Billy Summers by Stephen King

Billy Summer Cover

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (Trade Paperback – 3 August 2021)

Series: Standalone

Length: 433 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Stephen King returns with another exceptional read, Billy Summers, an awesome and memorable character driven thriller that has proved to be one of the best books of the year so far.

2021 has been quite an amazing year for Stephen King, who has released two outstanding and impressive novels in a short period of time.  His first book of 2021 was the interesting horror novel, Later, which followed a child who can see and talk to the recently deceased.  While I have not had a lot of experience reading Stephen King novels in the past, I really got into Later due to its likeable characters and thrilling narrative, and it ended up being one of the best audiobooks I listened to in the first part of 2021.  Due to how much I liked Later, I made sure to keep an eye out for any additional Stephen King releases, and I was extremely intrigued to see that he had a second book coming out with a great-sounding plot.  As a result, this second novel, Billy Summers, was one of my most anticipated reads for the second half of the year, and I was excited when I received my copy, especially as it contained a really cool story.

Billy Summers is an assassin and gun for hire.  A maestro with a sniper rifle and a master of elaborate escapes, there are few killers better than him.  However, for all his skills, Billy has one unusual quirk: he has a conscience and a moral code which limits him to only taking out contracts on targets he considers to be bad guys.  After a lifetime of killing, as both an assassin and a soldier, Billy wants out, and he is willing to take one final job to retire.  Luckily, his employer has a job that fits all his criteria.

Taken to the small city of Red Bluff on the East Coast of America, Billy is hired to kill a notorious gangster and killer who is currently locked up in Los Angeles but due to be extradited back to Red Bluff.  Billy’s boss wants the target dead the moment he arrives to stop him making a deal with the authorities ahead of his murder trial.  With a massive pay cheque on the line, Billy accepts the job, despite some odd stipulations.  As part of their plan to take out their target, Billy will need to take on the identity of an author working in the office complex overlooking the courthouse and maintain his cover for as long as it takes the extradition process to go through.

Despite misgivings about the job, Billy dives into the role as required and soon establishes himself as a regular figure in the office block.  As he waits for his target to arrive, Billy begins to get to know the people around him and takes the opportunity to write a memoir about his life and the decisions that led to him becoming a killer.  However, the closer he gets to the conclusion of the job, the more he suspects that nothing involved with this assassination is on the level, and that his bosses intend from him to die as well.  Making his own plans in case things go sideways, Billy prepares to end his career as an assassin on his own terms.  But then he meets Alice, and everything changes.

Well damn, how the hell does King do it?  After nearly 45 years of writing, you’d think the man would run out of unique and compelling ideas, but that apparently is not the case, as his latest book, Billy Summers, turned out to be quite an exceptional read.  King has produced an impressive and powerful story that follows a complex and well-established protagonist as he experiences life for the first time.  With some outstanding characters, a deeply thrilling storyline and some intriguing insights into the human condition, this was an outstanding read that was easily one of the best books I read in 2021 and which got a full five-star review from me.

Billy Summers contains a pretty addictive and powerful story that I found to be really cool.  The book is primarily told through the eyes of the titular Billy and shows him as he prepares to take on his final job.  King does a great job of introducing the character and the scenario, and you are soon placed into the midst of a very cool storyline as Billy moves into suburbia under an assumed identity to build his cover.  This results in some compelling character interactions, as Billy simultaneously prepares for his assassination mission with his employers while also getting close to some of the people he encounters and starts to see what a normal life feels like.  At the same time, he also builds up a third identity to use after the job is completed, which requires him to assume a different disguise and create some additional personal connections.  He also starts writing a personal memoir which tells a slightly altered version of his life story, including his rough childhood, his military career, and his early contract work.  This mixture of intriguing and fascinating story threads come together extremely well in the first half of the novel, and you get quite a unique and compelling narrative which perfectly blends thriller excitement with personal character growth.

After a big moment halfway through the novel, the entire storyline dramatically changes, especially as Billy is introduced to a key character, Alice.  While there is still a large amount of focus on the job from the first half of the novel and its consequences, the story noticeably morphs at this point, really diving into the relationship that develops between these two characters.  The storyline also moves away from some of the prior relationships that were introduced, and moves into a road trip, with Billy now accompanied by Alice.  There are some really good sequences in this second half of the novel, as well as a continued exploration of Billy’s past.  King does a fantastic job morphing the various story threads and plot ideas into a cohesive and captivating narrative, and I really enjoyed the powerful combinations.  The set pieces are a series of awesome action sequences, which help tie up several of the main story threads and lead up to the book’s epic conclusion.  While King is often criticised for his endings, I felt that Billy Summers had an exceptional and incredible conclusion that I deeply enjoyed.  This great conclusion is both tragic and memorable, and it ties together the entire novel extremely well, helping to turn Billy Summers into one of the best stories I have read all year.

I really enjoyed King’s writing style in this novel, especially as it focused a lot on character development and interactions between unique people.  The entire novel has a very philosophical bent to it, as King and his characters take time to explore the human experience, especially those aspects of life that people on the outside, such as BIlly, miss out on.  While you wouldn’t think that this would pair well with a thriller story about an assassin, it actually works extremely well, especially when combined with Billy’s journaling scenes, and readers are guaranteed to fall in love with this distinctive form of storytelling.  I also liked the author’s great use of various settings which help to show off the uniqueness of America’s landscapes.  King features several different locations, including suburbia, the inner city, the wide open road, the isolated Colorado mountains, and even some more famous locations, like fabulous Las Vegas.  Each location offers the reader and the characters something new to enjoy or appreciate, and King makes sure to capture both the beauty and the ugliness of these various settings.  While King does move away from some of his more extreme murder sprees in this novel, there are some dark moments in this book.  Not only are there some very graphic action sequences, but readers should also be warned about the sexual violence content, especially one scene where Billy enacts some justice.  I’m also slightly concerned that King might end up getting sued by Rupert Murdoch for a certain facsimile character who does some bad things.  Overall, though, I really enjoyed the way King told his latest unique story, and there is something for everyone in it.

