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2023 has been a challenging year. Hell, even saying hard or brutal would be a grand understatement. 2023, for me, was the year that forked my life. In June of 2023, my father passed away. There are no words to express my grief. Nothing strong enough, but I believe I will see him again dancing amongst the star stuff. Three weeks prior to my father’s passing, my uncle Gene passed away. He was a giant of a man, and on Thanksgiving, my aunt Carool passed away.

I read in 2023 to escape, to feel something outside of the stresses and pain I felt daily. My books read this year are slightly different from my normal grimdark and horror roster, which I dearly love. But no less impactful. I am going to call out some favorites and why. Sadly, I did not do many reviews this year; it was a bit much. But I was the hype man for all my favorites and did everything possible to spread the love.

As of today, I have read 175 books. That is 75 over what I was aiming for. The books averaged around 370 pages a piece.

The below are some of the books that really struck a cord with me, you might be surprised.

Tags

Genres: Fantasy Fiction Science Fiction Audiobook Humor Post Apocalyptic Magic

Perfect Audiobook

Matt Dinniman

Dungeon Crawler Carl

It’s the most-watched game show in the galaxy!

In a flash, every human-erected construction on Earth–from Buckingham Palace to the tiniest of sheds to all the trucks and cars–collapses in a heap, sinking into the ground.

The buildings and all the people inside, they’ve all been atomized and transformed into the dungeon: an 18-level labyrinth filled with traps, monsters, and loot. A dungeon so enormous, it circles the entire globe.

Only a few dare venture inside. But once you’re in, you can’t get out. And what’s worse, each level has a time limit. You have but days to find a staircase to the next level down, or it’s game over. In this game, it’s not about your strength or your dexterity. It’s about your views and your followers. It’s about building an audience and killing those goblins with style.

You can’t just survive here. You gotta survive big.

You gotta fight with vigor, with excitement. You gotta make them stand up and cheer. And if you do have that “it” factor, you may just find yourself with a following. That’s the only way to truly survive in this game, with the help of the loot boxes dropped upon you by the generous benefactors watching from across the galaxy.

They call it Dungeon Crawler World. But for Carl, it’s anything but a game.

Why I loved It!

How do I sum up the series thus far? Absolute bedlam and gonzo insanity involving a talking cat, a man in boxers with hearts on them, a magic leather jacket and no shoes. They are forced to go on quests at the behest of a sentient AI in front of trillions of creatures across the galaxy. It is Gladiators in the Colosseum hopped up on PCP.

It is everything.

It is easily the best LitRPG I have ever read.

It is easily the best audio book I have ever listened to, and one of the funniest and most original premises I have come across.

It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you are fans of The Borderlands game franchise, this humor is right up your alley.

Interview – Matt Dinniman, Author of Dungeon Crawler Carl

Review – Carl’s Doomsday Scenario by Matt Dinniman

Review – Dungeon Crawler Carl by Matt Dinniman

Review – Dungeon Crawler Carl by Matt Dinniman

Perfect Retelling

SenLinYu

Manacled

Harry Potter is dead. In the aftermath of the war, in order to strengthen the might of the magical world, Voldemort enacts a repopulation effort. Hermione Granger has an Order secret, lost but hidden in her mind, so she is sent as an enslaved surrogate to the High Reeve, to be bred and monitored until her mind can be cracked.

Fanfiction for Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling.
Words: 370,256

Tags

Genres/Triggers:

Rape/Non-Con, Graphic Depictions Of Violence, Hermione Granger/Draco Malfoy, Dolores Umbridge ,Self-Harm Flashbacks Slow Build Angst with a Happy Ending Espionage

Why I loved It!

“There are mixed feelings about the “Harry Potter” series in general. This once-loved world of flying owls, castles, and a destined boy could feel semi-tainted to some due to the creator’s personal beliefs. I will not discuss that, as that could be an entire essay on whether readers should separate art from the artist. This recent controversy, paired with the direction of my enjoyment of fantasy and what I seek out for myself, has driven me away from the original Harry Potter story. I love grimdark and darkly complicated stories with gray characters and fraught circumstances. And sadly, at this space in my life. The original “Harry Potter” story no longer does “it for me.”

