I read fifty books in 2023. Some were awesome, and others were just okay. Occasionally, there was a DNF. But, as the year ended, I have been eager to share my top reads in 2023. While these books are my favorites, the order doesn’t matter. I hope you are ready to learn about some great books. Without further ado, let’s get into my most memorable reads of 2023.Read more: My Most Memorable Reads of 2023
- Most Memorable Cast of Characters: Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare
- Top Read with Best Romance: Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey MacQuiston
- Favorite Paranormal Read of 2023: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
- Most Promising Read: Caraval by Stephanie Garber
- Top Mystery Read: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
- Top Twist of 2023: Sia Marintez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
- Most Nuanced Read: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland
- Top Classic: The Kindred By Octavia E. Butler
- Top Creative Read: The Reader by Traci Chee
- Most Surprising Read: When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey
Most Memorable Cast of Characters: Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare
In case I didn’t share this, Cassandra Clare has been one of my favorites since 2007. So, it’s not surprising for her to be on my 2023 top-reads list. Of course, it’s a Shadowhunters book. Those are high up on my lists.
I hardly buy new releases, but this series was an exception. In the same fashion as the Infernal Devices, the Last Hours books are set in the past. Chain of Gold follows the descendants of the Infernal Devices crew. James and Lucie Herondale are the central characters. This time, we see them experience with ghosts, love, addiction, and power. But what made it a memorable read wasn’t the premise alone. It’s the characters. This must be remembered as Clare’s strength. For example, in this series, she creates a wonderful group of friends. Led by James, the group is made up of Matthew, Christopher, and Thomas.
While this trilogy is not my favorite Cassandra Clare work, I like the characters introduced here. Unfortunately, most of them did not take center stage. But, still, this 2023 read brought me new favorite characters. Anna Lightwood could headline a whole series, in my opinion. She is remarkable, unique, and interesting. However, the main characters were also intriguing. My curiosity about Lucie Herondale’s potential as a necromancer knows no bounds. I wish we’d seen more development of Grace as a character, too.
In typical Clare fashion, the author tackles serious themes in this series, Clare handles addiction with just as much nuance and care as she had in previous books. Self-sabotage was another resonant theme that I connected with.
Top Read with Best Romance: Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey MacQuiston
Red, White, & Royal Blue was my Casey MacQuiston introduction. It’s a memorable read because the writing is humorous and inspiring. But to explain that, I must get into the premise. The American President’s son, Alex Clairemont Diaz, becomes fake friends with the Prince of Wales after a disastrous meeting at a public event.
The two fall in love through their private interactions. The banter between them is delightful. Normally I wouldn’t say I like text messages in books and movies, but here, it’s stellar. It allows you to connect with the characters over time. I admit that I am more attached to Alex than Henry, but I like them both. My favorite interaction involves turkeys and a stressed-out Alex.
Even though I read it in the first months of 2023, I thought of it constantly. Ultimately, it is a story about two people discovering that their lives can have a worldwide impact. Of course, these two people are highly privileged, yet the sentiment was still sweet.
I loved them as a pairing, but I loved them more as people who became self-aware. They became adults who understood that they could serve the world through their present and future goals.
Despite it being promoted as a romance, I love how the story does not only conclude on a romantic note. Because of that, the book spoke to me. What would Alex Clairemont Diaz do? If you need motivation, give this one a read.
Favorite Paranormal Read of 2023: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
Of all my 2023, Cemetery Boys is the most magical story. It merges themes of friendship, acceptance, and romance. The story is about two friends who challenge the way their community approaches to magic. From the beginning, Yadriel is a trans person who is not finding any luck in practicing magic that aligns with his gender identity. The book begins with him doing a ritual to access magic as a boy (a brujix).
Even though it handles serious themes, the book does not feel heavy. This read was quick, beautiful, and inspiring. Yadriel’s story has loss and pain, but it also has hope and joy. His relationship with Julian, a spirit, is sweet. It’s warm and sincere. They open up to each other in a way that is sensitive and earned. Aiden Thomas does not rush any part of the story. Everything feels earned.
I like the mystery of Julian’s death. It unravels gracefully and it lends power to Yadriel’s journey, too. Yadriel and his dad have a lot of tension about his gender identity. There is a gorgeous sense of community and support (both from friends and people around Yadriel).
