Alrighty, friends! Here’s a short list of books I read and loved in 2023.
For the purpose of understanding whether this list is AT ALL, IN ANY WAY, helpful for you, please note:
1. I only read escapist fiction. I like to fall into a fun book and live there awhile. I’m not into tragedy, and I’m not into triumphing over horrific, abusive odds; I feel like Real Life has enough of that, so frolicking in that space for entertainment isn’t really my thing. NO JUDGEMENT, but if it’s on Oprah’s book list, it’s probably not on mine.
2. I lean heavily into fantasy, whether on Earth or in space, and I like magic and magical creatures of all sorts. Two-thirds of the books on this list fall into the magical fantasy realms.
3. I read these books in 2023. They aren’t necessarily new and weren’t necessarily published in 2023.
4. I like my books spicy. As in sexy. As in sex. If reading that’s not your jam, look away. I mean, not every book on this list is explicit, but if you pick one up and find a few delightful pages of hot and heavy, you’re welcome. I give and I give.
5. I lean heavily toward books that are queer, neurodelicious, and/or center people of color, written by same. Representation matters.
6. I’ve linked these books to Amazon, but please also consider purchasing from your neighborhood, locally owned bookstore.
Off we go!
Because I like to eat my dessert first, I won’t save the best for last. Hands down, my favorite read of 2023 was The Last Binding Series by Freya Marske, a deliciously queer conspiracy-driven fantasy mystery set in Edwardian England. The first book of the series, A Marvellous Light, was published 2021, followed by A Restless Truth in 2022 and A Power Unbound in late 2023. I saved the final book for my Christmas holiday read, and I was 0% disappointed. Absolutely delightful.
“Robin Blyth has more than enough bother in his life. He’s struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employer, and the harried baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents’ excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what’s been operating beneath the unextraordinary reality he’s always known.
“Now Robin must contend with the beauty and danger of magic, an excruciating deadly curse, and the alarming visions of the future that come with it—not to mention Edwin Courcey, his cold and prickly counterpart in the magical bureaucracy, who clearly wishes Robin were anyone and anywhere else.
“Robin’s predecessor has disappeared, and the mystery of what happened to him reveals unsettling truths about the very oldest stories they’ve been told about the land they live on and what binds it. Thrown together and facing unexpected dangers, Robin and Edwin discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles—and a secret that more than one person has already died to keep.”
Soulless by Gail Carriger is the first book in the Parasol Protectorate series. Look, I have no idea how it’s possible that I never read Carriger’s paranormal steampunk fantasy romance before this year, but I have absolutely, 100% corrected that oversight by blasting through everything she’s written in this genre. The Parasol Protectorate is joined by other series set in the same universe: The Finishing School, The Custard Protocol, and Delightfully Deadly.
“Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.
“Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire — and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.
“With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?
“Soulless is a comedy of manners set in Victorian London, full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.”
And speaking of Gail Carriger…
Divinity 36 by Gail Carriger is book one of a complete trilogy in the Tinkered Starsong series, all published in 2023. This series is a delightfully queer YA space opera.
“Phex is a barista on a forgotten moon. Which is fine – he likes being ignored and he’s good at making drinks. Until one day an alien hears him singing and recruits him to become a god. Now Phex is thrust headfirst into the galaxy’s most cutthroat entertainment industry, where music is visible, the price of fame can kill, and the only friends he has want to be worshiped.
“Welcome to the divinity. Where there is no difference between celebrity and religion, love and belief, acolyte and alien. Where the right kind of obsession can drive a person crazy or turn them divine.”
Starter Villain by John Scalzi, published 2023.
“Charlie’s life is going nowhere fast. A divorced substitute teacher living with his cat in a house his siblings want to sell, all he wants is to open a pub downtown, if only the bank will approve his loan. Then his long-lost uncle Jake dies and leaves his supervillain business (complete with island volcano lair) to Charlie.
“But becoming a supervillain isn’t all giant laser death rays and lava pits. Jake had enemies, and now they’re coming after Charlie. His uncle might have been a stand-up, old-fashioned kind of villain, but these are the real thing: rich, soulless predators backed by multinational corporations and venture capital.
“It’s up to Charlie to win the war his uncle started against a league of supervillains. But with unionized dolphins, hyper-intelligent talking spy cats, and a terrifying henchperson at his side, going bad is starting to look pretty good.”
10 Things That Never Happened is Alexis Hall’s latest novel, a modern gay cozy romance.
“Sam Becker loves—or, okay, likes—his job. Sure, managing a bed and bath retailer isn’t exactly glamorous, but it’s good work and he gets on well with the band of misfits who keep the store running. He could see himself being content here for the long haul. Too bad, then, that the owner is an infuriating git.
“Jonathan Forest should never have hired Sam. It was a sentimental decision, and Jonathan didn’t get where he is by following his heart. Determined to set things right, Jonathan orders Sam down to London for a difficult talk…only for a panicking Sam to trip, bump his head, and maybe accidentally imply he doesn’t remember anything?
