Top Ten Tuesday – Most Viewed Posts of 2020

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The official topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was to list a participant’s favourite purple, yellow, and/or green Book Covers in honour of Mardi Gras, however, I really did not have any great book covers to feature on this list so I am going to do something a little different and list my top viewed posts of 2020.

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

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

Top Twenty List:


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

The Evening and the Morning Cover

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

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

House of Earth and Blood Cover

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

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

Lost Cover

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

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

Relentless Cover

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

Waiting on Wednesday – 2021 Thrillers – 229 views

Thriller Covers

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

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik review – 224 views

A Deadly Education Cover

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

Top Ten Tuesday – Favourite Books of 2020 – 223 views

Trouble with Peace and Battle Ground Cover

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

One Minute Out by Mark Greaney review – 222 views

One Minute Out Cover

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

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

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

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

The Gates of Athens by Conn Iggulden review – 205 views

The Gates of Athens Cover

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

The Law of Innocence by Michael Connelly review – 196

The Law of Innocence Cover

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

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

Usagi Yojimbo Bunraku and Other Stories Cover

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

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

WAY OF KINGS MM REV FINAL.indd

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

Waiting on Wednesday – Colonyside by Michael Mammay – 150 views

Colonyside Cover

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

Demon in White by Christopher Ruocchio review – 143 views

Demon in White Cover 1

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

Waiting on Wednesday – Ink by Jonathan Maberry – 124 views

Ink Cover

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

The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde review – 113 views

The Constant Rabbit Cover

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

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

The Evening and the Morning Cover

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

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Horror Novels – 110 views

Into the Drowning Deep Cover

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

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

Song of the Risen God Cover

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

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

Top Ten Tuesday – Favourite Books of 2020

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  In the final Top Ten Tuesday for the year, participants needed to list their favourite books of 2020.  This is a bit of a continuation of a series of lists I have been doing over the last month which highlighted some of the authors and books I have been most impressed with this year, including my favourite audiobooks and my top pre-2020 books I read this year.  However, I am extremely excited to showcase my absolute favourite releases of the year, of which there are quite a few.

While most of 2020 has been absolutely shitty, I think we all got a little bit of solace out of the fact that it was a pretty amazing year for books, with a huge range of incredible releases coming out across the genres.  I have had the great pleasure of reading or listening to so many outstanding books this year, and quite a few of this year’s releases have become instant favourites of mine.  I must admit that I somewhat struggled to pull this list together, as there were so many books that deserved to be mentioned.  Therefore, because I am a soft touch, and because the quality of the books I read this year is so impressive, I have decided to expand this list out to 20 entries.  These 20 books are my absolute favourites from 2020, and I would strongly recommend every one of them to anyone who is interested.

Now, I should mention that there is going to be a bit of a crossover between the below entries and some other previous lists I have done before.  In particular, several of these novels appeared on my Top Ten Favourite Audiobooks of 2020 list and my Top Ten Favourite Books from the First Half of 2020 list which I ran back in July.  To make it onto this list, a book needed to be released here in Australia during 2020 and had to be a top quality read.  I have not included any novels that I have not read this year, even they sounded awesome, and I am sure that several, such as The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso, would have made the cut.  I have also excluded Call of the Bone Ships by R. J. Barker, as I am only partway through it at the moment.  I decided to leave off my usual Honourable Mentions section, as the extra 10 entries kind of make it unnecessary.  Overall, though, I have fairly happy with how this Top 20 list turned out and I think it contains a pretty good range of novels that really showcases the different types of books I chose to read this year.  So without further ado, here is the list:

Top 20 List (no particular order):

 

The Trouble With Peace by Joe Abercrombie

The Trouble with Peace Cover

Let us start of this list with the masterclass in dark fantasy fiction that was The Trouble With Peace by the always awesome Joe Abercrombie.  The sequel to last year’s A Little Hatred (which also made last year’s Top 20 Favourites list), The Trouble With Peace presents the reader with another exceptional and deeply entertaining read that places its damaged protagonists onto a whole new battlefield.  Easily one of the best books I read all year, I have no doubt that the final book in this trilogy is going to top all my 2021 favourites lists.

