are confronted by a mysterious nun at an abandoned temple later that night.  This was a rather cool horror story that exemplifies the sort of weird situations that Usagi can find himself in.  I loved the way in which Sakai plays Usagi and Gen off each other, and there are some very humorous interactions between this oddball pairing.  There is also some really insane artwork in this short story, and I loved the fantastic and scary sight of a giant snake emerging from its disguise to try and kill the protagonists. 

The other short story contained within Snakes and Blossoms is the cute tale, The Courage of the PlumThe Courage of the Plum takes place during Usagi’s childhood when he is training with his master, Katsuichi.  As the two walk through the snow, Katsuichi attempts to teach his student the various hidden aspects of nature around them, including the trees, each of which can represent human virtues.  The young Usagi is particularly intrigued by Katsuichi’s description of the humble plum tree as brave, and Katsuichi schools Usagi on how this smaller tree can be braver than the mightiest of oaks.  I always enjoy the depictions of Usagi’s unorthodox training under Katsuichi, as the student and teacher have a very amusing dynamic, and The Courage of the Plum turned out to be a delightful shorter entry with some intriguing philosophical discussion and some lovely drawings of the winter landscape.  Overall, Hebi and The Courage of Plum make for a fantastic combination of tales and I quite enjoyed seeing these two unique, short stories come together.

Up next in Seasons is an amazing shorter entry, Return to Adachi Plain, which sees Usagi journey back to the site of his greatest defeat, Adachi Plain, the battlefield where his lord Mifune (named after actor Toshiro Mifune, who starred in multiple classic samurai films that Sakai references in his works, including as Miyamoto Musashi in the Samurai trilogy), was killed in front of him.  Flashing back to tragic events that started his wandering lifestyle, Usagi remembers the battle in greater detail and the reader sees not only the role he played in saving the head of his lord from mutilation but also the first time he came directly in conflict with the villainous Lord Hikiji. 

Usagi #10

Return to Adachi Plain is a fantastic entry in this series as it is essentially one big war sequence, showing Usagi amid a violent battle from his past.  This story expands on the war sequence that was shown in Volume 2: Samurai, and it was really cool to see more of this battle, especially the combat scene between Usagi and Hikiji, which serves as the origin for Usagi’s distinctive forehead scar.  A fantastic shorter story that provides greater depth to Usagi’s role in this major defeat, this battle sequence was later reused in colour in Volume 34: Bunraku and Other Stories, and the events disclosed within is likely to come up in the upcoming Volume 35: Homecoming.

The next story in this volume is a relatively short entry called The CrossingThe Crossing is set aboard a small passenger ship where a group of rowdy peasants sing and dance to a fun folk song on deck.  However, during the climax of the performance, one of the peasants accidently bumps into an arrogant samurai who takes offence and moves to kill the transgressor, until a fellow passenger intervenes.  Unfortunately for everyone involved, the Good Samaritan isn’t Usagi; instead it is the demon spearman Jei. 

This is a captivating darker story that once again highlights just how dangerous and deranged Jei, one of the best antagonists in the entire Usagi Yojimbo series, is.  Sakai has written an extremely clever tale here that does a wonderful job showcasing Jei’s compelling nature as both a defender of the innocent and a raging psychopath who views nearly everyone as evil in form or another.  It’s fantastic watching the expressions on the peasants’ faces turn from relief to absolute terror as they slowly realise just how crazy Jei is, and you have to love that entertaining ending with the unsuspecting dock worker.  The Crossing serves as an excellent follow-up to several other shorter Jei stories that appeared in recent volumes, including The Nature of the Viper (which appeared in Volume 9: Daisho) and Black Soul (which appeared in Volume 10: The Brink of Life and Death), and this ends up being an impressive and compelling filler story in this volume.

Usagi #11

The shorter entries keep on coming! The Patience of the Spider introduces a new compelling character, General Ikeda.  Ikeda is a famed warrior and general who led a revolt against the Geishu Clan years ago (when the clan was ruled by the father of Usagi’s friend Lord Noriyuki).  When his revolt fails and his army is vanquished, Ikeda and two of his retainers flee to an abandoned farm and determine that their next course of action is to hide and wait.  Using a patient web-building spider as inspiration, Ikeda and his comrades show fortitude and restraint by disguising themselves as peasants and farming the land as they wait for the opportune moment.  However, as the years pass and Ikeda gains a family and faces the many harsh trials and dangers that await a peasant farmer, he begins to see the world differently, until the once notorious general is a completely new person, one with very different desires and dreams.