As I mentioned above, I don’t have the most experience reading Stephen King novels, with only a few of his more recent reads under my belt.  Despite this, I was easily able to enjoy Billy Summers, especially as it is a standalone thriller with one-shot characters.  As a result, this is a book that any reader can easily pick up and get into, and I really liked how open the author made Billy Summers.  However, fans of King, as well as those people generally aware of his work, will probably have fun seeing the references to some of King’s previous books.  One of his more iconic works is referenced several times, especially as the protagonists end up spending time near a pivotal location.  While this is not particularly essential to the plot, it was a nice callback, and I think that most people will appreciate the fun self-homage.  I also found it interesting that both of King’s novels of 2021 had a compelling focus on writing, which becomes a key part of the plot.  While Later focused more on the publishing side of things, Billy Summers contains a fantastic examination of the difficulties of putting your ideas to paper as a writer, with the protagonist attempting to write his life story in his downtime.  While there are several fantastic advantages to the writing subplot, such as it being a great way to introduce the protagonist’s backstory in a compelling and episodic manner, I also quite enjoyed seeing the depiction of the writing process, and the various difficulties of telling a story.  It very much felt that King was pouring some of his own experiences with writing into these sections of the novel, and it was incredibly fun and insightful to see one of the world’s greatest authors depict the difficulties of writing in one of his novels.

Another area that Billy Summers excelled in is the fantastic central and supporting characters.  King does a remarkable job of introducing a diverse cast of characters, each of whom affect the character in various ways, either by showing him what his missing, or showing him what he is better than.  The most focused character is naturally the titular protagonist, Billy Summers, a brilliant contract killer who only kills bad people.  Billy is a remarkably complex figure, who builds several different personalities and personas around himself for professional reasons and protection.  I really enjoyed the intriguing portrayal of this character, mainly because you got to see at least four different versions of him in the first half of the book.  While the narrator is the calm and collected lover of classic novels who is basically a good guy, despite being an elite professional killer able to see every angle and work out the best way to kill someone and escape, that is a viewpoint that only the readers sees, at least at the start of the novel.  Billy hides this real side of himself from the rest of the world, effecting a less intellectual personality to his criminal associates, which he calls his “dumb self”, to fool them and think he’s less of a threat.

While his dumb self is usually enough to get by, his new assignment requires him to take up the identity of a struggling author who moves into a suburban neighbourhood and a local office block to focus on his upcoming bestseller.  Billy is forced to integrate into these social systems to keep his cover, and he soon makes friends amongst the people he meets, many of whom have an impact on him due to their honesty, innocence, and normality, all of which Billy has long given up.  He also builds up yet another identity to rent an additional house, which he plans to use as a safe house if the job goes wrong, which forces him to deal with additional normal people.  On top of that, he also takes the opportunity to write a memoir of his life, not only to maintain his cover but to satisfy his own curiosity about the writing process.  This proves to be a delicate balancing act, as he attempts to give an honest account of his past while also trying to keep up the charade of being dumb in case his employers read the story he writes.  This results in a unique, multifaceted character, and you get hints at the true nature of Billy, not just from the narration, but from seeing the similarities and differences between the various versions he presents to the world.

Billy’s life changes even further when he meets Alice, a woman who he meets at the very worst time of her life.  Saving her initially to maintain his cover, Billy soon finds himself drawn to protecting Alice, who has no-one and is having trouble getting over her trauma.  Billy soon works in a fantastic and touching relationship with Alice, as the two become close and help each other see the world in other ways.  Not only is Alice a great character in her own right, especially as King presents a very real and moving portrayal of a damaged and lost woman, but she also brings out the best in Billy.  While Alice does imprint on Billy due to her trauma, she also encourages him and gets him to continue writing his book.  This powerful bond they form soon becomes a central part of the book’s plot, and it is extremely fascinating and compelling to see what happens to them.  These exceptional characters and deep personalities really turn Billy Summers into an exceptional read, and I become severely invested in their story, even though I knew it was likely to end badly.

Stephen King has once again shows why he is the premier fiction author in the world today with another intense and exquisite read in Billy Summers.  Featuring a deep and captivating narrative about a complex character, Billy Summers was an absolute treat to read, and comes highly recommended.  Readers will swiftly fall in love with the unique narrative and compelling leading figures, and I guarantee that you will have trouble putting this excellent novel down.  Easily one of the best books of 2021, I cannot praise Billy Summers enough.

Billy Summers Cover 2

WWW Wednesday – 11 August 2021

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?

Blood Trail by Tony Park (Trade Paperback)

Blood Trail Cover

I just started the latest exciting thriller from Australian author Tony Park, Blood Trail, who once again sets a compelling story within the nature reserves of Africa.  This novel is pretty cool so far, and I am enjoy the interesting tale of anti-poachers who are up against local witchcraft and the negative impacts of COVID-19.  I am hoping to get through this book pretty quickly and it should be a fun read.

 

Starlight Enclave by R. A. Salvatore (Audiobook)

Starlight Enclave Cover

One of my favourite authors, the legendary R. A. Salvatore, returns with another exciting and complex fantasy novel Starlight Enclave. This is the start of a brand new trilogy from Salvatore and it is so far off to an intriguing start, with some of the main characters engaging in two separate quests.  I am already enjoying this awesome audiobook and I have high hopes it is going to turn into an overall exceptional read.

What did you recently finish reading?

Billy Summers by Stephen King (Trade Paperback)

Billy Summer Cover

 

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix (Audiobook)

The Final Girl Support Group Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

Star Wars: The High Republic: Out of the Shadows by Justina Ireland (Audiobook)

Star Wars - Out of the Shadows 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 – 4 August 2021

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?