 

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett

The Evening and the Morning Cover

The moment I heard that a new Ken Follett book was coming out in 2020 I knew that it was going to be one of the best historical fiction reads of the year, and boy was I right.  The Evening and the Morning is an addictive and deeply compelling read that serves as a clever prequel to Follet’s iconic The Pillars of the Earth.  Featuring an impressive historical backdrop and some great point-of-view characters, The Evening and the Morning was an exceptional novel that is really worth checking out.

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Bunraku and Other Stories by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo Bunraku and Other Stories Cover

There was no way that I could exclude the latest Usagi Yojimbo from this list.  Readers of this blog know I am a major fan of the awesome and criminally under-read Usagi Yojimbo comic series by the masterful Stan Sakai, which follows a rabbit samurai in an alternate version of Feudal Japan.  2020’s entry, Bunraku and Other Stories, was another impressive entry in the series which easily made it onto this list due to its fun collection of stories, including one great entry that re-imagines the original Usagi Yojimbo comic (as seen in Volume One: The Ronin).  This was a great read, and I cannot wait to get my next fix of Usagi Yojimbo.

 

Battle Ground by Jim Butcher

Battle Ground Cover

I have long meant to check out the highly acclaimed Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, and 2020 was the year that I finally did, with the action-packed Battle GroundBattle Ground was an exceptionally fun and exciting read that puts the protagonist in the middle of a massive supernatural war to decide the fate of Chicago.  Epic in every sense of the word, I powered through Battle Ground in extremely short order and had an outstanding time listening to it.  I am now a mega fan of this series and I plan to go back and listen to some of the older novels in the series next year.

 

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

The Thursday Murder Club Cover

Next we have one of the best debuts of 2020, The Thursday Murder Club by comedian Richard Osman.  The Thursday Murder Club was a captivating and awesome murder mystery novel with strong comedic elements that sees a group of retirees attempt to solve a series of murders taking place around their retirement village.  Funny, sweet, and containing an impressive mystery, this was a fantastic book from a great new author.

 

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Harrow the Ninth Cover

After writing one of my favourite debuts of 2019, Gideon the Ninth, up and coming author Tamsyn Muir, rockets her way onto my favourite reads of 2020 list with Harrow the NinthHarrow the Ninth is an exceptional read that follows a group of half-insane necromancers deep in space.  Containing an extremely complex but ultimately exceptional narrative, this second book in the series proves to be an amazing read that I deeply enjoyed.

 

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

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It

You have no idea how excited I was when I heard that bestselling author K. J. Parker was releasing a sequel to Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, which was one of my favourite books of 2019.  This sequel is an awesome and entertaining continuation of the first book’s story, and this time it follows an actor who attempts to con everyone to save his city.  Easily one of the funniest books I read all year, How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It was an automatic inclusion on this list, and I cannot wait to see if Parker is going to continue this fantastic series in the future.

 

The Grove of the Caesars by Lindsey Davis

The Grove of the Caesars Cover

Another great read from one of my favourite historical fiction authors, Lindsey Davis, The Grove of the Caesars was a compelling historical murder mystery which sees a sassy private investigator hunt a serial killer in ancient Rome.  Highly recommended.

 

Demon in White by Christopher Ruocchio

Demon in White Cover 1

For the third year in a row, science fiction supernova Christopher Ruocchio makes his way onto my favourite books of the year list with the epic and impressive Demon in White.  Serving as the third entry in his Sun Eater Sequence (which has also featured Empire of Silence and Howling Dark), this was an expansive and powerful science fiction novel that follows a doomed protagonist across a dark gothic universe.  An absolute masterpiece, I guarantee that the next book in the series will be one of my top books of 2021.