Most Promising Read: Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Contrary to the books being known as romances, I did not like the Caraval books because of the ships they presented. The first book is a whirlwind of a memorable read. I was sick when I read this book, which is the demise of many a book. This time, the pacing and the worldbuilding were so intriguing that I had a blast reading the series. What led to its inclusion in my top reads list was the balance of beautiful and action-packed writing.
Surprisingly, Garber’s use of tension put the first book high on my top reads list from the start. I like her use of mystery in her fantasy. The entire cast of the Caraval event is excellent. There’s an air of danger every step of Scarlett’s (and later Tella’s) journey. It’s a clever combination of danger. The Dragna sisters are escaping a terrifying past and an uncertain future. It’s a delicate balance where the author keeps her readers poised between despair and intrigue.
The series’ next two books are fun reads, but not as impactful as the first. First, the Fates are conceptually intriguing and I wish Stephanie Garber integrated them better. But, for the most part, they weren’t fully developed. The shift from Scarlett to Tella as our main character was confusing. Tella is radically different from her sister, which takes a toll on the narrative’s effectiveness.
To conclude, I recommend reading this series for fans of magic, trickery, and schemes. Legend is by far the most captivating character I’ve encountered in 2023. Stephanie Garber writes atmospheric stories charmingly. I have lovingly underlined many a passage in the original trilogy and I am looking to read more from her.
Top Mystery Read: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
Unlike most of the other books on this list, the Truly Devious series was a big surprise. I do not normally read mystery as a genre. As an entry point, this was perfect, which easily made it part of my top reads list. It was interesting. There was a mystery and I assumed it’d be self-contained in the first book. It was not. I was not a fan of that but continued to read, only to be surprised by how masterful Maureen Johnson’s pacing turned out to be. Some mysteries need space to rise in intensity and impact.
I was unsure of Stevie, and I remain so. But, there were breathtaking moments with that character in in the second and third books. She becomes more vulnerable on the page. My heart broke for her, especially as she revealed her confusion about not knowing what to do with the mystery at hand. Does it boil down to knowing an answer to a question? Or is there more to it? Come on, all these questions made it a memorable read. I think often of Stevie’s character development.
Unfortunately for Stevie, so much heartbreak and tension await her throughout the series. It’s the way she responds to that I cherish. She has a scene where she goes on this long rant revealing all these theories she has. I love that scene. It’s so good. I haven’t read much mystery, but I like seeing a subverted element of the genre.
Top Twist of 2023: Sia Marintez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
The title is long. So is its impact. Sia Martinez lost her mom months before the story began. She’s angry. She hates everyone at school. As a result, the only way she can honor her mother is by going to what they both call the Moonlit Beginning of Everything. It’s a valley full of nature and magic.
Coupled with some sci-fi elements here, the combination made this book a surprise. The way nature the author described nature felt like stepping into the sea on a hot day. It was refreshing and soothing. I look at the world a little differently because of this book. I am grateful for that.
Because the author discusses ICE, politics, nature, friendship, first love, and honoring one’s roots, I highly recommend this book if you want to read something more grounded in reality with enough magic to keep you reading.
Most Nuanced Read: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland
This book is the most nuanced take on mental illness I read in 2023. The way Krystal Sutherland presents superstition throughout the text is clever, particularly towards the end of the book. The story is about the Solars, a family believed to be intertwined with Death (who happens to be a person). Death comes for every Solar. Their fears rule their lives. At the same time, Death uses the fears to extinguish the Solars’ lives.
Enter Esther Solar, a girl who reluctantly starts a quest to uncover her fears to know what to avoid in the future. Her mother and father are housebound because of their fears. Her brother is afraid of the dark so intensely that he burns his fingers setting candles alight.
Not only does the author shift between superstition and awareness of phobias, but she does so while respecting her characters. Sutherland masterfully tugs between reasoning with one’s fears and succumbing to their influence. Esther’s fear of Death is rooted in her family’s folklore. As a result, it’s not something easy to confront. This in particular made the book so impactful for me as someone with severe anxiety.
