Well, I guess that’s it then, another year has flown by. And honestly, what a year it has been! 2023 was full of ups and downs for me, but at least there was no shortage of books to bring me comfort, catharsis, and joy. Earlier this week, I shared my Best Surprises of 2023, and now it is time for the GRAND finale: My Favourite Reads of 2023!
This will go down as one of the best reading years I have ever had, so needless to say it was pure agony to compile a ‘Best of the Year’ list. Considering the fact that I burned through exactly 300 books (why am I so pleased by that round number?), I decided to be kind to myself and make a top 10% instead of a regular top 10. And some spots might just be an entire series or simply an author if I’ve read and loved all of their works, because… well, simply because it’s my list and I just want to have fun here.
And to make things even more exciting, I decided to be brave and rank this list. This ranking is purely based on sheer personal enjoyment and the ‘gripped to the page o-meter’ (you can thank Books with Benghis Kahn for that one, and go subscribe to his BookTube channel while you’re at it). But honestly, these books are all equally deserving of love in my mind and this ranking could change depending on the day and my mood. Just do yourself a favour and read them all, and then come gushing to me about how good they are!
Now, before we dive into the big list itself, I thought it’d be fun to share some random stats of my reading year. Because why else have I kept up with that damned spreadsheet all year? If you don’t care, feel free to scroll on to the official list.
- I read 300 books, which makes for 121.997 pages
- Of those pages, 56380 were read with my eyeballs and 65617 were listened (yes, audiobooks are my best friends)
- Most of my reads were full novels, but I also read 40 novellas (13.3%), 6 short stories (2.0%), and 5 collections/anthologies (1.7%)
- My average rating was a 4.05 stars
- And it turns out I am quite stingy, as I gave out only 32 5-star ratings (10.7%), and 7 of those were re-reads
- Or maybe I am not so stingy after all, because I also gave out 67 4.5 stars (22.3%), and another 132 4 stars (44.0%)
- To no one’s surprise 275 books (91.7%) came from the Adult age range
- And even less surprising: my most read genre was Fantasy, coming in at a whopping 220 books (73.3%)
- But what was surprising to me, is that I read 129 (43.0%) 2023 releases (all those damned new shiny books!!)
- I also wreaked havoc on my series stats by reading 80 (26.7%) first books in series. Yes, I am serial series starter… it’s fine, I’m fine
- Or maybe I am not so fine, because I only finished 15 series. Or maybe 16, because I read ASOIAF for the first time and let’s not pretend like that is ever getting more than 5 books. Just let me have this win, okay?
- I also did 27 re-reads (9.0%), 3 of which were books I read twice this year
- But those re-reads didn’t stop me from discovering new authors, because 136 books (45.3%) were written by new-to-me authors
- And last, but certainly not least, I am incredibly proud and happy to share that I read 145 indie/selfpub books (48,3%). Maybe that’s why my year was so damn fantastic, indie is winning if you ask me!
Well, with all that out of the way, I think it’s time to dive into the official list.
Since this post is already going to be long enough as it is, I am not going to give any synopses or in-depth analyses. My reviews can be found by clicking on a book’s title, but just indulge me in my gushing here and trust me when I say that these books are all 100% worth the read!
Now, because I don’t want to torture you with having to scroll through a painful number of individual book covers, we’re gonna go through this list in batches of five (shoutout to my mama for the pretty graphics. Go give her a follow for some dark romance/romantasy content, I got my bookish love from her!!).
Okay, okay, no more procrastinating, I’ve rambled on for long enough. So, here it is, the cream of the crop, the crème de la crème, the stories that resonated the most with me and that live rent-free in my brain: My 30 Favourite Reading Experiences of 2023. No re-reads, no genre restrictions (though let’s not pretend like there will be much outside of (dark) SFF on here), and no distinction between indie and trad. Go grab a snack, open your Goodreads, and get ready for your TBR to be smashed.
Let’s kick things off with some very worthy Honourable Mentions!
Honourable Mentions of 2023
- The Blood Stones by Tori Tecken
Now, I don’t want to discredit what Tori delivered in Phased, but the way that she just stepped up her game in every single way here in her adult epic fantasy debut honestly blew me away. The breadth and depth of the world building is phenomenal, and holy smokes… did we go dark in some places. This also has one of those twisty, turny endings that makes you hunger for more in the best way possible. Definitely worth the hype!