The Patience of the Spider is an outstanding example of how Sakai can quickly build up an intriguing and powerful character and ensure that the reader is utterly transfixed by their tale.  While this entry is relatively short, it is very impactful and may be one of the best stories in Seasons.  The tale of General Ikeda, as he faces the many different hardships of peasant life, including drought, bandits, floods and great personal loss, while also experiencing great joy and community, is extremely well written.  It proves to be extremely captivating to see this resolute man slowly change his nature as life overcomes him.  This also proves to be an excellent introduction to the character of Ikeda, who will go on to have a substantial role in the two big Grasscutter storylines, and his amazing character arc has an exceptional start here.  A very impressive and powerful tale, The Patience of the Spider is an amazing character-driven narrative from Sakai that is an absolute treat to read.

The next story featured in Seasons is the curious tale, The Lord of the Owls, which sees Usagi encounter a strange fellow traveller.  As Usagi stops at an inn, he witnesses a group of ruffians follow after a mysterious hooded samurai walking the road with the intention of robbing him.  Following them, Usagi witnesses the figure quickly kill the bandits after first startling him with his hypnotic and powerful gaze.  This man is eventually introduced as Oyama Tadanori, the mysterious Lord of the Owls, who reputedly can see the future and who claims that his destiny is intertwined with Usagi. 

Usagi #12

This was an interesting story that presents the reader with a lot of curious and unanswered questions.  While the main story is rather good, especially when it comes to the fate of the greedy bandits, the reader is left extremely mystified by the Lord of the Owls and his powers of prediction.  This entry opens up a rather fascinating storyline that is still not complete; despite an appearance in a later comic, Usagi is still waiting to uncover more about this figure and their combined destiny.  While I am hopeful that this story will pay off somewhere down the line, but in the meantime this particular entry has some great action sequences, a fun new character and some stunning landscape shots, which makes it really worth checking out. 

Up next with have a clever story, The First Tenet, which deals with the machination and inside politics of the Neko Ninja clan.  In this entry, Kagemaru, the second in command of the Neko Ninja, makes a move to betray his commander, Chizu, by reporting some of her recent personal missions to Lord Hebi, Lord Hikiji’s chief advisor.  Hebi, who is enraged by the news that Chizu is moving the Neko Ninja against the interests of Lord Hikiji, considers supporting Kagemura but is reluctant, especially as “deceit is the first tenet of the ninja”.  However, Kagemaru has subtle ways of getting what he wants, and soon Hebi finds himself in a dangerous situation that will change the future of the Neko Ninja forever. 

The First Tenet is a great story that masterfully shows of the duplicitous internal politics of the Neko Ninja and the supporters of Lord Hikiji.  The storyline started here will eventually have some interesting implications for major side character Chizu, and Sakai does a fantastic job setting it up.  I loved all the plotting and subterfuge that appears in this story, and it proves to be a fun and clever read.  I also love the massive battle scene that occurs in the middle of the tale, and it was particularly cool to see Lord Hebi, a massive snake, finally get into a fight.  Hebi is a terrifying figure to behold in combat, and it is worth reading this story just to see that.  An excellent and exciting addition to Seasons, I really enjoyed The First Tenet, especially as it leads to a lot of outstanding ninja storylines down the road.

Usagi Colour Special - Green Persimmon

Seasons’ penultimate story is The Obakeneko of the Geishu Clan, a chilling supernatural tale that sees Usagi and his companions face off against a malignant spirit.  As Usagi draws closer to the lands of his friends in the Geishu Clan, he stops outside a ruined mansion where he suddenly recalls the last time he was there.  Flashing back to shortly after the events of Volume 4: The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy, Usagi, Gen and Tomoe are travelling back to Geishu lands and attempt to seek shelter at a beautiful mansion.  The mansion belongs to the Lady Takagi, a mysterious woman who provides them with rooms and food and seems quite happy for the company.  However, as the night continues, Tomoe grows suspicious with their host and attempts to investigate, eventually revealing that Lady Takagi is a demon who is determined to kill and eat her guests. 

This was a very fast-paced and exciting tale that provides an awesome horror edge to the stories contained with Seasons.  I love it when Sakai features iconic Japanese supernatural monsters in his tale as they always prove to be outstanding and fearsome opponents for the protagonists.  The monster featured within The Obakeneko of the Geishu Clan is no exception, and I loved the freaky tale based around her and the desperate fight for survival that Usagi and his friends are forced to undertake.  While Sakai mostly focuses on the horror aspects of this story, I liked how he included a few humorous moments, such as including a great reference to Sakai’s prior comic, Groo the Wanderer: “did I err?”, as well as the funny concluding moment that sees Usagi fleeing in terror from a couple of woodcutters.  This was a really fantastic supernatural tale and it is always cool to see Sakai’s amazing depictions of these inventive Japanese monsters.

