best reads of 2023

This year I read a hearty 148 books, which is a drop down from 2021, but it was my intention to read a bit less to avoid drowning in it all. While I have a mountainous pile of books to get through, often I find I can’t properly remember them without prompts, only a few weeks later. I also wonder if I shouldn’t rather be doing something else sometimes. But anyway. It was a comfortable number, and was absolutely packed with solid reads. The first four books I read in 2022 were some of the best I’d read in a very long time, and I was impressed by many, many more to come. So here’s something like 90 recommendations…

First, some stats because why not. This year saw another jump for audiobooks, with 43% of all my reading done in audio – 10% more than last year. I also got in a bit more eBooking though, generally my rarest medium, at 15% this year. The rest was hard copies, lovely hard copies.

Fantasy remained my top genre, though it declined with only 36% of the total, including urban fantasy (at a 25/11 split). Coming close behind were crime/thriller, horror and sci-fi all around 16-18% – a fair increase for crime to take second place. The losers this year were literary fiction, historical and romance which all saw declines – though there was some poetry this year as a new challenger. Non-fiction remained a constant, with a fairly consistent 8%.

In terms of most-read authors, Christopher Buehlman was a major find for me this year as I finally read one of his books. Then four. He was joined at the top of the read pile by Ursula K. Le Guin. Likewise, by the time I’d read one Joanna Russ book I was quite sure I’d read all of them, but only got in three this year. Same with Mary Robinette Kowal. Tied with three were Hailey Piper and Melinda Leigh. With all this, though, there were no huge binges this year (not counting graphic novel series), and large declines for T. Kingfisher and Liane Moriarty from last year, because I’ve read most of their books now.

Now, onto some recs. I’ve tried to keep the summaries short because there’s a damn lot of them. I’ve succeeded better with some than others, but would definitely encourage reading of all the below.

best fantasy book cover


The Blacktongue Thief and Between Two Fires by Chris Buelhman: starting with two scorchers, Buehlman’s irreverent style mixed with original fantasy and brutal horror is right up my alley. A “why did it take me so long to discover this guy” writer.

The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies: one of my first reads of the year, this takes a lot of beating. Skies has produced a truly original, highly-polished fantasy that’s a superb read all round.

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie: if I read an Abercrombie book in the year, it’s likely to make a Best Of List. As a fan of westerns myself, this one was a delight.

The Crew by Sadir Samir: a late standout, utterly unashamedly bizarre and wacky fun which I thoroughly enjoyed. Safe to say I think I laughed more with this book than any other this year. (Enjoyment may depend on your humour.)

Paladin’s Grace by T. Kingfisher: charming fantasy with a touch of romance.

How Long Til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin: I’ve been criminally slow with Jemisin’s books but when I do pick one up I love them. This is a brilliant collection of diverse shorts that show off her range and made me immediately pick up another of her books…which I haven’t ready yet.

Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree: we all read this this year, didn’t we? Yeah, it’s lovely.

A Mirror Mended by Alix E. Harrow: I was plain horrified when I found this book had been out for months and I hadn’t read it. Another marvellous twist on fairy tales from the queen of them.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seph Dickinson: I thought I owned The Lies of Locke whatever, and finally came to read it only to discover it was this book I owned all along. So I read this one and it totally had me hooked.

Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore and Tehanu by Ursula Le Guin: I wasn’t a big fan of A Wizard Of Earthsea but I am a sucker for anything subterranean, so after a few year’s hiatus I finally gave Tombs a go, then quickly read the other books in my Earthsea collection; really magical and captivating fantasies.

On Lavender Tides and A Fracture in the Qwisdeep by Travis Riddle: the first two Jekua stories are absorbing tales with a lot of charm and imagination; and the sequel especially packed a real punch in the closing chapters, after lulling you into thinking it’s just an enjoyable adventure – expertly done.

The Little Country by Charles de Lint: I loved this; every now and again I find someone who bends genres in just the way I enjoy, in this case mixing folky fantasy with a contemporary thriller. It’s rather long, but I was happy for the full ride.

Snuff by Terry Pratchett: I was very light on Pratchett reads this year (as I’m running out of his books to read, I’ve slowed down) but this one was as strong as ever.

Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb: only one Hobb entry this year, though with all the usual emotional strength for a fulfilling tale. Not quite as dramatic as the earlier trilogies, without the usual thrust towards the next one, but I will be continuing eventually.

The Skin by J.E. Hannaford: a nautical adventure featuring selkies, what more could you want? Well-crafted, imaginative and with some wonderful monsters along the way.

Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire: a fantasy twist on the mystery thriller in a solid urban setting, a very easy and fun read.

The Grim Company by Luke Scull: I’ve been meaning to read this for ages because Luke’s a friend, but then I got round to it and forgot to tell him. So here it is. A grimdark adventure with some brilliant character-work. Also see his Warhammer short, Boss of Bosses, which is a lot of fun, throwing you knee-deep in the world of the orcs.

Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to Dragons by Quenby Olson: verily filled the hole in my reading list for Regency tales from Olivia Atwater this year. Witty, enjoyable historical fantasy with a great sense of voice.

Shadow of the Giants by Ian Livingstone: a new Fighting Fantasy book! I grew up reading these, and love a Choose Your Own Adventure, and giants! So this was bound to be a win. A very worthy throwback.

When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey: teenage witches getting up to no good; I had high expectations and it delivered.

The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean: a very different kind of book, with a truly unique magic system and some nice elements of horror.

Small Miracles by Olivia Atwater: a contemporary fantasy from a master of Regency tales, a light and quirky read for fans of Good Omens (though a little too close to that for my taste).

best crime books 2023


Dreaming of Babylon by Richard Brautigan: my top-rated books of the year; it absolutely nails the private eye noir genre in the most absurd and brilliant ways. Brautigan was a real expert of efficient language and humour.

The Appeal by Janice Hallet: another one that topped my lists, this is told in a “found footage” style that plays expertly with perspective, unreliable narration and twists upon twists. An unassuming crime story made absolutely captivating, loved it.

Sundial by Catriona Ward: fair to say if Ward has a book out, it’s gonna be on my list. She’s on point with her thrillers, underpinned by a nice touch of horror.

M is for Murder and N is for Noose by Sue Grafton: continuing my long trail through the Alphabet series, these two are as good as ever; it’s always a pleasure to join Kinsey Milhone on an investigation.

Heaven’s Prisoners by James Lee Burke: I loved Neon Rain and have been itching to plough on with this series; the second Robicheaux doesn’t disappoint with more gritty Southern noir.

Mrs McGuintly’s Dead by Agatha Christie: I wish I could remember what made this book special. I’ve got a good feeling it was, but it escapes me now. Probably a good thing because it’d be a spoiler.

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite: a darkly comic twist on the serial killer genre with a strong sense of voice and place.

The Dark Remains by William McIlvaney & Ian Rankin: my first McIlvaney, so it might’ve been wrong to start with the last one he wrote, but this was a solidly gritty, compelling crime story that I gather is typical of the father of Tartan Noir; will read more.

City on Fire by Don Winslow: reads like a Scorsese film, charting a long-term gangster family rivalry, which I partly felt was just nailing cliches but in a very good way.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osmond: hugely successful for a reason, this is a charming cosy mystery; perhaps not groundbreakingly special, but an entertaining read nonetheless.

Cross Her Heart by Melinda Leigh: the first Bree Taggert book, your classic female detective comes home to a heinous crime setup, done well.

best horror reads 2023


The Lesser Dead and Those Across the River by Chris Buelhman: These books were my all. Buelhman has me hooked. Respectively vampires and werewolves (neither of which usually interest me much) are here done with a tremendous sense of time, place and character. Horror at its best.

Something from the Nightside by Simon R. Green: I was meaning to read this forever, having a vague sense it might be like the Ordshaw books. I’m not sure that’s true, but it bends contemporary, fantasy and horror genres in a rip-roaringly entertaining way that I’m here for.

The Worm and His Kings and Benny Rose the Cannibal King by Hailey Piper: these short horror stories have brilliantly realised creepy vibes and just the right amount of nastiness. I was particularly drawn by The Worm: cults, cosmic horror and subterranean shenanigans, this is my jam.

Krampus by Brom: the perfect Yuletide read, this is what Christmas is all about. Monsters, grizzly comeuppance and deep, folkloric history. A riveting dark read.

Dead of Winter by Kealan Patrick Burke: a great collection of seasonal horror shorts with a good range of chills.

She Said Destroy by Nadia Bulkin: another excellent short collection, featuring all sorts of nastiness from diverse perspectives.

The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco: a ghost story from the perspective of a Ring-esque ghost; turns Japanese horror somewhat on its head and is great.

Don’t Look Now and The Birds by Daphne Du Maurier: classics that you’ll probably already be aware of; short, strong reads.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix: a characterful homage to exorcism tropes with a good sense of voice and fun high school dynamics.

The Book of Queer Saints by various authors: a diverse mix of horror stories that hover around themes of sexual identify, often gross, mostly nasty, generally well worth the read.

Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo: somewhat eclipsed for me by Those Across the River now, this is also a highly atmospheric chunk of Southern noir with bite.

Dark Harvest by Josh Reynolds: a Warhammer horror story, full of eerie goings on and all the dark, creative surroundings you’d expect from the Black Library.

Patricia Wants to Cuddle by Samantha Allen: reality TV stars come face-to-face with a very violent sasquatch; a fun bitchy ride that gets really dark in places!

The Haunting Season by various authors: I bought this for the Laura Purcell, naturally, and came away with a good selection of seasonal tales. Somewhat hit and miss, but on the whole a good read.



The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky and Word Puppets by Mary Robinette Kowal: I couldn’t get enough of these; the Lady Astronauts dawn-of-space-travel stories are real page-turners with compelling character work.

