Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Books from the First Half of 2021

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The task for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was originally to list the reasons why I love reading, however I am going to go off topic and instead look at something else.  We have just crossed into the second half of 2021, which has already proven to be a pretty fantastic year for books.  I have read some incredible novels so far this year, including impressive standalone books, amazing new entries in established series and fantastic debuts.  Because of this, I thought that I would take the time to work out what my top ten favourite books from the first half of 2021 were.

Once I knew what I wanted to pull together for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, I started taking a hard look at all the different novels that I have read this year.  To be eligible, a book had to be released in (or extremely close to) the first half of this year.  I have also excluded any books released during this period that I have not so far read, although a couple of releases I have my eye on might have appeared on this list if I had had the chance to read them before now.

Coming up with this list proved to be a rather bigger task than I originally intended, as I ended up amassing nearly 20 different releases, all of which I consider to be some pretty outstanding reads.  I ended up being able to eventually whittle this down to an acceptable Top Ten list, although I did include my typical generous honourable mentions section.  I am rather happy with how this list turned out, although I am surprised at some of the great releases that ended up being excluded.  Still, the books below represent what I considered to be some of the best books from the first half of 2021, and I would strongly recommend each and every one of them.  So let us see what made the cut.

 

Honourable Mentions:

Prodigal Son by Gregg Hurwitz

Prodigal Son Cover

 

The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer

The Warsaw Orphan Cover

 

Later by Stephen King

Later Cover

 

The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

The Girls I've Been Cover

 

Top Ten List (no particular order):

The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

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

 

Star Wars: Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

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

 

Relentless by Mark Greaney

Relentless by Mark Greaney Cover

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

 

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

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

 

Artifact Space by Miles Cameron

Artifact Space Cover

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

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 35: Homecoming by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo - Homecoming

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

 

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary Cover

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

 

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

The Bone Maker Cover

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

 

Colonyside by Michael Mammay

Colonyside Cover

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

 

Protector by Conn Iggulden

Protector Cover Final

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

 

 

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

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 35: Homecoming by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo - Homecoming

Publisher: IDW Publishing (Paperback – 13 April 2021)

Writer, Artist and Letterer: Stan Sakai

Colourist: Tom Luth

Series: Usagi Yojimbo – Volume 35

Length: 192 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Haul – 8 May 2021

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

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 35: Homecoming by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo - Homecoming

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

Firefly: Life Signs by James Lovegrove

Firefly Life Signs

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

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became the Sun Cover

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

The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer

The Warsaw Orphan Cover

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

Red Wolves by Adam Hamdy

Red Wolves Cover

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

Saint Death by Mark Dawson

Saint Death Cover

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

The Paris Collaborator by A. W. Hammond

The Paris Collaborator Cover

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

#MurderFunding by Gretchen McNeil

#MurderFunding Cover

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

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

Top Ten Tuesday – Books on my Autumn 2021 TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this Top Ten Tuesday, participants need to list the top releases that they are looking forward to reading in Spring (or Autumn for us down here in Australia).  This is a fun exercise that I have done for each of the preceding seasons, and it is always interesting to highlight the various cool sounding books that are coming out in the next few months.

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

 

Honourable Mentions:


Blackout
by Simon Scarrow – 30 March 2021

Blackout Cover

 

Crusader by Ben Kane – 27 April 2021

Crusader Cover

 

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – 4 May 2021

Project Hail Mary Cover

 

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

Gamora and Nebula - Sisters in Arms Cover

 

Top Ten List:


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

The Councillor Cover

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

 

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

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

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

 

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst – 9 March 2021

The Bone Maker Cover

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

 

Breakout by Paul Herron – 9 March 2021

Breakout Cover

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

 

Firefly: Life Signs by James Lovegrove – 16 March 2021

Firefly Life Signs

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

 

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

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

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

 

A Comedy of Terrors by Lindsey Davis – 30 March 2021

A Comedy of Terrors Cover

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

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Homecoming by Stan Sakai – 14 April 2021

Usagi Yojimbo - Homecoming

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

 

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

The Girl and the Mountain Cover

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

 

Protector by Conn Iggulden – 18 May 2021

Protector Cover Final

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

 

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

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

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

Usagi Yojimbo - Homecoming

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

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Honourable Mentions:

 

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

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

DoctorAphra2020-1

 

Firefly: Life Signs by James Lovegrove – 16 March 2021

Firefly Life Signs

 

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

Star Wars - Thrawn Ascendancy - Greater Good Cover

 

Top Ten Tuesday (By Release Date):

 

Prodigal Son by Gregg Hurwitz – 26 January 2021

Prodigal Son Cover

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

 

The Three Paradises by Robert Fabbri – 2 February 2021

The Three Paradises Cover

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

 

Relentless by Mark Greaney – 23 February 2021

Relentless Mark Greaney Cover

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

 

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

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

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

 

Breakout by Paul Herron – 9 March 2021

Breakout Cover

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

 

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst – 9 March 2021

The Bone Maker Cover

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

 

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

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

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

 

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

Usagi Yojimbo - Homecoming

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

 

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

The Girl and the Mountain Cover

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

 

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik – 29 June 2021

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

 

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