It is too sweet.”

 

“Hermione is psychologically flayed; she is broken down piece by piece. While the idea of a ship is lovely, people are people and are messy. Nothing that happens to Hermione is pleasant, nor to Draco. The world is ever-changing shades of gray. But all of it is necessary to support a complicated story that might have some of the most complex writing I have ever read. When the bough breaks and memories start to break through, we are shifted back to the height of the war when everyone was alive. Ron has become promiscuous; Harry seems to have aged a decade and, on particularly bad days, fights in underground clubs for release, and Hermione, the heart of the original story, is the glue that is holding everything together. Hermione becomes a chameleon with her brilliant brain, does whatever she has to do, and is whoever she has to be to save those she loves, even if they no longer love or appreciate her back. She sacrifices bits of herself slowly to give the resistance inches against the dark lord.”

“To sum up, Manacled is a complex war story based around a well-known ship. It is one of the most complex stories of its kind I have ever read, and it now puts the original Harry Potter in stark relief for me. One who reads this cannot walk away unscathed in one way or another. Still, as an experience, this rich story has added much-needed nuance to Harry Potter’s best friend, Braniac Hermione, and Harry Potter’s nemesis Draco Malfoy. They are all so much more than the sum of their parts.”

Tags

Genres:Science Fiction Fiction Fantasy Dystopia Adult Cyberpunk Audiobook Science Fiction Fantasy Humor Novels

Perfect Gonzo Fuckery

Jason Pargin

Zoey Is Too Drunk for This Dystopia

Tabula Ra$a is hosting its massive annual music festival in the desert, which every year precedes the massive annual drunken riot in the desert. This is all organized by Zoey’s people, including the riot – as Will explains, the citizens need a little chaos now and then, their job is just to keep a lid on it.

That will be a problem this year, with history’s most ridiculous mayoral election playing out in the background. The city has divided into roughly two camps, supporting each of the major candidates: One is a stern, calculating activist out to restore traditional morality to the city at all costs, the other is Megaboss Alonzo, whose platform is that he will pay you ten dollars if you vote for him.

When a horrific crime is broadcast live on the all-seeing social network Blink, the former seems poised to reap the benefits in the polls. The Suits suspect the nature and timing of the crime are a little too convenient and may be a carefully-staged hoax. But in a city in which lies are always served in layers, even that explanation will prove to be far too simple.

As tensions ratchet tighter, Zoey comes to realize that this is really a battle of narratives: Every culture needs a collective story to believe in, so it’s just a matter of coming up with one and then carefully sculpting reality to make it fit. How hard can that be? They have the whole weekend.

Why I loved It!

“Pargin touches on issues that impact everyday life—fronted by the absurd. For instance, Tabula Ra$a is a city in the middle of the Utah desert. The irony here is that Utah is one of the most conservative states, and Tabula Ra$a… isn’t. Zoey’s world is the excesses of anything goes, but she is shackled by what she can do by celebrity. Everything said and done is recorded and broadcast on various social networks. Everyone has an angle and an ache to get a finger in the Tabula Ra$a pie. The narrative of what is true and what is a lie is constantly changing and shaped by the viewers’ perception—this becomes stochastic terrorism. Perceptions are wielded like a cudgel. Politics aside, stochastic terrorism is a very effective and prevalent threat used widely by both the media in general and media personalities in the real world, and it is matched to the absurd degree in Zoey’s world.”

“The writing is thoroughly engaging. Party in the desert that sounds a lot like burning man to the nth degree, riots, stunts, drugs, sex, danger, action, buildings blowing up, angels set afire…there is a lot to digest here.
This book has some harrowing scenes, one with a fake sinking ship, one with an artificial meat product, and one with a moving drink machine.

It is strange even to put these words together, harrowing and synthetic meat products, but it is true.”