- Seasons of Albadone by Christopher Warman & Élan Marché
Well, who knew that whimsy and emotional destruction could work so well together? This dark original fairytale-esque book might be a short read, but it sure packs a big punch. The prose is also positively entrancing, which only made this emotionally engaging read all the more engrossing. Highly recommend if you want a short but impactful read!
- The Advent of Winter Anthology edited by Dom McDermott
I’ll admit that I might be biased considering the fact that I beta read all these stories, but I honestly think this would have ended up on my favourites list regardless. As I said in my review, The Advent of Winter proves that gifted writers and storytellers don’t require many pages to deliver an impactful story that lingers on in your mind for days to come. These indie authors all knocked it out of the park, and made this December truly unforgettable!
- Four-Scored by Andrew D. Meredith
After reading just two books in the Needle & Leaf series, this has already become a true comfort read for me. One of the absolute best father/(adopted) son dynamics in fantasy, and all the emotional beats just hit so hard! And not only is Meredith an incredible author, he is also a brilliant audiobook narrator. Listening to him narrate his own story is honestly the perfect way to consume this intimate and heartfelt fantasy adventure, go check it out.
- The Last Ranger by J.D.L. Rosell
Rosell is an absolute pillar of the indie fantasy community, and for good reason. This was my first work I’ve read by him and it immediately made me want to read anything and everything he has ever written. His wild imagination and immersive world buiding had me glued to the page, and this story just made me fall in love with the fantasy genre all over again.
Favourite Reads of 2023 #30 – #26
- 30. Meddle & Mend series (#4: Dear Bartleby) by Sarah Wallace
Kicking off this list with a prime example of why I wait with making a favourites list until I have fully wrapped up all my reading for the year, because I absolutely devoured the available books in the Meddle & Mend series this last week of December. Recency bias? I don’t think so. This cozy, charming, dazzling, and delightfully queer historical fantasy romance series just stole my heart and gave me so much comfort and joy. Book 4 is my favourite, but these interconnected standalones are all absolute gems in their own right. I so badly want to visit this alternate, magical, queer-normative version of Regency Era London and have tea with all these endearing characters. Forget Legends & Lattes, this is the perfect low-stakes cozy fantasy read!
- 29. Thick as(s) Thieves by M.J. Kuhn
Heists, a motley crew of foul-mouthed and morally grey characters, magical shenanigans, brutal back stabbings and betrayals, unexpected but heartwarming found family vibes, and queer romantic entanglements that will tug on your heartstrings; this duology as it all (and so much more). I just had a blast with this series and it ended on a perfectly bittersweet note for me. I will absolutely read anything and everything M.J. Kuhn ever writes, her witty authorial voice is just to die for!!
- 28. Fallen Light series (#3: Shadows of Nyn’Dira) by H.C. Newell
The Fallen Light series lures you in with its comforting Tolkien-esque vibes and entrancingly rich world building, and then just continues to completely emotionally gut you with each new dark twist and turn. While the novella The Banished is my favourite instalment in the series (I just love broody broken men, okay? Avelloch has my heart), I think Newell is in peak form and just completely on fire in Shadows of Nyn’Dira. H.C., I am ready for you to emotionally destroy me, give me moreeee!
- 27. The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
I’ll admit that I wasn’t immediately sold on the unconventional storytelling structure, with the early chapters almost feeling more like loosely connected short stories, but the way that Jimenez weaves all these story threads together is nothing short of masterful. This story just creeps up on you and the characters get under your skin without you even realising it. So emotional, so heartfelt, so tender, so poignant, so beautifully bittersweet, I simply can’t get this story out of my head because it left such a big mark on me. Truly a wonderful surprise.
- 26. The Erstwhile Tyler Kyle by Steve Hugh Westenra
I picked this up on a complete whim around spooky season and that was honestly one of the best reading decisions I made this year. A quirky and queer adult horror comedy with Twin Peaks and Buzzfeed Unsolved vibes doesn’t immediately sound like something that would be up my alley, but I was sold within the first few pages. The suspense, the paranoia, the hypnotising prose, the messy characters; I loved every single aspect of this story. Oh and don’t get me started on the queer panic here… chef’s kiss!!
