Time flies when you're trying to get two books put together while juggling full-time librarian work. Ahh, but here we are at the end of 2023 and it's time to promote the books I've read this year that I'd like to share with you.
As a reminder, this list is not the best books that came out this year, but the best of what I've read this year. This means the book could be published five-ten years ago and I've just gotten around to it. The book should well be available in your local library (or you can always purchase online).
Gator A-Go-Go, Tim Dorsey
I decided to reach back to some of the better books in that series, and this story - an unusually dark tale even for Dorsey - stood out. If you've read one Serge book, you'll notice how most of the others will go: Serge and his drug-addled Sancho Panza figure (Coleman here) will get involved in a zany scheme to revel in a particular Floridian trend, in this story the annual Spring Break craziness of college students partying at the popular beaches. There will be a parallel story involving relative innocent characters - this time a college student getting hunted by a violent drug cartel seeking retribution - that Serge will intercept and then drag along to protect those characters all the while driving across the Sunshine State and driving everybody else mad.
Gator A-Go-Go is notable for throwing in a large number of side characters that Dorsey introduced over the years, including the Davenport family and the likes of "City" and "Country" (college girls fleeing from a crime they didn't commit). Coleman - drug abuser extraordinaire - gets to shine teaching the college kids how to handle their highs, and even teams up with his mirror character Lenny to complete the circle. It's also one of the books where Serge's skill set - highly inventive ways to kill bad guys or bad tourists - goes into some of his craziest kills yet, including a painfully simple-yet-effective "death by toilet" along with the reinvention of the ballista. But where Serge's violence is wacky fun, the narrative arc for the innocent character Andy - coming to terms with what the drug cartel did to hurt his family - gets deadly serious. It makes for one of Dorsey's most complex and plot-heavy books in the series.
I may be tempted to do a review of all the Serge books next year.
One of the more interesting historical reads I've seen, where Thompson takes a literal field trip to all the important places across the United States where the foundling nation fighting the British for independence, and does it in chronological order racing from the battlefields of Massachusetts and New York down to the swamps of South Carolina leading to Yorktown. In-between, he visits the smaller yet pivotal flashpoints where bad luck or a bad military order could have ended the fight and the new nation.
Making this a delight - for an amateur historian like meself - are the interviews Thompson makes with fellow local historians who are well-versed in both the legends and the facts of what happened on those battlefields. One of the highlights in the book is when Thompson arrives at Saratoga, the victory for the Americans that convinced France and other European nations to support the rebellion, and where controversy over Benedict Arnold's role - the hero of Saratoga who ended up as America's greatest betrayer - questioned if he was as big a hero - and as tragic a figure - as common knowledge makes him. Talking with the local historians like Jim Hughto and Eric Schnitzer, Thompson weaves together the complex events of the Battle of Saratoga to give as much insight to the reader as possible... and I'd rather let you read the conclusions on p. 176 of the hardcover for yourself so I can encourage you to check this out.
Best Graphic Novel (or On-Going Series)
Wonder Woman (Dawn of DC series), Tom King writer and Daniel Sampere artist
With all of the in-universe Crises and crossover storylines that have consumed the DC Universe the past 20 years, I tend to be wary of any new reboot of the 'verse that follows all the other confusing reboots that have gone before.
This new Dawn of DC event meant to rebirth the major characters alongside a shared narrative of an Earth - and universe - now hostile to the superheroes that had been brought back from the dead (again) has a base storyline of Amanda Waller - wary of metahumans like never before - working with her government-controlled metahumans and super-powered agencies to remove the Justice League level superheroes along with the supervillains. As part of her plot, she's gotten the United States government - with a puppet President - to outlaw the Amazonian culture and their warriors - meaning Wonder Woman herself - to the point where outright war with the Amazons will be the only result.
In the midst of that, Diana is trying to bridge the gap between the forces and maintain a positive public persona while the media and US government openly attack her and her sisters... and failing, as Wonder Woman's allies in the US find themselves ostracized and as the leaders on Themyscira prepare for a fight.
King has been one of the more reliable writers in the DC 'verse over the years, able to deliver decent plotting and dialog, and I have high hopes he'll do this series well as the Dawn plotline progresses. I'm not familiar with Sampere's work as an artist although he's done previous work on various Superman titles. His work on this series is noticeably beautiful.
As for the whole Dawn of DC narrative... we'll see.
Best Work By Someone I Email, Tweet, or Chat With On a Regular Basis
Starter Villain, John Scalzi
I should be changing this requirement from Twitter to Bluesky as Elon Musk is killing Twitter (no I will NOT call it X), but anyway Scalzi is keeping up with new twisted tales in the science fiction / fantasy genres with this latest novel. A divorced, unhappy guy stuck as a substitute teacher and stuck in a house he inherited from his recently-passed dad finds himself stuck inheriting his uncle's parking garage empire... except that the parking garage empire is a cover for a supervillain empire. The guy Charlie suddenly finds himself competing against fellow supervillains while figuring out the rules of the game: The villainy isn't for blowing up stuff for world domination, it's selling the stuff that can blow up (that's where the real money is). He has to cope with being an evildoer and also coming to terms with the possibility his pet cats might be smarter at this than he is.
Done in a breezy, almost tongue-in-cheek style, with an eye towards deconstructing the James Bond vs. Spectre / GI Joe vs. Cobra narratives that Scalzi's generation (he's a fellow Xer) grew up enjoying, Starter Villain is a good read to get into once you're tired of binge-watching the Marvel shows on Disney-Plus. Get to it, people!
Best Work Including Stuff I Wrote
Funny Locations: Collected Stories, Paul Wartenberg
Bound around a theme of stories happening in different locales, with a hopefully humorous bent, this is something I hope appeals well to others. It's got a number of stories that I know have gone over well - "Fifth Annual Office Golf Showdown" is an award winner, and "Road Trip To Vegas" made semifinalist for the Royal Palms a few years back - and I mostly hope this self-published effort has all the speeling and grammah eroors all figured oot.
Okay, all kidding aside. PLEASE do me the honor of buying my book and leaving good reviews anywhere and everywhere, thank you!