Each year I try to find ways to manage my vast reading list better so it’ll be easier to draw up concise recommendations.
Each year I fail.
I read a lot of long books this year (I usually much prefer short and sweet) and I simplified my scoring system to just ‘recommended’ and ‘top’ reads. But I still came out with a hearty 93 recommendations from a ludicrous 138 completed books (and counting, will probably hit around 145 by New Year).
By comparison, that’s about 10 books less read than last year (if you want more, go here for 90 recommendations from 2022, you maniac), with marginally more recommendations. But I can whittle that down a little considering series, so this may be more like 70 recommendations – I don’t know, I’m not recounting.
Some summaries and stats before we begin: audio maintains dominance with 49% of all my reading, while eBooks saw a slight increase and my paperback reading rate fell a bit. Mostly because that’s where the longest books lay, and I have been finding less time to actually sit and read, I imagine.
A stark upset in genres this year, as horror bound to the forefront with a whooping 36% of all my reads. Sci-fi nipped at its heels with 27%, together seeing fantasy plummet to a meagre 18%. Close behind that we had a good showing from crime/thriller at 10% and a few more historical fiction books this year, but non-fiction was weak with only 3 reads there.
I don’t know why I’ve been on more of a horror vibe lately, just embracing the darker side I suppose, but some of this can be accounted for by series, as I’ve dived into a few collections (particularly from Dennis Lehane, the Animorphs series, and the vast manga of Attack on Titan).
In terms of most-read authors, Dennis Lehane was my major find, with 7 books read in quick succession. Technically I read more from KA Applegate when I fell down the Animorphs rabbit hole but let’s not dwell on that… Not counting comic series, I then only had two other authors with 3 books read (T. Kingfisher, of course, and Tamsyn Muir on rereads), then a bunch with 2 books including Adrian Tchaikovsky, Hailey Piper, Janice Hallet, Junji Ito, Laura Purcell, Rachel Aaron, Tiffany D Jackson and Travis Riddle). I usually rarely read more than one book from an author in a year. Think I’m losing patience with finding new stuff…
Anyway, onto the recs. I’m limiting some summaries to my very top reads but have included lists of runners up where necessary.
BEST FANTASY BOOKS
Bone Ships by RJ Barker – ships made of bones, this was always going to be a winner. Chaotic, incredibly creative and captivating, it’s one I had on the shelf for years and knew I’d regret not having read it sooner. True.
The Toymakers by Rob Tinsdale – another long-term shelf waiter but great for totally different reasons; a charming, magical and delightful old-school toy shop fable.
Makanuele Rumble by Travis Riddle – like a festival in book form, this delivered everything I wanted from the expansive tale of a Jekua tournament overtaking a city in Riddle’s trademark ‘laid back with sudden super drama’ style. (Also shout out to the follow up Whispers from the Poisoned Isle which also makes this list. Right here.)
Your Blood and Bones by J. Patricia Anderson – a pacey, creative and dark novella, well-polished and haunting.
Murder at Spindle Manor by Morgan Stang – fun, fast and inventive fantasy/horror spin on your classic murder mystery with strangers stuck in a big house and monsters afoot. A blend of genres right up my alley.
Son of a Liche by J. Zachary Pike – I loved Orconomics but for reasons unknown it’s taken me around 5 years to get around to reading this sequel, which I thought I’d probably love too. Unsurprisingly, I did love this too.
The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson – a very solid take on a classic fantasy-style adventure with some cunning twists along the way.
Sistah Samurai by Tatiana Obey – succinct with a lot of ideas packed into a small space (just the way I like it) and a brilliant sense of voice.
The City We Became by NK Jemisin – another that took me a long time to get to despite predicting I’d love it. It was as good as I hoped; a great blend of contemporary fantasy and eldritch horror, wrapped in a love-letter to the city.
Hills of Heather and Bone by KE Andrews – at the time of writing I’ve not finished this, but pretty sure it’ll make the list; I’m already won over by the aggressive chicken.
The Best of the Fantasy Rest
- Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron
- The Long Way Down by Craig Schaefer
- Gunmetal Gods by Zamil Akhtar
- Nettle & Bone by T Kingfisher
- Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson
- Fortress of the Lost Amulet by Michael Webb
- Hexologists by Josiah Bancroft
- The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
- Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan
- The Wickwire Watch by Jacquelyn Hagen
BEST CRIME / THRILLER BOOKS
The Twyford Code by Janice Hallet – Hallet writes wonderfully inventive epistolary mysteries, pacey and full of character and charm, and her second book does not disappoint. The Christmas Appeal was also fun, though the mystery itself a bit wanting.
The Kenzie and Gennaro Series by Dennis Lehane – Discovering Lehane took me by storm this year; I read this seven-book series in the space of about three months and loved all of it. These are crime thrillers with a great sense of voice and place, highly engaging. My favourites were the opener, A Drink Before the War and Gone, Baby, Gone (no surprise that this was the one picked for a film), but they all share the same tight, gritty qualities.
Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward – another wonderful gothic-style mystery from Ward, this one gets kind of abstract in places and has a great creepy atmosphere.
O is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton – my best-of lists would never be complete without an entry from the Alphabet series, though it was just the one this year. Superb in all the usual ways! At this rate I’ll finish the series in a decade or so…
All the Sinners Bleed by SA Crosby – I didn’t feel this book to be quite as strong as Crosby’s previous entries but it still packs in a hard and heavy crime thriller that stands above most of the rest.
Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D Jackson – a disorientating and characterful mystery that’ll keep you guessing
BEST HORROR BOOKS
Boys in the Valley by Philip Fracassi – I wasn’t familiar with Fracassi before seeing him at a talk and the sheer quality of this book left me itching for lots more. An excellently realised horror of an isolated orphanage and terrible dark forces closing in…
House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski – this one is quite an investment in time and focus but is utterly unique and chilling; a real experience of a read.