Favourite Reads of 2023 #25 – #21
- 25. Merchants of Knowledge and Magic by Erika McCorkle
I don’t know what I was expecting from this book but I sure wasn’t ready for the marvels contained within these pages. One of the most impressive, unconventional, expansive, and imaginative fantasy worlds I have ever encountered. And the way that sexuality and queer identity are explored and embedded into this narrative is simply beautiful. I just love everything about this dark, sumptuous, and dangerously seductive story. Truly unlike anything I’ve ever read.
- 24. The Ties that Bind series (#3: The Price of Faith) by Rob J. Hayes
After loving the War Eternal series, I was quite nervous to go back to Hayes’ debut series, but I should never have worried. I devoured this gloriously gritty grimdark series in a little under a week and had the time of my life. It’s full of ballsy, brutal, and risky storytelling decisions, but I was so here for the wild ride. Though, again, FUCK YOU HAYES for that ending…
- 23. The Sun Prince by L.R. Schulz
As I said in my review, this is not a story that you devour, this is a story that devours you. I adored the intriguing world building and cinematic magic in the first book, A King’s Radiance, but I was completely swept of my feet by how the world just blew open here. There’s SO much intrigue built into this narrative, and the twists and turns are absolutely brutal. Schulz is an evil bastard and I love him for it!
- 22. The Ruptured Sky by Jessica A. McMinn
I certainly wasn’t intending on devouring this book in 2 days, but yes… that is exactly what happened. The tropes are troping and they just trope real good, yet at the same time this story feels wonderfully unpredictable because McMinn is not afraid to go DARK. This diverse cast of morally grey characters is put through the wringer, and I was truly revelling in the emotional turmoil of it all. There’s a reason I chose this as one of my SPFBO semi-finalists for Fantasy Book Critic, it is just SO GOOD!
- 21. The Shadow Gate by L.L. MacRae
If you’ve been in the indie community for any length of time, you should know that L.L. MacRae, a.k.a. our indie mother of dragons, just never disappoints! The expansion of the world building and development of the characters and their complex relationships in this sequel was absolutely brilliantly done. So captivating, so emotionally engaging, so thrilling; this is a sequel done right!!
Favourite Reads of 2023 #20 – #16
- 20. Death’s Disciple by Emma L. Adams
And that’s the second of my SPFBO9 semi-finalist picks popping up on my favourites list! I mean, this has huge war drakes… and elemental magic… and necromancy… and a very snarky and bone-tired middle-aged protagonist… are you sold yet? The banter is so good, the unlikely and reluctant found family vibes in this book are just to die for, and I was completely enthralled by all the mysteries permeating this entire story. What a blast!
- 19. Blood Reunion by J.C.M. Berne
I could very well have chosen the standalone Partial Function for this spot on my faves list as well, but it honestly doesn’t matter which J.C.M Berne book I’d pick because they are all equally amazing. His works are pure delightful popcorn reads on the surface, but there’s so much heart and emotional depth woven into the deeper layers. And I will never not love spending time with my favourite witty and sarcastic retired superhero. Rohan is the best, just go read Berne’s books if you want to have fun!
- 18. The Battle Drum by Saara El-Arifi
Not gonna lie, I was nervous to see if this sequel would be able to capture the same magic as book 1, but somehow it just only got better! The world building reveals were SO GOOD, and I just love this entire diverse cast of delightfully messy characters. Yes, sometimes I want to strangle them (especially looking at you, Sylah), but I also just love them with my whole heart. This sequel answered so many questions, and left me with even more. If the finale (which I needed like yesterday!!) sticks the landing, it’s becoming one of my all-time faves for sure.
- 17. R.J. Barker (The Wounded Kingdom #3: King of Assassins)
R.J. Barker is without a doubt my author of the year, because I inhaled all 7 of his published works in a few months’ time. Choosing a favourite is nigh impossible, because I just love all his works for their wildly imaginative world building, rich character work, complex interpersonal relationships, and unbelievably entrancing prose. Both The Tide Child trilogy and The Wounded Kingdom trilogy have some of my favourite finales I’ve ever read. Barker just knows how to nail that bittersweet ending SO well, and somehow he managed to make me tear up in King of Assassins. What a masterful storyteller!!