Even with this being the third book in the series, it is still one of my best reads of the year. I enjoy the characters. Zoey is entertaining and a lot more complicated than you would initially think. As the series progresses, we learn more about Zoey’s team, who they are, and where they come from.

I can’t say more about the plot because I don’t want to give it away, and even if I could, it is so unbelievable that it is hard to explain. Just trust me. Please don’t miss this series! His novels are truly worth the read.”

Tags

Genres: Science Fiction LGBT Queer Fiction Fantasy Adult 

Lesbian Space Opera Space Science Fiction Fantasy

Perfect Space Opera

Emily Tesh

Some Desperate Glory

While we live, the enemy shall fear us.

All her life Kyr has trained for the day she can avenge the murder of planet Earth. Raised in the bowels of Gaea Station alongside the last scraps of humanity, she readies herself to face the Wisdom, the all-powerful, reality-shaping weapon that gave the Majoda their victory over humanity.

They are what’s left. They are what must survive. Kyr is one of the best warriors of her generation, the sword of a dead planet. But when Command assigns her brother to certain death and relegates her to the nursery to bear sons until she dies trying, she knows she must take humanity’s revenge into her own hands.

Alongside her brother’s brilliant but seditious friend and a lonely, captive alien, she escapes from everything she’s ever known into a universe far more complicated than she was taught and far more wondrous than she could have imagined.

A thrillingly told queer space opera about the wreckage of war, the family you find, and who you must become when every choice is stripped from you, Some Desperate Glory is award-winning author Emily Tesh’s highly anticipated debut novel.

Why I loved It!

This book is powerful. It reminded me of the Spartans. A society completely dedicated to revenging the death of the Earth. But, things are not as simple as they seem. There is a world outside the fight.

Tags

Genres: Horror Short Stories Thriller Fiction Mystery Adult Mystery  Thriller Fantasy Anthologies Suspense

Perfect Compilation

C.J. Tudor

A Sliver of Darkness

Time slips. Doomsday scenarios. Killer butterflies. C. J. Tudor’s novels are widely acclaimed for their dark, twisty suspense plots, but with A Sliver of Darkness, she pulls us even further into her dizzying imagination.

In “The Lion at the Gate,” a strange piece of graffiti leads to a terrifying encounter for four school friends. In “Final Course,” the world has descended into darkness, but a group of old friends make time for one last dinner party. In “Runaway Blues,” thwarted love, revenge, and something very nasty stowed in a hat box converge. In “Gloria,” a strange girl at a service station endears herself to a cold-hearted killer, but can a leopard really change its spots? And in “I’m Not Ted,” a case of mistaken identity has unforeseen fatal consequences.

Riveting, macabre, and explosively original, A Sliver of Darkness is C. J. Tudor at her most wicked and uninhibited.

Why I loved It!

Sweet baby Jesus, CJ Tudor is a mad woman. These short stories are like little bite size morsels of pain, exhilaration, anguish, exaltation and more. I devoured this book in one sitting.

Tags

Genres: Fantasy Romance Fiction Fantasy Romance 

Audiobook Adult Magic Mystery Humor Young Adult

Perfect Romantasy Hug

Hannah Nicole Maehrer

Assistant to the Villain

Once Upon a Time meets The Office in Hannah Maehrer’s laugh-out-loud viral TikTok series turned novel, about the sunshine assistant to an Evil Villain…and their unexpected romance.

ASSISTANT WANTED: Notorious, high-ranking villain seeks loyal, levelheaded assistant for unspecified office duties, supporting staff for random mayhem, terror, and other Dark Things In General. Discretion a must. Excellent benefits.

With ailing family to support, Evie Sage’s employment status isn’t just important, it’s vital. So when a mishap with Rennedawn’s most infamous Villain results in a job offer—naturally, she says yes. No job is perfect, of course, but even less so when you develop a teeny crush on your terrifying, temperamental, and undeniably hot boss. Don’t find evil so attractive, Evie.

