Hello again dear reader or listener, remember the week between Xmas and NY doesn’t count for Santa’s list, so I hope you’ve been having fun these last few days of 2023!
If I’m being honest 2023 was a bit of a mixed bag and life stuff plus the undertaking of an MRes meant much less leisure reading for me this year. If I hadn’t signed up for so many ARCs in fact, I doubt I’d have read as much as I did in the end. But I am also pleased to say I had some great reads regardless and now I’m gonna do my best to give you a top five. This was the year I leaned a bit more into the thriller/horror/Gothic ambiances even though in this list you’ll also find various subgenres of fantasy such as steampunk, epic, and historical fantasy, as well as some romance.
As always, if I’ve reviewed this already, I’ll link the longer rambles on the title of each book. In no particular order then:
Gothikana by Runyx
This gorgeous new edition of the originally self-publsihed novel is coming on the 23rd of January (it will have purple sprayed edges!!) but another beautiful edition was released earlier this year by Solaris as well.
With an 18+ content warning for mature topics among which mental illness, as well as explicit sex, I like to say this is the kind of novel Mary Shelley would’ve loved. The setting and vibes? Immaculate. The characters? Excellent. The Plot? Riveting, while also fitting within its genre so don’t expect that much clarity, especially not before you’re anywhere near the end. And even then, hah. But in a good way, I promise.
The Corset by Laura Purcell
For the horror inlcined, this novel was dang near perfection, melding together historical fiction and gothic horror into one riveting tale that you can hardly set down for a break. Purcell leads us on a bit of a cat and mouse chase throughout the whole novel as to Ruth’s possible guilt and/or abilities. Is there something supernatural going on, or is it all as easily explained as saying “well, 19th century folk were quite possibly high half the time from all the toxic materials they handled in their day to day” so there can always be a reasonable explanation? You keep wondering until the very last page and. It. Is. Maddening. In the best way possible!
Retrubution Falls by Chris Wooding
You know I love me a band of misfits and boy does Wooding succeed with this first installment of the Tales of the Ketty Jay. Captain Frey and his crew of outlaws – but not really pirates, mind you, they couldn’t quite hack it that far – are both ill-fitting in society and amongst each other, and yet, they come to make it work by the end of this book so much that you end up with such a lovable band of idiots becoming a true sky crew and aaah the found family vibes abound. They start off with such discordance that when they each in turn realize that they’ve actually developed strong camaraderie and can work well as a cohesive unit, the realization has snuck up on both them and the reader.
Dark Water Daughter byt H.M. Long
The Pirates of the Caribbean vibes abound in this seafarring adventure full of magic and they are chef’s kiss. However!! Long makes sure to distinguish her writing, her story, and worldbuilding, in such a manner that the reader can feel the homages but we are also regaled with something brand new, enticing, and unputdownable. I can’t express to you enough, dear reader, how incredibly beautiful and mesmerizing I found the magic system and the lore, as well as Long’s incredibly multifaceted and compelling characters you love to root for. This winter sea tale will hook you by the lapels and not let you go till the very end.
The Seven Year Slip by Ashley Poston
Reading this book will hit you in the feels in ways you’re not even expecting while at the same time amusing the hell out of you with things like having a pair of pigeons named Mother and Fucker.
With a premise reminiscent of The Lake House (2006) Poston weaves her own soft and tender romance between two characters separated by time and brought together thanks to a magical appartment.
You can tell how personal it was for the author, writing about grief, feelings, and emotions, with a depth that brings tears to your eyes even if you’re as hard to move as I am. It is genuine and honest in a way I’ve rarely encountered and it somehow also helped heal some of my own internal turmoil regarding certain things in my life.
Finally for a few honorable mentions:
–Red River Seven by A.J. Ryan: A post-apocalyptic thriller that brings toghether, Heart of Darkness, Resident Evil, I Am Legend, and The Last of Us. Yes, it is as epic as it sounds!
–Things We Left Behind by Lucy Score: the laugh out loud and full of heart (and spice) conclusion to the interconnected Knockemout trilogy that is comfort food for the soul.
–Belladonna by Adalyn Grace: A YA fantasy that took me by surprise avoiding many genre clichès while regaling with multifaceted characters and an intriguing mystery.
–The Book That Wouldn’t Burn by Mark Lawrence: A mind bending and thought provoking sprawling in time epic fantasy that leads you through many a plot twist and clever reveals.
–The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis: Urban historical fantasy with monster hunters and vampires that bring an antique Prague to life, while also fighting the never ending morality battle of who is the real monster, the hunter or the hunted?
Until next time,