 

Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst

Race the Sands Cover

Another new author I decided to check out this year was Sarah Beth Durst and her standalone fantasy novel, Race the Sands.  This was an incredibly fun and intriguing read that sees the future of a distinctive fantasy realm decided with monster racing.  I had a great time reading this fast-paced and exceptional book and I cannot wait to see how Durst’s next novel, The Bone Maker, turns out.

 

Ink by Jonathan Maberry

Ink Cover

I do not think anyone is surprised that I included the latest Jonathan Maberry novel on this list.  Ink was another captivating, if disturbing, novel from Maberry, who provides a more horror based read about a memory-stealing, tattoo-absorbing vampire who is hunting the haunted town of Pine Deep.  I really enjoyed this book, and it proved to be another exceptional release from this clever author.  Make sure to keep an eye out for Maberry’s next novel, Relentless, which will serve as the second entry in the Rogue Team International series (the first entry, Rage, was one of the best books of 2019), which will no doubt appear on this list next year.

 

Star Wars: Darth Vader (2020): Volume One: Dark Heart of the Sith

Darth Vader - Dark Heart of the Sith

What is an Unseen Library Top Ten list without a piece of Star Wars tie-in fiction on it?  While there were some great Star Wars novels and comics this year (Doctor Aphra and Shadow Fall come to mind), this first volume of the new Darth Vader comic book series was easily the best piece of Star Wars fiction I read all year.  Diving into the psyche of Darth Vader right after he reveals his identity to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back, Dark Heart of the Sith is a deep and rich Star Wars tale that was one of the best comics of 2020.

 

The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell

The Kingdom of Liars Cover

Another great debut from 2020, The Kingdom of Liars was an impressive and inventive fantasy novel that sets a traitor’s son on a journey of redemption.  Loaded with a compelling story and set in a great new fantasy setting, The Kingdom of Liars was an addictive read, and I think Nick Martell has a very bright future indeed.

 

Fair Warning by Michael Connelly

Fair Warning Cover

I read quite a few good murder mysteries this year, but one of my favourites was Fair Warning by the always amazing Michael Connelly.  Featuring his journalist protagonist Jack McEvoy, Fair Warning features a superb mystery that I had a wonderful time unravelling.  While I did also enjoy Connelly’s other novel of 2020, The Law of Innocence, I think Fair Warning had the stronger story and it was another classic from Connelly.

 

The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde

The Constant Rabbit Cover

If you are need of a laugh after 2020, do yourself a favour and check out this wacky and weird new novel from Jasper Fforde.  Set in an alternate Britain where rabbits have become anthropomorphised and are now demanding equal rights, The Constant Rabbit is a wildly entertaining and amazingly clever read that contains some comedy gold.  While I am a big fan of Fforde’s unusual novels (such as his last book, Early Riser), I was surprised by how funny I found The Constant Rabbit to be, and I honestly could not stop laughing as I read my way through it. 

 

One Minute Out by Mark Greaney

One Minute Out Cover

One of my favourite thrillers of the year was this latest entry in the Gray Man series by veteran author Mark Greaney (who made last year’s list with his military thriller Red Metal).  One Minute Out sees Greaney’s assassin protagonist hunt down a group of human traffickers and engage them in all out war.  An enjoyable, action-packed read, One Minute Out is an amazing novel and I cannot wait to read Greaney’s next book, Relentless.

 

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education Cover

An extremely fun fantasy novel set in a deadly magical school where everything tries to kill the students, need I say more?  This was an epic and captivating novel that I ended up reading in a single night.

 

The Gates of Athens by Conn Iggulden

The Gates of Athens Cover

One of the top authors of historical fiction, Conn Iggulden, returned in 2020 with a brand-new series that chronicles the various wars the plagued ancient Athens.  The first book in this series, The Gates of Athens, was an exceptional read that showed a whole angle to war against the Persians and which was an absolute treat to read.  Highly recommended.

