I love best-of lists and reading wrap-ups. As 2023 comes to a close, it’s time to sit, think, and write such a post. I always do it with pleasure.
It was a rather good year. I’ve read a lot and discovered some excellent reads. Contrary to previous years, my 2023 wrap-up is dominated by fun, pulpy, and entertaining, with just a few “serious” works thrown in the mix.
I guess it’s because the year has been intense and I simply gravitated toward easier, more accessible books. I’ve rediscovered my love for thrillers and mysteries but I won’t list them because it’s a fantasy website, after all. That said, some of my most thrilling reads this year were all thrillers. I’ll mention a few standouts here, in case someone here is interested: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, False Witness by Karin Slaughter, The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson, and The Traitor by Ava Glass.
I hope some of you will find inspiration here and maybe discover something worth attention 🙂
1. STAR SPLITTER by Matthew J. Kirby – Wow. I mean, seriously, wow.
I’m not typically a YA reader. But if there are more YA books like “Star Splitter” out there, I want them all. Right here, right now. The story takes readers on a journey through space and time, yet it keeps the stakes deeply personal and the main character completely relatable. It’s easy to read but it makes you think about what makes us us and it’s something I’ve been obsessing over whole my life.
2. LEXICON by Max Barry – I believe in the power of words. So do the Poets. Not daydreaming ones. Nope. I’m speaking about a secret society whose members adopt names of renowned poets like Yeats and Eliot, and who refined their language and persuasion skills to bend others to their will.
Aside from revolving around a fascinating topic (words able to obliterate civilizations), Lexicon is an extremely readable thriller with jaw-dropping twists and high-octane action. The narrative constantly shifts perspectives between characters, making the story fun to decipher and filled with suspense.
3. GALATEA by Madeline Miller – it’s not a book, actually, but a short story. But it’s also one of the best pieces of fiction I’ve ever read. It retells the story of Galatea and despite being just 30 pages long packs a punch very few books do. The pricing of the Kindle version, though, is a horror story.
4. BLOOD OVER BRIGHT HAVEN by M.L. Wang – Dark, disturbing, and utterly addictive, Blood Over Bright Haven is an absolute must-read. I’m not well-versed in the dark academia subgenre, but you can’t go wrong with this page-turner. It delves into topics of imperialism, racism, elitism, and supremacy, but it’s a damn good book above all.
M.L. Wang is a treasure and if she continues to grow as an author, she has a bright future.
5. THE SECRET LIFE OF SOULS by Jack Ketchum – It’s about a dysfunctional family, fame, money, accidents, and a little girl and her dog. It’s also about the need for empathy and tenderness. And lost souls.
The Secret Life of Souls made me read The Girl Next Door by Ketchum, a brilliant book that traumatized me. The Girl Next Door isn’t fantasy, and the fact it’s based on real events makes it even more horrifying (who needs monsters when people are around). Why am I adding this? Because Ketchum is a fantastic writer and I think more people should read his books.
6. THE SEPTEMBER HOUSE by Carissa Orlando – cozy horror is a thing. Except when it gets bloody. It’s fun, and engaging, and the characters are fantastic. Also, the audiobook narrator does a stellar job here.
7. LIGHT BRINGER by Pierce Brown – Pierce Brown knows no mercy. I have many thoughts after finishing this book but the one I want to share with you is simple – fuck Lysander.
8. SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE by Austin Grossman – I had a lot of fun listening to this book. It’s top-tier entertainment in which the villain is more likable and interesting than the heroes. Not uncommon in superhero fiction 🙂
9. THE CHILD THIEF by Brom – Phenomenal.
If you think Peter Pan is an endearing fairy tale, think twice. Or simply read Child Thief, the dark and twisted retelling of this fairy tale. This is not your Disney fairy tale – this brutal story blurs the line between hero and villain. Graphic violence serves a purpose – it shows the harsh reality of a world where survival is not guaranteed to anyone.
Brom’s writing awed me; it’s visceral and raw, and allows to paint a world that is both terrifying and captivating. I found myself unable to put this book down. If you’re a fan of dark fantasy or fairy tale retellings, this is a must-read. Seriously.
I feel this year I’ve read much more brilliant graphic novels than brilliant books. Here are my 5 favorites.
GIANT DAYS series by John Allison (Autor), and Max Sarin (Illustrator) – I’ve binged the whole series in 3 days. It’s bloody brilliant, genuinely funny, and heartfelt. Amazing stuff I’ll reread with pleasure.
UZUMAKI by Junji Ito – one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever read. Also, brilliant take on cosmic horror. I loved it.
AAMA by Frederik Peeters – If you’re looking for a wonderfully imaginative futurism with strong writing and a focus on familial bonds and (in a way) spirituality, you can’t go wrong with it.
AMERICAN VAMPIRE by Scott Snyder – that’s how you write vampires. Excellent stuff.
SNOW ANGELS by Jeff Lemire and Jock – I know it’s tropey and not exactly groundbreaking but it’s an excellent post-apocalyptic survival story with stunning art by Jock.
DARK (Netflix) – an absolute masterpiece. The best TV series I’ve ever watched. To say anything about the plot would spoil it, so I won’t do it.
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (Netflix) – oh, how the mighty fall. I liked the whole series but the ending gave it lots of depth and extra dimension. A horror show made right.