Billy Summers by Stephen King (Trade Paperback)

Billy Summer Cover

After deeply enjoying Stephen King’s other 2021 release, Later, earlier this year, I have finally been able to dive into his latest book, Billy Summers.  This new novel follows the titular Billy Summers, a hitman with a moral code, who takes one final job.  I have only just started this book, but so far King is setting up a rather intriguing tale.  I look forward to seeing where this awesome narrative goes, and it should prove to be really cool.

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix (Audiobook)

The Final Girl Support Group Cover

I had been hearing some good things about The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix, so I thought I would check it out.  This fascinating novel follows several “final girls”, the victorious survivors of some of your favourite slasher movies, and acts as a bit of a deconstruction of the horror/slasher genre.  I am making some decent progress on this book, and it has a really cool story to it.  I cannot wait to see what awesome ending Hendrix has come up with, and I reckon it will be extremely fun.

What did you recently finish reading?

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan (Trade Paperback)

She Who Became the Sun Cover

Relentless by Jonathan Maberry (Audiobook)

Relentless Cover

First and Only by Dan Abnett (Audiobook)

First and Only Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

Blood Trail by Tony Park (Trade Paperback)

Blood Trail 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.

Book Haul – 1 August 2021

It has been a while since I have done a Book Haul post, but seeing that I received several interesting books in the last couple of weeks, I thought I would quickly do one to highlight some of the best books I have gotten in the last few weeks.  Each of the below books sound extremely cool and captivating, and I cannot wait to see how they all turn out.

 

Blood Trail by Tony Park (Trade Paperback)

Blood Trail Cover

Australian author Tony Park returns with another intriguing thriller novel set in the game parks of Africa.  In Blood Trail, a bold protagonist is forced to go after a group of poachers who have kidnapped tourist, apparently for the purposes of witchcraft.  I have really enjoyed some of Park’s previous novels and he has based some great thrillers around poaching and other issues in Africa, such as in Last Survivor and Scent of Fear.  I was also really happy to see that my Canberra Weekly review for Ghosts of the Past is featured on the back cover.  This should be a really cool book and I cannot wait to check it out.

Tony Park Back Cover

 

Billy Summers by Stephen King (Trade Paperback)

Billy Summer Cover

I have just received a copy of one of the most anticipated releases of 2021, the latest Stephen King novel, Billy SummersBilly Summers is a pretty awesome sounding book that will follow an assassin with a conscience as gets drawn into another dark job.  I already had a pretty outstanding experience with King’s other 2021 release, Later, earlier this year, and I am fairly certain that Billy Summers is going to be one of the top books of the year.

 

The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry (Trade Paperback)

The 22 Murders of Madison May Cover

Impressive Australian author Max Barry returns with another outstanding science fiction read.  This latest book, The 22 Murders of Madison May, contains a pretty fantastic and clever plot involving a killer travelling between alternate dimensions.  I have actually already read this book and it is an outstanding and compelling read.  I will hopefully get a review for it out in the next few days.

 

Unholy Murder by Lynda La Plante (Trade Paperback)

Unholy Murder Cover

Over the last few years, one of the most enjoyable and captivating crime fiction series has been the Jane Tennison series by the queen of crime, Lynda La Plante.  Serving as a prequel to the Prime Suspect television show, this series follows a younger version of the show’s protagonist as she attempts to gain the respect of her male colleagues by solving some difficult murders.  I have deeply enjoyed several entries in this series so far, including Good Friday, Murder Mile, The Dirty Dozen and Blunt Force, and I have high hopes that the latest book, Unholy Murder, will also be amazing.

 

The Cellist by Daniel Silva (Trade Paperback)

The Cellist Cover

This is an intriguing and compelling sounding spy thriller from best selling author Daniel Silva. I have not previously read anything from Silva in the past but I have heard great things about this author before.  The Cellist sounds like a very interesting novel, and I look forward to seeing what sort of cool thriller the author can produce.

 

The Inheritance by Gabriel Bergmoser (Trade Paperback)

The Inheritance Cover

Another cool sounding Australian thriller, I am very curious about this one.

 

The Dark Remains by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin (Trade Paperback)

The Dark Remains Cover

Highly acclaimed crime fiction author, Ian Rankin, utilizes the manuscripts of the late, great William McIlvanney, to create an exciting new entry in McIlvanney’s Laidlaw series.  The Dark Remains will be a very interesting novel and I am extremely curious to see how it turns out.

 

The Infernal Riddle of Thomas Peach by Jas Treadwell (Trade Paperback)

The Infernal Riddle of Thomas Peach Cover

The final entry in this book haul post is the weird and wonderful sounding The Infernal Riddle of Thomas Peach.  This crazy novel offers a unique mystery in 18th century England, and should make for quite the intense 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 – My Favourite Audiobooks 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 official topic for this week is Books I’d Want With Me While Stranded on a Deserted Island, but I am going to do something a little different and instead look at my favourite audiobooks from the first half of 2021.  This is a continuation of my Top Ten list from a few weeks ago that featured my favourite overall novels from the first half of 2021.

People familiar with my blog will know that I have a great deal of love for the audiobook format, and it is one of the main ways that I tend to check out books.  Each year I enjoy a great number of different audiobooks and use the format to check out recent releases and older novels.  I have been enjoying audiobooks for years, and it is amazing the various ways in which listening to a book can enhance your enjoyment.  A great narrator can really bring you into the story, and I find that listening to a book enhances the amount of detail that you can take in.  In addition, other features, such as great voices, music and sound effects can really make an audiobook something special, and there some great examples of that out there.  This year alone I have listened to several outstanding audiobooks, includes some of my favourite books from early 2021.  Because I love this format so much, I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight my favourite audiobooks from the first half of the year.

