Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Underappreciated 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.  The official topic for this week was Bookish Wishes, but I am choosing to do something a little different and instead I will be highlighting some of my favourite underappreciated comic series.

Each year, there are a ton of new and exciting comic series released.  Some of these series are outstanding, some are a little less enjoyable, but most get a lot of attention, whether good or bad, from the comic community.  However, ever since I have started collecting comics, I have come across several amazing titles which do not seem to get as much attention, interest, or recognition as they deserve.  This is a real shame, because some of these comics are actually extremely impressive, containing some incredible stories and complex characters, all of which are really worth checking out.

Due to how much I enjoyed some of these lesser-known comics, I thought I would take the opportunity to look at the ten best comics I consider to be somewhat underappreciated or unfairly ignored by the general comic community.  In order to complete this list, I have gone through my collection of favourite comics and pulled out several great titles, which don’t always get the attention that their excellent stories merit.  I ended up pulling together an intriguing list of comics, and while I did debate about just how underappreciated some of these titles are, I think I ended up with a fantastic list that I am rather happy with.  So, let us get to it.

Honourable Mentions:

Fables

Fables Cover

A comic beloved by those who have read it, I am only saying this one is underappreciated because a future adaption is very unlikely, especially after the market was saturated by the similar Once Upon a Time.

Booster Gold (Vol.2)

Booster Gold Cover

A fun, time-travel filled romp that follows perennial DC Comics loser, Booster Gold, and shows why he is the greatest hero you have never heard of.

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra (2016)

Doctor Aphra Volume 1

Only underappreciated by those who do not read Star Wars comics.

Top Ten List:

Gotham Central

Gotham Central 1 Cover

The first comic on this list is the incredible Gotham Central, a fantastic series that focused on the members of the Gotham City Police Department.  Essentially a police procedural in the world inhabited by Batman, this remarkable comic, created by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, is pretty damn amazing, and does a lot with some of the fantastic police characters featured in the Batman comics.  Containing some very impressive storylines, including its most famous arc where Renee Montoya is outed as a lesbian, this series did win several awards, however, it is routinely overlooked by fans due to the focus on other non-Batman characters.  With a decent 40 issue run, this was a very memorable and clever comic, which provided some inspiration for the Gotham television series.  With another potential adaption in the future, this comic may finally be about to get the love it is due, and it will be well deserved when it does.

Scarlet Spider (Vol. 2)

Scarlet Spider 1 Cover

Next up we have a very fun series from Marvel comics, the second Scarlet Spider series.  This series, which spun-off from the Spider-Island crossover event, follows newly resurrected villain and Spider-Man clone, Kaine, as he accidently becomes a vigilante anti-hero in Houston.  Taking the mantle Scarlet Spider, Kaine attempts to fight crime his own way, often with violent and deadly results.  Written by Christopher Yost, this series was a somewhat darker Spider-Man tale that had some excellent humour to it, as the usually serious and murderous Kaine, is forced into some ridiculous heroics.  Surprisingly addictive and entertaining, this was an outstanding series that unfortunately undersold and was cancelled after only 25 issues.

Chew

Chew 1 Cover

The third entry on this list is the zany and hilarious Chew comic, created by John Layman and Rob Guillory.  Chew is an interesting and unique comic that does have a dedicated fan base, although it is overlooked, mainly because it is a bit of a niche read.  Frankly, anyone who has not read this comic may be justified in thinking that a series about a federal agent who receives psychic impressions by eating food as he faces off against a group of superpowered cannibals, might be a bit much.  However, if you have read Chew, you will know just how awesome this comic is and how cleverly they bring the story together.  This series honestly has the potential to be the next The Boys or Invincible if someone manages to adapt it, so its status as an underappreciated comic might be only fleeting.  If that is the case, I would strongly suggest reading this series now to be ahead of the rest of the pack.

Secret Six (Vol. 3)

Secret Six Volume 3 Cover

A comic that I recently mentioned on my recent Top Ten Favourite Comics list, Secret Six is an outstanding series by Gail Simone that focuses on an unusual team of supervillains.  This is an incredible and entertaining comic, that often gets overlooked due to its apparently similarities to Suicide Squad.  This is a real shame as Secret Six is a uniquely different comic with some clever stories, memorable characters, and some real heart to it.

Avengers Academy

Avengers Academy 1 Cover

One Marvel series that I have a lot of love for is the great Avengers Academy series.  Set after the events of Dark Reign, this comic initially follows six damaged teens who are recruited by Hank Pym to become the next generation of Avengers.  However, it is eventually revealed that the entire program is a lie, as all six are considered future supervillains due to their backgrounds and tortured pasts.  Created by Christos Gage and Mike McKone, this was a very compelling and powerful comic that featured some deep character moments and intriguing stories.  Lasting 39 issues, this series was very well received and was even worked into some major Marvel crossover events.  However, it got a little lost amongst all the other Avengers comics written at the same time, resulting in a shorter run than it needed.  While several key characters were eventually featured in the fun Avengers Arena (Hunger Games with teen superheroes) and Avengers Undercover series, most of the members of the Avengers Academy have only been marginally featured in recent years, which is a real shame after all the fantastic development that went into them.

Blue Beetle (Vol. 7)

Blue Beetle 1 Cover

Back in the mid 2000’s there was a fantastic and compelling new era in the iconic Blue Beetle comic with the introduction of the third Blue Beetle Jamie Reyes.  Spinning off from Infinite Crisis, this series followed the teenage Jamie as he deals with the massive power of his alien scarab and the true past of his predecessors.  This is an excellent series that perfectly showcased a complex teenage hero and contained some fantastic character development and big moments.  While this version of the Blue Beetle character has gone on to do some big things, the series he originated in is often overlooked.  Some elements of these comics were utilised in the second season of Young Justice and fans of this show will get a lot out of reading it.

Batgirl (Vol. 3)

Batgirl 1

While Batgirl is a fairly prominent comic series, there is one great incarnation that is often lost due to its timing, short run and main character.  Written by Bryan Q. Miller, this Batgirl series saw everyone’s favourite Spoiler, Stephanie Brown, take on the cowl after Cassandra Cain gave up her costume.  With a different mentality to her predecessors, as well as her own unique strengths, this a different Batgirl than readers were familiar with, but it has a fun feel to it.  Featuring some great storylines, this proved to be an excellent comic, and it is one I have read several times.  Thanks to the onset of Flashpoint and the New 52, this series ended way too soon and was never given the chance to get the following and appreciation it deserved.

All-New Wolverine

All New Wolverine Cover

Another comic that I previously featured on my favourite comic list; the All-New Wolverine follows X-23 as she takes on the mantle of her father after his death.  Bold, funny and featuring an awesome group of supporting characters, this is an excellent and captivating comic series.  Despite being an amazing period in this character’s history, this comic is often overshadowed by the vast number of Wolverine comics out there, which is a real shame.

Red Robin

Red Robin 1 Cover

Fans of Batman always have their favourite Robin and mine is easily the third Robin, Tim Drake, who served in the role for over 20 years.  While his main Robin series got a lot of attention during its run, rather less attention was given to the follow up Red Robin series by Chris Yost and Ramon Bachs.  Set after the death of Bruce Wayne and the introduction of the Damien Wayne Robin, Red Robin follows Tim as he fights crime his own way and attempts to prove that Bruce was still alive.  Despite serving as a great continuation of the previous Robin series and containing some fantastic comics (I am a particular fan of the Collision arc), this series was overlooked at the time and then eventually cancelled thanks to Flashpoint and the New 52.  Despite that, it remains a firm favourite of mine and I loved what the creators did with this awesome character.