Consequently, the book is equal parts heartwarming and soul-crushing. I have never wanted to go into a story to save the characters from their home lives. Yet, even then, they are not presented as helpless. No, this book is sobering. It is a reminder that mental illness, especially inherited mental illness, is not a death sentence.
Read this if you are curious about characters with phobias, OCD, agoraphobia, and inherited mental illness. There are mentions of self-harm so be careful if it is a trigger.
Top Classic: The Kindred By Octavia E. Butler
I had never heard of Octavia Butler’s work until this year. It’s a sign of my education’s inadequacy. But, I went into it with few expectations. I knew it would be a unique read. After all, this is a sci-fi story, one of the very first ones to come on the scene.
It begins with Dana, an African American writer, unintentionally going back in time. Upon arriving in the past, the main character encounters a young white boy named Rufus.
Unlike my expectations, Kindred is more of a study of humanity and slavery. It’s a complex dialogue on enslavement and psychology. How does this experience affect a group of people? Dana, a modern woman, shifts before us readers. She is an observer of her surroundings and someone fully submerged in the toxic depths of slavery.
With each visit, she encounters more of slavery’s cruelty. Butler hints at Dana’s shifts and adjustments to a world far different from her own. Readers become as uncomfortable with Rufus’ transformations as well. He transforms from a troublesome kid to a disturbing slave owner.
In summary, this is Rufus and Dana’s story. A white man and a person of color, someone who saves him, time and time again. It’s emotional, distressing, and heartbreaking. I loved the writing, characters, and plot. As a result, I am eager to see which Octavia E. Butler book will be my next one. If you have any recommendations, please drop me a comment.
Top Creative Read: The Reader by Traci Chee
Books are sometimes hard to set up, but that’s not an issue Traci Chee has (at all). The Reader merges whimsy and magic with heart-pounding action. The book begins with Sefia on the run with her aunt Nin. As the characters navigate their escape, Sefia shyly presents her loss of her parents. It takes her a while to unfold the nature of the rectangular object that her father hid. A book! In a world without books.
As much as I love audiobooks, I strongly recommend reading this book in a physical copy. The author put in clever ways to honor the experience of reading a book. The book centers on a world free of books. So when the main character reads a book for the first time, the audience appreciates the smaller nuances of enjoying a story. Listen to this quote, ‘Once there was, and one day there will be. This is the beginning of every story. “Once.”’
For this reason, beautiful touches celebrate the experience of reading a story. There are ink smudges that make the story rooted in reality. Sefia is not naturally a fantastic reader right away, and I appreciate seeing her struggle with what this book means for her and her world.
And, if none of this got your interest, just know that there are pirates in this book. They are as cool as you imagine them to be. Before this book, I had given up on pirates. Not anymore.
Most Surprising Read: When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey
When We Were Magic easily has the most intriguing premise of all the books I have read in 2023. The story begins on prom night, with one of the main characters staring in horror as her prom date explodes from magic. Terrified, she summons her friends to come into the room and help.
As a result, the magic of each character bubbles to the surface as each one tries to reverse the spell. Because of this, the book is full of intrigue and magic. It also is brimming with masterfully crafted characters. I have the attention span of a goldfish, so a book with a bigger cast is usually a challenge. That’s not the case with When We Were Magic. The story centers on a large group of friends. I love every single person in the group. Gailey creates complex relationships between the characters as they deal with complications with their magic. This is what makes it one of my most memorable reads of 2023. It’s just magic. Pure and luminous magic.
Contrary to what my post has suggested thus far, characterization isn’t the only triumph of this book. What pushed it to my top reads of 2023 was the way Gailey presents magic and loss. The story is mostly contemporary but the magic is instinctual, which makes it even more unpredictable.
I expect to read more Sarah Gailey books in the future. Keep your eyes peeled for my reviews!
All in all, 2023 was wonderful. I had fun writing in this space. My favorite project I’d taken on was dedicated to Dark and Deepest Red by AM McLemore. You can give it a read here. I am eager to share more posts in 2024. To be sure, I have big reading plans. As a result, I am excited to revisit this space and create fun discussions with you. Lastly, I hope you come back for a visit. In the comments, please let me know about your 2023 in terms of your reads! Did you encounter any favorites? See you there!