The final story in this excellent volume is the intense and action-packed Green Persimmon.  In this story Usagi, who is on his way to the Geishu lands, comes across a dying Geishu retainer who entrusts Usagi with delivering a mysterious package to his lord.  Opening the package reveals a simple and seemingly unremarkable ceramic green persimmon.  However, moments after receiving the persimmon, Usagi is attacked by a band of armed samurai who are desperate to reclaim it at all costs.  Managing to defeat his attackers, Usagi continues along the rough and windy coast road to the Geishu lands, but he encounters even more men determined to reclaim the persimmon and is soon forced to fight for his life as his attackers employ ruthless means to kill him.

Usagi-Yojimbo-Book-11-Seasons-Print-

Green Persimmon is an awesome and fantastic story that I deeply enjoyed, and which holds a great deal of significance for me.  This was actually the first Usagi Yojimbo story that I ever read, as a colour version of this story appeared in a magazine aimed at younger teens down here in Australia when I was a lot younger.  This story really stuck with me over the years due to the exciting story and cool action sequences, and it was one of the main reasons (along with Usagi’s appearances in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons) that I decided to check out the Usagi Yojimbo comics in later life.  Needless to say, I am still very impressed with Green Persimmon years later; it is an enjoyable and memorable story to end this 11th volume.  I love the fluid combat sequences in this issue, including Usagi throwing the persimmon into the air and killing all his opponents before deftly catching it, and there are also some great banter scenes between Usagi and his attackers.  I also enjoyed the epic scene where Usagi finds himself trapped within a field of flame thanks to a flurry of fire arrows around him.  Not only is it cool that Usagi successfully survives by utilising the lessons of the legend of Prince Yamato Takeru and the Grass-Cutting Sword (the full events of which are drawn by Sakai in the next volume), but when he emerges from the ground covered in soot and dirt, he looks particularly demonic and enraged as he faces his opponents, making for an epic and amazing scene.  All of this is set to a fantastically drawn background of the rugged coastal landscape, which proves to be a fantastic setting for the various combat scenes.  If I had to offer any criticism about this story, it would be that the conclusion and reveal of the purpose of the ceramic persimmon did not really go anywhere and there were no mentions of this victory over series antagonist, Lord Hikiji, ever again.  However, I still really love this entry as Green Persimmon has so many cool and impressive elements to it and it is a great end note for this volume.

Seasons is another fantastic and incredible comic by Stan Sakai that sees Usagi engage in some captivating and intriguing adventures.  Featuring a cool mixture of different Usagi Yojimbo tales, Seasons is an amazing entry in the series.  I absolutely love a lot of the stories contained within this volume, which are once again anchored by outstanding character and breathtaking artwork.  This volume gets a full five-star rating from me and comes highly recommended.  On a side note, I am very glad that I decided to do another Usagi Yojimbo comic in a Throwback Thursday article as I have a lot of fun reviewing them.  I might have to skip ahead a volume for my next Throwback Thursday, as I cannot find my copy of Volume 12, Grasscutter.  However, I will either find it or get a new copy soon, as Grasscutter is too major a storyline to miss.  I hope you enjoy the review and make sure to check out some of the other reviews I have done of this epic and amazing series.

Waiting on Wednesday – Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 35: Homecoming by Stan Sakai

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For this latest Waiting on Wednesday I take a look at one of my most anticipated reads for the first half of 2021, the next volume of Stan Sakai’s epic Usagi Yojimbo comic series, Homecoming.

Usagi Yojimbo - Homecoming

I have made it no secret that I am a huge fan of Stan Sakai’s long-running and exceptional Usagi Yojimbo series, and it easily one of my favourite comic book series of all time.  The Usagi Yojimbo comics are set in an alternate version of feudal Japan and follow the protagonist, rabbit samurai Miyamoto Usagi, as he adventures through a land populated by anthropomorphic animals.  This outstanding series has been going since the 1980s, and I have had an amazing time reading and rereading this cool comic over the years due to the excellent combination of compelling stories, complex characters and breathtaking artwork.  In recent years I have reviewed some of the latest volumes when they are released (including Volume 32: Mysteries, Volume 33: The Hidden and Volume 34: Bunraku and Other Stories), and I have also gone back and started reviewing the earlier entries in the series, which has proved to be a lot of fun.  My only regret about being a Usagi Yojimbo fan is that only one volume of the comic is released each year, and once I get a copy, I have to wait an entire year for the next volume.

Luckily for me, my wait is nearly over as the next volume of this series, Homecoming, is currently set for release on 27 April 2021.  Homecoming will be the 35th volume of the Usagi Yojimbo series and will contain issues #8-14 of the current run of the series, which is published by IDW.  This means that the upcoming volume will be printed in colour, which is a relatively new feature that was started in the last volume, and which adds some fantastic visual detail to the story.  In this latest upcoming volume, it looks like Usagi will journey to some of the most important locations from his past and find himself once again involved in the nefarious plots of one of his most dangerous enemies.