Outsiders (Vol. 3)

Outsiders_Looking_for_Trouble

While the Outsiders comics are generally overlooked in the grand scheme of the DC universe, their was one run of the comic several years ago which I personally feel does not get the credit it should.  Written by Judd Winick, this series spun out of the Graduation Day crossover event and showed former Titan’s members Nightwing and Arsenal forming their own version of the Outsiders with several new heroes.  I was a major fan of this series during its initial run, mainly because of the awesome first volume which focused on their formation.  With an intriguing group of characters, some fantastic storylines and surprising emotional depth, this is an excellent series which went to some incredible places.  Despite that, this run on the series is often forgotten, especially as the team featured none of the original Outsiders, but it ends up being a great series that comes highly recommended.

Well that’s the end of this latest Top Ten List.  I think that it turned out pretty well and I believe that I successfully highlighted a number of awesome comic series that surprisingly underrated.  Each of the above series are really worth reading and are especially good for DC and Marvel fans who want to explore some of the more obscure comics the franchise has produced.  I look forward to reading some more obscure and underappreciated comics in the future, but in the mean-time, make sure to let me know in the comments what your favourite underrated comic is.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Star Wars novels

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, the official task participants were given were to list their ten most recent reads.  While I rather liked this official topic, I have instead done something very different.  Rather than come up with one list, I am instead going to do two separate, but similar lists that revolve around May the Fourth.

As most of you are probably aware, May the Fourth has officially been designated Star Wars day (May the Fourth be with you!), which is something I am rather passionate about.  I absolutely love Star Wars, and you only need to check out my Star Wars tab on the right of this page (go on, you won’t regret it), to see how much I deeply enjoy the franchise’s novels and comic books.  There is an impressive and rich collection of Star Wars tie-in fiction out there, and I have had a wonderful time over the last couple of years reading and reviewing many amazing examples.  As a result, I thought that May the Fourth would be the perfect opportunity to highlight what I consider to be the best Star Wars novels and comics out there.  This is a bit of a continuation of a list I put up last Star Wars day, which was a combined list of novels and comics.  While I think that my last list came up pretty well, I decided that this year I would be better served featuring two lists, this one for novels and another for comics.

In order to fill this list, I had a thorough look through all the Star Wars novels I have read in recent years to choose the absolute best ones.  This proved to be a fun and enlightening experience, although I did have a hard time deciding on my favourites from an amazing collection of books.  In the end, I was able to come up with a good Top Ten list with my usual generous Honourable Mentions section.  I cheated a little by combining some trilogies together into one entry.  However, as these books are supposed to be read together, I think that this was the best way to feature them.  This ended up being a varied and intriguing list, featuring a great range of very different authors and Star Wars settings.  While most of the featured novels are from the current Disney canon, I have also included a couple of Star Wars: Legends books which have some great stories.  So let us see which awesome books made the Top Ten List.

Honourable Mentions:

Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber

deathtrooperscover

A fun and fantastically crazy Star Wars: Legends novel that sees Han Solo and Chewie go up against a load of deadly zombies aboard an abandoned Star Destroyer.  A wild and scary ride, this was a great Star Wars novel and one of my favourite horror books.

Ahsoka by E. K. Johnston

Ahsoka_novel_cover

A compelling and fast-paced novel that follows the adventures of Ahsoka Tano, one of the best characters introduced in the animated television series, between the events of The Clone Wars and Rebels.  This is easily my favourite Star Wars novel from E. K. Johnston (Queen’s Shadow and Queen’s Peril are also pretty good), and I loved how the audiobook was narrated by the voice of Ahsoka, Ashley Eckstein.

Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott

Dooku - Jedi Lost Cover

An impressive retelling of the early life of Count Dooku, showing some of the events that led up to him becoming a Sith Lord.  This is best enjoyed in its audio drama format, which features an epic voice cast of Star Wars audiobook narrators.

Doctor Aphra by Sarah Kuhn

Doctor Aphra Audio Cover

Another great audio drama, Doctor Aphra is an amazingly funny and clever story, featuring a unique and memorable protagonist.  While I really enjoyed this great book, I left it off my main list as it does not contain an original story; instead it is a retelling of several comics (such as Vader, Shadows and Secrets and Vader Down), which will be featured on my other Top Ten list.

Top Ten List:

Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn

Thrawn Cover

The first entry on this list is the deeply impressive and clever Thrawn trilogy from one of the leading authors of Star Wars tie-in fiction, Timothy Zahn.  This series retells the origin story of one of my favourite characters in the entire Star Wars canon, Grand Admiral Thrawn.  This series contains three epic novels, Thrawn, Alliances and Treason, all of which are pretty damn amazing (especially the first novel, Thrawn).  This entire series comes together extremely well, and I love the in-depth look at this outstanding character, as well as the focus on his awesome tactical brilliance.

Alphabet Squadron trilogy by Alexander Freed

Alphabet Squadron Cover

The other trilogy that I needed to include on this list is the intense and powerful Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed.  Made up of Alphabet Squadron, Shadow Fall and Victory’s Price, these books follow a group of damaged pilots fighting in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi.  This is a complex and captivating character-driven series with some amazing examples of space fighter combat, and I love Freed’s compelling and emotionally rich narrative.  All three books in this series are really impressive, but I really have to praise the final entry in the series, Victory’s Price, which did an amazing job wrapping up this superb trilogy.

Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising by Timothy Zahn

Thrawn Ascendancy - Chaos Rising Cover

In addition to his Thrawn trilogy above, Zahn has also written a fantastic prequel series, known as the Thrawn Ascendancy books.  These novels follow a young Thrawn as he fights to preserve his species in the unexplored spaced outside of the Republic/Empire.  Featuring a narrative rich in fascinating lore, this is a great story for the hardcore Star Wars fan, who will love this dive into an awesome character’s background.  I loved Chaos Rising, and I am looking forward to enjoying the next two entries in this series, Greater Good (which has just been released) and Lesser Evil (out in November 2021).

The High Republic: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule

Star Wars - Light of the Jedi Cover

Next up on this list is the first entry in the compelling High Republic multimedia storyline, Light of the Jedi, by bestselling author Charles Soule.  Set 200 years before the events of the Skywalker Saga, the High Republic novels follow the Jedi at the height of their power as they fight against a dangerous and insidious new opponent.  Light of the Jedi was a fantastic first book in this storyline, perfectly introducing the setting and key events of the High Republic, while also containing a compelling and action-packed story.  A highly recommended book and a must-read for anyone interested in checking out the other entries in the High Republic range (such as Into the Dark by Claudia Gray).

Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray

Master & Apprentice Cover

If you love the two Jedi protagonists in The Phantom Menace, than you have to check out Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray.  Gray has crafted together an exciting and emotionally powerful novel that follows Qui-gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi on one of their early adventures.  This was an outstanding and incredible Star Wars novel that is really worth checking out.

Dark Disciple by Christie Golden

Star Wars Dark Disciple Cover

The extraordinary Dark Disciple, by master tie-in author Christie Golden, utilises the scripts of several unproduced The Clone Wars episodes, showing the fates of fan-favourite characters Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos during the Clone Wars.  This is another touching and captivating character-driven novel, and readers will quickly become engrossed in this unique tale of love, betrayal and inner darkness.

Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

Star Wars Scoundrels Cover

Timothy Zahn strikes again, and I have no choice but to feature yet another one of his books on this list.  Scoundrels, which is set in the Legends canon, is an excellent and wildly entertaining heist novel which follows Han, Chewie, Lando and several of their friends as they try to pull off an impossible theft.  I loved this amazing blend of Star Wars and crime fiction elements, and this was a very fun book to read.

Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp

Lords of the Sith Cover

Two of the best villains of all time, Darth Vader and the Emperor, team up for the next entry on this list, the action-packed thrill ride, Lords of the Sith.  Paul S. Kemp created a really fun and exciting book which follows these two outstanding characters when they are stranded on a hostile planet and find themselves under constant attack by rebels, monsters and traitors.  While the focus is in the cool action, Kemp also takes the time to explore the complex relationship between dark master and apprentice, and readers are in for an excellent time with this great book.

Maul: Lockdown by Joe Schreiber

Star Wars - Maul - Lockdown Cover

The next book is actually the latest Star Wars novel I have read, Maul: Lockdown.  Set in the Legends canon years before The Phantom Menace, Lockdown follows the always awesome Darth Maul as he finds himself trapped in a dangerous prison and forced to fight in a series of death matches.  This is a dark and captivating read, and I loved the fantastic and clever narrative that Schreiber came up with for this amazing book.  A highly recommended read that has convinced me to check out even more entries in the Legends range.

Tarkin by James Luceno

Star Wars Tarkin Cover

The final entry on this list was the excellent Tarkin by James Luceno.  Tarkin is an intriguing book that examines amazing Imperial antagonist, Grand Moth Tarkin.  Featuring a great split narrative that explores the character’s younger exploits while also following an adult Tarkin as he hunts for rebels with Darth Vader, Tarkin is an outstanding read, and I deeply enjoyed this clever dive into this complex Star Wars character.

Well, that is this latest Top Ten Tuesday list done.  I had an outstanding time pulling this article together and it was fun trying to determine which Star Wars novels were my absolute favourite.  All of the above novels come very highly recommended and are a lot of fun to read, especially in their audiobook format.  I am planning to make this top ten list an annual occurrence every Star Wars day.  I imagine this list will look very different next time, as not only are there several great new Star Wars books coming out soon but I am also planning to go back and explore some other awesome-sounding entries in both the current canon and the Legends range.  Make sure to come back in a year to see which Star Wars books I recommend then, and in the meantime, check out at my other Top Ten Tuesday list of favourite Star Wars comics.  And May the Fourth be with you!!!

Top Ten Tuesday – Books That Made Me Laugh Out Loud

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this latest Top Ten Tuesday, participants have the fun task of listing their favourite books that made them laugh out loud.

While coming up with list was an enjoyable and entertaining task, this was a topic that I slightly struggled with as I don’t tend to read purely comedic novels.  Instead, I usually get my comedic fix through somewhat more serious books that have funny protagonists or are filled with jokes or excellent humour.  Nonetheless, I was able to pull together a good list in the end filled with some amazing reads that always leave me laughing.  I did end up having to feature multiple books from the same authors to fill this list up, but these guys are just so funny it was hard not to.  So, with that, let us get on to the funny stuff.

 

Honourable Mentions:

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra by Sarah Kuhn

Doctor Aphra Audio Cover

 

Nuking the Moon: And Other Intelligence Schemes and Military Plots Best Left on the Drawing Board by Vince Houghton

Nuking the Moon Cover

With luminous foxes and exploding bats, this fun non-fiction book is proof that reality is sometimes stranger, and more hilarious, than fiction.

 

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

Early Riser Cover

 

Footrot Flats by Murray Ball

Footrot Flats Cover

An amazing comic strip I loved in my childhood thanks to my fun grandfather.  This cool New Zealand comic still holds up even after all these years and makes me laugh like crazy every time I read it.

 

Top Ten List:

Jingo by Terry Pratchett

Jingo Cover

I do not think that anyone is going to be too surprised that I have featured several books from the utterly hilarious and indefinably clever Terry Pratchett.  Pratchett is easily my favourite author of all time, and I have so much love for his amazing Discworld series, the novels of which I have read and re-read time and time again, and each of them always makes me laugh.  I ended up including five Discworld books on this list, which I honestly think is me showing restraint, as I could have filled up three separate lists purely with Discworld novels.  The first of these books is one I am particularly fond of, Jingo, which sees the Ankh-Morpork City Watch attempt to stop a war.  Filled with all manner of jokes about war, political assassinations and jingoism, while also featuring an hilarious boat chase in unusual weather, Captain Carrot turning into Lawrence of Arabia and an entire battlefield arrested for causing an affray, this book never fails to amuse me, and I always laugh while reading it.

 

The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde

The Constant Rabbit Cover

The second entry on this list was last years awesome and captivating release from Jasper Fforde, The Constant Rabbit.  Set in an alternate version of England filled with anthropomorphic rabbits, Fforde has come up with an outrageous narrative that is both fantastically funny while also serving as a clever send up of current British politics.  I laughed at so many scenes during this book, including a great court sequence, that The Constant Rabbit easily made this list and is really worth checking out.

 

The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett

The Last Continent Cover

The next Discworld novel to appear on this list is The Last Continent, a very amusing novel that pits Pratchett’s main protagonist, the cowardly wizard Rincewind, against the terrors and horrors of that most dangerous of places, Australia (although the author is very clear to state that this is not a book about Australia, it just seems, in some places, very Australian, so no worries, right?).  Naturally, Rincewind manages to run into every single dangerous Australian stereotype you can think of, including road gangs trying to steal a mad dwarf’s hay, talking kangaroos, drop bears, a chronic lack of rain and, worst of all, a local delicacy (a pea soup pie floater, shudder!).  The Australian jokes and references come thick and fast throughout this book, which become even more entertaining when viewed from the point-of-view of someone born and raised in Australia.  At the same time, the wizards of Unseen University engage in their own separate adventure, which sees them lost in the past (potentially killing their own grandparents) and forced to contend with a sex-obsessed god of evolution (once someone explains what sex is to him).  All of this makes for a hilarious and captivating read that is easily one of my favourite Discworld books, and one which I will always have a good laugh at.

 

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K. J. Parker

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City Cover

There was no way that I could not include the impressive and captivating Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City on this list.  Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, which was one of my favourite books of 2019, tells the story of a desperate and comical siege of a major fantasy city.  Told from the perspective of a very unreliable narrator, this book sees the protagonist defend his city with the most effective weapon he has, bluffs and lies.  This is an outstanding book, and readers are guaranteed to giggle at every single manipulation, con and elaborate subterfuge that is deployed to save the city.

 

Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett

Moving Pictures Cover

A Discworld book that is perfect for movie buffs, Moving Pictures examines what happens when a new form of entertainment comes to this crazy world, giving a whole new meaning to the term “movie magic”.  There are so many great jokes and references in this compelling and exceptional book, that multiple re-reads are a must to see just how clever Pratchett really was.  Highlights include the introduction of multiple amazing characters, a reverse King Kong moment and a very entertaining Gone With The Wind parody (to this day I cannot hear the words “Blown Away” without thinking about this book and sniggering).  An impressive comedic treat.