 

Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke

Hollow Empire Cover 2

While I still have to pull a review together for this book, I had to include Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke on my favourites list.  The sequel to one of my favourite books of 2018, City of Lies, Hollow Empire is loaded with intrigue, assassinations, and poison eaters in this great fantasy thriller.

 

Devolution by Max Brooks

Devolution Cover

The final entry on this list is the deeply thrilling horror novel, Devolution, which sees a small community cut-off from the rest of America attempt to survive an ancient terror, Sasquatches.  Devolution was a fantastic novel from Max Brooks, author of World War Z, and it was another fun book that I smashed out in a day.  I loved the action-packed and extremely clever narrative that Brooks cooked up for this novel and it was one of the most exciting and enjoyable books of the year.

 

Well, those are my 20 favourite books of 2020. It turned out to be quite a good list in the end, and I am very glad that I was able to highlight so many fantastic books.  2021 is set to be another excellent year for amazing reads (and let us face it, we all want out of 2020), and I will be examining some of my most anticipated books for the first half of the year next week.  In the meantime, let me know what your favourite books of 2020 were in the comments below, and make sure you all have a happy and safe New Years.

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

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

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

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

Honourable Mentions:


To the Strongest
by Robert Fabbri – 2 January 2020

To the Strongest Cover


The Holdout
by Graham Moore – 18 February 2020

The Holdout Cover

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

House of Earth and Blood Cover


Lionheart
by Ben Kane – 28 May 2020

Lionheart Cover

Top Ten List (By Date of Release):

 

Into the Fire by Gregg Hurwitz – 28 January 2020

Into the Fire


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

Song of the Risen God Cover


One Minute Out
by Mark Greaney – 20 February 2020

One Minute Out Cover


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

The Grove of the Caesars Cover


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

The Girl and the Stars 2


Race the Sands
by Sarah Beth Durst – 21 April 2020

Race the Sands Cover


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

Usagi Yojimbo Bunraku and Other Stories Cover


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

Firefly The Ghost Machine Cover


Fair Warning
by Michael Connelly – 26 May 2020

Fair Warning Cover


Devolution
by Max Brooks – 16 June 2020

Devolution Cover

 

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

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

Usagi Yojimbo Bunraku and Other Stories Cover

Publisher: IDW Publishing (Paperback – 21 April 2020)

Writer, Artist and Letterer: Stan Sakai

Colourist: Tom Luth

Series: Usagi Yojimbo – Book 34

Length: 178 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It is once again that wonderful time of the year when the brand-new volume of the ongoing comic series, Usagi Yojimbo, comes out. Legendary comic creator Stan Sakai returns with the 34th volume in this series, Bunraku and Other Stories, which contains four epic and entertaining stories taking place in the unique setting of a version of feudal Japan inhabited by anthropomorphic animals.

Usagi Yojimbo #1

Those who are familiar with my blog will know that I am a massive fan of the Usagi Yojimbo series, having read all of the comics that have been released, and this is easily one of my favourite series at the moment. I have been eagerly reading these comics for years, and since starting this blog I have been enjoying reviewing entries in the series, such as the prior two volumes, Mysteries and The Hidden (Mysteries was actually the first comic I ever reviewed on this blog), as well as some of the older volumes of the comic. As a result, I was extremely keen to get a copy of the new volume, and Bunraku and Other Stories was one of the top books I wanted to check out this autumn.

This latest volume is a rather special one, as it contains the first Usagi Yojimbo issues that Sakai has written for IDW Publishing. This series has been published by Dark Horse Comics since 1997, and their style was similar to that of the publisher before them, Fantagraphics Books. This move to IDW Publishing brings with it some very intriguing stylistic changes, namely that fact that each issue is now completely in colour. This is a massive departure from the previous entries in the series, each of which were originally released in black and white, and it brings the stories to life in a whole new manner. In order to do this, the series now employs a colourist, Tom Luth, who previously worked on Groo the Wanderer with Sakai. In addition, this latest volume is also physically different from all the previous volumes, as Bunraku and Other Stories is noticeably taller, which surprised me a bit when I saw it the first time, and which is seriously going to mess up aesthetics of my bookshelf. However, having the taller volume allows for slightly bigger panels than were typically featured in the previous Usagi Yojimbo stories, which I quite enjoyed.

