Best Reads of 2023

Around this time of year I look at how many books I read the previous year, and choose the best of those reads. When I first looked at the list, I despaired that I would find any to recommend, but later on several cropped up. These are the few that stayed with me the most, though I’ve found it almost impossible to select an outstanding book of the year. If pushed I might select Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls for all the reasons stated below.

May

Roger Rabbit, Xerious Business, Gary K.Wolf
The fourth novel of the series and perhaps the best. This shows the human side of Jessica before she became a toon. I thoroughly enjoyed this, the first and fourth book possibly being my favourites. Don’t expect these books to follow on, one after the other. They each have their own stories and don’t pick up where the other left off. Take them for they are, as the author has written them, and they’re fun, though not as zany as the film. Don’t expect Disney here.

Welcome to Temptation, Jennifer Crusie
It’s marvellous to love a book as much on a re-read years later as much as when first read. This is one of those. I still rank this as Crusie’s best book. A steamy small town romance and mystery perfectly blended. This is a rare book where not one sentence seems out of place. With a perfect balance of characters (especially Sophie and Phin), and an ending that still made me laugh and smile, this book brings a bright meaning to carrying on family traditions. Top marks.

June

No One Gets Out Alive (audio), Adam Nevill, read by Colleen Prenderghast
I picked this up for two reasons: It’s one of my favourite horror novels (yes, I’ve already read this), and I’ve enjoyed audio books read by this reader. It’s best to think of it as a book of two halves, though both have their share of scares. Many may feel this book goes on too long, and this especially comes across in narration (and in the second half), but I still enjoyed this story immensely. Some skilled editing could shorten this by making some sentences more concise, but I’d struggle to find much, if anything, worthy of deletion. This tale works as a horror on so many levels. As a ghost story, societal commentary, the isolation and fear of a woman alone, and the helplessness anyone would feel trying to make others accept an unbelievable truth. Suspenseful.

A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness
I knew the story though this is my first reading of this book, but I doubt it will be my last. Technically classed as a book for children, it’s one all of us need to read. Almost all of us will be in young Conor’s position at some point — losing someone we love from an illness. We’ll experience emotions we hate ourselves for, and perhaps, don’t even understand. This book deals with all that and more. It also teaches forgiveness, especially for oneself, and that emotions don’t always surface in the best or most obvious ways. Children may lose some of the nuance depending on age but, if they don’t take to it, I’d recommend trying again as they grow older. Indeed, the older one is, the more this might tear the reader apart. It may well devastate adults more, as we understand the pain in these pages too well. I’d have to place this among the best books ever written, and it’ll break your heart.

Intensity, Dean Koontz
When Chyna Shepherd crosses paths with a killer, she has to fight for more than her own life. A re-read for me I’m pleased to say I would still rate among the author’s best books. While I might not have thought this was as perfect as I did on my first read many years ago, much of this book remains intense. Yes, the antagonist possibly feels excessive, but not as caricatured as some famous criminals real or invented. Whatever writers can dream up, reality often trumps. But I recall the protagonist being among the first truly strong female characters despite her making one or two stupid mistakes. Being human and ‘not thinking’ makes for a more realistic person. She’s not superhuman. There are spiritual elements, which is often the case in Koontz books, but there’s no reason to buy into these if the reader doesn’t want to. The same elements could be coincidence yet give Chyna strength and determination. Only her belief in them is important. There is some animal injury and death, so that may be a trigger warning for some; I could deal because ultimately what happened is still the killer’s fault, but realistic in context, and not gratuitous.

July

Making Money, Terry Pratchett
No doubt baffling, but I have a handful of Terry Pratchett books left to read, well aware that when I’ve read them, there are no more (although I can and may well read them again). Therefore, though it’s been out for many years, this is my first reading of Making Money. What Terry and Moist von Lipwig did for the post office, he does here for the banks. What more can I say? Fine comic writing. Wonderful satire. Outstanding as always with a cast of unforgettable characters, including a dog with a newfound and beloved toy.

August

Swan Song (audio), Robert McCammon, read by Tom Stechschulte
The easiest way to describe this book is as an epic analogy against war, especially nuclear war. One can’t help think of Stephen King’s The Stand while reading this, and, I imagine, vice versa, once having read both, but each deserves their own place on anyone’s bookshelves. I can’t say everything I want to say without giving away the plot and outcome, but I’m not sure the anti-hero attempt quite works for me, maybe because it seems so sudden and brief. Sadly, the outcome speaks so eloquently, showing us with a painful foresight that some people may never change, even though hope runs throughout. There was a moment where I rolled my eyes when they get to their final destination and who they find there, but that soon dissipated when the author flipped the story defying my expectations. A head hopping but absorbing narrative worthy of recognition.

A Man Called Ove (audio), Fredrik Backman, read by Joan Walker
Having recently watched A Man Called Otto based on this book, I revisited this story by listening to the audio. I loved reading the novel and still have it on my shelves. The audio did nothing to disappoint. At first glance, one might wonder why they’d want to read the story of a grumpy old man, but Ove is not all he seems and his life is one to be celebrated. One thing the book does better than the film is give us his wife’s point of view. We get to learn of the qualities she saw in him, long before a new family moves into the neighbourhood. We also learn more about his background. If you liked the book, there’s no reason not to enjoy the story in other formats. If you’ve only seen the film, watch or listen to the book, and enjoy how Ove touches the lives of others.

September

Scratchman, Tom Baker
Reading this made me feel like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Bizarre. Surreal. Far more wild and wacky than I was expecting, but who can fault the wild and wonderful imagination of Tom Baker? His sense of humour shines through? The theme of the book is fear, and this resonates by the end. I’m tempted to get the audio, just to hear this brought to life by the author/Doctor.

Dec

Road of Bones, Christopher Golden
A road named because of the number of prisoners who died there forced to work by the Soviet Union, bodies left in the ice in Siberia. I’ve read Christopher Golden before but can’t remember when I enjoyed one of his books as much as this. The unusual setting is as much a character as any of the people that populate the story. I felt for any of them, even those I barely got to know. A short slow start after which momentum rarely lets up. The plot is fantastical, but I felt so immersed in it, I found it easy to suspend disbelief — easier, no doubt, because of the wilderness. Not what I expected, but better for it. The only slight negative is I expected the ‘road’ to have more to do with the major story, whereas it’s more of a subplot.

The Red House Mystery, A.A.Milne
The one and only detective novel written by the author of Winnie the Pooh. This is light-hearted and fun. The amateur detective asks all the right questions and comes up with all the right pro and con answers. This kept me guessing until almost the end, when I worked out what had happened but not why, though the clues were there. I’m just sorry there’s only the one, though for this to be a series, A.A.Milne would have had to improve with each book. Even if this was an author just having a little fun, this would have been a solid effort of its day. It understandably has a ‘classic’ feel. I thoroughly enjoyed this, though mostly because of the author’s excellent style. Makes me want to read my childhood Pooh books again.

About Sharon

Writer of Dark and Light Fiction. Fact, fiction, poetry, short stories, articles and novels. Cross-genre, slipstream, non-traditional romance, gothic, horror, fantasy and more... Visit this diverse writer's site.
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