 

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Redshirts Cover

A Star Trek parody written by science fiction genius John Scalzi was always going to be an amazing read, and it proves to be utterly hilarious.  I loved all the fantastic jokes made about Star Trek in this book, and it was extremely funny to see the adventures of an Enterprise equivalent ship told from the perspective of the doomed redshirts.  I had some good laughs as I powered through this book and it is an incredible comedy read to check out.

 

Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

Pyramids Cover

Another long-time favourite Discworld novel of mine is the outstanding Pyramids, which serves as a comedic adventure in an ancient Egyptian facsimile.  Pratchett came up with some fantastic sequences for this book, and I always chuckle at the scene with the various sun gods fighting for their prize like a football while a priest does commentary: “It’s noon! It’s noon!”.  An utterly hilarious novel.

 

A Shot in the Dark by Lynne Truss

A Shot in the Dark Cover

This next excellent entry on this list is A Shot in the Dark, Lyne Truss’s novelisation of her genius Inspector Steine radio show.  This serves as an amazing take on this fantastic radio show and I loved the comical premise which sees a new police constable be reassigned to the seemingly crime free Brighton, only to discover something very sinister is lurking just around the corner, ready to offer him a cup of tea.  A very funny and entertaining read that got a lot of laughs out of me.

 

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Guards! Guards! Cover

The fifth Discworld novel on this list is the exceptional Guards! Guards!, which serves as the introductory book in the City Watch subseries.  This is an outstanding read that presents a fantasy parody of classic crime fiction novels, by having a severely understaffed police force attempt to arrest a summoned dragon.  There are so many clever comedic scenes in this book, but I personally laughed the hardest as the descriptions of the heroic and naïve Captain Carrot arresting the head of the Thieves Guild.  One of Pratchett’s best and funniest books, this is a great one to check out if you want to laugh out loud.

 

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It by K. J. Parker

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It

My final entry is How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It, the sequel to Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City that I featured above.  This excellent and amazing read (which was one of my favourite books of 2020) continues the story started in the first novel, although this time it follows an actor who manages to con his way to the top of the besieged city using stage techniques.  This was another hilarious and exceptional read that really made me chuckle multiple times.



That is the end of this list.  I think it came together really well and I liked the different novels I decided to feature, even if it was a tad Pratchett heavy (not that there is anything wrong with that).  All the above novels come highly recommended and are definitely worth reading if you are in the mood for a funny and laugh provoking read.

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

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

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

Due to how many awesome books are currently set for release between 1 January 2021 and 30 June 2021, this ended up being a rather difficult list to pull together.  There were way too many extraordinary upcoming books that I could have included, and I ended up having to make some very tough calls and cutting several novels that have an immense amount of potential.  Despite this, I am rather happy with the eventual choices that I made, and I think that this list reflects the upcoming novels and comics I am going to have the most fun reading.  I have mentioned several of these books before in my weekly Waiting on Wednesday articles, and some of them also appeared on my recent Summer TBR list.  However, there are also some interesting new books that I am discussing for the first time here, so that should give this list a bit of variety.  So let us get to my selections and find out which upcoming novels are my most anticipated releases for the first half of 2021.

 

Honourable Mentions:

 

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

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

DoctorAphra2020-1

 

Firefly: Life Signs by James Lovegrove – 16 March 2021

Firefly Life Signs

 

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

Star Wars - Thrawn Ascendancy - Greater Good Cover

 

Top Ten Tuesday (By Release Date):

 

Prodigal Son by Gregg Hurwitz – 26 January 2021

Prodigal Son Cover

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

 

The Three Paradises by Robert Fabbri – 2 February 2021

The Three Paradises Cover

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

 

Relentless by Mark Greaney – 23 February 2021

Relentless Mark Greaney Cover

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

 

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

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

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

 

Breakout by Paul Herron – 9 March 2021

Breakout Cover

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

 

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst – 9 March 2021

The Bone Maker Cover

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

 

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

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

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

 

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

Usagi Yojimbo - Homecoming

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

 

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

The Girl and the Mountain Cover

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

 

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik – 29 June 2021

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

 

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

 

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra written by Sarah Kuhn and performed by a full cast

Doctor Aphra Audio Cover

Publisher: Random House Audio (Audio Drama – 21 July 2020)

Series: Star Wars

Script: Sarah Kuhn

Cast: Emily Woo Zeller, Jonathan Davis, Sean Patrick Hopkins, Sean Kenin, Nicole Lewis, Carol Monda, Euan Morton, Catherine Taber and Marc Thompson

Length: 5 hours and 35 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The most brilliant and conniving archaeologist in the entire Star Wars canon gets her own audio drama as author Sarah Kuhn and an exceedingly talented cast of audiobook narrators present Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, the audio drama.

Throughout the galaxy Doctor Chelli Lona Aphra is renowned as a criminal and bringer of chaos without peer, but in her own eyes she is simply an archaeologist and technology enthusiast, albeit one willing to sell her findings to the highest bidder.  However, her latest venture is about to get her into the worst type of trouble, the sort that will haunt her for the rest of her incredibly short life.  Attempting to steal a dangerous weapon from a restricted alien vault, Aphra finds herself surrounded and slated to die, that is until Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith and overall badass suddenly appears and saves her. 

Vader is engaging in a high-risk power play against the Emperor and Aphra has just become his most useful pawn, whether she likes it or not.  Working as his agent, Aphra must utilise her skills as a con-woman, genius technician and criminal mastermind to help Vader achieve his goals: depose the Emperor and find his new obsession, the pilot who blew up the Death Star, Luke Skywalker.  Determined to stay on Vader’s good side, Aphra, with the help of her two friendly murder droids, Triple-Zero and BT-1, helps her new master engage in all manner of shenanigans across the universe, including kidnappings, torture and elaborate heists.  However, Aphra knows that all it will take is just one mistake or slip-up to earn her new employers’ deadly wrath.  To avoid her inevitable appointment with Vader’s crimson lightsaber, Aphra will need to pull out every trick in her impressive arsenal if she is to survive.  But can even the great Doctor Aphra outsmart Darth Vader and the entire Empire, or has the smartest woman in the galaxy finally met her match?

Well this is an exceedingly fun and entertaining entry in the Star Wars expanded universe which provides a new angle to the tale of Doctor Aphra.  Doctor Aphra is an incredible and complex character who has only been recently added into the canon.  Introduced in the opening issues the 2015 Darth Vader comic book series, Doctor Aphra served as a major supporting character for much of the series run, entertaining readers with her antics and ability to survive working for Darth Vader.  Aphra proved to be an extremely popular character, and this resulted in the character getting her own comic book series (which ironically lasted more issues than the Darth Vader series she was introduced in).  The Doctor Aphra series ended up being an amazing hit thanks to some exceptional writing and it is one of my favourite pieces of Star Wars tie-in fiction (make sure to check out my reviews for the last two volumes in the series, Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon and A Rogue’s End), and there is even a second Doctor Aphra series on its way.  It seems that Aphra’s popularity has continued to grow as earlier this year this Doctor Aphra audio drama was released, written by talented author Sarah Kuhn.  This proved to be an exceptionally impressive audio release that does an amazing job bringing this fantastic character into an entirely new format.  This audio drama has a run time of around five and a half hours, which listeners are able to breeze through in no time at all.