To pull this list off I had a look at all the 2021 releases that I listened to on audiobook to figure out my favourites.  It turns out that I have already gone through quite a few this year so there was a very large collection of potential additions to this list.  I was eventually able to whittle it down to the ten audiobooks I consider to be the best, as well as a generous honourable mention section.  There is a bit of a crossover with my previous Favourite Books from the First Half of 2021 list, but I think there are enough new additions to make this list worthwhile.  I did prioritise audiobook production and narration over story in a few places, as outstanding narration or use of music and sound effects can enhance the plot.  That is why so many Star Wars novels made this list, because they are awesome productions, which are really worth checking out.  I am pretty happy with how the overall list turned out and I think that the below entries really highlight what my favourite audiobooks are.

 

Honourable Mentions:

The Coward, written by Stephen Aryan and narrated by Matt Wycliffe

The Coward Cover

 

Serpentine, written by Jonathan Kellerman and narrated by John Rubinstein

Serpentine Cover

 

Prodigal Son, written by Gregg Hurwitz and narrated by Scott Brick

Prodigal Son Cover

 

The Girl and the Mountain, written by Mark Lawrence and narrated by Helen Duff

The Girl and the Mountain Cover 2

 

Top Ten List (No Particular Order):

The Two-Faced Queen, written by Nick Martell and narrated by Joe Jameson

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

One of my favourite books of the year, The Two-Faced Queen, is easily one of the best audiobooks as well.  There were actually two separate audiobook versions of this book, and I chose to go with the Joe Jameson version, since he previously narrated Martell’s debut novel, The Kingdom of Liars.  I am a big fan of Jameson, especially after his work on books such as King of Assassins by R. J. Barker, and he did another amazing job on this book.  The Two-Faced Queen audiobook is an excellent and addictive listen, and I would wholeheartedly recommend this format to anyone wanting to enjoy this awesome five-star novel.

 

Star Wars: Victory’s Price, written by Alexander Freed and narrated by January LaVoy

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

Earlier this year, impressive author Alexander Freed finished off his Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron series with Victory’s Price, and in the process created one of the best books of 2021.  This audiobook massively enhances the already incredible and moving narrative within this exceptional novel, utilising outstanding voice work from January LaVoy, as well as the iconic Star Wars score and sound effects.  Easily one of best audiobooks of the year.

 

Relentless, written by Mark Greaney and narrated by Jay Snyder

Relentless by Mark Greaney Cover

One of the leading authors of spy thrillers, Mark Greaney, produced another intense and exciting novel this year with Relentless.  Thanks to some excellent voice work from Jay Snyder, the Relentless audiobook was pretty damn impressive, and you are in for a real treat with this exhilarating novel.

 

Star Wars: Light of the Jedi, written by Charles Soule and narrated by Marc Thompson

Star Wars - Light of the Jedi Cover

Another outstanding Star Wars audiobook was Light of the Jedi, the introductory novel in the new High Republic range.  Just like Victory’s Price, Light of the Jedi makes full use of the Star Wars music and effects to produce a fantastic listen.  However, Light of the Jedi also features the incredible voice work of Marc Thompson, one of the best narrators utilised by the Star Wars franchise.  Thompson produces a raft of great voices to highlight the new characters featured within this novel and it was really fun to hear him tell this story.  Thompson is lending his vocal talents to several other outstanding Star Wars audiobooks this year, including the latest High Republic novel, The Rising Storm, which is another great audiobook to check out.

 

The Shadow of the Gods, written by John Gwynne and narrated by Colin Mace

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

After hearing some incredible things about the latest John Gwynne novel, I ended up checking out The Shadow of the Gods on audiobook.  Not only was this book one of the absolute best fantasy releases of 2021 but the audiobook format was pretty damn exceptional.  Colin Mace’s voice really fit the dark fantasy setting and he really dives into the complex characters to highlight their deeper feelings and hidden rages.  An impressive and captivating listen.

 

Later, written by Stephen King and narrated by Seth Numrich

Later Cover

I was deeply impressed earlier this year when I checked out the audiobook format of the latest Stephen King novel, Later.  Outstanding new narrator Seth Numrich really dives into this excellent novel, and I had a wonderful and freaky time getting through this fantastic audiobook.

 

The Bone Maker, written by Sarah Beth Durst and narrated by Soneela Nankani

The Bone Maker Cover

I had an absolute blast listening to the latest great fantasy novel from Sarah Beth Durst, The Bone Maker, especially as narrator Soneela Nankani does a great job bringing the novel’s damaged protagonists to life.

 

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: The Greater Good, written by Timothy Zahn and narrated by Marc Thompson

Star Wars - Thrawn Ascendancy - Greater Good Cover

The final Star Wars audiobook on this list is the second Thrawn Ascendancy entry, The Greater Good.  Thompson once again lends his incredible voice to this great book, bringing the unique characters to life.  However, his best work is reserved for main character Grand Admiral Thrawn, as Thompson perfectly replicates the character’s voice from the Star Wars Rebels animated series.  This makes for a complex and powerful audiobook, and I loved every second I spent listening to it.

 

Colonyside, written by Michael Mammay and narrated by R. C. Bray

Colonyside Cover

One of the fastest rising science fiction authors, Michael Mammay, continued to impress earlier this year with Colonyside, the third entry in the Planetside series, which was another awesome read.  You really need to listen to this novel’s audiobook format, as narrator R. C. Bray brings a certain necessary gruffness and fun to the central character.  An amazing book to listen to!

 

The Mask of Mirrors, written by M. A. Carrick and narrated by Nikki Massoud

The Mask of Mirrors Cover

The final entry on this list is the great fantasy novel, The Mask of Mirrors by M. A. Carrick.  The Mask of Mirrors is a particularly fun and intriguing read, and I found myself really drawn to its audiobook format.  This is mainly because of narrator Nikki Massoud, who strategically utilises a fantastic range of voices and accents to turn this amazing book into an incredible listening experience.

