We only want the best for you, and that’s why we’re sharing the best books of 2023! If these haven’t already made your list, be sure to add them to your TBR. From nonfiction to romance to children’s to horror — and everywhere in between — we’ve got you covered. Happy reading!
A Power Unbound
I love a good historical fantasy, and Freya Marske’s alternate Edwardian universe about British magicians has got to be my favorite. It’s full of lush worldbuilding and compelling characters, not to mention an intriguing mystery. But I can’t deny it’s the romance Marske weaves between her characters that really made me fall for this series. The finale is everything I could’ve wanted, and then some, with a rakish lord and a rapscallion journalist finally getting their due. What I’m getting at is: why haven’t you read this series already?
Alchemy of a Blackbird
A book focusing on the life of Spanish painter Remedios Varo and her friendship with artist Leonora Carrington? Yes, please. It opens with Varo deciding she wants to learn to read tarot cards, and Carrington decides to join her. It’s a story about finding one’s creative voice, as Varo interweaves in the Surrealist movement society and eventually flees Vichy France to Mexico, where she meets up with Carrington again. Plus, at the end of many chapters, there’s a different tarot card representing someone mentioned in the chapter, which then follows a brief shift in point of view to that person. It’s just a triumph of a book.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art: talk about a problematic fave. This memoir by a former museum guard doesn’t aim to reckon with the museum’s many problems, but it does aim to feel like a slow and meandering trip through the Met. And it succeeds, so much so that I actually dreamed about the museum while I was reading this. I can’t think of another book that has seeped into my unconscious in that way — or one that created such an exquisite nostalgic ache. On top of that, learning about working life for the people who spend the most time with the art was fascinating. Simply put, this book is the closest thing to an actual museum visit.
America the Beautiful?
This amusing memoir follows Roberson on her cross-country road trip to many of America’s national parks, a narrative that goes far beyond an accounting of her travels. Each chapter of this book tackles a different topic: whether solo travel is too dangerous for women and BIPOC, the ethics of national parks on land that once belonged to Indigenous folks, the way social media has made it impossible to just be in a moment. Despite the light tone, Roberson digs deep, making for a particularly enjoyable and satisfying read.
I love this book so much that I’ve already read it twice — once in print and once on audio. It’s my favorite kind of queer novel, a story about messy, complicated characters who mess up and keep trying and mess up some more as they tumble through the challenges of their 20s. It centers on Ming and Thom, who meet and fall in love at university and whose relationship is thrown into turmoil when Ming decides to transition. It’s compassionate, funny, raw, and full of layers. Dinan writes about queer and trans life with uncompromising directness and honesty. I’m still thinking about this fierce and bighearted book. I suspect I always will be.
Bored Gay Werewolf
What if you couldn’t do adulting right, and every full moon, you turned into a ravening hell beast? Brian, a young gay man, has to balance work, his social life, and his monthly lycanthropy. When he meets Tyler, a werewolf start-up bro, he thinks he’s found the way to get his life back on track, but Brian soon realises that Tyler’s plans are more sinister than they first seemed. With his found family by his side, Brian must undo the harm he’s done as part of Tyler’s pseudo-cult, prevent more people from being turned, and finally get his new powers under control — all without losing his job and apartment.
As soon as you start reading this amazing novel, you know it’s something special. It’s set in a near future where America has stopped even pretending it wants prison reform. Instead, Criminal Action Penal Entertainment produces a popular reality show where prisoners fight each other to the death for a chance at their freedom. This is an incendiary debut with heart that imagines a future of cruelty and subjugation that seems less improbable every year. Plus, it has the most brilliant, gut-punching use of footnotes in a book. As Adjei-Brenyah himself said on The Daily Show, “It’s really about abolition and the prison system…but in a fun way.”
Everyone with a kid or a body should read this book. So, everyone should read this book. The book uses in-depth research, interviews with parents and kids, and personal anecdotes to look at how our fatphobic and body-shaming society deeply affects children. It’s coming at kids from everywhere, from outside the home in doctor’s offices, on sports fields, and in the classroom to inside children’s own homes as parents and caregivers reckon with their own body insecurities and beliefs. I highly recommend this book to anyone parenting or working with kids. But it’s also incredibly helpful for anyone reparenting themselves around diet culture.
Hijab Butch Blues: A Memoir
In this intimate memoir of a queer person of faith looking for belonging, we follow Lamya H as she creates a found family for herself. Lamya realizes that she has a crush on her female teacher, which sends her into a spiral of self-doubt. After moving from the Middle East to the United States for college, she begins searching for a safe space for herself as a queer Muslim. Lamya’s story is full of heart and longing as she slowly finds community with other queer Muslims, creating her own found family that encourages her to be herself in all of her complexities. Hijab Butch Blues is an incredible memoir of faith and belief in a better world.