- 16. Patricia Meredith (Spokane Clocktower #3: Crazy Maids in a Row)
Well would you look at that, a non-SFF author creeping so high up on my faves list! I also devoured all of Patricia Meredith’s works this year and just fell head over heels in love with her as an author. Who knew historical murder mysteries could be this cozy and utterly delightful? I love all of her works, but the cast of characters in the Spokane Clocktower Mysteries has just completely captured my heart. I am dying for more of her writing to warm my heart and soothe my soul!
Favourite Reads of 2023 #15 – #11
- 15. The Blood and Steel saga (#2: The Horns of Grief) by E.J. Doble
Yeah so there’s a reason I wrote a ridiculously long ‘E.J. Doble Must Be Stopped’ blog post this year, he is INSANELY good!! The Blood and Steel saga is a bloody brutal grimdark series full of utterly unhinged and delightfully depraved characters who you just can’t help but root for. And Doble’s vivid, lyrical, and visceral prose… I just don’t have words. I still don’t know if I love or hate him for what he put his characters (and me) through in The Horns of Grief, but it certainly was an unforgettable reading experience. This guy is going places, I am telling you all now.
- 14. No Safe Haven by James Lloyd Dulin
Dulin is truly doing something special with his Malitu series. It’s so epic yet so intimate, and I continue to be in awe of how masterfully heavy real-world issues are woven into the narrative without losing that sense of escapist wonder along the way. I was already deeply impressed with No Heart for a Thief, but this sequel just hit on another level. As I said in my review, this story dragged me across the entire spectrum of emotions, and I loved every single minute of all the emotional turmoil. Though, please James… don’t destroy my heart with the finale!!
- 13. The Will of the Many by James Islington
This was a complete FOMO read, and then it didn’t just live up to the hype, but just blew all my insanely high expectations completely out of the water. It started with a bang and somehow kept getting better and better with each chapter. And then THAT EPILOGUE! Never before have I been so desperate for a sequel, this was a masterpiece.
- 12. A Chorus of Dragons (#5: The Discord of Gods) by Jenn Lyons
Bingeing this gloriously complex (and arguably needlessly convoluted) series just brought me endless amounts of joy this year. Yes, the rich world building is amazing, and yes, the epic battles were extremely captivating, but it was honestly the cast of disaster queer characters that completely won me over. What a wild ride, I can’t wait to re-read this many many many times in the future.
- 11. Light Bringer by Pierce Brown
CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! If you know, you know. In 3 weeks, I did an entire binge re-read of book 1-4, then read Dark Age for the first time, and somehow still wasn’t burnt out on the series when I got to Light Bringer. Pierce Brown just keeps growing and growing as an author, and this sixth book was easily my favourite thing he has ever written. A true emotional rollercoaster, I am still trying to recover (and probably will be for the rest of my life).
Favourite Reads of 2023 #10 – #6
- 10. A Quiet Vengeance by Tim Hardie
Tim Hardie can honestly do no wrong. I fell head over heels in love with The Brotherhood of the Eagle series last year, but somehow I just wasn’t prepared for how good this new standalone political fantasy would be. This has one of the best uses of dual timeline/POV I have ever seen, and the character development and political intrigue is simply outstanding. All the twists and turns just kept me on my toes from start to finish, and it left me wanting more in the best way possible.
- 9. Labyrinth’s Heart by M.A. Carrick
Now THIS is how you write a satisfying finale. I honestly don’t know what I can say to do this amazing finale to one of my all-time favourite series justice. The Rook & Rose series is simply everything you could ever wish for from an intensely complex and deeply character-driven high fantasy, it’s incredibly good. The authors wanted to write a story that was the antithesis of grimdark, and they bloody well delivered. So satisfying, so cathartic, so emotional. Absolutely brilliant, these characters will forever live rent-free in my brain!
- 8. Obsidian: Awakening by Sienna Frost
Political grimdark fantasy done to perfection. I am a character-driven reader first, and the way that I just latched onto all of these messed up and broken souls was honestly not even funny (my poor heart, send help). Never before have I felt so anxious while reading about two characters simply having a conversation. OOOOH, the tension and emotional turmoil is just to die for!!!
- 7. Renia by Karl Forshaw
Yes, please do judge this book by its cover because I guarantee the insides are just as amazing as the cover would have you believe. Forshaw captured my imagination in a way that few authors can, and I was just completely glued to the page from start to finish by all the confounding mysteries in here. This genre-blendy gem of a book is criminally underrated, and it’s by far one of the most refreshing, unique, intriguing, and utterly captivating debuts I have ever read.
