Sunday, December 29, 2019

Witty's Year End Book Review 2019

This whole year had been busy in a lot of ways: Work at the library involved my taking on double-duty as an interim director; I was active with the Florida Writers' Association's Royal Palm Literary Awards as a judge (I did not judge in the fields I submitted, relax); I increased the amount of stories submitted to the markets to see if any publisher would like (just one: A sad truth is that writers face a ton of rejection and few victories. We live for the victories).

In all of this, I still found some time to sit and read, both for relaxation and for education/self-information. Here's what I had in front of me for 2019 and what I think deserves a huzzah or three for being effective reads:

Best Fiction

Black Spire (Star Wars Galaxy's Edge #2), by Delilah S. Dawson

I didn't read much fiction - I blame my heated political slant, see below - so what I did sometimes didn't keep my interest. This one did. Granted, I am a huge Star Wars geek and so I can get into books in that 'Verse quite easily, so this one already had a few bonus points to keep the grade up.

Tying in to both the aftermath of The Last Jedi movie as well as promoting a new Disney theme park called Galaxy's Edge, Dawson (who also wrote the well-received Phasma novel) sends her heroine/Resistance spy Vi to the Outer Rim in search of safe havens and new recruits. Instead Vi runs into a wretched hive of tourism and sunscreen (in other words Orlando Metro FL ow stop hitting me) where run-ins with First Order troops and vendors selling 800 credit t-shirts (ow stop hitting me again) keep her busy.

Dawson does write a lot of Young Adult, so a good amount of dialogue and description reads to a middle-school level than adult, but for me it's not a problem. What I enjoyed were 1) re-immersion into a 'Verse I love, 2) good storytelling, 3) likable characters and 4) the subtle Floridian snarkery of poking fun at our tourist industry while accepting its place in our lives.

Best Non-Fiction

The Man Who Sold America, by Joy-Ann Reid.

There are a TON of trump political books I can recommend, given my outrage and discontent about our nation's current predicament under his corrupt rule (yes, as an apostate moderate ex-Republican, I have a bias against that Shitgibbon). Reid's is one of the better ones worth your time, which focuses as much on trump's still-shadowy background and rise in business as well as his current acts of corruption and failure.

Honorable Mention: The Mueller Report (Washington Post edition)

In terms of our current events, keeping up with the political catastrophe that has been the trump Administration requires constant reading and constant reminding. Robert Mueller's years-long investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 elections, and the possibility of donald trump's involvement aiding them, may have come out in April and it may not have ended with proper closure... but a lot of the revelations even when redacted exposes a criminal enterprise behind everything trump has done and is doing right now (hi, impeachment over Ukraine military aid extortion!).

Best Graphic Novel (or Ongoing Series)

Harleen (Black Label), by Stjepan Sejic (DC Comics)

As part of a publication effort to print darker and edgier versions of their mainstream characters, this one focuses on THE breakout Batman rogue of the 1990s - Harley Quinn - to provide a more nightmarish origin story to Dr. Harleen Quinzel's run-in with (and corruption by) the Joker.

As always, the art is the biggest draw: Sejic works like a painter much of the time with the kind of detail to character designs (although I gotta admit a lot of people's chins start to look the same) that make you squint and zoom in to catch it. Also, he can draw nightmarish images that haunt more than terrify, fulfilling the darker/edgier requirement of the Black Label series. The plot itself covers familiar ground - foreshadowing of the demons Harleen herself carries with her, the meetings with Joker than begin her descent as a force for chaos - but Sejic refreshes them in an attempt to make the (anti) heroine a more intelligent and tragic figure that can later find the shred of redemption.