Usagi Yojimbo #2

However, even with some of these physical changes, this is still the same old Usagi Yojimbo. Sakai has once again produced some outstanding and deeply enjoyable stories, equipped with his trademark art style and his fantastic and loveable characters. Bunraku and Other Stories contains Issues #1-7 of the new, IDW Publishing, run on the series, and is made up of four separate stories.

The first of these stories is titled Bunraku, and it is the main story of this entire volume, made up of the first three issues. In this story, Usagi is enjoying a bunraku, a traditional Japanese puppet play, when he encounters an old acquaintance, Sasuke, the Demon Queller. Sasuke’s endless hunt for demons and monsters has led him to the bunraku theatre, where he senses that a new evil has taken hold. Despite his reluctance to get involved in another one of Sasuke’s dangerous missions, Usagi agrees to help, especially after they find a corpse that has been supernaturally drained of its life energy. Together, Usagi and Sasuke find that a dangerous and malevolent being has infected the bunraku theatre, and they must do everything in their power to end it.

Usagi Yojimbo #3

Bunraku serves as an exciting and compelling first story in this volume, and I quite enjoyed its supernatural storyline. The Usagi Yojimbo series has a rich history of featuring Japan’s various supernatural monsters and demons in its narratives, and this is easily one of the better ones they have done. The antagonists of this story are rather creepy, and they serve as extremely deadly opponents to Usagi, who finds himself dramatically outclassed at several points throughout the story. I also liked the return of Sasuke, who has shown up in several supernatural storylines since his first appearance back in volume 14. Sasuke is a rather distinctive and intriguing character in this series, as he has dedicated his life to hunting and destroying demons and monsters, many of whom are opponents far beyond normal samurai like Usagi. Despite his tremendous magical powers, Sasuke often finds himself severely drained after each fight, but his drive to complete his mission spurs him on, despite how weary or physically weakened he becomes. Usagi and Sasuke have some interesting interactions throughout this story, as Usagi has become more wary of Sasuke after their last several encounters. Sasuke insists that Usagi helps him once again, and even guilts Usagi into working with him, which makes for a very unusual team dynamic. I thought it made sense that Usagi would be reluctant to get involved, as he or someone he loves has nearly died each time Sasuke has appeared so far. There was also a rather interesting moment when their antagonist asks Sasuke if Usagi was being groomed to replace him, a question that Sasuke does not provide an answer to, and which makes me think we will be seeing a lot more of this character in the future.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the story of Bunraku is the fascinating examination and depiction of the bunraku puppet shows. I always love it when Sakai highlights cool aspects of Japanese history, culture or industry in his stories, and this entry was really amazing. The whole concept of a life-size puppet theatre was really intriguing, and Sakai did a great job examining it, showing what sort of stories they produced and how elaborate their performances could be. This unique art form also turned out to be an awesome basis for this horror adventure story, and I really liked how Sakai worked it into the plot. I also really enjoyed the artwork contained within this first story, and Sakai has come up with some rather impressive sequences and scenes that not only do a fantastic job conveying the action that is occurring but which really highlight the horror aspect of the narrative. The various supernatural opponents in this book are shown to be quite scary and threatening, and I loved the way that Usagi’s face looked absolutely terrified as he fought against them. The use of colour in this first story is also extremely cool, and I loved how it helped bring the whole story to life. I particularly liked the way that the colour really enhanced all of Sasuke’s magical abilities and made them look that much more distinctive and mystical. There is one amazing sequence in which Sasuke turns his sword into flames, which looked so damn awesome and it put me in mind of that one iconic scene from the recent Demon Slayer anime. All in all, this was an outstanding and enjoyable first story in this volume, and readers are in for a real treat right of the bat.