 

That is the end of my latest list.  As you can see, I have a pretty typical Unseen Library Top Ten List (I’ve got to fit in as many Star Wars novels as possible), but I really do think this represents all of my absolute favourite audiobooks from the first part of 2021.  All of the above audiobooks come highly recommended, and in my opinion, the audiobook format really enhances all of these great reads.  Let me know what your favourite 2021 audiobooks are in the comments below, and I look forward to seeing which of the above make my Top Audiobooks of 2021 list later this year.

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.

Top Ten Tuesday – Most Anticipated Releases for the Second 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 this latest Top Ten Tuesday participants need to list their top anticipated releases for the second half of 2021.

2021 has so far been a pretty amazing year for books, with some outstanding and impressive novels coming out and blowing me away.  However, the year is far from over and there are a number of incredible and epic-sounding novels set for release in the second half of 2021.  To fill out this list I have scoured my list of anticipated upcoming releases and tried to work out which of the books coming out between the start of July and the end of December I am most looking forward to.

This proved to be a rather hard list to finalise, mainly because of how many awesome novels are coming out in the next six months.  I honestly had enough awesome upcoming novels on my radar to turn this into a Top 20, but I decided instead to make some hard decisions, and I ended up cutting out several impressive upcoming releases, leaving me with a list mostly featuring books from some of my favourite authors.  Despite this, I am rather happy with the eventual choices that I made, and I think that this list reflects which upcoming novels I am going to have the most fun reading.  Due to how much potential that I think the entries on this list have, several have previously appeared in my weekly Waiting on Wednesday articles, as well as on my recent Winter TBR list.  However, there are also some interesting new books that I am discussing for the first time here, which gives this list a bit of variety.  So let us get to my selections and find out which upcoming novels are my most anticipated releases for the second half of 2021.

Honourable Mentions:

Billy Summers by Stephen King – 3 August 2021

Billy Summer Cover

The Maleficent Seven by Cameron Johnston – 10 August 2021

The Maleficent Seven Cover 2

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik – 28 September 2021

The Last Graduate Cover

The Honour of Rome by Simon Scarrow – 11 November 2021

The Honour of Rome Cover

Top Ten List (by release date):

Relentless by Jonathan Maberry – 13 July 2021

Relentless Cover

This list is off to an extraordinarily strong start as it features the second awesome entry in the Rogue Team International series by the always impressive Jonathan Maberry, Relentless.  Spinning off from Maberry’s outstanding Joe Ledger series (which features such epic reads as Patient Zero, Code Zero and Deep Silence), the Rogue Team International series continues to follow action hero Joe Ledger as he goes up against crazy opponents wielding the weirdest science and technology.  The first novel in this thrilling series, Rage, was an amazing read that was one of my favourite books (and audiobooks) of 2019, and which ended on a fantastic, if tragic, note.  This sets up Relentless to be a gripping and bloody novel filled with revenge as an emotionally compromised Ledger goes up against a new breed of dangerous enemies.

Starlight Enclave by R. A. Salvatore – 3 August 2021

Starlight Enclave Cover

One of my absolute favourite fantasy authors of all times, R. A. Salvatore, returns with the first book in a brand-new series that sets his iconic and long-running protagonists on a whole new adventure.  This first book, Starlight Enclave, will follow on from the events of the previous trilogy (made up of Timeless, Boundless and Relentless), and should result in a very impressive and exciting fantasy read.

The Wisdom of Crowds by Joe Abercrombie – 16 September 2021

The Wisdom of Crowds Cover

The master of dark fantasy, Joe Abercrombie, returns with the third and final entry in his intense and addictive Age of Madness trilogy.  Both previous novels in the series, A Little Hatred and The Trouble with Peace, have been incredible masterpieces with some deeply impressive stories to them and I am expecting great things for this final novel.  The Wisdom of Crowds will focus on the aftermath of the revolution that occurred at the end of The Trouble with Peace and should result in an epic and captivating tale.

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman – 16 September 2021

The Man Who Died Twice Cover

Following his incredible debut novel, The Thursday Murder Club, comedian Richard Osman returns with a much-anticipated sequel novel, The Man Who Died Twice, which will present his retired protagonists with another intriguing case.  The Thursday Murder Club was one of the runaway hits of last year, and it was easily one of the best novels, audiobooks, and debuts, I had the pleasure of reading in 2020.  As a result, I have extremely high hopes for The Man Who Died Twice, and I cannot wait to see what hilarious and clever things are featured in this new novel.

The Bone Ship’s Wake by R. J. Barker – 28 September 2021

Over the last two years, the deeply impressive R. J. Barker has been wowing me, and the rest of the fantasy community, with his epic and captivating novels about the notorious crew of the Tide ChildThe Tide Child trilogy, which has so far consisted of The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships, is an outstanding and compelling series, which places a great group of characters in a dark and bloody fantasy world, where crews of condemned men fight aboard ships made from dragon bone.  The final entry in this trilogy, The Bone Ship’s Wake, looks set to provide an epic and memorable conclusion to this incredible series, especially after Barker ended Call of the Bone Ships on such a fantastic and moving cliff-hanger.  Unfortunately, there has been no preview of The Bone Ship’s Wake’s cover yet but based on how cool the covers for the other entries in The Tide Child trilogy have been, I am sure it is going to be something extremely awesome.

The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly – 9 November 2021

The Dark Hours Cover

After a bumper 2020 where he released two fantastic crime novels, Fair Warning and The Law of Innocence, bestselling crime fiction author Michael Connelly returns with another intriguing and exciting novel, The Dark Hours.  The third entry in the Ballard and Bosch sub-series, which has so far consisted of Dark Sacred Night and The Night Fire, The Dark Hours will set its protagonists on the trail of a clever and conniving killer.  This has the potential to be one of the best crime novels of 2021 and I cannot wait to see what unique case Connelly has come up with this time.