- 6. The Necessity of Rain by Sarah Chorn
Words can’t do this story justice, this is simply one of those books that just needs to be lived, breathed, and experienced on your own. Sarah Chorn’s wild imagination and soul-stirring flowery prose never fail to amaze me, but she truly outdid herself here. No more words needed. This story is simply visionary, do yourself a favour and just go read it.
The Top 5 Favourites
- 5. Spark of the Divine by Louise Holland
Don’t you just love it when you take a complete gamble on a book and it immediately becomes one of your faves? I mean, how could I not fall in love with this delightful cast of complex yet effortlessly funny characters?! I devoured this beautiful chunky DnD style fantasy adventure in a little under 3 days, and I have zero regrets. Or maybe I do have regrets, because the book hangover was brutal and I am still recovering from that Sanderlanche-like ending. Oh, and can’t forget, I am also happy to share that I am the proud president of the Spark of the Divine fanclub. Come join, it’s fun over here!!
- 4. Buzzard’s Bowl by John Palladino
Okay but the way that this sequel improved upon every single aspect from The Trials of Ashmount, which was already freaking brilliant, was just mind-blowing. Second book syndrome? We don’t know her. Buzzard’s Bowl has some of the best action sequences I have ever read, and that’s coming from someone who usually doesn’t care for action at all. This is how you write a sprawling and character-driven grimdark epic fantasy, Joe Abercrombie better watch his back. Though, John, I still hate you for what you did to my poor heart in this book… brutal emotional destruction to the max!
- 3. Of War and Ruin by Ryan Cahill
I started my 2023 off with an epic re-read of the entire Bound and the Broken series in anticipation of this release, and then binged this absolute doorstopper (seriously, nearly 1500 pages) in just five days. It was my first 5-star read of the year (excluding rereads, of course), and still remains one of my favourite reading experiences EVER. I would die for these characters, and all the emotional beats just hit so so so hard. Cahill, you’re a legend.
- 2. The Blue Flames by Jacquelyn Hagen
Look, no one is more surprised than I am to see how this series just came out of left field and immediately shot to the top of my all-time favourites list. I love this series so much that I read both The Wickwire Watch and The Spider Key twice this year, but I think the recently released The Blue Flames might actually be my favourite by a hair. The Riverfall Chronicles simply reminded me of why I love to read, and I am so deeply emotionally invested that these characters are just family to me at this point. And on top of all that, I also discovered my new favourite audiobook narrator, the incredible Wayne Farell, through this series. Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, one my favourite reading experiences of my life. Phenomenal!
- 1. Legacy of Brick and Bone by Krystle Matar
Now, if you have followed me for any length of time, you should be aware of my tragic obsession with anything Krystle Matar (aka Trauma Mommy) writes. Legacy of the Brightwash was my favourite book of 2022, and now this extraordinary sequel is officially taking the title of my favourite book of 2023. The messy and complex interpersonal relationships, the raw mental health exploration, the razor-sharp tension, the sweeeeet emotional destruction; just perfection. Also, leave it to Krystle to get me utterly invested in a plot that is heavily focused on boxing, of all things. This book made me feel physically, mentally and emotionally unwell, and I honestly loved it all the more for it. Matar can do no wrong, her writing is always just both a punch to the gut and a balm to my soul. The Tainted Dominion (brutal as it is) will always feel like home to me, this is my all-time favourite series, period.
Whew, we made it! I hope you don’t have an hyperbole burnout after making it through this unapologetic gushfest, but I can’t say I am sorry if you do. Feel free to come gushing to me about any of these books if you’ve also read them, or let me know if you are going to pick any of them up!
Now, before I say goodbye to you all for the final time in 2023, I couldn’t resist getting a little sappy first. Bear with me, I promise to keep it short.
As I said at the start of this post, 2023 was one of my best years ever (at least in terms of reading), and that’s only partly because of all these incredible books I discovered. The true highlight has been connecting with all you bookish friends from all over the world and building a community, or honestly a found family, that brings a smile to my face every single day.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making my days so much brighter. Whether you are always engaging with my bookish content or just silently lurking, I truly appreciate every single one of you.
Let’s make 2024 another unforgettable year full of amazing literary adventures and exciting bookish rambles. All the love!