Saturday, January 6, 2024

My Favorite Books of 2023


Scott D. Parker

One of the things I did in 2023 that really helped me remember what I read was my notecard habit. For everything I watched or read, I wrote down my thoughts on a 4x6 lined index card along with the date. I particularly appreciated the finite space of an index card. Granted, sometimes I’d write a review for a blog and the notecard would be “See blog” but those times were rare. 

Lots of Comics

I ended up reading quite a bit in 2023. Now, one of the things that really helped bump up the total was my decision in the summer to read a comic book per day from Memorial Day to Labor Day. As a result, I read over 99 comics during the summer and then just kept going until the steak was broken on 11 November. It was so much fun to rediscover old issues I hadn’t read in decades and get introduced to new ones.

I particularly enjoyed the Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle run on Batman from the early 1990s. I own nearly every title from that run so I had the great pleasure of opening my long boxes and fishing out issues that most likely hadn’t been opened since I taped them up back in my college days. Grant’s way of telling a story that drew on then-current issues like drugs and terrorism was a nice bridge between the Bronze Age version of the character and the grim/dark version we now have. Grant kept reminding the reader that Batman was really a man. Breyfogle’s art is superb, and not just his way to drawing characters and scenes but his imaginative way of laying out the panels. 

A more modern comic title I really enjoyed was the current run on Nightwing by Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo. This pair remember something fundamental to the comic book medium: It’s supposed to be fun! They tell the story of the adult Dick Grayson from a point of view that basically makes you question why Bruce Wayne dresses up like a bat versus investing his money in other things that can help Gotham. And this title has heart. I was grinning the entire time I read these issues.

Favorite Books

But I also read “real” books (as my wife calls them). I’m in a science fiction/fantasy book club (we’re in Year 15 now) and I don’t often finish the books I didn’t select, so I’m not going to include them in my best estimate of started-but-not-finished books (approximately 10). As best as I can tell, I finished 24 fiction books in 2023 (and two non-fiction books), which might be the most number of books I’ve read in many years. 

DEAD SILENCE by S.A. Barnes - I gave this one an A in my book club. Think derelict “Titanic” space cruiser where salvagers have to enter the ship to retrieve things…but there might be something else on board. Super creepy, and the horror elements really worked for me.

THE NAZI CONSPIRACY by Brad Meltzer - All I need to know is that Meltzer wrote another history book. The fact that Scott Brick reads narrates is just gravy. There is an effortless quality to the prose and the narration about an alleged plot to kill FDR, Churchill, and Stalin at the Tehran Conference. Lots of great detail and it reads like a novel.

THE SPARE MAN by Mary Robinette Kowal - Five words sold me this book: “The Thin Man in Space.” Kowal narrates her own book that features two main protagonist that are more than worthy successors to Nick and Nora Charles.

FALLING by T.J. Newman - The cover is what snagged my attention, but the story of a pilot being blackmailed into crashing his plane kept my earbuds glued in my ears until it was over. Propulsive story that is suspenseful but not the breakneck pace of other thrillers. 

CHARM CITY ROCKS by Matthew Norman - If I had to pick my favorite book of the year, this is it. I read it (not audio) over four days, and I haven’t done that since forever. Here’s the premise. 

A single dad, Billy, is watching a rock and roll documentary with his high school senior son, Caleb, when the fictional band Burnt Flowers shows up. Billy confesses that he had a huge crush on the drummer, Margot Hammer, back in the day. With Caleb about to go off to college and with his mom married, he worries about his dad will be lonely when he moves away. When Caleb accidentally eats some “special” gummies, he sends an email to Margot who is a rock and roll recluse after a spectacular and public meltdown on stage two decades ago. Caleb invites Margot to come to Charm City Rocks, the record store in Baltimore over which his dad lives. He’s convinced that if the former rock star would just meet his dad, they’d hit it off.

But Caleb knows that Margot won’t just come down to Baltimore so he poses as if he’s a teenaged girl in an all-girl rock band. Margot’s publicist thinks it a great idea to get Margot’s name back out in the world and urges her to go. Reluctantly, she agrees, and then the truth hits the fan.

DROWNING by T.J. Newman - From the opening, harrowing moments of the first three chapters to the last 30 minutes of the audiobook, this book did not let up. In the book, a plane suffers mechanical failure two minutes after takeoff from Honolulu and crashes into the ocean. Unlike those famous airplane disaster movies from the 1970s that takes a quarter of the movie to introduce the characters and get the plane in the air, Newman puts you on the plane just after takeoff from the first sentence. By Chapter 3, the plane is down.

And those three chapters are incredibly harrowing and edge-of-your-seat suspenseful. How suspenseful you might ask? Suspenseful enough to elicit an emotional response. Heart pounding in the chest and a sting of tears in the eyes. And that was only the beginning.

PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy Weir - The SF story of one man’s attempt to save all of humanity…as he works with an alien trying to save his planet. 

LION AND LAMB by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski - Yet another “Nick and Nora”  type story with two utterly charming main characters. This book is so much fun. As I closed out my review: “When you find a book or characters that you instantly form a connection with, you just want more and more stories. As a writer, I know how long the process can take.

Which is why I’m requesting, on behalf of all the reading audience, that Patterson and Swierczynski write a new Lion and Lamb novel every year. Oh, and TV execs? Read this one. And then make the series. Call me. I’ve got some ideas on casting.

THE CHRISTMAS GUEST by Peter Swanson - I enjoyed reading seasonal books and this was the second Christmas book I read (after a re-read of THE CHRISTMAS THIEF by Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark). I had never heard of Swanson but this novella was quite good. I really appreciated the twist at the end, and the ultimate reveal. How much did I like it? The first book of 2024 I read was a Swanson book…but that’s a different post.

On the non-fiction side, my favorite was BE USEFUL by Arnold Schwarzenegger. His story, his rise from humble beginnings to what he became is a good one, and this slim volume boils down his philosophy down to seven things. Oh, and Arnold reads the audiobook so that’s a win-win.

So, those are my selections. What are some of your favorite books of 2023? And what are you looking forward to in 2024?

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