Geena Rocero is an absolutely delightful human being who has lived a fascinating life, which is enough to make any memoir worth reading. But she also tells her stories with love, humor, and insight, taking readers into her life from being a trans pageant queen in Manila during the ’90s to immigrating to the U.S. in order to change her gender marker legally on documents, to coming out publicly as transgender during a Ted Talk. While the memoir is filled with all the emotions, by far the biggest one I felt while reading it was joy — especially with the audiobook narrated by Rocero.
When CCJ posts a new book, I’m going to come running. So when she dropped the first book in the Blackwood Billions series in April, I was ready. (Okay, so it might have taken me a little bit longer to get there.) I’m always down for rivals to lovers, but this was truly enemies to lovers, marriage of convenience, hate-banging, and full-out competence porn for days. Two businesspeople end up getting married after one of their family members screws them both over, and they can’t stand each other…even if their chemistry is absolute fire. Read this for the banter, the fire, and the lengths a man will go to prove himself to the woman he wants.
Land of Milk and Honey
This phenomenal book sits at the intersection of dystopian, foodie, and literary fiction. A choking smog has killed off most of Earth’s plant and animal life, and one talented chef has lost her appetite for the culinary arts. She’s invited to work on an elite mountaintop community above the smog that caters to the wealthy, and with access to forgotten ingredients, her tastebuds reawaken. But as she creates increasingly intricate dishes, she starts to question the intentions of her mysterious employers. With mouthwatering food descriptions and an intriguing take on class and climate change, it will keep you thinking long past the final page.
Magos is in the depths of the grief of losing her son when she cuts a small piece of his lung out for her to keep. The lung, however, starts to grow, and Magos clings to the creature it becomes, especially as it starts to resemble her deceased Santiago. Monstrilio, though, struggles with living amongst humans as he battles with his monstrous side. Touching and beautifully written, Monstrillo is a book about grief and family and the lengths people will go for the ones they love. I’ve professed my love for horror novels about grief, and this is one of the best.
Our Share of Night
Even back in June, I already knew this book would be my book of the year. This simmering, haunting gothic features a man named Juan trying to hide his son’s burgeoning abilities from the cult that he serves, afraid that they’ll make his son work the same terrifying summoning rituals that he does regularly. As Juan and Gaspar deal with a world in which, like most gothics, the human villains are worse than anything the spirits can conjure, the narrative weaves into a mirror of Argentina’s history of disappearances, suppression, and violence.
Tang loosely bases this phenomenal middle grade graphic novel on her experiences as a Taiwanese immigrant in America. It follows a young Feng-Li and her two older siblings as their parents travel from Taiwan to California on visitor passes, claiming they’re visiting Disneyland. Instead, the parents make the heartbreaking decision to return to Taiwan and leave the siblings in the care of friends. When the friends move, however, the siblings have to fend for themselves. The sibling relationships are so realistic, and I just loved all three. Moments are both poignant and funny, and the illustrations are expressive and engaging.
I came across Prophet at indie bookstore Mysterious Galaxy while on vacation, and it was excellent escapist reading with a mind-bending premise: what if a drug could target a person’s sense of nostalgia, draining them of life through an obsession to recreate the past? The writing style immersed me, with a perfect blend of twisty, high-stakes scenes that a reader expects from a sci-fi thriller, along with a strong narrative voice that made me care for the characters’ inner struggles just as much as the external ones. I also appreciated the care put into the romantic subplot — no easy thing to balance with the action-heavy storyline.
This book is integral in bridging the gap between understanding that many of us need rest and practical tips on how we can actually get that rest. In her research, the author experimented with a variety of rest, interviewed people, and read about rest in the United States and beyond. She shares not only some of her research but also the actual activities (or non-activities) that she found were restful. She addresses the social, racial, and economic reasons why rest isn’t accessible to some folks. She explores who and what can get in our way of rest, including ourselves. This book has helped deepen my understanding of rest and how to get it.
The greatest endorsement I can offer Role Playing is this: I don’t care about video games. At all. Given that, I probably should’ve had no interest in this romance about online gamers who connect despite a mistaken identity mishap. But I love everything about this book. I love that it focuses on people who are 50ish. I love that it doesn’t gloss over things that are hard about small towns and not fitting in and caring for college-age kids and older parents. I love that, at 50, a character can be figuring out his sexuality. I love the vulnerability of the love story between two friends. And in the end, I kinda even loved the gaming.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia has done it again! Silver Nitrate is a brilliant work of supernatural suspense that is steeped in film history. Set in 1990s Mexico, the story follows childhood friends Montse and Tristán as they stumble upon a group of occultists and the haunted horror film they left unfinished. The two of them actually help the infamous movie director Abel Urueta finish part of the film in hopes of reawakening its magic. Can they deal with the consequences of the spell? You’ll have to read it to find out!