But just when she’s getting used to severed heads suspended from the ceiling and the odd squish of an errant eyeball beneath her heel, Evie suspects this dungeon has a huge rat…and not just the literal kind. Because something rotten is growing in the kingdom of Rennedawn, and someone wants to take the Villain—and his entire nefarious empire—out.

Now Evie must not only resist drooling over her boss but also figure out exactly who is sabotaging his work…and ensure he makes them pay.

After all, a good job is hard to find.

Why I loved It!

I started reading this abbot the time when I needed calm and lovely books. This was it. This was soooo it. The premise is adorable, the characters are endearing, the lovely tension between the characters keeps the story moving, and I am always here for some evil snark. The bad boy who may have a tiny little bit of gold on his dark heart trope is in full force, but none of it is cringy. If last year was the book of Legends and Lattes for cozy, this year it should be Assistant to the Villain.

Tags

Genres: Science Fiction Fiction Short Stories

Perfect Short Story

Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

The Slow Sad Suicide of Rohan Wijeratne

So what were you before?
Astrophysicist, said 116. You?
Alcoholic, said Rohan.

Sixteen light-years from Earth, a black hole spins in the darkness, gravity and rotation flattening it into a Kerr singularity. In Colombo, Sri Lanka, a suicidal alcoholic signs up for the ultimate one-way trip: to be frozen, sent light years away from home, and shot into the black hole itself.

Why I loved It!

This is a perfect science fiction short story from start to finish.

Tags

Genres:Fantasy Fiction Adult High Fantasy Epic Fantasy Asian Literature Adventure Science Fiction Fantasy Asia Science Fiction

Perfect Epic Fantasy of Martial Arts and Magic

Wesley Chu

The Art of Prophecy

An epic fantasy ode to martial arts and magic—the story of a spoiled hero, an exacting grandmaster, and an immortal god-king from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Lives of Tao.

It has been foretold: A child will rise to defeat the Eternal Khan, a cruel immortal god-king, and save the kingdom.

The hero: Jian, who has been raised since birth in luxury and splendor, celebrated before he has won a single battle.

But the prophecy was wrong.

Because when Taishi, the greatest war artist of her generation, arrives to evaluate the prophesied hero, she finds a spoiled brat unprepared to face his destiny.

But the only force more powerful than fate is Taishi herself. Possessed of an iron will, a sharp tongue—and an unexpectedly soft heart—Taishi will find a way to forge Jian into the weapon and leader he needs to be in order to fulfill his legend.

What follows is a journey more wondrous than any prophecy can foresee: a story of master and student, assassin and revolutionary, of fallen gods and broken prophecies, and of a war between kingdoms, and love and friendship between deadly rivals.

Why I loved It!

This story hearkens back to my roots, to why I love the fantasy genre so much. It is fantastical, with martial arts, great world building, and an unlikely hero. Plus books two and three are edited by one of my favorite people, so it is exciting to see where this all goes.

Tags

Genres:  Horror Fiction Thriller Mystery Paranormal Adult Audiobook Ghosts Mystery Thriller Halloween

Perfect Horror

Carissa Orlando

The September House

A woman is determined to stay in her dream home even after it becomes a haunted nightmare in this compulsively readable, twisty, and layered debut novel.

When Margaret and her husband Hal bought the large Victorian house on Hawthorn Street—for sale at a surprisingly reasonable price—they couldn’t believe they finally had a home of their own. Then they discovered the hauntings. Every September, the walls drip blood. The ghosts of former inhabitants appear, and all of them are terrified of something that lurks in the basement. Most people would flee.

Margaret is not most people.

Margaret is staying. It’s her house. But after four years Hal can’t take it anymore, and he leaves abruptly. Now, he’s not returning calls, and their daughter Katherine—who knows nothing about the hauntings—arrives, intent on looking for her missing father. To make things worse, September has just begun, and with every attempt Margaret and Katherine make at finding Hal, the hauntings grow more harrowing, because there are some secrets the house needs to keep.

Why I loved It!

This is a psychologically terrifying story about how much a woman would do to stay in her dream home. An unreliable narrator doesn’t help things. Man this is a scary.

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