The Whispering Muse by Laura Purcell – step into the creepy realms of Georgian theatre for a typically brilliant Purcell book. I also enjoyed her podcast dramatisation Roanoke Falls this year.
Fledgling by Octavia Butler – a rather different take on the vampire genre, both exciting and clever with a lot to unpack.
The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp – a fast-moving and cinematic horror, genuinely scary in places and does a good job of getting you invested in a really quite unlikeable lead.
The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D Jackson – a race-laced retelling of Carrie, fun, furious and eminently readable.
Out There Screaming by Jordan Peele – an excellent anthology of shorts from some superb African American writers; there’s a great variety of styles in here and almost every one is a winner.
Tell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt – an unflinching, harsh and heartfelt horror with a finger firmly on the political zeitgeist.
The Best of the Horror Rest
- To Break a Covenant by Alison Ames
- Stolen Tongues by Felix Blackwell
- What Moves the Dead by T Kingfisher
- A House with Good Bones by T Kingfisher
- A Song for the Void by Andrew Piazza
- They Were Here Before Us by Eric laRocca
- So Pretty by Ronnie Turner
- The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters
- Turtle Boy by Kealan Patrick Burke
- All of Me by Iseult Murphy
- The Haunted Forest Tour by Jeff Strand
- The Watchers by AM Shine
- Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin
- The Shuddering by Ania Ahlborn
- All Hallows by Christopher Golden
- Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey
BEST SCIFI READS
The Locked Tomb by Tamsyn Muir – this was a reread but yeah it still tops lists; Gideon, Harrow and Nona were all even better the second time round. Made much more sense and are just pure enjoyment anyway, particularly narrated by the wonderful Moira Quirk. (I’ve upgraded my favourite moment of the series from the ‘how big are your biceps’ question in Gideon to the ‘friendship bracelets!’ revelation in Nona.)
Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta – action-packed, sapphic mecha battles, what’s not to love!
System Collapse by Martha Wells – your standard Murderbot fare, not bringing much new to the series but the old is good enough to keep recycling again and again…
Animorphs by KA Applegate – without going into detail, I read a lot of Animorphs audiobooks this year; they’re just so fast and easy to get through. They haven’t all dated that well but I do enjoy the creativity in this series about a bunch of kids turning into animals and generally getting into really horrible, high-stakes situations.
Blood Red Steel by Damien Larkin – the triumphant third part in Larkin’s relentless, complex Mars-based military action series.
Dead Silence by SA Barnes – a haunted massive luxury space-liner, drifting abandoned through the abyss. Atmospheric and enthralling.
The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky – a winding, wild ride with a lot of scope, handles ideas of the multi-verse very well.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – charming found-family space opera.
BEST LITERARY, HISTORICAL FICTION AND POETRY
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters – an ingeniously twisty tale of Victorian-era pickpockets, love and betrayal; the inspiration behind the excellent film The Handmaiden is just as good in novel form.
The Luminaries by Elanor Catton – there’s something bafflingly engrossing about this incredibly long and complicated story of a New Zealand mining town, which essentially answers the question of who stole a bit of gold one day.
Tigers in Blue by Richard Buxton – the final part in the Shire’s Union trilogy, an American Civil War epic that expertly recreates that era alongside an engaging and haunting story with deep characterisation at its core.
The Bird’s Nest by Shirley Jackson – another reread for me, equally entertaining and captivating second time round, blending elements of psychological thriller, social observation and acute humour.
The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall – a sapphic saga, this classic, frequently tragic romance touches on themes of isolation, prejudice and self-worth.
So the Wind Won’t Blow it All Away by Richard Brautigan – I went on a tear of Brautigan novels last year and sadly only got in a couple this year, but this one was absolutely wonderful: with general reflections on a life lived, it’s often random, fully quirky and overall just a delight to read.
The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn
BEST COMICS / GRAPHIC NOVELS
Harrow County Omnibus 1 by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook – a very eerily realised horror story with a strong sense of atmosphere, looking forward to reading the rest.
Something is Killing the Children by James Tynion IV – fast-moving and efficient tale of a monster hunter in a small town; dark and delightful fun.
Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama – a big commitment but I somehow managed to wheedle my way through the entirety of this series and it is an epic and amazing story with some great twists and turns (and, most importantly, wonderfully horrible giants – which sadly come less frequently later in the story).
No Longer Human by Junji Ito – something a bit more serious and maudlin from Junji Ito as he took on one of Japan’s most popular literary novels in illustrated form; a rather dark and depressing story of dopplegangers and death, but captivating all the same.
Transmetropolitan Book 1 by Warren Ellis – it’s taken me far too long to get onto reading this classic sci-fi series but it does not disappoint; packed with raw energy and incredible detailed artwork, it’s a dystopic scream as relevant now as it was when it was first released.
Saga Vol 10 by Brian Kaufman – finally back! Brilliant.
The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan – accessible and fascinating insights into science, the universe and matters of faith from a great intellect. Well worth a read.
Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin – this detailed biography is incredibly insightful and a great companion to Jackson’s writing, providing the sort of background that makes you appreciate her work all the more.
The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard – an expansive look at the real nature of the pirates of the Caribbean, in all their disparate glory.
And that’s everything for this year (unless I get a few extra surprises soon). There were probably plenty more that just missed this cut, and a few I forgot to record, but so it goes. I’m going to continue to slow my reading a bit (well, I didn’t really succeed in that this year) and focus on some more literary and non-fiction, I think. But that’s a vague goal that I’ll probably break when I just dive into more Animorphs.