The Doctor Aphra audio drama contains an intriguing and captivating story that follows the character as she engages in all manner of adventures in service to Darth Vader and her own survival.  Told entirely from the perspective of Aphra as she makes a series of recordings to an unknown person, and set shortly after the events of Star Wars: A New Hope, this story follows Aphra through the entirety of her ill-fated association with Darth Vader.  This employment places her in all manner of danger, as she completes a series of tasks important to Vader, including an elaborate heist; gets in the middle of a deadly conflict between Vader, one of his rivals in the Empire, and the protagonists of The Original Trilogy; and finds herself a prisoner of the Rebel Alliance before eventually attempting to manipulate the Emperor for her own ends.  At the same time, Aphra is constantly balancing on a knife’s edge, as her beloved boss has made it abundantly clear that he will kill her the moment she displeases him.  This forces Aphra into a number of tense and dangerous situations as she needs to convince Vader to keep her alive throughout the entire book.  This struggle to stay alive adds a substantial amount of suspense to the audio drama, as the listener really wants this entertaining character to survive, and it eventually leads to an outstanding and epic conclusion.  All of this proves to be an exceedingly captivating adventure, and listeners are in for an exciting and hilarious time, especially with Aphra’s entertaining and over-exaggerated narration of the events occurring. 

While I did really enjoy the story contained within this audio drama, I do need to point out that it is not actually an original tale; instead it is an adaption of several canon comic book series, namely the comics that featured Aphra’s early adventures.  The first part of the audio drama adapts most of the first two volumes of the 2015 Darth Vader comic series, Volume One: Vader and Volume Two: Shadows and Secrets.  From there the story follows the course of the crossover limited series, Vader Down, before moving on to the events of the fourth volume of the 2015 Star Wars comic, Rebel Jail.  Finally, the story returns to the Darth Vader comic, utilising parts of the fourth and final volume, End of GamesDoctor Aphra proves to be an exceptional adaptation of these comics although they only show off the events that Aphra herself witnessed or was a part of.  I had an amazing time listening to this adaptation and I really enjoyed seeing several of the amazing events that originally occurred on the page being brought to life by this enjoyable performance. 

People interested in listening to this audio drama do not need to have read the adapted comics first, as Kuhn provides Aphra with a great deal of narration that explains her role in the story and all the events leading up to the comics.  As someone who has read the comics before listening to this audio drama, I found that there was a lot in this production for fans of the comic.  I personally really enjoyed seeing these events from Aphra’s perspective (as the original comics mostly followed main characters such as Vader, Luke, Leia, and Han), and it was extremely interesting to see her thoughts on the various events occurring.  The author also comes up with a lot of additional backstory that helps to enrich Aphra’s involvement in the narrative, which fans of the character will really appreciate.  While I had a great time listening to this audio drama, I did notice that several events were glossed over, mainly because Aphra did not witness them occur in the comics.  For example, you have no idea who is behind several of the battles or attacks that Aphra finds herself in the middle of, with Aphra herself giving limited explanations for them.  While I knew full well what was going on, people who haven’t read the comics are going to be full of questions and this may make the audio drama a little confusing at times.  That being said, this was still an outstanding and deeply enjoyable production, and perhaps it will encourage listeners to check out some of the adapted comics (trust me, they are awesome).

One of the best things about this audio drama was the way in which the narrative explored the complex and exceedingly likeable character of Doctor Chelli Aphra.  Aphra is a clever, impulsive and chaotic rogue archaeologist who is obsessed with ancient technology, particularly unusual droids and dangerous weapons.  Aphra is a wildly entertaining character who is essentially an amoral version of Indiana Jones that has no problems cheating or betraying people who she encounters, as long as she gets to hold onto the valuable antiques or can sell them for vast amounts of money (none of her loot belongs in a museum!).  Aphra appears to have a relentlessly positive personality, providing the listener with a string of continual jokes and funny observations with an infectious amount of enthusiasm.  However, deep down Aphra is actually a deeply damaged individual who has suffered a number of losses and betrayals that impact her current outlook on life and other people. 

Despite the fact that Aphra is the very definition of an unreliable narrator (she literally deletes or edits the parts of the story she does not like to suit her agenda), I felt that this audio drama does an amazing job exploring this wily protagonist.  Having Aphra’s inner monologue about the events occurring during this story proved to be not only entertaining but also very enlightening, and it showed some fascinating glimpses of her inner personality and emotional state.  While much of Aphra’s story was previously explored in the comics that Doctor Aphra is based on, this adaptation does go a little further, pulling in some backstory that was introduced in the later Doctor Aphra comics and expertly working it into this narrative.  Kuhn also comes up with some additional history that is unique to this production, including a number of scenes that explore her previous romantic relationship with Sana Starros.  While this relationship has been mentioned and discussed in several of the comics, this is probably the most in-depth examination of it in the canon and it becomes an important part of the overall plot.  I really enjoyed the way in which Doctor Aphra examined its titular protagonist and I felt that the story really captured her essence and outrageous personality.

This audio drama sports an amazing voice cast and each of them does a fantastic job in this production.  However, I really must highlight the performance of Emily Woo Zeller, who portrayed the titular character.  Zeller is an experienced and talented narrator who has contributed to a huge raft of audiobooks, including several I am quite interested in checking out, such as Cyber Shogun Revolution by Peter Tieryas.  Due to how the audio drama is written, Zeller’s voice is the one we hear the most throughout Doctor Aphra, as she recounts all of the characters dialogue and the overall narration of this book.  I really loved the way that Zeller portrayed the character of Aphra in this audio drama and I thought she got all the aspects of the character down perfectly.  Zeller gives a particularly energetic performance throughout this adaption, and listeners get a real sense of the mischievous and over confident outer shell that Doctor Aphra portrays to everyone she meets.  However, Zeller also captures the vulnerable nature of this complex protagonist, showing off the character’s full range of emotions when she is scared, angry or contemplating her many regrets.  This rich and amazing performance from Zeller really helps to make this audio drama something special, and I am really glad that she was able to bring Doctor Aphra to life in such an exceptional way.

Doctor Aphra also makes use of several other impressive voice actors throughout this audio drama, each of whom are portraying major Star Wars characters who Aphra interacts with through the course of this adventure.  This audio drama features a who’s who of Star Wars audiobook narrators, many of whose works I have previously enjoyed in a range of productions including the previous Star Wars audio drama, Dooku: Jedi Lost.  These additional narrators include Jonathan Davis (who I previously enjoyed in Star Wars: Master and Apprentice and Lords of the Sith), Sean Kenin (Death Troopers), Euan Morton (Tarkin), Catherine Taber (Queen’s Peril and Queen’s Shadow), Marc Thompson (Thrawn, Thrawn: Chaos Rising, Dark Disciple and Scoundrels), Sean Patrick Hopkins, Nicole Lewis and Carol Monda.  Each of these voice actors did an exceptional job of bringing their various characters to life throughout Doctor Aphra.  I particularly enjoyed Marc Thompson’s Darth Vader and Euan Morton’s Emperor, as both voice actors brought some realistic menace to these iconic villains.  Catherine Taber, who is best known for her portrayal of Padme Amidala in The Clone Wars animated series, does an excellent Princess Leia in this production, and I really appreciated the choice to cast her.  Sean Patrick Hopkins does a really cool Luke Skywalker, and I was really struck by how close he got to a younger Mark Hamil’s voice.  I also really enjoyed Sean Kenin’s Triple-Zero, and I felt he really captured the essence of this crazy character.  Each of these side characters added a lot to the production as a whole and, while they were not as heavily featured as Aphra, each of them had their own entertaining moments and interactions.  I particularly loved the threatening aura that Darth Vader exhibited towards Aphra, and there is also a very entertaining interaction between Aphra and Han Solo that results in some of the best jokes in the entire production.  You also have to love the fact that Aphra ends up with a posse that essentially reflects the main characters from The Original Trilogy, with a protocol droid (Triple-Zero), an Astromech (BT-1) and a Wookie (Black Krrsantan).  Of course, Aphra’s friends are all dangerous killers, which makes for some extremely entertaining and deadly encounters.