Never by Ken Follett – 9 November 2021

Never Cover

I was a little surprised earlier this year when I saw that highly acclaimed author, Ken Follett, was releasing a novel this year, especially after The Evening and the Morning, came out last year.  However, I am not one to complain when another awesome Follett novel drops into my lap, especially as his new upcoming book, Never, looks set to be an intriguing world-spanning thriller novel.  With an intense and captivating sounding narrative, Never, should be an incredible read and I am exceedingly keen to check it out.

Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters by Charles Soule, Luke Ross and Neeraj Menon – 23 November 2021

Star Wars - War of the Bounty Hunters #! Cover

While I was very tempted to include the new upcoming Thrawn Ascendancy novel, Lesser Evil, on this list, it quickly became apparent that the piece of Star Wars fiction I am most looking forward to in the second half of 2021 is the major crossover comic, Star Wars: War of the Bounty HuntersWar of the Bounty Hunters, which is set between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, details a brutal fight to claim Han Solo’s frozen body after a major returning character steals it from Boba Fett.  Serving as a crossover between the four current Star Wars ongoing series, Star Wars (2020), Darth Vader (2020), Doctor Aphra (2020), and Bounty Hunters, this crossover series sounds like awesomeness personified, and there have already been some major twists and reveals.  I cannot wait to check this comic out, although I probably will wait until the collected edition comes out in November.  This will be one of the biggest Star Wars events of the year, and as a Star Wars mega-fan, I am deeply, deeply excited for it.

Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson – 25 November 2021

Cytonic Cover

Perhaps the greatest authors of fantasy and science fiction in the world today, the legendary Brandon Sanderson, has a new novel coming out in November, and it is one that I am particularly eager to get my hands on.  This new book, Cytonic, is the third entry in the gripping and clever Skyward series of young adult science fiction novels, which has so far featured two exceptional novels, Skyward and Starsight.  Featuring an intriguing and complex narrative around humans fighting aliens in a deadly war for survival, the Skyward series has been deeply impressive and thrilling, and I have had so much fun with the first two novels.  This next book in the series, Cytonic, looks set to take its likeable protagonist on another unique adventure, this time into a whole new dimension.  This novel has an immense amount of potential, and I already now it is going to be epic beyond belief.

A Practical Guide to Conquering the World by K. J. Parker – 25 November 2021

A Practical Guide to Conquering the World Cover

The final entry on this list is A Practical Guide to Conquering the World by K. J. Parker, which is probably going to be the funniest books I read all year.  Over the last two years, Parker has released two outstanding and hilarious fantasy novels as part of The Siege series, which takes place during an insane and long-lasting siege of a fantasy city.  Featuring two very clever and loosely connected novels, Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City and How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It, this series featured two fantastic narratives around unqualified, but devious men, taking control of the siege and attempting to win it through unconventional means.  I have absolutely loved the first two novels in this series, and I was very excited to see that a third entry, A Practical Guide to Conquering the World, is set for release in November.  While no plot details are currently available, I am extremely confident that this will be a fantastic tale political intrigue, treachery, and humorous ambition, as a new non-hero rises to the challenge of ruling the world.

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 every one of the books I mentioned above has some amazing potential, and most, if not all, will probably end up with a full five-star rating from me.  I cannot wait to see what awesome and exciting stories the entries on this list contain, and I think that I am going to have an incredible time in the second half of 2021.  While I am waiting to get my hands on these books, why not let me know if any of the above interest you, and let me know what your most anticipated releases for the next six months are in the comments below.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books on my Winter 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 this summer (or winter 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 June 2021 and 31 August 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:

The Coward by Stephen Aryan – 6 June 2021

The Coward Cover

 

The Councillor by E. J. Beaton – 20 July 2021

The Councillor Cover

 

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox – 27 July 2021

The Dying Squad Cover

 

Star Trek: Picard: Rogue Elements by John Jackson Miller – 17 August 2021

Star Trek - Rogue Elements Cover

 

Top Ten List:

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

Gamora and Nebula - Sisters in Arms Cover

 

The Righteous by David Wragg – 10 June 2021

The Righteous

 

Star Wars: The High Republic: The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott – 29 June 2021

Star Wars - The Rising Storm Cover

 

The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry – 30 June 2021

The 22 Murders of Madison May Cover

I am really looking forward to reading the extremely fun-sounding science fiction thriller, The 22 Murders of Madison May by Australian author Max Barry.  This fantastic novel will feature an amazing narrative about a reporter who hunts a serial killer across various alternate realities.  I am very keen to check this great novel out, and I am expecting a compelling and entertaining read.

 

It Ends in Fire by Andrew Shvarts – 6 July 2021

It Ends in Fire Cover 2

I am very, very keen to get my hands on this book, especially after how much I have enjoyed some of Shvarts’s previous novels (such as City of Bastards and War of the Bastards).  However, I may have to wait a little longer to read it down in Australia as it is coming out here a little later than in the rest of the world.  Still, I am sure it will be worth the wait, as It Ends in Fire has the potential to be one of the best young adult books of 2021.

 

Relentless by Jonathan Maberry – 13 July 2021

Relentless Cover

 

Billy Summers by Stephen King – 3 August 2021

Billy Summer Cover

 

Starlight Enclave by R. A. Salvatore – 3 August 2021

Starlight Enclave Cover

 

The Maleficent Seven by Cameron Johnston – 10 August 2021

The Maleficent Seven Cover 2

I have to say that I absolutely love the new cover for The Maleficent Seven which looks absolutely crazy and really fun.

 

The Pariah by Anthony Ryan – 31 August 2021

The Pariah Cover

The final entry on this list is the intriguing upcoming novel from bestselling author Anthony Ryan, The Pariah.  While I have not previously had the pleasure of reading any Ryan’s books before, I have heard some incredible things about his pervious series, and I fully intend to check them out at some point in the future.  In the meantime, I am keen to read his next book, The Pariah, especially as it contains an amazing sounding narrative about a former outlaw turned soldier.  Based on how beloved Ryan’s previous novels are I am fairly confident that The Pariah will turn out to be one of the top fantasy reads of 2021 and I cannot wait to check it out.