My first Suzan Palumbo story was “Apolépisi: A De-Scaling” in Lightspeed Magazine, and I devoured it. The story brought me to tears, and I wanted, needed, more. Skin Thief, published at Neon Hemlock Press, is a triumphant collection of stories, ranging from dark fantasy to horror, exploring identity, oppression, and queerness. It is a collection of gothic delights, hauntings, Trinidadian folklore, and heartbreak. Palumbo’s stories not only dissect her characters but ourselves — who are we, with or without our skins, our yearnings, our hauntings? These stories are razor-sharp, hungry, and unflinching, and you don’t want to miss a single one.
In the daytime, Opal dreams of getting her brother Jasper out of Eden, Kentucky, and the poverty they’re stuck in there. At night, though, she dreams of Starling House, the mysterious gated house no one in town ever seems to go into…or come out of. And then one day, she meets the reclusive owner, Arthur Starling, at the gate, and he offers her a job. I am obsessed with this gothic horror fantasy romance fairy tale about two of the most prickly people on earth (and one of the most prickly cats), stories, and how one person’s pain can affect a town for generations to come. Harrow never misses, and this time, it’s a bullseye.
The Fragile Threads of Power
The newest installment in the world of The Darker Shade of Magic series, this book is like coming home after a long trip. When the life of the king in Red London is being threatened by a group of faceless terrorists, old faces and new must join forces to save the king before it’s too late. Meanwhile, in White London, a new ruler has arrived, and magic is finally returning, but the transition is not without strife. What follows is a journey across Londons that will make you believe in magic again.
The Museum of Failures
This book has the power to break and make you, in equal measure, an ode to Thrity Umrigar’s calibre. Remy Wadia is in India to adopt a child but plans to visit his mother, almost reluctantly, because his memories of her aren’t great. But she’s now in hospital and has stopped speaking, and Remy’s sense of duty and guilt ensure that he remains by her side to help her recover before returning to the USA. Soon, dark family secrets come tumbling out, shaking the foundations of Remy’s childhood. As Remy navigates the truth, he uncovers a massive museum of failures, leaving broken hearts and resolved doubts in his wake, mine included.
The Secret Book of Flora Lea
The Secret Book of Flora Lea might be billed as historical fiction, but that’s not its main purpose. It’s rather a compelling meditation on the essence and importance of storytelling, whether in post-WWII London or our modern era. Can anyone really ever “own” a story, especially when it’s passed down from generations? If that story has made anxious souls feel safe and loved on a cold night, isn’t that all we want from a great story? Does it even matter where it came from? All of these questions and more are posed in Patti Callahan Henry’s latest novel, a must-read for anyone who has ever felt loved and comforted by a good story.
The Shadow Cabinet
This second installment in Juno Dawson’s Her Majesty’s Royal Coven trilogy is another high-stakes witchy fantasy about childhood friends whose coven—a super secret government department of witches founded by Anne freaking Boleyn—is torn apart by a big, messy, magical civil war. It’s tense, it’s twisty, and so delightfully sweary, all while offering commentary on intersectional feminism, gender, power structures, and friendship. If you’re looking for magical reads by authors who aren’t raging transphobes, and that are themselves a giant middle finger to transphobia in general, you need to be reading these books.
The conclusion to the trilogy, Human Rites, has no release date yet, but do you know what we are getting in July 2024? Queen B, a prequel set in Tudor England. Take! My! Money!
The Vaster Wilds
After reading and loving Groff’s Matrix, her first historical fiction novel, I eagerly anticipated The Vaster Wilds to see her take on another time period. Taking place in colonial America, this is the story of a young woman who flees from the settlement where she is a servant in a wealthy household. Set against the — to her — unknown wilderness, this is both a primal survival story and a fable of early American history. It is compulsively readable, and watching Groff play with story and language is a gift.
Vampires of El Norte
In this gorgeous blend of historical fiction, romance, and horror, Cañas takes readers to 1840s Mexico. On the ranchos, dark creatures and Anglo settlers from the north threaten their way of life. Nena, a curandera, is ready to prove her worth by joining the cavalry on the road. One of the vaqueros, Néstor, is her childhood sweetheart who has believed Nena dead all this time. When they are attacked by the same dark creatures haunting the rancho, Néstor and Nena must put aside their hurt to return home alive. This book felt like a scary bedtime story my Mexican grandma would have told me from her childhood.
How long can a human survive if swallowed by a sperm whale? That is what Jay wants to know as he finds himself in the predicament, following his decision to take a dive and find the remains of his father. What ensues is an immersive exploration of grief and loss, coupled with a fierce and unpredictable survival story. From the beginning of this book, you’ll be hooked, bobbing beside Jay as he finds himself knocked into the whale, struggling to move through the whale’s stomaches, and, ultimately, finding deep connection to the creature within whom he is embodied. Readers who want their science fiction to be as real as possible: look no further.
I don’t remember the last time a book had a grip on me like this one, let alone a book with as much buzz as this one. As someone who both works in publishing and is an author who’s been disappointed with her book sales, I found it profoundly cathartic. This is a satire that also manages to be nuanced in dealing with complex issues and whose writing absolutely draws you in. I could not recommend it more highly — as long as you’re okay with hearing some uncomfortable truths about the publishing industry.