In addition to featuring an impressive voice cast, Doctor Aphra also features the full range of iconic Star Wars sound effects and musical scores that were made famous in the movies.  Pretty much every action that occurs within the book is accompanied by a sound effect, whether it be blaster fire, the sound of engines or even a susurration from other people in a crowded room.  I always love how these sound effects helped to create an atmosphere throughout the course of a Star Wars novel, and I felt that they were particularly useful for this audio drama format due to the lack of narration that a standard audiobook would have.  I also have to talk up the excellent use of the incredible Star Wars musical score that features during several key scenes of the novel.  Hearing this music during some of the most pivotal, dramatic or action-packed sequences makes the narrative seem that much more epic, and I absolutely loved hearing this music throughout this production.  The use of the sound effects and music enhances the story in immeasurable ways, and it helps to turn this audio drama into an exceptional treat for the ears. 

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra is an impressive and deeply enjoyable audio production that brings fan-favourite character Chelli Aphra into a whole new light.  Cleverly adapting several amazing Star Wars comics, the Doctor Aphra audio drama features an interesting story from author Sarah Kuhn that shows the events from the perspective of the chaotic and duplicitous titular protagonist.  Featuring an exceptional voice cast, Doctor Aphra proves to be an extremely entertaining and exceedingly addictive listen that I had a very hard time turning off.  I personally think this was one of the best audio productions of 2020 and it comes highly recommended both to general Star Wars fans and to those who have read the adapted comics.  I had an amazing time listening to this audio drama and I hope that they think about adapting the later Doctor Aphra comic book series next as there are some impressive storylines featured in there.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books on my Summer 2020-21 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 this winter (or summer 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 and comics 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 December 2020 and 28 February 2021.  I have decided to exclude novels that I have already read, or I am currently reading, 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 a number of my Waiting on Wednesday articles and I think all of them will turn out to be some really impressive and enjoyable reads.


Honourable Mentions:


Star Wars: Doctor Aphra Vol. 1 – Fortune and Fate
by Alyssa Wong and Marika Cresta – 26/01/2021

DoctorAphra2020-1

 

Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson – 1/02/2021

Daughters of Night

 

Serpentine by Jonathan Kellerman – 2/02/2021

Serpentine Cover

 

City of Vengeance by D. V. Bishop – 9/02/2021

City of Vengeance Cover

 

Top Ten List:

A Fool’s Hope by Mike Shackle – 3/12/2020

A Fool's Hope Cover

The first entry on this list is A Fool’s Hope by Mike Shackle, the sequel to Shackle’s epic debut, We are the Dead.  I have been hearing some great things about his book already and I am really looking forward to checking it out.  The trade paperback version of this novel is apparently not available down here in Australia until February 2021, but the audiobook version is already out, so I might grab that instead.


Colonyside
by Michael Mammay – 29/12/2020

Colonyside Cover

Colonyside is the third book in the amazing Planetside series by impressive science fiction author Michael Mammay.  I have really enjoyed the first two novels in this series, Planetside and Spaceside, both of which were among my favourite books of 2018 and 2019 respectfully, and I cannot wait to see how the third entry in this excellent science fiction thriller series turns out.

Star Trek: Picard: The Dark Veil by James Swallow – 5/01/2021

Star Trek Picard The Dark Veil Cover

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to read the first Star Trek: Picard novel, The Last Best Hope, which did an awesome job of bridging the gap between The Next Generation and Picard television series.  Now acclaimed tie-in fiction author James Swallow presents the second Picard book, The Dark Veil, which will follow Captain William Riker and his crew as he gets drawn into the chaotic events the precede the Picard series.  I had an amazing time reading the previous Picard novel and I have high hopes that this new upcoming book is going to be just as enjoyable.

Star Wars: The High Republic: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule – 5/01/2021

Star Wars - Light of the Jedi Cover

Now what would a Top Ten List on this book be without a Star Wars tie-in novel featured somewhere.  Luckily there are several great upcoming Star Wars novels set for release in the next three months that I am quite excited to check out.  Most of these novels are part of The High Republic range of Star Wars novels and comics, which are going to be set 200 years before the events of The Phantom Menace.  Of these, the one I am most interested in reading is Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule.  Light of the Jedi is set to be the main introductory novel to this new range of Star Wars fiction, and I am very curious to see what happens in this new period of the expanded universe.  This new novel is written by one of the top authors of Star Wars fiction, Charles Soule, whose work on Star Wars comics such as the Dark Lord of the Sith comics (check out my review for Volume 2: Legacy’s End and Volume 3: The Burning Seas), has been rather incredible, and I am very excited to see what happens in this new book.

A Prince and a Spy by Rory Clements – 21/01/2021

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The fifth book in Clement’s exciting Tom Wilde historical thriller series, A Prince and A Spy looks set to be an excellent novel to start off 2021 with.  I have really enjoyed the previous entries in the Tom Wilde series, including Nucleus, Nemesis and Hitler’s Secret, and this upcoming book sounds particularly exciting as it contains a conspiracy set around the death of the Queen’s uncle during World War II.

Prodigal Son by Gregg Hurwitz – 2/02/2021

Prodigal Son Cover

I am particularly looking forward to checking out Prodigal Son, the upcoming sixth book in Hurwitz’s Orphan X series.  The Orphan X book are an awesome and wildly thrilling series that sets an elite and incredibly deadly former government assassin go up against a series of dangerous opponents across America.  I have really enjoyed the last two novels in the series, Out of the Dark and Into the Fire, and I cannot wait to see how Prodigal Son turns out.

The Mask of Mirrors by M. A. Carrick – 27/01/2021

The Mask of Mirrors Cover

The Mask of Mirrors is an intriguing upcoming fantasy debut that I think has a lot of potential and should make for a compelling and entertaining read.

The Three Paradises by Robert Fabbri – 1/02/2021

The Three Paradises Cover

One of my favourite historical fiction authors, Robert Fabbri, returns with the second entry in his Alexander’s Legacy series, The Three Paradises.  The first book in this series, To the Strongest, was a lot of fun and I am very keen to see where this crazy historical story goes next.

Relentless by Mark Greaney – 23/02/2021

Relentless Mark Greaney Cover

Top thriller author Mark Greaney returns with the 10th novel in his Gray Man series, Relentless, that sees his protagonist, assassin Court Gentry, investigate a new conspiracy around the world.  Greaney has been killing it over the last couple of years, especially with the previous two entries in the Gray Man series, Mission Critical and One Minute Out, and this upcoming book looks set to be another fantastic and captivating novel.

