My Best Books of 2023

 It’s time for my annual round up! Other book lists are available.

This year I have stuck religiously to four books per category, but the categories have gone feral.

Romance

Show Girl by Alyson Greaves

A somewhat daft premise turns into a truly delightful fairytale trans romance full of warmth, love and uplift.

The Sign for Home by Blair Fell

A young DeafBlind guy and his interpreter set out to find his lost girlfriend. Fantastic, fascinating descriptions of the interpretation process and a huge heart.  

The Five-Day Reunion by Mona Shroff

Second chance romance with a consciously absurd premise but a great deal of heart, dealing with the real issues of a couple who married too young. Very enjoyable.

The Oak and the Ash by Annick Trent

Super late entry for this year’s best in that I read it yesterday, which just goes to show you shouldn’t do these posts too early. Georgian m/m with valet and doctor, with really well done social milieu, class, and politics, and a lovely romance. Heavy on the realism but with enough hope to lift it.

Fantasy/SF

The Saint of Bright Doors by Vajra Chandrasekera

Enthralling, beautifully written story of a messiah’s not-the-chosen-one son. Staggering world-building, utterly immersive, properly magical.

The Jinn-Bot of Shantiport by Samit Basu

A wildly exuberant mash-up of top-class storytelling, gleeful mockery, and thoroughly human characters, and the most fun I have had with SF in ages. Delightful. Read it.

The Lies of the Ajungo by Moses Ose Utomi

Haunting fable-like fantasy set in alt-African country. Wonderfully written and deeply felt. This one will stay with you for a while.

The Ten Percent Thief by Lavanya Lakshminarayan

Marvellous SF about our hamster-wheel society and divided society. A mosaic novel rather than one with a driving plotline, which didn’t impinge on my enjoyment in the slightest.

Romance AND fantasy AND horror

The Shabti by Megaera C Lorenz

Debut romance with an Egyptologist and a fake medium. Thoroughly enjoyable pulp fun with the best haunting motive of all time, plus a nice understated queer romance between middle aged leads. (This isn’t actually out till next year, I got an ARC. Sorry.)

If Found, Return to Hell by Em X Liu

A truly marvellous novella of demonic possession or found family or possibly both, along with modern work and queerness and what ‘society’ really means. Absolutely lovely.

The Helios Syndrome by Vivian Shaw

A necromancer who investigates airplane crashes. Gotta love it. A novella with terrific atmosphere, scares, and heart. The merest smidge of a romance, but it lightens the whole thing wonderfully.

Even Though I Knew The End by CL Polk

1930s Chicago noir with sapphic romance, deals with the devil, occult murder, and the endless battle for queer love and women’s personhood underpinning the struggle over souls. Great historical setting.

Angry Women

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff

Pitch-dark humour and satisfying revenge fantasy make this book about abused Indian village wives into a gleefully enjoyable ride.

Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen

A darkly fun read about a Chinese-American woman who gets duped into becoming part of a counterfeit handbag operation…or does she. Twistily told and razor-sharp.

Now You See Us by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Filipino domestic workers in Singapore solving a murder. Powerful, humane, extremely angry, and massively entertaining too.

A Crime in the Land of 7,000 Islands by Zephaniah Sole

A police procedural set between the US and the Philippines with a ferocious FBI agent determined to nail a child abuser, told partly in a dreamlike folklore way. Marvellous, if hard to describe, and super compelling: really do not miss this one. If I had to pick one single book off this list as my book of the year, it might have to be this.

Fucked-Up People

The Survivalists by Kashana Cauley

A genuinely stunning novel about a Black lawyer in New York getting caught up in a survivalist group. Whip-smart satire and real feeling. Terrific.

Gigantic by Ashley Stokes

A look into the mind of a true believer. Kevin is a cryptid hunter as an escape from his many many failures, but also because there’s something in his soul that longs for wonder. Funny and tragic.

The Trees by Percival Everett

I read a lot of Everett this year but this is the best: a brutal and astonishing book about US racism and the corruption at the country’s heart. Gut-wrenching dark satire.

Grave Expectations by Alice Bell

A lovely female Randall and Hopkirk Deceased premise (live woman and murdered-in-her-teens ghost bestie investigate murder in bonkers country house), exuberantly told but not shying away from how extremely fucked up that is. Genuinely funny.

Non fiction

Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera

Tremendous overview of British colonialism: what it did, how it feeds into the current British character, and why we’re quite so deliberately amnesiac about it. A terrific read, with lively engaging style, very personal, and dealing with tough subjects in a considered way.

Lost Realms by Thomas Williams

An attempted history of some of the kingdoms that rose and fell in Britain between the Romans and the Vikings, some of which have been almost entirely erased, or possibly never existed. Bleakness, fear and yearning sweep the pages in true Old English poetic style.

Ultra-Processed People by Chris van Tulleken

Oh boy you will not want to eat ultra-processed food ever again after reading this. Ooooh boy. Could have listed it under horror, tbh.

The Three Emperors by Miranda Carter

A history of the run-up to WW1 themed around the monarchs of Britain, Russia and Germany, culminating in the cousin King, Tsar, and Kaiser who presided over the mess. Terrifically written with deadpan humour, and it conveys the family structures and shifting politics extremely well.

Why would you start here, you fool

Paladin’s Faith by T Kingfisher

Book 4 of the saga of the paladins of the Saint of Steel, aka Much-Decapitation-on-the-Marsh. Utterly charming. You could read this as a standalone if you absolutely insist, but why.

System Collapse by Martha Wells

Book 7 of the adventures of an incredibly relatable killer cyborg who just wants to watch media. You need to read Network Effect first as the bare minimum (honestly, glom the lot).

A Christmas to Remember by Beverly Jenkins

Book 11 of the ongoing soap opera of a tiny US town with romance, family, shenanigans, and giant hogs. Don’t even think about starting here. Go directly to book 1 and be consumed.

A Knife for the Juggler by Manning Coles

Book 16 of the Tommy Hambledon post WW2 spy series with which I am still weirdly obsessed. It doesn’t actually matter what order you read these in, or indeed if you read them at all.  

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