Usagi Yojimbo #4

The next story that is featured within this volume is the two-issue tale, The Hero. In this entry, Usagi, still journeying across the countryside, has encountered an interesting fellow traveller, a famed author who is journeying to her father’s house. The author, Lady Mura, has written several novels, including a tragic tale of heroism that she lets Usagi read. As the two travel together, Usagi learns that Mura is the wife of a high-ranking samurai who is jealous of his wife’s writing ability, as the fame she gains from that far exceeds his reputation as a warrior. While Usagi is able to protect Mura from many of the dangers on the road, including bandits, how will he react when he encounters her husband, especially as the strict rules of honour that bind all samurai forbids him from interfering?

This is a rather heavy and clever story that I think is potentially the best entry in the entire volume. Sakai has crafted together an excellently written and well-thought out narrative that cuts deep into the reader’s emotional core before the end. The character of Lady Mura is an extremely tragic figure, as even after all Usagi does to protect her, her story still ends in heartbreak, just like all her novels. Despite how her story ends, she is able to pass on some inspiration to Usagi about the true nature of a hero, which is how she sees Usagi. There are some really intriguing discussions about the code of the samurai that binds all the major characters within this story, and the problems and compromises that occur because of it are in full display throughout The Hero. I also think that Sakai came up with a perfect ending for the entire story, which felt extremely satisfying, considering what had happened throughout the course of the narrative. The artwork in this story is also really cool, as not only do you have some of the most impressive depictions of the varied and beautiful feudal Japanese landscape (which look so impressive in colour) but you also have some amazing scenes that show fragments of Lady Mura’s novels. These scenes place Usagi in the role of the hero of the classic story (Sakai has done something similar in prior stories like My Lord’s Daughter in the sixth volume, Circles) and show him taking on an undead horde and their evil master, and they are some amazing drawn sequences. The Hero is a truly great story, and I think that Sakai has done an outstanding job coming up with this tragic and heartfelt tale.

Usagi Yojimbo #5

The next story, Adachi, is one of the more interesting entries in this volume, and it was one that I was curious to check out. This story was actually written in commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the series and features a fresh take on the very first Usagi Yojimbo story, The Goblin of Adachigahara, which I previously reviewed in the first volume, The Ronin. In this new version of the story, Usagi returns to the scene of one of his greatest personal tragedies, the battle of Adachigahara Plain (or Adachi Plain in later Usagi Yojimbo stories), where his lord, Mifune, died after one of his generals betrayed him. In the course of this battle, Usagi, who served as Lord Mifune’s bodyguard, was able to perform an essential service by fleeing the battlefield with Mifune’s head, keeping it out of the hands of the treacherous general and the evil Lord Hikiji. Usagi has journeyed back to this place to pay respects to the place he buried his late lord’s head, which only he knows the location of. However, he senses that he is being watched and continues his journey, eventually seeking shelter at the hut of an old lady, who warns him of a goblin that haunts the mountain. Later that night, the goblin attacks the house, trying to kill Usagi, but Usagi is able to trick him and engage him in a fair fight. The goblin is revealed to be the general who betrayed Mifune, who was disgraced and banished by Lord Hikiji due to Usagi’s actions in denying Hikiji his lord’s head. Now determined to claim Mifune’s head and claim what is owed to him, the goblin seeks to kill Usagi, who manages to win, thanks to the help of the old lady, revealed to be the general’s wife, who has remained in exile with him.