“Faking amnesia seemed like a good idea when Sam was afraid he was getting sacked, but now he has to deal with the reality of Jonathan’s guilt—as well as the unsettling fact that his surly boss might have a softer side to him. There’s an unexpected freedom in getting a second shot at a first impression…but as Sam and Jonathan grow closer, can Sam really bring himself to tell the truth, or will their future be built entirely on one impulsive lie?”
The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope, published 2022.
“Washington D. C., 1925: Clara Johnson can talk to spirits—a gift that saved her during her darkest moments, now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So when a powerful spirit offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, Clara seizes the chance, no questions asked. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District.
“Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need the help of an unlikely team, from a handsome jazz musician able to hypnotize with a melody to an aging actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they race along DC’s legendary Black Broadway, conflict in the spirit world begins to leak into the human one—an insidious mystery is unfolding, one that could cost Clara her life and change the fate of an entire city.
“The Monsters We Defy is a timely and dazzling historical fantasy that weaves together African American folk magic, history, and romance.”
So as to not spoil the series if you haven’t read them, here’s the synopsis of An Easy Death: “In a fractured United States, a new world where magic is acknowledged but mistrusted, a young gunslinger named Lizbeth Rose takes a job offer from a pair of Russian wizards. Lizbeth Rose has a wildly fearsome reputation but these wizards are desperate. Searching the small border towns near Mexico, they’re trying to locate a low-level magic practitioner believed to be a direct descendant of Grigori Rasputin.
“As the trio journey through an altered America—shattered into several countries after the assassination of Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression—they’re set on by enemies. It’s clear that a powerful force does not want them to succeed in their mission. Lizbeth Rose has never failed a client, but this job may stretch her to her deadly limits.”
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow. Beautifully (and often subtly) queer, and with stunning writing, this book is an ode to women, our complicated relationships, and our power when we work together. (Thank you, Laney!)
“In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.
“But when the Eastwood sisters―James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna―join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote―and perhaps not even to live―the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.
“There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.
“An homage to the indomitable power and persistence of women, The Once and Future Witches reimagines stories of revolution, motherhood, and women’s suffrage—the lost ways are calling.”
Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, and I know, I know, I’m late to this one (published in 2022 and wildly popular) but, in my defense, I judged the book by its title and thought it was an Oprah tragic/triumphant novel, not a SUPER WEIRD SPACE MAGIC QUEER DELIGHT. I have corrected the oversight.
“A defiantly joyful adventure set in California’s San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts.
“Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.
“When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.
“But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.
“As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.”
A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall. Although Alexis Hall is best known for Boyfriend Material and Husband Material (also on this list), this is my favorite of theirs. Trans regency romance. I loved this book.
“When Viola Carroll was presumed dead at Waterloo she took the opportunity to live, at last, as herself. But freedom does not come without a price, and Viola paid for hers with the loss of her wealth, her title, and her closest companion, Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood.
“Only when their families reconnect, years after the war, does Viola learn how deep that loss truly was. Shattered without her, Gracewood has retreated so far into grief that Viola barely recognises her old friend in the lonely, brooding man he has become.
“As Viola strives to bring Gracewood back to himself, fresh desires give new names to old feelings. Feelings that would have been impossible once and may be impossible still, but which Viola cannot deny. Even if they cost her everything, all over again.”
Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros. I mean, you miiiight have to have been actually deceased to miss the release of this book or its sequel, Iron Flame, which was also released this year, but just in case, I’m including it. A classic fantasy complete with dragon bonding, this page-turner also includes disability representation. Love.
“Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history. Now, the commanding general—also known as her tough-as-talons mother—has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders.
“But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, death is only a heartbeat away…because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them.
“With fewer dragons willing to bond than cadets, most would kill Violet to better their own chances of success. The rest would kill her just for being her mother’s daughter—like Xaden Riorson, the most powerful and ruthless wingleader in the Riders Quadrant. She’ll need every edge her wits can give her just to see the next sunrise. Yet, with every day that passes, the war outside grows more deadly, the kingdom’s protective wards are failing, and the death toll continues to rise. Even worse, Violet begins to suspect leadership is hiding a terrible secret.
“Friends, enemies, lovers. Everyone at Basgiath War College has an agenda—because once you enter, there are only two ways out: graduate or die.”
And, finally, another series I can’t believe took me years to find. A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas is the first book in the ongoing Lady Sherlock series. Witty, intelligent, loveable, and **neurodelicious**. What if Sherlock Holmes was actually a woman?
“USA Today bestselling author Sherry Thomas turns the story of the renowned Sherlock Holmes upside down in the first novel in this Victorian mystery series….
“With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.
“When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her.
“But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.”
Do you have favorite reads from the past year? If yes, pretty please share them! I’m always, always, always looking for new-to-me books!