Dishonorable Mention: Doomsday Clock, Geoff Johns (DC Comics)

Not gonna provide a link here, because as a miniseries supposedly trying to tie in Alan Moore's Watchmen universe into the overall DCU this one has been a meandering mess. Considering how writer Geoff Johns had overseen the last decade or more of Crisis-level changes to the comic 'Verse narrative, this miniseries looks to be his latest - maybe last - attempt to clean up all loose ends caused by those shifts. I'm not sure it works: Characters introduced and then ignored for entire issues, plot points that weren't even present early on suddenly become the reason the whole story is being told... I just couldn't keep up with it. There was one bright moment in the entire series - where Manhattan becomes aware of the multiverse and how it's affected by the real-world metaverse - where you can see what Johns was aiming for... and if he made that more prominent from the first issue the miniseries might have been a more coherent work. But he cluttered it up too early and too often, and I walked away discouraged.

Best Work by Someone I Email, Tweet, or Chat With on a Regular Basis

Eye Spy (Valdemar Universe Family Spies series), Mercedes Lackey

Adding to the list of authors I've been in communication is Ms. Lackey, and for a roundabout reason. Ya see, I'm a fan of an MMO called City of Heroes that sadly got shut down a few years back... only for a dedicated fanbase to secretly start up a private server version of the game to continue to hard work of saving Paragon City. Well, earlier this year someone blabbed about the secret server, which launched a huge outcry of millions of fans who wanted to get back on it (oh, and the usual suspects of people complaining the secret server had access to people's credit card numbers). So the secret server managers released the game code and... well, as long as NCSoft doesn't bring the lawyer hammers down on anybody, the game is there to upload and play.

City of Heroes was huge in the day (and its revival one of the bigger gaming news of 2019), and it drew in a lot of well-known fans including Mercedes Lackey. She was such a fan of the game she wrote an entire superhero novel series called The Secret World Chronicles (unrelated to City of Heroes itself due to copyright) that she's kept up with to this day.

So here's the thing: In-game, they hold Costume Contests (CoH is legendary for its varied costume options for your game avatars) and one night they announced a secret prize. So I showed up with my most outrageous avatar (Lady Esoteric) and ended up winning! The prize turned out to be a gift copy of the second book in Lackey's Family Spies series set in her Valdemar universe, which she sent to me via email and basically qualifies her for this award. Congratulations! (ow stop hitting my Blaster)

You may need to get into the entire Valdemar 'Verse first, but I'll try to make it simple. There's a kingdom ruled by a benevolent monarchy beset by dark forces - at one point a rival border power, currently tribal raiders - that require the aid of magical creatures (known as Companions) and also magical people (known as Heralds) to protect the realm. The Family Spies series focuses on one Herald family where at least in the first two books the children develop their magical Gifts to serve both family and kingdom. Eye Spy focuses on Abidela (Abi for short) who discovers her Gift as a form of Scrying (the reading of inanimate objects) that can sense their physical weak points.

From there Abi is swept off to Wizard School the Collegium to hone her skills and train as her parents had to serve as a Spy. From there she hits the field working on a mystery involving a drowned village and political schemes that threaten Valdemar's reputation with their border allies.

Lackey's skills are in the details of her world-building, and crafting characters who are believable as social, living beings. I do encourage you to read the earlier Valdemar novels though to help get a better understanding of how that whole world works.

Best Work Including Stuff I Wrote

This has always been a narrow category, considering few publications accept the stories I submit. I made serious efforts this year with short story submissions but... well... Sigh. I need better adjective placement in the stuff I write, I think...


Strangely Funny VI, edited by Sarah Glenn (Mystery & Horror LLC)

Keeping up with the near-annual Strangely Funny series, I submitted another chapter of the ongoing Dhampyr storyline with Minette on vacation in "How a Vampire Gets a Tan". Set in the more current day of... well, after the events of a novel I've half-finished called Subway Night, it's a pretty straight forward story of why vampires don't tan outdoors (it's less to do with getting charbroiled and more to do with the excessive pheromone production when they sweat). Saying any further would spoil the rest of the story, but anyway it's a good volume and it's an overall great series so PLEASE take the time to purchase/download (available in Kindle) and read.

Happy New Year, everybody, here's hoping 2020 has a lot of fun reading ahead.

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