The Kaiser’s Web by Steve Berry – 23/02/2021

The Kaiser's Web Cover

The final entry on this list is The Kaiser’s Web, the 16th upcoming entry in the long-running Cotton Malone series.  The Cotton Malone books are an exciting and interesting collection of novels that feature a series of fascinating history-based conspiracies.  I have been really getting into this series over the last couple of years, and the last two novels, The Malta Exchange and The Warsaw Protocol, have contains some excellent and intriguing adventures.  The Kaiser’s Web features another cool sounding plot and I cannot wait to dive into this latest adventure.

 

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.  All of the above books should be pretty epic, and I cannot wait to read 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.

WWW Wednesday – 29 July 2020

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

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

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Demon in White by Christopher Ruocchio (Trade Paperback)

Demon in White Cover 1

Demon in White is the third book in the epic Sun Eater science fiction series, following on from Empire of Silence and Howling Dark.  I am a massive fan of this series and I have been really enjoying the elaborate and detailed overarching narrative that Ruocchio has come up with.  I only just started this behemoth of a book, but so far it is proving to be rather good, with some interesting developments for the protagonist.  I think that this is going to turn into an amazing read and I am looking forward to getting through it.

 
World of Warcraft: Shadows Rising by Madeleine Roux (Audiobook)

Shadows Rising Cover

The latest World of Warcraft expanded universe novel, Shadows Rising, which ties into the upcoming Shadowland expansion and works to bridge the gaps between the previous expansion and this new one.  I have not made too much progress with this audiobook so far, but I think it is going to turn out to be an excellent fantasy adventure.

What did you recently finish reading?

Star WarsShadow Fall by Alexander Freed (Trade Paperback)

Star Wars - Shadow Fall Cover

I am hoping to get a review for this book up soon.

Star WarsDoctor Aphra by Sarah Kuhn (Audio Drama)

Doctor Aphra Audio Cover


Queen of Storms
by Raymond E. Feist (Hardcover)

Queen of Storms Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

Execution by S. J. Parris (Trade Paperback)

Execution Cover

 

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

WWW Wednesday – 22 July 2020

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

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

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Star WarsShadow Fall by Alexander Freed (Trade Paperback)

Star Wars - Shadow Fall Cover

The sequel to last year’s Alphabet Squadron, Shadow Fall is another fantastic Star Wars novel that sees two rival groups of pilots face off following the fall of the Empire.  I have made a fair amount of progress with this book and so far I am really enjoying it.

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra by Sarah Kuhn (Audio Drama)

Doctor Aphra Audio Cover

It looks like I’m doing a bit of a Star Wars double feature this week, but there was no way I could resist this new Star Wars audio drama about one of my favourite characters Doctor Aphra.  Featuring a full cast of impressive narrators, this Doctor Aphra audio drama retells the events of the Darth Vader (2015) series where Aphra was introduced and tells it from her perspective.  I am about half an hour in at the moment and I am loving this fun and entertaining audio presentation, which is perfectly capturing the character’s wild and exciting personality.

What did you recently finish reading?

Finding Eadie by Caroline Beecham (Trade Paperback)

Finding Eadie Cover


The Gates of Athens
by Conn Iggulden (Trade Paperback)

The Gates of Athens Cover

I’m hoping to get a review for this book up tonight.


Kill Switch
 by Jonathan Maberry (Audiobook)

Kill Switch Cover

I am also hoping to write a review about this book today, will have to see how I go.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Demon in White by Christopher Ruocchio (Trade Paperback)

Demon in White Cover 1

 

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

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra: Volume 6 – Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon

Doctor Aphra Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon

Publisher: Marvel Comics (Paperback – 10 December 2019)

Series: Doctor Aphra – Volume Six

Writer: Simon Spurrier

Pencilers: Wilton Santos, Caspar Wijngaard, Andrea Broccardo and Cris Bolson

Inkers: Marc Deering, Walden Wong and Scott Hanna

Colour Artists: Chris O’Halloran and Stephane Paitreau

Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna

Length: 112 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The most devious woman in the galaxy, Doctor Aphra, is back, and she’s got both side of the Galactic Civil War gunning for her in the sixth volume of one of the best Star Wars series out there. I have been meaning to review this volume since it first came out in December. However, I just picked up the seventh and final volume of the current run of Doctor Aphra, so I thought I would quickly review this volume first before I get around to that.

DoctorAphra-32

Doctor Aphra is one of the few ongoing Star Wars comic book series that has been released in the last couple of years, and in my opinion it is one of the strongest Star Wars series out there. The Doctor Aphra comics are set in the period of time between the fourth and fifth Star Wars films (A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back), and follow the adventures of Doctor Chelli Aphra, renowned archaeologist, adventurer and master criminal. Aphra is an original character who was introduced in the first volume of the 2015 Darth Vader series, Vader, where she served as Darth Vader’s secret agent. Following the conclusion of the Darth Vader series, Aphra, who proved to be a very popular character, received her own spin-off series, which followed on after the events of Darth Vader and feature Aphra as she attempts to make money while trying to ensure Vader doesn’t find out that she is still alive. This series was initially written by one of the original creators of the Doctor Aphra character, Kieron Gillen, however, the second half of the series has been written by Simon Spurrier. Spurrier is the sole writer of this sixth volume of Doctor Aphra, which also features the artistic talent of a several talented artists.

In Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon, Aphra is up to her old tricks again. Despite only recently recovering from a life-threatening injury, Aphra has taken on a dangerous job robbing an alien robot death cult shrine with the help of her new sidekick and ward, Vulaada. However, while aboard the shrine, Aphra notices an ancient Jedi weapon, a sniper rifle that utilises lightsaber technology to kill opponents from vast distances. Unable to help herself, Aphra steals the rifle, starting a chaotic chain of events across the galaxy.

Already extremely unpopular with the Empire, this theft pops Aphra to the top of their most wanted list with a hefty bounty placed on her head. Captured by the Rebel Alliance first, Aphra learns that her stolen rifle is the key to a secret rebel superweapon that they plan to use to assassinate the Emperor. Sensing an opportunity to make some money and permanently get the Empire of her back, Aphra recruits her old associate, the Wookiee Black Krrsantan, in order to steal the rifle back from the Rebels. However, this puts her into conflict with her ex-girlfriend, Captain Tolvan, who is now working for Rebel Intelligence.

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As Aphra recovers the rifle and flees to the Empire, she finds herself face to face with the mysterious Imperial Minister for Propaganda and Misinformation, Pitina Voor, the woman behind the latest Imperial manhunt for Aphra. Voor has plans for her, and Aphra is right in the middle of a vast scheme involving both the Rebels and the Empire. However, no plan has ever survived contact with the good doctor, especially when Aphra has revenge on her mind.

Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon was a superb and outstanding addition to the excellent Doctor Aphra comics, and this might actually be one of the strongest volumes in the entire series. Author Simon Spurrier tells a tight and compelling story within this volume which not only dives back into the past of the series’ titular character but which also showcases new elements of both sides of the Galactic Civil War. You also see the welcome return of several of the best characters from the series, such as Black Krrsantan and Aphra’s love interest, Captain Tolvan, as well as the introduction of an intriguing new antagonist. Featuring issues #32 – 36 of the Doctor Aphra series, this volume is a riot from start to finish (hell, the last two pages are the best in the entire volume), and I really loved the captivating tale that Spurrier wove together in these issues, especially as it features the series trademark dark humour and the focus on its self-destructive and conniving main character.