This is a really interesting updated version of the story, which I quite enjoyed reading. The whole story is actually a combination of three prior Usagi Yojimbo stories, with some new elements thrown in. The first part of the story, which shows Usagi reliving the events of Adachi Plain, utilises parts from two stories, including Samurai (which appeared in the second volume, Samurai) and Return to Adachi Plain (which appeared in the 11th volume, Seasons). This combination provided a much richer examination of the battle, especially Usagi’s role within it, and I think the two separate sequences merged together well, while also looking even more impressive in colour. The story then continues to focus on the events that previously occurred within The Goblin of Adachigahara, although there are some interesting additions. This includes the goblin deliberately targeting Usagi, due to his role in his dishonour, and Usagi finding out the identity of his attacker before killing him. Knowing that this is the general who betrayed his beloved lord adds a whole new emotional element to the story for Usagi, and their fight is a lot more vicious and elaborate. I also liked the way that Sakai spent time enhancing the visuals surrounding the goblin. While he looked rather cool in the original story, in Adachi, Sakai has made him look even more awesome and intimidating, especially in colour. I also found it interesting that Sakai has turned this whole event into a more recent story in Usagi’s timeline, rather than being an event that occurred quite early in his adventures. The change in the chronology is intriguing, especially as there is a rather great scene in the middle where Usagi, upon visiting the grave his former lord, begs to be released from his vow of service, perhaps so that he can pledge fealty to his friend, Lord Noriyuki of the Geishu Clan. Overall, I thought that this was a clever new take on a classic Usagi Yojimbo story, and fans of this series will appreciate this anniversary special.

Usagi Yojimbo #6

The fourth and final story in this volume is The Swords of the Higashi, which serves as a light-hearted and entertaining conclusion to this volume. The Swords of the Higashi sees the always amusing Usagi Yojimbo side character, Gen, involved in a whole new batch of trouble. This time, Gen and his occasional partner Stray Dog are attempting to recover two extremely valuable stolen swords from a group of bandits. Killing the bandits, the two bounty hunters run into Usagi, who decides to accompany them back to the sword’s owners, the Higashi clan. However, the three ronin make the mistake of leaving one of the bandits alive, and they must contend with a continued flurry of attacks as they make their way back to town.

Now this was a fun and enjoyable story that I found to be extremely hilarious. There are several great elements to this story that I really enjoyed, including the fantastic use of the three main characters, Usagi, Gen and Stray Dog, and their banter as they wander the wilderness is rather entertaining. There is also the really funny extended sequence which sees the characters come under constant attack from bandits and bounty hunters as they attempt to return the blades. Each of these attacks is led by the same bandit, who finds the three companions, gets his cohorts to attack them, and then runs away in a panic when the protagonists win, only to return with a new group of bandits and repeat the cycle a short time later. This repeated turn of events is extremely funny, mainly due to the ridiculousness of the situation and because of the way that Usagi and his friends get more and more exhausted and exasperated with each new cycle. Sakai does an amazing job of making all three protagonists look scruffier and more dispirited with each new attack, and their reactions each time are deeply entertaining, from the way that Stray Dog keeps yelling at Gen for it being his fault, Gen’s growing resentment and frustration at the bandit whose life he saved, and the usual stoic Usagi getting more and more exhausted with each fight: “I’ve been through battles less tiring than today!”. Sakai wraps this whole amusing episode up with a rather clever conclusion to the story, which sees another classic Usagi Yojimbo side character get the best of everyone, and which makes all of Usagi, Gen and Stray Dog’s effort be for nought, which is just so mean considering all they went through. This was an outstanding story that had me laughing the entire way through, and I thought it was the perfect way to end this entire volume.

Usagi Yojimbo #7

The latest Usagi Yojimbo volume, Bunraku and Other Stories, is another incredible comic from Stan Sakai that I absolutely loved. Sakai has once again produced several exciting and clever stories, filled with great characters, powerful emotional moments, clever examinations of classic Japanese culture and a number of visually stunning sequences, which are so much fun to read. With the comics now in full and glorious colour, this was an outstanding new entry in the series, and is a must read for all Usagi Yojimbo fans. It gets a full five-star rating from me and comes highly recommended.