We Who Are About To, Picnic on Paradise and The Female Man by Joanna Russ: efficient, character-focused sci-fi with unapologetically angry social commentary and a quirky voice; We Who Are About To was one of my top reads of the year and a book I could see recommending again and again.

Riddley Walker by Russel Hoban: I did a reread of this to chat with Fantasy Book Critic; it’s probably the single book I bring up most when asked for something special and I’m happy to stay I found it as remarkable now as I did 10 years ago. Written in language all of its own, steeped in wild cultural mutations, there’s nothing quite like Riddley Walker.

God, Monsters and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson: a clever and creative time-travel adventure that does a lot with its themes in a short space.

Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: you know what to expect from the Locked Tomb by now, and this was more thoroughly enjoyable confusing craziness, admittedly I didn’t find the voice quite as strong as Gideon or Harrow, just because Nona is a more pleasant character (nice is not as fun), but roll on Alecto!

Sisters of the Vast Black by Lena Rather: nuns in space!

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler: a post-apocalyptic/dystopian adventure that feels like it could be set in the modern world, yet offers a hopeful alternative exploration of faith.

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy: utopian sci-fi from the 70s that deftly tackles themes that (shock horror!) remain grimly relevant today.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built and A Prayer for the Crown-shy by Becky Chambers: these journeying tales of a monk looking for a sense of purpose are just delightful and struck me at a time when I was all ‘uh what’s the point’ myself, so kudos!



Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado: a great and diverse collection of speculative fiction stories that mostly concern gender dynamics, often veering into horror. My particular favourite was a totally off-the-wall Law & Order breakdown.

Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq: a hauntingly poetic coming-of-age story from an Inuit perspective; the audiobook is wonderfully performed by the author, definitely one to listen to.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty: a typically complex and characterful tale of family histories and secrets, just plain fun to read.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty: another sharp read, which is at once a little darker and wilder than the TV show, though also less complex and maybe not as rewarding.

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: a collection that might readily fit into sci-fi or horror at times; a great set of original stories.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: a sprawling tale of 1930s identities; bitter, romantic, captivating.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan: a complex tale of culture, heritage and finding one’s way while navigating your ancestors’.

A Cup of Tea at the Mouth of Hell by Luke Tarzian: wildly inventive nightmarish fantasy that spirals into a very effective treatise on grief.

Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan: at times equal parts nonsense and genius, this is wholly entertaining; it reminded me of a novel I once attempted to co-write about a cigar case that was used as a pen. If I’d read this book sooner, I wonder if it would’ve inspired me to better or worse things…

Nunslinger by Stark Holborn: a pitch-perfect pulpy western charting the epic journey of a nun on the run. Spread over a ton of short books, it has the genre down absolutely pat, and a great main character.

The Country with No Playgrounds by Elena Croitoru: I was asked to review this for a magazine and was really impressed; a short but diverse set of poems that conjure evocative, memorable images of post-communist urban Romania.



Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi: I’ve got through all but the last volume of this and it’s a brilliantly action-packed, creative portal fantasy.

Spy x Family by Tatsuya Endo: I’m just about up-to-date with this Manga series and it’s some of the funniest stuff I’ve read in a very long time. Properly makes me laugh, must do battle with The Crew for top humour this year.

Sliver, Remina, and Deserters by Junji Ito: more madcap tales from a master of illustrated horror. Ito has a magnificent flare for mixing really nasty stuff with some brilliant humour, and these two collections of shorts and one novel are all true to form.

The Boys by Garth Ennis: easily as fun as the TV shows, in some areas even more extreme.

Batman Reptilian by Garth Ennis: an interesting one I stumbled upon in a charity shop; the artwork is really different and well worth a look.

Monstress Vol. 7 by Marjorie Liu: continuing this tale in the same magnificent vein.

Undiscovered Country Vol. 3 by Scott Snyder: a wild ride that keeps getting wilder.

The Low Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado: a quick, atmospheric read that I picked up after loving Machado’s short story collection (see somewhere below). Great stuff.



Steering the Craft by Ursula Le Guin: one of the closest writing manuals I’ve found to mirroring many of own thoughts; a really efficient and effective guide.

Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake: a brilliant look into the world of mushrooms packed with information that can change your perception of the world.

A Life in Footnotes by Rob Wilkins: the biography of Terry Pratchett, one of my biggest influences as a child, was every bit as insightful and moving as I hoped; you can feel his personality bustling through.

Cosmos: Possible Worlds by Ann Druyan: big, humbling ideas for us small people.

Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith: useful notes on nailing genre fiction from a master of the craft.

Forensics by Val McDermid: an engaging survey of forensic science through the years, packed with grizzly tidbits.


That’s the list for now; there were probably a few dozen more that just slipped clear of the cut (and others I forgot to note down). Next year I may try and read a bit less again; we’re 5 days in and almost 3 books down though, so I don’t know.

There you go, that should keep you reading until 2023. But if you need more recommendations, you can also read my Top 40 Books Read in 2020, FYI…