At the centre of Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon lies an amazing narrative of schemes, plots and lies as Aphra is hunted and manipulated by elements of both the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Thanks to a recent archaeological theft, Aphra is thrust into the midst of a Rebel conspiracy to kill the Emperor and must decide what to do. Of course, Aphra being Aphra, she goes with the course of action that benefits herself the most and ends up backstabbing and manipulating both the Rebels and the Empire. This leads to some great scenes, including a heist aboard a Rebel spaceship and a sequence where Aphra hacks the entire Imperial communications system in order to sing her praises as an Imperial hero in order to avoid a summary execution. However, not everything is as it seems as the various sides are all trying to manipulate Aphra to their own ends, which results in a surprising number of different twists and turns (or as one character puts it “that is the most convoluted plan I’ve ever heard”). It was fascinating to see Aphra, the ultimate manipulator, being played by so many different sides, each of whom thinks they know how she is going to react. Aphra manages to end up on top, but it was cool to see the various ways she managed to get to the bottom of the plans surrounding her and use it to her own ends. Her motivations for doing so were really compelling, and it was amazing how the creative team had been building up to them throughout the course of the book. Of course, it doesn’t all end up Aphra’s way, and the end result of her schemes sees her come full circle to the last place she wants to be. This all makes for one hell of thrilling main storyline of intrigue and deception, and I really loved where all the twists and turns went.

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Just as with the rest of the entries in this series, one of the best things about the Doctor Aphra series is the titular character herself. Aphra is a complex and haunted character who seemingly lacks a moral code and will only do what is in her own best interest. The character has a rather flippant and disrespectful attitude, and most of this volume’s amazing humour is down to her clever quips and humorous observations amongst the more serious Star Wars characters. One of the things that I have really enjoyed about the Doctor Aphra series has been the examination of Aphra’s self-destructive tendencies and the way that she makes the lives of everyone she comes into contact with worse. This is continued once again in Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon, as she runs from one bad situation to the next, with her every action making her life and the lives of those around her infinity more miserable and more complicated, which makes for some very dramatic and emotional sequences. This is such an expected trait that many of the characters who Aphra has dealt with in the past or who have studied her actually expect her to make these bad or selfish decisions, and I really liked the way that this was a central plot point in the intrigue and espionage storyline. I also loved Aphra’s interactions with her love interest, Captain Tolvan, especially because, during their last meeting, Aphra purposely altered her memories to make her believe she had killed Aphra in a jealous rage. While Aphra did this with the best of intentions (it was the only way to save both Aphra and Tolvan from Vader), this has obviously had a major negative impact on their relationship, and Tolvan now actively loves and hates Aphra in equal measure and apparently has zero trust in her. This is one of the many things haunting Aphra in this volume, as she clearly knows the damage she has done to woman she loves: “I broke her heart. She’s too smart to ever help me again.” Of course, this fraught relationship is another part of the intrigue surrounding Aphra, and it was rather clever the ways in which both sides tried to manipulate Aphra through it.

In addition to the all the awesome character work happening with Aphra in the present, the readers of this volume are also treated to a look back at the characters past. In particular, you finally get to see Aphra’s mother for the first time and learn the tragic circumstances around her death. This has been hinted at for some time, all the way back to the second volume of the 2015 Darth Vader series, Shadows and Secrets. As a result, it was great to finally see the full extent of this character background, and it was fascinating to see what happened and how this has impacted on the personality of Aphra. I enjoyed the way in which the scenes from the past were mirrored in the scenes from the present, and I really liked the similarities in the way that Aphra was raised with the harsh way she is treating her new ward, Vulaada. I was also impressed by the way in which seemingly innocuous details from Aphra’s past suddenly had a big impact on her current story, and the creative team did a great job hinting about these impacts throughout the entire volume. All of this helps build up a much more complex story around the character that is Aphra, and I found this dive into her past to be extremely compelling.

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I also need to say how much I loved the parts of this book that featured Darth Vader, whose villainy and hatred for Aphra shine through in the few short scenes that he has. Aphra and Vader have a complicated history together, and Vader is desperate to kill Aphra once and for all (she’s faked her death on him a few times already), as she is the only living person in the galaxy who knows about his obsession with Luke Skywalker and his plans to overthrow the Emperor. Vader has two sequences in this book, both of which revolve around his determination to kill Aphra, no matter the perceived costs. While the first is really good, mainly due to Vader answering an Imperial officer’s request to state his rank with “Lord”, nothing quite beats the second appearance on the last two pages of the volume. After apparently beating all of her opponents, Aphra is sure of her safety due to her status as an Imperial hero, right up until Vader appears, lopping off heads with his lightsaber. The moment Aphra sees him, she knows she and Vulaada are dead, and she immediately hugs Vulaada and gets her to close her eyes. I really loved this scene, especially the resigned way in which she responds to Vulaada’s frantic belief that them being heroes is going to save them with “he doesn’t care”. This was a pretty outstanding end to the entire volume, and it was amazing to see the next chapter of the turbulent relationship between Aphra and Vader.

The Doctor Aphra series has always done a great job showing off several different sides of the Star Wars universe, including giving a closer look at parts of its criminal underbelly and its archaeological sector. However, in this book, we get to see new sides of both the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. In particular, we get to see the Empire’s Coalition for Progress, a sinister organisation led by new antagonist Pitina Voor that is dedicated to expanding and maintaining the Empire through manipulation, trickery and propaganda, rather than brute force. This is rather fascinating inclusion into the canon, and it was rather interesting to see a whole new side to the way that the Empire controlled the galaxy. Voor is also a rather intriguing character, with a unique vision for how the Empire should be run and maintained, and it was kind of fun to see her gripe about the PR problems that occur when you are being ruled by Sith Lords (I had to agree, the Emperor really isn’t adequately loveable). They also have a rather nifty little museum dedicated to some of the Empire’s greatest victories and propaganda coups, which the artistic team filled with several Easter eggs. I was also rather impressed by the way that the creative team explored the darker side of the Rebel Alliance by examining the covert and morally ambiguous actions of their intelligence agency. This is something that has been explored before in some other Star Wars entries, such as in Rogue One, but this volume of Doctor Aphra takes it to a new extreme with Rebel Intelligence apparently plotting to build a miniature Death Star in order to take out the Emperor and win the war. I rather liked this darker side of the Rebels, and it was interesting to see more of a Rebel organisation that uses less moral tactics to achieve their goals.

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Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon features the work of several different artists, each of whom worked on a couple of different issues within the volume, which results in an interesting combination of styles. This means that this volume of Doctor Aphra contains a range of different art styles and techniques across the various issues. I actually liked the myriad changes that occurred issue to issue, and it was fantastic to see the different styles and artistic ideas that this large team produced. This volume contains some rather impressive and beautifully drawn scenes and sequences, which fit perfectly around Spurrier’s compelling story and which work really well together. The end result is a fantastically drawn and executed comic, which is a delight to look at.

This sixth volume of the always entertaining and incredible Doctor Aphra series, Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon, is an outstanding addition to the series, and it is one that I had an amazing time reading. This volume contains a complex plot of intrigue and doublecrosses, which sets the loveably dysfunctional protagonist down another road of self-destruction and manipulation in order to survive. Filled with some excellent and memorable story moments, and an incredible conclusion to this volume’s key storyline, Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon is relentlessly entertaining and endlessly captivating, and I had an absolute ball unwrapping it. A highly recommended read; if you have not read any Doctor Aphra yet, then you are missing out!