Synopsis:

Volume Two of the new series sees Usagi return to his home province to pay his respects, but ghosts from his past have other plans.

In “Tatami,” Usagi returns to his home province only to find intrigue and betrayal! An important tea ceremony is about to take place, but what sinister plan does Lord Hikiji have for it and how are the Neko ninja clan involved?

Then, in “Mon,” long ago, Lord Hikiji defeated Usagi’s Lord Mifune to take control of the Northern Province. Usagi, now traveling through his old territories, still wears the mon (a family crest) of his former lord. But, there are those who still remember the Great Wars with bitterness and threaten to kill any samurai loyal to Mifune. What happens when they come across Usagi?

In “The Return,” Usagi is on a pilgrimage to his late lord’s gravesite, however, wearing the Mifune clan crest in Lord Hikiji’s territory has made him an enemy. Traveling through this dangerous land he has made his way to the one place he had been avoiding–the village in which he grew up. Bittersweet memories awaken with his long-time love, until the village becomes embroiled in a plot to assassinate an emissary of the shogun.

Ooh, now this sounds like it is going to be a rather cool collection of connected stories, and I have a very strong feeling that I am really going to enjoy them.  People familiar with the comic will know that the Lord Hikiji mentioned above is the major overarching antagonist of Usagi Yojimbo; he not only killed both Usagi’s father and his lord in the past but has also been plotting against the Shogun and several of Usagi’s friends in the current plot line.  Hikiji’s schemes have taken a bit of a back seat in recent years, with Usagi dealing with other antagonists and dangers, although he was so well built up in the earlier entries of this series that he is always a lurking shadow in the Usagi Yojimbo universe.  As a result, I am rather intrigued to see an entire volume that is going to be dedicated to Usagi facing off against Hikiji’s minions again, especially as they are going to tie directly into the wars that made Usagi a masterless, wandering samurai.

All three of the stories mentioned in the synopsis sound really cool and I look forward to seeing how each of them turns out.  The first story, Tatami, will apparently revolve around a tea ceremony, with Hikiji and the Neko Ninja operating some elaborate scheme around it.  Sakai has presented some truly masterful depictions of the traditional tea ceremony before, and I imagine that you will see some cool artwork in this upcoming volume, which will no doubt really pop with the added colour.  It will be really interesting to see how this entire story turns out, and no doubt it will serve as the basis for the rest of the narratives contained within Homecoming.

The next story in this volume, Mon, also sounds extremely compelling, and I think it is going to be a fantastic addition to HomecomingMon will apparently see Usagi return to the battlefields of his youth, where he will encounter those who hold a grudge against Usagi’s deceased lord and his now masterless retainers, and who will have issue with Usagi wearing the crest of his lord (the three dots shaped in a triangle that have been part of Usagi’s clothes for essentially his entire run).  There are so many potentially awesome ways that this story can go, and I look forward to seeing how the wars affected other characters aside from Usagi and how running into other veterans or victims will impact him.  In particular, I look forward to seeing Usagi’s role in the battle of Adachi Plain (as shown in Volume 2: Samurai, Volume 11: Seasons and in Volume 34: Bunraku and Other Stories), once again come to the fore of the story, and no doubt Usagi will have some issues with some of the survivors of these wars.  This entire scenario has a lot of potential to be awesome, and I cannot wait to see how Sakai revisits this integral part of Usagi’s backstory.

The final story mentioned in the synopsis is The Return (which incidentally is the name of a historical fiction book I am reading at the moment), which sees Usagi journey back to his childhood village, where yet another plot awaits.  Out of all the stories that have been mentioned for this volume, I think that The Return is the one that has the most potential for dramatic and emotionally rich moments, as Usagi has so much history waiting for him back at his village.  You have to assume that Usagi will once again encounter Mariko, the love of his life who he can never be with, and Kenichi, his old childhood rival who ended up marrying Mariko.  There is also a chance that he will once again come across Jotaro, his secret son with Mariko, who has previously travelled with Usagi as his pupil.  The two previous stories which saw Usagi return home (as seen in Volume 1: The Ronin and Volume 6: Circles) were loaded with some incredible and heartbreaking character moments, and I imagine a lot of these issues will once again rise to the surface in this latest story.  Throw in an assassination plot and you have the basis for a truly outstanding Usagi Yojimbo story which I cannot wait to read.

I think it is pretty clear after seeing me go on about this upcoming volume that I am really going to enjoy Usagi Yojimbo: Homecoming.  All of the featured stories mentioned in the synopsis sound pretty damn epic, and I love the fact that Sakai is going to dive into some pretty heavy storylines that could have some significant impact on the overall series.  Based on how much I have loved every single other Usagi Yojimbo comic I have ever read, I know well in advance that Homecoming is probably going to get a five-star review from me and it will no doubt be one of the best things I read in 2021.

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

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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.