 

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.

Waiting on Wednesday – Billy Summers by Stephen King

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 week’s Waiting on Wednesday, I look at the next awesome novel from legendary author Stephen King, Billy Summers.

Billy Summer Cover

Earlier this year I decided to make more of an effort to read novels from the always incredible Stephen King.  While I have read one or two of his books in the past, I have honestly not dived too deeply into his existing catalogue of exciting thrillers and freaky horror novels.  However, this changed after I obtained a copy of his early 2021 release, Later, a fun, scary and fast-paced book that followed a young boy who could talk to dead spirits.  I absolutely loved Later and it is easily one of the best novels I have read so far this year.  As a result, I am planning to read all of King’s future releases and luckily for me he has another intriguing and fantastic sounding book coming out later this year.

This upcoming book is Billy Summers, an awesome thriller set for release in early August.  This amazing novel will follow a unique assassin protagonist who finds himself in all sorts of trouble in King’s favourite setting of small-town America.

Synopsis:

From legendary storyteller and No. 1 bestseller Stephen King, whose ‘restless imagination is a power that cannot be contained’ (The New York Times Book Review), comes a thrilling new novel about a good guy in a bad job.

Billy Summers is a man in a room with a gun. He’s a killer for hire and the best in the business. But he’ll do the job only if the target is a truly bad guy. And now Billy wants out. But first there is one last hit. Billy is among the best snipers in the world, a decorated Iraq war vet, a Houdini when it comes to vanishing after the job is done. So what could possibly go wrong?

How about everything.

This spectacular can’t-put-it-down novel is part war story, part love letter to small town America and the people who live there, and it features one of the most compelling and surprising duos in King fiction, who set out to avenge the crimes of an extraordinarily evil man. It’s about love, luck, fate, and a complex hero with one last shot at redemption.

You won’t put this story down, and you won’t forget Billy.

 

I think we all know that we are in for a pretty spectacular read with King’s next upcoming novel.  Billy Summers has a really compelling and exciting plot behind it, and I am quite intrigued to see who or what comes after Billy as he attempts to escape from his violent life.  I am particularly curious about the part of the synopsis that mentions a “compelling and surprising duo”, as a very impressive combo of characters will no doubt result in an outstanding read.  This novel has boundless potential and I already know it is going to be an exceptional thriller novel, potentially with some horror overtones to it.  I cannot wait to read this fantastic novel and Billy Summers should turn out to be incredibly awesome.

Later by Stephen King

Later Cover

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Audio (Audiobook – 2 March 2021)

Series: Standalone

Length: 6 hours and 32 minutes

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

Since I started this blog, one major author that I have neglected is the master of horror fiction, Stephen King.  King needs absolutely no introduction, with a decades-long career of amazing horror novels, thrillers and heartfelt pieces of fiction, most of which have been turned into iconic films and television shows.  Despite this, I haven’t read many of King’s novels before, aside from Cell and the novel he co-wrote with his son, Owen King, Sleeping Beauties.  Honestly, I have only started getting into horror novels in the last couple of years (it is still not my favourite genre TBH) and I have completely failed to make time to check out some of King’s more recent releases.  However, his latest novel, Later, caught my eye and I decided that it would be a good opportunity to expand my Stephen King knowledge.

Jamie Conklin is a young boy with a very unusual problem: he can see and talk to the spirits of the recently deceased.  The son of a struggling single mother, Tia, Jamie just wants to have a normal childhood.  However, as his ability becomes more apparent, his mother cautions him to hide his strange gift, worried that people will abuse his talents, especially as the dead have no choice but to truthfully answer any questions that Jamie asks of them.

Content to keep his secret to himself, Jamie attempts to live like a normal New York City kid during the late 2000s.  However, when his mother pressures him to use his abilities to help save her failing publishing business, it places him in the crosshairs of his mother’s lover, corrupt police detective Liz Dutton.  Liz, desperate for recognition from her bosses, draws Jamie into the hunt for a killer’s final surprise, which only his dead spirit can reveal.  However, not all secrets are easily taken from the dead, and soon Jamie must contend with a terrible force determined to torment him from beyond.  Can Jamie survive what is coming for him, or will it drag him into insanity?

This was an extremely cool novel that makes we really want to go out and read some more Stephen King books.  Later is a fantastic read which combines multiple genres together to create an exciting and fast-paced narrative loaded up with some real heart and memorable characters.  I had an absolute blast reading this clever novel, and thanks to its shorter length and captivating narrative, I powered through it in a very quickly.

I deeply enjoyed the cool and complex story that King came up with for Later, which proved to be a powerful and intriguing character-driven tale that moved across the genres.  Told in a first-person chronicle format by an older version of the main protagonist, Later details the childhood of Jamie Conklin and his early experiences of talking to the dead.  Weaving in anecdotes of his childhood and depictions of his early life with his mother, the story quickly and effectively sets up how Jamie discovered he had his powers, and some of the most significant times that he saw and talked to the spirits of the departed.  This proves to be a fascinating coming-of-age story that showcases how this unique talent twisted and altered the course of Jamie’s life and took him into some dark places.  The author does a fantastic job capturing the style of a young man recounting major events from his childhood, and I very much appreciated the mixture of childlike innocence with cynical reflections.

While this chronicle of a child’s life forms an effective and powerful centre to this entire narrative, this is also a horror story, as Jamie is traumatised by several of the spirits he encounters, especially as King provides some harrowing descriptions of mutilated ghosts and bodies.  These horror elements get even stronger and spookier when Jamie encounters a truly evil spirit who starts to haunt him.  Several of the scenes featuring this being are pretty terrifying, and I liked how King strongly highlights the dark side of Jamie’s power.