Top Ten Tuesday – Autumn 2020 TBRs

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, participants need to list the top ten books on their Autumn 2020 (or Spring 2020 for those up in the Northern Hemisphere) to be read (TBR) list.

There are a huge number of novels coming out in the next couple of months which I have my eye on. Many of these are very impressive sounding books, and I am extremely excited for several of them. As a result, I was able to come up with a good list of Autumn TBR books, and each of the entries below are some of my most anticipated releases coming out in March, April and May 2020. I have previously addressed several of these books before in my weekly Waiting on Wednesday posts, and there is also likely to be some crossover between this list and some of my previous Top Ten Tuesday lists, such as My Most Anticipated Book Releases for the First Half of 2020 list and my Predicted Five Star Reads list. So let’s get to it and see which books I am most looking forward to reading in the next three months.

Honourable Mentions:


Providence
by Max Barry (31 March 2020)

Providence Cover


Execution
by S. J. Parris (30 April 2020)

Execution Cover


Lionheart
by Ben Kane (14 May 2020)

Lionheart Cover

Top Ten List (By Release Date):

Cyber Shogun Revolution by Peter Tieryas (3 March 2020)

Cyber Shogun Revolution


The Grove of the Caesars
by Lindsey Davis (2 April 2020)

The Grove of the Caesars Cover


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

Usagi Yojimbo Bunraku and Other Stories Cover

There was no way that I wasn’t going to include the new Usagi Yojimbo on this list (especially after I just did Throwback Thursday posts for the first three volumes in the series, The Ronin, Samurai and The Wanderer’s Road). This has been one of my favourite series for years, and I really enjoyed Sakai’s last two entries, Mysteries and The Hidden. This upcoming volume, Bunraku and Other Stories, has a lot of potential and some cool features to it. Not only is it the first volume to be released completely in colour but it sounds like it is going to have some fantastic stories, including one that revisits the very first Usagi Yojimbo comic.

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett (21 April 2020)

Shorefall Cover


Firefly
: The Ghost Machine by James Lovegrove (28 April 2020)

Firefly The Ghost Machine Cover


The Kingdom of Liars
by Nick Martell (5 May 2020)

The Kingdom of Liars Cover


The Lion Shield
by Conn Iggulden (14 May 2020)

The Lion Shield Cover

Iggulden is one of the top historical fiction authors in the world today, and he has created some exceptional novels in the past, including his Emperor and War of the Roses series, as well as the 2018 standalone novel The Falcon of Sparta. I have deeply enjoyed Iggulden’s work in the past, and I cannot wait to check out his new novel later this year. The Lion Shield is the first book in a new series that will focus on the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. This is an extremely fascinating historical conflict that is criminally underutilised in the historical fiction genre. I cannot wait to see what outstanding novels Iggulden weaves around this conflict, and I am sure that The Lion Shield is going to be an impressive first entry in this series.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (19 May 2020)

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Cover


Eagle Station
by Dale Brown (26 May 2020)

Eagle Station Cover


Fair Warning
by Michael Connelly (26 May 2020)

Fair Warning Cover

Michael Connelly is an author that needs very little introduction, having produced some amazing and creative murder mysteries over the years. I have only recently started reading his books, but I loved his last two novels, Dark Sacred Night and The Night Fire (the latter of which was one of the best books I read in 2019, as well as one of my favourite audiobooks of 2019). As a result, I am extremely keen to check out his next novel, Fair Warning, which will be his third Jack McEvoy novel. Fair Warning sounds like it is going to be a thrilling and exciting novel, and I cannot wait to see Connelly’s reporter protagonist go up against a deadly and well-hidden serial killer.

Well that’s my latest top ten list. I am very happy with the final list that I pulled together, especially as this is a great mixture of impressive sounding novels. I think each of the books listed above have incredible potential, and I cannot wait to read each and every one of them. Let me know which of these books interests you the most in the comments below.