The author also works in some intriguing crime fiction elements as well, as the protagonist get wrapped up in a murder investigation and the dangerous schemes of a police officer.  The crime fiction features are pretty thrilling, and l appreciated the consideration of how Jamie’s powers could be abused.  I liked this unique blend of genres, and it ended up creating a very compelling and powerful story, which King sets out at an incredibly fast rate.  King sets the story up perfectly, and I found myself really getting pulled in as the narrative set off, thanks to its unique tone and intriguing selection of supporting characters.  The entire narrative goes in some very interesting directions and I liked how interconnected all the events that the narrator is recounting fit together into a clever and moving tale of discovery and redemption.  All of this comes together into an exciting and scary finale as the narrator comes face-to-face with several of the monsters in his life, and I think that King came up with a very satisfying and clever ending for the book, which has potential for a sequel.  I did think that the final big reveal of the book was extremely unnecessary, but it was a particularly typical Stephen King twist, so I should not have been so surprised.  Overall, this was an exceptional narrative that I cannot hype up enough.

Later is a standalone novel from King which features a whole new group of characters.  As a result, it is very accessible to a wide range of readers, even for those people who have not previously enjoyed any of King’s novels.  I personally found it really easy to get into this cool story, even with my limited knowledge of the author’s prior works, and it honestly does not take long to get hooked on his clever and unique story.  This is also quite a good book for established fans.  Not only does it contain a lot of elements of a classic Stephen King novel, such as a young protagonist on a journey of self-discovery who ends up losing their innocence, but there are also some intriguing connections to some of King’s most iconic works.  One horror inclusion in the novel appeared to be a version of a creature from a previous book, and I think that King readers will really appreciate the clever references he chucks in.  Due to all this, I feel that Later is a perfect book for any curious readers, no matter their experiences with King’s works, and this may end up being the novel that draws new readers into this compelling master author’s web.  I personally will make a bit more of an effort to read more of King’s works in the future, and I already have my eye on his next novel, which is coming out later this year.  I also kind of hope that we see more of the characters at some point, especially as King did such a great job setting them up in this novel, while also leaving their overall story very open-ended.

I quite enjoyed the relatively modern setting that King utilised as a backdrop to his plot.  With the protagonist chronicling his tale in his 20s, presumably in the present day, most of his childhood took place in the late 2000s and early 2010s.  This is a pretty interesting departure from some of King’s more recognisable novels that explore the childhoods of their protagonists, such as It and Stand by Me, all of which make excellent use of their 1950s or 1980s settings (I liked the awesome 1980s nostalgia you got in the latest It film, for example).  Instead, King loads up Later with a ton of references to 2000s culture and movies, and I had a fun time remembering some of the things that the protagonist experienced as a child.  King, through the medium of his protagonist, also cleverly mentions The Sixth Sense right off the bat, ensuring readers that this story is “not like that movie with Bruce Willis”, which I thought was very entertaining, and also quite true.  The Great Recession also becomes a key plot point of the novel, and it was interesting to see how King was able to utilise it as a major motivator for various character actions.  I also liked how the story was set in New York City, rather than the small-town American locations King’s books are known for.  The author uses this city-based location to great effect throughout the novel, painting a fantastic picture of New York life, especially through the eyes of his young protagonist.  Jamie ends up visiting various parts of the city throughout the events of Later, including several communities on the outskirts of New York, and I enjoyed this great use of location.

I also have to highlight the multiple jokes about novelists and publishers that King features throughout Later, mainly due to Jamie being born into a publishing family.  You have to imagine that King had a lot of fun coming up with all the great jokes and comedic insights into Jamie and his mother’s experiences with writers, and it ended up being a really fun addition to the plot.  I had a particularly good laugh about the descriptions of a certain series of trashy historical romance/adventure novels that Tia’s struggling publishing company relies on, and I loved how King explored it throughout this entertaining narrative, as well as cleverly featuring a mock-up cover of one of these fictional novels released as a bonus dust jacket for Later.  This extra dust jacket (see below), was drawn by the same cover artist who did Later’s hardcover, and I enjoyed the similar styles and the excellent tongue-in-cheek testimonial from King, praising this book within a book.  Fun little inclusions like this really helped to push Later up to another level, and I liked how the humour from the publishing jokes contrasted nicely with the dark horror and crime fiction elements.

The Secret of Roanoke Cover

While I probably would have enjoyed reading a physical copy of Later, I instead chose to enjoy this fun novel in its audiobook format, which ended up being a fantastic choice.  This audiobook has an extremely quick run time of just over six and a half hours.  This shorter length was one of the main reasons I decided to listen to Later, and I was able to get through it in a day or two, although a lot of that was down to how awesome the story was.  This was an impressively fast-paced audiobook, and I really felt that this format worked well with the first-person chronicle style the author utilised, as it felt like the protagonist was the one vocalising the story to you.  Later was narrated by actor Seth Numrich, and it is one of the first audiobooks he has lent his voice to.  I really enjoyed Numrich’s work on this audiobook; not only did he do an amazing top capturing Later’s unique tone, but he also provided a range of great voices for the characters featured within the novel.  His main voice, which represented the narrating protagonist, really encapsulated the innocence and pain of the character as he tells the story of his strange childhood, and it helped draw me to the protagonist.  The rest of his voices were pretty good, although I thought the voice he used for female detective Liz Dutton sounded a little like John Leguizamo, which is probably not what he was going for.  Overall, though, this was an exceptional audiobook, and I would strongly recommend it to those who want to check out Later.  I also hope that Numrich considers narrating more audiobooks in the future as he displayed some real talent here and was an absolute treat to listen to.

Later is an outstanding and impressive novel from the legendary Stephen King, who creates a unique and powerful tale of life, death and coming to terms with both.  Featuring an intriguing narrative that blends together clever horror and crime inclusions with a powerful coming of age story, Later is a truly memorable novel that is extremely easy to fall in love with.  I had an exceptional time reading this book and it is a must read for all fans of King’s work and anyone who has ever been curious about his writing.

Later Cover 2